Sunday, August 31, 2008

Purple Stuff

Some great S. Philly pics, taken over the past few weeks with the phone camera--a much-needed recess from that purple high school stuff I'd been writing. Sometimes I do have trouble helping myself. Anyhow, I picked up a few rolls of film for the Holga, and will be putting up the pics I take as they're developed. The writing will go back to beige, I'll spin some Corelli with commentary, doubtless one of those rich Borodin concertos that conjure visions of dried blood on Italian marble stairs, and all things evoking the pristine and sublime. Hope all is well in Philadelphia, all is well in Pittsburgh!

Speaking of which, you'll see, newly restored to my blogroll, is the left-for-dead Pittsburgh fave, 7 Inch Slam. I have my vigilant pal Max Milgram of the recently debuted Watery Love to thank for keeping an eye out; I was sure 7 was done for good. He doesn't write as often as he once did, though he's always a terrific read. I plan to meet him at high noon in a show down of gustatory and auditory paraphernelia. His fried chicken and punk rock 7's vs my bucatini nicoise and doo wop. Smart money's on him.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


No energy. Must continue to pack. Moving.

In the meantime sorry for slacking off. I'll get back on the horse just as soon as I'm situated. Here's a gander at what was likely the last real meal I will have made in Philadelphia; for those of you who got some, I hoped you liked it. For those who didn't, I was pretty bent up when I ladled it out. Oh, and I added oil-cured olives which, though absent from any recipe I've ever worked from, gave it that Hamburger Helper gestalt I'm always looking for.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Restlessness That's In Me

Later than I would have liked I realized there was no chicken.

There's always gotta be chicken in the refrigerator because the dog has special dietary needs, and chicken's one of them. It's too much of a nuisance to wake up in the morning, walk her, and still find time to get ready for work, to cook and separate chicken. I can't do it. So last night, later than I would have liked, I got dressed and went out to buy the dog's chicken.

I recently added Richard Hawley's Coles Corner to my iPod. The air was cooling to that perfct pitch. It's a terrific record anytime, but played in those pivotal hours between seasons it becomes Mahlerian--an auburn punctuation jutting out over nature like a diving board or the chrome fenders of the 1950's .

Also, it's true, and perhaps universal, if subtle enough to have gone largely undetected over the ages, that cities and ex-girlfriends are at their most beautiful the last time you see them.
It's as though you're all of a sudden up and aware of things.

As for this city, a storm might have erupted last night, but it didn't. For a while the winds ran, and the lowest places in the sky, right where they met the trees and rooflines, were full of defining color (Wassily Kandinsky called blue "the religious color"). Best of all was how uncannily empty the streets were, not just of people but of all sound. A cryptic young man at a bus stop solicited me for either drugs or sex--not totally sure which. He seemed nice enough, so I just told him I wasn't into it and left him there. Not another human soul for the rest of the evening.

Coles Corner was written about a place in Hawley's Sheffield, where everybody met, and where everybody's parents met, and their parents, and their parents. He seems to be always merging the soil and loveliness of the city with the descending love that keeps happening there. Many of his songs have the depth of the Romantic poets, whose works must have cued him and fostered that eternal quality.

In listening I was reminded of things I hadn't thought of in twenty years; I could feel my pores opening up. I thought about my cousin, Tammy, showing us the man with an erection hidden in the camel on a pack of cigarettes. The marred toy figure head that always lead me to momentary plots to switch it out with another boy's. I resisted, but carried the compulsion for what then seemed like ages. And so on.

This isn't exactly a record review--one, because of the age of Coles Corner, and two, the obvious fact that I'm distracted, I'll leave it there. Perhaps it's best to add that there's a ton of great Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin and Roy Orbison manly lonesomeness. Oh and a towering symphonic presence. Maybe a little self-pitying Sinatra too, which is nice. What I meant to talk about was the night, which, forgive me for misleading you up til now, seems out of my reach just now.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

New Life

Another Sunday is upon us, and I enter the two-week period of my departure to Pittsburgh.

Today might have passed without a word, were it not for the one thing in this world I love to kick more than myself: the stereo.

Last night I disinterred William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's 1962 recording of Brahms' 3rd Symphony in F, and the Tragic Overture. This record had been among the karma-fattening load I donated to A.K.A. in an attempt to thin my holdings. I must have been a little loosey-goosey when I put in on the pile.

Nevertheless, there it was, back on the rack, marked $.99 in that scant classical vinyl bin in the rear of the store. It was like looking at a malnourished racehorse, the musky stable water reflecting poisonous in his eyes. The misspent nobility, and the enduring light. I reclaimed him, rode him home. We had a party.

It was the last record I would ever hear through the Technics SX-303R stereo receiver my folks bought me back in the mid-90's. In the night it finally gave out, kaput, still so warm with the sound that this morning, with coffee in one hand, I pressed the other on the top grill and found a resonant D sustaining. So long.

My pals, Brian and Cher, had mentioned months ago that they had a receiver to spare, and that if I didn't mind lugging it home it was mine.

The Technics SU-8080 might better have come fitted with white-walled tires and leather seats. Add a steering wheel and some plush dice and you have what in 1966 was called with no small amount of awe and national pride, the Lincoln Continental. Heavy. All knobs and switches. No effeminate lights, no LCD displays. Plug it in and it disturbs the peace, begins to steal the oxygen from the room. I'm not by nature a fetishist, and I'm certainly no gear-head, but this device is something else.

I took a shower, Windex'd the picture of my folks, put on a white shirt and my suit, re-read E.B. White's obituary (it's a kind of fit-all ceremonial text in my life), and sat in a businessperson's erect position with my writing hand folded below my chin (oh yeah, I shaved) and weighed the appropriate record with which I might inaugurate this symphonic box of warfare.

Nina Simone's recording debut, Jazz as Played in an Exclusive Side Street Club, was made in 1958, when she was 25 years old. It has remained one of the finest composites of a jazz and folk style with a classical technique. To say it's good, great, or even a classic is selling short how tremendous its presence is, and how enduring is the sound it makes. Perhaps David Berman said it best in a poem about being young and high, in which a prize girl exclaims, "all water is classic water".

Jazz as Played... is so fundamentally and inherently correct and fine that it is redundant to say something nice about it--this too. It blemishes it to say it is perfect, as if saying so introduces the possibility that it may not be so.

This too.

I figured it would suffice, and started with side two. "Good Bait" played, producing a dignified sound. But it was "Plain Gold Ring" moments later that fused the record to the turntable in a kind of self-curating wisdom and marriage. I laid down by a half-drunk glass of water and lemon, and a saucer covered with olive pits and an orange segment, the dog was sleeping on the futon by the record sleeve. The whole scene was reminiscent of the advice you would've gotten from the first few issues of Playboy--provided the scope of the advice did not include yours truly as an example. I'm a mess, but I leave amazing trash.

I refuse to pass out Sunday apologies (you can get those wafers elsewhere), so I'll simply reiterate that there is a round romance laboring through the day, needing from us our gentleness of spirit, our laziness. One might wear gloves and goggles, but miss the reward for the precaution.

I'm telling you, you need a wheelbarrow to carry this thing around.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Yes, but it's not this year's shiver...

Gerhard Richter Confrontation 1 (German 1988)

I was pleased to see the lion, Edward Elgar, made news this morning. Amid a controversy no less. To me the late British composer has always been unjustly pinned under the mantle of his own most famous work, the ubiquitous graduation march, "Pomp and Circumstance". There's much to love in his work, and his patently British air. In a recent listen to his Cello Concerto I found myself thinking silver thoughts of thoughtful, recessively romantic actor, Trevor Howard in David Lean's 1945 masterpiece, Brief Encounter. That air seems to know neither sweat nor panic. Celia Johnson runs for the stairs, there's no shortness of breath, no hysterics. Only Rachmaninov.

The flap, since I brought it up, concerns vibrato, a resonant effect prized in today's performances--and, because of spatial and technological conditions of times past, a recent improvement to the presentation of musical performance. As it happened, a conductor named Roger Norrington, a self-appointed restorationist, decided for an upcoming performance of "Pomp and Circumstance" to (maybe!!!!) go back to the old non-vibrato sound that would've been of the element in Elgar's time. The idea was to hear the music as it originally sounded.

To be honest I didn't really have much of a strong opinion on the subject at first, though the argument itself fascinated me instantly. One commentor on The New York Times website decried Norrington's decision as "Taliban-like", while another exclaimed "YUCK" at the very thought of a cello subjected to such vulgar and antiquated treatment. I'm from the School of Put the Mono Version on Disc 1 and the Stereo Version on Disc 2 and You Decide. It's a rock music sensibility, and I have to say, it fosters a less combative discussion.

Or are classical music people always storming around just looking for a fight?

Many of the folks whose responses I read this afternoon came across as musicians themselves. That may be the problem right there; I absolutely never cared what they thought. For one thing the body resonance with their instruments grants them altogether different listening experiences. Not to say they don't own home stereos, or go out to the symphonies on their days off. But as lay people, we the listening set thrive on this kind of contrastive formulation. It is precisely how we come to understand a work of art. What's more it's common for a first impression to be a negative one, and still produce with further, varied exposures, a warm composite concept of the work. Hear the uneasy peace in Leonard Bernstein's introduction to his collaborative performance of Brahms' D Minor Concerto, with pianist, Glenn Gould. That he felt compelled to give prefatory notes at all revealed Bernstein's misgivings. However his subsequent performance fell in with Gould's concept of the Concerto; he bitched a little, then rolled up his sleeves and did his job.

The idea of ridiculing, or worse still occluding, a point of artistic juxtaposition (or at least any one not causing bodily harm or emotional trauma) sounds both foolishly short-sighted and even a little elitist. Added to which there is a pettiness in expecting the comfort of a fulfilled expectation from a musical experience. Many people who responded did so as though the fire of good sense itself had been snuffed out on Elgar's annual vintage.

What fails to resonate in Norrington's chilly Elgar--should he go that route, might yet be made up in performances of years to come, or in the warmth of an unexpected controversy, which requires we wait no longer.


Heasly Falstaph-Forty/Forty-Three (American recent)

More Clinton-era reminiscence at Magicistragic...This time it is one Bang!, by the esteemed World Party, from--as Jens Lekman duly calls it, the sweet summer of 1993. Do enjoy.

In the meantime it's bedtime for Bonzo...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I could press my hand on the door where you both were.

Andrew Wyeth Helga (American 1970?)

You'll have to pardon me. It's another Sunday morning, and I'm in the mood of solipsism and romance.

Andrew Wyeth, I learned yesterday, is a mild expletive in these parts, begrudged for the incident of his celebrity, and nipicked for his style and technique. At least among the circles I travel.

He provoked the Main Line Chernobyl incident of 1986. And by incident I mean: wild love; and by Main Line I mean:

I could press my hand on the door where you both were.

While pecking out the Jonathan Richman review I tried to think of an image that evoked the album title, Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild. My first flash thought was of Helga Testorf and Andrew Wyeth. Recently, my parents came to town to see a show, and I was beached for ideas on how to keep them entertained. I told my dad that the Society Hill towers were designed by I. M Pei, and that about five blocks from them was, in the lobby of an old office building, a sprawling mural by the Philadelphia-born artist, Maxfield Parrish, how it's like a great scare in a horror movie. No matter how many times you see it, and train your imagination to know its there, you simply cannot prevent the surprise. Since we didn't actually go see to see it, I'm sure the effect remains sadly unaccomplished in them both.

You can't get them to go goddamn anywhere.

I handed my mom a book of the Helga pictures. Her first response was that these people, the artist and model, were unmistakably in a kind of unhidden love. I didn't know the story. Yeah, probably.

Then this Raw and Wild thing happened, and I came across Bob's site, which is terrific. Great insights and choices. You can read his account there (just click on the name of the blog in he linked entry above to be redirected to his most recent post, which I also highly recommend), of the secret creative relationship carried on between Wyeth and Helga, whom he contracted as his nurse in 1971, and with whom he continued well into the 1980's. What struck me about the story itself, and by Bob's recapitulation was the--I think--noble desire to find shock in the human routine. And especially in creative affairs. Perhaps it is that moviemaking as an artform is graying, or that tabloids curdle our taste for banal sensations. We feel guilty, or somehow above this kind of investigation. But we ought not. This is, as Bob duly comments, a remarkable story.

I suppose it is also sort of timely just now, given the breaking news of John Edwards' affair with Rieile Hunter, a videographer he met while campaigning several years back. I've read the outrage of bloggers and in comments columns to the news stories. The reactions have been varied, and most often concern what this guy did to the Democratic Party and to his cancer-stricken wife. Not knowing those involved personally I can only say the truth of both impacts might be greater than I could imagine. Though I suspect it is far smaller. Or more accurately, greater only in the external soul that keeps it alive because there is a need for the warmth of our own mistakes, and when it is too awful or inconvenient to consider we look outside. I do genuinly hope, against the grain of our shared politics and all the good she's done, that when Arianna Huffington's own misdeeds come to light, there might be a force as meddlesome and petty as hers to burn a cross-shaped souvenir into her forehead. But I digress.

You see the idea is fascination, not purposeless snooping. Not sportsman's cruelty. Again, I digress.

Of course there is a fundamental difference between the two affairs, that being the progeny. For the Edwardses it must be a rancid comeuppance: all humiliation, pity, and scorn. The commentors and bloggers want to know how these enomous errors could have happened. Poor politicians, poor suicide monkeys.

With the Helga situation that question doesn't apply. There is an articulate. and moreover purposeful, asking at work in the paintings--over 200 of them in total. It is not to say an enormous error wasn't made, only that something full of living light and brown earthliness overgrew it.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Core of the Stars We See

Andrew Wyeth-Helga (American-1970 or after)

Jonathan Richman-Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild (Vapor 2008)

It's always been my assumption, respectfully, that Jonathan Richman was as true a version of himself as he could communicate, in a specifically cartoonish singer style; he is a pedantic, childlike, anachronistic, eccentric, morose and most of all, silly singer, and I'm guessing he's that kind of guy too. There is such idiotic sophistication in his views of everything from roller-coasters to painkillers that one has to wonder if that bristly vignette about Pablo Picasso from his Modern Lovers days wasn't a sub-conscious look at his own inner pixie dust.

So in his fourth decade of consummating a public image, Richman seems to have eased into a working trance not uncommon to enduring artists: he makes music "for himself". His solo records since the demise of the Modern Lovers have often puzzled, and chafed at, his fan base. Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild appears to have broken from that myopia, explicitly upon the prolonged illness and death of his mother.

Richman is still very much the "I'm Straight" character, eschewing drugs and drink, puzzling over the superficial social tics of the group-thinking world, and finding a peculiar-fitting, lonesome contentment in ukulele ditties, sea shanties, calypsos, cowboy ballads, and other such niche song-forms. However irregular he may come off there is an integrity to the uncorrupted path he's taken--which resonates particularly well here.

It makes listening to Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild something of an emotional workout. Unflagging in his standards Richman appears, now more than ever in his career, badly in need of some comforting. The worldly side of the record (one song is sung in French, one in swarthy Spanish, and a Mediterranean lyrical ode to the Dutch colorist, Johannes Vermeer) feels heavy and restless; if grief is the thesis here, there are plenty of strong, if inadvertent points about denial. A look at the liner notes shows it was recorded between San Francisco, Germany and Spain.

Many of these ostensibly autobiographical songs tend to reach back to a formative time in his career--and by proxy his life, for happier sensations. "Time Has Been Going By So Fast" is a lovely, if painful, meditation. While, bled of its cockiness, a reworked "Old World" becomes an exhausted, ironic eulogy. Richman, given time to reflect (and mourn), might not regret casting off the over-idealized past, though his circumstances do want for the salve of it. That losses such as his are inevitable--or to use a phrase he favors, natural, gives strength to his convictions, but do nothing to assuage the ache permeating the music. There's just no short-cut through it.

One critic I read recently criticized the stringent adherence to teetotaling in his songs as heavy-handed and pedantic. It's a fair criticism, even if it misses the deeper point. Richman might have once stood as a kind of Christ-like punk moralizer, but like Johnny Rotten, or to a lesser degree Mark E. Smith, Richman's breed of conservative iconoclasm always read more generational in conviction than personal, and critical without necessarily being prescriptive.

A lot of the record, in fact, fares among the most compelling material Richman has produced in his solo years. "Our Drab Ways" achieves the uncommon feat of imbibing in early-Leonard Cohen's maudlin French-Canadian folk music without receding into its caricature--or worse, cloying tribute. "Here It Is", an actual late period Leonard Cohen composition, is a zen like reckoning of love, whose matter-of-factly chorus Richman captures exquisitely. Finally, the title song, a kind of wayfaring Tahitian love song, whose name alone is a formidable prick of annihilation poetry, can be added with Richman's most iconic and memorable tunes outright.

Jonathan Richman might better be described as a musical exhibitionist than an autobiographer. Over time his audience has absorbed the aura, while the facts of his life linger in mystery. So it makes this something of a mixed blessing. The wound of a man's formidable loss releases its weight in triumphant songs. That they might have come at less a cost--but like he says, it's natural.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Old Acquaintance

I've been thinning the stacks of cds so that, upon arriving at my new digs in Pittsburgh, I'll be an all-vinyl man. In doing so I spent much of last evening enjoying parting listens to some lost favorites--Black Grape's It's Great When You're Straight, Yeah, James' Whiplash, Arkarna's brifly amusing "House on Fire" cd-single, Gene's Olympian, Geneva's Further, an Elgar Cello Concerto featuring Jacqueline DuPre, and the very good Wild at Heart soundtrack were among the highlights. Toward the drowsy end of past-bedtime night I popped in The Beautiful South's 1989 debut, Welcome to the Beautiful South.

I'd forgotten what a substantial pop record it is. Sometime this evening I'll probably get the itch and head on over to Magicistragic's weblog to speak my mind proper. But in the meantime, if you need a (FREE) copy of it, or any other badly scratched British pop gem cd from the last three decades just shoot me a line. After Saturday they're all going to that great six-disc changer in the sky, by which I of course mean I'm dumping the lot at A.K.A. Music. Fair warning.

Oh, and I'll definitely be coming back to Black Grape. Good stuff, 1996, you'll live in my heart...

UPDATE: Beautiful South reminiscences up on Magicistragic's weblog. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Moody Seance

Beethoven-Sonata No. 23 in F Minor "Appassionata"/Richter (Artia Records 1961) click here for free download

Another fine Sunday, and shopping is done. The kitchen is clean, and I won't be cooking anything this evening, save for some celery and rice, and maybe a chicken leg if the pot's still looking for something. So an afternoon is in order, I think spent in a chair, with a Pennsport Julep*, the ALS, and Beethoven's "Appassionata". This version (jacket shown above) was recorded in the early summer of 1960, in Moscow, with Ukrainian pianist Sviatoslav Richter.

I'll hold my thoughts on Haydn for today. The idea is to be brief, so as not to rob myself of too much personal relaxation. Besides, I feel the Beethoven/Richter chemistry is portion enough.

Moody seance, I thought, because "Appassionata" is such a wishful, rhapsodic sounding piece of music. However there's as much fuss and heaping of detail: this stream of music seems to have occurred both arcing through dim space, and in congestive tugs in total darkness--as much birth labor as free expression. The sonata is no less enjoyable for the trouble.

It is more the relationship of the composer and recitalist, in this instance, that I think is so fascinating. On one hand there is enormous room for interpretation, but on the other the performer takes on quite a burden. With the dead so temperamental how do you dare speak for them. This one in particular sounds like such a thunderstorming bother of a ghost. Some folks were just born with ten lucky fingers between two hands, best arranged in symmetric and palindromic fashion, and I guess that's as much as can be said for that.

It gets me thinking about Beethoven, as inhabitant of his own music. About what he might have wanted from any given piece of music. I always assumed it was the goal of any artist to generate something beautiful and then enjoy the (hopefully) ensuing recognition. But that doesn't seem to be the case here, where "Appassionata", so clearly passionate, has also the rigor of exhaustive mathematical work. Not beauty, perfection. Or perhaps beauty through perfection, as no other way will allow.

And for now, that's as much as can be said for that.

*The Pennsport Julep

1 part chilled Vodka (I prefer the Luksosawa and Wyborova brands)
3 parts cool tap water
1 heaping handful of crushed ice
1 squeeze of lemon or lime
1 pinch of kosher salt, or try coating the rim

Give it a stir, and enjoy as responsibly as your personal sensibility permits.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

In the City

The Central Pennsport Listeners Enclave-vol. 3

Download Here

I've had shit technology for a long time. But now it's getting to be too much. Between the cd burner not taking certain brands of cd-r's, the pc not taking discs burned on the Mac, and the laser lens on the pc not wanting to read shit, I feel I'd be better off lathe cutting these goddamn things and handing them out like Chick tracts.

1. Dick Farney-Marina (El 2005, reissued from a 1947 record. Original label unknown)

2. The Jam-In the City (Polydor 1977) One of the things that makes this such a special song is that it could mean so many things. It could be an urban romance; a social and political call to arms; a self-confession of uncertainty and need. I’ve always liked to think of it as a generational statement of purpose, from child to parent: here is where I live. Look around and you'll find out what you never knew about me.

Probably fearing something would get lost in translation (or as likely, in playing volume) I’ve never played it for my own parents, who are dyed in the wool country people. They might play me a Brooks & Dunn ballad and expect the same epiphany in return. Which, come to think of it, doesn’t sound half bad.

3. Saleh Ibrahim-Taqsim (Honest Jon's 2008) Smoky fiddle of old Iraq. Please check out Rahim Alhaj for the current state of the taqsim. Alive and quite well, as it turns out. For more on the compilation from which this track was taken please scroll down to the last post.

4. David Box-If You Can't Say Something Nice (Candix 1962) My primary association with David Box is to his hometown lion, Buddy Holly. The Lubbock, TX protege also befriended Roy Orbison, who, throughout his career, would prove as influential. Here Box traded the herky jerky Holly rock for Orbison's swaying seduction; it's also an Orbison tune.

Oddly enough the chameleon career of Box, which vacillated with terrific formative nuance between the pop stars he loved best, ended short. In a plane crash. I know, no shit. But it's worth mentioning because, beyond the enigmatic coincidence, it illustrates the fateful nature of David Box's quick development as an artist. Even one more year playing in his heroes shadows and we'd doubtless remember him alongside them.

Box left behind an impressive slew of singles, all of which are compiled by the studious Trikont reissue label, as The David Box Story. Well worth investigating!

5. Rikki Aaron-Say What's On Your Mind (R.A.C. 1978) A Philadelphia curiosity. Parts Hall & Oates, Squeeze, and Kool & the Gang. One of those feel good songs that friends must've heard and just knew it was gonna be huge. Then it wasn't. Incidentally, there's no one named Rikki Aaron mentioned in the credits. No Rikki. No Aaron. I concocted two ridiculous origin stories, one involving the Steely Dan song, the other Hank Aaron. Neither bear repeating.

6. Hugo Wolf/Elisabeth Schumann-In dem Schatten meiner Locken (Angel 1947?) Speaking of Philadelphia artists, this lieder record was made by the soprano, and Philadelphia resident/ Curtis Institute member, Elisabeth Schumann. Like with Blossom Dearie there's something so foxy about tight musical diction. This blows librarian foxiness out of the water...

7. Georgie Fame-Get on the Right Track, Baby (EMI Regal 1964)

8. Blanca Rosa Gil-Cristal (Discuba 1956?) Rich, bombastic bolero singer from Cuba. I'm only guessing on that date based on some scribblings in the dead wax.

9. Conway Twitty-It's Only Make Believe (MGM 1962?) Every mix tape exists for the benefit of one song. You can't just give a person just one song, so you make a mix. Besides if the recipient would have to be a dipshit not to take that one song and do the math. If my night were that Moen ad in which the gasbag yuppie couple take a spigot to an architect and ask him to design them a house around it, this song would be my spigot. It has all the hiccupy, throaty young Elvis jazz, with the triumphal showman long loud notes of comeback Elvis. Cut for MGM in 1958 it was probably one Twitty's first for the label, maybe for any label. Just a fierce, perfect song.