Tuesday, May 31, 2022

A cactus on a concert stage in Budapest

In late 1991, I was living in Berlin, and as my father was in Budapest collaborating with mathematicians and dancing Hungarian folk dances, I went to visit him. He took me to a concert by the Amadinda Percussion Group, a classical ensemble he had already heard several times. Before the concert, we noticed a small cactus at the front of the stage, with a microphone next to it. Referring to the program, I said, "You know there's going to be a piece by John Cage when there's a miked cactus on stage!" During the concert, then, we heard how plucking the hard spines of the cactus made a cool percussion sound. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 May 2022)

Monday, May 30, 2022

An evening in the 1980s at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance at Stanford

One evening during the two years when my sister True and I were both at Stanford, she was working on a paper in the office of GLAS (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance at Stanford), and to keep her company, I sat in the corner reading. Later, Gerard Koskovich of GLAS came in and passionately talked to True about all the ways in which the "straights" didn't understand something. Eventually, I said I was sorry that my fellow "straights" were such a pain. Gerard turned to me and said, "Look at you, Andrew, with your tie-dye T-shirt, your scraggly beard, and your sandals! You may be a heterosexual, but you're not straight!" (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 May 2022)

Sunday, May 29, 2022

"What are you going through?" and "Quel est ton tourment?" in Adrienne Rich and Simone Weil

This morning, I read Adrienne Rich's poem "For a Friend in Travail" and was struck by her note for the phrase "what are you going through", which appears twice in the poem. It comes from Emma Crauford's translation of Simone Weil's "Attente de Dieu": "The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him, 'What are you going through?'" I found Weil's original French (which took quite a while): "La plénitude de l'amour du prochain, c'est simplement d'être capable de lui demander: 'Quel est ton tourment?'" I can imagine asking someone what they're "going through", but would you ask someone what their "torment" is? (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 May 2022)


Saturday, May 28, 2022

How I became an XTC fan at Palo Alto High School in Spring 1982

One afternoon each week during the spring of my senior year at Palo Alto High School in 1982, a group of students met at school to discuss whatever we thought of to discuss. I don't remember the group's name or most of our topics, but one week, we all shared songs that were special to us. I chose Peter Gabriel's "Family Snapshot", from his 1980 album Peter Gabriel. I don't listen to Gabriel much anymore, but one young woman played "Knuckle Down" from XTC's "English Settlement" – a song I liked so much I bought the album as soon as I could. And now I've been listening to XTC for forty years. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 May 2022)

Friday, May 27, 2022

The 2013 Senate vote on expanding background checks was 54-46, but Senator Joe Manchin's legislation was filibustered

As Heather Cox Richardson wrote in her "Letter from an American" for 26 May 2022, the United States Senate responded to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on 14 December 2012 with a bipartisan bill to expand background checks. The vote was on 17 April 2013, with 54 Senators supporting it. Yet it did not pass because the filibuster requires 60 votes for contested legislation. It was opposed by 40 Republicans and 6 Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The failed bill is known as the Manchin-Toomey amendment, yet now, in 2022, the Senator primarily responsible for it, Democrat Joe Manchin, continues to resist calls to eliminate the filibuster. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 May 2022)


Thursday, May 26, 2022

A movie about an unbelievable true story that I read about as a child: "Operation Mincemeat"

When I was a child, I had a book of unbelievable true stories. I don't remember its title, and I only remember one story I read several times, on a successful World War Two British plot to deceive the Germans and the Italians into thinking the Allies were going to attack Greece rather than Sicily. The macabre twist was that fake documents were planted on a corpse. I had long since forgotten the details, so I was pleased tonight to see John Madden's 2021 film on that very story, "Operation Mincemeat" – and also amused to learn that Ian Fleming, world-famous author of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", was part of the plot. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 May 2022)

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

On listening to XTC for several days, but not to one song today

On Sunday, I started listening to my XTC albums in alphabetical order. I got through "Apple Venus" and all but one song of "The Big Express", which I listened to on Monday, along with all of "Black Sea," "Drums and Wires", and the beginning of "English Settlement." I didn't get far yesterday, when I listened to only two songs. I listened to two more about an hour ago, but then I paused while preparing poems to discuss in class today. When I decided to put on music again, I couldn't listen to "Melt the Guns", not today: "If you listen very quietly, you can hear them shooting from grave to grave." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 May 2022)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Bandung Conference and the Sino-Indonesian Dual Nationality Treaty in 1955

The 1955 Bandung Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, brought together representatives of 29 African and Asian countries to discuss cooperation and oppose colonialism. China's Premier and Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai attended the conference, but while he was in Indonesia he also met with Indonesian Foreign Minister Soenario to negotiate a Sino-Indonesian Dual Nationality Treaty, which aimed to resolve the status of over one million ethnic Chinese in Indonesia after its recent independence from the Netherlands. As I am the father of children with dual nationality, the idea of that treaty sounded good to me – until I found out it was a treaty to force dual nationals to choose one or the other. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 May 2022)

Monday, May 23, 2022

"Why will you not speak?": Mourning in Denise Levertov and Denise Riley

Denise Levertov's poem "The Mourners" (from her 1984 collection "Oblique Prayers") concludes with an appeal to the mourned person whose body the speaker has been carrying through the poem: "Why will you not speak?" This same figure of asking the lost one to speak runs through Denise Riley's 2016 collection "Say Something Back", written after the death of her adult son. In "A Part Song", Riley attempts to "extort your reply" to her poems, while "Under the Answering Sky" speaks more generally for all mourners: "What do the dead make of us / that we’d flay ourselves trying / to hear them though they may / sigh at such close loneliness." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 May 2022)

Sunday, May 22, 2022

My laconic, graceful friend answers the phone and speaks his mother tongue

It was dark in the hallway in my friend's house, but when the phone rang and he turned to answer it with the slow grace that mirrored his laconic speech, a stripe of sunlight came in behind him through a window. On the phone, he began speaking his mother tongue, which he'd said was a northern Italian dialect, and while his gestures retained their grace, his body language became more lively and words poured out of him in a flood I had never experienced with him before. After a long conversation, he hung up, turned back to me with that slow grace, and quietly apologized: "That was my uncle from Italy." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 May 2022)

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Time zones are "not rooted in our nation's history" and should be banned

What do we even have time zones for? Time zones are the kind of government over-regulation the Supreme Court has determined is unconstitutional and "not rooted in our nation's history." They were imposed upon us in the late nineteenth century by the railroads – who even takes the train anywhere anymore except for socialist Europeans? Every town should have the right to use its own time based on when it's actually noon in that town – you just have to see when the sun is high in the sky! And if the railroads don't like it, well, in the age of the GPS, they can easily determine their location and the local time. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 May 2022)

Friday, May 20, 2022

Vangelis at a piano recital, and then the news of his death

Yesterday, Sara and several other students of her piano teacher (who is retiring) gave a recital at the Music Academy in Basel. Among the pieces the students played was "Conquest of Paradise", by Vangelis, which was part of his score for the 1992 Ridley Scott movie "1492: Conquest of Paradise". I never saw that one or heard the music, but of course it reminded me of the soundtrack to Hugh Hudson's 1981 movie "Chariots of Fire", as well as of my later discovery of Vangelis's earlier band Aphrodite's Child and the 1972 album "666": "Fallen fallen fallen is Babylon the Great". Later, we learned that Vangelis died at 79 on Tuesday. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 May 2022)

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Afternoon in Basel with trams and a cloudburst

Carrying my backpack and wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and sandals, I went out to do errands in the early afternoon on this hot day in Basel (with temperatures around 30° C). I planned a route with several tram trips, but just as I was about to get on the tram to do the last of my errands, there was a roll of thunder, and heavy rain began to fall. I only had two tram stops to go, but it was still raining when I arrived, so I just stayed on the tram until it stopped raining, then got off and went back to do that last errand and then go home. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 May 2022)

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Staging two scenes from Jane Austen in class

In my Academic Writing Two classes this week, we worked with two scenes from Jane Austen in terms of the positions of the characters relative to each other. In the past, I had the students draw pictures or diagrams to show who was where in the scenes. But this time around, we stole a bench from the courtyard to represent the sofa on which Anne Elliot, Mrs. Musgrove, and Captain Wentworth sit in "Persuasion", and we cleared a space around a table for five characters from "Emma" to play an anagram game while Mr. Knightley observes them. Staging the scenes made for playful sessions full of insights into the two scenes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 May 2022)

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Remembering my first meetings in Basel with my longtime colleague Peter Burleigh on his 60th birthday

In October 1995, I arrived at Basel's English Department and met my fellow new hire Peter Burleigh, who's been my colleague here ever since. In one of our first meetings, we spoke with his predecessor, who was from New Zealand, and afterwards, I did something I can no longer do: I drew a vowel chart of my pronunciation, with arrows showing how the vowels shifted for New Zealand pronunciation. I showed it to Peter, who knew phonetics better than I did; he said I'd drawn it just right. That's a sign of how I immediately felt we were a team – and we have been ever since. Happy 60th birthday to Peter! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 May 2022)


Monday, May 16, 2022

Joe Lovano, Marilyn Crispell, and Carmen Castaldi at Don Bosco in Basel

Tonight's concert in Basel by Joe Lovano's Tapestry Trio, with Marilyn Crispell (piano) and Carmen Castaldi (drums), was the seventh or eighth time I've seen Lovano, so I was mostly anticipating seeing Crispell live for the first time, after several decades of enjoying excellent recordings by and with her. While Lovano and Crispell both delivered, Castadi’s drumming was unfortunately mostly uninspired. Except for a few passages when his use of toms offered effective accompaniment to the other two, his static ride cymbal and snare drum distracted from their playing rather than supporting it. I hope I get a chance to hear Crispell solo someday — or at least with a better drummer. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 May 2022)

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Two more weeks of daily writing for my students in "111 Words a Day"

The students in my course "111 Words a Day: A Writing Project" have two more weeks of daily texts to write this term; they'll finish the project the day before the class's final session. This is the third time I have taught the course (in Spring Semester 2020 and 2021), and for the first time we have met in person all semester (the 2020 group had three in-person sessions before lockdown started; the 2021 group met online all the way through). That certainly changes how the course goes, but beyond that, the mix of participants and the variety of texts they write have again given this class its own unique feel. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 May 2022)

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Not remembering the 1974 FA Cup Final

Watching today's FA Cup final, I realized I've never done so before. Even though I've had BBC on my television package for years, it just never crossed my mind to watch it. But then I realized that, although I have no memory of it, I probably watched the 1974 FA Cup final near the end of my family's year in Leamington Spa. I looked it up: Liverpool defeated Newcastle United 3-0, with two goals by Kevin Keegan. The clubs had only one substitute on the bench in those days, and if there'd been extra time and a draw, there would have been a replay, not penalty kicks, to decide the title. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 May 2022)

Friday, May 13, 2022

My poem and song "Pale Horse" from 1987 to today

In Winter 1987, "Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton" covered my English-major requirement for pre-eighteenth-century literature. In Book X of Milton's "Paradise Lost", a footnote to "his pale Horse" (590) sent me to Revelation 6:8: "[...] there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death [...]". The image sent me to my band's practice room, and soon I had written "Pale Horse". The poem is in my collection "Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong"; the song is on my band Human Shields's album "Somebody's Hometown" – and tonight at 9:30, The Literati (Frank Wenzel, Axel Rüst, and I) will play it at Nadelberg 6 in Basel as one of our literary songs. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 May 2022)

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Literati: My one-time performance with Frank Wenzel and Axel Rüst, playing literary songs

Yesterday, I was so busy I never got to my daily prose. In the evening was my final rehearsal with singer Frank Wenzel and guitarist Axel Rüst for our one-time performance as The Literati at the English Department in Basel tomorrow evening (Friday the 13th; Nadelberg 6; we play from 9:30 to 10 pm). We'll by playing a short set of songs based on literary texts (some covers; some written by me). Frank and Axel are two of my many former students who are excellent musicians: Frank sings with Sandro Corbat in Les Frères Lumières, and Axel plays guitar with Bleu Roi and is the singer, songwriter, and bandleader of Cloudride. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 May 2022)

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Four German verbs in a row in a subordinate clause

I don't have many regrets in my life, but here's one. I was walking down the street in Berlin in 1992, in conversation in German with my friend Astrid (now Professor of American Studies in Tübingen). I don't remember what we were talking about, but at some point in our conversation I said something that pleased and surprised me: for the first time in German, I used a subordinate clause that ended with four verbs, in the correct order  (something like "ich habe vergessen, dass ich hätte einkaufen gehen müssen"). I regret that I don't remember what actual sentence with four consecutive verbs in a subordinate clause I said that night. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 May 2022)

Monday, May 09, 2022

The absence of narrative context and a distorted interpretation of a novel

I work with my first-year academic writing students on how to provide narrative context when they quote from fiction. An article on Toni Morrison's "Paradise" that I was reading this evening (to discuss with the students in my MA seminar on her middle novels) quoted several passages as if they were in the voices of the men of Morrison's fictional all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma. But in each case, they were in the voices of women reflecting on what the men said and did. The author's imprecise or even absent narrative contextualization of her quotations led her to a distorted interpretation that erased the novel's women as interpreters of its story. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 May 2022)

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Overturning Roe v. Wade with reference to Washington v. Glucksberg, which depended on Roe v. Wade?

In the leaked draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Justice Samuel Alito writes that Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) "must be overruled" because a right to abortion is not "implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including [...] the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment", which only guarantees rights unmentioned in the Constitution that are "deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” – a phrase from Washington v. Glucksberg (1997). But that ruling referred explicitly to both Roe and Casey when discussing that expression, so the logic seems circular here: overturning Roe with the support of a case whose decision depended on Roe. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 May 2022)


Saturday, May 07, 2022

Abbie Crunch watches from the window in Ann Petry's "The Narrows"

When Abbie Crunch in Ann Petry's "The Narrows" (1953) sees her husband being helped home, apparently drunk but actually suffering from a stroke, she watches at the window, like Henry James's novelist, invisible to the objects of her judgmental observation: "Inside the house, she waited for them, watching from the window." But on another occasion, surprised by a "repeated banging" at the door, she makes her judgment visible: "Usually she stood back from the smallpaned windows at the side of the door so that she could not be seen when she looked out. But this time she wanted to be seen, she glared out of the little windows and then frowned." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 May 2022)

Friday, May 06, 2022

The labor of preparing turkeys and quail in James Baldwin and Toni Morrison

In James Baldwin's "Go Tell It on the Mountain" (1953), John Grimes's Aunt Florence recalls how her husband Frank would buy a whole turkey when shopping: "She would sit in the kitchen, cold with rage and staring at the turkey, which, since Frank always bought them unplucked and with the head on, would cost her hours of exasperating, bloody labor." The same figure of a husband providing whole birds for meals without considering the labor of preparation appears in Toni Morrison's "Paradise" (1998) when Soane Morgan anticipates her husband returning from hunting with "a sackful" of quail: "Like he's giving me a present. Like you were already plucked, cleaned and cooked." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 May 2022)

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

The "sho 'nough race riot" in Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man"

The unnamed narrator of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" (1952) witnesses the police shooting of his former fellow activist Tod Clifton: "And somewhere between the dull roar of traffic and the subway vibrating underground I heard rapid explosions and saw [...] Clifton still facing the cop and suddenly crumpling." After the narrator speaks at Clifton's funeral, unrest spreads in Harlem, and he falls in with a group wandering the streets and commenting on what's happening: "If it become a sho 'nough race riot I want to be here where there'll be some fighting back." This fictional police shooting of an unarmed black man takes place in the middle of the twentieth century. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 May 2022)

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

"A dazzling sharp glass case of sharp instruments": Abortion in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer"

In John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" (1925), Ellen rings the bell at a "smudged white door" and is welcomed: "You are the lady my friend phoned me about." Ellen explains her situation: "You understand, Dr. Abrahms that it is absolutely necessary. I am getting a divorce from my husband and have to make my own living." He directs her into the operating room: "The bright searing bud of light swells in the center of the ceiling, sprays razorsharp nickel, enamel, a dazzling sharp glass case of sharp instruments." After the abortion, she goes to get a taxi: "The roar of the streets breaks like surf about a shell of throbbing agony." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 May 2022)

 [posted on 4 May after internet problems on 3 May]

Monday, May 02, 2022

The John Zorn day at the Willisau Jazz Festival in 2016

Saturday, 3 September, at the Willisau Jazz Festival in 2016 was a whole day of bands chosen by John Zorn to play his compositions: Zorn with Masada (Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen, Joey Baron), Cyro Baptista's Banquet of the Spirits, Cleric, Asmodeus (Marc Ribot, Trevor Dunn, Tyshwan Sorey, with Zorn conducting), Simulacrum (with John Medeski), and a duo of Julian Lage and Gyan Riley. Masada was brilliant from start to finish, but Baptista's ostinatos ran together, and Cleric, Asmodeus, and Simulacrum were all too loud (my only Ribot set I haven't enjoyed). Like Masada, Lage and Riley laughed and smiled their way through an energetic and virtuosic set on two acoustic guitars. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 May 2022)

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Marc Ribot concerts I have attended from 1987 to 2022

The first time I heard Marc Ribot live was with Tom Waits at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco in 1987, on the "Franks Wild Years" tour, with Ralph Carney, Greg Cohen, and Michael Blair. Blair was also on drums the second time I heard Ribot live, on Elvis Costello's "Spike" tour in Philadelphia in 1989. Since then, I've seen him in two solo shows, three shows with John Zorn's Masada Chamber Ensemble (as well as another playing Zorn compositions with a metal-jazz trio), and three with his own bands: Shrek in Berlin in 1992; a jazz trio in Basel in 2010; and last night's show in Basel with Ceramic Dog. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 May 2022)