Thursday, January 31, 2013

For All You Workin' People Out There

Another poem, not a haiku, but still a simple stanza:

Sisyphus never had a job.
So how could he know
What it means to roll
Forty years of weekdays
Toward the weekends?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Kind of Oppression

Each day brings a flood of new apps that I fail to download, much less master and integrate into my life. And when I see the commercials of shiny, happy people with tablets flicking things around and doing all sorts of amazing stuff I feel like a big stone engraved with the word "SHOULD" is resting, with difficulty, on my shoulders.


Mask, 2001

Here's another of my drawings. This is markers and pastels on posterboard. Many of my drawings look somewhat tribal or indigenous, though I never have consciously to achieve that. I love classic 20th century abstraction, which sometimes nodded to the tribal, and, of course, path-breaking representational artists like Picasso were greatly influenced by African art. In this case, I set myself the task of creating an image that was explicitly tribal. I don't know what this creature is. Maybe a breed from the spirit world.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Provincetown Artists: Mary Giammarino

In addition to the abstract tradition, which I blogged about below, P-town has a rich and thriving history of what is known as American Impressionism. Impressionism is responsive to the conditions and qualities of light, and the special light is what attracts so many painters to the Outer Cape. The two most influential figures in the lineage of Provincetown Impressionism are Charles Hawthorne and Henry Hensche, both of whom painted and taught there in the early 20th century.

In recent years my wife, Lynn, has studied plein-air painting with Mary Giammarino, who, along with many other P-town painters, carries forward the practice and spirit of impression first propagated there a century ago.

Here is Mary's website. When I look at the painting posted here, I can feel summer coming.


The biggest flags fly over car dealerships. When the aliens finally come, they might be safe in assuming that automobiles are what Americans are willing to fight hardest for in the name of their country.

Friday, January 25, 2013

That's Right, It's Haiku

What's the point of having a blog if you can't inflict your poetry on people? Fear not, I offer a simple haiku meant to remind us that Spring soon will come again. (BTW, I don't believe the 5-7-5 scheme needs to hold in English.)

Sudden gust of April wind
Pink cherry blossom petals
Sticking to my shoe bottoms

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Provincetown Artists: Irene Lipton

P-town's reputation as a "gay mecca" is such that most people don't know that it is one of the oldest and most important art colonies in the US. The seminal abstract painter Hans Hoffman worked and taught there in the mid-twentieth century, and that tradition lives on. One of our favorite contemporary Provincetown abstractionists is Irene Lipton. The work above is 16" x 16", but she works much bigger, too, up to 48" x 48" or so.

Her website is here.

She shows at the Albert Merola Gallery.

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Regimen

The closest I've been getting to strenuous physical activity this winter is when I tackle the Lumberjack's Breakfast Special at the diner.

2012 Records of the Year: Billie Holiday

It's been a long time since I have been remotely current in my listening. For example, three of the "new" bands I really like are Pavement, Massive Attack, and Radiohead. You get the idea. I actually do try to keep somewhat current, but most of my listening is aimed at expanding my knowledge of significant music across genres and time. I continue to pursue the idea of building a collection or library, an antiquated notion I know. I want to get inside the music, which takes many listenings.

That's why my favorite recordings of 2012 included a great collection of Billie Holiday's Columbia recordings from the 1930s and early 40s. I listened a lot to this music back in the 80s, but to revisit it is a joy. These recordings are great because of Billie's singing, of course. Her phrasing was perfectly horn-like, not too unlike Louis Armstrong's, actually. Her tone was a bit horn-like, too. A bit brassy and tangy at times, but not in that over-the-top, theatrical way of her contemporary Ethel Merman. No, more like her soul mate, the tenor sax innovator Lester Young, who is all over these sides. Or like the muted trumpet sound Miles would ride to the top in the 50s. Lester bestowed upon Billie her moniker Lady Day. And she in turn bestowed his upon him: Prez.

One thing that makes these recordings great is that all the best jazz players of the time contribute to the songs with perfectly concise and supremely hip solos. Maybe the solos had to be short because of the limitations of recording technology, but necessity was indeed the mother of marvelous invention here.

All the songs are part of what we now know as the Great American Songbook, featuring jewels from Porter and the Gershwins and others. She even made a lesser song like "What A Little Moonlight Can Do" into a classic. It's hard to get tired of listening to any of these songs, and to hear Billie sing them is a timeless experience, since she communicates the meaning and feeling of the lyrics so vividly--a talent matched in later years only by Sinatra and her disciple Carmen McCrae. She always said she didn't sing it if she hadn't lived it.

Maybe you've seen this video from late in her too-short life. Recorded on CBS in 1957, it features an incredible lineup of some of the greatest musicians of the late swing and early bop eras, including Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Gerry Mulligan and many more.

The essence of singing, the essence of swinging; the essence of blues and of jazz.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Have the Mighty Really Fallen?

The convergence of the Petraeus and Armstrong scandals is interesting to me not as a question of how could these heroes have let us down but one of why they were considered heroes in the first place. To me they were never heroes. Here's why.

Petraeus gained his outsized reputation as a military genius of counterinsurgency strategy quite simply because W needed to deflect attention away from himself and his responsibility for the Iraq War, which by that time that time had revealed itself to be a deception and catastrophe of the highest order. W said, in essence, that he was ceding commander-in-chief status to the incredible savior Petraeus--who would turn everything around and get us out of the mountain of crap we had created. The media was happy to play along. What a story! But it was never true. No one is that smart, nor any single individual that important to ventures of this complexity and scale. And by most measures "the surge" didn't even succeed.

Lance Armstrong was famous primarily because he is thought to have "beaten" cancer. No one really cares much about cycling, so it had to be that. The thing is, people don't beat cancer. Some survive and some don't. It's wise to take whatever steps you can to put yourself in a position to do as well as you can, but to attribute survival of cancer to someone's efforts is just wrong. But, again, we like the idea of the superhero, and the media is happy to dish it up. Armstrong was still touting this line this past week. He was right to be "ruthless" in beating cancer, he said, but wrong to be ruthless in beating his opponents. OK, fine. Whatever.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Blindingly Obvious, #2: Wayne LaPierre Is Full of Crap

Whatever one thinks of the NRA idea of putting armed guards in every school, it's pretty clear that that measure would not obviate the need for better gun regulation. It doesn't make sense to frame that as an either-or situation. In fact, polling shows that significant percentages see this as some kind of both-and situation.

For me, the NRA vision is a dystopian one that doesn't sit well, not at all, and one I very much would not like to see. Not least out of worry about who these guards might be. Paul Blart? A Tarantino vigilante? And not least--and does this really need to be said?-- because a fortress is not a proper learning environment for kids. So the question is: How do we make schools and society safe without sliding too far away from what we know is best for us and our children; to be safe without sliding further into madness?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How Common Is It?

You know the phrase "common decency"? If it's so common, why is there so little of it?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Winter Portrait

Here's a cool photo our friend Vicki took of my wife and me as we were on the subway heading uptown in NYC over the holidays. Vic's a master with the iPhone. A nice likeness, don't you think?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Good Things To Do, #2: Sunday Morning Coming Down

Watch Kris Kristofferson sing his greatest song, "Sunday Morning Coming Down." If there's a better crafted song than this one, I want to hear it. After an audacious opening verse, the song just keeps getting better, not least when he rhymes pickin', kickin', and chicken in the second verse. It's evocative of a very particular feeling and place. God knows, I've been there. Johnny Cash had a big hit with "Sunday Morning," but I like this recent solo version from the composer.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Into the Dazzling Void

This passage is from Allen Ginsberg's 1973 poem, "Returning to the Country for a Brief Visit."

Old-one the dog stretches stiff-legged,
Soon he’ll be underground.  Spring’s first fat bee
Buzzes yellow over new grass and dead leaves.
What’s this little brown insect walking zigzag
Over the sunny white page of Su Tung-P'O's poem?
Fly away, tiny mite, even your life is tender -
I lift the book and blow you into the dazzling void.

Look "inward" as far as you can with the most spectacular microscopes. Look "outward" with the most stupendous telescopes. Ultimately all you find is an Infinite Void in which we are miraculously and paradoxically manifested. Many call this Void the Ground of Being. We are so much more complex than the "tiny mite," yet our relationship to the Void is equally improbable and glorious.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Innocence Project

When push comes to shove, what would you rather see: A guilty person go free or an innocent one be imprisoned or executed? Clearly this a lesser-evil framing, and the optimum scenario is that neither happen. But both do happen, and the question as framed here can help us clarify our thinking about the failures and successes of our judicial system.

Over the years, I have hypnotized myself with steady, prolonged exposure to "Law and Order," in all its manifestations. (You have, too. Admit it!) When I watch, I'm definitely on the side of the prosecutors and get ticked off when a guilty character gets off. But in real (non-television-viewing) life, I reserve most of my passion for the cause of seeing that fewer innocent people get or remain incarcerated. That's why I support The Innocence Project. It's crucial to understand that their purpose is not just to see that innocent men are freed (and they are overwhelmingly men), but to see that our judicial system functions as well as it possibly can. Wrongful incarcerations only serve to cast doubt on legitimate convictions.

It's not that we shouldn't feel outrage when the guilty go free, but that our outrage at the incarceration of innocents should, at the very least, be equally compelling for us. It's wishful thinking, but more depictions of the exoneration of innocents in the popular media might help us get there.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Wrong Takeaway?

I don't get as much writing done as I would like because I spend lots of time reading articles on how to overcome writer's block.