Tuesday, September 30, 2014


There's only one real reason to get famous. It's to have the necessary clout to publish a best-selling children's book. Christ, even Keith Richards has one out now. Who's next? Please tell me it's not Mick. The one I'm looking forward to, is the one from Dick Cheney.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Poet Genine Lentine

The 2014 issue of Provincetown Arts features, along with many other poets, the poet Genine Lentine, of San Francisco. I really loved her style, with words, phrases, and images sidling up to each other, sometimes bouncing off each other. It used to be more common, I think, that poets would use spacing on the page to define rhythm and emphasis, etc. In this one, I like how she uses brackets and slashes. Do I know what the poem "means"? No, thank God. But I do have an inkling about certain passages. (I hope she doesn't mind that I put this up here. Buy one of her books!)

Read "The World"

For [you], I cast [the world]

—eye level          agave
has its own wrapping / is its own wrapping 
between the wrapping and itself, nothing but itself
groove the blades make \ embossing self with self
plums jostle clean in a glass bowl of water
leafblade or plum—yes, closer, like that

pale green crown, glass bowl
I don't care what form you take this time press
here on my shadow
I like it when you touch me there

everywhere casting

Would you mind standing here, where the planet would be?
where reality would be      if I let it?

let me list the ways I'd like to [    ]
let me list
let me
and now I've disappeared.
(what I've been wanting all along)
saying it, I'm back
(all along what) I've (been wanting)

let me list                    rustle
your chapparal
divebell your vents

where I was standing—reality to be there
where I am standing—reality to be here

come here, speculative and spinning
come here, you flooded, burning rock

Copyright © 2009 Genine Lentine All rights reserved
from Mr. Worthington's Beautiful Experiments on Splashes
New Michigan Press

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Rouhani's Thought Bubble

One of the big stories last week was Iran's President Rouhani speaking at the UN in New York. His address was equal parts high-flown rhetoric, mild defiance, and pure BS. In other words, a "statesman-like" performance. But you know what he was actually thinking?
"The hell with it. I'm movin' here. The Ayatollah is a world-class prick, and, hey, I'm not getting any younger. Maybe get a loft in Tribeca, furnish it Mid-century Modern. Brooklyn is over anyway. Open a gallery in Chelsea and staff it with ingenues from those over-priced New England liberal arts colleges. Yes, that's what I'm going to do as soon as I get back. I mean it this time."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Boomer Bliss Out: Up on the Roof

I didn't know until now that Gerry Goffin, co-writer of this (with Carole King) and so many other indelible hits, died over the summer. Thank you, Gerry!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres, Sundark Blues, 1994, Two panels 8'h x 7'w


I've been seeing lots of articles about the current Helen Frankenthaler exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York, and that got me thinking about the great women abstractionists of the late 20th century. Of course, Joan Mitchell comes to mind. Then I remembered the British painter Gillian Ayres, whose work my wife and I saw at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven back in 1997. I'll never forget my initial impression, which was that of the smell of oil paint. Her works are huge and the layers of paint are thick, so they must take eons to dry. I guess the paintings were still alive, rather like a wheel of cheese. Or not. I also remember thinking how wonderful white paint is in the company of bold colors. I think her work might qualify as action painting, which doesn't mean that a painting is created in a quick burst of action but rather that the act or process of painting is evident in the brushwork and layering. (De Kooning was famed as an action painter, but although his abstractions look like they were spontaneous, they were slowly created and composed.) It's really something to see large paintings in person. One becomes immersed in the color and energy and composition of a piece. Also showing at the Yale Museum at that same time was was an exhibition of William Blake's work. My analysis is this: Blake was one trippy dude.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Robert Creeley, "Some"

M. Bogen, Crane Estate, Ipswich, Mass., 2:00, 9-17-14

You have not simply
insisted on yourself
nor argued
the irrelevance

of any one else. You
have always wanted
to be friends, to be
one of many.

life even
in its largeness
might be brought

to care, you
tried to make it
care, humble, illiterate,
awkward gestured.

So you thought,
as inevitable age approached
some loved you,

You waited for 
Some wind
to lift, some
thing to happen

proving it finally,
making sense more
than the literal,
still separate.
From Robert Creeley, Just In Time: Poems 1984 - 1994

Friday, September 19, 2014

Nick Cave's Wondrous Creatures

UPDATE: 9-20-14
No, not that Nick Cave. This Nick Cave, a brilliant American artist whose work blends fabric art, sculpture, and costuming to create a world of characters that are at once playful, creepy, tribal, expressionistic, and, well, you get the idea. I think we can say sui generis. Improbably powerful, the works need to be seen in person. We first encountered his work at the Boise Art Museum, of all places. The whole space was dedicated to showing dozens of his towering creatures. We know they are creatures because they have arms and legs, but beyond that the mind starts to reel wondering what the hell a creature actually is. The thrill of the work comes from its blend of pleasure, discomfort, and mystery. If you get a chance, go.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Relativism, Absolutism, & Procrustes' Bed

Give American conservatives some credit: They know what they are against. And more than that they get their talking points together and employ them consistently and broadly. Who among us hasn't heard the allegation of "relativism" hurled at liberals. Probably no one, at least no one who follows politics and culture with any interest at all. You know about relativism. It's where value judgments or beliefs are weighed on a situational basis. Situation ethics. This happens when there is no timeless, or indeed supernatural, source of right and wrong. When this is the case, it is said, the logical conclusion is the acceptance of humans wishing, yes, to marry animals. More seriously, one might imagine an extreme case in which a cultural relativist might condone female genital mutilation since that is the norm in a given culture.

On its face, the argument against relativism is somewhat compelling. However, what is rarely mentioned is that what is being defended is something called absolutism, where experience is judged by and made to fit the abstract, absolute authority of a source that is often supernatural, or, as a sympathizer would frame it, "divine" in nature. Homosexuality is decreed by a sacred text to be a sin? No problem, pretend someone isn't gay or send them to a "conversion therapy" program. Theologically, dogma is the absolutists' enforcer.

To illustrate, William James and others have cited the Greek myth of Procrustes' "magic" bed. The Mythweb site relates the story like this:
Procrustes, whose name means "he who stretches", was arguably the most interesting of Theseus's challenges on the way to becoming a hero. He kept a house by the side of the road where he offered hospitality to passing strangers, who were invited in for a pleasant meal and a night's rest in his very special bed. Procrustes described it as having the unique property that its length exactly matched whomsoever lay down upon it. What Procrustes didn't volunteer was the method by which this "one-size-fits-all" was achieved, namely as soon as the guest lay down Procrustes went to work upon him, stretching him on the rack if he was too short for the bed and chopping off his legs if he was too long. Theseus turned the tables on Procrustes, fatally adjusting him to fit his own bed.
One might reasonably hold any number of absolutist principles. For example, we all agree on the prohibition of slavery. We don't need an appeal to outside authority for that, but rather to our shared humanity. The abortion debate is so difficult because absolutist positions on both sides make some sense.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lou Reed: September Song

"And the days grow short / As you reach September." Yes, it's September now and we can really feel the change of season here in New England. And, yes, I'm in the September of my life, about two-thirds done, God willin' and the creek don't rise. The peerless Lou Reed made this Kurt Weill song his own. It was born to be a Lou Reed song. Dig the trademark chugging rhythm that launches us out of the intro at about 0:41 (with the band kicking in a few seconds later). Dig the trademark deadpan vocals. Dig how it's good to be alive at the age you are.

A little history: This record was the brainchild of producer Hal Wilner, who in fact invented the now ubiquitous concept of the tribute album where incredibly diverse musical artistes interpret the work of a single composer. Look at the line up here: from John Zorn and Charlie Haden to Sting and Marianne Faithful. Such beautiful eclecticism, which actually represents the spirit of the times back then, in 1985, when this LP came out. I have the original vinyl somewhere at home.

Fun fact: I did a songwriting workshop with Hal and Marianne at the Naropa Institute in Boulder during the summer of '87 or so. The cool thing was that Marianne Faithful, former lover of Mick Jagger in Swinging 60s London, and creator of emotionally lacerating music, was quite warm and even maternal in "real life." And she praised highly my songwriting effort from our class, something I'll always treasure.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Go Ahead, Label Me

I went through the site and added labels for each art, music, and poetry blog entry. Just click on one of those below for a thematic look at the aesthetic side of Art & Argument's 22-month history. My entries aren't especially premeditated, so using the label search gives a fairly objective sample of how my taste runs. Well, almost. Jazz is my favorite form of music, but it's not always easy or advisable to press it upon people. When I do a jazz post it tends to feature someone accessible like Gregory Porter. I also choose music in other genres for accessibility, too. Won't be inflicting any noise music, which I like on occasion, upon you anytime soon.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Porfirio DiDonna

Untitled, 1980, oil on linen, 24 x 18 inches

Fugue, 1985, oil on linen, 84 x 36 inches

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Battle of Ideas

We held a battle of ideas. They struck each other and bloodied each other. Each regrouped to their corners and returned ready to flatten the other, knock the other out. Emboldened, we took the battle large, replete with supporting cover and tactical strikes. We sent agents behind enemy lines. Agents who appeared to be sympathetic. We created flags and uniforms. We suppressed the subversives. Always in the interest of strength. The blunter the idea the better for striking and denting and bruising. Rather than surrender, some ideas went underground while others built compounds and stockpiled weapons. Others took the fight digital and pretended that the battle still meant something. To fight and win!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Gram Parsons: Brass Buttons

Yes, you do like country music. No, not the big hat, overly twangy baritone voice kind. Not the this small town is good enough for us kind; the we have kids but we still like to tear it up on a Saturday night kind. Not the flag and pick up truck kind.

The Gram Parsons kind. Gram Parsons: Baby-faced Harvard dropout, and son of Southern money. Drug buddies with Keith Richards, and co-creator of the sound of "Wild Horses." Originator of Country Rock, or as some put it, Cosmic Country, with his friends in the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Harmonizer with Emmylou Harris. Possessor of a soulful fragile voice, the opposite of what we hear now. Drug casualty, dead at age 26 in 1973.

I have loved this song forever, but never knew till recently what it was about. It's a sharing of impressionistic memories of his deceased mother who died too young from booze. "It was a dream much too real / to be leaned against too long."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Can A Book Be Bad For You?

Great topic for debate at the NYT Book Review. This is a concept that is pretty alive politically on the right, with people like David Horowitz and others listing the most dangerous books (and professors!) of all time. On that list is always Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," a book that had a huge influence on me. Would I subscribe to every notion put forth in it? Maybe I did for a while at the time I first read it more than two decades ago. But certainly not for many, many years. But one thing I'll never forget is his message that no work of history is ever objective, with the author's values being strongly expressed through what is omitted. That's a notion I would think conservatives could endorse. And the thing is, Zinn was totally upfront that his book was biased--on the side of "the people" in his view, a dubious idea, sure, but one he broadcast loudly. It wasn't a stealth message. For liberals, the books of Ayn Rand probably hold a similar place (though she's usually pegged as immature rather than dangerous), with the idea being that her message is horrible for the social fabric. Maybe, but like Zinn's work, she represented her point of view clearly and without apology. I definitely enjoyed reading her even if I'm not a libertarian believer, and I remember debates among friends about her work. Dangerous? That's the essence of healthy discourse.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Franz Kline: Making the Gestural Monumental

Franz Kline's minimalistic abstractions are large (several feet by several feet), and very dramatic when seen in person. Often based on spontaneous sketches, the paintings themselves are very composed. The restraint of the color palette adds to the power. His works are often my favorite when I view the permanent holdings of a major art museum. Note on influence: I understand that Kline was more inspired by asphalt patchwork on roadways than by Japanese calligraphy. In fact, I think of that aesthetic tidbit every time I see some patching.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Musicology: Chuck Berry Performs "C'est La Vie"

Before I get into the musicology, let me just say that this is just sick. The level of mastery in Mr. Berry's performance is something to gaze upon in wonder. Part of the mastery is in the rhythmic displacement displayed throughout, both instrumentally and vocally. This is where the musicology comes in.

It goes like this. I've always been baffled how early rock and roll was referred to as "be bop." Be bop is the music of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gilliespie, and Thelonious Monk, right? Complex music: crazy harmonies, fast tempos, tricky time signatures, etc. From today's perspective, nothing could be farther apart than rock and jazz. Watching this video clip, it becomes so clear how jazz and rock and roll could at one time have been considered kin. In fact, Chuck's phrasing and chording could be said to be closer to jazz than rock. Except that some of the chords are sprayed with a dirty sound and the licks make you want get a little wiggle in your walk, as the Big Bopper put it in "Chantilly Lace." And as Chuck demonstrates throughout, the music gets to feeling so good to him that he's just got to move. His body and the music and the guitar are one. It's the wiggle that makes this something other than jazz.

And it's the wiggle that makes it rock and roll and as opposed to just rock. Rock basically makes you want jump up and down or slam into people. The roll puts the hip shakin' in there. In terms of allegiance to the roll, the Stones are unparalleled, and it's the absence of the roll that impoverishes music today. Even hip hop, which is groove and beat oriented, inspires more head bobbing than anything else. OK, there's the twerking, too.

Another jazz connection here is the presence of the Spanish tinge, the ingredient identified by Jelly Roll Morton as essential to jazz, especially as it developed in New Orleans.* The fact that the lyrics of  "C'est La Vie" explicitly reference New Orleans, shows that Mr. Berry knew what he was doing. Yes, the master always knew what he was doing.

For Chuck Berry listening, The Definitive Collection can't be beat.

* Maybe the tinge here is more "Caribbean" than Spanish, but it definitely owes to the Crescent City, which adds so much to the gumbo of American music.

UPDATE: 09-7-14

Listen closely to early Monk, and you can hear how the equation can be flipped. Known primarily for his angular melodies that were also weirdly hummable, rhythmically speaking Monk grooved like a mother, intensifying swing into a rock precursor. Case in point: the eighth note patterns beginning at around 1:22 in "Well You Needn't." And throughout, rhythmic displacement is the rule, just as with Berry's "C'est La Vie."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Reviews of Books I Haven't Read #1: Piketty's "Capital"

I haven't read this

In 700 pages densely packed with charts, equations, and all manner of stats, and seasoned with some post-modern social science, the French economist Thomas Piketty makes the case that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Capital in the 21st Century is the must read this summer for liberals, though no one quite knows why. Highly recommended for those who haven't already heard Leonard Cohen's Everybody Knows, which has the advantage of being both funny and short.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

3 Beat Poems

Imminently, when we're
Spiritually empirically eminent,
We'll take our permanent place
In the firmament, where
Love is a liniment
And a ligament.

A quandary is a quarry
Of query you don't
Dive or jive into.

But a story quarry
Makes strong foundations.

Lift off grift off,
The elite on the Street
Are getting off on selling off.

M. Bogen

Monday, September 1, 2014