Sunday, January 27, 2008

Barefoot in Florence

Here's the background from Poetryetc.

Joseph Duemer wrote:
> Well, Anny, If you keep telling us stories about being barefoot in Florence
> at four in the morning wearing a pink dress -- is that how the story went?
> -- how can you blame us?

> On Jan 27, 2008 9:52 AM, Anny Ballardini wrote:
>> Me fetishized? Is it a severe condition, does it have secondary effects?

And here's the villanelle I spun from it. I'm kind of modestly pleased with my solution to the problem of an ABC-first stanza villanelle. At least, I've never seen it before.

Anny assures me that she wasn't actually barefoot -- that was Joe Duemer's poetic license.


Barefoot in Florence --
A dress that was pinkish
At four in the morning.

Pleasure in torrents,
Adventure to relish
Barefoot in Florence.

Tourists, take warning:
Pleasure can vanish
At four in the morning;

Borne by those currents,
The young and the foolish
Are barefoot in Florence.

Libidos are churning --
It's something to cherish
At four in the morning.

Anny – concurrence
To any such yearning
May still be a fetish
At four in the morning.
Barefoot in Florence.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Winter View

Put Them All Together...

P is for the promises it never keeps,
O is for the ode, no longer hip,
E is for ekphrasis, in the Musee d’Oasis,
T says that it’s been a long strange trip,
R is for the readers that it doesn’t have,
Y? Because we don’t like you, you see,
Put them all together, they spell CHAOS
That’s a word that means The World to me.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Battle of the Decades

Here's a game I've been playing with my family and a few friends over email. The premise is simple: I open up XM Radio online when the spirit moves me, copy the songs which are playing at that moment on XM's Decades channels, whatever they may be, and send them out to my Battle of the Decades mailing list.

The rules are simple: Vote for the best song. You must vote for one (hard if none of them are any good, which can happen) and only one (hard if there are two or more really strong candidates -- this last rule is broken so frequently that I've abandoned it).

As the game has developed, I've taken to writing desultory notes -- criticism, reminiscence, biography, trivia -- on the list. These have gotten lengthy enough, and at least no less interesting than most of the nonsense here, that I thought I might as well start posting them. Y'all are welcome to join in and vote.

In the last competition -- a two-way race, which surprised me a little -- it was 4 Non Blondes over Elvis. I'm certainly not surprised that none of my daughters voted for Elvis. But I'm surprised that neither Queen not Marvin Gaye/Martha and the Vandellas got any votes. I

So here's the new one, and I predict near-unanimity between young and old.

THE 40s
Freddy Martin
Easy To Love

THE 50s
Bobby Darin
You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby

THE 60s
James & Bobby Purify
I'm Your Puppet

THE 70s
Paul McCartney & Wings
With A Little Luck

THE 80s
Janet Jackson
The Pleasure Principle

THE 90s
Right Said Fred
I'm Too Sexy

But first, a word about young and old, and the generation gap. I'm certainly not going to vote for Freddy Martin, and I feel confident that no one else will, unless my brother is in a really weird mood, but there is a memory attached to him. When Jon and I first started listening to music, and buying records, naturally we listened to, and bought, rock and roll, which was in its early days back then. This was so long ago that for those of you who don't remember 45s, and barely remember LPs, this goes back further -- our first purchases were 78s. Jon can maybe correct me on this, but I remember our very first being "Bazoom (I Need Your Lovin')" by the Cheers. The Cheers are mostly noted for having, as lead singer, a future TV game show host -- according to Wikipedia,

Convy soon took the podium himself as host of several game shows, including the fourth edition of Password, Super Password (1984–1989), but he remains best known for his first television game show, Tattletales (1974–1978, 1982–1984), for which he was awarded an Emmy for "Best Game Show Host" in 1977.

He also hosted the syndicated version of Win, Lose or Draw (1987–1990), which he co-produced with Burt Reynolds (under the firm Burt and Bert Productions). The final season of Win, Lose or Draw was hosted by Robb Weller, freeing up Convy to host his last game show, 3rd Degree, a syndicated program that ran during the 1989–90 TV season. He was also slated to host the 1990 revival of Match Game but was too ill to do so (comedian Ross Shafer took the role instead).

The Cheers also recorded "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots," an early entry into the rock and roll world by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, at that point mostly known for R&B classics like Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog." Loyal rock and rollers, we listened to the Cheers' version and scorned the pop cover by Vaughn Monroe, but actually the Cheers didn't bring much to rock 'n roll, and Vaughn Monroe's version was just as good.

But I digress. My mother, hating everything we listened to, and really hating the idea that we were wasting our allowance money on rock 'n roll records, tried out the classic parent ploy of assuming that all pop music was the same, and if we wanted to listen to records, why didn't we listen to her old records from the 30s? So she got them out, and when we listened to them, we immediately had the answer as to why we didn't listen to them. But the one we kinda didn't mind, because it was a mildly clever novelty and we were, even back then, into clever, was "The Broken Record," a 1936 for both Freddy Martin and Guy Lombardo -- the general gist of which was that this broken record kept sticking, fortuitously, just at the places which delivered the young swain's message most punchily: "My sweetneart, I love you -- I love you -- I love you -- I love you..."

Yes, it's as corny as it sounds. But it conjures up a memory of Nonna, and so gets a sentimental nod. But no vote.

I pretty much hate everything Paul McCartney & Wings ever recorded, and Janet Jackson's Super Bowl breast (as opposed to Super breast) didn't do anything to win me over, and Bobby Darin was mostly boring -- so much so that even a major fan like Kevin Spacey couldn't make his movie life interesting. Of course, Jerry Lee Lewis' movie bio was boring too...

Here's one of my favorite exchanges in movie-bio-making history.

Dennis Quaid: Jerry Lee, I just don't feel I can play this part right if I can't sing the songs myself.
Jerry Lee: Well, son, that gives me a pretty good idea of your acting ability.

"I'm Your Puppet" was a great song. Maybe not given its due, because it was one of many great soul numbers during an era of great soul records by masters like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, and James and Bobby were one-hit wonders. Interestingly, for one-hit wonders, and for apparently a brother act, they had a personnel change. James was a real Purify, but the original Bobby, actually named Bobby, was his cousin Bob Dickey. He was replaced in the group by Ben Moore, neither Purify nor Bobby, nor related to Scotty Moore, Sam Moore, Wild Bill Moore, Johnny Moore, the other Johnny Moore, Mandy Moore, or Thurston Moore. Quick trivia quiz -- who can identify all the above Moores? I didn't include Dudley, Mary Tyler or Henry, because they weren't primarily associated with music, although Dudley was a brilliant musician.

"I'm Too Sexy" was also a great song -- also by a one-hit wonder group, but more distinctive, more readily identifiable, and terminally catchy. It gets my vote.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Opus 40 on YouTube

A surf of YouTube reveals these home videos of Opus 40, by imtubester:

And two by raymilauren:

And we're included in this one from WeirdUSTV:

And don't forget our own wedding promo video.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Low Dishonest Decade

I've been reading The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930's by Samuel Hynes.
It's about Auden, Spender, Isherwood, etc. -- the intellectuals who were too young to have served in World War I, who felt the strain of having missed a defining experience, and by the late 1920s they were already defining themselves in terms of the coming war. There was a powerful feeling that WWI had proved liberal democracy a failure, and a strong pressure to turn either Communist or Fascist. It's the "low dishonest decade" that Auden came to repudiate, and a powerful cautionary tale to those who feel a demand to politicize art.

As EM Forster said at the time, and this should be required reading for the Bush administration:

As for their argument for revolution – the argument that we must do evil now so that good may come in the long run – it seems to me to have nothing in it. Not because I am too nice to do evil, but because I don’t believe that the Communists know what leads to what. They say they know because they are becoming conscious of the ‘causality of society.’ I say they don’t know, and my counsel for 1938-39 is rather: Do good, and possibly good may come of it. Be soft even if you stand to get squashed. Beware of the long run. Seek understanding dispassionately, and not in accordance with a theory."

And as Johnny Cash said a couple of generations later,

"Don't go mixing politics with the folk songs of our land."

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Instant Mantra

This is the image of Maya Deren that everyone remembers -- beautiful, ethereal. All the images I've been able find of her on the internet are from this time in her life -- the brilliant, beautiful avant-garde filmmaker.

There are no images of the Maya Deren I remember, but she's indelible in my memory. In this memory, she's 39 years old. and I am 16. It's 1956. It's the summer that I started to find my own Woodstock, not the Woodstock of my parents and their friends.

I met Jimmy Gavin, a Greenwich Village folksinger, who wore jeans, an open collar Oxford shirt with black T shirt under it, and a fraying tweed sport jacket, which became my model for how I wanted to look for a long time, maybe still. I started to write a short story about Jimmy once, never finished it. Here's all there is of it, at least so far:

Driving to work today, I surprised myself by remembering all the words to “Johnny Rollin’Stone” by Jimmy Gavin – at least, I remembered all the words if “Johnny Rollin’Stone” only has three stanzas. If it has a fourth, I’ve forgotten it, and if I’ve forgotten it, the chances are no one remembers it. Jimmy Gavin, a Google search confirms, has been completely forgotten. Maybe not so surprising; the first verse of “Johnny Rollin’Stone” was:

Well, I’ve worked in the town
And I’ve worked on the farm
But all the work that I ever done
Was by my strong right arm

They call me rambler
Roller through this land
It’s Johnny Rollin’Stone
Johnny Rollin’Stone
I’m a roller through the land

Well, it’s no worse than the sort of song the Limelighters recorded, or the Kingston Trio, or the Brothers Four, back in the days of the folk boom, when all those groups did what Jimmy did, which was lift verses more or less whole from songs collected by the Lomaxes or Moe Asch or Izzy Young, printed in Sing Out!, sung in the dry fountain at the center of Washington Square on Sunday morning. “Johnny Rollin’Stone” lifted the ramblin’ and gamblin’ from more or less everywhere, and the guy who works on the farm by his strong right arm from Carl Sandburg, who in turn…

It was released on Epic, and Epic was an odd label with no clear style back then, not like Chess or Atlantic or Gee. I didn’t have too many Epic records in my collection. I had “Don’t Let Go” by Roy Hamilton, which began

Hear that whistle it’s ten o’clock
Don’t let go – don’t let go
Come on baby it’s time to rock
Don’t let go – don’t let go

But it was never really time to rock for Roy Hamilton, whose throbbing tenor was more suited for songs like “Ebb Tide” and “Unchained Melody.” And I had “Bacon Fat,” by Andre Williams “Mr. Rhythm” and his New Group, which began

When I was down in, ah, Tennessee
All my friends was, ah, glad to see me
Seen some down by the railroad track
Seen some cotton pickers with their sacks on their backs
They said, hey man, we’re glad to see you back
We got a new dance called the Bacon Fat

It goes, diddly diddly dit…

It would be inaccurate to say that I’ve never thought of Jimmy from that day to this, though for someone who was, for a short time, such a powerful influence, I’ve thought of him remarkably little. After all, I was to find out from Washington Square regulars like Ben Rifkin and Happy Traum and others whom I scarcely dared approach because they wouldn’t talk to anyone who didn’t have a prewar Martin, and wasn’t adept at at least ten styles of finger picking, that one was supposed to have no respect for guys like Erik Darling who’d sold out and made hit records. Sort of like having the de rigueur no respect for Billy Collins today. And that was, of course, a few years before having no respect for a Village folksinger like Peter Tork who had sold out and Hey, hey, he was a Monkee. So what respect could one have, I guess, for a guy like Jimmy who’d sold out and hadn’t made hit records.

There was the time, 25 years ago, in the mid-70s, when worked for a furniture moving company in Greenwich Village, and went on a job on a job for a guy who turned out to be Jimmy’s manager. He had pictures on the wall of his office of a 40ish Jimmy, still trim and good-looking, a bland Johnny Cash – blander than I remembered him – still carrying a guitar, but now dressed in the black tie and dinner jacket of a Vegas supper club entertainer.

The manager was not impressed with the information that I knew Jimmy, or had once known him. He should have been. I would guess that by the mid-Seventies, Jimmy was close to being as forgotten as he is now.

The manager said something about Jimmy being big in Europe. Basically, no one wants any kind of bonding experience with his moving man, so it didn’t go farther than that.

Epic Records changed. It had British Invasion stars like Donovan and the Dave Clark Five and Jimmy Page. Later, the Clash. Culture Club, Sade, Luther Vandross, George Michael. Later still, Jessica Simpson, Good Charlotte. My good friend and former student, Scott Graves, works there now.

Jimmy changed. Jimmy in a tux, on an 8x10 glossy...that's as far I got with the story.

That same summer I met Lenny Horowitz, a painter, who I think did have something of a career in the New York art world, but I can't find him on Google now, either. He introduced me to the records of Lord Buckley.

I met Rommel Stubbs, a jazz musician, also disappeared from the kind of recognition that gets you a Google hit. Rommel took me to a party that was being given by the guy whose group he played in, Teiji Ito, and his wife, Maya Deren.

The Maya Deren I remember.

Teiji and Maya had rented a house on Rock City Road for the summer, the house that is now the Colony Café. When they reopened the Colony a few years ago, and I walked into it for the first time in over 40 years, I remembered it with the force that only a few memories hit you with,

When I walked into that room in 1956, Maya Deren was holding court. And she could. She was that powerful a person. Broad, handsome, an earth mother, dressed like a gypsy. I had never heard of her, in 1956. But I didn't need to have heard of her to be impressed.

As I walked in, she was saying -- about somebody, I have no idea who -- "He's the three middles I can't stand -- middle age, middle class and middle brow!"

And I said to myself. I'm never going to be any of those. Instant mantra. Then, and still. I met her once, and Maya Deren changed my life.