Saturday, July 15, 2017

When Monk and Billie Were Banned

I was reading about Billie Holiday the other day and was stunned to learn that because of a drug bust she had had her "cabaret card" revoked for ten years, meaning that for that time she couldn't perform in any New York City room or club. I knew this had happened to Monk, but didn't know about Billie. What does it say that two of the greatest musical artists on the century couldn't even play in their hometown? Well it says that the authorities didn't give a shit about truth and beauty. We could describe this as the epitome of philistinism. It's easy to understand indifference to art, but this active suppression of it? "They say she's a genius. Well she's just another druggie to me." To what extent was this racist? I know many white jazz musicians did hard time for heroin. But it's hard to believe race isn't part of it. I mean, I'm sure Leonard Bernstein did narcotics in the form of cocaine, and I don't recall him getting busted or being shut out of any venues.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Emmylou Harris Sings "Like Strangers"


Please forgive the glitch that opens this video. Just a little imperfection to set in relief the perfection that follows. The song is by the wife-husband songwriting team of Felice Byrant (born Matilda Scaduto) and Boudleaux Byrant, who wrote most of the Everly Brothers hits, including "Love Hurts" and "All I Have to Do Is Dream." How about this cosmic tidbit from Wikipedia about the duo:
"Bryant and Scaduto eloped two days after meeting. Their song, "All I Have To Do Is Dream," is autobiographical for Felice. She was working as an elevator operator at the Sherwood Hotel when she saw Bryant. She has said that she "recognized" him immediately; she had seen his face in a dream when she was eight years old, and had "looked for him forever." She was nineteen when they met."
Despite the charmed meeting, they must have experienced the circumstances of "Like Strangers," and felt these lines down to the bone (I know I have):
Let's forget that we've been angry
Let's be lovers like before
And swear not to be like strangers anymore
Emmylou is accompanied on vocals by Jon Randall (guitar) and Sam Bush (mandolin). Bush is a legendary figure in progressive country and bluegrass. He's played with everyone, making them sound better every time. Not that the peerless Emmylou needs any help in that regard.

So and So Is a Heretical Such and Such: Thoreau Edition

From today's Boston Globe review (by William H. Pritchard) of Laura Dassow Walls' new Thoreau bio, we encounter Emerson half-ironically identifying the neo-pagan Thoreau as a heretical Christian of the Protestant variety. Pritchard tells us:
When Thoreau died in 1862 at the age of only 44, victim of the tuberculosis that had struck other members of his family, his mentor and critic, Ralph Waldo Emerson, delivered the memorial address. They had been friends for 25 years, Thoreau living on two occasions in Emerson’s house. No better sentences have since been made than the ones Emerson assembled to sum up his friend’s character. Emerson playfully called him a “born protestant,” pointing out that few lives contained so many renunciations, which he then proceeded to list: “He was bred to no profession; he never married; he lived alone; he never went to church; he refused to pay a tax to the State; he ate no flesh, he drank no wine, he never knew the use of tobacco; and, though a naturalist, he used neither trap nor gun.”

Emerson noted shrewdly that Thoreau “did not feel himself except in opposition,” a habit Emerson admitted was “a little chilling to the social affections.” One of his friends is quoted as confessing “I love Henry, but I cannot like him, and as for taking his arm, I should as soon think of taking the arm of an elm-tree.” Summing up Thoreau in a rich sentence, Emerson said: “He chose, wisely, no doubt, for himself to be the bachelor of thought and Nature.”

Tree/Sky Variations

M. Bogen, Somerville, Mass., After the Evening Rain, July 8, 2017



Saturday, July 8, 2017

So and So Is a Heretical Such and Such: Freud Edition

I love that formulation that goes (so and so) is a heretical (such and such). The idea being that quite often figures who seem to have rejected the principles of a given entity actually are just restating them, but in a way unacceptable to the dogma or doctrine of said entity. After reading the following passage from the master essayist George Scialabba it occurred to me, as I'm sure it has to others, that Freud was a heretical Christian. Speaking of D. H. Lawrence, Scialabba wrote:
Lawrence's Unconscious is not Freud's. Freud's unconscious is a swamp, which psychoanalytic reason must drain and reclaim. Lawrence's Unconscious is a vital power: the ineffable source of life, a monarch ruling and subsuming the whole field of bodily planes, plexuses, and ganglions, completely individual but connected by quick, subtle threads to the entire cosmos. 
For the Christian, if one goes too far within, one might meet and be seduced by Satan. The inner world is something to be feared. Certainly, as for Freud, it is not a source of creativity. If Christians require the guidance of a priest or clergyman to face and defeat the threat within, Freudians require an analyst. If the tension for Christians is the tension between God and the devil, for Freudians it is the battle between the superego and the id. Freud's colleague Jung was not a heretical Christian because he denied the whole premise that there is some fundamental problem, some fallen state, that must be overcome. Neither was Emerson a heretic. Though he started at Harvard Divinity School to become a Unitarian minister (when Unitarians were still Christians) he quickly left the whole thing behind, rejecting the idea that any salvation is needed and urging people to trust themselves, deeply and intuitively, in order for goodness and creativity to flourish in our world.