Sunday, November 25, 2007

Film Noir -- The Lineup

Names to Watch Out For

What names can you not give a character without creating a distracting reference?

Hitler and Stalin, obviously. You might get away with Churchill, probably with Patton, certainly with Montgomery, probably with Rommel. Not with Goebbels or Himmler. Goering maybe, if you spelled it Gehring. Eichmann perhaps -- it's not that uncommon a name.

Not with Roosevelt, although in one of those Ogden Nash prose poems that so influence Russel Edson, though no one but me remembers them and makes that claim -- anyway, in this Nash poem there's a butler named Roosevelt. The protagonist asks him if he's any relation to the Roosevelt, and he replies that all Roosevelts are the Roosevelt. Not with Vanderbilt or Rockefeller, possibly with Astor.

Moving back to presidents, you could certainly use Kennedy or Johnson or Carter, maybe not Nixon, although it's nearly as common a name. Ford -- if his name raised irrelevant associations, they'd be to the car, not the president. Reagan and Bush and Clinton -- maybe not now, but in a few years they'll be OK.

McVeigh, no way.'s a common enough name that maybe you could, but of you gave the character a first and middle name, you'd be sunk. And certainly, you could not give a character the first and middle names of Lee Harvey.

I can't think of any 20th century poet whose name you couldn't use, either because they're too common -- Williams, Stevens, even Pound or Eliot (although if you used them both you'd be sunk) or because they're too obscure. Maybe Plath would be a problem.

The only 19th Century American writer you'd have trouble with is Longfellow -- at least the only one who occurs to me. Twain isn't really a name. could slip that one by.

Starkweather? Gacy?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Film Noir

Something new I've been fooling with -- sequences of film noir drawings, made by watching a movie on DVD or TiVo, pausing it when I see an image that strikes me, and making a sketch, using my direct-to-computer printmaking technique. I'm not so much trying to tell the story of the movie as to create a coherent and striking group of images. Here's the first group, simply titled "Film Noir" because at the time I did them, I didn't know I was going to be doing more, and now I can't remember what movie they came from (might have been The Big Heat):

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Who New?

An exchange between me and my old pal Bob Berner:

Me (Not super-original, but it was a throwaway line in a longer correspondence)
I think somewhere around our generation, the pantheon of influence shifted from Pound and Eliot to Stevens and Williams.

Bob (the good part)
Yeah, and even though Williams was still publishing when we were in our early 20s the influence was already in the process of shifting from Stevens and Williams into two streams,one coming from Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti and the Beats, the other from Lowell and Berryman and Ann Sexton. By the mid-60s you could say that the Tate-Ransom-Winters school was dead and that nobody wanted to write like Eliot, but a whole lot of people wanted to write like Lowell and another whole lot like the Beats.

So who's the model now? Certainly not Pinsky or Paul Muldoon or a ton of other leading lights we could name. By my lights, somebody starting out could do a hell of a lot worse than to look to Marvin Bell or to Phil Levine or to Lawson Inada or to Vern Rutsala or to Tad Richards to see how it's done.

Pax et Peredelkino,

Bob is loyal to a fault to his old classmates at Iowa, and I don't know that I belong on that list (all the others, old classmates except for Levine, certainly do). But I like his analysis. So who is the model now? Who for the generation that was young in the 70s, when the Beat/Academic wars were over, and Lowell and Ginsberg playing on the same team? And who for the 21st Century poets? Bernstein? Simic? The other Tate? Who?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

That Was Now

After a certain age you get to be afraid of your own taste. It's not that you can't bring yourself to turn on the radio, or download from iTunes, or check out today's music channels on XM or Sirius, it's more that you're afraid you'll get it wrong.

I suddenly realized that I was a victim of this fear. I had started an email family game: Battle of the Decades. It worked like this: I would go to XM Online, and copy and paste the "Now Playing" list for the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Whatever happened to be playing at that moment. Then we each had to vote row which decade had the best song of the moment.

A good game, a good email connector for a far-flung, music-loving family. But, my 27-year-old niece asked, what about the 90s?

The 90s? Did anyone care about the music that came out of the 90s? Well, Alex seemed to. Hard to imagine...she was a Richards, wasn't she? But I added the 90s, and sure enough, the songs began garnering votes, and not only from Alex (The Notorious B.I.G. over Chuck Berry?) but sometimes from her sister and even her cousins--my own daughters--all older than she.

And from me? As Commissioner of Battle of the Decades, I figured it was my duty to listen to at least samples of the songs I didn't know. And sometimes--like if the 50s Channel was playing Connie Francis and the 60s had Brian Hyland and the 70s had The Carpenters--the 90s Channel might turn out to be my choice too.

That was when the fear set in. Suppose I really liked someone on the 90s, and I voted for it, and it turned out to be the 90s version of Brian Hyland?

I'm serious. How could I be sure I could distinguish, in 1997 or 2007, between the hip and the unhip?

I who once was the arbiter of hip. I, who knew that Big Joe Turner was the real thing and Paul Anka wasn't, that Miles was hip and the Dukes of Dixieland were frat-boy pap. Well, that one would have been too easy. I, who knew just how far you could go in digging Cannonball Adderley and still be on the cutting edge of hip. I, who knew why "We don't want to think we're Listening to Lacy -- it's gotta be Bird, Pres, Shearing or Count Basie." And knew why Shearing had made the list, and why he no longer belonged there.

Worse, maybe I did know what was cool and I didn't care. That started to happen around the mid-80s, after The Clash and Springsteen. After that...I knew who Metallica and Van Halen were, but they didn't sound hip to me -- they sounded like kid stuff. Paul Anka with more noise. I watched Ozzy Osbourne on TV, dripping eye makeup, singng that he was going to take me to hell, and I knew that his chances of offering a credible guided tour of that zone were on a par with those of any State Farm agent.

And then, of course, the great generation-divider, as sure as rock and roll in my youth -- hip-hop.

So I accepted who I was. As Jesse Winchester once wrote,

Someday I'll be an old gray grandpa,
All the pretty girls'll call me sir
Now they're asking me how things are
Then they'll ask me how things were

And sure enough, the pretty girls in my English class were writing in their evaluation, "He's like the grandfather I never had."

That was now; this is then.

And that was fine. I knew what it meant to see the Alan Freed holiday show at the Times Square Paramount, with Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Moonglows, and Buddy Holly and the Crickets, or the Coasters and Frankie Lymon at the Apollo, or Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry at the Five Spot. And I'm fine with being the human archive who can tell about what it was all like. turn on XM, find something I like, only to discover that she or he is the 21st Century equivalent of Air Supply...? I'm not sure I want to take the risk.

Anyone want to listen to some Big Al Sears?