Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tone Is Everything: "The Night Of"

If tone is everything, and it is, then the recent HBO series "The Night Of" totally nailed it. The hard-boiled atmosphere of the NYC justice system was pitch perfect, the cynicism so well and convincingly presented that the whole thing didn't just ring true but also on occasion edged over into that sacred realm of dark comedy. And you can't do dark comedy unless you are fully in command of tone. The plot was riveting as well, but the world and characters being portrayed was so rich that even when no plot point was being advanced, or if a plot point seemed iffy, the viewer was hooked. At least this viewer. The photo above shows John Turturro as the beleaguered low-end lawyer John Stone. His performance grounded the show, but everyone was great, especially Bill Camp as the phlegmatic Detective Dennis Box, whose cheerlessness was infectious.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Jeffrey Perkins: "Map of Atonement"

Here's a poem from my friend Jeffrey Perkins. We met in the peace education community here in Cambridge, but he found that he could best say what he wanted to say through the peacefully exacting work of poetry. His works often blend irony, humor, and pathos. This one is "Map of Atonement," published at the Tupelo Quarterly.
Back then, Sara invited the artists
for rum-spiked punch. I brought
a lover with his colossal German nose.

I almost forgot how they adored him.
How he built a cartilage between us—
Instructing the guests in an essential trick

of how to tip go-go boys. Now, a church
strikes ten, but sounds like twenty.
Unreliable time. I was a fickle lover—

ungrateful. I’m sorry little cosmos
of misters. Alphabets of horse, squirrel.
May you love one another deeply soon.

Climb those attic stairs and look down.
What do you see when I think of you—
do you see the wasps? Their yellow.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Zadie Smith on Brexit and the Blunt Instrument of Referendum

Democracy by referendum seems like a good thing since it creates policy unmediated by anything except the voice of the people. Why then does it so often feel wrong? Here in Massachusetts we had some referendum votes a number of years ago that illustrate part of the problem. One vote was to "ban cruel traps" of beavers and such. People in the city (like me) voted to ban them, since the word 'cruel' sounds bad, and they had no idea that beavers present a real problem out in the suburbs and rural areas, where the people voted against the referendum. The city people won, even though the problem didn't affect them. Then there was a referendum to get rid of rent control. People in the city, where rent control was relevant, largely voted to keep it. People outside the city (many of them absentee landlords) voted to get rid of it, and they won. Am I saying we would have been better off leaving the question to the policy wonks? Um, er, maybe, uh, I don't know.

All of that came to mind when I read the novelist Zadie Smith's essay on Brexit over at the New York Review of Books. Here's what she said:
"A referendum magnifies the worst aspects of an already imperfect system—democracy—channeling a dazzlingly wide variety of issues through a very narrow gate. It has the appearance of intensification—Ultimate democracy! Thumbs up or thumbs down!—but in practice delivers a dangerously misleading reduction. Even many who voted Leave ended up feeling that their vote did not accurately express their feelings. They had a wide variety of motives for their vote, and much of the Remain camp was similarly splintered.
"Some of the reasoning was almost comically removed from the binary question posed. A friend whose mother still lives in the neighborhood describes a conversation over the garden fence, between her mother and a fellow North London leftist, who explained to my friend’s mother that she herself had voted Leave in order “to get rid of that bloody health secretary!” Ah, like so many people across this great nation I also long to be free of the almost perfectly named Jeremy Hunt, but a referendum turns out to be a very ineffective hammer for a thousand crooked nails."

Spinvis: "Kom Terug"

When this old world starts getting me down and my vibrations need to get re-calibrated back into the proper positive place, I repair over to YouTube and watch the Dutch band Spinvis perform "Kom Terug." Led by singer-songwriter Eric de Jong, the band isn't known at all in the US, since they don't sing in English (the nerve!). Thanks to Google Translate I can share the chorus here:
Reis ver, drink wijn, denk na
Lach hard, duik diep
Kom terug

Travel far, drink wine, ponder
Laugh hard, dive deep
Come back
Check it out at 2:02. The angels wanna wear her red shoes. Moira Shearer does for sure. Hang in there for the reprise in the last minute. And turn it up.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Truth & Beauty: The Puffin

Photo by Derrick Jackson for the Boston Globe
I don't know what is more mind boggling: that the universe can be explained through abstract mathematical formulas or that nature is inherently beautiful. As far as I understand, all of human life, all of civilization, amounts to fantastically complex elaborations on fundamental evolutionary instincts. The question is whether the ability and desire to perceive beauty is a ground level instinct.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


When you become known primarily as a Trump Surrogate you know you've fallen as far as a man can fall in this life. Your day is spent bouncing between Fox and CNN and MSNBC explaining why your man didn't say what everybody, including his supporters, thought he said.

Hey, remember when Sarah Palin was going to "pivot," like they say Trump is going to do any day now? She was going to go back to Wasilla, hire a team of crack policy experts, and then woodshed for a few weeks getting up to speed on the issues. Instead she pivoted to a reality TV show. We can expect the same from Trump.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Jim Broussard's Provincetown

For representational works of Provincetown and the dunes I like Jim Broussard's. I guess if you were ever going to use the word 'painterly' it would apply here. So, yes, painterly. And beautiful. This communicates the feel of the place out at the quiet ends of town.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Li Shangyin: "When Will I Be Home?"

It's neither autumn nor winter, but it still feels to me like the right time to share this lovely poem from the 9th century, Tang Dynasty Chinese poet, Li Shangyin.

When will I be home? I don’t know.
In the mountains, in the rainy night,
The Autumn lake is flooded.
Someday we will be back together again.
We will sit in the candlelight by the West window.
And I will tell you how I remembered you
Tonight on the stormy mountain.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Born to Wink?

When you are in the September of your years, as I am, you know you've done some living. So it came as an unexpected revelation the other day to realize that I've never -- not once -- winked at anyone in my entire life. This got me thinking about nature and nurture. Are some people simply born to wink? Or do they learn it? I think I'm fine leaving it out of my repertoire.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Ray Nolin Provincetown Dune Painting

Ray Nolin (1959 - 2015), oil on canvas, 36" x 48"
How many thousands of paintings exist of the Provincetown dunes? Many, with many thousands more to come, thankfully. With the ever-shifting play of light and shadow on the undulating protrusions of the landscape there could never be any end to the challenges presented to the painter of landscapes. And even when the paintings are faithfully representational, they can assume the quality of abstracts. Add in the vigorous palette knife technique of a painter like the late Ray Nolin, and you have something to behold, a living thing. This piece is in the permanent collection of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bob Marley: "Waiting In Vain"

Syncopation and rhythm are mathematical propositions. The time signature of a song or composition is subdivided "just so" in order to create the proper sense of motion. Here's the thing though. Depending on who is doing the playing, the very same patterns of notes, and combinations of lines, can come across either as inert and dead in the water, or as buoyant and propulsive. Bob Marley's "Waiting In Vain" is a stellar example of the latter. The proper effect is achieved through what is known as "feel," which just means sensitivity to tone, attack, and meshing with the other players. Oh, and a healthy dollop of that ineffable thing called soul.

Clearly one of Bob Marley's greatest songs, it comes across at first as a straightforward but eloquent statement of romantic yearning. However, I remember reading back at the time (or at some time in the misty past) that the song was possibly also being addressed, at least in part, to the American music market. Marley felt he deserved popular success on the same level as the greatest bands. He did achieve great global popularity in the end, but maybe not "pop" success in the broadest sense. Anyway, this song is perfection, and Marley is unsurpassed, even today. Thanks and praises!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Art We Liked in P-town

MP Landis
We do plenty of art viewing whenever in P-town. Now known primarily as a Gay Mecca, Provincetown is America's oldest art colony. The painting tradition lives on. MP Landis and Judith Trepp are currently showing at Art Market Provincetown. The late master of the visual arts Michael Mazur's works can be seen at the Albert Merola Gallery. These are abstracts, or works that are partly abstracted. Will post some P-town representational works soon.

Michael Mazur

Judith Trepp

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Provincetown Gallery

Race Point, late afternoon

Race Point, late afternoon

Race Point, late afternoon

Provincetown harbor, evening low tide

Provincetown harbor, evening low tide

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Most Beautiful Thing

Sorry for the infrequent posts. We are chilling in Provincetown, which means one of my major activities is reading Provincetown Arts magazine cover to cover. This issue features diverse tributes to the poet Marie Howe, whose celebrated book "What the Living Do" explores the death of her brother John from AIDS. In his tribute, the writer Richard McCann recalled what another friend of his, Tillie Olsen, once told him about death and grieving. When I read his words I thought it was one of the most beautiful things ever. McCann writes that "not long after her husband, Jack, had died, Tillie told me, "All this talk about grieving -- but when Jack was dying, I felt like I was falling in love with him all over again."