Thursday, April 30, 2009


There is no revenge even half as strong as the Light:
But there are surprises.
This one is hooded by the sour grace of compromise, by twilight hooded and in plain jeans, and

Fed on immigrant food.

The Curse digs its plots on our limelined
Field.  Tomorrow we arrive, the heat of memory a furnace blowing white.

Even the devil has a tender letter in his pocket in case he is found.  Or maybe, especially the devil has.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Transformation rock.

What is there to say about the day that wasn't said by just living through it.  Yesterday was beyond the brushes, beyond the best words.  I owe it to posterity to say the lesson was duly learned not to double down on a bag of Hopi mushrooms when the first round of Lucky Charms is circling the drain.  Maybe I should've opted for a nap and a salad.  A long walk.  Prayer.  I pulled through and all internal organs meet the dummy class test;  they are operational, I am alive.

Howler's.  Last Night.

It was a great show with friends and neighbors, Dark Lingo, who don't so much sound like, but very much evoke the shambolic domestic dynamism of Royal Trux.  They are an awesome force to behold, tribal and funny--without ever being noodly and silly.  There is an obscure density to their music, and yet, the couple's personalities play clear and magnetic through their music:  It is a sincere hope that they'll wind up at the great Brickbat Books in Philadelphia someday to underscore my sincerest claim that the Pittsburgh live scene is formidable--and that DL embodies the best elements of it.  The Burndowns, another local blast--and heldover admiration from my blogroll (frontman Steve Anderson is the voice of 7" Slam, a blog that gets written far too infrequently), followed.  One thing I love about Pittsburgh is how expertly--and uncannily in unison, this live climate ferrets out fashionable acts, trends that squat on the crests of waves, dudes in skin tight broomstick-leg jeans, and "little black glasses" as Lingo's Nick nails it.  The Burndowns make fantastic and superbly clear, unfussy punk rock.  When rock and roll of any variety works it does so by untethering its own energies from the past, without denying its debt.  The Burndowns made my head ring, and on the brief walk home (which is to say I had only to cross the street) I earmarked Stiff Little Fingers, Jerry Lee Lewis, the first Clash record, The Sonics and inexplicably, Tony Conrad, for the week to come.  With both Dark Lingo and The Burndowns what excited me most--and maybe this is a compliment owed to the music community on the whole as, at this moment, I can think of no egregious exceptions, is that I have such a thin stylistic connection to what any one of them does.  I don't dress like them, the music I listen to day-by-day sounds nothing like theirs.    But the connections they foster are electric, instant and halcyonic.  

I sacked out on the couch with the dog, saw the first half hour of the Rouben Mamoulian version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde from 1931 and passed out before the young, itinerant Frederic March succumbed to his own nocturnal chemistries.  When I left him our night was dignified and intact.  We'd been seduced by it, but were--at least when I went to sleep, mannerly and human.  

Monday, April 20, 2009

The glory of mine eyes.

Jenna Kantor (American recent)

Over the last few months I've noticed an interest among critics in the works great artists generated as, or just before, they died.  There was this New York Times 'Science' section feature, a wrenching look at the geriatric Impressionists whose collective zeitgeist for dappling color resonance turned out to know no tougher a mortal adversary than cataracts and the poor state of surgery in the early 20th century.  Then there was Roberta Smith's survey of the final act Picasso exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery--it's a weirdly human coda to a career that often buoyed on fantastic stylisms and extraterrestrial concepts of basic things. Looking at the pictures (Times Online offers an audio tour narrated by Ms. Smith ) the viewer is left with a reverent sense for an artist who arrived at his own naked humanity in the eleventh hour.  The myriad devices which defined Picasso's career meet with suggestions of failing senses, spiritual fatigue--even doubt, and an overarching technical approach that just looks less constrained by gravitational pesterings.   

I've always enjoyed this final sobriety in peak works: Mahler's 9th Symphony, Kafka's aphorisms from Zurich--even his never-to-be-completed The Castle, Nick Drake's Pink Moon, Sebald's careening pseudo-memoir novel, a few short years out from his demise, Austerlitz; we like to think we're seeing more of the artist as he nears the end.  I suspect it's not that we see anything else than normal, nor is the artist's labor any different.  The subject is now just more provocative.  It's more vital, and entirely inclusive.  If only momentarily everyone lives with that fraught set of concerns.  I tell you, as largely indifferent as I've grown to Picasso, there were connections I formed, looking at the Times article, that made me not just reevaluate his labors, they made me reconsider my own.  

 If there is decency of expression, one could say,  and possibility in every response then why refrain any longer?  How shit-biting sad it must be to arrive and then think 

I wasn't always a desperate person with just sheets to fill.

David Berman, a poet and musician whose sentiments I've tacked up here frequently over the years--he's the Silver Jews guy, wrote a poem about Isaac Asimov's death.  There is a lot of sympathy and in it--mostly devoted to a guy whose only public faults were that he dreamed of different worlds and that he was abnormally prolific.  One line in particular resonates:

Perhaps my last words will be random.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Song of the Earth (in 26 verses).

Was it Facebook or George Perec? Maybe The Devil's Dictionary, Flaubert's The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas. Whatever the case I've been enjoying constructing little glossaries and questionnaires like this lately. They have advanced a sense of order--illusory order, over thoughts otherwise deemed too rambunctious and contrary to have shape. Beneath everything needless to say, I dream of food all the time.

A: Apple butter, stewed with roasted garlic and shallots and spooned on bacon and potato and red cabbage pancakes. You have been unfaithful in marriage, destructive to your parents' assets, cheap with simple appreciations? Nothing can improve your human bullshit. But as one of the eccelsiastists forewarned, you will all be changed.  Did the saintly scribe have in mind what I have in mind?  And who's the real fool if he didn't?

B: Bulleit Bourbon. An anachronistic liquid embodiment of pecan pie with a cereal-sweet rye accent, one of whose primary elements is the tonally permissive denimcolor currents of the night, the air and the cool stars.

C: Carbohydrates in season. Winter potatoes endure the prevailing winds with emergent heads of hard-vein greens. Nature is a mule's argument, unfair as all things are, which need not mean we relinquish our sources of amusement, carbohydrates in season and such.

D: Drawn butter, whose properties are much like the colored shapes of Matisse, isolated in self-harmony. If what Cervantes said about hunger is true, that it is the best sauce, then Matisse is responsible for the best colors, the hungry colors, and drawn butter is the second best sauce. A little grated horseradish can't hurt either.

E: Ege Bamyasi, the 3rd record made by the arty krautrock band, Can. The cover is a kind of shoddy, egonymic (?!) homage to Warhol's soup cans, celebrating the vulgarity of assembly line food production, sighing over the generic inevitabilities of a globalized Europe.

F: Frozen peas. Freezing sugar is a scare tactic, a curbing force. It works, the sugar does its job in the hour when its performance is most required: winter, nothing grows.

G: Green oil. Save parsley stems, pale inner celery fronds, spotted basil leaves, cousins. Let them all steep in pomace, sealed, in a dark pantry for a week or so. That and a slice of lemon is all the cosmetic assistance the summer plate requires.

H: Heinz Tomato Ketchup. The same lording parties who bandy about self-important opinions on the inappropriateness of bottled water, parmesan cheese on seafood dishes, the superiority of gin to vodka in a martini, and the co-mingling of salmon and red sauces must certainly have gotten their starts in this insipid prejudice: the hatred of ketchup. Not only is Pittsburgh's own the "American sauce"--to borrow a proud appellation from my Philadelphian friend, Paul E, it is an ideal complement--to the foods upon which it has been so happily applied in 133 years since it was introduced, and to the other, lesser condiments which so many Chicago doggers and their like exalt with greater, and utterly irrational, preference.

I: Irish butter. I actively avoid eating it, so as not to adulterate my memories. A blue moon shines on nations capable of producing cheeses comparably prodigious as Irish butter, let alone butters comparably prodigious.

J: Jalapeno. When one's work includes the octofurcation of lemons and limes the scantest coverage of the jalapeno's antagonistic oil will reveal microscopic wounds, open them slightly and raise minute searing one-note songs to the ear. You will know when the moment is upon you.

K: Krispy Kreme doughnuts, coffee, Amtrak train, winter. If I could just go back, with the sincerity of the dying I would, regrettably, appreciate it no more than I did the first time.

L: Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. Older than dirt, says Soccer John. Over 170 years in fact. A colonial request for the procurement of an English curry, an appeal to pharmacists whose names were Lea and Perrins. A fermented fish sauce, an error.  The bounties of patience, vinegar and sea-faring chemistries.  Much like the Coca Cola of Mexico, Lea & Perrins' insists on using real sugar, where our American version employs lowly corn syrup. Ask your English friends to send the real thing:  malt vinegar, sugar, stinky fishes!

M: Mary Janes. Microchip technology rapidly, hopelessly approaches the awesome achievement of Mary Janes only slightly larger in size. Taste elements include caramel, butterscotch and peanuts. We're tricked into believing there was a simpler era of living from which we have erred in departure. And yet in art and Mary Janes the seductiveness of this observation is thriving, and quite reasonable.

N: Neapolitan pizza. Another dispute rages with volcanic heat and reliability, concerning the authentic origins and composition of the pizza. The truth is unknowable, beset by bigotries, loves and idiosyncracies of proud cities. Before shoveling me onto a flame-engulfed barge and tipping me out to sea, stuff a triangle of typing-paper thin margerita from Slice of South Philly, reverently occupied by crushed tomatoes, scant mozzarella and basil into my dead mouth.

O: Olives. Once, one person looked up at an olive and for the first time in human history said yes. Bone hard, unseasoned, uncured, unprecedented, they bespeak a trophyless award older than the James Beard, Michelin stars, older than the Nobel, the Pulitzer prizes: transcendent insanity, the cloth of discovery and all included insane color.

P: Pint of Guinness. Breathlessly, I've already said too much. Drinking a pint of Guinness with eyes open is an offensive, but all too common, form of gilding the lily.

Q: Quinoa. The foundation of Miss Ella's diet, is delectable on human plates as well! And though somewhat controversial in its inaugural execution a quinoa flan with scarred maple veneer made in the unlit winter of Bloomfield, 2008, sits in the company of kings, milfs and those who feed the hungry.

R: Remembrance of Things Past. The finest first four pages of an unreadable novel cycle ever to meet my eyes. The other pages are physically inoffensive and require little space for storage. One need rent nothing, nor impose spatial constraints of any kind upon co-habitants. Put it under the bed. The one who said we must never fear going too far, for the truth lies beyond loved him some cookies.

S: Sam Bok's Homemade's mung bean pancakes. Carry a cot and a glass of water down--oh, and senselessly high expectations, to the Strip District, Pittsburgh, PA, where a grilling station of questionable legality serves oniony rim-crisp diskettes saturated with percolating peanut oil. One draws a vortex in Sriracha sauce, folds it in a piece of wax paper, and in eating walks, if you're me you do, in the direction of Bloomfield. Not because errands direct you, but because basic things correspond to grand conducements laid out long before the moment has arrived. Seriously, tell everyone.

T: "Talk About The Passion". Opheliac R.E.M. song, from their 1983 debut album, Murmur. It plays in recurring dreams of sitting underdressed at dining table at a country inn, feeding bread to wolves who menace everyone but me. I can, most palpably, detect the warm dry inhalations across their closing jaws as oil-soaked hunks of batard disappear. The value in psychological exhilaration is quite high.

U: Ugliness. In a restaurant's kitchen I cut the faces off live soft shell crabs prior to battering them, frying them, arranging them on a salad in '03. That and the oculation of potatoes left below the boughs of plumbing, beside Borax powder and shriveled blue S.O.S. pads comprise a secret ugliness. What you eat and what you love is beautiful, its message, its representation and the virtues you find are scored with a kind of gray fabric. That you might not forget the toll.

V: Vermouth and vegan cooking. At least once must the abstinant of foodstuffs animal in origin be seated before a plate of roasted morels and potatoes dressed in warm vermouth shallot and olive oil vinaigrette. Thereafter the emasculating dreams of taunts by frying eggs and braised oxtails will cease and the night shall grow quiet and brim with sleep.

W: Women. Celebrity has assisted our calloused, less fair gender in the unilateral theft of the culinary arts from the feminine source. Naturally capital punishment is out of the question. The injustices stand. Sorry ladies: Tyler Florence.

X: Xalaiva. Unlike the bec fin which describes the cultivated palate, xalaiva is comfortable stopping inquiries at the outset of the lips: the perfect mouth. African, like humankind, at genesis, it must be cherished for the pagan virtue of loving love and that upon which it is simply pleasant to focus one's attention.

Y: Yeast rolls show the gestalt at work, and in a way evident to even the slightest minds. Thanksgiving's table requires yeast rolls to ensure the custodianship of the plate. The turkey collects the dross. The dross is the gravy, and a few bronze bits of corn. The yeast roll collects it all. This the embodiment, it is an aroma and a gestalt.

Z: Zucchini corn cake and the observation of sweet and savory distinctions. Two things come to mind: the sandwich called the Monte Cristo and a custard stand in Carlisle, PA, called Massey's, whose chocolate custard in a pretzel cone is a pretty transcendent eating experience. Each represents the skillful--and it turns out provocative, highwire act on the meridian between the sweet and the savory. a diplomacy all too commonly abused: people return from taquerias convinced they can shake cinnamon on their casseroles like it was Mrs. Dash; meanwhile the American children of many classic Chinese dishes ought better be served in candy stores. Zucchini corn cake (or bread, as being legitimately neither it could, I suppose, be either) maximizes the high sugar contents in two foodstuffs with such proficiency and prankish ambiguity that the final resolution tends to be an immaterial one. I find this stuff takes to its neighbor, regardless of his character. Ah, the whore's diplomacy.