Sunday, June 30, 2013

Love Is Love: Dexter's Gone

Our pug, Dexter, March 28, 2002 to June 27, 2013

Our eleven year journey with our beloved little pug Dexter came to an end last week. Lynn and I don't have children, so it's no exaggeration to say that he was everything to us. He battled various ailments through his life but his spirit was always very, very strong. He was our brave heart boy and funny face boy and we loved him until our hearts would burst. A friend sent those lovely lines of Auden, that I will share here. "He was my North, my South, my East and West, my working week and Sunday rest." There is a hole in our hearts and home that I trust time and the love of family and friends will fill.

We will miss him and laugh about him and be grateful every day for all the miraculous years we spent being with, playing with, and caring for our beautiful little friend.

UPDATE: 7-1-13

I keep hearing Paul Simon's words from "Graceland" in my head:

Losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

When I see reminders of Dexter around the house a wind of loss blows through my chest. But I'm not ready to put his things away yet.

Lynn and I often spoke of his "profile in courage." You Boomers will get the joke. This is from the summer of 2011.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Non-Movie Goer

If I play my cards right I can miss seven or eight superhero movies this year. I'm well on my way. Wish me luck! And if I really devote myself, I can miss a half dozen zombie movies, too.

Positive Knowledge, Henry Grimes & the River

Henry Grimes

At last week's free-jazz Vision Fest in Brooklyn, I had the pleasure of hearing the group Positive Knowledge, featuring Oluyemi Thomas on reeds, his wife Ijeomi Thomas, words and voice, Michael Wimberly, drums, and Henry Grimes on bass. Listening, I understand more than ever before that avant-garde jazz -- that is, forward looking jazz, one which creates new precedents -- is not just about what lies ahead. I have long known that the tag line for the Art Ensemble of Chicago is "Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future." But last week this concept of bringing the past into the present and beyond became less abstract or intellectual for me; it became visceral and even literal.

At one point, as Oluyemi Thomas was holding forth on bass clarinet I perceived that his squalling lines, noisy as they were, were creating a sort of meditational, vibrational field in which the spirits of our ancestors were able to join us -- really, not metaphorically -- in celebration of turbulent, generative humanity. Thomas's lines and the whole group sound functioned as a fierce incantation that placed us in a dream outside of time; or maybe into a place where time and space had been collapsed: Jazz improvisation as twenty-first century aesthetic shamanism.

Then, during a bass solo by Henry Grimes, I noticed that I wasn't hearing notes anymore, but sounds and voices. At a certain point I just didn't know where the sounds were coming from. It didn't seem possible that they all emanated from his instrument, a green-colored acoustic upright bass. And then I recalled Hesse's Siddhartha, in which Siddhartha is enlightened spending time with the ferryman Vasudeva by the river.

"Isn't it so, oh friend, the river has many voices, very many voices? Hasn't it the voice of a king, and of a warrior, and of a bull, and of a bird of the night, and of a woman giving birth, and of a sighing man, and a thousand other voices more?"

"So it is," Vasudeva nodded, "all voices of the creatures are in its voice."

And I thought of Langston Hughes, "The Negroe Speaks of Rivers":

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

And I was grateful to have spent time in the river of life, love, and furious creativity conjured that night by the group Positive Knowledge.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Forgive Me, Nina Simone

Forgive me, Nina Simone, for I know not what the hell I was thinking, spending, as I did, so many years ignoring your music. Well, I had my reasons. Your repertoire was just too eclectic and idiosyncratic, what with the show tunes, the jazz standards, the spirituals, the protest songs. And then there was the whole diva thing. And worse, it seemed like every person I knew who didn't actually know that much about music liked you, like they loved Aretha Franklin. But still, but still . . .

So many times I would hear some truly great singing on the radio only to learn that it was you. So finally, after much dragging of heels, I picked up a great collection of yours, and some great live recordings, too, and was hooked, enamored, devoted. It's safe to say that few sing with as much authority as you. You sing every note the way you meant to sing it. You sing with complete command. And, hey, your piano playing is first rate, too, revealing that classical training. My concerns may have had some grounding in fact, but were relegated to insignificance by your tremendous art. Again, please forgive me.

How glorious to experience the newness of something so wonderful, so late in life, when it's so easy to be jaded. My foot dragging fulfilled an unanticipated purpose then, allowing me the thrill of discovery as I move through middle age.

Nina Simone owns Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy." Listen.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Robert Janz at Vision Fest

Robert Janz, taping a wall at Vision Fest 18, June, 16, 2013

Artist of the ephemeral Robert Janz was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the 18th Vision Fest in Brooklyn over the weekend. Robert is the first visual artist to be honored at Vision Fest, which celebrates the free jazz tradition, or what might be called post-Coltrane and post-Ayler, avant-garde, African-American spiritual jazz. (Or might not. That's a pretty clunky moniker I just invented.)

Nothing is more ephemeral than live jazz -- especially free jazz. The moments of epiphany are in the wind, and imprint themselves mainly as impressions on the soul. So Robert was a brilliant choice. Throughout the performance venue (Roulette: an old, repurposed theater), Robert constructed, deconstructed, and morphed images of figures and beasts, all of whom call out to us, each in its own way, from the dawn of Man. The photo above shows him in action. His technique here is to "paint" with tape, which is attached and reattached in various configurations during the course of an evening, over the course of a few days, or whatever circumstances call for.

Here's Robert's artist statement:

My focus is archaic, image making at the origins of humanity and art. The imagery comes from the earliest art, from the childhood of humanity. Contact with the deepest Past expands our understanding of our inheritance and its potential.

Well said. The best way to see Robert's work is through his Janzwork website. It provides links to the blogspot sites he creates for each of his projects or modes of expression. Here are some more images from the walls at Roulette.



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Some Roden Crater Skepticism

Still not finished

My wife and I have been watching on DVD a terrific PBS series called Art:21, about leading contemporary artists in the 21st century. Among the artists profiled is James Turrell, an accomplished artist of light and space, who, with major funding from sources such as Dia Art Foundation, as well as from scores of private individuals, has made it his life's work to build a series of tunnels and observatories for viewing the cosmos in the bowl of an extinct volcano, called Roden Crater. Given that the work was started in the 70s and was to be completed no later than the 80s, and is still not complete today, my considered expert opinion is this:

Turrell has bamboozled and hornswoggled his donors into a land art boondoggle of epic proportions. (In all fairness, I might be overstating, but I really wanted to write that sentence.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Before Midnight": A Review

The super hot indie flick happening now is, of course, "Before Midnight," starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in the third of their celebrated "Before" trilogy. So here's my review of director Richard Linklater's latest. Just to clarify, I haven't seen it, but I have seen -- over and over and over again -- the publicity campaign, so I'll weigh in on that, since that shows us all we really need to know anyway.

1. Naming is critical to this venture. The one thing that could doom further installments in this groundbreaking series is the lack of times of day that would work well in the title. Try "After Noon." Not happening. Maybe "Before Happy Hour" would work. It could feature the sassy lovers arguing Dick and Liz style one afternoon before they reach for the Syrah.

2. The main publicity still features Hawke and Delpy "unselfconsciously" listening to the witty banter of one of their successful friends. We know they are at ease because Delpy is twirling her hair and Hawke is, yes, you've seen it, picking his teeth with his thumb. Hey, maybe that's European. Although I understand a deleted scene did show them back in their room later with Delpy asking him why the hell he can't floss in private like a normal person.

3. The other main publicity shot features the cute couple walking along on their Greek Island with Hawke yakking away in her ear. That's fine: it reveals their "dynamic." But what I like is that his shirt is half tucked in and half untucked. Yes, he's one of those guys who just doesn't give a damn about how he looks, but looks cool anyway. Never mind that his naturalness was achieved after they tried takes with both sides tucked in, neither side tucked, left side tucked, right side tucked, and one with a Serge Gainsbourgh t-shirt.

4. The series seems to depend on us really liking and identifying with Celine and Jesse. Jesse is a novelist by now. Hey, me too! Well, no, I'm not a novelist, but I'm a lot like one.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Hazrat Inayat Khan: The Music of Life

Hazrat Inayat Khan was a Sufi master and master of Indian classical music who lived from 1882 to 1927. The book The Music of Life (Omega Press, 1983) collects some of his writings, including this passage:

"Music has a mission not only with the multitudes but with individuals, and its mission with individuals is as necessary and great as its mission with multitudes. All the trouble in the world and all the disastrous results arising out of it all come from lack of harmony. This shows that the world needs harmony now more than ever before. So if the musician understands this, his customer is the whole world. When a person learns music, he need not necessarily learn to be a musician or to become a source of pleasure and joy to his fellow man; no, but by playing, loving, and hearing music, he must develop music in his personality. The true use of music is to become musical in one's thoughts, words, and actions. We must be able to give the harmony for which the soul yearns and longs every moment. All the tragedy in the world, in the individual and in the multitude, comes from lack of harmony. And harmony is best given by producing harmony in one's own life.

"During my travels throughout the world, I have heard the music of many different places, and have always felt that intimate friendship and brotherhood existing in music. I have always had a great respect for music and for the devotee of music. One thing I believe (and when in India convinced of it time after time after meeting those who have touched some perfection in music) that not only in their music but in their life one can feel the harmony that is the real test of perfection. If the principle of music were followed there would be no need for external religion. And someday music will be the means of expressing universal religion. Time is wanted for this, but there will come a day when music and its philosophy will become the religion of humanity."

Thursday, June 6, 2013


True leaders tell the people what they want to hear. The thing is, at first the people don't even know they want to hear it. Somehow, through rhetoric, vision, and the power of example, the leader breaks through the fog of delusion so encouraged by market-based depravity and the small-minded thinking of paranoid ideologues, and gets people in touch with the better part of their being that has been yearning to hear and be heard.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Suffering Fools Gladly

It's not uncommon for an obituary of a successful person to include the observation that he or she "didn't suffer fools gladly." This is a way of saying that despite the person's impressive intelligence or talent he or she couldn't be bothered to treat less smart or accomplished people in a kind or supportive manner. That is to say, he or she was a jerk, or at the very least ungracious and unenlightened. I say let's start identifying the opposite, enlightened behavior in obits and on headstones. I can picture it:

Here lies Gautama Buddha (ca 560 to 480 BCE): He suffered fools gladly.

UPDATE: Of course, one very good reason to suffer fools gladly is that only time will tell who was the fool and who wasn't.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Living As If It Were True

Various branches of the sciences, especially evolutionary biology and neuroscience, converge on the idea that as humans we have no free will. I often wonder if what they mean is that all acts and choices are conditioned. It's clear that nothing exists independent of anything else and that our acts and choices surface from a never ending stream of influence. Indeed, theologians and philosophers of old argued that only "God" could create an act independent of prior influence. This theological conception of the "prime mover" is analogous to the Big Bang theory.

But let's accept that there is no free will, period. No acts of our own choosing. Try going through a day without making decisions. Even if these decisions are somehow illusory, and perhaps they are, you still have to make them, and believe in them; stand by them and build on them; and act as if they were real and true. Ask anyone who decided to go to the gym when they didn't want to. So the argument for the absence of free will is in this sense a distinction without a difference. To be sure, the biologists have decided that it's crucial that they convince us to change our minds about this important matter. And I would think that many of them chose their field of their own "free will."

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Off Cape Ann

The Gloucester shore at Halibut Point, facing north toward Portsmouth, NH, 06-02-13

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Question of the Day

What constitutes the truest and deepest power in this life, in this world?

Musicians Who Paint #1: Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now, front album cover, 2000

Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now, back album cover, 2000