Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I always do this shit.


My good pal, RP, who is to modern day Philadelphia what Madame de Pompadour was to 18th c. Versailles, linked Mike's fantastic collaborative blog, ReallyLongNecks.com--please see the link to the left. Anyhow, RLN put the list feather to my neck and tickled me into composing one of my own. Caveat emptor: This is probably the first of this kind of device I've made and not restricted it to releases of the year. Be a dick and sue me.

The auld lang syne. listened to these recordings most in 2008:

1. Van Morrison-Veedon Fleece (re-issue cd and vinyl original--holy snobshit, right!?)
2. The Bug w/ Warrior Queen-'Poison Dart' (12")
3. Howard Hanson conducts Barber-Symphony no.1 (Mercury label, Stereo, 1963)
4. Jonathan Richman-Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild
5. Doris Day-Day Dreams (CBS, Mono, 1955-burned by Dan Buskirk)
6. Pet Shop Boys-Discography (and various 12" singles)
7. Murder She Wrote: Cabot Cove Crack House Party (RP mix, so awesome it defies gravity and everyone who hears it says so!!!)
8. Hamish Milne-Bach: Piano Transcriptions-5 (on the excellent Hyperion label!)
9. The Vibrators-'Baby Baby' (from the Gooski's jukebox, soot and blacked out memory)
10. Burger/Voigt-'Bring Trance Back'/ GAS-GAS (12" & vinyl reissue, respectively, both on Kompakt)
11. The Pastels-'Been So Long' (Chess 45, 1957)
12. Fennesz-Black Sea & 'Plays Charles Matthews' (Touch Records is in the vinyl business!)
13. Bob Dylan-The Times They Are A-Changin' (Columbia, Mono, the hauntedness of some moments & how they bore you away, my entitlement in your arms)
14. Lil Wayne-Da Drought III & Tha Carter III (respectively, bootleg mix & Columbia album)
15. Choeur des Moines et des Moniales de l'Abbaye du Bec-Hellouin-Psaumes la Nuit le Jour (on Studio "Monasteres", 1992)
16. The collected recordings of the late, incomparable Miriam Makeba and the Skylarks
17. The Miracles-Ooo Baby Baby (Tamla, 45, 1965)
18. The Rosebuds/The Rosebuds vs T-Pain & Lil' Wayne-Life Like & 'Can't Believe It's Life Like' (studio lp, Merge; The Hood Internet mashup download)
19. Daft Punk-Alive 2007 (easily in the running with Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Square Club for best ever live album!)
20. Conway Twitty-It's Only Make Believe: The Best of the MGM Years

Friday, December 26, 2008

A dream about the apocalypse.


Mark Rothko (Latvian-American 1930's?)

I have been trying to explain this dream ever since I had it. Ideally, it would be told to Tracy Stanton, at his wonderful bar, The 700 Club, over a birch beer and a neat double Bushmill's. He would, as is his way, listen politely as I mix the facts of the dream with certain elastic bonuses, hidden possibilities and, yes Tracy, outright lies, as is my way. Then he would tell me I'm full of shit.

This dream came to me maybe five years ago. I'd thought back to my teenage love of Britpop and how to my liking, the annual Q Magazine Music Awards were always my favorites in that they seemed to always go to bands I loved. Perhaps the ambition to be a part of it--even if just in a dream, was seeded deep, and given that it (and my desire to be there) emerged in a dream concerning the end of all times I should say it was seeded as deeply as could anything short of the quietude of love be.

The setting was on an ampitheatric slope at sunset. The stage looked up the hill, which was crowned by the fading last light.

Arching over the seated hillside was a series of grand tree boughs, simulating a set of rafters and crosswalks, hung with fantastic, crystal chandeliers. It was the end of times and Q Magazine was sparing no expense. Along the branches were laughing parties in tuxedos and old platinum flapper gowns, drinking champagne from those shallow mezzaluna cocktail glasses I always loved. So much commotion went on above that depending on where one stood it could appear that a stormy, jubilant nightfall had already descended the hill.

This was the Q Music Awards for All Times.

Everyone was there. Every band or singer who ever did something great from The Kinks all the way down to Kula Shaker. There was a rough air of order as awards went out to Best Sad Song Ever: a Thunderboy/Tony Conrad fragmentation-mix of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", which I didn't even know existed til that dream, and in truth it was colossally heartbreaking; Best American Country Music Song-Nashville Style-Ever: Tammy Wynette's "It Keeps Slipping My Mind"; Best Ever Awesome Singer Who Got Shit On But Was Genuinely Sensational: Tom Jones. Christina Aguilera presented this award, and upon reading "...and the Best Ever Awesome Singer Who Got Shit On But Was Genuinely Sensational" she muttered with self-deprecating good humor--and if I may say so excellent comic timing, "I hope it's me...". It got a terrific laugh and someone in the cheap seats shouted adoringly and to thunderous applause, "you should've sang for Massive Attack". When Jones and Aguilera embraced it was epic. Though no pictures would ever be developed from the Q Music Awards For All Times I tell you the white light of those bug shudders left us momentarily snowblinded.

A peak moment came when Smokey Robinson joined Clinic for a medley of Distortions/Falstaff/Ooh Baby Baby. Rather than forcing Clinic into unmasking themselves for the occasion, Smokey, ever the diplomat, donned a surgical mask himself. There were Palestinians and Israelis singing along. he dead were rising. A young girl standing on her father's shoulders tossed a ball high into the air with the word "Arsenal" written on it in marker, and shouted with outreaching fists, "Best Ever!" Ornamental, but imbued with the final joys of the hour, which is why I mention it.

Finally the time came to announce The Q Music Award for the Best Band in the History of All Times.

To better flesh out the moment I feel inclined to usher in a few additional details. The boughs above the amipitheatre, once bouncing with partygoers and their bubbly parties were now so heavy with festivity that they seemed a mere few dozen feet in the air, whereas once they seemed to hover in heaven. Champagne ran in white strings from the chandelier crystals, and swiftly in streams along the wooden rafters. The sun had almost descended entirely, and the light was now a pure dusk, changing colors. Looking up the hill one could see a second world colliding with ours. All time wanted to be a part of this moment, as great people and many a loved one long since departed, arrived in great numbers. Everything got bigger.

In the front row sat a strategically placed Rolling Stones--Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor and Brian Jones were all present. They appeared to know the fate of this final award before I did--which was, I'll admit, mildly disappointing since, along with Shaun William Ryder, I was presenting the award. When I met Ryder on stage I felt a peculiar peace. My characteristic stage fright was nowhere to be found. We too wore tuxedos, and carried bottles of champagne with us. Ryder looked a little aerated, and I suppose so did I--am I drunk in my dreams? Probably.

The crowd. which now included all people and all things, standing room only, rose on their seats, on the rails, the boughs, and hill crest which extended deep into the sky and vanished, crowded, into the purple sun.

"Enough, enough" he said boyishly. The throngs grew silent. The effect of his appeal was incomprehensible, but then the whole dream was. I handed him the foil envelope for him to read the name of the recipient of the final award, but he deferred to me.

I looked but couldn't breathe. I thought maybe I couldn't speak, maybe this is a dream. The Rolling Stones rose to their feet, smiling. I handed it to Ryder, who began jumping and screaming. The world was coming to an end. Not today, not soon. It was happening minute by minute, darkening as people, years and all light converged. Everything was so dark and light, everyone was looking and waiting. Everyone was smiling.

"And the Q Music Award for the Best Band in the History of All Times goes to..."

Keith Richards was already on stage, Mick Jagger ascending the stair. Demure Charlie Watt seemed to pause.

"HOLY FUCKING SHIT..."

"IT'S THE FUCKING HEPTONES!!!"

Coxsone Dodd's soft, rare soundsystem version of the band's 1966 rocksteady tune, "Ting A Ling" played in the sky. Everything began to disappear in a cannoncall of applause, tears and culminating happiness. Confetti. When the trio rose to accept their awards they were as they had been as teenagers, wearing humble matching uniform suits. Smiling.

The Rolling Stones turned and walked off in disgust as the last of the daylight fell completely behind the hill and the converging plane of the heavens. Charlie waited to congratulate the The Heptones, which I thought was a touch of class. Ryder and I jumped and sprayed champagne on the people in grateful revelry.

Leroy Sibbles put his hand on my shoulder, and I awoke.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

There is love, and there is what love loves.


Pieter Bruegel-The Wedding Feast (Dutch 1568) 

I don't do it often, perhaps owing to my shark-like propensity to keep moving, but I plan to re-post an old entry this Wednesday.  The review of the latest Fennesz record, Black Sea, I ran is so scattershot, and the record itself so full of fantastic sounds and ideas, that I figured it deserved a more diligent analysis.  My pal, Bill, bought it at Paul's, and my first impressions formed the original review.  I feel confident in the basic opinion, but going back I see the writing itself jumps around way too much to constitute a significant statement.  I'll have something else once Paul gets it back in and I spin it a time or two more.

That the ambulatory sensation and the stirring of the world might not fail me as I systematically forget so sadly much of what has come before.

Prevailing conditions this morning lead me back to something Lyndon Johnson  once said of the presidency, that it was like "being a jackass in a hailstorm...nothing to do but stand there and take it".  Of course he was referring to the thanks-for-nothing he got for tinkering around with the precarious fulcrum of American civil rights, whereas I am negotiating a mere hangover from Molly & Pete's lovely wedding party.  Mind you there's no law dictating an analogy must have balance of magnitude, just commonality.  Established.

I awoke to find that my hideous "test" cake (I baked them a wedding cake) had been--rather barbarically, snacked upon in the night by a dog who shall remain nameless, an erstwhile suspicion I found born out in her morning business.  The empirical evidence leading up to that moment suggested it could've only been one of the three of us;  Dan and I were pretty trashed --enough to remain prime suspects until the convicting stool appeared.  Couldn't say what her opinion of it was, but of my own devices I enjoyed it.  The basic recipe was taken from Emeril Lagasse's Food Network files--a truly reliable resource, that FN site, which has helped me over on a number of blank occasions (and, no, by the way, no shame in using Emeril--the guy's recipes are surprisingly unhistrionic and tasty).  I augmented the flavoring with an orange reduction and bourbon, and opted for a three double-layer logistic instead of the prescribed four single-layer version.  The results were, I suspect, denser than had I used the blueprint faithfully.  But in the stodge of winter I felt the substance of my idea was better suited.  Knowing the citric application would moisten,  and thereby additionally beef the texture I figured why not, as the great Lil Wayne says, go balls out.  

My head is split in two right now, and were it not for another fine Fennesz recording, his cascading elegy, Live in Japan, which so tearfully captures all the poignant light and melodic jumpcut of his Endless Summer, I'd surely be on the floor, still apologizing to Pete's amazing step-dad (in absentia) for spilling my beer on his pants.  Christ, the diplomacy with which he shook that one off!

I like to play it up like it was a disaster, at the center of which I was playing the fool, and in moments perhaps it was, and perhaps I was.  Such narcissism.  But as memory serves it was just a tranquil and happy night on the Planet.  I must admit I felt horribly separated from so many people I love.  But there was who they needed to be there.  And they were there.  The consolation was enormous.   

On a final note I should tie on that the epic "atomic" burger at Tessaro's I had Thursday evening went down easy--even if I couldn't quite finish it.  But I'm reminded of the hostess who said prosaically, "someone should be along shortly".  As if saying so finally connected me to the available universe.  And by thanking her as I took my seat I was thanking her for everything. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A year of music listening and warming pierogies.



After leaving A.K.A. Music my resources have slimmed for compiling a year end music list.  It was one of the simple pleasures of life in Philadelphia to walk down the aisles and recall albums of the year, cover by cover.  It is a different sensation--though one no less gratifying, to have nothing whatsoever to do with the alley-catting of the critics and otherwise hip.  Truth be told, after a while it got kinda hard to take any pop music seriously.  I've worked in record stores, bars and restaurants of all class strata and ethnic origins, and the result is always the same:  you come to loathe the wares you traffic.

That said, I continue to find differences with pop music--that could take a while.   Pitchfork still ain't helping.

New (and some old) finds include Hamish Milne's superb Bach Piano Transcriptions: 5 on the English Hyperion label.  The performance is witty and penetrating, especially in the somber Goedicke versions. I don't often comment on it (because I don't often detect it) but the disc earns as much praise for its crystalline production, which grants a hologram of recorded space: the silence is as nice as the music.  

On the other hand it's been a great year's end, spent on the floor of Jerry's classical aisle, rummaging through mostly crap 78's to find shushing Carusos and Kathleen Ferriers--though no true believer in Woody Allen's last ditch resuscitation bid (white collar Scarlet Johanssen porn) the austere Match Point made handy use of Allen's inevitably terrific antediluvian record collection.   But heads above these dust plates are the precious few Alfred Cortot's scored through several (not exactly cheap) French eBayers; their lanky native son looked kinda like Basil Rathbone, and played like a Steinway shambling down a fire ladder.  So wild.

I have a few others from those visits in the currently infatuated with stack, so comment shall be presently withheld.  More blog stuff on that to come--though you can scroll back to the Howard Hanson piece to see the first spoils of the expeditions.

Dan sold me on The Hold Steady, while the cathartic liquidation of my cd collection has lead to revisiting some missed connections and forgotten faves:  Gillian Welch's Time, The Revelator, Wilco's A Ghost is Born, Oval's awesome Diskont 94 and Tindersticks' sadly neglected Waiting For The Moon. 

Tindersticks' latest, The Hungry Saw, is also a fine showing.  I do miss Dickon Hinchliffe's sophisticatedly haunted arrangements, but the new (Americ-indy) simplicity benefits from some terrific songs.    

After listening to my pal, Daniel, sing the praises of Lil' Wayne I finally caved.  An easy favorite of 2008.  As usual Daniel is right: 2008 was a banner year for Wayne, yielding  Tha Carter III. the jawdropper bootleg mixtape Da Drought III, and The Hood Internet (often linked through Pitchfork's "eh" Forkcast) turned up a mash-up with Wayne on T-Pain's "Can't Believe It", set to The Rosebuds' latest title cut.

On to The Rosebuds.  Once again, to very little fanfare, they've put great new pop songs into our midst.  Life Like improves on Ivan's recent mystical bent, while Kelly has never sounded better.  Going back to The Fall's Brix-era I can hear that 'we hate everything in love together' viscerality in the (albeit nicer) Rosebuds swooning domestica.  It's been so long since his & hers synth pop has sounded so gothic and stirring.  

So much of me lives in the past that labels like Soul Jazz & Honest Jon's have acquired perennial status:  this year's are the already lauded Give Me Love collection from the latter (already went there) and the former's Steppas' Delight, which manages to bottle the proverbial lightning of U.K. dubstep on four annihilating discs (when I left Philadelphia they were still selling compact discs, of which you needed but two to make the set--but come on).  There's a fine Boxcutter tune, and Burial crony, Kode 9, returns.  But it's the one-two punch of Uncle Sam's cocky summer jam, "Around The World Girls", followed by the bone-crushing, feministic electro-ragga of The Bug & Warrior Queen's "Poison Dart".  The comp never stoops to define dubstep, as so many of its assortment lessers did.  And for its liberality it kinda defines it anyway:  The complements of popular reggae derivatives and dark funk/electro rhythms converge, it all works.   

The Vibrators' "Baby Baby", on Gooski's jukebox, is decidedly not new. But it too, makes the list.  Did I mention Veedon Fleece?  That too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Black sea.


Still from Werner Herzog's Lessons of Darkness

One of the biggest problems I have with organized religion is wondering how so goddamned many people can come up with the same basic notion of Heaven.  I mean any two people, by what silly compromise do they come up with that?  I picture myself sitting at a very specific table, in a very specific restaurant in the mist of the woods.  There is a girl (no names) and I am shocking everyone by tearing off bits of Sarcone's bread, running it through a stainless steel bowl of carnation-colored aioli, and feeding it to the wolves lingering at my feet.  No one is sure how they got there, and my confidence seems to stem from the way they seem to love me.  The girl loves me.  Everyone is shocked and lovely.  

Who else carries that around?  What fool?

I mention it because I'm hearing the new Fennesz record for the first time just now.  One thing that has always endeared me to him, especially amid his abstractions, is his gift for renewing small melodies.  His Live in Japan is a long format indulgence in the tricky simplicity of "Endless Summer"--an acoustic guitar/laptop gush contrastive that peeks its head on Black Sea

As simply as I can state it, Christian Fennesz is aging in the most beautiful and sophisticated way.  His textures are reaching such a state of relief and unburdenedness that even those classic ambient songs seem kind of postured by comparison.  Time passes in the space between the tracks and the silence is dutifully rich; every misstep (I'd say) in his wan Eno/Budd style collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto has built strong.  Last year his production of a Charles Matthews grand organ piece--a 7" on Touch, both presaged and linked him to the emerging refinements of Black Sea.  He had taken a distant stance with Sakamoto (whose collaborative talents are genius, in all fairness) by allowing him to dictate the melody.  Big mistake.  Pairing those two texturalists must've been a thrilling concoction but it resulted in a kind of producers' stalemate, with neither generating anything in the way of a tune.  

Just pretty shit.  

Fast forward to the afterglow of the Matthews pair-up, Fennesz is now trafficking a scientifically close sound, lingering appropriately, and letting his melody grow only so small.
 
One of the most common complaints I heard about his excellent and phonetically clever Venice, was how it sided with concept, taking away all the wrong plusses of Endless Summer and Hotel Paral.lel.  True enough.  Makes the maturation of his new quiet music that much more impressive; he makes songs now that are only barely music; they have an appeal as ephemeral reminders of a real world and owe nothing to it.  

If Endless Summer was my before the fall love, Black Sea is a beauty and a love designed for life after that fact; superlatives are failing me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

No soup today.

Claude Raines (taken from the fantastic Vinyl is Heavy)


Yesterday evening I sat on the 54c, and the sentence came to me:

Love is good and the fullness doesn't wander, I bet it doesn't do anything wrong in the dearth of the heart's suspicion.

Also, my pal, Bill, gave me a piano and violin record of Ives compositions.  Woke up to it.  I was listening to it when I suspiciously eyed the foot of Polish Hill and the snow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Middle-aged romantic seeks low blue flame, steady employment.

Jacques Louis David Self Portrait (French 1794)


I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty


That stanza was taken from David Berman's excellent, shaggy meditation on aging, Self Portrait at 28. I distinctly remember discovering the poem five years ago, when I turned 28 myself. There is a silliness that helps move the underlying notes of regret and confusion; it is a world with a hill, a dog whose reliance on the compassion of its owner is paramount, and a kind of time passage that leaves wisdom in a dearth residue. We (our people) never actually become smart.

Today is precisely the kind of spiritual day that I looked out from a window above houses that rowed like the layers of shark's teeth, and beyond, the Delaware and decided to return to Pittsburgh and live. I thought of that tired adage about the Alaskans and their 69 words for snow; we must have at least as many in Pennsylvania for no longer raining exactly. There it was. And here it is. The sad truth of rewards is that what they most often reward is so probable, or maybe even inevitable, that the thrill is just a vague buzz in the hands, or a feeling of surprise, like when you fall asleep with the flu and wake up momentarily not knowing if it's 6:30 P.M or A.M.. It just occurred to me that while trying frame an observation in a Berman poem I unwittingly began to parrot him.

Right. 

The rain is only part of the equation. 

Over the weekend I picked up Howard Hanson conducting a Barber bill on Mercury, probably around 1947. Logistically it's a fantastic jumping off point for both Barber and Hanson, as it includes the familiar Adagio for Strings. Instantly the rapport between Barber and Hanson is established. Just as instant is the conductor's conservative approach. Much as I like Charles Mingus for his adherence to classical and folk modes of expression in his composition, I appreciate how Hanson, a charter figure in the influential Eastman School, seized a moment bustling with avant garde ideas and resisted judiciously. Symphony no. 1 appeals as a kind of statement of New Romantic principles. There's nothing pedestrian in the excitement and abstraction of the Pennsylvania lansdscape, nevertheless listening to it--perhaps the product of the wackiness that surrounded it--and then ensued; or just time itself, it feels as if the chemistry of composer and conductor produces a stabilizing expression.

These late mornings in which music is invariably a solitary experience, seem cut from time and set aside. Symphony no. 1 was written in 1936, when Barber, a child prodigy whose earliest compositions were written at age 7, was just 26. What stands out today--again, especially in contrast to the enduringly jarring sound of the avant garde that ran in a kind of self important caravan through the 20th century, is how at once confident and stirring it sounds without ever falling upon novelty or haughty challenges. The composer's love of the Romantic poets presses the ardor of the composition, while the sterling features of the sound suggest something entirely local, tactile and absolutely familiar.

But in the authorial chemistry of that sound I keep finding myself thinking of Samuel Barber, the imaginative, sharp-minded child.  There is of course no anecdote to support it, but the Symphony emits the sense of a child's imagination (set to an adult's talent for order). The moving parts are brilliant and impossible, striding with the essence of the land, its living and all sound.  

It is not that kind of day.  Not naturally. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cognac soup.


Bruegel the Elder-The Corn Harvest (Dutch 1530)

Finally, after several weeks of restorative hard work and creative (culinary) brainfarts, I've emerged on the far side of the ephemeral blur.

The kind folks at Girasole have redoubled their creative generosities by allowing me to make their soup of the day on two occasions:  the former resulted in a orange-accented chorizo red pepper stew--whose citric compliment to the unctuous sausage one hairdresser described as "inappropriate"--I thought the brilliance was a sunny catharsis at the onset of winter, and apparently Chris, who showed the cosmetician the door, agreed; the latter, a quite refined (and subversively French) cream of mushroom soup.  The process resulting in the mushroom took about two active man hours, and at least eight times that when including stock simmering, and two separate vegetable roasts (scallions and the titular creminis).   I even thought to call it a veloute, but thought better of it.  Way too cosmopolitan.  Not that these folks are rednecks by a long stretch, but their appeal is expeditiously in fare for the gut.  Judging by their noisy lunchtime crowds (Who the fuck eats out lunch on a Tuesday!?) I'd say they just about have it nailed.  I added a third and final roast of creminis and rehydrated porcinis and called it, prosaically enough, Cream of Mushroom Soup.  A secret infusion of cognac--once again, geoculinarily at odds, gave a final and improving stroke of subdued light, as if having passed through stained glass.

If this gambit pays off in the figures I may be asked to produce more batches down the line.  Of course there's a very real possibility that in the name of Margherita I'll be run off, with my tricolore lying on Walnut Street...

There's always Gooski's!

Monday, December 1, 2008

That one.


Jacques Louis David The Death of Jean-Paul Marat (French 1793)

Brutal work, these nights at Gooski's.  I find one friend along the brass rail come quittin' time and suddenly beer o'clock takes on an ominous tone reminiscent of The Iceman Cometh.  Okay, not that bad, but, you know, bad.  I cut my left ring finger open hugging a spastic man named Thommy, last night--wasn't using it anyhow!  Actually he leapt at me.  It was more of an amicable defense maneuver on my part; would've perforated my peritoneum had I not been so quick to prepare myself!  I'm just pleased I can remember why I awoke bleeding.  Some nights distort the facts like three card monty.  It's like, it has to be one of the three.  But such a trickster that one.

This is just a friendly confession and reminder: soup's on tonight at Gooski's; I gotta be good tonight, so no late night hanky panky.  Still, come out.  I got curried chicken,  cream of sweet potato, minestrone, turkey corn chowder, mustard green and cannellini, and a few others.  Plus my testosterone levels tell me I'm fixing to stew up a pot of chili.  Nature's antidepressant, that stuff...

      

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hangin' in a chow line.


Charles Barsotti-Fusilli, you crazy bastard... (American recent)

So I got this pretty choice gig in a kitchen just off Walnut Street last week.  And after about half a dozen shifts--more than half of which were Walnut Street-area Black Friday-related slams, I'm pleased to say I've found a happy home.  Going down to the uniform supply store Monday to buy some checks and some white button down scrub shirts to toss in and look the part.  No embroidered pronouncements on the pockets just yet, but like I said, I'm happy.  

The grub is familiar Italian [-American], with lots of substantial starches abetted by equally hardy cream bases sauces.  First impressions were not so grabbing, but once I relaxed into the dish style I got it; still not exactly my thing, but they do a glorious tortiglioni with porcinis and sausage.  And what does deserve an honorable mention is the escarole, cut into wallet-sized swatches, and stewed down in a clear pristine broth with cannellini beans and some passata.  Stabilizing fare, for sure.  

I'm having a blast with these young guys as well, many of whom carry on to all hours in a way that sets my mind flying in a wistful direction to houses named after colors of yore, and often causes the proverbial beans to burn on the grill.  These folks are fast, and almost monastically quiet during dinner service.  Makes me appreciate the off-color things they say at the end of the day all the more.  

Must say, too, though my olfactory glands are warped from birth--apart from a few outrages of masculine gas emissions and the infrequent brushes with ammonia I can honestly say my nose has never smelled anything--the present environment has introduced notable increase of sensitivity.  At 2 PM these last two days, when the aroma of osso buco and a gilded tangerine accent emerge in the steamed air of the kitchen it is more than a mere striking sensation.  It is, not to fall on hyperbole so readily, but it is new life.  

Next week I intend to try some roses.  And maybe I'll walk Ella past the bakery on our morning walks.  I'ma look like Orson Welles in Touch of Evil before too long...

Anyway, good times for the senses...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dark for the first time.


Melanie Stidolph Boy (2004)


And people's houses across America really did go up in smoke.

And fear stalked the land.


If you guessed that those lines belong to a poetic vision of the apocalypse the likes of William Blake's you're right. But those words are not in fact Blake's, they concluded Roger Cohen's portent-filled op-ed, "Nixon, Bush, Palin" in The New York Times a little less than two months ago. As markets lose life-blood pints by the day, pillar industries crawl to the Senate's heels for the financial methadone necessary to keep on keeping on, and the parabola of George H. W. Bush's abysmal unemployment rate finally returns to earth in his son's America (a hale 16% of us are jobless) it is no wonder op-ed writers are beginning to sound a little spooky. But its not all bad...

We return to the senses and really confront them in the dark. While were waiting for it anyway. I've personally been writing little--no, I don't count increasingly self-indulgent bursts on Facebook! Along with the aforementioned portents of Roger Cohen I've gone back to Richard Wright, and the American Hunger; to Ninotchka and the Soviet spirit of an omelet; to Stanley Tucci's fantastic Big Night; David Mas Masumoto's enduringly poignant memoir, Epitaph for a Peach; to Fergus Henderson and Irma S. Rombauer. To the first two pages of Remembrance of Things Past--i never made it past, which does nothing to diminish the effect on my stomach and imagination.

With hardship comes renewed focus on food. On how to fill the empty spaces.

As difficulty brims on us there is a soft glow to it. Folks seem better inclined to share what they have--I can barely keep up with the recipe sharing circles I've been kindly tipped into in emails; and certain fortunate Sunday afternoons at Gooski's, Tim lifts the moratorium on traditional Polish food by laying out a steaming casserole of stuffed cabbage and beef with noodles.

For my part I'm in the germinating stage of a d.i.y. ramen noodle base: you buy the noodles for like $.35, discard the msg flavor packet and use some mojo I'll hand you in its place. Flavors are being brainstormed, refined and taste-tested into the lightless hours...

As I see it we may not be ramen noodle poor yet, but when we get there it'll at least be palatable. More on that in a while...


Monday, November 10, 2008

Miriam Makeba dies.



I remember meeting a young woman from South Africa at a Christmas party several years ago. We didn't have much to talk about, and being a creature of habit I turned to music. I said I'm not sure what the South African sentiment is anymore--these things have a tendency to come and go from fashionability, but I really love Miriam Makeba, especially the group she had in the 60's, The Skylarks. Before speaking I hadn't taken into account what a political visionary Makeba was, and certainly didn't know what an icon she remained in her native land. Needless to say, my new acquaintance came very much to life. This was the woman who, with Harry Belafonte, was among the first high profile celebrities to bring the catastrophic apartheid system into global consciousness. My first thought was it must be like hearing someone say, oh, you're from America. I love The Doors! Turns out she was more like Ella Fitzgerald with stirrings of MLK. She said by many South Africans' reckoning--hers included, Miriam Makeba was the apotheosis of their country.

It is deeply saddening news to hear of her passing Sunday, at the age of 76. That she died on stage, where she brought to life such a transformative force is as fitting salute as I could think to give her. I'll be spinning the Skylarks on into the night...

Rest in peace.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Late date.



In lieu of pinching myself awake again this morning, or telling my zombie face in the mirror that it is not a dream, I am spinning a rather terrific copy of The Ben Webster Quintet's  1957 record, Soulville.  Like Charles Mingus's Blues & Roots, which would follow two years later in the watershed year of 1959 (Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and John Coltrane's Giant Steps not to mention  J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye would arrive within months of it, as would the Day the Music Died) it stands--especially in hindsight, on the precipice between an old orthodoxy and a new folk awakening.  

For the most part the soul of Soulville speaks in balladry--the songwriting credits go to Oscar Hammerstein, Walter Donaldson, Harold Arlen, Vincent Youmans.  And of course there's Webster himself, who seems, it occurs at a single listen to that title track, to be sitting on the stoop, looking out over his new Midwest and effortlessly greeting a new blues.   It's sentimental stuff, a lot of it.  But it's the way it speaks, more individual and human than before, less America, more an American.  Which long way round make it America.

Over the next few days and weeks you're going to grow sick of hearing it's great to be alive and did you cry...well yeah.  Joy.

Earlier this morning a friend emailed me a list of things the average person might not know about President-Elect Barack Obama.  One of them was that the movie, Do the Right Thing was the first movie he and Michelle saw on a date.  I can see them sitting on the couch together that evening.  A little nervous.  I picture her making the first move, but only later.  Hours would go by.  That's a heavy movie.  Maybe he'd get up to get them each a glass of water, and when he would reappear he'd deadpan: D, Motherfucker, D!  They would laugh and history would eventually take place. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nude Pix Embarrassment



For those of you waiting for the nude Kate Winslet pics I was going on about last night in the pink and grey hours, I must offer a rescindment, coupled with an apology. Yes, she did punch me au naturel and in an erotic fashion, proceeding to stab me with a jagged beer bottle, but alas the film (I still use one of those film cameras) must've been exposed to the light or something. I went to that Eckhard Drug on Baum to pick up the prints and the girl just kinda looked at me like an animal that could never understand the nuances of a human situation.



I started to say, but you don't understand...

Punk bitch.


Maria Callas


Me, not her.  

Use the velleity of your imagination and you'll see me last night hugging on Dan, Suedo and Sarah, acting the fool and shedding a tear when PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA cited Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" in his victory speech.  

My parents are disappointed today--they'd have been only slightly less disappointed had McCain won, but at any rate they're good people and I empathize with the hurt they're feeling today.  

That said, the Liberty Avenue Ranch (if W. taught us nothing else it was that you can call any damned thing a ranch!) is abump with great records in most joyous celebration that carries on still.  Dan and I are on the horn presently trying to line up a victory party at a place with room for dancing.  In the meantime I've been spinning Sam Cooke, Monie Love, Defunkt, Sabata, McFadden & Whitehead, The Rosebuds, excessive amounts of Lil' Wayne, my man F.A. Nettelbeck's Rudie Ray Moore-like poetry (which is fucking awesome heard read!), Fishbone, De La Soul, Gang Starr, Elton Motello, Cornelius, Gnarls Barkley*, Slave, The Clash ("Ivan Meets G.I. Joe"!!!) The Mary Jane Girls, Ol' Dirty,  Velvet Underground, Otis Clay ("The only way is up...for me & you!!!"), Redbone, Ready For The World (yeah, "Oh Sheila"), Mouse On Mars, The Heptones(!!!), The Marvelettes(!!!!!!!) and my kindred romantic, the recently passed Alton Ellis!  

I got a pot of torture-quality chili on the stove and a shitload of unbound energy, so if you feel like jumpin' get on over here...more on that dance party to come.  In the meantime, it's all about the chili;  there's an ink-colored pool of sebaceous oil from the arbols on the surface of this junk.  Got me talking to the Aztecs...

*By the way, I tried to pick up some gal at the bar last night; she was really pretty and dressed like a turn of the century Irish NYC tenement maid--I'm into that stuff.  She was starting to fade on me so I said I was into Gnarls Barkley.  She laughed in a laughing at me not with me kind of way.  I said I only liked their first record.  You know, before they sold out and went all commercial.  She wasn't biting.  

Went home and started listening to records...I tell you what, this is a great day to be alive on the planet! 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A good hoax.


Timothy Leary, Danny Rose & Ricky Gervais at Altamont

This morning I took an Ink Spots record off the shelf I picked up somewhere along my way, to which I listened maybe once or twice. Thanks to You is a live recording from the "Beautiful Brookdale Lodge" a little north of Santa Cruz, CA (there's a handy map to the location on the jacket). Scant on liner notes, I'd guess this is from the early fifties. Their 1946 hit, "The Gypsy" is missing from this set, but there is a pronounced modernity to the singing style and arrangements that leads me to believe it was merely an omission, not convincing evidence that the record came before the song.

The group's career spanned three decades and saw significant line-up changes along the way, as such this record reinforces my basic impression of them as being a kind of professional act whose best effects were measured, timed and practiced like mortal feats in a circus. The vocal harmonies feel warm and broken in, but not casual--whatever the recording date, the guys were still very much working for it. And the pervading aura is of a proto-doo wop pioneer group settling confidently into the era they'd helped to foster in.

It put me in the mind of a fantastic pipe dream I've carried for a few years now. I got the idea while watching Woody Allen's 1983 faux documentary, Zelig. If you're not familiar with it (shame on you!) the story concerns Allen's Leonard Zelig, an everyman who through a mysterious accident developed the supernatural ability to morph into people in whose company he found himself. It's a clever materialization of Allen's own affinity for the popular culture of the jazz age, an era frustratingly not his own. Allen concocted a soundtrack of (also faux) period pop tunes that, several generations removed at any rate, sound like the real deal.

The idea I had was to produce an archival collection that transitions seamlessly between songs from the Zelig soundtrack (period songs known to be inauthentic), the bigs ones, like charleston dance hit, "Doin' the Chameleon"; songs from that era--any old croaky thing from Charley Patton would do fine; and "newly discovered tunes" (songs unknown to most as inauthentic, but you know, sounding spot on) and present the set as Music From the Zelig Era. Yazoo, or El or any number of archival labels could successfully pull it off--Nick Tosches could write the notes.

I think what made the Ink Spots record jog this memory was the prescient way they moved their catalog hits (1939-40 was their banner year) into a new context. Zelig worked in reverse, taking brand new compositions and tailoring them to long past conventions, recording effects and cultural signifiers. Music From the Zelig Era would, in essence, do both, transparently--though not explicitly, winking at the listener who will find his or her own distinctions within the assortment of actual and virtual, ideally coming to the conclusion that the whole thing is authentic.

Friday, October 24, 2008

'Cant blame God if we dont roll,'


Van Beuren Studios-The Magic Mummy (American 1933)

I must say not only was I not aware of this macabre gem from the Van Beuren Studio, I wasn't aware of the Van Beuren Studio itself. Those coppers are Tom and Jerry--no relation. And their caller is to nab a corpulent warlock whose, I think, rather foxy soprano undead paramour has been swept away to the aforementioned's crypt lair and underground theatre of the dead. She is disrobed of her muslins, and reanimated into the kind of cinematic song-spectacle only the thirties could produce.

If that ain't sick enough I ran through it a second time with the sound off--it's clearly one of those public domain-quality sound transfers anyhow, and happened to be listening to the Callas-led cast of Lucia di Lammermoor (Seraphim 1954). The harp intro to Lucia's aria---this'd be late in Act I, made me think of A.K.A. Mary, and that fantastic piece she did with Fursaxa. The two sound nothing alike stylistically, but once you get the feather of music in your brain it tickles you silly!

I turned around, thinking an explanation was in order. One must always explain cross-hatching. Except Wyeth, he didn't have to. The dog just kind of looked at me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

You and yours folks, me and my folks.



A wild weekend has come and gone, and one thing is certain. The long windy season of brown liquor and ice-colored skies is back. Of late I'm finding it somewhat difficult getting back to my ALS voice, having spent the last month sacking out on Facebook and basically writing whatever bullshit comes to mind. Not entirely unlike now I suppose.

But in that time I've had a number of small, but enjoyable, breakthroughs, most notable among them a renewed fascination for my old pal, Larry, a Gooski's lifer with a soft-spoken pugnacity and entirely strange disposition. He hates liberals--all those dudes do, loves a good wine, and is a close reader of the regional Amish newspaper. Given a change of heart on the subject of gun ownership, he'd surely join a community; He already has the hat.

I'm trying desperately to get him to agree to be interviewed. I'll keep you posted on that as developments break.

For now let me state simply, and in my best Auld Lang Syne writing voice that I am confident in our prospects for Election Day; the Democratic Party seriously owes Barack Obama a Rolex and a trip to Hersheypark for the rejuvenating effect he's had on the party and voters alike.

On the subject of music I can't say enough nice things about the new Rosebuds record, or for that matter this mash-up. Four Men With Beards continues to impress me with their vinyl reissues, most recently Funkadelic's dark funk classic, Maggot Brain. Never heard it sound this clear before. Last Thursday's show at Garfield Artworks, a double-headliner with my pal, Jack Rose, and U.K. folk legend, Michael Chapman, was revelatory. I keep waiting for the spell to be broken with Jack, having seen him enough times for the magic to wear off, but the man is full of surprises. He is given to moments that to me recall the funniest of the Hoosier Hotshots or Thelonious Monk; for whatever reason I turn back into a kid, giggle, and wonder how that silly music happens. Man, it's good stuff! Chapman sounded like John Martyn, with a bit gravel in his throat. Gone are the days of these superb lyricists. It's heartening to hear a guy who can write, play and sing with such narrative clarity and magnetism. After the gig the guys crashed on our couches and Chapman regaled us with stories of his days in academia, catching gigs of then-unknowns, Rod Stewart, Julie Driscoll and a youthful Stevie Winwood getting off the train for his shows with the Spencer Davis Group still wearing a school uniform. The whiskey flowed and the Jerry Reed records went round well into the hours.

Finally I'm honored to have fulfilled a long-standing ambition to have an ALS mix in the Gooski's jukebox. In my grad school days it was the paragon of boozy late night cool, with the first Strokes record, lots of Fall, and the Runaways. So you can haul ass up Polish Hill, have a ko-bossie and a Newcastle, and take in the sounds of the ALS. Just don't get Marcus started on politics.

Breathing New Life

I try to never pile my posts, since what's at the top of the page naturally overshadows what's below. That said, Zbigniew Brzezinski compelled me. Just this morning the former Carter administration member did what I feared only Barack Obama himself could do, which is he made an eloquent, authoritative survey of the political moment, making plain why Obama is the best choice, and why McCain shouldn't even be a choice. He hit on a lot of the elements of Obama's identity most controversial in Plumberland, in comforting but firm language.

This statement embodies Brzezniski's practical but optimistic anti-Kissinger voice in a way that is absolutely crucial to America in the Age of Obama. My hope is that this man gets an office near Powell's.

The footage is fantastic and that smug bigot, Joe Scarborough gets it in the ear!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

No center


Piet Mondrian-Broadway Boogie Woogie (Dutch 1942)

I have long held that The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle is nothing but a Thursday puzzle on juice. All water weight, it lacks the treachery and sophisticated wordplay of a Friday or Saturday. With their monosyllabic clues and answers that run from horizon to horizon those Friday and Saturday puzzles are diabolical, and carry the engagement of strongly crafted poetry. So I see no reason that anyone should waste a perfectly good Sunday morning prostrating himself before that thing. But folks do. I suppose it beats the shit out of church, where as a child I would draw pencil-in timecharts--which come to think of it resembled the handless clocks of dreams, to mark off the five minute increments til those liberating words, "God go with you" or "God be with you"...or whatever.

The Sunday puzzle is a keystone in the awkward maze of the paper. I never cared for Sundays, and I certainly never felt the secular peace liberal intellectuals describe in connection with the day and its enormous newspaper. I prefer drinking coffee while pacing a floor, puzzles standing up, like labyrinths, and croissants almost never.

That said, there is some convenience to 'The Way We Eat' appearing adjacent to the puzzle in the Sunday Magazine. Oh, and you usually get an article length real estate advertisment for Qatar or the Phillipines, replete with testimonials from investment bankers and the vice president.  These countries figure if you like food, and if you like puzzles you're a shoe-in to like them.  What utter desperation.

How did all of this start? Oh yeah, I was looking at a picture of Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie and was sort of startled by the ingenuity of it. Mondrian is one of those artists who, I think, always worked better on a conceptual level. His paintings aren't really about apparent beauty, are they. It reminded me of something the novelist and ardent Christian, C.S. Lewis once said about atheists, that their world is like a maze without a center. No hope of achievement. But isn't the point of a maze the pure folly? Unless you're a mouse and there's cheese at the center there really is no point. Even then hunger compels you to the center, and what compels you out?  The feeling of being had, of being a fool for cheese!  You get to the center and you are, geographically speaking, as fucked as you could possibly be. So it goes with the world, and puzzles. 

I feel better already.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Magi



"Black Hula" is one of the few lasting impressions I carry around from the often good early 90's Mtv show, Liquid Television. I remember with what naive insight I thought history must be alive. In memory I improved it by casting it in black and white--as it stands the brilliance refers to Peter Max. I had a picture of something akin to an Otto Messmer short in my head. Truthfully until now I didn't remember that much apart from the wayfaring white explorers, and of course that hypnotic song. Over time I came to learn it was "Mauna Kea", as performed by King Bennie Nawaahi's Hawaiians, probably from the thirties.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Grey and Purple Blues


"Mooseburger"

There is a trending among the lefty op-eders at The New York Times, a kind of energized indignation that, I feel, wasn't always there. Or perhaps it was always there, but many readers had no confidence in believing the rants might bear out in reality. I think that has changed.

Years ago I remember sitting on my couch with a steaming purple and green glass bong full of water the color of shit on my lap, giggling, watching John Stewart, thinking, with the cracked strand of an operational brain I was given, that John Kerry would lose the 2004 election, and the complacence born of "indignation entertainment" would be somewhat, if not largely responsible. We were substituting political humor for activism. This was before Rachel Maddow.

The course change of our collective political heart has made indignation entertainment palatable in a way I never thought possible. Hell, it's downright rejuvenating. You can read Maureen Dowd and feel unashamed of the books (without pictures) you've read. Even Dick Cavett, who is a largely self-sentimentalizing industry at this point--a terrific one, I must add--barbs his work with anti-Bush-McCain observations. Again, was this always the case? I'm sincerely asking.

There is a collective sense that the era of right wing anti-intellectualism is dying. It cannot happen quickly enough.

Roger Cohen preaches to the choir in today's piece, which should come as little surprise. It's a sharp piece nonetheless, and better than any I've read in a good long while. Cohen epitomizes the surge of positive intellectualism, employing refined, if slightly purple, thought, and actual--hold your fucking horses, poetry! Apparently thinking is no longer a disease. Cohen righteously dismantles Sarah Palin's wince-inducing language and the hollow-ringing cliche of being a simple American.

It's not the kind of writing that wins elections, nor should it have to be. But it does restore dignity. I remember now.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I Have Always Been In Love


Ernie Bushmiller-Sluggo's Prouncement (American 1930's?)

Who was it that said, "in dreams begin responsibility"?  Yeats!  Thank you Google!  Fifteen years ago I'd have said Bono.

Anyhow it's true.  They begin there in the rectitude of our adjustments, when the lighted world is at bay and a second moves in and surrogates our failed attempts at joy.  

I made chili this morning.  It's just the usual stuff, except between the green bells, cubanellas, and jalapenos, I fit a palmful of dried arbols.  They're the wee fire ants of the the chili world:  Mean, stoic and mesmerizing, leaving  paisleys the color of oxidized blood in the wake of otherwise clear space and then upon purple arterial shadows--they provoke hallucinations unattainable by chemical means. 

At the risk of appearing forward I am throwing open the door to the (non-pussy) world.  It is fantastic.  I will tell you about the light, and will probably bake up some honey cornbread to go along with the chili.  4516 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA.  

Wrestling and neighbor-startling antics to follow.  

Friday, October 3, 2008

Slob's Matinee



So with all the free time on my hands pursuing new careers in this new town I've had plenty of time to drink coffee, listen to old records, dick around on the internet (72 hours on Facebook and I feel like Don Jose at the end of Carmen, only, you know, not a murderer) and of course watch lots of movies.  

Fearless Vampire Killers (dir. Roman Polanski, 1967)  Just before Polanski's eye for the eerie went stone sober with the following year's Rosemary's Baby, he made this light-hearted vampire comedy.  Like Woody Allen at the time, Polanski was soaking in classic hyperkinetic slapstick, adding erotic and intellectual nods--doubtless in both instances from compulsion.  Fearless specifically owes a debt to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, one of the rare comedy-horror mash-ups that offers genuine scares.  The bawdiness--difficult as it is to get past the awkward pathos of lusting after Sharon Tate, accentuates some of the great themes of horror--the dangers of lust, the mysteries of love, etc.  Overall its a little slow-moving, but the set designs are exquisite--especially the snowy lunar-blue landscape of the Carpathians.  Komeda's score--with whom Polanski would reprise for Rosemary lends a lush ambiguity to the hunt.   

Volver (dir. Pedro Almodovar, 2006 )  My good pal, RP, once defended Penelope Cruz from my barrage of common insults (she's mousy; she's a stereotype of the fiesty Spanish babe; her eyes are cloyingly mournful) by suggesting I see her in a Spanish-speaking role--it would make all the difference.  Dammit, it did.  Cruz makes perfect sense in the bi-generational family mystery. Her sexuality is bright and complicated, and the psychology of her character is deep and well-played.  There is a spirit world mysticism to the movie that rings out an awful lot like Joyce's sometimes off-putting Irish Catholicism, but in either case I'll gladly concede when the unfamiliar territory is convincing.  This was a first for me, both in taking to Cruz, and digging into Almodovar.  What next, RP?  

Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut 1960)  I know, I know, a guy goes outta work for a few weeks and he becomes an aesthete!  Truth be told I've been watching as much Beavis and Butthead and Murder She Wrote in the stretch.  Philadelphia-born David Goodis wrote this noir.  And from the outset I was skeptical of a French new wave adaptation; I'm still scratching my head over Kurosawa's High and Low.  This movie is a fantastic bait and switch.  You get sucked into this meandering Parisian lamentation just long enough for it to spin on its heels into full-on noir.  But genre-play is, remarkably, lesser among the virtues at work here.  For one thing, the photography of human beings is superb.  I know that sounds a little pretentious, but it's essential to the works.  The faces of the cast linger, while the brusque comedy  keeps tragic events from overwhelming the basic loveliness Truffaut seems intent on capturing.  Bumbling kidnappers, hopelessly pretty, witty women and droopy-eyed bums comprise the ultimate proto-Coen ensemble.   The finale is breathtakingly shot, in a distant, blurred frame.  No spoilers, you gotta go forth, seek it out...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

This must be that dream.


William Steig-The Duke's Men-album cover (American 1938)

The cover art you may recognize as that of William Steig, late American cartoonist best known for his New Yorker comics.  In some instances, but not this, it is appropriate to not judge a book by its cover.  Not in this case because before we hear Barney Bigard and His Jazzopaters generate in flame and melody a fantastic "Caravan"--and I hear way more bad versions of this than good, you come to this lovely image.  I guess the idea is this poor guy is down and dreaming on account of the wise cats--Duke's Men.  Incidentally the other three (in case the image proves difficult to read) are Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart and Cootie Williams.

Now I hate those euphoric white guy ruminations on the auld lang syne as much as the next, er, euphoric white guy.  So let's us make a promise to one another:  humor me in these final moments of a birthday hangover which pathetically involved a mere 4 beers, and maybe one tallish whiskey, and I'll keep it short.  

And I get to keep the name...

Why do so few artists try to approximate their dreams anymore?  Or worse still they forget what's appealing in them and become unctuously psychedelic--in my heart I believe this is why, if only intuitively, Charles Mingus avoided fusion jazz; those Miles Davis records from the late 60's and early 70's sound like they were made in a White Castle dumpster--greasy, littered with sticky debris, and redolent of all the ugliest aspects of the human appetite.  Dogshit.

I don't mean to say this collection of Ellingtonia, made under the direction of these four famous sidemen throughout the late 30's, is clean by contrast.  There is good luridness in the geometric city-soul of "Echoes of Harlem" (imagine a "Tijuana Bible" designed by Piet Mondrain...), led by Cootie Williams; the aforementioned "Caravan", with its loping canteen exotica , and Williams' high-moaning brass coils is anything but fit for tender ears.  

It's made all the more subversive by that innocent picture of a prone man, overwhelmed by grinning cats, whose knowing eyes address the stars with corkscrewing dirtymindedness.  The contents of that dream...
   

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Ending.




I remember distinctly the moment adulthood first beckoned. I would remain a kid for years--ask Kate, I kind of still am. But there was an unmistakable auburn burst sometime in the mid-80's when I stopped ordering off the children's menu, and no longer relied on the Hollywood happy ending to make me feel secure. Turner was showing the movie Cool Hand Luke, and aside from the terrific comedy, and that foxy scene where the woman washes the car, I was, not to overtax the adjective, unmistakable in my love for Paul Newman. It was a galvanizing moment, and looking back, a perfectly natural point in time and space, to insert into a boy's life the weirdness of love.

Most of all I remember the ending; I'd seen Old Yeller, Brian's Song, the Fox & The Hound and all that snot-softening drivel Hollywood generates to cash in on young easy tears. This was different. There was a limitlessness in that final scene, in which George Kennedy still adoring, and still entirely reliant, asks Newman, what next. It was terrifying because I felt as if I could say Kennedy's lines in time with him, match him for his devotion, and most importantly need the answer he was searching for as much as he did. Newman's Luke was the searching, pinned in an abandoned church at night with it--that one last negotiation he couldn't seduce his way through. Or wouldn't--pit the seduction of Paul Newman against the adversity of the known universe and I still say the former wins every time.

The ending was fitting. As a viewer I was asked to make peace with an unjust set of circumstances, and a turbulent heart that rose around them in the strangeness of human comedy and devilishness. I remember lying in bed that night thinking I know how it ends, and yes, I still want to be that guy.


ed. You may notice this image goes out from time to time. All the good pics of Paul Newman are owned by The Devil, who never stops fucking me in the ear.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Everybody Will Help You.


Pieter Breughel the Elder-The Wedding Dance (Dutch 1566)

The new Four Men With Beards label vinyl reissues of Fairport Convention's What We Did On Our Holidays and Unhalfbricking are superb sounding. Hearing these U.K. folk rock records on vinyl is like seeing Mean Streets on film. The essence is in the light and conveyance. My only misgiving lies in that inevitable moment a week, year or decade down the road when I find original U.K. Island label copies of the lp's and conclude that it would be imprudent to buy them both twice. I suppose I can always take solace in the rare certainty of self-knowledge that I'll buy them again anyway.

For now these are worthy substitutes.

On a related note I have to give honorable mention to the scattering of Dylan covers on these records. "Million Dollar Bash" channels the rusticity of The Band, and comes off like a bonfire anthem for a Breughel scene. But it's the soaring, heartflooding "I'll Keep it With Mine" that caps side one of What We Did On Our Holidays that really stands out. In much the same way the Byrds did, Fairport uses Dylan to augment a compatible in-house songcraft--McGuinn's with the Byrds, and Richard Thompson's earthy romanticism here. In both McGuinn's and Thompson's defense they're both rare experts at letting that influence refine their crafts without turning them derivative. But in this instance the wreath unquestionably goes to Sandy Denny, who ruptures the faux-stoicism of the original, with a delivery that pushes everything out. It's devastating.

***

On a final and completely unrelated note, you should really check out Sarah Silverman's foxy, morally repellant new pro-Obama video. Not sure how many Jewish grandparents she'll win with this, but her novel approach makes for some instant infatuation.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Confessin'...



I must say it has been especially difficult to focus on anything but presidential politics these last few days.  I feel like were either headed for a national redemption--I do SO hope we are, or a watershed downturn to punctuate a decade of downturns, leaving us in latter-day Margaret Atwood science fiction territory.  I have the dog and my family to think about, otherwise I could, in the event of the latter outcome, sell my record collection and move to the south of France.  I would have the rest of my days to learn the art of the omelet, and screw wayfaring students.  Tempting, to be sure, but I'm very much of the attitude that we will, as Faulkner said in his Nobel speech, "not merely endure, but prevail."  I ain't a praying man, and I wouldn't know to what or whom I would if I was, but I'm doing jumping jacks, talking the talk, and going out for  some voter registration tomorrow--something I have not done, truthfully, since the primaries.  

That said, after a half-hearted bash of Sonic Youth (no, I don't like 'em, and yes, I was merely picking a fight--it was a bad day...) I decided to direct as much of my idle time as I could to reconnecting to some of those old records.

The last 36 hours have formed a laconic constellation of trances, reveries and zonings out;  Green-era Fleetwood Mac, Debussy--because he's fun, and irresistible Candi Staton.  What a soulful time.  

Oh, and do please fight the good fight.  Keep fighting the good fight.  Think ahead to that positive, no doubt tearful, sigh in November, when we can thank ourselves, and begin to truly put things back together. 


UPDATE (in the wake of Thursday's financial crisis meeting in Washington):

It is to the ongoing bewilderment of clear-headed Americans that there are, a. ANY undecided voters left in this country; and that b. ANYONE could witness ANY two consecutive moments of John McCain's campaign and not be instantly convinced to vote,  if not for Obama, then at the very least, against McCain.  If we needed any convincing that the unspoken, smoldering, stubborn-as-a-mule form of racism is the worst kind we truly need look no further than this contest, in which a young, equinanimous political visionary and constitutional law scholar and educator is facing off against a novelty noisemaker and counterproductive heap of putrescent white flesh, and the putrescent white flesh very much has a fighting chance...Fucking wow!

Exquisite corpse.



If public opinion was forming Voltron, for the tracking, hunting and merciful killing of the Rovian Way and petering Republicanism in its lesser forms, the exhausted ideas, and bald ploys, I suspect we just found the codpiece.

Meanwhile,

Late this afternoon I sat down after taking a walk with Miss Ella, and re-read one of my favorite early chapters in Speak, Memory; I keep it on the lid of the toilet, so in a way I'm never not reading it. Still, in Nabokov's heartthrobbing chromaticism I snatched this recollection, a fine proxy for the present hour:

The old and the new, the liberal touch and the patriarchal one, fatal poverty and fatalistic wealth got fantastically interwoven in that strange first decade of our century.

This, friends, is why we form VOLTRON!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Empress Milf's Required Reading




One of the things I love about Maureen Dowd--among the as many that I find aggravating, is how, resistant to the conventional wisdom of anti-intellectualism in politics, she manages to not only rhapsodize at length in highly referential language, with the kind of academic and literary heft that could benefit greatly from footnotes (and lots of them) but that she does so with the same biting, highly sexualized air of the most offensive and effective Republicans. She's a devilish man-baiter, and a diligent disciplinarian of the meek Left. In a national moment when the term milf is thrown around capriciously--I take this quite seriously, she is Empress Milf. The very definition. That she can carry that dusty volume of Stendhal Al Gore dropped in a mud puddle back in 2000, or that her impressions of Obama's then-emergent victory over Clinton in the Democratic primary led her to an analogy to Strauss' opera, Der Rosenklavier, prompts frustration, envy, and utter nerdout infatuation.

I do wish she wasn't so complacent with the gulf between her own articulate command of the canons of the West and a greater sense of indifference, or even vilification from a Right-goaded America--then again writing for The New York Times she knows her audience. But who among us can't share that frustration. And even as it chafes, the notion that anyone among us in her choir needs to hear those sermons for the gospel, when all we really care about is the song, is both delusional and counterproductive.

That said, fellow-choir singers, I find her synopsis of our gripping financial crisis highly gratifying. Be a good, blushing pinko like me and buy today's New York Times:

Republicans, who have won so many elections painting Democrats as socialists and pinkos, have now done so much irresponsible deregulating and deficit spending that they have to avoid fiscal Armageddon by turning America into a socialist, pinko society with nationalized financial institutions and a financial czar accountable to no one and no law.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Host


Gerhard Richter-Candle (German 1980's)

With MacGuyveresque ingenuity did Edith Wharton once proclaim that both a candle and a mirror could spread light to dark corners.

Okay.

I had a grinder fit a moment ago when, snapping back from a perfectly transcendent state, I suddenly realized the vulgarity of Sonic Youth, and the album cover to their overpraised 1988 album, Daydream Nation. The older I get the more spiritually bound I feel to Richter's tensile blurs and ephemeral interpretations of objects. So much so that when I see one in the context of a Sonic Youth album cover it feels like a cheap, haute hipster appropriation. There is a wild mystery that lies so close to normal life in Richter's more literal works, and to see it this way just kind of makes me sad.

The argument has been made--and is gospel among my generation (the same generation that touts M.I.A. and Sufjan Stevens I might add), that Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation is the ideal fusion of high art conviction and raw youthful self-consciousness. And I'm not gonna say these SY folks are dummies just for the sake of being iconoclastic. They're bright and talented and all the things you love. However as I age away from their ethical unrest, to a different restlessness the autonomy and unmarriageable authority of Richter's images require more and more space and quiet. Through the labor of seeing and execution, the ambivalent nod to photographic flaw, and the poetic thunderbolt of object and arrangement, the painting is timeless in a way the record is not. The relationship, if you concede my point, is less of a compelling contrast than it is a parasitic juxtaposition.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Please Scare Me.


Une Nuit Sur le Mont-Chauve-movie still-Alexej Alexeieff (Russian-French 1933)

I know I ought to save this for Halloween, but the truth is that Muse is a fickle creature, even for a diarist.  Maybe especially for a diarist.  One day you concoct a Cheeveresque reflection on the workday commute morning moon.  Dazzling, pathetic.  But, you know, dazzling.  Then, two weeks later you get hit by the Love Train, talented blue songbirds and yellow stars, live to tell with perfect kissmarks on your collar, and when the time comes to put pen to paper you got nothing.  Come late October I could be dry as a bone. Back to making best records I ever heard lists, or getting ripped on rye and writing dirty odes to Alfre Woodard.  I wouldn't put it past me.

Today's find is a magnificent Soviet-era 10" lp of Moussorgsky's Sur Le Mont-Chauve--a piece that even in the ignorance of my youth when only the crummiest kids knew about classical music, I was not only aware of A Night on Bald Mountain, but was riveted by its alien characters. The graphic art here is striking, laid out in proletarian gray and white intersecting lines, with a small Deutsche Grammophon-style title frame. It's impressive from this historical distance to glimpse a government's struggle to provide not just an economic and social framework for its people, but a unified artistic identity as well.  Say what you will about the outcome of the U.S.S.R., this semblance of a national creative spirit is remarkable--even as a relic.

The recording is much as I expected it, sound buried beneath the weight and color of dust, surface wear, and that ephemeral milk-cloud of a long time that separates any object from its native era.  A few nights ago I saw Jacques Tourneur's Cat People, the psychological horror movie from 1942.  Thanks to producer, Val Lewton's, imposingly small budget the film is a wonder of smart creative decisions--most effective among them, omissions.  We see no monsters, we're pestered with no flashy special effects.  The movie is joyfully bereft of Cat People!  Left with nothing but the human elements of this compelling story, Tourneur is forced to make some profound observations on real fear, jealousy, bigotry, cultural relativism and terror.  

I'm often reminded of it, and of the general notion of "horror" as a genre (though more accurately A Night on Bald Mountain is a macabre poem that never explicates actual horror) when I think back to what made me happiest as a child.  Childhood was boring.  You couldn't drive, and even if you could, you couldn't drive at night.  You couldn't get a drink.  Everybody stared.  So horror was a kind of mystical exercise in adventure and salvation.  You went out, got scared and came home.  Convincing thrills capped with reliable safety, that was childhood.  At least in Carlisle it was.

Moussorgsky's lush, doomy Russian fantasy is a rib of lost innocence, far more than it is a work of art, or a canonical composition, which I wouldn't know how to define or qualify anyway.  I love that disconnect from form and genre.  In Speak Memory, Nabokov eschewed the Freudian readings he saw threatening his autobiography.  His concept framed memories of childhood as attempts to re-establish a sublime moment of mystery and natural essence--the primordial.  I like that.

The Gimmel 100



I'm inching ever so much closer to restoring--in true, working form, the podcast feature on the site. I won't bore you with the litany of setbacks and idiotic mistakes made by yours truly that have put it off this long. Sufficed to say, it'll be back and better than its crappy predecessor ("The Gimmel 80").

For now I'll tell you this evening has been a Bossom Buddies checkerboard of Dan's Iron Maiden and my Israel "Cachao" Lopez. Oil and water, I tell ya. But we're being diplomatic about it, and, splitting the difference, I threw Gary Numan's Pleasure Principle on. Hopefully some time in the weekend's flurry there'll be an hour or so to get dusty-kneed in the classical aisle at Jerry's--it's like looking for Datsun owners manuals in the Library of Congress. They keep 'em in the mop closet next to Marilyn Quayle's novel(s).

You'll receive a full report.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This Dog Has More Common Sense Than Me




Occasionally one loses the way, falls out of love. I'm not talking about a particular person, or people. It's more a love of momentary things.

Well, luckily there's something biological or anthropological or something that makes it stick. It's kind of like getting old motor oil on your hands, hard to get off, and you secretly want it to stay there so everyone sees it and knows what you've been up to.

So I'm nursing a terrific hangover this morning, having spent the better part of last evening with Dan at my pal, John Doran's, dj night at Kelly's Bar.

John played lots of great punk--if anyone was gonna get me to enjoy Mission of Burma again, or The Saints, or any rock, which I didn't think I liked anymore, it was gonna be John. We drank beers until the whole place and its long mirrored wall slid off the edge of the cliff of all nighttime, and must've looked, from certain East Liberty hills, like an upset dinner table, with a lot of laughing people just sort of heaped in with the broken crystal stemware and the cursive name cards. I wound up with a lemon garnish in my hair and a pork chop stuck to the lapel of my jacket. I saw people I hadn't seen in many years. The dirty table cloth, I remember thinking, looked like a sleeping Dalmation, spotted, and eyes turned inward.

As we passed late-nite Wendy's there was a caravan around the place for the drive-thru. I remember shouting, "You fucking people are gonna burn yourselves out young, eating that shit!" Though in truth I just wanted to make a funny kind of connection and felt shouting was the most cosmic means. I passed out with my forehead pressed in a cold quinoa flan, and awoke with the dog licking maple sugar crystals out of my hair. It was sort of embarrassing since I tend to think of myself as the dog's father.

But man, that music was fantastic. It was sort of like being in that hotel in The Shining. Only, you know, just the good times...