i would rather be eaten by dick cheney than listen to elaine stritch sing sondheim, so the last few days have been difficult ones for me.
i'd probably prefer to listen to the everly brothers than any other 'mainstream' pop act of their period (well, i'm also very partial to dion and the belmonts). i think the basic thrust was country, and they updated the 'brother harmonies' of people like the louvin brothers. but boy did they have great songs and great voices: the shit is just so so sweet.
In which Crusader AXE discusses totally unrelated yet congruent articles in the NY Times, discovers a new philosopher and links J.J. Cale with The Seventh Seal and Costicas Bradantan with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals...what else do you want for a Monday?
yes, i'm up at nytimes.com on arthur danto today. ole danto, quine, and rorty - yeah i can feel them right here with me, on this silver eagle rolling through the night.
that is a perfect performance.
the kennedy thing, i have to say, is amazing. yesterday i was listening to another npr show of ecstatic tribute to a great man. so what were his main accomplishments?, asked the interviewer. um, well, the bay of pigs wasn't all his fault: that was one accomplishment. he really understood civil rights deep inside, even though his record on that was...mixed. really he started the vietnam war. but one of his accomplisments was that if he'd lived, he supposedly would have stopped it. ok ok, moonshot and peace corps.
anyway, it soons turns uber-woolly: he was so significant because he was so inspiring to a whole generation. what was supposedly great about kennedy was his charisma, and everyone goes there very quickly: he accomplished charisma. now, in my opinion, either charisma is a supernatural hypnotize-you-at-a-distance-of-miles super-power, or it only means sexiness. i think sexiness was kennedy's real policy accomplishment. probably, one should reflect on who one is following around taking inspiration from, and why. what we're really nostalgic for is our masochistic ecstasy: find a beautiful man and believe whatever he tells you to believe. now, fortunately in the case of kennedy, there were no very definite ideas coming out of that perfect mouth, because when there are definite ideas, this charisma crap is merely dangerous.
many people pride themselves on the rationality of their political approach. where does their whole body's desire to be bathed in charisma fit in with that?
astoundingly, the library of living philosophers volume on arthur danto, under randy auxier's editorship (and with my essay on danto as a writer) appeared the same day he died. the basic format is pieces by various folks (including david carrier, the late denis dutton, george dickie, frank ankersmit, noel carroll, etc) each with a reply from arthur. probably of most enduring interest is the 'philosophical autobiography' that introduces the volume. as in auxier's extremely excellent rorty volume, this turns out to be central to any interpretation of danto's work from now on.
i will have much more to say about arthur danto, i hope. to me he was, among the very large philosophers of his generation (almost all of whom are gone: rawls, rorty, baudrillard, quine, derrida; perhaps habermas and cavell are still with us? i saw joe margolis stalking krakow recently) the one i would take as a model. he had extremely broad interests: unusually broad interests within philosophy, believe it or not (eastern, nitezsche), as well of course as all those wonderful and sometimes amazong excursions into visual arts in relation to everything.
it is as a stylist that i admire him most, by which i also mean to indicate that i wouldn't particularly agree with his philosophy, though it is somewhat characteristic that it might be hard to say what that means, exactly. among philosophers, he has few equals in the twentieth century as a craftsman of english prose (we might mention russell, j.l. austin, quine). really, he plays the damn language like a strad, and in a completely particular way: it's an supple structure of digression upon digression or within digression, erudite tour de force within erudite tdf, shaggy dog story after shaggy dog story. sometimes, one feels that the sum doesn't amount to all one wished, but you will never regret reading anything he wrote, from the most sophisto art theory to the philosophy of history or action to the art criticism. go buy and read the transfiguration of the commonplace.
danto was never my teacher, but i met him on a number of occasions, dined with him here and there and so on. one of my first publications was a kind of literalistic attack on the basic stance of the transfirguration. he sent me a gracious reply. i have written about him on many occasions, notably in six names of beauty. i'm scheduled to teach his book the abuse of beauty starting tomorrow. i told my class thursday, as i often do, that we were about the start reading the greatest living aesthetician, the greatest living philosopher of art. i guess in hindsight that was misleading. i must say he was about the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet: not a given in particular at the topmost reaches of my profession.
Pefectly rational solutions abound and nothing will go wrong!
Nothing but togetherness and love in the Muslim World.
At the final Peace Festival, the Kinks Reunion Concert will sell out.
bobby bland had that thing that came from way down in his thoat that was kind of scary. you know, he was among the top artists who kept various forms of the blues alive as a current popular music that could fill arenas with black folks in the south, right through the 90s. also a couple of his songs are just my favorite evil grooves ever. 'ain't no love in the heart of the city' will be living on even through the chrysler ads.
there will no doubt be more on george later. for now i just want to say he was the greatest male country singer, by a way. so people who i'd point to as great or paradigm country singers, such as keith whitley and vern gosdin, owed him plenty. he was better than his great contemporaries johnny cash or willie nelson or merle haggard or buck owens, as a singer, in a variety of ways. he had more emotional range and intensity (he was incomparable in that, as everyone who knows anything about this will acknowledge). and also his singing is more central or basic or exemplary of country music than is that of any of the others. the whole idea of what a man does in a country ballad, owes everything to him. it's remarkable that he was teamed with tammy, who of course i think was the greatest female country singer. well conway and loretta were close, but dolly and porter was asymmetrical. he made some great records late, as below. he made some horrendous records like in the 80s, i'm assuming under the influence of coke.
that song's by jamie o'hara.
i want to say that i am definitely opposed to the cult of personality: one of the saddest symptoms of human patheticness: you're just begging to be subordinated, and your dearest aspiration is to labor under obvious delusions. like this is just pitiful. also i am opposed to authoritarianism for any purposes whatever. it's worth remarking, though, that it was never plausible to equate chavez with the miserable dictators with whom he often associated. i think he was repeatedly and more or less fairly elected (though 'fairly' has to be qualified by his domination of the media). that makes a difference.
He has taken on many of Mr. Chávez’s vocal patterns and speech rhythms, and has eagerly repeated the slogan “I am Chávez” to crowds of supporters. He has mimicked the president’s favorite themes — belittling the political opposition and warning of mysterious plots to destabilize the country, even implying that the United States was behind Mr. Chávez’s cancer.
He has also adopted the president’s clothes, walking beside his coffin in an enormous procession on Wednesday wearing a windbreaker with the national colors of yellow, blue and red, as Mr. Chávez often did.
show some pride, little bitch. just to drive that nail, they'll display his corpse 'forever.' the idea of your body as an icon or sculpture of itself raises amazing questions about representation. one good aspect: it makes it permanently possible to rape hugo chavez, at least in a certain sense, and it adds tremendous symbolic weight to what would otherwise be a mere personal peccadillo. hugo will live forever, but he will never not be dead. looking good, asshole.
in honor of the late james buchanan: my refutation of his argument for the necessity of state power. as a free bonus feature you get my (then-)little daughter running about behind me trying to mess up my video because it's taking my attention!
she might not have been a particularly effective dean, embezzler, murderess, and so on, but she was an extremely impressive suicide.
She started a fire in a bedroom fireplace and closed the flue. When death did not come quickly enough, she went downstairs to the kitchen and turned on the gas. For extra measure, she slit her wrists.
Stereo speaker wire was her final weapon of choice. She took a length of it back upstairs, lowered an attic ladder and hanged herself from it.
most people kind of kill themselves with a whimper of sadness; she assaulted herself repeatedly in a total rage.
well charles lane has a point about gore vidal, who was sort of an evil crank. however, i'm pretty much willing to forgive anyone with that prose style for anything. lane quotes vidal on the death of vidal's nemesis (and presumably lane's hero) william f. buckley: “I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.” perhaps this is supposed to be an illustration of vidal's 'nihilism,' really it's just a typical perfectly-made insult; i'd be proud to have produced that sentence. one thing to consider about someone like vidal: ok he had a cultural presence. but the actual effect of his own opinions on anything real was miniscule. so go ahead and just do your beautiful ugly thing. i figure he and buckley are perched in a glass booth above hell quibbling for opposite reasons with satan's politics, which currently dominate our blasted nation.
buckley wrote well, though not invariably. he did not write as well as gore vidal.
aww, so long doc. not only was he an encyclopedia of american roots music, but he was among our greatest guitar players and loveliest singers (he played a mean harmonica too). that "will the circle be unbroken" album was key to my discovery of the music i love.
i reviewed a donna summer show long about 1981 for the washington star. i remember saying something like this: 'the sex kitten stuff has distracted from what was there all along: the best soul singer of her generation.' now in the late 70s i went straight from grateful dead to ramones. the hippies and punks both coded as opposite of disco, though there were continuous overlaps as well. it was, in my imagination and that of a lot of others, authenticity as against artificiality, and sincere expression as against commercialized, pandering claptrap. i don't think i consciously had on board then the sexual-identity aspect of this distinction, which is not to say i wouldn't have said that disco was gay. also since then i have gotten very worried about the authentic/artificial distinction, in pop music and elsewhere: i got onto the post-modern suspicion at some point, and at some point it occurred to me that springsteen was as much enacting a gender role as was rupaul.
disco, like a lot of really straight-up pop, has aged well; it is unpretentious, for one thing. and in retrospect - as i suddenly saw at that donna summer show - it is more continuous with and central to the unfolding of african-american popular music than it seemed at the time. donna was framed in state-of-the-art production - not very stax - and actually had a pretty eclectic oeuvre (for example, the great 'hot stuff' sounds as much like foreigner as like gloria gaynor). but at the heart there was a churchy shouter: not that far from aretha, though more malleable. even if disco was a producer's studio form, donna put on a great live show. in the other direction, disco is as fundamental to hip hop as is funk, and herc and flash sampled nile rogers's 'good times' incessantly.
now however, i still gravitate towards an aesthetics of authenticity in pop music, even if i can't defend it. and in the culture wars of the 70s, i'd still go anti-disco every time. i have to say that the idea that hedonism is liberation is one i just can't gravitate towards: cocaine and promiscuity just aren't going to save you: demonstrably, i would say. so if you're nostalgic for gay bathouse culture of the late seventies, i'm just going to try to disguise my disgust at the whole thing. i still think the disco bands looked silly and that the production was too processed. i might still long for recognizable instruments, and not think that moroder's electronic tracks for 'i feel love' etc overall had the most positive influence.
but i do have a bunch of disco on my computer, and it did produce some insanely catchy and delightful music.
see ya chuck brown. looking back on it, late seventies/early eighties dc was a rare music scene, what with the invention of hardcore: bad brains, teen idles. also the excellent blues revival bands that were still the basic dc bar fare: the nighthawks, e.g. i remember go-go shows at big concrete barn downtown: chuck brown, touble funk, rare essence etc. when kool herc started working the turntables in the bronx, he did it to extend the break or the drum bit. go-go just did it with squads of actual percussion instruments. go-go had a cool swing, but it also git a bit incessant after a few hours.
well my old teacher (at u of maryland, '76-'80), the poet reed whittemore, died a few days ago. the death was not surprising: the man was born in 1919. he was a quiet and gentle person, so when the blades came out you were shocked. everyone got cut anyway. he was a wonderful teacher, and introduced us in the most vivid way to twentieth-century poetry, many of the great figures of which had been his friends/mentors/contributors to his magazines etc (e.e. cummings, for example; william carlos williams -probably his hero and closest poetic compatriot (his bio of williams was titled poet from jersey (just right for the extreme matteroffactness of both his subject and himself); ezra pound, whom reed talked about visiting in st. elixabeth's asylum). he supervised my honors thesis, which was a "theory of poetry" (for god's sake) and i was the poetry ed of the college literary magazine under his direction. i wrote many gigantically-ambitious poems that sucked, thinking of him as my only audience. i don't blame him for the suckiness. he tried to help, but i wouldn't listen.
his poems were maybe not the utter apex of the century, though he did get a lot of recognition too. they were extremely prosaic: flat, almost, in a way that became a fashion decades after he'd perfected the style. it was a sort of anti-poetry: in a way it was an argument that the tradition of poetry in english was pretentious, grandiose, affected; he always emphasized that the rhythms of ordinary language were poetic enough to be getting on with. he did hit many grand themes - god, truth, love, nature - but always to puncture their grandness or bring them down to earth. also he often just wrote a little joke. both on paper and in person, he was about the least pretentious major literary figure who ever existed. i don't think he thought that poetry could save the world.
ok ive been re-reading for the first time in twenty years or more his book the mother's breast and the father's house. it's amazing how so many of the lines come at me now with an air of extreme inevitability or so much familiarity that they seem like my own internal monologue. i'll type in a couple.
A traditional haiku has seventeen syllables.
Is the world a dream?
--The waking is always to facts that are like rocks
And lives that are like rocks
To poverty that is not an abstraction but a great rock
To sickness and loneliness and loss and emptiness
That are all rocks.
Is love a dream?
--It would be clever to say that one must climb up the other
rocks to arrive at the love rock.
Or that love is a rock hidden in life's moss
But to say such things is to be out of love
If there is love
and I think there is
It survives the saying only with difficulty
It needs prayer rather
I will not play with it
But of the rocks that are hateful to man and surround him
So that it is as if he were deep in a great rock canyon and calling
for help and only to rocks
Of such rocks it is safe to speak
They need to be hammered at through the ages by man in his
They need to be broken up into smaller and smaller rocks.
"And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche."
He hated them all one by one but wanted to show them
What was Important and Vital and by God if
They thought they'd never have any use for it he was
Sorry as hell for them, that's all, with their genteel
Mercantile Main Street Babbitt
Bourgeois-barbaric faces, they were beyond
Saving, clearly, quite out of reach, and so he
Got up every morning and
Ate his breakfast and
Lumbered off to his eight o'clock
Gladly to teach.
It Is Not Clear
It is not clear
Where we go from here
Or for that matter
earl scruggs was among the handful of great instrumental innovators in twentieth-century american popular music. comparable figures are people like louis armstrong, little walter, jimi hendrix. the banjo in his hands yields an amazing combination of rhythm and melody: it's the most percussive of the string instruments, and scruggs created the role of the banjo virtuoso in bluegrass: during his solo, he drives the band faster and faster, like an accelerating train. the other people i mentioned above actually played behind the beat, giving their playing a kind of relaxed swing even in a furious solo. but actually earl has somewhat the same effect: you start wondering whether there's any limit to his speed, and then it almost sounds easy. still the right expression playing like that would be a grimace of extreme concentration, like roy clark.
nothing kills a pop star like death. whitney isn't quite on the michael level, but any rational person has already had enough of the stirring tributes and endless re-hashing of the addiction. ok her version of dolly's 'i will always love you' is astonishing. first time i heard it was at the gym at vanderbilt; i just stopped dead, couldn't believe what i was hearing, especially because it was already one of my favorite songs. she had good poppy moments, such as 'how will i know.' on the other hand 'the greatest love' is just dreck. her mother was a great gospel singer; 'the greatest love' just replaces god with...oneself, about the worst and most implausible and most pitiful idea we ever had as a species. don't believe me? ask whitney's 12-step sponsor. the song was a high point in the wave of contentless self-esteem-enhancement and unearned self-worship that in particular women have been surfing for decades. but, like a good spa treatment, all the plastic surgery you can absorb, and all the chardonnay in the world, you deserve it. anyway, i'd say i was at best indifferent to most of her records. great singer, basically meaningless, extremely middle-of-the-road material.
i'll never forget a review i read of the bodyguard (wish i could recall the name of the reviewer). he said that when whitney houston and kevin costner kissed, 'it was like two boards clacking together.'
you often hear the term 'tragedy' used to mean almost any bad thing. but aristotle could have used joepa rather than oedipus as his model.
it's remarkable that etta james died almost simultaneously with johnny otis: they showed the hybrid vigor of miscegenation. they almost seemed to want to switch races, with etta going all blond and stuff and johnny preferring to be photographed with his face in shadow, so he could pass. i do think etta was at her best as a pop/r&b singer rather than in the straight blues.
the associated press: "James had been suffering from dementia and kidney problems, and was battling leukemia," while her husband and kids went to war over her estate. dude, that really, really sucks.
i'm saddened by the fact that kim jong il could die only once. there is infinitely much evidence that human beings are fools, but the fact that that chump could actually rule millions of people - that they would more or less do what he told them to do - is a decisive demonstration. i love a good cult of personality. throw in a raft of marxist jive and you've got a perfect storm of horseshit.
vaclav havel, who has died after enduring many health problems for decades, was a hero of mine. his essay "the power of the powerless" (there are excerpts here) did as good a job as possible in showing what ordinary life was like in a totalitarian nightmare, and suggesting how to resist, or how to keep some sort of hold on reality and dignity in a world dedicated to destroying both. it was hard to watch him struggle with being politically powerful himself; really his instincts were anarchist. on the other hand, there's no one i would have more happily voted for for president of anything.
simon brings my attention to cockburn on hitchens. i say this piece is based on three basic insights: (1) people who disagree with me are evil. (2) people who are more successful than me are evil. (3) people who are better than me at what i do are evil.
let me say something about the neo-con hitch (and also his friend martin amis), with their embrace of the concept of 'islamo-fascism,' and their suggestions that islam itself needed to be suppressed because of the terrorists who appeal to it. the anti-communist right-wingers of the fifties and sixties had cracked moments, and a really psychotic overreaction suggesting things such as that dwight eisenhower was an agent of the international communist conspiracy. they engaged in an active process of putting everyone under surveillance for intellectual purity, a kind of parody of what they were supposedly fighting against. but however, communism was a frigging nightmare, and if you weren't an anti-communist in 1961, and if you are not an anti-communist now, you were/are extremely wrong, an advocate of totalitarianism and evil. that joseph mccarthy was terribly wrong and extremely dangerous to liberty does not entail that josef stalin was ok. and in this case, if you have anything nice to say about al qaeda-type terrorism (like one of my colleagues at mica, who was in the habit calling osama a 'freedom fighter'), if you do anything to try to take the sting out of the sheer irrational evil, you are really really wrong. and if you think it can be detached entirely from islam, i think you're misguided, as i think the attempt to completely detach stalinism or the khmer rouge from marxist communism is a pitiful rationalization. and obviously hitchens' anti-religious fervor both fed and was fed by his 'islamophobia.' so: i think this led him into numerous extremely wrong conclusions. it led him to endorse something like a world war for the suppression of islam as a whole. but, there was a truth at the heart.
also, opinion journalism is not itself violence or repression. there's no point in vaguely holding hitchens responsible for invading iraq. what he did was write; that doesn't force anyone to do anything. this is one reason why we should defend freedom of expression at its widest scope. the right response to hitchens is to refute the arguments; if he kicked your ass you had no one to blame but yourself, and you should have tried again. i'll give cockburn this: he did try to do that. he is no match for hitchens in argument or polemic or wit, but that just means he needs more craft.
also if he was wrong on this, it of course does not follow that he was wrong in his literary judgments, or his picture of the history of ideas, or whatever it may be. he was often right about such things, and spoke from a depth of knowledge and reflection that made the arguments compelling even if not right.