Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Boston Yeti Watch

Well, it's actually the Somerville Yeti. I think this pic was taken near our house late last night. Wish I would have seen him. Would have run out for a photo op. With all the mess around Deflategate, it's good to confirm we have a creative sense of humor in these parts. Our local Bigfoot said he “was raised and educated by the woods.”

Monday, January 26, 2015

Untitled Poem for Monday

Heavy into it
Then going without
Again then
But inside out

M. Bogen
January 2014

Saturday, January 24, 2015

No Literary Consensus, Ever

A lousy writer, right?

I was at the Paris Review website, and came across this really engaging interview with John Bayley, the Oxford don and literary critic who was married to the novelist Iris Murdoch for many, many years. The interviewer asks Bayley about the prestigious British literary honor, the Man Booker Prize.
Does the Booker ever get it right?
Having been a Booker chairman myself, I don’t see how it can. One of the joys of the novel is that no two readers agree about the merits of any single one of them. It is the most subjective form in the whole spectrum of art. If War and Peace were to be submitted, he can be quite sure that the jury would split fifty-fifty. Half of them would say it was too long, contained too much boring history, was too much about the upper classes … no novelist can ever do more than please some of his readers for some of the time, and that is how it should be.
Bayley nails something here I was giving some thought to a couple weeks ago. I was on Amazon surfing around in search of some new fiction to tackle, and after more than an hour of investigation, I still couldn't come up with anything to read, since every book, no matter how great it has been judged by posterity, had tons of negative reviews. Dickens? Mobs of people hate him. Hemingway? The same. And so on. I haven't found anywhere near this level of dissent when browsing for music. Maybe it's because music doesn't demand as much from us as does a substantial novel. Thus, when we get far into a well-regarded novel and it's just not working for us, well, we feel betrayed. I also live in mortal fear of being bored by a novel. Then you have to go through that inner debate on whether to quit on the book or not.

What I've found is that when I like what an author does -- their voice, their humor, their dialogue, their sentences -- then I'm going to like all their books, no matter the flaws. I just finished Hemingway's Islands in the Stream and really loved it despite some slow stretches and the fact that Hemingway always refers to his protagonist as Thomas Hudson, instead of just Tom, Thomas, or Hudson. That pretense could really annoy people, but far from a deal breaker for me.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More Random Musical Notes

1. Chuck Berry was right when he said "I've got no kick against modern jazz, except for when they play it too darn fast." Too much speed can take the groove out of a song. To rectify that problem, I recommend that the bass should play in half time during fast tempos, and concentrate on forward propulsion. Let the other instruments fly around.

2. There's a similar problem in modern classical. Modernists tend to use the percussion section as an accent, using cymbals and tympani to create crashing exclamation points beneath loud dissonant chords. Composers should think of using percussion in a more grooving way.

3. Contemporary popular country is like an inverse of what we call alt country. In popular country, the singers employ a really thick twang while the guitars sound like mainstream classic rock. In alt country, the singers sound closer to rock, while the instruments sound more twangy and traditional, using pedal steel and mandolins, etc.

4. One key to the sound of the Rolling Stones is the liberal use of pick up notes, that is, phrases that lead up to the downbeat of the song or verse, usually with Keith's guitar, or Mick Taylor's (or both). This provides a relaxed sense of forward motion. Think Tumbling Dice.

5. Before hip hoppers were sampling, jazzers were doing it in real time in improvised solos, inserting notes and phrases referencing another song, thus sending the rhythm section in all different directions as the implications of the quote are explored, implicitly and explicitly. The same goes for the mind of the listener.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Seen Up Close: Stuart Davis's "Hot Still-Scape"

Stuart Davis, Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors - 7th Avenue Style, oil on canvas, 36 x 44 7/8 inches

One of the greatest paintings by one of my favorite artists, "Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors" by Stuart Davis is a cornerstone of the Lane Collection at the Boston MFA. As you can see, the work is a marvel of dynamism and angular dialogue: the eye jumps all around the canvas. The graphic look and popping color scheme of this masterpiece make it a natural for reproduction in any form from postcard to poster to digital representation online.

Visiting the MFA yesterday, I went for a good look, and was reminded once again why it's important to view art in person. In the case of "Hot Still-Scape," the composition and colors only tell half the story. The other half is in the unruliness of the brush work and the dense build up of oil paint, which together make this hard edged, geometric work come alive as a physical, sensual entity. So I went in close with the iPhone to capture some of the rough magic. The rectangle I captured is from the middle left. Consider it a passage or movement from the larger symphony, with its own internal relationships and logic. Painting might be passe and forever out of vogue, but only painting can do this.

Davis, Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors, detail

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Larison on Romney's Foreign Policy Delusions

Among too many fantasies to catalog here, the bizarrely-resurgent Mitt Romney and his supporters believe his foreign policy "vision" has been "vindicated" by world events. Who better to swing at this low-hanging fruit than Daniel Larison over at the American Conservative? I urge you to read Larison regularly, especially since the neocon war hawks will be dominating the media conversation as the Republican primary heats up. (It will be nauseating, but at least we'll have the fun of watching Rand Paul jab and snark away at the pretensions of the confrontation-is-always-right crowd.)

At any rate, here's Larison. (Read the full post here.)
As I mentioned yesterday, one of the delusions behind a new Romney campaign is that he and his supporters think foreign policy is one of his strengths, and that’s just silly. However, I didn’t understand just how delusional they were until I read this:
If Romney were president, one longtime adviser said, “There wouldn’t be an ISIS at all, and Putin would know his place in life [bold Larison's]. Domestically, things would be in better shape.”
It would be one thing for Romney backers to think that U.S. policies would be better than they are if he were president, but it is absurd to believe that other regimes and groups around the world would behave in a dramatically different fashion or would not exist under a different administration. By what magical powers of resolve would Romney have eliminated ISIS? How exactly would he have made Putin to “know his place”? Presumably this adviser thinks this would happen because Romney’s policies would convey “strength” rather than “weakness,” but that just underscores that this adviser – like Romney – doesn’t have a clue how this would happen. These are nonsensical claims, but then that is typical for Romney and his advisers.

The Turnaround

M. Bogen, tread patterns, Greenville Street, Somerville, MA, 1-16-15

Friday, January 16, 2015

The "Overloaded" Meme

If you've spent any time in what I guess they call the developing world, you've probably noticed that road and vehicle regulations aren't as, um, stringent as we have here. These pics are all over the web.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Quick Thoughts on Paris

1. There's not a lot we can do here in the U.S. about problems in Europe with radical Islamists. So I always ask myself, what can we do here to ensure that all groups feel fully invested in civil society? It's not hard to see the limitations of multiculturalism as practiced here, as anyone who has bumped up against politically correct "identity politics" can tell you. Yet multiculturalism appears to be the middle path between all citizens having a homogenous identity on the one hand (an unworkable idea), and groups feeling like permanent outsiders on the other.

2. Free speech is the closest thing to an absolute right as we have, perhaps the most critical cornerstone of civil society. That said, the kind of simplistic ridicule or provocation that appears to be Charlie Hebdo's specialty is not really my thing. I think other forms of expression probably do more to contribute to social progress. Nevertheless, the existence of that Charlie-Hebdo-kind-of expression is a sign of health in society, like the way a healthy person can handle a few jolts to the system. It keeps the chi moving.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Provincetown Artists: Peter Busa

Original Sin, 1946, oil on canvas, 22 x 30 inches

Another mid-century master of abstraction, Peter Busa studied with Hans Hofmann, as did so many other successful artists of the time. But he "also took cues from Stuart Davis and Arshile Gorky," observes the excellent book "The Tides of Provincetown: Pivotal Years in America's Oldest Continuous Art Colony (1899 - 2011)." The more angular or geometric works would appear to be influenced by Davis, the biomorphic, curvilinear works, Gorky. This is my favorite kind of art, but, then again, I also love mid-century jazz the best, too; that Blue Note sound. Maybe I like this period because this was the world I was born into. (All images from Acme Fine Arts, Boston.)

Venus Figure, c. 1953 - 1980, oil on canvas, approx. 20 x 30 inches

The Birth of the Object and the End of the Object, oil on canvas, 1945, 25.5 x 30 in.


Richard Baker, neo-pop oils

Blanche Lazzell, white line woodcut

Hans Hofmann, abstract oil

Michael Mazur, Rocks and Water, monotype

Michael Mazur, Pond Edge II, oil painting

Irene Lipton, abstract oil

Mary Giammarino, impressionist oil

Lillian Orlowsky, abstract oils

Fritz Bultman, abstract collage

Friday, January 9, 2015

Beach : Geometrics

M. Bogen, South Beach Rectangles, December 2014

(Not So) Grand Budapest Hotel

Grand Budapest squandered a great Ralph Fiennes performance.

Are you kidding me? This is one the highest-rated, best-reviewed movies of the year? A quick visit to Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes makes me feel as if I've clicked over to an alternate universe where an overly precious and self-regarding mediocrity like Wes Anderson's latest is seen as one of the year's top three or four films. During the first third of the film, I felt that Budapest was living up to the hype, largely on the strength of the Ralph Fiennes character, a pleasing and unprecedented blend of sophistication, vulgarity, and undefined, or at least unusual, sexuality. Then the second half of the movie descends into an interminable parade of pointless plot machinations, overloaded and way-too-cute Wes Anderson visuals, and ill-conceived cameos. What's the point of having the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Willem Defoe, and Bill Murray in your film if they are going to be boring? I think we were supposed to be pleased simply by the fact that they and a bunch of other Anderson regulars showed up. Let me put it another way, about halfway in my wife picked up the iPad and started mindlessly surfing the web. If they had kept the focus on Fiennes as a character worthy of depth and development, the whole thing would have been much, much stronger. 2 1/2 stars.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bruce Cockburn: "The Coldest Night of the Year"

I held this one back until we truly had a really cold night here in Massachusetts. Which we did indeed have last night. This song hooked me from the first time I heard it sometime back in the early 80s. It starts off with a grooving triplet feel on guitar that sets up the introduction of some mellow Fender Rhodes piano. Then the opening couplet seals the deal: "I was up all night socializing / Trying to keep the latent depression from crystallizing." When I think back to my early days, it's fair to say I had a lot of fun. The thing was, it was about 80% fun fun, and about 20 percent desperate fun. So I hear what Cockburn is saying. After those opening lines, the melody elevates in bars 8 through 12 in a really cool way, before resolving nicely in the final bars of the verse, with lyrics that explain the main idea of the song. At this point I'm all in, so it's a nice bonus when, a bit later, a pretty strong bridge is followed by a soaring soprano sax solo. I often hit repeat on this one.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Robert Janz: Array Series

Why not devote the first art post of 2015 to some "janzwork"? Works in the array series are ever-morphing on Robert's studio wall, often with his faithful cat on hand to weigh in on a given direction or pattern. With Robert, there is no curtain that the process hides behind. The images below are extracted from a 66-piece array series. (Visit Robert's site for more in the array series and to get a fuller sense for the multitudinous facets of his oh-so-ephemeral oeuvre.)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Shane, Bullying, and the Problem of Revenge

Has there ever been a more hateful movie bad guy than Jack Palance in Shane? Palance plays Wilson, a gunman hired by a wealthy rancher, Ryker, to help drive the small family farmers from a valley which sits below the Grand Tetons. In the scene shown above, Wilson taunts a hapless sodbuster into pulling his gun, and then blows him away with that sadistic shit-eating grin plastered on his face. What we have here is the ultimate bully. Basically he kills the sodbuster for nothing more than personal entertainment. By this point we can't wait until the itinerant gunman Shane, who is working as a farm hand for the hardworking Starrett family, finally breaks his pledge to leave violence behind and exacts revenge on the black-hatted Wilson and the rapacious Ryker.

There's no better film story than a revenge story, and soon enough Shane, played by Alan Ladd, does indeed take down Wilson and the Ryker gang. This is immensely satisfying. What makes Shane so resonant, though, is that in reverting to violence, Shane knows that he is undeserving of the affection shown to him by Joe Starrett's wife, who has fallen a bit in love with him, and their little boy, Joey, who idolizes him. Shane is what Joe Starrett will never be, and if it appears at first that the difference between the men tips in Shane's favor -- he's no common sodbuster -- the film's (and Shane's) final verdict suggests otherwise.

The film ends with Shane exiling himself from the Starretts and the community of farmers that needed him. He rides off toward the mountains, slumped in the saddle, having been wounded in the gunfight with the Ryker gang, as little Joey yells "Shane, Shane! Come back!" This is moving as hell, because Shane actually was deserving of Joey's hero worship after all, but, good as he was as a man, there would be no place for his type in the civilized, domesticated world of families and farms, which, after all, is our world. In this sense, director George Stevens is also suggesting that seeking justice through violence only has a place in the movies.

And what a movie Shane is. Woody Allen has indicated that it is on his short list of greatest films. AMC places it in its top 100 of all time. Check out this in-depth synopsis at filmsite.org to get a sense for the craft and complexity of the film's plot and dialogue, especially as it captures the emotional dynamics between Shane and the Starrett family. My brief thoughts here don't do it justice.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Toward Less Polarization

The events of 2014 clarified the extent to which we are polarized in the US. In the face of controversy we too often slid into our default positions and engaged in overly-simplistic framing such as police versus citizens or Republicans versus Democrats, with the clear burden of blame always residing with those whose biases run counter to our own.

The mother of all dualisms is good versus evil. So if we want to deal with our polarizing instincts, it makes sense to deal with that. Writing in Living As Learning: John Dewey in the 21st Century, Daisaku Ikeda clarified the best way to comprehend these concepts: "Even the worst person is not unconnected to good, nor is the best person unconnected to evil," he said. "Accepting this as a premise makes it impossible to claim that one side is always good, and everything opposed to it is always bad." He reflected further on good and evil, saying: "Anger, for instance, works for good if directed against whatever threatens human worth and dignity. If it is purely ego-driven, however, it works for evil. Thus good and evil are not fixed substances but are constantly changing and manifesting themselves in relation to the environment and one’s mental attitude."