Category Archives: Music

“Mondo Deco” — A Panel on THE QUICK at BB

Thursday, June 14, 2018

“Mondo Deco” — A Panel on THE QUICK at Beyond Baroque

Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar magazine was one of the best literary magazines published in the 1970s, although categorizing it as a “literary” magazine minimizes its cultural contribution. Cooper wanted poetry to be read with the same pleasure and admiration as the best of pop music, but he also wanted poets to listen to pop music with the same level of appreciation that they had for Frank O’Hara. Little Caesar did not keep its affections for pop music in its back pages. A full frontal shot of Iggy Pop stands out as one of its issues’ classic covers.

Tonight, at Beyond Baroque, there will be a panel discussion devoted to The Quick, one of the bands that Dennis Cooper incisively championed. The Quick only performed for about three years in the mid-1970s, and they seem to have had the bad luck of emerging just before the lassitude of the post-1960s cultural success of pop music collided with the Punk movement. If any account of an artistic period almost always oversimplifies things (and the statement I just made is a prime example), then it is the inexplicable failure of gifted artists to attain proportionate recognition that provokes reassessments of those accounts. While tonight’s panel, which features the main songwriter for The Quick, Steve Hufsteter, along with Lisa Fancher, the founder of Frontier Records, will no doubt talk about the inability of the band to break through the stultified filters of the music industry at that time, I would hope that the conversation would devote itself to a mood of celebration.

The Quick’s first and only album, Mondo Deco, was far from a commercial success, but it was not forgotten by its devoted listeners. It is finally being re-released over 40 years after its first appearance, in a version that includes a second album’s worth of additional songs that were subsequently recorded before the band broke up. I hope the success of the panel tonight, which has added a 10 p.m. follow-up to its sold-out 8 p.m. presentation, helps spread the word about some of the music that fascinated the youthful insurgency of poetry in Los Angeles in the 1970s.

I wish I could attend this event, but I am teaching English 474/574 in the first summer session at CSULB, and it meets in the evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For further background information:

http://www.laweekly.com/music/best-of-la-music-rock-and-metal-bands-venues-a-video-and-a-record-store-9555978

http://www.laweekly.com/music/power-pop-icons-the-quick-finally-find-heaven-after-decades-in-rock-and-roll-purgatory-9565219

Ron Ozuna’s Photographs of Bolsa Chica

Monday, February 19, 2018

Bird Photographs and Other Links

Ron Ozuna has been traversing California’s wetlands for several years and taking photographs of birds, and I am delighted to have gotten his permission to share links with his work. The other links in today’s post have been chosen out of variety of my reading and listening to music the past couple weeks. It’s a cold and windy morning here in Long Beach, California, and it is supposed to get much more chilly tonight. I only wish that some rain would arrive.

http://www.mps.mpg.de/planetary-science/planetary-plasma-environment

Stream 74 Sun Ra Albums Free Online: Decades of “Space Jazz” and Other Forms of Intergalactic, Afrofuturistic Musical Creativity

If you want to see more of Ron Ozuna’s avian advocacy, see the following links:

Ron Ozuna at MONO LAKE and elsewhere:

(2016)

2016_05_15_0wens Lake

2016_05_17_Hahamongna Devils Gate Dam:

2016_05_19_Central Park & Library Huntington Beach:

Piute Pond (near Lancaster)

The Typesetter in “The Post”: “The Hand of Labor”

December 23, 2017

Yesterday, Linda and I took Laurel Ann Bogen out to a movie and dinner as a Christmas present. She wanted to see “The Post,” which turned out to be a surprisingly good film for its category. The main driving point is the publication of “The Pentagon Papers” by the New York Times and the Washington Post. The latter paper is facing a financial bind, and the hopes of providing some relief on that pressure depend on a successful stock sale, which is up for grabs at the very time that its publisher (Kay Graham) and its editor (Ben Brantley) must decide whether to challenge a court injunction that blocked the New York Times from further publication of this material.

Rather than add to the commentary of the typical aspects of a review, I have decided to concentrate on two very, very minor moments in “The Post.” This idiosyncratic preference for minuscule meaning drove my English teachers crazy when I was a freshman in college. Obviously, this is one other feature of a blog that I truly love. I get to do what I want.

Laurel, Linda, and I all worked at newspapers at various times in our lives, and each of us at dinner expressed the pleasure we got from the film during its moments when it displayed the production process of the paper itself. Bringing a newspaper into a reader’s hands, each of us knew, was not some magical process, but involved considerable physical labor, effort, and concentration. Towards the end of the film, the publisher stands behind a typesetter. Not a word is spoken, but the body itself of the typesetter was remarkably full of history. A Korean War veteran, most likely, whose son had forestalled being drafted by going to college. This typesetter was not a combat veteran like the protagonist of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” In fact, he had learned to be a typesetter in the military. Did he vote for Humphrey or Nixon in 1968? Or did he vote at all? To a certain extent, he is a more representative character than anyone else in the film of the pressures that have faced the American electorate the past half-century. Yet he does not have a voice, only the nimble fingers that reflect “The Hand of Labor.”

The second moment in the film that I want to comment on involves a scene where the publisher, played surprisingly well by Meryl Streep, is sitting on the edge of a bed. The left third of the screen is taken up by a lamp on a small table. The camera does not move for quite some time. No doubt it was less than 90 seconds, but it seemed more like three minutes. I had an odd “Fluxus” moment: I wanted the whole screen to fill up with the image of the lamp and for the soundtrack of John Williams’s fine understated music to play without any human voice, and then for the people who worked at the factory that made the lamp to appear and for them to begin to speak, out of history to history. If a newspaper is the “first rough draft” of history, it is their words that need to be recorded in its opening paragraphs and in the intonement of its final pronouncements.

Note: It was hard to resist making the headline of my blog post today about a milestone in my blog: 1,000,000 total hits. At some point in the next few hours, my blog will surpass that symbolic figure. When I woke up and checked this morning, the official number was 999,751, so it won’t be long before my blog’s dispersal over the past year and a half reflects a wider audience than it was getting in its first two and a half years. I am not under any illusion that this mean my blog has some kind of wide readership. That is hardly the case. To a large extent, I write this as a version of an intermittent diary, albeit one that is available for others to read. To those of you who read it, and have on occasion written me, thank you for your attention and care.

A Quick Sunday Trifecta: Joseph Hansen, Lewis MacAdams, and Women’s Music

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

There was a meeting this afternoon at Beyond Baroque for the committee in charge of its 50 anniversary celebration, which will start in just a few months. I couldn’t make the meeting, for I find myself trying to finish both a major poetry project and several papers for the literature side of things.

However, I doubt there’s a better way at the present moment to invoke the grubby days of a half-century ago — when poets in Venice considered themselves fortunate to have a small storefront to gather in and talk about their poems — than to pass along a link to an article on Joseph Hansen, without whom there would have been no workshop and everything that grew out of all those encounters. If George Drury Smith was the founder of Beyond Baroque, then Joseph Hansen was the secret instigator of its ability to encompass a most peculiar variety of poets. Lisa Janssen has written a very fine account of Hansen’s life and commitment to social change that deserves your attention:

MY FAVORITE GADABOUT #3: GAY PRIDE EDITION, JOSEPH HANSEN

Of course, not all the poets who have made a significant difference in Los Angeles were based in Venice. Lewis MacAdams, for instance, arrived here in the early 1980s and promptly made himself one of the indispensable activists. His work on reclaiming the Los Angeles river is legendary, and is rightfully being accorded an oral history in which Lewis gets to assemble and preserve the details of that process. Here is a link to an article that lets us peek into that process.

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-macadams-lariver-legacy-20171006-htmlstory.html

The third thing I’d like to share with you is a counterpoint to all the news coming out about a certain Hollywood mogul. While it’s crucial that those who have been victimized get to confront the perpetrator of their debasing memories, it’s also important not to let this overwhelm the discourse of imagination to the point where women are primarily categorized as either one of two things: victims or potential victims. Against considerable odds, women have done extraordinarily important cultural work, and here are two links to some of it. The first is to women who worked in the field of electronic music, and the second is to a long list of albums that anyone interested in popular music should be familiar with. For those born since 1990, a surprising number of these albums may only be familiar as flare-ups of nostalgia by their aunts and uncles, or parents.

http://edm.com/articles/2014/12/14/6-women-history-electronic-music

http://www.npr.org/2017/07/20/538324927/turning-the-tables-150-greatest-albums-made-by-women-page-13

As a last-minute follow-up, I just now remembered that I happened to run across a video that made me think of the book, Gunfighter Nation.

Is there a way to substitute guitars played by women musicians for the guns in the above video, and thereby move the image to one of affirming life’s potential for joy?

The Sam Shepard Tribute at the Bootleg Theater

Sunday, October 15, 2017 (1 a.m.)

I hardly have time these days to keep up with new films and music, and going out to hear live music, even by a songwriter of my generation, is a rare pleasure. The recent death of Tom Petty crossed him off the list of songwriters I’ll ever have a chance to listen to in concert. The irony that he just finished a triumphant concert tour with three shows in Los Angeles is more poignant than I care to dwell on. But I am undergoing a “time famine” at this point, and even if I had been informed on the strictest secrecy that these were going to be his final performances, I would not have been able to attend, any more than I was able to attend in person the memorial tribute to Sam Shepard that Darrell Larson organized at the Bootleg Theater on Monday, October 2. I did buy tickets to the event, but ended up having to watch long distance. The drive after a long day of teaching was more than I could surmount.

It was a fitting and largely understated tribute to a writer I never met, but whose poetics influenced me far more than many contemporary poets. Beth Ruscio and Leon Martell read a scene from The God of Hell with exquisite timing and feel for the groundswell of social chaos about to erupt on a placid dairy farm. John Densmore and Alan Mandell followed up with an extract of Tongues. A childhood friend who had lost touch with him spoke of “Steve” Rogers as someone with whom he rode his bicycle to the Southwestern Museum. I didn’t jot down the name of the actor who read a passage from Shepard’s prose about waking up in the night with blue thermal socks on his feet, socks that had been “pilfered from some movie set.” Crouched on the edge of his bed, Shepard’s narrator reflects on 4 a.m. wake-up calls to play characters who now seem at a distance to be more like “violent love affairs.” Shepard’s sisters were present. Roxanne spoke with quiet humor of how she learned of her brother’s youthful success as a writer and how it caught her off-guard to discover how highly regarded he was by her peers. Murray Mednick evoked an echo of late evenings at the Padua Hills Festivals in the foothills above Claremont back in the late 1970s as he shook a rattle in a farewell summoning.

Last weekend Linda and I visited her sister, Brenda, and helped her siblings clear out her tiny apartment in Topanga. There was a small birthday party at the trailer where she is living now. Some local musicians played music and sang songs, including a haunting version of Petty’s “Free-Falling.”

Returning from that trip, I had more school work to do than I ever anticipated, in part because the committee assignments are badly distributed by those in charge of what is called self-governance in academia. Finally, towards the end of this week, I went to visit my mother. Her decline has slowed somewhat, though it appears that her vision is beginning to diminish.
Along with millions of other people in California, I feel a profound trepidation over the unfathomable intellectual shallowness of the current president of the United States. I am convinced that he wants to start a war so that he can eviscerate the civil rights of anyone who speaks up against it, seize their property, and utterly destroy our lives. I still cannot believe how people could ever have voted for someone who is so obviously a narcissistic thug.

In the meantime, the wildfires in Northern California left me almost sleepless with worry that my first wife’s trailer was in one of the trailer park that was completely leveled by the onslaught. It turned out that her trailer was spared, at least in the first wave of fires, but neither could be certain about the fate of another friend, who lived in Kenwood. The night before I learned of the fires, I had a dream that I saw Cathay in our old apartment in Ocean Park, and there were tears in her eyes. When I heard about the thousands of structures that had burned down, I feared that the dream was a foreshadowing of her residence having been one of the victims of this enormous conflagration.

It is now close to 1 a.m. on Sunday, October 15. I had tried to go to sleep two hours ago, but sensed that someone was peering through our window, and am still convinced that someone was there, especially since a motion light came on just as I got close enough to the window to peek outside. I tried to meditate afterwards, and will do so again after I post this. May your evening, late as it might be wherever you are, be ready to accept another beginning. This last sentence is a variation on one of the sentences I heard from Shepard’s writing during his tribute. So many of us miss him more than we ever expected to.

John Ashbery (1927-2017)

John Ashbery (Born July 28, 1927 – September 3, 2017)

An extraordinary number of “contemporary” poets were born in 1927. I put scare quotes around the word because if a poet is dying at 90, the math is fairly straightforward: when Ashbery was 25 years old, Wallace Stevens, W.C. Williams, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound were all alive. I doubt he thought of them at that point as “contemporaries.” Yet a young poet today might be asked to study an anthology of contemporary poetry in which John Ashbery and Tracy K. Smith are listed in the index as contributors. The word seems to have a peculiarly supple elasticity.

Even though Ashbery is hailed on the occasion of his death’s announcement with the same reverent praise that has been bestowed on him for the past 40 years, such deferential tribute was not always the case. While he was one of the poets in Donald Allen’s classic anthology, he did not stand out in the mid-1960s (as he approached age 40) as one of the top ten poets in that anthology most likely to achieve sustained global acclaim. Yet by the time he was 50 years old, Ashbery’s stature far exceeded that of many poets who had been listed in the index of M.L. Rosenthal’s The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II. Rosenthal’s book was meant to be a comparative study of the major poets who had appeared in either the Hall-Pack-Simpson anthology or Donald Allen’s NAP. Given that Rosenthal’s book appeared in 1967, when Ashbery was 40, one sees how crucial the years between ages 40 and 50 were to Ashbery’s eventual, immutable maturity, for that period is when he mastered the singular combination of chords and grace notes that make his work as inimitable as it is influential in provoking variations.

Although he was more associated with the world of the visual arts than with music, it is a commentary from the latter that I wish to present for your consideration tonight.

“I greatly admire this piece, but don’t really consider it a song. It’s more a meditation, or – to borrow a term that didn’t exist at the time (Miles) Davis recorded ‘Blue in Green’ – a type of improvised ambient music. …. Indeed, the casual listener could be forgiven for thinking that the work is just a free-form improvisation, without clear beginning or end.
….
“Despite its popularity, musicians need to be brave to call this song at a gig. ‘Blue in Green’ has no catchy hooks or flamboyant interludes, and unless you have earned a chamber music reverence from the audience, you run the risk of losing their attention. I would keep it under wraps at a noisy nightclub, but in the right setting with listeners who are willing to participate in a collective meditation, this work can be a springboard to an experience that almost transcends jazz.”

As the experience of Ashbery’s work almost transcends poetry.

Commentary on “Blue in Green” from Ted Gioia’s The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire (Oxford University Press, 2012), pages 37-38.

John Ashbery, 1927–2017

“Success is succession”: The Poetics of a Luthier

Friday, July 28, 2017

“Success is succession”: The Poetics of a Luthier
Bill Collings (August 9, 1948 – July 14, 2017

“Why did the sound of some guitars haunt me while others didn’t?” the luthier Bill Collings remembered asking himself as a young man.

One could ask the same question about poems, and inquire why more poets don’t take the tonal and thematic propensities of their writing more seriously. In poetry, the question that haunts is whether the poem not merely deserves but demands translation. This does not require that the poem be perfect. Imperfection will be inherent in the original, as it was in every guitar that was turned out by Bill Collings’s company, and then put to equally imperfect use by some of the best-known masters of songwriting, including Lyle Lovett, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Keith Richards.

The impact of acknowledging imperfection’s role in the process turns out to be one of the prime motivations for building guitars. “Can you pick the perfect piece of wood? …. Can you make it the perfect thickness?” Collings asks, knowing all too well what the response is. “No, but you can get really close. …. Success is succession, over and over and over, and it comes from failure. Failure, failure, failure — knowing that if you stop, you’re done.”

Bill Collings, Luthier

An Affirmative Fourth of July, 2017

July 4, 2017

July 4, 2016

Donald Trump is in a state of severe psychological distress. He seems to be occupying a hall of mirrors in which Baudrillard’s theory of the simulacrum conflates with Freud’s musings about the return of the repressed. The most recent Delirium Tremens installment involves the dissemination of a video from an old wrestling show in which he lampoons himself as a Don Quixote vanquishing “fake news.” He may have taken a public oath of office administered by a Supreme Court Justice that grants him residency in the White House, but that speech act did nothing to change his personality, which is that of a narcissistic bully.

A year ago, Linda and I went to Rod Bradley’s house and enjoyed a lovely evening with his friends and family. As dusk began to summon distant glimmers of fireworks at the perimeters of Los Angeles County, we took in the spectacle with little expectation that a malign transmogrification was about to launch itself into public power over social policy. Despite this grim turn in our national self-governance, I choose to celebrate this holiday as an affirmation of the virtues required to stand up to bullies and to punish them for their bad behavior.

Even as we admit how discouraging this travesty of an administration truly is, let us remember how persistent the resistance has been. As we take in this evening’s panoply of lingering bursts of color, let this ritual reinforce the dexterity of our citizenship; let our pledge of allegiance be to a nation that still embraces those who live and work with us out of no other choice of tolerable refuge. Let the despair that drives them here be a reminder of the effusive hope we must sustain amongst ourselves to preserve the viability of this experiment in democracy.

Atomized Fireworks

As the soundtrack anthem for today, here’s a link to my favorite for this occasion:

Hey Baby, It’s the 4th of July (Dave Alvin & X)

For those who wonder about the technology of fireworks, here is a link from one of my favorite websites:

How fireworks get their colors

“Spin, Spider, Spin” – Patty Zeitlin’s Songs for Children

Friday, February 3, 2017

“Spin, Spider, Spin” – Patty Zeitlin’s Songs for Children

In the midst of all the turmoil being generated by the bloated narcissism of a master manipulator, I want to offer all those who have very young children in their care a reminder of a very lovely song that they can play for their children. I first learned of “Spin, Spider, Spin” back in the mid-1970s, when I met a songwriter at the Church in Ocean Park named Patty Zeitlin. Influenced by the folk song movement that was popular in her youth, she was primarily interested in writing songs for children, and often collaborated with another woman named Marcia Berman. If I remember correctly, they also were part of a puppet theater company that went around to schools. She eventually moved north to Seattle, and has remained active in working for peace and reconciliation. She put out several albums, including one entitled “My Mommy Is a Doctor,” that offers role models in its lyrics. Her work as an songwriter deserves a lifetime achievement award. Here is a link to today’s featured song (and another one as the “B” side):

From the Archives: Spin Spider Spin by Patty Zeitlin

Don Waller: In Memoriam

Friday, November 18, 2016

My friend, Richard Agata, called me yesterday afternoon with the news that Don Waller died on Tuesday, November 15. While Don is probably best known as being the author of “The Motown Story,” he was also a musician, song-writer, music critic and historian, as well as a journalist who brought his skeptical stare to everything he edited. When it was time to do a final check on the boards we were about to send to the printer, there was no one I more trusted to be in the chair scanning the pasted-up columns.

For ten years (1985-1995) I worked alongside Don at Radio & Records, and it was a privilege to have a chance to see a professional at work in a field where many aspire, and most falter. It was an industry newspaper, and as such it was as much a part of the music industry as a newspaper enterprise. Our stand-out distinction was the integrity of our charts. You could buy an advertisement in our newspaper, but you couldn’t buy a boost in the chart position. We recorded what stations were actually playing, and if they decided to cheat on their reports, they risked losing being a reporter to our charts. My sense is that it was a risk that few were willing to take.

It was a weekly newspaper, and the schedule could be grueling. Even if one were inclined to shop on Black Friday, few of us at R&R ever did more than sleep that day. Monday of that week was a normal eight to nine hour shift, and then Tuesday would be a 14 hour shift, usually ending around 1:30 a.m. We would then return around 10:30 a.m. the next morning to work a ten to eleven hour shift to get all the work done that would normally be done on a Thursday and Friday. Waking up on Thanksgiving morning and starting to cook that day’s dinner took every bit of commitment I could summon. My guess is that Don Waller didn’t bother sleeping Wednesday night. He was as precise and devoted to perfection around the stove burners as he was at the keyboard.

The work ethic at R&R, epitomized by Don Waller’s relentless enthusiasm, has carried over into my academic life. There are people I meet at the university who simply wouldn’t last at a place such as R&R. They couldn’t cut it, and Don would be the first to let them know, though not in a confrontational way. As Lucie Morris, my dear friend and fellow typesetter, noted in her Facebook post, Don’s nonchalant humor was inspirational. One night, decompressing at 2:15 a.m. around a long production table, Don mimicked a recently hired worker in the news sections who had explained her indolent work pace at that morning’s meeting: “I don’t want to burn out.”

“Baby, you haven’t even caught on fire yet,” he had retorted.

She was gone within another six weeks, and it surprised us all to hear that she had landed a job at a well-known news outlet in Washington, D.C., which must have obviously had a less challenging culture than its reputation would have suggested.

Don had been a musician in his youth and had a band called Imperial Dogs, which would have had more success had it launched itself two years laters in the early years of punk rock. In 1974, the world was not yet ready for confrontational rock and roll. For Don, though, shifting from guitar to typewriter allowed him to use his considerable intelligence in a way that gave his performances as a writer an enduring presence in the conversation.

“The Motown Story” is out-of-print, but is far from being unavailable. Over 300 libraries around the world have the book in their stacks, and I guarantee that you will get something out of this book. I still quote his comment about the relationship between the bass guitar and the drums as a way to help students understand what vowels and consonants are doing in a line of poetry.

Don knew I was a poet and that I organized readings in the community. A few months after I was no longer working at R&R, I set up one of my favorite readings, pairing Ellen Sander, whose first chapbook is being published this fall, and Don Waller. My recollection is that Richard Agata did the flyer. I have rarely worked as hard to make a reading successful, and the raucous applause of a large crowd that afternoon in October, 1995 was all the reward I needed.

Don stepped off-stage in the full spotlight of a supermoon. I bow to his presence in my life, as I will bow to his absence. Whatever chance conjugations brought a force field named Don Waller into the universe, I can only say I am grateful to have met him and to have worked with him. He is the only person I have ever met that I would trust to do liner notes for my next spoken word project. The old saying that “the graveyard’s full of irreplaceable people” doesn’t hold true in Don’s case. There isn’t anyone to replace him. The kind of obsessive discipline that drove him to demand more knowledge about music, each and every day he lifted his ears to listen, can’t be found anymore.

Affectionate nostalgia is often a narcissistic luxury, and yet I will indulge. How else can I describe the recollection of those moments passing in the hall at R&R when we would pause and somehow pull it all together: the work, the music, the need to do both, the honor of the ordinary moment under pressure in the company of an extraordinary comrade. Thank you, Don. I say farewell with a very heavy heart.

DON WALLER
September 1, 1951 – November 17.2016

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-don-waller-20161118-story.html

http://www.allaccess.com/net-news/archive/story/159922/r-r-s-don-waller-passes-away
Joel Denver

http://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/don-waller

Remembering Don Waller


Steve Hochman

http://www.laweekly.com/music/rip-don-waller-influential-music-journalist-and-imperial-dog-7625759
John Payne