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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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Wednesday
Feb162011

In Which We Can Never Stay Out Of Trouble When It's Baited With This Much Tramp

I Found My Level And I'm Living It

by MOLLY LAMBERT 

The Hot Spot, 1990

dir. Dennis Hopper

Once there were three friends who took it upon themselves to overthrow and destroy an old guard system they knew they could clearly improve upon. They had grown up on the work of the people whose jobs they now had to take. They realized it was a funny way to thank them. But when it came down to it, the old legends had succeeded because they were so much a product of their time, and new times required new products. It was necessary to invent Easy Rider/The Social Network/This Recording

The new sixties Alpha Male sensibility ultimately didn't turn out to be any different from the old Alpha Male sensibility. It was exactly the same with long hair. The new Alpha Male may have even preached a good game on gender politics (although just as often not), and then not followed suit in his personal relations with women. It might seem difficult to reconcile masculinity with feminism, BUT IT'S NOT. Only an insecure man/person has to always be right or in charge all the time. Traditional masculinity is a cool looking hot rod with a shitty engine that stalls in middle age. It is a lemon.

Nothing is worse than a guy who thinks he is a revolutionary because he reads foreign newspapers and Al Jazeera's twitter feed but who can't seem to fully renounce male chauvinism in his own life because of course he loves the perks. There's an economic principle that these perks come at the expense of another group, in this case women.

nothing in her way except THE FUCKING PATRIARCHY

The Privilege Denying Dude meme caught on because it was so true. It is only heterosexual white men who ever believe that we live in a post-anything world. Romanticizing traditional masculinity is like romanticizing the Confederacy or the Nazi regime. Great uniforms, accessories, and anecdotes. But your politics fucking blow. 

Straight white dudes often want to believe we are past these problems because the alternative is that they are the villain in the movie called World History. But I mean, it's true that they are the villain. And like any legacy sullied by genocide and imperialism, no one is asking them to claim all the responsibility for it but it is absolutely required that it be acknowledged. To refuse to acknowledge the continued dominance of racism/sexism/homophobia/socially exclusionary practices is to reinforce them. 

Here's the thing about unconscious biases. They are unconscious! So when people say "I am not a sexist/racist/homophobe" they are being well-intentioned about meaning it, but just saying it doesn't automatically make it true. It is about deeds, not words. And thoughts are not deeds. They are not even words. A person may think a tremendously offensive thing, and then feel as though this is an intrinsic betrayal of their real sexist/racist/homophobic feelings. But it's not. Necessarily. It also can be.

You have been conditioned, and then encouraged not to think about it. Often rewarded for not thinking about it. But you must think about it. True self-analysis is a revolutionary act. And unlike revolutions in other countries where you are just sympathizing hopefully with the proletariats, it is a revolution you have a shot at being an actual part of. The personal is political. Women are the universal proletariat

The individual has the most power over itself. More than any outside group can influence, and more influence than it can have on any outside group. It is impossible to renounce dominance in all its forms because dominance can be incredibly useful. Dominant behavior exists in nature to such an extent that it is often conflated with "nature" (although of course nature is equally a pond as much as it is a tidal wave).

The desire to dominate exists in the self, but why is it so rarely felt as the desire to dominate the self? To subordinate and win control over one's worst urges and tendencies? It spins outwards instead. Other people seem easier to take control over than oneself, because other people appear static and one's self is always shifting. 

Which brings us back again to gender. To see "women" as a foreign country you must conquer is the definition of denying them personhood. To assume that to fuck a woman is to take something from her, to degrade her as a person in some way, or alternately but equally insidiously, that it is to promise commitment. Yo she might just want to get laid. To assume anything about "women" as a body: that single women are lonely, that married women are happy. That you can make any universal statements about what "women" are like. You can't make any universal statements about what any group is like, because then you are denying individuals their differences. You are perpetuating your privilege. That is how stereotypes work. They are useful! It is scary!

Everybody is different. Women are not automatically Taylor Swifts just like men are not automatically whores. Believing that all men are whores/assholes/dogs is just as damaging and untrue and fucked up as believing that all women are Taylor Swifts. Even Taylor Swift is not really a Taylor Swift. Everybody is a whore sometimes.

The Nice Girl is really a Slut. Likewise, the Slut is really a Nice Girl. It works exactly the same for men. The Nice Guy is also an Asshole. The Asshole is also a really Nice Guy. There is only one type of person, and that person is a person who can be different ways with different people under different circumstances. Nobody is always nice or always awful. People are not monolithically good or bad. Everyone is capable of both. 

I never really gave too much credence to the whole virgin/whore thing because like most of the most horribly misogynist aspects of life I chose to ignore it and pretend it just didn't/would never be applied to me for as long as possible. Then in the past six months I got called a slut by three different dudes, none of whom I knew well at all.

All three of whom took it upon themselves to tell me and my female roommate (unprompted, naturally) what kind of girls we are. More specifically in one case that she is a "sexy uptight librarian" and I am a "fun bar slut." All three times I was so baffled that I didn't even react appropriately and punch them in the fucking face. 

Later I kept going back over why exactly I didn't. I think I probably didn't want to betray that it had any effect on me whatsoever. They are just words, after all. But it did have an effect on me, and the effect was "WAIT WHAT?" Because my roommate wears glasses and I am a ginger? I also wear glasses, and my roommate is really hot. You actually believe there are two different kinds of women, and they are "sexy uptight librarian" and "fun bar slut"? Was that a neg? Has that ever worked to get you laid?

But the truth was that it haunted me, because nothing is funnier than the phrase "fun bar slut." I saw it chiseled on my gravestone. "Molly Lambert: She Was A Fun Bar Slut." I don't even go to bars that much! I just thought about the episode of Laguna Beach where douchebag Stephen Coletti yells "Keep dancing on the bar SLUT" at Kristin.

That only happened on Laguna Beach. Things like that only occurred on reality television. That would never happen to me. But then it did, three times, all equally unprovoked. All sort of attempts to pick me up, I guess under the false auspices that a strong negative reaction from someone is better than no reaction at all (WRONG). 

The virgin/whore trope plays heavily into film noir. I took a film noir class in college but all I remember is that I wrote a tight paper about the sound design in The Long Goodbye and got really mad at my friend Jon when he criticized Barbara Stanwyck's wig in Double Indemnity ("IT'S PURPOSEFUL ARTIFICE!!!" I may have yelled). There are always two women, and one is a virgin and the other is a whore. One is Janet Wood and the other is Chrissy Snow. The whore is always more interesting and usually dies. 

The first time I recall my awareness of the concept of virgin/whore dichotomy was musical theater, in West Side Story. Maria is the lead. She has great songs. But Anita is so much cooler and stops the show. Maria is boringly good and humorless. Anita gets to be funny. Maria is a soprano. Anita is an alto. In chorus I sang as an alto because there were always less of them. Most girls tended to want to sing the "pretty" i.e. soprano parts rather than the less glamorous harmonies assigned to altos and men. 

I sometimes envied the sopranos, but I also found them cloyingly sweet. I thought it was ridiculously narcissistic to think you should always get to sing the lead parts. Both were within my range, and I always thought about how arbitrary it was that I considered myself an alto. I could equally have sung the soprano parts, I just happened to be singing alto. Shouldn't I be rewarded for being able to do both?

In The Hot Spot, Jennifer Connelly is a sexy uptight librarian and Virginia Madsen is a fun bar slut. Don Johnson is the fucking dude. Don Johnson is so hilariously cool in this movie. So flawlessly masculine. It's dumb as hell. Is there a term for the way male directors dehumanize their male antiheroes into overly perfect idealized objects of desire? The narcissistic male gaze? Christopher Nolan has made it his life's speciality. 

Dennis Hopper drains most of the ambiguity from the Charles Williams book and screenplay. This despite the fact that what's so great about Charles Williams is how he questions pulp's genre conventions. His femme fatales are usually the smartest characters in his books, not judged for wanting to have sex in crazy places. Rather than die at the end she wins the hero's heart and rides off into the sunset with him.

The emotionless drifter/private eye is an archetype like James Bond. Like James Bond it doesn't exist in real life anywhere. It's an ideal, seductive and imaginary. The same way the "Nice Girl" is an imaginary ideal of a woman who would never get upset about anything. The slut might get mad. She might leave you or fuck someone else. It is even possible she will murder you, since film noirs are hysterical masculine fantasies

The Hot Spot's gender politics are more than decent in the end. Virginal teenage dream Jennifer Connelly also takes topless photos and flirts with her blackmailer. She is the one who gets Don Johnson to murder someone. So much for the Nice Girl. Meanwhile Fun Slut Virginia Madsen murders her husband (while fucking him, LOL) and asks Don Johnson to fuck her in all kinds of "deviant" ways that aren't really deviant so much as they are incredibly silly. So silly that when he ends up with her it doesn't really matter (although it's a nice twist), because the love triangle feels so weightless.

I have seen The Last Movie. It is unwatchable. And I say this as somebody who will watch anything. It's incredibly boring and not shot well. You can see that the budget was spent on drugs. The Hot Spot is fucking hilarious, but one thing it is not is unwatchable. It is totally watchable. It is the kind of movie you watch on Cinemax until 4am (as I did) and wake up the next day not sure if you just had a well-lit dream.

The lighting is a character, falling somewhere between David Lynch and Zalman King, and tending towards blue and pink. What is this kind of lighting called? Erotic thriller lighting? Overlapping with neon noir? It shows up in Showgirls and Bad Influence. It calls to mind 80s porn, Miami Vice, and Cocktail. It definitely feels extremely 80s. 

Oh yeah the 80s. They were not always kind to the Easy Riders and Raging Bulls of the 60s and 70s. But then again, those guys weren't very kind to the 60s and 70s were they now? Never assume you can just rest on your past glories. Let's do a body count:

Jack Nicholson: He made some of the best movies of his career and peaked on testosterone poisoning. He starts the decade with The Shining (80) and Reds (81) and ends with making The Two Jakes (90) which presumably was the beginning of the deflation of the hubris that he was unstoppable. It's too bad, because one of the things I love about Nicholson is his extreme versatility. I like that he wrote a bunch of scripts. I liked Drive He Said. I will also point out that after Reds Jack Nicholson stopped being hot. Much like Brando he became sort of actually disgusting. He was just coasting on the idea of his previous hotness and became a dirty old man, which is why I was so confused when I found out he was actually hot in the seventies.

Dennis Hopper: Blue Velvet, Hoosiers. But Jack Nicholson still fucked your wife!

Dustin Hoffman: no1curr

Warren Beatty: Oh Warren Beatty. So much privilege to spend. Reds is one of my favorite movies, so for that alone Warren survives the 80s with his dignity intact. If Jack Nicholson is Don Draper, Warren Beatty is Roger Sterling; never taking himself seriously enough to accomplish anything truly great as an actor. And I guess there was Ishtar. Although like Heaven's Gate, Ishtar is one of those movies that is more "legendarily bad" than it is actually bad. They are both more like legendarily bloated and long, but not without their fans and moments. Beatty makes Dick Tracy the same year Jack Nicholson makes The Two Jakes. They both find out they are actors.

Bob Rafelson: After making The Postman Always Rings Twice ('81) everything on Rafelson's IMDB starts to have the word "Erotic" in it. Sorry Bob. Was it Head?

Peter Fonda: OOF.

Robert DeNiro: Jake LaMotta. DeNiro was never a partyboy. He staged Scorsese's intervention after The Last Waltz and is supposedly very mild mannered IRL, nothing like a "DeNiro character." He's just an incredible actor. He puts all his crazy in there.

Al Pacino: Scarface, the ultimate cool 70s becoming the shitty 80s movie.

Roman Polanski: You know how in every group of guys there is one guy who is the biggest asshole/fuckup and every other guy is secretly like "man, at least I'm not THAT guy" even though they are first to goad him on at parties? Roman Polanski. The guy that Jack Nicholson compares himself against when he wants to feel better about his choices. Like, cheat on Anjelica Huston? Reprehensible. Rape a child? WORSE!

Martin Scorsese: Raging BullAfter Hours and The King Of Comedy. Scorsese hustles

Francis Ford Coppola: Lost his damn mind in the jungle. But hey The Outsiders and Rumble Fish and I do enjoy Peggy Sue Got Married, especially Nic Cage's part.

Toni Basil: Hey Mickey!

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. You can read more of her work here. She last wrote in these pages about painting. She twitters here and tumbls here.

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Tuesday
Feb152011

In Which A Baby Is More Important Than Any Of Us

No Proper Setting

The letters of the poets Robert Creeley and Charles Olson are so voluminous that their editor, George F. Butterick, did not live to edit all ten volumes of their exchanges. The letters themselves cover only the years of the 1950s, when Creeley was beginning to write the first poetry that would make him a worldwide name with his collection For Love, and Charles Olson began to teach a generation of artists at Black Mountain. Both were possessed by an idiosyncratic letter-writing style that prefigures modern poetics and speech. They did not meet in person until they had exchanged letters for many years, and although both were married throughout, their intimacy goes beyond the artistic and the emotional to reflect the pairing of two like minds searching for each other in the wilderness.

 

olson walking with robert duncan

Black Mountain, N.C.

tuesday may whatever it is

May 9th, 1950

my dear robert creeley:

this is going to be a note, only to tell you i have been on the road for ten days, and will write you the moment i am back at my desk

but i want you to know how very glad i am that you saw Morning News, and that goes for y & x, and the new two, too it is fine

it did startle me, you speak of education, & plan to speak up: nothing could be truer, when poets are the only pedagogues

i don’t think you could know that you would catch me, with yr letter, when I was at Alabama College does a speech on verse and showing Cagli drawings And now i am here at this little hotbox of education, to do the same

i shall try to put down something on education for you: USE, it is the use they make of us

above all things resist, to be sick at heart: we are forward and it is such gratification, that you are ready to go with me

love,

olson

talking to fanny howe

Olson must have been stunned to receive Creeley's response, for what other individual in the world could be tuned into exactly that wavelength?

Littleton, N.H.

May 18th, 1950

Dear Olson,

Good to have your letter, and very good of you to have sent the copies down to the people. Hope to be able to make this up to you, somehow, sometime. For the moment, my thanks.

These letters from you: good to have the fact of your concerns, which, as it happens, mine. The distortion that can come in with an over-emphasis of mistaking EP‘s thought, or the Dr’s for that matter: cripples many that wd be of use. This not to protest that I have the word from God, etc: but that I’m capable of recognizing its misuse in the hands of others: which they might take as ‘friend.’ Usual. But sad, as in the case of Eliot and EP.

Particulars: letters have driven me a hell of a ways from that in the past months, but also: back again. The job of making sense for a particular dozen: worse than I might take it, for the magazine, where there wont be the emphasis on ‘individual’ explanations, etc. I.e. some duds cant see their nose, etc. I cd name names, etc. But pointless. The point: that I find you interested and willing to help before you’ve seen 10 yrs of ‘successful’ biz.

I wd make this an offer, subject to what time you have to work with, and subject to what you may think of the 1st issue, wht you can get from these letters, etc: you to judge: that if you want to take an active hand in these matters, beyond what you mean as a contributor, and as such, will count on you for staples, etc.: to take up, often, those matters pertaining to the center, by way of reviews, etc., the dirty work. Leed & I cant do it all. Some doubt now as to whether or not we can put reviews in this 1st attempt, since they are all written by the same violent hand, mine, and the rapid succession of CLIMAX, wd tell on a man. As Leed put it: this isn’t criticism, it’s the expression of a taste! Which, as it happens, was what I meant it to be, not taking the paraphrase, etc. the digesting of a book in public, to be the best thing you can do for it. What I wd take as better: pointing to ONE GOOD REASON why any damn fool might become less of one, by reading it, etc. Anyhow, you will see the difficulty. Reviews, for example, cd be put to good use in this way: beyond getting to books not given general attention: that others don’t treat, etc — they can be used to cover related ground which we cant get to directly in the criticism. Just there, in other words, that anything from good housekeeping to astronomics can be made to bear: granted a head. Anyhow, that’s one thing. A lot besides. Getting material: always a bug. But think it over, and we can get to the particulars when you will. You sd have a better idea than you do have before you go one way or the other, so hang on for the moment.

Robert Creeley

As the two became better acquainted, the one-eyed Creeley looked to Olson as a mentor who could not only read and give feedback on his prose work (the main focus of his efforts at the time) but who could recommend other directions for his prolific appetite for reading. The following letter, which was never sent to Olson and found among RC's papers, examines his struggle with the form.

Littleton, N.H.

August 30th, 1950

Dear O/

Unfair. My wife says of the enclosed: it doesn't make any sense, not that it is wrong (like Ez had sd, also bitterly of you, that) in matters superficial, but that it is wrong at bottom. Against the light. I can thin of damn little that is not against the light, & yet am committed to the belief that at the bottom, the very, there, only: light. It gets beyond, exact, matters of the simple run of coherence as I might, here, tell you a story, a story, in a matter of some 25 words which could satisfy that, completely, wholely, altogether. The end of it. But nothing is the end, in prose, is that, exact. I am after, trying, to pick up that thread, as the only way occurs to me is: myself and the variations possible upon my experience. My wife thinks that everything I write is 'true' or that it tries to force its way thru to that 'quality.'

I am not in any sense a moralist, more than I can be, a transmitter, thru which work: forces, moral or otherwise. I ask only that exactness, that the words keep with the head/as that carries thru, to consciousness, what charge the emotions are capable of. The complex. To that, to only that, should any art commit itself. It is to have no hesitance between what the head is thinking & the hand is putting down. To force that coupling. To NOT avoid. Well, I throw this at you, only as it is something just done, and about which, since it is, I know or think very damn little. I don't care for any one instance more than any other: one instance.

There is no stasis in this business. Nothing to pin down. No: as my wife laments: point. Pride, & a good deal else, makes any such effort a pain / obnoxious and lamentable, to those who try to stomach it, alongside & not in. The process. As love, as any instance, is enough — does it matter one damn whether or not it 'happened' & yet there it is, what she hates there — my logick for having fallen in love with this one, as she is there in the story, and why? she asks. And I ask the same. I don't expect or even want an answer. I am, if she would want an answer, which I don't think she does, or needs, in love with her. In love with, other, possibles. As any living is. But what I wd pin down: wd be the only 'way' of a thing, since I think all else wd be false in the frame given. The act of writing belies the conclusion which it might get to - because it is when I've finished, that it all occurs to me, what might have been done. But I have already done something, whether right or wrong, and what these mean...it's done. As it came, it had its logic, because it came. Not sophistry, but NO: actual, it grew. It was the 'way.' A failure. Up to what framed it — that I tend out, from others, into a language, & a speech, reasons, that I have no right to expect them to know. My own failure. That I haven't a language, or a depth of caring to make me concerned with communication.

I am, like all, perhaps, if sentimentality is a quantity, and not a mood, waiting to come to life. I know, & try, to put only, what seems now & again, to come there, as out of me: living. Which is often a joke. But the attempt. That is my own attempt.

Perhaps this has a logic that I having written it, and she having her own place here, can't get. That would be the main question — what does it come to, beyond what I must think.

Yr lad/

Creeley

The following letter emanating from the south of France prefigures, if only in some small way, Creeley's masterpiece "Anger."

Fontrousse, Aix-en-Provence

January 9, 1952

Dear Charles,

Beating my head on the stories this morning, trying to get something finished of that Musicians, i.e. I had held on to the first page. But nothing doing. It scares me, but I can't see what else. It seems very dry & dead.

Otherwise, I get out a little more, but that is not much pleasure. I'd forgotten how damn dreary the bix of people can get, or how dull, say, the usual conversations. The policies are as much here as they are anywhere. Either one is most light & gay, or most serious, and I can't make either tone with any damn grace. (I wish you might see me, trying to.)

The whole damn frame, call it, is way the hell off. Not that I haven't some damn security in simply thinking of what might happen, any damn time, and anywhere. But to move it, — that I damn well can't make now. The story, above — it should be something to go on. I have just the two people; more than that, I have them in ways that are in my own feel, etc. That is, there they are, just in the room, and sitting, the whole space of it falls in, and what to do, they are thinking, and what more precisely, to say. In any case, there is hardly a music to hear; that side of it, the echo, is very far off — even in actual miles. They hear, if anything, just that echo of it, and both feeling that i would be so great have that way of it, to make those sounds, say, they are, envying, each very separately, the supposed feelings of these others who can play, as my mother used to have it, an instrument.

But more than any of it, — they are simply sitting there, just in the room. The walls are somewhat steep even, there's not much more light than just one high window, which must be only a foot above the actual street level. It is a cave of sorts. The woman is married, but all there is, is things, etc. Table, chairs, a couch in the corner, and beyond, in the next room, he can see the refrigerator, etc. They take it that it wouldn't honestly be any problem. But what are they in love with, because it is, very clearly, not each other. She loves, say, her husband, one supposes, even less, but she is not at all in love with the man who is, most literally, there. Himself, he doesn't quite know; looking at her, I expect he wonders if it isn't a good time, as one had thought of back such a long time, - conquests & all such dreams, etc. But god knows there is some music. She is playing records, and the sounds, familiar, etc., interpose something else, so that she has begun to dance, of herself, etc, and he is put off by the apparent staginess.

The conversation might well begin just there. There is hardly a damn thing to lose, and he might even turn the damn thing off, etc, though I know he won't. He watches, anyhow; he has that way of doing anything, and can sit it out, and feel something is done even by that. But they will be forced to say something: somehow they are there, the logic of it only their knowing one another, and something not at all right in either one. I don't see how they can not talk, but what they might be saying, or will — what I haven't yet been able to find my way into.

So, I sit. The sun just begins to come through here, — about 10:30, I think it must be now, etc. Last night I got some shelves up, and have, at least, things where I can get to them. Yr picture, likewise, now up. no frame, sadly, no proper damn setting - phew. But can see it now simply, and I like it.

I got a check from ND yesterday: $26.68. Five damn stories. It say,s in the letter with it - $800 is what they have for total sum coming to contributors on this first issue of 2000 copies. And who the hell can think they'll issue more, etc. It bugs me, not that, say, the loot that is needed, but how christly little it all is, etc. I see, too, he pays 8%. I wonder why he damn well bothers.

Have you seen the damn book? Will he damn well give you something for that intro? Let me hear. Will get you a copy myself, if they damn well don't. Nothing in here yet; I don't figure it will be any damn pleasure, at that. Damn.

Well, fuck it. Let me put this by for ab it, and see whether there's one from you in the noon mail. Will try to get this off this afternoon. Can't damn well sit here, thinking of the damn story & how, how damn precisely, I can't do a damn thing with it. Ok.

All our dearest love to you all,

Bob

In this abridged letter, Olson describes a college scene where a promising young student almost drowns. The incident appears to have affected him deeply.

Black Mountain, N.C.

January 29th, 1952

robt:

just to sit here, & put you on — am worn, & chiefly from a business last night at 1 am which threw me:

i came into it as I had just opened the water cock of the radiator of the car, the night promised to be that cold, & snow had been falling for a couple of hours. to get my hand down to the cock, to see it, i had just borrowed a flashlight from the care of one Rauschenberg, by way of his friend Cy Twombly (the two of them are constantly together, and I had found Cy in the dining hall playing a little organ while Nick played a guitar, Oppenheimer the drum, & Solomon the piano. Cy's getting was, too bad you weren't here sooner, we were really beating it out, now, it's leveling off. And he told me where the flash was.

class picture at Black Mountain

two minutes more & i'd have put the flash back, and gone into the house (Con was up, feeding Kate, and I was anxious to be in, & talking with her, the whole day had been consumed with visitors, then two faculty meetings, & a four hour go of the class in the evening) but as i was turning away, there was a cry from the direction of the dining hall, and off toward the end of it where the path to the lake goes between the dining hall and the music cubicle, "Olson, the flash, hurry"

i started off slow, not catching the voice, but some stir there quickened, and i raced about the time i went under the pine tree in front of the stone house, and it was on me in that way that all such things happen — even before i passed the flash to Nick, an saw the beam pick up a head out in the lake, i had the picture: Twombly was twenty feet out, up to his hips, and saying, with as much tension as his southern voice can, that he couldn't go any further, that he couldn't catch his breath. And it was Rauschenberg farther out, out towards the middle, making these moans, & catchings of the voice — and obviously, at least mixed up, & probably stuck, in a trance, not the mud so much, though the mud came into my mind, and I already dreaded the thought of going in to that damned cold water, and the mud, and seemed afterward to have resolved to dive in, wrapping my topcoat around me, and going fast, to get the boy, damned reluctantly.

black mountain college, summer sessionThis excerpt from a longer letter predates an Olson essay. Olson's paranoia was inspired by a visit from the FBI doing a background check on him for a fellowship.

Black Mountain, N.C.

February 1, 1952

I have not lived in a fascist State. I was not born to be a citizen. I have taken the principles of these States as usable facts. I therefore shall behave so, admitting this existing & power, admitting — what I cannot fail to admit is the DIALECTICAL (that which ultimately is the cause of the FBI coming to this point, that my life (my fate) is herewith interfered with — even if nothing happens, it has been interfered with: I have had to feel that shadow. What a shadow, and I, as an American UNPREPARED. That is, as citizen, NOT as MYSELF.

(Yet these absent wings must be felt, to experience, citizenry: no tax-collector, or draft board, has this force; not even the police, — tho they are closer: this must be the old European thing anew, the SECRET police)

It has been a tremendous thing, this visit, that, I was called (on) (for) I WAS CALLED.

I have felt too long that component, that evil. CAUSATION, to duck out now, to take any of the postures: a man cannot escape the MORAL as the only excusable use of the INSTANT — no personal pose can manage the present, no theoretical one, no "movement": back to the farm, or whatever

This hugely argues, for me, the import of CONJECTURE. (You will have noted, how, again, in that Twombly piece, it came out.)

I still take it back to those two decades, 1830-1850. It was in those years that the MALE principle did itself in. From the studies of those two decades came those two LIES:

I that nature is a fate: EVOLUTION (what fooled em was, that, because it did not seem "fixed" fated was not a fate concept: witness the result, existentialism, the false management of despair, the inability to cross over, to get to the other side of, despair: the filthy attempt to fix despair on us, instead of, action, from the other wise

II that the state is a fate equal to nature: MARX is only the image of all that has come since, capitalism, communism, fascism and all the naive and saintly oppositions to all three — the thin boys, the palefaces, the untragic ones

Still it goes: MELVILLE (shaped in those same years, DIFFERENTLY)

RIMBAUD (the first man confronted with the results, and cutting through, but not knowing (it was that early any other action than running guns for Menelik: I had to pass thru this stage myself, and did, ten years ago,  those years, exactly, it had to be still known, done, then. Now (since the Spanish War, 1938) not necessary.

LAWRENCE, THE MAN WHO SAW: what he saw (and he's the only one who saw, up to the men who were born after 1910) was, that the MIND is a TEMPTATION which has to be defeated

and my own sense is that CONJECTURE is the defeat of DIALECTIC, is the ploughing back of that thing, the male mind, to the INSTANT (let me quickly toss in this premise, that there is a difference of the female mind ((these are not at all necessarily accompanied by corresponding sexual parts!)) (((by god, just checked Hegel's dates, and find he dies just where i date the birth of the 20th century: 1831 (from 1770. For it was he who put the name on the mal-usage which made them modern world, that thing raised on those TWO LIES: he gave these dialectical triumphs their language

(I have this horror, — oh to hell with it, only, THIS:

HEGEL TO LAWRENCE

and CONJECTURE takes all that energy (i dub it the MALE energy, and the proper one to the MALE act — without it men are dangerous - without the understanding that they are metaphysically creative, and thus organic, as the female is physically

(((don't scream, Ann:

this is exactly the opposite of an exclusion, simply, that it also restores that respect

takes all that energy and redisposes it ANTI-HISTORY, says, the INSTANT, (which a woman can know without need of any other component) is METAPHYSICAL:

a dogma: that a MALE can act MORALLY only as he enters INSTANT, and that his only gate to the experience is the metaphysical gate

what troubles me, is, that I find it necessary to be myself dialectical in order to expose the condition of same!

OK. Anyhow, as I say, I had to be without fear, those two hours, when exactly the two wings making the shadow were not at all the present but were, each wing, one the past (whom i knew 10 years ago) and the future (where I'd go, say next year — not to worry at all about: for the rest of my life, eh?).

and that is the WRONG — that anything should take away (a) my fate and (b) my engagement in life as a fate separate from myself but only useful to me the degree that its workings are left open by men:

it is this sort of OPENNESS that i say that men can only restore as they deny dialectic as a means adequate to keep nature & society so open — or open to the degree that they can never be, both of them being by their difference different from ourselves

what racks modern man is, that, due to those decades, both nature & society are fatal propositions, under whose spell he is downtrodden

and the only act worth a man's life today is to confront that, to give his fellow men freedom from these rigidities:

all present fear & trembling is NOT momentous, is not MORAL, simply, that it is neither (a) any one's in his or her self — his or her fate; or (b) is "life's," that is, the thing you, RC, have so carefully extricated from (a), without in any way disturbing the FIRST FACT, that they are inextricable

What has shocked me is, to have the MONSTER, to have the combination of these two lies, COME TO MY DOOR!

It had to come. And it did.

The thing is, that to have it happen, was, a sort of joy!

I have no fear left, of that sort: I am able now to see how otherwise I am defeated! Love to you both,

Charles

PS: the error of Kafka (which I always felt) I can now prove: he was "feminine" in his disposing of himself (his father took the balls out of him) — it is this side gives the poetic to his universe; and he was intellectually dialectical (the monster took the conjecture out of his mind, the male of his intellect). And so, there shld be no surprise, that i has been existentialists, socialists, homosexual and jews who had found him of use — His inaccuracy was a subtle one.

What also occurs to me, from this get go, is, how logical that we should live in a world in which — ultimately — it is a BABY who is the important human figure: for when both nature and the State have been allowed to loom as of such importance that man seems only important (nature-wise) because he is an instrument of the species, and he is only important state-wise as he is for or against it in war, then surely, it is logical that a baby is more important than any of us.

The following missive from Creeley's young son David was enclosed with a June 1952 letter. The boy begins by signing his name.

david creeley

olson pggy (this is verbatim...) mama is piggy david creeley. we live outdoors and just in the street and dada wrote that letter on the chimney. we have electricity and a sink and a tree for me to climb on. we live in a little village, so little-so little house this big. we got the garden too except it's all the time full of grass except the things that are growing in it aren't ours —. Mr. Marti who own the things in the garden. Corn and beans are ours. We don't have almost anything - piles of trees. WE went to a fete and it was a nice fete with lots of people dancing, piles of people watching the fete and & nice pretty girls dancing with pretty clothes. We don't have any windows or anything except we live on one porch. There's a tree all dead, doesn't have any leaves on it. We have a basin. We go swimming in it.

Four (i.e. he's four, etc) Thomas one.

f uhttttedd

dda

DAVID

You can read the autobiography of Robert Creeley here. You can read Charles Olson's "First Fact" here.

"Dead Moon (live)" - Madeline (mp3)

"In the Direction of the Moon" - Wolf Parade (mp3)

"No Moon" - Iron & Wine (mp3)

Jerry Heiserman, Dan McCloud, Allen Ginsberg, Bobbie Louise Hawkins Creeley, Warren Tallman, Robert Creeley above Charles Olson.

Monday
Feb142011

In Which You Can Never Be Sure Of The People You Know When They Don't Want To Show You Their Sadness

On Kath Bloom, Legendary Lesser-Known

by SARAH LEHRER-GRAIWER 

About four decades deep into a remote, touch-and-go life of private music-making, Kath Bloom keeps on doing what she does in the margins. Maybe perpetually being on the edge of recognition and being on edge — emotionally broken and sore from the effort of feeling so much — go together the way her songs are both fragile and dignified, quivering and tough, willful and unhinged, very close and very far away.

Bloom was born in Long Island when it was still all farmland. She moved to New Haven as a kid when her father Robert, a famous classical oboist, started teaching at Yale. Early on she trained as a cellist, dropping it to teach her teenage self guitar after being turned on like countless other would-be rockers to Joplin and Hendrix. She played alone a lot in Grove Street Cemetery, so much that the groundskeeper offered to pay her to rake the leaves since she was already always around. She recorded there the first of what would be many times with experimental guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors in what was the beginning of a formative partnership.

Meeting in New Haven in the mid-70s, Bloom and Connors came into their own together, through each other. Recording was a casual afterthought and entirely Connors’ doing. Their collaborative albums (songs nearly all written by Bloom) were put out in tiny batches on his Daggett Records and St. Joan record labels, virtually undistributed. If it had been up to her there may not even be the small handful of now-coveted, cult classic vinyls from their sublime alliance of the late 70s and early 80s. There were about half a dozen albums with Connors (and often Tom Hanford) on Daggett Records between ‘78 and ’82: Gifts. Fields. Hanford, Bloom and Mazzacane. Listen to the Blues. Pushin Up Daisies. And ‘Round His Shoulders Gonna Be A Rainbow. Sing the Children Over also came out in 1982; Sand in My Shoe the next year, and Restless Faithful Desperate and Moonlight the following.

Each has the pair’s distinctively eerie, piercing, and breathtakingly beautiful sound—part fragile folk ballad parsed over a range of octaves (Bloom), part free-form avant-garde meandering guitar thru-line and the shadow of pained humming (Connors). They are astounding together, equally matched eagles. A first listen can feel like eavesdropping on private living room catharsis full of naked disillusionment and disappointment and sadness and failure more than pastoral ecstasy or feel-good sentimentality, though she isn’t afraid of clichés when she needs them. 

The spare space carved out by Bloom’s throbbing voice and Connor’s jangling, quasi-atonal guitar is scaled down to the personal and the daily, with all the latent dimension of a precisely observed suburban existence — an intensely perceived experience of self. Her voice — as singer and writer, lyricist, poet — is achingly human. It surges and swells. It tries to be good and fails. There are frustrated desires and apologies and momentary releases, but mainly an air of desperation throughout. She’s perpetually on the verge of crying this awesome and awful thing called living. If you can take it all, you may be struck dumb where you stand.

Bloom didn’t record for a long time after her collaboration with Connors ended. She briefly tried her hand at acting professionally in New York. She started a family. Had three sons. She went to live for a while in Florida. Then moved back to Litchfield, Connecticut where she lives today. In 1995 Richard Linklater put her song “Come Here” in Before Sunrise. The second important collaboration of her life began with guitarist Peter Friedman. They recorded together, putting out Come Here: The Florida Years in 1999 and producing Bloom’s single favorite song of her career, “It’s Just a Dream.” 

A couple retrospective anthologies have come out: 1981-1984 has songs she did with Connors and Finally has songs she did after Connors. In the past couple years her small cult following has steadily grown. A tribute album had fans Bill Callahan (with a downright shattering cover of “The Breeze/My Baby Cries”) and Devendra Banhart and Mark Kozelek covering her songs. Picking up her sound where she had left off, she released Thin Thin Line last year and started touring more broadly.

Being a fan feels like taking sides with the hermetic fringe of natural-born, pure-bred, real-deal artists in it for the long haul, through thin more often than thick.

People compare her ethereality to hippie lady folk singers like Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez. But that doesn’t sit well with me. Vashti Bunyan may be a shade closer, but really Bloom is leagues beyond. Sometimes she reaches the heights of John Prine or Jonathan Richman’s genius. (For decades now, she mostly plays music and workshops for young children, babies and their parents—another good reason to think of her in relation to Richman, the iconic proto-punk troubadour who unplugged because he didn’t want to make music that would hurt a child’s ears.)

Her songs move towards sentimentality, cliché, romance, and dream but then twist darkly towards a brutal nakedness that bares itself as fucked up, having failed, cheated, cried, tripped, freaked out, broken down, died, passed out, fallen, and loved, if inadequately. By the time it reaches its chorus, the seemingly benign song “Little Flower” turns out to be about murder.

She also should be thought of as a certain kind of intuitively refined poet — in the vein of O’Hara or Ashbery, who trained himself not to revise so as not to interfere with thinking’s immediacy — whose sure-footed directness and guileless lyricism redeems banality and rejects creative constipation in favor of flow. Bloom doesn’t remember many of her early songs well enough to play them these days. The past is the past. She flows. 

Her house is filled with piles, his piles and her piles of handwritten lyrics that flow whenever she taps it:

What did I ever do to make you as lonely as me?

Finally all those wasted days become so important like the sun through the haze

So if we try and if we fail I don’t think I could bear the sadness, but I’d do anything to try it anyway

You can never be sure of the people you know when they don’t want to show you their sadness

It’s so hard for me to tell where I end and my father begins

No I’m not impossible to touch, I have never wanted you so much

Is this called living?

My body tends towards habit, my heart it longs for something new, sometimes you gotta have it, that’s the way I feel about you

Sometime in the summer when we’re lying in the breeze, the breeze can kill me, the breeze will kill me

If your child likes — loves — you, the very love he bears you tears your heart out about once a day or once every other day.

That last one wasn’t Bloom but could have been if it weren’t Salinger. This is also Salinger but is reiterated here about Bloom: God, how I still love private readers. It’s what we all used to be. Private reader, private singer. Bloom is more than a singer or even a writer or poet, she’s like a force, a philosophical proposition. The unbearability of things, of being tied up with other people, of sustaining oneself somehow gets manifest through her fingers and vocal chords as fluctuating degrees of love.

I keep cycling back to her as a figure of perseverance and pacing — pacing of thought and yearning desire, of lyrical phrasing and poetic verse, and of an artist’s practice and life as it ages. Taking and giving it slow. Notes spread out and linger as they fade. Intensity of feeling directs sonic delivery.

Thinking about the flow of Bloom’s mind, the on-again-off-again trickle of public recognition which should be a river, and the innate ebb and flow of the way her words come together and lyrics form, I want to end, somewhat obscurely, like her, with this Chinese folk tale about a famous painter commissioned by the emperor to paint a crab. At the end of the five years, the emperor came to the painter but she had nothing to show. She needed another five years. At the end of the tenth year, the emperor again returned, at which point the painter gracefully painted, in only a couple minutes, right there in front of him, the most exquisite crab ever painted ever in just a few perfect strokes of her calligrapher’s brush.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer is a writer and artist living in Los Angeles. This is her first appearance in these pages. She writes for Artforum, ArtSlant, and ArtReview.

"Freddie" - Kath Bloom (mp3)

"Window" - Kath Bloom & Loren Connors (mp3)

"Biggest Light of All" - Kath Bloom (mp3)

"The Breeze/My Baby Cries" - Bill Callahan (mp3)