Sunday, May 26, 2019

T.S. ALL OVER THE PLACE


 T. S. Eliot wrote in a time when the Universe seemed to be rent, with heaven and hell bleeding into one another, a career on the heels of two world wars that shattered optimism one may have had for the promise of technology to replace a silent god, is hardly different that the dread that lurks under the covers of the postmodern debate over language's ability to address anything material, or have it convey ideas with any certainty. There is the fear that the names we give to things we think are important and worth preserving are, after a ball, based on nothing. Grim prospects, that, but Eliot seeks to provoke a reader's investigation into the source of the malaise, the bankruptcy of useful meaning, with a hope that the language reinvigorated with a power to transform and change the world.
Eliot's response was real art though, and if it turned into resignation and nostalgia for more-meaningful past times, his articulation at least provokes a response in the reader, and operates as a challenge for them to make sense of his language, and understand the complexity of their own response. This adheres to Pound's modernist ideal that art ought to not just be about the times in which it's made, but that it needs to provoke a response that changes the times: transformation remains the submerged notion.
There is beauty because there is power in the imagery and the emotion behind it and it's powerful because it rings true; a reader recognizes the state of affairs Eliot discusses with his shimmering allusions and responds to it. The material does not lie, and he isn't being false by saying "this is my response to our time and our deeds". Rather, it's more that one disagrees with Eliot's conclusion, that all is naught, useless, gone to ashes. Better that one inspects the power of the truth is in the work and develops their own response to their moment. It's less useful to argue with someone's real despair. A depressed expression does not make up lying.
Eliot was not lying in any sense of the word--lying is a willful act, done so intending to make someone believe something that is demonstrably untrue. As the point of The Quartets and his plays have to do with an artful outlaying of Eliot's seasoned ambivalence to his time, the suggestion that "beauty lies" is specious. One has a license to argue with the conclusions, or to critique the skill of the writer, but the vision here is not faked dystopia Eliot contrived to a good amount of trendy despair—that comes later, with artless confessional poets who lost any sense of beauty to their own addiction to their ultimately trivial self-esteem issues. Eliot, however one views him, sought transcendence of what he regarded as an inanely short-sighted world, and sought to address the human condition in a lyric language that has, indeed, found an audience that continues to argue with his work: the work contains a truth the readership recognizes. Eliot was following suit on the only prerogative an artist, really, has open to them: to be an honest witness to the evidence of their senses, and to marshal every resource in their grasps to articulate the fleeting sensations, the ideas within the experience.
This is the highest standard you can hold an artist to; any other criteria, any other discursive filter one wants to run the work through is secondary, truth be told, because the truth within the work is the source of that work's power. One need to recognize what it is in the lines, in the assemblage and drift of the lyric, in the contrasted tones and delicate construction of vernaculars, what is that one recognizes and responds to in the work, and then mount their response.
There is more to the Four Quartets or the plays than what assume is admits defeat in the hard glare of uncompromising , godless materialism—there is hope that his work inspires future imagining greater than even his own — but I cannot regard the poems as failures in any sense, even with the admission that there is great beauty in them. Eliot renders his consciousness, his contradictory and ambivalent response to the world he's grown old in with perfect pitch, and it's my sense that his intention to provoke the imagination is a sublime accomplishment. As craft and agenda, the later pieces work.
What does Eliot's despair have to do with postmodern writers and writing?
It's less about what one can call his "despair" than what his operating premise has in common with the postmodern aesthetic: Eliot, the Modernist poet extraordinaire, perceives the world the universe has having any definable center, any unifying moral force formally knowable by faith and good works.
There is despair in the works behind the lines--one responds to them emotionally and intellectually and the power behind the images, the shimmering surfaces the diminished, de-concretized narrator feels estranged from, comes from a felt presence, a real personality. Eliot, though, turns the despair into a series of ideas, and makes the poetry an argument with the presence day. There is a pervasive sense of everything being utterly strange in the streets, bridges over rivers, strangeness at the beach, and we, it sounds, a heightened sense of voices, media, bombs, headlines competing for the attention of someone who realizes that they're no longer a citizen in a culture where connection to a core set of meanings, codes and authority offers them a security, but are instead consumers, buyers, economic in a corrupt system that only exploits and denudes nature, culture, god.
Eliot conveys the sense of disconnection rather brilliantly, reflecting the influence of an early cinematic editing styles: as Jacob has, for once, articulated well, Eliot is a modernist by his association with the period, though at heart he was very much a Christian romantic seeking to find again some scripture’s surety to ease his passage through the world of man and his material things. There has always been this yearning for a redemption of purpose in the vaporous sphere, and much of his work, especially in criticism, argued that the metaphysical aspect could be re-established, recreated, re-imagined (the operative word) through the discipline of artistic craft. Modernists, ultimately, shared many of the same views of postmodernism regarding the world being a clashing, noisy mess of competing, unlinked signifiers, but postmodernism has given up the fight of trying to place meaning in the world, and also the idea that the world is changed for the better. Modernists, as I take them in their shared practice and aesthetic proclamations, are all romantics, though their angle and color of their stripes may vary. Romanticism, in fact, is an early modernism: the short of it is that there is a final faith in the individual to design the design of the world, and change its shape by use of his imagination
Eliot's turn to religious quietism isn't so surprising, given the lack of self-effacing wit in his writing that might have lessened the burden of his self-created dread of the modern world: a tenet of modernism, shared by any writer worthy of being called so, is that their work was to help the readers, the viewers, the audience, perceive the world afresh, from new perspectives, in new arrangements, to get to the "real" order of things behind their appearances, and, understanding, change the world again.
Temperaments among poets varied as to how they responded to their need to live aesthetically and in all cases, living aesthetically was a viable substitute for a religious rigor--Stevens chose his Supreme Fiction while being an insurance executive, Pond toyed with fascism and economics, Joyce opted for a life in the eroticized parlors of France and Britain, Williams found connection through his medical practice and biology, related, absolutely with his poetry. Over all, what keenly separates the modernist engagement with meaning creation was that it was the things of this world, this plain, this material reality, that were the things that would help us transform individual perception; the thing itself is its own adequate symbol. A nod to Husserl and phenomenology, the meaning of things in the world, as things, was mysterious indeed, but their form didn't come from the mind of a God who was an absent landlord. Eliot, though, sought religion, and I don't see that as a failure at all: the work is too powerful to be regarded as either a personal failure, if that's a claim one might, nor as a poet. Eliot, as you say, is a poet of ideas, among other things, but ideas are useless in a poem unless they're seamlessly linked with an emotion, an impulse, and it's possible to see where the work was going: the kind of world Eliot described, with the kind of intelligence and personality that described it, was a bleak and unlivable sphere, requiring a decision, to commit to something that supplies meaning, fits the personality that needs direction. I don't regard Eliot as artifact at all: I've commented previously on how the work still inspires readers to engage the world in new ways: he is a permanent influence on my work as a poet.
The early modernists rejected the romantic label--for a variety of reasons.
I'm sure they had good reasons, but Modernism, in many respects, is an old project with a new label. Joyce and the Futurists and Eliot and Pound and Yeats and Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and Fitzgerald... all in the same box? Less being in the same box than being under the same big tent. A very big tent.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

ENDGAME SUCKS HARD ENOUGH TO VACUUM YOUR CARPET

Image result for AVENGERS ENDGAME SUCKSThe fact of the matter is Avengers: Endgame brings the first phase of the Marvel movie saga to a close, all eleven years of overlapping superhero movies in exhausting connected universe. The shared universe is exhausting, yet, but also exhausted, as in a tired, used up, of gas, predictable. Though the fanboy in each of us wants superhero movies , as a genre, to remain fresh and diverting and, like The Western or the Horror film, to remain a lively genre for writers and producers to delve into, Marvel products, at the second half of their decade-long run at least, have gone from fresh and spunky and reflecting a lively energy to being a predictable set of plot motions, no less so, say, than later seasons of Law and Order where longtime viewers can literally count the beats of each scene , know what cues will signify a crucial piece of evidence, how long one has to wait for the Surprise Twist. For all the expensive gloss, impressive professionalism, a very real sense of humor and a surfeit of superb actors doing outstanding work while wearing spandex costumes, the movies, all 21 of them, including Endgame, seem less and less engaged with a big story,the unfolding of a saga, the moral dilemmas that arise when good vs evil than they do with becoming more manic, chattier, glibber, frenetic to no real effect; the present movie takes up nearly three hours cramming in as many characters as possible, from all the movies, citing plot points from many films to prove, again, that these stories are connected, and, perhaps reflective of the aforementioned sense of exhaustion that has pervaded many of Marvel's releases in the half-decade, there is much desultory discussion, digressions, and disquisitions among the characters about how tired they are, how disillusioned they are becoming, how hard it all seems. what It leaves unsaid is how bored the performances seem, bored to the bone. To spirit things along, to pick up the pace, there they expected set pieces and the expected appearance of every MCU hero from the 11 years of movies. This makes me think of nothing less than Fibber McGee's Closet, a closet so far beyond capacity that a chance opening of the door threatens a city-wide catastrophe. There is much, much summing up, explaining, complaining, large chunks of shtick. They mean us to have a teary-eyed farewell to characters we've come to love as this chapter of the Marvel Universe closes and they pass the torch on to the next generation of costumed clods. The manipulation of audience emotion was as ham-handed as the pacing was lead-footed. This three-hour ordeal just made me wish everyone on the screen would die and we could all go home at last. The hard fact is that Avengers Endgame is less entertaining than watching a dog pinch a loaf on your front lawn. It is an awful movie.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The public fool who might flog us next?

It's  a rather too -easy to exaggerate the virtues of a renegade celebrity when they finally pass on and glide into whatever ethereal after-existence one conspires to imagine, citing some usually short-lived early insights into the layers of falseness and bad faith that saps us of our virtues, and turning a blind eye and a deaf ear when our late hypothetical rebel went sour, became hackneyed, had exhausted all freshness of approach. We don't want our iconic iconoclasts to lose their reputation as relevant sayers of truth. The irony, of course, is that our collective mourning and remembrance wraps the departed with the same kind of wrap of cliche and truisms the truth teller sought to dispel; strange, wouldn't it seem, that the efforts of a Twain, a Thompson, a Richard Pryor or a Bill Hicks did nothing really to bring their generations to clarity and purpose, but only gave the old apologies a new coat of paint?

That's the dilemma when one sets themselves up as a speaker of truth to power, as it were; in print one risks the charge of seeming shrill and paranoid, effectively marginalizing any effect one might have had on the discourse,and for the comedian, the risk is that one is charged with the worst crime of all, of not being funny. The late George Carlin, of course, never had a problem of being funny. At various times a social critic, a Menckenesque student of the innate ambiguities of language, a rather superb commentator and satirist specializing in the dialectic of unrealistic expectation meeting concrete and inevitable fact, Carlin caused laughter, nervous coughing, debates, and did, to some extent, provoke discussions after his comedy albums were played or his many HBO specials were finished, disagreements above and beyond the "funny bits" and laugh lines and landing on the subject near to Carlin's lovingly cynical heart, the collective delusions Americans rely on to buffer themselves against the stressed out and crushing banality of their (our) existence. His was the spotlight where Lenny Bruce, Mencken, and Thorsten Veblen shook hands and polished the best insights into hard, fast and lacerating lines, given with delivery could, to steal a line from Norman Mailer, boil the fat from a cab driver's neck.

One can maintain, no doubt, that Carlin was straining in the last ten years or so, that he was too acerbic at last, too acidic and joyless with the sharp stick he jabbed into the side of the obese culture he was attracted to as much as repulsed by. Perhaps; what I remember is that Carlin was a consistent cynic ever since he dropped his TV-friendly routines and brought some measure of refreshing independence to the shows on which he was a guest. Yes, I know, his criticism, his act, his jibes, his jeremiads were all an act, right. Yes, but that didn't make him a phony, and one had to admire Carlin's skill at remaining effective entertaining for all the corrosive views he brought to the table. In a time when many a showbiz contrarian is soon revealed as disposable and ill-fitted for a long career, Carlin remembered what he was, at the bottom, he remembered what made his skewed disposition marketable; he was an entertainer, a comedian. He could make you laugh, and that is a gift we see too little in our lives.

Carlin's routines became more cynical and coarser as he got older, and that isn't surprising; that he abandoned the search for a definitive punchline to make all his grousing and cynicism palatable came, in fact, as a relief. One would have cringed if he maintained the zonked out Everyman that was his trademark. I'd agree with you that he pretty much ran his course by the time the 2000s started, and he couldn't gain a vantage point  in a post-9/11 world; the worst had already happened and now the seer had nothing to do once the greed, avarice, stupidity, and meanness of Western Civilization was wounded in the most horrible way. He seemed reduced to saying "I told you so". I don't think anyone has the "post-9-11" vantage yet. Bill Maher is the closest I can think of, since his anger goes the deepest of his generation and is the best articulated of the bunch. He is certainly the best on the subjects of contention he chooses to debate;if he doesn't do the research himself, he at least reads the research his staff presents him He is the cross between Twain and Mencken and has an undying, unflagging hatred of the stupidity of those in power regardless of their ostensible political philosophy and the harm they create blindly pushing their expedient ends. What separates him from the routine nihilist is his belief in social justice and an open society; this marks him differently than, say, Larry Miller, a comedian I enjoyed until I heard him on Maher's show basically declare that the terrorists are coming back to kill us again and that we'd better be prepared to kill them first. Maher, in terms of the new realism, has a harder road as a comedian; to express cynicism and outrage while being in favor of something. He certainly knows that being a critic without an articulable alternative to the way things are is as inauthentic as a blues album by a boy band. He has the political intelligence another Miller, the word drunk sarcasm specialist  Dennis,wishes he had.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

MITCHELL

Image result for joni mitchellBrilliant as she has been, Joni Mitchell has also had made nearly as much music that is, shall we say, in equal measures underwritten, bombastic, pretentious, just plain pretentious. She coveted the sobriquet "genius" more conspicuously than any pop star I can remember--even self-mythologizer Dylan rejects the application of the word to his name. and has suggested. She complains of Dylan's lack of authenticity when the whole notion of art and being an artist is based in large part on creating things that are inauthentic; the very words "art" and "artist" are linked with the word artificer, a term that means some designed, made by hand, an unnatural addition to what is already in place. She bemoans the lack of authenticity and forgets, perhaps, that she, Simon, Dylan and Leonard Cohen, poet-songwriters of the Sixties, were storytellers more than anything, fictionalizing their feelings, their politics, their biographies in the interest of a good yard, a good line, a good insight. Authenticity, I would argue, has more to do with a feeling that a writer creates, not the emotion he or she in fact feel. She is grumpy, to be sure, but this will not suffice as a justification for her ire. She is famous and cranky and frankly, it's a tedious dirge she replays every chance she gets. 

She not so subtly demands she be taken seriously as a musical artist, and she has produced albums that have tried to force the issue. She stabs at art song, serial music, jazz material, and feminist surrealist have given us mixed results. The fatal flaw in these ambitious efforts was that the worst elements of them were so impossibly precious and self-important that they summarily dwarfed what fresh ideas she might have had. Her ongoing arrogance and bitterness leave a bad taste. Listeners have taken joy in Joni Mitchell's continual insistence on changing her musical approach, so it wasn't unusual that I hailed the release of Hissing of Summer Lawns, mostly, as a bold step towards personal and artistic growth. But while Hissing, and her subsequent and less successful Hejira, showed Mitchell expanding herself to more adventurous motifs - broader song structures, an increasingly impressionistic lyric scan, jazz textures - the trend toward a more personalized voice has virtually walled her off from most of her fans. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, her now double record effort, takes the ground gained from the last two albums and converts it into a meandering, amorphous culmination of half-formed concepts. 

The primary emphasis, musically, is towards jazz modernism, with several songs exceeding ten minutes in length as they ramble over Mitchell's vaguely comprehensible piano chords. She reveals a tendency to hit a strident chord and to let the notes resonate and face as she vocally ruminates over the lyrics - while her side players, Jaco Pastorius and Wayne Shorter from Weather Report, and drummer John Guerin, do their best to add a definition. The lyrics, following suit, are an impressionistic hodgepodge, a string of images, indecipherable references, and gutless epiphanies that should have been edited with a blue pencil. While the more hard-nosed defenders may defend latest with the excuse that a poet may express his or herself in any way they see fit, one still must question the worth of any effort to dissect Reckless Daughter the way one used to mull over Dylan albums. Though many matters that Mitchell chooses [sic] to deal with may have value to her audience - spiritual lassitude, the responsibilities of freedom, sexuality into middle ages - she supplies nothing resembling hooks, catchphrases or accessible points of reference for them to latch onto. Instead, she gives them art, whether they like it or not. The paradox in Mitchell's stance is that she has thrown craft well outside the window while trying to measure up to "Art" in the upper case. She has gone from being an artful songwriter to being merely arty, which is a state of mind that takes hold of many of the public personalities who think they know it all and who conceive themselves as no longer being bound by conformity. In her own way, Mitchell has joined the ranks of John Lennon, Yes and other bright talents who've over-dosed on their own importance.  

With her subsequent album Mingus, we find ourselves having to admire Mitchell’s willingness to expand and reach beyond the merely chatty confessionalism she come to be known for and serve up art that is truly artful. “Arty” is a more telling description, though, as her ambition to impress outstrips craft. There is an aroma of the untutored dilettante banging away on a piano she (or he) doesn’t know how to play; the smarty pants assumes we’ll think it bold and experimental. But she is not Mingus, the composer, the musician, the artist, and I pray she doesn’t think she is his equal because no one is.  I've nothing against an established artist trying to break away from the stuff they've already done so that they might "advance their art," but I protest artsy experiments in areas where an artist has no business being. To be specific, Joni Mitchell has little justification to be futzing around with the moody expressionism of jazz, as she does on Mingus. Though the music and lyrics jell better this time than on her previous Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (a bottomless pit of amorphous atonalism and free-associative lyrics that expressed the forgettable in terms of the incomprehensible), Mitchell's primary problem on Mingus is that she's not much of a jazz singer. Her voice sounds thin and attenuated when it should sound alive, brassy, and full-bodied, pallid when it should have color. You find yourself longing for Annie Ross, or Patti Waters. And as a tribute to the late Charles Mingus, this record doesn't quite wash. The bits of dialogue between songs, featuring Mingus reminiscing with the musicians and ever pondering his own death, don't give the album any more depth than what the music - some of it quite good, most of it half-baked - already supplies. It smacks of tackiness.

Monday, March 25, 2019

THE VAULT: two reviews from the Seventies

Image result for GOLD JEFFERSON STARSHIP
GOLD--Jefferson Starship

The Jefferson Starship are ·one of the more remarkable Jobs of a late Sixties acid rock band re-tool their image so that they might fit in the Seventies marketplace. The original Airplane, if you· remember, were a group of LSD crazies who espoused the glory of chemically expanded consciousness years before Carlos Castaneda got Into the act. In their original conception, the Starship became paranoid revolutionaries (on paper anyway) who'd lost any grasp they had on reality, and whose political broadsides resembled a Psychedelic piece of hate literature. (The peace and love gleam had faded from the Jefferson Airplane’s collective gaze and the first Starship album, Blows Against the Empire, was a quizzical and quixotic way of trying to rouse their fans to act of resistance. I’m still hesitant to say that writing a semi-rock opera centering around hijacking a starship and heading out some a cosmic place where longhairs, dopers and select people of color wouldn’t be hassled by the man was the best way to change one’s lived-in circumstances. Ah, the Sixties…)  In this age of lower expectations, though, it's understandable that the Starship's rebel stance has wizened, and that their music has become more commercially approachable. They've placed themselves safely on the record charts with a series of hit singles and albums, the sounds of which border on the easy-listening lilt of Fleetwood Mac, Peter Frampton, or The Eagles. Lucidly for old Airplane fans, the new Starship has produced several well-crafted hits, most of which are on Gold. The standout track is Marty Balin's "Caroline," a superbly produced and arranged song that screams for radio programmers to include it on their playlist, "Miracles, " a stunningly layered ballad with an elusive, captivating melody that is , besides,  perhaps the greatest  song ever written with oral love references, and "With Your Love." There will be those die-hard rock and roll counterculture adherents who’ll feel that the Starship has betrayed the cause, whatever that might be. One must remember, however, that the Airplane/ Starship has a formidable body of work complete with stratospheric highs and the lowest lows, and their momentary upswing on the record charts is more than anyone could expect from a band who, by rights, should have burned itself out years · ago. 

______________________




Image result for ry cooderThe more I thought about it, the less I wanted to attend the Nov. 16 Ry Cooder concert in the UC gym. Cooder, I knew, made a name for himself for the slicing slide guitar work he did on the Rolling Stones Let It Bleed album, a record I enjoyed. But word had it that Cooder was a dyed-in-the-wool folkie, someone who does songs they've learned from hillbillies, blues pioneers, sailors, and other sources. In other words, Cooder wasn't any Hollywood pretty boy stroking his Ovation guitar while singing self-penned tomes to his own sensitivity, like Jackson Browne (though Browne's stylistics  their own reward),  Rather, Cooder was strictly bucolic, with rough edges In both voice and guitar work, not a virtuoso but engagingly honest in presentation to an audience that I suspected picked up on folk music as part of a collective rejection of high art in general.  But while my admittedly dour presuppositions could have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy ("The old and still adolescent school of making up your mind before being in possession of facts), I realized I needed to switch off the contempt. It was a bit like culture shock in your own culture. Cooder, without the band he's been using for most of this tour, ambled sleepily on stage!! and sat in his chair and goaded the sound crew to "goose” the volume up in the monitors, finally imploring them to " crank it. Don't be afraid." The height of his performance was his guitar work. Basing his styles in rural blues inflections and country picking techniques, Cooder's approach is an enticing hodgepodge of effects that don't fall into any category, but rather rest between the boundaries. His picking is quick and firm, with the vigorous pulling of the strings, and his chord mix ragtime jazz progressions, classical chording, and blues phrasings with egalitarian ease that's positively organic. His slide work, his strongest forte, avoids the dying dog moans that neophyte players, mostly British, manage, and _ maintains a solid flow of incisively slashing riffs. The fact that he seemed affable and good-natured worked in his favor as well. He seemed to enjoy the songs he did, avoiding the sort of inverse snobbery I thought pervaded this genre and its audience. Cooder debunked that prejudicial nonsense. Opening the show was Mike Seeger, Pete's brother, who played banjo, fiddle, autoharp, harmonica, Jew’s harp, as well as guitar, set the night's mood with an amicable way of going about his job. The highlight of his set was his Jew’s harp playing, which with the utilization of the University's super fine sound system, approximated the unearthly buzz of interstellar insects, a ploy Pink Floyd might consider next time they take their million-dollar quad system on tour. It's astounding that sometimes the strangest emanations come not from smoky, sparking, colicky electronic amplifier banks, but from the recesses of man's musical past. His concert was refreshing to remember that not everything we’ve done as species is ugly and created with it in mind to stomp on the next guy.





Saturday, March 16, 2019

ROCK THE SHAM

March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, is upon us, and being of Irish descent those who know my last name and aware as well that some consider me a poet, a lover of words used fully, have asked me what my plans were. What party are you going to, what Irish Pub will you be drinking at, what Irish poet will you recite at the Open Reading of Irish Poetry? Attending the idea you would want to celebrate a culture rich in the greatest ringing glories of the English language comes the question about how drunk you intend to get, and will you remember the way back to your bedroom at your mother's house if you become unable to utter a comprehensible sentence?

There are times I hate being Irish; the jokes at the expense of this culture make it obvious that White European Americans are the only ethnic group one can offend with impunity. The Holiday is a match to a conspicuously open can of gasoline.On The Day itself, many will inquire “Where’s your green?” All these questions on the single topic become nagging of a kind, the persistent inquiry into what someone else takes as an imperfection. My imperfection seemed to be that I didn't feel Irish enough. I don’t wear green on any day, it’s not my favorite color, and there’s a deep resentment at others who expect me and any other Irish American to play the shaleighlei -stroking trick monkey with green paper hats, green beads and affecting brogues as bogus as paper forks. There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s movie “Annie Hall” when his character Alvy Singer berates a woman’s Jewishness with several wisecracks at the expense of the ethnic heritage he imagines her identifying with. The woman says nothing and Singer, feeling he’d crossed the line, gives a half-hearted apology for his jokes, to which she replies (and I paraphrase here) “No, it’s all right, I don’t mind being reduced to a cultural stereotype”This was a “eureka” moment, since it articulated a foul mood I’d been in for years each time St.Patrick’s Day rolled around and Americans, of Irish Lineage and otherwise, rolled out their boxes of stereotypes: green beer, whiskey, green beads, glittered cardboard shamrocks, the whole disgusting offensive lot.St.Patrick's is a day on which those of us with family connections to the Emerald Isle is to relish the contributions of Ireland to the world through it;s poets and dramatists and novelists, whether Joyce, Yeats, John Millington Synge or Roddy Doyle and Seamus Heaney, an activity of worth if the proceedings were low key and attentive to what Irish writing sounded like and what cluster of emotions and experience it collectively expressed; it's a literature at war with itself and conflicts and tensions such as that results in a major poetry. Bombast, bottles, and bullshit about all things Irish follow the lip service to the Literature and St.Patrick's Day become only respectful of its cultural namesake than does Cinco de Mayo or Halloween.

It's an excuse to drink to excess and behave badly and be a lout. Someone assumed it that because of my last name and that I made a living both writing and selling books I would be all over the Holiday and partake in the lugubrious, drunken wallow. I remember yelling at some partying moron with an Italian last name who was doing a miserable Barry Fitzgerald impersonation I had it in mind to come to his house late at night and do some patently offensive immigrant through a bullhorn if he kept up with what I thought was a cultural slander. He didn’t get what I was getting at, and I never showed up in his driveway to deliver on my promise, but the upshot is that he's never forced his face into mine after that with that wavering brogue.I resisted the temptation to ask if he Minstreled Show impersonations for black people on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, as the point was both overkill and would be lost on him. Say what you might about me, but I pride myself on the quality of issues I waste my breath on, a perverse pleasure that might reaffirm the cliche of the Irish being masters of futile eloquence. Doubtful; I just love the sound of my voice and don't compelled to credit cultural determinism for what is a gift or a cursedepending on circumstance, inspiration, and the quality of the coffee I might have been drinking when inspired to place a few words on the page, in rhythmic order, declaring war on the latest peeve or pestering pustule of aggravation). It that despite that small country’s amazing contributions to World Literature, I’ve never felt much kinship with Ireland, nor with the native Irish I’ve met. What I've felt like through my life is a middle-class white guy, Irish American, emphasis on the American. Irish-American.It's a different tribe.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

JIM IS STILL DEAD AND STILL SEXY

Image result for the doors five mean years
THE DOORS:
A Lifetime of Listening
to Five Mean Years
by Greil Marcus
Marcus is one of the remaining first-generation Rolling Stone rock critics who, in his old age, has evolved into something of a Methuselahian sage for the artist and band's populating the Rock and Roll Canon. He is a fine writer, beautifully evocative at times, a widely read gent who brings his far-flung references of history, aesthetics, politics, and mythology into his generalized ruminations on the movement of human history and how it was reflected and/or caused by the emergence of pop, rock and soul music. His idea, if he has any thesis at all, is that these were not merely forms of entertainment and distraction, they were cultural forces that changed the way we live. Marcus, as fine a prose stylist as he can be, and as momentarily persuasive as he can seem in his richer passages, actually puts forth little in the way of criticism; he rarely in his late writings spends the time to convincingly let you how songs, lyrics work internally. 

The Doors were a mixed bag for me; the first two albums are among the most important rock albums of all time, with the remainder alternating between the proverbial poles of brilliance and balderdash. As a band, they were simply sublime and unique, with the odd combination of blues, flamenco, classical, jazz , Artaud and epic theater being crafted in their hands to create a sound and feel that was singular and instantly identifiable . As a vocalist, Jim Morrison was often as evocative as the greatest fans proclaim, and it fit the half-awake twilight that seemed to be his constant state of consciousness. As a poet, though, I thought he was simply awful, fragmented, crypto-mystic surrealism that , save for some striking and memorable lines, collapsed from its flimsy elisions and obtuse vagaries. In his posthumous collections ,, the pieces read too often like the notebook jottings of an introspective 17 year old. I say that as one who was an introspective 17 year and is now an introspective 65 year old. Morrison might have become the poet he wanted to be had he been able to write, edit, and finesse his work as he desired when he left for Paris. What I will say, though,is that being the vocalist in the Doors gave him opportunity to go through his writings, his poems, and select many of the stronger passages for the band's more theatrical songs. The Doors , ironically seemed to be an institutional editor for Morrison's words, forcing the bard to decide which of his jottings was actually the most powerful, concise, emphatic.

The matter of craft isn't Marcus's highest concern. With the Doors, though, he does a good job of explaining what I've always felt for some time, that Jim Morrison was pompous, vacuous to major extent, a mediocre poet, a pretentious intellect who happened to have some things going for him: good looks and sex appeal, an appealing baritone voice could bellow or fashion a slumbering croon, and that he was in a band of good musicians that compelled him, in the songwriting process, to peel away the mostly dreadful riffing in his poems and boil it all down to the genuinely strange, exotic and provocative. The result of that combination of Morrison's affectations and the talents of the other band members made for a number of first-rate original songs. Save for the near perfection of their first two albums, it also made for some mostly uneven records where Morrison's drunk insistence on being a drunk put his worst tendencies on full display. Marcus is smart and remarkably succinct here, rendering shrewd judgments, the key one being that while saying up front than in any other life Morrison would have yet another counter-cultural tragedy left for dead and forgotten, rock and roll made him at least briefly pull his resources together and give the world something memorable beyond his pretentiousness.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

On getting fucked up


Yes, people really used to excuse a friend's uncontrolled drinking with the rationale that any one of us would likewise drink to excess if we had the life and travails of the associate who's inebriation causes concern. We like to think that we've learned much since those days when alcoholic excess seemed a way for a sensitive sort to melt away the crucifying agony that is the human condition and enter into a consciousness that allows to reacquaint himself with his Muse, to dream dreams and greater dreams after that, to see from the waves and wanderings of their stupors a clear vision of heaven and the path to get there. 

And, of course, drinking was the means with which the artist, the truly manly and mature among us handled our sorrows, those problematic feelings that are no less a part of the human drama. Would you drink if you had the same shortfalls, catastrophes, betrayals, disappointments as I had, if you lost lovers, jobs, missed opportunities, contracted fatal diseases, wrote angry letters to your father? Some of you would imbibe like I had, I suppose, but in 28 years of going without a drop of the stuff, there are millions more, from appearances, who walk past the liquor store and those taverns with the neon signs that blink and buzz with the promise of paradise and escape; somehow it occurs to the majority of the citizens to get busy and deal with the change in their fortunes.  

Not everyone who refuses to drink in the face of bad times come through their rough patches in better shape, but the point is that drinking to dissolve the problems, real and psychic, is not the default resource for the majority of the population. It seems to be for romantics, though, who, as a species, are prone to wallow at times in the extremities of their emotion at the sacrifice of all else. Hemingway comes into play; we imagine the spare code of conduct, the stoicism, the terse address of external occurrences in the world around him, the obsession with the super masculinity in which one is expected to bite the bullet and be honorable to an insane degree. 

Suffering in silence, writing poetry about drinking to make the disillusionment with the human condition tolerable and as a means of keeping hope and joy alive.  There was a time when I was part of this culture of self-reinforcing romanticism; life is a hardship, you drink to cope and soon enough your other coping skills vanish as you rely more on drinking in order to cope. Soon enough your hardships increase because of the drinking and the pressure from family, peers, and enemies for you to straighten out is too much, so you drink more to not just cope with the hardships of old and the new ones created by inevitable tragedies alcoholic drinking creates, but to make the world disappear. You become bitter, morose, morbid, cynical, continually inveighing against big and vague forces that destroyed your dreams.

So you drink in order to cope and escape, escaping the more important of the two intentions. Somewhere in an underlit corner of the brain is the nagging, chirping truth that you're drinking too much and that you should stop or perish, becoming an anonymous demonstration of Darwin's least attractive idea. Still, that five or so minutes of relief, the ahhhhhhhh that follows the first glottal gulp as the hooch seems to soothe the nerves and loosens the vise-like grip paranoia and anxiety have had on the brain are more or less worth the next several hours of binge drinking, from which more things get destroyed, dear friends and loved ones get called vile names, inexplicable phone calls to suicide hotlines are made, impossibly incoherent poems are written. 

The world becomes a small, sad place for you to be in.  Most the world around sees a sad case of someone who is the grip of some malady, some soul-shredding scourge who will die alone in the trash of his own making unless something resembling a miracle occurs. If you're a poet, a songwriter, someone who has made a reputation extolling the hard life and the hard-drinking that goes with it, you bear witness to what your romantic filters tell you is the Truth of the world and regard your rattled, besotted self as the price to pay for being so deep a reservoir for the boundless emotions of the human race, that a soul who feels so deeply the wounds of all humanity would have to drink in order to keep something like sanity and a sense of self wherein one can reside. A long, agonized spiral of self-fulfilling prophecy.