Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Personal Music, Part 2

a photo of the 55 Bar from another night

Yesterday afternoon, Tom and I and Kelsey's mother Easy loaded Bix into her car seat and headed for the city. Less than an hour later we were parked in front of the Lederhosen Bar, where Easy bought a container of goulash soup to take with us to Kelsey's gig at the 55 Bar (their website HERE).

Greenwich Village.

Just before we stepped down to the door of the place, I glanced to the right. The next-door neighbor is the Stonewall Inn.

Christopher Street.

Of course.

The 55 Bar, Tom explained, is located at the heart of much of the city's jazz scene. Just across the street is the Garage, which claims it has the most live jazz in the city (Tom's big band has played there). Half a block up another street is Arthur's Tavern, another jazz place. Not far is Fat Cat, where Tom has also played.

We settled in to some food and drink while Kelsey did her sound check. Several people came over to say hello to Tom, surprised he was up and out so soon. Remains a mystery to me: just 4 weeks out from valve replacement surgery.

And then the early show was on: Kelsey Jillette's American Project with guitar, bass, percussion, and Kelsey. [Along with other video's, including one from Tom's BigBangBigBand, there's a video of one song from last night HERE -- (to hear just the video, turn down the music playing to the left)] They started with an arrangement of Paul Simon's "Slipsliding Away" that almost eased me right off my seat. Kelsey's voice, especially in it's lower registers, is deadly.

The set continued; but Bix got a little too happy and I slipped her into her snowsuit and we slipslid out for a walk.

Around a few corners and a few more and there we were, approaching the bar again. Eight or nine guys standing in front of the Stonewall Inn looked us over and broke into big smiles when then they saw Bix's big eyes taking them in. "Ahhhhhhh" one of them said. "It's true," I said.

During the second set, Easy took Bix out while I enjoyed the music. And then it was 9 and the gig was done.

On our way past Arthur's Tavern Tom looked through the window and saw a saxophonist he recognized. We stepped in, he gave a big wave, and off we went, up the West Side to the Henry Hudson and then over the Harlem River to the Merritt Parkway and we were home in the other Greenwich Village.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Personal Music

My son Tom recently had a valve replaced in his heart, three decades after the first surgery. He and his wife Kelsey are both professional jazz musicians based in Brooklyn; but for the recovery, they and their baby -- six-month-old Bix -- are in Greenwich, Connecticut, enjoying the hospitality of Kelsey's mother Easy, at Easy's pony farm: Kelsey Farm.

I'm here to take up some of the slack after Tom's mother covered the first weeks.

Day by day Tom finds himself back into his profession: first his alto sax, then his clarinet, and yesterday his bassoon. Last night, preparing to play a 1920's Conn alto sax, he laid out these three beauties. The light took my breath way. As does Tom's recovery.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I've been thinking about the appropriate form for a life, thoughts that are reflected in these first pages of the latest version of my text:




Scott Abbott

For John (Jay)

it can fool me but once
my grandmother used to say
death can fool me only once
then it’ll be my turn to laugh
Alex Caldiero

And our faces, my heart, brief as photos.
John Berger

“. . . nothing returns from what has been destroyed, nothing is reborn, neither dead men, nor burned libraries, nor submerged lighthouses, nor extinct species, despite the museums commemorations statues books speeches good will, of things that have gone only a vague memory remains. . . .”
Mathias Énard

To confess wrong without losing rightness
Ezra Pound

This is not a memoir.
The story is uncertain.
The characters are in flux.
The voices are plural.
The photographs are as troubled as the prose.
This is not a memoir.

I - Autopsy
II - 5 Degrees Before Top Dead Center 
     Green-and-Tan Notebook #1 
III - The Albanian Smiled
     Yellow Notebook
IV - Variations on Desire
     Green-and-Tan Notebook #2
V - Horror Vacui                                                                                         

     Blue Notebook
VI - A Dry Quill on Rough Paper     
     Blue-and-Tan Notebook

VII - Epilogue

Sunday, January 15, 2012

CONSUMER CRIME: pd mallamo's novella" Sol Niger"

Spent a sunny afternoon reading your "Sol Niger."
It's a wild ride, funny and deeply depressing and so completely foreign that I was right at home (Freud's uncanny/unheimlich).
Holy shit! How do you do this?
Who the hell are you that you can think your way into lives like this?
I mean the TV lives. The stairstepper lives. 
And, of course, the war-strewn African immigrants' lives and speech patterns and histories and wide-eyed incredulous witness of self-inflicted American idiocies and humiliations.
Not to mention the pigs' lives.
I'm so proud, after reading this, to be an all-consuming AMERICAN.
So proud to be from the PEOPLE of DONNY and MITT and MADOFF.

"Hero's journey thru the discount store that is America
tattoo, lingerie, quick-loan, cigarette, liquor, peepshow, divorce
TV-gay Japanese vampire chipmunk ninjas from outer space with stigmata in
similitude of chipmunk Jesus. . . ."

Holy evangelical methsnorting homophobic shit.

"His hope lay in the possibility, which occurred to him one evening while remembering the hippo, that an answer lay between the two extremes -- between 'there is' and 'there is not.' In fact, the answer may be in the inquiry itself, irrespective of outcome. Or the answer may be somewhere in the hit program Dancing With The Stars which Beeko L.A. never misses. The sight of inflexibly married Mormon Donny Osmond grinding hips with a half-naked showgirl in front of twenty-million rapturously fanatical American Evangelical Christian television viewer who vote him 'Winner!' certainly puts frisson into the larger quest of a public god."

I'm turning off the TV.
Sticking with beer.
Staying away from Dostoevsky and Judge Judy.
Driving a souped-down Subaru.
Eating only chicken.
Avoiding hippos.
And writing short declarative sentences for fear of all-consuming consumer contagion.

With admiration for your meth-producing Achilles Muckelroy who "is an indispensable component in that extraordinary symbiosis identified by its fullest flower only in America, where distributors, users, police, courts, legions of lawyers, full divisions of psychologists, prisons and prison guards, boutique detox spas, rehabilitation centers, DEA, weapon manufacturers, gun shops, car dealers, jewelry shops, banks and investment houses (some but by no means all offshore) depend on producers like him for a great deal more than just a nodding percentage of their very livelihoods."


. . . pd mallamo's story in GRANTA:

Sign of the Gun

He buys a thrice-wrecked Maule in Alaska after his second season in the business, a brown-and-white STOL tail-dragger that doesn’t look like much but gets off the ground in 200 feet. He sells his truck and most of his things, stuffs the rest into the airplane and leaves Georgia forever.
With a new set of topos he scouts north-west New Mexico for a week before he sees his spot, an abandoned airstrip with a wobbly hangar on the lip of a deep canyon just off the Navajo reservation. He wonders at its purpose all those years ago, the runway so short and close to the canyon’s edge it may have been for helicopters instead of fixed-wing. Now sage grows through the pavement and tumbleweed piles against the west side of the shed. The desert is full of old strips. For his purpose this is the best.
The maps indicate springs nearby. A self-published guidebook written by a hippy explorer forty years earlier says they are good springs. In a thousand square miles he’s seen nobody and figures he is alone.
His back story, if he needs one, involves aerial mapping for the United Nations Cultural Agency. Uncharted Anasazi settlements detectable only from the air are scattered widely across the long red waste.
In truth he is a grower of high-grade marijuana for certain young lawyers in New York City who prefer organic, sun-grown bud, preferably from a desert with a whiff of Castaneda. He’ll call his crop Verse of Eden and should anyone care to read the fine print on the packaging he’ll describe it as That Which the Lord in His Infinite Wisdom Hath Brought Forth for the Joy and Benefit of Mankind. Like the prophets of old the desert makes his plant purer and stronger, altogether unlike that grown in the feeble artifice of civilization.
You are going to be lonely for a while, he says to himself at six p.m. on a Thursday and orbits the field three times before dropping in like he’s crashing, just beyond the edge of the canyon he’ll fall back into when he takes off again. He stops abruptly before a dilapidated hangar, cuts the engine, opens the door. Footsteps absurdly loud in the deep silence, he walks through the ruined old building, returns to the plane for a pair of leather gloves and commences rearranging.
The plane barely fits, with all the falling-down junk inside. He jockeys it in with a hand winch and goddamnit. He figures the shed has weathered many big winds so he’s not too concerned with structural integrity, but just in case shores up two pillars with four-bys and wire he finds on the ground. He plugs the engine where it needs plugging and covers from prop to wings with a waterproof tarp cinched tight at the bottom but cut for the doors. He lowers a light dirt bike, fuel and oil, provisions and grower supplies from the packed-tight fuselage and passenger side, jacks up the rear of the craft to make it level, removes the passenger seat, lays his bed out, then, further back, checks the germination of his seed in the damp folds of the bluetowels.
[for the rest of the story click HERE]

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Photograms by Flowerville

The Flowerville blogger writes about books, books in Dutch, German, French, English, Greek, Italian, etc. She writes about books as if they matter personally. She wrestles with them intellectually and emotionally. She also photographs them (books).

The writing and photography can be found on her blog: http://fortlaufen.blogspot.com/
and on this flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/flowerville/

And, if you were to come visit, I'd show you a few photograms that arrived in the mail yesterday. Flowerville makes the images with photographic paper, flowers, light, and then developing chemicals. It's an old process Henry Talbot practiced.

My scans aren't as good as the originals or the digital reproductions you can see at the flickr site; but they'll give you a sense for what I think is an amazing art form. Click on the photos for a larger image.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Walking the Fence Line, Feeling Alive and Mortal

Blue and I walk along this fence once and sometimes twice a day. This morning we made tracks in the light snow; a week or two ago there was no snow. Same steep hill. Same barbed-wire fence. Shifting contexts.

There are a couple of deer paths that intersect the fence, and the deer sometimes leave hair behind (see the snow crystals gathered around the hair in the third photo here)—like their tracks, signs of their passing (Blue can, of course, scent other potent signs of their having been here).

At one point on our faint trail I have to duck low under an overhanging maple branch. This morning as I was about to duck down, I noticed a long grey hair caught on the bare branch.

It was mine, a sign of my having passed here. A sign of time past, of time having passed, of always impending mortality. Made me feel alive.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


The new year begins with old thoughts provoked by one of Paul's letters in the New Testament. I quote from notes I made in the late 1990's while thinking about my brother John, his homosexuality, and my own homophobia:

For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. . . . Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.

 Following Paul's lead, conditioned by his biases and the prejudices of a Christian nation, our parents helped pass along, or allowed to be passed along, part and parcel with their conservative stability, a subtle racism. I had to confront this again a few weeks ago, waiting at a streetlight. Around the corner came a car with a black male driver and a white female passenger sitting intimately close to him. My stomach turned.
A bowl of nuts for the holiday season: hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, and nigger toes. That’s what I grew up calling them.
Standing next to the east goal post of the football field at Hermosa Jr. High, a fellow seventh-grader gleefully and perhaps maliciously informed me there were creatures in the world called “homaphrodites.” Incredulous, yet believing, I instinctively acted to brace up my crumbling world, erecting the first, but not last, phobic pillars to protect me from those hitherto unknown, still faceless, but now named “homos.”
Dad taught science and math at the junior-high school before he became principal. As a science teacher he had access to mercury and to our delight he brought home plastic vials of it. We split it into quivering masses with our fingers and raced heavy blobs down inclines. Dimes, when rubbed with mercury, glistened like new silver.                             
 BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) --
Drips and drabs of silvery mercury led officials to about 3 pounds of mercury sitting in a dorm room at Florida Atlantic University, forcing the evacuation of 187 students. The toxic metallic element, which attacks the lungs and central nervous system, was in a bottle labeled “mercury” with a hand-drawn skull and crossbones.

Families can be toxic with the best of intentions. A threatening letter written during an election in which another Romney was running for President of the United States gives ample context for my own family's religiously based racism (see inserts).

[from the Boston Globe]

Not long after Stapley warned George Romney not to mess with the racial order set up by God, these notes from an experience at BYU, 1968:
A cold night. January or February. I stand with friends outside Brigham Young University’s “Smith Family Living Center.” Students are dancing inside the plate-glass windows. A young black man approaches, looks into the building, moves on.
I know him, someone claims. He’s LDS. Must be lonely. Can’t hold the priesthood. Can’t marry in the temple. Seed of Cain. Curse of Ham.
We enter the Family Living Center, join the dancers. His testimony of the true gospel, I think, commits him to a difficult life now; but in the eternities. . . . My mind skids to the warm, firm thighs of the tall girl from Idaho who is holding me as close as I her.

And another set of notes:
Rodney Barker’s book, The Broken Circle, about the murders and civil unrest in my home town, Farmington, New Mexico, takes me back to additional origins of my racism. Most surprising is a 1975 Civil Rights Commission assessment of the events following the torture and murder of several Navajo men by boys in my high school. 
            There were large demonstrations against anglo insensitivity to the case, a case that resulted in the killers being sent to reform school till they turned eighteen.
            The Mayor of Farmington in 1974, just a few months in office when the marches began, was also the LDS Stake President. He was a family friend. He did what he could to manage the situation. He held meetings with the protestors. He tried to explain that the three boys didn’t represent the rest of Farmington’s Anglo population. Their abbreviated sentences to juvenal reform school were not evidence of racism, but products of technicalities of the law.
The Mayor could not understand why the Navajos were so riled up. To understand, he would have had to oppose the society he represented, the culture that had made him. That made me.
When “The Farmington Report” finally appeared, concluding that investigators had found ample evidence of racism, discrimination, and brutality against Navajos, Mayor Webb’s frustration was manifest:
 This is a typical example of how the ever-growing cancer of bureaucracy is dominating and directing our country and the lives of its citizens. . . . This commission would appear to want to drag each of us down to the level of the lowest common denominator and obviously is advancing the cause of socialism in this country. They advocate that government fill all of the needs of the individual rather than achievement through individual effort. This would be impossible to finance and completely contrary to the American way of life, and the greatness achieved through the free enterprise system and self-achievement of the individual.

Sterling Black, chairman of the Advisory Committee, responded with frustrations of his own:
There appears to be little awareness on the part of the general population or elected public officials of the complex social and economic problems. . . . Navajos are aware of the indignities and injustices, and want something done to better the situation. . . . [Unfortunately, they hear only that] there are no problems existing, people in this town get along very well with each other, there are no indignities, there are no injustices, and there is nothing to be done to remedy these complaints.

Some Final Thoughts:
My years in high school and at BYU during the sixties and early seventies were sheltered years flavored by an unrelenting political conservatism. In that world, the civil rights movement was a Communist front. William Dibble, a decent Mormon painter, began to dabble in abstraction sometime about mid-century. The Dean of Fine Arts at BYU thought it prudent to warn him: Bill, you are flirting with apostasy and are on the brink of Communism.