Sunday, April 26, 2020

MURDER MOST FOUL by Bob Dylan

Murder Most Foul is the best set of stanzas Dylan has written in decades, and  they indeed cover a lot of ground as to where he's been strategically in taking pen to paper, starting off with the kind of burned-out , cracker barrel chattiness that has made much , if not most, of his eighties, nineties and yes, 20s output a slog through the long grass of intensification, but Murder Most Foul rapidly morphs into an the kind of acerbic acuteness that made his late folk and early electric work so damn satisfying. Less fingerprinting, let us say, softer, but there is a compassionate irony here, something found in the third person omniscience of John Cheever and John Updike, something all seeing, interested, sympathetic to unsatisfactory results of best laid plans and the best intention ed art, but resolutely detached all the same, the Kierkegaard God remaining silent and unmoving in the wake of our dire consequences and continued mediocrity, the sort of  irony that contains no message other than pose the question concerning what our next move is. 

This song is a welcome, if sadly belated companion to the Phil Ochs masterpiece The Crucifixion, which is among the best rock-poem lyrics ever scribed and which handily beat Dylan at his own rock-poet game; this is prime Dylan, I believe, older, older, wizened and wiser, but a man aware of his own legacy and reputation as an artist who needs to put life into perspective, the ways in which he emerged after the Fall From Grace, meaning the assassination of JFK and the end of the myth of an American Camelot, a sprawling attempt to reconcile what seemed to be promised by the Presence of John F. Kennedy under who's direction a country could transcend the differences that separate us and have us join together in common cause of a creating a more perfect union and the witnessing and not wholly disguised disgust toward the same culture that, in the current climate, is drunk on personal pronouns and the assumption that gross materialism and mythological entitlements come with the words that refer to oneself as the only agent of action that matters.
bobdylan.com (@bobdylan) | Twitter

Dylan's finds himself in a universe crueler, stupider, more self-seeking than when he first started, and finds himself spoken of as deity, philosopher, poet, all manner of seer, sage and prophet who is supposed tell what to do and how to think about a reality does not yield its activities to the dictates to personal whim or the mythology of immutable laws of history. The only law of history is that there is no law of history. The undercurrent in Murder Most Foul's seventeen minute reach is that for Dylan, a man who has been alive long enough to see the major movements of American life, that nothing has changed in terms of what American feels it needs, which is the belief that we as a Nation are number one in the history of all things, that we are a nation of men with unlimited liberty , that self-seeking is a virtue that cures every perceived ailment; we find that the passage of time has changed the fashions , the furniture, the architecture of appearances, but the stupidity remains. This stupidity is not an element that goes deep but rather THE WHOLE THING  we base all we tell ourselves on. Murder most foul is loopy, long, prolix, an overstuffed set of luggage filled with name checks and the like, and likely could have benefited had it been cut to , say, ten minutes, but it is the work of a fine poetic mind that has woken up, or at least discerned a way to discuss what's been brewing in that brain these so many years.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

JOHN PRINE, AMERICAN AS PLAIN SPEECH


John Prine Tribute - John Prine Was Always There, the World Didn't ...


I’m very sad by the passing of John Prine, a wordsmith who  managed the hardest of all lyricist obligations, managing to be plain-spoken, colloquial, unafraid to be Stories would take. His best songs have an authentic, unaffected quality, that of someone talking to about some odd thing that happened them, recent or in the past, setting a scene, establishing an attitude, a personality at the beginning of the story, giving you an idea of where he was going with it all, an idea of what the moral of the tale would be, but then he concludes or at least stops his story at some point you didn't expect.He could be colloquial without being unclear, idiomatic without resorting to cracker barrel cliches; this was someone you knew perhaps not intimately, but who you knew well enough to have an ongoing conversation about the weather, sports, women, bad jobs, celebration and tribulation and come away with a feeling that you had just tapped into a larger Life Force. This writer wasn't, though, a preacher or a saint or an expert, or at least not an expert on anything beyond his experiences and the blessings or consequences of them. He didn't "drop knowledge", he didn't advise, he didn't moralize. He just told you what he knew and admitted what he didn't know and leave you a strong inclination to lean closer and observe longer and perhaps glean some incidental insight as to how to remain teachable after you've learned all the answers. That was a huge part of my attraction to his music and lyrics, their complete lack of pretension . 

Prine was less a poet, capital "P" than were some of his contemporaries, than he was story teller, but with the sense of structure of a great short story writer like John Cheever or Raymond Carver. John Prine  was a romantic with good sense of the hard , real ground even the dreamers have to walk.  He was a fatalist who could accept either a good or band hand dealt him by a world that paid his expectations no mind. But wouldn't dive into a murky, sticky self-pity, a critical flaw in many a singer/songwriter's work. Jackson Browne, for example. His music was such that it revealed a well balanced ambivalence to circumstances and outcomes.  He kept a sense of humor, allowed the events of his life to mature into a genuine wisdom. He continued, to pursue his calling.  Prine wasn't  a happy-go-lucky naif, he wasn't cheery when matters hit the skids or if his expectations weren't met.  He acknowledged his feelings, he would pause and rise to his feet after a while and continued on his path. An element of his tales, his loves and heartaches, is this mastery of the  Long-View, the unexpected but welcome shift in perspective that provides what the lesson was of experience , if there was any. Nothing preachy, nothing of the old-man attempt award wisdom drawn from travels and travails. Pine sounded like he was talking to you, in a living room, over lunch, at a bar, over a backyard fence. And, as I said, he had a sense of humor. He has a song called "When I Get to Heaven" from his 2018 record THE TREE OF FORGIVENESS:

When I get to heaven, I'm gonna shake God's hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I'm gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band
Check into a swell hotel, ain't the afterlife grand?
And then I'm gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
'Cause this old man is goin' to town Then as God as my witness, I'm gettin' back into showbusiness I'm gonna open up a nightclub called "The Tree ofForgiveness" And forgive everybody ever done me any harm
Well, even invite a few choice critics, those syph'liticparasitics Buy 'em a pint of Smithwick's and smother 'em with my charm
'Cause then I'm gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin' to town
Yeah when I get to heaven, I'm gonna take that wristwatchoff my armWhat are you gonna do with time after you've bought thefarm?
And then I'm gonna go find my mom and dad, and good oldbrother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin' up a rug
I wanna see all my mama's sisters, 'cause that's where allthe love startsI miss 'em all like crazy, bless their little hearts
And I always will remember these words my daddy said
He said, "Buddy, when you're dead, you're a deadpecker-head"I hope to prove him wrong... that is, when I get to heaven
'Cause I'm gonna have a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin' to town
Yeah this old man is goin' to town
This is the greatest of all American literary personas, the knowing hick, the bucolic philosopher, the country ironist, a figure that is from Mark Twain straight up to Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut, an unlettered man, apparently, with an indefatigable self-confidence and Panglossian who, aware that he is dead and in the clouds with his Creator, shakes His hand and sets out to do what a heaven of his imagining would be, to have his favorite cocktail, smoke copious amounts of cigarettes , stick it to his nettlesome critcis by compelling them to sit through his nightclub act, reunite with this family not for tears and regrets but for good times and real love... You can go through his catalog of songs and parse his lyrics any number of ways and marvel at the sweet subtleties he created with such clear, unmannered and un-fussy language. He was an Everyman who was appealing because he wasn't trying to impress anyone or blow them away with Big Stories with Big Message, messages that were rather hackneyed, ala Harry Chapin.Prine's ambition seemed not much more than to be the best songwriter he could be , someone surprised that a great many others over the years admired his rich body of work

Monday, March 30, 2020

Woody Allen Memoir anyone?



Woody Allen's Memoir Released, Denies Molesting Dylan Farrow ...
The little I've read about Allen's memoir Apropos of Nothing gives further confirmation that brilliant artists are  often awful people, creeps in fact , and underscores the wisdom of having realistic expectations from such bright lights of talent when observing them behave in matters separate from the art they make for our distraction. Being an artist, whether poet, novelist, painter or musician, is not a priesthood by any means. Without diving into the weeds about the allegations that Allen had molested his daughter Dylan , I will step back and say that it’s a family feud with no jackpot, a large pile of reeking results of separate streams of bad faith. In any event, I will satisfy myself with reading a half dozen book reviews because other matters, more interesting and crucial, have bled the subject of Allen, his career, his successes and his sins dry of any allure. The matter is a dead, dry husk of wretched old flesh under a sun lamp of scrutiny.  The characterizations I've read, quoted with glee with reviewers anxious to soil his name a little more, does indeed cause the writer-director-comedian appear to be an unseemly prick. 



I will leave it at that and trust that he is yet another artist I admire who likewise suffered the indignity of being human, too human, despite an element of extraordinary talent and achievement. At 84, I suspect Allen doesn't care what others think about he thinks of everybody else and expects his reputation as a genius film maker to outlive the predator allegations. It's certainly the case with Frank Sinatra, who survived the storm over Kitty Kelly's fantastically damning biography HIS WAY in 1986. Sinatra sued to stop publication but later dropped the suit, and the contents of the book revealed an ambitious , insecure , raging man gifted with a beautiful voice and attendant charisma who was in actual fact a monster. 



Thirty three years later, the Kelley book and the deeds it recounts are safely back in the shadows and the general view of Sinatra, his reputation, is a glorification of a legend, an artist, a genius, a true romantic, a profound American success story. At this stage of the game, Allen believes the same will be his fate, that his many successes as a film maker and humorist will outpace that gamier aspects of his life. Americans prefer to believe their legends.




RIFFING THROUGH THE MUDDLE



The 1976 Mahavishnu Orechestra release Inner Worlds is the one of the few of the many  John McLaughlin albums I have no use for. It seems a case that JM had a bunch of new guitar synth toys and had not yet figured out a way to make them remotely attractive in their modulations, and that he had to put a band together pronto with little rehearsal time. Especially the compositions, which recycle riffs from the previous two studio albums or spend time abruptly moving from tonal muddle-headedness, ersatz classicism, or the dreariest of vocal chorusing . The band was not ready for prime time, distressing considering the talent in the band, with Stu Goldberg (keyboards), Ralph Armstrong (bass) and Narada Michael Walden (drums); all these players are superb in executing the roles the sessions require of them, but no one shines here, which is a shame. 

See the source imageI saw this line up of musicians in 1974 for the tour supporting the orchestral Apocalypse album (another least-played disc in my JM collection) with the addition of Jean Luc Ponty (violin) and Gayle Moran (keyboards), and experienced a wholesale blitzkrieg of fusion brilliance. It was a refreshing reminder how often the musicians achieve  those levels of ad lib brilliance in live settings, especially from a studio effort that collapsed under it’s own portentous weight. This is a note that McLaughlin is a worth composer of small ensemble composition, but lacked, at least at the time, the where with all to score a piece for full orchestra.  

 None of that was evident on the 1976 release Inner World, and even JM seemed overwhelmed by all the noise that resulted. Fortunately for the world, McLaughlin is one who liked to move from style to style has remained an inspiring artist. To this day, decades after he first rattled my tooth fillings, it still takes one of his guitar solos to put me in touch with that instinct that wants to transform rage and fury into a heady, fast thinking lyricism. He has been that brilliant.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

finding good music

Image result for Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt


n the seventies, while a young man appropriately bored with the slamming two-dimensional dynamics of late-period jazz-rock (which had morphed into a stylized arena of tick-rock riffing termed "fusion" that was monotony incarnate), I ventured forth into older jazz forms, bop, swing, big and, Ellington, Davis, Mingus, people who swung over unpredictable tempos and fantastic chords. It was a love affair that never hasn't stopped yet. Curiously, though, I formed jazzbo attitudes about artists I hadn't heard, a phenomenon not uncommon among some of us desperate for a hip reputation. You followed the herd-thinking. What I heard was that alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt was nothing but a low down Charlie Parker imitator, technically adept and adroit in extemporizing over a 6/8 time breakdown of a popular tune, but he was a technician only, without a soul. I went with that for years and dug into my Miles Davis phase, a long binge over a the late eighties and nineties on as Much MD as I could afford, everything from what he'd done as a sideman with Bird and through his various labels as band leader, from the hard bop session he'd done, through the modal experiments and into the blistering jazz-rock he created., noting , as well, the history of his saxophone players, a fine fettle of reed geniuses: George Coleman,Cannonball Adderley,Gerry Mulligan,John Coletrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Dave Leibman. Nothing but the best for Miles. 

I was one of those who scoured the used CD bins, looking for my preferred artists and one day, lo! I came across a record titled "Walkin':A Jazz Hour With Miles Davis" on released on the now-defunct economy label Laserlight. Featuring a previously unavailable live performance in Europe in the Fifties, this was not the classic earlier studio album "Walkin'" (a one of MDs many masterpieces) , but so what, it was Davis live and on sale. Reading the personal, all seemed worth the purchase despite the misdirection of the title, as it highlighted, worthies like pianist Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers on drums, Jimmy Cobb on drums, on saxophone...Sonny Stitt?? The plagiarist , the rip off artist, the Parker wannabe? The man I relegated to the minor leagues without endeavoring to hear what he played like? With Miles? 

This wasn't so earth shaking a revelation as I might want to make it sound and , of course, I didn't ask myself that sequence of disbelieving questions presented in incomplete sentences. I was curious and bough the record. I was more than pleasantly pleased with the hard bop brilliance of the band--Miles Davis of this period is essentially flawless as he applies to his muted, modulated, middle register approach to the hard charging changes this fine band challenges him with--and came to the conclusion that Sonny Stiff had been given the short shrift as a musician. The resemblance to Parker are there, undeniable, and it's understandable how jazz snobs of the time, wanting to consecrate jazz as America's art music in opposition to the tradition of European classicism and establish both canon and criteria for our best gift to the world, would deride particular players, diminish them in stature without fair estimation in an effort to create standards for an emerging aesthetics. 

Understandable and unfair, because what I discovered was a musician of envious fluidity and lyric invention within his scope as an improviser who could negotiate steeple-chase tempos and obstacle course chord progressions with precision and yet never, or at least rarely lose a song's melodic nuance ; for all the high-velocity bravura bop-related jazz musicians are known for, Stitt had a ribbony, sweetly undulating method of teasing notes and shading their sounded presence with variations within the pitch, a legacy from the blues that maintains a vocal quality, a sharp note of surprise as the solo unfolds. 

Stitt, however, wasn't a soulless technician.Whatever debt he owed to Charlie Parker is nearly besides the point; the style is something Stitt took possession and made it his means to express something that, in itself, was beyond race, economics and the general ugliness mere existence weights us with; it is simply beautiful and exciting music made by a musician who deserves to be reexamined for his best recorded moments.

B


Monday, March 2, 2020

IMMIGRATION COMES TO A FULL BOYLE

THE TORTILLA CURTAIN
a novel by T.C.Boyle
Culture clash is the theme in Tortilla Curtain, and leave it TC Boyle to go beyond the abstract curtain of statistics, policy wonkery and three-hankie tragedy mongering and provide the reader instead with a contradiction that is harshly comic; well off Southern Californians, nominally liberal in their politics, are forced to deal with an illegal couple who are in the most dire situations. California is the Big Blue state of liberal leaning, fat with left-leaning delegates and electoral votes, and with a state legislature that manages the most progressive state laws extant in our union; given that this over populated state is filled with liberals and progressives of a particularly privileged sort, the ones who offer not deeds but coin and bumper sticker cliche, we have a target rich environment for Boyle's satire. Plainly, what would happen if your memorized principles slam up against the very problem you've paid lip service to solving? It works to the degree in that the suburban pair preferred to have their causes at several layers of removal , preferring safe memberships in organizations forever raising money for non controversial progressive causes; a check or a credit card donation was the exercise of their social responsibility, an acceptable penance for what is largely a consumerist lifestyle. Boyle does not sugar coat, euphemise nor glorify the awful trials and fate of the Mexican couple that had stolen over the border looking for a better life. Against a backdrop of a terrain of sunshine, opulence and the saturation of Conspicuous Consumption, Boyle tenders life at the margins, at the edges of glittering downtowns and cascading suburbs.Boyle is stinging and blunt in the way he describes the ordeals economic desperation that drives good people, and he is unsparing at offering up a priceless, painfully recognizable banter of a privileged psychology that inspects the hard facts of injustice and responds by trying to worm their way out of any sense of responsibility for others less well endowed.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

A POEM BY EDISON JENNINGS


Did you notice, slipping through middle age and advancing , year by year, to the upper end of your sixth decade, that you linger more at the places where things you remember used to be? The house where you were born that is now a strip mall of mostly empty storefronts,save for the ubiquitous taco shop and nail gallery? The stump that used to be the large oak under whose canopy you first dared kiss your future wife and she didn't slap you and you knew things would be alright at least for a little while? Have you railed against the shape the traffic signs that no longer signal what they're about in a pattern you understood without having to look up? For me, it was aromas I missed, the furniture that remains in the corner of the room where someone sat for hours, months, years, writing papers, reading novels, talking on the phone, or it was the shape of the sheets sometimes when I am back from my assignments and the twists and and layered caverns of bed sheets , pillows plush blankets puts smack dab in the center of many an amorous wrestling match, me, pinned as usual, taking as well as I could give. 
It's an age where the universe we inhabit becomes one big scrap book, the long walk we take through memory as the years scurry past faster than they used to. Edison Jenning's short, casually addressed lyric "Bouquet", seems one of those journeys in the time machine --something so basic, even inconsequential as making yourself comfortable in a familiar  becomes, instead, the impetus for the poet to recollect even the smaller, seemingly duller things about a lover , her aromas, her scent, the way her body shapes the bed covers . I rather like this poem, admire it greatly, in fact, because of the simplicity and directness of Jenning's voice, a mid section of private message, love letter, or just talking to one, thinking half sentences of references that convey the yearnings of what words cannot adequately convey, the precise feeling one has when rapt with profound yearning to be with someone who is absent.  
We observe a man in simple ritual, sniffing about, unashamedly, seeking a reminder of the the unsaid issue here, that being alive is more than going through the paces. This is not an argument is making, of course, as he is only talking , briefly ruminating on a moment when he broke with the routine of merely gettng ready for the next task and sought something private and special for him. It is, though, a message that rests not far under the surface of the poet's wonderfully sketchy, chatty details: we are human and we have things on our mind that are not open for discussion, wonderful things that make being alive the best hand we've ever been dealt. 

Bouquet
When you’re away, I sleep on your side of the bedand smell the sheets where the weave is richest
with your scent—bath-damp hair, armpits, feet,
the alchemic reminders of your sex.
Call me, won’t you? Call me what you will:
pillow-sniffer, linen-lecher, truffle-nosing swine,
or better yet, a drowsy drunk who smells
the empty bottle’s cork to tease the tongue
and taste again the flower in the wine.
-                                         -Edison Jennings

Monday, December 23, 2019

WE WILL NOT COWER BEFORE KAUR



There was a time not long ago when I'd write an easily composed 1000 or so word diatribe eviscerating mediocre poets, which is to say poet tasters I eccentrically considered subpar, egocentric without compensating genius, bombastic without ballast, cryptic without elegance, or elegant without grit.The truth of the matter is that it's nearly easier to write, with verve, negative reviews than to write positive notices for those bards I actually enjoyed. Of course, former pleasures become burdens and for the last few years my talent for impaling the poetically inept bored me to something less than a puny yelp. There are too many rank poets to bother with; I am outnumbered and outgunned.What does raise my hackles a bit these days are generous essays by bright writers extolling the virtues of the god-awfullest scribe in our midst.  Perhaps I'd should mention as well that in those former times when I desired to be the scourge of half-baked versifying I was speaking too loudly for little insight to be heard;it's been my goal to tone down my rhetoric a few notches, although I cannot guarantee that I won't turn my amplifier up to the eleven mark yet again as tripe is served. 

A long piece by Rumaan Alam in the New Republic makes a case for the stick figure poetics of Canadian Instagram poet Rupi Kaur. Though softly insisting that her verse is not to his taste, he argues that there is validity in the kind of platform she is using, the self-obsessed imagery she posts to accompany many of her finicky line breaks, of her treating legitimate issues for women in such a way that reduces them to the most obvious sort of pandering. His article can be read hereOften there is a weird equivocation that goes on among those I ask if they think whether Kaur is any good. Not to generalize too broadly, but often they pause, clear their throat, and speak of her in terms that have no relation to the quality of her poems. Funny how we can agree that Rod McKuen, say, was an awful poet, and even some of us with strong feminist sympathies can admit that Erica Jong was a lackluster poet all this time, but when Kaur comes up in conversation she is handled with kid gloves. More power to her for using Instagram to get readers. It's a shame this poetaster serves up the thinnest gruel to the unsuspecting and naive.Make no mistake, Kaur is an awful, even dreadful poet when one of her works is made to suffer a critical examination. Sometimes you're left wondering if she read poetry at all. What I see is a young scribbler whose accomplishment has been to professionalize the very real concerns of struggling against a male patriarchy that, alas, still runs things. She has over three million followers, I hear tell, she has books that sell in the millions, and she resonates with readers who have read her work who, in turn, do not seem interested in reading poets who exceed the typically brief magazine captions that are the true literary worth of most Instagram posts. 

This the poetry for the age of the anxiety cursed I Phone owner, a failure of the attention span on a massive level. The writer here believes that her lack of literary essentials is beside the point, and that her greatness is in matters metaphysical, which is too say, intangible and unprovable. I don't see what she does as in anyway mastering the beast of the internet and social media. Kaur has been consumed by it. Her role in this all, perhaps, is that she like the band playing music on the Titanic while it slips under an icy sea.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

NoMo PoMo

No photo description available.
The online journal The Chronicle Review does the worrying population of undecided readers a favor in their current edition with a forum entitled 
"The Birth, Death and Birth of Postmodernism".  It's a forum of ten contributors with varying stakes in the floating crap game that is the postmodern condition each attempts to essay forth on. What has happened since Fredric Jameson essay Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”  from the New Left Review and the publication of Lyotard's groundswell book The Post Modern Condition , published years ago. Without recycling some notions of my own that are available elsewhere on this blog, we can say that the idea of postmodernism arose from the relativistic rigors--ironic, no?--of late  20th century philosophy , an ambiguous set of arguments and anti- arguments -that sought to undermine the whole notion of authority, meaning-giving, and power, essentially setting out to disrupt and overturn The Enlightenment (or advance it, depending on which seat you were sitting in some of the frothy debates of the time). It was a set of ambiguities that applied to every topic that would come to your tongue, something that would explain/unexplain everything, it was a term that joined the term "existential" as a go-to word when middlebrows, those readers who skim  or depend on book reviews for their book information, would drop like a  bag of nickles whenever they wanted to sound like the beneficiaries of a college education.  Like existential, as well, it soon enough became a buzz phrase that singled the presence of the middlebrow conversationalist who hadn't more than an in-lawish relationship to concepts, names and books under discussion. Using it seemed pretentious. It died, and academics moved to new ways to confound others and themselves. And yet the term now has currency again, it is reborn , revived, and more hated than it ever has been. So we have ten bright people giving an overview the history of postmodernism, its use in academica, how  misreading ruined political action.  The fascinatingly Chicken Little-ish Jordan Peterson was rummaging around his desk full of 80s tropes and happened upon the ever sexy and ambiguous phrase "Postmodernism" and set it aside for use as a strawman , a concept to blame for why everything has gone wrong with our culture. He tosses in the term 'Cultural Marxism" to sweeten his little vat of ill-tidings,and has handily reintroduced some basically obsolete terms back into the daily discussion of Big Ideas. It is , though, an old game blamed long and vainly, empty of real concepts. Peterson is a smart guy, a cunning debater, but what he's selling an empty box, basically repackaging the Fall From Grace , the expulsion for the Garden of Eden. His problem is that he and his fans presuppose there was a time when things made sense, were normal, were stable and adhering to the Way Things Ought to Be. Normal, stable for who? Post modernism had been a term that had currency once, was over used in all media sectors, and soon enough fell on the pile of academic words, like "existential" , that cannot not be used in any meaningful way to address our current mess, lest one provoke sneers , laughs, and parody. This is a little forum comprised of many interesting thinkers , writers, intellectuals who offer their view on the current state of what we mean or don't mean by the use f the term "postmodernism" and cultural Marxism, and the many infinite ways a useful term became garbled in a culture that cannot function without loud noise , friction and bull horned assholism.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

LYN LIFSHIN RIP

Image result for lyn lifshin poems

I've heard from what others have posted that Lyn Lifshin, a very good poet I've read for sometime, has passed away. I haven't located more details, but I will offer instead that she was a wonderful lyric poet, with sharp observation shown in spare but powerful images, with a frame of mind to observe, contemplate and find parallels between ideas and objects that wouldn't inhabit the same sentence. Her poetry was not skeletal, not minimalist, it had rhythm , pace , a real pulse , but it was not cluttered; her best poems had the remarkable resonance of one those things a friend says to you in passing, a story, a notion, something that was observed, something actually uttered , which had the accidental genius of having the right words for an idea that could just as easily been talked to death. Lifshin was a remarkable poet, and we are poorer both as readers and poets alike for the loss of her. Two poems:

MOVING BY TOUCH


that afternoon an
unreal amber
light 4 o'clock the
quietness of
oil February blue
bowls full of
oranges we were
spreading honey, butter
on new bread our
skin nearly touching
Even the dark wood glowed


BUT INSTEAD HAS GONE UNDERGROUND

A woman goes into the subway,
and for what reason
disappears behind rails
and is never heard from again.
We don't understand this.
She could have gone to the museum,
had cappuccino with a lover.
But instead has gone down the
escalator, without i.d., or
even a ticket and not
for clothes or flowers. It was
a grey humid day,
very much like today.
It was today. Now you might
imagine I'm that woman, it
seems there are reasons.
But listen, I don't live
anywhere near that metro stop
and who I am is already
camouflaged behind
velvet and leather

Thursday, December 5, 2019

WHAT IS HIP?

Among the miscellaneous debris, The Seventies have given rock and roll is the chance for a new artist to regurgitate and, at times, imaginatively retool the many over-incubated cliches of Pop and rock music.Older critics who long for their youthful heyday (first cigarette, first sexual encounter, first visit to the doctor’s office without informing one’s parents) as something in the vanguard of the movement, a ...fresh and invigorating voice that outlines the future of rock and roll.. ." We seem stuck in a state, perhaps permanently, where we have given way to unavoidable nostalgia and have taken to wallowing in recollections of an Ideal Past. 

This is Fall-From-Grace stuff, a perverse funk for a generation that barely has the right to call itself middle age; as it has for some years now, we continue to search for the next Dylan, the new Hendrix, the next Beatles; overpraise and hypercritical rejection are the two polarities the new blood is greeted; the middle position did not hold in these surmising discussions. Bruce Springsteen combines elements from Phil Spector records, old rhythm, and blues tracks, and basic 4/4 backbone of rock and roll, wrapping a Dylanesque, free-associating surrealism around it. The result is a pastiche of styles that sounds forced.The motivation is obvious to a disinterested observer, but Springsteen’s movements do not move me beyond recognizing that he is influences will remain hipper than he could hope to be. 

What constitutes the ephemeral, mystically conferred essence of hip on someone, I admit, is a mystery that is and will remain the subject of engrossing discussions and debates that will not find a resolution. But I know it when I see/hear/read it, and Bruce Springsteen appears fated to remain an earnest hipster, another face in the chorus protesting the same hard knocks and cold soup. Patti Smith wants to merge early Sixties rock, all Stones and "Louie Louie" with the legends of dead poets, sounding in the end merely silly. Tom Waits combines black jazz hep jive with Jack Kerouac and sounds stupid.From this parade of pretenders, the more jaded among us are leery of anyone trying the same thing. My Aim is True by Elvis Costello, takes one by surprise. Like Springsteen, the backbone 01 Costello's music is old rock and roll. But apart from that, they differ radically. Springsteen has a tendency to stretch his material to the breaking point, pouring crescendo upon toughness, and Costello's sing• crescendo. verse upon verse, ing, similar to Springsteen's trying to create an epiphany but more tactful, is full of that never culminates into pro- buoyancy, emotion, and conviction.

 Costello, though, is without any overkill. What he loves about tin pan alley, the Brill Building, the hack songwriters of all callings, genres, convictions, was their mastery of craft. Mr. Costello knows when to be poetic and deliver a sequence of lyrics that manage to weave narrative elements and spare details that contain a beginning, middle, and end, his poetry, though influenced by Dylan and John Lennon, is under control; he doesn’t mistake a verse as an occasion for wildly opaque analogies, but for vivid items that logically follow one another in tone, temper, plot; one might not make sense of the songwriter’s word use, but you have a sense of the narrator’s situation, an element that makes this artist’s songwriter all more seductive and alluring. The stripped down to a vernacular (songs number twelve in all on the disc, unusual for a rock disc, and each exists as polished lyrical gems of a cynical, penetrating working-class intelligence. Costello's strength, a virtue that Springsteen, Smith and Waits lack, is his ability to use rock cliches for their full value. Instead of brandishing them like a set of museum pieces that one is supposed to bow to in historical awe and respect, Costello gets the heat to the meat. The make takes ownership of them and does with them as likes. 

The rockabilly stuff is done with a verve that equals Buddy Holly, his use of reggae captures the required anguished, sinister mood, and his boogie material does a lot more than plot the course for the band. His lyrics, though, are imbued with a seventies sensibility, an awareness of absurdity works minor miracles with the clichés. Though not notable for originality or innovation, My Aim Is True is an honest piece of work, and Elvis Costello has an intelligence that can develop into something more complex and rewarding. My Aim, for now, suffices as an excellent example of how old forms may be revitalized, even reinvented from scratch, with the basic elements and energy renewed, if for a time, and be metaphorically capable of making the vulgarity , self-seeking and tangible afflictions that make life a cruel waiting room all melt into air and make you happy for the voice you hear next to you and the voice he or she is singing, grateful for the breath your taking, and feeling fully alive , if briefly, knowing that you and yours are not the only ones seeking transcendence. That is what great art does, if briefly.




Wednesday, November 27, 2019

PUNK CRITIC JOHN SIMON CROAKS

Image result for john simonJohn Simon, America's meanest critic is dead at age 93. It will be noted over and over that he was of high IQ and sublime erudition, quite, quite fluent in the popular arts, low, middle and high. Though his writing had genuine mean wit--he was on occasion a remarkable phrase-maker--and his prose very often was drenched in knowing references to poets, novelists, philosophers and composers, I rarely discerned a discussion of the artist or their medium that rose above the provincial.For all the interior decoration he gave his critiques with the names and words of genuine thinkers, Simon's judgements were the worst sort of offensive, which was that of being dull-witted despite admirer's praise for his rumored brilliance. I say this as someone who read him for decades--there is a generation of literary, film and music critics I've followed because criticism is something I regard as artful and crucial when it's done well-- when I assert that the man's mind, despite the high-octane breadth, was flat footed. For a man who was feared, feted, loathed, lionized and called every name available in a shelf of obscene books, indeed, for a man consistently employed solely to render harsh pronouncements on the work of artists, it's despairing to think that his cut-rate skills  as a critical intelligence were regarded as hoity-toity, brainy, egghead stuff. In truth, Simon, as a man who was supposed to make you consider aspects of creative expressions in ways that go beyond the cliche, the platitude, the generalized sarcasm, was a mediocre critic.

His analysis was peculiarly pedestrian. His was the most useless sort of criticism, a style that was noisy, aggressively mean spirited, freakishly untouched by an illuminating idea. Ordinarily I would say some tactful remarks about recently passed writers whom I read quite a bit of,but those readers familiar with the cartoonishly patrician persona and tone Simon created and polished over many malevolent years as a framer of the national dialogue of culture and art will understand this rude send off. Finally, my guess for this deceased essence of lizardly snark's maintaining the insults, the misogynistic, homophobic, anti-semitic and racist bile over the years is that he  knew he was no Gore Vidal, no Elizabeth Hardwick, no Norman Mailer, no James Baldwin. Flawed though those writers and reviewers  could be in their expressions, they provoked debate, inspired discussion, instigated dissent --all of them , in their best and worst moments forced the engaged reader to think harder on what they'd just read. Even talking about them today can land one in along conversation in which the pondering of what the Muses avail us begins again. Simon, in that regard, was such a routine naysayer that you regarded him like he were a man with a persistent cold who could no stifle a loud, garish cough, or perhaps someone given to chronic flatulence who vented his odious stinkers when he was in the center of a center of a party of attendees cheerfully chatting away.  Once he made his noise and raised his stink, all you could do was wait for to go away and then not think of the sheer worthlessness of his existence from that point on. 


Well, John Simon has left us, and now we may get on with forgetting he was a part of any conservation. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

a note or two about my mother

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My mom, Maxelle Reed Roberts Burke, was a tough and intelligent and a pretty brilliant woman who didn't sit around waiting for things to happen. She raised the five of us with a firm but loving hand, and did me the favor of telling me the truth about how the world worked. She knew she had a dreamy, half-deaf romantic on her hands in my presence and would caution me against going the whole hog into relationships, and to be prepared for disappointment when things didn't work out to my heart's content. Besides family, she was a community activist at different times, particularly, in a campaign to get Harper Woods a public swimming pool all its own. She was an artist, an interior designer of the first rank along with our Dad, and was the brains and the brilliance behind a successful interior design business she ran with Ed Burke. She was a doer, a questioner, a person who would find out things for herself and did not suffer fools at all. More than once I've seen take apart some poor chump who thought he could "man-splain" some matter to her, whether professional, political or territorial. 

And she was wonderfully hip in ways you didn't expect; time was a family dinner in the 80s and we wound up watching a Dick Clark music award show. Jefferson Starship was one of the artists, with Grace Slick dressed conservatively. Mom shook her head and said that Slick looked like a drunk housewife. Next was punk band X, loud, grainy, distorted, too fast and definitely not hippie music. Mom liked them a lot, bobbing her head in time with the raucous noise X made. Mom was edgy in the smartest ways and had many interests, particularly in people. She had many fiercely loyal friends. What I most remember, though, was that she encouraged my love of books and music, bought me my first harmonica when the guitar lessons yielded no fruit and that she used to read to me when I was very young and would answer my questions when a story didn't make sense. And she had a beautiful voice--she sang often as she made dinner when she thought she was alone listening to the radio. It was a softer side of her that wasn't often on display. 


And did I mention that she had the best laugh in the world, a loud, robust burst of hilarity? My sister Julia inherited that laugh and it makes me happy every time I hear it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

JOKER: aggravating brilliance

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First, Joker is thematically a blend of two Scorsese movies, Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, something that co-writer and director Todd Phillips readily admits to. He's admired character study films like those from the 70s and the 80s, and it was his intent to do a psychological portrait of a complex and manifestly unhinged comic book villain in the same way. The King of Comedy underpinnings is very apt for this character who has been erasing and reconstructing the separations between comedy, tragedy and outright evil for the better part of eighty years in the comic books. Even with the conspicuous nod to Scorsese's style of giving us a Taxi Driver like a study of the making of a what we would now call homegrown terrorists--contemporary echoes of the Alt-Right neo-Nazis and the lesser antagonisms of Antifa on the left readily come to mind as the story unfolds--Phillips has his own approach in creating the slow, subtle evolution of this title card man. Visually, the movie is something else again, with New York City standing in for the mythic Gotham City--I haven't seen the grit, graffiti and architecture/neighborhood magnificence that is the Big Apple used this marvelously in some time. 

The cast is perfect for the disturbing and violent nature of this film. And get this, although there is no Batman, this is within a world that very probably does or eventually will be populated by DC's costumed heroes. But this is a standalone character study, and what they've is impressive indeed, and even brilliant in a peculiar, discomforting way. I liked it quite a lot. don't think its quite the masterpiece DC fans want it to be, but it is a finely made film that creates a mood and twists it ever so much through the film's length as we see an already on-the-edge character step closer to an abyss and he finally falls in. As Joker/Arthur is in every scene, nearly every shot, I take the story to be a stream of delusions, some situated in what appears to be Arthur's rat-race life, and others that are obviously grandiose, malevolent fantasies. Director and co-writer Todd Phillips did a superb job of managing the "untrustworthy narrator" device, of taking the audience along a path of events where are expectations are eventually unmoored by contradictory incidents. 

Phillips shows a knack throughout Joker of keeping us guessing, revealing unexpected bits of information that genuinely surprise. Phoenix deserves at least an Oscar nomination no less than Heath Ledger did. For the violence and politics, the animus toward the rich in Arthur's fevered perception hasn't an explicitly political bent, by design, I believe. The people, as they are, simply are tired of being crapped on and, like Arthur, are raging violently against the machine. And the film is beautifully, evocatively, amazingly shot--I have not seen New York City photographed this effectively in a motion picture for quite a while. And, of course, there are many who dislike this film intensely. That's the kind of movie they intended to make. I believe. 

There are hundreds of movies that have come out in the last 30 years or so that are insanely more violent than Joker--think of the Die Hard franchise, for example, or virtually Tarantino's entire body of work--but is the film that has people talking, upset, fretting. It was a strategically brilliant move to furnish this tale with a confirmed "reality, a center both writers and the audience can refer back to regain their bearings before going forward to see what develops with some idea of "what's going on". This film is wholly unreliable as a dependable account of what actually happened to this man and this city in this imagined universe, and as more is revealed, that what had been taken for granted is indeed not the case but rather its center opposite, audience reaction, or at least mine, tended toward the antsy, anxious, nervous. Even in its slowness, the film gave you no room to relax. You might consider it analogous to watching a time bomb in a crowded public space, aware that it's going to go off at some time, yet you do nothing, just watching, waiting, become slightly insane with expectation. When it finally does go off and you see the bloody death, destruction, carnage that is the consequence, uncensored, unfiltered, there is no catharsis as, say, a bullet in the skull of a generic bad guy in a Die Hard film would provide. For me it was oh shit, there it goes, here we go, this awful, oh god...

Joker accomplishes that--blurring any finessed connections between fantasy and reality, as Scorsese provided in King of Comedy,a major influence on this film, and having the violence viscerally affect you. It was like getting beaten up in real-time. This is the product of sheer artistry. The violence is pure Guernica.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

KATE BRAVERMAN, RIP




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Sorry to hear this. Braverman was an especially brilliant prose writer and a powerful lyric poet who could twine together the insane sweep of mythology, feminist, confessional revelations , erotic depositions and the like into a captivating , galvanic roil of language that seemed nothing less than a controlled, emotional explosion , remindful of the classic image from Apocalypse Now when a napalm strike took out a long row of trees in a Vietnamese forest. Really, her "incantatory writing" , as she called it, got the nerve endings flaring.I met her after I'd written a rave review of her book FRANTIC TRANSMISSIONS, a mesmerizing memoir if one has ever been written, something that led to a brief communication and an eventual appearance at the bookshop where I worked at the time. She was a handful to be around, I should say, and as much of a genius she had as writer and poet, there was tangible relief when she left for the evening. All said, Kate Braverman was an amazing writer who deserves a broader readership. There is more I could say about my encounter with Braverman, but lets instead consider my summary judgement on her prickly and hallucinogenic memoir Frantic Transmissions  from 2009:



Image result for Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir"Frantic Transmissions to and From Los Angeles is a memoir, of sorts, about growing up in Los Angeles, and then the eventual moving away from that famously center-less city. Writing in a high poetic and semiotically engaged style that recalls the best writing of Don DeLillo (Mao ll) and Norman Mailer (Miami and the Seize of Chicago), Braverman deftly defines isolated Los Angeles sprawl and puts you in those cloistered, cul-de-sac'd neighborhoods that you drive by on the freeway or pass on the commuter train, those squalid, dissociated blocks of undifferentiated houses and strip malls and store front churches; the prose gets the personal struggle to escape through any means , through art and rage, and this makes Frantic Transmissions not unlike Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, wherein the prodigal son or daughter deigns to move up and away from a home that cannot keep them, with only raw nerve and the transforming elements of art to guide them.

What Braverman confronts and writes about with a subtly discerning wit is the struggle of defining the place one calls home, and what roles one is obliged to assume as they continually define their space, their refuge. All through this particularly gripping memoir there is the sheer magic and engulfing power of Braverman's writing; I was fortunate to receive an uncorrected proof of Frantic Transmissions a couple of months ago, and I was knocked out by what I beheld. Sentence upon sentence, metaphor upon simile, analogy upon anecdote, this writing is rhythmic and full of stirring music. There is poetry here that does not overwhelm nor over reach; this is an amazing book, and it is one of the best books about life in Los Angeles , quite easily in the ranks of Nathaniel West, Joan Didion, and John Fante. "