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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Monday
Mar212011

In Which James Agee Found No Single Word For What He Meant

Plans for Work: October 1937

by JAMES AGEE

The following was submitted by James Agee with his application for a Guggenheim Fellowship.

I am working on, or am interested to try, or expect to return to, such projects as the following. I shall first list them, then briefly specify a little more about most of them.

An Alabama Record.

Letters.

A Story about homosexuality and football.

News Items.

Hung with their own rope.

A dictionary of key words.

Notes for color photography.

A revue.

Shakespeare.

A cabaret.

Newsreel. Theatre.

A new type of stage-screen show.

Anti-communist manifesto.

Three or four love stories.

A new type of sex book.

"Glamor" writing.

A study in the pathology of "laziness."

A new type of horror story.

Stories whose whole intention is the direct communication of the intensity of common experience.

"Musical" uses of "sensation" or "emotion."

Collections and analyses of faces; of news pictures.

Development of new forms of writing via the caption; letters; pieces of overheard conversation.

A new form of "story": the true incident recorded as such and an analysis of it.

A new form of movie short roughly equivalent to the lyric poem.

Conjectures of how to get "art" back on a plane of organic human necessity, parallel to religious art or the art of primitive hunters.

A show about motherhood.

Pieces of writing whose rough parallel is the prophetic writings of the Bible.

Uses of the Dorothy Dix method, the Voice of Experience: for immediacy, intensity, complexity of opinion.

The inanimate and non-human.

A new style and use of the imagination: the exact opposite of the Alabama record.

A true account of a jazz band.

An account and analysis of a cruise: "high"-class people.

Portraiture. Notes. The Triptych.

City Streets. Hotel Rooms. Cities.

A new kind of photographic show.

The slide lecture.

A new kind of music. Noninstrumental sound. Phonograph recording. Radio.

Extension in writing; ramification in suspension; Schubert 2-cello Quintet.

Analyses of Hemingway, Faulkner, Wolfe, Auden, other writers.

Analyses of review of Kafka's Trial; various moving pictures.

Two forms of history of the movies.

Reanalyses of the nature and meaning of love.

Analyses of miscommunication; the corruption of idea.

Moving picture notes and scenarios.

An "autobiographical novel."

New forms of "poetry."

A notebook.

In any effort to talk further about these, much is liable to overlap and repeat. Any further coordination would however be rather more false than true indication of the way the work would be undertaken; for these projects are in fluid rather than organized relationship to each other. None of the following can be more than suggestive of work.

Alabama Record.

In the summer of 1936 the photographer Walker Evans and I spent two months in Alabama hunting out and then living with a family of cotton tenants which by general average would most accurately represent all cotton tenancy. This work was in preparation for an article for Fortune. We lived with one and made a detailed study and record of three families, and interviewed and observed landowners, new dealers, county officers, white and negro tenants, etc., etc., in several cities and county seats and villages and throughout 6,000 miles of country.

The record I want to make of this is not journalistic; nor on the other hand is any of it to be invented. It can perhaps most nearly be described as "scientific," but not in a sense acceptable to scientists, only in the sense that it is ultimately skeptical and analytic. It is to be as exhaustive a reproduction and analysis of personal experience, including the phases and problems of memory and recall and revisitation and the problems of writing and communication, as I am capable of, with constant bearing on two points: to tell everything possible as accurately as possible: and to invent nothing. It involves therefore as total a suspicion of "creative" and "artistic" as of "reportorial" attitudes and methods, and it is therefore likely to involve the development of some more or less new forms of writing and of observation.

Of this work I have written about 40,000 words, first draft, and entirely tentative. On this manuscript I was offered an advance and contract, which I finally declined, feeling I could neither wisely nor honestly commit the project to the necessarily set or estimated limits of time and length. With your permission I wish to submit it as a part of my application, in the hope that it will indicate certain things about the general intention of the work, and also some matters suggested under the head of "accomplishments," more clearly than I can. I should add of it a few matters it is not sufficiently developed to indicate.

Any body of experience is sufficiently complex and ramified to require (or at least be able to use) more than one mode of reproduction: it is likely that this one will require many, including some that will extend writing and observing methods. It will likely make use of various traditional forms but it is anti-artistic, anti-scientific, and anti-journalistic. Though every effort will be made to give experience, emotion and thought as directly as possible, and as nearly as may be toward their full detail and complexity (it would have at different times, in other words, many of the qualities of a novel, a report, poetry), the job is perhaps chiefly a skeptical study of the nature of reality and of the false nature of re-creation and of communication. It should be as definitely a book of photographs as a book word, in other words photographs should be used profusely, and never to "illustrate" the prose. One of part of the work, in many senses the crucial part, would be a strict comparison of the photographs and the prose as relative liars and as relative reproducers of the same matters.

Letters.

Letters are in every word and phrase immediate to and revealing of, in precision and complex detail, the sender and receiver and the whole world and context each is of: as distinct in their own way, and as valuable, as would be a faultless record of the dreams of many individuals. The two main facts about any letter are: the immediacy, and the flawlessness, of its revelations. In the true sense that any dream is a faultless work of art, so is any letter; and the defended and conscious letter is as revealing as the undefended. Here then is a racial record, and perhaps the best available document of the power and fright of language and of miscommunication and of the crippled concepts behind these. The variety to be found in letters is almost as unlimited as literate human experience; their monotony is equally valuable.

Therefore, a collection of letters of all kinds.

Almost better than not, the limits of this would be: what you and your friends and their acquaintances can find. For even within this, the complete range of society and of mind can be bracketed; and this limitation more truly indicates the range of the subject than any effort to extend it onto more ordinary planes of "research" possibly could.

Working chiefly thus far with two or three friends, we have got together many hundreds of letters. Many more are on their way.

There are several possible and equally good methods of handling these letters.

1. Beyond deletion of identifiers, no editing and no selection at all. In other words, let chance be the artist, the fulcrum and shaper. This is beyond any immediate possibility of publication, in any such bulk.

2. Very careful selection, the chief guides to be a scientific respect for chance and for representativeness rather than respect for more conventional forms of "reader interest"; and (b) the induction and education of a reading public, for less selected future work.

3. Context notes, short and uncolored, would probably be useful.

4. Take certain or all such letters. Let them first stand by themselves. Then an almost word by word analysis of them, as manysided and extensive as the given letter requires. This could be of great clarifying power.

5. Instead of a purely "scientific" analysis, one which likewise allows the open entrance of emotion and belief, to the violent degrees for instance, of rage, rhapsody and poetry.

6. A series or book of invented letters, treated in any or all of the above ways.

These treatments may seem to cancel each other. Not at all necessarily. I would hope to use them all in the course of time, and very likely would try substantial beginning-examples of all in the same first volume.

The value or bearing of such work would come under my own meanings of science, religion, art, teaching, and entertainment.

It should also help to shift and to destroy various habits and certitudes of the "creative" and of the "reading," and so of the daily "functioning" mind.

It could well be published in book form or as all or as part of a certain type of magazine I am interested in, or as a part of a notebook which I shall say more of later.

As a book it should even in its first shot contain as much as a publisher can be persuaded to allow; and its whole demeanor should be colorless and noncommital, like scientific or government publications. It should contain a great deal of facsimile, not only of handwriting but of stationary.

A story about homosexuality and football.

Not central to this story but an inevitable part of it would be a degree of cleansing the air on the subject of homosexuality. Such a cleansing could not in this form hope to be complete. The same clarifying would be attempted on the sport and on the nature of belief: always less by statement than by demonstration. All this however is merely incidental to the story itself.

An account, then, of love between a twelve year old boy and a man of twenty-two, in the Iliadic air of football in a Tennessee mountain peasant school: reaching its crisis during and after a game which is recounted chiefly in terms of the boy's understanding and love; in other words in terms of an age of pure faith. The prose to be lucid, simple naturalistic and physical to the maximum possible. In other words if it succeeds in embodying what it wants to it must necessarily have the essential qualities of folk epic and of heroic music carried in terms of pure "realism." This is being written now. It is to be about the length and roughly the form of the "long short story."

time staff writers, 1945News Items.

Much the same as Letters.

Hang with their own rope.

I have found no single word for what I mean. The material turns up all over the place. The idea is, that the self-deceived and corrupted betray themselves and their world more definitively than invented satire can. Vide Eleanor Roosevelt's My Day; Mrs. Daisy Chanler's Autumn in the Valley; the journal and letters of Gamaliel Bradford; court records, editorial, religious, women's pages; the "literature" concerning and justifying the castration of Eisenstein; etc.

Such could again be collected in a volume, or as a magazine or part of a magazine; or in the notebook. The above is limited to self-betrayals in print. Those in unpublished living must of course be handled in other ways. One minor but powerful way is, the unconsciously naked sentence, given either with or without context. These are abundant for collection.

A dictionary of key words.

More on the significance of language. Add idioms. A study and categorizing of tones of voice, or rhythms and of inflection; of social dialects; would also be useful. Key words are those organic and collective belief - and conception - words upon the centers and sources of which most of social and of single conduct revolves and deceives or undeceives itself and others. Certain such words are Love, God, Honor, Loyalty, Beauty, Law, Justice, Duty, Good, Evil, Truth, Reality, Sacrifice, Self, Pride, Pain, Life, etc. etc. etc. Such would be examined skeptically in every discernible shade of their meaning and use. There might in a first dictionary be an arbitrary fifty or a hundred, with abundant quotations and examples from letters, from printed matter, and from common speech.

Mr. I. A. Richards, whose qualifications are extremely different from my own and in many essentials far more advanced, is, I understand, working on just such a dictionary. Partly because the differences of attack would be so wide, and still more because the chief point is the ambiguity of language. I do not believe these books would be at all in conflict.

Notes for color photography.

Of two kinds: theoretical and specific. For stills; in motion; in coordination with sound and rhythm. Uses of pure color, no image. Metaphoric, oblique, nervous and musical uses of color. Analyses of the "unreality" of "realistic" color photography. Of differences between color in a photograph and in painting. The esthetic is as basically different as photography itself is from painting, and as large a new field is open to color in photography. Examples of all this, and notes for future use, from observation.

A revue.

Much to do with the whole theatrical form. The dramatic stage is slowed and stuffed with naturalism. Audiences still and without effort accept the living equivalent of "poetry" in revue, burlesque and vaudeville. Stylization, abbreviation and intensity are here possible. Destructive examples of "spurious" use: Of Thee I Sing, As Thousands Cheer, etc. Solid examples, upon which still further developments can be made: the didatic plays of Brecht; The Cradle Will Rock; The Dog Beneath the Skin.

Shakespeare.

Commentary; ideas for productino in moving picture and on stage; criticism of contemporary production of his work and of attitudes toward his work produced or read. In movies: use of screen and sound as elliptic commentary or development of the lines. On stage: concentration totally in words and physical relationships. Qualifiedly good example: The Orson Welles Faustus (I have not yet seen his Caesar). On stage also: Savage use of burlesqued melange of traditional idioms of production, conception and reading, intended as simultaneous ridicule, analysis and destruction of culture.

A cabaret.

Cheap drinks, hot jazz by record and occasional performers; "floor show." Examples of acts: monologues I have written; certain numbers from Erika Mann's Peppermill; much in Groucho Marx, Durante, Fields. Broad and extreme uses of ad lib and of parody. No sets, no lighting and only improvised costume. Intense and violent satire, "vulgarity," pure comedy. Strong development of improvisation; use of the audience in this.

Newsreel. Theater.

The theater: 15-25 cents, 42nd street west of Times Square, open all night. Usual arty-theatre repertory much cut down, strongly augmented by several dozen features overlooked by the arty and political, and by several of Harry Langdon's and all of Buster Keaton's comedies. Strong and frequent shifts in "policy," to admit, for instance, a week embodying the entire career of a given director or star or idiom. Revivals, much more frequent than at present, of certain basics: Chaplin, Cagney, Garbo, Disney, Eisenstein. For silent pictures, uses of the old projector, which gives these at their proper speed. Occasional stage numbers and jazz performers. Cheap bar out of sound of screen. Totally anti-arty and anti-period-laugh. Strongly, but secondarily, political. Most of hte audience must be drawn on straight entertainment value, or not at all.

The Newsreeel: Once a month for a week. Clips from newsreels, arranged for strongest possible satire, significance and comedy, with generally elliptic commentary and sound.

New type of stage-screen show.

Using anti-realistic technique of revue and combining and alternating with screen, plus idioms also of radio; proceeding by free association and by naturalistic symbol and by series of nervous emotional and logical impacts rather than by plot or characters; in an organization parallel to that of music and certain Russian and surrealist movies. More direct uses of the audience than I know of so far. Made not for an intellectual but for a mixture of the two other types of audience: the bourgeois, and the large and simple. Such a show should not last more than 40-60 minutes and should have the continuous intensity as well as the dimensions of a large piece of music. I have begun one such, springboarding from the Only Yesterday idiom, and have another projected, on mothers.

Anti-communist manifesto.

Merely a working title. Assumption and statement in the first place of belief in ideas and basic procedures of communism. On into specific demonstrations of its misconceptions, corruptions, misuses, the damage done and inevitable under these circumstances, using probably the method of comment on quotations from contemporary communist writing and action.

Three or four love stories.

Stories in which the concentration would be entirely on the processes of sexual love. If these are "works of art," that will be only incidental.

A new type of sex book.

Beginning with quotations from contemporary and former types, an analysis of their usefulness, shortcomings, and power to damage, and a statement of the limitations of the present book. Then as complete as possible a record and analysis of personal experience from early childhood on, and of everything seen heard learned or suspected on the subject; analyses and extensions of the significance and power of sex and of sexual self-deception; with all available examples.

"Glamor" writing.

Here, as above on love, the concentration on recording and communicating pure glamor and delight.

Pathology of "laziness."

Essentially fiction, but probably much analysis. Its connections with fear, ignorance, sex, misinterpretation and economics. A story of cumulative horror.

A new type of "horror" story.

Not the above, but the horror that can come of objects and of their relationships and of tones of voice, etc, etc. Non-supernatural, non-exaggerative.

Stories whose whole intention is the communication of the intensity of common experience.

Concentration on what the senses receive and the memory and context does with it, and such incidents, done full length, as a family supper, a marital bedfight, an auto trip.

Musical uses of sensation or emotion.

As for instance: A, a man knows B, a girl, and C, a man, each very well. They meet. A is anxious that they like each other. B and C are variously deflected and concerned. All is delicately yet strongly distorted. Their relationship is more complex yet as rigid as that or mirrors set in a triangle, faces inward and interreflecting. These interreflections, as the mirrors shift, are analogous to the structures of contrapuntal music.

Most uses would be more subtle and less describable. Statements of moral and physical sprained equations. This would be one form of poetry.

dinner with the chaplins

Collections and analyses of faces; of news pictures.

Chiefly the faces would be found in news pictures.

The forms of analysis would be useful, one with, one without, any previous knowledge of whose the face and what the context is. The nearest word for such a study is anthropological, but it involves much the anthropologist does not take into account. The faces alone, with no comment, are another form of value. The pictures of more than face involve much more, which has to do with the esthetics and basic "philosophies" of poetry, music and moving pictures.

One idea here is this: no picture needs or should have a caption. But words may be used detachably, and may be used as sound and image are used with and against each other. And the picture may be used as a springboard, a theme for free variation and development; as with letters and with pieces of overheard conversations.

A new form of movie short.

A form, 2 to 10 minutes long, capable of many forms within itself. By time-condensation, each image (like each words in poetry) must have more than common intensity and related tension. This project is in many ways directly parallel to written "musical" uses of "sensation" and "emotion."

walker evans

Conjectures on how to get "art" back on the plane of organic human necessity.

I can write nothing about this, short of writing a great deal. But this again is intensely anti-"artistic," as of art in any of its contemporary meanings. Every use of the moving picture, the radio, the stage, the imagination, and the techniques of the psychoanalyst, the lecturer, the showman and entertainer, the preacher, the teacher, the agitator and the prophet, used directly upon the audience itself, not just set before them: and used on, and against, matters essential to their existence. Such would be the above-mentioned show about motherhood: a massive yet detailed statement of contemporary motherhood and all ideas which direct and impose it.

"Prophetic" writing.

Here too, the directest, most incisive and specific, and angriest possible form of direct address, semi-scientific, semi-religious; set in terms of the greatest available human intensity.

Dorothy Dix: the Voice of Experience

Typical human situations, whether invented or actual, are set up: then, of each, strong counterpoints of straight and false analysis and advice. So, again, as in a letter, each case inevitably expands and entangles itself with a whole moral and social system; the general can best be attacked through the specific. No time wasted with story, character development, etc.; you are deep in the middle from the start, with more immediacy and intensity than in a piece of fiction: inside living rather than describing it.

The inanimate and non-human.

By word, sound, moving picture. Simply, efforts to state systems and forms of existence as nearly in their own, not in human terms, as may be possible: towards extensions of human self-consciousness, and still more, for the sake of what is there.

A "new" style of use of the imagination.

In the Alabama record the effort is to suspect the mind of invention and to invent nothing. But another form of relative truth is any person's imagination of what he knows little or nothing of and has never seen. In these terms, Buenos Aires itself is neither more nor less actual than my, or your, careful imagination of it told as pure imaginative fact. The same of the States of Washington and West Virginia, and of his histories of The Civil War, the United States, and Hot Jazz. Such are projects I want to undertake in this way.

A true account of a jazz band.

The use of the Alabama technique on personal knowledge of a band.

An account and analysis of a cruise: "high"-class people.

Related to the Alabama technique, a technique was developed part way in Havana Cruise, mentioned among things I have had published, I should like to apply this to behavior of a wealthier class of people on, say, a Mediterranean cruise.

Portraits, Notes, The Triptych.

Only photographic portraiture is meant. Notes and analyses, with examples, of the large number of faces any individual has. The need for a dozen to fifty photographs, supplementing five or three or one central, common denominator, for a portrait of any person. Notes on composition, pose and lighting "esthetics" and "psycho" analysis of contemporary and recent idioms.

The triptych: Research begins to indicate (in case anyhow of criminals and steep neurotics) that the left and right halves of the face contain respectively the unconscious and the conscious. So: the establishment is possible of custom, habit, wherin one would have triptychs of one's friends, relatives, etc: the left half reversed and made a whole face; the natural full face; the right-face.

Collections of these, with or without case histories, in a book.

Also: of each person, two basic portraits, one clinical, the other totally satisfying the sitter; to be collected and published.

Also: "anthropological" use of the family album. Of any individual, his biography in terms of pictures of him and of all persons and places involved in his life. A collection of such biographies of anonymous people, with or without case-history notes and analysis.

City streets. Hotel rooms. Cities.

And many other categories. Again, the wish is to consider such in their own terms, not as decoration or atmosphere for fiction. And, or: in their own terms through terms of personal experience. And, or; in terms of personal, multipersonal, collective, memory or imagination.

A new kind of photographic show.

In which photographs are organized and juxtaposed into an organic meaning and whole: a sort of static movie. Scenario for such a show furnished if desired.

The slide lecture.

A lecture can now be recorded and sent around with the slides. The idea is that this can be given vitality as an "art" form, as a destroyer, disturber and instructor.

A new kind of "music."

There is as wide a field of pure sound as of pure image, and sound can be photographed. The range, between straight document and the farthest reaches of distortion, juxtaposition, metaphor, associatives, the specific male abstract, is quite as unlimited. Unlimited rhythmic and emotional possibilities. Many possibilities of combination with image, instrumental music, the spoken and printed word. For phonograph records, radio, television, movies, reading machines. Thus: a new field of "music" in relation to music about as photography is in relation to painting. Some Japanese music suggests its possibilities.

Extension in writing; ramification in suspension, Schubert 2-cello Quintet.

Experiments, mostly in form of the lifted and maximum suspended periodic sentence. Ramification (and development) through developments, repeats, semi-repeats, of evolving thought, of emotion, of associatives and dissonants. The quintet: here and sometimes elsewhere Schubert appears to be composing out of a state of consciousness different from any I have seen elsewhere in art. Of these extension experiments some are related to this, some to late quartets and piano music of Beethoven. The attempt is to suggest or approximate a continuum.

Two forms of history of the movies.

One, a sort of bibliography to which others would add: an exhaustive inventory of performers, performances, moments, images, sequences, anything which has for any reason ever given me pleasure or appeared otherwise valuable.

The other, an extension of this into complete personal history: recall rather than inventory.

Reanalyses of the nature and meaning of love.

Chiefly these would be tentative, questioning and destructive of crystallized ideas and attitudes, indicative of their power to cause pain. Not only of sexual but of other forms of love including the collective and religious. The love stories, the sex book, and part of the dictionary and letters, all come under this head.

Analyses of miscommunication; the corruption of ideas.

Again, to quite an extent, the dictionary, the letters, personal experience, dictaphone records of literal experience, comparison of source writing with writing of disciples and disciplinarians. In one strong sense ideas rule all conduct and experience. Analyses of the concentricities of misunderstanding, misconditioning, psychological and social lag, etc, through which every first-rate idea and most discoveries of fact, move and become degraded and misused against their own ends.

Moving picture notes and scenarios.

Much can be done, good in itself and possibly useful to others, even without a camera and money, in words. I am at least as interested in moving pictures as in writing.

An "autobiographical novel."

This would combine many of the forms and ideas and experiments mentioned above. Only relatively small portions would be fiction (though the techniques of fiction might be much used); and these would be subjected to nonfictional analysis. This work would contain photographs and records as well as words.

Poetry.

This I am unable to indicate much about; but it involves all the more complex and intense extensions suggested by any of the above, and, chiefly, personal recall and imagination. It is in the long run perhaps more important than anything I have mentioned; but includes much of it.

Notebook.

One way of speaking, a catchall for all conceivable forms of experience which can in any way, scientifically, imaginatively, or otherwise, be recorded and analyzed. More than one person could contribute to such a work, and it would be handed ahead to others. It would not at any time be finishable. It would in course of time reach encyclopedic size, or more. It would be published looseleaf, so that readers might make their own inserts and rearrangements as they thought most relevant. Such a record could perhaps best be published by the State or by a scientific foundation.

I would wish, under a grant, to go ahead with work such as this. Most likely the concentration would be on the Alabama record and secondarily on moving pictures, sound-music, and various collections of letters and pictures, and various experiments in poetry. Quite a bit of this work would be done in collaboration with Mr. Walker Evans who is responsible for some and collaboratively responsible for others of the ideas or projects mentioned.

James Agee died in 1955.

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"Goldeneye" - Frank Ocean (mp3)

"There Will Be Tears" - Frank Ocean (mp3)

"Swim Good "- Frank Ocean (mp3)

Sunday
Mar202011

In Which Three Really Is Company Not A Crowd

Basic Arithmetic 

by NELL BOESCHENSTEIN

I first heard Trio as a seven-year-old in the backseat of my mother’s Oldsmobile station wagon. We were probably on our way to my violin lesson because in my memory we were always on our way to violin lessons when I was seven. The album was one of two tapes mom kept in rotation for car rides in the late 80s, the other being Paul Simon’s Graceland. (My first favorite tape was a group tribute to Woody Guthrie that I listened to nonstop between the ages three and six.) That said, I didn't yet quite understand what a "Rosewood Casket" was or grasp the concept of a "Hobo’s Meditation." What I did understand was that this was an album of songs I could listen to repeatedly and that Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt were women I wanted not just in the car with me, but in the kitchen, in the bedroom, on sleepovers at Caetie Ofiesh’s house, and in class as I learned basic arithmetic: one plus one plus one equals three, and that’s no lonely number.

Cream

Supergroups were the spawn of the late 60s. Cream is the archetype. Think also The Traveling Wilburys. The Plastic Ono Band. Supergroups did sometimes, too, exist outside the realm of rock and roll. The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson), for example, and it’s not too far-fetched to say The Three Tenors were one for the tails and white gloves set.

They were also often a way for the guys to get together, puff feathers, and engage in a ritual of musical one-upmanship. As a result the projects were notorious for being unable to withstand the weight of collective egos. That said, they weren’t always men and they weren’t always frustrated by the complications of said egos. Trio — starring the thinking people’s queens of country music — was one for sure and for the ages. The album was released in 1987 but the women had been planning a record together for at least a decade.

Describing how they first met in an interview, Harris explained how she was on the road with Gram Parsons and Ronstadt was on the road with Neil Young and they “kind of converged and, um, we revealed to each other that our favorite girl singer was Dolly Parton and from there our friendship blossomed because we had something very important in common.” About the first time the three of them sang together shortly thereafter, she continued, "The sound that we made together surprised and astonished the three of us. It was a very, very special sound and we knew that at some point we needed to do some singing and get it down on tape." But their 70s schedules proved too difficult to synch, so the Trio dream was temporarily deferred.

When their schedules did finally let up enough to collaborate it was at a time when country music was increasingly commercialized; what Trio proved was that the traditionalist approach maintained a beating heart of a fanbase. The album hit #1 on the country charts, won a couple Grammys in 1988, had the mainstream buzz to be put up against Prince, Michael Jackson, U2, and Whitney Houston for album of the year that year (it lost to The Joshua Tree, produced by Daniel Lanois who Emmylou Harris later hired to produce her famous 1995 album Wrecking Ball), and sold more than four million copies.

It’s sort of funny to watch the video from the 1988 Grammys as the nominees for best album are named. U2, Prince, and Michael Jackson all get audible cheers and catcalls, but when the nomination for Trio is announced there’s an almost awkward silence, as if people haven’t quite heard of these women or the little album they made sans drum machines and synth. "Funny," because it’s nearly impossible to overstate the combined influence of Harris, Parton, and Ronstadt. Even if they may have been losing then finding their ways again a bit as the 80s progressed, each was already a living legend, having become as much by remaining largely faithful to a basic American vernacular from whence she came.

This sense that each came from somewhere and wears that somewhere like a badge means something to me. I am from Virginia and wouldn’t want it any other way. I think about this fact maybe more than my therapist would like me to and that’s saying something since she, like any therapist, is hardly in favor of an ahistorical individual. Regardless, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes feel defensive in New York about my Virginia aesthetic, despite the fact that it is just that: an aesthetic, frosting on a deeper philosophy.

linda ronstadt

While neither Parton, nor Harris, nor Ronstadt are particularly arty — they aren’t Yoko Onos or Patti Smiths — they nevertheless warrant podiums. Behind their costumes and hair and makeup, Parton, Harris, and Ronstadt are as rock and roll in ethos as anyone, as pure awesome, as badass because, boys, Nashville can be as hard on a girl as New York. It takes a certain kind of stubborn, almost perverse, sense of subversion after all to stick to the dulcimer. Not to mention to be the sort of true blues they are in the red world of country.

To love Trio as a trio is not to admire these women any less as individuals, but that’s not my point. Beyond the strength of their individual personas, what never ceases to amaze me about the album is how the three share the spotlight without ever stepping on toes.  Parton leads on four songs, Ronstadt on three, Harris on two. Parton is pure, aching, bawdy country in "Those Memories of You"; Harris is somber on "My Dear Companion", her voice full of the sound of loss for which it is known (goodbye again, Gram), made only more so by the harmonies in the chorus; Ronstadt has something to prove in “Telling Me Lies,” and prove it she does. The three sing ensemble-style on "To Know Him Is To Love Him" and round-robin style in the final song, the gospel classic "Farther Along."

When harmonizing, their voices meld but maintain what allowed them to be plucked out of the cacophony in the first place. American folk and country music are about singing together: in church, in the fields, on the porch, wherever. That is what this is about. Preach, practice, etc. "The music brought us together," Parton has said. "And the fact that our voices are completely different, all three of us, and our personalities are completely different, our look is completely different, you wouldn’t think that we would fit together in all the ways we do, but we’re very compatible in every way and it’s worked out real good. Since the early 70s we’ve been together and hopefully we’ll be together forever."

There is the sense here that they need each other. Even when not performing as a trio, they are known to pop up and play songs at one another’s shows and to talk in interviews about the years spent together on the road, how unusual that was at a certain time and how important it was to have the companionship and sense of camaraderie they provided each other. Sometimes I find myself at the butt of gentle jokes because I have a fondness for getting out the guitars and mandolins, the Rise Up Singing, and the whiskey, and singing so that all of Myrtle Avenue can hear. I don’t care because afterwards I feel better inside than I did before.

The other thing I didn’t understand when I first heard Trio in the back of the Oldsmobile but do now was that I wanted those women in the car and in my math class for beginners because they were an artistic embodiment of female friendship and collaboration. The imperative importance of those things are learned over time and neither is always easy. In footage of Trio performances you can see that that Parton, Harris, and Ronstadt have all taken notes on those lessons: these women love each other, love working together, love making it work, figuring out the equation so that it adds up correctly, balances out.

Nell Boeschenstein is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find her website here. This is her first appearance in these pages.

"When We're Gone, Long Gone" - Trio (mp3)

"Feels Like Home" - Trio (mp3)

"He Rode All The Way To Texas" - Trio (mp3)

dolly

Saturday
Mar192011

In Which We Regularly Play Ping-Pong With The Princess Masako

Sayonara

by LENA DUNHAM

I awake the next morning feeling like I need a blood transfusion. Our guide Shiori arrives at noon, chipper as ever and ready to take us to the airport where we'll board the plane home. She hands me a gift. "From Kazu. To remember last night."

A pleather nurse's cap.

My goodbye with Shiori is bittersweet — we have truly become friends, despite the uncrossable cultural chasm, a chasm evidenced by the fact that she is shocked by frank discussions of sex but was not at all surprised by what we witnessed last night at the S&M bar in the Rappongi district. "I love you," she says, handing me a bag of "bean sweets." I promise to send her the ugg boots she so desperately wants.

"Remember to e-mail Tada," she says. The sleeve of her raincoat is still dotted with red wax from a candle wielded by an obese dominatrix. "The gift he gave you was very expensive. He says you promised to take him to all the clubs of New York."

Did I? I don't remember that. I guess, like so many of my Japanese exchanges, it was lost in translation.

Ground Control To Major Mom

We've come to Japan because my mother is having a small retrospective of her photographs at a gallery in Tokyo.

Traveling with my mother has its challenges. She's adorable, a real gem, but she won't shut up and she generates little bits of trash and she is very nervous about Japanese customs — for instance, her guidebook tells her that the Japanese don't like public nose blowing, which she adores, and that's been a real source of anxiety.

On the 14 hour plane ride she watched Lost In Translation on her in-flight entertainment system. Good movie, but it is now a near-constant point of reference, and likely will be for the entirety of our time in Tokyo. After all, she was quick to note that I am a recent grad with hair vaguely the color of Scar Jo's, traveling with a working photographer. Only my shutterbug partner-in-crime is not Giovanni Ribisi. She gave birth to me.

When we land at Narita Airport twenty tiny men in scrubs and gloves and white rubber rain boots come aboard wearing masks, and announce they're going to take our temperatures as a precaution against the spread of swine flu. They have syringes in their fanny packs and I actually get very scared.

We are greeted in the airport by Shiori, a young representative from the gallery where my mother's work is being shown.

"I will be your guide," she says. Our friend Matthew warned us not to bond with any gallery girls because "you'll never lose them" but I like her. She insists on carrying my suitcase even though she weighs about seventy-three pounds and has hands like paper cranes. The taxicab's seats wear a cloak of white lace. The driver dons matching gloves and takes your Yen (thousands of them!) on a small silver tray.

I once saw a movie in which Toni Collette has hot sex with a Japanese businessman who then dies. She spends the next hour lugging his lifeless body through the Australian outback and crying.

Judging by the medical mod squad and this cab driver's stiff posture, I can't imagine a passionate affair with a native man. A few minutes after we check into the hotel the maid comes into our room to turn down the beds. Panicked, my mom stuffs her dirty underpants into my purse to keep up appearances.

Japanese American Princess

Shiori, helpful gallery girl extraordinaire, has a rival in my new friend, manga artist Miyu. Although thirty-one, Miyu looks approximately fourteen and wears an Anne-of-Green-Gables-inspired hat that only Audrey Hepburn or Audrey Tatou could pull off outside of Japan. She makes beautiful comics about coming of age. She gives me her books, but I cannot read them.

Miyu brings me to 7-11. In the US, 7-11 is just a burial ground for coke slurpeez and microwaveable pizza. Here in Japan, it purveys complex sushi rolls, tempting noodle bowls and delicate pastries with thousands of flaky layers (the label on the yummiest reads "A Taste of The Bread").

Yellowish Fever

I know I said I could never imagine a Japanese affair, but I've changed my mind. Kazu, the art handler hanging my mom's show, is gorgeous like the strong, sexy, dreadlocked Mongol in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (causing my sister to email the instruction: "Yeah, girl. crouch that tiger, hide that dragon. P.S. That's a Chinese movie").

I'm Big In Japan

I get drunk fast on sake. I haven't eaten meat in ten years but this beverage tastes fleshy somehow. I can't stomach much of what is brought to the table at a seven course meal with uber-friend Shiori and Tomio, mom's squat art dealer.

Toshi brings along a well-known Japanese painter who informs me that he comes at his art from a very "passionable" place. I learn that he is also very passionable about Buffalo Springfield, Burt Reynolds ("to most, he is sexiest man") and the Jack Black vehicle Nacho Libre.

He would like a friend in New York, as his only friends are Yo La Tengo and they are always on tour. Poor guy.

After the Party is the After-Party

At 3 a.m. I hear my sleepless mother sighing.

She is sipping chardonnay by the computer. I tell her to take an Ambien and I fall back asleep. Big mistake. Girlfriend takes an Ambien. And she follows it up with a healthy Ambien-inspired nosh session that encompasses two mini-bottles of vino, a tube of Pringles, a box of Ritz Bits, a smattering of mixed nuts. Then there's a mug of sake and a salmon-flecked rice ball. The contents of the mini-bar have been eradicated. When I awake at 9 a.m. she is snoring peacefully, surrounded by wrappers.

To See What There Is To See

We spend the afternoon wandering through the Shibuya neighborhood, which is like if Soho and Times Square had a baby and then moved to the moon to raise it. It is also where many of Lost in Translation's most memorable visuals were captured: filmed, I'm told, from the window of the mega-Starbucks at Shibuya crossing. I'm beginning to resent Sophia Coppola's subtly fascistic dictatorship over our travel experience.

Every linguistic foible, every longing glance out a cab window at dusk — if my mother doesn't say it, then I feel it. We are in someone's else's movie.

There are so many businessmen and business-ladies in Shibuya, all over Tokyo really. A sea of briefcases! Japanese people look so young — fourteen year olds in ill-fitting suits. What kind of business could they all be doing? When they cross the street it looks like a music video, or the cover of Abbey Road. They are so orderly and leave a foot of space between themselves and the next office escapee.

The White Man Cometh

We attend an opening at the Hara museum, all art by hip young collectives, and I develop my second Japanese crush, on a mophead in a t-shirt that says "Hustler: Hardcore since '74."

Being the only Caucasian in a room, you almost feel invisible because you are so visible. When you're in Mexico or someplace, at least they want your paper dollars. But here, we are uncouth, smelly, hairy. We have swine-flu. Our currency is inferior and our history is short. Yet the Japanese also love Sid Vicious, cowboys, birthday cakes, bagels.

It's such a confusing dynamic.

Memoirs of a Geisha

It's a complex process to even get near the hotel pool, one that involves a mandatory shower and a key that you strap to your thigh. But I am immediately thwarted when I see a sign announcing that no tattooed persons may enter the water. My mother is not content to either follow or ignore this rule, so she presents me to the locker room attendant, pointing to my arm and announcing/asking "THIS IS OK!?"

The sweet-faced girl looks vexed, turns a bit red, pulls out a roll of medical tape and proceeds to cover up all my tattoos — even the one my lower back, which she claims to find "kawaii" (cute). I do twenty laps and shed all the tape in the water, mummy-style.

Night On Earth

My mother's opening is considered a smashing success, although attendance is estimated at approximately twenty.

She is interviewed by a Japanese TV crew while I spend a long time talking with a bald Canadian man named Todd who says he is a "thought-leader entrepreneur at the forefront of the meeting between business and education." Todd says it's good to move to Japan because you can get famous more quickly. For instance, he regularly plays ping-pong with the princess Masako, and attends her wine tastings.

At the post-opening dinner, I drink a bit too much sake and have to take a genteel vomit break. When I return from the bathroom, all red and shiny, Shiori is waiting with a knowing grin. She is seated near my crush Kazu, who looks like Heath Ledger and James Iha merged and then put on a ruffled blue blazer. I have been informed that he loves to get high and was waiting for signs of drug use, but it turns out he "doesn't need no drugs, just a trance music." Shiori is looking at him, then back at me, over and over.

"What?" I demand.

"You must go talk to Kazu to learn he is a PUHVERT. I think he's the gay, but he very nice guy. Go sit behind him to learn why he the PUHVERT."

"But I don't speak Japanese, so I don't know what he's saying. Is it about sex?"

"NO, NO!" She blushes. "He very nice guy. Go sit behind him. He the PUHVERT, though. At the clubs he go crazy. You think he's the gay?" I am thoroughly confused and ready to let this whole exchange slide. But outside, after dinner, Kazu motions me over to him.

Quietly, he speaks. "Late this week, we go to the club?"

"Sure" I say. "Are you going out tonight?"

"We cannot," he tells me. "You are wearing wrong shoes. So we will go Thursday together to the club."

"OK. Great." I smile.

Shiori hurries over. "Did he talk to you? Now you see how forward he is!" It is surreal to get into a taxicab with your slightly tipsy mother and look out the window to see fifteen smiling Japanese people in leatherette formalwear waving goodbye joyfully from a street corner. They all bow in unison, over and over, until you are out of view. 

An American Werewolf in Japan

My mother wants to go for a drink with Shiori on the 57th floor of the Park Hyatt hotel, where Lost in Translation was filmed.

I really do like that movie, just as much as the next recently-teenaged girl, and I'm not sure why my mother using it as a constant reference point makes me so crazy. There are several Hyatts near this Hyatt and we spend almost an hour riding up and down the elevator of the wrong one, wandering the darkened halls of its conference center, before we realize our mistake.

When we finally arrive we enjoy an uncharacteristic martini, listening to the smooth sounds of the resident jazz band. "In the movie it's a band called Sausalito and Bill Murray sleeps with the woman. Remember?" mom asks.

That red-haired vixen isn't here tonight. It's a Vanessa Williams look-alike crooning Cole Porter. It's very interesting to hear Shiori discuss concepts such as "honor" "respectability" and "modesty." Her former colleague (a word she pronounces cawl-eee-gew) had an affair with Kazu, art handler crush, and it was a great dishonor, not only for that woman's husband but for everyone who knew either cheater.

Once Shiori was in a club chaperoning a visiting German artist and he kissed a Japanese girl who then fainted. I ask why and Shiori says "because he pulled all the energies from her."

Oodles of Noodles

Manga-artist Miyu giggles constantly, as if any question ("where this street is located?" or "what is that root vegetable called?") is the most embarrassing thing that has ever befallen her. She often knocks on nearby pieces of wood for luck. She has, I hear, published three books, two of which are bestsellers. She lives in a tiny cottage that once belonged to her now-hospitalized grandmother. She dresses like Daisy Buchanan and claims never to have googled herself. She has no idea how many books she has sold. She makes it all look so effortless.

Speaking of effort, I've stopped trying to imitate Japanese manners and now I consume "A Taste Of The Bread" right in the streets, cream on my face, ravenous. Eating in the street is considered very rude here, but I spotted a commuter munching a sandwich in the subway so the jig is up.

Too Much Hospitality

Sometimes, when you've been in Japan for ten days, you start to get a little funny. First, you'll stop noticing the preventive flu masks around you. A businessman will stand out in a crowd because of his Bon Jovi-esque haircut and not because he is wearing a mask over his face.

You will start bowing to people who hold open a door or sell you a honeydew yogurt or inform you that there are fish flakes on some crackers you're not sure you want. You will flash a peace sign and assume a pigeon toed stance whenever someone aims a camera at you.

You have adopted/adapted all these traits, yet you're also low-grade tired all the time. From trying to avoid beef broth. From making sure to remember that L's sound like R's and vice versa. From the outrageously reliable Japanese friends you have made — they are always early and always offering to pick things up for you at the convenience store and always buying you sweet treats that you claim not to want, but that they know you will eat because you're an American with as many stomachs as a cow. It's enough to make you miss the enervated flakes you surround yourself with in New York City.

No One Can Take A Joke

I spend the afternoon with Nanako, a teeny art critic in a deconstructed blazer and Harry Potter glasses. I'm stunned by this culture of hospitality —everyone we meet offers a tour, some tea, a red bean cake — so I jokingly tell Nanako that if my life in the US doesn't deliver I will just move to Tokyo and act on Japanese soap operas. Todd the Canadian thought-leader says everything is easier here. But Nanako is stern. "You'll never get respect that way, or long term satisfaction."

They Might Be Giants

I go to Harajuku Street hoping to spot G. Stefani's muses but am informed that the look is out of fashion. What's cool now is dressing like a secretary — cardigans, pearls, practical pumps. At Uniqlo they don't sell jeans in a size bigger than 27. There's a boutique with a window-full of baby-colored mini-dresses. They'd make nice pillows in the Real World Malibu Barbie house, but they won't suit me. The salesgirl doesn't agree and insists I try on three.

None fit because I am not a Japanese woman and my stomach(s) need some room. I am developing a rash, sweating, can't bear to explain myself so I buy a silver mesh tank top with bells on it. The armholes are far too tight. Returning to the hotel, grumpy and huge, I yell at my mother when she makes the Lost in Translation reference that breaks the camel's back.

Are You There, God? I'm In Tokyo

I'm going to a club with Kazu. What do I wear? How do I dance? If he did kiss me, which he won't (will he!?) then would he want to use tongues? I haven't seen a single dog here, and the streets are so shiny and clean. People have different house slippers designated for every room, so I really can't imagine the use of tongue. Germy. But this is also the country that spawned bukkake, tentacle-rape porn, and Sailor Moon.

I'm starting to understand my resistance to Lost In Translation references. Firstly, it sort of makes me feel like one of those women who visits New York and takes the Sex & The City bus tour. Secondly, as a filmmaker I like to believe that anything I do might be grist for some future movie-mill, but a twenty-something blondish girl wandering Tokyo is someone's private property.

What Happens in Rappongi Stays In Rappongi

We begin my final night at the opening of Tada, a hot commodity in contemporary Japanese ceramics. He's considered sort of an enfant terrible in the ceramics world, and he further cultivates this image by wearing a turban and pounds of silver rings.

"Tada is very sexy, no?" Shiori asks. "A cool kind of big deal artist!" She insists that we stand very near him and just sort of slump and smile.

Afterwards, we are guests at the seated-on-tatami mats dinner to celebrate Tada.

Kazu, is there, wearing a frilly collar that makes him look like a sad clown as re-imagined by Commes Des Garcons. But his body is so long and sinewy, and his ponytail so well done, that I take it in stride. Although neither of us smokes, my mother and I bum cigarettes off a table-mate and someone calls us "naughty women."

Tada and I speak a bit with the aid of a translator (a giggling red-faced Shiori). Outside, it's pouring rain. We are all handed clear plastic umbrellas, and it's beautiful when everyone stands together and chats and there is this sort of anti-rain ceiling covered in droplets and illuminated by Tokyo's myriad neon signs. I tell my mother that if I were to make a film set in Tokyo, I'd want to capture this clear-umbrella phenomenon, but guess who already committed this savvy detail to celluloid? Sofia Coppola, that's who.

Kazu announces it's time to hit the clubs, so I bid mom farewell and wander through the wet streets with Yasu, a disarmingly chatty guy with Buddy Holly glasses and a messy bun. Tada rolls deep with a bad-ass ceramicist dude-crew, and Yasu is the standout. He is wearing a raging bull t-shirt and attended an American University as an exchange student, where he "majored in smoking." He tells me all about his wife, who is at home because she's eight months pregnant.

We arrive at Club UNIT, the pulsing crowd full of Japanese hipsters in suspenders and fedoras. The DJ's are German youth who have clearly moved to Tokyo to be worshipped as gods of fun and style.

Their plan is working. Club-goers bum rush the booth, fighting to get near. The DJs, in turn, take digital photos of their disciples. Kazu and Tada insist on buying me drinks and, more unexpectedly, carrying my purse.

When I protest, they tell Shiori to tell me that "We will show you how a Japanese man is. You are a princess." They think I am a loose girl from the land that birthed reality TV and Cheetos. Shiori says Kazu has a "thing" where he only "has the sex with girls who have never had the sex. He thinks any other way is dirty."

Tada asks my age. I say "23, last week." He's excited. "HOPPY BIRSDAY!"

Suddenly I am faced with a huge bottle of Dom Perignon and a bald man who just keeps pouring it while Tada yells "HOPPY BIRSDAY," again and again. He hands me a pewter mini-vase of his own creation and says "my gift of you." New Order comes on. I let my hair down and dance. Kazu lets his hair down too and tries to waltz. I roll with it. He delivers a long monologue to Shiori, who looks at me and laughs. "What!?" I demand. "He says you are sexy." I'm flattered, considering I'm roughly the size of ninety-one Shioris lined up in a row. S. Coppola really did nail the phenomenon of a Japanese utterance that sounds like an epic and translates into nothing more than a sentence fragment. Recall the scene of Bill Murray being screamed at for minutes by a rockstar director, who has really just asked him to tilt his head slightly.

Now it's time to head to the bar. "A special bar" Shiori says. "A bar for the sadistics." We take a cab to "Fetish Bar." As fetish bars go, this one seems pretty weak. It's about the size of Puffy's Tavern, the bar down the block from me in Manhattan that sees fifteen customers on a good night. Cocktail waitresses wear leather thongs and carry dinky, sub-par whips. One of them is very fat, an oddity in Japan. A sort of big pun den mother, I hear her demand that an ornery client "shut a fuck up." Tada immediately asks that I put on one of the sexy outfits hanging by our banquette. I demur for almost an hour. Shiori sets in. "Why not? This will be the fun. Just a nurse one." I say no. Again and again I say no. I watch Yasu get tied up and "whipped" by our cocktail waitress and I keep saying no.

I allow her to burn my arm with a candle, don't flinch, and I still say no.

"But you are such a sexual person," Yasu informs me. No.

"Can I kiss you?" he asks. "I will not tell my wife because I am my own man of pleasure." No.

"Do you think we're so fucked and inside of ourselves because we are Japanese? We cannot get loose?"

"I don't know," I say. This is making me sad.

So they keep asking about the vinyl nurse's uniform, and I keep drinking. And finally it's just, like, why not? This is the only part of my Tokyo experience Scarlett Johansson can't touch, and anyway, interesting people need to have stories like this.

Shiori and I step into the bathroom, where we stand with a middle-aged salary man wearing only shrunken trousers, his hairless chest covered in red wax. She zips the "dress" on and we emerge. A waitress shouts "KAWAII!" Tada says " LIKE BRITNEY SPEARS!" A random guy in a French maid's apron says, "You so sexy, RENA."

Yasu is awfully wasted and squeezes my butt cheek so hard under the table that I cry out in pain: "NO." For all this talk of honor, there is a surprisingly huge problem with unsolicited ass-grabbing in Tokyo. During rush hour they designate a ladies-only car on the subway.

Yasu goes to another part of the bar and allows the waitress to spread his ass cheeks open and pour hot wax inside.

When his penis comes out, he says "It's not so big — Japanese size! But it can get bigger. Sometime." I am ready to go home. At which point things suddenly get formal.

"It was honor," Tada says, bowing.

"Please you enjoyed Japan," Kazu says.

"Such a nice girl," Yasu slurs.

In the cab back to the hotel, I think that I am starring in a movie about a girl who has just experienced something foreign.

Lena Dunham is a filmmaker from New York City. You can find her website here and she twitters here. Photographs by the author.