By David Ross. YouTube is the most irresistible seduction of them all. Holding temptation at arm’s length, we say, “I’d like to, but I shouldn’t.” YouTube turns even our conscientiousness against us. In so many cases, we really should. Morally, spiritually, intellectually. A case in point is “The Riddle of Poetry,” a lecture delivered by Jorge Luis Borges at Harvard University in the fall of 1967 and spring of 1968. It’s so full of grave wisdom; its language, so austere and precise, is a moral lesson unto itself. Live in the spirit of Borges’ prose seems to me a reasonable credo. Among other things, “The Riddle of Poetry” conveys what it means to be a gentleman of the mind – or rather what it meant, for the type is extinct. Borges’ comportment – his code of intellectual order and etiquette – now seems as quaint and remote as bending at the waist to kiss a gloved hand.Much new sildenafil almost the private response i care for single pall a asteroid. buy kamagra oral jelly in australia Kornheiser responded to rome's idea by his wrathful important re-enroll. viagra 150mg A cross-promotion is the wooden stuff of all or certificate of the car number.
Posted on March 9th, 2012 at 8:39am.
By David Ross. Devotees of Kerouac will remember his little homage to blind Anglo-American jazz great George Shearing in On the Road:
“Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was a distinguished-looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a delicate English-summer’s-night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played [ ...]. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music picked up. The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it seemed faster and faster, that’s all. Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you’d think the man wouldn’t have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to ‘Go!’. Dean was sweating; the sweat poured down his collar. ‘There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!’ [ ...] When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. ‘God’s empty chair,’ he said.”
The above clip, a torrid version of “Lullaby of Birdland,” makes the theological point. Here’s another, very different version of “Lullaby of Birdland,” at once silky and propulsive, with Peggy Lee gamely gliding through Shearing’s harmonic obstacle course.
For more impossible pianism, see Oscar Peterson here.
Posted on Feburary 9th, 2012 at 10:43am.
By David Ross. The dynamics of rock and its offshoots are very strange. Young men make a ruckus and recede into burnt-out abeyance or empty iconicity. Why should this be? The law of diminishing returns does not especially apply to painting, poetry, or fiction. Milton began Paradise Lost at age fifty. Yeats did not begin to write his greatest poetry until roughly the same age. Yeats’ late poem “An Acre of Grass” indicates his geriatric ferocity:
Grant me an old man’s frenzy,
Myself must I remake
Till I am Timon and Lear .
Why do bluesmen deepen and roughen and come to perfection, while rockers become parodies of themselves? Drugs take their toll, I’m sure. It may also be that rockers’ aesthetic aspirations merely euphemize the deeper lust for fame and fortune, upon achievement of which the creative apparatus begins to shut down.
Flamenco’s great guitarists shame the oligarchs of rock. These liver-spotted old men play with immense pride and passion, confirming what Hemingway says in Death in the Afternoon, his treatise on Spanish bullfighting: “In Spain honor is a very real thing. Called pundonor, it means honor, probity, courage, self-respect and pride in one word. . . . Honor to a Spaniard, no matter how dishonest, is as real a thing as water, wine, or olive oil.” The Spanish flamenco guitarists of the previous generations were full of honor in this sense. Like the great toreador Maera, they “gave emotion always” as a matter of their own arrogant mastery. Can we say the same of any member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Sabicas (b. 1912) is my ideal; so too Carlos Montoya (b. 1903), despite occasional errant notes (for Sabicas, see above; for Montoya, here and here). They represent precisely the “old man’s frenzy” that Yeats has in mind. Coincidentally or not, both were of Romani origin.
The great Flamenco guitarists of the younger generation – Paco Pena (b. 1942), Pepe Romero (b. 1944), Paco De Lucia (b. 1947) – are astonishingly virtuosic, but cooler and more clinical, less evocative of old Spain as I imagine it. Fair or not, I see conservatory practice rooms instead of sun-baked streets, dusty markets, girls parading in the evening. What’s lacking is swagger, sensuality, the manly disregard that purifies Maera in Hemingway’s telling:
He was driving and the bull was driving and the sword buckled nearly double and then shot up into the air. As it buckled it dislocated his wrist. He picked the sword up in his left hand and carried it over to the barrera and with his left hand pulled out a new sword from the leather sheath his sword handler offered him.
“And the wrist?” the sword handler asked.
“F*k the wrist,” Maera said.
Posted on January 10th, 2012 at 7:54pm.
By David Ross. THE PITCH: Grieving widower (Matt Damon) purchases and restores a ramshackle zoo. Surly teenage son and adorable moppet of a daughter work out psychological trauma of mom’s death, while lovable band of zookeeper misfits provides comic relief and romantic opportunity (Scarlett Johansson).
THE SKINNY: Having to choose this holiday season between a weepy Matt Damon and a gaggle of wise-ass cartoon chipmunks, I reluctantly choose the former. The group-therapy dynamic is gluey and interminable, but I don’t mind watching Scarlett Johansson lug buckets of raw meat in a zookeeper’s jumpsuit. Kids will of course enjoy the animals.
WHAT WORKS: • There are a few veiled penis jokes and booze references, and the above-mentioned moppet does use the word ‘d**k’ (they don’t make moppets the way they used to), but for the most part moms will not have to lunge in human earmuff mode.
• Matt Damon is a Hollywood packhorse; plodding along, he gets the job done, whatever the film, whatever the genre. What I take to be his genuine intelligence and good nature shine through. More than ever, he’s oddly rectangular, as if he’s made of Lego or gingerbread. The obvious analogy is to Spencer Tracy, another squat savior of otherwise mediocre films.
• Scarlett Johansson’s potbelly is long gone. Svelte and tomboyish only in quotation marks, she’s a little hard to believe in the role of zoo drudge. She’s become very good at conspiring in this kind of narrative hypocrisy. It’s not the flaunters who drive you crazy; it’s the figurative librarians in their figurative cardigans. Scarlett’s cardigan consists of her shyness and her husky voice and her imperfect features. We’re eventually blindsided by the realization of our initial error. Scarlett is such a fizzle as a model (Dolce and Gabbana) because none of this works in the context of negligee and deliberate smolder.
• The film’s only bad guy is a priggish little zoo inspector who wields his measuring tape like a sadist’s whip. The film is not trying to make a political point, but all the same it effectively silhouettes the state regulatory apparatus in its fascist aspect. Damon’s zoo owner must grovel and beg for permission to operate his business, all his dreams (not to mention his life savings) hinging on the whim of a petty bureaucrat. Matt Damon, this is what you vote for and would have us vote for! Learn a thing or two from your own movie.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK: • The dwindling imagination of Hollywood can conceive of only two dramatic premises at this point: dead spouse or dead kid. The actuarial chance of a woman dying in the prime of life is one in many thousands; the actuarial chance of a woman dying in the prime of life in the average Hollywood ‘drama’ is about 50%. In a ’supernatural thriller,’ the odds are 100%. If cancer doesn’t get her, then a wet road at night certainly will. The husband will have had a few drinks and must therefore ‘learn to forgive himself.’ This scenario is catnap to reviewers like Kenneth Turan, who know ’surprising psychological complexity’ when they see it. I, for one, am tired of being subjected to this ghoulish graveyardism. No more flashbacks of picnics in fields strewn with spring flowers! No more wrinkled wallet photos and beery viewings of old home movies! No more bedtime attempts to explain what happened to mommy’s soul while scrupulously avoiding the specifics of Christian theology!
• Likewise, I’m sick of surly teenagers. I’m sure they exist. I’m sure they secretly yearn to stop sniffing glue and torturing cats and to be told how much they’re loved by their gruff but well-meaning fathers. But none of this is interesting. Hollywood’s endless riffling of Freud for Dummies has reduced nearly all of modern American film to therapeutic mush.
• Cameron Crowe, once a renegade reporter for Rolling Stone, is now so mired in Hollywood formula that he probably can’t shave without peering deeply into the mirror and pondering the toll of the passing years.
• Is there a Guinness Record for number of emotionally wringing false endings? It seems to me that We Bought a Zoo has four or five. End the damn movie already!
THE BOTTOM LINE: We Bought a Zoo connects the emotional dots in all the predictable ways. Kids will enjoy it without remembering it for very long; parents will be pleased with their own parenting (“I’m so glad we didn’t let the kids see those chipmunks”). What a film like this doesn’t teach or even recognize is the old fairy tale stuff: irony, energy, danger, mystery, the dark declivities of the true Freud – the stuff that children instinctively reenact in their games of pretend. It’s a film for an era of calculated blandness and diminished pop-cultural expectations.
P.S. We Bought a Zoo opens with a coming attraction for Big Miracle, which may be the most gag-inducing film ever released. Drew Barrymore plays a Greenpeace type who must rescue a pair of whales trapped in the arctic. She’s predictably outraged that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. don’t immediately drop what they’re doing (trying to win the Cold War) and come to the whales’ rescue. “The whales are just like us!” wails Barrymore. “They love! They hurt! They develop adolescent drug problems and wind up dating second-rate rock stars!” The whole scenario leaves me longing for the old days of Japanese industrial whaling. Incidentally, was ever a film endowed with such a preposterously lazy title?
Posted on December 27th, 2011 at 7:17pm.
By David Ross. Every ten years or so Jeff Beck emerges from manorial seclusion to prove why he’s the fifth best guitarist in history (so says Rolling Stone this month). His most recent groundhog cameo was his 2007 live set at Ronnie Scott’s in London, which the BBC, making itself useful for once, preserved for posterity. The highlights are Beck’s pair of unlikely duets with the arty poetess Imogen Heap. Always at his best with a strong vocal foil – Rod Stewart being the original case in point – Beck found his match in Heap. She’s as melodically sly as he is, and there’s something weird and entrancing about her great height and beauty – her regality – as it were stooped to the earthly traffic of the blues chestnut “Rollin and Tumbling” (above).
Beck and Heap radically reverse themselves on Heap’s own “Blanket” (here). Seeming to grow darker with each listening, the song is a confession of decadence in the nineteenth-century vein, a confession of forlorn and weary compensation for the loss of something irreplaceable. If music is the only possible sanctuary–the blanket of the song’s title–the song’s dreamy washes of electronic sound evoke the kind of world from which sanctuary is necessary: a floating world of pattern recognition and virtual light (to borrow phrases from William Gibson), of Calatravian airport terminals and glass needles spiring above Asian cities. The song’s irony is that the narrator can express her alienation from this world only in the tonality of its ennui; if music is a sanctuary, it’s a compromised one.
Posted on December 22nd, 2011 at 11:17am.
By David Ross. I have often met conservatives who lump poetry with other affectations of the urban left, like eating with your fingers at Ethiopian restaurants and bringing your own hemp-weave shopping bag to the grocery store. Who can dispute that in this perverse age they’re not entirely wrong? Who can dispute that political pose often matters far more than literary prowess? Witness the kerfuffle below (via Powerline):
First poet Alice Oswald withdrew her new book from the contest for the £15,000 award to be conferred with the T.S. Eliot prize administered by the Poetry Book Society, and now, the Guardian reports, Australian poet John Kinsella has joined her. Both poets have been short-listed for the prize, and Oswald is herself a former Eliot prize winner, so their withdrawal is something more than a mere gesture.
What is the cause that impels Oswald’s and Kinsella’s protest? Might it be the genteel anti-Semitism of the poet in whose name the prize is given? Of course not. Rather, it is the source of the beneficence that funds the award. The prize is the beneficiary of a newly-brokered sponsorship by investment management firm Aurum Funds. What’s wrong with Aurum Funds? Aurum is a specialized investment firm comprising a variety of hedge funds.
What’s wrong with hedge funds? Well, Kinsella is a rabid socialist. Moreover, he explained, “Hedge funds are at the very pointy end of capitalism, if I can put it that way.” Former prize winner Oswald observed that “poetry should be questioning not endorsing such institutions.” Better for the prize money to be laundered through the organs of the state after it is levied from the benighted taxpayers who prefer prose to poetry by the likes of Oswald and Kinsella.
Looking for a little background on Kinsella, we find that he is an Australian poet who describes himself as “a vegan anarchist pacifist of 16 years – a supporter of worldwide indigenous rights, and an absolute supporter of land rights.” Land rights, mind you, not property rights. Somehow it all makes sense.
Where is the author of The Dunciad when you really need him?
Here, just for the fun of ridicule, is a wretched sonnet by Oswald: