Showing posts with label Art and Literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Art and Literature. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Reprint Heaven Forever: Still Missed

John Lennon: October 9, 1940


Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass; they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind,
Possessing and caressing me
Jai guru de va om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe;
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as they make their way,
Across the universe
Jai guru de va om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing
Through my open views; inviting and inciting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me
Like a million suns; it calls me on and on
Across the universe
Jai guru de va om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world...

Across The Universe (Lennon / McCartney, 1969)


We don't care what flag you're waving,
We don't even want to know your name,
We don't care where you're from or where you're going,
All we know is that you came;

You're making all our decisions,
We have just one request of you,
That while you're thinking things over,
Here's something you just better do:

Free the people, now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.
Free the people, now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.

Well we were caught with our hands in the air,
Don't despair paranoia is everywhere,
We can shake it with love when we're scared,
So let's shout it aloud like a prayer:

Free the people, now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.
Free the people now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now

We understand your paranoia,
But we don't want to play your game;
You think you're cool and know what you are doing,
666 is your name;
So while your jerking off each other,
You better bear this thought in mind:
Your time is up you better know it,
But maybe you don't read the signs

Free the people now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.
Free the people now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.

Well you were caught with your hands in the kill,
And you still got to swallow your pill,
As you slip and you slide down the hill,
On the blood of the people you killed

Stop the killing now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.
Stop the killing now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.
Free the people now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now...

Bring On The Lucie (Freda People) (John Lennon, 1973)


The Soul Of America reminded me that I missed the actual day. Normally, I put up a memorial on December 10th. Better, I think, to celebrate someone's birth.

... I can't say I listen to Beatles music too much myself, these days (though I did listen to the Magical Mystery Tour album last weekend, by chance, while padding through the Haight).

So:  Absent Friends. Happy Birthday, John.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Reprint Heaven Forever: We're Whalers On The Moon

Yet Again, The Birthday of Big Marine Mammal Avatar Creators

Moving through life, we find ourselves on occasion in the midst of experience or the presence of a thing which resonates and reminds that something, more than what we think we know or can perceive (if we would just stop and shut up and pay enough attention to see), exists.

Principally, this happens when we're 'out in nature', but it also happens when we encounter some art -- in particular, when it's been created by someone who made deep and illuminating connections and Brought Them Back To Tell Thee. From August 1 in 2016 and 2017 and 2018.
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There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own.
-- Herman Melville / Moby-Dick, or, The Whale
Over at the Soul Of America, it's a celebration of Herman Melville's 200th birthday (!!!), and things of the Sea, and a Whale, and other notables which Herman brought back, To Tell Thee.

I considered writing a post from the viewpoint of the Whale just for the potential Yucks (because, god knows, We Need The Yucks Wherever We Can Get Them), but gave it up and settled for the Humorous Image.

The best thing about the post, and the reason I mention it here, is -- Herman tends to be overlooked in a culture whose highest expression is a Rhianna / Pitbull remix; it's good to be reminded that he is still there -- as he reminds us that we are chased by our mortality; and that sometimes the Form Of The Destructor is large, albino, and aquatic.  For me, it's a big lawn mower. Your Harbinger O' Death™, of course, may differ.

I was introduced to Melville when I was fourteen -- not through the novel he's most often identified with, but in the short work, "Bartelby The Scrivener" (1853), a classic in its own right. Ishmael's tale was next, and I was, uh, hooked. Later, I wasn't able to read anything by James or Conrad that didn't refer back to the narrative style I encountered first with Melville.

"Moby Dick: Or, A Whale" is ubiquitous. There is No Whale before He who populates a portion of that book (Yeah, okay; 'Shamu'  and 'Willy' are not the same thing). The Whale at least lurks, an unseen presence, in the background of all the on-ship action -- like Death, or Fate, or reruns of Three's Company. As if the Whale might chuckle and snicker in the dark during certain scenes:
" 'What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike.'   
" 'Heh heh heh heh,' " came a deep basso rumble out of the darkness which hid the waters. Ahab started, but did not otherwise acknowledge the presence of that upon which he had focused for so long."
That Big Marine Mammal is archetypal, now. And, aber natürlich, the moment something makes an appearance on "Family Guy", it's an absolute certainty that, whatever it is, it's now hard-coded into our DNA.

 Herman Left Out The Part Where Whales Like Raisin Bran
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MEHR, MIT KEINE POLITIK: My Very Own Hillaryite Colleague asks, "So you hate music, too?" (This, because of the Rhianna / Pitbull quip.) And I would agree, it's absurdist reductionism to claim that the essence of culture in Eusa is rap music and movies like Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. I'm convinced that people (or, Whales; or very intelligent Honey Badgers) in the not very distant future will look back on this period as one of the most varied and vibrant in the history of our humanoid species -- until, you know, that thing happens.
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UND NOCH IMMER MEHR:  Once I saw this, I could not un-see it. It is an actual book. Swear to god.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-HzYH1qVAn2s/VLuVF_f9DWI/AAAAAAAABbI/SC32BIgWys4/s1600/Ships.jpg
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UND: WAS IST AUCH SCHON WIEDER LOS? MEHR:  At one point, if you had $39.9K, Jim Morrison's Moby could have been yours.

At that price, you'd think the seller would have provided free shipping -- but, remember: this is Aremica, Land Of The Free and Home Of The Hip.






Sunday, March 24, 2019

Centenary Ferlinghetti

Happy Birthday, Larry: An Anecdotal
City Of Paris Sign In The Conversation (1974)

Almost half my life ago, a friend took me to an event in support of saving the Eiffel Tower-shaped sign which had graced the roof of the old City of Paris department store on Union Square. CofP had been there for generations -- since the Gold Rush; before and after The 1906 Earthquake and fire -- but business setbacks forced it to close.

The property had been purchased by Neiman-Marcus; they intended to build what still looks like a featureless beige box around the old CofP's oval, central core, topped by a stained glass skylight (you can see the old City of Paris building, and its trademark sign, in Coppola's film, The Conversation).

Replacing CofP with Texas-based Neiman's struck many San Franciscans as a cultural loss (dear god; Texas???) . Trying to save a landmark sign from a landmark local business was a way of saying No. A meeting was held to raise funds to purchase the sign, before finding a suitable location for it: and there would be poetry! Gary Snyder would read. So would Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

I went, I listened.  Snyder had been a particular lodestone favorite of mine for a long time; I'd only heard him read once before in Berkeley, and Ferlinghetti not in person at all.

When he did, he set "In Fascist America " in front of us like a dish well-cooked but spicy enough to be a challenge to eat, like reading The Fire Next Time all in one sitting -- dig in if you've got the spittle for it, baby. And he read it in the Beat cadence you can see, fortunately, in film and video clips.

The applause at the end was genuine. Everyone knew Ferlinghetti as a national treasure, a cultural icon, someone who had gravitas and knew it and used it. He was on the side of Right and it appeared in his work like a sword on fire. We applauded for all that as much as the reading.
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They never were able to buy the City of Paris sign. I went on to dinners over the years with friends and occasionally did (or was asked to do) my impression of Ferlinghetti, reading -- I'm gifted as a mimic; people laughed, which was the point (particularly about the repeating line in that poem, with a specific pause in his cadence when he would say, "In Fascist / America"). One person I knew in particular, who loved Ferlinghetti's poetry and had heard him read multiple times, always dissolved in laughter when she heard that.

Fast-forward a number of years: My acquaintance was taking lessons in a foreign language in the City through a cultural exchange group; Lawrence Ferlinghetti was in the class. The last, penultimate assignment for each student was to take a short piece of literature or poetry, translate it into the Language Other Than English, then read it to the rest of the class. Ferlinghetti chose, "In Fascist America".

My acquaintance said later she was able to hold it in "almost until the end", before exploding with laughter. Apparently she slipped and fell trying to exit the room but made it outside, leaving Ferlinghetti and the rest of the class somewhat mystified.
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I lived in North Beach for over a decade. In (for me) the old days, before heading to Vesuvio's or Spec's or Tosca's -- the real Bermuda Triangle -- I might stop off in City Lights Books; occasionally, you might see Ferlinghetti on the ground floor, talking with someone at a table in one of the alcoves. More rarely at night, coming out of Pearl's jazz club across the street, you might catch a glimpse of him, working late, through a window in City Lights' second-floor offices.

Most long-time residents in North Beach knew his house; it was roughly a block from my flat, and we passed each other at least twice a week for years, he walking up Stockton street towards Columbus, me walking down: two guys who wore fedoras. We made eye contact; I smiled, and sometimes said hello (it would have been odd if, after years of occurrence, I hadn't) but it was only a short time before I left the neighborhood that he began responding back.

The last time I saw Ferlinghetti was during a sentimental walk back, over a decade after I left North Beach -- walking across the grass of Washington Square on a warm, sunny afternoon, and there he was, wearing one of the trademark hats, lying on the grass with his head propped up by a day pack, a faint smile on his face as he tilted it up toward the sun.

At some point today I'll walk over to the old neighborhood and past his house, and put a good thought out for him. A century is a long time for a person, but it's not even a blink in the universe. Very few of us get to impact the Geist of the culture, live in people's hearts, and so sail on into time. But he will.
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Friday, February 22, 2019

What We Leave Behind

Charlie

Charlie Chaplin, 1914

Some spiritual traditions believe in additional dimensions of existence; that the world most of us see as the only reality is one place where thought can be transformed into physicality.

Everywhere we look, there's an idea translated into concrete form, and associated with positive or negative energy -- speeches, laws and regulations; social agreements around money, sexuality, role and status; value. And most obviously, images, novels, poetry; music. Even the simplest transaction between strangers, a word or a look or a tone of voice, carries some form of energy.

Following that perspective, the world might be viewed as the collective energy in all ideas, actions and objects in it at any given moment. In that view, reality is defined by what we as individuals and as a species put into it.
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When a playlist of music you're listening to on Soundcloud runs out, an algorithm in the service continues providing a shuffle of tunes with similar themes or instrumentation. In that way, I found myself listening to a melody composed by Charlie Chaplin for his film, A King In New York (if you use Soundcloud, search on "Charlie Chaplin Filmmusic - Mandolin Serenade").

That brought up a stream of images of Chaplin that I carry around in long-term memory -- mostly, his iconic 'Little Tramp' character. His acting and films were so influential that for generations almost any adult, nearly anywhere in the world, might see a drawing of a figure with a postage-stamp moustache, wearing a bowler hat, and say, "Oh, that's Chaplin!" and smile.

Early Little Tramp: Mack Sennett's Caught In The Rain, 1914

Chaplin started as a 24-year-old immigrant from Britain, a contract actor for Mack Sennett's film company in 1914 (the photo at the top of the post; he looked like almost any Dude you might pass on the street today). His Little Tramp routine caught Sennett's eye -- initially a burlesque on an "affable drunkard", a bit loutish and inconsiderate and sloppily boozed. Chaplin's humor was physical, perfect for the trademark slapstick of Sennett's short films, and his comic timing was amazing.

Within four years, Chaplin had refined the Tramp into a more sober, sharper, plucky 'Everyman'. The Tramp became one of Sennett's most popular short-film characters -- and whenever a new Chaplin 'flick appeared in local movie-houses, people paid to see him. Lots of people: Chaplin 'packed them in'.


Kid Auto Races, Venice, California (1914); Chaplin's First Film Appearance
As The Tramp, Then Still The Affable Drunk

Like any artist, Chaplin was all about having as much creative control as possible; eventually, he convinced Sennett he could create better films (with the Tramp, of course) for Sennett's company. When a better financial and creative deal became available with another studio, Chaplin jumped at the chance -- and within four years of landing in America, by 1918, Chaplin was one of the most popular 'stars' in moving pictures, and possibly the most highly paid.

In the years immediately after the First World War, he became a founding partner of United Artists, a film company founded to allow film 'artists' more freedom to experiment with the medium, in contrast to what was becoming a Hollywood studio system. UA allowed Chaplin the control he wanted over his work, and in less than a decade he had created some of the best  American silent films (arguably, some of the best motion pictures) ever made: The Kid, "The Gold Rush"; "The Circus"; "A Dog's Life", and Pay Day, to name a few.

Arguing With The Boss: Pay Day (1922)

Sound motion pictures appeared in 1927. Four years later, Chaplin released City Lights, a film without dialog, only a music soundtrack he had composed, after Talkies had all but buried silent films. He continued in 1936 with another classic, Modern Times, again accompanied only by a soundtrack of Chaplin's music. As an art form, it wouldn't be used again for forty years, until Mel Brooks' Silent Movie.

The western press mocked Hitler in his early days as dictator by referring to him as "the politician with the Chaplin moustache". True to form, Charlie used the humor in that comparison to create a parody of Adolf and his Reich in The Great Dictator (released in 1940) not long after the Second World War began. After 1945, Chaplin made only four other films: "Monsieur Verdoux" (1947), Limelight (1952); "A King In New York" (1957), and A Countess From Hong Kong (1967).
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Chaplin's work showcased poor and working people in the early Twentieth century, easily shoved about by authority and manipulated by wealth. His films made clear he was no fan of unbridled capitalism, industrialism or the dehumanizing, assembly-line exploitation of labor. In 1947, when  anti-communist hysteria spawned House Un-American Activities Committee investigations of Red influence in Hollywood, Chaplin was tailor-made to become a target. It didn't help that he had unwittingly made an enemy out of J.Edgar Hoover, whom Chaplin had met in the mid 1920's.

Gossip about Chaplin as a wealthy actor and director involved him and young women under the age of consent -- of his four wives, two were sixteen, and another eighteen, when they married. His Leftist, anti-authoritarian political views were clear. Hoover's Bureau collected gossip (and any information in an FBI file must be legitimate) on thousands of Americans, which Hoover was happy to use for personal and political ends during his 70-year reign.

To Hoover, Chaplin was just another foreign national -- and a Jew, Hoover believed -- with loose morals and radical political sympathies, forcing radical propaganda down the throats of innocent Americans through his films. His interest in Chaplin nearly amounted to obsession: the actor / director was a target of FBI surveillance from the mid-1920's until his death in 1977, and his FBI file may be the largest publicly known (over 2,000 pages) of any prominent public figure in the agency's archives.

As Chaplin left the U.S. in 1952 to attend the London premiere of his film, Limelight, the Justice Department revoked the re-entry permit on his resident alien visa. To be allowed to return, he would have to "submit to an interview concerning his political views and moral behavior". Hoover was behind the move; he had asked England's own Bureau, MI-5, to provide confirmation of Chaplin's communist connections, and for proof that his real name was 'Israel Thornstein'. MI-5 found no proof that Chaplin was a Red, and didn't respond to Hoover's antisemitism.

The FBI's files on Chaplin, released under Freedom Of Information Act requests, show the U.S. government had no serious evidence to prevent his return to America if he had applied for re-entry. While Limelight received praise and success in Europe, Chaplin was smeared as a communist sympathizer in the U.S., and the film boycotted. Frightened and disgusted, after living and working in America for thirty years Chaplin decided not to go back.

... and he didn't, until in 1972 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which had done little to stand up to Hoover, McCarthy or the HUAC) tried to make amends by voting to award a Lifetime Achievement Oscar to Chaplin "for the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of [the 20th] century."

At 83, having had a series of small strokes and other health issues, unsure how he would be received in a country he believed had rejected and then forgotten him and his work, Chaplin came to Hollywood and was visibly moved when the attending crowd gave him a twelve-minute standing ovation -- the longest tribute of that kind by the Academy in its history.
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Easy Street, 1917

Chaplin's Tramp, and other main characters in his films, were ordinary 'folks' -- mostly poor, or at the mercy of Fate and Chance. The world of his films was familiar to the people who could find a nickel to see them, and populated by easily-recognizable archetypes: regular, working-class Joes and Janes; office workers; the bullies and bosses; streetwise kids, shopkeepers and beat cops.

The Tramp -- at the bottom of the social ladder -- had to make a tremendous effort to overcome his circumstances, just to achieve some happiness or justice. He hoped for something better than what he had. And, the stories in Chaplin's movies were transformational, where that Good Ending comes about by helping an Other -- the Girl; the Child; the Friend.

The Kid, 1921

In The Kid, the Tramp finds and raises a little orphaned boy -- whom he had initially wanted nothing to do with -- then rescues him from the clutches of a brutal County Orphan Commissioner, using the Tramp's poverty as the excuse to take the child away. You know when he embraces the boy that the Tramp loves him, will protect and care for the Kid as if he were his own. They're still dirt poor, but the little boy is safe -- and in a world where anything can happen, that's the point. It's everything.

City Lights (1931)

In City Lights, possibly Chaplin's best film (it was his favorite work), the Tramp is poor and homeless, ignored by most people, teased by a pair of wiseass newsboys -- but meets, becomes friends with (and almost immediately falls for) a beautiful blind girl, reduced to selling flowers on the street to help support herself and her grandmother. Whenever they meet, she gives him a small, white rose.

When he speaks, she mistakes his voice for that of a wealthy millionaire she's heard in the neighborhood where she sells her flowers, and (more out of embarrassment than some attempt to impress her) the Tramp allows her to believe it's true.

Later, when the Girl falls ill, the Tramp learns she might recover her sight -- but only through an expensive medical procedure. He works to save the money; after more plot twists, the operation is paid for and a success. Her vision restored, the Girl is able to open a flower shop with her grandma -- where she hopes the 'wealthy millionaire' who helped her will appear one day and sweep her off her feet.

Meanwhile, The Tramp, having been tossed in jail after the usual comic misunderstandings, is now even shabbier than when we first met him -- 1930-31 was the worst year of the Great Depression in the U.S. He shuffles along the street, mocked and teased by the same pair of newsboys.

Suddenly, the Tramp sees a small white rose in the gutter and picks it up -- the same flower the blind Girl used to give him. He turns, and is standing in front of the Girl's flower shop; she's sitting inside the front window, and has been watching the antics of the newsboys with this ... street person. She and her grandmother share a laugh; they think it's funny.

When he sees her, The Tramp is overjoyed; she's whole and healthy, but suddenly he's ashamed: she's now a respectable shop owner, and he's not.


The Last Scene Of City Lights; Critic James Agee Described It As
"The greatest piece of acting ever committed to celluloid"

The flower he'd picked up in the gutter is losing its petals; the Girl comes out of the shop to offer him a new rose, and a half-dollar. He carefully accepts the flower; she takes his hand to give him the coin -- and from the feel of his hand, the texture of his coat, all familiar to her when she was blind -- she suddenly realizes who he is. "You?" she asks; the Tramp nods. "You can see now?" he asks; she replies, "I can see now" -- meaning, it wasn't a wealthy man she had been waiting for, but the one with a heart, who helped her.

As he looks back at The Girl, the Tramp smiles. In his expression is every person who ever hoped for good luck in a hard world, a chance to care deeply about someone and have them care about you -- and barely able to believe, after everything, that it's come true. The screen fades to black.
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We can't know the sum of the actions of Chaplin, the man. We do know more about the effect of his artistic output on the world -- and it's much greater than "making motion pictures the art form of the [Twentieth] century".

From the perspective of the world being the sum of what is put into it -- even though they drew on earlier forms of storytelling, Chaplin's movies helped define what the motion picture medium could be. His films were moral, in the same way as Dickens' serialized novels: they showcased human folly and the absurd nature of life; they reminded us how we ought to treat each other. How our societies should reflect that, not just to serve as vehicles for commerce and acquisition, avarice, and domination.

Chaplin's films weren't meant to portray a perfect world, no matter that some of their plot resolutions might seem like fairy-tale-magic. They presented hopes human beings have for how life might be, how things might turn out if the Fates were kind -- and that on occasion, our hopes can be made concrete and real, in this world. His movies affected people, first; he made us laugh. He still does.

In These Times, it might seem that Chaplin's work is outdated, less recognizable, but something tells me that's not the case: Chaplin is still iconic. And if we have an opportunity to add to the world even a fraction of what he left behind in his art, we'll have done something important -- if only because we need so much more of that now.
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MEHR, Mit einer offensichtlichen Sache, die ich vermisst habe:  I was adding this 'Mehr', when something happened, and the entire post was deleted. No hope of recovery. Just - gone. It was like hiking for miles to get to the truck to take you home, and it just pulls away; you're eating dust, screaming at the top of your lungs, and know nothing can help. 

JEDOCH, Es Ist So: The post was open in the browser on my smarter-than-me phone -- and if I wanted to Man Up and transcribe retype it, from scratch, it would be remade.  

UND So Wurde Es Gemacht War: But Dear Fucking God Jesus and the Yeti, I never want to go through that again.

UND SO WEITER: The Girl Who Refused To Be Mrs Mongo said, "You write about Chaplin and his politics, and you miss the final speech from The Great Dictator? Shame!"


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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Reprint Heaven: Great Postmodern Hedgehog

Shutdownalicious

(Originally drained from the swamp on January 20, 2018, in celebration of The Leader attending the World Echo Nomik Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Leader neglected to attend this year.) 

Obigatory Cute Small Animal Photo At Beginning Of Surrealistic Blog Thing

Moved by the posts of others, recently, I decided to take a stab at (what might be charitably called) stream of consciousness writing, sparked by the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, attended this year by Wonderboy, Murrikan Leader.

I don't normally play with this style of fiction; so, apologies in advance. As Wonderboy's own parents once said, "Let's do this, get it over with, and never speak of it again" -- point being, this is supposed to be topical, and funny.

(For those with no knowledge of Cricket, a "Diamond Duck" is the term for a situation where [per Wikipedia] "a batsman who is dismissed without facing a ball -- most usually run out from the non-striker's end, but alternatively stumped or run out off a wide delivery -- is said to be out by a 'diamond duck'.")
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Diamond Duck In Davos

1.  Greasing The Grenze

Coming into Davos, surrounded by winds whipping the confectioner's sugar of Swiss hospitality between the crisp billboards, Halt! Grenze! (Stop! Pemmican!) and Kämpfe Für Das Karussell Des Fortschritts! (We  Struggle For Kurt Russell's Foreskins!) The searchlights are blinding, guard dogs bark with an accent (Wüf!), and sudden efficient women are opening doors of perception in your car, murmuring, "Good evening. Anything to declare?"

But you're not surprised. No, not you; never you. All this was in the briefing. They are efficient, here in Davos. The Mark O' Mammon is barcoded on their hind parts -- you've been shown photos -- and at home, skis are racked demurely beside priceless paintings bought at bargain-basement rates, in auctions at Zürich and Geneva, between 1936 and 39.

And of those pouring into the valley, no one ever says to the women, "Ah DO -- Ah say, Ah say, Well AH DO DECLARE," in a voice borrowed from Foghorn Leghorn -- although you have a secret urge to do that. The women smirk at you, without envy, because Ach, Ja; we know this about you. You wish to do That Cartoon Rooster; such a typical male. We here in Davos know -- otherwise, you would not be allowed here. A brief blonde hand mumbles through your luggage, brushing socks and briefs, lingering for a moment with the rough play of starch in a shirt -- then, waving your car on: Alles Gut; los geh'n. 

And then, you glimpse the last billboard: Im Diesen Friedenskrieg Gibt Es Keine Gefangenen! -- No Prisoners In This Peace War. The Great Carousel Of Progress gives only to take. It really is shitty, what a Town Without Pity Can Do. Ha, ha, ha; that's our Davos!

Even if you have a Safe Conduct Leaflet, dropped like pet leavings on sidewalks by the IMF and WTO (Be a DO RAG, it proclaims, Not a DON'T RAG), after surrendering, the best one can hope for in coming to Davos is a cot in that hut on the mountain. They'll be jammed in with municipal workers and novelists. There will be a crucifix hung on the damp concrete wall, and a 1970's postcard showing light at the end of a tunnel. In the dark, farting and snoring settle around you, diaphanous, studded, anxious. You dream of gristle.

The others will receive a coupon for a discount-price small soda, and a trip to observe George Soros' hair colorist, reading a copy of Forbes, through a bulletproof window. But the Surrendered had denied the primacy of the Great Carousel, so their Davos will be a short sniff of the leather seats in an otherwise unoccupied Daimler. Then, to be sent home at their own expense for long retraining in a job that will take months to find, and which is discontinued the day after they are hired.  Ho, ho,ho, ho, Cisco! Ho, ho, ho, ho, Pancho! That's our Davos!

But this is not your Davos. You are not on file, under the name you were given to use, as having denied The Carousel Of Progress. [Your Name] has been Cleared, umbrage squeezed dry and ready for productive action in service to Man's Betterment. If L.Ron were ever alive, he would be. If Tony Robbins were real, he would guide you personally across the hot coals. Parma-shahanda Yoga-nanda, Parley-voo. In your mind, a Crackerjack prize, and in your gloved hand, the feel of a bag strap made from an endangered petrochemical, all telling you this is real.

(But: The whole squeezing Man's Betterment is just fake bullshit, a double-blind ruse. You're here in Davos in a big quilt, so far under the covers that your latitude and longitude come up Zeroes. You're not who you say you are, and never were. The hopes of all humankind stain your carpeting in expectation that you would complete this mission and get an oil change. God is with you, but he steals your stuff and sells it downtown.)

You stride up to the 4-star hotel desk repeatedly, just trying it out. The clerks -- parthenogenic, muted -- take no notice. They are busy timing each other's movements and their interactions with guests. The clerk with the lowest total time receives a coupon for a discount-price small soda. The rest are allowed to live, but forced to wear old animal costumes outside the hotel, in public, so that all will know of their shame and inexactitude.

Your electronic room key is imprinted with the likeness of Klaus Schaub, wearing a bib, and pictured eating in a 'Communist Lobster' franchise restaurant. The room, fragrant with violets; your phone, seeking you; and promises of delights of the eye, tongue and intellect are hung around the wallpapered box of your room like laundry washed in the sink. It is cheesy and expensive: the highest expression of the Free Market. You have made it.

Pencils down. You evacuate your bowels. The toilet has a shelf for you, the curious, to view leavings before flushing, and it would be churlish to refuse anything offered for free. This act of introspection will be your best moment at Davos. They told you this would happen -- but nothing, nothing could prepare you for that moment of contact, of spurning. You wash your hand.

2.   Where You Were, Gentlemen

It's the day. There are WEF conferences and hubub scheduled, rooms, many rooms, of people murmuring peasancarrots, peasandcarrots repeatedly. But you were instructed to feign shyness until The Moment. You hang. You chill. In The Packed Elevator, you do your Robin Williams laugh -- and everyone in the Car suddenly does the same thing.

You almost flinch. It's endless, permeable, like having a colonoscopy on a train -- but you remember: Keep control. Deep breaths. Be Coolidge: You Lose. Then, the Car stops; its doors slide open and a man moves past you, still making his seal-bark laugh, pausing to wipe his eyes on a woman's hair, and pat you on the shoulder as if to say, Dude -- good one.

Here, finally; the white placard outside a door to an auditorium, a single word in red: Stumpfegger. This is where you are to meet your contact. You accept a glance from the woman beside the door -- an intense simulacrum of Donna Reed -- who hands you a brochure entitled Complete Release. Blushing, she says this conference covers "the plot for forgiveness of all First-World debt." You smile, nodding, earnest, but keep moving. Your mission is more important than what you suspect about her thong underwear -- and will never know. You'll have to live with that.

They said, Your contact will know you. All you had to do was to find "Stumpfegger" and show up. You stand near the tasteful refreshment table and realize the man serving drinks is a frenzied doppelgänger for Joe Turkel, eternal bartender in The Shining, and decline a tequila shooter. You wave the Complete Release brochure back and forth, as instructed -- a signal, an urgent, full-bladder motion, and think about thong underwear. Really hard.

Then, you see The Contact. You see them seeing you see them, actually. Everything that happens after this is a blur; you'll be debriefed about it for weeks in extra crispy detail, a swimming up from sewage depth to where sheep graze, safely. And, fortunately for you, the story will not change. You will be allowed to go back to wherever it is you come from. You will be allowed to toil in many jobs, but not remain for long -- because Lt. Gerard will always show up, looking for money.
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What catches your attention about The Contact first is his hair, its architectural blondness -- now whitish, now caution orange, and shiny, like preternatural two-tone ice cream or a small child's flotation device. The Contact is a suet, puffed inside his black suit, behind the signature doublewide red tie. His face is a carnivore drunkard's bloat, too-small eyes, piggish; his mien oblate and spiky. His lips are a crayon line drawn by an angry pensioner across the lower third of that orange face. The French Cuffs of his whitish shirt have little numbers embroidered on them: "45",  and he is nodding, nodding, at you as he walks forward. This is your contact.


3.   Historical Briefs With A Brown Streak Of Genius

A Stonehenge of men and women in sunglasses surround The Contact. They move in formation, maintaining a Raggedly Ann circle around him, continually bumping into other guests, chairs, tables, each other, headed right towards you in a chorus of s'cuse me; par-done, pal; hey lookout; aw christ you could see me comin', right? and who keep reaching inside their jackets as if checking to ensure they still have their wallets.

Deer Me.

You clench. The deer flips on its headlights and there you are, about to get a mouthful of antler (Hi! Remember me? You hit me with the Volkswagen! Payback's a bitch, pal!). You think of the face of your mother -- or Lady Gaga, or another suitable female substitute, just as The Contact stops directly in front of you. You are standing in his Circle Of Trust, surrounded by partially blind people who have weapons.

"Hey, you know," The Contact says, lifting his chin and tilting his head back to look down at you, Mussolini squinting at a small boat far out at sea, "You know, I was out there, goin' by, and thought, 'You know, I should stop in there'. How's it goin'?" You open your mouth to answer but the contact, like the voiceover for an industrial safety film, keeps on talking.

"There's so many things goin' on here! It's like the world's fair of banking and whatever, right? You know, they never -- never -- wanted to invite me to Davos. I mean, I'm the most sympathetic person to what they want to do, in this whole place, the whole thing, me -- and they never invited me before! Not once!"

The Contact sees a blur moving outside his Circle Of Trust and raises a hand, perfect white teeth in the ocher pudding of his face, saying, "Hey, thank you. How ya doin', yeah; thank you," before turning the oily tumblers in his eyes back on you.

The Contact's eyes widen to the size of dimes. He throws his hands out, experimentally, the breadth of a large fish. "But, n-ow -- now, they had to invite me! I'm the leader of the free world, right? Over 300 on the electoral; nobody ever mentions that, by the way. But, hey -- Swiss've been great, they really have, very gracious -- they've been very, very good to me, very respectful. Not saying they're not. I'm very much thinking I hope they stay like that."

You nod. You lean towards him slightly, and enunciate the code phrase: Hobo Oboe.  The Contact stops, squints, pushes on his chin. "Din' getcha," he says; you rinse and repeat. The Contact thinks about what an impression of remembering something might look like, then leans towards you, and speaks a countersign: "Ah, Yeah, yeah.  'My Penile Prosthesis'." He steps a little closer and, with a quick glance around the room, squeezes out a shruglet, raising his brows while the eyes remain inscrutable, swinish.

This was the moment. This was why you came to Davos: to observe your leavings, and tell this person what you were instructed to say -- a single phrase, "Stormy Weather". You ignore the sure impression you have gained that The Contact is wearing thong underwear, stand on your feet's balls, and draw a deep breath -- but before you can speak, The Contact interrupts you.

"Hey, I have a lot to do; so much to do, I've got -- you wouldn't believe how much I have to do in this job. I tell you, if I could go on strike, I'd do that. Leftists would love it. Chuck Schumer'd love it -- but I am the most involved president, hands-on involved, of any president. Not since Lincoln, or anyone, has there been a harder-working president than I am. So that's one.

"Two, nobody is listening to me. I mean, the people, some of the people, they listen, sure. But there's a fucking conspiracy with the New York Times and fucking PBS. Jesus; fucking Frontline. The Washington Post -- that Bezos, he's just trying to mindfuck me. But, I'll be fair, some of my own people -- don't want to name anybody, but some of them are very close to me -- use the media to talk themselves up. Take credit, make me look like some crazy, stupid person. Happened just last week."

Everyone in the Stumpfegger Room is looking at something else while they look at The Contact, and you. He has drawn himself up on a cocktail napkin, his gut pendulous within a tent of jacket; he pushes a stubby finger into the inches before your face, shouting, "I'm tellin' you: I am not stupid, like everyone says! I'm Smart!! I am fucking in charge!"

"I was elected with the largest electoral numbers in modern history -- I was, me! Not the goddamn Daily News! And I'm about ready to say to the Post, 'Hey, Jeff; you want to get shut down? You want a military censor sitting in your office with a magnifying glass up your ass? You want the IRS looking at your offshore LLCs?' And those terrible conditions in his shipping places; just terrible. We're gonna look into that. He's outta control, that guy; it's very sad how outta control.

"I'm not even getting into the Russia thing. Yeah, we're lining up for ol' Bobby; and oh, everyone's gonna be surprised when we let go, my friend!" His face is an alarmed bell of crimson. "see, it takes just one thing, just one thing, and the whole ball game can change. That's what I'm saying; I'm saying that. All right." His face relaxes like a sphincter, and he nods, lifting a hand with two fingers, faintly Benedictine. "All right. Thanks very much. Great to see you."

The theme to "Heroes Of Telemark" begins to play in the background and he's off walking, his perimeter of flesh shifting with him back through the room and out the door.  A tendril in your head saying hey man that tequila shooter be lookin' good right now. From here to eternity, everyone is turning, turning, and have come round, Right wing, at last, to be looking at you. If curious glances had their own mucus, you would be coated in slime.

You order a tequila; the Joe Turkel bartender says Your Money's No Good There, and it's all on the House. Somewhere, you realize that you did not give The Contact that message. On the way back to the hotel, your Uber driver talks about a company which has made an app -- an interactive photo-calendar of shaved animals, for other animals. It has had two billion downloads at $2.99 each.

Obligatory Dog-Faced Fruit Bat Photo: Pooch Of The Sky

At the hotel, you receive a message: Mother says the cow is sick. You must come home immediately. Tickets will be delivered today. There is also a huge, Dog-Faced Fruit Bat, in a basket, from the Davos Chamber Of Commerce. One of these messages is benign, the other ominous, and you do not know which is which.

The Fruit Bat turns on the room's television;  you both watch situation comedies in German until the Fruit Bat turns to you and says, "Are you understanding any of this?"
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The Fruit Bat dials Room Service and orders a Martini. After a time, the Room Service waiter, a man in his mid-twenties, appears. He places the Martini, and the bill, on a side table.  The Fruit Bat sips at the Martini in silence. The waiter stands to one side, observing. The world wonders.

After a few minutes, the waiter politely clears his throat and says, "You know -- we don't get many Fruit Bats ordering Martinis here." The Fruit Bat, glancing at the bill, replies, "Yes; and at these prices, you won't see many more of us, either."
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Friday, January 4, 2019

Glad To Be Unhappy

Cool And Blue

While on the bus down to the Embarcadero, heading for the Place 'O Witless Labor, I remembered how easy it once was to find a sense of San Francisco in the Fifties, a feeling in the air or something found around a corner.

I had come here on and off for years before making The City home, and that 50's feeling had always been here. It was a button-down, 'Mad Men' kind of vibe -- as if a redhead in a pearl-grey Coco Chanel suit and expensive perfume had walked through a room, leaving that fragrance behind, lingering. It was Herb Caen and Charles McCabe's columns in the Chronicle; it was summers at Lake Tahoe; 'Gold Coast' old money (San Francisco was the only city west of Denver with a Social Register).

It was women wearing white gloves to Sunday services at Saints Peter and Paul, or Grace Cathedral; it was Democratic machine politics and Longshoremen. The navy had a shipyard in The City, bases around the Bay; there was a famous prison just offshore and one of the world's greatest suspension bridges across the Golden Gate.

Even into the 1970's, you could find echoes of all that -- the whole Tony Bennett, terribly-alone-and-forgotten-in-Manhattan thing; cable cars rumbling along foggy night streets; Caucasian men with Sta-Pressed hair who wore suits by Botany 500 with a handkerchief in their breast pocket, leaving their offices in the Financial District for drinks at House Of Shields, the St. Francis or Mark Hopkins' lower bar, the Starlight Room at the Sir Francis Drake -- or, if they were a little adventurous, the Black Hawk Night Club down in the Tenderloin.

I'm not forgetting that this was the Leave It To Beaver 50's and 60's. The repressed psyches, institutionalized racism, sexism and homophobia; Might Makes Right against a monolithic Commie enemy, and Capitalism Consumerism was fully in control. We had faced off against those Commies in Korea less than a decade before, and were revving up for A Land War In Southeast Asia. Believe me: Television and film haven't managed to capture how good, and how bad, we had it back in the Day.

There were foghorns on the Bay (the original ones, replaced in the mid-eighties, had been there for fifty years; I lived in North Beach and went to sleep by them), and late-night dinners in Chinatown. And you could find more poignant reverberations of the 50's in jazz being played in small clubs across the City; a few of them lasted into the early Eighties. They were intense, smoky dives, often loud -- and while there are more jazz clubs in the Bay Area now than ever before, they're polite showcases by comparison.

When I do hear any jazz, I immediately think of a saxophone -- specifically, an Alto sax, whether one is present or not (I played Reeds, back in The Day, and this may be the reason why). I do listen to the Sax action of Mr. Charles Parker, and Mssrs. Coltraine, Getz, Lateef ,and others (here's a list of over 50 jazz saxophonists, with clips of their styles for comparison; check them out).

But, for me, only one Sax player truly does it: Paul Desmond. The cool, grey-blue images he painted are part of the soundtrack of a San Francisco that I still see, hiding in memory most of my adult life.

Some recent critics have noted that the 'Blue' jazz played by musicians like Desmond (as opposed to the hotter, 'Red' jazz interpretations by Parker, or Coltraine) in the early 50's to mid-60's reflected that America's look-the-other-way, don't-spoil-the-party Bourgeois culture. It was cool, intellectual, detached music -- playing as issues and passions were slowly coming to a boil, demanding change, involvement, commitment. I think there's truth in that -- interpretation in art doesn't grow out of a vacuum, and Desmond had said he was trying to create the equivalent in sound of "a dry Martini" -- but his music is also just damn good. 
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Obligatory Cute Small Animal Photo In Middle Of Blog Culture Thing
(Sasha Arutyunova / New York Times)

Desmond was a local boy; after forty years in The City, I've occasionally met people who Knew Him When. San Francisco is where Dave Brubeck, another local kid and a pianist acquaintance of Desmond's in the music scene, had already been playing around the Bay Area since the late 1940's. He had even hired Brubeck at one point to play backup piano for him at various gigs, then replaced him.

Brubeck eventually developed an eight-person band, then a trio. He had brought Desmond into the Octet, but in forming the Trio, Brubeck didn't bring him along. Desmond was not happy about it, not shy about telling Brubeck off, and left the Bay Area for New York. For roughly a year, he played his alto sax as part of a 'big band' orchestra led by Jack Fina (whose most famous composition was "Bumble Boogie" [1946]).

Desmond did make some connections with other jazz artists in New York, but wasn't the City By The Bay where he had most of his contacts. Meanwhile, back in Frisco, Brubeck and his Trio had signed a contract with a local label, and were selling thousands of records. Out in The Big Apple, Desmond heard their music played on a local radio station and was impressed; it may have reminded him of a lost opportunity, back in his home town.

In 1951, Brubeck suffered a serious spinal injury while diving in Hawaii. He recovered, but performing intricate fingering on the piano that required more dexterity caused him physical pain. From that point forward, he began writing songs based around chords, played with the whole hand, with individual notes kept to a minimum. This became a recognizable signature in Brubeck's music (at least, it's always seemed that way to me; I'm not a music historian or critic).

Meanwhile, Desmond decided to return to the Bay Area specifically to ask Brubeck to join his group -- which took some doing, given how they'd parted a year before. Brubeck was skeptical, but relented, and Desmond joined a new Dave Brubeck Quartet, along with Bob Bates (Double Bass) and Joe Dodge (Drums). A piano player I was acquainted with once told me he had seen their first public performance at the old Black Hawk in the fall of 1951 -- the nightclub became home base for the group when not on tour.

Through the 1950s and 60s, Desmond (per notes on the Fresh Sounds Records website) "had one of the sweetest gigs in jazz history". For at least a quarter-century, Brubeck's Quartet was one of the most commercially successful, marketed and widely known jazz ensembles in America. And as its single horn player, Desmond's "supremely lyrical, sublimely melodic playing... [became] a defining sound of the era."

The actual Quartet only remained as a regular group for roughly fifteen years, until 1967. By then, Brubeck and Desmond, individually, were well-established and in-demand musicians. The Quartet resurfaced periodically from the mid-70's on, performing in reunion tours and spot appearances -- in part, I think, just to give Brubeck and himself the opportunity to play together. Desmond's involvement with the Quartet lasted until his death in 1977.

Desmond's work with Brubeck (specifically the iconic track they co-wrote, Take Five) is how most people recognize him, but Desmond's Wikipedia page lists over 70 albums issued between 1950 and 1976 on which he either contributed, or was the featured performer.

His music seems a good way to find a path into the New Year: Try these.
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(1964)


(1962; Includes an orchestral string section as backup on most tracks)


(1963)


(1956; This is a 1975 live recording in Toronto. Composer: Gerry Mulligan)

(1963)
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MEHR, MIT HUNDE:  And then there is this:  Ah, San Francisco -- One Big Campus, One Big Dorm; Land of Rich Kiddies.

Mentioning this to a friend in my Curmudgeonly Dog way, I barked that Come The Recession the Trust-Fund-Tech-Bros-and-Broettes will all have to go home to live with Mommy and Daddy. My friend replied, "Look up there -- see that, the 'Salesforce Tower'? It means 'They' are here to stay, man; and the City wants them. Screw the homeless and you 'n me; bring on the rich, rich, rich." 
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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

I Am A Marxist

Though Harpoism Works For Me Too

I'm not having good times these days. Few people I know are very far from the oppressive weight of (Today's) New Normal, soon to be replaced by (Even More New) Normal.

To paraphrase something: I believe with a perfect faith in all the history I remember, and I've been in some truly frightening places in life. But current events we're living through frighten me in a way I didn't think was possible.

At The Place 'O Witless Labor, I stumbled across an interview with my favorite Marxist, courtesy of TPM. (I am so old I remember seeing it on TeeVee when it was broadcast new, in that long-ago 1969, before that trip to long-ago Southeast Asia). I offer it as an antidote to everything currently occurring, and a protective screen to anything I might say afterwards:


________________________________

Each day, the American Right crawls further along a metamorphosis into an active Paranoid Raving Loon I Kill You! political movement.  One which could allow or sanction serious physical harm and imprisonment of not only minorities and the underclass, but anyone they declare an ideological "enemy".

Trump is an insane old man, a bully; a liar; a tormentor; one who exhorts others to do harm -- and the GOP is fully his party. Its candidates, representatives and organizers are taking his lead and saying that the Left is "evil". Just as he says the media (except Murdoch's media) is "the enemy of the people".

The political Right is saying that 'they' (meaning anyone who disagrees with or opposes Trump -- that is to say, everything perfect and right and good) are a "Mob".  The new strategy to incite 'The Base' around the midterms is to increase The Base's level of fear -- that they are personally "at war"... personally "in danger" of being attacked by a Leftist Mob.

Obligatory Cute Small Animal Photo
In Middle Of Blog Thing

Go and sample rhetoric captured by Media Matters. Fox in particular is pushing the line that anyone who is "a Trump supporter... an average citizen" is in danger -- that "anyone who's a Trump supporter [are] all targets". America is in danger from a mob that will act like "genocidal Hutus in Rawanda". The Murdoch machine is working overtime to spew that Party Line.

It's a lowest-common-denominator appeal. It is calculated to divide the country even further towards some bad fork in the road. If it doesn't sound like inciting behavior which can only culminate in violent acts, martial law; civil war; or just incredibly high levels of road rage and in-your-face responses over the most trivial events, I don't know what does.

The only thing that's missing is a(n overt, public) statement by Good Ol' megachurch leaders that the "evil" of the Left is also "in league with satan", "in rebellion against god". But I'm sure they'll come to that, in time.
___________________________________

Okay; that's it, until something else happens. Fuck; I need another antidote. Enjoy.

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Oh, and, yeah; I am a member of the Cohen Front also.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Better Endings Than The Ones We Presume To Write

We're All Going To Indianapolis, Bill


BURR:  ... then the guy goes, "Hey, you know; I'm sorry, man, I just got off on the wrong foot, there". He goes, "My name's so-and-so; what's your name?" ... And I was thinkin' of saying something like, 'Steve'... I wish I'd said some silly name; but I didn't think of one. I just went, 'It's Bill'. 
And he goes, "Oh, cool... why you goin' to Indianapolis, Bill?" He starts doin' this shit. And I just look at the guy, and ...I'm like -- 'Yeah; I don't have to answer your questions.' 
ROGAN:  Whoa. 
BURR:  I don't! He has no fucking authority; 'You're not a Sky Marshal; you're drinkin' booze! You're an asshole! What are you on? Are you afraid to fly? Go fuck yourself; leave me alone; right?' 
So; then he goes, like, "All right. Now -- now, I am concerned. Okay? I am concerned! Why are you going to Indianapolis, Bill?" ...He says this, right? They're closing the doors [to the aircraft]... I just started smirking... I'm sitting there, shakin' my head at the guy, right?... I'm so not worried about anything you're gonna do; all this passive-aggressive shit, just to piss this guy off... And he's askin', "Why are you goin' to Indianapolis, Bill?" I didn't say anything to him; I just kept laughing... 
... I could've squashed the whole thing, and just been like, 'Look; I'm a comedian. I'm goin' to Indianapolis; if you'd like to come out to the show--" I could have done that, but I'm a dick. I hate authority -- and this guy doesn't have any. So, fuck him. I'm sitting there with a blindfold on, laughing at him; it was driving him fucking nuts; it was great.
So then: five minutes of silence, ten minutes of silence goes by; and I'm finally thinkin' that maybe this shit's over -- or, is he just sittin' there, staring at the side of my head? -- and all of a sudden... right as I'm startin' to nod off, I just hear [whispers]: Why are you goin' to Indianapolis, Bill??
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Look, man: It's 2018. The world is in the hands of inbred, malevolent greedheads, fascist land rapers and child molesters. I don't know about you, but I need to laugh.

Bill Burr is a standup comic and comedy writer from Boston, based in Los Angeles; you may have seen him as the character 'Patrick Kuby' in the series Breaking Bad, or heard him as the voice of the father in the animated series, F Is For Family.  I'm relatively confident that he will make you laugh.

A friend at the Place O' Witless Labor™, also from Boston, observed about Burr that "He's pretty funny. He's pretty angry, too." Burr is also Buds with fellow standup comedian and Podcast Impresario, Joe Rogan, whose program on UTub -- which first appeared in 2009, not long after The Crash -- now has 1,100-plus episodes.

Rogan's format is an hour-and-a-half, or longer, conversation with a fair range of guests (e.g., Neil DeGrasse Tyson; Jordan Peterson; Sam Harris; Graham Hancock; Ben Shapiro), and many fellow comics. His UTub popularity is high.

In 2014, Burr appeared in an episode, describing his taking a Redeye flight to Indianapolis for a comedy booking. There was something bizarrely familiar about Burr delivering his story, which I couldn't place -- then, a person bobbed up in my memory, like a drifting Sea Mine, someone I hadn't thought about in a long time. And when you get to be an Old, 'a long time' isn't just a trite turn of phrase.
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Burr is almost a dead ringer for Mark, a fellow I once worked with back in the FedGov days for about twenty minutes, almost forty years ago. Mark was from Boston, where his father had been some kind of local notable. He called everyone by their last name (unlike the Left Coast, all of us on a first-name basis with all humanity), and had that cheerful, lean-forward, it's all fucked up, kid; you gotta laugh attitude that most Irish cops I've met seemed to have.

It's an attitude nestled in Catholicism, nourished by angry parents who survived the Depression ("You kids behave or I'll break your damn legs!" Mark recalled his mother saying to siblings and himself when growing up), motivated by fearful memory and PTSD.

It's predicated on a belief that a disappointing humankind, already marked by Original Sin, displays all the other Sins in all their forms on an hourly basis. Laughing at life's ironies, maintaining an outward display of bemused tolerance for the stupidity of human folly, is just putting Christmas decorations on a fresh grave: All the Happy-Shiny is window dressing for something dead serious and final.

Mark always referred to the palm trees lining San Francisco's Embarcadero as "those poles with the bushes on top". He had already been warned once about drinking on the job. I had a reputation for being squeaky-clean, and Mark convinced me to keep his bottle of Jameson's in the lower drawer of my desk ("Nobody's gonna look in there!"). Enabler that I was, I let him.

In those days, Federal law enforcement workspaces were relatively open 'squad bays' filled by large, heavy wooden desks, scarred with cigarette burns at the edges, and each built by inmate labor in a U.S. Federal prison. Several of us (including myself, then) were two-pack-a-day smokers; there was a constant veil and fug of tobacco smoke in the room, the fibrous ceiling tiles tinted a diseased amber color because the HVAC system in the Federal Building only wheezed like an asthmatic runner, and the windows didn't open far.

Mark's usual question, his way of asking How's it goin'? was to walk up to my desk at least two days a week at 7:30AM and say, "So, [Mongo] -- is it 'in the drawer' ?", broad smile and working-class Irish accent on full display; then, retrieve the bottle, wrap it in a copy of the morning edition of the SF Examiner, and stride off confidently to the Men's room.

Why he chose whiskey, which could easily be smelled on the breath, over gin or vodka was a mystery. But when you assume things are fucked, you act out, flip off the boss. You spit in god's eye and say Now what? Let's see where this fuckin' goes next, hah?
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But, one thing Mark could do was tell a story. Watching Burr on the Intertubes, delivering his tale about the plane flight in a sharp, rapid-fire cadence, the wise-guy critical, self-depreciating didn't I fucking tell you Life was like this? humor on full display, brought Mark back into memory.

When I left The Job, the Jameson's remained in my bottom drawer. I felt guilty over my Enabler role and never tried to look Mark up, making an unconscious assumption that his alcoholism would eventually pull him under. The world moved on.
________________________

I was wrong. Opening the Googlegerät and entering Mark's full name, I discovered that he had stopped drinking, gotten married, raised a family; founded a program to teach literacy to adults who could not read; and had spent the past thirty-plus years making an astounding, incredible amount of money in real estate. Mark's experience seems to have turned out better than his basic assumptions of the world he lived in.

Sometimes, life has better endings than the ones we would presume to write; I was wrong. And I laughed.
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Reprint Heaven: Whalers On The Moon

Birthday of Big Marine Mammal Avatar Creators

Moving through life, we find ourselves on occasion in the midst of experience or the presence of a thing which resonates and reminds that something, more than what we think we know or can perceive (if we would just stop and shut up and pay enough attention to see), exists.

Principally, this happens when we're 'out in nature', but it also happens when we encounter some art -- in particular, when it's been created by someone who made deep and illuminating connections and Brought Them Back To Tell Thee. From August 1 in 2016 and 2017.
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There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own.
-- Herman Melville / Moby-Dick, or, The Whale
Over at the Soul Of America, it's a celebration of Herman Melville's 199th birthday, and things of the Sea, and a Whale, and other notables which Herman brought back, To Tell Thee.

I considered writing a post from the viewpoint of the Whale just for the potential Yucks (because, god knows, We Need The Yucks Wherever We Can Get Them), but gave it up and settled for the Humorous Image.

The best thing about the post, and the reason I mention it here, is -- Herman tends to be overlooked in a culture whose highest expression is a Rhianna / Pitbull remix; it's good to be reminded that he is still there -- as he reminds us that we are chased by our mortality; and that sometimes the Form Of The Destructor is large, albino, and aquatic.  For me, it's a big lawn mower. Your Harbinger O' Death™, of course, may differ.

I was introduced to Melville when I was fourteen -- not through the novel he's most often identified with, but in the short work, "Bartelby The Scrivener" (1853), a classic in its own right. Ishmael's tale was next, and I was, uh, hooked. Later, I wasn't able to read anything by James or Conrad that didn't refer back to the narrative style I encountered first with Melville.

"Moby Dick: Or, A Whale" is ubiquitous. There is No Whale before He who populates a portion of that book (Yeah, okay; 'Shamu'  and 'Willy' are not the same thing). The Whale at least lurks, an unseen presence, in the background of all the on-ship action -- like Death, or Fate, or reruns of Three's Company. As if the Whale might chuckle and snicker in the dark during certain scenes:
" 'What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike.'   
" 'Heh heh heh heh,' " came a deep basso rumble out of the darkness which hid the waters. Ahab started, but did not otherwise acknowledge the presence of that upon which he had focused for so long."
That Big Marine Mammal is archetypal, now. And, aber natürlich, the moment something makes an appearance on "Family Guy", it's an absolute certainty that, whatever it is, it's now hard-coded into our DNA.

 Herman Left Out The Part Where Whales Like Raisin Bran
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MEHR, MIT KEINE POLITIK: My Very Own Hillaryite Colleague asks, "So you hate music, too?" (This, because of the Rhianna / Pitbull quip.) And I would agree, it's absurdist reductionism to claim that the essence of culture in Eusa is rap music and movies like Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. I'm convinced that people (or, Whales; or very intelligent Honey Badgers) in the not very distant future will look back on this period as one of the most varied and vibrant in the history of our humanoid species -- until, you know, that thing happens.
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UND NOCH IMMER MEHR:  Once I saw this, I could not un-see it. It is an actual book. Swear to god.


http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-HzYH1qVAn2s/VLuVF_f9DWI/AAAAAAAABbI/SC32BIgWys4/s1600/Ships.jpg
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UND: WAS IST AUCH SCHON WIEDER LOS? MEHR:  If you have $39.9K, Jim Morrison's Moby can be yours.

At that price, you'd think the seller would provide free shipping -- but, remember: this is Aremica, Land Of The Free and Home Of The Hip.






Friday, January 12, 2018

Old

The Only Serious Thing In The World

Harry Bertschmann, "Stuttgart No. 6", 1957  (Bertschmann Studio / NYT 2017)

The New York Times recently presented a showcase article about an artist, a painter living in New York City. They've produced a body of work and it's clear they have some chops, a vision -- but they're still trying for that Big Break to achieve recognition. And they're 86 years old.
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American culture really has no idea what to do with the Old (and 'old' is a plastic term; so, anyone over 55, say) beyond separating them from the most important thing in American culture: their money. In that, Olds are no different than any other segment in our population.

In the brave new 5G world, everyone is a unit or resource, part of a demographic group to be influenced, led, monitored and monetized. To the Powers, what people do with their little lives isn't so important -- it's what percentage of their income can be shorn from them during those lives that's key.

In 2016, The New Inquiry webzine dedicated an issue to aging, and in an editorial comment noted
In the ... capitalist core (that is, those regions which have long since sundered the multigenerational household as the central economic unit), old age isn’t held in the public esteem it vaguely remembers it should be due...
But ... (m)any of the indignities of old age are, on inspection, the indignities of being socially discarded — feelings of isolation, a fall in status, loss of autonomy. That is, these are not organic facts of the body but outcomes desired, at some level, by someone. Why that is, and who benefits, are both painfully obvious and logically obscure.
The general assumptions made about old age have to do with physical changes, a reduction and a diminution. Older people "retire", leave the jobs where they labored and the homes where they lived and (possibly) raised families, and slowly disappear from public view.  Who cares what they did in their lives? They're no longer vital or real contributors to the world. That's all in the past.

And journey's end is death, the ultimate reduction and mystery.  Olds are a reminder of The End of everything our spiritually crippled culture asserts is most important. Small wonder most people are almost eager to ignore them, unless of course there's money to be made.
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People with a desire for artistic expression make efforts to translate their insights and experience, birthing them into the world through whatever medium. American culture takes art seriously, and boasts of the achievements of our artists, but doesn't support those artists and won't take them seriously unless there's money involved (if so, Jeff Koons is the greatest artist humankind ever produced).

Often the image of that effort is connected to youth --  the young artist, the unheated garret; trying for recognition and fame, the "big break". Most people wouldn't connect being a "struggling artist" with being an Old -- but I'll bet you lunch that it's more common.
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When the New York Times published Harry Bertschmann's story, it was a reminder that artists frequently make trade-offs between creative time and material security, Working The Day Job. Bertschmann was no different; he worked for decades doing advertising art, and making that choice affected Bertschmann's path as an artist.

In that review, the NYT story took a traditional perspective -- an underlying assumption that art must result in financial success and name recognition to have any intrinsic worth: Bertschmann knew Rothko and Kline and Motherwell; they got famous and rich, and he didn't.

The usual conclusion of a storyline like this will depict the unrecognized artist, aging, living in solitary poverty -- a cold-water, sub-basement apartment; a description of finished canvases stacked beside the pallet and mattress, the stained, pathetic hotplate.

But this story has a Cinderella ending: good news, that Bertschmann is becoming known, late in life, with a promise of financial reward: the NYT article was timed to appear a week before a solo show of his selected works at a prestigious, upstate gallery. There's lots of buzz and potential for sales.

Don't misunderstand: I'm all for Cinderella endings. I'm glad Bertschmann and his wife will have more money, more security -- and, that his work will be shown. People will see it -- and whatever alchemical magic happens when we see, hear or read art can take place. That's why Art gets done. I would suggest that if Bertschmann were here, he'd say that's what he's been doing for 60 years; it's why he's on the planet.

At the same time, there's a reminder that perspectives and assumptions about art, about aging, and life and death, served up by our culture are terrifyingly inadequate. In spite of itself, the NYT article of Bertschmann's story gives a glimpse of that -- and that sometimes, in this world, there are happy endings.
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