Sunday, August 31, 2008

Architectural despair and its discontents


Greek Surrealist poetry really doesn't have the viral resonance in the me-o-sphere one associates with hot political gossip or tetchy urbanist discourse, but here we have a confluence, a fragment of Surrealist Greek verse speaking quite directly to the urban landmarks activist set:

*

[...]

let us direct our gaze
to architectural despair

only the time has not come
- the time has not yet come -
[...]

*

This is excerpted from "Esto Memor" in Do Not Distract the Driver by Nikos Engonopoulos, translated by Nikos Stabakis, from his new anthology Surrealism in Greece. The image of despairing architecture, a "vanishing bakery," was lifted from Michael R. Allen, to whom this squib is dedicated.

Cicada killer, run run, run away


My buddy Mike Burgett had knocked out the wasp's nest tucked up under a fence in my backyard, and we were enjoying a beer and the company of a friend, when he sighted it.

It was a wasp too big to have been the garden-variey, back-biting wasps recently rendered homeless by his attack. It was a cicada killer wasp.

"Look at that thing," Mike said. "Look how big that thing is."

(All dialogue approximate. After all, we were drinking beer in the backyard.)

"That's one of those cicada-killer wasps," Mike said.

It was a really, really, really big wasp. I began to ready the weaponized pesticide I was keeping holstered, in case any of our homeless wasps came back and found their nest trashed and looked to wreak vengeance. But Mike stayed my killing hand.

"These wasps won't sting you," he said.

A wasp that won't sting me? Does that go with the sun that won't burn me? The beer that won't make me fat? The wife who won't make me clean out the gutters?

"She's just out hunting cicadas," Mike explained. "I've seen one dive-bomb and sting one in mid-air. The sting paralyzes the cicada. Then she drags it into the burrow she has dug - they nest in the ground - and lays her eggs in the dead body. The larvae feeds on the dead cicada all winter."

Grisly shit.

"Serial killers haven't come up with anything new," I said. "The insect world already had it all figured out."

Mike nodded. He works outdoors. He has seen it all - nature blood red in stinger and antennae.

*

Like serial killers, cicada-killer wasps have their fan sites; however, the image was borrowed from a site more sympathetic to the cicada. The caption on the site reads, rather drily, "Southern Dog-day Cicada fighting off wasp attack, Indian Creek Trail, Chatham County, NC, 8/2/05. The cicada was very noisy as the two bounced around for quite some time." No mention as to the outcome of the battle.

Experiential Auction brew leads to free Foo Fighter tix

As the 2008 Experiential Auction draws nigh (5-8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21 at Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester Ave.), I am reminded of the experiences from 2007 that have not yet been redeemed.

Tom Hall owes Serra Bording-Jones some guitar work at a barbecue, Jessie Jones owes George Malich a boat ride on the Mississippi River, and (for jiminy jeepers!) I myself owe Jill Hamilton a hike around the Indian mounds while teaching her Black Elk's basic prayer.

It's much more fun to reflect upon the experiences that were redeemed - and, in turn, yielded further, unexpected experiences.

Last year, a man named Doug (last name lost in Memory Loss Archives) had the winning bid for a case of beer brewed to your spec's with your face (or whatever you want) on the label. The experience donor was Drew Huerter, then a humble (and generous) homebrewer, who has since gone pro and is making beer for almost everybody in town: Schlafly, Morgan Street, and Mattingly.

Drew made Doug an Imperial India pale ale. "That was before the hop crisis," Drew told me, with a smile. A worldwide hop shortage has made the production of hop-heavy beers like IPA (or the even more amped-up Imperial IPA) prohibitely expensive. Especially for a freebie brew, donated for an arts fundraiser.

Drew said Doug loved his custom-made IPA. So much so that he hooked Drew up with a prized pair of concert tickets after a chance meeting between brewer and drinker at Pappy's Smokehouse.

"He gave me two tickets to see the Foo Fighters!" Drew enthused. "He had them right there on him and gave them to me on the spot."

Drew shared the tickets with his girlfriend, Julie. He said, "It was one of the best shows I've ever seen, if not the best. They played two hours. They played really hard. They did a triangle solo! I loved everything about it."

That's not all! The Experiential Auction is also growing a new familial bond between drinker and brewer.

"Doug met my parents at the Repeal of Prohibition party," Drew said. "They weren't sure how they figured out the connection. They were all a little tipsy by the time I got there."

A custom-made case of personalized beer is an annual fixture at the Experiential Auction. This year the beer experience donor is Anthony Bescia, a homebrewer, sock puppet, MoveOn.org activist, and manager at the Tap Room. Advance bidding is open now! Leave a comment with contact info or email me at brodog [@] hotmail.com.

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Photo of Drew Huerter (left), Charlie (Berger?) from O'Fallon Brewery and Brennan Greene of Schlafly making beer for Brennan's nuptials from STL Hops.

Time for pleasure and for milk


The Dada and Surrealist festival playing on KBOO (Oregon) today lends the perfect atmosphere for our continuing coverage of the new anthology Surrealism in Greece, edited and translated by Nikos Stabakis.

The anthology opens with Andreas Embirikos, a major discovery for me. I am determined to score (put to music, that is, not purchase on the black market) one of his books, either Blast Furnace or Altamira's Tentacle. I prefer "Blast Furnace" as a title, having grown up in a steel town with a locally notorious blast furnace, whereas the name "Altamira" throws me off, at first. It strikes me as a fantasy name, an element of Surrealist literature that does not appeal to me.

But, when I asked Google about "Altamira," I learned that it's actually the name of a cave in Spain where prehistoric paintings were discovered in 1879 by the 8-year-old daughter of an amateur archaeologist. Even in its barest outlines on Wikipedia, the story of the cave and its discovery sounds worthy of a book-length study or novel.

The poor guy whose daughter stumbled upon the ancient paintings of bison, goats and human hands was publicly denounced as a fraud and died before his honor was restituted. When Picasso saw the site, he declared, "After Altamira, all is decadence." (Makes me wish Embirikos' book was titled After Altamira!) Moisture from the exhalations of visitors degraded the paintings, over the years, so now very few visitors are admitted to the cave - there is a three-year waiting list to do so. A Spanish brand of cigarettes has a logo that riffs off the paintings, as does a Spanish cartoon equivalent of the Flintstones. All that - and a Steely Dan song!

Embirikos' Altamira book uses the formal structure, which I adore, of brief, numbered items. Here is a selection of the ones that sang to me, in Nikos Stabakis' haunting translations:

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12. A little more sea, a little more salt. Later I would like to roll in the sand with you.

14. Deep wound. On the crater's hill you shake the memory, and, slowly, like dusk absorbing a withering day, you, beloved and falsely forgotten, leave the whirl of oblivion to the five winds - for always, when riots whiz and the grass is sprinkled, you forget, and again you remember, and even though you bear no obligation, you are sometimes saddened and sometimes delighted. You are, I think, a frigate visiting all ports, with no baskets and plenty of beautiful soft gunwales.

23. Acts of elephants, Precious revolvers of ivory. A woman between two stacks is picking up poppies. Finally someone shoots a pistol and all the animals take flight. The trampling of their feet advances like a wave that covers everything.

26. Madness resembles joy or sorrow. Yet it is not a Danaid's sieve, but a group of maids dancing at an Orchomenus orchestra. No voice stirred the crowds so deeply. No dusk spread a deeper sorrow. O, hysterical daughter! Your frisk is an avenue leading to the bridge of your condition and your cry a sharp whinnying piercing the sky's eye.

31. Infant in gentle silence. Only the breeze is singing and the daydreaming wet nurse offers her teat to the happy babe. Time for pleasure and milk. Time for the milky way.

32. Masts stuck on sandhills, joys of children, of men and of women as the ship approaches, clouds, white and light, in the sky, a thousand objects, bright and beloved like lips bleeding or dewy, or like awakended teats, and suddenly you, warm and cool at once, and never small-minded, although your feet and hands are indeed small. Maybe that is why I love you so much. Maybe that is why, asleep, I cry your name.

*

Picture of an ancient bison painting from Altamira lifted from a post about a bone protein from a website that shines a monthly spotlight on a protein.

101 hours of vocal-chord-produced stuff ...

John Cougar, memorably, wanted a hand to hold onto. I want all of my Sunday, from daybreak to darkest night, to be filled with the sounds of Surrealist radio. On this Sunday, I wake to news from Andrew Torch (the hardest-working man in St. Louis Surrealism) that what I want is mine.

KBOO Community Radio in Oregon, home to the homiest call letters in world radio, boo, is just now hosting 101 Hours of Innumerable Small Events Which May or May Not Be Related to One Another, an aural celebration of Dadism and Surrealism, and you had better believe I will be listening online all day, all night - or until my wife wakes up and makes me clean the gutters and "turn down that empty can radio."

It seems in the right spirit that I have signed on during a "To be announced" lull in what is otherwise a remarkably tighly scheduled program, considering that the event honors the erratic powers of the unconscious.

But I am looking forward to the next piece of mapped terrain, at 7 a.m. their time (9 a.m. my time in St. Louis):

7a—Automatic Writing by opera composer Robert Ashley is one of his early pieces where he stimulates his own mild form of Tourette's syndrome into performance art in a piece which sometimes got him into legal difficulty. This is a recording of a very mild attack from 1979 with electronics.

I found a review - a most unusual review - that put Automatic Writing in the context of a mixtape made for the purposes of ingesting LSD!

"A Missing Sense was originally conceived as a private tape to accompany my taking of LSD. When in that particular state, Robert Ashley's Automatic Writing was the only music I could actually experience without feeling claustrophobic and paranoid. We played it endlessly; it seemed to become part of the room, perfectly blending with the late night city ambience and the 'breathing' of the building." The piece features the voices of Ashley and Mimi Johnson, with electronics and Polymoog backing, with a switching circuit designed and built by Paul DeMarinis. A fascinating and mysterious work focused on 'involuntary speech'" (Forced Exposure).

I don't have any taste for LSD, but I do like the sound of late night city ambience and buildings that breathe ... And I wonder if this is Paul DeMarinis, the St. Louis jazz scene stalwart?

The DJ just broke in and promised, upcoming, some "vocal-chord-produced stuff, but it's not going to be spoken and word and it's not going to be really what you'd call singing ..."

Fun, fun!

*

Image is an "anonymous piece" of art that one day arrived at KBOO, from the station Flickr site.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Still life with my oldest acquaintance


Jaime Gartelos occupies an odd space in my life: he is perhaps my oldest acquaintance.

I have known him a really long time, and we keep resurfacing in each other's lives in pretty interesting capacities, yet we never really have become friends.

We certainly never became enemies, and I think we've always liked one other well enough, but I guess we never needed a new friend at the same time.

And look at the opportunities we have had!

My first ever rock gig, I am pretty sure, was his first ever rock gig. I was in Big Toe and he was in Acrylic Orgy, the old Bernard's Pub was still extant and still hosting rock shows (mostly, punk shows), and we ended up on a bill together there in 1989.

Then my college band, Enormous Richard, did like a year of gigs at The Red Sea before it became a reggae venue or had a basement space. There was no house sound, so we needed a sound system and a sound man - and Jaime, for some reason, was almost always that guy.

The band hit the road for years, then I moved to New York for years, and then I moved back back. (Notice that I can't follow Jaime's movements over the years - we weren't friends. Just acquaintances.) When I got back home, I formed an arts organization and wanted to do a show based on our poetry score to Leo Connellan's Crossing America. My new board member recruits were all art scenesters. They got us into Mad Art Galley. The staff guy there to hang our show was none other than Jaime Gartelos.

The next year Poetry Scores did another event at Mad Art, this time an art invitational. You know who hung our show again. This time, Jaime let it slip that he was himself a painter now. He showed me his work. I really liked it! So the next year we did an invitational (last year, at Hoffman LaChance), we invited Jaime to show, and he made an abstract oil painting in response to the poem Blind Cat Black (that sold to a certain nameless, controversial communications operative).

You following me through all these changes? First band guys on a bill, then bandleader and sound guy, then curator and art hanger, then curator and artist. (Somewhere along the way, I also became an avid fan of his music, but since I'm not finding it anywhere on the internet for you to hear, I'll pass that over in silence, for now. It's inventive, soulful, surprising rock music, full of disguises and swagger.)

Now, we can add yet another dimension to this old acquaintance: blogger and artist, since I went into all of this as an excuse to talk up Jaime's upcoming art show. He has since moved to Chicago (not being friends, only acquaintances, I was the last to know), but surely he is coming home for the opening reception next Friday, September 5 at Mad Art Gallery, 2727 So. 12th St. in Soulard, from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m.

I have a 5-year-old child, as opposed to a social life, so I won't be there, but I enjoyed looking at his art work to prepare for this little squib. He has both a website and a Flickr photostream, and both are worth your time.

I am seeing still lifes, oil on canvas. His artist statement - admirable in its brevity - is "When the medium is the subject, the method is Abstraction," but this stuff looks largely representational to me, with departures into fancy and abstraction. Kandinsky comes to mind. Jaime is a particularly bright and expressive colorist. He can make blue sing!

Also showing with him is Ellie Balk, whose paintings (admittedly, at a glance) seem to have some wonderful Paul Klee things going on.

Mad Art tells us, "Balk and Gartelos collaborated on two paintings for this exhibition. The viewer is invited to see their two bodies of work separately, as the result of two minds coming together in one space, on one plane. This collaboration is an experiment of the two artists' passion for painting and the explosion of synergy."

Again, the opening is Friday, Sept. 5 and the show continues through Sept. 29. Mad Art openings are a blast, and it's much less fun to visit there at other times (by appointment, as I recall, or involving the ringing of a buzzer and waiting and wondering ...). So, go to the opening. Tell Jaime his oldest acquaintance says hi.
*

The image here is Jaime's painting "Crazy Pitcher," 2007, oil on canvas, 30"x40".

Ed Martin hopes voters get stuck on stupid


Guilt by association is back with a vengeance, and Ed Martin is wielding the sword.

Ed Martin is a far-right conservative activist who ran Gov. Matt Blunt's office for a hot minute as chief of staff, before resigning amid a scandal involving the alleged deletion of public records. Previously he has attacked abortion rights and the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan. Now he is attacking Barack Obama.

The anti-Obama attack ad and website - Ed's new sword - were paid for by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, reportedly one of the guys who funded the Swift Boat attack on John Kerry.

The closer line of Ed Martin's anti-Obama ad, the one meant to leave those lingering doubts intended to keep you from flipping the Obama switch at the polls, is: "Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol … and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?"

This "someone" is William Ayers. It may or may not be fair to describe him as "friends" with Obama (I'll come back to that), but he did not bomb the Capitol. As part of the Weathermen, he did conspire to bomb the Capitol and the Pentagon (and the people in them), and he certainly comes across as proud of having done so.

It's probably hopeless, in the aftermath of 9/11, to evoke the context of the Vietnam War and the public opposition to it in a way that would explain the actions of the Weathermen. Certainly, if you are running for U.S. president you don't want to mess with explaining the political context that once spurred some young people in this country to treason and revolution.

Fortunately, Obama does not need to do so. He has already answered the attacks in Martin's attack ad. He answered them when George Stephanopoulos brought up the Ayers connection on ABC during the Democrat Presidential Candidate Debate in Philadelphia back on April 16. I quote from the transcript on Martin's own American Issues Project website:

"This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis. And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense, George. The fact is that I'm also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who, during his campaign, once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions. Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn's statements? Because I certainly don't agree with those, either."

I am not guilty by association, Obama argues. It's a sound argument. If the logic in debates won elections, this case would be closed. But only winning votes wins elections, and logic is only one strategy to winning votes among many.

Of course, Martin's ad doesn't accuse Obama of bombing the Capitol (or conspiring to do so) when he was 8 years old. It tries to suggest a sinister connection between Obama as an adult being "friends" with someone who conspired to bomb the Capitol when Obama was 8 years old.

Why would Obama do that?

The answer - which is the answer to the question left lingering at the end of the attack ad - can be inferred from the analogy to Tom Coburn. Bill Ayers and Tom Coburn both were significant operators in political circles where Obama wanted to have an impact, and as an exceptionally skilled politician, he made productive use of an association with both men - without accepting or adopting the values of either.

The Tom Coburn example is easy to understand and even applaud. We call it "being bi-partisan" and "crossing the aisle," and both presidential contenders boast at being good at doing it. Of course, that's why Obama slipped in the Coburn analogy during the debate - it answered the question about Ayers on firmer rhetorical footing. That's a long-established and effective debate strategy.

Explaining the Ayers association is much more problematic for Obama, at this point in his career. It sets him back many political incarnations. It places him in a much more narrow setting than that in which he operates now or could possibly operate as U.S. president. But, once you accept that Obama's earliest political roots in Chicago included university liberals in Hyde Park, there is nothing worse in the Ayers incident than his working closely with Tom Coburn as a Senate colleague.

Bill Ayers was not a bomb-building revolutionary when Obama met him. He was a college professor with significant political connections in liberal Chicago. He also was a neighbor of Obama's in Hyde Park.

A Chicago Sun-Times article, written in the aftermath of the Ayers blowup in the primary debate (and archived on Martin's website), sums up Obama's connections with Ayers and Ayers' wife, also a former Weatherman, Bernardine Dohrn:

"In the mid-1990s, Ayers and Dohrn hosted a meet-and-greet at their house to introduce Obama to their neighbors during his first run for the Illinois Senate. In 2001, Ayers contributed $200 to Obama's campaign. Ayers also served alongside Obama between December 1999 and December 2002 on the board of the not-for-profit Woods Fund of Chicago. That board met four times a year, and members would see each other at occasional dinners the group hosted."

That $200 Ayers gave the young, green Obama is somewhat hilarious in light of the $2.88 million that Harold Simmons gave Ed Martin's American Issues Project to construct this guilt-by-association attack.

There can be no doubt that the young Obama, just getting started in politics, used Ayers and Dohrn to help build his early base. If you can't get the support of your neighbors, you're not going to go very far in elected politics, and these were his neighbors, or some of them.

We have an eyewitness account of that first meet-and-greet in Hyde Park, written by Maria Warren and published on a blog that, in a way, got this whole thing going. "When I first met Barack Obama, he was giving a standard, innocuous little talk in the living room of those two legends-in-their-own-minds, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn," Warren wrote on her blog in 2005. "They were launching him — introducing him to the Hyde Park community as the best thing since sliced bread."

No beginning politician would get anywhere without making many such "standard, innocuous little talks" in their neighborhood. It so happens that the neighborhood where Obama got his start included a liberal set, and these former Weathermen were powerful players in it.

Obama would quickly build many bridges out of that initial, liberal base, bridges that would take him into the state Senate, then the U.S. Senate, and now into this historic nomination for U.S. president. As Obama widened his base and built bridges, he disappointed some of his initial liberal base, who resent or fail to appreciate the basic facts of electoral politics and consensus-building. If Bill Ayers' flashy, radical, nostalgic politics appealed deeply to Barack Obama, Barack Obama never would have left Hyde Park. He never would have met Tom Coburn or attracted the attention of a far-right activist like Ed Martin.

Law professor and writer Stanley Fish puts Ayers and Dohrn into useful context in an April 27 New York Times piece, also written in the wake of that argument during the Democratic primary debate (and also archived on Martin's website).

Fish writes, "Confession time. I too have eaten dinner at Bill Ayers's house (more than once), and have served with him on a committee, and he was one of those who recruited my wife and me at a reception when we were considering positions at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Moreover, I have had Bill and his wife Bernardine Dohrn to my apartment, was a guest lecturer in a course he taught and joined in a (successful) effort to persuade him to stay at UIC and say no to an offer from Harvard. Of course, I'm not running for anything, but I do write for The New York Times and, who knows, this association with former fugitive members of the Weathermen might be enough in the eyes of some to get me canned. Did I conspire with Bill Ayers? Did I help him build bombs? Did I aid and abet his evasion (for a time) of justice? Not likely, given that at the time of the events that brought Ayers and Dohrn to public attention, I was a supporter of the Vietnam War. I haven't asked him to absolve me of that sin (of which I have since repented), and he hasn't asked me to forgive him for his (if he has any)."

Fish, too, rejects guilt by association. As a legal scholar, he knows it's a logical fallacy.

But logic is only one weapon in politics, and it's not the one that draws the most blood. Ed Martin - who, unfortunately for all of us, is not a fool - knows this. He knows that the big, loud half-lie can be much more powerful - much more damaging - than the complicated truth.

Wrapping up his side of the argument in the April 16 primary debate, Obama expressed faith that American voters would reject the foolish logical fallacy of guilt by association. He said, "So this kind of game in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, that somehow their ideas could be attributed to me, I think the American people are smarter than that."

Ed Martin is banking on the voters to be dupes. Barack Obama thinks we are smarter than that. I can't tell you how much I hope Obama is right.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Nothing meant the same as before


When I wasn't talking to Quincy Troupe at lunch, I was advancing in Surrealism in Greece. Loving it. Big time. Here is a piece from the first book, Blast Furnace, by the first author in the anthology, Andrea Embirikos. Just, remember. This is Surrealist. We are in Greece. Detach the part of your mind that remembers to screw the toothpaste lid back on, and how ...

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ISPAHAN

A most thunderous storm covered the country. Howling rocks assaulted the broad-brimmed lakes and the injured fish crawled to the anchorites' station. No aid was supplied there for the bellowing of megolosaurases scattered its fluttering on both sides and mushrooms kept silence over the actual facts in the hovering nuptial procession of a young planet's sighs. Afterwards nothing meant the same as before. Tranquility did not exist as a real entity. Disaster was curbed by camels. The temples of the dead were blooming. The few doves were laboring because the lake's pulp had formed a canal at the narrowest point of their passage through thousand-mouthed insults trampled with the frenzied noise of mothers and young children thinner than a bat's bones.

*

As a boy who grew up in the shadow of a blast furnace and then grew up to score a weird Turkish prose poem (and then made a movie to that score) populated by bat wings and weird religious sects (like the anchorites), what can I say? This is me.

Ispahan, by the way, is a former Persian capital and one of the most famous cities in the production of Persian rugs, located in what is now Iran. Ispahan rug designs include intricate floral medallions or animal pictorial rugs. Ispahan also names a type of rose and a dessert that riffs off the shapes of the rose. To illustrate this poem, I flirted with some guy's Flickr site that documents his trip to Ispahan, but decided his photographs were too beautiful. I went, instead, with the imagery of the thin bat bones at the end of the poem. The image here is of a proto-bat fossil from some bat man dude's blog.

Yeah. Man. Quincy. Troupe.


I called the poet Quincy Troupe in New York today to ask him if he would send us an unpublished poem we could print in The St. Louis American. I wanted to publish something of his in advance of his appearance as part of the "BAG and Beyond: Old Friends and New Friends" events, Sept. 12-14 with the Nu Art Series in St. Louis.

He is old friends with our publisher, Donald M. Suggs, and our culture critic, K. Curtis Lyle. And, I suppose, to a far lesser extent, with me. As I was saying to Curtis today, "I was grandfather'd into this thing - or, I guess, grandson'd."

"Grandson'd is more like it," Curtis said.

Quincy said he'd send the poem. I was happy all day. What a gig, I kept thinking to myself. I got to help make a tiny, but significant, contribution to winning Missouri for Barack Obama and securing him the Democratic nomination for president - and Quincy Troupe will send me a poem to publish - and my publisher will not only let me publish the poem, he will clench his fists and close his eyes and exalt when he sees what I have done.

I'm glad it didn't happen to somebody else.

We will publish Quincy's poem alongside unpublished work by Curtis, Eugene B. Redmond, and Shirley LeFlore in the Sept. 11 edition of The St. Louis American. I am getting ahead of myself here, because I've not yet spoken with Redmond or Shirley. But we're all family, so I think it will work out all right.

Quincy was, as ever, full of stories. Before he comes to St. Louis, he has a studio date in Las Cruces, New Mexico with an Apache guitar player. After the St. Louis performance, he heads back to New York for the shooting of the new Miles Davis movie. Quincy wrote the script, based on his book Miles and Me, which is about the relationship they evolved in working on Miles' historic 1990 autobiography, as-told-to Troupe.

The producer of the film, Rudy Langlois, was previously a print media editor. He assigned Quincy the article about Miles that led to the book deal. "Rudy got the rights to my book," Quincy told me today. "I said, 'Who is going to write the script?' He said, 'You are!' I said, 'I've never written a movie!' He said, 'I'll walk you through it.'"

As Curtis would say: Man, Quincy.

Samuel L. Jackson is playing Miles. Laurence Fishburne is playing Troupe. Yeah. Man. Quincy.

I told Quincy maybe this would take off for him - maybe he would become a scriptwriter next.

"Nah, nah," he said. "I'm a poet."

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Picture of Troupe live at New College in San Francisco in 2007 from some guy's Flickr site.

Opera great Christine Brewer gets all experiential


Grammy-winning and world-traveling soprano Christine Brewer confirms to me this morning that she is donating an experience to the 2008 Experiential Auction, which benefits Poetry Scores, a St. Louis-based arts org that translates poetry into other media. The auction will be held 5-8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21 at Atomic Cowboy, 414o Manchester Ave. in St. Louis.

MsBrewDog (her screen name) is performing Verdi's Requiem with The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Feb. 13-14, 2009, at Powell Symphony Hall. The winning bidder will get to meet her at Powell Hall for a rehearsal that the SLSO would approve. "I will be happy to meet the person who wins the auction bid in the green room before or after the rehearsal to say 'hello,'" she writes this morning.

I met Christine when I reported on the Symphony's super cool A to Z community lecture series for its Playbill magazine, which kicks off its next season Sept. 29. Highly recommended.

Given the extremely high likelihood that no one would demand a refund of their symphony ticket because they showed up for a concert and saw in the Playbill an essay by me they had already read for free in my blog, and at the risk of scooping the Symphony house organ, which paid me good money for this piece, I will publish here my essay on Christine's A to Z program. It was a divine experience!

Advance bids for the Christine Brewer experience are welcome. Leave a comment here, with contact info, or email me at: brodog [@] hotmail.com.

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Opera: A to Z
By Chris King

Last season’s schedule for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra’s “A to Z” lecture series was not over until the opera lady sang.

The opera lady who sang – unexpectedly – in the auditorium at Maryville University was St. Louis’ own Christine Brewer, a Grammy-winning and world-traveling soprano. In fact, she had flown in from San Francisco to do this program, which had been scheduled as merely a speaking gig for her. She apologized for her flight-dehydrated throat before surprising a sizable audience of local opera diehards by stepping away from the podium, summoning the Symphony’s own Peter Henderson to the piano, and launching into song.

This is precisely the sort of intimate access to industry professionals and their expertise that defines the Symphony’s “A to Z” adult-education series, which starts up again Monday, Sept. 29 with an introduction and reception featuring three SLSO musicians. It continues monthly (except for a break in December) and concludes April 13 with a lecture by the Symphony’s new president Fred Bronstein that bears the intriguing title, “The Saint Louis Symphony & Campbell’s Soup: What’s the Connection?”

The “Opera: A to Z” program that Brewer headlined last season was a co-production with Opera Theatre St. Louis (and Maryville University, a partner in and host of the annual series). Brewer shared the bill with Allison Felter, who directs community outreach and education for Opera Theatre. Felter’s talk in itself would have been worth the modest price of admission, as she deftly narrated the history of opera in St. Louis, seamlessly interweaving the interesting history of her own organization with plenty of knowing asides to an adoring, insider audience.

“Given St. Louis’ penchant for fermented beverages and the breweries that make them,” Felter said, wittily, at the outset of her presentation, “it is perhaps not surprising that opera was first performed here in the 1880s and 1890s at a Beer Garden called Uhrig’s Cave, located at the corner of Washington and Jefferson above a deep cave which served as a natural refrigerator for patrons’ beverages.” She said the first “real opera” performed here was La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini, featuring a chorus so strapped for talent that even the manager and stage hands took part.

Without making a fuss about it, Felter’s thumbnail history of operatic talent from St. Louis emphasized the surprisingly large presence of African-American luminaries. She name-checked baritone Robert McFerrin (the first African-American leading man to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955, just weeks after Marian Anderson broke the color barrier), mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry (the first African-American to sing at Germany’s Bayreuth Festival), and ragtime composer Scott Joplin, who wrote his opera Treemonisha while living on Delmar Boulevard, just east of Powell Symphony Hall.

Felter included Christine Brewer in this august company of operatic greats, noting that she got her start in the Opera Theatre chorus (in 1980, Brewer later added). Opera Theatre St. Louis rightly prides itself as a teaching institution and springboard to glory. “At any given time there are more than 50 singers on the Met’s roster who have come through our young artist program,” Felter said.

As Brewer passed Felter at the podium, she acknowledged the technical sophistication of the presentation she now had to follow. “I wish I had a PowerPoint,” Brewer said. Felter responded, “You are a PowerPoint.”

Brewer is indeed a powerhouse, and every single thing she said was on point, but surely Felter would agree (her witticism aside) that Christine Brewer is far too warm and folksy to merit comparison to a piece of software. She brought alive a vast range of personalities who had helped her find her voice, including then-Opera Theatre director Richard Gaddis, who first coaxed her to audition, and her husband Ross Brewer, who insisted that she not renew her teacher’s certficate one year, so she would have no day job to fall back upon and would be determined to make a career of opera.

Brewer maintains a relationship with the classroom, however, at the most elementary level. She continues to visit the school in Marissa, Ill. where she once taught music. She teaches an occasional program called “Opera-tunities” in the sixth-grade classroom of her friend, Nancy Wagner; she will start with her fifth group this fall. “They don’t know the symphony is supposed to be for nerds,” Brewer said of her sixth-graders, “so they are open.” They have clocks on the classroom wall that tell the time in distant cities – Los Angeles, London, Paris and Tokyo – to help them envision the far-flung travels of Ms. Brewer. Everywhere she goes, she takes along a stuffed teddy bear (named “Marissa Melody” by her first group of students) that has now appeared in photographs with the opera world’s most important figures. SLSO musical director David Robertson graciously has allowed her to bring her students into closed rehearsals when she has performed with the Symphony.

Brewer teared up remembering how her young students struggled to connect with Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem when she performed it with SLSO under Robertson’s direction. One student had a brother in the U.S. armed forces, fighting in Iraq. “He said, ‘Old men start wars, young men fight wars,’” Brewer remembered their discussion of Britten’s piece, suddenly weeping. “What can you say? They get it.”

Brewer’s summary of her intention with her young students could provide a mission statement for all community-outreach efforts, including the Symphony’s “A to Z” series. She said, “It’s not that I want them all to be opera singers. It’s that I want them to be able to dream about what the rest of the world has to offer.”

Then – an act of extremely unusual generosity, for someone who is paid quite well to travel the world to sing – she sang: Bob Merrill’s “Mira,” from Carnival, and an a capella leprechaun song. And, then, a downhome treat no one sitting in that auditorium that night is likely ever to forget: the audience had the opportunity to sing along with the great soprano. We joined her in singing “Happy Birthday” to K.C. Ahlstrom, the mother of SLSO violinist Kristin Ahlstrom and mother-in-law of her accompanist, who was in attendance.

Christine Brewer will perform Verdi’s Requiem with the Symphony Feb. 13-14, 2009, conducted by David Robertson.

Thanks for the experience, Mike McMillan

Today I hope to get out to the people a press release about Poetry Scores' 2008 Experiential Auction, which will be held from 5-8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21 at Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester Ave. in St. Louis.

This morning I just confirmed a good experience we can auction: Former Comptroller Virvus Jones takes you on a tour of St. Louis City Hall and tells you old war stories from the Schoemehl administration over a cup of coffee. I caught Virvus at a good time - he is high as a helium balloon over Obama's speech last night. Those old heads in black politics are all sort of levitating today, I know.

And I dug up this photo, submitted by Jamilah Jones, who won the bid last year for the tour of City Hall, which was donated by Mike McMillan. Mike was a highly popular alderman, and now he is a highly cautious license collector. He told Jo Mannies of the Post the other day that he isn't going to run for mayor in 2009, after Mike was busted in Denver doing a one-on-one with Mayor Francis G. Slay.

Okay, Mike. You can wait to run for mayor, but will the mayor's office wait for you? But ... I can say, "Thanks for the experience"- the experience you donated to our auction. Jamilah Jones said she had a wonderful time on the tour of City Hall. We spent her winning bid and the rest of our proceeds from last year's auction producing our poetry score to Go South for Animal Index.

Check back later for the final press release, and mark your calendars now. Admission to the auction is $10, which will be discounted from your first winning bid. All proceeds from the auction will go to Poetry Scores, a St. Louis-based arts organization that translates poetry into other media.

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Photo is of Mike McMillan and Jamilah Jones during their tour of City Hall, from the 2007 Experiential Auction

Thursday, August 28, 2008

David Gergen and my wife hear a symphony


"It was not a speech, it was a symphony."

Thus spake David Gergen of Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight - David Gergen, who has heard and vetted a few presidential acceptance speeches in his day.

Gergen is the historian, the poet, the critic on CNN's hit-and-miss political coverage team, which may be the "best on television," but only because it has Gergen.

If Gergen were to switch to covering politics for the Boise, Idaho community-access channel, that show would immediately beat the Wolf Blitzer/Anderson Cooper team Gergen would be leaving behind at CNN.

I know. I live with a woman who has fallen under the spell of Gergen. She is a hard sell. She most certainly is not under my spell. She digs Gergen - needs Gergen.

"Gergen! Gergen! Gergen!" my wife began to chant at the television, after CNN cut to commentary, following the exit from the convention stage of the Obamas and Bidens.

My wife and I at times agree to disagree - on my music, on her music, on the desired temperature in the car. We agree on Gergen.

Given the historic nature of this election, in terms of demographics, let me identify the demographics in this duet. Gergen is a white guy. My wife is a black woman. She is far blacker (I am describing only skin tone) than Barack or Michelle Obama.

She was born in Africa, like Obama's absentee dad, but she is a voting American now. Her vote will count as much on Nov. 5 as Gergen's or Obama's.

She grew up not voting in a nation run by a dictatorship, where her vote would have been meaningless. She is excited to vote in a country where she believes her vote will count.

"He seemed to be bigger tonight, on television," Gergen said, of Obama tonight. "It almost seems as if he's growing into the job."

Let him grow, let him grow, let him grow.

*

Image is a 2006 shot of Powell Symphony Hall during a concert from somebody's Flickr site.



Let's ice down climate change Al for a few months

The sages of the future, if there is a future, will no doubt look back upon the Democratic National Convention of 2008 and agree that Al Gore spoke the most plain sense.

All of that touchy stuff about getting right with climate change has to be right.

Like Al said, it has to be wrong to rack up Chinese debt to buy Saudi dead dinsaur extract that, when combusted, produced pollutants and uppers for the global temperature.

Like my beloved barman Paul Jensen said at the old bar the other day, "Fossil fuels have to be considered a dinosaur." I'm not sure whether the double entendre was intended. Paul seemed to have stumbled into it, as he has stumbled into many things, such as many taverns in Northern Europe.

But the sages of the future, if there is a future, won't have to win an election, at least not this election. Democrats do. They need to win this election. And I'm thinking keeping Al on ice - double entendre, there; ice caps disappearing, Al says - until Nov. 5 or so would be a good idea for Democrats.

Al's kind of plainly honest talk sounds apocalyptic. And apocalyptic talk discourages a desire for change. And the message of Obama is a message of change.

All overdue respect to Al Gore, if his speech tonight was the stump speech of the Democratic nominee, then the Grim Reaper, or Mike Huckabee, would win by a landslide as a write-in candidate.

Barack is on! Gotta go!

Sounds like Greek Surrealism to me


"Sounds like Greek to me."

"That's surreal."

These two tired metaphors for being mystified are united and rejuvenated in a new anthology by the ever-impressive University of Texas Press Press, Surrealism in Greece.

My review copy arrived by snail today, and I devoured the introduction over lunch (blackened salmon, American Pale Ale) at The Tap Room. The introductory prose (by translator and editor Nikos Stabakis) was every bit as savory as the fish and beer.

There is some beautiful writing about Greek proto-Surrealist Nicolas Calas, described as "a prime mover of Trotskyist activity in Greece." Since Calas worked mainly in Paris and the U.S., he mostly falls outside the scope of the anthology, but he casts a fascinating shadow. "In Calas' native country," we are told, "his absence gave birth to a myth around his name" - such a pithy way to sum up something all prodigal travelers experience.

Calas' absence particularly haunted Greek Surrealist pioneer Andrea Embirikos, who gets much ink in the anthology and is sure to get more pixels here. Embirikos wrote about the departed Calas in an unfinished manuscript:

"For you shall come again, you shall come despite the clamors, you shall come with all the pride and all the joy of pure people, those high-flying, tireless travelers of lightships and steamships, who receive, upon their heads and shoulders, the cool stream of victory."

"... the joy of pure people, those high-flying, tireless travelers ...": Confluence City is feeling very much at home amid Greek Surrealists.

Embirikos himself seems to have been a trip - an arduous one. A rich kid who met Andre Breton in Paris in 1929, he went back home with the idea of introducing both Surrealism and psychoanalysis to Greece (might as well go after everything, all at once). The political hothouse and killing fields of the 20th century seem to have been too much for him, however. He abandoned his psychoanalytic practice, but kept writing.

Our anthologist Stabakis has an incisive way of describing the trajectory of Embirikos' work, which sounds like any writer's life to me: "his personal writings testify to bouts of depression, countered by the joyful, if not always conclusive, fervor of his visionary works."

"... the joyful, if not always conclusive, fervor of his visionary works." Robert Walser, anybody?

So much to savor about this book, after only a lucky 13 pages. Only 350 more to go!

*

The image is a painting by another Greek Surrealist, Nikos Engonopoulos. I would like to dedicate this little squib (and any anything else I ever think, or squib, about Surrealism) to the torch carrier of Surrealism in St. Louis, my friend and faithful reader, Andrew Torch.

Meet the gas giant and the star of the Swan


UMSL has got stars, planets, nebulae, and entire galaxies, all for free.

The Richard D. Schwartz Observatory on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis is hosting a free open house of the heavens 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6.
The observatory open house will feature a viewing of the following celestial celebrities: Jupiter (a gas giant and the largest planet in our solar system, named after the Roman ruler of the gods), Albireo (a Beta star of Cygnus, the Swan), Ring Nebula, and the Hercules Cluster of galaxies.

Those are just the celebrities, slated for this special viewing. All open house sessions, we are told, include a viewing of the first quarter moon, along with additional nebulae and galaxies.

In the case of inclement weather - if the skies don't want to cooperate with this plan to showcase the heavens - the open house will be held at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept 7. The observatory is located off Florissant Road and Rosedale Drive, adjacent to the Fine Arts Building. Directions are right over here.
I offer this public announcement in an effort to appease the constellations, which my efforts have left more lonely up until now. When I moved home from New York several years ago, my friend Adam Long was one of the St. Louis area's most engaged amateur astronomers. When he wasn't producing gangster hip-hop or traditional gospel sessions, he was buying fabulously expensive gear and pointing it at some distant galaxy.

Then one day I remarked, off-handed, that he might try investing, instead, in a home studio rather than paying for room rates all over town. He took up my idea. His next paycheck went into studio gear, rather than a telescope. Three years later, he seldom works anywhere but in his home studio (unless someone flies him to New York). He even more seldom looks up into the sky at night with anything more powerful than his eyeglasses.

The heavens' loss has been Broadway's gain. Adam's engineering and production work on the original Broadway cast recording of Gypsy (which was released on Tuesday) is expected to win the Grammy this year. Adam is going to be, a bad pun, a big star.

*

Photo of the Ring Nebula by the Hubble Telescope.

Cheerleading for Sam Page (and the K.C. Chiefs)


A truly fascinating communication this morning from the Sam Page for Lieutenant Governor campaign, which we endorsed in the Democratic primary at The St. Louis American.

This appeal comes from the candidate's wife, Jenny Page, M.D. It opens with condolences for her recently deceased father (R.I.P.), with a poignant story about growing up as a hearing child with two deaf parents. Then it moves into her previous work experience as a Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader (!) before pulling an elegant reverse half-gainer and hitting the pool with a fundraising pitch - attached to a reminder that, as of today, donation limits (and the gloves) are off in Missouri campaign financing.

We will follow the action up through the cheerleader bit. Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you Dr. Jenny Page:

*

I held up sending you the happy memory that follows because my father, Louis Horrell, passed away last Thursday and there was much to do. There was also the need to go through a period of emotional adjustment.

My father was a remarkable man. He met my mother at the Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton, Missouri. They later married and had three children - I have two brothers. My mother, Ruth, and my father had been married for 52 years.

With both of our parents deaf, the three of us, none of whom is deaf, mastered sign language and it seemed most natural to me. Sam has learned a great deal of the language and our three boys are fairly adept as well.

My father never thought of himself as handicapped. He worked at the McDonell Douglas plant as a machinist for 30 years and was a proud member of the International Association of Machinists. He was grateful for a Missouri state institution that educated him and made him productive and independent. He also took pride that he was able to see all three of his children attend college.
We will miss him.
That Sam and I are both physicians is not nearly as interesting to some people, as the fact that I had been a Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader - go figure.
As I approach my fortieth birthday, thinking about birthdays past, I remember one very special birthday when I turned 20. I was cheering for the Chiefs at a preseason game taking place on my birthday. One of the perks of being a cheerleader was that I had two tickets for every home game, and Sam got to spend those games watching me from the stands.

*

With no picture of Jenny Page as cheerleader on hand to illustrate this remarkable rhetorical performance, we have relied upon a colleague from the U.S. Air Force photo service, one Guido Melo, who had the rough duty of shooting the Kansas City Chiefs Cheerleaders at Lajes Field in the Azores, Portugal, when the cheerleaders visited the Azores before continuing onto Egypt as part of an Armed Forces Entertainment Tour.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A list dressed up to look like a librarian


The great William Howard Gass always insists on the intrinsic literary character of lists. The academic jargon term for this is "a catalogue," but that's just a list, dressed up like a librarian.

I am going with Bill Gass and publishing a list here.

This is the list of pictures from the Bascom Lamar Lunsford archive I am requesting from the archivist. The numbers refer to the page on the enormous, mongo-tombstone-sized scrapbook in which these pictures have been pasted.

I think this does much to suggest the life of this complicated and important man.

23. Head shot
25. "Self" with car
31. On my farm
32. BL Lunsford
41. Complimentary, Cherokee Indian Fair
43. At a Dodge's field, standing in suit
43. At Greasy Cove, banjo on knee
53. This was the old way of bee culture
54. Bascom, with still
58. My friend (Cherokee)
58. My friend (Negro drummer)
68. With Lovingood Sisters
70. Color photo with banjo
75. At Mountain square dance
77. Letter from Charles Seeger
83. Taken in Britton's Cove (evaporating pan)
86. Letter from Library of Congress (and sticker)
88. J.W. Whitehead. He worked on our farm for 24 years. A good man.
102. This is the whistle pig, or ground hog
104. Cherokee Beauty (1934)
118. A wanderer at Cherokee Indian Fair
119. Standing with tour bus and banjo case
153. Field recording Indian drummer
166. Master of Ceremonies, beating the tomtom
199. Signed letter from Eleanor Roosevelt
213. With fishing pole
229. Album Recording, Eagle Records, mic placements
232. Painting of house, by Belle
239. Pencil portrait of self by Gerry Watson, daughter of Sir Wm Watson
257. Washington Sunday Star clip, Sunday, March 27, 1949
272. Bear hunting snapshot
283. Listening to Mountain banjo player
300. Dance platform, 3rd from bottom on left, numbered I 5n
301. Ball team nine, far right, 2nd from top
305. With South Turkey Creek sign
364. Deer hunting snapshot

Someday, Lord willing and if the creek don't rise, all of these images will be reproduced in a boxed set dedicated to Bascom's Memory Collection of Mountain folklore.
*
Photo is mine, from Bascom's personal library, as archived at Mars Hill College.

California tomato farmer serves up St. Louis pop

It was a really vivid picture of a bunghole snapped at a brewery in Belgium that led me back to Cuba Street.

Cuba Street is a record by the St. Louis power pop band The Love Experts. Their e.p. was recommended to me the other day by a tomato farmer in Bishop, California. I looked her up to tell her, "Look! I used your picture! Your picture of that grungy keg bunghole from that brewery in Belgium!"

I directed her, whom I thought was a him, to my little story about smuggling encrypted secret messages in kegs of beer, as a method of treasonous entrapment in Renaissance England.

She wrote back, via MySpace:

"The messages in the bungholes. Brilliant. I thought Mary Queen of Scots was in Carlisle Castle, maybe she was only caught there. Okay, here's a stranger question still. Any chance you know Steve Carosello, who sings for the St. Louis band The Love Experts? He is a dear penfriend of mine. We are mutual fans of the New Zealand bands, the Mutton Birds and the Phoenix Foundation. All the best from the hot, hot desert. .... Tricia - Matt is having a beer."

I thanked her for writing back charitably and told her I was in possession of The Love Experts' debut e.p. However, though her penfriend Steve and I know many of the same people and know of one another, she knows him much better than I do, all the way out there in the deserts of Bishop, California.

Rene Saller (one person who knows both Steve and me) had promoted Cuba Street to me for Undertow Music. Rene knows her music, especially her adventurous rock music, and I didn't take her glowing praise of The Love Experts lightly. At any rate, I was prepared to like anything with Steve Scariano on the bass guitar. I remember walking into some club some night Steve was on electric bass and thinking I was in the presence of the warmest bass tone and most confident electric bass playing I had ever heard in my life. (Mike Prokopf's acoustic bass work has the same impact on me.)

Now I can't figure out why Cuba Street didn't overpower me on first listen, when it came out back in 2005. I can't figure out why it didn't immediately wipe me out. I can't figure out why it didn't immediately enter that elite rank of regular-rotation records, along with Soda and The Wu-Tang Clan and Meat Puppets and Astor Piazolla.

As of this morning, after one thrilling drive-time spin, it's in that upper echelon. This is bright, smart, throbbing pop music, with wicked hooks, urgent vocals, and an unexpected guitar departure on the sixth and final track that is worthy - I don't drop the R.T. bomb lightly, not at all! - of Richard Thompson.

Really, I'd go on, but the liner notes on the Undertow site (penned, no doubt, by Rene) say it so well. And there are always those $0.99 downloads on the MySpace page.

Really, I just wrote this bit to give a belated thanks to Rene (who lends a leg to the cover image on the great Michael Friedman CD Cool of the Coming Dark) and to Tricia in the California desert, with her yen for beer, tomatoes, and New Zealand rock music. (Cuba Street, I now know, is the name of a centrally located shopping area in Wellington, New Zealand, which must have something to do with the Mutton Birds and the Phoenix Foundation and all that.)

To bring it back to beer, I wanted to know from Tricia what kind of beer Matt (her man, I presume) was enjoying?

She wrote back, "Matt was drinking Firestone Pale 31. The Firestone Union Jack IPA keg just blew. :( Rumors of a keg of Cantillon wending its way across the States to our house have been flying from the local grocer who gets us our kegs."

It was the bunghole of a Cantillon keg, snapped by a tomato farmer from California, that instigated my reinvestigation of this important rock record, Cuba Street, made in my own damn town, St. Louis, by people I almost know, The Love Experts. That sounds like Confluence City to me!

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Picture of Tricia lifted from the same picture page where I got the bunghole.

The ghost of Leo on the road roams the earth


Lindy Woracheck and Brett Underwood have been out there, running around the Wild West, living inside of a hitchiking poem. The poem in question is Crossing America, by the proto-Beat poet Leo Connellan.

As Brett wrote me when they got back to St. Louis:

"Lindy and I stopped in Cheyenne, Wyoming on the way back from Oregon to seek out the place where Leo Connellan ate steak across the street from the bus station. The bus station is gone, but there is a tourist information center nearby and we located a woman who has been in Cheyenne long enough to remember it having been there. She said the Albany Hotel had to be the place where he dined."

And here is a picture of lovely Lindy posed, somewhat distantly, in front of the place where Leo ate that fabulous steak when he was on the bum.

Back when Brett was doing the late, lamented "No Show" on KDHX, he got very absorbed in the poetry score that Lij and I produced for "Crossing America." The score features any number of local St. Louis luminaries (Pops Farrar, Michael Cooney, Brian Henneman, Fred Friction, Dave Stone) performing musical miniatures around Leo's readings of his epic poem of the road.

Brett evidently remembers "Cheyenne," a segment of the poem that I set to music as a country ballad, backed by Three Fried Men with Fred Friction taking the lead vocal. Here is Leo's poetry:

Now, outside that bus station was Cheyenne, see,
but I didn’t go look. I was young and I’d be
back! What could it be but a city with buildings,
because I was on my way to the Dakotas, where I
never got, and the thing that hurts later is that
I was right there in Cheyenne and didn’t stay
awhile and look around. I never got back there.
The bus we rode into Wyoming that time
when I was young pulled in to the run down part
of town. Even the idea of days-old cellophane
wrapped sandwiches for sale in the dirty old
bus station of cows, revolted us. Somebody hanging
around the station, gawky with a blank face, said
that across the street from the station you could
get a real good steak. I really didn’t believe it,
the place looked gray, but it was one of the best
steaks I ever ate anywhere, right across from the
old Cheyenne, Wyoming bus station.

You can hear Fred's unforgettable vocal performance (and some tasty pedal steel work by Steve Rauner of Nadine) on the Three Fried Men recording of "Cheyenne" posted on the Skuntry Music MySpace page. The CD of Crossing America itself is available here and there around town (the usual indie places) and from the trunk of my car. It was once featured - with me doing the talking about it - on the dang BBC!

Brett's message to me continues with a little history of the Cheyenne urban landscape: "The place where the bus stop stands is now some generic touristy plaza and parking lot with some cutesy cowboy boot sculptures. The woman said that the bus station came down because it was under an old overpass that collapsed when someone crashed into one of its support columns."

A bus stop crushed by an overpass that collapses after a car wreck: the ghost of Leo Connellan on the road continues to roam the earth.

Outtakes from "The History of Me," me being her

My daughter's first kindergarten homework assignment was a project called "The History of Me." Her teacher wrote home in a note, "We will be assembling a class book which will 'show and tell' about each one of us." We were asked to fill up two pages with pictures of "anything which makes your student feel special or happy."

We can do that! That's what we do.

That's what we did. Being a "show and tell" guy to the bone, with a daughter just like me, in that respect, we probably overdid it. I fancy myself a curator of an imaginary museum in the basement, and after I deputized my daughter as co-curator, she carefully prepared an exhibit all of her own in one corner, appropriating objects from the larger collection and taping up mysterious scraps of paper for reasons known only to her.

Needless to say, we dived right into curating "The History of Me," me being her. It turned into a fairly thorough archival effort involving the excavation of every family photograph we could lay our hands on. The ones she chose for inclusion in her project, as often is the case, puzzled me. The picture with the most people in it features cousins in Togo she has met once and could never name individually. As an only child, maybe that was the idea; maybe she was trying to craft an image of herself as surrounded by so much loving family she couldn't even name everybody. Which is true.

"I love all my cousins," was the caption she dictated for that particular picture.

Since "The History of Me" has a print publishing venue (Leyla's classroom scrapbook), I'll just run some outtakes up this here flagpole. This picture is a typical scene from the workshed of my wife's brother (my brother), Eric Akwei, a reggae musician and carver who lives in the hills of Aburi, outside Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Eric has a barn full of his handcarved sculptures. He deserves a brother in "the white man's world" (as Africans speak of America) who knows how to sell things.

Alas, I only know how to treasure things.

As I was writing this bit, Loudon Wainwright III was singing a love song to a young groupie on Roy Kasten's radio show on KDHX. "Come up to my hotel room, save my life," he sang to the girl he didn't know. Damn, am I glad I didn't grow old as a traveling musician!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary Clinton is my homegirl, too


She danced down the Chappaqua Panic.

Hillary for ... something.

Something important.

What a show.

I hope all of America goes to bed before the Republicans start vomiting on Larry King.

I know I am.

Good night, Hillary.

(You too, Bill.)

Dancing the Chappaqua panic in Denver


It felt fitting to finish a classic of Elizabethan scholarship to the backdrop of the Democratic National Convention at its most contentious and historic (in my conscious life, at any rate).

I've just read the last pages of The Elizabethan World by Lacey Baldwin Smith, a 1966 staple of Renaissance scholarship (that I seem to have read and annotated - and forgotten - years before; oh well; I guess I'll get to read it yet again, as if for the first time, a few more years down the road).

As the shameless exhibitionism of a modern political convention plays out in the other room, I savor a very private image of Queen Elizabeth I, getting down very much off-camera as she was getting on in years:

"At the age of sixty-six she danced the Spanish Panic to a whistle and tabor, but she did so in the privacy of her closet, 'none being with her but my Lady Warwick.'"

Meanwhile, in Denver, and in living rooms across the country, we are dancing the Chappaqua Panic. The Clinton panic.

How will it go? How will this all end? Historians will have plenty to play with, one day (imagine the endless hours of CNN footage, the acres of newspaper coverage, the billions of pixels of blogs ...). According to Lacey Baldwin Smith, historians will have an easier time making sense of it all if it ends badly:

"With failure, the dark necessity of circumstance and personality stand out and the chain of events leading to despair, death and perdition can be traced back to the first false step. But success is too mercurial, too volatile, to be disciplined by causality. It seems to possess no roots, no history; it merely exists, blooms and dies."

I am rooting for the rootless, for puzzling success, not the fatal, false first step, so easy to understand.

And I sure wish the women who still need to win one for Hillary would look back into history a few centuries further (and glance across the pond) to see that women political leaders have nothing to prove. Elizabeth I was proof enough.

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The famous Armada portrait of Elizabeth triumphant was poached from Sir Henry's Gauntlet.

Confluence City kicks local artist 24 bones


It's often said there is nothing worse than a reformed anything - addict, sinner, whatever. I'd add that there is nothing more irritating than a newly converted anything - in my case, blogger.

For years I have quietly deleted countless invitations to have online experiences of various kinds, preferring flesh and blood, the print medium, physical spaces populated by actual people and objects. I still prefer the real, live, 3-D thing. But I am quickly getting the hang of reading and listening to music, and even looking at art, online.

Witness: I have just made my first art purchase based solely on looking at something online. St. Louis musician and artist Tony Renner, one of the hardest-working chaps in the me-o-sphere, announced on his blog yesterday that he had made four paintings in homage to Willem de Kooning and was selling them for $23.50 each, which he said was the weekly sum the 1935 Works Progress Administration's Art Project paid de Kooning, among others, to deliver a small painting every month.

My eye was drawn to "$23.50 Club #4," posted above, which I purchased today for $24. Tony came over to the St. Louis American's offices, and I offered (nobly) to let him keep the change. "Good," he said. "I don't have any change." He said he was going to use the modest amount of cash to buy more materials to keep painting, which seemed like WWDKWD (that is, what Willem de Kooning would do).

He comp'd me a CD (Anagrams: A Tribute to Derek Bailey) and some hot purple peppers inspired by my recipe for jolof rice. That's quite a lot of schwag for 24 bones. This evening I will curate "$23.50 Club #4" into the Honest to God Art collection of The Skuntry Museum, Library, Beer Cellar, Prop Shop & Studio.

Faces of Black America at a very fine hour

It's quite a ride to work for a black newspaper during the Obama campaign. It's interesting today to hear folks' take on Michelle Obama's speech last night and its reception by the various televised talking heads.

CNN did an all-Republican panel to balance out the hours of self-serving Democratic fanfare. The hostile and often insulting remarks by these Republican hatchet men and women really put off a lot of black folks, but that's no surprise. Somebody like Ben Stein is not about to try to divine the black psyche and proceed accordingly, in hopes of picking off a few fence-sitters. These were tirades by, and for, the white majority.

The St. Louis American has Alvin A. Reid reporting live from Denver for Thursday's paper, with several daily updates on our website. It's a shame that Wiley Price, who has worked so closely with the Obama campaign and took perhaps the single most famous (in Black America) photo of the campaign thus far, didn't get his paperwork together on time and is stuck here in St. Louis.

However, St. Louis-based UPI photojournalist Bill Greenblatt lets us use his work, as long as we credit him properly. He had a great angle on the action in Denver last night. I have a posted a set of Bill's photos from Denver on my Flickr site. They are not mine to give, so (please) no one take them from me; just enjoy them for yourself or share a link. I think they capture Black America at a fine hour. As a black Teamster said recently during their national convention in St. Louis, "This is not a class of people knocking at the door. This is a class of people sitting at the head of the table."

I as a white guy who has worked under the leadership and guidance of a long line of black men - Eugene B. Redmond, K. Curtis Lyle, Gerald Early, Nymah Kumah, Noble Obani-Nwibari, Donald M. Suggs - that's cool by me.

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Photo is of Julia Hicks, a delegate from Colorado, as she stands for the opening ceremonies at the start of the Democratic Convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver, CO on August 25, 2008. (UPI Photo/Bill Greenblatt)

Recipe for the African precursor to jambalaya


Jolof rice was the dish Nymah Kumah taught us to cook so we could stop resorting so often to pizza.

My buddy Lij and I drove out to Roxbury, Massachusetts in the mid-nineties to record Nymah, who grew up in the Liberian bush in what he described as a "Stone Age culture." Lij and I were amateur folklorists, altogether down with Nymah's centuries-old songs and stories. But, when it came to cram in a quick meal between takes, we did what we had always done as traveling musicians: we drank beer and ate pizza.

We noticed Nymah was destroying a piece of pizza without exactly eating any of it. Lij asked him what was wrong. "Man," Nymah said, "pizza is not food." So, the next time we took a break, we took a longer break and drove to Nymah's tiny apartment, and he showed us how to make jolof rice.

I have been making it ever since. When John Eiler and I cooked up the idea of The New Monastic Workshop, and decided to stage two cooking demonstrations, one each, Men With Knives I and Men With Knives II, I knew my contribution would be Nymah Kumah's jolof rice. Here is how you prepare it.

Bring to boil a big pot of pepper soup. You can put just about anything in a pepper soup you want. Nymah used lamb with a lot of bones, and a smoked turkey leg, which is what I also use. You can add whatever vegetables you'd like to taste with the meat you choose. Nymah used carrots and onions. The hot pepper can come in any form you like. Nymah preferred scotch bonnet peppers or habaneros. If you don't have any peppers that damn hot, you can augment them with crushed red pepper. He also used a fair amount of seasoning salt, to taste.

Once your soup is boiling away, heat some olive oil in a small skillet and flash fry tomato paste with curry. You don't need much oil, because you are going to add this delicious red slurry to your soup and you don't want it to be too oily. Keep stirring until the curry and tomato paste and oil are, as I said, a rich red slurry, then dump this into the soup. It's my contention that Nymah innovated this ingredient to approximate for palm oil, but he kept doing it this way after he could find palm oil in African shops in the Boston area. Olive oil being healthier and easier to find than palm oil, go with this slurry, as Nymah did.

Once your soup with slurry is tasting good and your onions are looking filmy, dump in enough white rice to expand and fill the pot. Nymah would first rinse the rice a few times to get out some of the starch. I do this when I remember to do it. Stir your pepper pot as the rice absorbs soup and puffs up to fill the pot. The final dish should be fairly dry - it's a rice dish, not soup - so you can add more rice if all the rice you added the first time puffs up and the dish is still soupy.

Like most spicy foods, this dish tastes great with Guinness. It's also a great dish for feeding masses of people or for eating it for days on end. On the Monastic weekend, it fed quite a few monks and our guest coed performance poet, Jenna Bauer. K. Curtis Lyle left the Monastic campus without his leftovers, and it was important enough to him to turn right back around and come get them. It's good stuff. As an historical footnote, I am convinced that jolof rice is the West African precursor to jambalaya.

Nymah Kumah is gone now, but I dedicate this and much of what I do to his living memory.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Little Black Sambo goes to university

Leave it to Gerald Early to dream up an academic symposium devoted to Little Black Sambo!

Gerald is a rare bird: a professor at a high-profile institution of higher learning (Washington University) who embraces pop culture without shame or pandering. He has written books about boxing and jazz. He has spoken about jazz and baseball on Ken Burns documentaries. He took over leadership of an academic center (The International Writers Center) founded by the legendary William H. Gass, reframed it as The Center for the Humanities, and promptly donated a bunch of comic books and toys to its library.

And, now, he brings the world "Little Black Sambo: Race, Children's Literature, and a Century of Controversy," a coproduction with Washington University Libraries, which is also curating an exhibit of books to accompany the Sept. 12-13 symposium and publishing a companion catalog.

Among other things, this event will bring to St. Louis a perhaps unprecedented concentration of black folks who write and draw books for children: Jerry Pinkney (who drew Sam and the Tigers, a retelling of the Sambo story), Floyd Cooper (who has done books about every African-American notable and his brother), and Eleanora E. Tate (a homegirl from Canton, Missouri who teaches at two places most of us didn't know existed: the Institute of Children's Literature in West Redding, Connecticut and the School of Graduate Studies Masters Program Writing for Children and Teenagers at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota).

I'll be there, and I look forward to reporting a preview story in The St. Louis American before any of these interesting folks are welcomed to town. I'd recommend attending the symposium just to get your hands on the free catalog - Anne Posega and Washington Unversity Libraries produce fabulously beautiful publications.

We discussed this stuff today at a board meeting for The Center of the Humanities, held at the august Whittemore House on campus. We'll see if my fellow average joe board member Joe Pollack gets a food review out of the sandwiches and fried sweet potatoes we munched on while we all gave Gerald feedback on the symposium and a dozen other cool things we have coming up at the center.

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Image from a marvelous online children's book about Sambo - drawn by children, that is - posted on some German website.