Saturday, September 30, 2023

Two duo versions of “It Might As Well Be Spring” by Bill Frisell & Fred Hersch and by Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden

The song "It Might As Well Be Spring" was written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for Walter Lang's 1945 movie musical "State Fair". Guitarist Bill Frisell and pianist Fred Hersch opened their 1998 album "Songs We Know" with an exquisite if relatively brief version (3:10) I've listened to many times since. Today, I put on pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Charlie Haden's album "Last Dance" (released in 2014, recorded in 2007) without looking at the song list, and when the melody of "It Might As Well Be Spring" began, I stopped whatever I was doing and got lost in Jarrett and Haden's much longer reading of the tune (11:55). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 30 September 2023) 

Friday, September 29, 2023

Some things I learned today about Dianne Feinstein (1933-2023)

As the President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, to which she was first elected in 1969, Dianne Feinstein (1933-2023) became Mayor of San Francisco on 27 November 1978 when Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were murdered by former Supervisor Dan White. In all the time that she served as Mayor and later as a Senator from California (until her death yesterday), I had forgotten (or perhaps I had never known) that she had replaced Moscone after his assassination. Nor had I known that on the Board, she had often sided with White against Moscone, and that later, she vetoed domestic partner legislation in San Francisco in 1982. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 29 September 2023)

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Remembering Michael Gambon (1940-2023) in “Emma” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox"

At the end of Jim O'Hanlon and Sandy Welch's four-part BBC series of Jane Austen's "Emma" (2009), Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai) and Mr. Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller) leave her family's Hartfield estate to honeymoon at the seaside. A shot out the back of their carriage shows Emma's "valetudinarian" father Mr. Woodhouse (Michael Gambon, 1940-2023) looking down from an upstairs room as the newlyweds depart. His forlorn face came to mind today when I heard the news of Gambon's death, along with his superb reading of the role of Bean in Wes Anderson's stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009): "That's just weak songwriting. You wrote a bad song, Petey!" (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 28 September 2023)

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Anna Rosenwasser at the Literaturhaus Basel

This evening, Swiss journalist and activist Anna Rosenwasser presented her new book "Rosa Buch" (Rotpunkt Verlag) at the Literaturhaus Basel, with Sascha Rijkeboer moderating the lively and relaxed discussion. At one point, Rosenwasser recalled how the increasingly conservative Neue Zürcher Zeitung once commissioned her to write about gender-sensitive language. Given that context, she tried to write a diplomatic presentation of the issue. When the NZZ told her the text had generated numerous comments and asked if she could respond to a few of them, she said that she thought to herself that it was not worth her time to read the comments for the low fee that they had paid her. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 27 September 2023) 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Laying out prose on the blackboard as a poem

In discussing a passage from N. K. Jemisin's story "L'Alchimista" in class this week, I have been writing it down on the blackboard not as prose but with the layout of a free-verse poem, so as to highlight the pattern of the words: "He looked up at her. The hat still shadowed his eyes, but – she blinked, frowned, peered closer. Then took a step back." In particular, I wanted the sequence of verbs "blinked, frowned, peered [...] took" to be in a column. This made it easier to keep track of both the individual verbs and the overall effect of the sequence. It also raised the issue of form in prose. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 26 September 2023)

Monday, September 25, 2023

On hearing The Grateful Dead on Saturday Night Live in 1979, in what must have been a rerun

From seventh to tenth grade (1976-1979), I was on the Ottawa Hills High School cross-country team. Every fall, we ran a 24-hour relay around the school on a Saturday and Sunday. In October 1979, we watched Saturday Night Live, and somebody commented on the band: "They fired their backup singer and the pianist and replaced them with a pianist with a falsetto." — That was The Grateful Dead; the firing occurred in February 1979. — But the Dead only played SNL in October 1978 and April 1980. So in 1979, we probably saw a rerun of the 1978 episode, with the Dead playing "Casey Jones". That was the first time I noticed them. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 25 September 2023) 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Buying three used albums in Spring 1982 at Chimera Books and Records in Palo Alto

One afternoon in Spring 1982, I went to Palo Alto's Chimera Books and Records (where I could buy used albums and return them if I didn't like them), and I took three albums home: a Steppenwolf greatest hits, Black Sabbath's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", and The Grateful Dead's "Workingman's Dead". I remember clearly how I first thought Black Sabbath sounded really cool. But when Ozzy Osbourne started to sing, I took the album off and planned to return it to Chimera. And then I put on "Workingman's Dead", and "Uncle John's Band" entranced me right away. I kept the Steppenwolf, too, but didn't listen to it nearly as often as "Workingman's Dead". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 24 September 2023)

Saturday, September 23, 2023

A syntactical ambiguity in a statement about the state of the United States House of Representatives

In her "Letter from an American" of 21 September 2023, Heather Cox Richardson quotes Ron Filipkowski on the interaction between former President Donald Trump and far-right Republicans in the United States House of Representatives: “House Republicans refuse to fund the government to protect Donald Trump.” The final phrase, "to protect Donald Trump", is syntactically ambiguous here. I first spontaneously read it to mean that funding the government would itself "protect Donald Trump", a claim which contradicts what's happening. After all, it is the refusal to fund the government that is intended — by Trump himself and the likes of Florida Representative Matt Gaetz — to protect the former President from federal legal investigations. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 23 September 2023)



Friday, September 22, 2023

Kadri Voorand and Mihkel Mälgan at the Tinguely Museum in Basel

Kadri Voorand accompanies her singing with furious piano and begins to loop her voice into caverns of singing, humming, whistling, breathing, and even panting. On the upright bass, Mihkel Mälgan moves from tabla-style finger drumming on the body and under the neck of the instrument to pulsing pizzicato lines and long drones with the bow. The two musicians reach moments of such dizzying layers of sounds that I stop trying to sort out what comes from where. — And that was only the first song of their set this evening at the Tinguely Museum in Basel, which even later included a loose, rousing version of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 22 September 2023)

Thursday, September 21, 2023

“A Julia de Burgos”, by Julia de Burgos, and its echo of Friedriech Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud

In her poem "A Julia de Burgos" (which she apparently wrote in 1943), Julia de Burgos (1914-1953) contrasts the "tú" she addresses as "Julia de Burgos" with the "yo" that speaks the poem, with "yo no" running through the stanzas as a mesodiplosis linking the contrasting points: "Tú eres como tu mundo, egoísta; yo no; / que todo me lo juego a ser lo que soy yo." The second of these lines recalls both the subtitle of "Ecce Homo: Wie man wird, was man ist" (1888, published in 1908) and the end of Sigmund Freud's "Neue Folge der Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse" (1933): "Wo es war, soll ich werden." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 21 September 2023)

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Ted Gioia remembers Jim Croce on the 50th anniversary of his death, and I remember beloved artists I lost when I was young

Today, Ted Gioia wrote a tribute to singer-songwriter Jim Croce (11943-1973) on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, noting that "Croce’s death was perhaps my first experience with the senseless death of a young artist I’d actually seen in concert." This made me think of my first experiences of losing beloved artists when I was relatively young: the murder of John Lennon (1940-1980) on 8 December 1980; the death of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) on 14 June 1986; and the apparent suicide of Primo Levi (1919-1987) on 11 April 1987, whose work I had discovered a year or two before that with "The Periodic Table" (1975, translated into English in 1984). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 20 September 2023)


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

An evening walk in Kannenfeld Park in Basel, with no witches

To get a few more steps in before the day ended, I took an evening stroll around nearby Kannenfeld Park in Basel and listened to the latest episode of Peter Adamson's "History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps" podcast, which is on Shakespeare, "Macbeth", and Witchcraft in the Shakespearean era. I'd like to report that I glimpsed witches between the darkening trees, but the few other people in the park were on the paths with me, and the only hint I got of anything weird was a blinding light that, after a moment, I determined was a headlight from a car that happened to be pointing right at me for a moment. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 19 September 2023)

Monday, September 18, 2023

From “Your Mother Should Know” to Brad Mehldau and finally David Bowie

Some turn of phrase or an echo of melody led me to hum Paul McCartney's "Your Mother Should Know", from the 1967 Beatles album "Magical Mystery Tour." That led me to listen once more to Brad Mehldau's 2023 release "Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays The Beatles", a live recording of a 2020 concert in Paris. On the album, the penultimate tune, McCartney's "Golden Slumbers" from "Abbey Road" (1969), made me turn it up on this rainy morning to listen more closely to Mehldau's beautiful and meandering eight minutes of melody. And that primed me for the equally beautiful final tune, David Bowie's "Life on Mars?", from 1971's "Hunky Dory". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 18 September 2023)

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A text-message exchange about how to address my teenage daughter in text messages

My daughter Sara emailed me a file she wanted printed out, so I saved it, printed it for her, and sent her a WhatsApp message: "Your printout is on your desk." She wrote back, "Thanks, Dad", with three heart emojis. So I wrote, "You've welcome, Sara", with three heart emojis. She quickly responded, "Ewww, don't call me that." When I wrote back, "Don't call you Sara???", she clarified that I never call her "Sara" when texting with her. I explained that I'd thought about writing, "You're welcome, daughter", but I decided to say "Sara" because I thought she would find "daughter" annoying! Her last message in this exchange was simple: "True." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 13 September 2023)

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Deciding not to play: Eva Klesse at her quartet’s concert in Basel this evening

Sometimes, a jazz musician decides not to play. When pianist Philip Frischkorn began an unaccompanied coda at the end of his composition "Die Dämmerung" at this evening's concert by drummer Eva Klesse's quartet at the Tinguely Museum in Basel (with Evgeny Ring on alto saxophone and Marc Muellbauer on bass), Klesse put down her drumsticks, prepared her brushes, held them up to play her cymbals, and lowered them. As Frischkorn let a concluding chord ring, her brushes hovered over the cymbals again, but again she didn't not play. — Or perhaps she was playing a series of rests of varying lengths, each adapted to the nuances of the diminuendo of Frischkorn’s coda. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 12 September 2023)

Monday, September 11, 2023

11 September 1683 in Vienna, 1924 and 1973 in Chile, and 2001 in the United States

Shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States on 11 September 2001, I learned that the Battle of Vienna, when the Ottoman Empire was defeated by a combined Habsurg and Polish-Lithuanian army, had begun on 11 September 1683. That marked the end of the Ottomans' westward expansion. I also learned that the 1973  coup d'état in Chile that the government of President Salvador Allende and established the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet had taken place on 11 September. Today, I read that the Chilean date was chosen in memory of a previous coup that overthrew a progressive Chilean government on 11 September 1924. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 11 September 2023)

Amateur Radio, Poetry, Hardcore

[Originally published March 2011. Edited to remove an image that is no longer available, 11 September 2023]

Dominic Rivron wrote a post recently about his love of amateur radio, with some details about what amateur-radio enthusiasts do and how the whole thing works. It reminded of something I have been thinking about for several years now—a passage from "Poetry and the Problem of Taste," an essay by Brian Phillips that appeared in Poetry in September 2007. Here, Phillips is discussing a "line of thinking" exemplified, for him, by Dana Gioia's essay "Can Poetry Matter?", which leads him to the comparison that has stuck with me:

Starved of a general readership, poets are writing only for other poets, like shortwave radio hobbyists who build elaborate machines on which they can only reach each other.

I've been pondering various ways of thinking about this comparison, but only Dominic's post made me wonder what the passage might sound like to "shortwave radio hobbyists," who are surely being disparaged here (not by Phillips, of course, at least not directly) as providing nothing of value to the larger culture.

One of the lines of thinking I have been following is to wonder whether it might not be better for poets to embrace their similarity to "hobbyists" of various kinds—embrace, that is, the idea that we are only talking to each other and not to the rest of the world. In the light of Robert Archambeau's recent discussion of Tennyson, Yeats, and Eliot, which I commented on in my last post, such a self-isolation (whatever its merits in terms of reduced anxiety for poets might be) would reduce the poetry that we produce (by eliminating the productive tension between hermetic aestheticism and various forms of desire to have an influence on the world).

But last night I went to a hardcore concert. I do not usually listen to hardcore, though I enjoy hearing it live once in a while, and I wanted to go to this particular concert because my friend Andreas's band Flimmer was playing, and I have been wanting to see him play for years. And one thing about hardcore is that it is a world unto itself: anyone who plays hardcore does not do so because of any ambition to be a success with it in the larger world. The only reason to play hardcore is that you love it.

Similarly, the only reason to do amateur radio is that you love it. And what if poets stopped worrying about the age when Tennyson sold zillions of poems that clarified and confirmed the world to his readers, and instead focused our attention on the joys of talking to each other? Writing "inspired notes," as Tranströmer said.

There's more to say about the comparison between poetry and radio (and poetry and hardcore), but I'll save it for another day.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Remembering trombonist Curtis Fowlkes (1950-2023) playing with Bill Frisell and with the Jazz Passengers

Jazz trombonist Curtis Fowlkes (1950-2023), who died on 1 September, played on guitarist Bill Frisell's 1996 album "Quartet", which also featured trumpeter Ron Miles (1963-2022) and Evyind King on viola. I saw that band play a show of what I called there "psychedelic dixieland" in 1997 at the Atlantis in Basel. I also saw Fowlkes with the Jazz Passengers there a year later; singer Debbie Harry of Blondie was touring with them; the set featured memorable arrangements of Blondie's "Tbe Tide Is High" and (if I remember correctly) "Heart of Glass", as well as the standard "If I Were a Bell", which Frank Loesser wrote for "Guys and Dolls" in 1950. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 10 September 2023)

Saturday, September 09, 2023

An unusual gray shape while birdwatching along the Birs river

While birdwatching along the Birs river this morning with a group led by my friend Dave Garbutt, I walked ahead of the group with the Birs on my left and saw a pond through the trees to my right. At one end of the pond, I could see a concrete landing above the water, and on the landing was an unusual gray shape. I first thought it was a sculpture; then I thought it was a round basin with a bird sitting in it. When I found it through my binoculars, though, I discovered it was a gray heron drying its wings in the sun – the basin-like shape was its wings. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 9 September 2023)

Friday, September 08, 2023

Richard Davis (1930-2023) with John Carter and Van Morrison

I saw jazz bassist Richard Davis (1930-2023) with the John Carter Quartet (Carter on clarinet, Bobby Bradford on cornet, and Andrew Cyrille on drums) at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay, California, in February 1987 (according to the date of a photo I found of Cyrille at that gig). By then, I had been listening to jazz steadily for four years, and I knew many records with Davis's superb bass playing. But Davis also played acoustic bass on an album I'd known before I began listening to jazz: Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks", where Davis's melodic bass lines both drive the rhythms and sing along with the songs. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 8 September 2023) 

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Dr.O.G.E at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, 6 September 2023

The trio at the Bird's Eye in Basel last night played psychedelic jazz-prog-rock based on melodies from children's songs. In their often very loud walls of sounds from DRums, Hammond Organ, and Guitar (hence the band's name – Dr.O.G.E, with the E for Ensemble and "Droge" the German word for "drug"), Dave Gisler on electric guitar would pull out one of those simple tunes — "Frère Jacques" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" were two I recognized — and play it beautifully with a powerful sustained tone. The dynamic Dominik Blum ranged from dissonant textures to aggressive grooves on Hammond organ, with powerhouse drummer Valeria Zangger responding with total attention to her bandmates' rhythmic variations. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 September 2023)

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

The “Flunky Beadle” in James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake"

In James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" (1939), Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker writes a list "of all abusive names he was called" (FW 71.5-6). The page-long includes this insult that you can sing if you like: "Flunkey Beadle Vamps the Tune Letting on He's Loney" (FW 71.32-33). Like a soldier aspiring to fashionable, "Yankee Doodle" here becomes a lonely improviser and pretender who is doubly subordinate to those he serves, both as a flunky and as a beadle (a minor parish official, such as Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens's "Oliver Twist", 1838). In our reading group, we wondered if "Loney" was an echo of a particular aristocratic name for the beadle to pretend to. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 September 2023) 

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Toiling to jot down words without a particular sign

Lipograms pick a sign to omit and talk about things without words that contain that sign. This can fill paragraphs with unusual combinations of words, but many normal constructions will also still show up anyway. I'm happy to jot down so many words that follow this constraint, which brings about astonishing thoughts that I did not know I could count on occurring. On occasion I ask my pupils to try to find lipograms for short constructions in this idiom that I got to talk from birth on. Many pupils who do not talk this idiom that way pupils find it funny but may toil to coin lipograms in such an idiom. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 September 2023)

Monday, September 04, 2023

Another job advertisement appealing to people bored with their jobs

On Saturday, I discussed Basel police department's advertisement for new police recruits, the gist of which was that you could leave your boring job for an exciting one. I'd driven past the advertisement often, but only on Saturday did I walk past it so that I could take a picture of it. On Sunday morning, at the Migros supermarket at the main Basel train station, I saw a similar advertisement, but this time without the excitement of the threat of violence behind the police ad: "Zufrieden mit deinem Job? Wir bieten Alternativen für [...]" ("Satisfied with your job? We offer alternatives for [...]). This was followed a list of supermarket positions. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 September 2023)


Sunday, September 03, 2023

Day Trippers

We walked downstairs and caught a tram, walked across a street to another tram, walked through a station to a train, walked through another station to another train, walked around and found a bus, walked across a street and caught a cable car up a mountainside, walked around the side of the mountain for an hour or two, took the cable car back down, walked to a swimming pool (and noticed we'd forgotten our swimsuits), walked to a boat landing, took the boat across the lake, got off the boat and went to the train station, caught another train, walked to catch a bus, changed to a tram, and walked upstairs. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 September 2023)

Saturday, September 02, 2023

The irony of a recruiting advertisement for the Basel police department

The police department of the canton of Basel-Stadt has advertised for new recruits with a numerical slogan: "Vergiss Deinen 08/15 Job und starte eine 117er Karriere" ("Forget your 08/15 Job and start a 117 career"). While "08/15" can be translated as "run-of-the-mill", "117" is the emergency phone number to call the police in Switzerland. In other words, leave the dull routine of your current job for the excitement and variety of being a police officer. The irony is that the expression "08/15" comes from a standard machine gun used by the German Army during World War One. I wonder if the creators of the advertisting campaign intended that irony or not. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 September 2023)

Friday, September 01, 2023

On being diagnosed with rosacea

The tip of my nose was sore and slightly swollen for a few months, and then one morning two weeks ago it had a scab on it. I couldn't get an appointment with the dermatologist until this past Tuesday, but I got some advice and some lotion from a pharmacist, and it looked a lot better by the time the doctor saw it. But she could still diagnose rosacea, and she prescribed a lotion to put it nightly until the condition clears up. I got the lotion from the pharmacy, but only when I got home did I notice on the box, to my amusement, that Soolandra's active ingredient is Ivermectin. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 September 2023)