Monday, November 30, 2015

"Never mind"

Somehow this song came back to me because I remembered having no idea what it was about. The title sounded like "bucket of tea" to me. I vaguely knew the Who were English and somehow even as a child I'd already picked up on tea being a British thing. But drinking it from a bucket just sounded nasty.

Later I learned about the soul band Booker T & the MGs. So was it "my Booker T"? That didn't fit the lyrics at all.

The above picture illustrates what a bucket-T actually is. I can see getting enthusiastic about it. And yeah, would be hard to fit another passenger in there.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Let's talk some more about Dick

Laura Miller takes a look here at Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle and Amazon's streaming series based on it. I don't know how that can work, truthfully. The book at the end suggests that its own reality is even more complex and bizarre than the reader has even been led to believe, but I'm not sure you can explore that over multiple seasons - which obviously they'd want to do - without killing the golden goose. Plus apparently there's a resistance force added to the show, which seems counter to the point.

Dick also shows up as a character in this novel I'm reading, Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory. It's about an America where demonic possession has become semi-common since the 1950s. Dick might be himself pretending to be possessed, or he might be VALIS, a demon that claims to have been keeping him alive since 1982. He's not a major character, but it's an interesting wrinkle. The book is an odd melange of 1990s cultural obsessions, like the OJ trial and Sinead O'Connor, who is actually a character (and exorcist) but slightly renamed. As to how well the novel works overall, I'm holding off until I finish it to say. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Final Songs: Riot Act

Album: Get Happy!! by Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Forever doesn't mean forever anymore
I said forever
But it doesn't look like I'm gonna be around much anymore
When the heat gets sub-tropical
And the talk gets so topical

Riot act - you can read me the riot act
You can make me a matter of fact
Or a villain in a million
A slip of the tongue is gonna keep me civilian

Why do you talk such stupid nonsense
When my mind could rest much easier
Instead of all this dumb dumb insolence
I would be happier with amnesia

They say forget her
Now it looks like you're either gonna be before me or against me
I got your letter
Now they say I don't care for the colour that it paints me
Trying to be so bad is bad enough
Don't make me laugh by talking tough
Don't put your heart out on your sleeve
When your remarks are off the cuff

Riot act - you can read me the riot act
You can make me a matter of fact
Or a villain in a million
A slip of the tongue is gonna keep me civilian

Riot act - you can read me the riot act
You can make me
First off, happy Thanksgiving (US) everyone! But as perhaps you can tell, we do things a little differently around here.

In 1979 Elvis Costello was riding pretty high. After a few years of having his songs rejected by producers and publishers, he'd put together three respected albums with the help of his backing band the Attractions and producer Nick Lowe. (The former actually didn't join him until his second album, but proved to be a good fit.) Acclaim was turning into sales, and there seemed little to stop him joining Bruce Springsteen as the future of rock 'n' roll.

In March an incident happened in Columbus, Ohio that did threaten to shut down the carnival. To sum up he had a drunken run-in with blues rock singer Bonnie Bramlett, one in which some unfortunate racial epithets were thrown around. By him.

In the long run this fracas seems to say very little about Elvis Costello as a man and if anything less about him as a musician. Quite a few were under the impression that was the real Elvis - or the real Declan, if you prefer - and suddenly he was being reevaluated, his stock corrected downward.

The next year came Get Happy!!, complete with two exclamation points, which is a stranger choice than one or three. This was very much a soul throwback album, with recording sounds and cover art suggestive of something just brought out of the Motown vaults. Or even more likely, the Stax vaults. "Motel Matches" even sounds like it could be a Ray Charles song. The right mix of dim and cynical could find this to be a phony bit of ass-covering. Really, though, Elvis had been a lover of American R&B since childhood, so it was inevitable that this would come out in some form. This is not a record you make as a cynical career move. If the Columbus incident had triggered it, that's only to the extent that the warm and gritty sounds found on those old 45s stood him well in times of turmoil.

Turmoil is the real subject of "Riot Act." Turmoil brought by change. "Forever doesn't mean forever anymore." Maybe the word "forever" is just a promise made to and by children, one that adults learn to read as "six weeks or so." Everything that matters is subject to end someday. This includes bands. It includes love affairs and marriages. Ultimately life as well.

And usually when things end, they end in recrimination. Somebody has to be at fault. Someone has to be the villain in a million. Costello had hinted this before with "Blame it on Cain - "It's nobody's fault but we need somebody to burn." Now with life moving at a faster and louder pace he was pretty much shouting it from the rooftops.

The song may be about dissolution, but the band is totally there for him. Steve Nieve is especially impressive on this one, through overdubs projecting the dual personality of dignified pianist and organ rocking Pied Piper. But the unrelated rhythm section of Bruce Thomas and Pete Thomas do sterling work here too. They help Costello turn what could have been an unbearably bitter final note into a joyful one.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Saint Joan of the Stockyards (3:10 min) from Vladimir Rovinsky on Vimeo.

I've been reading this book I got ultra-cheap a while back at a library sale: Bertolt Brecht: His Life, His Art, and His Times by Frederic Ewen. It;s a fairly heavy book - about 500 pages before you get to the appendix, notes, and index - but I've found it unputdownable.

It's probably inevitable that Brecht's reputation rises and falls with the political tide and is at times shunned by people who don't share his political leanings, since that was the subject of so much of his work. Still, he was a working writer and not just a professional Communist agitator. As I've been reading I've seen more about his curiosity and penchant for experiment. His initial ventures into poetry were influenced by his medical studies. By the time he left Germany he was starting to absorb the influence of Japanese Noh drama as well.

Again, though, there was always going to be some fraction. The play excerpted in the video above is Saint Joan of the Stockyards, his reinterpretation of the Joan of Arc story. In Germany at the time it didn't play in theaters, only getting a partial reading on radio. It was 1932. Other stuff was starting to happen, about which you may have heard.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Self on the shelf

"Holy shit! What have you fucking lunatics done to my head? And you call yourselves professionals!"

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rhody showing

These two paintings are from a Providence-based artist named Julie Gearan. The cook picture is cropped somewhat, which is a shame. The full-length version is on her website but wasn't downloadable.

There's a tension in a lot of her work between the Flemish-style classicism of her rendering and the contemporary subjects. Subtly sometimes, but they are modern. Note the female Pierrot's cigarette and slapdash makeup. Sure she's not the only one this could be said about, but she's gotten very interesting results.

Gearan also painted the official portrait of former Governor Lincoln Chafee. You can find it online if you look. It's such a work of classical grandeur that it may have played a role in convincing him he should run for President. Oh well.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wet night

Earlier in the night I got off the bus and a couple of young ladies were looking for Apsara's, an Asian restaurant. The driver didn't know where it was, but I told them truthfully that they'd gone a few blocks too far. By bus or foot they'd have to turn back. The skies were clear then.

More recently I was sitting here and heard the wind, which rattled the window panes once in a while. Then I noticed the sound of water in there too. So we got a sudden rain... I woulds say "rainstorm." Much too calm for that. But we are getting something of a downpour. I got up and looked out the window. Not the one exactly in my apartment, but out in the hall. I looked out and found it good.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Caws for alarm

Crows have the ability to recognize and remember specific human faces. from Justin Gabaldon on Vimeo.

This is very short, but I think, rather funny. Aside from the well-rendered crow I think the best part is the way the intertitle sets up the scene. Like, maybe the guy runs because there's a bit more of a story here than we know about.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Here's a blog post I found to be quite interesting, from an author on how he deals with having aphantasia. Aphantasia is the inability to see things in one's mind's eye, essentially imaginative agnosia. As a diagnosis it's quite recent, only officially being named this year, and it's somewhat controversial still as well. The idea has been floating around for some time though.

Now to be clear aphantasia is not a condition I can claim to have. For example, say to me "black winged butterfly typing on a Smith-Corona" and I have no problem picturing it, or hearing the butterfly's friends ask if using a typewriter is some kind of hipster affectation and it says, "Listen, you do you and I'll do me." But the mind's eye seems so central to fiction writing especially that I was curious about how an author can work without really having access to it. And an underlying question is what you need to be an artist in any field, what you can do without, and how do you balance it out.

Anyway, Hickey has practical ideas about his own work and it's a thought provoking piece as well.

Friday, November 13, 2015

This blog post will self destruct in five seconds

Not sure what arrangement, if any, made this possible, but the whole first season of Mission Impossible seems to be on the video hosting service Dailymotion now.

The first season of MI was different from the rest of the sixties/seventies series and it's largely failed revival in the eighties. In all of those, the cast was led by Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, who by the eighties episodes was cast as a father figure. The first season, on the other hand, had Steven Hill in the lead as Daniel Briggs. The reasons this didn't last are detailed below.

When he started in movies in the fifties, Hill had been one of the moody man's man actors produced by the Actor's Studio, kind of like Marlon Brando but without Brando's obvious-in-retrospect sexual ambiguity. His early appearances on TV drama followed the same script, Hill appearing as a determined man of action. In later years he'd settle gracefully into old age, paunchier but gentler. His last major acting role - the man being alive but long inactive as of this writing - was as District Attorney Adam Schiff on the first ten seasons of Law & Order. While his time on most episodes was limited, he could be the highlight of most of them just by shrugging and sighing for three minutes.

His year on Mission Impossible sees him at a midpoint between the tough guy actor he'd been in youth and the decent old grump he'd eventually become. It also marked a temporary end to his career as an actor. Hill's name at birth had been "Solomon Krakovsky" and he was of Russian Jewish heritage. Lots of people are Jewish, and there are lots of kinds of Jews. In the mid sixties he was becoming very serious and deeply observant about his Judaism. One result of this was that he was refusing to work on the Sabbath, i.e. Saturday. To the studio, this was valuable shooting time and highly inconvenient for the lead actor to absent himself on that day. There was also some tension between him and Martin Landau, who had a more easygoing relationship to his faith and didn't like being questioned on it. And on top of that, Hill was starting to look a little rumpled and dad-ish, not necessarily the man the network wanted as the face of its sleek modern spy drama.

And yet. One can sympathize with the decision to replace Hill at the end of season one, on account of his being a pain in the tuchus. But the fact remains that as Impossible Missions Force coordinator Dan Briggs, Hill is fascinating to watch.Graves, an all-American cowboyish actor, would play Jim Phelps as a cloak-and-dagger action hero, a more focused Matt Helm who saved the martinis for after work.

Briggs, though, is something else again. He walks through, not seeking attention, approaching each job as just that: a job. There's a chance to jump into another role here and there, and Briggs lights up with enthusiasm at these times. But by nature he holds himself in check. In other words, Hill actually is credible as a bureaucrat. While there's not much background provided for the character, you can imagine him as a postal inspector who found that he could work around guns and surveillance equipment and not mind it.

The show has other assets as well. It's interesting to see the way TV engaged in and avoided the Cold War simultaneously. There's a heady romance to its nighttime airstrip takeoffs and get-to-know-each-other meetings. And Landau and Barbara Bain, already married for years, have great flirtatious chemistry as Rollin Hand and Cinnamon Carter.

Hill as Briggs, though, is the great thing the show couldn't hold onto.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Final Songs: Stacked Crooked

Album: Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers
I counted on my private Altamont
Trusted it all along, but now I'm on my way
We left the house, your fingers in my mouth
Stacked crooked all along, but now I'm on my way
Stacked crooked all along, but now I'm on my way


The folks left me the red light of the hours
I tried to imagine it, I couldn't imagine it
The vantage falling from the ivory tower
I tried to imagine it, I couldn't imagine it

You clicked and tossed your cryptic crossword locks
You then abandoned talks and now it's hard to say
Why we would wait in smoke and mirror states
Stacked crooked all along, but now I'm on my way
Stacked crooked all along, but now I'm on my way


The folks left me the red light of the hours
I tried to imagine it, I couldn't imagine it
The vantage falling from the ivory tower
I tried to imagine it, I couldn't imagine it

Do not, do not deny me, deny my right to feel
Do not, do not deny me my Achilles' heel
Do not, do not deny my attention to detail
Do not, do not deny me, the clicking of the heels

Do not, do not deny me, deny my right to feel
Do not, do not deny me my Achilles' heel
Do not, do not deny my attention to detail
Do not, do not deny me, the clicking of the heels
I wanted to do this song next, but found it kind of daunting. Listen to it and you may understand why I wanted to talk about it. This is a very swooping, exhilarating song.

As to why I find it a stiff challenge, well, there would appear to be a lot of word salad in the lyrics. A number of phrases you could pick out and say, "Sounds cool. What's it mean?" So I remind myself that I never signed on to be a word-for-word translator, thank God, and I move forward.

In truth, I think the opacity is somewhat deliberate. I get the feeling that as a songwriter, Carl Newman tries to recapture the feeling of how nominally adult pop music sounds to children. The backseat on a family road trip while an 8 track - or some equivalent - plays in front. And in that position you hear lyrics about, say, infidelity or drug use that might go over your head. But that doesn't mean the song loses you, just because you're carried along by the music.

Newman does a good job of recreating this sensation, and does so partly writing in an esoteric mode that most adults won't always follow either. He knows what he's talking about, his wife does, maybe a couple of band members. The New Pornographers' other songwriter Dan Bejar does this as well, but adds a dash more sleaze.

That said, the first line does mention a "private Altamont," which certainly sounds rather ominous. Most of us, given our druthers, would rather have a private Woodstock. You know, like Snoopy has. But while the Rolling Stones were taken aback by their experiences at the Altamont Speedway, which exposed them as fatally naive in some ways, this guy is actually counting on the disaster that befalls him.

Then comes a fall from the ivory tower, seemingly accomplished just so he can find out what it's like to fall. His Achilles heel, his mortal weakness, is something he accounts for with his attention to detail. Or so he claims and may think. Buried somewhere in here is a song about deliberate self destruction.

Or maybe "buried" is the wrong word. Maybe it's borne along by the buoyant melody. It doesn't feel that heavy. There may, however, be an eerie feeling mixed in with the fun.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Groovy sounds

Late this morning or early this afternoon - think it was technically still morning - I was walking from place to place in a residential neighborhood that had some trees in it. From above I heard a bird calling. It had kind of a harsh, raspy sound. I couldn't see the bird, it had found someplace to hide. I don't know what species it was, either. But I enjoy these bird calls that aren't traditionally pretty or musical. They sound like an avian sufficiently self possessed to do its own thing.

Friday, November 6, 2015

To think about

The other night I sat up in bed and I started thinking.

I believe the greatest thing in life to be true self development. 
At once I can hear cries of "egoism", "individuality", "lack of altruism" arising from all sides.But wait until I have explained what I mean by "true" self development... to find the true use of one's powers and use them, and this, I believe, is the greatest thing in life. 
At first sight this may appear platitudinous; but how many people are there who will give the same careful thought, the same discriminating sense of proportion and balance, to the finding out of their own potencies as they will give, let us say, to the potencies of a recipe for a new cocktail? 
Not everyone has the same powers... but every person who is capable of mental development must carry, within himself or herself, a power of some kind... it is in the discovery of this power that true intelligence is shown; and it is in the fostering and proper development of it that happiness lies. 
By "happiness" I do not mean worldly success or outside approval, though it would be priggish to deny that both these things are most agreeable. I mean the inner consciousness, the inner conviction that one is doing well the thing that one is best fitted to do by nature. 
It is a much better thing to be a good carpenter than a bad artist... 
Several parties have been given in recent times which have been described as "freak" parties, and at one of thse each guest had to appear as someone else. Where is the "freakishness" in this? 
In these days of standardised faces, standardised clothes, standardized voices, I think the real "freak" party would be the one at which all were forced to appear as their own idea of themselves. 
It is this lack ofo personality, this entire absence of any knowledge of what "personality" really means, which is at the bottom of nearly all the bad work which is done today. 
Just as every girls wants to look like every other young girl and every grandmother wants to be mistaken for her own granddaughter, so most workmen are content... to turn out "sections" which will fit into any "whole" and artists are pleased and flattered to be called "another so and so." 
Yet should not everyone be burningly anxious to be himself or herself because of an intense and intimate conviction that no one else can be that "self"? Can one imagine Shakespeare or Beethoven being flattered at being acclaimed "another" anyone at all? Were they not the creators of Shakespeare and Beethoven and as such unique and unrepeatable? 
Because the world cannot be populated by Titans, and because the smallest is as necessary to the greatest in every well proportioned scheme, then, no matter how small the place to be filled, the person who is called upon to fill it should be convinced that it is a better place by the mere fact of his presence and his work; that it is he himself and not another person who is a necessity there.
But before I could grab pen and paper and write all this down, I remembered that Edith Sitwell had written every word about eighty years previously. Scooped again!

Why do so few of us realize aur potential, or anything like it, really? Thee are lots of reasons, I'm sure, but prime among them is this abandonment of the duty to be yourself

This lack seems to cut across the eras. And while you could find much more than one reason for this, the fact that self development is given so little weight is chief among them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

To tide you over: an old joke

Q: How many mice does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Just two, but I don't know how they got in there.

As I recall from hearing it the first time, it's funnier if you tell it deadpan.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Forest of the dead

Made an abortive trip to the library tonight. I'd been planning to finish the book I was reading, probably return it tonight, and do some writing as well.

A few problems made themselves apparent. It was busy, which in and of itself is a good thing, but made table space a little harder to come by. I found that I had a book with me but not the one I was planning to read.

There was also a guy in the foyer loudly breaking up with his girlfriend on the phone. Maybe "breaking up with his girlfriend" isn't the right phrase. For one thing I didn't hear the name he was using and don't want to make assumptions. Also it sounded like she (if she was a she) had already shacked up with another guy, which made the "breaking up" part somewhat unnecessary. The key point for me was the "loud" bit, which was obviously the point. He was making a play for sympathy and didn't see how the library might not have been the best place for this approach. And the library staff were too timid to deal with it, or maybe not paid enough.

All in all it seemed like I might be able to get more done at home.