Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Alarm, "Spirit of '76"

The new Alarm album, Direct Action, drops in two weeks. Their last two records were surprisingly good, alive, vital--and I anticipate more or the same.

More to come on that front. Meanwhile...

From 1984:

From 1987:

And from 2007:

Everything is Sacred: Tom Waits' Collaborative Gems

While pulling together lists of top Tom Waits albums and songs for a discussion in response to an earlier post  (Tom Waits as the Devil),  I came across a couple of his collaborations with Kronos Quartet. They are brilliant (especially the song "Always Keep a Diamond in Your Mind"), and I wish there were an album's worth of them. In turn, this discovery sent me looking for other Tom Waits collaborations. I found more than I can include here, but unfortunately there's not a good resource where one can hear (or watch) them all in one place. With that in mind, here's the best of what I found--posted with the caveat that I have too little time for a thorough search. I'd love to put together a comprehensive collection, but right now I can't. Enough said. Enjoy!

Tom Waits and Kronos Quartet, "Cold Cold Ground"

Tom Waits and Kronos Quartet, "Always Keep a Diamond In Your Mind"
This is an audio-only track that starts with Tom poking fun at the Dalai Lama.

Tom Waits with Ken Nordine, "A Thousand Bing Bangs"

Watch A Thousand Bing Bangs in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Tom Waits & The Mats, "Lowdown Monkey Blues"

Tom Waits & The Mats - Lowdown Monkey Blues (Re-edited 2008) - Celebrity bloopers here

Tom Waits with Blind Boys of Alabama, "Go Tell It on the Mountain"

Tom Waits with Sparklehorse, "Dog Door"

I want to include the song Waits did with Tin Hat Trio ("Helium Reprise"), but I'm unable to find it online. I'll try to post the MP3 tonight.

Consolation prize:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When someone tells you stranger things have happened...

...just remind yourself of this photo, and you will know it is true:

That's Echo & the Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch posing in 1989 as Dorothy (from the Wizard of Oz, of course) for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the film's release.You can click through on the photo if you don't believe me.

Please do not ask how this came to pass. I know nothing.

[Worldwide Transgender, Transsexual, Crossdresser Support Groups]

Monday, March 29, 2010

This Punch is Spiked, So Drink It

It's remarkable, the way blog traffic skyrockets when one actually resumes blogging. After a year or two away, I came blogging back at the tail end of December. Here are the results, in the graph to the right.

I suppose publishing this data is a bit like declaring what color underwear I'm wearing (blue), but what the hell?

Granted, my trips to the blog must count for a sliver of these visits and page views--not more than three or four a day, though. The daily average number of visits hovers between thirty and forty, as it has since mid-February. I suspect that's an embarrassingly small number. I'm not embarrassed, though. Nonetheless, I don't blog for the hits. I do it for myself, and from the notion there are others out there who listen to roughly the same music, read a few of the same writers, and have similar interests in cinema along with a penchant for cutting satire. I think of those others as my future friends, perhaps friends I'll never meet. Yet I know they find their way to this blog whenever one of my obscure interests (say, the band Passion Fodder or the topic of cognitive dissonance in the stories of George Saunders) pops up in the search terms in the referring URL from Google.

Yes, it's true: when you stumble upon this blog via Google or any other search engine, I see the words that brought you here. I know nothing else about you (with the occasional exception of your city and country), but I know that if you're still interested in the music of Frank Tovey and the Pyros then you're probably someone I'd enjoy hanging out with.

Stupid Bigot Dweebs: Making 2010 a Year to Remember!

At what point did the seminal techno-goth band Sisters of Mercy garner popularity among white supremacists? And how did I overlook such a thing? Sheesh!

Ah, the energies of dullness...

A Web site for the Hutaree group talks about a coming battle against the putative forces of the Antichrist but does not appear to focus explicitly on recent political events.

The Web site, which describes the group as “preparing for the end times,” featured video clips of people running through woods in camouflage gear and firing assault rifles, along with links to gun stores and far-right media. It also features an elaborate system of military ranks for its members. The site says it coined the term Hutaree, intended to mean Christian warrior.

“Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment,” the Web site says, adding, “The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it.”
The indictment charged that between August 2008 and the present, the defendants — led by David Brian Stone, 45, who also used the name “Captain Hutaree” — developed a conspiracy that they hoped would result in a war against the United States government. They allegedly decided they would kill a local law enforcement officer, and then bomb the funeral caravan. The killings “would intimidate and demoralize law enforcement diminishing their ranks and rendering them ineffective,” it said.

Afterward, the indictment said, Hutaree members would retreat to several “rally points” and wage war against the government, using prepared fighting positions as well as “trip-wired and command-detonated” bombs.

“It is believed by the Hutaree that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more wide-spread uprising against the government,” the indictment said.

Mr. Stone used the Internet to obtain diagrams of “explosively formed projectiles,” a particularly lethal form of roadside bombs responsible for many deaths of United States soldiers in Iraq, the indictment says.

It says that he e-mailed diagrams of such devices to a person he believed to be capable of manufacturing them, and then directed one of his sons to obtain the materials to make them. It also says he and his other son taught other Hutaree members how to make bombs in June 2009. 

Here we go, gang.

Tom Waits as the Devil

Strange day, this. It's nearly two in the afternoon, but I feel as though the morning has just begun. Perchance this has to do with the fact that I stayed up until three o'clock last night, surfing, discovering the joys of Dirpy, and having a great Facebook conversation with my old friend (the brilliant actor) Jeffrey Draper. (A great Facebook conversation? Yes, apparently such things are still possible.) I popped a couple of Benadryls before bed, donned one of those light-blocking sleep masks,  and, along with my two-year-old son, slept until nearly ten o'clock. I cannot account for this. I haven't slept past eight in years. So, even though the world around me has long since roared to life, I'm only now sipping my first cup of coffee.


I'll stick to my recent habit of posting about my personal rock gods by linking to this great interview with Tom Waits and Terry Gilliam. Here's an excerpt:
Always more storyteller than songwriter, Waits remains his own most exotic literary creation. Certainly the puckish, playful, gravel-voiced caricature he has come to inhabit over the decades seems to have stepped out of that old, weird America of carnival conjurors and snake-oil salesmen. The hobo bluesman we see on stage is, he concedes, a kind of ventriloquist act.

“Oh yeah,” Waits shrugs. “Most people don’t care whether you’re telling them the truth, as long as you’re amusing them. Most people are a combination of truth and fiction. I guess that’s what it all comes down to. We’re all inventing ourselves in some form or another.”

Many artists would take offence at being accused of role-playing fakery. But not Waits, who claims a theatrical disguise is essential to any performer’s dressing-up box.

“If you went to a doctor’s office and there were cigarette butts on the floor, the MD was wearing a baseball cap off to the side, and he was unshaven, you’d be suspicious,” Waits explains with a laugh. “The same is true of artists who want to look a certain way. If you believe it, you go on the ride. If you went to the carnival and no one was missing a tooth, you’d want your money back.”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ian McCulloch in the Shade

As usual with every new Echo & the Bunnymen album of the past fifteen-plus years, I felt underwhelmed by 2009's The Fountain. It doesn't exactly overflow with darkness and drama the way the best Bunnymen albums did, once upon a time. The Fountain's production is all aluminum palm trees and fluorescent sunshine, and its songs contain none of the depth, agony, or even the foul wordplay of those great eighties albums. But when I dismissed The Fountain on first or second listen, I had overlooked something good. Underneath that avalanche of pop dust and glitter, Ian McCulloch and Will Sargeant buried some decent song-craft. Luckily, I discovered this today when I stumbled upon Ian McCulloch's acoustic Daytrotter sessions. They are a revelation. McCulloch is still in good voice, though he rarely opens up howls through his pipes like he used to. Yet the new songs are...well, they're all right. Stripped of slick pop sheen and dragged out of the bright light and into the shadows, these rough-around-the-edges tunes from 2009 kinda sorta hold their own--even in the company of the classic Bunnymen song "The Killing Moon."

Don't take my word for it. You can listen or download the MP3 here.

And you can read a decent (if not exactly hard-charging) interview of McCulloch by Scott Tomford of MOG here--which includes a bizarre comparison of The Fountain to the masterpiece album Ocean Rain, followed by this passage:
It's not as if McCulloch set out to recreate Ocean Rain, the kind of approach that would only lead to disaster. "It's hard to do that again," he says. "What I like about The Fountain is... we just went with the energy and the flow of everything instead."
It wasn't meant to be a calculated, rather an organic album that might rub some fans the wrong way, as if they're hoping the band will stay within a single space. Speaking of calculation, McCulloch thinks many musicians would be better off as mathematicians. He me that he's "not an avid follower of music anymore," opting to listen more to classical music, "because there's no one with crap words and a lying voice singing over what potentially is some good music."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How Much Do You Love Nick Cave's Mustache?

No, seriously, how much? Is your devotion to the greasy hairs on Nick Cave's upper lip so powerful that you would print your own Nick-Cave's-'Stache bookmarks? Because if so, well, wow, that's a whole lot of love. I, for one, do not love the Cavestache. (Let it not be said that I bite my clean-shaven upper lip and quiver at the thought of taking a controversial stance.) Cave's mustache startled me when his latest band Grinderman shoved its way into this world a couple years ago. I felt Nick's mustache emphasized his creeping baldness, and not in a flattering way. Which would be fine, but it means he's aging--and if Nick Cave gets old, that means I get old too. And that is not fine. Because, contrary to what I tell my sweet daughter when she asks about death (that it is natural and beautiful and just another one of the great mysteries of life), I am terrified. I do not want to die. Therefore, I stand in opposition to balding rock star mustaches.

Take that, Black Crow King.

And that!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

When Music Video Meets Politics...

...and amounts to political satire, I've got to post it.

Trouble Soon Be Over

Though I gave the blog over to poetry and politics for a week or two, my journey into American folk music continues. I've run out of time to compose the long post I have in mind, but I'll get to it soon. Meanwhile, here are a couple of recent stops along the road.

First, this video clip comes from, of all places, a recent(ish) Wim Wenders film. Wenders hired an actor (the amazing Chris Thomas King from O Brother Where Art Though) to lip-synch (and guitar-synch) to a Blind Willie Johnson recording. The result is surprisingly powerful, despite its inauthenticity.

It occurs to me now that "inauthenticity" is the wrong word here--and not just because my browser's auto-spell-checker says it should be "in-authenticity" with a hyphen. The recreation looks and feels surprisingly authentic. Yet it is artificial. Perhaps the word "artifice" bears fewer negative connotations.

Meanwhile, I continue to wonder why I'm walking down this dusty and well-trodden path. I cannot say. Not yet.

Here's a song I love, played beautifully with a pocket blade by Mance Lipscomb:

For good measure, here's Chris Thomas King doing "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" in concert last year.

And here's another great song--this from Mississippi Fred McDowell:

Sometimes it's good to get lost.

Until we meet again...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Antony and the Johnsons, "Crazy In Love"

I'm developing a course proposal for a writing class focused on the theme of "Transcending Gender," so I can legitimately call this bit of youtubing "research." Every time I see and hear it, I am astonished by what Antony has done with this Beyonce song.

So beautiful it hurts.

Meanwhile, as I mull the subtle and not-so-subtle implications of the prefix "trans," I feel strangely compelled to revisit Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Time for a trip to the library.

I Have a Dream

Have you ever watched the whole speech? Neither had I, until today.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Black Cat Leaves White Balloon"

- ...And they all lived miserably ever after. Now take a nap.
- It can’t end like that.
- Hush. It can.
- Dad, you don’t just--
- I did. Lean your seat back and go to sleep.
- But Black Cat wouldn’t change his mind like that. He’s too -- he’s a good person. He had his claws removed. He loved her.
- Shh. Here’s a pillow.
- White Balloon can’t just float off over the Forest of Forever to the Island of the Dead.
- Isle of the Dead. Sleep now, little girl.
- How? You just scarred me for life.
- Shhh.
- I’m telling Mom.
- I don’t answer to Mom anymore.
- I’m telling her you ended the story like that.
- Oh, she’ll understand.
- Was that a joke?
- Not at all.
- Is Black Cat supposed to be Mom?
- You’re getting very sleepy. Your eyelids are heavy. You can’t hold them open for one more second.
- Bad ending.
- Wasn’t it, though? You are entering a deep, deep sleep.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Now that we've taken care of pre-existing conditions...

I'm ready to begin the fight for coverage of post-existing conditions. Sure, many people--a few of them even rational--will be up in arms about forcing insurance companies pay for whatever illnesses befall us after we're done existing, but it will serve those companies right.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

For the better part of ten days...

...I tried to focus on the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Things tailed off at the end, I suppose, which is fine by me. I'll keep plugging away, trying to find the right words. In the meantime, this will have to do:

That Ray Carver

...he knew how to write a story. Not just a story, but also a story within a story. And both stories about men. Both about the same thing.

I was getting a haircut. I was in the chair and three men were sitting along the wall across from me. Two of the men waiting I'd never seen before. But one of them I recognized, though I couldn't exactly place him. I kept looking at him as the barber worked on my hair. The man was moving a toothpick around in his mouth, a heavyset man, short wavy hair. And then I saw him in a cap and uniform, little eyes watchful in the lobby of a bank.

Of the other two, one was considerably the older, with a full head of curly gray hair. He was smoking. The third, though not so old, was nearly bald on top, but the hair at the sides hung over his ears. He had on logging boots, pants shiny with machine oil.

The barber put a hand on top of my head to turn me for a better look. Then he said to the guard, "Did you get your deer, Charles?"
That passage opens a five-page story called "The Calm," as published in the indispensable anthology of Carver stories, Where I'm Calling From.

If you're a cheapskate, you can read a pdf file of the whole damn book here. ("The Calm" starts on page 163 of that file.)

And here's the rest of the story as it originally appeared in the summer 1979 issue of the Iowa Review.

Friday, March 19, 2010

No News is Bad News

What the hell happened to Voxtrot? I've heard next to nothing from them in three years, but why? Why?! We got this single, which dropped last summer, then silence.

Thus far, theirs is a sad tale of potential squandered. On the heels of three riveting EP's that kicked my John-Hughes-soundtrack-addled brain into spasms of joy, Voxtrot's debut album kinda sucked. That was 2007. They toured then vanished until last summer. I thought the single in August was the start of something, but alas no.

[For the sake of a single poem]

... Ah, poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life. You ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)--they are experiences. For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighbourhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn't pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else--); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet, restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along overhead and went flying with all the stars,--and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves--only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.
- Rainer Maria Rilke

For what it's worth, Rilke does not speak as Rilke here--not directly, anyway. This passage (translated by Stephen Mitchell) was excerpted from Rilke's novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. These thoughts come from the eponymous character.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


This image. Wow.
(Beth Retro Photography)

"If you believe in nothing, honey, it believes in you."

Robyn Hitchcock has seen the Sleeping Knights of Jesus.

Though this live rendition dips heavily into the schmaltz, the original studio recording ranks among my two or three favorite Robyn Hitchcock songs.

Down the list somewhat (though not far) is "I Used to Say I Love You." Never thought I'd find it on Youtube, but this comes from the same show:

Best line: "I used to say I love you. It wasn't what I meant. What I really meant was, come on in my tent."

"What the f*** are you talking about, Ken?"

Jon Stewart and The Daily Show go through hot and cold spells. Sometimes, for weeks on end, Stewart and company burn through the absurdities littered across the American political landscape. At other times, the show strains for satire but coughs up little more than scatological one-liners and an endless stream of Stewart's patented goofy faces. Lately, The Daily Show is on fire.

This bit was the second segment of last night's episode:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Don't Mess With Textbooks
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

If you think this is just a laughing matter, consider the significance of what the Texas School Board has done:

– To avoid exposing students to "transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else," the Board struck the curriculum's reference to "sex and gender as social constructs."
– The Board removed Thomas Jefferson from the Texas curriculum, "replacing him with religious right icon John Calvin."
– The Board refused to require that "students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others."
– The Board struck the word "democratic" from the description of the U.S. government, instead terming it a "constitutional republic."

That list of Soviet-style purges comes from Think Progress.

Imagine Dennis Kucinich with a Whip

Outside of the United States of America's historical and all but inevitable shift from domestic genocide to imperialism, nothing troubles me more about my country than its immoral, inhumane, profit-driven health care system. Still, despite the watered down "reform" bill we'll get this week or next if only we close our eyes, cross our fingers, and wish hard enough, this is nice to see:

A few hours after Rep. Dennis Kucinich switched his support to become a critical vote for the health care bill, he took to the House floor to ask wavering colleagues to join him. Astonished colleagues pointed to Kucinich (D-OH) darting from member to member on the House floor yesterday, saying privately they'd never seen him get so involved in whipping a vote.

It's not just progressives he's targeting to keep in the fold, it's everyone, a top Democratic aide told me. Members know that Kucinich - a staunch antiwar liberal long in favor of a single-payer system and often going out on a limb with his own agenda - is setting aside deep ideology to help get something passed. "It's a totally new dynamic. People are realizing he's doing it for history," the aide said.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) told me last night in the House Speaker's lobby that Kucinich's support is "a sign of Democrats recognizing how important this is."

"If Kucinich can back this bill after the way he staked out a position against it, it does help show people they can come together too," Frank said.

A twice-failed presidential candidate, Kucinich has not shied away from criticizing President Obama. But Obama worked on the progressive Democrat when they rode on Air Force One together Monday, and said yesterday that Kucinich's support is "a good sign."

Read the rest here.

A Boy Called Sophia

"We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter." - Rilke

I have read little about the life of Rainer Maria Rilke, yet one feature of his childhood pops up in every biographical blurb I've seen. This tidbit sparks my curiosity and imagination: until he was five, Rilke's mother raised him as a girl. She clothed him in dresses. She gave him dolls. She called him Sophia. By doing so, she soothed her grief over the loss of an earlier daughter who died a week after birth.

Some biographers quibble. They say this went on for six years, not five.

Gender reassignment came at his father's insistence, and at the age of ten (around the time his parents separated) the young Rainer Maria Rilke was shipped off to military school. Imagine the horrors.

More than once, he blamed his mother for the darkness of his childhood. However, he also tapped into that darkness to craft both a rich inner life (a profound and dramatic solitude from which he'd send the dispatches of his poems, letters, and one brief but brilliant novel) and, for public consumption, a narrative of suffering and transcendence.

"We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us."

I won't presume to chronicle or analyze his childhood, but I recommend this note from M. Allen Cummingham (the author of Lost Son, a novel based on Rilke's life): "Rainer Maria Rilke: Myths, Masks, & the Literature of a Life." I also recommend this poem by Rilke: "Childhood."

(Click here for this blog's "Rilke Week" contents.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lisa Gerrard, "Come Tenderness"

(from the album The Silver Tree)

[You Who Never Arrived]

Rainer Maria Rilke
[translated by Stephen Mitchell]

You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don't even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of the next
moment. All the immense
images in me—the far-off, deeply-felt landscape,
cities, towers, and bridges, and unsuspected
turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods—
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.

You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house—, and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me. Streets that I chanced upon,—
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and, startled,
gave back my too-sudden image. Who knows? perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening...

Why am I surprised?

I do not know why these things still take me aback:

Persistent errors. Almost every time I reread an email or blog post, I am shocked by my own mistypings, misspellings, and general mistakes in the texts I produce. I just spent fifteen minutes cleaning up yesterday's Rilke post--not the way I hoped to start the day. That post was positively riddled with minor flaws. Well, OK, there were three small typos. Still, I'm embarrassed. Note to self: Proofread everything. Twice.

Daylight savings jet lag. Every year, it takes several days to adjust to the loss of a single hour. My body refuses to cooperate when the clock says I should fall asleep. My stomach demands lunch at 10:30 in the morning, not even three hours after breakfast. I glanced at the time just now and grumbled that the day is slipping away. Hell, this is nearly as bad as jet lag from a trip overseas, minus the sights, smells, and sounds that make jet lag a small price to pay.

Spineless, two-faced Democrats. They have the majority, the opportunity, the power, and in many cases even the rhetoric I want to hear--yet they lack the will to change things for the better. On second thought, it is not a failure of will. They often simply do not mean the things they say. I should remember this. I know this. I have known it from childhood. Yet it galls me each and every time.

The list could go on and on, but for better or (more likely) worse I must grump along with my day.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lady Gaga's Rilke Tattoo

[Click here for the Comprehensive Guide to Lady Gaga's Rilke Tattoo.]

This just in from last August:

SEOUL, South Korea — Lady Gaga may sport an ever-changing series of risque outfits, but the pop singer says two things are permanent: her tattoos and her bow tie 'do.

The 23-year-old star, her real name Stefani Germanotta, showed off her newest body art Sunday night before performing the hit songs "Poker Face," "Just Dance" and "Paparazzi" at Seoul's Olympic Hall during the Asian leg of her "Fame Ball" tour.

The curling script on her left arm is a souvenir from a midnight session at a tattoo parlor in Osaka, Japan.

In addition to "professing" her "large collection of wigs, from purple feather creations to an oversized button shape and stacked black bundles," Lady Gaga speaks about marriage to solitude and describes Rilke as her "favorite philosopher."

Without further comment or ado, here is the text of the tattoo:

In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?

(Read the rest of the article here, read the Comprehensive Study Guide to Lady Gaga's Rilke Tattoo here, and/or dive into Rilke Week here.)

Rilke on Facebook

Yes, of course there's a Rainer Maria Rilke fan page on Facebook, and no doubt it's one of Facebook's most redeeming features. But Rilke's fan page is not what I have in mind here. Rather, it's his thoughts on Facebook that I'm after, and I believe I've found them. While in Paris on the 16th of October in 1907, Rilke stepped into a seedy internet cafe just off the Champs-Elysees, rented a computer for half an hour, and posted the following comment to his wife Clara's Facebook "wall":

Isn't it the most harrowing, the most unreal milieu one can possibly imagine? Nay, it passes one's wildest conceits, this sort of variété. The ground slips away from under your feet, air, sky, everything real, and apparently for ever.... And in all this unreality: animals--the realest of all. How we play with everything, we humans. How blindly we abuse that which has never been contemplated, never experienced; diverting ourselves with things collected together without rhyme or reason, and placed all higgledy-piggledy. It is impossible for an age in which demands for "beauties" of this kind are anywhere gratified, to appreciate Cézanne or understand anything of his devotion and hidden splendour. The dealers just make a noise, that is all; and those who need to keep in touch with such things one can count on two hands, and they are silent and apart.
Granted, Rilke did not intentionally describe Facebook--because Facebook did not exist in 1907, kids--yet the slipping away of the ground "from under your feet" and the "unreality" and the ways we divert ourselves "with things collected together without rhyme or reason, and placed all higgledy-piggledy"--this fits so much of what we do from our shopping malls to our virtual "worlds." It is as apt a description of Facebook as any I've read or written.

Later in the letter, Rilke describes the Monsieurs strolling the Champs-Elysées, "itrigued, ironic, irritated, indignant," and ever ready to deliver a verdict. He notes the way the ladies pause to reflect on their reflections in the glass door before stepping into a gallery to "pose for a moment beside one of the touchingly attempted portraits of Madame Cézanne in order to make the frightfulness of this painting serve as an extremely favourable comparison (so they think) for themselves." In other words, under the arrogant gaze of their men, these high society Parisian women stood beside Cézanne's paintings with all the pride that arises from having judged themselves more beautiful than the transcendent works of art on the walls.

At the end of the letter--or, rather, at the end of the translated portion--Rilke arrives at this thought about Cézanne and a life's work:

Somebody once told the old man in Aix that he was "famous." But in his heart he knew better and let him talk. Confronted with his work, however, one again hits on the idea of how all recognition (with a few isolated and unmistakable exceptions) must make one mistrustful of one's own endeavours. In the end, if they are good one never lives to see them recognised: or they are only half good and not ruthless enough.
Our half good endeavors are only not ruthless enough, indeed.


How long until that "quote" makes the Cézanne Facebook fan page, eh?


By the way, this letter was translated by R.F.C. Hull and published by Qartet Books in 1988. The volume is thick and relatively hard to come by, though a few copies can still be found. It's one of those books I hope I will never finish reading. I've kept it at my bedside for the better part of twenty years, and I open it when I feel the need nourish my spirit (whatever that means). I would be sad to finish it, sad to finish Rilke's other letters, sad to arrive at that point at which there are no more new Rilke letters left to read. So I linger. A letter here, a letter there. I am a third of the way through the book and pacing myself carefully on the off chance I live a long life.


More to come, including Rilke's advice about the overuse of irony, as well as his description of a small plaster-cast tiger. Meanwhile, on to other endeavors...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rainer Maria Rilke, "The Panther"

We'll ease into Rilke Week with the Stephen Mitchell translation of one of the two poems that inspired this week's project in the first place (the other being "Archaic Torso of Apollo"):


His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly--.
An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.


NOTE: I found this text in a vast collection of different English translations of the same poem. If I have some time later, I'll post a note on the variation. As a non-German speaker, I cannot address the matter of fidelity to the original; however, I've invited a couple of German speakers to weigh in as guest bloggers this week. Hopefully we'll hear from them soon.


Ever the inveterate youtuber, I found this lovely video illustration of "Der Panther" in its original German:

Here is the same poem, also in German, but in an animated video I find thrilling and disturbing for multiple reasons (not least, the repeated, obnoxious, over-Rilke's-face copyright notices):

Friday, March 12, 2010

Follow the bouncing ball...

...but bear in mind that the ball would not bounce without you to observe it.

Please, if you're an occasional reader of this blog, take a moment to click the "blog followers" widget beneath the blog archive in the left column (a quarter of the way down the page). Or click here.

Bim Bam Bum!

I'm off to a slow start this morning, so here is one of the songs I turn to when I want to get fired up:

Xavier Cugat never fails. Plus, coffee helps.

And now for something completely different.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rilke Week

14-20 March 2010

1. "For Here There is No Place that Does Not See You"
2. "Rilke Week" (this post)
3. "The Panther"
4. "Rilke on Facebook"
5. "Lady Gaga's Rilke Tattoo"
6. "[You Who Never Arrived]"
7. "A Boy Called Sophia"
8. "[For the sake of a single poem]"

More to come as the week progresses. Guest-blogging submissions welcomed and encouraged. Now back to the original post...


Next week, for me, is Spring Break. Though I will devote time to adventures with my wife and our young daughter and son, I view the week not as a vacation but as a chance for extra reading and writing. With this in mind, I'll dedicate a week's worth of blog entries to the poems and letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, drawing primarily from Stephen Mitchell's translations in The Selected Poetry and Letters to a Young Poet.

If you're at all interested, no matter who you are, please join me for discussion in the blog's "comments." In fact, if you feel so inclined, I welcome proposals for guest posts during Rilke Week. Yes! I'd love that. Email me.


But why wait for next week? Let's start now. Here's Rilke on a subject near and dear to my heart--or is it my head?--these days:

Irony: Don't let yourself be controlled by it, especially during uncreative moments. When you are fully creative, try to use it, as one more way to take hold of life. Used purely, it too is pure, and one needn't be ashamed of it; but if you feel yourself becoming too familiar with it, if you are afraid of this growing familiarity, then turn to great and serious objects, in front of which it becomes small and helpless. Search into the depths of Things: there, irony never descends - and when you arrive at the edge of greatness, find out whether this way of perceiving the world arises from a necessity of your being. For under the influence of serious Things it will either fall away from you (if it is something accidental), or else (if it is really innate and belongs to you) it will grow strong, and become a serious tool and take its place among the instruments which you can form your art with.

(from a letter to Franz Kappus written in Viareggio, near Pisa, Italy, collected as the second of ten in the invaluable book Letters to a Young Poet)


I have lately tried and found myself guilty of Overusing Irony, often as a stimulant in particularly uncreative moments (perhaps even in this sentence). Over at Facebook, irony became my default mode. I'm trying to break the habit. Though I have no idea what Rilke means when he says one can use irony "purely," I take seriously his reminder that irony never descends "into the depths of Things."


By the way, this won't be the first time a blog has declared "Rilke Week."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I don't want the world...

...I just want your half.

Which is to say, I do not want
what I have, I want
what you have. Or
if you prefer
I could say nothing,
take everything.

Who am I?

(Yes, I am Thomas Friedman.)


This is my brain on Conference Week.


I said the other day that conference week is the best part of my job. I love this business of meeting one on one with each student to talk at length about the "conference drafts" of their essays. Yet these weeks--which happen four times per semester, eight times a year--they have an odd effect on me. Outside essays and news headlines, all other reading ceases. I do not write, except to scribble comments about a thesis or the structure of a paragraph or the lack of evidence here and the run-on sentence there. I sit with a student and we have a great conversation, then it's on to the next essay, the next student, so on and so forth. I love the work. Yet, while it's the best part of my job, it's also a time I don't have freedom to set my own agenda in a given day. Eight weeks of rigid structure--that's a small price to pay for the career I want.

And students' ideas inspire my own. Our conversations open up new worlds, reveal new horizons, uncover new pools of meaning. Yet I have no time to explore. Hemmed in by a tight schedule, I cannot spread my wings. I have no freedom to dive in.

So, here in my skull, things start to feel...densely packed.


This song bounced between my ears all day:

So many great lines! And this is a fantastic piece of film-making from the tail end of MTV's heyday.


So, the thing I do
to release the tension
and relieve the density...

I run. I run, I run, I run.
Then I stop.

And after the run, I play
with my children.

And after I play,
I collapse.

Until tomorrow.


Wildly disjointed, I know. Just capturing a state of mind here, friend.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

For here there is no place that does not see you

Nothing affects me the way Rainer Maria Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo" does. No other poem comes close. If you haven't read it, you should do so before watching this clip from Woody Allen's underrated Another Woman. In fact, you should step away from the computer right now and go find a copy of the book. Hold it in your hands. Feel the weight of it. Smell the paper.

I love the golden light of this middle phase of Woody's career. His cinematographer was often Sven Nykvist (of Ingmar Bergman fame), but the quality of the light glowing through these films (from The Purple Rose of Cairo through my personal favorite, Crimes and Misdemeanors) remains surprisingly consistent no matter who might have been behind the camera. Allen gets too little credit for his own cinematographic vision. Now, this may be a quirky connection but it's not a forced one: the images from these films look a lot like the buttery cover of Stephen Mitchell's translations of Rilke feels.

Oh, by the way--you must change your life.


The trouble with the world is not that people know so little, but that they know so many things that ain’t so. - Mark Twain

This week the blog will slow down. The best part of my job comes four times per semester, when I meet with each student one-on-one for half-an-hour to discuss a "conference draft" of the next essay. As you can imagine, this fills up a week and leaves me with precious little time for anything else. I leave earlier for work and come home later. I toss marathon training out the window. I scarcely take a break. And I love it.

Conference Week begins this afternoon.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Twisted Sisters

If one were to draft a list of America's underappreciated contributions to world culture, the Ross Sisters would belong near the top. Siblings singing three-part harmony? Nothing novel there. But doing so while doing this? Here's "Solid Potato Salad":

(Hat tip to my friend Jason for the video clip. Hits the spot!)

Lazy Sunday

We had planned a trip to the zoo this morning to see the baby giraffe, but these clouds and the thunder that rolled overhead an hour ago have inspired us to lounge around the house and each do our own things. I may blog. I may nap. I may read the news. Might even draw. The morning grows dark with possibilities.

UPDATE: This was a pleasant morning for the most part, notwithstanding the challenges that arose (and always arise) from attempting something like self-determination in the company of small children. I surfed a bit, cleaned up my corner of the house, played a little, and put away laundry, all to a pleasant soundtrack of iTunes shuffling through the following albums (which flowed astonishingly well): Bob Dylan's Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me (which is new and great!), Woven Hand's Consider the Birds and Mosaic, Shearwater's Golden Archipelago (also new and great!), The Police's Zenyatta Mondatta, Zbigniew Preisner's soundtrack to The Double Life of Veronique, the Dark Was the Night compilation, 16 Horsepower's Sackcloth and Ashes, and all five volumes of the Anthology of American Folk Music. I've no idea why anyone would care about this, but once a DJ always a DJ. Gotta record your set lists. As for the morning, all good things...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I Dream of Blogging

I dreamt last night that a friend pulled me aside at some large meeting, maybe a conference, to level with me about my blog. She liked the content. She liked the general look and feel of the blog. But she felt strongly that I had outgrown the limitations of the boilerplate Blogger template I use.

"But I've tweaked the settings," I wanted to tell her. "I've changed font sizes and colors. I've worked for an eye-pleasing effect and a healthy mix of idiosyncratic, personal, and cultural content. And I'm ready to shift back into writing about politics!"

I wanted to say these things, but I could not. I had backed into an upright foam mattress that held me in place. And the foam had somehow covered my mouth.

"You've got to ditch the template," she told me. She stood over me now. The mattress reclined. My body was horizontal. "Ditch the template! Dicth the template!"

Then I woke up.

Tuscany in Winter

Many of my cherished moments have unfolded in the villages, towns, and smaller cities of Central and Northern Italy. Even now I see a luminous sunset over the Alps, bathing Orta san Giulio’s lakeside piazza in an orange glow. I hear a perfectly-silent-but-for-the- squeaking-of-my-own shoes January morning, alone with the mosaics of Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna. I smell a musty, deep gray chamber with a view of rain on an empty courtyard, spied through a rippled glass window in Mantova’s Palazzo Ducale. I listen to the laughter of an unseen chef as I taste a slice of young pecorino baked with honey and pistachios in a sleek Montalcino bistro. I glimpse the sun-drenched Torre del Mangia over the shoulders of a crowd of around some dark corner in Siena. Oh, and I still feel every turn in a conversation about death, with my father, as we gaze over the cemetery below Cortona. These memories—and others—take me as deeply into myself as I ever went into Italy.

My father linked me (is that how you Americans say it?) to this travel story this morning:

IT was a cold, foggy morning in Tuscany, and La Foce, a 15th-century villa that sits on 2,000 acres of rolling fields overlooking the storied Montepulciano vineyards, was eerily quiet.

I walked the stone pathways in the manicured garden. Around me, cypress trees creaked, ripe oranges swayed soundlessly from bare branches and a scattering of white flowers clung to a stone wall for warmth. Far below, a miniature Fiat truck made its way up the hillside, chugging along the empty, winding road.

The last time I was in Tuscany, it was July. Fields were ablaze in that golden yellow you see on postcards, bikers in neon Lycra were swarming the roads, and tour buses jammed the medieval piazzas. And I’d had the brilliant idea of inviting 120 non-Italian-speaking friends to the tiny village of Pienza for my wedding. “Beautiful, hot and full of Americans” was how one ungracious guest had put it.

But now, the temperature had dropped to 40 degrees and the color palette had shifted to the shockingly bright green that appears in these hills only in the winter and early spring. Steely gray fog rolled slowly across the valley, and a blanket of silence suggested a landscape that had gone into hibernation.

The rest is here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Colin Meloy, "Springville"

Yesterday I transcribed the lyrics from last year's new Decemberists recording--the still-uncollected song "Sleepless." Other new songs have shown up in live performances since then, but when do we get the album?! Meanwhile, here's yet another song from The Decemberists' newly bearded singer/songwriter, Colin Meloy:

While he frets down under, other members of the band have headed for the blue grass of the dark, dark prairie. (Of course, if the three tracks streaming at myspace are any indication, they're only going where Tin Hat Trio and others have gone long before--which is hardly a complaint, by the way.)

Simply Shocking

Anti-Gay State Senator Arrested after Leaving Gay Nightclub with Unidentified Man

Not that this was his first visit, mind you.

Cue the near-tearful, apologetic press conference with his wife at his shoulder:

Of course, we've been here before, and we'll be here again. As Dan Savage has noted repeatedly on his podcast, you can be fairly confident that if a politician rabidly and repeatedly speaks out not just against gay marriage but against homosexuality itself, there's a fair chance he or she has something to hide.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Decemberists, "Sleepless"

This mournful song made its way onto my iPod early last year but only recently caught my ear. No, "caught" is an understatement. For the past couple of days my imagination has been hounded by the grief and regret in this song.

Others have posted lyrics online, but I hear the words differently. Here's what I believe Colin Meloy sings:


As you lie before me now
like a shadow on a pea-green sea,
I never thought that I could find you so hollow,
laying into me.
But this cup of wine, all salt and brine, has made me sleepy,
and sorrow sows
a field of tears that will never yield a single penny
that I don't owe.
I've got nothing to hold on to.

Wished for gold so I could buy you a palace
by the riverside.
You'd come in and I would fill your diamond chalice,
if you were still alive.

But this cup of wine, all salt and brine, has made me sleepy,
and sorrow sows
a field of tears that will never yield a single penny
that I don't owe.
I've got nothing to hold on to, love.
I've got nothing to hold on to.

Were you sleepless, tearing at the air?
Was the water everywhere?
Were you fretful to wade into the room?
I'd been wanting to hear from you.
Oh no.

Hand it over, hand it over.
You're weary, lay him down.
You did your time, so thank you very much.
Hand it over, hand it over.
So now your hopes are all allayed,
but you hand it all away.

Did his eyelids affix on empty chairs
You had traveled to lay beside?
A gentle torture to watch it all recede,
and all the while your mother slept beside him.
Oh no.

Hand it over, hand it over.
You're weary, lay him down.
You did your time, so thank you very much.
Hand it over, hand it over.
So now your hopes are all allayed,
and you hand it all away.

Were you sleepless, tearing at the air?
Was the water everywhere?
Were you fearful and long[ing?] to run away
from the cold clasp of Illinois?
Oh no. Oh no. Oh!

Hand it over, hand it over.
You're weary, lay him down.
You did your time, so thank you very much.
Hand it over, hand it over.
So now your hopes are all allayed,
but you hand it all away.
But you hand it all away.


Please let me know if these words don't match up with the words you hear.


The song's speaker talks to a corpse, possibly a dead parent. Late in the song he even sings to the dead parent about the dead parent's parents.

Early on, there's a reference to poverty in the form of a debt of tears. The speaker has done something terrible, something that hurt the deceased. Something that can't be undone. So it's a song filled with regret.


There's a start.


For good measure, and in case "Sleepless" wasn't haunting enough for you, here's Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night":


While we're on the blind and the haunting, here's someone's homemade video for my favorite Bob Dylan song--"Blind Willie McTell":

And here's the real McCoy--or, rather, the real McTell:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Shearwater, "Hidden Lakes"

The Quesclamation Mark

Hello, interrobang.

Interrobang? What the...‽

Yes indeed: interrobang. But sheesh! What's next, an "irony mark"

This mark ؟ was proposed by the French poet Alcanter de Brahm (alias Marcel Bernhardt) at the end of the 19th century. It was in turn taken by Hervé Bazin in his book Plumons l’Oiseau ("Pluck the bird", 1966), in which the author proposes several other innovative punctuation marks, such as the doubt point (Point de doute.svg), certitude point (Point de certitude.svg), acclamation point (Point d'acclamation.svg), authority point (Point d'autorité.svg), indignation point (Point d'indignation.svg), and love point (Point d'amour.svg).

Me--I'm all for using words to set the tone.


A nautical escapade with your Wednesday morning VJ...

(Click here for more on this shark.)

(Yes, I mean to choose this unofficial, obnoxious version of the "Glosoli" video.)

Oh my, let's not end on that bitter note.


More Frank Tovey

I'm following up this morning's post about Frank Tovey and the Pyros with a couple more songs. First, the official video from the lead single from his final solo album, Worried Man in Second Hand Suits. Here's "All That is Mine":

Next up, a powerful, provocative homemade video of still images set to the song "When the Victim Takes the Tyrant's Place":

And while we're at it here's Tovey's most popular single from his earlier, weirder incarnation as Fad Gadget. Great video. The song is called "Collapsing New People":

Ouch. Read more here.