Friday, October 31, 2008

Much going on...

Whew--the next few weeks are going to be packed--readings, revisions, reviews, emails to Poland (perhaps I might be able to finagle an interview of a composer?), working on finalizing the next issue of Sycamore, etc. Spoke with Lan Samantha Chang Wednesday evening, who is the director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. I mentioned that I spent my formative years in West Branch, only ten miles away. She asked whether I spent much time at the Herbert Hoover Presidential library there. I suppose I did, but mostly in roller-skating around it. In fourth grade, I wasn't particularly interested in the contents of the library.

My latest batch of new recordings should be especially interesting--two recent releases from col legno, one based on a work of Paul Klee's Angelus Novus called The Angel of History. Also high on the interest-o-meter is the 1977 music to the reconstruction of Oskar Schlemmer's groundbreaking Bauhaus work The Triadische Ballett.

This weekend, Theresa and I will be driving up to Chicago to conduct an interview with Adam Zagajewski, who has a great new book of poems out. Zagajewski was not only gracious in aloowing us to conduct this "make-up" interview (the first interview, conducted by Keverlee and Mindy, wasn't preserved due to recorder malfunction), but is especially gracious in that we are interviewing him in his very own living room. I almost feel I should bring a small casserole for the buffet.

At any rate, this means I might not have many posts here until the semester comes to a close , but I'll do my best to continue posting regularly.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Attacking McCain: The Age vs Ageism

Ok--I've been pissed about this for a while now, and I've finally hit the breaking point on this bit. Believe it or not, I'm standing up for MCCain on this one. A very wide range of people, from those on the street to David Letterman quip routinely about Metamucil with regard to the Republican candidate for President. I recall a joke told having todo with McCain being present for the initial chiseling of the Ten Commandments. Each of those people making such jokes, no doubt, are surrounded by people as old or older than McCain who are sharp as tacks, who get out and do things, who have photographic memories, etc. Working on a college campus, I know I'm surrounded by such people.

The issue is that the jokesters and naysayers are confusing Age with outmoded ideas. Again, being on a college campus, I am surrounded by forward-thinking individuals approximately McCain's age. There are other ways to discuss the (de)merits of one's qualifications to the highest office than discussions about "senior moments" and intestinal regularity, and those ways are discussions of the issues and whether the candidate's position on them reflects a way of thinking that is no longer the best way. To continue disparaging McCain using age-based jokes rather than the Age we are living in is just as ostracizing of a group of people that ignorant statements on race or religion are with regard to Obama.

Speaking of race-based discussions, McCain missed a big opportunity on Meet the Press to speak emphatically on the racist overtones of what's going on in the elections and outside of Republican rallies. When asked about Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama being seen as based on race, he says a very quiet "no" and then goes on to state his disappointment with Colin Powell before getting hung up on who endorsed him. The question comes up at 6:15 in the following video:

This would've been a great opportunity to go on record and speak toward the racial issues regarding the campaign. The sad reality here, though, is that if people have issues regarding race, they are more likely to vote McCain's way, giving him little motivation--outside of a civic-minded one--to make any further comment.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Importance of the Z axis

I'm no math major. I took various algebra classes in my undergraduate year and found myself thinking--sometimes aloud--that, if x=3.5, how does x feel about equalling that after all that work, especially when y=4.9?

At any rate, in addition to basic polynomials, there were the f(x) functions, as well as graphing, with the parabolas, the hyperbolas, the straight lines going off everlastingly in various directions. In pursuing poetic arts in later life, I'm finding that various aspects of successful art all trail back to mathematics, the one truly universal language other than laughter, perhaps.

Art, it seems to me, is the pursuit for some sort of beauty, over some sort of pretty thing. As Marianne Boruch mentioned in one of my classes, the difference between something being pretty and something being beautiful is tension. And it is this tension that one seeks in art. It is this tension that one seeks in any of the arts.

Holly showed me a picture this evening of park benches in fog. The pic was static at first glance, it had balance, sure, and if we were graphing, we had a bench on either side of the y axis, right on the x axis. Nothing new about that. Perfect symmetry. A sort of plus sign in landscape. An example of real life as artifice. The problem was that the pic was interesting. Why? Well, for one, was the oddly-shaped tree on the right side of the frame--something to throw off the balance of the identical benches. In addition, and most importantly, there was the fact that, just past the benches was a drop, some sort of unknown depth, beyond which the oddly-shaped trees were rooted, from which the trees thrust their branches toward the camera: the often-overlooked z axis, that of depth. Its so often, even with the talk of rising action and denouement, we get preoccupied with the x and y axes, but the big deal is with the most foreshortened one from our perspective, the z.

I had various flashy ideas for ending this bit, but, it's late, and most of those who read this blog know this already. My biggest question is how this sort of thing can be taught to artists of any stripe. Or whether it's even teachable.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nazi Swing??

The things I find that I've got in my CD collection. While working on a review of vintage musical settings of the work of Klabund, I rummaged around in my discs to find other German Cabaret recordings, and found a fascinating collection from Proper Records. During WWII, the Germans had their own propaganda campaigns. From 1937 to pretty much the end of the European part of the war, various German jazz bands, once they were purged of their Jewish contingents, were employed to record messages for broadcast to damage the morale of Britain. The resulting songs, long buried, are an amazing listen. Almost all of them are popular songs of the day, recorded with English lyrics, and in the middle, a speak-sing section of Pro-Nazi lyrics. In the middle of "You're Driving Me Crazy," a song made popular again about 10 years ago by Squirrel Nut Zippers, the very wooden Charlie and His Orchestra break into an impression of Winston Churchill:
"Yes, the Germans are driving me crazy. I thought I had brains,/ but they've shattered my planes...The Jews are the friends who are near me, to cheer me believe me they do./But Jews are they kind who now hurt me, desert me, and laugh at me too."

Some of this stuff has to be heard to be believed. One can picture music halls in Germany bopping to this sort of thing, as the hate-lyrics go right on swinging. Other grotesque renditions include "Stormy Weather," (again with a sad Winston Churchill impression), "Bye, Bye Blackbird," and, bizarrely, "Makin' Whoopee." Sound bites are no doubt available somewhere on the internet. The 4-disc set is a freaky visit to a place where catchy music is used to promote the darkest of motives.

Monday, October 13, 2008

More people with answers

I've got grading and editing and review-writing and revising to do, so I'll type less this time around. I saw this in my morning web-surfing and thought I'd share with you this lovely conversation between the new Nobel Laureate for Economics and another man who has all the answers. Take it away, Bill O'Reilly:

Now go out in the lovely October weather and get some fresh air.

Sean Hannity certainly has the answers--

This from September. It certainly takes a lot to convince some people that the market ain't a bed of roses. A month later, in spite of Hannity's figures, I do believe that the situation can be described as "dire," certainly.

Wasn't there a day, way back when, when in order to be seen as an authority, a credible authority, one needed to be consistently accurate? O'Reilly, Hannity, and Nancy Grace for some reason keep getting byes in this regard. Aren't there other newscasters and (gasp) actual reporters waiting in the wings?

What's even worse--I just got news that Archway cookies has folded. The dark days just keep getting darker.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Importance of Choosing One's Analogy Carefully

Biden mentioned that it was patriotic to pay taxes. To an extent, that's right, in that one is paying one's dues for enjoying the benefits of living in this country. Palin, in a rather idiotic move, said that it wasn't. Though this certainly seemed a nod toward those who could afford to sock money away in tax shelters, this isn't the main point of my post. In a recent Bill Maher episode (the tenth of October), Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal, in his defense of Palin's comment, brings up, of all things, the Boston Tea Party as support. The discussion in question starts at 4:00 in the clip below:

The big problem with using analogies is that, if one doesn't look at the details, one can shoot a bigger-than-yer-ass-sized hole in one's argument. As even Wikipedia will tell you, the main drive toward the Boston Tea Party was, yes, taxes, and lowering them. What Moore seems to forget is that the reason is found in that phrase we all likely learned in grade school: Taxation without representation. In this day and age, the ones waging their wars on taxation are the ones that get preferential representation. Corporations that relocate their headquarters off in Bermuda, for example (Quick question--where do you suppose Halliburton is located for tax purposes? It ain't Kansas, it's Dubai.) Moore says that Americans dumped the tea because Americans hate paying taxes. Moore, dude, for the general American, back then as it is today, it ain't the tax thing that got their dander up, it was that lack of representation bit.

Moore then has the gall to add, later in the clip, "Well, if paying taxes is so patriotic, then why don't they pay more taxes?" Sure, they can send it in by the bucketload, but what, sincerely would be the benefit for that? Who, might I ask, would benefit? Not fellow liberals, I don't believe, and certainly not the country.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Past Republican Presidents would not be Happy...

...with what their party has become, methinks. Since the Republican convention, I've been growing increasingly concerned regarding the party's catering to a certain segment of the population. The rhetoric has been escalating as the campaigns have progressed, and now we have Palin talking about Obama palling around with domestic terrorists. Cindy McCain has started using Obama's middle name again. Here, we have a result of such moves:

The group waiting to get into the town-hall meeting certainly didn't all feel this way, but I haven't heard any of their number contest the allegations presented. I also find it laughable that octogenarians long-since retired are telling people to "get a job." The epithet "socialist" is confusing, considering that the Bush administration, in light of the recent nosedive of the markets worldwide, is working toward Government administration of the banking sector. Last I heard, Bush wasn't a Democrat. What I don't find so laughable are allegations that Obama supporters are "commie faggots." There are bad apples in every barrel, certainly, but looking at the homogeneity of the folks waiting to get inside, the shit they're spouting, and the concerns they have regarding Barack Hussein Obama, it seems more a fear of otherness than a disagreement on foreign policy.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Well, THAT Worked Just Great

$700 Billion? Sure! Oversight? Nah--you did so well with the money earlier, we trust ya. AIG? You poor dears, let's throw some money at you so you can have a lovely half-mil retreat for your Highly-Compensated employees two weeks later. Oh, and today, it comes out you need another $37 billion? Why not? Oh, and that's not even included in the $700 billion bailout mentioned earlier.

Folks, if you aren't furious about this, you ought to be.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Chilean Antipoetic Political Commentary

This from Nicanor Parra's new book, due in December 2008:


We do not respond
To ill-disposed comments:
Even a nursing child knows
That the tapeworm of extreme poverty
Was caused by previous administrations

We recognize that the unemployment figure
Is somewhat higher than one would like
But we have the responsibility to remind you
That the Government is not an employment agency

There are no lack of beds in the hospitals
It just happens that there are too many sick people...
There's an excessive number of sick in this country
The truth of the matter is
That owing to the high level of excellence
Of our hospital services
The sick are not dying quickly enough

They go on living even if in precarious conditions
Causing numerous difficulties

Parra, in his nineties, is one of the more influential poets of Chile, and Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti cited him as influential in the writing of their own poems. His latest book, from which this is drawn, is After-Dinner Declarations, in parallel translations by Dave Oliphant. Keep an eye out for it--it's so new even Amazon doesn't have it available for pre-order.
ISBN: 978-0-924047-63-3

Friday, October 03, 2008

Burnt Brandy and Birthdays Deferred

I'm stuffed. Practically needed a gurney to get me to the car. My great friend Joe has been trying to get me to commit to going someplace for my birthday (for over five months), and by then it was Royce's birthday, so Joe took the lead and, last week before the symphony, made arrangements for us all to have dinner at the Oceannaire in downtown Indy, designed after the decor of 1930s ocean liners such as the Champlain and the Normandie.
Oysters on the half shell. Bouillabaisse. Crab legs. Plymouth gin martinis. Toasted rolls and white wine on ice. Creme Brulee and, yes, Baked Alaska, complete with at-table blue-flame toasting of the meringue. It all no doubt cost a fortune. The conversation was lovely and the company even better. Joe's a great guy and a wonderful influence, though I admit it is his fault to some extent that I now have 75 CDs to review. Were it not for his unwittingly almost locking me on the fire escape of our apartment building on July 4 1996, I'd not have spent all that money on Classical CDs, concert performances, and not have made rather embarrassing attempts to interview visiting pianists for some imaginary periodical. Fiscal jeopardy aside, it's my firm belief that there needs to be more Joes in this world. Cherish them when you find them.

Photo:First Class Smoking Room of S.S. Normandie. Pic from