Thursday, July 7, 2016

You Come and Stand in Every Door

for Jill Moon, 1951-2015

You come and stand
in every door
saying that
it is time to get going.
This is before the dew
evaporates from the slats of lawn chairs
baking in the sun all day.

Traffic, always cars,
gets thick as my tongue
at noon, u-hauls
and trailer homes
leaving for cooler towns up North.
Announcers in
 steam bath booths
loosen their ties, the grass of the
playing field is brown, balls are
felled in zones of death,
are drunk and lose their tongues
as a lather of news, weather and sports
leaves a trail up I-5, alias North.

You stand in every door,
monotonous as
suburbs choking
the shrubs from
the canyons.
I lose my tongue
thinking how far
I would travel
over how many
state lines
in the grace and chase
after Manifest Destiny
to see you, just a glimpse
from the corner of the eye
that worries
the crow’s feet,
to see how
you come from a neighbor's house
clutching Tupperware
and a deck of cards
both to your breasts.

TV aerials
from the
eaves of patio living
claw the sky,
the feet
of a million dead crows,
winter settles
over the land
like a serving
of cold shoulder
on disrupted kitchen tables,
along the road
poking out from pine tree groves
promise hot meals
at family restaurants
bearing a sidekick’s first name.
Side kicks
always have
only one name,
one syllable whispers
on a road
that stretches
into architectures of high risk investment
where there are no products
any one mentions,
only the promise
of return, life in heaven.

You stand in all doors
and talk to me about the scratches
on record collections
as if the wear of years
had something to
do with the lyric sheets
whose italics express
something to do with feeding
the poor, ending war,
love lasting
until even corner stones
on ugly buildings
are worn away
by weather and wind.
Strangely, I am
in gymnasiums again,
dances, registered
desire, long hair,
wire glasses,
jeans tight as snake's skin,
hips and knees
triangulating new laws of form
and sex to drums and
guitar solos lost
in the rafters and rapture
of feeling, then,
that noise is power
 and we would be marching
to live a life
based on album lyric sheets
and scarred records
we play back wards
with a back hand,
the rooms you were already in
reeked of sweet smoke, and hope
for the world
were selling
of underground newspapers
that would sell
us what we believed.

You stand in
doors you choose
because the light of living
room windows
is your idea
of peace in a world
where anyone else
builds walls around the walls
it already has and
thus misses the impossible
things going on
while the audience awaits
more supermarket sales,

I am still thinking
of drinking up what's
left in hours when hands of
the clocks slow down
and kill the last hour
with kindness stolen
strangers who carry
songs and grave stones
to the same wicked altar.

I might ask you
to please move aside,
I think it is my turn
to play with the knob

Until you come and stand
in every door again
on the chance to get my attention,
there is smoke coming from
buildings on the TV set,
Manhattan is clouds and debris
as hand held cameras
show us the steel and
glass that flies endlessly into
the acres of empty air
and then down the street,

Every door is ours only by virtue
of our wanting to be here
when the days of obligation are over
and we live on hours
paid for in full,

I see the images of the sky falling
apart over New York,
you stand in the doorway
leaning against the frame,
only half way in the room
as if in a pose to leave, grab your shoes,
grab your bag,
get a cab at the curb, go home
and moan by yourself
for all the screams which are not heard
on a day when it seems every
lie I ever created and told,
every fiction I have ever constructed
and test drove in crowds
into microphones,
in front of rows of empty chairs
catch up with me,
knocks on the door,

Makes me forget you are there
even as you now stand in
front of the set,

I crane my neck to see
what is happening
but you move as well
and block the view,

I grab you around the waist
where you stand
and ask if you will love
me until the sky falls
and I can hear you breath deep,
my ear against your stomach,
your hand on my head,

forever, you say,
however long it takes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


 A question  was raised today as to whether the word  "verse" is a relevant antonym for the word "poetry". A reasonable question , as the person who raised the  issue provided  context for it by saying that his poetic practice had little relation to what the word has meant in decades and centuries past. 

My two bits about this (meaning,of course, a rapid  response without additional Google searching for sourche materials) happened to be that I enjoy the continuity between original intentions of the term and the broader tableau  of poetics and formulations it's meant to encompass in our time.Language is not a dead thing, and the meanings of words shift with the change of historical context. "Verse" as we commonly use it today hardly means the same verses we find in the Bible, but there is an etymology of the term , a history of how it was originally used and how that has morphed as technology, wars and immigration patterns have changed the way language is used; words are living things that evolve with human experience.

 I rather like the connection one can make between the Bible, the Torah and the Koran verses and the kind of work Whitman, cummings and ,say, Jackson McLow engaged in. It's a reminder that poetry is the ongoing attempt to use language in ways that deal with experiences and ideas that would other wise be in expressible. Besides that, i appreciate having the convenient antonym for poetry, mainly "verse", since it's useful and accurate hedge against monotony.Lacking   a useful substitute,one risks sounding like the voice that emerges a Google search on your cell phone, flat, without accent   or rhythm. It would be voice that creates high beam stares as listeners nod and commence to mentally balance their checkbooks.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A guitar case full of unfinished ideas

Come to the Edge Tumbler

Come to the Edge”, the sophomore release by the family acoustic folk/rock group Tumbler, is a highly likable effort of strong vocals, endearing melodies, and versatile tunefulness. The songs are a general delight in their stylistic diversity; from the excited declarations “Falling” through the Music Hall whimsy of “Nothing to Hold You” and the concluding, marching anthem of “Freedom Cry”, the songwriting, mostly done by Harry Grace and Richard Grace, the album flows remarkably well.  Sturdy acoustic guitar, poignant fills, and solos of electric guitar and a backbeat that is consistently propulsive and never overwhelming the musical sentiment, Tumbler is a sharp troupe with the sense and sensibility of good craftsman. They switch it up, the perform with passion, the vocals soar over the rustling din of guitars and percussion; this is the music of a band that has an awful lot to say.It’s ironic that this troupe’s demonstrable knack for hooks, beautifully soaring vocals and getting a listener up from their chair meets up with lyrics that a conceptual muddle throughout. It is clear from reading the lyrics along with repeated listens that the both Harry and Richard Grace want to embrace contradictions, small details, philosophical generalizations, heartache, joy and other such things in the course of their lyrics.

While the expansiveness of their words indicates an understandable desire to speak about more than the inane concerns of usual pop song lyrics, the themes of the songs have no unifying center. There too often lacks an establishing terrain or situation that provides a framework for the smaller turns and twists Tumbler wishes to present. "Falling”, a great, up-tempo assertion of wonderment that effectively hooks you into irresistible grooves, guided by a lead vocal that cuts through the barrage and declares the words with tuneful passion, is undercut in the mood when the lyrics get expected:
Oh my God say it again
I don’t know what you just said
Not sure what it meant but
Oh my God say it again
In this moment
All else falls away
And as the planet turns
Does the planet change?
Forever was only yesterday
And we can still return
To when the world’s first pterodactyl
Was terrified
Of falling from the sky
Long before the clouds were stained
By transatlantic aeroplanes
I guess the ground
Was the last thing on his mind
The  exclamation of "Oh My  God" sets you for epiphanies galore, the moment when all that was meant to be known for all the seeking men and women do for a philosophy of life that keeps the likes of us all trudging onward lies in the things  of the daily life around us; one expects for insights and revelations to flash like a string of Christmas lights, moments of clarity lifting heart, soul and voice to wonders once hidden now made clear. But while the music and the earnest vocals ascend, soar and succeed in establishing mood, the lyrics are word salad. Nothing really connects, items and images are undifferentiated.

 We are meant to experience and appreciate the experience of falling, free of constraints, no safety nets, to take chances in a moment of life when one finally moves out of their parent's shadow (and house) and seek their own autonomy. No pun intended,  but the images rob this subject of what gravity it might have had due to silly imagery. More than likely the author can explain this puzzling assemblage and make the associative leaps clear, but that would provide intellectual comprehension, not a reinforcement of the mood the music has created. Instead, we feel that we’ve walked into a room where someone is talking to themselves, staring out the window, speaking to the remaining leaves on the limbs of trees giving themselves over to an oncoming winter. One gets what the song is getting at in theme without feeling convinced. At this point, one puts down the lyric sheed and sways to Tumbler's truly wondrous music. The disconnect is jarring, shoegazing introversion layered over a music that sounds intended to connect and inspire. Some consideration for the lyrics could have made this music sharper, wittier, more connected. I have to admit that I didn’t understand what these fine musicians were talking about, a condition created by the songwriter’s not being sure how to best express themselves. What needs to be done is the better editing of the lyrics; talk about something rather than try to talk about everything.

Mike Bloomfield in San Diego

 (Originally published in the San Diego Troubadour, used with kind permission).

It’s been mentioned by offhand wits that one’s younger days get hipper the more one speaks of them, an understandable response to a friend or stranger’s grand recollections about the times they’ve been near the famous, the legendary, the brilliant, the ignoble, the stylishly crude. But there’s no intention to brag that I had seen the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band somewhere between 1967–1969 at the Chessmate, a no-age-limit, alcohol-free coffeehouse in Detroit where local and touring folk, blues and jazz acts played.

This is more in wondering what ever happened to the memory of the band’s first guitarist, the late Mike Bloomfield. Bloomfield was a white boy, born in Chicago, from the suburbs, who was in love with black Chicago blues and traveled to Southside Chicago to witness the music he loved in the black clubs where they played: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Hubert Sumlin. I knew next to nil about the blues then nor did I know who Bloomfield’s influences and mentors were. What I did know was that he played guitar like nothing I had encountered until then.

Biting, fluid, aching, and bittersweet, Bloomfield was masterful that night, a scrawny, jerky Jewish kid playing a black man’s blues with an intensity that was absent of cliché or recycled rockabilly riffs; what he was doing was something else. I was converted to the blues and the cause of lauding Bloomfield each chance I had with fellow music geeks. He recorded two widely praised albums with the Butterfield Band, Introducing the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and East West. Just as things began to break for the band, Bloomfield did what became a predictable habit throughout his career, he abruptly left the band. He started one of the first rock-oriented horn bands — the Electric Flag — leading a racially diverse group of musicians through a variety of American music that include blues, jazz, rockabilly, and soul. A Long Time Coming, their first album, was well reviewed and again, just as things began to percolate, Bloomfield bailed on the project and wound up recording with Blood, Sweat and Tears founder Al Kooper for the Super Session album. Mike Bloomfield, though, couldn’t finish the album and left the project after recording half an album’s worth of splendid guitar work, with Kooper enlisting the aid of guitarist Steve Stills to finish the disc.
And so it was, a genius guitarist who was easily a decade ahead of his time with regard to the art of rock guitar, leaving one promising band and collaboration after another, impatient, a walking case of the jitters. He couldn’t stay in one place too long.

My family moved to San Diego in the summer of 1969, during the Woodstock Festival, and, as it turned out over the years, Mike Bloomfield was a frequent visitor to the area during the 1970s, playing with an assortment of friends at colleges and clubs to promote whatever album he’d just released, or merely picking up a date because he still had name recognition even in music that was becoming increasingly corporate and predictable in a broad range of commercial releases. Bloomfield’s gigs promised the loose-fitting grit of the Bay Area style as well as a funky blend of folk, blues, jazz, and Eastern influences that ran contrary to the tight shoes record companies and radio stations were increasingly insisting musical artists wear in order to gain exposure. Bloomfield had done his best to sabotage his commercial potential by his erratic behavior and inconsistent performances, but there was something intriguing about Bloomfield’s live performances; you didn’t know how well Bloomfield would play, inspired and ruling the frets like the master he could be or so distracted and disassembled that his musicianship would make those unaware of what he could do wonder loudly and angrily what the big deal was with his reputedly great musician.

Apprehension over pending Bloomfield gigs was understandable, considering that his swings in mood and delivery made the interested fan wonder out loud which Mike Bloomfield would show up, the wonderfully expressive blues player who was one of the ground-zero white players to introduce blues, jazz, and raga and improvisational charms into rock ’n’ roll’s evolving instrumental style, or the mercurial bright boy who couldn’t stay in one place, stay in his seat, finish what he’d started? I’ve seen both in San Diego venues, hither and yon, the results different as old steak and the freshest, sweetest fruit.
It sorts of works out as a story of two university engagements, the night and day, the sweet and stinky, the great and the gross.

In the early 1970s, Bloomfield and Friends played a concert at the University of San Diego gym ,the first time I’d have a chance to see him live since Detroit; he was magnificent and everything critics and admirers claimed him to be. Energetic, even smiling, a change from his usually scrunched up scowl as he punished the guitar strings. The music consisted of up-tempo shuffles and rhythm and blues chestnuts, slow, heartbreaking blues and some instances of the fleeting jazz/raga improvisations Bloomfield introduced to the larger world, which was still living within the confines of Top 40 radio. There was always something simultaneously graceful and unwieldy about Bloomfield’s manner of playing; blessed with a fluidity that was uncommon in the day for rock-oriented guitarists, Bloomfield’s habit was to use everything he had when he sallied forth on a long solo. His slow blues would begin with the bittersweet and golden-hued tone of B.B. King — a sublime replication of the human voice. He would seem to lose control of his stream and have his phrases go over the 1–1V-V progression and wander into dissonance and near atonality as though channeling Coltrane’s high-register skirmishes.

After that, he would bring it back to the V chord, his playing deeper, with a long, searing blues bend sustained for several measures as the pitch increased higher in tone and intensity until he released the note and altered the mood again with softer, whispering phrases that brought the blues to a finely buffered resolution. It wasn’t all slow blues and bathos, though, and I remember how amazingly Bloomfield made the up-tempo blues stomp and rock under the snapping lash of his hot-tempered lead work, or how he displayed a knack for rapid, single-note runs during jazzier instrumentals, highlighted by the full, ringing octaves pioneered by Wes Montgomery. It was a good night for Bloomfield, a good night for the blues. Bloomfield, though, needed to keep moving after the show. He was quickly gone, seen rushing out of the gym’s side door holding his guitar case, brusquely brushing past fans trying to shake his hand or give him high fives or something stronger. He was in a hurry to get somewhere.

The memory gets blurry again recollecting another Bloomfield concert, a reunion concert not so long after the show in the USD Gym. I can’t recall the date, but I do remember what happened.
The Electric Flag, the band that Bloomfield formed after his departure from the Butterfield group, leaving promptly after their widely praised first album. Moby Grape also played, a fantastically talented group of musicians that arose toward the end of the San Francisco rock era and produced two worthy albums. Moby Grape and Wow, before their rapid decline due to drug problems and member struggles with mental illness, were scheduled for a double-whammy reunion concert on a date in the mid-’70s at the UCSD Gym. There was a good amount of commotion among my fellow music obsessives, mad chatter over beers and bongs about how this would shake out. Two bands of short life spans but worthy discographies on tour together, attempting again to be relevant in a terrain that was rapidly forgetting the magic and value of the hippie vibe.
Moby Grape’s performance was, to be kind, something resembling an arrangement of mannequins dressed as old bohemians that held guitars while music was piped in through a scratchy PA system.

A desultory display all around, the band sometimes came to life with a snappy guitar riff or unexpected burst of energy from the rhythm section, but there was the element of songs sagging in the middle, the musicians fall out of time with each other, of lyrics being forgotten, missed cues. The harmonies were ragged, a moth eaten weave of voices. That night Moby Grape’s fine legacy was a burden, a standard they couldn’t come to terms with.

Some of the crowd liked it though, but the applause and war-howls was as lackluster as the music. It was an open seating affair, which meant audience members found their patch of hard wood floor and made themselves comfortable amid the other attendees who had the same idea, to get as near the stage as possible and commune with the drum beats, guitar solos, and the passing of ignitable drugs. The lights remained low during the break between bands; I could see the cherry tips of joints floating in air, passed finger tips to fingertips, and the room was filled with the noxious aromas of marijuana reeking sweet. But the rule was this: stay for Bloomfield, the First Guitar Hero, the erratic genius of electric blues and roots music.
It was a pensive wait for the Electric Flag’s arrival on stage, as the squatting student audience, cooling their heels between bio chem exams and writing padded term papers notable for turgid prose and jargonalia, started a murmur of sorts, people yelling out “Bloomfield” or the staid and sturdy “rock ’n’ roll,” voices hoarse with the burn of pot. A Frisbee was being tossed about. There was the tangible feeling that one was a sardine in a can.

The Electric Flag soon took the stage, first the horn section, all proper looking gents dressed for the gig, alert and seemingly sober, and then the others, the bassist and keyboardist. Drummer Buddy Miles came on and took his place behind a large drum set, ready to let the world know again how it was he’d been picked by Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, and Bloomfield to handle the sticks on various projects. Miles was a good, not great drummer, able to adjust his rhythm and blues approach to a variety of rhythmic requirements, minimal but firm, steady, on the mark. He was not a Tony Williams, not a Mitch Mitchell, but he got the job done. His second biggest talent seemed to be skill at landing high-profile gigs with famous rock guitarists. Then vocalist Nick Gravenites took his position, an underrated vocalist and the composer of the blues standard “Born in Chicago,” made famous by the Butterfield Blues Band.

Finally, Bloomfield himself emerged, thin, lanky, jeans drooping and back curved, looking not a little like a guitar bearing pugilist approaching his opponent, sensing where the next punch was coming from. There was a good amount of applause and this time the gymnasium echoed with the fanfare, as much from the relief of the waiting as it was anticipation for Bloomfield’s artistry. The performance itself was wanting, though, not bad nor slovenly, but strangely professional. In the metaphysics of judging such things, or at least reconsidering the events years removed, that secret something was missing: the elan, the verve, the energy that comes from playing the notes in such a way that the nervous system lights up like Christmas lights and infuses the sounds with a feeling that resonates in a listener in areas of the soul that have nothing to do with the quality of technique. The band, musically on point, could have been employees gathered to collect their paychecks after a Friday shift. Bloomfield wasn’t having a good time of it and seemed hesitant to play anything.

Where the band would play a solid, Albert King-style blues requiring suitably mournful and sting guitar fills between phrases, Bloomfield was often silent or late to the cue, and his solos were tentative half the time, as if he were trying to remember why he was in the center of the stage in the spotlight. He did play a great solo on the band’s signature song “Texas,” a moment when talent and sensibility jibed and made something moving, a slow blues solo as very few people could play it. This was half way through the show and it made me optimistic that the rest of the night would ascend to the proper heights of excellence. One could here, though, electrical crackling and short bursts of electronic blurting from Bloomfield’s amp.
He was agitated; his face was a road map of exasperated furrows. Two songs later the band went into a slow soul ballad featuring Buddy Miles on drums. Bloomfield strummed away in accompaniment while Miles softly drummed and crooned the lyrics. Miles, who had a voice that was, say, adequate to sing in harmony but far too thin and screechy to take on the Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, or Wilson Pickett gospel-influenced style, had walked up from behind his drum kit and took the microphone from the stand, confessing to the crowd on why he needed his baby. It became an endurance contest but Bloomfield couldn’t take it. His amp continued producing extracurricular belches and his facial features vanished behind a mask of irritation. He abruptly yanked the cord from his amp and walked off the stage, not to return. The rest of the Electric Flag managed as best they could but by that point one could seem a growing stream of students, hippies, faculty and assorted bohemians headed for the exits, heading to the parked cars or buses that awaited them, wondering what happened to Bloomfield and if they could get a refund.

This was the deal one made with their admiration of Bloomfield’s guitar work — that one would either be in the presence of a master, an innovator, a man who changed the way succeeding guitarists approached the way they played guitar, or be witness to a burned-out case. Michael Bloomfield was found dead of an apparent drug overdose February 15, 1981, in the front seat of his Mercedes. He was a heroin user and suffered, it’s been said, from chronic insomnia, two things that might provide clues to the musician’s famed inconsistency. For all his breakthroughs in revolutionizing rock-oriented guitar playing with a heady fusion of blues, jazz, swing, raga and traditional folk-blues techniques, Mike Bloomfield was a man who didn’t stay with a project for very long, as his brief but galvanizing stints with Paul Butterfield and the Electric Flag and Al Kooper attest. Other projects, such his collaboration with Dr. John and John Hammond Jr. in the trio Triumvirate, didn’t go beyond one album and one tour. Another band called KGB with Ric Grech (from Family and Blind Faith), Barry Goldberg (Butterfield) , Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart) and Ray Kennedy (James Gang) was an attempt to put a “super group” together, but , again, didn’t last beyond one album. Bloomfield did, though, keep busy with his music, appearing on a good number of albums by other musicians, and releasing a steady stream of studio albums of his own where his best skills were displayed.

It’d be a little grandiose to maintain that Bloomfield is the Forgotten Guitar Hero, but it irksome to those of us in the early circles of fans to hear younger blues fans discuss the genius of Stevie Ray Vaughn or Robin Trower and the like without a mention of MBs monumental importance to establishing blues as the Rosetta stone through which all contemporary rock guitar playing comes from. Under discussed, obscured, perhaps, but not forgotten, not wholly.

One day few years ago I was at La Jolla’s Pannikin Café on Girard Ave., next to DG Wills bookstore, and there were the familiar plaintive, slicing, fluid riffs of Mike Bloomfield coming out from behind the counter. It was turned up loud, like it should be; I could hear the notes emoting from across the street as I waited for the traffic light to change. John, a fine young man with an angelic crest of long brown hair, was the manager on duty and the Bloomfield disc, 1969‘s Live at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, was his choice of play. I ordered my coffee, black, no sugar, no room for cream, and asked him if he liked Bloomfield.

“Oh yeah” he replied. He took my money, gave me change. I threw the coins into the tip can.

“You know how old this recording is?” I asked, hoping to brag with one of those back-in-the-day boasts that maintained that the past was better than what’s being sold in the current time. John just smiled and ended the conversation with the best response regarding the matter.

“Really doesn’t matter” he said, “it sounds great right now.”

Play ball

 (Originally posted in 2007, but  it's Summer and we need a baseball poem critique to maintain the mystique as to what this blog thinks it's about.-TB)

In theory I ought to like Alan Michael Parker's poem "I Have Been Given a Baseball..." more than I do because it exhibits traits I find appealing and find not often enough; straight, unpretentious language, a knowing details about a world we might recognize from our own experience, and a deft hand of knowing when to give the details and when to hold back, to let mood and substance fill in those details that plain narrative facts cannot express. Still, Parker's poem leaves me with that after taste one might associate with Sharps or Odouls or some other fake beer they might deign to sample and find themselves having to comment on what the faux ale tasted like. Gamy, I'd say, no pun intended.

You can taste the resemblance to actual lager, but what you take away is how the simulation jumped the rails and gave you a cotton tongue and a mouth that felt like it had a long drink of your mom's shampoo. Similarly, Parker's piece reads like a poem and does it's paces very well--pause, sit, speak, roll over, go abstract, give a glimpse of something comprehensible, now conclude, wistfully, whispering--but I can't get over the gutlessness of the enterprise.

The problem might being with the subject itself, baseball and it's relation to the collective consciousness of how we'd like to regard ourselves; so much has been made of this over the century, supported, amended, expanded, contracted, with limitless layers of irony and outrage that one is hard pressed to name a particular emotion or dramatic trope that hasn't through baseball's diamond-formed symbolism. The sheer attraction of the game, how it appeals to the perceived American virtues of openness and fair play and playing by the rules, that agenda after agenda, attitude after attitude have been pushed through it's fabled fields in the order of making a point, of laying out how great we are or how debased we have become. There's not much chance of using baseball again as a means to underscore points of pain of injustice or unspoken joy without having one's poetic feet snap the worm-eaten structure on which this mythology lies. Parker, though, is game and gives it a try, lowering his sights smartly enough , to a set of hieroglyphs mysteriously set in front of him, the base ball of the title

emblazoned with a map
of the New York City subways,

a novelty item complete with the violet
No. 7 line, the train that clatters out to Shea.
Too often in the '70s in the rain

I saw the Mets lose there,
among anonymous fans
under orange and blue umbrellas

or the occasional grocery bag.

There is splendid compression here, wonderful enjambment of details, a rush of words of someone speaking in a hurry, bringing us to their concern in the mid thought; the way these opening stanzas first describe the map sketched on the ball (smartly omitting how the author came to be given the object) dissolves into local New York history. This is the stammer and stream of a local who has shared in the accumulated heartache and rage of being a Mets fan. Parker echoes on of the ongoing themes of Don DeLillo's novel Underworld, which follows the trading of a particular baseball that his passed along father to son, son to collector, that is reputed to have been the ball that was knocked out the Park during a crucial baseball game, "the shot heard around the world". There is no documentation to authenticate the claims of historical significance by the sellers, but what becomes more important aren't traceable facts and measurable evidence but instead the selling itself, the story telling that goes with the baseball, the language that seduces one into believing that this is indeed the baseball that was the decisive factor in the critical game, and that it radiates its genuine , extra material attributes; the buyers want this ball to be there connection to a time when baseball was played when America and Americans were good and open, playing by the rules. Parker has his character recall his own game where so much depended on the quality of a play the Mets would make that he is moved toward a slight bit of charity when he recalls a woman who's son had taken ill and died:

There's a woman I know now
whose son has died:

she should have the ball.
In the stadium this evening
the anonymous fans are hiding

under orange and blue umbrellas
or the occasional grocery bag,
and I can see her son

happy there, at last,
fidgety in the bleachers.
The lights light up the field

perfectly in the buggy, humid night—
it's like being inside a pretty thought.
When the small, sodden crowd—

are they angels?—
begins to chant Let's Go Mets,
someone changes the chant to Let's Go Home.
This is where I get the real sense that Parker had lost interest in the poem and turned instead to a scenario that could have been cribbed from the limitless number of baseball scripts that have gone unproduced over the last twenty what was effective, telegraphing compression at the start, careening nicely with a sauntering swagger that gave off a sense of big hand gestures moving about to emphasize finer points, or a detail of a dint upon a type of car or baseball hide being described, turns into a crammed last segment you get on Law and Order. This affair has to be ended now, let me out of here, get out of the way! On Law and Order they've taken to having someone get shot to death in the courtroom , the court building or in the hotel room where Police were stashing a People's witness as a means to resolve what dramatic problems they've set up for themselves when the clock urges them to quit finessing the details and to sew it all up, no matter how irrational or how ugly it becomes. Parker's narrator is motivated to hand the ball to the mother for reasons undisclosed, with the results being likewise sidestepped because the poet has discovered the writer's favorite trapdoor from a corner they've painted themselves into: ambiguity saves the day:

What would she do with the ball?
Whatever she wants,
whatever we do with anything.

 This is the effect of the poet sneezing at a crucial moment, turning his head to think of something else, mentally balancing his checkbook in the middle of delivering a simile. Parker wants us to use our own powers of streaming, steaming metaphor to read in all sorts of implications , invisible and unverifiable, that this cheat of an ending might signify, but what this evokes for me is a sight of a man walking away from an accident he caused. There is no meaning here beyond the disorderly exit of the last verses other than Parker hit the exits before this ball game was over.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Modernism and inconsolable coherence

Isn't "deconstruction" an attempt to apply scientific principles to the analysis of language and what it implies? There is a lot of science - envy among the critics in the arts and humanities, and they've seemed to latched on to the extrapolated language of anthropology and linguistics in order to keep their jobs: there is an effort, in the mission of literature departments, to continue to prove that there is stuff of quantifiable worth to be extracted from the study of novels and poems, and that they in some way adding to body of knowledge.Somewhere, so far as the criticism has gone in the last half of the century, the link was made with other discourses, which made much of literary study something of a gawky laughing stock: not historians, not scientists, not psychologists, not philosophers, the gamiest of theory wonks could prate on and onward on fields not his own, keeping the tenuous connection between their specialty, fictional accounts of experience, and real time bathos and tragedy obscured with an ever deepening reservoir of agonized murk. 

The result, of course, is an abandonment of criticism and theory's original mission to seek clarity, comprehension. Among the critics who are incapable of giving serviceable interpretations of books they reputedly teach, too many have produced a feeling that literary is as unapproachable to the non specialist as would a technical article in a medical journal. The post modern critic, too often, become the things they are nominally opposed to: they become a priesthood, the place where power is located! Whether Ginsberg or Ashbery are post modernists skirts this issue, not uncommon here; it's more fruitful to trace post modern poetry's influences. Ginsberg is a romantic, sure, but he was one in the 20th century, confronted with mass-media, A bombs, televised unpopular wars, the whole 60s shot, and his response to these accelerated times had to push the hackneyed envelope. If he trusted his sensibilities to make sense of the world, apart from the mind of God guiding him ( the central conceit of the Romantic Movement and it's attendant schisms), Ginsberg had to expand his poetic line, blur crucial distinctions about well-rendered introspection, and essentially clear the field for further innovation. 

Ashbery, in turn, developed a secret language, a self-addressing voice that managed not reveal much of the soul of the poet, but did much to reveal the writer's mind engaged with the world, musing in elegiac lines of things, their places in the scheme , their displacements by other things--this is the Supreme Fiction of Wallace Stevens, and it sought to bring harmony to a sphere of unknowable phenomenon. Both Ginsberg and Ashbery, coming from Romanticism and moving straight ahead into the Modernists' obessession with inventing new forms from old to gain new ideas about a world that won't yield itself to the individual mind, quite cannily opened the territory for the poets who would be called post-modern poets, wh0 would be, I think, anyone from Ron Silliman, Rae Armentrout or Bob Perelman of the Language school, to the Nuyorican poets, the slam movement, rap and hip hop, and even the largely odious New Formalist group. 

Post modernism, it appears, comes in as many stripes and hues and apologies as Romanticism, Modernism, or even classicism, and there is no hard rule that states that one cannot be a post modern Romantic. It's a reasonable distinction. Though a writer can bring all their resources to bear when they write, a certified grounding in philosophy isn't required to write fiction and poetry. 

The learning doesn't hurt the work if the writer is possessed of demonstrable inspiration, or genius, if you will, but what is essentially an act of the imagination is not required to furnish it's own critical aparatus in it's length. DeLillo, for example, can parse his own imagery and subject them to a cold analytical eye, and creating a haunting poetry about the signifiers fading resonance in a reality that never stops blinking, but his genius is rare. John Barth is very clever, some times brilliant in his deployment of knowing literary conceits in his work, best, I think, in the The Floating Opera, End of the Road and The Sot Weed Factor, and it can also be said , though, that in spite of the "special learning" to attain the rarified information that was needed to construct these novels, Barth wrote the works to operate as novels, as entertainments, first before all, not as formal arguments against prior literary movements. The process is as instinctual as it is deliberate, I think, as is good criticism, who's task, repeat, is to interpret the books in an activity separate from the novel.

The artist DOESN'T choose his influences, rather, he finds himself chosen by them.

Too flat an absolute a statement to be useful here: Bloom's refinement of a dialectical model to describe, in sweeping, how influence forms new writing is spectacular, but he over reaches, and over states his case with an insistence that influences choose the writer rather than the other way around. This is a deconstructive reversal that's cuter than it is precise. It's half the tale. Better to have it half and half: the writer certainly exercises choice so far as who they opt to read through their lifetime, and makes judgments based on their reading as to who matters more than others in the forming of a idiosyncratic aesthetic. The writer, as reader, is not a passive agent here. A writer "being chosen" by their influences makes more sense, I think, when he place the statement at the moment when the writer is actually writing, when inspiration, imagination, and whatever other resources a writer has at their behest combine, churn, swirl, and combine in ways during the drafting that could result in interesting, original work. 

Process is a word that's horribly abused and bled of meaning these days, but here it's appropriate. Creative process is a strange ritual unique to each writer, an idiosyncratic set of habits that are the basis of the discipline needed for a writer to actually stay seated long enough to produce and bring the work through all it's stages. It's the mysterious clutch of protocols that unleash the influences into the creative roil , and it's here, during these churning, erupting , fever pitched sessions where a writer looses the ability to control the influences about them, large and small, whether from their personal reading, or from the larger culture: it's here where the writer is literally "chosen" by the influences and styles about them and literally have their style defined and guided. So it seems to me, anyway. For the force of the unconscious in the work, of course: memories emerge, scenarios spontaneously form, and arcs are drafted and written out to link disparate sketches on a narrative spine that rapidly becomes a fleshed-out work. Of course. But the steps to get to the point where writing actually commences, I believe, begins with some conscious choices the writer makes in the world that's given to them: deciding what has value among the given--whatever we mean by that-- constitutes choice. What happens beyond that is what becomes problematic, and subject to niggling disagreement. But conscious human agency is not

How could the beliefs be useful if they weren't true? I could have many false beliefs that are coherent, but of what use would they be? The test of any theory is in how it works, and the gauge for how it works is in whether it's employment is of observable benefit to others, i.e., does it give some one and their community a coherent and workable structure to live life, to promote what would locally be defined as the Greater Good, and likewise provide a means for helping a community absorb change, how however and why ever it happens. The test of whether a theory is useful, if I remember my James, is whether such a methodology leads one to a truth that's germane in situ.

The usefulness of a theory is judged by how it side steps the confounding and conflating "proofs" of what constitutes Truth, with the big "t", and instead enables one to find something that works in mending the immediate situation. Speaking for myself, Lost in the Funhouse is nicely written gripe in which Barth, flowing of pen, voices a buried resentment against his own reading habits, a collection that's kind of dull: he voices the complaint against the dreary optimism of modernism, the same dull complaints, in fact, and yet wishes that had been him, rather than Joyce or Faulkner at the key moments of break-through novel writing: a Bloomian moment with his career, with his writing desperately bloated books, his "literature of exhaustion" to demonstrate how much more radical he would have been had he the power to intervene in recent literary history, and also a classic example of the School of Resentment. Barth, I think, resents his teachers, or at least writes like he does.. His work, though important in the postmodern genre, is among it's dullest. The Floating Opera, though, is a masterpiece: brief, funny, unusual, un-selfconscious in it's re-formation of the novel. Allen Ginsberg, speaking of a conversations he had with his mentor William Carlos Williams, gave a definition of Modernist perception as being that "...the thing itself is it's own adequate symbol..." Further, there is the strong suggestion that there is no God in this scheme, that the "thing" being perceived did not require an ideal type, or any other kind of Ideal superstructure in order to exist, to be. Ginsberg, and later poet/critic Jerome Rothenberg, gave a suggestion that this was Western writing's back-door approach toward more open structures, to decidedly unsystematized philosophies, witnessed in the Beat flirtations with Zen. This brings us knocking at the door of an extended Modernist approach--a style in which avant-garde procedure became an ironic protocol to literary writing--that became, in some critical finessing, post modernism.

My slight bit about Derrida is that his central contribution to the analysis of literature was creating a rhetorical means by which a generation of coming literary critics was relieved from having to discuss a book in a way that shows that they've actually read it. I've struggled with Derrida's work for several years, and have absorbed quite a bit of writing by him and about him and his ideas, and evasion of the book, the author's concerns, seems more the game rather than explication. 
Many times when one thinks they've come upon an oasis of actual discussion in this varicose discourse , both Derrida or an apostle one might be reading makes a hard turn, left or right, from whatever metaphorical road or river you might have been traversing; in any event, every side road, alley, tributary and inlet was wandered into and prated about until exhaustion drove the reader from the chair and desk they sat at, not convinced of Derrida's and deconstruction's vague premises, but rather resigned that this was a peculiar literary mafia who had no intention of treating literary work like it had an intrinsic worth. Derrida and his supporters argued otherwise, in their few moments of assertive writing, and maintained that the deconstructive process intends to reveal a multitude of interpretations by demonstrating what contradictory positions compose nominally “authoritative” texts. 
It's a grand project on the face of it, an investigative premise intriguing enough to be worth a try, but the results of twenty plus years of post-structuralist theory applied to an arbitrarily termed "canon" produced not clarity, nor comprehension, but only more confusion. One understands why Harold Bloom, a former proponent of Derrida's method, tired of the nihilistic wallow of post-modernism and turned his attentions again to a more fruitful mission of literary criticism and the attending philosophical/religious digressions, how literature gives a reader and a culture a malleable interior superstructure one filters raw experience with. Derrida's accomplishment , I think, was to take assume an array of philosophical tropes available from credible philosophy survey course , add his own egregious seasoning to the unpalatable stew, and turn what used to the sort of infinite prattle of the cocktail party poser into book contracts, tenured positions, and all the other perks of being a celebrity intellectual. It's significant about Derrida's contribution to literary criticism that his name rarely, if ever, arises when useful quotes about authors and their books are the subject of a conversation. 

This is a twofold irony, the literary critic with nothing useful to say about what they've been reading, and an incredibly bad writer as well. That such an awful scribe makes such a dent in the upper reaches of the culture ought not surprise us, just as the success of Jackie Collins is a twofold irony, the literary critic with nothing useful to say about what they've been reading, and an incredibly bad writer as well. That such an awful scribe makes such a dent in the upper reaches of the culture ought not surprise us, just as the success of Jackie Collins no longer distresses mainstream book reviewers. Often times talent and ability have nothing to do with an author's good fortune.

My principle misgiving with Derrida's ideas was his insistence that one cannot argue a point with certainty; there is a lot more to his arguments, subtle, abstruse, and obscured with every evasive trick of the tongue and pen he could muster, but this cluster of notions is at the heart of his life's work. I'm willing to grant that Derrida's intentions were all for the best--that he would expose how the production of meaning, and with it a hazy notion of "authority" comes from a socially constructed set of binary oppositions which, of course, entrenches in constrained ideas about reality-- but his failure to be clearer with his method and aim, and more useful in how readers and citizens can configure a discourse that might lead to ways of ridding the world of its internalized malfunctions has given us instead a sort of relativistic nihilism that advances the severest reactionary premises with what to do with the planet we live on. Baudrillard, certainly, has take the opening as a chance to advance his set of tightly quipped solipsisms that insist, at the heart of their gnomic devising, that apathy is as effective and meaningful political gesture as any collective might take on. 

Since no definitive or authorial fixed moral argument can be made against racism, genocide, homophobia, imperialism, colonialism , pollution, et al,so the thinking goes, one may as well go about their way in this existence unmindful of what constitutes ethics or responsibility, and fulfill such base desires and impulses that give that transitory definition to one's existence, a fleeting sensation of purpose to be replaced by another fleeting fleet sensation, and so on, until one drops, spent, exhausted, dead. This encourages apathy in the pursuit of truth, I think, and in fact reinforces such paranoid mind sets which need to witlessly demonize whole sections of a society's citizenry as "other" and "evil". Racism and homophobia are allowed to thrive in the absence of the ability to make a principled statement, to have a debate, to reach a consensus about what constitutes an idea of right and wrong no longer distresses mainstream book reviewers. Often time talent and ability have nothing to do with an author's good fortune. My principle misgiving with the ideas was his insistence that one cannot argue a point with certainty; there is a lot more to his arguments, subtle, abstruse, and obscured with every evasive trick of the tongue and pen he could muster, but this cluster of notions is at the heart of his life's work. I'm willing to grant that Derrida's intentions were all for the best--that he would expose how the production of meaning, and with it a hazy notion of "authority" comes from a socially constructed set of binary oppositions which, of course, entrenches in constrained ideas about reality-- but his failure to clearly outline his method and aim, and more useful in how readers and citizens can configure a discourse that might lead to ways of ridding the world of its internalized malfunctions has given us instead a sort of relativistic nihilism that advances the severest reactionary premises with what to do with the planet we live on. 

Baudrillard, certainly, has take the opening as a chance to advance his set of tightly quipped solipsisms that insist, at the heart of their gnomic devising, that apathy is as effective and meaningful political gesture as any collective might take on. Since no definitive or author- fixed moral argument can be made against racism, genocide, homophobia, imperialism, colonialism , pollution, et also the thinking goes, one may as well go about their way in this existence unmindful of what constitutes ethics or responsibility, and fulfill such base desires and impulses that give that transitory definition to one's existence, a fleeting sensation of purpose to be replaced by another fleeting fleet sensation, and so on, until one drops, spent, exhausted, dead. At best, his expression of his ideas was a thick , lush weave of deferring equivocation and generous portions of gravity-defying association that thrilled you with the virtuoso language he could spin to keep on the edge of your expectation, sounding as if he were about to arrive at some set of something useful. One didn’t understand a phrase or a word, but one loved to hear him talk. At worse, he reminds me of Walter Benjamin, unable to shake his jargon lest someone find something in his writing they can interrogate in earnest. What he seemed to be saying, in louder or softer tones, and nearly always with the vaguest paint he could color his notions with, is that the authentic, the natural, the fixed reality we dream of returning to, is gone and never existed and how we conduct ourselves via strategies to oppose oppression and effect changes in our condition are doomed, finally, and illusory, since all is ceaseless duplication and variations of opposing versions of historical finality. It's all for naught, and we might as well do nothing at all , merely consume within the storylines and props given us and allow the puppets with the microphones, tv cameras and the Army and Navy to run their games. Remember, Baudrillard was brilliant at describing things and mounting details of what is contradictory, perverse or demonstrably false; notice, though, that he offered no idea on what anyone could do about the situation. My thoughts are that JB was a nihilist, and that the bald face of post modernism, in its global viralism, is to encourage inaction, apathy. There's much of the round robin in his rap, a circuitry that works any argument against itself. But it reveals a fatuous tendency to not answer a question. Agendas are not Baudrillard's strong suit, and after all the illusions that his evasions are a form of liberation and empowerment for those at the margins--the criminal, the student, gays , lesbians, transgendered, the perennially non white, we finally have a poetics that finds glory in things falling apart while the privileged reap their final profits. Their prescription for the population was what neocons wish for the voters;go back to sleep.

 This encourages apathy in the pursuit of truth, I think, and in fact reinforces such paranoid mind sets which need to witlessly demonize whole sections of a society's citizenry as "other" and "evil". Racism and homophobia are allowed to thrive in the absence of the ability to make a principled statement, to have a debate, to reach a consensus about what constitutes an idea of right and

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Guy Grogan is an established presence on the alt-rock terrain, someone who confesses his sins without fashioning a persona of being either saint or sinner. For all the hurt , malice, lurid joy and occasional bits of humanity and kindness this fellow chooses to write songs about with his hook-driven genius, Grogan is the common guy, the everyman, the guy in the bar you see at the daily happy hour, or the dude you espy daily at the bus stop at the same time each instance, going somewhere, with things to do. His music conveys the stories of a regular Joe with tunes that are simple but melodic, guitars that rock but don’t bludgeon, lyrics that let it all hang out without creating earache .”My Own Way Out”, a medium rocker from his new album Dynamite Bouquet, commences with a killer power chords, is the testament of a man giving voice to a feeling that he’s trapped in a conspiracy he is only vaguely aware of:

hey you come down from there when you feel like you’ve made despair come true sometimes I don’t much care for me sometimes I decide to leave me be
Their pronouns change, from “you” to “I”, and there is the mystery of who Grogan’s is talking about; I’m in favor of thinking that he keeps his practice to everyday speech and uses the altering references as interchangeable ways of the narrator talking about himself. It feels natural, it feels un-strained, confused but not cluttered, startling in its brevity. With a voice residing somewhere between the nasal croon of Elvis Costello and the soulful braying of Tom Petty, his tunes are not guitar bashes alone, revealed in “River Like a Cry”, a ballad surmising the end of an affair that has gone deep to the bone, the moment of realization that any chance of reconciliation is passed , that all that remains for the parting couple is to
let it go with the river let it go like a cry you tell me when we will wither i tell you when we will die.
This does approach the bittersweet pleasures Costello composes, but where Costello lyrically extends beyond his established talent at poeticizing miserable experiences and giving listeners a collision of competing metaphors and similes(some brilliant, some not so good), Grogan’s spare evocations make the telling more vivid, more heartfelt, and there is the feeling this serves to create the underlying idea that life goes on, one pushes on , one is not done experiencing the joy and heartache that is their birthright.An intriguing songsmith, Grogan is providing an album’s worth of tunes in a variety of styles that sweetly and succinctly reveals his weaknesses and strengths and the hard-won humor a songwriter who remains in the trenches with the rest of us. Dynamite Bouquet stands apart from most others in the genre that is full of songwriters who make their music unlistenable, in large measure, by theatricality they bring to their emotions. Grogan is more in the Hemingway school, a man with the knack for the terse summation, the toughness of getting on with it. The feelings go deep and still, life goes on and still, Guy Grogan continues to rock it as hard as he needs to. He makes his  awkward  phrasing and his mulling equivocation over emotional hot    buttons whose loathsome pangs    don't abate into something endearing; this is the unique combination of a songwriter who tersely combines a worldview of permanent ambivalence with  a guitar rock that contrarily makes you feel that he'll  get over his agonies and conundrums stronger but wiser. Waiting for that too happen has often enough a sore point with artists who begin intriguingly as poets of post-college emotional shapelessness but, over time, evidence arrested development thematically as they grow older and release. 
For the time being, Groder's situation lures you in because of the compelling grind of his brand of guitar rock. Will he age into a new Neil Young, who has used his advanced age to bring out a subtler worldview while still producing some of the grungiest electric guitar of this and the last century,  or will Grogan be the newest 60-year-old teenager still moping about lost love decades after it happened? Stay tuned, and in the meantime enjoy this spikey set of condensed, 4/4 mood pieces.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pause for the Cause of Writing Something that is Greater than What Your Ego Imagines

Imitating pretentious writers makes you, in turn, pretentious. An additional quality of ranting foolish eventually turns you into a fool. Some of you are thinking the obvious following that last sentence, "Well it's too late for you, jack," but hear me out,. That was the case today when I happened across a post on Medium from a fellow who insisted, more or less, that one must emulate the habits of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady and never stop!  This would-be Beat is one of those scribblers who have the idea that one can create (and sustain) beauty with speed, sheer acceleration. Below is my response to him, less an effort to change his mind that it is an effort to allow air into the room. All that rapid perception can make things funky. This scribe, I should note, responded to a lengthy anti- Kerouac diatribe I posted. Diatribe it was, but I made an actual argument against the turning of JK into a paragon of anything concerning real literature. Our fellow here responded with this non-response "u mad bro?" So yes, I was a little irritated. 

Well, you have to stop sometimes so you can appreciate what the senses have given you as you go your way through the world . You have to stop in order to write about the need to pursue the seductive logic of never stopping . But you have to stop before you go forward, as the brain absorbs only so much ; you stop , you breathe, you think, you connect what has happened recently with the narrative of a life already recorded.This engages you with the world, truly, this is where the poetry comes from, not gushing hot lava adjectives and verbs while writing that the world is made more real by moving forward, with out apology, without pause or reflection, following the string where ever it leads. But this is not poetry and it is not lyricism. The writer in those times they stop agitating the gravel and take pause to reflect, meditate, consider the thingness of the world they’ve blazed through a little too quickly, there arises the sense that one forgets that they are a writer, the self-appointed priest of making things happen on the fly; the writing becomes about the world , the people, the places, the things that occupy the same space as you, the same patch of land your visiting. It becomes less about the writer, the seeker of knowledge attempting to gain knowledge through velocity , the impatient explorer more concerned with inflaming their senses rather than being genuinely curious about and teachable within the world. You have to stop , take a breath, create a language, a poetry, a prose style that convinces the reader that they’ve actually encountered something extraordinary in their travels through hill and dale, river and inlet, village and burg, that they’ve actually learned something they didn’t know before. Otherwise , I believe, nothing is revealed because nothing was learned and, despite all manner of ranting and such protests defending one’s unique view, that view is forgotten and another opportunity is lost to move a reader in ways you might not have expected.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The return of muscle tone

There was a time when it seemed that every other single musician and band coming over the radio and over the transom had pretty much scuttled guitars as the centerpiece of pop music , preferring cascading and eliding keyboards, pianos and synthesizers both, as the preferred means to make listeners that music was no longer about Chuck Berry or Bachman Turner Overdrive. Welcome to the mid seventies, when matters of melody became serious, grandiose, bands like Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Kansas and even the power trio likes of Rush committing their resources to tricky time signatures,abrupt changes of tone and style, obligatory faux-orchestral atmospherics courtesy of the Moog and mini Moog synthesizers, and certainly, a surfeit of excessively earnest lyrics obsessed with sci fi themes or else wallowing in the shallow end of the pool of deep thought. Pretentious in other words. Not that pleasures were absent, though, as I had my share of record review rants proclaiming that rock and roll had grown up,matured, had become a “legitimate” art form, ready for the concert hall and the canon.Nothing stings like 20–20 hindsight, of course, and let us say that the music of many an art rocker had not traveled well into the 21st century, sunk by their own pretensions and, most damningly, by producing music that was all parts with no sum to add up to. Save for Zappa , King Crimson, and the blessedly wonderful song-emphasis of Peter Gabriel era Genesis, so much of the era’s classically -slanted music was a disorganized , bloated mess, all arrangements and no music you’d care to pay attention to.Robert Nix,  a multi-instrumentalist and composer besides, isn’t about to let the genre fade into pop music history with a reputation for grand-scale naivete . He brings impressive musical muscle, which is to say musical ideas to his new album Once in a Blue Moon ; Nix as composer has a superb grasp of the dissonant, the quarter phrase, the angular progression, the means where melody approaches the atonal to emphasize a lyrics message or mood, dense chords from guitars and a crucially compact compression of keyboard textures to heighten the mood of the lyrical ruminations. There is a sense of disruption in Nix’s music, the pacing is tricky and sufficiently abstracted, but there is a strong evidence here that the artist has studied contemporary theatrical musicals along the lines of Sweeney Todd ; Nix is not thematic , or as thematic, as the narratives that make their way to the proscenium , as his songs are stand-alone testimonials, but there is form and integration in his outlay, where his vocals, a bit thin and reedy but effectively talk -sung and multi-tracked, clash and reconcile with the contraction and release of the ever-active arrangements. The album moves forward, the music spirals, recoils and continually renews itself.  There is no lack of buzzing activity , there is not a moment when you get a sense of the composer offering up a bit of gussied up mood music so he might have a seat and congratulate himself for being serious. Nix keeps it hopping, as in a masterfully calculated track “I Will Not Go With The Flow”;cooly detached one moment that then evolves to matters suggesting a musical variation of cubism, a kind of sound that seems to unfold and reshape itself so the many sorts of nuances and attitudes of the tunes are exposed simultaneously, a personality arguing with itself.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sometimes crazy is merely crazy

Too many books are called "unfilmable" as a matter of habit; each of us, I bet, can offer an example of a novel that" could not be adopted" that found a splendid movie interpreter. "An American Dream," though, is one of those books that truly does not lend itself well to what we regard as good moving making source material. This version was so redacted as something resembling a Saturday Night Live sketch rather than a vision of one's breakdown and journey into the psychic wilds. 

AAD was Mailer's best use of Lawrence's influences and his unique ideas about religious existentialism. It was a brooding, baroque and sensationalistic embrace of the irrational, the madness poet Allan Ginsberg declared that we must not hide, the intensely focused idea that the impulses beyond the Norm can actually deliver us, individually and collectively, from greater insanity that erodes our humanity, and worse, our masculinity by the repulsive inch. Crackpot theories of all sorts proposing extreme and unsubstantiated cures for the ailing psyche were resonating in Mailer's mind at the time he took on the endeavor to write An American Dream on deadline, a chapter a month for Esquire magazine, the goal is to write quickly for equally quick cash. Mailer took the challenge and never looked back, the result being what would be an utterly ridiculous novel saved only by the sublime and frenetic flights of language the author's fevered pace produced as each deadlined reared. It isn't surprising that Mailer had a few of his own, a spikey concoction took from Marx, Wilhelm Reich, Lawrence. It was a crime novel, a novel of metaphysical mulling, a tale of a spiritual quest, a black comedy, a confession, a serial about the dysfunctions of the wealthy.  The things that irritated readers in the novel--murder, sodomy, a battle with a black musician with a definite hoodlum style--are nonetheless presented with the frenetic brilliance of Mailer's prose, a rushing stream of continuous simile, metaphor, and allegory of a man in the throes of a breakdown that leaves a good amount of wreckage in his wake. At the same time, he pursues the impulse to learn how to be brave and love genuinely by extraordinary measures. 

The film, the skeletal and deadpan rendition of the admittedly lurid plot, gets none of Mailer's tone, nuance, or inclination precisely. This was Mailer's testing his theories about violence and transformation from "The White Negro" and what it revealed to Mailer, I believe, was that the kind of spiritual transformation through an embrace of an anti-social and psychotic definition of "courage" resulted in Mailer didn't expect, which caused Mailer to re-think his notions about the curative properties of his imagined road to genuine masculinity. It seems that the gulf between Saint and Psychotic was larger than he first thought, that the psychotic is in a state in which they remain psychotic and become a threat to themselves and the communities in which they live. 

Do the pure products of America go insane, as WC Williams has remarked? In any event, his next novel, "Why Are We in Vietnam," a cannily refurbished telling of Faulkner's short tale "The Bear," puts to men in the woods hunting pray with far too much firepower and reveals characters trying to make nature bow to their will and weapons, with a narrator, DJ, telling the tale in a surreal mix of idioms--disc jockey, black hipster, a southern baptist preacher, literary scholar--ranting on about God and men and penises and caca with no direct connection to anything outside nature if only to insist in a diffuse ramble that all returns to earth as waste. And the question in the title is answered only on the last page, but with no direct answer but this ."Hot damn! Vietnam". Do the pure products of America go insane? Mailer answered by imagining his notions of achieving masculinity through blood rites: as pure American products, we were in Vietnam because we had to be. We end up being the things we choose to become, with results that run afoul of our ideas of resulting benefits.