Friday, December 21, 2012
The beats definitely do go on, whether announcing Sonnyless Cher, the Kerouac Krewe, or the fascinatin' rhythms of any play-full, freed-up, Gil Evans-inspired Jazz orchestra. (For that matter, those beats might also suggest the drum-rolls accompanying the "beauty" mentioned above, but more about that in a moment.)
I've been away, Sandra and I hauling our three older grand-children off to Hawaii--
Six months back I posted a blog piece (here) concerning Centennial, the wonderful
Well, the Grammy nominations have just been announced and--as listener, fan and, in this instance, one of many minor investors in the
We saw several of them, wispy and illusive,
The land welcomed us. The beaches stretch outwards, and hibiscus and frangipani follow. Wahines in diminished bikinis outnumber native
Browsing blogs before we left, I came across a new one called "Word Jass," paused to read about Ken Nordine, and discovered there too an essay (or something) devoted to young and ubiquitous, and closing fast on super-, swimsuit model Kate Upton,
Kind of amusing, mostly strange, not quite R-rated. If that makes you curious, click on the link... and Mele Kalikimaka to all.
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The fifth and sixth photos courtesy of granddaughter Madelyn McEachern.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Also, the real tall drink of water--called himself "Krist," to bug the bourgeoisie maybe; or it could have just been short for "Kristiaan" or some such--came in a couple of times looking for fancy illustrated books to give his collector wife. (Funny how I always had trouble remembering the group’s name--I still do--since the three Nirvana guys so quickly became symbols of the whole Grunge scene.)
One quiet day in late March 1994, into our suddenly spiffy Pike Market bookstore strolled Nirvana's blond front man--I sort of knew his name by then, Kurt Something--yes, Seattle royalty in our humble shop! He had a sleepy toddler boy sitting on his shoulders and was accompanied by a male chum maybe a bit younger than Kurt, wearing a droopy cat-in-the-hat chapeau. The singer looked beard-scruffy but happy.
We exchanged “Hello’s” and then he asked why we had two Leadbelly albums in one of our window displays. Not knowing then that Leadbelly was one of Cobain's musical heroes, I answered that we sold collectable records (these were 10-inch LPs on Folkways) and that I personally loved all sorts of Blues Music.
Like three young actors during the tryouts for some proto-version called Two-and-Some Half-Men, the guys wandered around our store, for twenty minutes maybe, pointing at certain albums, and searching through the kids' books (Dr. Seuss was the favorite, I think); the older two kept trading the small sleepyhead back and forth, from Kurt’s shoulders to his friend’s and back again, three or four times.
Eventually the singer came over to me, without the boy, from the Beat Generation section where he’d last been browsing, and asked if we had a copy of William Burroughs’ novel Junkie, a notorious heroin-addiction potboiler.
I told him we were out of the Burroughs, but that we did have a used, slightly collectable alternative, a little-known and better-written novel called Cain’s Book, by Alexander Trocchi--pointing to it in our display case--but an equally hellish and hair-raising account based on the author’s own years of addiction. Kurt asked to see it, thumbed through the $20 paperback for a couple of minutes, then said he wanted to buy it.
I rang him up, happy as I always was when I managed to unite customer and book sought, even when a comparable substitute, then probably blew my new cred by asking him to autograph a white index card. He looked unhappy about it, but did sign--and cleverly, as I discovered as they left the store--with these words: “Ours, Curdt Kobane.” I didn't know if I'd been rewarded or quietly dissed.
A drug-overdose--was the initial rumor. Nonsense--responded the police--it was suicide by shotgun. When I heard I felt pole-axed... mumbling, struggling to understand what had happened: the singer gone, his son left fatherless, the emotional mess a suicide always leaves for others to deal with. What had I stupidly done by selling such a no-hope, in-the-depths-of-hell novel to a troubled drug addict? I thought, I'm guilty.
But not for long. As your typical insensitive, self-centered human male, my guilt trip lasted only a couple of days, out-argued by rationalizations like... “He was already on the downhill slide, headed straight for self-destruction”... "It was bennies or bindles or buckshot that killed him, not some book"... “Suicide? Maybe not. With Courtney’s, er, love (and lesser interests), we may not have the ‘Hole’ picture yet!”
We all moved on--Ms. Love to Hollyweird and Ferry Llint, the surviving Nirvanans
Gradually, grudgingly, Grunge faded into history.
Fractiously, fearfully, the Nineties became the ‘Oughts became the ‘Teens. The Foos
Written by novelist Richard Seaver who knew Trocchi for some years, the Introduction provides an even-handed personal assessment of the man, described by many as charismatic and charming, a sort of Pied Piper of Heroin, or a Fifties Timothy Leary who sank through addiction and crime to desperate isolation and, finally, suicide. To Seaver the addict-author was a
The back cover of this edition offers quoted statements strong in their praise for Cain’s Book from, among others, writers named Ginsberg, Kesey, Mailer and, of course, Burroughs (pre-eminent among the recent addict-authors). But literary opinions citing words rather than deeds, seem to mean nothing to the author of the novel’s new Foreword... and this truly surprises me, because I know the man slightly and admire his work greatly. Long ago, I wrote reviews subject to his editing at Rolling Stone; Greil Marcus and his wife (Jenny, I
Armed with a doctorate from Harvard; Bi-Coastal and International connections in Music and Art, Academia and political action; and a burnished reputation for knowing more about Bob Dylan and Punk Music and the social history of Music in America than, well, probably any other writer on Pop Culture, Marcus is also a left-leaning commentator rarely without an opinion to express--cogently, and with icy wit--as well as the fiercely intelligent author of a dozen books, including seminal honored classics like Mystery Train and Invisible Republic (now retitled The Old, Weird America) as well as intentionally more provocative titles (Dead Elvis, In the Fascist Bathroom, The Dustbin of History). Why then does Marcus loathe Trocchi so, giving only token assent to his novel?
I can only guess, but... In novel and in life, part of him disapproves of the excessive use of heavy drugs and the wasted lives that result; part of him resists and resents the
(That's Dr. Marcus the academic, gravitating toward insulative order, believing that accumulative demonstrable facts constitute history... but then there's the Greil of Rock'n'Roll freedom, undercutting the good doctor at every turn and with every almost-blue note.)
After all, for more than four decades, Greil in his writings has supported or espoused,
So how does a liberal intellectual who believes deeply in Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Sun Records and Son House, Doc Watson and Dock Boggs, the Band and the Gang of Four, Bruce Springsteen and Stax/Volt, the Harry Smith anthologies and The Johnny Cash Show on TV, the Mekons and Mavis Staples, the Kinks and the Slits, Elvis Costello and that earlier Elvis too... how could anyone as cool and attuned as that begin ranting as though he’d ban the shall-be-nameless book from the shelves, then burn every copy he could get his hands on? Beats me.
But to forestall Marcus coming after me with a buggy-whip, I’m swearing you to silence, Reader... yes, you there, sitting at the computer in your bathrobe. Greil doesn’t need to know that Kurt Cobain was reading that damned book in the week before he died... the one I thoughtlessly provided.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
I gave up on trying to embrace and absorb all the subdivisions of Pop Music about 15 years ago. Up till then I had made it a matter of personal pride to familiarize myself with every kind of music made and, as best I could, to follow on records any further developments or significant changes. So I learned, meaning read about and listened to, and heard enough to appreciate--to admire if not to love--a wide-horizons world of music ranging freely…
1) From Liszt to Elvis, Piaf to Punk, influential Dylans to distinct and independent Dials (record labels, that is)--and as one earthshaking example the album cover to
2) From Hamza's el oud to a din handily loud, and Vancouver’s Heart to Hotlanta’s Soul: the label might read Modern or Motown, Manchester or Madagascar, but no matter which or where, if the sound was Deep South Soul--Candi Staton and Percy Sledge, Ann Peebles and Penn/Oldham, James Carr and James Govan--then I was snared, grinnin’ like the possum that escaped a 'gator, happily enrapt in Loo’zana swamp moss and Mis’sippi sweat, at the dark end of some dimly-lit street!
3) From grandiose old Operas to the Grand Ol’ Opry, and the New Lost City Ramblers to the New Wave: the Blues had a baby named Rock ’n’ Roll--a happy toddler till its loutish cousins Pub Rock and Punk clashed and pistoled and jammed, down at their local, and emerged clutching a frank ‘n’ stein, passport-and-pisspot contraption called New Wave; though neither low-tide nor tsunami, synth sine-curve nor whosit’s power-chords, horrid hairstyle nor torpid farewell to Rock, the New Wave at its best gave us Graham Parker and the Rumour, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Nick Lowe and his songs of smart-aleck irony, maybe even Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and--grassy as hay sues--John Hiatt and the Goners (the
4) From mbira thumb piano to Monk, Thelonius (any), and Gustav Mahler (conducted by Walter, B.) to Gregg Allman (guitared by brother D.)--Mahler’s clarion-splendor Symphonies 1 and 2 and the impossibly beautiful, heaven-sent and heart-rending, elegiac song-cycle, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), might serve to sum up all that we know of Life and Music, of Love and, finally, of Death.
You see, I love Music (or did), almost any kind, for the imaginative fancies it awakens in me, and even the florid over-fancy writing that’s sometimes unleashed (see above). At 70, I’m too jaded to be much bothered by purple prose or yellow
But beyond my own disquiet there were these other signs... Rock’s foundations were crumbling. Jazz had retreated into its own past. Country was all hats and no cattle-calls. Reggae seemed to have lost the Rasta spirit and settled for Babylonian flesh. Classical went on its way, dwindling and obscure. World Musics were too much with us--lately gotten, too soon spent,
Worst of all, Black Music had lost its Soul, its Gospel-derived, Love-become-love emotions, the heaven-waking, house-wrecking harmonies, and the melismatic bending and stretching of notes. The new replacements were a bad joke. Hip-hop at first meant “tagging” and lyrics either comic-ironic or stalwart and socially aware, and those early 12” singles (mostly on Tommy Boy, I think) at least demanded that you (break)dance.
I vowed to focus only on the Music, the several musics, old or new, from then till now, that matter to me most: acoustic Jazz, British Isles Folk, Roots/Americana, so-called Conscious Reggae, any Deep Soul that survived, and a few other narrowed categories. In so doing, I managed to live amid
Oh, not completely; I’d hear the odd song on a car radio or blasting from a boombox (or whatever communications gadget was hot at the time). Without paying attention, I thought I had the Grunge sound sussed out: Northwest Garage Rock meets Punk meets Thrash Metal; the shy reclusiveness of Jimi Hendrix combined with the quiet subtlety of the Ramones (as if!). “Doctoring” an old joke: take two letters from Punk, and four from Garage, and call me in the morning.
I knew some band names--Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and wasn’t there a group (or
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Part 2 brings an actual visit from his Kurtness. In the meantime there's hot turkey and family traditions that need tending.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
By early 1960 I had received acceptance letters from several colleges, but since my parents were headed overseas to Korea, I carefully chose to begin that higher education at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, near my closest relatives (in Joliet). But I was way off about finances. As the only private school amid the expansive public campuses of the Big Ten, Northwestern was small, hugely expensive, and as a result of the money involved, something of a party school at the undergrad level—a fine English Department, superior Drama and Journalism Schools, but most of the action beyond undergrad level.
To survive there financially, I had a big academic scholarship, a bigger student loan, a 20-hours-a-week job at the campus Student Union—and then still needed monthly
And wasn’t that a mighty time? There’s much to tell, of course, but not today, because this piece has another subject altogether--a crankily shy, comically sullen, cannily deadpan pessimist; a lanky, sharp-featured, hawk-eyed, mock-Existential Absurdist (more Reductio ad than “Theatre of”), master of many words, or few, or none; a frankly hard-up, glad-to-be-unhappy, loving-every-miserable-minute, expatriate Irishman become ex-patriot Frenchman, feted by many and hated by a few, maneuvered by Joyce, slighted by Sartre, ignored by Camus, and finally hailed by the Nobel Committee and embraced by the wide world for, among three-score-more pertinent things, having written THE
No, not Synge with Riders… or Yeats invoking Cuchulain… nor Heaney re-Gaeling Beowulf… not even Joyce creating playlets within Ulysses. I’m writing instead, and briefly in fact, about Samuel Beckett… who looked somewhat like Dashiel Hammett minus the mustache. (You can also hear intriguing echoes of sounds and rhythm in their two names.) And the play? Doesn’t matter how many other bleak, funny, scarifying, mute, or talky stage works Beckett created. The world keeps Waiting for Godot.
Written in the late Forties/early Fifties, Godot was staged first in Paris in 1953, and word spread rapidly about Beckett’s bizarre and haunting, bare-stage-and-tree, lackadaisical yet compelling two-act piece concerning four comic and variable,
From the mid-Fifties on, rave performances of the play (“raving,” sneered naysayers) held theatres and audiences captive from Paris to London and Berlin, from Dublin to New York and on to San Francisco. Stage-conscious Northwestern was always well up on hit plays of the moment, and I recall hearing--or hearing about--dorm discussions, acting
I was nowhere near this hip on my own; it was the job I had lucked into--assistant to Joe Miller (not his real name, which I have shamefully forgotten), Northwestern’s vice president for something like “Student Events and Campus Productions” (including the annual, all-out Waa-Mu variety show), with his office located right in the busy Student Union. There I answered the phone; read and marked for clipping issues of Cashbox and Variety, The New York Times and Chicago papers, Time and Life and more; took informal notes, a fly on the wall at some of his meetings; and
It was work I looked forward to each day and, really, the only thing I regretted leaving when I headed West in June of 1962. The job had broadened my cultural awareness, and among the books I had read about and bought immediately were Martin Esslin’s Theatre of the Absurd (1961) and the brilliant, just-published Grove Press anthology titled Seven Plays of the Modern Theater, which of course included Godot.
So I was primed when I moved into a shared apartment in Seattle, with time to enjoy some months of Century 21 (official name of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair).
And was my life changed forever? Not sure, haven’t got there yet… but for 50 years
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I’ve told this story for a ridiculous reason--an email tiff I got into recently with some Amazon.com adjudicator(s)...
I was idly browsing books by or about Beckett, noticed a new Everyman’s Library edition of his “trilogy,” three avant-garde tour-de-force novels he wrote before Godot--bleak Molloy, bleaker Malone Dies, and bleakest, The Unnamable--and saw too that the Amnipotent Seller-of-All-Things was soliciting
Hmmm, I said, hmmming… What could I write that would be serious but a joke too, maybe sound a bit like Beckett? The answer hopped into my head instantly. The Unnamable ends with some enjambed sentence-phrases long thought to sum up the rueful, hopeless, darkly humorous, Sisyphus-on-a-banana-peel universe that Beckett’s solipsistic characters inhabit: “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” I knew I could twist that a little, dowse with a bucket of Beckett-meets-Joyce linguistic nonsense, and heeding Amazonink’s submission regs, probably still amuse a few readers while staying true to the spirit of Sam.
Here’s what I emailed to the Amazonicans at World Domination Hdqs:
Sprocket zee Bequette? --Review of Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Everyman’s Library hc)--
Re: Molly, Malarkey, UnGnomen (auf Existenz)… Eye cant knot reed awn. Butt aye mussed naught rede un. Sew aiee due.
… Came bouncing back almost before I got my finger off the Send key--detected, inspected, rejected. No reason given--just a repeat of the boilerplate: can’t be obscene, should focus on product features, must be at least 20 words, etc. I reflected, realized I’d been disrespected, and thus logically objected (excerpts as follows):
Hello. Might you not lighten up a little? Of course you are in charge and can reject any review you choose for whatever reason. But this one does not violate any rules or standards that I can find in your regs. It is 20 words long [more if headline and
There’s more, but why beat a China shop bull-sitter at ping-pong? I got back another
Waiting for Beckett to convince me once again that his later works--increasingly static, more and more silent--still bear the magic,
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Once in a while something interesting comes from the silliness, from some wild hare I pursue. Writing about Mayan culture reminded me of two other examples from this particular writer’s life-files...
First, in the late Sixties I researched and wrote for Seattle Magazine a long and fairly nifty report on the archeological dig then underway near Washtucna in Eastern Washington, but located down in the "scablands" canyon of the Palouse, where some rock-overhang shelters were used for thousands of years as both temporary resting
This site had yielded solid proof of such occupancy: primitive weapons, bones and teeth from humans and other creatures, plus the near-entire skeleton of carbon-dated, twelve-thousand-year-old “Marmes Man.” (The human remains were thought to be those of early wanderers--crossing the land bridge from Asia to Alaska, then gradually moving south via Washington State, their descendants eventually considered the “Native American” peoples of the West and Meso-America.) But all would soon be lost, the whole canyon inundated by the rising waters of the river, trapped behind a new Snake River dam further downstream.
I actually joined the dig for two ultra-dusty, hundred-degree days, interviewing
After a few hours of scraping and whisking, shifting, then sifting carefully, but finding nothing of possible interest, I was ready to knock off. (Okay, I was wimping
He made the appropriate sounds, congratulated me on a discovery made in so few hours (some lurking sarcasm there or, maybe, a professional’s disdain for the lucky amateur), and proceeded to burst my bubble, explaining that a single tooth by itself didn’t count for much; other teeth, a jawbone, a whole or partial skull, would lend more credence, even help establish archeological provenance.
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The second verbal artifact requires less telling. When Sandra and I got married almost 25 years ago, we made sure that nearly every aspect of the several days’ celebration and wedding ceremony had been picked up and dusted off, or dispensed with, or changed utterly. Among the minor adjustments was our decision to offer a single-layer chocolate cake, and I put the rationale (sort of) into a poem printed in the program for our lovely but equally low-key ceremony:
In Defense of Flat Chocolate Wedding Cakes
Any time, love is a nervous condition.
On the sunwheel plaza high up each
pyramid of the Valley of the Sun,
Aztec priests got right to the heart
of the matter: the Cakes of Heaven
are seldom a body’s bread.
Nor should the hopeful couple approve
some half-baked cylinder shaped
like Chichen Itza’s Well of Maiden Sacrifice.
(Not that far removed, politically speaking.)
small man atop clearly in reduced circumstances,
and the tiny woman, had she but tongue
to vent her anguish, shrieking like the Sidhe.
Neither would choose to live in such
a triple-tiered suite of dubious taste…
Let other weddings take the cake for show
biz. Our “I do’s” will not be
symbolically or otherwise consumed
at the Drive-in Chapel of Confectioners’ Dreams.
Marriage can be short and dark and give
you several raspberries. Chew on this
to remember our cock-eyed optimism.