'war in the crimea!' sure has a sweet late19th/early20th-century-type ring. i wonder what the response will be of the ottoman empire? and what about the habsburgs? there are so many unaccountable factors.
i try to avoid i-told-you-sos. but i'm sort of proud i saw that coming. ok, now we proceed to the nothingness of the response. here's one 'threat': no g8 summit in sochi! "that's a big stick" said jane harman on cnn just now, and wolf was all like he couldn't believe they'd be considering such a step: boy, the situation must be bad. this is the problem with 'media' persons: they have lost the rather important distinction between real and merely symbolic events. i blame richard rorty. you deploy helicopter gunships, we counter with a proportionate volley of yacketsmackety. oooh don't make me come over there and murmur nonsense with my mealy mouthweapon! don't make me send john kerry over there to look at you blankly and rehearse a little empty script. words have power, after all. i'm picturing putin, as he coordinates the invasion and thinks about next steps, re-thinking the whole thing under this terrible threat, quailing at the mere thought. anyway, it's going to be all absolute emptiness: it's not in the interests of the ukraine, russia, europe: ok everyone is going to say those words in that order for days now, and yet it is the merest slop. which is all we got, y'all.
he'll pay a price, says obama. so what does that mean? according to experts, putin may just be squandering the good will that was created by the olympics! he really cares about his international standing, you know. but i would say that these are, how you say, non-things, unlike the crimean peninsula, which is a thing.
even as it sort of begins to seem that russian soldiers are 'securing' airports in the crimea, talking heads still seem sanguine: oh, i wouldn't expect a major incursion. dude: why do you think they want the airports? it's one way you stage an invasion. or maybe the idea is evacuation of russian citizens. but i don't really think so. both, perhaps. i just think we're a bit in a possible ww3 situation, and we had better pay attention. so say you have an indigenous pro-russian protest movement. that does not take the form of military vehicles/forces securing the airports. i'd look for a multi-modal russian intervention. today.
here's why it might not be ww3 even if there's an actual invasion: the government(s) of europe and the united states really have no resolve on something like this. all they will do is whine. the welfare-state dependent populations of these countries are not the sorts of people who would fight for anything or really push their governments to do so. putin will kick our ass and then grin sneeringly upon us. we will squawk and accept the new borders.
they say yanukovich is supposed to speak from russia in a bit. and al-jazeera, for example, asked one of its experts whether yanukovich is still relevant. believe it or not, he started talking about polling for the april presidential election. yanukovich is relevant insofar as putin thinks he'd be useful as a spokesman pushing the view that the legit gov has been overthrown etc, as a justification for the seizure of the crimea (to begin with), or as a provisional pres of east/south ukraine. i'd say not, because of the obvious kelptocracy. on the other hand, putin can relate to a kleptocrat. but if he is giving a speech today (scheduled for 8AM eastern), i'd pay attention to that too: it might be moment the russians make their intentions known more clearly, a sort of declaration of war.
there's an italian futurist blockbuster at the guggenheim, and everyone's reviewing. "There is not a single painting in the Guggenheim exhibition that I find entirely satisfying", jed perl wites in the new republic. peter schjeldahl in the new yorker (march 3) describes it as "the most neglected canonical movement in modern art - because it is also the most embarrassing", and he describes umberto boccioni as "its one great artist". fascism is the big problem. but as these critics and others also acknowledge, futurism is central to the history of avant-garde modernism: typical, really, except for the rightwing instead of leftwing lean (the comparable contemporary nyc avant-gardists were emma-goldman anarchists, for example).
but i disagree with the negative assessments, and i think they still reflect the politics of the critics. i'll just pick out giacomo balla as one of the first abstractionists and one of the very best. here's an example ("street light", 1909(!)).
i say that compares very favorably, both as to radicalness and as to formal interest, to what the fauvists or soon the cubists were producing.
and here is a sculpture from 1914.
the politics surely have lost their sting, receded into history as an interesting background fact rather than a dispositive aesthetic refutation. futurism is an almost desperate attempt to affirm modernity, affirm the machine, affirm motion (well, and war). but for precisely that reason it is a symptom and index of the alienation it tries to erase or overcome: or in other words, a paradigmatic response to its moment which reveals that moment from many angles at once. the beauty does emerge from the affirmation, and it contrasts with the ugliness and stasis of cubism, for example, even when it looks pretty similar. then if you're revealing the beauty of technology and even war: well, that is extremely problematic. but it is extremely absorbing: a really rich context of interpretation. also it is a real, or the real, avant-garde: radical, forward-looking, way way early for how it looks, extremely influential even on all the artists who repudiated it and pretended not to have been absorbed by it. in some ways the dadaists and surrealists with their manifestos etc were imitators.
so look i'm an anarchist and all, and in some ways, say arthur dove or marsden hartley are doing similar work. but it has not held up as well visually i think, not even close (only o'keeffe). i like caravaggio. how worried am i about his positive attitude to the counter-reformation? oh not very; definitely not making me not like the paintings. all those dudes who painted for monster-kings: holbein, say. or all them commies throughout modernism; i don't think that's better than messing with mussolini in 1912.
evil idiots are peering at you through your webcam. meanwhile, everyone from secretaries of state to eminent professors are still yapping about democracy, as though that had anything to do with anything. really political theory devoted to democracy is just a form of fantasy fiction, and the continued verbal assertion by barack or kerry that the united states is a democracy or supports democracy is just the ridiculous ideological yipyap of slave-drivers. this here is precisely where american democracy ended up; until you show me differently i will assume this is what you always meant: a secret regime of total surveillance: an allday everyday home invasion of everyone, paid for by themselves under coercion. here would be my policy directive to the leaders and employees of the nsa, sort of a minimum baseline: do not act so as to richly deserve death by torture. you fail utterly by this standard. so i'm going to ask again: what are we going to do about it? who are we, really? we are grovellers, snivellers; we are servile, broken. as persons, we no longer exist. quoting nathaniel peabody rogers: The earth had better go unpeopled than inhabited by vassals.
folks seem remarkably calm about this moment in the ukraine. i would not be so sure that the russian military is engaged in an exercise, and the crimean thing could easily provide or perhaps is being manufactured as an excuse for russian military incursion of one size or another. please remember that we are dealing with a rather swaggering macho leader who is very often trying to show the world his balls. but actually, if it were us sitting on that border with a big american-identified population over there and so on, we would be considering military intervention too. anyway, one fucks up when one predicts, but i would be worried about a blitzkrieg in the next couple of days.
i finally buckled under the boredom and started watching the netflix house of cards. now don't get me wrong - or, what the hell, get me wrong. that said, or left forever unsaid, i think one of the worst developments in the world of film and television is the persona of the virtuoso actor, and i have really more or less hated kevin spacey, philip seymour hoffman, and meryl streep, for example. here is the problem: their super amazing extremely self-conscious virtuosity is incompatible with the fictional contexts into which it is deployed. you go see streep play abraham lincoln or sea biscuit, and what you actually watch is streep-the-great-ack-toor: whoa the accent! the elocution! or whatever. really, people are all like "i'd pay to see daniel day lewis play a household appliance", and i feel that they often have. so, when you go see philip seymour hoffman play a bookcase or whatever it may be, you'll be all: 'i really thought he was actually a bookcase!' what that means is the opposite of what it says: you watched the extreme simulatedness of the extreme simulation and got off on that, not the script, for example. on the other hand, spacey merely irritates me, and i did get irritated with house of cards. i am still trying to figure out the accent - allaeged to be a georgia drawl - which sounds like a mix of cajun and afrikaans. oh hell i got caught up, though, and honestly, robin wright, whom i've been admiring since santa barbara circa 1987, can be on my television any time or all the time.
(1) perhaps i've done this before, and (2) i am certainly no expert on the origins and history of the the works of plato, or the process by which they came through all that stuff into the modern world.
two of the texts i have taught most often are the republic and the symposium. i do not believe they were written by the same person. of course, authors write in different moods or even to some extent in different styles, but this is kind of ridiculous. i do think the republic is just a nightmare of self-congratulation, self-aggrandizement, lies; it's a straight-up evil text, a mein kampf for ancient greece, but overall less plausible. also, what the hell, i am very unimpressed by the quality of the argumentation and also the way the dialogue form is deployed, which is the worst kind of set-em-up-and-knock-em-down bulljive. the most frequent form of words is "very true, socrates!" it displays the operations of an extraordinarily rigid and deluded mind.
the symposium, on the other hand, is a rollicking drinking party with many wild voices yapping about love, written with a loose delight, even as it does move toward that more-or-less platonic metaphysics of the forms etc. most of the platonic corpus celebrates and insists on reason and at least apparently disqualifies everything else - the emotions, the body, the material universe - as evil and unreal. the symposium loves the body, loves poetry, loves art, loves sex, and then tells you that these are routes to transcendence. now i ask you: are those the same position?
i'm going to speculate that the symposium is a slice of what might have been a pretty vast socratic apocrypha, and in particular it is the source of 'neo-platonism' and the cult of beauty that runs through figures such as plotinus, shaftesbury, and, let's say, liberace. it's a text that your mentor shows you late at night; he keeps it hidden in a secret case in the wall of his bedroom. right, then he seduces you, because that's essential to your education; it seems to me, simplifying a bit, part of a semi-secret gay philosophy that was taught in whispers throughout the christian and islamic eras. marsilio ficino had you reading it while he did you. obviously, the republic was known to be written by plato by his student aristotle, who argues directly against it in the politics. is there as clear an early attribution of the symposium?
and if you connected up this and that development - michelangelo, cardinal francesco maria del monte, winckelmann, the leo strauss exoteric/esoteric approach to plato studies and the various platonic activities of allan bloom, etc - you might see the temporal scope. but perhaps it's always been the scripture of a mystery religion with sex ceremonies etc. well, at least it's not the republic.
so who could help me with this? things don't pop up easily on the internet. but it would surprise me just a bit if what we have today as the text of the dialogues of plato comes to us with a perfectly clear and unbroken chain of provenance from the academy, and even if it did . . . . indeed ficino himself is one of the bottlenecks or nodes, though very obviously the text of the symposium was known to plotinus, for example. on the other hand, perhaps our plotinus is also ficino-dependent? i guess i know enough to know that there are some contested texts: letters, principally. but what if there are multiple authors right there among the canonical dialogues? i feel that there are., but i have no idea how my sense of the texts, styles, positions (all understood through translations) comports with what could plausibly be true in terms of the philology.
venezuela, ukraine: there they have pride. there they want freedom. here, we face one of the most effective exercises of totalitarian power ever created: a universal system of continual surveillance. why aren't we out in the streets, filling molotov cocktails and erecting barriers against storm troopers? because americans of our time hate and fear liberty, and love and respond sexually to their own subordination. all we want is to be raped by repulsive idiots such as james ("fucking") clapper.
russia is capable of producing pussy riots. we are capable only of producing squads of hillary clintons: currently focus-grouping her positions and indeed her entire personality.
so far as is possible, believe all that is true and only what is true.
first of all, i urge all of us to try to conduct ourselves by that standard. and second, i propose that it is something like tautological, that it follows from our status as creatures that believe things. to believe something is to take it to be true. if you take it to be false, you do not believe it, by definition, correct? so that the goal of truth is intrinsic to the nature of belief. so that takes care of the 'only what is true'. as to the all: i think there's an important pleasure and usefulness in knowing as much as possible! we're going to have to acknolwedge our extreme constraints in this regard, of course: that itself is part of trying to believe what's true.
true i am enjoying johnny weir as a skating commentator, and it's cool that that fabulous of a queen can be on tv all day. however, i have one reservation: he very much preaches the gospel of "if you believe in yourself, you can do anything." honestly i don't know how that idea ever occurred to anyone, much less became a cliche we teach to our children, etc. it attributes actual omnipotence to any given high school schlumph. or it really creates for each of us a special religion of our self. i used to believe in god, or like, trying to do right or whatever, now i believe in myself. hence i can do anything. look, if there is anything i know by foundational, incorrigible, privileged-access introspection it is this: i am an extremely implausible candidate for godhead. if you don't know that about yourself, you are dangerously demented.
this morning johnny was saying that the skater on the ice had told him how much she had learned to believe in herself and that she could do anything. he said that just as she was going into the triple loop or whatever on which she wiped out. dude, whatever! believe insofar as possible all that is and only what is true - or at least try not to say with the utmost simulated commitment anything that you yourself know to be false and insane - and get to work!
but how about this from just now: "i love the beginning of this long program; she's just letting us all know she owns us". or he had a pretty hilarious rap on the limitations on sexual expression in a brother-sister pair, etc. he's very sexy and fun.
The news that the United Auto Workers lost a union election at a Nashville VW plant has sent the labor movement into something of a what the hell just happened spin. Unfortunately, I think that the results were preordained, back in about 1863. We have an interesting history in this country of well meaning northerners going into the backward and dirty south to enlighten these poor sons and daughters of Dixie, and it just doesn't work because the Northerners aren't trusted and the track record hasn't been all that great.
Hell, the post-union industrialization of the South wasn't by VW but it was by Northern Manufacturers who realized that they could make a lot more money moving steel from Pittsburgh to Birmingham and screw the workers in Birmingham a lot less than they were being screwed by their own boss class, but screw them a lot more than they were screwing over their own workers in the North. One might write an interesting history of American Expansion and Exception as a race to exploit the more easily exploited at cost to the somewhat less exploited. Now, the industrialization of the South screwed over a lot of people, and the big companies took the blame; it was possible to find Southern bosses and they did. Reconstruction ultimately turned out OK for the Southerners although not ideal from their point of view; hence the 100 year affiliation to the Democratic party although not necessarily the party of Roosevelt and Johnson but something else entirely.
Corn in the fields. Listen to the rice when the wind blows 'cross the water, King Harvest has surely come I work for the union 'cause she's so good to me; And I'm bound to come out on top, That's where she said I should be I will hear every word the boss may say, For he's the one who hands me down my pay Looks like this time I'm gonna get to stay, I'm a union man, now, all the way The smell of the leaves, From the magnolia trees in the meadow, King Harvest has surely come -- Robbie Robertson, the Band
Billy Yank and Johnny Reb compare resumes There's a wonderful moment in Gettysburg when an Officer of the 2oth Maine is talking with some Southern prisoners, primarily with a private. It's pretty interesting in that I think it's incredibly real and captures something that we miss at times. They ask each other where they're from, and the Rebel says, "Tennessee. How about you?" The Yank says, "Maine. I've never been to Tennessee." The Reb says, "Don't reckon I've ever been to Tennesse either."
in my lp renaissance, i want to talk about blondie.
i consider blondie (1976), parallel lines (1978), and eat to the beat (1979) to be classic albums (plastic letters (1977) is not as strong), and i make parallel lines one of the top ten rock albums of all time. boy they did sort of disintegrate after that: even autoamerican (1980), which featured "the tide is high" and "rapture", is not nearly as good as their best. they were dealing with a lot, chris stein's illness for one. but what they did at the end and debbie's solo albums early on were adventurous and interesting.
the hunter (1982) is sort of a horrendous album, and what debbie is doing in an absurd fright wig on the cover is anyone's guess.
but guess what? two great songs: "island of lost souls" and "for your eyes only".
one thing i want to bring your attention to is clem burke's drumming, which actually carries many of blondie's best songs; he's as good a rock drummer as i've ever heard. like listen to this extremely excellent rock song and really concentrate on the drumming:
i know they were sort of original cbgb punks, but i do not really hear them as a punk band, though there are punky moments; it's pop rock with many eclectic influences, including reggae, surf, spy themes, disco, hip hop, etc. before they got to the hunter, the last blondie gasp until much later, she did the solo album kookoo (1981) with nile rogers, where among other things she tried to take advantage of the momentum of "rapture". it's a pretty interesting - though not really great - album, not least because of the cover by h.r. giger.
the second solo outing, rockbird (1986), produced by seth justman, the keyboard player for the j. geils band (he plays keys here, too),represented a typically dramatic change of direction. it sounds quite a bit like the last couple of j. geils albums, which appeared around the same time or shortly before. again a mixed bag, but again with really good moments.
i just want to point out to all the broadway producers reading my blog that blondie: the musical (other title approaches: heart of glass, of course, or my candidate, 11:59) is the best idea ever. the songs are actually extremely theatrical and could easily be woven into a coherent story; the setting, the lower east side, hollywood, paris. cbgb and studio 54. diva as punk goddess and gay icon. who you gonna cast as david byrne, joey ramone, grandmaster flash? unbelievable personal trials, but rock 'n roll always wins in the end, baby. you could make the shit up and try to write some songs a la rent, or you could use the far better music that was actually there. one thing about that music: it's melodic, giving it an extreme advantage over sondheim, say. tell me you can't see this one as a show tune:
Rod Serling was a TV writer and producer in the 50s and 60s. He got fed up and since he was rich, he kind of left it all and spent a lot of time on his yacht going up and down the Erie Canal and the Finger Lakes as well as other places. Used to berth at a Senaca River Restaurant outside of Baldwinsville and drink beer and talk Syracuse Football with my Dad in the 60s and 70s after the Twilight Zone went off the air.
The Twilight Zone was his major TV product as well as a ton of independent TV productions. He gave the censors fits, unintentionally at first, by trying to write stuff that was intelligent, current and culturally challenging. I found an excerpt of this interview online and decided that the whole thing was worth providing. Public intellectuals used to speak this way -- imagine Ed Schultz and Sean Hannity having to use this level of logic, clarity and vocabulary. We are all fellow travelers in the great conspiracy of mediocrity. The story of the time that Lassie had puppies and the show got hate mail over showing puppies and the miracle of birth is worth the cost of admission alone, especially since it's free.
(I pulled the interview from The Internet Archive. I generally use it to look for and listen to concert footage, but it's an incredible asset -- kind of like browsing a really good library or book store with a lot of everything. It's one of my leading bookmarks, and I recommend it to anyone who might suddenly want to watch an Eisenstein film with the Greatful Dead playing in the background. https://archive.org/)
Speaking of public intellectuals, one that very few people think of that way is Ray Davies co-founder of the Kinks and cultural provocateur. Davies and his brother Dave made the Gallagher Brothers and the Everly Brothers look like the Brothers Four with their fights, feuds and general hair-pulling. However, they well deserve their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Ray has just been elected to the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. This was a 2006 commentary on "Yob culture" and fits with Serling in an odd way...
"Jack the lad has become Oscar Wilde And the followers of style say, "It's the latest thing" And William Shakespeare is the schmooze of the week And anyone who says different is a fuckin' antique And Noel Coward has become very hard and the comic says "Bullocks" and everybody laughs and that's that
"Style, I mean, never was much, never has been But the little bit that was was all that we had And the clown does a belch and we all belch back And that's that.."
one whole category of my vinyl is david allan coe albums of the '70s, such as david allan coe rides again and longhaired redneck. this was after his initial bloom with "you never even call me". i bought each album as it came out, but sometimes you hop off someone after awhile. few could sing a trad country waltz any better than coe, but he was way way too desperate; he always had six new strategies for self-mythologization running at once ("the mysterious rhinestone cowboy rides again as the longhaired redneck etc etc"), and for some reason he thought that he was going to become a legend by singing songs like "willie, waylon, and me " and also "willie, waylon, and me (reprise)" on rides again, or "hank williams, junior, junior". eventually it got really bad, to the the tune of "divers do it deeper". plus i saw him here and there all along; let's say there was a sad decline.
however, there were great moments and here's one: side two of rides again; it's a suite of simple country songs, joined by guitar figures and related melodically; a kind of opera; actually there is a lot of good writing on it, as well as some not so good. it ends with a model anthem: "if that ain't country".
this concept, i believe, is the basis of jamey johnson's classic album of 2008, that lonesome song, which weaves a similar whole-album spell, but which is overall better than the coe. johnson relies on a very basic waylon-style thump to underpin everything and unfolds a series of really excellent songs. but really it's a tribute to coe and even has a song in precisely his manner, "somewhere between jennings and jones".
johnson is also, like coe, a songwriter of great gimmickry, though he's no doubt laying in bed right now in some hotel regretting like always that coe already wrote "take this job and shove it". but for god's sake, johnson wrote "honky-tonk badononkadonk": truly an or the epic of our time.
[i've got something to say is probably the worst title for an album ever (but cf. elton, "sad songs say so much"), and also it might actually be the worst album.]
Rosanne Cash's newest release,The River and the Thread approaches masterpiece status. I know I included it on my latest list of albums I'd like to take to the other side...one of the troubling things for a lot of us is that we realize the South in a lot of ways represents the American Id and as such is part of all of us. We have to find out how to deal with it before the Id slaughters us all -- is it the food, water, reliance on religion, in-breeding or what the hell is going on there? Who wants iced tea so sweet and treacly it rots your teeth as you chew it? Who has NASCAR drivers tatooed on their private parts? Who would elect Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell and the newest dingbat who things homosexuals should be purged from the Republican party?
45 years later, I see that this matches the brilliance of "Ode to Billy Joe..." The album cover was a picture taken by Rosanne's husband and music director John Leventhal standing behind her looking down at the Tallahatchee River from the Tallahatchee bridge.
from a review by martin pugh of the fateful year: england 1914 by mark bostridge, tls january 24: "Conversely, as Mark Bostridge shows in this enjoyable tour d'horizon of the year 1914, some things were very different."
continuing vinyl exhumation: a major way i consumed blues in the '70s was the chess "blues masters" series, one-artist, two-lp sets which i played to over and over on harmonica, of muddy waters, howlin' wolf, sonny boy williamson, little walter, and others, from the 50s and 60s. they were beautifully selected, like perfect; i'm not sure who was doing the assembling; for all i know it was willie dixon.
the one i'm listening to right now is lowell fulson: "took a long time" or hung down head' or the whole thing, really these recordings lurk in the background of many waves of hip west coast and texas blues down the generations, but are still underheard. he has some of the swingingest little jump bands you can imagine: just great rhythm sections, hot little r&b horns, etc. it's not like the chicago stuff, which is still an electrification of an acoustic form: it's fully glitter tuxedoes and electric gitfiddles. lowell isn't some kind of virtuoso on the guitar: he just swings the fuck out of the blues.
sorry for slow bloggin, been doin this and that. i recently hooked up a turntable, and am turning back to my ancient lps. allow me to say that i am actually in favor of digital sound, alright? surface sounds on vinyl might have a retro charm or whatever, but they also grew worse on your favorite albums until they were distracting. i actually think that the average mp3 sounds much better - clearer and more transparent - than the average lp. of course vinyl can have irremediable skips and pops; many of my old things do. now, when people describe vinyl as a richer or a warmer sound, when they describe all the lost microtones or whatever they do, i do not dismiss what they say. however, i must also remark that these are somewhat elusive in my actual audible experience.
at any rate i am digging through. one resuscitation: toots and the maytals' knock out!, which i beieve was my record of the year for the baltimore city paper in '81. however, it's not on itunes and it's not all on youtube. everyone listens to funky kingston and reggae got soul, of course, and many people know that he goes back all the way to the dawn of jamaican recorded music. all the ska and rock steady stuff is amazing and fundamental, and he is a figure comparable to marley. toots hibbert is a very great singer. (also he is a christian anti-rasta, which he prosecutes on "careless ethiopians" on knock out!.)
obviously toots himself as well as anybody who ever wrote about him places him at the intersection of reggae and soul, but reggae has always been intertwined with soul; well, especially rock steady. but toots is an otis redding/wilson pickett-type, paradigmatic, baptist-church shouter. better recognize, though: he started recording before they did, but obviously he also listened to them when they came.
so there are a bunch of good songs on knock out!; it's a fully coherent record by a master at the height of his abilities. and i'm going to say that "missing you", which i really can't find to show you here, may be the single greatest recorded performance of his career: it is transcendent. it's a full-on soul arrangement, with black-girl back-up singers, full horn chart, etc.; he's definitely taken on al green or that hi records thing by '81. it's also a great composition, building in quite a complex structure, and he doesn't sound like anyone other than himself, finally. i say 'recorded performance' because as anyone who saw toots in the '70s will tell you, he killed live every damn night. ok ok! he sounds good on vinyl.
that one, which is on knock out!, as you might notice, has a pedal steel going, and actually when i was going to jamaica, jamaican christaians were always asking me to bring down country cds; they love that shit. for that matter, the man can yodel.
It always bothers me when progressives and liberals say stuff that is incredibly stupid or just knee-jerk reaction to some stimulous. There is a problem among true believers that is relevant largely to true believers...anyone who has not confused themselves with God can usually sense the absurdity of their silliness and maybe even stop...
So, if you want to check out some music and read my argument, visit the link. Links posted in this one are all to music. Dylan has published enough stuff and had enough of it bootlegged to guarantee some decent stuff. Comments are always welcome. Cripsin will undoubtedly explain why he thinks Dylan less of a figure than Blondel the Troubador or Blind Lemon Jefferson, and that's ok.