Saturday, October 17, 2015

"BUSKER'S HOLIDAY" , a novel by Adam Gussow

27157422Years ago, in the Seventies, I was a literature major and eventual graduate student at a fine university where I was, of course, obsessed with finding the pulse of life, the vibe and life force of all things that matter through poetry, great, high gear novels and mad, insane, blues and jazz excursions to the end of any musical theory standing to be exhausted. I typed 60 words a minute, played a rough but savvy harmonica, and was concerned at getting to that indescribable "it" that lay behind the mere appearances of the ordered world we, as a species, were assigned to live in.

I was, as well, a carnival worker for five summers during the Seventies, starting in Del Mar,  California, and working my way up through the county fairs of the California coast, working my games, making my change, playing my harmonica at different truck stops up Pacific Highway and writing garbled poems and notes in many spiral notebooks in several tick-ridden motels from Costa Mesa up through Modesto, Turlock, Stockton, and Sacramento. Of course, I survived the enthusiasms and excesses of youth and slowly became a part of the mainstream I vowed to avoid and detest. I am, of course, satisfied I made the right life choice. But I do miss the pace, the drive, the rush of those days, forcing my literary knowledge to deal with the fluctuating dynamics of the natural world as it unhinged. This was the rush to be in the world, feet first, head submerged, experiencing what the unfiltered neighborhoods of the state held in complete thrall.

Adam Gussow, a professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, is among the best younger scholars of blues culture one is likely to come across. He is no less a superb, stylish, and gritty blues harmonica player who has, in his time, traveled and plied his trade as street musician and busker, most notably as part of the duo Satan and Adam, with guitarist/vocalist Sterling McGee. Gussow is the author of several fine books related to Southern and blues culture in America and wrote a fine memoir of his relationship with McGee, "Mister Satan's Apprentice." This is mentioned just to establish that Gussow isn't a mere dilettante on the blues, mastering a few tricks and signature moves and then resting on laurels and a reputation made long ago; Gussow continues to gig, with McGee, as a solo performer, and in collaboration with several other musicians, frequently in public, on the street, the hat out for loose change and scattered change, keeping himself honest with what he plays and maintaining a connection his vibe with the world of experience that is the energy the blues channels. He is a scholar who continues to seek the source, to find that invisible "it" behind the mere description and appearance of things as they present themselves.

His first novel, "Busker's Holiday," is, I imagine, a fictionalized accounting of his own quest, a young man at a particular moment of his life when what he's been doing in terms of study, romance and location no longer fits the skin he wears and gets an itch to try something else, to what happens. Set in the 80s, the novel regards the plight of McKay, a doctoral candidate in literature whose life has hit a rough patch. Reeling from problems in his relationship with his girlfriend, McKay jumps at the chance to go on a five-week trip to Europe with his friend Paul. McKay gathers up his harmonicas and his amp, a blues fan, eager to perform before crowds on the Continent. McKay, the seeker of more extraordinary experience beyond the books and bourgeois heartache he has known so far, plunges into the center of things and allows himself to be swept along.

There is something akin to novelist Henry James here, the 19th and early 20th Century American novelist who had as a central theme the confrontation of the New World (America) and the Old World (Europe). But where James' novels--"The American," "Wings of a Dove"--were long, measured, slow-paced and geared to consider the interior lives, the changes of the psyche, occurring over long periods, Gussow instead goes for the Beat-influenced insistence on sensation, speed, the influx of sound, smell, and blurred vision. There is the velocity and mania of Jack Kerouac here, that point where the novel opens up with its landings in Paris and beyond, but author Gussow has a better command of the technique. He keeps the tone and pacing right; Kerouac and the Beats are an evident and working influence on the style of this tale, but what we have here is something better and, I think, more honest to the experience. Kerouac is problematic for many of us, and for me, the issue was his willingness, his chronic need to make he already made pace even more intense with infusions of hip-argot, haphazardly placed modifiers. 

Kerouac used adjectives, verbs, similes, and metaphors "the way truck drivers uses ketchup at a diner." Gussow has a better command of the style, the instrument. He gets closer to the Charlie Parker concern of "making it all fit," the Spontaneous Bop Prosody that Kerouac's principal aims with his prolix excursions. The writing is vivid, alive, the mellifluous sentences flow when he goes at length, and the shorter sentences have something of the Hemingway craft of resonating terseness. The prose has a remarkable sense of balance as the sensations accumulate, seemingly one atop the other, like airplanes stacked over Holiday period airports, but rather than stumble or lose the beat, the details, the patter, the interior monologue reflecting upon and then joining in the conversation McMay is having with the world and the people he takes the journey with is deft, smooth. For all the temptation to write run-on sentences, without pause, until an idea actually hits him, Gussow has a remarkable craft here, giving the reader a broad, nearly all-encompassing view that at times threatens to become an impressionistic blur. He knows his tempos well and how effective they can be if used with the proper measures of grace and restrain. There is a poetic crystallization that is not sacrificed in the name of dredging tangents and facile sightseeing.  

 It is a recollection that resonates. McKay is delivered very well; an engaging, seeking, impatient, naive, curious man searching for knowledge and new means to express a growing feeling of a rich inner life. The writing is swift but disciplined, loose but constantly aware of where the rhythm truly is, is a match for the harmonica playing and instrumentation you've described. It is a beautiful and engaging accounting of being within the performance experience, when the chops fail, and where they come together.

Bloom and Beatles

Really, the Beatles were the perfect combination of assets for greatness that will not surpassed. Vocals, songwriter, lyric craft. Quite beyond the fact that they were in that category of "professional celebrity" , constant fodder for the gossip mills and such, it is the actual body of work they've left us, the songs and the albums they appeared on, that we talk about today , that we play , that we sing, it is their music that new generations continue to learn. 

Harold Bloom, the great literary critic, wrote a book called "The Anxiety of Influence ", in which he posits that Shakespeare is the writer who created literature, that complex kind of tale telling that delves into the deepest reaches of the human soul and communicates the contradictions within as a way of understanding ourselves as creatures in the world at large.

 He insists, forcefully and convincingly, that the writers that have come after Shakespeare are permanently in his long and endlessly looming shadow, his influence is so vast and pervasive. Even geniuses that have emerged after the Bard remain under the shadow he cast, and even those who have styles, methods and poetics that are antithetical to what Shakespeare created find that they created their methods and composed their aesthetic in response to terms Shakespeare established centuries ago. He argues that Shakespeare set a standard for literary genius and that indeed others have raised to his level of invention, insight, sheer poetic and intellectual genius, that others have risen to the bar he set, but have not "outgrown" the Bard nor surpassed. And it is from other geniuses that have been with us since Shakespeare's era,  Goethe, Whitman, Proust, who have written in the shadow of the Master and who cast long shadows of their own over the literary landscape. Younger writers try to surpass  or avoid the influence, but is there, in the air, in the psyche, nearly genetic in how the aesthetic is distributed among us. More brilliance and genius will emerge, of course, but the anxiety in the title remains, that each of us who fancies themselves an orginal in some small way are, like it or not, in the debt of someone greater ,  greatest of all, of whom we prefer not to mention.

 The Beatles, to a major degree, are in much the same position as the Bard, which is to say that they absorbed the lessons of both the pop musics of African Americans and a more scattered European sensibility and developed a way of making popular music that was the next evolutionary step in ways that transcend their rock and roll origins. Everything from Carpenters , punk rock, disco, prog rock , rap and dozens of sub genres owe something major to what the Beatles accomplished. I doubt their influence will lessen in our life times.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

more about despair

Raymond Carver was the supreme minimalist laureate of grieving alcoholic heartache. His is a fiction couched in language that is cheaply dispensed, muted, damaged beyond the capacity to express rage or hope of any sort; in his capacity to demonstrate the damage to both self and the community surrounding him, a typical Carver protagonist is someone we see in the middle of a life coming undone one brick, one plank, one nail at a time. It’s less that we get a demonstration of how alcohol in the lives of underpaid, under worked blue collar families. That would, in effect, be too easy to do, too flashy an effect. Carver’s stories, set around bad faith affairs, hooch in coffee cups in kitchens cursed with bad wall art and torn furniture gathered from curbsides, come across like episodes in static, god awful, horribly depressed television series; each week, another nail, another brick, another shingle falls off the structure of one’s life, every week another heartbreak is achieved and turned into a badge of perverse honor. Each story shows something else, small but vital in the lives of the characters trapped in the circle of despair, die. Worse, for the reader, there is no gallows humor, no poetic despair, no irony to distance the reader from the unrelenting drunkenness and slow death being witnessed. Carver provides no relief. There is something masterful in all that, even if it gets old and even trite as his career continued. 

Carver's all these years after college; he is one of very few writers I've read in the post-Hemingway generation who's minuscule language, always sharp, always exact, managed to achieve a profound effect despite the paucity of language. He equals Hemingway in large part (assuming, of course, that the stories that editor/writer Gordon Lish didn't in fact rewrite Carver's work to his own idea of style), and what I admire is that his effect was different that Hemingway's. There's a coarser grit that comes through Carver's prose, through all those closed conjunctions andtruncated metaphors. The sentimentality, that of the lonely and brave man abiding by a personal code in a world where World Wars have made morality suspect; Hemingway still held out for the human capacity to find some goodness despite the convenient cynicism that would have made one's social graces easier to move around in.

 Carver's is that lonely cynicism filtered through Beckett; everything is broken, used up, deracinated compromised and prostituted so far as a protagonist's personal character and ethical strain is concerned. Carver's is the world of the already dead, blunted perception and bad faith all around. A little of him does go a long way, though I will say I think he's a better writer and poet than Bukowski. John Fante is better than Bukowski.I actually don't think Wallace is hollow, only that nfinite Jest was over rated and which operates as an experiment where one is attempting something analogous Keith Jarrett's prolix and lugubrious piano improvisations. The talent behind the book is obvious and sometimes impressive, but is weighed down by lack of focus--others claim that is well the point of IJ, that the narrative is de-centered to the degree that it reflects a Bergsonian idea of perceived experience more as spread , like drops hitting hard ground , with its essence cast over great , diffused distance, that rather than the linear line where the main river of plot dominates, with diversions and subplots being only minor points to bolster the main thesis and world view. I think it possible Wallace may have found himself in some competition with Thomas Pynchon.

 Anyway, the novel suffers for it. I have greatly enjoyed Wallace's other books , though, especially "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again”, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" and "Oblivion". Wallace , contra Carver, seems set to make the sentence do things and hold clauses not normally associated with contemporary prose style, and given his knack of noticing everything, seemingly, in what he's writing about and including it in his flow, I would say that the shorter forms--short story, journalism, the essay, travel writing--are best suited to containing his very real brilliance.<BR/><BR/>I take your point about verbal skills more acute when one is actively disliking something they've read, seen or heard. Why something gives you pleasure is a subjective matter, with reasons undisclosed even to the reviewer, and I think one has to invent rhetoric in order to make the approval one feels comprehensible to a reader. There is something to be said about reviewers and their positive critiques; they don't seem as surefooted as a well-turned negative notice. It may have something to do with the old adage that beauty might be in the eye of the beholder, but ugliness is universally recognized. I'm not nearly that reductionist, but among certain reader communities, a strong element of what's bad, awful, lame, pretentious and inept is shared, and it's easier, I think, to draw a fresh invective from the common stock. Negative reviews, let me not forget to mention, are more fun to write<, and it's a struggle to resist writing them en masse. There is nothing more boring than a bored cynic,no?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Were the days before  went too sleep and woke up in an existence where everything had been made digital? Was the intangible essence we refer to as "reality" made even more undefinable when retail shopping was vanishing form city streets, movies could be watched on the internet and we no longer had to wait until we got home to find out who had been trying to call us? One of the qualities of living beyond the expected expiration date is that you have more first history to reflect upon. What was distant in your twenties and thirties become more vivid the closer you come to fewer days left on the planet. Morbid reflection arises, depression sets in, and certainly, life in this current week seems less significant and action packed than all those weeks you frolicked around in as a younger man, full of life and  verve and no plans.

 On a basic level I would agree  that experience was more nuanced and greater meaning in other years before technology encroached on that private psychic space we and made our pleasures less joyful, cheaper, less resonating, but that level would be emotional, not really sociological. History, in a very strong sense, has been technology and capitalism 's constant debasement and de-centering of the personal, the meaningful, the authentic; gadgets of all sorts, whether the printing press, radio, movies, television, public universities, have reduced previous centers of cosmology-cohering , rearranged social arrangements between classes and institutions and made everyone with half a wit rethink what they thought they knew and construct their own version of being thrown out of Eden. And the same nay sayers to progress--progress in this sense being neither positive nor negative but rather being inevitable, unavoidable despite the appearance of resistance-- that what was in place was better because things were slower, richer, more nuanced.

Yes, quantity changes quality, but Engels, credited with coining that pert phrase, neglected that the change needn't be for the worse; in many cases it can be argued that technology , with it's capacity to create new kinds of contexts in which experience is had, registered and expressed, has improved quality. More often than not, though, my guess is that what Engels and prematurely bleeding deacons like Jonathan Franzen miss is that things change because they have to--change is the only constant--and that however much we want to regard ourselves as a culture of educated , discerning individuals, we have a herd mentality; men and women are species being who behave as such. Our principle difference with other animals in regard to our basic responses and reactions are that we language skills that helps create the philosophy and art that helps us believe that we make everyone of our decisions through the choice use of free will. Some of us are smarter than others, though (yes, I believe that) and one is tasked with making the best choices about what to WITH the new technologies rather than grouse and complain that something need to be done ABOUT the new world that is constantly unfolding. Franzen, champion of  the perfect past where emotions were real and not push responses to media stimulation,  is not a moralist about good virtues and a better life that is now gone, he is an obsessive crybaby who trades in nostalgia as a means of making himself distinct from other literary sorts who want to be cultural critics . The word "trade in the previous sentence is used advisedly, as it seems to keep him in the news when he hasn't a new novel to sell. This is Jonathan Franzen making a living..His mourning over an idealized past isn't a moving paen at this point, it's schtick.

I mind because for me it's more than he's working a schtick instead of lodging a fresh complaint. Style is everything when it comes to getting your insights to a readership and, I think, style is a function of personality. Franzen's fussy, worrisome, dinner- table fidgeting gets in the way of his contrasts. The problem is largely is that every instance he has to luxuriate more in is discontent in the "public sphere" (such as it is), he takes as an opportunity to commit autobiography and that, I believe, is an inverse narcissism . I find it disconcerting that a man who talks about the good old days when people engaged each other in a better, mythic space cannot , himself, engage the world he finds himself in. It's about his own comfort, finally, and his regrets that the coffee does not taste quite as good as it did decades ago makes him an old maid, not a seer.

Millions, it seems,  protest, bemoan and berate what technology has brought us, namely a loss of intimacy and privacy , but this has been the complaint through history--technology upsets a generation's set of coping mechanisms they expected to be in place forever and convinced themselves that their inevitably short-lived equlibrium was a state given to them by God and intended to be permanent. There is a great literature about those who preferred the old days to the new--Pound, Eliot, Mailer, The Fugitive School --in which the bemoaning was merely a starting point for legitimate philosophical differences with the newer, trendier vocabularies. It should be noted that these writers generally avoided bringing their own lives into their screeds. Franzen is a hold over from Tom Wolfe's "Me Generation" in which everything that happens in the world is an event happening to him. His self-reference kills what insight he might have started with.
aking a living. His mourning over an idealized past isn't a moving paen at this point, it's schtick.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ode to Autumn

  (This originally appeared in the September, 2015 issue of  The San Diego Troubadour. Reposted with kind permission-tb).

It never rains in California, so the song goes, and there are no seasons in this terrain, according to a great many residents transplanted from other states with what is commonly termed “real weather.” I was relocated from Michigan in 1969, in late July, at the same time the Woodstock Festival was in full swing and the counter culture was hitting its critical mass. To say the least, even at the age of 17, a head full of the rancorous MC5 and the careening blues improvisations of Cream still rattling in my memory from the times I slogged through snow, slush and hard, cold rain to attend and come home from no-age-limit rock ‘n’ roll shows, which were hosted in various Detroit clubs and associated caverns of calamity, I thought San Diego’s weather was over ripe with sunshine, warm wind, the sea breeze and salt air.I didn’t take to my new hometown that well in my first half decade here; it took about ten years for me to stop telling new acquaintances that I was from out of town, that we did things differently in the Motor City, that San Diego was inferior because there were no seasons to gauge your mood with, there was nothing conducive to making an inner life more soulful, fuller, deeper. 

It took time, of course, but over the years, through high school and junior college and the different circle of friends I formed, I tired of my “outsider” rap and realized that there were seasons in this area after all, that once I stopped trying to instruct the world in what it should mean and be, the subtleties of the season, the shade of the light and the tone it creates in shadows are lovely indeed.There is beauty to be had, there is sadness to be felt, and there is peace to be engulfed by. Blessed, somehow, with the gift of surviving my best thinking and most of my mischief as a younger man, mellowness comprises more of my mood and the incidental things, the sweet sounds of lyrics against a forlorn melody drifting through an autumn air where the world is darker, colors deeper, the shadows of trees looming longer across sidewalks and lawns and streets, where the material world appears much more solid and even the plastered, stucco sides of apartments and the splintered siding of old, fly-apart garages give you a sense of being more solid and with a density of significance that suggests itself in the right light, the right month before the ascent of winter. It is a moment of clarity, which, perhaps, is too easily referred to as an epiphany, a moment when the air suggests the passage of time and the acquisition of my years to one’s life is not just an intellectual construct that is measured and filed away, but rather becomes felt experience. The floodgates open the collected memories of six decades, gather in a tight ball, and unspool.

All this is to say that I came across a version of “Autumn Leaves” by Eric Clapton, a game interpretation of the classic in which he applied his warm, husky burr of a voice to the melancholic melody. The song was a 1945 French song “Les Feuilles Mortes” (“The Dead Leaves”) written by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert. By 1947 English lyrics were written for the tune by American songwriter Johnny Mercer, and it has been a jazz standard since that time, with legendary renditions by Jo Stafford, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, a very important melody in the Great American Songbook. Mercer, perhaps sensing that original title, translated from the French as “The Dead Leaves,” might be too grim for an American public, changed the title to what we know it as now. A crucial choice, as “autumn” suggests not the fatalistic end of something beautiful, thereby leaving someone in a permanent state of mourning. Rather, the substitution suggests that life is cyclical, that lifetimes have beginnings, middles, and ends until one’s last day or night on the planet, but that in between birth and death there is a variety of experiences to go through, curiousness to be satisfied; love to have, hold, and lose; fortunes to be made and lost; and always a new beginning, a new spring, a new summer, a new fall, a new winter. Growth, decline, renewal, a great chain of being, each experience enriched by the joys, frustrations, and sorrows that have come before. 

You mourn the loss of a lover, the absence of wife or husband, you feel the ache deep in your marrow. You are reminded in sensations and rushes of exhilaration the memories of things that have changed you and made you the person you are at the moment a song plays, a piano chord chimes in the background, a singer’s dulcet one wafts through the window from a passing car, that melody releasing just a little of the stored emotion and that nearly overwhelms you with the idea that you are a part of a set of experiences that have made your life one that is full of meaning and purpose. Such as the filtered light of autumn sunshine casts long shadows and gives the world the neighborhoods one lives in and walks through a feeling of place that is deep and quirkishly profound. It is somehow more soulful for the sheer volume of human activity within its walls and along its streets, so you too feel older, rooted, a soul with a deep and quietly observed feeling for the small things, the incidental sounds, details, words that make up the world that you cannot, finally, be complete without.

The song is a beauty, a gem of the rarest sort where the melodic structure and the simple, bittersweet, yet achingly evocative lyrics lace together in a twine that is alternately tight and loose, a bind that has you in a grip and yet allows you, even compels you to remember, to dream with eyes open. Mercer’s lyrics are a marvel of brevity, the kind of lyric that is spare and without excessive poetic flourish, a sentiment of mixed emotiona that are spoken plainly but still have the power to evoke powerful recollections of when life seemed boundless with opportunity.

The falling leaves drift by the window,
The autumn leaves of red and gold.
I see your lips, the summer kisses,
The sunburned hands I used to hold.
Since you went away the days grow long,
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song.
but I miss you most of all my darling
When Autumn leaves start to fall.
There are those who prefer Elvis Costello’s opaque moroseness, with each stanza rife with slippery rhymes and a nearly narcissistic grasp of one’s sorrow, others will opt for Joni Mitchell’s travelogue heartaches concerning her passing fancies, many will cite Tom Waits as their idea of a lyricist who combines surrealism with the ground-in grit, and many of us kneel before the altar Leonard Cohen’s sacred and profane testimonies of an inner life both erotic and spiritual. “Autumn Leaves,” though, speaks directly to the idea of the wizened season, of the days getting shorter as darkness overcomes the light, the air turns crisp, and the branches of trees become stark arrangements leafless limbs. It equates the color of the leaves with lips of the beloved, red and gold, the hands of the lover that are no longer there to grasp. There is, in the melody, a wonderful, simple intoxicating feeling of the melody going up and down in pitch, the slight rush of recollection in sunnier times, the realization that what is being is something that is memorized nostalgia and that one must confront, yet again, the hard truth that someone you loved is gone and getting on with his (or her) life, all this so one may get on with their own life. These are autumn moments when you stand in the middle of the sidewalk on residential streets staring at the curled leaves and their tri-colored hues waft on increasingly bare tree limbs as the wind gets chillier and more insistent. The leaves you see cover walkways and lawns in front of homes and apartment buildings that are being absorbed by a deep, muted light that makes the inanimate things of the world seem to pulse with significance, memory history that is private and without an adequate vocabulary to bring to sharp clarity. The melody climbs, pauses in a center as if to consider the sudden elation, and descends again, bringing you back to the present tense, the beautifully muted light and the pleasant cool air that assuages the troubled brow.

Eric Clapton sings in a low key, his wonderfully, slight hoarse croon not quite reaching the notes on the songs highest pitch, but still bringing us a message of a man who knows the seasons and the reconsiderations they entail. The late Eva Cassidy, a singer with an exquisitely expressive voice whose artfully timed inflections were the place where deep, rich bells seemed to ring, slowed her version down, making the melody move as if in a swooning reverie of intense happiness before giving way, haltingly, to the regret that what was once sweet is now removed. She sings it, croons it, and seduces the emotion from the lyric, a voice filling in the areas where one thinks there should be extra qualifiers, adjectives, verbs. But there is no need for that , for Cassidy, as her voice lingers over the words that are there, bare though they are, her tone modulating just so to the left and to the right, a slight inflection changing emphasis, suggesting other emotions welling up just under the emotional mess being confessed.

This is the state of being between moments of clarity – minutes, weeks, months when you notice the sun setting around 3pm and, as traffic stalls at intersections on the way to the freeway on ramp, the radio plays the old music and as you drum your fingers on the steering wheel, half aware of the traffic until a car horn blares, you get absorbed by the cool air, the dark cloud formations, the lyrics and musical hooks of songs that are the soundtrack for your story so far. You pause, or are made to linger, and you drift into the wonders of what it was like, contemplate just what the hell happened to you and the loves that made you whole, and come to accept the world you’re now a member of, an adult made full by every kiss and slap in the face one’s had the honor to have bestowed on them. We remember our mortality and become grateful for our humanity, grateful that ours are lives that have been touched and have touched others in turn.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

History will not be historicized

 a novel by Don DeLillo
There were great expectations for a Don DeLillo novel that confronted the epic tragedy of 9/11, but it seems reasonable that "Falling Man" is less ambitious than many of us wanted it to be. It is beautifully written and definitely furnishes the mood of severe dislocation when a symbol of our abstracted sense of self, the Word Trade Center towers, were attacked and destroyed. There is a poetically conveyed sense of distance between the characters and the unimaginable tragedy that unfolded. In keeping with DeLillo's themes of staring down institutions that influence behavior, policy, choices and assigns significance to products and habits that are meant to supplant our inner life, the novel his the ongoing concern with trying to understand people who vaguely adhered to images, propaganda, manufactured consensus and consumerism that at least told us, theoretically, what America and Americans stood for--a herd in many ethnic and cultural subsets acting "as if" their life had fixed certainty and purpose--who confront the terror not just of terrorism, mass murder and increased violations of their rights, but the terror of realizing that faith in The System and its statements of purpose are a fiction intended to keep our eyes off the prize and instead glued to the television tube and computer monitor. 
 The novel,though, reads at times like a parody of DeLillo's best work. Despite the customary excellence of the writing, the author strains for effect sometimes, drifts into digressions that are page fillers. There is a sense of obligation one detects in the otherwise superb craft; given tht he is the genius who wrote "White Noise" and "Underground", two of the best novels every written that found the empty chamber that passes as the American heart, we have a great writer competing with a recent history that is so incredible and ground shaking that it so fars defies literary imagination to successfully diagnosis and turn into superb irony. It is worth a read for DeLillo completest, but this is not the book to begin with if you've been thinking of reading one or more of his books. I would suggest "White Noise " or "Great Jones Street" for that.

Pope Francis and the culture of permanent disillusion Pope Francis met in secret with Kim Davis, the controversial county clerk in Kentucky who has been denying gay couples marriage licenses , in defiance of  what is now settled law.Naturally, this meeting wasn't going to remain undercover, and once it was revealed that the two of them indeed had a face-to-face, the internet exploded with bitter disappointment. Tears were shed. Crocodile tears. 
  Anyone who expected Pope Francis to change theology and practices that have formed and ossified for decades and even centuries by edict, decree or fiat in favor of a progressive wish list is, I think, a little short of the reality principle. The fact that there is a Pope who supports efforts to halt climate change, condemns corporations for their inhumane (and unchristian) pursuit of profit over human welfare, favors and advocates major immigrant policy changes and has strongly reestablished the Church's anti-war stance is more than significant, historically. These are major turns for the Vatican

It's a no win situation, being the Pope who gets this kind of request for an audience. If he had turned it down, there would have been vocal outrage from the Right that the Pope and the Catholic Church were advancing a solidly leftist agenda , showing that he is turning his back on "God's Law" . It would be a shit storm either way, and anyone who has  consumed celebrity journalism overtime , should have anticipated some kind of screech, atonal feedback making headlines when the tour was over. It is the nature of the internet that it empowers and encourages leagues of writers and citizen pundits to opine and classify without benefit of more detail. 

This is reveals something sad in a culture that increasingly destroying the space need for thought, research and reflection and replacing it with a megaphone in the town square of the proverbial Global Village through which anyone is qualified to yell swear words and lazy invective; there is so much coming at the users of social media that it is impossible to digest ,inspect and make informed judgements on what one has read. It's a form of over  stimulation and there s a great depression that is overcoming a generation and the one after that they feel left behind, disconnected. 

The quick cure for that is to get angry and to stay angry, angry at everything and everyone that pops in one's news feed, in text messages, emails and alerts of all kinds. The only way to be centered is to be unhappy with everything with all things of this world; foul moods are one's default personality trait and an unearned cynicism is the style of expression. Sarcasm replaces wit, snark replaces smart commentary, shaming replaces considerations of ethical issues and the social contract that suggests we remain civil in our disagreements. 

 Why they did the meeting in private, in secret, is beyond me, but no matter. Those who were disappointed in the Pope were looking to be disappointed; the good he has come out in favor of no longer matters as they find a dubious and self-serving solace in hand wringing and nurturing a wound that comes from nothing more than having irrationally unrealistic expectations.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Shut Up, Matt Damon: The Actor Argues Gay Actors Should Stay in the Closet - The Daily Beast

Shut Up, Matt Damon: The Actor Argues Gay Actors Should Stay in the Closet - The Daily Beast:

The article is essentially a cherry picked collection of quotes that are interpreted as a homophobic rant. Not at all. It just seems to be open season on Damon. What  actually said was this;"“I think it must be really hard for actors to be out publicly... But in terms of actors, I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.” Those who were expecting a hate rant that the headline implied was there are sure to be disappointed. 

Damon does have a problem with bluntness, I suppose, something that comes with being very successful , critically acclaimed as an actor and being, as well, a successful producer. I understand those taking chagrin, but Damon's point, I think, is that the audience that pays money to see you in roles wants to see you inhabit the roles you take on. A certain amount of anonymity keeps the attention on where it should be, whether one is good at the craft. George Clooney, as straight male who does not need the limelight in which to thrive, does well in his career. Mel Gibson , a belligerent drunk , a radical and irrational  conservative Catholic homophobe and antisemite , destroyed his career by allow too much of his private life, demons and all, over shadow his film work. Tom Cruise's box office pull suffered a hit of its own whenever he becomes too much of the Public Face of his controversial religion and forever problematic religion/cult Scientology, although he has recovered somewhat.

There is no hard and fast rule , of course. Neil Patrick Harris , Ellen DeGeneres, Rosy O'Donnell and Ian McKellen all have thriving careers. My point , though, is that what Damon's remarks are hardly homophobic , that what he expressed seemed a more provisional position that can "evolve". Damon contributed to a conversation and conversations, if they are conversations at all, are for discussants to learn what the other has to say and perhaps progress further in the task of learning tolerence ,patience and acceptance of our fellow citizens.Kevin Fallon, a cut-rate moralist and cheap shot artist, has no interest in discussion of any kind; there is the tone of some one trying to incite a lynching. He desires not edification, but rather silence. What can you expect from someone who writes a column headlined "Shut Up Matt Damon..." ? That's the style of someone who was told too often to shut up when they were a kid asking questions about the what, why and how regarding a world that seemed less fair and equitable than the story books promised they would be. This is the tone of someone who's default setting is take offense and scold others for falling short of ideal standards of personality and conduct. This is the tone of someone who uses politic rhetoric as an armor to disguise their own lack of originality and who seeks to justify their discontent by indulging in a insubstantially provoked sensationism. This is the what the internet has done to the lot of us, turned us into bullies who've never picked up a stick, a rock, or clenched a fist. Pathetic.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

nice one from Captain Beefheart

Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)
- Captain Beefheart and the Mag ic Band (Warner Brothers) 

Like you, I feel a great vacuum-space with the departure of The Captain from this planet. What a rare and exalted being. I had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 1982, when he was hanging out by the La Brea Tar Pits (near his good friends, Smilodon and the Ground Sloth) doing press for his last album, Ice Cream for Crow. There was a lot of wonderful blarney slung by CB that day – I especially treasure his description of the music-consuming public as “fish in a fishbowl eating their own excretum.” But he also said some things that confirm your instincts about what he was up to creatively. Beefheart definitely saw himself as a COMPOSER, akin to Igor Stravinski. In his mind, everything in a song was a part, a movement, not the expression of an individual player – in fact, his guitarist Gary Lucas later told me that after Gary played a part in the studio, Beefheart said to him, “Thanks for the use of your fingers, man.” His musicians were his paintbrushes, his tools. This doesn’t sound very nice or respectful and Beefheart admitted as much. (His musicians – especially those who played during his Trout Mask period – insisted they had more to do with shaping the intricate song-parts than Beefheart gave them credit for. This is probably true. Yet I suspect CB so penetrated their psyches that they didn’t always realize when they were doing his will.) During our interview, Beefheart said that he got his songs whole, in a flash, and that the length of the song was how long it took to describe that single burst. That may account for the odd sense of movement and form in his songs. It also relates to his intense visual sense – CB was a painter and he thought like one when he was creating songs. Everything from “Ella Guru” to “Ice Cream for Crow” can be approached as still-life paintings seen from various angles through the course of the song. You are given a weird scene or portrait and you walk around it, poke at it, sniff it, taste it. As you said, there’s a heavy prankster element in CB. He liked to mess with people’s minds – he gave them a good fluffing, as if he was thwacking a pillow. He re-booted your cerebellum and made the world look cockeyed – or maybe right for the first time.