Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wishing You L-O-V-E Love in 2016

2015 Meta Reflections

It occurred to me that maybe a year-end summing up of this blog would be in order, some sort of attempt to pluck out a few main themes and draw some conclusions. But that idea didn't appeal to me. So I set out to understand why. I think it's because I like the slow accretion of ideas, images, and topics that is itself the composition or the point of the site. I'm sure there are conclusions that could be drawn, but going there myself feels like it would disrupt the actual doing of it, just like overthinking can stunt the living of life.

OK, an odd claim from someone who devotes a few hours each week to this blog in order to communicate thoughts. But the thoughts aren't about me exactly. They are about my concerns and enthusiasms, mostly the latter. The blog is a pretty good reflection of how I choose to focus my mind on an average day or during a typical week or month. For me it seems a more constructive and non-neurotic use of my mental apparatus to figure out what I would like to say about that Beach Boys song I'm listening to in the car than to spend too much time thinking about myself and my problems.

The question is always what to leave in and what to leave out. I've read my Bukowski, but nothing raunchy is going into this blog, even if a fair amount of raunch might present itself during the course of things. I mean, like many people I get those Judd Apatow movies. Yes, I want to maintain some decorum here, for both personal and professional reasons, as well as so that the site can have a reasonable amount of aesthetic and tonal coherence.

Many really great things I love, like free jazz, don't make it onto the site either. There's a time and place for everything. And this isn't it. In a way, my visual art and poetry postings track more closely to my tastes and interests than do my music posts. Here's why. A poem or image of a painting allows the viewer to take in as much as they choose to in a given moment, but a three, four, or five minute music video asks a lot more, so I try to choose music clips that are awesome and arty but also accessible. Actually I do the same editing with art and poetry, but to a lesser extent. For example, for poems I want them to have some lively language and imagery but also to not be totally incomprehensible, which characterizes more poems than poets would like to admit.

Then there's the non-art stuff, which boils down to philosophical and spiritual reflections along with some political commentary. For the former, I often just look at my bookshelves to see if there's something invigorating and thought-provoking that would be fun to share. Emerson works good in this regard. A single sentence of his can send your mind spinning out in several directions at once. As for the politics, well, sometimes things just intrude upon life to the point where they can't be ignored. The strength of this blog, I hope, is that if you're not into the occasional politics, you can return in a day or two and encounter what I think are some of the greatest and most beautiful things that humanity has to offer.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Farewell Ellsworth Kelly

Minimalist par excellence, Kelly made us think about form and color, to appreciate form and color. To think about presence and absence. About sensuality and austerity. I like his early works best, where there is more play within each work. The only later work here is the blue one, from the 90s. Thoreau said to "simplify, simplify, simplify." I've found that as a general rule that's not always best. But it worked for Kelly. Read Sebastian Smee's Boston Globe obit here.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cy Twombly

Pan (Part III), 1980, mixed media on paper, 76 x 57 cm

Why Twombly? Why now? Because he's the best artist I always fail to think of whenever I'm thinking about who the very best modern artists are. So just rectifying that unfortunate and repeated mental lapse. Twombly rocks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Band: "Christmas Must Be Tonight"

Hey, Bill O'Reilly! No "war on Christmas" here. Move along, OK?

It's an Art & Argument tradition at this time of year to post The Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight," a lovely song written by Robbie Robertson, with Rick Danko on lead vocals. Danko was always my favorite of the Band's three lead singers. And this is my favorite Christmas song, a bit outside the norm. The videographer here did a tasty job with the images.

We actually went down to Trinity Church in Boston last weekend for their Christmas music and worship service. I was struck once again how "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" has the best words of any traditional carol. They were written in 1868 by Philips Brooks, long the Rector at Trinity. Yes, the "hopes and fears of all the years."
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Terminology Clarification: Martyr

Look, you're not a martyr if you commit suicide in the process of killing innocent people. A martyr is killed when nonviolently trying to help innocent but oppressed people. Think MLK, Jr. Or the guy in the Homeland finale who was killed by his cousin in the process of thwarting a terrorist attack in Berlin.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Diane Simpson at the Boston ICA

Diane Simpson, Formal Wear

I definitely will go see this show. I like my "idea art" to be visually engaging on its own terms. I think Simpson succeeds. Here's what Sebastian Smee says in the Boston Globe.
To make her sculptures, Simpson transposes details of clothing or architecture that have caught her fancy — they may be Japanese kimonos, aprons, tunics, or bibs — into structural diagrams, which she then re-imagines in three dimensions. The results are superb, combining as they do aspects of Cubist sculpture (I thought in particular of Picasso’s Ballets Russes “Parade” costumes) with a lean, origami-like emphasis on structure, and a deeply original focus on materials, textures, and colors.... But as you take in each piece’s materials, another part of your brain is caught up in a set of convoluted pictorial puzzles, hinging on the interplay between diagrams and real objects, between three dimensions and two.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Religion and the Problem of Difference

How to think about and deal with nonbelievers: That's the question for all religious practitioners, not just the fundamentalists of ISIS who choose to deal with them violently. In the field of religious studies, religious practitioners and groups can be said to partake of three basic orientations toward the other.

  • The exclusivist orientation holds that all nonbelievers will be condemned to hell on judgment day. "No salvation outside the Church" was the Catholic formulation.
  • The inclusivist orientation holds that God will save good people who don't share the faith, even if they don't don't know it. This is a more generous view, if condescending.
  • The pluralist orientation holds that all religions represent valid ways to find sacred truth. Many paths, one mountain. This is my viewpoint, and I would include non-religious people, too. The idea is that we can all learn from each other. For me this is the necessary attitude in the 21st century.

Let's look more closely at exclusivism, since this is the attitude of the ISIL types. Exclusivism is mostly found in Christianity and Islam, which is why these religions have a greater focus on conversion than others. If you really think that the "others," the nonbelievers, are going to be punished, you have a moral obligation to try to convert them. That's why all those Catholic missionaries traveled hundreds of miles up the Amazon to find every last "savage" on the planet. They were motivated. The irony here is that if all the Christian and Muslim exclusivists got their way, each would succeed in converting the other, and they would just swap places!

Throughout history there have been true believers who see no contradiction between military action and either the propagation of religion, or at least what they perceive as the defense of it. I think such attitudes were fairly common centuries ago. It is a more recent development to think that there might be any contradiction between religion and warfare. Today, we think in terms of just and unjust wars, and most of us would not want to say a war is waged in the name of a religion. Some still do, however. A small minority, yes, but problemmatic. Some American Christians think this way. So it's not just "them."

However, even if an exclusivist is committed to nonviolence, which most are, there is still the nagging sense that they think there is simply something wrong with the other. They are suspect. I mean, if I could see the Truth and submit to it, the true believer wonders, why don't they? In essence these others are delegitimized, which means that dealing with them in constructive ways is going to be that much harder, even if the bias is so subtle as to be not even articulated or acknowledged by the true believer.

UPDATE: 12-20-15

Let me upgrade the threat level of certain American Christians here. This recent article from Phil Torres at outlines a brand of American Christian extremism that is embraced (or at least pandered to) by several Republican candidates for president, Ted Cruz foremost among them. Not fringe weirdos, but presidential candidates. There is a strong "end times" theology at work among these Christians that sees a violent conflagration in the Middle East as a good thing, since it ushers in the Apocalypse. This is something that ought to be common knowledge in the US, but sadly isn't. Actually Hagee's extreme views came up when John McCain sought his support in 2008, but amnesia set in somewhere along the way, as it always does. Frank Rich wrote about Hagee in 2008 at the New York Times.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sidney Wade: "Beatitudes"

I think the title refers less to Jesus than to Kerouac, Corso, et al. This sure reads like a playful, songful update of Beat poetry, doesn't it? Totally engaging. Good clean fun. BTW, Wade is a woman.

(From Celestial Bodies, Louisiana State Press, 2002)

Let me take out my magic tar baby pencil
and scribble out for you what I saw

when I settled into that dense cloud
and caught a glimpse of God’s hide.

Plainsong Anthony and the Plainclothesmen
sang in the language of stones.

Mister Mistry pulled out the bewitch stick
and berserk mazurkaed through the radiant blind.

The Rhine Maidens wheened out the required
Requiem and then ran off at the mind.

The Legal Ramifications of this are yet unknown,
but I know. I’ve got interstitial vision.

And sometimes I take a wisdom pill.
But this was panoramic for real.

There was passion, power, plenitude.
Low-sodium acrobatics, mind-sap, maw.

Levantine parsimony. Paternalistic flaw.
My mother’s perfume: Pandemonium Marmalade.

They were all torch songs,
kind and complicated by doldrums and pang.

What they mean to say is,
You are the higher goods, Ignotus.

You are a magnificent fool.
Let’s entwinkle. Star star star.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Jazz, Religion, and Cherry-Picking

I came of age seeing Islam as something benign, even hip. That's because I spent a lot of time immersing myself in the world of jazz, where players with Islamic names were many. I can't say I gave it a lot of special thought. It just seemed like they were people who combined a sort of Black consciousness as exemplified by Malcolm X with the peace and love vibes that informed the post-Coltrane, jazz-as-spiritual-quest mode that characterized the music in the 60s and 70s. I would see their names on record jackets, and see the players in person sometimes too. There was Sahib Shihad, who played with Monk, and who was one of the earliest jazz converts to Islam. Other names that jump out at me now include the great South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, who conveys more positive vibes than almost anyone on the planet. There's the drummer Idris Muhammad, and the trumpeter Idrees Sulieman. There are probably dozens of great jazz players who went or go by Muslim names, and who, presumably, practiced or practice some form of Islam.

I wouldn't be surprised if they were influenced by Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam best known for the Whirling Dervishes. I've read books, which I recommend, by Hazrat Inayat Khan, the Indian classical musician turned Sufi master, whose works include The Music of Life. Vibration and harmony are literally the stuff and meaning of life, in the Sufi view. So, when it comes to Islam, give me Sufism!

Okay then: How is it possible that Sufism and the ultra-conservative Salafism of ISIS both reside under the umbrella of Islam? Isn't the violent practice of ISIS a perversion of Islam? Aren't they just cherry-picking some extreme statements from the Koran and certain examples from the early days of the religion to further their anti-human agenda? Well, yes they are. But the Sufis are cherry-picking, too. It's not the cherry-picking that makes a religion illegitimate or false. Our teachings and histories are full of contradictions. And why would anything that rich, ancient, and widespread be any other way? Indeed, the only way to practice a religion is to cherry-pick. Otherwise you would be paralyzed by it all.

One analysis of ISIS, clearly intended as "sophisticated" analysis, holds that the purposes of ISIS are political and megalomaniacal, and that they simply are "using" certain teachings to seduce recruits and to maintain cohesion in pursuit of their nefarious goals. This might in fact be true. But, again: All religion is practiced like this. Let's say I'm concerned about death, maybe fearful of death, or at the very least curious about life after death. Religion helps me in a very big way with this. Does this make that religion illegitimate? Not at all. Let's say I am interested in a community that nurtures fellow feeling and pursues social aid and justice, and I have found a church that provides this. Same thing.

I understand that people are hesitant for the word Islam to be associated with ISIS and other terrorists in any manner at all, for fear that bigots will use that association to condemn all Muslims, the vast majority of whom are peaceful. But refusing to think clearly and dispassionately about the contradictions and tensions that exist within all religions inhibits our ability to say what needs to be said, which is that the way forward toward greater harmony and peaceful coexistence within civil society requires us to cherry-pick the stuff that will help us get there. And, believe me: There's plenty to be picked.

Above I have posted a video of pianist Randy Weston's "Blue Moses," from his late-career masterpiece, The Spirits of our Ancestors. This piece demonstrates how Islamic-oriented music can be expressed in a jazz context. Call it pluralism. Call it cosmopolitanism. Call it good.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Louis Menand: How History Is Elusive

From Louis Menand's introduction to Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station:
Writing history is an imaginative act. Few people would deny this, but not everyone agrees on what it means. It doesn’t mean, obviously, that historians may alter or suppress the facts, because that is not being imaginative; it’s being dishonest. The role of imagination in writing history isn’t to make up things that aren’t there; it’s to make sensible the things that are there. When you undertake historical research, two truths that once sounded banal come to seem profound. The first is that your knowledge of the past—apart, occasionally, from a limited visual record and the odd unreliable survivor—comes entirely from written documents. You are almost completely cut off, by a wall of print, from the life you have set out to represent. You can’t observe historical events; you can’t question historical actors; you can’t even know most of what has not been written about. Whatever has been written about therefore takes on an importance which may be spurious. A few lines in a memoir, a snatch of recorded conversation, a letter fortuitously preserved, an event noted in a diary: all become luminous with significance—even though these are just the bits that have floated to the surface. The historian clings to them, while somewhere below, the huge submerged wreck of the past sinks silently out of sight.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Fountains of Wayne: "A Road Song"

I totally get it if you don't share my obsession with Fountains of Wayne. If so, you are excused from this lesson! Otherwise, here we go.

"A Road Song" gets off to a good start with a strumming, chugging rhythm and an excellent couplet that gets its geography right -- while tossing in some internal rhymes as a bonus: "We're still in Wisconsin / As far as I know / Today was Green Bay / Tomorrow Chicago." After a nice verite reference to a dying cell phone (the bane of travel), we get to the B section where the narrator does a preemptive strike against the allegation of cliche. Again, good stuff. Oh, and the interjection of "but hey" is pitch-perfect vernacular.

But now we go up a notch in songwriting craft. The first time I listened to "A Road Song," I said to myself, Wait a second, did they just rhyme Cracker Barrel with Will Farrell? Yes they did. Anyone who has spent time on America's interstate highways knows how apposite this is. The landscape is like a repeating GIF of chain restaurants, strip malls, and megaplex theaters. And since Will Farrell isn't known for quality control, "forty movies" sounds right. The second time through the B section they deliver again, this time rhyming "not necessary" and "no Steve Perry." Perfect.

"A Road Song" is a love song about apologizing to one's spouse for writing them a love song. It's a love song completely stripped of romance, and in so doing becomes one of the most romantic songs going -- at least for an old married guy like me.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Civilization and Barbarism

Many decades ago now, Walter Benjamin famously said that "there is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism." I was thinking about that last week as the controversy around Woodrow Wilson's racism occupied much opinion space online. It does appear that Wilson was a racist. In fact, I'm surprised I didn't know that much about it, considering that I've read my Zinn, etc. But I have to disagree that removing his name from the Princeton building would be wise. If we accept that Benjamin's claim is mostly true, every darn building, city, and airport in the country would have to be renamed.

So what do we do, if Benjamin is correct? 1) We can embrace it and say that might makes right and the winners write history and get on with the business of domination and oppression. 2) We can hope we're doing better, and we are, and ignore the fact that these days in civilization, "mostly other people do the killing." 3) Or we can take stock of the way the sometimes-malign influence of the powerful continues in more subtle ways, and continue the work of creating a civilization much less dependent on barbarism. In other words, not be content that we're far less barbaric than ISIS.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Eye-Popping Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly, Green Blue Red, 1963, 67.5 x 90 inches

Here's an excerpt from the curator's notes on this piece, which resides at the The Broad contemporary art museum in LA:
Green Blue Red abstains from the balance and harmony of traditional painting and reflects an impulse to build a surface of visual tension out of the contrasts of color and shape and the containment of an edge. Kelly’s works of this period depict the jarring difference between colors and the unusual placement of shapes, energizing the visual experience and creating a disorienting optical effect. The green rectangle and blue oval are vibrant and foreign against the red background. Kelly does not construct balance or resolve; he creates compositions that are alive in their idiosyncrasies.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

"Surfer Girl": A Timeless Masterpiece

So serene, so measured, so lovely. The boys make their way through Brian Wilson's stately stair-step melody like they've got all the time in the world. I guess they didn't. Two of the Wilson brothers, Dennis and Carl, are dead now. But I would bet that when the remaining Beach Boys gather to sing this, they feel young again. Or maybe not young, but like ageless residents of the Tower of Song.

Just a thought: Why don't more (any?) jazz and classical musicians create orchestral arrangements of Beach Boys / Brian Wilson classics. I could hear a lush arrangement of "Surfer Girl" with endless variations -- composed and improvised -- spinning off the main melodic motif.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

New To Me: Frank Owen


Frank Owen, Bend Series: Spirit Sail, 2015. Acrylic on canvas. 40 × 50 in.

The great thing about having strong interests is that there is always something new to learn. Your passion could be model trains, rock climbing, mechanical engineering, quilting, dog breeding: It doesn't matter; all are equally rich. Case in point: I've been following and learning about the visual arts for more than 30 years, yet somehow I had never heard of the painter of abstracts Frank Owen, whose profile was at one time high enough to have brought him into association with the legendary gallerist Leo Castelli. Readers of Art & Argument might recall that I really love expressive minimalism, as practiced, for example, by Judith Trepp. But dense, exuberant work like Owens' can be a real delight. They are like Rauschenbergs without the concrete pop-culture imagery.

I encountered him just last week in an engaging interview conducted by the artist Alexi Worth (also new to me) at the first-rate arts website The Brooklyn Rail. I find that articles, reviews, and interviews conducted by fellow artists are frequently more accessible than pieces written by professional critics, who might be tempted to prove their MFA bona fides with dense post-modern mannerisms. One reason for the relative accessibility, at least for me, is that artist peers often like to talk about process and technique. Here's a great example excerpted from the Owen-Worth interview. Note: the images shown in this blog post are from Owens' current show at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in NYC.
Rail: Could you describe your current process? How do your paintings get made?
Owen: I’m a laminator. I begin by making abstract collage elements on coated paper. I’ve taken to calling them “skins.” I make dozens more than I’ll ever use.

Rail: Hundreds of them. And they’re all different. Stripes, painterly lariats, glyphs, plaids, and these new folded ones, which look like X-rays of paper airplanes. They’re demonstrations of the incredible variety of things that can happen with paint. Your artisanal ingenuity seems to be pretty limitless.

Owen: I’m a child of the acrylic age. I was talking to Mark Golden [of Golden Acrylic Paints], a few weeks ago and he asked me to conduct a workshop. But I borrowed a line from Barnett Newman: “Artists have secrets because they have earned them.”

Rail: But maybe we can talk about one fairly simple example: the striped skins. Some of them are almost barcode patterns in color. They are made with customized squeegies. I am looking at a whole bucket of those squeegies. I imagine a young painter could make a pretty interesting début show—by just borrowing that bucket.

Owen: The squeegies are notched in various ways. And as you run a notched squeegee across wet paint, you can hold it straight, or you can shimmy it. And then I have new squeegees that are flexible—a whole different set of possibilities. I’ve always been a big believer in tools. Rail: Once you have enough skins, what happens? Owen: I begin to peel them off the poly, and I place them, compose them. But the whole process is front-to-back. It’s the opposite of the conventional way of layering an image. The first skins I lay down will appear as the front layer of the painting.

Rail: So in a sense you are working both backwards and blind. You can’t really see what you are doing.

Owen: I have to rely on my memory. I always say that when I get Alzheimer’s my paintings are going to get really interesting. But yes, it’s true, the paintings are ninety percent complete before I actually see them. Sometimes when that happens, there’s a moment of triumph, sometimes gut-sinking dismay.
Frank Owen, Bend Series: Spirit Sail, 2015. Acrylic on canvas. 40 × 50 in.

Frank Owen, Bend Series: Ring, 2015. Acrylic on canvas. 40 × 50 in.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What's So Bad About Quiet Desperation?

Thoreau identified this condition of "most men," and Pink Floyd famously seconded it on their masterpiece, Dark Side of the Moon. They say it like it's a bad thing! It looks to me like unless you are Oprah there are going to be some compromises and a fair amount of slogging involved in creating a good life. No, Neil, it's not better to burn out than fade away.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

an e. e. cummings poem

love is the every only god

who spoke this earth so glad and big
even a thing all small and sad
man,may his mighty briefness dig

for love beginning means return
seas who could sing so deep and strong

one queerying wave will whitely yearn
from each last shore and home come young

so truly perfectly the skies
by merciful love whispered were,
completes its brightness with your eyes

any illimitable star

From "50 Poems" (1939)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

"Correct" and "Incorrect" Religion

Look, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Fred Phelps, he of Westboro Baptist Church fame, are both Christians. One is an exemplar of humanity, the other an ignorant hate-monger. We might not like Phelps and his kind, but he's got his Bible verses. So arguing from scripture about what is or isn't the "correct" interpretation of a religious tradition is a non-starter. Nor is it effective or advisable to argue about God's intention or what God wills. As long as you're a human being, you can't know. You can make a guess or even pray for guidance, but the ball is still in your court.

So we need to argue from extra-scriptural sources, namely life itself and our judgments gained from our experiences. It's up to us to say what we want to emphasize in a religion and what we want to jettison. Here are a couple standards to start with. First, if your religion tells you to kill in God's name, it's wrong. I don't care what the scripture says. Second, if your religion makes it more rather than less difficult to deal with peacefully-expressed differences of faith, culture, and ideology, then on that score it's wrong.

To a fundamentalist, these propositions are anathema. But a lot of non-fundamentalist or non-fanatical believers also have a hard time with this, even when the conclusions they are drawing about their religion are not hateful or vile, of the type we see with ISIS. I guess that some of these are people that worry about offending God's will, and thus the attempt to argue from scripture about what God intends. Moderate to conservative religious believers must learn to acknowledge that it is okay, even good, for us as human beings to make conscious judgments about our religions in the name of greater peace, harmony, and well-being for humanity.

Actually, let me amend my argument, and quote some scripture. "By their fruits you will know them." When a religion enriches the world, and brings people closer into brotherhood, those fruits are keepers. So no, ISIS hasn't "hijacked" Islam, but they practice a form that has no place in our world.

UPDATE: 11-22-15

This article by Graeme Wood in the Atlantic is a must-read for understanding the religious beliefs of ISIS. Among many other things it discusses how they are an end-times, apocalyptic cult, which, by the way, is a characteristic of many American Christians.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cat Consciousness, and Ours

I had to get a CAT scan the other day, so naturally I wanted tell our cat, Andy, about it. And I said to him -- and I swear I didn't use a silly baby talk voice -- that since he was a cat I thought he would want to know about it, even though he doesn't have any idea what most human stuff is all about.

Then I had a little epiphany. It struck me that his not knowing didn't mean anything at all. It's not like his intelligence is lacking because felines aren't as developed as humans. Sure, he has what we recognize as intelligence, as in being clever about how he begs for food, or how he plays. But I'm not talking about that. I mean that his conscious is complete in itself and is not an inferior version of human or higher consciousness.

If I recall Aboriginal cosmology correctly, they believe that each creature or species undergoes a dream journey until it reaches the point where it needs to be in the manifest world. We all have our place, our role, and it's not a hierarchy. I don't know how this fits with evolution, etc., and I'm not putting forth a scientific theory. But that's just the way it seemed to me for a brief instant as I looked into Andy's cat eyes.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thomas Struth Photos: People at Museums


UPDATED: 11-14-15. Ray Davies has a song called "Art Lover" (or something like that) wherein the main character goes to art museums mostly for the opportunity to scope out chicks. That's not what Thomas Struth is up to. I'm reminded of some Gursky photos where random arrangements of figures seen from a distance seem to take on the character of composition. First, with these images, it's cool how the "actual" humans and the sculpted and painted humans become coequal. But what I really like is that the arrangements of people are random and not random. After all, the people are arranging themselves in response to hangings and sculptures that were meticulously placed. And then they arrange themselves according to which works are most instinctively attractive to viewers. And there's always the matter of making a viewing strategy that takes into account your tolerance for crowds. No one is controlling the people per se but there most certainly are conditions and parameters in place.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wait. Tom Wolfe Resigned?

Every time there's a racial incident or conflict everyone weighs in without knowing what really happened. Each incident serves as a litmus test or a Rorschach test or a loyalty test, or some kind of a test, with everyone reverting to their default positions within seconds of learning about the situation in question.

Lots of noise gets generated fast. Which must be why no one, as far as I can tell, has noted the literary irony at the heart of the most recent flap -- which is that the name of the University of Missouri president who was just forced to resign, Tim Wolfe, is just one small vowel away from that of Tom Wolfe, the influential writer who became famous by satirizing racial conflicts and liberal politics of the exact sort we see playing out in Columbia. Charles Dickens himself couldn't have invented a name so apt.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Retire This Reaction Shot

You know the one I mean. You've seen it over and over in commercials, TV shows, and movies. A white person is acting a bit strange and they cut over to a black person -- usually a middle aged woman -- who makes a face like "That white person is crazy." They're not amused but disapproving. I guess the object of the joke is supposed to be the white person. But I don't see how it flatters the black person. Their look is exactly the same every time, and they never speak. I guess I'm saying it's a lazy stereotype. Please stop.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A November Hike

Beaver pond at the base of Mt. Watatic

It was good early-November light during my hike Thursday in the low mountains of central Massachusetts, up near the New Hampshire border. The light was clear but diffuse, sometimes filtered through thin high clouds that never threatened. Most of the leaves were down, but the ones that remained did the trick just fine. They were mostly past their peak colors and edging toward brown, but many still maintained some copper and gold tones. There weren't many of them still hanging, so when a mild breeze blew through, so few fell that you could actually count them. Others, still bright yellow, clung to the thin springy branches of young trees just five or six feet high, and were displayed against the background of various browns like the elements of a Calder mobile. When you passed through the evergreen forest the rocks were mossy green like the air itself seemed to be. And the trail was cushiony with the build up of slowly decaying needles collected for who knows how many years. At the top it wasn't quite clear enough to see the buildings of Boston some 30 or 40 miles away, but that was okay. We could see far enough.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Kerouac: Mexico City Blues

119th CHORUS

Self be your lantern,
         Self be your guide --
              Thus spake Tathagata
                 Warning of radios
                    That would come
                       Some day
                          And make people
                             Listen to automatic
                                 Words of others

and the general flash of noises,
forgetting self, not-self --
Forgetting the secret …

    Up on high in the mountains so high
       the high magic priests are
               swabbing in the deck
                   of broken rib torsos
                       cracked in the rack
                     tryin to figure yr way
                     outa the calamity of dust and
                     eternity, buz, you better
                     get on back to your kind
                                     b o a t

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Heaven Just Got Hipper

Jazz singer par excellence Mark Murphy died last week at the age of 83. Some singers edge over into jazz, like Sinatra and Tony Bennett, but Murphy was jazz through and through. He was a master of improvisation, but, as the clip here demonstrates, he could be true to the song as written while putting the jazz feeling into every note. Notice how he shaped and attacked notes with clear intention. Here's a nice obit in The Nation. Farewell, Mark Murphy. Heaven just got hipper.

UPDATE: 11-7-15
Murphy was also a master of vocalese, the art of setting lyrics to legendary jazz solos and tunes. He wrote words for many jazz standards, and the words were really pretty good. And of course performed his vocalese tracks with aplomb.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

An Atheist Meets God In Heaven

James Balla cloud painting, 2012

Let's say an atheist dies and discovers with surprise and maybe chagrin there's actually an afterlife. Perhaps he is greeted by St. Peter outside the gates of heaven, which we know from countless cartoons is how it goes. No, let's dispense with Peter, since one of God's qualities is that He is omnipresent. So greeting each arrival personally is something that's right in His wheelhouse. What happens then? I think that God must be as developed as a reasonably mature adult human. That being the case, God would say something like,
"Look, I know you got this whole God and afterlife thing wrong, but I have to admit that your point of view makes some sense. Plus I admire your gumption for sticking with it in the face of a lot of criticism and censure. So, job well done! Come on in. You will see that we have a wing for atheists, agnostics, and Buddhists, and so on. You're free to hang out there, but you are also encouraged to mingle with everyone else. Frankly, the music is often best in the Christian area. Bach is performing there later today. Or now I mean, since time doesn't exist here."

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Irene Lipton Detail

Focusing on a detail is a good way to enjoy and understand a work of art or even an artist's work in general. When we look at an entire work just online, especially a larger work, say more than 24 inches high or wide, it can be hard to get a sense for the brushwork, which often is a huge part of what a painting is about. Think of a musician's tone and attack, or a writer's way with a sentence, regardless of what the overall point or message is. Even when we stand in front of a work, we might be tempted to just look at the whole thing, rather than portions or "passages." Let's say you are finding a work difficult. There's a good chance that at least part of the work will appeal or be graspable to you. When I taught, and we were reading a difficult text, I would tell students to find just one paragraph, or even one sentence that made sense to them. That's your way in. That's your platform to build on.

The image above is a detail from a 24" x 24" Irene Lipton painting that we own. I took the photo the other day. As you can see, it represents about one sixth of the total area of the piece. A few thoughts.

1. A big reason I like this part of the painting is simply because I like the shade and tone of that red she uses. Sometimes we overthink paintings. It's good to just take pleasure in the pure sensual or aesthetic qualities of a piece.

2. By looking at a detail we can see how Lipton treats a canvas as a palimpsest, with the traces, the echoes of earlier markings evident in the final piece.

3. This would make a fine painting in and of itself, wouldn't it? Sometimes painters will do a large, quick abstract, and then select a portion to develop into a coherent piece. Sometimes musical composers just keep a recorder running while they improvise and fool around with licks and melodies. Sometimes something will emerge that's worthy of further development.

4. The upper left quarter of the painting, the area from which this was taken, is much more spare than the rest of the canvas. A good reason for not treating this as its own piece, is because by including it in the larger composition it provides an interesting contrast, strengthening both it and the work as a whole.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Aging Face

Looking in the mirror has not been getting any funner as the decades add up. The actual mirror, not the metaphorical mirror -- that one has never been friendlier and more forgiving. But those are some serious "Duke Ellington" bags under my eyes that I see in the actual one.

Here's some strong writing about the aging of faces from Alyssa Pelish at the Smart Set website:
As I considered the changes in my own face, my eyes were soon drawn to the lines in other people’s faces, as if searching for a benchmark of normalcy, a point of comparison. What I discovered, though, was the variability of a phenomenon I had never before bothered to notice. Some brows, I now saw, were entirely furrowed, really ploughed-in deep parallel lines that never even began to fade when the eyebrows lowered, as if that fairy Queen Mab who hectors sleepers had driven a team of oxen back and forth over the course of many nights. On the face of a still pink-cheeked colleague, the three vertical slashes across the brow seemed to me like scars, the marks of some violent accident. Others, still, bore only faint traces, the sole suggestion of age on a youthful face — and my eyes would flicker back to these less certain marks, waiting to see if they did in fact belie age in a person who otherwise seemed untouched by time. So many faces appeared more cobwebbed than lined, while others seemed momentarily smudged — as if the vaguest impression of their own palm had remained upon their forehead. How unfixed the face was. How perpetually the lines of age would continue to shape it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Crazy Talk

Trump is supposed to be the unserious Republican, yet he bats a higher percentage of getting things right than the quote-unquote serious candidates. I would venture that Trump out-performs a stopped clock, which, as we know, is correct twice a day. The other candidates have simply smashed the clock to bits. What does it mean when the "serious" candidate insists there is nothing we could or should do to minimize destructive climate change? Or that somehow Obama "lost" Iraq and W "kept us safe"? Or that Kim Davis is the new Rosa Parks? Aside from Trump and sometimes Rand Paul, all 19 (14? 15?) Republican candidates are slaves to party orthodoxy, which is why Trump, ironically, is the most reasonable Republican option. What about the other "outsider" candidate, Ben Carson? The dude is calm and soft-spoken, yes, with a successful medical career. But he's actually a bigger narcissist than Trump ("I need Secret Service because I'm an existential threat to secular liberals"). And I know that no one says batshit crazy anymore, but Carson is batshit crazy (examples too numerous to cite here).

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Forsythia In Autumn

Somerville, Mass, 10-23-15

Self Improvement and Me

Chatting with my wife and nephew last weekend, I made reference to things I learned from my yoga practice. This was met with raised eyebrows. You don't strike me as the yoga type offered my nephew. Hey, I responded, I did yoga for six months something like fifteen years ago! But the truth can no longer be denied: I guess I'm not the self improvement type. I mean, I love the idea of self improvement, but I never quite seem to get around to it.

Well, I guess there is one area of improvement that I try to practice, and that's to become more open-minded and less judgmental as advance into my AARP years. This is something completely within my control and there's no excuse for not doing it. I should add: less judgmental toward others but also myself. At the same time I want to become more discerning about what beliefs and actions appear to me best suited for the happiness and well-being of myself and others -- understood in the broadest sense. So it's not just a matter of accepting everything, a stance of whatever. Above all it's a balancing act (as when I watch the news and thoughts of, yes, hatred enter my mind, thus precipitating a channel change to HGTV). Getting the balance right is what it's all about. And there's no time when that balance isn't in question.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Random Music Notes: John Trudell and More

1. Metallica are the nice guys of metal, are they not?

2. The best band names ever are The Rolling Stones and Pavement. The worst include Death Cab for Cutie and . . . the Beatles? Yes, a horrible name but they were so frickin' great that they made the name into a good one -- by force of will and charisma.

3. One of the most cherished jazz stories involves Coltrane and Miles. Coltrane, who established the long-form, way-way-out-there solo as a jazz idiom, is said to have said: "Miles, sometimes I just don't know how to end a solo." To which Miles replied, "Take the horn out of your mouth."

4. The Lakota poet and activist John Trudell is the best spoken word guy we have. Here he is in 1992, doing "Rocking the Rez," from his masterpiece AKA Graffiti Man. We're "earth stars, with jail break in our hearts." This thing has only 675 views! No justice. Turn it up.

5. Back in the 70s there were a bunch of folk singers who were uncool but very popular, guys like Jim Croce, John Denver, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, and so on. They were actually quite talented, but never came across as artistes, a la Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, etc.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sebastian Smee: The Allure and Mystery of Portraits

The best things are both known and unknowable, like your cat, your significant other, or the ocean. Here's the Boston Globe's chief art writer Sebastian Smee on Titian's "Portrait of Ranuccio Farnese," painted in 1542:
Great portraits call out to us in ways that landscapes, for instance, do not. Simply, they show fellow human beings. And so it’s natural that we project onto them “fellow feeling.” We may look at Ranuccio Farnese, for instance, and think of our brother, our son, even of our own 12-year-old selves. But what gives the waves of fellow feeling between us and this portrait their electrical charge is, I think, something beyond projections, beyond explanations; something ungraspable: the tender untouchable pride of a face like a distant planet.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sunday, October 11, 2015

At Home In the Natural World

A big point for E. O. Wilson is that we lose a lot if we spend no time in nature, and that we would be wise to set aside -- now -- as much natural conservation land as possible. A lot. More than we could imagine being a lot. We are happy in nature, because we are at home in the natural world. We have evolved to be a part of it, says Wilson. I define nature as that not made by man, not made by human hands. Sure, there is nowhere on earth not impacted at least somewhat by man. This is why they call this era the Anthropocene. However, just because even a national forest has some human imprint, doesn't mean it's completely man made, like a mall. Emerson said that in nature we are returned to reason and faith. Why? Because nature isn't neurotic, or petty, or deceitful. Nature shows that at base existence is correct and good. Nature can be violent but it's not malicious. New generations are becoming at home in the cyber world. While it isn't controlled by anyone in particular, it is still fully human, and therefore smaller than the world that existed before humans even knew themselves as such.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Constantine P. Cavafy

Here I am, way into my middle years, and somehow I had never even heard of the poet Constantine Cavafy, or his gorgeous, poignant elegy of 1911, "The God Forsakes Antony." What happened was, I was listening to and researching Leonard Cohen's "Alexandra Leaving," co-written with Sharon Robinson, and discovered it was based on the tone and verbiage of Cavafy's poem, which is not so much a lament for what is lost but an encouragement for those who remain. He refers to Alexandria, Egypt. Here it is:
The God Forsakes Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

- Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Just Another Spectacular Sunset

This was taken in Somerville the other night, but at this very moment it looks like this somewhere on earth. Beauty without end. Rolling beauty.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Go-Betweens: "When People Are Dead"

You've never heard a song quite like this one. Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens adapted a poem by little known poet Marian Stout. It tells the story of a death in the family from the point of view of a child. Great playing from the band, sensitive and majestic. 
They said you bury 
the dead.
What's buried? 
Rosie said 
something you do 
when people are dead.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Jon Imber's Maximal Abstracts

Jon Imber, Heart of the Harbor, 2007, oil on panel, 30 x 30 in.

Jon Imber, The Botanist, 2013, oil on canvas, 46 x 38 in.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Highly Miscellaneous

1. I've been meaning to do a shout-out post for the writer Sadie Stein who blogs at the Paris Review. She imparts that David Sedaris Effect. When you read her you go, hey, she's just talking about her daily life and the little stuff that happens and it's dryly very funny and even a bit profound, like when her husband took exception to her always singing along with the music in stores, and how it turned into a big thing. I can do that, you think. Maybe. At any rate, please read her. She's great. At once urbane and accessible.

2. There's a really good profile of the biologist E. O. Wilson running on PBS. Wilson made his career studying ants and then extrapolating out to humanity (and BTW ants are fascinating). He might have even coined the term biodiversity, and is known for developing the field of sociobiology. What is the role of evolved instinct in shaping society? That's the question. It seems to me that all human endeavor, even the highest forms such as art, sport, worship, gastronomy, science, etc., are elaborations, elevations, sublimations, redirections of instinct.

3. Finally saw the movie Whiplash, or at least the final three-quarters of it. Let's make one thing clear: The character of Fletcher is not a "tough love" teacher but a sadist and a psychopath. Yes, I liked how the drummer, Andrew, turns the table on Fletcher at the end, thus "winning" their psychological battle. But frankly the movie doesn't really seem to understand jazz at all. Looking around the web to investigate this point, I see lots on comments saying, Jesus, lighten up, it's just a movie. OK, I get it. But here's a great interview with Peter Erskine analyzing the film from the perspective of a master jazz drummer and teacher. I'll remark on a couple things. Conservatory jazz is way, way more creative, varied, and cooperative than depicted here. I mean, that chart of "Caravan" they keep playing is dull, dull, dull -- it sounds like a high school band. No group would ever play that at a big concert showcase, as they do in the film. And no one can determine tempo within just two beats, as Fletcher is shown doing here. A better movie would have Andrew walking out on Fletcher and the conservatory, moving downtown, wrestling with self-doubt, but then finding himself in a creative, collective environment, of the kind that exists all over NYC.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Poem For My Cat

I thought you were begging for food
But what you wanted was love.
Can you forgive me?

M. Bogen
October '15

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Great Photo from Paul Theroux's "Deep South"

Photograph by Steve McCurry
Boarded up buildings are never good. They refuse to let the past be gone; in fact they put past failure right up in your face. Worse, they seem to block off the future. Socio-historically then, the photo is good. Was that a train station? A post office? Does that train even run now? But it's the composition of the image that I like most. Starting at the left we see two mounded forms, trees filled in by the messy fractals of the branching. Midway across, the pole signals a shift to hard angles. I like how the Railroad Crossing sign and the Speed Limit sign appear to be stylized geometric distillations of the trees. And the partial image of the building in the puddle symbolizes the truncation of the past, denying full continuity to the future.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Pope's Regret, and Growth

If Pope Francis has not actually changed Church doctrine, which he has not, he has changed the nature of what he sees as the Church's mission as well as its mode of being. An outstanding essay in the New York Review of Books by Eamon Duffy traces Pope Francis' humble and spiritually open persona back to his regrets as a young Church leader in the highly unjust and dysfunctional Argentina of the 70s.
In 1973, while still in his mid-thirties, Jorge Bergoglio became provincial superior of the Jesuits of Argentina. The Argentinian hierarchy was deeply compromised by acquiescence in the savagely repressive rule of a military junta, but many Jesuits had embraced the political and theological radicalism of the 1970s. As Jesuit superior, Bergoglio avoided open confrontation with the regime, struggling to reconcile the demands of justice and compassion for those suffering atrocity with the need to preserve the order’s institutions and mission and to protect Jesuit lives.

His own deeply traditional piety was in any case unsympathetic to much of the social and religious experimentalism of the time. Hero-worshiped by many for his personal charisma and spiritual gifts, he was detested by others who saw him as a repressive influence, inhibiting the work of the Spirit in a time of crisis, and he was later to be accused of having betrayed politically radical Jesuits to the junta.
Pope Francis appears to have been deeply troubled by his behavior.  Duffy continues:
Bergoglio himself has acknowledged that as provincial, “I had to learn from my errors along the way, because, to tell you the truth, I made hundreds of errors. Errors and sins.” Significantly, however, he attributes those sins not to religious or political reaction, but to inexperience and failure to consult: “I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”
And so today, he have a Pope much different than his predecessors in tone and emphasis. Duffy summarizes:
In a series of interviews and speeches, Francis has deplored clergy who “play Tarzan”—church leaders too confident of their own importance, moral strength, or superior insight. The best religious leaders in his view are those who leave “room for doubt.” The bad leader is “excessively normative because of his self-assurance.” The priest who “nullifies the decision-making” of his people is not a good priest, “he is a good dictator.” Bergoglio has even said that the very fact that someone thinks he has all the answers “is proof that God is not with him.” Those who look always “for disciplinarian solutions,…long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists” have “a static and inward-directed view of things,” and have turned faith into ideology. And so the experience of failure, of reaching one’s own limits, is the truest and best school of leadership. He has declared himself drawn to “the theology of failure” and a style of authority that has learned through failure to consult others, and to “travel in patience.”
I think this is all quite admirable. The only quibble I have with Francis is his characterization as some of his early failures as sinful. What is the sin in failing to live up to your hopes for your best self? As Francis acknowledges, such failure is the only way to learn. And this failure is surely the source of his undeniable spiritual presence, which thrills and inspires so many people today.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Beatitudes

Carl Heinrich Bloch, The Sermon on the Mount, 1877, oil on copper, 41" x 36"

The best part of the New Testament is the Sermon on the Mount (IMHO), which begins with the eight Beatitudes, statements on the meaning of spiritual victory. I'll post here in honor of the Pope, a man who seems to embody the spirit of Christianity.

Chapter 5 of Matthew begins:
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Caravaggio: The Crowning With Thorns

Speaking of suffering (see previous post), this Caravaggio masterpiece was the best thing we saw when we visited the Houston MFA last month. It's pretty large, maybe 4 feet by 5 feet. Dynamic and energetic. In Protestant Christianity, you don't see much body imagery. But in Catholicism, the body is everything, especially depictions of Christ suffering. Let's do a quick survey: In Islam you see no human depictions at all. Judaism, not much. In Zen and some other forms of Buddhism very few human forms. But Hinduism has plenty of humans, demons, and gods, as does Tibetan Buddhism and the Buddhism of SE Asia, thus the closest corollaries to Catholicism among the other great religions. The theology of the body. Protestant Christians represent the theology of the Word.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Some Solace

I have known despair at the state of the world, or more specifically these days, the dismal state of our politics. But I took solace today when I came across this William Carlos Williams poem, "Nantucket," with its quiet statement of beautiful evidence, directly experienced, as opposed to the way we experience politics, which is usually as media noise.
Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow

Changed by white curtains --
Smell of cleanliness

Sunshine of late afternoon --
On the glass tray

a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which

a key is lying -- And the
immaculate white bed.
And I thought of Bob Dylan's "Blind Willie McTell," and how the injustice of the world is so vexing, and how it is only aesthetic facts that can be known, including in the simple, emotional, haiku-like truth of the blues.
Well, God is in His heaven
And we all want what’s His
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is
I’m gazing out the window
Of the St. James Hotel
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell
 Read my related piece from 2014 called "The Blues Is a Haiku."

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Illegal, Immoral, and Ineffective

One of the big Republican talking points about the Iran agreement is that we got swindled into a "bad deal" because we took the "military option" off the table.

First of all, the deal isn't bad or the lesser of evils. I hate when even supporters of the agreement get apologetic like this. The agreement is among the most stringent agreements in the nuclear era, and across the history of modern diplomacy, aside from when a nation has been fully vanquished in war and agrees to unconditional surrender.

Next, does anyone think Obama would be gun shy when it comes to missles and drones? He has arguably been too quick to use these options around the world.

Finally, the military option is rightly "off the table" for the simple reason that a military strike on Iran would be illegal, immoral, and ineffective. Let me repeat: illegal, immoral, and ineffective. Illegal: At Nuremberg, the waging of aggressive war was identified as the "supreme international crime." (Of course this is never enforced.) Immoral: Any strikes to try to prevent the future development of nukes falls into the category of "preventive war," which is by definition an unjust war. Ineffective: Even war hawks admit that strikes would constitute only a temporary setback. WTF?

Oh, and if that military "option" was off the table, it was mostly because the American people had awakened to the catastrophe that was the Iraq invasion with little appetite for more. Temporarily awakened, that is. The deranged brain trust that brought us Iraq is the driving force for all Republican candidates now, with Rand Paul possibly being an exception. This is insane.

Oh, and one more thing. I bet that the Republican candidates don't even know that this was not an agreement simply between the US and Iran, but also included the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China. If they do know this, then they are being mendacious when they suggest that a Republican could just go in, tear up the existing agreement, and impose our terms on Iran by talking tough. Mind you, the other states would not reinstate their sanctions, so that leverage would stay gone.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Miles: Someday My Prince Will Come

A riveting two-part American Experience on Walt Disney aired on PBS this week. For kids like me, Disney was there like electricity, baseball diamonds, trees and creeks, Mom and Dad, and school in the fall. This documentary shows the potent mix of sweat, inspiration, and conflict that defined Walt's success. As a tribute, here's Miles doing "Someday My Prince Will Come," from Disney's first masterpiece, "Snow White."

UPDATE: 9-19-15

Of course we didn't know that Walt was marketing at us big time. His innovations in animation were easily matched by his innovations in merchandising and licensing. For better or worse. Oh, and we can also blame Disney for jump-starting our national obsession with princesses, the bane of every parent of young daughters.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Emerson, the Ocean, and the Shore

Judith Trepp, untitled, 2009, ink on handmade Indian paper,  18.5 x 29"

 Writing in his journal, July 1841, Emerson said:
It is the same ocean everywhere, but it has no character until seen with the shore or the ship. Who would value any number of miles of Atlantic brine bounded by lines of latitude and longitude? Confine it by granite rocks, let it wash ashore where wise men dwell, and it is filled with expression; and the point of greatest interest is where the land and water meet.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Good Things To Do: Listen to Moondog

Why is it good to listen to Moondog?

1. Because he doesn't sound like anyone else. The key to marketing is to say this sounds like that. You need to know where to slot it. But he just made Moondog music, which ranged from contemporary classical to an idiosyncratic take on jazz to the tribal and the otherworldly. If you could slot him anywhere it would be in the great America tradition of weirdo genius outsiders like Sun Ra and Harry Partch. He invented some of his own instruments, like Partch did.

2. Because he named himself for his childhood dog who would howl at the moon.

3. Because in the late 40s and 50s he would stand on 6th Street in NYC dressed up like a Viking. Why? Because when he first showed up in NYC he had a beard and long hair and people always said he looked like Jesus. Not a compliment for Mr. Moondog, who said, Look: "that's enough, I don't want that connection. I must do something about my appearance to make it look un-Christian." Before counter-cultural status was commodified in the 60s it found expression in individuals and small groups of proto-hippies, as with the guy who wrote "Nature Boy," Eden Ahbez.

4. Because he learned drumming from Arapahoes in Wyoming in the 1920s.

5. Because he is really engaging to listen to.

Here's an outstanding article on Moondog.