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Monday, September 3, 2007

10:11AM - A wonderful Ferlinghetti interview...

Lovely stuff. And a little love for one of my favorite poets, Kenneth Rexroth, as well.

Neil Fisher in The Times didn't didn't seem to like MTT and the SFS, who are on their fall European tour, very much, at least for one night. Matthew Rye of The Telegraph was more impressed.

More to come as this Labor Day progresses, I think. I am in the mood to read, write, and opine.

Current mood: artistic

Friday, August 31, 2007

10:20AM - Mother Jones, and some other things...

A splendid Jon Carroll column, though that's nothing unusual, and a plug for one of my favorite magazines. Check out the Gonnerman piece... you'd think Titicut Follies had never been released.

This should be interesting.

Getting some work done this Friday morning, and trying not to think about those things about which I can't do anything. More will appear later, I think.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

7:50PM - Some serious thoughts...

Lovely news. Let's hope the Iowa Supreme Court decides to uphold the lower court's decision. That piece is an AP summary of affairs; an even better article on the subject can be found here, and is in fact one of the best pieces of legal journalism I have seen in some time; I recommend it highly. I live in California, of course, and our Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the appeal of a district court's decision to vacate numerous marriage licenses issued under Mayor Gavin Newsom's courageous watch, and it's shameful that if what we often perceive unfairly as just a "red state" can legalize gay marriage we can't do so here. The Midwest has often been a progressive leader: Eugene Debs, Robert LaFollette, and so many others were products of that region. Congratulations to Judge Robert B. Hanson for his forward-thinking ruling.

A hilarious take on Sen. Larry Craig's arrest from Slate. The Craig situation led all the news programs that I watched when I couldn't sleep last night... there was a rerun of Hardball that was particularly amusing to me, because Chris Matthews was playful with his guests about this issue in a way that was missing on the other cable networks. I especially liked the note at the end of the Slate article crediting "Comprehensive Colorectal Care" for its contribution, in that vein. I am farther to the left than probably 85% of the population will ever be, but the Larry Craig witch-hunt, despite the fact that I deplore his policies and positions for the most part, is simply wrong - if we had a more tolerant country, gay men wouldn't have to find hook-ups in public bathrooms. I think Dan Abrams on MSNBC did the best job at analyzing the issue, questioning Pat Buchanan fully (as Mr. Matthews had a few minutes earlier on the same network, but amazingly, less effectively, as I love Matthews' work... any former chief of staff for Tip O'Neill, one of my political and social heroes, will always be someone I respect) about the losses Republicans are going to take as a result of the hypocrisy surrounding this issue.

I'm reading some papers at the office now that I've finished my work, and I'll be heading home soon. I hope all are having a wonderful evening.

Current mood: distressed

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

8:12PM - A thought for a day in August...

I was looking at this and was inspired by thinking about our greatest attempt at international cooperation. It comes from the official UN site:

Thus it was that in the Opera House at San Francisco on June 25 [1945], the delegates met in full session for the last meeting. Lord Halifax presided and put the final draft of the Charter to the meeting. "This issue upon which we are about to vote," he said, "is as important as any we shall ever vote in our lifetime."

In view of the world importance of the occasion, he suggested that it would be appropriate to depart from the customary method of voting by a show of hands. Then, as the issue was put, every delegate rose and remained standing. So did everyone present, the staffs, the press and some 3000 visitors, and the hall resounded to a mighty ovation as the Chairman announced that the Charter had been passed unanimously.

The next day, in the auditorium of the Veterans' Memorial Hall, the delegates filed up one by one to a huge round table on which lay the two historic volumes, the Charter and the Statute of the International Court of Justice. Behind each delegate stood the other members of the delegation against a colorful semi-circle of the flags of fifty nations. In the dazzling brilliance of powerful spotlights, each delegate affixed his signature. To China, first victim of aggression by an Axis power, fell the honour of signing first.

"The Charter of the United Nations which you have just signed," said President Truman in addressing the final session, "is a solid structure upon which we can build a better world. History will honor you for it. Between the victory in Europe and the final victory, in this most destructive of all wars, you have won a victory against war itself. . . . With this Charter the world can begin to look forward to the time when all worthy human beings may be permitted to live decently as free people."

Most of the newspapers printed the proceedings. The Nevada State Journal, several hundred miles from San Francisco, published a special edition. The San Francisco Chronicle had numerous articles on the events of the day, though I suspect those events are largely forgotten. My parents remember them, just as they remember President Roosevelt's death, but they're getting older, just as I am. I feel old whenever I mention watching Walter Cronkite or Morley Safer over in South Vietnam, but these things happen to people who get older. I felt old taking classes at the local university last semester and watching people talk on cellular phones as they walked around. But circumstances change, and you adjust to those changes.

An uneventful day for the most part. I thought a lot about David McCullough's biography of John Adams, which I've been reading when time and chance allows. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in 1774 that:

The great fish swallow up the small and he who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which human nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.

I lament that there is a scarcity of lovely epistolary communication today.

I will have more to add later.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

12:36PM - A relatively pleasant afternoon...

Not quite the exalted sort of afternoon the Moody Blues celebrated, but not a bad one nevertheless. Financial aid forms... yay! It's been a while since I've had to fill anything like these out, but since I certainly won't be able to pay the full cost of a semester's tuition at my school, I'm doing the necessary paperwork.

I'd almost forgotten about the number and variety of special scholarships that have accumulated at the College over the years, none of which I am likely to obtain. I am not, for instance...

- A son or daughter of the permanent United Nations Secretariat
- A descendant of the Amherst class of 1831, 1852, 1856, 1862, 1864, 1878, 1880, or 1897 (as far as I know);
- Intend[ing a] career in the ministry, rabbinate, or other religious vocation; or
- A student who is "not given to smoking, drinking, or gambling."

I was in Las Vegas two weeks ago. That last one went down the tubes quickly. ;)

Nevertheless, a necessary process, and not an overly burdensome one. The rest of the day will have me making phone calls and sending out letters. I hope all are enjoying their Wednesdays, whether "chasing the clouds away" or pushing pencils.

Current mood: amused

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

8:26PM - A lovely evening...

Sometimes you don't realize that your writing reflects a passage that you've been thinking about for days until you commit a few paragraphs to paper and read them over again. I've been reflecting upon Wallace Stevens' work a lot lately, and you may remember this passage from "Sunday Morning" in Harmonium:

She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.

The simple use of "I am" rather than "I'm" reflects an intention to assert and maintain a state of mind, rather than blithely stating the fact. I have found myself retaining that usage over the last few days instead of employing the contraction. Sometimes we need to reinforce to ourselves the truth that we'll be okay, and that we're deserving of happiness; and though things have gone relatively well for me these last few days, this is a period that has required frequent self-reassurance, and my "desire for June and evening" requires that I spell out for myself as much as anyone else the way I want to feel and, consequently, the way I will feel, independent of the ways in which people or fate may act.

I'm thinking of attending a get-together on September 8 in San Francisco of some online folks I've never met but with whom I've enjoyed corresponding. It's always wonderful to put faces to handles. A prospect to which I can look forward.

A relatively uneventful day today; much work topped the agenda. I will be working late tonight; perhaps more scribblings will come later as "the shadow of the night comes on." (I do love that MacLeish poem....)

Monday, August 13, 2007

5:40PM - New horizons, and more...

I have a habit of posting during bereft moments, which is perhaps understandable, I think, since from time to time a correspondent goes away and writing helps me mourn. I think you write for the larger audience that you would like to understand you, though, and while that is necessarily a scattershot affair it reminds you of how many people still inhabit your life and mean world upon world to you.

The deaths of Bergman and Antonioni were meaningful to me this past week. Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, respectively, did a wonderful job eulogizing these film legends in this past Sunday's NYT. As much as I love Bergman, I think Antonioni's work struck me more powerfully over the years, and Scorsese's piece completely did it justice. I was mystified the first time I saw L'Avventura in high school, and captivated when I saw it again my second year of college. What mattered most to me was its ambiguity: not everything was resolved, and not every question had an answer. If movies are to mirror life, they shouldn't have quick and painless resolutions, and Antonioni's work allowed me to truly see the complexities we face as we deal with losses of the body and the spirit that seem to come from nowhere. I believe that Antonioni embraced a sort of nihilism as he grew older: the closing sequence of Zabriskie Point and the desert wanderings of The Passenger suggest that only violent action will break us out of our habits, and ultimately it won't accomplish anything. But his films were gorgeous, ambitious, and above all true; and his departure took a certain red, distended, magically realistic "fat old sun" out of the sky, one that our films and our lives needed, and one that we will remember as long as cinema tries to express our deepest longings, joys, fears and regrets.

Not to undersell Bergman, of course. I will have more to say about my complex relationship with his films at a later date. But Bergman has never lacked for acolytes or champions. :)

My mother turned 67 on Sunday, and shish kebobs of a certain Westernized yet very pleasant variety were on the menu. I stopped by my favorite local market, Corti Brothers, and picked up some prime top sirloin and a bunch of vegetables, and enjoyed my skewer-lacing. A lovely evening; my mother and I watched Big Love, a wonderful HBO show that's hitting its prime this year despite a few rough patches, and talked about our family and how we've changed and grown.

Monday evenings are never quite settled; the second day of a five-day week always awaits you, if you work my schedule. But the sun is still gorgeous outside, and I find myself reflecting that if Gerard Manley Hopkins asked his God to "send his roots rain," I am happy with the mild sunlight that slips just through my window slats as its source goes down, bringing the prospect of mild forgetting and an evening of literary immersion. The nights are just long enough to darken and soothe.

Current mood: content

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

1:03AM - Creation and conviction...

I usually don't feel that ashamed of the infrequency of my LiveJournal posts; after all, they're intended primarily for my circle of close and developing friends, who generally hear about the important things taking place in my life long before I mention them here. I felt a little guilty, though, after attending a party this evening given by a few of those brave scribes who are participating in National Novel Writing Month. The goal is apparently to complete a 50,000-word novel in the course of one calendar month; and the work, additionally, must - egad! - make some sort of sense!

Visions of Kerouac and an endless roll of paper fed into a manual typewriter spring to mind when I'm there, of course; but in this computer age it's screens filled with paragraphs that incessantly inch upward, click-a-clack, as their amiable creators chat about politics and Native American symbols. Good food, wonderful atmosphere and genial companionship. Why am I not writing? I am now, two hours later.

"Miss Rhythm"...

Ruth Brown, of course, passed away Friday at the age of 78. She's not well-remembered today outside of a small circle of rhythm-and-blues fans and historians, but her musical and social impact was great. Atlantic Records, one of the most important labels in rock history, was tagged by Ahmet Ertegun the "House that Ruth Built," and for good reason: she was at the head of its stable of artists, responsible for its earliest hits and laying the groundwork for its later success. And, man, was she one hell of a singer: when her voice wasn't cracking and begging, imploring Mama to do something, anything about a man who "treats her daughter mean," it was like frozen butter, raspy only for a second, as she sang of love and longing.

She was important to me, too. One of the first albums I was given when I was very young, around five, was a copy of Rock and Roll Forever, the great 1956 Atlantic compilation. I loved that classic black-and-silver mono Atlantic label, but the music, and especially the idiosyncratic voices, captivated me. You can't really ask for more than Ray Charles wailing "It Should've Been Me" or Joe Turner's original "Shake, Rattle and Roll," but I always looked forward to the two Ruth Brown cuts. Her voice (as well as LaVern Baker's) on that record was the foundation of my tastes in female rock and rhythm-and-blues vocals; and whether I think about that influence consciously or not, it profoundly shaped the way I hear vocal music today.

Matters of conscience...

A friend recently took notice in her journal of a Chicago musician and activist, Malachi Ritscher, who set himself on fire in protest of the war in Iraq and has become a martyr for some and an object of derision for others. The news gave me some pause, too, as it recalled a similar suicide 15 years ago that also aroused considerable controversy and, on a personal level, led me to put into action my beliefs regarding the conflict then taking place.

I was in Western Massachusetts at the time, and the first Iraq war seemed to exist only in news headlines. There was discussion about it in classrooms and in the desultory, poorly-attended attempts to organize anti-war actions, but Jesse Helms aroused far more indignation than the surgical strikes of the U.S. Air Force. That changed when Timothy Levey sat down with a sign in his lap reading "Peace," doused himself with a can of gasoline in the middle of the Amherst Town Common, and lit a match.

I heard about what Levey had done the same day it happened, and it initially didn't make much of an impact on me. The next night, though, I wandered out to the common and found a makeshift memorial of cards, paintings, candles and other remembrances, and a small circle of people with thermoses and sleeping bags determined to spend the night in memory of his sacrifice. Those I spoke with each related to me that they had felt a condition I knew well from my own experience: a sense that the war was fundamentally wrong, but that there was no outlet to express that, nothing to bring together the many atomized people that undoubtedly must feel the same way. They told me that when they saw the site of Levey's self-martyrdom they knew they had to stay there. No real thought process - just conviction. Belief.

After several hours I returned to my dorm room to pick up some sweaters and sleeping gear, then ventured out once again to the common. This time I stayed. For almost a week a core group of six or seven people remained at the site philosophizing, making music, sharing passages from books, bantering, taking the occasional warm snort of Southern Comfort, and - second-most-importantly - talking about the genesis, circumstances and significance of Levey's act. The most important thing we did was plan. We planned political protests and laid the groundwork for future coalitions, and we did this not only because we believed in our principles but because we believed Greg Levey wanted us to. We knew it would be hollow and pointless for us to sit out in 15-degree weather all night without it meaning something and resulting in something, and we were sitting in 15-degree weather because Greg Levey had died. These talks were the germ of the over-1,000-strong protest in which about 40 of us were later arrested, the largest held in Amherst since Vietnam.

Levey's was a powerfully positive action on his own terms. It doesn't matter whether he was mentally unbalanced or selfish, as some argued at the time or even shouted as they passed the memorial and threw debris. It wasn't for us to judge him, and it isn't for anyone to judge Malachi Ritscher now. I know the effect that Levey had on my life, and any intentions contrary to those he expressed in his simple, concise and purposely horrifying act are and were irrelevant to that effect. I am thinking about Malachi Ritscher, and I am thinking frequently about the current war, as I know he intended that we do, and I am considering what I can do in my community to help make it stop. That is more than I was doing before he died; that is his effect.

The usual updates...

ECM releases occupy the turntable much of the time, while Gene Clark, Richard and Linda Thompson and a wide variety of little-known 60's and 70's psych and folk acts are currently co-managing the CD player. John Renbourn will soon be on duty. Tonight's reading, soon to commence, is several chapters of Robert H. Ferrell's Harry Truman biography. It's "a pleasant life," as Frost has it, to

set your breast to the bark of trees
That all your days are dim beneath,
And reaching up with a little knife,
To loose the resin and take it down
And bring it to market when you please,

but almost as pleasant to enjoy the fruits of others' adept gum-gathering.

Have a wonderful Wednesday - and if you're one of my readers who's measuring his or her take this month by the word, best of luck!

Friday, August 11, 2006

1:31PM - A Friday afternoon entry...

1:31 p.m. here on the West Coast of the Land of the Free, or Great Satan, or what you will, and La Bonne Soupe beckons for lunch. The braised pork and sausage sandwiches are extraordinary; crack for Francophiles and Chowhound types. Now if we could just get owner Daniel Pont to put in some news racks, Cafe de la Presse-style, I'd have daily one-stop shopping on my lunch breaks....

New and in frequent rotation: Comets on Fire's Avatar. Great jamming and adventurous structures - there aren't many records like this being made today!

More to come soon.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

5:38AM - A TCM "original series"? Doesn't sound promising...

In the "say-it-ain't so, Lisa" department, this from Ms. de Moraes' chat in The Washington Post on Friday:

Turner Classic Movies: What do you mean that Time Warner is hellbent on destroying TCM? I love this channel. What are they going to do to it?

Lisa de Moraes: They are working on their first original series. In one of them, each week a "young person" will be picked to re-enact a well-known scene from a classic old flick. Makes you wish there was a social worker you could call to have this little treasure of a network removed from its unfit parent.

I spent many great beer-and-pizza-filled nights watching American Movie Classics until dawn with friends in the late 80s. There were plenty of revelatory viewing experiences - quite a few of the films they showed were unreleased at that time on video. AMC, of course, devolved into a morass of asinine "original programming" and constant reruns of "Revenge of the Nerds"-style 80s flicks. Let's hope the next generation of film buffs isn't deprived of TMC as we know it, which has admirably filled the niche AMC abandoned.

Perhaps TMC will show this film soon... please? On the other hand....

The Post also notes that marijuana smoking apparently does not cause lung cancer, according to a recent study, and that in fact "what [the study's authors] found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect."

The cat, it appears, is not a fan of the new John Zorn project, Moonchild; the instant Mike Patton began (is singing the right verb?) during its first trip to the CD player a couple of nights ago a flash of black fur flew from bed to door. I, however, am inclined to like it in a "wtf" sort of manner - the compositions are powerful and the musicianship, especially Joey Baron's drumming, is stellar. Other recommendations from last week's fairly intense listening would include Scott Walker's first album in 11 years, The Drift, which like the Zorn album fascinates me and eludes my attempts to classify it; Mogwai's Mr. Beast, a great effort from these guys which is more polished than the live material I've heard; and of course Rabbit Fur Coat, the Jenny Lewis/Watson Twins CD that hasn't strayed far from a player here for a month now and is one of my favorite releases of the year.

Hope all are enjoying the Memorial Day weekend!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

4:23AM - A graceful conclusion...

Anyone else notice that among President Bartlet's personal possessions which were removed from the Oval Office on the series finale of The West Wing Sunday night was a Foucault volume? A slight jab at Francophobes, perhaps, and at the current administration's anti-intellectualism and xenophobia?

The final episode was a tactful end to a program which had, above all, class in abundance, and confidence that at bottom we did, too. The West Wing reminded us of the nobility of our political institutions and called upon us to be worthy of them. Its almost unwavering conviction that we were capable of doing so even in our cynical and media-saturated post-Watergate age seemed less like naivete than a fundamental truth to which we'd returned, not quite sure why we'd ever forgotten it.

Here's a guy with an inspiring approach to landscape design. Imagine - actually trying to adapt to the conditions in which one lives rather than trucking in thirsty palms and installing duck- and goose-filled lagoons!

More season finales tonight. Two hours of Boston Legal! A splendid island of insanity in a sea of rather quotidian crime/legal dramas.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


A delicious description, courtesy of Tom Constanten, of those ubiquitous, county-fair-playing, one-original-member-if-you're-lucky incarnations of classic rock acts:

"I was driving through the Midwest and I saw a sign on a ranch that says 'We have Abraham Lincoln's ax,'" the 62-year-old Constanten chuckles. "And there it was, mounted and everything. And the curator says 'Of course, it's had three new heads and two new handles.' Some of the bands are like that too."

And they invariably show up on PBS pledge drive broadcasts....

Thursday, May 11, 2006

2:41AM - Wouldn't you like a Yirgacheffe too?

Newspapers, fine coffee and sunlight! My favorite café offers all three, though to absorb the third of these essential elements of my day I sit at a sidewalk table watching the masses thread by. I invariably bring with me far too many books for the time my schedule allows; on a particularly busy news day they may never make an appearance. Curious dogs sometimes sniff past; and less happily, Lovely Rita whirrs along in search of revenue. Summer has arrived early.

Which means, of course, sun tea season here at home, and let's keep it simple: seven bags of good ol' Lipton tea in a glass milk bottle, tap water poured over and set in the sun. Ti kuan yin doesn't belong in a half-gallon plastic tumbler at poolside. My tea steeps on the back fence, appropriately close to the cast-iron barbeque whose well I find myself filling with charcoal several nights a week. A ribeye sits in Radich's inside. (The, umm, "host food"??)

Or did, when it was day; the only light here now is from this screen. Four a.m. may be LiveJournal's raison d’être.

What was so special about the Collyer brothers, anyway?

One box and three bags of books from last weekend's SPCA sale are making it difficult for me to access my bed without leaping. Closer to the dresser, CD spindles suggest a game of hopscotch. As to conditions in the rest of the house, "decorum prohibits listing them here," as Doug Niedermeyer had it. Please scream at me if I show any signs of considering this as a weekend destination.

But I'll probably go anyway. ;)

Have a sunny Thursday!

Saturday, April 1, 2006


Half a league, half a league, half a league onward...

Some truly reprehensible backpedaling from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) on tonight's Real Time With Bill Maher. Responding to the charge that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has turned that nation into a hotbed for Al-Qaeda recruitment, the good solon tried to spin rampant terrorism there as expected and positive: "It's better to fight them over there than here on American soil" (very close paraphrase). Asked why the removal of Saddam Hussein was imperative when that of, say, Kim Jong Il was not, he claimed the difference to be that Saddam bore us a "blood grudge" resulting from our involvement in Kuwait 15 years ago. Kim, of course, wouldn't have a similar complaint given that we've spent 50+ years hunkered south of the 38th parallel, now would he?

Of course, a quick visit to Wikipedia reveals that the congressman's grasp of Middle Eastern affairs has been far from firm in the past - he claimed in 1996, for example, that the Taliban were neither terrorists nor revolutionaries. But you can trust your chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee to know when invading a sovereign nation is not only a good idea but a matter of urgent self-defense, now can't you?

Negotiating our history away...

If you're planning to film a documentary using Smithsonian materials, don't count on being free to shop it to the highest bidder. The principal repository of our nation's tangible heritage has entered an agreement with Showtime giving their new joint venture, Smithsonian Networks, first right of refusal on any production that "rely heavily on Smithsonian collections or staff." (NYT link; registration required.)

It's not the desire of the Smithsonian's stewards to raise money that's so troubling. We directly support a public institution financially every time we visit a national park or stick a card into a mailbox. The trouble is that the new arrangement essentially turns public resources into the property of a quasi-public holding company which seeks to maximize their profitability. Filmmakers who enjoy a longstanding relationship with, say, HBO or PBS will most likely find themselves limited to a few scraps, while those working on behalf of Smithsonian Networks will have the full support of the institution.

If this model's lucrative, shouldn't the Library of Congress enter into an agreement whereby books that "rely heavily" on the Library's resources must first be offered to a partner publishing company? The opportunities for such public-private partnerships are endless -- and scary. Money has been an issue for the Smithsonian in the past, and the board of regents has apparently been unreceptive to proposals that museum admissions be charged. I sympathize with this stance; our country's past should be open to anyone, regardless of ability to pay, and the Smithsonian should be a priority for full public funding via taxation. But cashiers in the foyers of the Mall's great museums will always be preferable to any system that inhibits the free and full usage of our national treasures.

And Louise holds a handful of rain, tempting you to defy it...

In The Complete Recordings, Clinton Heylin recommends a sequential comparison of the three studio takes of "Freeze Out/Visions of Johanna" to every serious Dylan fan. A great idea for a rainy Friday, as it turned out! The earliest extant version, from 30 November 1965, is still Highway 61-ish and rollicking, while 21 January 1966 finds Dylan's vocals a bit more restrained and the mood much more baroque, haunting, and candle-lit. The officially released 14 February 1966 version is wonderful, but the pacing struck me on this listen as less eccentric and the entire effort as not quite so individual. This may, of course, be a function of my having listened to the Blonde on Blonde version so many more times than the alternate takes.

Heylin's idea, of course, is not a new one; just about every Dylan fan has at some point undertaken similar projects, especially with his live material. Many artists consciously rework their material over the years in live performance settings, not only to fight boredom but to extract latent potentialities. Dylan, though, is a special case in the rock world: many songs have had several incarnations in which their structure and sometimes their lyrical content have been considerably revamped. Exploring the rich archive of Dylan's material that's available to collectors - some of it released, most not - is endlessly fascinating.

Another library sale today. If I listen closely, I can hear my floor creaking already in complaint....

Have a happy Saturday!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Not much to see here during these past few months, I know - lots going on, most of it not easily communicated verbally, however. Those few of my loyal readers who were expecting a list of last year's reading list highs and lows will instead get regular updates on what I'm currently perusing. They'll get the normal kvetching, yes, but filtered through a slightly more placid, contemplative outlook I seem to have acquired lately. Not a bad thing that.

Much organizing today as I tried to deal with the stacks of library sale book purchases, CDs and DVDs that have been sitting on the floor of my bedroom and in the upstairs office for, in some cases, well over a month now. I have no problem becoming motivated to do specious "sorting" which ends only with everything in different piles than before - it gives me the chance to hold each object: flip through book pages, appreciate CD case design, and feel like I'm being productive in the process. It's the more-or-less permanent disposition of the stuff that's tough. Pressed for space on shelves, I've had to almost completely abandon thematic categorization of my books - and alphabetical organization was a casualty of double-stacking long ago. All this leads to inevitable frustration when I'm looking for that one particular book I own that relates to a subject of current interest, and end up finding it a week later when the interest is no longer current....

But shelves are now packed, Case Logic cases are now brimming with CD-Rs I hadn't put away in ages, and I can actually see DVD and VHS spines in sequence. With a cup of tea in hand and a bit of incense burning, it's a lovely vista.

Current mood: cheerful

Friday, December 30, 2005

4:30AM - A bountiful Friday to all!

You might avoid placing your large turkey deep-fryer in a precarious location.

The parents of one of my friends deep-fry their turkey every Thanksgiving. Dave heads over there every year when he's in town as his family doesn't do too much for the holiday. On a carnivorous scale from one to 10, our friend's family is a googol. I asked about the festivities this year (conversation reconstructed):

ME: So, did they fry up that big ol' hunk of bird?

HIM: Yep. Truly a sight to behold. There was so much other food it was mind-boggling.

ME: A roast or two? (chuckle)

HIM: Absolutely.

ME: And sausages?

HIM: Oh, yeah. You can't have a barbecue there without those.

ME: Jeez. What else?

HIM: A big platter of salmon he'd smoked himself. And... and... and... and....

Well, anyway. I stick with the basics, myself.

I may have mentioned that I spent most of my high school and early college years as a radio disc jockey. That was a hell of a lot of fun, and I became a connoisseur of terrible LP covers in the process. A friend sent this gallery along, and I've been visiting this one for quite some time. I'm an inveterate thrift store shopper, and it seems as if half the LPs I flip through have the potential to make the cut in my "WTF was the graphic designer thinking?" collection.

Quite a bit of work last night, interspersed with Tetris playing and checking other LJs. Not much music listening took place. I'm planning to post that book list tomorrow (which will be hideously incomplete, I'm sure), most likely under the cut. Also some year-ending thoughts. Might be a long entry. :)

HABIT, n. A shackle for the free.

- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Take care,


Thursday, December 29, 2005

3:20AM - As the New Year approaches...

Another religious manifestation for your enjoyment or dread.

An amusing San Francisco Chronicle article on the latest "WTF was I thinking?" phenomenon, drunk text-messaging. I was reminded of this Onion piece from several years ago.

Christmas went well. My grandmother was more chipper than I've seen her in a few years, the roast was great (I always do the 500 degrees for 15 minutes then down to 350 thing), and there were plenty of leftovers. Soup from the beef bones last night, as well as lots of the nuts, cheeses, pates and candies everyone exchanged.

My friend Dave moved up to Portland today. I wish him the best of luck. We went out for a drink (last time I'll be doing that for a while) on Monday night, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. He gave me a particularly nice Christmas gift - an original British DJM yellow vinyl copy of Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." It's one of those things I won't put on the turntable too often, as I now have the deluxe CD remaster, but I'll pull off the shelf and look at from time to time and cherish not only because of its inherent beauty but also because of its provenance.

A picture of the cover of one of my favorite psychedelic guilty pleasures, as requested by Deb:

Nice beard, eh? Great stuff, though unbearably cheesy for some; it reminds me of high school (though I wasn't even a glimmer in anyone's eye when it was released). My friends and I would roam around town blasting this thing to the great annoyance, I'm sure, of many.

New Year's Eve at Brian's, I think, and we'll hopefully be joined by another old buddy. Last year's soiree was held at Dave's, and he graciously allowed me to use his kitchen to cook various kinds of appetizers and roasts while drams of Scotch and glasses of Cabernet were poured; I assume the same over-consumption of food and drink will occur this year. After the New Year, of course, abstinence from alcohol for me, at least for a while. I'm actually looking forward to it. And as my workload decreases, I'll send out more resumes. I sent out quite a few last month, but I think my motivation will increase as I try to save enough money to go back to school next fall.

I've noticed that several of you have lately posted lists of the books you've read this year, whether here on LJ or elsewhere. I'm going to spend some time tomorrow evening organizing bookshelves and trying to move one into another room to make way for a computer desk, so I thought I might do the same. I can't promise it'll be complete, but I'll append commentary on the volumes that were particularly memorable. Another New Year's resolution: I'm going to record the title of each book I read, and jot down a few thoughts and impressions as I work my way through it.

Lots of bootlegs in the changer this time:

1) Bruce Springsteen - "The Definitive Remastered Darkness outtakes";

2) The Clash, Bataclan, Paris, September 29, 1979;

3) Pink Floyd, Oakland Coliseum, May 9, 1977 ("Animal Instincts");

4) Bob Marley - Catch a Fire and Burnin' demos -

and one studio remaster, courtesy of Dave -

5) James Brown, Live at the Apollo, Volume 2, deluxe edition, first disc.

If "Kitty's back in town," as Bruce had it, so is Spiro. Here's a wonderfully insightful and perceptive comment from September 21, 1968:

Senator [Strom] Thurmond hasn't been as interested in achieving some aims of the black community as civil rights leaders.

And more sensitivity on racial issues:

What's the matter with the fat Jap? (September 21, 1968)

When I look out at a crowd, I don't see there a Negro, there an Italian, there a Polack. (September 14, 1968)

And one of my favorites, following on the above:

My Polish friends never apprised me of the fact that when they call each other by that appellation (Polack) it is not in the friendliest context. (September 24, 1968)

I can always look to Spiro for some fun.

I did a fair amount of work today, but as usual before I started I read the local newspaper and found this idiotic article about beer pong in bars waiting for me. When I was in college back East in the late 80's and early 90's, you played in dormitory and house basements, and the net was a torn-up pizza box that forced you to lob the ball over rather than firing it past your friendly opponents. There's something that's just wrong about charging people to play a game that's meant as a diversion between exams and pizza-eating.

Following closely upon my reading of that newspaper, I started John McCain's 2002 sequel to Faith of Our Fathers, Worth the Fighting For. I don't always agree with the Arizona senator, but I respect his integrity and commitment to public service. He repeats a great political joke that one of his mentors, Rep. Morris Udall, used to tell:

When he returned to his office after the vote, he explained to his crestfallen aides the difference between a caucus and a cactus. "A cactus has all its pricks on the outside."

That will remind you, of course, of Lyndon Johnson's oft-quoted saying about political enemies:

I'd rather have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.

Now that I've finally renewed my library card, I think I'll diversify my reading a bit next year. I have thousands of books, as most of you know, and I've been trying to get through the 25% or so that I haven't read for a couple of years now. (Note to one correspondent: as soon as I get a cable for my digital camera, I'll post a picture of those double-stacked shelves.) When I entered the library and presented my card at the circulation desk, they issued me a new one, as I hadn't borrowed a book in some time. There are just too many books being released nowadays that I want to read, however, and I don't have the money to go out and buy every one. So I'm still working on Sallie Tisdale's The Best Thing I Ever Tasted and some Ambrose Bierce writings that I don't own.

I wish you all a continued wonderful season.

Take care,


Current mood: flirty

Sunday, December 25, 2005

3:55AM - Merry Christmas!

I'll get my Scrooge out of the way early. Have you read this disturbing piece yet? Apparently "the reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade." Well... the authors of the study should certainly have figured into their analysis the fact that many of the subjects were going to shitty colleges that didn't require a basic understanding of Western and Eastern civilization as a prerequisite for graduation. But economics and the idea that a great graduation rate gets you a slightly better rank in the U.S. News and World Report rankings might also have something to do with the fact that colleges produce kids who can't read, spell, or wipe their asses. No one flunks anymore; they simply are encouraged to improve their sense of self and get an A the next time around. Colleges and universities should require a certain basic level of competency. If you can't apply the Pythagorean Theorem or you haven't read A Tale of Two Cities, say, you don't belong in a four-year institution. You belong in a community college where your deficiences can be addressed.

Here in California, part of the problem is the erosion of the master education plan that was enacted under Governor Pat Brown (father of another governor, of course, who's now mayor of Oakland). Three tiers of education were set up: the top was the various University of California campuses, which were to be dedicated to research and graduate studies, with an undergraduate component; the middle was the California State universities, which were devoted to more vocational four-year studies; and the bottom was the community colleges, which were intended to groom potential candidates for the four-year institutions or to provide limited and specific education. The CSUs are overwhelmed with applicants, and many of the students who are admitted require remedial studies that a four-year school simply shouldn't have to provide. Even the UCs have the equivalent of an English 1A (the basic English course here in California universities) or an English 11 (in a lot of private schools)... stuff that should have been learned in high school.

That's the end of my Grinch rant. I had a tremendous day yesterday. After spending most of it shopping with Sara and not buying much but having some great food and enjoying The City, I returned and made enchiladas with my friends Dave and Brian. Dave picked me up at about 10 p.m. (I was listening to the "Armed Forces" remaster and having my half of a great sandwich Sara and I picked up at the Italian Importing Company when we got back into town, as if I wasn't stuffed enough), and we proceeded to his house after stopping for a chicken and some veggies. Bosco, the dog, was very happy to see me, and we serenaded him for awhile (he gets a steady supply of Badfinger's "We're For the Dark" turned into "We're For the Dog" - yes, we can be cheesy. But who's not cheesy when a pet's involved? ;) ) Brian called at about 12:30 a.m. to tell us that he'd run out of gas (while the chicken was roasting in the oven), so we went to get him. That out of the way, we had a great time... Tom and Jerrys, some Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, plenty of enchiladas, and some Bill Hicks for the comedic element.

We were up until about 7:30 yesterday morning. I slept in late, as you might imagine, and dinner was a pizza. Gifts are traditionally opened in my family on Christmas Eve (unless there are kids under approximately 12 around, in which case Christmas Day and the Santa mystique are retained), so we did that and had an enjoyable time. This was a bit of a sad Christmas season for me, but my spirits were really lifted by the chance to spend time with good friends on the 23rd.

A standing rib roast today, as previously mentioned. We're picking my grandmother up from her nursing home to enjoy the holiday and the meal with us. We'll see how this family affair goes, but I hope it turns out very well. I hope that all of you are having a wonderful holiday season.

Kenneth Rexroth, to whom I paid tribute several days ago, wrote about this time of year in Lute Music, and as I promised here's the poem, which doesn't require any further elaboration:

The Earth will be going on a long time
Before it finally freezes;
Men will be on it; they will take names,
Give their deeds reasons.
We will be here only
As chemical constituents—
A small franchise indeed.
Right now we have lives,
Corpuscles, Ambitions, Caresses,
Like everybody had once—

Here at the year's end, at the feast
Of birth, let us bring to each other
The gifts brought once west through deserts—
The precious metal of our mingled hair,
The frankincense of enraptured arms and legs,
The myrrh of desperate, invincible kisses—
Let us celebrate the daily
Recurrent nativity of love,
The endless epiphany of our fluent selves,
While the earth rolls away under us
Into unknown snows and summers,
Into untraveled spaces of the stars.

I am celebrating that "endless epiphany" with good friends as often as I can, though it's an exchange of soulful spirit that doesn't incorporate the physical connection Rexroth mentions in the poem. No CD changer contents or Spiro today - it's Christmas Day. I'll get to that soon enough. :)

Be well,


Friday, December 23, 2005

6:29AM - Remembering a great poet and mentor to many.

Kenneth Rexroth would have been 100 years old yesterday. Not only was he a poet of rare gifts, he became one of the leaders of what is now called the San Francisco Renaissance - a revolution in poetry and philosophy that reverberated worldwide - through the literary salons that took place in his home, his writings for many national and global publications (notably the "Classics Revisited" pieces for Saturday Review that were reprinted in two book editions), and his lectures and discussions on KPFA-FM in Berkeley.

I can do nothing that will honor his memory more than to quote him. This poem, in turn, honored the memory of his mother:

Delia Rexroth

Died June, 1916

Under your illkempt yellow roses,
Delia, today you are younger
Than your son. Two and a half decades —
The family monument sagged askew,
And he overtook your half-a-life.
On the other side of the country,
Near the willows by the slow river,
Deep in the earth, the white ribs retain
The curve of your fervent, careful breast;
The fine skull, the ardor of your brain.
And in the fingers the memory
Of Chopin études, and in the feet
Slow waltzes and champagne twosteps sleep.
And the white full moon of midsummer,
That you watched awake all that last night,
Watches history fill the deserts
And oceans with corpses once again;
And looks in the east window at me,
As I move past you to middle age
And knowledge past your agony and waste.

Rexroth's romantic, idealistic passions were always present in his writing. His introduction to The Phoenix and the Tortoise, the collection in which the poem above appeared, is a beautiful tribute written for his wife, Marie.

I would not have you less than mutable,
Leaf wickered sunlight on your lips,
And on your lips the plangent, unstable
Laughter of your copious heart.

And certainly this passage from When We With Sappho expresses what many of us wish for most devoutly:

See. The sun has fallen away.
Now there are amber
Long lights on the shattered
Boles of the ancient apple trees.
Our bodies move to each other
As bodies move in sleep;
At once filled and exhausted,
As the summer moves to autumn,
As we, with Sappho, move towards death.
My eyelids sink toward sleep in the hot
Autumn of your uncoiled hair.
Your body moves in my arms
On the verge of sleep;
And it is as though I held
In my arms the bird filled
Evening sky of summer.

Rexroth was also a talented translator of poetry. This piece, originally from an anonymous medieval Japanese writer, affects me particularly:

All day I hoe weeds.
All night I sleep.
All night I hoe again
In dreams the weeds of the day.

The job of the translator has always struck me as a complicated one involving a tricky balance between the literal and the need to evoke the spirit and intent of a writer's original language and culturally derived perspective for a different audience. Rexroth kept his translations simple, but had the very special gift of evoking much while saying little, a quality I suspect those whose works to which he gave life in English would very much have appreciated.

On Christmas Day I'll post what I believe is one of Rexroth's most beautiful and insightful poems, one that's perfect for the moment and season.

I'm leaving soon for my shopping expedition - I called and moved the roast pickup back to Saturday. I hope you all have a wonderful Friday. There has been little change in the CD changer rotation, though I did listen earlier to Sandy Denny's The North Star Grassman and the Ravens, a wonderful album. Spiro will not be appearing today out of respect for Kenneth Rexroth, who couldn't stand the Nixon administration and whose work will always be special to me.

Take care,


Thursday, December 22, 2005

5:02AM - The end of the holiday shopping season, otherwise known as insanity.

I moved my shopping plans up to Friday after a conversation with my friend Sara, who's a merchandise guru and can tell quality from pure crap with one glance of her finely-tuned eyes. Union Square, a few funky boutiques in the Haight, a late lunch at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market and then home in the early evening, I think. I don't have a lot of money this year, so I won't be buying too much, but the fun of the trip and the lunch should be quite memorable.

The airing of grievances! Feats of strength!

This will be made next week, and the online recipe you see there is virtually identical to the paper copy I have. I recommend it without reservation, especially for those in cold climes.

Don't date this woman. Stay three yards away from her.

One of my favorite professors passed away recently, and I wanted to belatedly post this article. He was an amazing teacher and outstanding writer. He was legendary on campus for his declamations from King Lear and other Shakespearean plays, and for his formality... his students were always addressed as "Mr." or "Ms.". (I still remember that frequent "Yes, Mr. Shupe?" vividly.) He had a generous heart and a love for instruction, however, that belied any sense of distance or aloofness one might have sensed. He retired from Amherst in 1990 and was profoundly missed then, as he is now.

Christmas approaches. Truman Capote had a remarkable sense of what this holiday means to many of us:

The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on windowsills and shelves. ...

"My, how foolish I am!" my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. "You know what I've always thought?" she asks in a tone of discovery and not smiling at me but a point beyond. "I've always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don't know it's getting dark. And it's been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I'11 wager it never happens. I'11 wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are"—her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over her bone—"just what they've always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes."

You can read the complete and beautiful story here.

I had a wonderful today. I hope you did, too, and I wish for you an even better tomorrow.

The CD changer contents, as promised and so far always delivered:

1) The Flying Burrito Brothers, Sigma Sound, Philadelphia, 12 July 1971 (broadcast over WMMR-FM). Amazing stuff from the Rick Roberts era (their third album). The version of "Four Days of Rain" is outstanding.

2) Golden Earring - "Golden Earring"/"Seven Tears" - Two tremendous early albums by this German band. Way before "Moontan," and a hell of a lot better.

3) Hot Tuna - Veterans' Memorial Auditorium, Santa Rosa, California, 28 June 1969. A great early performance and a lovely recording of this Jefferson Airplane spinoff band.

4) Depeche Mode - "Enjoy the Rumours." A great recording from the "Violator" tour.

5) Spirit - Texas International Pop Festival, 1 September 1969. A pretty good show, a bit low in its levels but still a lot better than some of the Spirit audience-recorded performances that are circulating.

A Spiro Agnew trifecta on Hubert Humphrey, the Vice President who preceded him:

Hubert Humphrey has been soft on inflation, soft on Communism and soft on law and order.

September 10, 1968

Hubert Humphrey is a loyal American and a man of great integrity.

September 13, 1968

Will the real Hubert Humphrey please stand up?

September 19, 1968

What an unending source of amusement is our former Veep, even after all this time.

Take care,


Current mood: chipper

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