To stink, to cheat, to torture.

You know, I wish this light was all light, that it would follow only us.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The moon and others.

I woke up very early this morning wanting to blurt this out. I don't use this forum any longer and perhaps I thought it could be a partial secret. Anyway, I wanted to tell you that the only reason to compromise your dignity is for love.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Auld lang syne.

Merry Christmas. I set out to write a list of favorite tunes from this year with which we shall shortly part. But fortune caught up enough for me to make a link to an mp3 of the whole lot!

Much thanks to Dan, Kelly, Jimmy, Soccer John, Brian, Mark, R.P. and Kiersten among others who helped shape a miraculous year of listening.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In bed.

The first thing in my head was our dog, Ella, who turns five (observed) today. Her habit is to begin at my feet, presumably shortly after I fall asleep, rolling the blankets beneath and around herself til I am left with a mere tab covering my toes and she is a Swiss roll of afghans with--inexplicably, my pillow propping up her head. I have occasional dreams of being robbed by masked highwaymen, which I've come to take with good humor.

The following came from the laundromat late this evening: one fitted sheet, flannel; one sheet, flannel; two large pillow cases, flannel; one knit cotton blanket; one plush blanket; two knit afghans; one acrylic throw. As a song of reliable import goes: Serious moonlight.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

On two British movies.

The Thirty-Nine Steps-Alfred Hitchcock, dir. (U.K. 1935)

The career artist loses some of the austerity that makes him great when he's young. As an old artist he relaxes. In relaxing the fineness of the fire is bargained away.

Young Hitchcock. He made superb, thoughtful movies nearly all his working life. But the British movies from the thirties are such confidently composed things that they exceed even the halcyon of his late 50's work. They reflect a time and place as impossibly distant as it is concrete, reflective--one even more impossibly distant than England in the 30's. That it was Illuminated by Bernard Knowles' tarnished photography (the silversmith responsible for the insidious 'Gaslight') gives Hitchcock's between-the-wars England a special air of austere and harsh beauty.

There is an appealing force to Robert Donat's performance, one Hitchcock would mine in leading men in later ventures, rarely with such capital success--though Michael Redgrave in The Lady Vanishes, in 1938, competes. Donat is Hannay, the common man with a stuttering desire to remain hidden in the world, an embarrassed, fearful post-Victorian shadow of manners and propriety. In his circumstances he must transgress manner and break propriety to save his own skin. See him throw himself at a beautiful female train passenger, not out of amorous impulse, but to avoid being nabbed by pursuant policemen. He happens into a political rally where his stoicism and expressive modesty must take a back seat while he whips the crowd into a froth to find subterfuge in their ensuing calamity. It's as if Hitchcock anticipated Frank Capra's expanding social agenda--Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington would follow The Thirty Nine Steps in 1938, and provided paranoid point to its rabble-rousing American counterpoint.

In the former's case it is the angry little guy causing a stir in the big room just to get back to his unexamined comfort zone--measuring a man as combatant of all forces barring his way to the quietude. Capra's everyman, on the other hand, is making his noise specifically to get to that big room, he uses the noise, yes, but he loves the noise! Hitchcock's England was still spooked by the the Great War, breathing the continental portent of the war to come--his idea of human explosion came with justified nausea. Capra, salving the Depression-era America, took a decidedly different tack.

The lewd commuters on Hitchcock's train--is it possible that the train even edges out pristine Grace Kelly as the most reliable of Hitchcock's cinematic foils?; the bored, trusting Scottish farmer's wife, and the harsh farmer ("God made the country!"), are snap characters, simple enough to have been ink-drawn in a single line each, compelled by a warmth nearly impossibly demanding for such brief encounters. Anyhow, there they are in Hannay's abrupt English adventure.

Take the doddering emcee who introduces Mr. Memory, the vessel of the 39 steps secret, to a rowdy theater crowd. Introducing the performer whose ability it is to recall from memory any trivial bit of information on request, he remarks, "I also add, ladies and gentlemen, that Mr. Memory has left his brain to the British Museum." Hitchcock, ever fond of show biz metaphors, never strays far from the silliness and pathos of the examined life. The British Museum announcement is met with a cheer from the impatient crowd, their beers raised. When all else fails, Hitchcock says with a wan grin, praise country. Perhaps it is an encoded Englishman's lament, perhaps a portent of the same cajoled patriotisms he would generate in his new American residence. Still, it's a line of dialogue incapable of containing itself. Is there some self-satirizing (or self-pitying) trace of the director himself in the monkey-suited Mr. Memory, the freakish wonder whose gift and curse is to so accurately and popularly give the clamoring people what they want, the comfort of their own world, the little bits that make up their lives, another reason to raise their glasses and drink to forget? And of course if he does his job right Mr. Memory will belong to the British long after he's gone.

Sherlock Holmes-Guy Richie, dir. (U.K. 2009)

Guy Richie struck me, much as more recently Judd Apatow did, not first by the quality of his work, but by his aggravating ability to exceed my cynicism. I never wanted to like either. After Quentin Tarantino there seemed to linger in movies for years a reek of fratboy philosophizing, spat at break neck speeds by b-list or z-list actors in shitty haircuts and even shittier clothes. There was that commercial goldmine concept of a new wunderkind; this I fear is how Boondock Saints came into its wretched state of being. Douchebags were taken seriously. Wit was the sum of what an artist overheard.

After Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and the even better Snatch, I resolved that whatever his generational idiosyncrasies may be Guy Richie is a highly talented movie maker, and his movies are precisely what they should be: bloodied up bad guys a girl in motion and fun.

Guy Richie passed through the corridor of middle age into an early autumn of mixed expectations--his own creative youth was exceptional. After that, eh, not so much. If Sherlock Holmes seemed a high stakes jab at midlife resuscitation (his previous, Revolver, was unwatchably pretentious, replete with chess metaphors and Jason Statham) the machine was clearly ready to stake him: double A-list cast--at this point if you can't make a winner with Robert Downey Jr. you should go back to data entry; a de Mille-scale budget and proportion; and of course a bite at a perennial favorite: Sherlock Holmes.

Much as Guy Richie complacently eased into the role of England's Tarantino, his Sherlock Holmes found him paying homage to yet another movie maker (and fellow post-Tarantino Hollywood golden child) Christopher Nolan. If the tone of Sherlock Holmes errs in any one glaring regard it is in its Dark Knight-concept of steely and harshly stylized dystopia fought for by creatively humanized heroes and villains. Christ you can just hear a producer telling another producer that very sentiment over, fuck, I don't know, haddock. This is an adventure movie. Ponderous by misunderstanding of duty, nevertheless, a swashbuckler movie. Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes is every bit the yogafied pin-up that Christian Bale was as the Caped Crusader. The conveniently named Lord Blackwood (really...) lacks the aggravating dynamism of Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow or Heath Ledger's Triumphally morbid city orphan, The Joker, but all the same, his insidious design opens the set-piece window on the soul of the city--CGIed industrial blight and all, for us to weigh the moral dimensions of our own precarious moment.

To lay the blame at Lord Blackwood's feet--actually he was more of an overcoat than a lord, played by, well honestly, I couldn't say, would mismanage the problem; even the competent--at the very least watchable, Jude Law, sinks fatally in the thick of this writing. His Watson is a mere buddy--a tributary crisis and enough sensuous hot air to fill a small bag; Law was robbed of the rich laurels of Dr. Watson, one of our language's greatest narrative voices. Here he's Victorian Hutch...or Starsky. Whichever one wasn't as important. Both maybe.

He's a self-conscious playboy torn between the affairs of dudedom and the beckonings of a normal life with a hot chick; it's his odious turn in Alfie come back to haunt us. By the way, don't ever watch the remake of Alfie.

The flaws of Sherlock Holmes are small, though on such a budgetary scale they add up: Rachel McAdams, eleventh hour it-girl is quintessentially miscast as the elusive genius femme, Irene Adler. The chemistry between her wily paramour and the detective is Dark Knight in period drag ('I love you but I've chosen darkness'). So too is the Holmes and Watson comraderie distressed. Robert Downey Jr. chews through the flimsy characterization with ample spirit and muscularity--frankly the whole martial arts luxuriation is loads of fun, but the connection to his fellow cast is tenuous; the dogged infatuation with Irene Adler is simmered down to save-the-damsel remediality, while that bedrock bachelor clusterfuck buddy-life he shares with Dr. Watson is something more reasonably expected from Matthew McConaughey and, I don't know, Hutch.

One of the compelling qualities of Victoriana lies in that rejuvenating sense of smarts with which we view it. The overdressed bells and cuffs of clothing, the architecture at once marred and dignified by industrial soot, the veil of manner, the books women read (and wrote!), of course the volcanic moment in science and learning, compile in a diorama of riches that no artist could resist--let alone when plumbing the Sherlock Holmes stories. Everything about Richie's Sherlock Holmes looks right--I could even forgive those petty casting decisions, were it not for the fundamental error: Guy Richie, asskicker, thought he could phone in the smarts. The dialogue is tinny and cliched--not to mention clumsily de-emphasized; the ingenuity of the crimes and their solutions is bland and without human mystery--the movie goes out of its way to establish a black cloud of secret society evil, only to betray it with a small imagination; shit, Wile E. Coyote never actually caught the Roadrunner but the dude bought crazy gear and came hard every time. And of course the tensile Holmes and Watson relationship is stewed down to alternately distracted and dim-witted exchanges involving vice and outgrowing it--as if the two belonged to the same adult discussion.

Human mystery--and its puzzling vessel, deserved better than this.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!

You know, there was an hour in our time, the early fifties, 1951 specifically, when you could get up, put on a cotton oxford and cordovan slip-ons, have an egg with an orangy middle and coffee, watch Wile E. Coyote stupefy the west with a silly gadget, and buy the new Ella Fitzgerald album, 'Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!'

Eh, I got nothin'. Here. See...

Sunday, January 31, 2010


John Constable-Flatford Mill (British 1816)

For RP and The Avalanches.

Life in service--you know, it doesn't teach the lessons you might expect. I mean, you either grasp humility, compassion, confidence and patience while growing up or you do not; by the time you reach that life in service those things either lie in your fortune or you're screwed--to yourself and others. Blame whomever you like.

Tending bar for some rich dude.

I tell you, they say you cannot buy taste, but the reality, bejeweled and fitted with excuses such as it is, far exceeds that: Taste is for the truly poor, the most wretched of the wretched. This is not cause and effect, taste simply engenders bitterness for what one cannot afford.

I told Avocado in a break last night that the place looked like a frat boy had been given carte blanche in a Spencer's Gifts. In fact it was worse and different. Because as much as low brow disappoints our values this aesthetic, this colostomy bag of coffeehouse ideas and pop culture cornpoop in sum constituted a feat of which neither cheapness nor availability availed themselves. Someone worked very hard to assemble Kubla Khan.

Labor, our sophistication, lubrication of lack.

I observed specifically, and stray from the point in saying so--forgive me, my cynicism craves variety, how the rich, who are often older in age, tend to associate with disfigured younger folks. The lower in age the more severe the accident lying in the past, the more hallmarking a career nadir for a plastic surgeon. It is as if either consciously or not they elect a crowd that by bent of time or misfortune shares their chances at things. Roman Polanski could not have cast them better. Not without a heedless appeal to the third world.

Politeness is, too, the savageness of class warfare. I prefer them at the end of the night when the sand has been leveled, when no serif in their speech nor carriage and composure of dress could elevate them. When they ask quietly for the very sum of the ensuing morning's regret. I like that then they ask as I do.

Jason explained to me that the woman who complimented my tie was wearing a necklace made of a particular kind of stone that had all the characteristics of a precious metal. Its name escapes me, though I remember thinking it could be passed off for a sexually transmitted disease--reason number two why not to wear the stuff. Coal, I think it was.

I was tired, too tired to be with people.

There came a lull in the evening, and I did not let go the conciliatory divot without appreciation. Few things please me more than working with magnificent food devoid the inclination to taste it. In the hallway I had a brown pear and a few grapes, but the substance of the evening, the ruby tuna and amber cheese, the dim sum, folded like love letters, I couldn't imagine eating any of it.

I used to think I would, when providence was had, make a house for myself around a kitchen--J.J. lives in a space no bigger than a business envelope and has admirably done so. Now, I'd like to amend that ambition. Why build a house around a kitchen when the utilitarian design is to build just the kitchen--maybe a curtained off portion of the pantry in which a bed and a tv could sit, but really, what else.

This was a grand old place, a rehabilitated factory from the surging years of Pittsburgh's industrial halcyon. Brick and I-beams, ceilings that cracked the sky and a view of the Allegheny rendered purple from the corresponding glow of the North Side across the way. Stretches of the land seemed handpicked between the design of a colonial God and the fortune of an autochthon, and here was one; there was an anodized steel deck stocked with cases of soft drinks and beer. A lonely gravel walk adhered to the river below, and by virtue of the leaden cold and isolation it went undisturbed.

In service and then, later, in wiling away the time after as much consolidation and cleaning could be done was done I thought of the Avalanches, and specifically their tune, "Everyday."

I thought, how could impulse, impulse mind you at its most basic and least poetic, communicate a sentiment not only this grand and willful, but detailed. Faithful to air and temperature. Faithful to the absence of light. Faithful to the have-not, whomever they are.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The moon.

We have, I hope, reached a pinnacle in our genealogical development at which we no longer feel compelled to discuss basic happiness in writing. The compulsion is part and parcel to human expression--it is fundamental, but when it comes right down to it there is the imposing burden it places on the reader to, for no other reason than unprofitable empathy, feel for the Voice.

Unnecessary--listen to a record, meet someone, try a pomelo, cutting, or wearing laurels.

Sufficed to say we hosted a blossom of a moon last evening, one apocalyptic in measurement, conducive to whiskey drinking and no small amount of forgetting. People were stepping outside of their houses in pajamas--okay, sweatsuits, just to say, "look, I am on fire. Beneficence conduct me, Moon, may uncharacteristic kindness alight with your light. Don't be a douchebag. Luminescence, this time it is me--I am watching you. I know about the Drifters record sitting on your floor."

I stocked my barren lp case with 78 rpm records, books and a Mexican candle depicting that most magnetic candle personality, Jesus, with his tranquil hand gesture, saying, "This way and not the other." Topped said column with a cocktail umbrella and a bitty U.S. flag. I am indubitably in that era of adulthood in which one neither contemplates death nor candies his social doings with nostalgia--I am thinking of this country and the verging holiness is quite grand. Once, for instance, my iPod played Sidney Bechet's rambling "Oh, Didn't He Ramble" on a flight. I looked diagonally downward--such was the angle of the circling plane headed for Minneapolis in which I sat, and saw for the very first time ever, the Mississippi River. What a coincidence. The world was not over.

I produced a solid natural emotion, I connected myself to something ancient. There are dreams about old places, and then, in rarest moonlight and mood, there is the nobility and security of the encounter.

All of this reminds me we are quickly approaching Lent. As an agnostic disfavoring devotion it shouldn't matter to me but I tagged along with J.J. and her pals; I will be excising booze from my diet for, well, a month or so. Shit. Anyhow, that's what with the weirdness. Full moon, get me drunk now, tomorrow I will be as dry as a scientist's eye.