Sunday, April 30, 2017

Happy 100, Ella!

Last Tuesday, April 25th, was the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald, one of the most masterful singers of the 20th century. There certainly hasn't been a better jazz singer than her. There have been others just as good, in their own way, but none better. In terms of female jazz singers, Ella was part of a great quartet of consummate vocalists, joined by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Carmen McRae. These women need a Mt. Rushmore of their own. Might there be an enterprising sculptor out there who could undertake this project? Perhaps it could be carved out of a bluff overlooking the Hudson, since New York City is so central to jazz and to the careers of all four women. Ella's tone is pure, even pretty, and I mean that in the best possible way. And, yes, she could truly swing, as this Billy May arranged version of "Paper Moon" demonstrates. When I listen to her great songbook series, from which this clip is taken, I often think to myself that I don't ever need to hear anyone else sing these songs. But then I listen to Billie or Sarah or Carmen, and I think the same thing. How blessed we are to have their music in the world.

An aside: Ms. Fitzgerald would likely be very surprised to see how many little Ellas are running around out there now. Every elementary classroom must have at least one or two, don't you think?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rain Haiku

After the hard rain
Fallen magnolia petals
Decorate the asphalt

M. Bogen, 4-26-17

Fallen magnolia petals
The parking lot is transfigured
Into a starry sky

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Of Human Feeling: "He Was a Friend of Mine"

Since the election I've been filled with a lot of anger, and I don't want to lose it. Our situation calls for some outrage and resistance, but I don't want to get stuck in that. Maybe that's why when I listen to music these days I am drawn to music that speaks, as Ornette Coleman phrased it, "of human feeling," music that speaks to shared experience and not just righteous indignation. It keeps me centered and sane. To lose someone you love is not a partisan issue. It hurts for everyone. But there is more than pain in this great old song, there is great beauty. When we die we won't think of politics but of those we loved. There is an extra layer of poignancy here, since Bill Morrissey died too young a few years ago.

The Anxious Bench and the Auto Dealer

In his NYRB review of Frances FitzGerald's new book, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, Garry Wills describes the role of the anxious bench, or as he calls it, the anxious seat, in the history of American revivalism:
To walk down toward a revival’s preacher, to make one’s decision for Christ, is a dramatic moment not only for the ones doing the deciding but for the onlookers, who are internally cheering them across the finish line to salvation. The great revivalist Charles Grandison Finney (1792–1875) knew how to increase this urge of people to save others. He created the “anxious seat” at his revivals, for those still hesitating to commit themselves to Jesus. Anyone in the anxious seat became the instant target of all the circumambient prayers. If the prayers successfully dislodged any of those seated, whoops of joy would greet another victory for the Holy Spirit.
The key to conversion to Christ at a revival meeting and the decision to buy a new car from an auto dealer both hinge on the dynamic of putting someone on the spot. The idea is to create an isolated moment of decision for the convert/buyer. What happens in this moment is that any prior misgivings or doubts are instantly neutralized and the odds of taking the bait move from, say, 20-80 to 50-50. Instead, the internal dialogue shifts, with the assistance of the preacher or salesman, from finding fault in the product to finding fault in oneself. Am I resisting Jesus because the devil has control of me? Because I'm a coward or person of base character? Am I resisting the car purchase because I'm too obsessed with money and am cheap? Does part of me resist the idea of living in style? Do I think I don't deserve it?

Then you add in the pressure from the outside and you might tip it in favor of completing the transaction. The praying attendees of the revival root for you to join the team. It feels good to walk with Jesus! The salesman brings you back to the manager's office, the inner sanctum, where he will sweeten the deal and dangle the possibility of joining the brotherhood of those who roll in style.

I once read -- or at least power browsed -- a book called A Nation of Salesmen, and at that time I was something of an anti-materialist purist, so I was sympathetic to the subtitle, The Tyranny of the Market and the Subversion of Culture. Now I think to myself that, yes, we are a nation of salesman, but so what? I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with the sales model. What I don't like is the hard sell, as we see at the revivals and auto dealerships. To my own detriment perhaps, I like the soft sell, which is probably why I continue to labor away here on blogger instead of at facebook.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Post-it Note Variations

M. Bogen, post-it note arrangement, April 2017

Pear Blossom Haiku

New blossoms on the pear tree
Hide the plastic grocery sack
Caught in its branches

M. Bogen

Thursday, April 20, 2017

W. S. Merwin: "Unknown Bird"

Out of the dry days
through the dusty leaves
far across the valley
those few notes never
heard here before

one fluted phrase
floating over its
wandering secret
all at once wells up
somewhere else

and is gone before it
goes on fallen into
its own echo leaving
a hollow through the air
that is dry as before

where is it from
hardly anyone
seems to have noticed it
so far but who now
would have been listening

it is not native here
that may be the one
thing we are sure of
it came from somewhere
else perhaps alone

so keeps on calling for
no one who is here
hoping to be heard
by another of its own
unlikely origin

trying once more the same few
notes that began the song
of an oriole last heard
years ago in another
existence there

it goes again tell
no one it is here
foreign as we are
who are filling the days
with a sound of our own

Friday, April 14, 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Chauncey Trump

You heard it hear first: Donald Trump is Chauncey Gardiner. Various pundits, apologists, and supporters read into him what they want. When he issues a bizarre four-in-the-morning tweet that's because he and Bannon are playing 4D chess. When health care reform goes south he is the misunderstood visionary who "left everything on the field" but somehow was let down by Congress. When he manages to make sounds criticizing antisemitism or racism he has pivoted to becoming a champion of human rights. When he successfully reads a speech from a teleprompter or bombs a country he's presidential.

UPDATE: 4-14-17
Okay, I just spotted my first Chauncey Gardiner reference out there in the larger media universe. It's in Andrew Sullivan's weekly Friday column at New York Magazine. This makes sense, since I enjoy Sullivan's writing, unlike many of my fellow liberals I should add.

Minimalism, Compression, and Omission

Judith Trepp, oil and acrylic on linen, 2017
The power of minimalism derives from two sources: compression and omission. The thousand things unsaid concentrate power into the one thing that is said. Ken Kesey described how he was once participating in a chaotic late 60s scene at Apple Studios in London when John Lennon walked in and silenced and focused everyone with a single word. That's authority, which needs to be in place to make the compression and omission work.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Opening Day at Fenway Park

Here we go again!
Baseball is pretty boring, but that's one of its virtues! The games have gotten too long with all the pitching changes, but what I'll do during the summer is put the game on and then check in on it between going outside to water the garden and the like. Hopefully I don't miss the parts when the game becomes incredibly intense and every pitch counts, like when the pitcher gets himself out of a bases-loaded no-outs jam. But if I do miss the good parts it doesn't matter. There's another game tomorrow.