Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Aphorism No. 79: One of a Series;Collect 'em All!

My dog has died; your dog is dead.

Aphorism No. 78: One of a Series; Collect 'em All!

In an age of "social media," can we now all agree to suspend use of the term "community"?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Aphorism No. 77; One of a Series; Collect 'em All

Today is the last day of the rest of your life.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Aphorisme No. 76: One Of A Series: Collect 'em All!

A big problem with wisdom is that it looks so much different than being smart. 

from "The Wise King"

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

How To Pick "Edelweiss" On The Five-String Banjo, In the Ancient Three-Finger Earl Scruggs Style

"The folkies who discovered the banjo and bluegrass in the 1950s and '60s were sweeping up an instrument notable now for its all-white, pure-white, lillywhite associations.  The high lonesome sound, echoing from mountain top to mountain top, more pure even than Julie Andrews singing "Edelweiss" on Broadway [yes, I knew....that was the point.... duh!], was most often a product of white guys who'd listened to race records, just as Jimmie Rodgers' yodels were a brilliant way for a white guy to sing a blues falsetto.  The folk revivalists, fed full of romantic notions about a pre-industrial purity of culture, hunted Scruggs-style Mastertone banjos, as gimmicky a piece of mass-produced Rube Goldberg inspired farm-implement as anything Mark Twain ever invested in.  The only thing purer, whiter, more proper would have been a certified albino dulcimer twanger."
[Next paragraph commencing with "Dulcimer queen Jean Ritchie...." ]

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Aphorisme No. 74 or so: One of a series; Collect 'em all!

The ditch stays the same —  they just hand you a different shape of shovel.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Aphorism No. 73; (One of a series; Collect the whole set!)

In this life, only the most obvious things are likely to happen, but the amazing ones are absolutely certain.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Aphorisme 72 (One of a series; Collect 'em all!)

(As offered to a rhetoric professor, contextually post-prandial political defeat...)
There's two kinds of people: Those who believe in Either/Or, and those who believe in Or/Either.

Aphorisme No. 71; (One of a series; Collect them all!)

Nature is fine, as long as it stays outdoors where it belongs.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Aphorism Number 70: (One of a series; Collect the whole set!)

I'm a man whose mind never quits wandering.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Irving Berlin has nothing to do with you or me.

So this ran in SPIN back in the day, in the slot where the Editor's Note went, oddly enough. As if it weren't odd enough to get paid to write about Irving Berlin. In an issue with Belinda Carlisle on the cover (hilarious story behind that one) and full of features about Poison and Tracy Chapman, OMD, Michael Hurley, Big Pig, and a ton more, with Johnny Cash, LL Cool J, Megadeth, and Soul Asylum all co-starring in the Special Summer Swimsuit Special. With accompanying guide to summer vacations in the US that guided you to The World's Largest Tire, and Einstein's Brain; plus, there was a map to Europe that declared where all the Taco Bells and Elvis Presley museums were. Which is to say, I keep realizing, that as much as SPIN drove all of us all crazy all the time, we were trying to get everything in there. Including, swear to God, Irving Berlin.

Irving Berlin has nothing to do with you or me, nothing at all. Just an old, old man from a time too far gone to bear the slightest resemblance to our own, Irving Berlin was last month's brief cultural news item, worthy of a USA Today cover sketch, deserving of 100th birthday wishes and a warm wink from the hostette of Entertainment Tonight, recipient of all manner of mass media graciousness, despite his pointed lack of participation, despite his unwillingness to create the most minimal of photo opportunities. The achievement under question wasn't the music but the extraordinary length of the man's life.  The length of his life is exactly what Irving Berlin lived to regret.

Irving Berlin and his music are so far away from us, so remote from our own dull and thrilling end of the century. Years and years before the birth of the Beatles, or of Nike footwear, Berlin quashed all requests to use his tunes to pimp products, a curious stance for a man who'd begun as the brassiest of Tin Pan Alley song pluggers, desperate to devise new ways of getting a song sung on a stage — any stage — in hope of a hit. Hits sold sheet music in those days, not CDs, and the difference is huge, undeniable, impossible to bridge.

His first hit was "Alexander's Ragtime Band." It was the work of a white man, a Jew, imitating a black style a good number of years after the black style's early innovations, at a time when white audiences were still less than receptive to the black practitioners of the style. The music bore no resemblance whatsoever to, say, the Beastie Boys.

Unlike most songwriters of our own era, Irving Berlin never learned to read music and was forced to rely on the crutch of technology in order to create. He could only play the piano in the key of F sharp, but with a special transposing piano, a mechanical device allowed him to switch keys. A pitchbending synthesizer with built-in rhythm settings and sampling capabilities is light-years away from so crude a contraption, and guitarists who rely on capos are invariably much closer to being true aesthetes than the uncouth likes of Irving Berlin.

The streets of his youth were cluttered by petty criminals and ruled by organized crime. The world of his lifetime was dominated by war and rumors of war, swept by an unfailing tide of fear and hope, and powerful joy. He was virtually the Anti-Morrissey, the veritable Jonathan Richman of his time, a relentless optimist through decade after decade of depression and despair. Born at the onset of modernism, contemporary to the greatest tragedies of history, he failed to understand that mankind was doomed to suffer, to wallow in gloom, to wear the most existentially profound of black wardrobes and stare glumly into cold cafe au lait. Instead, when he suffered profoundly after the shocking death of his new wife, he addressed his wounds frankly, he made light of his life, and he moved on. He wrote "Blue Skies." He had nothing to do with our time.

He began insinuating himself — a white man, a Jew, a Russian, an immigrant, a near-illiterate — into Tin Pan Alley and vaudeville, into a culture that was aping the culture of the black people it feared. As only the greatest of bluesmen ever do, he found a voice that was his own, a distinctly American voice that sang through the mouth of others, of millions of others. As vaudeville was destroyed by the movies and as movies found a voice and began to sing, he stayed in style. As Broadway grew ambitious and artful, as the world lurched from war to war, as show business died and moved to Las Vegas, Irving Berlin stayed in style. Through not just one generation but a half dozen, he remained in vogue. And then he lived a little too long, and all of us grew wiser than he was. Maybe living past your time is worse than a sin. Maybe we'll all get lucky and it'll never happen to any of us.

(Addendum: for a few years in a row, every few weeks or so, I'd been calling the offices of Irving Berlin Music and speaking to Mr. Berlin's longtime secretary, Hilda Schneider, continuing to ask for an opportunity to to speak with the man himself. She was pleasant but firm; I'd try to chat her up.   She'd seen, apparently, the likes of me before. No dice, damn it. But let it be said; I was getting paid to do this — well, and a few other things, like ignore the phone calls from all the West Coast publicists for record labels who were trying to beat their East Coast counterparts at getting their label's own Latest & Greatest on the cover and wedging ol' Belinda Carlisle off of it. I don't know that I was ever smart enough to suggest that if Irving Berlin would give us an exclusive interview, we'd put Hilda Schneider on the cover . . . but the thing to be said about SPIN is that we might have. )

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Irene Kuo's "The Key to Chinese Cooking" considered yet again

I've been thinking yet again of  The Key To Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo. I've quoted from it before, and God willing, insh'Allah, I'll quote from it again. But this quote is not from the book — it's from the book's jacket. I like it tremendously. And I'm betting that it's the work of Judith Jones, the estimable Alfred A. Knopf editor who commissioned Madame Kuo's book, and who was the editor of Julia Childs' The Art of French Cooking.

"It is impossible to do more than suggest the richness and clarity of this book. Everything is here — every piece of information you need about planning, buying, preparing, cooking, timing, serving, menu suggestions, etc.  Irene Kuo is at your side. Open to any page and you will immediately recognize the true and unmistakable voice of someone who knows how, and knows how to make you know how. "

And then, immediately below, the only photo of Irene Kuo I've ever seen, cleaver in classic chopping hold — as opposed to cutting or mincing or shredding or smashing holds, all of which her mighty book describes, counsels, and prescribes according to need. She's right-handed, and because the photo is black & white, I'm only guessing that her nails are lacquered red to match the book's original dust cover, red for joy, red for good fortune, red for fire, red for luck.  

Queen Of The New Frontier

Maybe the Civil Rights Movement, just like Davy Crockett, was born on a mountain-top in Tennessee. Maybe Mona Lisa's smile is over-rated.

In December, 1955, when Mrs. Rosa Parks was escorted off a Montgomery, Alabama bus, a radio, if there was a radio on the police station desk,  would have played, smack dab in and amongst all the Christmas carols, that year's massive hits: "The Yellow Rose Of Texas," "Sixteen Tons," and, yes, "The Ballad Of Davy Crockett." A 42-year-old Alabama seamstress, another day older and deeper in debt,and like that fabled Yella Rose, a light-skinned black woman, Mrs. Parks chose to go against her husband's best advice. She turned Montgomery and then America — the real and actual America, not any of the many Americana versions, and certainly not Frontierland— into a truly wild new frontier. Five years later , John F. Kennedy would trail behind her, and behind Disney's Davy Crockett as well, in declaring the whole country, all of the United States, "A New Frontier."

The Marshal of Tombstone (from the Washington Post (excerpt)

The marshal of Tombstone reaches down to his gun belt, runs his hand over the black leather loops that hold the cartridges in an orderly row. His dry fingers push bullets up against the loop, six of them, one after another. One after another, he pushes six bullets down.  
The squad cars are parked with their bumpers backed up to the gate of the OK Corral, ready to roll. The southern Arizona sun is rising but the morning is still cool and quiet — maybe too quiet.

from the Washington Post, August 31, 1897 (oops, 1987)