Disruptive Juxtaposition

Friday, October 14, 2005

Don McLean, the Doors, Sufjan Stevens, ambient sound

Don McLean came to B_______'s yesterday for an album signing. He's come out with a new retrospective CD that was, I'm sorry, just terrible. The line to have him sign a product seemed long but moved quickly. "American Pie" came over the music system, and by the time it had ended the line had been serviced, and there were no more autograph-seekers, and Don McLean redonned his red silk kerchief and swept on out of there, and the whole scene was pretty sad even if like me you've never liked that song.

"The killer awoke before dawn; he put his boots on" in the Oedipal-dream section of The Doors's "The End" is one of the better spoken lines in songs that I can think of. "The End" also gets one of the better legendary-origin awards, in that the Ds broke into the studio in the wee a.m. to record it, which they did in one take around a candle. Related to this and on a slightly larger scale is the recording of "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" by Brian Wilson for "Smile", which apparently set buildings on fire all over. Clearly untrue, and clearly derivative from the original (and possibly itself-untrue) story that the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was started by the unruly cow (there's your title) of Mrs. O'Leary. But legends are not on the list for their unflappable credentials.

Sufjan Stevens makes good on the promise Duncan Sheik never really did. Three of the four albums DS has made are strong, "Phantom Moon" being the sparest and best and "Daylight" being the wretchedly bad album #4. But as strong as his strong work is, as lush and expansive, it doesn't achieve the feeling of bigness that Sufjan Stevens crafts with fewer, more judiciously employed instruments. SS's range dwarfs Duncan's. It's as though SS has taken the spareness of DS's "Phantom Moon" and made an album bigger than "DS" or "Humming". The first two pieces of SS's Great States project are feats because they do this and do this and do this, song after song: they realize a grand ambition through modest means. Which is another way of saying "sum > parts". DS could have gone another way, but he always tended to veer toward introspection and self-analysis. Wasn't into things not DS or DS-related. SS however treats the larger world as into which he can introspect as simply as you or I or DS introspect about ourselves daily. This is the good of SS: his personal (sounding) approach to the large - the state, the nation, the human.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Live show banter, misplaced West coast rain, Jenga

This morning I was listening to a live show of Jeff Tweedy at someplace called The Forum, recorded in June 2000. I don’t know where that is, the Forum. The show comes to me thirdhand through some Oregon friends of mine. The show is, however, fantastic. Jeff plays songs that I haven’t heard anywhere else, a series of Woody Guthrie-ish ballads that I sense work better in a solo context than if Jeff’d been with a band.

Plus, there’s a good amount of banter on the album. Jeff can’t remember the words to a couple of songs, and in laughing about it with the audience reaffirms his status as one of the more real, that is, humble, rock & roll heroes in my personal pantheon. His stories are funny and disarming: “Did I ever tell you guys the story about the Germans? That is, about the whole German people? [Laughter.] I’d be in the back room tuning up, and they’d come into the room and say things like: ‘WE ARE FINISHED WAITING FOR YOU NOW!’ ” Normally onstage banter rings such hollow notes that I grit my teeth waiting for the talent to go on being talented and stop with the buddy-buddy intimacies or the Yeah!-Bono’s-right! political grandstanding. Done right, however, and given the right environment and the right crowd, such banter can really make the show cohere, and makes me want to anonymous buy the fellow onstage a dark beer of considerable quality.

It’s been raining for the last five days. It won’t stop. I can’t go on runs if it’s raining before I’m about to go running. If it begins to rain once I’m out there, fine. I’ll keep running the route and get all elated and Gene Kelly in “Singing In the Rain”; I’ll spring along and sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops, etc. But if it’s *already* raining, *hard*, forget it.

I’m making headway on "Good Ground". About 1,000 words a day for the last few days. Is its plot in play, is there much happening in immediate scene, is it in medias res? No, no, no. But its characters are emerging. And I’m accumulating a certain amount of momentum in terms of the writing style: I always feel that my better work comes from a loosening and a quickening of language, a sort of barreling Faulkner-ish sentence (I’m *really* not trying to compare myself to Faulkner here) which is my most reliable compositional means. Most of these sentences, while grammatically correct in a technical sense, will lose a reader faster than Mr. Magoo loses everything, and I’ll have to alter them each at some point. But from a compositional point of view, they are the building blocks I’m most able to use in constructing this tower of who knows exactly what shape or dimension. Which reminds me of a Jenga tower 50 feet high I saw yesterday on the Internets. It’s a scaled replica of the Sears Tower (only with half the number of floors—otherwise it’s to scale). I’d provide the link but I’m going to be late to work if I don’t like move.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Mood: Festive

Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" again. Somehow it's become a holidayish album that I always dig out those first few fall days that never feature the sun. All's I need now is a big fat cinnamon candle burning. There's that implication of a nip in the air which always gets me thinking "cinnamon candle." Alas alack and woe that I didn't nab one of the numerous cinnamon candles I held in my hot little hands on this afternoon's workless sojourn. Flat white skies all day, which day I spent profitably by exploring my part of Brooklyn's centers of commerce. Went down to the Atlantic Terminal and the Atlantic Center, which if you go through the former obligates you to walk through Target - ingenious! - to get to the latter. Although I had a mental list of sundries, my transit from street to shopping center wiped my mind clean, and it was all I could do to tour the cut-rate mall, with a Chuck E Cheese and a Burlington Coat Factory, which I haven't seen in 10+ years and never south of Buffalo, NY.

From there however I thought I'd strike along on foot toward was I thought was 4th Ave., hoping to swing up to 7th Ave. where I'd seen a record shop I hoped would take a few CDs I disdain and hope to unload. This decision led me astray to neighborhoods I still don't know the name of, being mapless even now - but it got me thinking about the usefulness of being lost. Whenever I move to a new place, I go on jogs hither and yon without really knowing where I'm going, which I've found to be the most useful way to figure out where things are and more generally to get a sense of the place, the area. And boy howdy did I get lost today. Wandered into some neighborhoods which were a-okay except for a few perplexed looks. At any rate, wandered home along 7th Ave. which I eventually did find, and found to my delight that the bars and cafes of Park Slope are a mere 10 blocks north of me. The whole walk, which lasted from 2 to about 6, stitched this borough together in my mind in a new and encouraging way. And it is mine to soon cook up some braised chicken w/ penne and salad, mmm yes please.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Old English for "So." Seamus Heaney’s choice to start of his translation of Beowulf. As attributes of the ancient masterwork go, it is one of David Eldridge’s favorites, or so it was some years ago. I may have mentioned this fact somewhere else on this site. I don’t know how to get in touch with you, Dave. How’ve you been? Are you still in Boston? May Googling your name – we all do it – lead you here.

I’m set up in Brooklyn. I have hardwood floors and hardwood-looking furniture which is spare and somewhat sleek. My desk has on it, left to right, Anthony Hecht’s Collected Later Poems, an alligator clip, roughly $1.07 in change, a twist-tie, the “Mano Poderoso” or “Powerful Hand” candle, which is lit, my like ninth blank notebook of poetry which is about a week away from being completely filled, the first draft of mss. #2 Safety Culture (uncorrected, unedited), this laptop, the third draft of mss. #1 Food Bed Gospel, an empty white coffee mug, and an earthenwarish lamp from I believe Ikea.

Recently I opened up a post from JBG, which contained a tiny card with a nude woman named Monica voguing on it and, on the inside, a poem about Vegas typewritten on the smudgy machine Jeremy’s dug up from somewhere. Reading this poem, I can’t overemphasize, helped remind me about poetry as I want it to be. Reading Jeremy’s work often has this effect; it strikes Whitmanic chords in me, and not just because of the “O ____ ! O ______ and _______ !” Although those Os are in the mix of effects upon me. He’s having an incredible time in Vegas, if not with his time then at least with his spirit. They have him working pretty hard at the private school, I can only imagine, but it seems as though for him at least the Vegas aura fuels him. I sense a gathering, recurrent power in these little poem-notes of his. That city is good for him. And these poem-notes are good for me. I sat down to write a poem in an almost-forgotten spirit of celebration regarding my own adopted city—so many of this summer’s poems aren’t hitting the notes I want them to: notes of revelry and, if they assert or discover some critical fault in the culture or human spirit, suggest that fault's patchibility. JBG’s work jump-starts that optimism in me. Poetry editors reading this site and in a position to OK any of his submissions would be wise to do so.