Monday, October 29, 2012
Hitchcock. The mere name, a touchstone of the macabre. Creator of countless memories and thrills, mysteries and chills. Yet, the indelible stories he told, the masterpieces he created, must stand astride the cannily crafted mythos of Hitchcock himself. In HITCHCOCK HOTEL, poet Lyn Lifshin journeys into this vast penumbra of platinum women, psychosis, and frenzied brilliance to unmask the man hidden behind the torn curtain at the rear window of our imaginations...
Sample poems may be viewed through the Amazon link below.
Now available from
Friday, October 26, 2012
Something seems missing in recent years but in 1982 Joni Mitchell was at a creative peak, including her paintings, one fine example of her painting providing the fold-open cover art for Wild Things Run Fast. In 1982 I was living between West Eighth Street and Warren State Hospital, far beyond my years of study at the University of Pittsburgh Library under the vibrant, expansive canvasses of Joan Mitchell.
Her words are displayed across the inside panels of that fold-open cover. Joni Mitchell’s words. How many other poets had their souls fired by listening to Joni Mitchell albums, following those words printed in booklets or on sleeves and covers, learning the art of reading along? Now I know those words are lyrics, their own souls fired by the elements of music. Poetry takes the possibility of line quite further beyond Joni’s lyrics, where the line can stand alone within the silence. But then . . . ?
Joni Mitchell stands alone, most often, especially in early years, just her and a guitar but later with various combinations of talented musicians, drawn by project, some of these collaborators well-accomplished featured players, in the case of Wild Things Run Fast, Wayne Shorter. Joni Mitchell’s music, her entire body of work (to use a phrase almost entirely appropriated by sportscasters) ranges across paprika plains of folk to rock to jazz.
Joni Mitchell’s music. She also plays piano, where we find her opening Wild Things Run Fast with the melancholy mantra Nothing lasts for long, a long career already behind her. We talk about the sources of the culture that surrounds us, the tribal and regional identities expressed in our music say, Europe, Africa, but do we talk enough about our Canadian roots? Probably not. Joni Mitchell came from western Canada, through Toronto, to LA. We talk enough about the influence of Los Angeles on our culture.
Joni Mitchell’s songs. So many, so well-crafted. Filled with characters, attitude, and above all, the experience of love or at least relationship. Here, Wild Things Run Fast, the songs, all four-five minute tracks delivered five or six to a side, have many memorable individual aspects, Ladies Man, You Dream Flat Tires, but they also serve the overall sound of Joni Mitchell music, both high treble and heavy with bass, often rocking, sometimes squeezing all four chambers of the heart, an invigorating complement to the big sky clarity of her voice, her pipes, delivering those original lyrics.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Reggae music is music of the Americas, but also of an island culture that is dimly perceived by most music listeners. Music in our current culture is in a fairly sad state of affairs, with a sort of apartheid between commercially produced and fairly franchise sounding work, and independent work that gets a cult following at best. In addition, the urban aesthetic of most music—even music that is supposedly the opposite of the urban sensibility, and which calls itself country, is so heavily produced in its sound that authenticity seems more nostalgic than actual—is of a mechanized, formulaic construction that yields any meager expressiveness in a series of lyrics that tend toward emotive clichés. Reggae music, while still firmly of the island culture of its origins, has modernized itself into some mainland tropes, most probably in the interest of commerce.
Thus, refreshingly, this CD by one of the Royal Family of Reggae, Damian Marley is exceptionally welcome.
As unlikely as it is to offer critical political and cultural insight in music anymore, the first track on this CD “Confrontation” opens with an audio tape of a public speech, a bass drum in a marching beat and a voice saying: “ Since the beginning of modern civilization/generations have witnessed and inherited the only conflicts of world wars […] then mother earth shall honeymoon in peace. Forever eliminating the aspirations, lust and anguish of wars and rumors of wars” . The song then moves into fuller instrumentation, with the voice becoming a chant, and the beat being both distinctly reggae in its meter emphasis, but highly hip-swinging at once. This opening track sets a tone of deeper thought than the beach-and-booze/weed vibe of music that too many listeners associate with reggae. The mere mention of mother earth in a song that is not croony-folksy provides a surge of joy to this listener. The song is not a call to arms, it’s a notification of revolt already present: “Any day a revolution might erupt/ […] for the new generation rising up”. Yet, the lyrics maintain the modern trope of end rhyme, with a supreme hop-contest scream of exceptionally clever configurations and phrase inversions that almost remind the ear of Whitman.
Marley’s critical thought ranges into the realm of inappropriate behavior in a number of other tunes on this CD, including another danceable mix “In 2 Deep”. With lyrics that admonish” If you're over 10/ and watch CNN/ And believe everything” while repeating “In 2 Deep” after each phrase, the chanted lyrics coupled with a potent metrical structure have a weight that is pleasurable without being flaccidly superficial. This obvious power allows the too rare concept of the song’s message to gain import and influence.
Marley’s effort to teach also includes a paradoxical love song called ‘Pimpa’s Paradise”. To the first listen, the song has the required aspects of a love song-- sweet guitar riffs, a honeyed voice –However, this love song involves the destruction of the beloved as witnessed by the lover. In similar modern songs, the lover boasts of prowess and sometimes of explicit activity; in “Pimpa’s Paradise” the love relationship is unrequited: “ cause coke was a thing that once she first try/was once a blue moon to once a blue sky”. Although the narrative of unrequited love is an archetype, the witness never overtly professes the emotion, but the listener is sure of the sentiment by the quality of the intimate details of the narrative: “now it’s broken crack pipes with lipstick traces/ walks the cold nights red district places”. Eventually, the beloved becomes abandoned when “ Old friends walk pass going ‘bout their own/as if she is someone that they don’t know”, and while the concept of a known person becoming an addicted bit of street trash is a common, modern symbol, this song paints the addicted-abandoned with a tender heart that is entirely different than the self-righteous condemnation typical of this symbol.
In addition to the striking nature of Damien Marley’s lyrics, the quality of the instrumentation on this CD is far above that which is the normative pabulum these days. Utilizing audio and multiple tracks, sound effects, rhythmical variance, song and the rapid-fire chanting familiar to rap listeners, this CD is both nuanced and strong. You Tube shows hits in mere hundred thousand range for a release that’s been a decade in our culture. That the release dates back to the turn of the twenty first century is more of an indication of the very problems that Marley endeavors to illuminate. That the tracks play as booty bumping fresh is all the more reason why this CD ought to be on repeat play on everyone’s dashboard for their daily to- and-fro. Maybe even then Marley’s message will get more into our bones; it’s our shame that any deaf ears be turned now.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
One of the best war movies of the Eighties, Day of the Dead starts out on its last, tense nerve, and begins for two hours to peel, fray, and bombard that nerve to terrifying stimulation.
There’s a fear and a frame for everyone in audience. Sexism, racism, class-ism, militarism, vacation-ism, and entitlement are explored at various angles. This is a lost war, and as one of the scientists says, “We’re in the minority now.” Our lead is the only woman on base, probably from the moment the assignment began. Her boyfriend is the only Puerto Rican and the only one visibly cracking up. One black man with a foreign accent. There’s whole group of white soldiers, and they are often responded to as if the group were a one, but even as they hold onto that, themselves, they feel a minority, they, like their CO, like everyone to one degree or another, feels entitlement being stolen away and the encroachment of a new overwhelming status quo.
This is how the world ends in Nineteen Eighty-Five, not with a bang or a whimper, but with well-armed white American men worried their becoming the minority and losing their shit in a firestorm of aggressive fear. In duty overtaking sensible fight or flight responses. In elitists failing to measure up to their own elitism. Soldiers running out of ammo killing an already dead enemy.
“That’s the trouble with the world,” someone says during the movie, “people got different ideas concerning what they want out of life.” That’s a hard thing to accept, even when zombies aren’t trying to tear you apart. Facing hordes of the living dead, a world desolate of human life but teeming with movement and with rot, what good is holding down the fort? What’s the worth of a last stand? When you are all alone, how do gauge a war you, alone, may be fighting?
Thursday, October 18, 2012
My copy, vinyl, its cover pretty beat up, folds open, fun content on the back cover, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the inside, crunchy peanut butter. Been a long time since I tore the plastic off, dropped this baby on the turntable in my room, second floor, Bishops’ Hall, Rose Hill Campus, FU, Bronx NY 10458. Yes kids, I was there, 1969, if underage however until January.
Since that autumn day it’s been my dream to write a paper about the song Wooden Ships (this version, Jefferson Airplane, on Volunteers) and now might be the closest I’ve been yet, the only credit you reading these words. Your applause my only reward. I’ve been to lots of rodeos since that autumn day but Wooden Ships is with me still, the song an attempt to imagine living beyond this shallow world, with its ignorance, its wars. I read the lyric from Wooden Ships at the Poetry Festival last summer. You can try some of my purple berries. We’ve got a refrigerator full of ‘em.
A dreamy song from its first sound effects, the creak of rigging, Wooden Ships seeks cooperation over conflict, an important sensibility almost buddhist in its distinction from the conventional wisdom. Wooden Ships declares life as supposed to be free and easy, therefore requiring distance from the misguided murderous activities of others. We must stare as all their human feelings die. As a metaphoric slogan to address a personal commitment to love and peace We are leaving You don’t need us will do. Go ride the music.
Volunteers is music, that particular art, designed for guitars and drums and voices and piano. Say the names of the musicians on this album. Spencer Dryden. Grace Slick, Marty Balin. Oh, they’ve faded. Paul Kantner, Blows Against The Empire still inside him. Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady. I just saw Jorma and Jack at the State Theatre in Ithaca. Were you there? Hot Tuna. And Volunteers has guests. Nicky Hopkins. Steven Stills. David Crosby. Jerry Garcia.
The aggressive communal We Can Be Together fires this album right up. We are all outlaws in the eyes of America. Their word “young” rang more confidently for me in 1969 than today. Jorma’s lead guitar reached a peak of piercing tone during this era of recording, hard to match through the rest of his work. Hey Fredrick closes side one with a dramatic interpersonal lyric from Grace in fine form before the band takes over. Remember sides?
Side two opens with a nice lead vocal from Marty, an essential element of the Airplane experience, the Jefferson Airplane, as influential and innovative a rock group as any active in 1969. This album rocks throughout with an urgent intensity at concert level, with short intervals of roots music, country, and comic relief, the comic relief well-represented in A Song For All Seasons, the rocking nowhere better than in the last track, Volunteers, a brilliant invocation of the energy of change. In 2012 I still shake my head, what happened?
Maybe if I’d staged my other dream, the dream where I load big speakers on the back of a flat-bed truck and drive around the streets of my city, playing Volunteers at high volume, on a regular basis, a sort of opposite to garbage collection. The music truck, like ice cream. Make everybody happy. Make them think. Who’s with me?
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
“What is this association between insects and the human soul?” asks a grieving entomologist (played by Donald Pleasance) in Dario Argento’s Phenomena.
John Carpenter has said of Argento’s movies that they are more like paintings or dreams than typical film narrative. I would keep that in mind when finding in a review, criticisms of “unbelievable plot” or “unrealistic events,” if I was one to worry about unbelievable plots or unrealistic events over emotional impact and beautiful mise en scene. Thankfully, I am designed to enjoy spectacle and the emotional aggregation of sound and visual, motion and color, that Argento prefers to work in.
A death scene in Phenomena can last seven minutes (an eternity in movie-time) or seven times that long, and if the dramatic stages of an Argento death seem protracted, let us remember that all the events of our life cobble together to walk us to the steadfast inevitability of death. There is no moment of your life, no action in its course, that does not bring you closer to death, and so too is true, if more ornately and succinctly, of Argento’s characters. Perhaps this is why Jennifer Connelly’s character has her same given name, to conflate us, the real, with they, the fiction. In a movie about the daughter of a film star, roughly the same age as Argento’s daughter, suffering speculation that she is drugged up or insane (prefiguring Asia Argento’s later Scarlet Diva – or does that movie echo this?) and so down the rabbit hole.
“Down the rabbit hole” is misleading. The Alice books are inordinately ordered and Phenomena, entirely more felt out. But even a misstep takes you somewhere, and as we have established, they all, the right steps and the mistaken, gear you further towards death. Sometimes you see a rabbit hole in a dream and it turns out, as you descend, to be the den of an ant lion. The ant lion is only a larva, as a maggot to the fly, but if in a movie you showed the larvae and then the legged and compound-eyed adults without demonstration of the middle stages, it would appear an absurd transformation, an unreasonable development. This is Phenomena, then, in its way; transformations without transitions, experiences without immediate explanations, like a chimpanzee beneath dark trees that rattle in the wind, approaching a house, scalpel in hand, intent known only to her.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
The Truth. Where is it? How do we find it? How do we know it?
The election grinds on and the debates are in full swing.
What do you think?
I want to hear your voice.
Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It .
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Ever notice how life unfolds crabwise, sideways? Our most important discoveries sometimes revealing themselves before we’re even ready? That’s my story with the Tragically Hip. I don’t know, maybe fifteen years ago I gifted my cousin Jeni with a Hip CD, Fully Completely. I’d never heard it. I wonder if she still has it? I’d heard maybe one, maybe two Hip songs by then, over the radio, a distant FM station. Now, I recognize maybe I wanted to hear more Hip music but I presented Cousin Jeni that opportunity.
And here’s more: years later, seems like a long time ago still, I was driving with my daughter Veronica to the Amtrak station for Buffalo when I slipped a copy I had finally obtained for myself of Fully Completely into the CD slot. By the time that play reached Fifty-Mission Cap I was so transported the energy woke young Veronica from an early-morning driving nap. “I think this I true,” I told her, my voice harsh with emotion, “this Bill Barilko story, the last goal he ever scored won the Leafs the cup, and then he died.” Veronica’s eyes were wide. Behind her dark-haired head the leaves outside the car, along the margins of Interstate 90, were turning, autumn leaves, orange and green and red.
Fully Completely rocks relentlessly, steadily. The closest thing to a ballad might be Wheat Kings. Let’s see what tomorrow brings. Last week brought another trip. I was on my way to Authors Books in Warren, Pennsylvania, driving again, listening to Fully Completely. I remember thinking, Locked In The Trunk Of A Car may be the perfect rock song, but I was probably a little over-excited. What song could ever be the perfect rock song, or any song? The Hip do rock, oh yeah. And the lyrics, when you can even hear ‘em, and they make any sense, do satisfy. I think Tragically Hip lyrics appeal to poets. My own Enhanced Poetry CD, Live At The Jive, includes Track 14, Gordon Downie Reads Poetry.
And those lyrics on Fully Completely include a full dose of death, considering death, serious business, riveting, for me, death focuses my mind. My wife, she finds it morbid, Hip music, maybe that’s why, that aggressive concentration on mortality. Normally my wife loves everything Canadian, as do I, but no, she says, “Turn off that Tragically Hip, I find it morbid”. Or maybe I imagined she said that. She said something like that. Ask her.
All these songs aren’t classics because they were big hits. These Tragically Hip compositions don’t get nearly enough attention. Have you heard Fully Completely? Have you listened to it yet? If I say, Courage, do you alert, like you were a dog, hearing your master’s voice? If I say, Oh what can you do, do you reply, They’re all gone, we’ll go too? These songs are classics because they reach and exceed a level adequate to be called really good, if you like songs with a big beat, robust melody, and words you want to repeat.
I’ve accumulated a thick stack of Hip CDs since Fully Completely. Phantom Power used to provide bumper music for the poetry open mic I hosted, and I bet you can guess why. All the discs are good. Even when I think one might fall short from greatness, it’s still good. Here’s my dream: me and George, (It’d be you, honey, but you don’t like the Tragically Hip), George Stabile, me and George, we climb into whatever I’m driving and head east on Route 6, listening to nothing but the Tragically Hip. I’d hold Fully Completely until we were just past Coudersport.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a bizarre modern noir dark comedy called "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD and Netflix through Vanguard Cinema (http://www.vanguardcinema.com/darkarc/darkarc.htm),
and is currently debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange ("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.
***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted before..." Film Threat
"A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
"Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured version of David Lynch. " IFC News
"Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
"Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque