Upon arrival in Casablanca Plume remembered that he had errands to run. That was why he left his valise on the bus. He would return to collect it after taking care of more pressing matters. He went to the Hotel Atlantic.
Instead of booking a room, however, he deemed it wiser attend to his financial affairs. He asked for the address of the Societe Generale.
He walked over to the bank, presented his card to a customer service agent, and was shown into the office of an assistant vice-president. But he did not pull out his letters of credit, for no sooner did he take the proffered seat than he decided it would make better sense to acquaint himself first with the principal sights of Bousbir, the Arab quarter, with its Moorish cafes, as no one should leave “Casa” without seeing a belly dance, though to be sure the dancers are Jewish, not Muslim. He was given the name of a fashionable cafe, took a cab there and was sitting with a dancer in his lap, ordering aperitifs, when he realized that all this bustle was foolish. Given the strain of travel, the time change, and the different climate, to which the traveler is unaccustomed, wouldn’t he be well-advised to fortify himself before doing anything else? With this thought in mind he headed off to the Beer King, a restaurant in the new city, and was about to be seated, when it occurred to him that it’s not enough to wine and dine when you travel, you’ve also got to make sure that everything’s in order for the following day. Rather than cavort like a sultan at restaurants and bars, you should exercise prudence and obtain a timetable for the ship you’ll be boarding tomorrow.
That would be time well spent. And off to accomplish this task he went when it struck his fancy to check out the customs area. There are some days when they won’t let so much as a box of matches through, and if such an item is found in your possession, on your person or in your baggage, you’ll be in hot water.
On the way, he recalled reading somewhere that many boards of health are run by quacks who prevent people in perfect health from boarding ship. That being the case, he had to admit it would be shrewd to show up now, in shirt sleeves, as though for rowing practice, full of vigor despite the evening chill. This was what he was engaged in doing when the police in their vigilance questioned him, listened to his answers and, from that moment on, never let him go.
-- Henri Michaux (trans. David Lehman)
As part of the 2013 PSA National Series, Yet Do I Marvel:Black Iconic Poets of the 20th Century, and on the occasion of the publication by Library of America of Countee Cullen: Collected Poems, the Poetry Society of America has teamed with the Woodlawn Conservancy to pay tribute to this iconic poet. Steps away from Cullen's own burial site, Collected editor Major Jackson and poets Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Robin Coste Lewis will read poems in tribute to Cullen; With musical performances by the stunning mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran joined by guitarist Brandon Ross.
Co-sponsored by the Woodlawn Conservancy.
Free and open to the public.
I tend not to like other people’s poetry prompts. They remind me of the saccharine voices of meditation coaches urging me to go to my happy place. To me, that always sounds like a euphemism for a body part or two. If I want to feel relaxed I put on the right music, or take a long run. If I want to write a poem, it has to be on a topic that I find downright fascinating. I also thrive on having an assignment, a deadline, a thing that needs doing today and not tomorrow.
If you’re the same way, maybe my poetic to-do list will be of use to you. Some of these I have tried and need to try again, some I’ve tried and are unprintable (see #3) and some I should be doing right now instead of blogging. (Why do you think they call them prompts? Because they should be done promptly, of course!) I hope you have fun with them.
The good news is that Ithaca, NY was rated the smartest city in America. The bad news, well, it isn't really bad news, but wait till you examine the criteria used -- and consider the messenger: the Daily Mail.
But here's the lead:
Ithaca in upstate New York was honored as the smartest city in America after a lengthy study that used brain games to evaluate the intelligence of people across the country.
State College, Pennsylvania came in second place and Lafayette, Indiana in third.
Luminosity, a company that developed the test for the study, came up with five different types of mind games that they feel determines a person's level of intellect.
Here's a link to the Daily Mail piece and this link will take you to some more propaganda about the San Francisco outfit called Lumosity, which came up with the study and rhymes with pompousity. The "vintage" photo of Cornell comes straight from the British newspaper. This priceless press-release paragraph combines the charm of tautology with the sadistic pleasure that academics enjoy when they state the obvious with more syllables than needed and with the aroma of the laboratory in the air.
“One of the most interesting findings from this analysis is that most of the top metro areas contain major research universities, suggesting that education is an important predictor of cognitive performance,” Lumosity data scientist Daniel Sternberg said in a statement. “Neuroscience research has found that those who are engaged in learning and cognitively stimulating activities throughout the lifetime build up a ‘cognitive reserve’ that helps maintain and improve cognitive performance.”
In his collection Poet in New York, “Lorca saw New York’s beauty and grittiness and speaks of all these things,” noted Patti Smith, at her intimate tribute concert to the deceased poet. “His poems [in the collection] are a window into the freedom he felt here." On Wednesday, June 5, Smith performed at the Bowery Ballroom as part of the ongoing citywide celebration of Lorca.
Ironically New York has struggled with its own vitriolic persecution of individuals within the LGBT community by rogue miscreants of late.
Smith has long drawn inspiration from Lorca’s public struggle. “We must cherish our right to speak,” she said. “Our voice is the one thing we have and we must preserve it.”
Smith’s words of buoyancy and encouragement were met with applause from the packed ballroom, though it was hard to know how many audience members were there celebrating Lorca and how many were merely charged up in the presence of the famed rocker.
“I’ll let his words speak for themselves,” said Smith, before introducing a lineup of close friends to read some of the poet’s work, and prior to regaling the audience with a performance of her own.
Smith’s friends included a young man she met in a train station, a girl she met on the street, a college friend from whom she occasionally stole food before their friendship truly took off and Lorca’s own niece. Lenny Kaye, a current member of the Patti Smith group, also offered a reading.
Artist Oliver Ray, noted, “reading Poet in New York is like reading about a person from the Spanish countryside being challenged by the machinery of the town.”
“He was like a plane going too fast,” said Ray.
Another added reading Lorca’s poetry was like discovering he not only owned, but invented the moon (the highest of compliments to a poet).
Smith also drew parallels between Lorca’s struggle and that of groups like Pussy Riot and the current upheaval in Istanbul.
“Young people are persecuted everywhere,” said Smith. “We can’t let this happen. They fucking own everything, they won’t own our voice.”
I miss the cicadas. Is anybody with me here? I miss the last, most beautiful, garish, carnagey stage of them the most. I miss the mullioned wings, with the orange edges, that lay on the sidewalk squares as I walked the kids to school a few mornings this week. Every two or three sidewalk squares, we'd see a couple, shining like found coins. of What explained that, we wondered.
Then I saw the answer in action, a sparrow, pulling a cicada wing from wing, bit by bit. The wings were the first to go. Most everything else seemed to get eaten, though some parts took longer than others. There was a sparrow midden at the side of our patio, eight wings in a foot-square patch of lawn, four bugs that are no longer with us, but weren’t going to be with us for long anyway.
My favorite image of cicadas is the wing on the ground, with the condensation on its underside, upside down dew rising on to a wing, with the droplets all self-contained and globular and iridescent and perfect, like raindrops on a lady’s mantle leaf.
What is getting fat off cicadas this year, I wondered? Are the sparrows having more chicks, the way squirrel broods increase when the acorn mast surges? Is the lawn going to be greener from having the wings fertilize it? From what I've read, wild turkeys are having a protein-filled year this year, while voles had a good year last year, when the larvae were plumpest, almost ready to emerge.
And how do the larvae know when 17 winters have passed? Do they grow 1/17th of a pupae each year? Is there some way a bug learned to count to 17? Why don’t separate teams of cicadas arrive every 17 years, so we’d have a 17-year hatch every year, just staggered a bit? What is evolutionarily adaptive about living underground, in pupae form, for almost two decades?
There was a cicada wing in the shower this morning. It may have been tossed in there by my nine-year-old son, trying to gross me out – he could’ve carried it in after dunking his head in the barrel we were using for the water gun fight. I hope it sticks around for a few more days.
We only get about five such outbreaks of these UFO-imitating, chorusing bugs. I was 33 the last time they came out, and living in the northwest, missing the show. I was 16 before that, oblivious and in New Jersey. I will be 67 next time, then, with any luck, 84 and maybe even 101. Bless the red-eyed, buzzing creatures for puzzling us, and for making us check our inner watches, and pay attention.
(photo by Kristine Paulus)
For today's post, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Walzer, whose WordTech Communications poetry press has six imprints: Cherry Grove Collections, CW Books, David Robert Books, Textos Books, Turning Point, Word Poetry and WordTech Editions. They have published my two poetry books, and it's instructive to hear about the inner workings of an independent press that puts out more books per year than most other houses, despite the challenges facing the publishing industry. Here's Kevin:
What inspired you to start WordTech Communications?
My wife Lori Jareo and I started the company in the late 1990s intending it to be a business name for freelance editorial work, as we both worked in writing and publishing fields. We added poetry publishing in 2000, intending to do one poetry book per year; I had earned a Ph.D. in creative writing/poetry but was working in the business world because of the poor job market in academe, and I wanted to keep my hand in poetry. One book per year led to a few books per year and then several, and by 2003 we had grown to the point where we went full-time with poetry publishing, and we will be celebrating a decade of full-time publishing this year.
What distinguishes you from other presses?
We publish more than 40 books per year, all poetry, which makes us one of the largest poetry publishers in the U.S. in terms of number of titles. We are one of the few independent poetry presses in operation, meaning that we are unaffiliated with a university, arts organization, or some other institution, and we are a for-profit press, accepting no outside grants or subsidies and surviving on our book sales. We were also one of the first poetry presses to fully embrace using print-on-demand technology instead of traditional offset press runs for our books, which has allowed us to better manage our publishing expenses.
Some days the poetry goes fine, some days not so fine, but one recent day was a gold mine, thanks entirely to the internet. Though there are times I just turn off the wireless rather than be tempted to google every last bit of potentially relevant detail for a line, I am so glad I kept it running. I felt like I’d been out on a fabulous shopping trip, where the end result wasn’t expensive clothes that may or may not settle well into the wardrobe, but words. Free, new, potentially ever-so-useful words.
I had one piece of inspiration, based on my favorite hobby. (I've found over the years that hobbies can make for very, very useful poem fodder.) I'd found a quote I’d gleaned over the weekend from a magazine, Knitting Traditions, about how young Latvian women filled their hope chests with hundreds of mittens, to give as gifts to their in-laws and to the groom’s family’s hearth, livestock, well, bushes, orchards, and yes, beehives.
This week we welcome back Tina Kelley as our guest blogger. Tina Kelley’s second collection of poetry, Precise, was published by Word Press in January 2013. She is the co-author of Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope, a nationally best-selling book about six homeless young people and the forces that sent them to the street, published by Wiley in October 2012. She was a reporter at The New York Times for ten years, shared in a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service Journalism for being a part of the Times’ coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks, and wrote 121 “Portraits of Grief,” short descriptions of the victims. Her first book of poems, The Gospel of Galore, (Word Press, 2003) won a Washington State Book Award. She is on the staff of Covenant House and lives in Maplewood, NJ with her husband and two children. Find out more about Tina here. Follow her on Twitter @tinakelley and Facebook.
First, I salute David for this beautiful essay. There is no doubt that he could have been a great sportswriter, and as this piece shows, it's not too late either. I have been inspired to offer a few thoughts.
First, as the editors of the NY Times have themselves acknowledged, a weakness of the paper has always been the failure to develop a really good sports section. Red Smith was certainly the best columnist they ever had, but as I think John Stuart Mill once said in another connection (or perhaps it was said about John Stuart Mill) "his eminence reveals the flatness of the surrounding terrain." Apparently there is some basic contradiction between the unique identity of the NY Times and the sports section of a newspaper. It's hard to imagine writers like Jim Murray, Jimmy Cannon, or David Condon publishing in the New York Times. That's life.
A.J. Liebling was one of those writers I wanted to like and the topics he wrote about seemed interesting, but I was completely disappointed in him. Whether he was writing about boxing, eating, or (especially) the city of Chicago, I sensed that in those days New Yorker writers must have been paid by the word. Just terrible. But he's still vastly better than Joseph Mitchell, another New Yorker writer whom I wanted to like. Joseph Mitchell is really the worst.
Onward. I am not free to disclose my sources, but the legendary collapse of the Chicago Cubs in 1969, which allowed the Mets to win the pennant, was caused in large part by a feud between Cubs manager Leo Durocher and Cubs third baseman Ron Santo -- both of them megalomaniacs. There were eleven games left in the season and I believe the Cubs only had to win one of them in order to get the pennant, but the Cubs lost them all. Something like that. Durocher's stepson was in my class when I was a seventh grade gym teacher that Fall, and he was really a great kid. It was certainly a difficult situation for him. We never spoke about what was happening during "the collapse."
Marciano, LaMotta, Graziano, Basilio, Joey Giardello, those guys were like Roman legionaries. Basilio and Giardello were boxers to some extent but the others were brawlers like gladiators with short swords. Marciano had wanted to be a baseball player more than a boxer. His advantage was that he loved to train. Heavyweights in that era weighed about 185 pounds, which was Marciano's weight. This continued up through Floyd Patterson's reign. Against Sonny Liston and the 220 pound men who followed him, Marciano would have definitely lost. A big heart can take you only so far.
Lots of matches from the postwar era and before can be seen on YouTube. Viewing them can only increase one's admiration for men like Mickey Walker, Archie Moore, Harry Greb, Benny Leonard, and many more. And no one knows more about the history of boxing than Mike Tyson. What a pleasure it would be to hear Mike speak about that! I know he has great admiration for Battling Nelson, although (or maybe because) Battling Nelson did lose 30 fights.
Ali became a great fighter and destroyed himself in the process. But I find it hard to listen to people rhapsodize about Ali when they don't really know anything else about the sport. The same thing happens regarding Secretariat. Citizen Joe is aware of Secretariat's dominant victory in the Belmont race. But Joe doesn't lament the fact that Secretariat was never tested beyond his third year. I think Secretariat only ran against older horses twice, and lost once. Not sure about that. Citation, in contrast, ran through age five. But the greatest horses were the geldings who had to keep running until they could hardly walk: Kelso, John Henry, Forego.
Blah, blah. It's impossible to make a "safe" football helmet. Baseball is the best invention America has produced. The baseball rule book is a stunningly great piece of writing. If a foul ball lodges in the catcher's mask, is it considered a catch? Jimmy Breslin's bio of Damon Runyon is a masterpiece. Blah, blah. Hank Stram is a badly underrated pro football coach. Bobby Fischer is in a category by himself but I more admire Michael Tal. Ultra-distance runner Pam Reed is the toughest athlete on Earth. The late Alex Karras went to Emerson High School in Gary IN. Blah blah. Football players with unique names include Cosmo Iacavazzi (Princeton), Elvis Peacock (Oklahoma), and Joe Don Looney (Oklahoma). Blah, blah, blah.
Here's a funny video of Hank Stram coaching the KC Chiefs. The coach knew he was wearing a microphone but the players did not. They couldn't understand why he was acting like he had ants in his pants.
Now some people, unaware of my purposes, play right into my hands, sit opposite me in a grease joint, stay a while, pick their teeth, they want to eat.
Here’s one now.
Notice how swiftly I grab him by the collar. Pow! Then I do it again. Bam! Pow!
Then I hang him on the coat rack. Unhang him. Hang him. Unhang him.
Then I toss him on the table, hit him, kick him, choke him. I mean, I beat the shit out of him.
Then I spit on him. I flood him with my spit.
I rinse him off, I stretch him out (by now I’m losing interest, this is going on too long), I crumple him up, squeeze him dry, roll him into a ball which I drop into my glass. Then I lift it in the air and spill it on the floor. “Waiter, get me a clean glass, will you?”
But I’m too fagged out, I pay the bill in a hurry and leave without another word.
– Henri Michaux (“Mes Occupations”) translated by David Lehman. Published in Conduit.
RELEASES #81-94 (2007-2012)
81. The Dub Room Special! (CD, Zappa Records ZR 20006, August 24, 2007)
This is the soundtrack for a television program FZ put together in 1974 called "A Token of His Extreme." This planned show was released on DVD for the first time only recently.
However, the basic television broadcast was actually one of the very first video projects released by FZ's home label, Honker Home Video, and was entitled "The Dub Room Special." It featured FZ in a video mixing room (wearing the bizarre "stereo" helmet seen on the cover!) and moving between clips of the '74 band at KCET and the '81 band (Palladium, NYC, Halloween '81).
As stated above (#20), comparing the "Inca Roads" here with what ended up on the album is both instructive and awesome...
82. Wazoo (2CD, Vaulternative VR 2007-2, October 31, 2007)
A special document of an underappreciated and very much under-represented-by-recordings era.
FZ introduces the band:
... [Well, here we are in Boston, ladies and gentlemen. Just to fill you in on some of the zaniness that took place earlier this] ... afternoon. In the process of examining the stage to make sure that it was fit for human consumption, these large objects over here on the side with the horns on top of 'em—you know those speakers there?—they fell over backwards and completely mangled Jay Migliori's woodwind instruments. So Mr. Migliori is at a certain disadvantage this evening. We just thought we'd let you know. Fortunately, Mr. Migliori was not sitting there when the cabinets went down, so that part's okay.
Well, now that we got that over with, I'd like to introduce the rest of the lads in the band—and the ladies in the band—to all of you here.
Let's start up in the top, with trumpet number one, Malcolm McNab. And the indispensible Salvator Marquez. And on pygmy trumpet and tuba, Tom Malone. And Bruce Fowler on trombone. And Glenn "hands up, face to the wall" Ferris on trombone. And Kenny "always jovial" Shroyer on trombone. And Ruth "also jovial" Underwood on marimba. That's a jovial little marimba. And Tom "with one smashed hand" Raney on congas.
And, over here in the wind section, you already know Jay. Play something, Jay. That one works. And Mike Altschul. Ray "The Phantom" Reed. Charles "up and down" Owens. Joann Caldwell McNab. Earle Dumler. Wait, wait. Try that one again. Can you hear him? That's a little bit better, yeah. Just a minute now. Jerry Kessler on cello. Ian Underwood on keyboards, et cetera. Jim Gordon on drums. Dave Parlato on bass. And Tony Duran on slide guitar.
Red Smith would never have predicted that the illustrious Library of America would collect the columns he typed on short deadlines for the New York Herald Tribune, publish them lovingly in the new book American Pastimes, and dub him "America's greatest sportswriter." The involvement of the Library of America -- which has published two volumes by A. J. Liebling, including The Sweet Science, his masterly book on boxing -- reflects the growing recognition of sportswriting as a craft and Smith's elevated standing in the scribes' fraternity.
Smith sat in the press box and, in his phrase, "opened a vein" when it came time to stare at the typewriter. Barely minutes had gone by since Bobby Thomson won the 1951 pennant for the Giants ("Reality has strangled invention"). Or Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott (left) or Archie Moore (Rocky threw "a left that made him curtsy like a convent girl"). Or Secretariat pulled away from the field at Belmont on June 9, 1973 ("It seems a little greedy to win by thirty-one lengths," the horse's owner said). Twenty years earlier, when the Yankees beat the Dodgers for their fifth World Championship in a row, Smith wrote a column that in the new book bears this title, a pull quote from the piece: "Like Rooting for U. S Steel." Reading that, I wondered whether the Godfather auteurs remembered this line about the New York Yankees and their fans when they had mob boss Hyman Roth say "Michael, we're bigger than U. S. Steel."
It has been a long time since U. S. Steel was the measure of power, size, and importance. American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith, edited by Daniel Okrent, comes from that time as remote from us now and as filled with nostalgic glamour as the early seasons of Mad Men. You could, if you were a lazier columnist than Smith, call it the golden age of American sport; certainly it might have seemed that way to a lad in Washington Heights spoiled by having three major league teams within subway distance, not to mention the football Giants with glamour boy Frank Gifford, a triple threat in the backfield. Joe DiMaggio (pictured at right, with wife) patrolled center field for the Yankees, and when he stepped down, Mickey Mantle came along to take his place. Willie Mays played center for the Giants, who, with Leo Durocher at the helm ("a controversial guy, and that may be the the understatement of the decade"), won an unlikely four-game World Series sweep of the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in 1954. Sugar Ray Robinson, often called the best "pound for pound" fighter in any weight class, performed regularly at the Garden. Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, made Army a college football powerhouse up at West Point, fifty-five miles north of the city limits. Between 1949 and 1960, Casey Stengel managed the Bronx Bombers to ten pennants in twelve years. In 1947, Branch Rickey ("the greatest of all double-talk monologists") put a Brooklyn Dodger uniform on Jackie Robinson and revolutionized the national pastime.
Red Smith made an art of deadline sportwriting. He was especially handy with a simile. When Sugar Ray, past his prime, fought Carmen Basilio in 1958, Smith conjectures: "Maybe, like an aging shortstop, he can no longer go to his right." Or consider these sentences from his piece about the fabled 1947 World Series game in which the Dodgers' Cookie Lavagetto ruined the Yankees' Floyd Bevens's no-hit bid with a bottom-of-the-ninth game-winning two-out double. "In the third [inning] Johnny Lindell caught Jackie Robinson's foul fly like Doc Blanchard hitting the Notre Dame line and came to his feet unbruised. In the fourth Joe DiMaggio caught Gene Hermanski's monstrous drive like a well-fed banquet guest picking his teeth." In the same game, right-fielder Tommy Henrich took a hit away from Hermanski: "Henrich backed against the board and leaped either four or fourteen feet into the air. He stayed aloft so long he looked like an empty uniform hanging in its locker. When he came down he had the ball."
To write for a newspaper requires a strict brevity of means. It takes artistry to write in short paragraphs, as in this one about Brooklyn southpaw Carl Erskine, hero of game five of the 1952 World Series: "Erskine is an agreeable young man with good habits and an equally good overhand cure. He does not drink, does not smoke, and does not choke in the clutch. On out-of-town business trips, while his playmates sit in the hotel lobby waiting for somebody to discard a newspaper, he visits art museums." There is wit in Smith's parallel structures and word choices -- playmates! -- but what I like most here is this glimpse into road-trip life, circa 1952.
An enthusiast at the core, Smith has his sour moments. He is down on Jersey Joe Walcott (for being old) and Ted Williams (for spitting at fans and press in August 1956). Williams's "moist expression of contempt" was "bush," Smith writes, though he graciously does his best nevertheless "to understand and be patient with this painfully introverted, oddly immature thirty-year-old veteran of two wars."
Like every other writer, Smith is far from infallible. He writes off Muhammad Ali too fast after Joe Frazier beat him at the Garden in March 1971: "If they fought a dozen times, Joe Frazier would whip Muhammad Ali a dozen times. And it would get easier as they went along." The columnist is right to voice a city's anger and anguish when its beloved National League teams de-camped for the West Coast at the end of the 1957 season. Their departure from New York "is an unrelieved calamity, a grievous loss to the city and to baseball, a shattering blow to the prestige of the National League, an indictment of the men operating the clubs and the men governing the city." Two years later, a certain amount of revisionism has set in. Baseball's West Coast expansion "was a development long overdue and greatly to be desired, but effected in an atmosphere of deceitful contriving which left the game wearing the dollar sign like a brand."
American Pastimes has been edited, and is introduced, with exemplary intelligence by Daniel Okrent. Chapter heading are wonderful. What had been "Nice Guys Finish" -- the piece about the exodus of the Dodgers and Giants to the Pacific Coast -- now sports the title "East Goes West and League Goes South." There is one error, no doubt a simple oversight, that should be fixed in the next printing. In an October 1966 piece recollecting Fridays in previous decades at Madison Square Garden, Smith would never have referred to "Rocky Marciano's three wars with Tony Zale." It was a competely different Rocky, Graziano, the middleweight, who did battle with Zale. I make a point of it because Rocky Graziano was the first prize-fighter to take my fancy: I was eight years old and saw "Somebody Up There Likes Me" with my parents and sisters at a drive-in movie. Paul Newman played Graziano.
The sportswriter's occupational risk is hyperbole, and Smith is not exempt. Of Whirlaway, winner of racing's Triple Crown the 1941, Smith writes, the colt "was Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bill Tilden, Bobby Jones -- not just a champion but. . ." -- you finish the sentence. The remarkable thing is how few lapses there are in such a long career.
Like A. J. Liebling, Red Smith writes with particular verve about Marciano. The undefeated heavyweight champion was "victorious, invincible, indestructible." But it is DiMaggio who best fits Smith's idea of the heroic athlete, the demigod who does everything with majesty and grace -- and is therefore the proper model for a prose stylist, doing his job with consistency and skill and without ostentation or temperament. Joltin' Joe's exploits lubricated the Red Smith simile machine. In a game against the Red Sox in 1950, Bobby Doerr hit what looked to be a sure double when "Joe raced in on a long angle to his left, thrust out his glove, palm up like a landlord taking a payoff under the table."
When DiMaggio retired in October 1951, "the simple, flat fact [is] that the greatest ballplayer of our day and one of the greatest of any day quit baseball yesterday." In the last column Smith ever wrote, dated January 11, 1982, he admits he is sometimes prone to disappointment with the current crop of ballplayers. But he fights it off. "I told myself not to worry," he writes. And then comes this, his last sentence: "Some day there would be another Joe DiMaggio."
-- David Lehman
RELEASES #68-81 (1998-2007)
68. Mystery Disc (CD, Rykodisc RCD 10580, September 15, 1998)
All of this material was previously released on the two discs which accompanied the re-released materials on the first two Old Masters boxes (#43 and #46).
Like #64, this disc is filled with nostalgic gems from the early days.
Discs like these are certainly not for those new to Zappa.
But once you have (burp) digested much the material that forms the corpus of Frank's work ... you tend to start feeling hungry for these sort of bizarre nuggets. For example, "I Was a Teen-age Malt Shop" features FZ on piano.
The disc proceeds more or less chronologically. Several tracks from the Albert Hall show are here (#61). Things get zanier until coming to a tentative conclusion with "Harmonica Fun."
69. Everything Is Healing Nicely (CD, Barking Pumpkin UMRK 03, December 21, 1999)
Essentially a kind of documentary companion to The Yellow Shark (#62), this disc certainly contains no "Valdez" masterpiece or the like.
Instead, it is a collection of rehearsals, improvisations and bits that didn't make it onto Shark. Having stated that, this is actually a fine release with some, er, unusual works ("Master Ringo," "Wonderful Tattoo!") and pieces like "This is a Test," a short piece originally titled "Igor" which FZ had printed off the Synclavier and given to the EM as a sightreading test! Interesting that at times it sounds more like Milhaud than Stravinsky...
Using the same conducting technique he used to employ with the original Mothers (hand signals indicated predetermined musical phrases, motifs, or cells; or noises of all types, etc.), "Jolly Good Fellow" (4:34) sounds like a written-out composition. Ali Askin:
"... It looked as though Frank was playing the Ensemble like an instrument."
"Library Card" (7:42) -- the first track on this release:
Todd Yvega (Frank's Synclavier assistant):
" ... Frank assigned several musicians to improvise spoken interaction. The pianist, Hermann Kretzschmar, whipped out his library card to use as a text. The distinctive timbre of his voice, the German accent, and the humorous pace of his delivery obviously struck Frank as a vehicle to be developed and utilized."
Continuing with the same sort of idea, but this time reading from something a little heavier than his library card (the piercing magazine, PFIQ), Hermann has the EM (and FZ) in stitches with his readings in "Master Ringo" and "Wonderful Tattoo!" Warning: not for the faint of heart -- but it's also funny as hell!
"T'Mershi Duween" (2:30) is also found on #52 and #56 -- all three excellent renditions!
"Nap Time" (8:03) might just be that one unique track in the entire FZ catalog which defies description. It is unlike anything else in his catalog!
"9/8 Objects" (3:06) was recorded in July '91, Frank's house, when the EM were visiting and L. Shankar happened to be about. Awesome music here.
"Naked City" (8:42). Yvega:
" ... The guitar motifs were written in advance as was the primary motif played by the orchestra. The rest, including improvisations, were directed and improvised under FZ's baton."
"Whitey (Prototype)" (1:12) is mainly interesting as a comparison with the final version on Shark.
"Amnerika Goes Home" (3:00) -- an astonishing take from one of the Yellow Shark performances. Compare this to the Synclavier version on #63 and all the little details the EM gets right.
"None of the Above (Revised & Previsited)" (8:38) is a much longer version than the one on Yellow Shark and uses additional EM players -- mainly percussion -- in several sections.
... everything is healing nicely ...
70. FZ:OZ (2CD, Vaulternative VR 2002-1, August 16, 2002)
As Gail got the posthumous industry going into full gear, she and Joe Travers began raiding the Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark type UMRK vault for nuggets of enjoyment -- and in this case came up with a very special live concert that even the hard-core "tape traders" were ecstatic to see released!
To begin with, this '76 band is poorly represented in the catalog in general -- here it is only five pieces -- but they are very tight. Roy Estrada is consistently good throughout, with the young new Bozzio keeping a constantly moving groove.
"Stink-Foot" (6:35) is a perfect example of what a shame it is to have so few recordings from this particular band. They support Zappa beautifully (particularly Bozzio) as he sculpts one of his more interesting solos here.
Only one hand-written page remains in my files. “To travel the Pequod with Herman Melville,” I began, “is to embark on an exclusively male journey.”
To extract phallicisms from Moby-Dick is to simply draw upon an already existent masculinity and reinforce it. The phallus, erect and flaccid, attached and unattached, appears in many implied and hyperbolic forms in Moby-Dick; the archetypal male symbol appears not so much as a motif, but as a fundamental mark in a classic search for man-hood.
Read more of sestina-meister Dan Nester's term-paper adventures -- as recollected twenty-four years later -- here “Moby-Cock: Phallicisms in Melville’s Moby-Dick.”
My dear friend Nietzsche, never one to mince words, came over and held forth on the subject of opera. "You can have your Verdi and your Wagner," he said, waving his hand dismissively. "Give me Carmen, Bizet's Carmen. Io mi sento diventar migliore quando questo Bizet mi parla. I become a better man when Bizet speaks to me -- Bizet, who died soon after the Paris premiere in March 1875 and thus never learned that he had written that rarest of things, a popular masterpiece. I have seen it twenty times." "Twenty times," I exclaimed, lighting his cigar. "Twenty times in the last seven years," he said. It was 1888. “Bizet makes me fertile," he said. "Whatever is good makes me fertile." I asked him what he most loved about the opera. "Carmencita," he said, smacking his lips. "Carmen is fertile. She is a celebration of all that is healthy in life. She stands for the utter triumph of the utterly immoral, life-affirming sexual instinct: passion at odds with reason, lust mightier than even a mother's love, desire that leads ineluctably to degradation, humiliation, annihilation. She is authentic, innocent, cruel — and therefore precisely in line with the natural order." "The music is great," I said. Disregarding the interruption he said, "Carmen depicts love that is war and at bottom the deadly hatred between the sexes!" Nietzsche paused as my wife entered with a tray of champagne flutes. "Prost," I said. "Hoch," he replied. We sipped. "The greatness of Carmen," he said, turning courteously to include my wife in the circle of discourse, "is not only in its parable of jealousy to the point of homicide -- a theme worthy of Shakespeare -- but in the parade of vices, great and small, that it serves in its choruses and arias: smoking and drinking, gypsy fortune-telling and blood oaths, blood sport in a bull ring, knife fighting, smuggling, desertion, murder. Carmen deserts Don Jose as he has deserted his regiment. Hers is the greater will. She will not be a wife, a slave; he is the one enslaved, and because he is, she no longer wants him. She is willing to die sooner than yield her freedom.” He paused and let me relight his cigar. "And," he sighed between puffs, "the little boys and girls march along with the soldiers wanting to play war." A grin appeared on my friend's ordinarily dour face and he strode over to the piano and led the three of us in a spirited rendition of the Habanera and the Toreador song. -- David Lehman
RELEASES #54-67 (1989-1997)
54. You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 3 (2CD, Rykodisc RCD 10085/86, November 13, 1989)
Five previously unreleased tracks ("Ride My Face to Chicago," "Carol You Fool," "Chana in da Bushwop," "Hands with a Hammer," and "Nig Biz").
One dramatically different arrangement of previously released tracks: ("Bamboozled by Love").
Six years covered: '71, '73, '76, '81, '82, and '84.
55. The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life (2CD, Barking Pumpkin D2 74233, April 16, 1991)
Twenty-eight tracks of '88 documentation.
Things really get going after an electrifying "Zomby Woof" segues into Ravel's "Bolero" (except on European CDs, due to copyright issues) ... and the band finishes off the first disc with some wonderful new versions of old favorites: "Zoot Allures," and "Mr. Green Genes" followed by a fantastic three-piece OSFA suite: "Florentine Pogen," "Andy," and "Inca Roads," and wrapped up with a beautiful version of "Sofa No. 1."
Disc Two is quite shifty -- Hendrix and Cream covers ("Purple Haze" and "Sunshine of Your Love") followed by an energetic "Let's Move to Cleveland," with most of the remainder of the disc being a Jimmy Swaggart suite, of sorts ... "Lonesome Cowboy Burt":
My name is Swaggart
I am an asshole ...
"Trouble Every Day," fresh and invigorating, as Zappa and Ike Willis seem to be improvising the lyrics:
Wednesday I watched Jimmy Swaggart
Watched him weepin' all over the place
An' I watched him weepin' an' weepin' an' weepin'
And that shit rollin' down his face
(Oh . . . I sinned!)
An' then I watched him weep some more
An' he kept on weepin' again
(Oh, forgive me, Assembly O' God!)
And they smacked him on his little hand
And he went out makin' more money
and "Penguin in Bondage":
You know it must be a Penguin bound down
When you hear that terrible weepin' and there ain't no other
all get special treatment in honor of the infamous televangelist's sexual escapades and subsequent teary apology.
Finishing with yet another cover, the band belts out the Zep tune, "Stairway to Heaven" with real zest and energy.
56. Make A Jazz Noise Here (2CD, Barking Pumpkin D2 74234, June 4, 1991)
The title comes from an actual line Zappa says during "Big Swifty." As the head winds down in anticipation of the solos, Ike Willis makes an "ooowwww" type of noise -- FZ gets the audience to sing along -- and at the exact moment when the last note of the opening melody is being held, he says:
Make a jazz noise here ...
This double-CD set -- the final document of the '88 band -- is an impressive release of mostly instrumental charts.
And the 12 musicians in this band make it seem like a walk in the park.
After a slinky guitar solo on "Stinkfoot," Zappa proceeds to politely embarrass Ed Mann.
"When Yuppies Go To Hell" (13:28) is a fascinating piece, stitched together from seven different performances. Before you know it, the sampled vocal "goin' to hell" is being repeated over and over, leading to a Walt Fowler trumpet solo in five which melts into a Synclavier/drum duet (Wackerman never sounded better). Bruce Fowler joins in, leading to another complete breakdown with bizarre synth noises ("make one here!") ... long improvised section with a few quasi-magical moments -- frankly, a few moments of excessive bullshit -- but those things happened, and Frank documented them -- with glee!
I recently reread F. R. Leavis's New Bearings in English Poetry (1932), one of the most influential books of literary criticism in the twentieth century. What impressed me on this reading -- my first since my student days at Cambridge, where Leavis, though retired, was still active.-- was the exalted treatment of Hopkins. The passionate reading of Hopkins's poems, the appreciation of his work, should stand as sufficient evidence of Leavis's critical strength. I had remembered more clearly other judgments in the book: that "The Waste Land" was the ne plus ultra of modern poetry, that Pound was at his best in "Hugh Selwyn Mauberly," that Pound's "modern interests, one feels, are for him mainly opportunities, taken or made, for verse practice." Leavis was astringent, exclusive, not to say dogmatic; he felt that great poetry was an activity of the moral imagination. Few modern poets were acceptable. "No one could be seriously interested in the great bulk of the verse that is culled and offered to us as the fine flower of modern poetry. For the most part it is not so much bad as dead -- it was never alive." There is the authentic Leavis note. Not generous; but genuine, fierce, dedicated to the critical ideal as Matthew Arnold had articulated it. He was also irate when he was not bitter, a man who radiated contempt for his foes or for disciples who veered from the orthodoxy as pronounced by the great man, his wife (herself an esteemed Cambridge don), and their literary journal Scrutiny. Stephen Fry recently called him a "sanctimonious prick," as you'll see if you read this Spectator review of the new book, Memoirs of a Leavisite by David Ellis. It was, by the way, the Spectator that published Leavis's notorious Richmond Lecture of 1962 -- and a spate of letters protesting it a week later.
"Does Anyone Care About F. R. Leavis?" There are readers who will feel that this phrase at the head of an aricle is a rhetorical question that answers itself. Leavis, a lost cause, was never all that attractive to begin with. But I bring him up not only because his ghost hovered at the bookshelves of Heffer's and G. David Bookseller on a recent visit to Cambridge -- but because the Leavis-Snow controversy of the early 1960s seems to me in retrospect even more significant than people thought at the time. In The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959), C.P. Snow asserted that the sciences and the humanities were drifting ever farther apart and strongly implied that the future belonged to the sciences. At his Cambridge college (Downing) on February 28,1962, Leavis devoted the Richmond Lecture to a vitriolic attack on Snow's position (which itself originated as a Cambridge lecture -- the Rede Lecture of 1959). It was, alas, less a defense of the humanities than a contemptuous dismissal of Snow. I think that debate, if one can call it that, has foreshadowed the major intellectual story of our time, which is the utter triumph of technology, media, and gadgetry. Trilling has an excellent essay on the controversy (in Beyond Culture). It is possible that Leavis was right but his manner so offensive as to overshadow all else. When "foreshadow" is followed by "overshadow" two sentences later I figure it's time to type 30, as in ancient days. -- David Lehman
RELEASES #41-53 (1984-1988)
41. Thing-Fish (3LP, Barking Pumpkin SKCO-74201, November 21, 1984)
It will soon be 30 years.
When this three-album box-set was released, many Zappa fans were severely disappointed. Many old tracks were simply re-recorded with overdubs: ("Torchum" and "Artificial Rhonda" from 1976; "Galoot Up-Date," "YAWYI," "Mudd Club," and "Meek," from 1980; "Clowns" and "No Not Now" from 1981-1982 as well the guitar outro to "Mammy Nuns.") The whole thing seemed outrageous and offensive.
The album's storyline is inspired by Broadway theatre, AIDS, eugenics, conspiracy theories, feminism, homosexuality and African American culture. It involves an evil, racist prince/theatre critic who creates a disease intended to eradicate African Americans and homosexuals. The disease is tested on prisoners who are turned into "Mammy Nuns" led by the story's narrator, Thing-Fish. The story within a story is a satire of a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant couple, Harry and Rhonda, who attend a play performed by the "Mammy Nuns," and find themselves confronted with their pasts: Harry presented as a homosexual boy, Rhonda presented as a sex doll brought to life (Wikipedia).
In retrospect, Zappa may have pulled a fast one here. After years of imagining an actual production -- someone actually pulled it off in 2003. What a shame Frank didn't live to see it.
42. Francesco Zappa (LP, Barking Pumpkin ST-74202, November 21, 1984)
The one and only Frank Zappa release without a speck of music written by Frank Zappa!
Yes -- Francesco was a real composer -- check him out here.
Zappa's assistant, David Ocker, helped him program the synclavier with what he thought might be "appropriate" patches for 18th century music.
Naturally, Frank would come in the next day and change all of David's settings with more bizarre patches -- marimbas, spooky synths, etc.
A toss-off for the average Zappa fan, this one continues to hold interest for the person deeply interested in the Complete Works of Frank Zappa.
43, The Old Masters Box One (7LP, Barking Pumpkin BPR-7777, April 19, 1985)
For many years, a great deal of Zappa's early work was nearly impossible to obtain. In 1985, with the new medium of the compact disc creeping up on the music industry, Frank remixed nearly his entire catalog -- sometimes adding new bass and drum parts (#03, #05) or creating radical new mixes like #08).
At $100 per box, this was an easy choice for most serious Zappa fans. Using high-quality vinyl and reproducing the album covers and booklets (cutely scratching out old addresses for defunct record companies, fan clubs, etc.) -- FZ put the first five releases in here plus the "Mystery Disc" (which later -- along with the "Mystery Disc" from #46 -- become a separate release, #68).
44. Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention (LP, Barking Pumpkin ST-74203, November 21, 1985)
At the time, watching Frank testify up on Capitol Hill, you just sensed that something amazing was going to come out of all this -- musically, speaking!
This is it!
Certainly, "Porn Wars" (12:05) is the featured track here -- but again, Zappa is nothing if not imaginative and all-encompassing in this exciting mid-80's release.
"I Don't Even Care" (4:39) features Johnny Guitar Watson, one of Frank's childhood heroes.
The next three tracks are Synclavier compositions -- "Little Beige Sambo" (3:02) is a nice tribute to Conlon Nancarrow. Pure genius at work here -- and a wonderful preview of much exciting "classical" music to come in the few years left in Zappa's too-short life.
"We're Turning Again" (4:55) is Zappa commenting:
They took a whole bunch of acid
So they could see where it's at
(It's over there, over there,
Over there, over there
And under here also)
Name-checked: Donovan, Hendrix, Morrison, Mama Cass, Janis Joplin, and Keith Moon.
"Alien Orifice" (4:10) -- an instrumental -- is played nearly perfectly by this amazing eight-piece '81-'82 band!
"Yo Cats" (3:33) -- Zappa's third anti-union ditty (previously, "Ruby Wants to Buy Yez a Drink" [#11] and "Stick Together" [#36]).
"What's New in Baltimore" (5:20) is another one of those very special FZ compositions that is truly filled with beautiful marvels! The track is put together with at least three separate edits from the above-referenced '81-'82 band.
Jerome Robbins's new ballet, seen for the first time in its final version at the New York State theater on Thursday night is a work of such amplitude and grandeur that it can make you fall in love with the human body all over again. What a piece of work is man! And with what ballets does Mr. Robbins celebrate that workmanship!
I was in the audience with my parents for the Sunday matinee following the Thursday night premiere. It was May, 1971. We sat in the 5th ring, where the seats were $1.00 and arranged in a single row along the railing (in which, during a previous attendance, I had carved my initials with a hairpin). My father insisted that watching ballet from that vantage point was ideal; you took in the entire stage and sometimes, depending upon how many dancers took the floor at once and the variations in their costumes and movements, you could imagine you were looking into a kaleidescope with its magical changing patterns.
The other day the local classical music station played the Goldberg Variations and I finally learned the story behind Bach's composition, comprising 30 variations on a theme. According to the program host, legend has it that Count Kaiserling, the Russian ambassador to the Saxon court, commissioned Bach to compose the piece, to be performed by Kaiserling's musician-in-service, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. Kaiserling, it seems, was frequently troubled with insomnia, and requested Bach to write some reposeful keyboards pieces which Goldberg could perform as a soporific.
It pleased me to hear this anecdote. Though I was in the audience for a historic performance, and though the original cast of the Goldberg Variations included some of the most celebrated dancers of all time -- Sara Leland, Gelsey Kirkland, John Clifford, Patricia McBride, Helgi Tomason, Karen Von Aroldingen, Peter Martins, Anthony Blum, Merrill Ashley-- I missed the show. As soon as the curtain lifted and the pianist struck the first cords, I placed my head on the railing and fell asleep, only to awaken, 90 minutes later, in time for the record seventeen curtain calls.
RELEASES #28-40 (1979-1984)
28. Joe's Garage Act I (LP, Zappa SRZ-1-1603,
September 3, 1979)
29. Joe's Garage Acts II & III (2LP, Zappa SRZ-2-1502, November 19, 1979)
Originally, three discs covering two separate releases. The compact disc era compressed the material and today the CD is one complete release on two discs.
These are the final Frank Zappa albums recorded in a regular studio -- after this, everything will emanate from the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, Zappa's home studio.
However, as we discussed in #18, getting his music on the radio was really not Zappa's highest priority! The "singles" were incorporated into an ever-evolving Project/Object which today we call a "rock-opera." Zappa himself referred to it as a "stupid little story about how the the government is going to do away with music."
After "The Central Scrutinizer" (FZ) introduces himself, "Joe's Garage" surprises us with its undisguised sentimentality:
Down in Joe's Garage
We didn't have no dope or LSD
But a coupla quartsa beer
Would fix it so the intonation
Would not offend yer ear
And the same old chords goin' over 'n over
Became a symphony
We could play it again 'n again 'n again
Cause it sounded good to me
ONE MORE TIME!
"Catholic Girls" is not only as hilarious as "Jewish Princess" -- but contains some remarkable passage work. "Crew Slut" has a dirty Chicago-blues feel to it which just keeps on grinding.
"Fembot" (note the different titles on the LP and CD versions) uses a cool little theme which Frank liked so much, it became the opening motif of "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation" (#38), a complex orchestral work.
Zappa also continued his work with xenochrony, splicing guitar solos on top of unrelated backing tracks. His guitar playing is as exciting as any other time-period here, and he pushes his band to respond accordingly. "Keep it Greasey" features a section in 19/16 time (5/4 with one 16th-note chopped off the end of the bar!)
"Watermelon in Easter Hay" (original title: "Playing a Guitar Solo With This Band is Like Trying to Grow a Watermelon in Easter Hay") -- a 9/4 magical ride into Zappa's most intimate guitar solo ever -- is a very special piece of music; as is "Packard Goose" which closes with Zappa's classic and eternal statement:
Voice Of Mary's Vision:
Hi! It's me . . . the girl from the bus . . .
The last tour?
Well . . .
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is THE BEST . . .
Wisdom is the domain of the Wis (which is extinct)
Beauty is a French phonetic corruption
Of a short cloth neck ornament
Currently in resurgence ...
You don't want to miss this one!
30. Tinsel Town Rebellion (2LP, Barking Pumpkin PW2 37336, May 11, 1981)
With Steve Vai now playing "stunt guitar," and a huge band filled with keyboards and percussion and more guitars -- Zappa was beginning to enjoy re-arranging some of his earlier material into challenges for this exciting new band:
"Fine Girl" is the only studio cut. Bob Harris #2 sings falsetto. (#2 because there was another Bob Harris who played in the "Flo & Eddie" band!)
"Easy Meat" begins with 4/29/80, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA. At 2:59, we briefly hear the 9/18/75 (Royce Hall, UCLA) mini-orchestra. This dissolves into a brief "inside-the-piano" motif with Davey Moire (?) saying:
" ... if he'd played something else ...
'Cause, uh, they just aren't gonna stand for it ...
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.