Monday, April 15, 2013
Watching Ken Burns' JAZZ over the course of last week I was dismayed by some things, intrigued by others. For one, way too much hovering over death details--grieving for moms, last meals, etc-- for titans like Satchmo and Duke, and not enough about some of the other tragedies, like the death of Scott la Faro interrupting what was fixing up to be one of the most ESP-ish of jazz trios with Bill Evans. Mingus and Monk get little more than solos.
But one thing it did do for me was garner a newfound drive to find my old Duke Ellington disc. Now the man has made 100s of albums over a long, nonstop career of constant composing and touring, but I'm looking past the big band stuff and back to the 1930s with what was denigratingly referred to as 'jungle music' back then, but which is now more than ever sounding like 'dream music' - that is in their mix of soothing, lullaby-style melodics and gently rolling rhythm, Ellington's early sound is that rare hybrid that you can either dance or fall asleep to.
Here are some of my favorite video clips of the Duke's (below). I've written over on Acidemic in the past about my reverence for his 1929 short, "Black and Tan Fantasy" but surely there are others. And more than anything some of that dreamy ambiance reminded me of passages from the MGM opus, ZIEGFELD FOLLIES! I saw that film after emerging from a terrible flu and it just about expressed exactly some of the crazy visions I saw during my 36 hour nonstop delirium. Could it be that the world was just dreamier back in the 20s? Why not think so, since we'll never be there again... except in records. And dreams.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Every time you have a villain who cannot be redeemed, can't be turned into a friend, you have fascism. That's the beauty and sensitivity of the work of Val Lewton. He was sensitve, like a chick. Us he-men, every once in awhile we get our sensitivity on and we're like wow, life has meaning and value.
Then it's gone
it's a mind we use when we need it. Men are encouraged to develop it, women aren't. You see it develop in revenge films, sensitive guy goes from family man to ruthless killer. The warrior mind can be used for good but that's a weird hard road. The warrior mind is in three stages generally:
1. Grasshopper Stage -- Able to ignore skinned knees in a single bound, knows how to use "radar" (as in a crowded train station), likes to collect stuff. The Bad News Bears
2. Thug Stage --- Petulant door kicking, pulling girls hair and running away to prove you are not afraid, D-Day, The Marshall Plan, Wheel alignment, Butch Cassidy,
3. The Pinnacle Stage -- Howard Hawks, Bogart, John Wayne, Patton, Conan
4. The Too far Stage - Syd Barrett, Charles Manson, Pol Pot, Hitler, Keith Moon, The Mai Lai Massacre, serial killers, The Cleveland Browns.
For no damned reason.
The Sunflower Attorney
The Sunflower Attorney
My neighbor is home, drunk.
I assume via loud, erratic thumps.
And bam the bathroom pipe
erupts with muffled steaming; once it stops
some deep down voices yell and cops with sirens
loud and shrill down the street, then stop.
Look how easy it wasn't, gave
pens to the lepers and rent to my cousin,
fingers fall like butterflies dipped in rain,
the building falls the ceiling heightens,
Man, he just wont stop thumping!
Hideous heart, beat it, get thee gone.
Tear this out from not my night but my pink-lipped
breakdancer Dynamite Dawn,
Look at her spin like a greaseless lightning, Travoltage cruising
on through the coarse thrushes of a winter's worth of tedium,
blazing past the tomorrow pocked by babies,
up through daisies like a George Alpha Romero's morning rushes
caffeine and take threes, monitors alight with needy moms
and temporary insanity no longer a sound defense,
three farmers, one chick, one back fence.
You do the math, you hillbilly sandbox cutter of men
Let me count from one to ten
with this here magnum you can blow me, head, unclean off,
and then be towel dry for supper, and I'll not piss off your dad I swear,
so kneel down and take it off,
strip the bolt til it's bachelor-laid bare,
exposed to chilly, feet-smell air
let all the neighbors come and see
the low row backhoe toad called
Ah, the other neighbor sneezes. He's the one behind the
brick wall to my right.
A whole other story...
the key to balance is in not giving up too much power to any of your troops, as if you were a general. A good general uses every strategic trick for the ultimate benefit of all. Finally freed from the bonds of self, he still has to acknowledge the self-ishness of his troops and to forgive them for it. Think about the root word of selfish, i.e. as part of the family of -ishy adjectives: oafish or thuggish, hashish (How very hashish of you). But to be selfish is then to lean towards an abundance of the self; to let the light bulb brightness of ego blind one to the sun at large. How can a good general not go mad watching his troops stagger through the world blinded by light bulbs when there's a perfectly good sun right above them if they'd only look directly in it? He must forgive and tolerate with the same patience a father watches his infant son.
Anything less is to succumb to eventual madness.
Anything less is to succumb to eventual madness.
Writers are forever trying to capture unique mental states, in order to trigger them in others. The butterfly nets catch both fairies and poseurs, gently daffo-dealing lilacs cresting past lucrative enchantments and panic attacks to get to the pearl of wisdom
you never had it. Jump twice not once
from love's embankment.
As dreadful sorrow attorneys with golden sunflowers
stand near yet far away from the awful scene.
As dreadful sorrow attorneys with golden sunflowers
stand near yet far away from the awful scene.
Only we, the chosen, see that both sides of the fence are fucked.
No choice then but to dig, dig dig.
Below all fences, into the nasty beating-blackness
Below all fences, into the nasty beating-blackness
of the crude oil void.
Grab some spoonfuls of crusted treasure
and hope it's what healsour empty tanks,
wheels our steel-enforced, four-door gurney farther
from the morgue
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
I never like to write things wherein I'm hating on a song, but there are some songs you just can't avoid. One is Billy Joel's "The Piano Man," a fairly operatic if hopelessly maudlin ballad of working class blues and veiled self-aggrandizement that plays sooner or later in ever grocery store, Rite Aid, bodega, or bagel shop I go into. Nothing's worse than hearing it in the M2M (3rd and 11th in NYC) and then leaving to go the "Fern Cliff" deli across the street for Pepsi Max, and there's the same damn song still playing!
So I wrote a letter to the man, about his song, and his life, and here it is, as originally published c. 2009 in Letters to the Preditor, a now gone website of letters.
I need to address your song, "The Piano Man," a fairly operatic if hopelessly maudlin ballad of working class blues and veiled self-aggrandizement that plays sooner or later in ever grocery store, Rite Aid, bodega, or bagel shop I go into, and which I used to hear in bars, and all the annoying people would sing along, and even earlier when I had a car and listened to the radio, it would come on all the time. Nothing's worse than hearing it in the M2M (3rd and 11th in NYC) and then leaving to go the "Fern Cliff" deli across the street for Pepsi Max, and there's the same damn song still playing!
So.. instead of hearing, say, a poem by John Donne or Edgar Allen Poe over and over until it's something we all know by heart, we get your lousy lyrical skills as the popular ballad of our era. I thought then--to illustrate your incompetence--I'd analyze some of your lines as if we were in a songwriting workshop at an accredited art school.
Assuming you know your own song by heart, as does all of America, let's just skip around a bit:
John is a real estate novelist, who never had time for a wife.Now that's kind of a double dose of crass and unnecessary detail with a double meaning:
One, it infers that you, Billy, the piano man who brings hope and joy by playing up melancholy to a bunch of working class drunks, instantly has the right to put himself above the sorry state of "real estate" novelists. Two, what the hell is a real estate novelist?
(Heard at bookstore: "I'm looking for the real estate novel section? You know like fictional stories about people buying and selling real estate? Do you know that burgeoning genre?")
And wait, your friend "John," if that is his real name, "never had time for a wife"? How much time does a wife take? Sorry, but line reeks of feminist offence.
Oh you never had 'time' John? Joel makes it sound like a union with a lesser human, i.e. cohabitating in a lifetime partnership of equals--if it's with a female--is like reading War and Peace, or skydiving, as if recounted on a deathbed. "I..."choke"... never had time to do that sky diving thing... or the whole wife thing."
Does John's presence at the bar imply it's far too late for him to settle down? Is he now too old or are you just presuming he's such a loser he'll never find the right woman? Or is it just that in your jaundiced, overly conservative Little Italy world, a wife is about an hour of time between loafing around at bars and staggering up the steps to the garret of your mistress. God forbid John miss one hour in your company, you beer-soaked self-important maudlin drunk, Piano Man!
And he's talking with Davey, who's still in the navy,Now, I'm glad Joel finds a rhyme with Davey (navy!) but in the process he show some serious disrespect for the naval branch of our armed services, which includes the SEALS, and the marines, who frankly, my smug Piano Man, I wouldn't fuck with. When you're lost at sea and they're doing a helicopter search and lowering SEALs to rescue you, I hope you remember how you went around equating being a member of one of the greatest of all seafaring organizations into a jail sentence. I'm sure they'll be glad to hear that, over and over, wherever they go off drinking and trying to forget having to kill to keep you safe and drenched in freedom.
and probably will be for life.
And the piano sounds like a carnivalAs the piano man in this bar, it's your duty, Billy, to control what it sounds like. If the piano sounds carnivalesque, it's perhaps due to your own limited ability or maudlin tendency towards grandiose flourishes. And as it is your own microphone that smells of beer, you seem to be in complete denial that you have been drinking, heavily and will soon be driving, or rather weaving, home, presuming you're completely sober, singing "The cop pulls me off to the corner / and my car and self smell like a beer."
And the microphone smells like a beer
and they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar.When I was young and this song was fresh on the radio (instead of the overbaked moldy presence it is now) I took it literally to mean they were stuffing slices of bread into your jar... now that I know it means money it's somehow more offensive. Why not say "change" or do they put dollar bills? Be specific. Instead it leads into the coup de grace of offensive superiority in your little ballad:
and say "Man what are you doing here?"This translates, Piano Man, to some pretty serious disrespect - they're allowed to say it, but when you repeat it, well, it smacks of morose self-pitying grandiosity: "Oh the regulars love me so much they think I should be at Carnegie Hall instead of this dive."
Of course this is very self-deprecating on the part of this barroom crowd, but they're allowed to deprecate themselves. You're supposed to validate them and stick up for them, your misplaced 'sympathy' amounts to a superior dismissal.
It's a pretty good crowd for a SaturdayNow here's some bad writing that wouldn't pass in a 4th grade poetry class, just to rhyme gin with in you subvert the order of the name gin and tonic? Meanwhile "making love" to a drink paints only at first a portrait of a sad smiling old man gazing longingly into his ice cubes. But taken deeper, it becomes rather unpleasant to imagine, with ice cubes all over the floor, the man panting and screaming how cold it feels... don't tell me that wasn't in your mind at least for a split second.
and the regular crowd shuffles in, there's
An old man sitting next to me / making love to his tonic and gin
And check out the passive aggressive, misinformed judgment about your audience for the night: "It's pretty good... for a Saturday." Saturday is usually the best night of the week, money-wise, for any bar, and here you're like "it's a good crowd for a Saturday, i.e. it's like your bar is so working class that it's best time is Friday happy hour and everyone is home watching the Love Boat on Saturday and drinking sour whiskies and Mary Bloodies and Collins Toms, Well that's silly, college kids will at least be there, and what kind of local bar even has a piano player--especially one of your alleged superiority--on weeknights? Not many.
In other words, Saturday night is going to be at least 60-90% percent of your money for the week. If you don't get a good crowd to put 'ahem' bread in your jar, then you're fucked. So, your phrasing doesn't make any sense! It's like saying "it's a pretty good party, for a New Years Eve," or "you ran pretty fast, for a track star."
Do you get the picture, Billy Piano Man Joel? Do I have to even mention the endless "la la la la la" which would be fine in a little bridge or something, but then you add like five more las, all the way into the little flourish that precedes the bridge: "La la lalala La LA LA LAAAAAAA." It's just not done, Mr. Man. Just not done.
But I feel for you, Billy. I mean, clearly the ubiquity of your hits on the radio ensures you'll always have pocket money, but when I saw how your ex-wife Christie Brinkley and her (then) new rich husband, Peter Cook, used you to play at their benefit, which aired on PBS a few years ago and I just happened to see - how sad and lost and disheveled you looked! It all became so sad and clear: the Piano Man had finally gotten out of the place where puffy red-faced Irishmen go "Man what are you doing here?" and made it to exactly the place his loyal troglodyte patrons had wished him to reach, the pinnacle of bourgeoisie society, the PBS fund-raising gala, and there's your one-time ticket of goomba respectability, a nice WASP supermodel, Christie Brinkley, in her million dollar makeup, hair and gown ensemble, with her born-in-a-tuxedo husband, and there's you, kind of looking like some homeless Italian American drunk was dragged off the street, stuffed into a tux and pushed onstage for the amusement of the cruel hoi poloi. You made it to Carnegie Hall all right, but as an organ grinder monkey, made to dance at the shouted orders of the well-dressed high society in the audience: "Play Piano Man!"
Instead of singing, you looked like you were fighting not to cry, remembering the words of that song, how long ago and how far you'd come only to wind up in this humiliating position. I could feel you having an epiphany, a realization of your own hubris and artistic insecurity, all crashing down on your head in a moment of crushing freedom. I loved you in that moment, Piano Man.
This moment was your kind of Monkey's Paw just reward for all the crimes you committed in writing "the Piano Man" in the first place. Forgive me if I haven't read any interview with you on your opinions towards the song's barroom jukebox inescapability, it's endless use in shopping centers and delis, it's infusion into our psyches. It's enough for me that it has happened, and your passive aggressive snottiness towards sailors, SEALS and overworked real estate novelists led you here, to this moment onstage in front of Christie, and a smirking tux-wearing audience.
But the good part in all this is, an this is why I suddenly loved you, you 'got it', you saw Christie and the dull Anglo Saxon clotheshorse she belonged with--their eyes completely free of any intellect, irony or self-awareness at the cruelty they were inflicting,--and you knew it wasn't their fault. They would always be shallow surface dwellers with no depth beyond a wine cellar at their Riviera chateau, but you have levels deeper than the hole in the heart of the world, and here you were in some private Sissyphus-style hell of having to sing this one lame surface-only song over and over until you die.
And I could see in your eyes you weren't mad at Christie for exploiting your still smoldering torch for her by dragging you to this benefit, and you weren't mad about how now they all saw you as the guy who drove home drunk alone from gigs and got pulled over, You were mad at no one, and that's why I loved you, you were free. The long byzantine process by which the devil began to slither around you, layering you with gifts and fame, had finally come to its suffocating close. You were free in that moment. Free to shrug it off and go back to that working class bar, and start over. And the next time someone says "Man what are you doing here," you are going to punch them in the face, and then you will be healed in God's eyes, and mine.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Evans was so broken up be LaFaro's death he went into isolation and stopped playing for six long months. His later work is good but it's never been quite the same. This is magic. So soak it up!
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Jane Birkin - as Jane B., with Serge and a dozen suitors (I like to imagine she's singing to ask them all to marry her together in a group wedding). Her awkward, tender gamin attitude and stockings drive me wild. Incomparable! If they're too sunny or teen bopper (like Chantal Goya) I'm not too into them. I like Birkin and Francoise Hardy, and some BB, because they have that gorgeous Gallic mysterieux melancholique.
Here's Jane (above) sounding and looking like her daughter will, and I love how much of a pint-sized gargoyle Serge is, yet he believably gets the hot girls. An inspiration! Switch to Gauloises!
And now our other sweet sad Parisien Siren, Francoise Hardy! Another beauty, perhaps more sad and more haunting!
If you love her as I do, then this song is probably still your favorite (above). So simple and open for misadventure, yet with that underscoring of being already over before it begins -- perfect for MOONRISE KINGDOM!
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Didn't it rain? It's the last rainy Monday after the last rainy Sunday, and the cold wet wilderness of a new dawn is looming. Maybe nothing will happen, maybe it already has. I'll be in Sedona, AZ, looking for an open vortex I can step into and maybe get whisked magically back to NYC, 'whew' - no place I'd rather be for an apocalypse.
In other words, if you've never faced your own impending death, maybe now's the time. It's good for the soul... as I learned when I had to review Stephen Levine's A Year to Live. And if you can truly embrace the impermanence of life, and dwell in a place of open-hearted gratitude, then every day is like Xmas day for Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, you're just so grateful and happy to be alive.
So maybe in this mix of sadness and exaltation you can join me on this journey, and then whatever happens this Friday, you'll be ready. Here's some beginning introductory comments:
And now let the good-byes begin! Lordy! I love this version of the song, and Sister Rosetta sure plays a mean guitar. I dig the stage set-up, like a train station busker writ large upon a rainy track.
Next up is a live in the radio studio version of Smoosh's "The World's Not Bad" -the vocals are a little down in the mix, but this is one of my favorite mopey songs of the past few years and seems to sum up the dying world in a few great lines and moments - the world's not bad - you won't find nothin' here - I felt my body float away out of here.... and of course the girl's youth and innocence makes the drastic changes coming all the more sad and profound. They're more ready to go than most old people still clinging by their fingernails to something they don't even understand.
And of course these guys need no introduction. Just let the deep Icelandic floes of beauty and sadness coast deep past your psychic defenses and explode your heart and mind from the inside out. You'll be glad you did, for only the open hearted and joyously unafraid get taken aloft past the demon dog-guarded gates of paradise.
Lana Del Rey.... I can't help but think she is the dark L.A. angel taking her sweet slow-mo swan dive off the Hollywood sign just for us, just for the last few days of retrospection. See also her videos for "National Anthem," "Born to Die," and "Ride" to get the full moody power of this lady and her found footage editing skills. A fitting eulogy to our country and the vintage clothing conceptuality that lets artists pick the era they want to embody-- even after the planet is ashes she'll still be diving off that cliff back into the eternal amber of those last few minutes before the JFK assassination.
And what better way to sign off than "where it all ends," the Who's mind-blowing highwater mark in rock history, and the final sign off reminder "you are forgiven."
We are all forgiven. Good night, and see you on the other side!
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
The new Claire Forlani Dewar's commercial is out, this time it's some weird upper floor empty room with a definite Sleep No More / Macbeth over and undertone. The madwoman in the attic! Are ya thirsty, Angus!
I generally loathe all commercials but these fill me with delight, not only because I used to take full advantage of past Dewar's promotions in the 90s, copious tastings they were, with hot buffet, free Scotch-based drinks, and gift bags stocked with little pints and other cool swag. I'd bring dates and get them drunk for free. They'd think I was crazy, but those little gift pints were great things to remember you stashed on a cold Sunday night back in the cold blue law days when the shakes were upon ye. Hail to the drinkin' man is right! Good for you, Dewar's, going dark and stormy and quite mad where everyone else is chasing aglow camaraderie and rainbow waterfalls, eh Angus? HAhahahahHA