“Be good and you’ll be happy”
—from the George Kuchar film The Devil’s Cleavage
“Eat. You have to eat.”
—last line of Béla Tarr’s film The Turin Horse
In a time of artificially inseminated culture, where half the poetry world and presses in America have been infiltrated by wannabe publishers and rock stars, I have found—at times rather suspiciously, motive-wise—some vague smattering of light through all the pretentious darkness. I will just give general examples. There’s Henry Rollins’s 2.13.61 Publications, Damon and Naomi’s Exact Change, Johnny Temples’s Akashic Books, and Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace. All have sought to foster, take part in, restore, and reclaim the underground for outsiders both renowned and marginalized within American Culture, one such example being Exact Change’s 2000 publication of Morton Feldman’s Give My Regards to Eighth Street. Also following in the footsteps of Jim Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed, many, like Patti Smith and Jim Carroll (poets before they were rockers), have crossed over into the literary world or straddled the two. Examples of this are Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore, and Richard Hell, all “vital” to the poetry scene. Moore has started a new press devoted exclusively to poetry called Flowers and Cream. Along with Jonas Mekas, he recently read at agnès b.’s with others who have blurred genres—Genesis P-Orridge and the warm, wonderful, witty heir to Tuli Kupferberg, folksinger Jeffrey Lewis.
And speaking of Tuli and crossing over, poet/singer Ed Sanders has written a history of the Peace Eye Bookstore, Fuck You Press, and the Fugs. [See David Shirley’s article in the November 2011 Rail.] The book—published by Da Capo Press, like many of Ed’s books—is a year-by-year, first-hand account of the counterculture, profusely illustrated with photographs and ephemera. Toward the end is a transcription of a 1968 appearance by Sanders and Kerouac, drunk and tragic, on William Buckley’s Firing Line. The book ends in 1970 with “the ’60s had ended … We survived the revolution … The future was there ready to savor.”
As for Kerouac, Da Capo has also unearthed and published his first novel, The Sea Is My Brother, (hand)written in 1943 at the age of 21, seven years before The Town and the City, while Kerouac was a merchant marine.
And while we’re on the subject of books, music, and music lovers, there’s “jazz” poet Barry Wallenstein’s new book, Drastic Dislocations: New and Selected Poems. Wallenstein says it all with lines like, “There’s a terrible rhythm bearing down … no matter where you move / No matter how you pray.” “Hardly a sound is coming off the street in New York City—part of this quiet is a hummm, city-deep, continuous, sinuous.”
When it comes to continuous hums, Béla Tarr’s latest epic, The Turin Horse, wins this month’s award for darkest, bleakest, most apocalyptic film of the year, with its repetitive, monochromatic, moody, yet oddly effective soundtrack. The film is 80 percent dialogue-free. Music segues into a raging, whistling windstorm permeated by what sounds like a chorus of women trapped in it, humming an ethereal, never-ending or-changing melody. Through the entire length of the film I kept thinking, “Is it better to go nowhere or to know you have nowhere to go?” (A premise of the film and a fact of most people’s lives.)
On the never-ending scale, there was a CD release party for DJ Spooky’s tribute to Meredith Monk, Monk Mix, which took place amongst the loud mixing of drinks at the newly renovated and (what seems like a waste of money) tackier-than-ever Joe’s Pub. Spooky scratched on an iPad with software he had developed. Monk spoke about her work, and at the end danced on stage with others to a horrifically loud DJ. Of the many performers only two worked for me, Don Byron’s clarinet quartet and Pamela Z. But even Z’s show-stopper couldn’t save the evening. The idea of Monk’s use of post–Gregorian chant mixed with “minimalism” was lost on the DJs, beat-boxer, and most instrumentalists. Spooky’s CD contains many more performers, including Björk, Lee Ranaldo, Monk, Arto Lindsay, and Henry Grimes (huh?), and works much better. Monk being all about vocals, the best tracks were the ones that featured voices. Though there’s nothing like the real thing—and covers don’t work for me except in rare cases like the Byrds or the Band doing Dylan, or doo-woppers and beboppers covering standards—overall the CD works if you’re like me in not knowing Monk’s oeuvre all that well. I don’t quite understand why Monk would go for this, except that we all probably long for respect and would gladly invite any homage to our work and longevity.
Another eclectic independent label has hit the scene. After trying to revitalize and rebuild ESP-Disk’, Tom Abbs and Adam Downey left, disillusioned and disgruntled, to start Northern Spy, which has a similar look to its predecessor and which has released thus far a catalogue of some 20 titles. Recent releases include the Charles Gayle Trio, Haunted House (a Loren Connors–Suzanne Langille project), Chicago Underground Duo (Chad Taylor and Rob Mazurek), Rhys Chatham, and the Spanish Donkey—an unlikely trio of Mike Pride, Jamie Saft, and Joe Morris.
Most recent memorable musical moment: the impeccable duo of Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach at Cornelia Street Café. Stablemates for 40 years, the two share a common bond of friendship, maturity, and musical intuition rarely found these days and comparable to very few I’ve experienced. One of the most difficult things to achieve when covering a classic is to keep the integrity of the tune intact while dissecting it to create variants. The two managed to do this with one of my all-time favorites, Wayne Shorter’s Footprints. I was completely confounded. The set began with the duo sweeping ferociously yet elegantly through a handful of originals, and culminated with Trane’s Transition. I have not had a more satisfying, rewarding, profoundly moving, or stunning experience in quite a while.
If you can find it, I recommend Mike Zwerin’s translation of Boris Vian’s writings on jazz, Round About Close to Midnight.Published by Quartet in 1988, it’s a veritable romp through the charts.
I’ll end this month’s column by quoting Wallenstein: “Listen … if you’re inside your inside / And if you’re on the outside / That’s just another chance.”