...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer Listening

Robert Christgau, on Cosmic Thing:
AIDS having robbed them of their most essential musician, this is an almost touchingly brave attempt to dance away from the edge of ecocatastrophe. Earthquakes, tidal waves, bushfires, waste dumps, toxic fog, maybe even that Chrysler big as a whale are counterposed to and in theory renewed by positive natural forces--junebugs, spaceships, cosmic vibes, an expanding universe, poor rebellious kids having innocent fun. They're trying to be seriously silly, and they're right to believe serious silliness is a healer.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Slaughterhouse Five

It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:
     American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.
     The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, where were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and the planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

     When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.
     The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn't in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

Summer Listening

I am still trying to get to that.

Friday, June 27, 2014


Renata Adler's unconventional book is perhaps more interesting than compelling. I had difficulty reading it for any duration; it seems meant to slow the reader down. Even so, I marked, in the copy I borrowed from the library, several bits I liked. There are many things I'd love to quote here--too many. This is one of the episodes (the whole 'novel' is a collection of episodes) that stunned me and made me want to read it again:
A tall man was beginning a Tiny Tim sort of grateful frenzy--covering his ears, and shaking his head and saying, shrilly, often, how wonderful to him everybody was, how wonderful. Once, at a Christmas party on Park Avenue, when somebody was reading, beautifully, aloud from Dickens, I began to giggle, uncontrollably. It was that classic Tiny Tim and his damn crutch. I have always thought of the other, singing Tiny Tim as serious. Elva Miller, Frances Foster Jenkins, but Tiny Tim especially--being somehow bent to play out the American freak triumphant, to sing in falsetto about tulips, when what he longs to do, knows how to do, does seriously, is sing in exact imitation of 78 r.p.m. records, complete with scratches, old forgotten songs, in exact imitation of the voices of the dead. There he was, then, Tiny Tim, on the talk shows, in no sense a comedian but a loser meant to win it for the losers. The underside, a fifties person. Or rather, contra-fifties, in his peculiar way. For years now, there have been other, sounder contra-fifties people. Against all that modesty, domestication, niceness--Joe Namath, Bobby Fischer, Mark Spitz, Jimmy Connors, Bobby Riggs, Muhammad Ali. For the ladies, well, for the ladies, Marilyn Monroe, Sylvia Plath, Diane Arbus, Janis Joplin, Anne Sexton, and, after all on another racetrack, Ruffian.

All those unendearing braggarts and, on the distaff side, the suicides. Books about Ali. Ten years earlier, the preoccupation with Monroe. But there was a day, or there came, as Sam Dash would say, a time, when an actual Evel Knievel metaphor appeared--in an event that was inconsequential, small. The proposition was deep. It virtually spun. People were invited to see somebody ride his motorcycle over a canyon gap. That was what it was said they had been invited to pay to see. An early truth of the matter was this: it could not be done. The performer and his sponsors knew what he was going to do. The people who paid their admission knew what they were coming to see. By the end, the morally spinning proposition was this: when, by some miscalculation, the motorcyclist was actually exposed to a danger which he had not foreseen, when his parachutes almost failed so that he nearly did get killed (not, it is true, in a manner that had anything to do with the alleged hazards of his ride, but rather by being slammed by his parachutes into the sides of cliffs), when, in short, the escape procedure became the menace, were the members of the audience entitled to feel cheated in any way. They had paid to see him die. He had arranged to escape unharmed. There was nothing of the old-style prestidigitator-understanding in this thing. In their separate ways, neither party ever seriously entertained any notion that the motorcycle could rocket successfully over that canyon gap. What did, then, occur; what was the event? A performer and an audience conspired that someone should be misled. The performer intended a motorized parachute jump. The audience paid to see a suicide. No fifties teamwork or nice-guy qualities in it anywhere. Nothing went according to plan. The question was who was misled, whom were they conspiring to mislead? Why, history. For a perfect moment it was like almost every other event in public life.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Nature's Way

"It's nature's way of telling you something's wrong."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Poem of Limited Form

Hey. I was reading on the porch
this morning, the day after I broke my nose,
and a pigeon landed in the street before the house
and walked toward the gutter to drink some water.
I watched it and thought about how its head bobs
at the same rate its feet move.
The faster it walks, the faster its head bobs,
like a mechanical toy, a whirligig or whatever.
I thought then of drumming, of Meg White
in particular, how the knock on her was she
was a bad musician. And you can hear what they who say it
mean: Her high hat rhythm is tied to her foot’s.
The high hat and kick drum match, they are not
independent of each other, in the way good drummers
are capable of making them be. That’s how I drum, too.
We’re no Buddy Rich, no Neal Peart, but I couldn’t make
a Meg White. I couldn’t make a pigeon.
I want to be kinder in what I say about people and things.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Za'atari Refugee Camp

[Image lifted from here. Recent article here.]

Monday, June 9, 2014

Summer means reading,

which means this blog will contain, among other "organic matter produced by the decomposition of organisms," a repository of quotations, like this (I.9), from The Confessions of St. Augustine, which I've never before read
O God, my God, great was the misery and great the deception that I met with when it was impressed upon me that, to behave properly as a boy, I must obey my teachers. This was all that I might succeed in this world and excel in those arts of speech which would serve to bring honor among men and to gain deceitful riches. Hence I was sent to school to acquire learning, the utility of which, wretched child that I was, I did not know. Yet if I was slow at learning, I was beaten. This method was praised by our forebears, many of whom had passed through this life before us and had laid out the hard paths that we were forced to follow. Thus were both toil and sorry multiplied for the sons of Adam.


"Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Owens Valley, May 2014

Albert Goldbarth

Because I read this essay, I checked out this book. Here are two poems from it I read last night:

Poem 1

Poem 2

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hansel & Gretel

     Hansel went up and broke off a piece of the roof to see what it tasted like. Gretel went to the window and nibbled at that. A gentle voice called out from within:

         "Nibbling, nibbling like a mouse,
          Who's nibbling at my little house?"

      The children answered:
         "The wind, the wind doth blow
          From heaven to earth below."