Disruptive Juxtaposition

Saturday, March 12, 2005

"End of Love," Clem Snide

New York City-based alt-country shoegazers Clem Snide haven't scored a spot on any of Wes Anderson's soundtracks, but it's only a matter of time; Anderson's clever, fey portrayals of life in boarding school, Hamilton Heights, or the South Pacific would align well with frontman Eef Barzelay's strummy, incomparable wit. There's another overlap between their oeuvre and Anderson's: just as some faulted Anderson's The Life Aquatic for its retreat into an insular world of fanciful treasures and boyish imagination, the outside world increasingly immaterial to the hermetic echo chamber of Steve Zissou's cross-sectioned good ship "Belafonte," so does End of Love embrace cultural reference over emotional resonance. Whereas their last three albums were defined by spare, mid-tempo lyrical ballads, End of Love emphasizes wry rockers such as "The Sound of German Hip-Hop" and "Fill Me With Your Light," which tend to plod forward and end with Barzelay repeating a line until it becomes absurd. The absence of multi-instrumentalist and producer Jason Glasser also has the band struggling to fill their songs out; awkward guitar riffs and correspondence-school drumming contribute to the album's overall slack feeling. And "Tiny European Cars" might be the nadir of the band's catalogue; rarely has so ethereal a melody been so undone by its lyrics. ("One of many ancient travesties / We're all descendents of the Pharisees." What?) There are exceptions: "Something Beautiful" uses minor chords and a banjo to paint a saucy picture of romantic frustration, "When We Become" makes fine, understated use of strings, piano, and voice, and the kickoff title track manipulates its cadences and turns into a miniature epic: "Maybe we should just release the doves / 'Cause no one will survive the end of love." "Made for TV Movie," however, is the one unqualified success; with little more than his voice, guitar, and a five-year-old backup singer, Barzelay balances describing a Lucille Ball biopic with the singer's own doubts about intimacy: "'Cause happiness is boring / It's always black and white / The good times never last, / And the chocolates move too fast for us all." End of Love doesn't attain anything near the formidable beauty of Your Favorite Music or the gorgeous Soft Spot - still, even in a holding pattern like this one, Clem Snide promises to say at least something beautiful.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Feels like college


1) A half-pot of strong coffee, imbibing starting not before 8 P.M.;

2) A suddenly discovered / recalled obligatory assignment due "first thing in the morning" (it's a poetry contest deadline, and not really obligatory according to anyone but me);

3) Pink Floyd (
Meddle) piped at laser-show levels through a set of sweaty headphones;

4) Four poems (three actually, now) that have some way to come before they're ready to re-emerge into the light of day.

Makes me want to swing by the Mug for some Afro-Cuban Jazz and later riff on a convoluted uber-omniscient short story of my own misguided devices to the tune of Bill Evans's "Waltz For Debby" on loop.

Notes Excerpt #1

“Another element in Rimbaud worth noting is his juxtaposition of extremely sharp yet seemingly disparate and even contradictory descriptive phrases, of removing connecting links, stripping away any narrative to leave one stark image fixed next to another” (Dobyns, 79). Ah, see, even though we’ve not read Rimbaud, we can still level some invective against his brand of poetry. Those connective links of which Dobyns’s speaks, after all, are of what sort of nature? They are syntactical. They construct, or rather deploy, the sense-making and momentum-accruing techniques of prose but are not themselves prosaic—the “juxtaposition of extremely sharp yet seemingly disparate and even contradictory descriptive phrases” prevents that sound or feel.

"Angels and the Bars of Manhattan"

What I miss about the city are the angels and the bars
of Manhattan: faithful Cannon's and the Night Cafe;
the Corner Bistro and the infamous White Horse;
McKenna's maniacal hockey fans; the waitresses at Live Bait;
lounges and taverns, taps and pubs,
joints, dives, spots, clubs, all the Blarney Stones
and Roses filled with Irish boozers eating brisket
stacked on kaiser rolls with frothing mugs of Ballantine.
How many nights we marked the stations of that cross,
axial or transverse, uptown or down to the East Village
where there's two in every block we stopped to check,
hoisting McSorley's, shooting tequila and 8-ball
with hipsters and bikers and crazy Ukrainians,
all the black-clad chicks lined up like vodka bottles on Avenue B,
because we liked to drink and talk and argue,
and when at four or five the whiskey soured
we'd walk the streets for breakfast at some diner,
Daisy's, The Olympia, La Perla del Sur,
deciphering the avenue's hazy lexicon over coffee and eggs,
snow beginning to fall, steam on the windows blurring the film
until the trussed-up sidewalk Christmas trees
resembled something out of Mandlestam,
Russian soldiers bundled in their greatcoats,
honor guard for the republic of salt. Those were the days
of revolutionary zeal. Haughty as dictators, we railed against
the formal elite, certain as Moses or Roger Williams
of our errand into the wilderness. Truly
there was something almost noble
in the depth of our self-satisfaction: young poets in New York:
how cool. Possessors of absolute knowledge,
we willingly shared it in unmetered verse,
scavenging inspiration from Whitman and history and Husker Du,
from the very bums and benches of Broadway,
precisely the way that the homeless who lived
in the Parks Deptartment garage at 78th Street
jacked in to the fixtures to run their appliances
off the city's live current. Volt pirates,
electrical vampires. But what I can't fully fathom
is the nature of the muse that drew us to begin with,
bound us over to those tenements of rage
as surely as those fractured words scrawled across the stoops
and shuttered windows. Whatever compelled us
to suspend the body of our dreams from poetry's slender reed
when any electric guitar would do? Who did we think was listening?
Who, as we cried out, as we shook, rattled, and rolled,
would ever hear us among the blue multitudes of Christmas lights
strung in celestial hierarchies from the ceiling? Who
among the analphebetical ranks and orders
of warped records and second-hand books on our shelves,
the quarterlies and Silver Surfer comics, velvet Elvises,
candles burned in homage to Las Siete Potencias Africanas
as we sat basking in the half-blue glimmer,
tossing the torn foam basketball nigh the invisible hoop,
listening in our pitiless way to two kinds of music,
loud and louder, anarchy and roar, rock and roll
buckling the fundament with pure, delirious noise?
It welled up in us, huge as snowflakes, as manifold,
the way ice devours the reservoir in Central Park.
Like angels or the Silver Surfer we thought we could
kick free of the stars to steer by dead reckoning.
But whose stars were they? And whose angels
if not Rilke's, or Milton's, even Abraham Lincoln's,
"the better angels of our nature" he hoped would emerge,
air-swimmers descending in apple-green light.
We worshipped the anonymous neon apostles of the city,
cuchifrito cherubs, polystrene seraphim,
thrones and dominions of linoleum and asphalt;
abandoned barges on the Hudson mudflats;
Bowery jukes oozing sepia and plum-colored light;
headless dolls and eviscerated teddy bears
chained to the grills of a thousand garbage trucks; the elms
that bear the wailing skins of plastic bags in their arms all winter,
throttled and grotesque, so that we sometimes wondered
walking Riverside Drive in February or March,
why not put up cement trees with plastic leaves and get it
over with? There was no limit to our capacity for awe
at the city's miraculous icons and instances.
Drunk on thunder, we believed in vision
and the convocation of heavenly instances summoned
to the chorus. Are they with us still? Are they
listening? Spirit of the tiny lights, ghost beneath the words,
numinous and blue, inhaler of bourbon fumes and errant shots,
are you there? I don't know. Somehow I doubt we'll ever know
which song was ours and which the siren
call of the city. More and more it seems our errand
is to face the music, bring the noise, scour the rocks
to salvage the grace notes and fragmented harmonies,
diving for pearls in the beautiful ruins,
walking all night through the pigeon-haunted streets
as fresh snow softly fills the imprint of our steps.
OK, I'm repeating myself, forgive me, I'm sure
brevity is a virtue. It's just this melody keeps begging to be hummed:
McCarthy's, on 14th Street, where the regulars
drink beer on the rocks and the TV shows "Police Woman"
twenty-four-hours-a-day; the quiet, almost tender way
they let the local derelicts in to sleep it off
in the back booths at the Blue & Gold after hours;
and the sign behind the bar at the Marlin, you know
the one, handletted, scribbled with slogans of love and abuse,
shopworn but still bearing its indomitable message
to the thirsty, smoke-fingered, mood-enhanced masses:
"Ice Cold Six Packs To Go." Now that's a poem.

May you forgive me, Campbell McGrath or his agents, for quoting this poem in full. I'd memorized it and yesterday recited it without any major gaffes. I just now typed the thing in full again, mainly just to have it occupy more space in the world, but also as an exercise in line breaks and rhythm. Although I had all of the words in mind, and most of the line breaks in mind as well because of the visual way I tend to memorize, I couldn't be and still am not sure that the line breaks here are accurate (I'll verify this tuit suite). But so the point is that for the reader on the page, breaks in the blank verse rhythm possess a strikingly stark aspect - "diving for pearls in the beautiful ruins" comes to mind - which when coupled with the rare emergence of a definite, aural meter (as opposed to the more common subsumation of the iambic pentameter) serves to amplify the line's effect.

Listen to the Fruit Bats. "When God gave Noah the rainbow sign / Noah knew just what to do." Or "Oh what a day for sunshine / Oh what a crazy day." Then go out and throw the Frisbee disc.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Complaint ending with a movie quote

I don't want or need to hear from recent graduates of this program that "reality came down on me pretty hard" or "I don't mean to sound overly pessimistic" or "I became a cashier at Borders." This revulsion of mine is distinct from denial, however; I fully realize that jobs for holders of the MFA, even graduates of academically rigorous ones such as the one here, even those with teaching experience of no small scope thanks also to this program here, will have significant struggles in finding work. I know that. Hell, I even practically expect to become a cashier at Borders. But Christ did the dudes who crashed today's workshop ever get me down; I think it had everything to do with their delivery. The one dude especially seemed embarrassed about it. Since graduating in '03, he's found other work at a community college, but when he was talking about the first few months out of school, a dunce cap would not have been out of place on his head from the way he was talking. It chaps my ass, this idea that we as recent graduates don't know the score, and need to be reminded that the real world "is a jungle" and other such dead metaphors. We know this. Now shhh. We'll handle it. God. Now look. I caught you a delicious bass.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

And on top of that, I'm nearly half-asshole

I am 43% Asshole/Bitch.
Part Time Asshole/Bitch.
I may think I am an asshole or a bitch, but the truth is I am a good person at heart. Yeah sure, I can have a mean streak in me, but most of the people I meet like me.

Colon, left parenthesis

Can't get going today thanks to sadness re: my inability to get to New York this coming break. I am sorry, Kristin. Does anyone have a suggestion for getting across the country on the cheap?