Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Addendum: And then there's the stunning segue out of the first part of "Not Fade Away" into "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad"—again, a jamming climax that suddenly and smoothly shifts gears into another song, as Garcia shifts from rapid flourishes to pretty melody lines in a matter of seconds.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Television and Imagination
This is a point I have heard before (mostly with respect to differences between books and movies), but I have never quite believed it. The idea seems to be that when you read, you spontaneously generate images in your head, and that such spontaneous image generation is what imagination is. But surely imagination is much more than just image generation!
Miles and Luisa (and I) have been getting into "Shaun the Sheep." They often start acting out scenes from their favorite episodes. Isn't that imagination, too? (For clips of Shaun, go here.)
Sunday, October 28, 2007
like a drummer so deep into the gig
he can't ever stop
Predicting Paris tennis
The deadline to enter is 10 am UK time (i.e. 10.00 GMT / 11.00 CET / 05.00 US EST) on Monday 29 October. As of this writing (at 1:30 p.m. CET on Sunday), the qualifiers have not yet been added to the draw; they should be added by this evening.
Have fun! Go Roger! :-)
(Here's hoping Federer feels fit enough after reaching finals the past two weeks to still participate!)
The State of Classical Music
I'll quote two bits from Taruskin here:
1. "To cast aesthetic preferences as moral choices at the dawn of the twenty-first century is an obscenity." No holds barred there! (I wish my students were willing to take bold positions like that—yes, I am spending the weekend marking student essays.)
2. The books he reviews end up being "unlikely to help solve classical music's most pressing problem, which is the problem of audience renewal." A question: is that also poetry's "most pressing problem?"
Kyle Gann downplays his paraphrase of Taruskin, but he also says something worth quoting at length:
"In my callow youth I was a proponent of the view Taruskin attacks, a real Adorno-ite, art-is-good-for-you, pop-music-dismisser. I'm stubborn as hell, and yet I got over it: why can't other people? One of my best assets, I think, is a strong sense of musical reality, which I attribute to having been deeply exposed to music before I could talk. And even though I grew up rather shockingly distant from my generation's beloved rock 'n' roll, my sense of reality told me fairly early on that there was nowhere to draw a line between the pleasure I got from listening to, say, Bruckner or Feldman, and the pleasure that I got from the occasional Brian Eno or Residents song that I was driven to listen to over and over again. And I slowly realized that I didn't get that pleasure from listening to, oh, Schoenberg's Piano Concerto, or Carter's Second Quartet, which I did out of a rather pious sense of duty and a feeling that they would build character. And then, of course, the new music, or Downtown music, or experimental music, or whatever delicate euphemism you terminophobes want to apply to the music that I wrote about at the Village Voice for 19 years, was a repertoire dedicated to plastering in the gigantic crack between pop and classical. Some of that music was more conventionally entertaining than other pieces, but there was no way to deeply appreciate that music and pretend that art and entertainment were separate human activities. I can boast a virtuoso range of ways to be entertained, but any music I'm not entertained by I quit listening to, no matter how highly ranked it is in the history books."
"A virtuoso range of ways to be entertained": something to aspire to. — In poetry's terms, both those who call for accessibility and those who call for difficulty (each to the exclusion of the other) obscure what they have in common: that each group is looking for entertainment. The accessibility people want to be entertained in one way, the difficulty people in another, quite different way—but they share their desire to be entertained by poetry.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Brad Mehldau, Basel, October 26, 2007
That was one of the highlights for me. As Mehldau did not announce any of the tunes, there were only two other tunes I was sure about: Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" (stately and elegant) and the final encore, "Mother Nature's Son," moving from beautiful highlighting of the melody to vary playful soloing. I was pretty sure I heard Radiohead's "Exit Music" in there, too.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Mehldau in Basel tomorrow night
"Dear Prudence" is a tune that also always makes me think of Jerry Garcia, who used to play such soaring versions of it with the Jerry Garcia Band.
Perhaps I should also mention that the duo CD Mehldau recorded with Metheny is beautiful.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Hedges plays Bach
It's so sad that Michael talks about driving safely after the concert, given that he died in a car accident. Drive safely, folks.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Hurray for Pete Stark
"But President Bush’s statements about children’s health shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than his lies about the war in Iraq. The truth is that Bush just likes to blow things up. In Iraq, in the United States and in Congress." (Thanks to Dan Savage for this.)
Ornette Coleman Anthology
I have now just received a similarly wonderful recording on Intakt, an Ornette Coleman Anthology recorded by pianist Aki Takase and saxophonist Silke Eberhard. It's not the complete Coleman (I think he has been more prolific than Monk was), but it is a brilliant collection of superbly arranged tunes that, stripped down to piano and horn, really highlight just how compelling Ornette's music is. Highly recommended!
(Disclaimer: I translated the liner notes of both these CDs.)
(And here is a bit of Takase on piano ... with Schlippenbach!)
(And while I am at it, I was also overwhelmed by von Schlippenbach's recent solo piano releases, Twelve Tone Tales, in two volumes, also on Intakt.)
An evolutionary defense of empiricism
'... science tells us that “our sense data are primarily symbols,” translated to the brain via nerve impulses and reassembled in the frontal cortex [...]. Appearances are deceiving. What we see is just an interface.'
The problem with the conclusion here is that Mlinko, like so many others, fails to recognize the explanatory power of evolution: if the "symbolic sense data" of "appearances" are false, then the human brain would be poorly adapted to the physical world, and the human species would die out if its brain did not adapt to that physical world.
Here's another way to put the point: any human brain (or brain of any species, for that matter) that does not produce a relatively precise image of the world around it is less likely to survive and successfully reproduce than a brain with a more precise image of the world around it. So "our sense data" may be "primarily symbols," but there is every reason to believe that those symbols are accurate (at least for those with healthy brains).
So here's a third way to put the point: rejection of empiricism entails rejection of evolution.
To be fair to Mlinko, I should refer to the whole passage I cited from above:
Quoting Suzanne Langer in Elaine's Book (collected in Transfigurations), [Jay] Wright lays claim to her insight: “and the triumph of empiricism is jeopardized by the surprising truth that our sense data are primarily symbols.” For poets of this tendency, the world is occult, and poetry's attentiveness helps tease out the hidden reality:
What we callNicolas of Cusa posited the existence of an intellect comprising more than that which sense data and reason tell us. Now that science tells us that “our sense data are primarily symbols,” translated to the brain via nerve impulses and reassembled in the frontal cortex, the Cusan's truth is confirmed. Appearances are deceiving. What we see is just an interface. The very building blocks of matter are in flux.
our own might only be
the first stroke upon
clock, an instant shift
of center, a notion
the Cusan could
propose and stir
in the atom.
—From Equation Three
The Sensation of Writing
"I would like to open this line of thought to others and invite any poets reading this to send me their account of the sensation of writing. Keep it honest, keep it simple. As simple as it will go, at any rate."
So I thought I'd spread the word on GS's interesting call for ideas.
Here's my take on it, at least today's. It involves three quotations:
1. In a profile in the New Yorker back in the 1990s, David Mamet said something like this: "Writing is the only thing that stops the thinking, you know. It's the only way to turn off all that dreadful noise in there." I've always loved that line, as it perfectly captures one sensation I have when writing: that it fully occupies my otherwise utterly restless mind, turning off even the almost endless musical soundtrack that plays in the back of my head (picking up on whatever I happen to have heard most recently, whether it be the music of a commercial, the theme song to a children's program I watched with my kids, or Thelonious Monk). [If anybody who reads this has the complete New Yorker in electronic form, can you try to find that profile of Mamet for me and check his precise words?)
2. One of my touchstones for a long time has been Jorge Luis Borges's "Borges and I": "I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar." I recognize myself less in my own writing than in the writing of others (as all these quotations suggest), but in the act of writing, there is even a third person present: not the one who will later have written, and not the name that attaches itself to what that one will later have written, but the one who is writing. The one whose mind is quiet?
3. In Anna Karenina, Levin mows: "The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when it was not his arms which swung the scythe but the scythe which seemed to mow of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, as though by magic, without a thought being given to it, the work did itself regularly and carefully. Those were the most blessed moments." The "most blessed moments" in creative work are those moments when the mind is quiet, the self disappears, and the work does itself, "regularly and carefully."
Okay, I did not "keep it simple," George, but it is honest! :-)
And then there is the sensation of not-writing, or between-writing:
Another journey underway,
the painter on the foredeck of
the overloaded ferryboat
sees, past the sea wall and out
over the straits, the aftermath
of sunlight from behind the clouds,
a brighter form of rain. The harbor
opposite moves from blur into focus
as the ferry moves, its wake
first spray in the painter's face.
Light and cloud and mist: what is
to be captured on canvas. He'll hold
the brush in the air the way the ship,
sailing without a sail, hangs
before it falls again down on
the waves. Behind him, every stroke
he's ever painted; the unpainted
before him, this passage from one harbor
to another, the ferry rolling,
with every breaker, deeper down
in what is, what will have been.
(The Reader 16; Cabinet d'Amateur)
Thursday, October 18, 2007
If you have never checked out lyrikline, do so: a huge stock of recordings of poems in a tremendous variety of languages (46 and counting!).
From Underture to Aerial Boundaries
So I remember watching Michael Hedges play "Underture" at the Varsity in Palo Alto back in the eighties. He described how he used to sit on his back porch listening to Tommy, which is a rock opera, and how he thought that was very cool, a rock opera, and that operas have overtures, which Tommy does, too, but that Tommy has an "Underture," which he thought was very cool. Then he leapt across the stage and began "Underture" with a big, swinging power chord that would have made Pete Townshend proud.
Remembering all this, I checked whether there's a video of Michael playing "Underture" on youtube. No luck. So here's "Aerial Boundaries" instead, making me all nostalgic for all those times I had the joy and privilege of hearing Michael play, back at the Varsity in Palo Alto.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Or as Katherine Anne Porter said about Sacco and Vanzetti (as quoted in the New Yorker of October 8, 2007): "Life felt very grubby and mean, as if we were all of us soiled and disgraced and would never in this world live it down."
(Note that Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on my birthday, August 23.)
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Spoon River Anthology
Further, quotation of single poems from the book misrepresents it, no matter how good the individual poems may be. For it is in the tensions between pairs of poems (or among sets of poems) that the book really comes to life. Each poem is spoken by one dead person in the Spoon River cemetery, and when the speakers' stories contradict each other, things get exciting.
But instead of quoting several to show you what I mean, I'll just quote one that I like a few lines of—perhaps it's the musician in me that especially likes this one:
I had fiddled all day at the county fair.
But driving home “Butch” Weldy and Jack McGuire,
Who were roaring full, made me fiddle and fiddle
To the song of Susie Skinner, while whipping the horses
Till they ran away. Blind as I was, I tried to get out
As the carriage fell in the ditch,
And was caught in the wheels and killed.
There’s a blind man here with a brow
As big and white as a cloud.
And all we fiddlers, from highest to lowest,
Writers of music and tellers of stories
Sit at his feet,
And hear him sing of the fall of Troy.
Rule of Law
'In a 1998 essay in Foreign Affairs entitled "The Rule of Law Revival," Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote optimistically that the "rule of law" has now become the centerpiece, the prime consensus, for most international relations and has been recognized as the linchpin for third-world countries developing into functioning democracies. Here is how he defined the basic principles of "the rule of law":
LEGAL BEDROCKWhat is happening now in Washington is -- in every respect -- the exact opposite of this. Already, it was revealed that our highest government officials, including the President, broke the law deliberately and for years by spying on Americans without the warrants required by the laws we enacted, and all of official Washington immediately agreed that nothing should happen as a result. And nothing did happen.'
THE RULE of law can be defined as a system in which the laws are public knowledge, are clear in meaning, and apply equally to everyone. They enshrine and uphold the political and civil liberties that have gained status as universal human rights over the last half-century. . . . Perhaps most important, the government is embedded in a comprehensive legal framework, its officials accept that the law will be applied to their own conduct, and the government seeks to be law-abiding.
Greenwald's essays are so long I can rarely read them all, but there are always bits like this (and the one I quoted on Friday) that nicely cut through the nonsense of the chattering classes.
Playing the Game
She's also probably the first Nobel Prize winner to have published a graphic novel, Playing the Game.
And thanks to Nicholas for this wonderful clip of Doris in action:
Shortwave radios: that sounds pretty cool to me.
Here's a less metaphorical approach to the same issue from later in the article:
"Another sign that subjective taste has weakened in poetry is the very obsession of the activists, who feel that poetry has become a subculture catering entirely to its own needs. This idea has prompted a long train of bullet-point-riddled essays advocating various means by which poetry could be rescued from its subcultural ghetto and restored to the culture at large. But poetry is not, and never has been, a subculture; at the moment it more exactly resembles something that tried to become a subculture and failed. One of the defining characteristics of a functioning subculture—one, that is, which is successfully satisfying the needs for which its participants turn to it—is that its members are indifferent to, possibly even embrace, its lack of popularity. We see this in every field; in the anxiety of the indie-rock audience when a cult band signs with a major record label, for instance. It is only when a subculture fails to satisfy the needs of its members that, like a fringe political movement, it begins to covet adoption by the outside world, as though this could provide a meaning that it is incapable of generating for itself." (boldface added by me)
Poetry as a failed subculture—not even a subculture, perhaps, but "just" a hobby?
Years ago, when my wife taught German in Poitiers, in France, I talked to a class of hers about poetry. One of the students asked her beforehand if poetry was my "hobby"—I was actually a bit offended. But a hobby can be a very honorable thing, can't it? :-)
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
The Bill of Rights is the Far Left
'Bill O'Reilly devoted the beginning of his show last night to warning Americans about the dangerous radicalism of John Edwards, proclaiming that "John Edwards has no chance to become president because he's simply too far-left for most Americans." After highlighting all the scary, fringe positions Edwards holds, O'Reilly summarized what the Far-Left America would look like once John Edwards got done with it:
[W]ould you support President John Edwards? Remember, no coerced interrogation, civilian lawyers in courts for captured overseas terrorists, no branding the Iranian guards terrorists, and no phone surveillance without a specific warrant.Who could even fathom an America plagued by habeas corpus, search warrants, and a military that fails to beat, freeze and mock-execute its detainees? And nothing is more sacred to core American values than branding other countries' armies as "Terrorists" ("The [Revolutionary] Guard is the SS of Iran"). O'Reilly has aptly highlighted here the new ideological divide in our political culture -- one is now on the "Left," usually the "Far Left," if one supports what were previously the defining attributes of basic American liberties, while one is "Serious" and "Responsible" and "Centrist/Right" only if one is too sophisticated and "tough" to actually think that such effete and abstract things matter.'
Put me on the Far Left, and proud of it.
Read more here.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I knew she would want me to paint with/for her, but she paints much better than I do, so I started my own painting, of a campfire, on the page I had written a few lines on last night.
I wrote the lines in my head first (following Jonathan Mayhew's "Complete Sentence Game," but adding in that each sentence was supposed to be iambic pentameter), but even then, I made some mistakes writing them down.
I wrote the last two sentences in my head last night and did not write them down. But I remembered them this morning.
I think my desire to paint on my draft was also influenced by the Best American Poetry cartoons here.
I've been pondering re-reading a bunch of Lessing for a year or so now, and I know that when I do, I will start with the first book of hers I ever read — not The Golden Notebook, sprawling and "important," but the deceptively small and utterly overpowering The Fifth Child, which is what I recommend (as highly as I possibly can) for anyone who has not read her work before (in fact, for anyone who has never read it; it's a mindboggling book). [But do NOT go on to read the abysmally bad sequel, Ben in the World!)
At almost 88, she might respond as Jaroslav Seifert supposedly did in 1984: "What good does it do me now?" :-)
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Age of Iron
"But now I ask myself: what right do I have to opinions about comradeship or anything else? ... To have opinions in a vacuum, opinions that touch no one, is, it seems to me, nothing. Opinions must be heard by others, heard and weighed, not just listened to out of politeness. And to be weighed they must have weight."
(J. M. Coetzee, Age of Iron)
1. The speaker, Mrs. Curren, is the narrator of the book, a white South African woman, around 70, dying of cancer, in the mid-to-late 1980s. A black man, Mr. Thabane, responded to her remarks earlier in the book by saying, "You are entitled to your opinion." It struck me how nasty that statement is. It means something like this: "Your opinion is utter and complete nonsense, but it is beneath me to argue with you about it."
2. Mrs. Curren argues that opinions have to be put on the line in order to be at all valid. In fact, she ends up implying that, as long as she is not willing to get out into the world and argue with people about her opinions, she is not entitled to her opinions.
3. This moment is important in Coetzee's work as a whole. In Elizabeth Costello, the title character argues that realism in fiction requires ideas to be embodied in characters. Mrs. Curren makes the same point in a more indirect way: ideas by themselves are nothing; there must be a person to back them up.
4. In Diary of a Bad Year, the narrator presents his "strong opinions," because he has been asked to do so by a German publishing house that is going to publish a collection of the "strong opinions" of various writers. The interactions between the narrator, his typist, and the typist's boyfriend provide the context of resistance to those strong opinions that entitle the narrator to them, in Mrs. Curren's sense.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
I had forgotten that Joe Henderson is the tenor player, wonderfully contrasting with Morgan's trumpet, and that Billy Higgins is the drummer. But the latter does not surprise me: since almost everything Higgins ever played on danced lightly even in ballads and in hard-bop, it's no wonder that this was long Blue Note's biggest hit. Somebody should write a complete Wikipedia page about him!
Addendum: I also picked up Joe Henderson's Page One, another recording I have not heard for ages. Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa," the opening track, is just as exquisite as "The Sidewinder." And McCoy Tyner is brilliant on piano.
I don't think I played "Blue Bossa" as often as "The Sidewinder" back in my radio days, but I also understand why "Blue Bossa" really deserves to be called a "jazz standard," in a way that "The Sidewinder" does not. "Blue Bossa" is just a perfect tune; in my few attempts to actually play jazz (and not just fake it), it was one of the tunes I learned a lot from: relatively simple, but with huge amounts of space in it for soloists and accompanists to move around in.
Friday, October 05, 2007
The latest issue (number 27) of "The Reader" contains two of my poems, "Wind" and "September." Nice company: for example, R. S. Thomas and Tom Paulin. "Wind" is on-line as a song I recorded back around 2000.
The latest issue (number 141, Summer 2007) of "Orbis" (the only literary magazine without a website?) contains my poem "Go Ogle" (and the issue even, honor of honors, has my name on the cover!). The poem has already been commented on as "a take on obituaries which is very funny in places"; the commenter (Tony Williams) has two poems in the issue as well. There's also a review of John Ash's latest by Rob Mackenzie.
If anyone who reads the issue of "Orbis" and my poem wants to tell me what they think the poem is about (as I was delighted to hear that it is "a take on obituaries"), I'd love to hear your ideas. I wonder what people might make of it.
I also recently had a poem in "Cadenza" (issue 17): "Fever," which can also be heard at the link for "Wind" above. If you get a look at the issue, don't look in the poetry section for my poem, which is well hidden.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
That's Errol Morris, from an interesting piece on his New York Times blog.
Seth Abramson posted this on his blog with a wonderful comment. Here's what I wrote as a comment on his post:
I lived in Leamington Spa, England, for a year when I was nine years old. It was 1973-74 ... so my parents, my sisters, and I missed the end of Nixon's presidency (although I'm sure my parents were playing close attention).
In return, we got to watch the Wombles. Thanks for posting this! It's so good I'm going to post it on my blog, too.
Adam and Eady
I just saw the links for the two poems in the latest issue, so I thought I would check them out to see if the current issue looks any better, poem-wise.
One is by Adam Zagajewski, "Karmelicka" (translated by Clare Cavanagh); the other is by Cornelius Eady, "Handymen."
A much better pair (though still not brilliant) than the quite funny but quite flimsy Murray poem and the lyric by Joni.
By the way, the issue is, as far as I know, still under the aegis of poetry editor Alice Quinn (and not yet a playground for Paul Muldoon).
That was the time when I first began to seriously listen to the radio, and not knowing better, I listened to Top 40 radio (not that there was much else available in Toledo, Ohio, in those years). And the fact that Rogers sings about "a bar in Toledo" in "Lucille" got my attention.
Not that I ever bought the single or an album by Rogers, but I can still sing you the first couple lines if you want me to (as well as, of course, the unforgettable — but still not very good — chorus).
It probably helps that my cousin John knew a parody in the voice of a trucker. Its chorus went "You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel." :-)
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Last.fm is tracking what I listen to, and I was trying to fix something with the last.fm window, and I noticed that Mehldau was born on August 23, 1970—not the same year as me, but the same day.
Meaningless, of course, but no less touching in its own peculiar way.
"Im Verlauf meiner weiteren Beschäftigung mit den Skizzenbüchern und dem Leben Turners bin ich dann auf die an sich völlig bedeutungslose, mich aber nichtsdestoweniger eigenartig berührende Tatsache gestoßen, dass er, Turner, im Jahr 1798, auf einer Landfahrt durch Wales, auch an der Mündung des Mawddach gewesen ist und dass er zu jener Zeit genauso alt war wie ich bei dem Begräbnis von Cutiau." (W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz)