Monday, January 28, 2008


I'm ruined for work all day. It's terrible.
But, I like that i learned that Umbrella was written about the Iraq War (?!?!?!)
and that Karen O is half Korean (thanks Greg Tate: "Hell yeah, I'm even claiming Karen O's half-Korean, half-glamazon behind, just because.")
And learned to appreciate the shape of the high-hat snare that made Umbrella possible and its relation to the actual shape of an umbrella.

How can i work on a proposal now?!??!!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Christgau and the New Critical Connection

Aha! I knew there was a reason I was doing this. From "Subjects for Further Research":

Bruce Cockburn This born-again Episcopalian (he's the type who appreciates oxymorons) is genuinely literate as well as genuinely musical. But I've been boycotting poetic types who admire the Church of England ever since escaping John Crowe Ransom as an undergraduate.

Daddy Cool

Daddy Cool: Daddy Cool? Daddy Cool! (Reprise '71) OK, boys, one more time. I love '50s rock and roll too. But imitating it isn't re-creating it — it's killing it. And if you don't watch it you're all going to end up hanging from basketball stanchions by hula hoops. C -
(Apparently this is what Daddy Cool looked like.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Coolest literary project ever

Do you guys know about this? This awesome person in architecture, Sarah Whiting, is writing a piece on Dali's arrival in NY in 1935 (and talking about skyscrapers and literature) So as I deal with the anxiety of how close her awesome section is to my own interest in skyscrapers (and how unawesome my chapter seems in comparison is), I can only marvel at the wonderfulness of the project:

"A New Literary History of America" is the scholarly-sounding name of the 1,000-or-so-page volume that author/journalist/teacher/cultural critic Greil Marcus is preparing, with literature Professor Werner Sollors, for Harvard University Press. But the one-volume work, to be published in 2009 and containing 220 2,500-word essays that cover the years from 1507 to Hurricane Katrina, is much juicier than that, "literature as usually understood but also political address, memoirs, legal documents, manifestos, inventions, events, music, movies, comics, theatre," says its formal statement of purpose.

Every entry, Marcus said by phone the other day, is "catching a moment when something changed, something happened, something new occurred about how to speak democratic speech, how to define what it was." Editorial board member David Thomson, a film historian, for example, proposed the last line from "Some Like It Hot": "Nobody's perfect." That entry, said Marcus, "is meant to open up into the whole realm of American movie comedy, where a line like that can capture the sense of we're making it up as we go along. It's not only essence of American comedy, but the essence of American character. Two words become a springboard for entering the book."

Marcus, Sollors and 10 editorial members winnowed down their 600 suggestions for topics to 220, "with lots of horse trading," he said, citing some sample winnowing conversation: "What do you mean you're including Linda Lovelace and not Robert Frost?" Among Bay Area writers, Clark Blaise will describe an 1851 meeting, a picnic, between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne; Anne Wagner is writing about Maya Lin's Vietnam memorial; Carolyn Porter is writing about 1936, the year both William Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!" and Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" were published.

Editing will be done by the end of the summer. "And I'm just stunned by the way it is all coming together, right now," said Marcus. The writers will be paid "virtually nothing," $200 according to the statement of purpose. "There are no provisions for royalties for the contributors, and I can't even remember whether there are for Werner and myself," he said. But "If this becomes a best-seller, we will find a way to make sure that those who made it possible profit from it. People did it for love, honor, duty and pride in their country."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Van Halen

Van Halen: Van Halen (Warner Bros. '78). For some reason Warners wants us to know that this is the biggest bar band in the San Fernando Valley. This doesn't mean much — all new bands are bar bands, unless they're Boston. The term becomes honorific when the music belongs in a bar. This music belongs on an aircraft carrier. C
Gil Scott Heron performed this weekend in NYC. Sorry to have missed it.

Art School Drop Outs

I meant to post something about this over Winter Break, but I forgot of course. But I (finally) am watching the New Years Eve performance Radiohead broadcasted and got to thinking again.

I was just thinking about art school dropouts as a particular genre of musician (or author? Dos Passos trained originally in art and architecture) For Kanye, he was able to build 3 albums conceptually out being a dropout, but the art part of it usually gets forgotten. Thom Yorke went to art school and then dropped out because he didn't think it was as powerful a media as music, so he says (think about all the definitively pomo art pieces about ownership which are about making the patron self-conscious of the art market and museums and capital and then think again about their distribution scheme for Rainbows)

There's a certain avant-garde both West and Yorke remain invested in which I think springs from a beginning in art. For West, his obsession with both being more indie-rock than the indie rockers while also having more street-cred than 50 Cent-ers all at the same time accounts for the strange jubilience of Graduation. I think it also accounts for his melancholic arrogance because he knows trying to hold both positions will eventually lead to his downfall in both worlds. Perhaps he's the Jeff Koons of music. Flashy, a bit pompous, manages to remain taken seriously in the art world but also a mainstream kind of artist..but it's all kind of dangling by a thread

Yorke is that other art know which one. The melancholic, angry, bitter headstrong one, but with a slightly giggly inside. Yorke seems to have come to peace with the fact that he can't change the world himself, but doesn't let himself off the hook because of this. His avant-garde is with the political edge that Kanye feels free to lose when it's convenient. I can't think of his artist doppelganger but feel free to try. (Rothko's too sad. Rothko could be Yorke circa Amnesiac, but now, I dont know who he'd be? Perhaps some sort of video-artist. Douglas Gordon?)

This post has kind of fizzled out. I feel like I had a point over winterbreak when I began thinking about this but it shriveled up and died. Anyway, any more art school dropouts you'd like to think about?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Joshua Clover on his Album of the Year.


Evan, you might want to check out Alfred Kazin's essay "To Be A Critic" (It's reprinted in Kazin's America). You might find it interesting.

Dos Passos

Below is perhaps the most famous part of Dos Passos's USA trilogy, taken from one of the Camera Eye loosely-biographical sections where the "eye" is witnessing the Sacco Vanzetti verdict. I'm trying to read all of the USA trilogy this week (First part down, two to go) but I dont know if I'll get through it. But it's dazzling. It's blunt and sloppy, confused and jumbled, absurdly narrativized even as it jazzes it self up with poetics, unsure of where its loyalties lie, unsure of loyalties in general. Can't commit to Socialism, but knows something's amiss with America in the 20s and 30s. Can't find a hero, but hates the crowd. And it's illustrated with the most ridiculous comic-drawings ever (Thank you Reginald Marsh). People keep saying USA is "brillantly crafted" but it really isn' runneth over at every angle. And its completely excessive even if it has a strict self imposed structure, which it does.

Anyway, still digesting it, so I figured I'd throw up the 'star passage' for your enjoyment.


they have clubbed us off the streets they are stronger they are rich they hire and fire the politicians the newspapereditors the old judges the small men with reputations the collegepresidents the wardheelers (listen businessmen collegepresidents judges America will not forget her betrayers) they hire the men with guns the uniforms the policecars the patrolwagons

all right you have won you will kill the brave men our friends tonight

American our nation has been beaten by strangers who have turned our language inside out who have taken the clean words our fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul.

their hired men sit on the judge's bench they sit back with their feet on the tables under the dome of the State House they are ignorant of our beliefs the y have the dollars the guns the armed forces the powerplants

they have built the electricchair and hired the executioner to throw the switch

all right we are two nations

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Being Charles Olson

When I read the Maximus Poems, I've often imagined them as lyrics being growled over a sorta nu-metal grungy rock. Finally. Don't get me wrong; I am really excited to see this movie whenever I get the chance, especially for the footage of Olson. But the real question is where can I get the soundtrack?

Lemme also ask this: if you could make a biopic of any 20th century poet, who would you film? I've thought for a while that I'd really like to write a script about James Merrill's life around the Ouija board. And someone needs to film Clare's "Journey out of Essex" and make the saddest film ever.

Notes on Lil Tone

No, no -- the other Ezra Pound.

Battle on Spaceship Earth!

Did you know that Buckminster Fuller -- best known for his geodesic dome -- wrote a lot of poetry? Adrienne, has this come up in any of your architectural research?

I've just ordered a used copy of this one, finally published in 1962: Untitled Epic Poem on the History of Industrialization (or: Greg's Dissertation Prospectus Leads Him Down Frighteningly Useless Back Alleys), but apparently this is just the tip of the dome and he actually wrote scads of (by all accounts pretty mediocre) verse. "Bucky" was also, according to his own preface to his book Critical Path (1981), pals with e.e. cummings. And, according to Ralph Maud's book on Charles Olson's "The Kingfishers," apparently Olson and Fuller were both at Black Mountain in the summer of 1949 and nearly had a rumble (or something).

And I quote: "The crisis came, according to the story as told by Olson in conversation, when it seemed as though the future of Black Mountain would go either in Olson's direction or Fuller's. Fuller came to Olson's house on campus 'with his men' for a confrontation; he went in the house alone with Olson for an hour; then he came out and took his men off to New York. Commenting on this to Creeley in a letter of May 1952, Olson said: ' I drove Buckminster Fuller out of my house here three years ago come summer by saying to that filthiest of all the modern design filthers: "In what sense does any extrapolation of me beyond my finger-nails add a fucking thing to me as a man"'."
[who would you rather fight?]

[According to wikipedia, Fuller was also good friends with John Denver, who dedicated a song to him (so there's that 6-degrees-of-e.e. cummings connection that you've been thinking about w/r/t/ Denver).]

Friday, January 18, 2008

No '50s for Excuse

(I just got Robert Christgau's Rock Albums of the '70s: A Critical Guide — part of a continuing Christgau binge — and I thought I'd start transcribing a few of my favorite entries. For no particular reason. Or else because it's edifying. Yeah, that's it.)

The Modern Lovers: The Modern Lovers (Home of the Hits, '76). These legendary sessions, produced by John Cale for Warners in the early '70s but never released, still sound ahead of their time. Jonathan Richman's gift is to make explicit that love for "the modern world" that is the truth of so much of the best rock and roll; by cutting through the vaguely protesty ambience of so-called rock culture he opens the way for a worldliness that is specific, realistic, and genuinely critical. Not that he tries to achieve this himself — he's much too childlike. Sometimes his unmusicianship adds a catch to a three-chord melody and his off-key singing unlocks doors you didn't know were there. But other times he sounds like his allowance is too big, as worldly as Holden Caulfield with no '50s for excuse — the first rock hero who could use a spanking. Original grade: A minus. A

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Hear ye, hear ye: my review of Chaplin's City Lights is now up at Not Coming To A Theater Near You.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I never realized before that W.H. Auden had a skin disease. It's called Touraine-Solente-Golé Syndrome, or pachydermoperiostosis, and its symptoms include "enlargement of the fingers and toes (clubbing), a condition in which there is a fibrous covering on the ends of the long bones (periostosis), coarse facial features, increased bulk of the skin on the scalp forming folds, depressions or furrows of the scalp (cutis verticis gyrata), and/or excessive sweating of the hands and feet."

I always thought his face got that way as a result of smoking and, you know, worrying a lot.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Born to Be Wild

Have either of you two ever heard of a music critic named Frank Kogan? I picked up a book of his (Real Punks Don't Wear Black) by chance at the Park Slope Library last week, and am kind of amazed by what I found. Kogan started out writing for his own fanzine Why Music Sucks in the mid-80s and went on to write for the Village Voice and Spin, among (not too many) other places; this is his first and only book, pieced together from over thirty years' worth of record reviews, fanzine rants and miscellaneous other writing. His style is pretty strange: he is self-consciously in the line of great early rock critics (Robert Christgau, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, and especially Richard Meltzer, whom I've never read): that is, very chatty and pugnacious and occasionally taking off into surreal fantasies or obnoxious self-indulgence. But he's got a weirder and more singular sense of humor than any of them, as well as a more theoretical/systematic bent (some of his key concepts, helpfully defined in the preface: "the classroom/hallway split," "Superwords," "fear of contamination," "free lunch," and my favorite, "PBS").

Another difference between Kogan and the first wave of rock critics: he completely loves bubblegum, disco, early hip-hop, hair-metal, and much that they (or you or I, probably) would consider disreputable trash, and treats it no differently than he does critically canonized rock stars. He has really fascinating things to say about James Brown, Dylan, the Rolling Stones, ? and the Mysterians, Jefferson Airplane, the New York Dolls, the Stooges, the Ohio Express, Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, Spoonie Gee, Teena Marie, L'Trimm, Guns 'N' Roses, Mariah Carey, Toby Keith, etc. He has a consuming interest in the social worlds of high school and junior high, which seem to have established the paradigm for how he hears all music (and it's not such a bad or uncommon paradigm, if you think about it). Unlike say Christgau, who really kills himself trying to be authoritative on all genres of pop, Kogan is unapologetically a dilettante, often admitting he doesn't know much about the artists he writes about (and doesn't think it matters). A point he makes often is that it's artificial to separate pop music, as music, from the world of "flirting and fighting" in which it is produced, consumed and judged. The result is that he comes up with stuff like this:

"When I was thirteen this song by Steppenwolf — first song to use the phrase 'heavy metal,' as far as I know — had a real clever line, 'If the tune makes you smile/You were born to be wild.' Actually, I'd heard it wrong (really went 'Like a true nature's child' or something); this was good, since my version was more useful. I was a hemmed-in kid; no way was I a nature's child. I mean, in my house, on my street, in my school? By my locker? At my desk? You kidding? But 'the tune makes you smile' — I can get there! From my smile to the wild. A first step, at least.
"'I just want to rock and roll all night, and party every day.' That's an old Kiss song. But back when the song was new and my wife Leslie was twelve years old (this was before we married), she heard it as, 'I just want to rock and all night, and part of every day.' OK. Again, a necessary mistake, to make the dream accessible — imaginable — to a twelve-year-old.
"'Up all night, sleep all day,' goes the song by Slaughter that's ruled Dial MTV, MTV's call-in request show, for the last month and a half. Sleep all day? For some readers, no doubt, those words are too much of a compromise (you don't even have to hear it wrong), not mitigated by the utopian 'Maybe we can just stay up twenty-four hours a day' tossed off in the middle. But, see, if you're a bubble-metal band that wants twelve-year-old girls in your demographic, you've got to give them something in their range. At fourteen, Leslie wore black leather and cheered in homeroom whenever it was announced over the intercom that the school's football team had lost. When you're fourteen, everything's possible. But twelve-year-olds have a sense of reality." (277)

Anyway, it's sort of a crazy book: besides the music writing there are autobiographical reminiscences about his attempts at political organization in high school; actual letters, poems, lyrics and journal entries from high school; footnotes to those journal entries; excerpts from emails and chatroom posts; way out-of-control social and cultural generalizations; fake fan letters to Ornette Coleman and Sherilyn Fenn; and occasional engagements with more "academic" thinkers, like Derrida, Wittgenstein and Thomas Kuhn. Almost all of it is "questionable" in the best sense of the word: Kogan, I'm sure, would encourage questions, would consider the book a failure if it didn't generate them. In other words, if you need a book that shows you a bunch of new and exciting things that criticism can do — not that it necessarily should — this is the ticket.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Friday, January 4, 2008

The New Materials

I'm sitting among a big pile of new books and movies, trying to unearth the ones that I need for work, and thought I'd drop a note to account for just one new/forthcoming collection that I picked up at MLA. It's a happy new year indeed when I get to say that finally -- finally! -- one can purchase a gorgeous, one-volume edition of George Oppen's Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers. Stephen Cope has done a bang-up job of putting the volume into order, annotating the entries, and clearing up the confusions of having the Daybooks appear piecemeal in a half-dozen journals over the last decade.

So much wonderful stuff in here, I can't begin to note it all here. One passage that caught my eye: Oppen writes what amounts to almost an essay on the social efficacy of the Black Arts Movement in Daybook II ("the pipe-stem daybook"). It is a rare (for the fragmentary, meditative daybooks) sustained analysis, that is by turns knowing and slightly aloof (i.e. the same combination one can find in "Of Being Numerous" - an intent combination of the knowledge of art's inadequacy for doing social work with a conviction that one should not stop). Enamored by Oppen's ethical tact and precision, as one probably should be, I think it is easy to overlook how his actual wisdom occasional becomes a tone of wisdom, and how that can shade into grandiosity. That is not a fault -- rather I mean for it to get at how he manages to be vatic and witty all in the same cutting aphorism.

Writing on pop art, or possibly continuing his discussion of Leroi Jones, Oppen summarizes: "Like a bull in a china shop: it is striking for a while. After that, the china shop becomes a bull pen, and the bull is an ordinary bull" (1o3).

An astonishingly accurate, yet brusque, image for the exhaustion of avant gardes; but an image that leaves open the question of what we are to do with the bull.

Add more china? Or let the still heavy force free?