Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Above - Longtime meritorious cultural warriors Chris Mason and Liz Downing have a serious moment of sinking into the gravitas before belting out one of their all time best Old Song sets within the lush tome-lined walls of the Enoch Pratt Library's Poe Room.
Above - Marcus Jicklingius, who also put together the Old Songs' new book All Birds.
I have seen Old Songs live almost as many times as an average Deadhead woke up with green pork rinds in their Garcia wigs, but last Wednesday's two sets - the works of Sappho in the first set and Anacreon in the second - were the most sublime I've witnessed. All those beautiful books, book loving audience members, hired gun Don Peyton sitting in on uke and mandolin, and somber portraits of pale Poe gazing down upon them put the fire of Hephaestus in them to "sing of the lovely-haired graces/ To people in public places."
As part of this wonderful show, Mark Jickling put together a book of their translations where he explains in the introduction: "The Old Songs project, begun in 2002, seeks to bring ancient Greek lyric poetry of the 7th through 5th centuries BC to life via music. The few fragments of this poetry that remain have been studied extensively and translated many times, but words on the page can't do justice to verse that was composed to be sung.
"We don't know what the old music sounded like.....Old Songs sets the ancient lyrics to tunes derived from Anglo-Celtic ballads and dance music, Appalachian old-time music, blues....This juxtaposition of musical and lyrical worlds is arbitrary, but it works."
You can hear many of the songs from the book at PennSound:
Above - Sir Chris Batworth Ciaetti, one of many poets gathered in the Poe Room to watch poets sing the words of Ancient poets)
Part of the beauty and magic of Old Songs is that it shows how good writing is timeless and remains relevant, whether it's the beauty of Sappho: "Evening star brings back/ What bright dawn has scattered" or the bluesy grit of Anacreon: "My temples are grey, my hair's turned white/ All I've got left is a little sweet life/ Teeth worn out, charmed youth gone by/ Fear of the underworld makes me cry/ Hades hole is a terrible place/ The road down there is sorry and rough".
But let us end with Old Songs chanteuse Liz Downing's thoughts on eternity from All Birds' preface: "The sameness of the moon's light on Sappho's island as on the island of her lover is the same moon light which connects us to these Ancient poets. This same moonlight connects us to the first creatures who had the inclination to look up. Ancient poets' longing to be remembered is the same longing of poets today and under the same moon"
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Well, sadly my momma did not live to see this - her pumpkin-headed boy on the front page of a business newspaper!!! The gent with the art deco smooth scooped wig at Daily Record was kind enough to share some print love with us for this year's Record Store Day. But Sir Owen Gardner had the best quote about vinyl's resurgence and its superiority to MP3's and such - saying that people tire of data transfer and what a closer bond. Here's the article:
Record Store Day
(Above - the electric shoes of Lurch & Holler's Michael Willis)
Record Store Day started seven years ago and I remember waiting in line at a coffee joint with gentleman Tony of Celebrated Summer Records in Hampden and we were both bitching that this possible Hallmark-like event could turn into a screw job for the truly "small" record stores and just another boon for the Soundgarden types. Which are fine, but to us small guys, they are the big guys and are doing pretty good.
(Above - opening act of the day The Bow-Legged Gorilla)
But as it turns out, the day has turned into a day of folks seemingly gathering their hard-earned spending green and then lathering it onto all the vinyl shops in their vicinity. Soundgarden of course, being able to afford loading up on tons of limited RSD stock, raking in mad cash, but the rest of us having our niche and sort of having a dancing vinyl leprechaun day of joy that helps pad things out into the encroaching uncertain summertime.
(Above - Lurch in dervish mode)
At Normal's we figured we'd enslave a bunch of musical acts we love, stock up as much great used vinyl as possible, have a sale and place a little RSD title cream on top. That way if the day tanks, we will at least not be alone and we will have wonderful live music to serenade our sorrows.
(Above - Liz of Lurch)
The last few years have worked really well and we've had beautiful weather to boot. We'd like to thank again all the fantastic acts that gave their time and Essences - The Bow-Legged Gorilla, Lurch & Holler, Heart of Hearts, Omoo Omoo and Nathan Bell. Long live physical culture! Insh'allah!!!
(Above - Heart of Hearts)
(Above - Omoo Omoo)
(Above - Nathan Bell appearing to give someone the stinkeye, but perhaps some Boh bubbles went down the wrong hatch)
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Where To From Out by Chris Mason
Furniture Press Books, 2013
Where To From Out, Chris Mason's latest charming, informative and deeply human and humane book, is his autobiography through his life's travels. What better way to know a person and their values than through where they go, who they go with and what they bring back with them?
The primary focus of these journeys, though, is the grandeur of the lands and peoples of Earth and their history. The author recognizes he is lucky enough to be a relatively brief specimen passing through with a respect and awe of the human continuum and, like in "Gondwanaland Super-continet Earth 450 million years ago", a concern for the future: "...The/ current mass/ extinction being/ caused by us/ is happening so/ slowly we/ hardly notice it." To move about informed by the history of the lands we travel is a political act and the first and best protection against acting like an Assclown.
Befitting the travel poems inside, the chapbook is designed like a map or a cool menu that you would get at a rustic tavern on a Swiss hillside. The limited edition version, which I am happy to be holding, has beautiful textured screen printed covers by Jodi Hoover.
To give an example of the populist vision of Chris, one similar to folk legend Woody Guthrie, here are a few lines from "Monteverde, Costa Rica":
ground and sky,
thick air and algae -
fur. Costa Rica's
richer when lack of
gold there caused
The format of the book being so long and thin (about 2 1/2" wide & 13" tall), the line breaks are short and clipped, giving the writing the feel of notes and impressions jotted down on the fly or resting at a cafe, to be assembled and pondered when you return home.
The various homes throughout stages of the author's life are also sprinkled among the travel destinations. Like he and his wife's home ("Halethorpe, Maryland, 1988") with a small Jewish cemetary behind it that they move into with their newborn daughter.
Despite its drawbacks: "smelly polluted gully", "Jewish/cemetery, one/ night defaced,/", plus Winky the blind cat they took in accidentally getting cooked in a propane furnace, the author has a warm spot in his heart for their marriage cottage where their toddler danced to music tapes - "I heart/ambient/haunted love-hovel". I must disclose (and brag) that I too heart that place and of course Chris. I got to help him move in there and watch redheaded wild sprite Elizabeth take form and grow resilient.
To get a rich feeling for the author's own origins, an awful lot is packed into the small 11 line poem "Oberammergau, Germany, (Reenactment of Christ's Crucifixion) Every Tenth year":
with parents, night brain
storm, knock on
bedroom door, their sweet
embrace, open door,
shout, "Let's go
see the Passion Plays
this Spring at
You get a lot of insight from these few lines/words - the 17 year old not only has worldly intellectual curiosity outside average teen stuff, but his relationship is such with his parents that they not only share intellectual passions, but he feels comfortable enough to knock on their closed night door. The warmth of the home is only further accentuated by the fact that he has interrupted them getting it on (hopefully the interruptions were not a regular occurrence. That would take this narrative into a far different place).
But of course no human is just a gusher of light wanting to hang with the folks while Christ is strung up again, there has to also be a dark side. Or else Jung would purely just be read by anally fixated pastel New Agers carefully weighing their daily stools in Whole Foods.
In "Kindergarten Room Keewaydin Elementary School Minneapolis, Minnesota" we learn: "I sneak up on/ gentle big/ brother John skating/ and push him/ face first down on ice./ Teacher mad/ sixth grade when we move/ I don't thank/ class for completing/ my paper/ mache yarn monkey."
A major theme in this book that to me runs throughout all of Chris' work, is that though our personal material lives are finite, they're infinite in their resonance in the cycle of life. We live on in the hearts and minds of our loved ones, bones of a three foot tall human from 17 thousand years ago are dug up in Indonesia for scientists to learn from, "Some guys drink beer, see/ cosmic rays/ making Northern Lights./ Maybe those/ muons are from that/ binary/ star, Cygnus X- 3,/ one guy thinks."
And where is the great circle of life better represented than by a book in a bookstore? In "Normals Books and Records" (okay, I co-own this shop, but that's not the only or main reason I'm quoting from here), things get downright meta. The author is filling in for his bookshop pal who claims to be going to the post office but is most likely out fiendishly sucking down a shorty behind the Save-Rite. While there Chris comes across one of the books he wrote and gave away to a woman he had a crush on sitting in the store with his inscription to her on a continent of feeling long long ago. "Coffee stains,/ finger-smude, corners/ of pages/ curling, spine bloated/ or spine cracked,/ books sent out come back/ older." Another time in the same store he hears the daughter of the director of the Bach society from his hometown in Minneapolis that his mother sang in plaing electronically altered flute, "their notes in moonlight now dispersed./ Each book on shelf at/ Normals once/ lay open, face down,/ on someone's/ stomach, half-asleep,/ half-mouthing/ words just read to self."
Now Where To From Out, Chris' new book, is standing beautiful and filled with whimsy and wisdom on the bookshelves of that very store and I am confident that many years from now when the Earth is ruled by "a great though now/ obscure phylum of/ beings with/ unlikely object-/ perceivers,/ unthinkable thing-/ controllers/ and thoughts that do not/ seem like thoughts", they will somehow come across the works of Chris Mason, enter the content into processing jelly and perform what to them is joy ritual.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The tenth annual Transmodern Festival here in Baltimore starting on May 2nd is going to have up an art show of Blaster's work called "Blaster's Baltimore Years (1992 - 2010)".
Here be link to Transmodern:
Thursday, April 18, 2013
That Old Blaster Magic: I Remember Nothing, Unfortunately.
The first thing that those of us who knew Blaster will usually tell folks about him is how deeply he was committed to a unique vision of humanity. There’s a line in the intro to his Omnibus about his stories and images being populated with “ghoulish fools.” And there’s always something said by us acolytes about how incredibly funny he is, accompanied by descriptions of the tears, or, among his drinkier friends, pee lost in the process of enjoying his ohmygod harharlarious stuff . And then, at some point, there’s the earnest admission that after going down the rabbithole of his output, that the world looks different and that, although you can never really hope to be as good as him, that there’s been a successful seduction, and now you find yourself seeing with Blaster-colored glasses at times and feel proud when you feel that you’ve said or done anything vaguely Blasterish, usually in prosaic terms like, “he was such a huge influence on me.”
Since he’s been gone, I’ve been thinking about this little speech, the structure of it as I’ve heard it given and given it myself, and the ways in which I’m bound to hear it again in the inevitable celebrations of him in the months to come. There’s a lot I don’t know about how he transmitted to us because he operated as an anti-guru, teaching without teaching and studiously reckless about any sense of lineage. But because I was lucky enough to see him in his off-hours on a regular basis during a few years in the mid-00s when we were roommates in a one bed-room apartment (he had the back room and the alley entrance; I had the living room with the tiny kitchen and bathroom and his always-closed panel door between us), a few things do seem worth sharing out loud for the sake of celebration of the man he was and for comfort in the face of the grief that we feel for a friend and hero now gone. He was such a good pal and a great help to those of us who knew him.
Exhibit A: Dogs, Children, and the Creeps who Care for Them
I don’t know if it was ever published, but I recall Blaster reading at a Shattered Wig night a story in which he described himself as a one-man cheering section for the dogs he saw defecating on lawns around the neighborhood. The idea was that each time he saw some pooch taking care of business on a walk, Our Man would root him on with the encouraging proclamation that, “that boy’s moving his bowels pretty good!” And the thing was, he was just that kind of a booster for anyone he saw as innocent. Dogs and kids were alright with him, and he gave a lot of credit and warmth to people, although he was keenly discerning in the behaviors of the cast of characters that surrounded him. He stayed friends for ages with people whose behavior was unjustifiably chaotic or even dishonest, summing long-time friends up in moments of sad forgiveness simply by saying, “everyone knows he’s goofy,” or something equally diffusive of hostility or conflict. I mean that he was kind and compassionate, but I’m not saying he wasn’t clear about who was who. His shuddering revulsion at the simple presence of certain humans, characterized, for instance, with a summation that, “when that guy walks into the room, it feels like all the oxygen has just been sucked out,” made it clear that he’d been working all his life on a study of character. So, although he was never someone who shouted about anyone’s greatness much, if there was some laconic remark of approval or the opposite, you could believe it. I remember how he disliked seeing friends fall out, and while he and I had our ups and downs due to my chaotic behavior (while Blaster, meanwhile, was steady as a rock) the meanest thing he ever said to me, as I was on the precipice of some genuinely terrible decision was the sharp derision, “you FOOL!” Maybe he was capable of meaner words when he was younger or older, but during the time we were close, it was the worst insult I can imagine coming from him, and it saved me then from really fucking up.
Exhibit B: Endless Details of Tertiary Characters
If you ever talked with Blaster about books or movies, you’d notice that he rarely recommended anything unless he felt you were asking for it. He’d pass favorite recent reading and viewing along happily, but as a literary conversation progressed, that vastness of his knowledge became clear, startling, and intimidating. I once described a mutual aquaintance to him as being “like a character from a Russian novel,” to which he replied, genuinely annoyed by my indistinctness, “which novel?” And the truth is that if I’d named a book to him at that moment, he would have known just what I meant. He retained characters, in minute detail, in his memory banks from things he’d read once decades ago. I never heard him say, and can’t now imagine him saying, “I don’t remember.”
Exhibit C: A letter for a Letter
Because he self-promoted to the tune of deathlike silence, whenever I met someone who might benefit from his work, I asked him if it was alright if I passed his mailing address along. “Sure, baby,” came the inevitable reply. And as far as I know, he sent a postcard for a postcard and a letter for a letter to everyone who wrote to him. When I moved away, I got from him just as good as I gave and slightly - just slightly - more. (And goddammit, my greatest regret in our relationship was that I didn’t give more, partially because he deserved more from me and partially because of the chuckles and bafflement and fun I could have gotten in return.) I know it was that way with lots and lots of people.
Exhibit D: It’s a Loose Shoe
Often repeated, the advice to “Always Try to be Lucky Enough to Work in a Despised Medium,” was credited by Blaster to Frederic Brown from correspondence from Blaster’s youth. Blaster, of course, left little in terms of a paper trail that anyone could nail down and fucked around with who-did-what-when so much that Emily Fussleman’s Rabbit only knows whether Brown ever wrote any such thing, but it was a deeply sincere motto for Blaster. Freedom meant everything, and that meant sacrifice and self-attunement. Of the latter, I remember particularly a moment when arriving home one evening to find Blaster standing over the open, blue flame-peaks of the gas range with his hands held steadily a few inches from their tops. Peering into the otherwise dark kitchen, I quietly asked after his well-being, “Blaster? Are you cold, man?” Without moving his downturned palms, his gaze came dreamily toward me as he greeted with his traditional, “hey, baby.” As he moved his eyes back down to his spidery, white mitts and the quiet surrounding them, I tried again: “Y’alright?” “Yeah,” he said, “old Indian trick. If you feel like you’re getting sick, you hold your hands over a flame and focus on the warmth entering into them. I’m fine.” Meanwhile, evidence of years of deprivation overflowed in our kitchen around him. Anything he didn’t eat from any meal was retained assiduously for some unknown eventuality. Dozens of empty peanut butter jars eventually filled the cabinets, each with only bare scrapings inside. A few swallows of Coke stayed for months at the bottoms of plastic bottles, lined up like clay Chinese funerary sculptures in the fridge. The last two bites of any sandwich were carefully wrapped in tinfoil and stowed in the freezer until it was overflowing in graying, shiny packets of inedible crusts, and the top of the fridge was stacked in a tower of cardboard tubes from the insides of the tinfoil rolls. Eventually, I got the nerve to ask, “Blaster, how would you feel if I threw away those cardboard tubes or the peanut butter jars?” “Sure thing,” he replied, “you can do it. But I can’t. It’s no problem. I’m crazy, but I’m not THAT crazy.” Which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard anyone say.
(Once after I’d cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, Blaster was so alarmed that I got a full-on Redd Foxx about-to-have-a-heart-attack panic attack as he genuinely feared we’d been robbed of our grit and mold by bandits before I explained to him what I’d done. “What a homecoming! I’ve got to lie down!” He was fine an hour later.)
Exhibit E: What a Great Liar!
We were talking about possessions and moving once, and Blaster told me that once he’d helped a woman move and that among her effusion of stuff, he had carried a box labeled “Junior High School Sweaters.” I got a good laugh out of it. Years later, I met the woman in question, and told her smirkingly of Blaster’s divulsion of that intimate detail of her personal inventory. In no uncertain terms, she replied that she had never had any such box. It was clear that he’d made it up on the spot just to make a point and to make me laugh. Her name had simply worked in the moment as the character in the story he was creating.
On another occasion, I staggered into the apartment mid-afternoon after a catastrophically grim weekend-long date with a woman at my parents’ beach condo. Standing in the doorway of my room Blaster listened fixedly to me as I unwound the tale from my slumped position of a chair. My pathetic estrangement from this girlfriend came about gradually as I had repeatedly noticed gazing at me from behind a cloud of weed smoke with a terrified and puzzled expression. He retreated to his room, energized and poked his head back into my space a couple times to ask again about her facial expression. “Would you say that she had a look of suspicion and vague hysteria?” Yeah, I said. That’s about right. Later, “Would you say that she looked like a were-cat-badger-hawk?” I laughed. You know, she kind of did. The next day he, presented me with my own story, filtered through his own set of images and incongruities, titled “Hussrl” (who I was reading at the time) and, a blessing on his head, dedicated to me. (It wouldn’t surprise me if in a hundred years that dedication weren’t what I was best known for.) Blaster’s voluminous, voracious reading habit included bits of what he referred to as members of the “Poetry-Death Crowd,” in other words, the poetry establishment, the kinds of people who recognized in their own time as being Serious Poets for poignant images and downy styles. But he knew – KNEW – and showed by example that poetry is a behavior, a coping mechanism, and a way of being. It’s all of the playfulness and decent, kind fucking-around that you do because if you don’t, it all starts to feel like “nah.”
What’s happening, man?
How’s [that thing] going with [that person]?
Blaster’s voice in my head saying stuff like that are the core questions in every piece of work and every relationship I have undertaken since knowing him, just as much as:
Titans Be Pondering
Are You My Daddy?
Here Have a Peanut
You Are the Entity.
The Search for Puffy Treats
Why Did You Steal My Watch?
I Taught my Dog to Shoot a Gun
All Different All the Same
Or any of the other lugubrious gibberish that changed the world for me and my friends, feabs, floaters, and lurkers.
Sir Ian Nagoski is the record magnate behind Canary Records, a musician and a musicologist whose brain contains and retains a frightening amount of information. At times during his scholarly talks he may even perform an old Greek dance step or two.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
April 20th, this Saturday, at the Metro Gallery, the wild hordes of Artichoke Haircut literary outlaws will take a break from sophisticated dissipation and Baudelaire channeling long enough to host a lively Lit Carnival. We have thrown our longtime contributor and pal Batworth into the mix, plus there will be readings from Matthew Savoca who has a new novel out on Publishing Genius, Sarah Jean Alexander, Tracy Dimond and Amanda McCormick. Also, Michael Kimball will be hustling the rubes at a blackjack table and the group Drunk Monk will perform.
It starts at 8:30, which leaves you some time to spin some of your Record Store Day booty.