Monday, May 29, 2023

Succession ends it.


At last, we come to the absolute end of HBO's family / business drama Succession and for that, ending all storylines after the series' fourth season, is a favor that cannot be understated. Showtime's business fiction Billions, coming soon for a seventh season, has gone from a guilty pleasure where a viewer of average income can observe fictional billionaires behaving as biblical swine would, which is badly, immorally, narcissistic. But what should have stopped at a fourth or perhaps a fifth season has sped by, all the signs that it was time to start wrapping things up. The show concerns how powerful people in high-level law enforcement offices and in high stakes financial companies gain, lose and regain advantage in scenarios that have lost any sort of aspect of the thrill of it all. So, here comes season 7. With any luck, it will be the final year, albeit two seasons too late. The show was already a live action cartoon, an enjoyable one, but the plot points it's staked out for its next go round will be the kind of chronic sensationalism Showtime habitually extends beyond the entertainment value. 

For Succession, it's obvious that they've preferred tragedy to mean-spirited slapstick, and it is clear that the character arcs set out by the writers have led us through these four seasons to a situation that is painfully, obviously without resolution: what I'll say is that despite the wealth of these characters, it's a sure bet among viewers that it won't end well by the time one makes their way to the movie length final episode of Season 4. This is a collective tragedy, not an individual one, the fatal flaw being that the three main siblings have spent all the seasons trying to please a cruel father, even after Logan’s problem-causing death. Either they were trying to curry favor with him while he lived and secure control of the corporate structure after his eventual parting, or they were setting out to act in ways they thought Logan would approve of after his death rattle. Even with nominal control of the corporation as the deal was pending with GoJo, they could not act as Logan did, which was brutally and unapologetically decisive. Ken, Shiv and Roman were full of destructive ambivalence that prevented the trio from acting as a unified team of legacy owners or as individual agents able to devise strategy, implement plans, effectively see situations clearly, for what they were and not as they wished they were. I have a fondness for watching talented actors portray well-developed jerks, and I genuinely appreciated how skillfully the writers and show runners crafted a world of wealth, power, and outrageous privilege, populated by self-obsessed characters oblivious to the realities of everyday life. The exploration of themes such as generational cycles of abuse and the pervasive grip of collective narcissism was striking, particularly in the intensely articulated squabbles between the siblings and the peripheral characters. It became evident that they were attributing their problems to a world that they believed existed solely to cater to their corrosive whims and caprices.

What struck me as remarkable was the fact that none of the main characters ever walked the streets of the cities they inhabited, nor did they drive cars. Instead, they flew to different cities and countries on private jets, were chauffeured in tinted limousines to hotels, residences, or corporate offices, all while remaining completely detached from the local population. The way they treated each other was abhorrent, obscene, rude, brutal, and at times even psychotic. It was uncomfortable to witness, yet undeniably presented in a splendid and occasionally brilliant manner, revealing the depths of their pettiness and vanity and showcasing their irredeemable nature. In a very contemporary sense, this series can be considered a tragedy. It lacks a hero with a fatal flaw or a central character who possesses good intentions for the world but believes themselves to be the sole savior of the universe. Instead, it is saturated with excessive and toxic pride, embodied by a group of deluded and inept individuals. The presence of hubris is an essential aspect of the tragedy genre, and it becomes evident that the Universe, in some way, senses the disruption caused by the hubris and acts to restore balance. This often leads to a tragic end for the protagonist, who meets their fate through circumstances they have themselves created.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

SHORT NOTES ON OLD ALBUMS: Larry Coryell, Michael Urbaniak, Dave Holland , Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, The Who

This is a concert video of the late jazz guitar master Larry Coryell and the amazing Polish jazz-fusion violinist, originally released on VHS I believe, that hasn't been released as a stand-alone disc. I pray someone will secure the rights and make it available. Coryell was a member of the original Super Guitar Trio with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, and though his playing was frequently brilliant, he was often hobbled with flubs and miscues; it became obvious that LC's dependence on drugs and hooch lessened his skills, and he was replaced by the ever able Al diMeola. Coryell got clean and sober in 1981 and this effort, recorded in 1982, shows the difference. It's a remarkable performance, thanks in major portions to Urbaniak, whose skills as an improviser are second to none; his unstitched combining of styles ranging from Grapelli through Ponty and his mastery of idiom, technique and tonal nuance gives LC the colorful contrast. Urbaniak's impromptus are swift and melodic and, as with Coryell, seem without end in the configurations his long lines of notes form.  He has a bass player's instincts as well, and supports  Coryell's ultra-virtuoso fantasias. Coryell at this time seems like a man with something to prove, and here he demonstrates his point in spades.


By the 90s, I was listening to jazz almost exclusively, in addition to works by old rock heroes who were still recording at the time. It was a great decade for forward reaching jazz. A favorite was Dave Holland's album Extensions, 1990, highlighting the limitless improvisational talents of the assembled band, Steve Coleman (sax), Kevin Eubanks (guitar), Marvin Smith (drums) and Holland on bass. The compositions, two a piece by Coleman, Eubanks, and Holland, are vibrant and tonally rich launching points for extending forays and exchanges of ideas. Coleman is especially superb with his ability to offer packed choruses and place the lines in directions you don't expect. Eubanks is a revelation, as I had only known him until this record as the leader of Jay Leno's TV band, where he seemed a willing sort to be the sidekick. He is a fiery guitarist, however, and serves up an unexpectedly fierce and fusiony onslaught of well amped and distorted ideas. The work of Holland Smith throughout has a malleable and organic pulse that makes this session swing, rock, soar and sooth all at once. A remarkable record.


Trumpeter Miles Davis is known as a man with great taste to highlight the work of great sax players in his bands--Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Sonny Rollins. Add Sonny Stitt. Often derided as a knock-off of Charlie Parker, an grossly unfair charge, Stitt is shown here as lyrically expressive, technically sublime and engagingly melodic improviser for establishes his ideas of bebop chromaticism to the music's superb body of energy. Davis, in fine form here with his brief statements, quick , surgically inserted note clusters and his pure, nearly vibratoless tone --not to mention his genius use of space between his solos--has made it a working habit to pare his own minimalist expressiveness against busier second voices like Coltrane and later John McLaughlin. With his band, with peerless support from alto and tenor saxophones, Wynton Kelly, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums--we have Stitt in that position. His choruses are choice, crowded but not crowding. Recorded sometime during the 1960s, according to some vague notes on the CD.


The Who's first two-record rock opera Tommy,1969, is a masterpiece of managing to tell a delicately elliptical story through multiple voices and still rock proudly. It's Pete Townshend at this peak as a songwriter, as he puts forth selections in a variety of deftly handled styles. The feeling that this work is for all time was cemented in 1992 when the LaJolla Playhouse debuted The Who's Tommy as a live action theater production. Imagined and directed by eccentric director Des McAnuff, the production was engagingly flashy , and effective, but the smartest decision was to not flesh out, to "fill in" the vaguer gaps on the album's narrative with yet more narrative in the form of voice over or in spoken, not sung dialogue. They essential produced the album everyone was familiar. The musical arrangements matched the instrumentation of the original release, which added to the excitement of the live experience. So what else for the genius of Pete Townshend to follow? Oddly, strangely, he and the Who brought us Quadrophrenia, a double disc that was everything Tommy wasn't, which was humorless, musically monotonous, self-serious, muddled in concept and story telling, grandiose, pretentious. I seem to be a chorus of one with this. Here's a longish rant about that album from a few years ago , also on this blog.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

D'S "T"

Dylan is a word slinger to be, maybe a genuine poet during some parts of his oeuvre. Still, he is not a writer, not as we know the word, a craftsman, an artist, a professional who makes sentences that start somewhere and set the tone for the sentence that follows. That is, writers, write things that make sense in some respect, as in you understand clearly the thing being described, or that you understand it more abstractly and realize that the writer is undertaking a task that tries to deal with several things--philosophical notions, contradictory arguments, overlapping historical data --and bringing a coherent framework to understand complex matters, or at least come away with a sense of what the writer is getting at.

Even Dylan's wildest lyrics, from Desolation Row to his more recent brilliance noteworthy Rough and Rowdy Ways: surreal or nonsensical as the stanzas may be, the line limits and the need to rhyme imposed restrictions on Dylan's musings. He needed to wrap up his investigations into his more obscure imaginings. He gave you something to talk about. Tarantula was written on the road, in hotel rooms, on tour, rattled off in high doses of speed, and maybe other drugs too inane to bother talking about, and it indeed reads like it, snub-nosed Burroughs, Kerouac without the jivey swing. Some parts make you laugh, some good lines abound. Yet, it suffers in that readers wanted their hero, the poet of their generation, to write a genuinely good of poetry or some such thing, with true believers tying themselves in self-revealing knots to defend the book that is interesting as an artifact to the historical fact of Dylan's fame and influence and not much else. There is a part I like, effective as poetry, a bit of self-awareness that shows that Dylan realizes that his persona is false, a conspiracy between himself and the major media, and that he might have to account for the construction somewhere in the future of the whole matter.

Tarantula, an experimental prose poetry collection Dylan wrote between 1965 and 1966, wasn’t intended for publication, but its existence became an underground legend, and bootleg editions began to circulate. Tarantula was finally printed in 1971. The book wasn’t a coherent thesis but rather reflected Dylan’s method and influences, which characterized his most baroque and lyrics, similar in style to the “cut up” technique fashioned by William Burroughs in his novels Naked Lunch and The Wild Boys: a major transgression against grammar and punctuation and notions of continuity, rough-hewn character sketches, in jokes, odd conflations of vernaculars that constitute Dylan’s most hallucinogenic writing. Although there are some striking and evocative tributes to Aretha Franklin, it remains a head scratcher even for the most faithful of his flock. This lane-changing collection of idiomatic invention and deconstruction is, if nothing else, an odd and sometimes exhilarating landmark in on the Dylan bookshelf.

Friday, April 28, 2023


Honestly, I love critics who are smart and love the sound of their prose so much that they soak their subject in overripe, purplish grandiloquence, which makes getting to their usually inane insights a fun adventure in well-managed if excessively mannered evaluations of popular culture. The present example is the photograph accompanying his piece, a review of an Elvis Presley album by a G.C. Burke, no relation, in the May 1957 issue of High-Fidelity magazine. (My thanks to music writer Mark Miller, who posted this intriguing specimen in a Facebook group dedicated to music journalism.)

Perhaps not so oddly, I feel some kinship with Mr. Burke and wonder if he’s a distant and likely belated relation. I read John Simon for years in New York Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and The National Review, and often marveled at how a man of such obvious erudition and flawless prose ability could be so magnificently elegant in expressing amazingly pedestrian opinions of books, plays, films, and movies. His vitriol couldn’t elevate his sour takes on the arts from the routinely knee-jerk reaction. I wager that Simon’s vocabulary and acerbic virtuosity buffaloed his readers and editors with the flashy pyrotechnics of his word-slinging; what I thought of as Simon’s conspicuous ineptitude as a critic of cultural expression was summarily overlooked.

Burke obviously wants to consider himself a public intellectual, a mission much greater than being a mere record reviewer, and here attempts to pigeonhole the ill-making cultural habits of the times that are spoiling the rest of us. Sophistry itself, this amateur sociology and such, but what fun it is to read a smart person use every weapon in his arsenal to swat a fly. But again, honestly, quite honestly, quite vainly, G.C. Burke’s makes me think that those of us sharing the last Irish-borne surname share a genetic fascination for padded hyperbole. (Forgive me my indulgence if I’ve elevated myself to the likes of Edmund and Kenneth Burke, genius scribblers both.) Obviously, it would seem, that I’m inspired to indulge my verbal excesses after reading G.C. Burke’s energized dalliance with the philosophical broadside. Perhaps I can find a collection of his further thrashings of pop musicians of his time and become insufferable myself.

Nina Simone Deserved Better


Watched the controversial film Nina , a 2016 production written and directed by Cynthia Mort and starring Zoe Saldaña as the brilliant and troubled pianist/vocalist/songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone. The main bit of controversy was the casting for the title role, emphasizing that Saldana is "too pretty" and too light skinned to portray the iconic Simone, a nearly forgotten artist who has had interest in her career revived due to a fine recent documentary, Nina Simone:What Happened? .The charges seem trivial, but the game Saldana underwent the indignity of having to appear, literally, in black face to have her resemble the dark-skinned Simone more closely. She looks ridiculous, as if she were showing up for a minstrel show audition. The film itself is an impressionist mess, going back and forth in time, rummaging distractedly through events in Simone's whirlwind life, never really finding a set of experiences a tangible, sympathetic character might emerge. No one really seems to believe in what they're doing, which is a shame. Simone deserved a much better telling of her story.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Birthdays are fatal

Last February, comedian Lauren Vinopal proposed in Slate that we lower the critical mass of stress and anxiety of our time by abolishing birthdays. You know the drill, I gather, that the ritualized marking of another year of life is a "trigger" for many, too many because it serves as a brutal reminder of how little we've accomplished in our time so far on the planet. And getting older and closer to your last birthday instead of your first one adds another burden to one's sense of the failure they think they've been in the time they've been allotted so far. Ah, triggers, nasty things to be avoided, lest our feelings get hurt, and psychic wounds drive us to further paranoid isolation. Avoiding stressful ideas, words, issues in daily affairs seems a dubious cure, though. Any one of a million things can be "triggers" for increased depression, anxiety and, yes, suicide. 

Obsessed avoidance of triggers just appears to create more triggers, an odd self-fulfilling prophecy. Existence can be said as one sustained trigger, a never-ending stimulant on the nerves that alerts you to the need that there are matters in the world around you that need to be contended with. However, banning birthdays to alleviate these wretched conditions won't help anyone who truly suffers; life is one massive trigger, as such, for creating situations the emotionally fragile will react poorly to. Holidays, movies, comic books, 24 hour news channels, porn, drugs, alcohol, New Age sophistry, white supremacists, featherbedding politicians, fashion models, tall buildings, improperly set tableware, smooth jazz, raging bebop, classical music, anything on Nickelodeon… 

Where do we start on this project to rid society of properties that make living inside our skins and inside our heads a riot of emotions, with all kinds of metaphorical chairs being thrown across the brain pan? Or better, when do we stop demanding that problematic elements within the consumer culture be banned, canceled or more severely chastised and repudiated and instead summon the political will to provide Americans with a substantially improved and easily accessible health care system that includes a range of mental health provisions that can help the psychologically troubled to live fuller lives?  You would assume that the obvious answer is an easy one, though a difficult one and ongoing, to help fellow citizens live in society, not shield them from it.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Mike Keneally's New Prog Rock

 Legend has it that Mike Keneally was hired by Frank Zappa in 1988 as a “stunt guitarist,” because the eccentric composer realized he couldn’t do justice to the increasingly dense music he was writing at the time. He toured with Zappa that year as both guitarist and keyboardist to deserved acclaim. Keneally worked with Dweezil Zappa, Steve Vai, Henry Kaiser, and Andy West. A multi-instrumentalist of the highest fashion, his music has been far more than the Cuisinart virtuosity that makes so many rock pick-wielder studio efforts a test of one’s tolerance for relentless displays of technique. Keneally has broad musical literacy and has revealed his acumen as an electric and resourceful composer for his elevated guitar skills.

Context is everything when one labors to bring an outsized instrumental technique to effective musical application, but we find that Keneally is fluid and fluent in styles and genres he constructs for his superhuman skill set. His qualities as composer and arranger are on full and ample display on his recent release, The Things that Knowledge Can’t Eat. As with his previous boundary-straddling records, these nine new songs are a consummate fusion of off-kilter eclecticism, highlighting evident traces of prog-rock and excursions in tone-poem expressionism that would be difficult for mortals to bend to their creative will. Keneally has the needed moxie to make all the parts of a piece. No matter how odd the meter, how propulsive the rhythm, how abrupt the shifts from suggestion of free jazz to a gracefully amorphous melody that swells with a painterly sense of color and contrast, this album displays a grand mastery of the idioms he employs. Trust me, the excitement is witnessing a rare artist handily reinvigorating and reinventing the old ways of mere mastery of all the moving parts. Rather, he’s made something new and vibrant.

To be precise, Keneally’s music is art rock of a new kind. The Things that Knowledge Can’t Eat is an enticing and stitchless merging of different means of provocation. It constantly surprises and slips into an unexpected rhythm, oozes seductively from glorious folkish balladry to outré extravaganzas. The open track, Logos, is a Zappaesque bit of vocalese, a slightly strident chorus with a chirpy vocal line expounding on the wonders of a friend’s company logo—or personal logo—an inane sentiment undermined by the percolating, whack-a-mole near-dissonance of the music. Keneally, we note here, is not merely an instrumental wunderkind but also a literate and oddball lyricist as well, able to mimic voices or create personas who free associate about their place in the world. He has a particular skill for using non sequiturs, which adds to the absurd tragedy he writes about, how material things meant to make us happy only deepen our melancholy.

“Cell,” an instrumental assemblage that seems vast and nearly oceanic in its flow through a robust array of moods, is a wordless contemplation that has us navigating the sweep and sway of sonic waves. It’s a masterful construction that features two adeptly situated improvisations by guest guitarist Steve Vai, another veteran of Zappa’s touring band. Vai is nearly without peer in the top tier of innovative fret-maestros, and demonstrates this in both solos, combining the expected variety of tone and fluidly from alternative blues intonations to hard-shred attacks to jazz-like note excursions.

I should say again is that Mike Keneally is an intriguing lyricist, a rare quality in musicians who’re best known to the general music audience for their guitar chops. Obviously inspired by the cutting satire and acerbic commentary of mentor Zappa, he’s forged his book of lyrics that reveal an author’s awareness of what’s happening in the world around him. As often as not, his lyrics make one think of a person ruminating over an insoluble problem or undefinable emotion; there’s an elliptical juxtaposition of specific detail, bewildering elisions, and purposeful gaps in the narrative. Very often you come away not understanding of what Keneally is talking about but remain confident that you “get” what he’s getting: that elusive feeling, the shining insight, the rush of intense joy or sadness that vanishes before you can come up with the words to define what you felt. Good lyricists inclined to write in the crisply diffuse cadences of modern American poetry can do that. Keneally does this very well, and I’d recommend close and repeated listens to the songs. The lyrics are set in artfully eclectic settings, private thoughts, and half-heard musings, synchronized with flawless craft with the array of odd time signatures and passages that reflect the edges of metal and math rock. Anger, rage, joy, ambivalence, sympathy, despair—the word sheet touches on all these.

I have to come back to this overview of Keneally’s spectacular disc, with appropriate raving for the instrumental called “Ack.” Keneally is a multi-instrumentalist, as has already been mentioned, playing the majority of instruments on most of the nine tracks. But with “Ack” he receives bravura support from an exceptional troupe of musicians. It explodes as a jacked-up swing song, rapid tempo and horn choruses adroitly burn down the ballroom. But it soon morphs into some attractively splintered bars of dissonance that bring us near the outer-space experiments of prime Sun Ra. It then shifts rapidly into a breathless bebop chase, finally segueing into a scorching shred solo by Keneally and easing into an orgy of high contrast tonal color. This is what art rock should be doing, subverting expectations, switching up old styles, and creating new dimensions from them. Michael Keneally has the capacity to surprise the musical curious. This musician is a category unto himself.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Who was on first?

                                                   Sometimes discussing who originators wereof a musical trend turns into a Who's On First. Someone asked me if Traffic created what is termed Jazz-rock or fusion or "fusion" that combustive melding of jazz and hard rock stylistics that informed much of the instrumental terrain in the mid to late Seventies. Not exactly, I responded, and when on with the following gush of condensed didactics:

Traffic were late comers to the jazz-rock movement, and their greatest strength was hardly their instrumental abilities. As improvisers, they were technically impoverished. Winwood on keyboards and Chris Wood on reeds and flute noodled limply for long passages. They wrote good songs and Winwood was a brilliant vocalist, but their attempts at jazz were weak. Larry Coryell seems to be the first out of the gate at the start of the jazz-rock trend with his efforts with Free Spirits in 1966, but that same year saw another major breakthrough with the release of “East West” by the Butterfield Blues Band. The album featured the man considered by many to be the first guitar hero, Mike Bloomfield. On this album he is showcased in two still-vibrant displays , “The Work Song”, which highlights him digging into an unexpected hard bop style solo complete with octaves, and on the title track, a Coltrane influenced improvisation with a long bit of raga-inspired extemporization from Bloomfield. The musicianship seems a bit rough considering how much more technically adept rock and fusion players have become over the decades, but these songs and indeed the entire album sounds fresh and ethereal all these years later. What Bloomfield was doing in 1966 was something no other 60s generation rock guitarist was doing. 

He was a trend setter who revolutionized the approach to guitar. Bloomfield , that his imagination exceeded his technical grasp . He had a very solid grounding in blues which he played with ferocity, fluidity and feeling, not to mention speed, and he did adapt jazz and raga ideas into his improvisations, but compared to who influenced him regarding —Coltrane, Ravi Shankar—his command of the chromatics was sometimes tentative .Miles Davis’ contributions to jazz fusion have been acknowledged and discussed widely for years; it’s more interesting at this point to revisit the very early experimenters who offered their ideas as to what jazz and rock styles combined might sound like. Coryell, Free Spirits, Butterfield Blues Band, the Blues Project—these pioneers have been overlooked and under acknowledged and now is the moment to examine their contributions at some depth.While we’re at it, lets give some props to Tjay Cantrelli for his splendid Coltranesque sax improv on the 19 plus minute jam “revelation” on Love’s 1966 album “DeCapo”.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

NORMAN MAILER AT 100 (and some miscellany)


Happy Birthday, Norman Mailer, born January 31, 1923. The late author was never everyone's favorite, certainly not with most critics and a large part of the reading public. It was difficult to remain neutral about Mailer if you'd him because he was anything except well-behaved and soft-spoken like serious writers were supposed to be. Mailer was vain, arrogant, seriously convinced that he had instincts greater than those of mortal men, and he had opinions, an endless stream of them. He was, though, charming to a fault when he needed to be, he was seriously engaged with the issues and    activities in the America of his time, politically, culturally, aesthetically, he challenged cant from the right and the left when he heard it, and tried to make sense of the roiling forces that were driving America to the brink of becoming a lumbering, mindless brute among nations. He was a cracker barrel philosopher at times, offering up a simple version of existentialism when he wandered too far from specifics, facts and figures, and other times what insights he was reaching for exceeded his reach. 

But just as often he was incisive, investigating the odd forces at work in the country he loved, and composed a series of books that were unique, compelling, elegantly written and serious inquiries about the larger consequences of problematic happenstance. Not a philosopher, not a psychologist sociologist, he was finally one thing, a writer, a writer who thought it is his task to dig deep into his psyche to understand and evaluate what he bore witness to--feminism, boxing, Moon landings, political conventions, protest marches, the culture of graffiti art, the souls of execution bound murderers- and give reports, opinions, revelations, arguments linked together with his genius for metaphor. Again, Mailer was erratic in his output, but he did, in my view, hit the long ball out of the park on several occasions. Armies of the Night, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, The Fight, Of a Fire on the Moon, Oswald's Tale, Executioner's Song--these are titles even those professing to despise Mailer and his work are forced to admit are great, admirable masterpieces of American literature, much to their chagrin. Mailer was the necessary man to have around in the day, according to Alfred Kazin. I couldn't agree more.

One of the things missing from Mailer's work is any mention of his attack on his wife.  This is a matter I don't think he ever came to grips with,not in writing.  For all his genius as a slinger of words, he fostered a good many bad and dangerous notions that, worst of all, he took seriously. There are times when I've read when his mythicized misogyny made me ill.  His unapologetic egotism was a mixed blessing. It gave him confidence to pursue his path, inspired by and rebellion against the writers who inspired him. Bloom had a general theory of that, the anxiety of influence, where great writers, genius writers, write with great determination in ways that different from what their inspirations had done. The irony is that the younger writer is forever in the shadow of those who came before him. This created tension when arrogance was a mask against feelings of being weak, and his efforts to create something his own, his voice, his set of metaphors and intellectual constructs to fit them in allowed to create a style and a personality that gave him some genuine triumphs as a novelist, journalist, essayist. The ego, though, drove him to make some resoundingly bad decisions in personal life and in his writing career. Rather than soar, he wrote books that were sluggish, muddleheaded. One can admire his refusal to apologize for anything he's done while a career and personal life, but he seemed blind to his shortcomings, those things that got him into snafus no reasonable person craves. But Mailer was not a reasonable person much of the time, and his embrace of the irrational resulted in some great books and much, much foolishness.



A fact of existence is that birthdays aren't happy events for many,a real fact that brings us to a protracted rant urging their abolition in a recent posting in Slate. Armed with statistics, quotes from experts and researchers  in the essence of what makes people unhappy, stressful, experience increased anxiety and contemplate the extreme cure of suicide, author Lauren Vinopal advocates for the outright banning of birthday celebrations. The main point is clear, and not unreasonably, that our consumer culture has turned our life's experience into a resource for the increased profit of corporations. But one can't shake the idea that she's stressing too much for a solution that seems as delusional as the super human expectations commodification gives more than a few people in our midst.   For millions of people, any one of a million things can be "triggers" for increased depression, anxiety and, yes, suicide. However, banning birthdays to alleviate these wretched conditions won't help anyone who truly suffers; life is one massive trigger, as such, for creating situations the emotionally fragile will react poorly to. Holidays, movies, comic books, 24 hour news channels, porn, drugs, alcohol, New Age sophistry, white supremacists, featherbedding politicians, fashion models, tall buildings, improperly set tableware, smooth jazz, raging bebop, classical music, anything on Nickelodeon... Where do we start on this project to rid society of properties that make living inside our skins and inside our heads a riot of emotions, with all kinds of metaphorical chairs being thrown across the brain pan? Or better, when do we stop demanding that problematic elements within the consumer culture be banned, canceled or more severely chastised and repudiated and instead summon the political will to provide Americans to a substantially improved and easily accessible health care system that includes a range of mental health provisions that can help the psychologically troubled to live fuller lives?  You would assume that the obvious answer is an easy one, though a difficult one and ongoing, to help fellow citizens live in society, not shield them from it.



Being of solid Irish American stock , my family and I have put with being subjected to every Irish stereotype and insult for decades, which brings me to say that I am sick of nearly all things Irish. Except a good number of poets, playwrights and novelists, but they're all dead. It's the whole "Ireland is the Israel for gentiles" hype that the equally deceased Harry Reasoner asserted years ago in one of these nutrition-free 60 Reports on what it means to be Irish, in Ireland. Likely the producers were looking for a nationality, an ethnic group they could fetishize without being accused of subjecting anyone to cultural caricature. But the Irish have been a caricature, and it's understandable why not a few folks have made livings extolling of the virtues of a country that seems to brag about full of grandiloquent , amiably belligerent alcoholics who are sad that getting into fist fights at poetry readings isn't the national sport. 

Monday, January 30, 2023


 Rock was supposed to be rebellion, and rock musicians collectively should have renounced the minute some armchair sociologist made that pronouncement. Rock music ought to have acquired genuinely repulsive and stupider and more violent, aggressive and expressed the collective ID in gruesome detail before anymore, writers invented vocabularies to describe and contextualize what was going on. But it's too late now. Before the Palace could be burned down, rock became a form of art with literary and high-mind musicological influence. It became poetry, it became art, it ceased to be anything at all. It became too "about" things rather than a thing in itself, powerful and potent. Rock music became defined and categorized and endlessly subcategorized and became something to be taught in universities, where the same jargonized clichés are memorized again. 

The point I was going towards in all that deep waxing was that the giving things names, definitions, announcing what their function ought to be in fact nullifies whatever power and effect they might have had. Critique helped make the energy of rock into a commodity that could be named, categorized and sold to a large audience, and it helped keep a generation of intellectuals from leaving the school. Nothing prevents you from doing anything meaningful, effective than to have provided for you an expanding distraction that swallows you whole and gets you thinking, for all the jargonizing and posturing about meaning, purpose and transforming nothing useful is being accomplished. Reaction to music, responses to music, changing tastes over generations, change the standard for quality. How well or how badly music is perceived depends on the human reaction to the expression of music. Critical, technical, aesthetic, and philosophical underpinnings of those tenets are malleable. People's reactions to what they were listening to has everything to do with music.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023


There was a joke told by Rodney Dangerfield about trying to catch your profile as you walk by a store window, thinking that you could, you see yourself, if
only for a nanosecond, in a state of not being aware that you're being observed. All in vain, of course, as all you catch is a snapshot of you pouting somewhat, puckered like a lovesick fish, grimacing with downcast eyes, annoyance tempering the disappointment of not catching your reflection unaware.

Meanwhile, you bump into people you didn't see coming the other way. You mumble apologies, get off earshot of profanities, careful not walk into traffic when you come to the corner. On the other side of the window are the people who have already arrived to where they were going, seated at tables over glasses of water and wine, looking at menus; you imagine yourself already at the location you need to get to, safe in a seat with a wife, watching television, anonymous in the shadows of your making.

On the coffee table are the glasses you thought would aid you in seeing the pure profile of your perfect jawline, the certitude of the chin rising to like the prow of a ship cutting a path through aggravated waters, next to the iPod and the earpieces you wore to make the world sound less like a city at war with its mechanical parts and more like soundtrack for an under-lit porno. The clown shoes are off, the tie is undone, the television nags at you with sales pitches for shampoo and retirement accounts, prescription drug plans and limited edition gold coins and commemorative plates, your wife is already asleep, you cannot stop thinking of what it is you need to do, your fingers twitch, move in motions like warm up exercises, you want to write something that will put the light back into the day that get darker the longer you stay alive, you want clarity, you would rather not vanish as though turned off with a remote control, reduced to something less than the white do that used to dominate the television screen when the last credit scrolled by and bedtime was immediate, irrevocable.

You might miss something, you might miss lending your voice to the running stream of remarks that make up the news of the moment, you wanted to write history as it happened, the evidence of your senses keen enough to define the tone and temper of the good and bad things that make this existence such an exciting thing to stay awake for.