Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Crone's candidacy as media person of the year

I grew up in the St. Louis media writing for The Riverfront Times when Ray Hartmann owned the paper. That RFT always ran a media column that I thought did a good job of stirring up the proverbial and reminding us what we were talking about and how we were talking about it.

If St. Louis still had a good media column and it was handing out media persons of the year awards, Thomas Crone would merit an award for something. Crone had a Zelig-like ubiquity in 2012, he was everywhere doing everything, and it was some of his best stuff.

I won't pretend to have kept up with all of it, but there was a Second Set series on The Beacon where Crone got nostalgic in public, but he had so much to say and said it so well that his nostalgia was well worth sharing. He also seemed to be always blogging about good things for our mutual friend Stefene Russell who keeps the gate on the St. Louis Magazine arts blogs.

I thought he did his best work of all -- in 2012 and to date -- on his own project Half Order Fried Rice, a multimedia mockumentary project. Crone invented a series of fake lists where St. Louis placed, as the city always does place in real life on assorted national lists of cities with (for example) the best drinking water, most violent crime and worst racial segregation.

A Half Order Fried Rice episode comes with a brainiac prose piece by Crone, some seriously witty and insightful post-modern banter, that eventually introduces a piece of improvised sketch comedy. Like the rest of us amateur directors in St. Louis, Crone casts his friends as amateur actors, to uneven but frequently totally hilarious effect.

In Half Order Fried Rice, however, Crone developed a problem that is new for him (but painfully familiar to me). He had so much going on that it was difficult to figure out at a glance what was going on and who should take the time to experience it.

I volunteered production advice to him, as an old friend and creative partner. I thought he should keep the brilliant title "Half Order Fried Rice" for his production company, such that it is, and retitle this web series "St. Louis: City of Lists." I thought that series title would really draw in the sizable regional audience that would appreciate what he was doing.

Alas, as usually happens when I or anyone else volunteers unsolicited production advice to anyone else, Crone kept right on doing what he was doing the way he was doing it.

I acted in a couple of episodes of Half Order Fried Rice and especially enjoyed acting in and then watching the Mumblecore episode. I thought Crone got some pretty good improvised sketch comedy out of Kevin Arndt, Amy Broadway and me playing a Mumblecore moviemaking unit.

In what was a very good year for the Crone, he also gave me probably my single most satisfying experience as a working amateur artist in St. Louis in 2012: acting in this Half Order Fried Rice episode, on the same day the great improv actor George Malich went in for his second, and final, brain surgery, in a hospital about a mile from where we were shooting on the Hill.


Photo is of Crone as Capt. Buster Jangles in the Poetry Scores movie I directed, Go South for Animal Index (which will premiere June 16, 2013 in Istanbul). Yes, Crone was all over the media map as an actor as well.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Bootblogging #24: One by Fire Dog

I am really excited about this new song from St. Louis rock band Fire Dog, "Prelude," featuring The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra, which appears on the new Fire Dog record May These Changes that the band is releasing tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 6, with a 7:30 post-election show at Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Ave.

"Prelude" by Fire Dog by Poetry Scores

I heard "Prelude" on a five-song sampler of the new record, leaked to me by a friend of the band. The other songs are totally different -- they have lyrics and vocals and are more standard local rock band song fare, though really good stuff in that vein. (Except for "M.A.N.," which is white rap and space soul, and not so good stuff in that vein.)

My link to the band is Rebecca S. Rivas, the supremely gifted staff reporter and video producer I was fortunate to recommend to my employer, The St. Louis American, for employment. Rivas, who is the spouse of Fire Dog frontman Mark Pagano, has produced a video to the song "Transformer" from the new record.

I appreciate Rivas for turning me onto the new Fire Dog record. It took a little courage for her to do so, since Fire Dog is one of the running jokes in our newsroom. I have been in some bands with stupid band names, so I aught to know, but I find it hard to take the band's name seriously. As a result, when I ask about her husband's band, I ask about Water Emu, Earth Sloth, Air Hyena, or Fire Aardvark, but never, God help me, Fire Dog.

I am sure much more about that there new record and that there record release show is to be had on that there Fire Dog website.


Image borrowed from Bring Fido.


More in this seriesBootblogging #1: Three by The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #2: Three elegies for local musicians
Bootblogging #3: Michael Shannon Friedman
Bootblogging #4: Three more by The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #5: Chuck Reinhart's guitar circle hits
Bootblogging #6: The silly side of The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #7: Songs for "Divorcing God"
Bootblogging #8: More songs for "Divorcing God
Bootblogging #9: Adam Long presents The Imps!
Bootblogging #10: More Michael Shannon Friedman
Bootblogging #11: The Adversary Workers
Bootblogging #12: The May Day Orchestra
Bootblogging #13: Solo Career live in Santa Monica
Bootblogging #14: Four from The Funhouse (Seattle punk)
Bootblogging #15: Four more from The Funhouse (Seattle punk rock)
Bootblogging #16: I will be your volunteer! (for Bob Slate)
Bootblogging #17: Yet more The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #18: Four by Russell Hoke
Bootblogging #19: Krakersy (is Crackers in Polish)
Bootblogging #20- Four by Grandpa's Ghost
Bootblogging #21: Eight by Jaime Gartelos
Bootblogging #22: Five by Bob Reuter
Bootblogging #23: Three by the Heebie Jeebies

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Eleanor Roosevelt reunion weekend Dec. 7-8

The 1990s St. Louis folk rock band Eleanor Roosevelt will have a reunion weekend and release a new record, Water Bread & Beer, with gigs on both sides of the river, December 7-8.
The record release party proper will be a house concert Friday, December 7 in Olivette with Fred Friction opening. The $10 admission includes a copy of the new CD Water Bread & Beer. Doors are at 7 p.m. and the music starts at 8 p.m.; bring your own drinks. Seating is limited. For reservations and directions, contact David Melson via email: melsond@gmail.com.
Then Eleanor Roosevelt performs 10 p.m. Saturday, December 8 at Jacobsmeyers, a musician-owned brewpub-to-be in Granite City, with the Heebie Jeebies and Dana Michael Anderson. This show is free. Jacobsmeyers Tavern (618-876-8219) is located at 2401 Edwards Street in Granite City, Illinois, within sight of the scenic working steel mills. Eleanor Roosevelt will start right at 10 p.m., Heebie Jeebies at 11 p.m. with Dana following at midnight and going as long as it feels good.
The band Eleanor Roosevelt evolved from Enormous Richard, which along with Uncle Tupelo, Chicken Truck and others pioneered St. Louis’ alternative country scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Enormous Richard toured the country with a manic, goofy stage show; when the band began to focus more on songwriting and less on stage antics, they changed band names to reflect that, keeping the “E.R.” acronym.
As Eleanor Roosevelt, the band had it widest national exposure on recordings, with songs on early volumes of Bloodshot Records’ Hellbent series and East Side Digital’s Lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings. The band also relesed a 7”, Head in a Hummingbird’s Nest, on Faye Records and scored a feature film, Dan Mirvish’s Omaha: The Movie. “Head in a Hummingbird’s Nest” later appeared on Snow Globe Record’s compilation of lost bands from the ‘90s, Tiny Idols. The band recorded two albums of material in the 1990s before effectively disbanding, though they would not self-release them until the new century: Walker with his head down (recorded 1993, released 2007) and Crumbling in the rain (recorded 1995, released 2005).

Both Eleanor Roosevelt records Walker with his head down and Crumbling in the rain are available at the major digital download sites; as is Why It's Enormous Richard's Almanac, a reissue of the original E.R.'s debut 1990 tape. 
The band’s next evolutions would be from Eleanor Roosevelt to Three Fried Men and finally to Poetry Scores, a non-profit arts organization that translates poetry into other media and has bases of operation in St. Louis, Los Angeles, Istanbul and Hilo, Hawaii. The new Eleanor Roosevelt record, Water Bread & Beer, was recorded in many American states in the late 1990s while the musicians in the band were on the road recording poets and setting poetry to music, which resulted in the first Poetry Scores project, Crossing America by Leo Connellan (2003).
Water Bread & Beer does include several song settings of borrowed texts: a poem by Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, a Jewish children’s song to summon rain from Morocco, a Peruvian worker’s chant and a fragment from the Amos Tutuola novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. But for most of the record, the band returned to its roots of working with the lyrics of front man Chris King, who sings about falling in love with a girl in a wheelchair, finding himself surrounded by “strangers and dangers,” walking the mean streets of James Brown Boulevard and nourishing himself with the traditional African cold remedy of pepper soup and local honey.
The band: Joe Esser (bass), Matt Fuller (drums, guitar, banjo), Chris King (vocals, guitar), David Melson (bass), John Minkoff (guitars) and Elijah “Lij” Shaw (banjo, fiddle, guitars), with guests including Geoffrey Seitz on fiddle and Pat Sansone (now of Wilco) on keyboards.
Eleanor Roosevelt blog: www.eleanor-roosevelt.blogspot.com. Or email brodog@hotmail.com.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A portrait of two dancers: Beatle Bob and Jay-Jay

Beatle Bob anointing Enormous Richard at our first reunion show at CBGB.

Last night I went to a local rock band reunion concert at Off Broadway, where the Heebie Jeebies played for the first time in 18 years and the Boorays for the third time since then. My band Enormous Richard came up at the same time as these bands, played many gigs together in the early days of Cicero's Basement, so this promised to be a nostalgia trip.

It really wasn't. I was never transportated back to better days gone by. I just got absorbed into the present moment of two truly great rock bands brilliantly executing inventive and tasteful arrangements of vivid, interesting material. They totally rocked!

They didn't even look bad doing it, as we middle-aged rockers tend to do, since the two front men are aging well. Kip Loui of the Heebie Jeebies looks ageless, sporting a goatee as if to prove he is old enough to whisker. Mark Stephens of the Boorays is a little older than most of us from that vintage of the scene, and looked a little older, cooler and wiser back then. Now he looks like a nicely cleaned up version of that exact guy, wearing newer used thrift store clothes -- still cooler and wiser than us, but now also, somehow, younger.

I know quite a bit about most of the people in these bands and did the inevitable memory lane tripping, but the music was actually better than I remembered it. The songs were better than I remembered and the execution was much better. Surprisingly for a reunion show, living in the present was more interesting than living in the past.

It helped that throughout both sets I was witness to something I must have seen before, but never when I fully grasped what I was seeing and what it meant: I saw Jay-Jay work the same local rock dance floor as Beatle Bob.

It's hard to summarize these characters without losing newcomers, but Beatle Bob was starting to emerge on the scene when our bands were doing gigs in the late '80s and early '90s. With his Beatles mop and suit, Bob did zippy dance moves right in front of the band and showered the anointed band with fanboy enthusiasm delivered by a professional. Bob built this schtick into a brand, now a national brand, they tell me.

Jay-Jay came up on local dance floors later, when Beatle Bob was already more famous than any of the local bands he anointed. Jay-Jay had no appreciable costume or signature haircut, much less schtick overall. That said, Jay-Jay could command a dance floor, call attention to himself with repetitive, mannered dance strokes, and radiate passionate fanboyism at the band like he and they were the only things in the room; on the Earth.

Jay-Jay was the amateur, Beatle Bob was the pro, but everyone understood that an understudy had emerged.

Me and Jay-Jay a few years ago when he bought my drawing, no doubt. of some local rocker.

Last night I got to stand for more than an hour and watch the two of them, Beatle Bob and Jay-Jay, work the same local room, the same dance floor, the same great local bands from their heyday.

Beatle Bob picked a corner early in the Heebie Jeebies set - right up against stage right, at Alex Mutrux's feet - and did his thing there. He came out of his dance groove briefly to introduce the Boorays, but then leapt right back into that stage right corner and stayed tucked tightly in the peculiar, slashing mannerisms of his dance. Bob's solipsism is more total than ever now. A man who did a repetitive dance has become a repetitive dance with a man inside there somewhere.

Jay-Jay, on the other hand, would saunter to the edge of the dance floor like an ordinary show-goer, get moved by the band, or not, get more into it, or not. The difference between Jay-Jay and the average show-goer is when he did get more into the band, he got a lot more into the band. Next thing you know, his passionate fanboy dancing is the biggest show in the room; on the Earth.

It was fun to compare their big shows.

Beatle Bob's signature dance goes dervish when it gets intense. It's a disjointed circling phenomenon that gets faster and a little wider in circumference, with more violent elbow pops and knee kicks. Jay-Jay goes vertical, straight up in the air toward the ceiling, with this human pogo stick quality that he innovated. The shortest man on any dance floor, Jay-Jay hits the heighest heights.

Jay-Jay also digs much deeper down into the raw guts of the human heart than we have ever seen Beatle Bob journey in the dance.

Last night there was one Heebie Jeebies transition, a thrilling jolt from familiar chorus to a new and unexpected melody, a suddenly bright bridge back to where we began, when Jay- Jay did the splits -- his short legs were split open as wide as he is ever going to get them -- then he plunged forward, face-first, and slapped the wooden dance floor with the palm of his hand for all he was worth.

That was rock & roll.


Sorry the pictures are of me and these dancers. It's all I have. Last night I did not want to be running around with a camera.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bootblogging #23: Three by the Heebie Jeebies

I'm excited to see the Heebie Jeebies reunion at Off Broadway on Saturday night, tripled up with the Karate Bikini CD release party and The Boorays re-re-reunion.

The Off Broadway website is telling me doors open at 8 p.m., the music starts at 9 p.m., it only costs $5 if you are old enough to drink, and Kip Loui tells me half of the proceeds go to KDHX Community Media.

Kip and I go way back. I once had and dearly miss what I believe was the first Heebie Jeebies recording on cassette. I asked Kip if I could bootblog a few tracks from the past, and he posted them on Sound Cloud for just that purpose. Why don't you give a listen while I natter on about the old days, below?

Sorry Kip's face has to be so huge.

Come to think of it, there isn't much point to nattering on about the old days, is there? You have your own old days, which are more interesting to you than mine. Or, you are not yet old, in which case the chances are good you're not going to sit in rapt fascination reading yarns of yore on the blog of an aging local rocker.

But I always dug the Heebie Jeebies, the Boorays maybe even more, and Karate Bikini is the bee's knees as well. I plan to be attendance at this live musical performance.

Image from Skreened.

More in this series

Bootblogging #1: Three by The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #2: Three elegies for local musicians
Bootblogging #3: Michael Shannon Friedman
Bootblogging #4: Three more by The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #5: Chuck Reinhart's guitar circle hits
Bootblogging #6: The silly side of The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #7: Songs for "Divorcing God"
Bootblogging #8: More songs for "Divorcing God
Bootblogging #9: Adam Long presents The Imps!
Bootblogging #10: More Michael Shannon Friedman
Bootblogging #11: The Adversary Workers
Bootblogging #12: The May Day Orchestra
Bootblogging #13: Solo Career live in Santa Monica
Bootblogging #14: Four from The Funhouse (Seattle punk)
Bootblogging #15: Four more from The Funhouse (Seattle punk rock)
Bootblogging #16: I will be your volunteer! (for Bob Slate)
Bootblogging #17: Yet more The Lettuce HeadsBootblogging #18: Four by Russell Hoke
Bootblogging #19: Krakersy (is Crackers in Polish)
Bootblogging #20- Four by Grandpa's Ghost
Bootblogging #21: Eight by Jaime Gartelos
Bootblogging #22: Five by Bob Reuter

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Readings at The Royale: Bombs & Monsters; July 25

Poetry Scores' "Readings at The Royale" series returns 7-9 p.m. next Wednesday, July 25 at The Royale public house, 3132 South Kingshighway; Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, proprietor.

At no cost additional to drinks and eats, the public may experience, in this order:

Stefene Russell
Chris Chable
Chris Parr
Kristin Sharp
Uncle Bill Green

Ann Hirschfeld

Edward Scott Ibur

The occasion: Poetry Scores is reissuing the artbook/CD of our poetry score to Go South for Animal Index by Stefene Russell, copublished with The Firecracker Press.

Go South for Animal Index is a poem about bombs and monsters, and this is a themed reading: poems, songs and stories about bombs and monsters.

Everybody gets about 17 minutes of face time, starting pretty promptly at 7ish. Chris King will emcee, giving elliptical one-line intros and sneaking in about three of his own short bombs and monsters poems throughout the evening.

Poetry Scores translates poetry into other media. Though a live reading of poetry is a translation of poetry into voice, our mission compels to go the extra mile of media.

We are curators of Noah Kirby's sculpture With Solid Stance and Stable Sound, which currently is installed in the back courtyard at The Royale. That's where we'll be performing. It is expected that one or more of the poets will translate a poem through the medium of Noah's sculpture.

The event is free and open to the public. Just come out back to the courtyard. The Go South for Animal Index reissue will be available for sale. Questions? brodog@hotmail.com

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Poems published in Smithers (B.C.), Hackney (London) and Balmain (Australia)

I'm not a poet, but I play one on Twitter. At least I follow a lot of publications on Twitter and sometimes follow prompts to submit poems. Mostly, you miss. Sometimes, you hit. I just landed three poems in a row in three different exotic places.

My poem "What you get is what you see" is in the book The Enpipe Line: 70,00+ kilometres of poetry written in resistance to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal published by Creekstone Press (Smithers BC Canada).

I'm enough of a Simpsons fan to really like the idea of being able to say I am "big in Smithers".

Actually, I am really little in Smithers, or at least in this book, with just one poem that runs 18 lines (haven't measured the metres) of our poetic pipeline. The 18 was deliberate -- the poem is written in the 7/11 form innovated by the St. Louis Quincy Troupe, which I tweaked a little. Troupe does lines alternating 7 and 11 syllables, and I added trying to do it in two stanzas with 7 and 11 (=18) lines.

The Enpipe Line was the brainchild of Christine Leclerc, a Vancouver-based author and activist, and she edited the book as part of an editorial collective that culled these 175 pages out of the 70,000+ kilometres of poetry they published online. I'd like to meet her one day and ask why they picked my poem, one of many I sent that were all added to the online pipeline. I'd guess because it's totally not about the tar sands or politics, and so provides a quirky interlude.

I also have the poem "Seekonk" in a issue #5 of nifty little inc. magazine published out of Hackney, London.

Issue #5 of inc. is also known as The Postcard Issue, and there's a brilliant concept behind that. The editors Anya Pearson and Will Coldwell asked for short poems, with the idea of laying them out as postcards with partner illustrators working to each poem. Each poem gets art the size of a postcard to run on the opposite of the page, and facing the poem is the address line used for credits and a postage stamp also made by the companion artist. The Postcard Issue of inc. is just one of the coolest literary artifacts I've seen.

My poem is not one of the better pieces, but I love the crude art that MSTR Gringo did to my crude little poem.

Seekonk, if you don't know, is a hard little town in Massachusetts on the Rhode Island line. I come from Granite City, Illinois, where the hard white people are called "hoosiers". I went to Boston University on a Navy ROTC scholarship which is how I learned about "Massholes". All this came back to me when visiting the Providence, Rhode Island area as a travel writer; hence the poem.

"Seekonk" also is cast in Troupe's 7/11 form, though it has 14 lines, like a sonnet, because I couldn't get the poem to work in 7, 11 or 18 lines. Forms are made to be tampered with.

And here just the other day I got in the mail the July-August 2012 of Quadrant, an Australian magazine of ideas published out of Balmain,a suburb of Sydney in New South Wales.

I gather its politics trends toward the quadrants on the right of the spectrum, but the literary editor, the great poet Les Murray, is a friend and correspondent. When I send him the next letter, I throw some poems in the envelope and some see print in Australia.

This time, Les took "Sorrow of God," a serious poem I am very proud of. Like everything I am doing these days, it's cast in Troupe's 7/11 form, though I count 10 and not 11 lines, which makes me wonder how hard I tried to find an 11th line for this thing.

Friday, July 6, 2012

"Casualties of the State" & my Elly very partial payback

Could you say no to this face? Not if you were me.

This face belongs to V. Elly Smith. Not long ago she asked me to act in two scenes in a movie she was shooting. I couldn't say no. So I played two scenes as a guy named "Chris King," the blowhard producer-talent on the podcast Kingmakers.

On Sunday evening, St. Louis will have the chance to see my two scenes and the rest of Casualties of the State, an FBI procedural set in Washington, D.C. but shot here. A work-in-progress cut of the movie screens 6:15 p.m. Sunday, July 8 at The Tivoli in the Loop. It's part of the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase produced by Cinema St. Louis.

I haven't seen the movie we will see on Sunday, but I did see an earlier cut, which is how I ended up getting the acting assignment. The filmmakers really pressed the preview audience for feedback, and responding to some of my criticisms led them to create a new part. They then had the good sense to put to work the guy who created the work, me, to play the part.

My connection to the project is Elly. Anyone who ever worked with Elly would double over backwards to help her out. I directed a feature movie shoot for Poetry Scores that dragged on for two years, and Elly was with us for that whole long haul. She is super resourceful, talented, tireless and utterly a joy to work with.

In the St. Louis indie movie scene, you know, mostly we don't pay each other. So when I say I owe Elly, I mean I owe Elly. Big time. This doesn't even begin to settle the debt.


Casualties of the State on imdb
Official trailer

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Translating rock music into poetry for Ted Ibur

So like I was saying, I told my old friend Edward Ibur that I would put together a band to play his book release party. He had the inspired idea of asking musician friends to play cover sets in between readings from his debut novel, Teacher of the Year. The novel is about a public school teacher and is saturated with popular music, so in essence Ted asked his friends to perform the sountrack to his novel.

It was some kind of crazy successful event. He packed out the Duck Room, a good venue for it. People in seats and at tables could follow the readings closely -- I saw some very attentive people following every word -- and the large group of musicians who used to play with Ted (and their fellow travelers) could stand around the edges and tell tales.

I was on the edges with the other musicians, an outstanding group of people like Jim Ibur, Brian Simpson, Darren O'Brien, Marc Chechik, Kip Loui, just listing people I talked to. The Iburs came from that high-achiever mid-County set that created some of our most accomplished and successful local bands. These were impressive people twenty years ago when we were first doing music, and they are impressive people now.

Musically, there were moments that just sucked my breath away. Just staggeringly great. The band Rebecca Ryan fronts with Sean Garcia and Brian Simpson -- just, wow. That performance would have played on any stage of any size in the world, from a corner of a Dublin pub to main stage Bonnaroo. Hats off to these outstanding musicians. Rebecca Ryan, especially. She has really seasoned as a singer and a frontwoman.

My band thing fell through, but I wasn't about to let Ted down. I have published two chapbooks of poetry and kind of like to do spoken word, so I told him and his brother Jim I'd do that instead; I'd cover the songs I'd signed up for as spoken word.

When I got to the event, I could feel the overwhelming reunion vibe in the room and how much people needed to speak to one another rather than be talked to from the stage. There were readings from the novel between sets, so I worried about adding another reading. I approached Jim, who was managing the stage. Should I go on?

"Oh, do your bit," Jim waved me off. "Do the rock singer thing. Eat the mic."

I did the rock singer thing I know so well. I ate the mic.

I explained to the people my predicament, vis a vis loving Ted Ibur and having promised him a band and not having a band. To come through for Ted anyway I had to resort to spoken word, I explained. Then I ate the mic and I read from the work of the American poet Lionel Richie ("Stuck on You"), the English poet Roger Waters (attempting a call-and-response on "Hey! Teachers! Leave those kids alone!") and the North London poet Cathal (Chas) Smith, who wrote the words about our house in the middle of our street for Madness.

What I didn't do, thank God, was carry on and on about Edward Ibur and me, but I had prepared something in my mind just in case it felt called for. What I wanted to say was how perfect it was that my Ted Ibur tribute involved translating pop and rock songs into poetry.

My main creative project today is the arts organization Poetry Scores, which translates poetry into other media. I can trace its creative line straight back to Ted Ibur. Poetry Scores evolved from the field recording collective Hoobellatoo, which evolved from the folk rock band Eleanor Roosevelt, which evolved from the goofy country rock band Enormous Richard, which evolved from ... the arts organization Single Point of Light. Ted and me were mobbed up in Single Point of Light way back in like 1987-9.

How perfect, then, that in paying tribute to one of the guys at the beginning of my road to playing rock music and translating poetry into rock music (and other media), I would translate rock music into poetry.


Teacher of the Year site

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Satan confirms quote about Suicide being on Sandusky watch

It was especially odd to see Satan at the Firecracker Press' 10th anniversary party yesterday.

I don't carry the internet around on my phone, so before leaving the house I typical check in on my social media networks for news and gossip. As I was leaving for Cherokee Street yesterday, everywhere I looked I found the headline, "Lawyer says Sandusky on suicide watch."

I gave that some thought. For a moment, I saw it from the other side.

So I wisecracked on Twitter, "Satan says Suicide is on Sandusky watch."

That sounded more like it.

Once I found myself in the company of actual people, I tried this line out on people. I embellished it in grotesque ways I'll choose not to publish at this time. I got a few grim laughs.

Then Satan himself appeared.

What in the Sam Hell? When do you have a fake Satan quote on the tip of your tongue and find the Source himself to check your facts with?

So I pulled Satan to the side, ran through it all, and asked him to confirm the quote.

Satan nodded, gravely, in the affirmative.


Photo courtesy of Firecracker Press. The guy in the Satan costume is, inevitably, an intern.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Steady Edward Ibur releases debut novel with live music June 23

Steve Pick did a nice interview-based feature for the St. Louis Magazine blog on Edward Scott Ibur's debut novel Teacher of the Year. The novel will be released at a creative event on Saturday, June 23 at The Duck Room, where bands will cover songs mentioned or thematized in the novel. The man reading the book on tape also will perform snippets of the novel.

Edward -- better-known to most as Ted, though I always liked to refer to him affectionately by his full name -- asked me to contribute to this event, and I signed on under the band name Three Fried Men. I picked three songs that I thought would be fun and easy to sing: "Stuck on You" (Lionel Ritchie), "Our House" (Madness) and "Another Brick in the Wall" (Pink Floyd). Thus far I have Dan Cross, Tim McAvin and Heidi Dean joining me in this version of Three Fried Men. We hope to go on early in an event that starts early, at 7 p.m.

I was really happy to be asked to support this effort. I owe a lot to Edward Ibur, though he probably isn't aware that I remember things that way. In the late 1980s, he was a formative member of an arts collective called Single Point of Light that I co-founded with Sean Hilditch, a transfer student at Washington University from a little town in England called Stratford-on-Avon. Edward, Bob Putnam (then the owner of a bookstore, not a rock club) and Theresa Everline rallied around Sean and myself and we did some pretty cool things together.

One highlight was the event Focus on the Fourth, as in June 4th, 1989, the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre. We put together an amazing lineup that included the likes of Stanley Elkin (R.I.P.), William H. Gass and Gerald Early, and we raised some coin for a Chinese student group that made for us a beautiful thank-you banner in Chinese characters that I cherish to this day. Edward was friendly with Lorin Cuoco, then a reporter for KWMU, and she reported a radio feature. You tend to remember your first appearance on NPR.

Single Point of Light became so good at booking benefits that I started a band, Enormous Richard, to play one of these benefits. The same Steve Pick who previewed Edward's first novel in 2012 for St. Louis Magazine reviewed my first band's first gig in 1989 for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That review gave us the nerve to keep doing it. We eventually ran away from graduate school to keep doing it. Enormous Richard eventually turned into another band, Eleanor Roosevelt, which evolved into a field recording project (Hoobellatoo) that became the passion of my artistic life, the arts organization Poetry Scores.

So I can trace the main creative thing that sustains me today directly back to Edward Ibur. It's entirely possible that my life would be vastly poorer in the creative areas that mean the most to me were it not for him. I am totally looking forward to supporting him as he celebrates the publication of his first novel, which I'm sure is as important to him as Poetry Scores is to me.

Now, I have to tell a story on Edward. I warned him this was coming.

He sent me an advance copy of his novel as a member of the media. The opening of the book really struck me:

Monday, June 2, 2008

"Wow, this is amazing!" Elizabeth announced in a can-you-believe-that voice, the kind she uses when chatting with her mother over coffee. Since she was also flipping through the pages of a magazine while we were having sex, I correctly assumed the amazing had nothing to do with me. For the twenty-third straight year, we celebrated the beginning of summer with afternoon screwing.

When Edward contacted me about his novel, we were nearly twenty years out of touch. This was not the opening of a novel I would have expected from the Edward Ibur I knew! On a personal level, the Edward I knew was frank and funny and fully in touch with the sensual aspects of existence. But he was much more hesitant about going public with such stuff.

It gets funny from here, or it should if I can tell it right.

Edward got caught up, briefly, in Single Point of Light turning into Enormous Richard. I am quite sure it was not brief enough for him. The first version of the band was called "Enormous Richard and the Love Turkeys," and we did a few painfully awkward gigs at a Mexican restaurant, a backyard party in Granite City, and the parking lot of what was supposed to be the World's Largest Tupperware Party that turned out not to be very big.

Our early set list was equal parts blasphemy, political satire, and sexual humor. Once Edward -- The Love Turkeys' bongo player -- began to understand what I was singing in the songs he was bongoing to, he began to get visibly uneasy about "the band". I had been emptying rooms with blasphemous material for years, so I assumed it was the satirical Christian material that was bothering him. But I was wrong.

I remember setting up for the last Love Turkeys gig, before Edward Ibur went one way and Enormous Richard went the other. Edward began to voice the misgivings about material that would soon send him on his way. I recall speaking up for the need to question Christianity like any other dominant cultural paradigm, something like that, but Ted waved me off.

"It's more 'Steady Dick,'" I recall him saying. "Do we have to play 'Steady Dick'?"

"Steady Dick" is an extended pun based on something a bad guy from my high school told me when I bumped into him at a record store one day. This guy said he recently had fathered a child, and though he wasn't too crazy about that, he had endeavored "to give the mother steady dick until the kid is old enough to take care of herself."

However crudely put, for a bad guy this amounted to almost a noble sentiment. It stuck with me, and I got a song out of it.

I recall trying to defend the song for its clever puns, its list of Dicks (Deadeye Dick, Moby Dick, Dick Tracy) but Edward wanted nothing to do with a band that stood forth and sang such overtly sexual material. It was a long, long, long way from the Edward Ibur I knew in The Love Turkeys to something like ...

Since she was also flipping through the pages of a magazine while we were having sex, I correctly assumed the amazing had nothing to do with me. For the twenty-third straight year, we celebrated the beginning of summer with afternoon screwing.

As I told Edward, I deeply admire someone who becomes more daring, less restrained, with age. I deeply admire this guy, and I really look forward to supporting him at his book release party!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Scenes from Washington University Commencement

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Donald M. Suggs

Student President Alex Cooper

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Awed by the St. Louis Children's Choirs

Last night we attended one of the 2012 Spring Concerts for the St. Louis Children's Choirs, with an emphasis on the plural Choirs. At the 7 p.m. program we saw three distinct choirs perform, with a finale that brought everyone onstage -- including a number of alumna.

The Choirs use the college paradigm of graduates and alumna more seriously than we knew before last night, this being the first season-culminating concert in which our daughter Leyla Fern performed. A major highlight of the program, as impressive as the impeccable singing, was the recognition of the graduating high school seniors leaving the Choirs after as many as 11 years.

I'm not a terrific fan of ceremonies, and skipped all of my own graduations, so I don't have the widest experience base when I say these were the best graduation speeches I have ever heard. But these were the best graduation speeches I have ever heard. The quality of narrative and impact of anecdote were overmatched only by the total command and poise at the microphone.

What these youth testified about the Choirs gave a clue to how they got this poised, experienced and articulate. A series of graduating seniors testified to the adventures of world travel tempered by the rigors of discipline, all experienced as a cohort of young people making their way across the greatest stages of the world. A Disney movie about the Choirs would do less to communicate the elusive magic of collective artistic endeavor than the successive statements of these teenagers.

We got the sense there is something physical, something tangible going on here. In attention to the tough love of conductors who expect precise musical achievement, these youth are shaped by an organization that has an unabashed healing mission, namely, that music can heal the world. It's a message that is shown to them as well as taught, as the youth all testified to choir practice providing what one graduate, Will O'Brien, described as "weekly healing sessions".

We watched our daughter onstage, singing in one of the two most junior of the Children's Choirs, and we felt secure in a way that parents seldom are allowed to feel these days, when we tend to question all authority and every influence on our youth, for very good reasons.

This morning, my wife, a thrifty African immigrant, said, "I don't always give extra money to all of these organizations we're already paying for their services, but I am going to give these Children's Choir people some more money."

Sounds good to me.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jeremy Rabus adds a dash of flesh to his pallette

Jeremy Rabus has a one-man show, Twilight Canopy, up at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, which I still think of as the new, smaller Hoffman LaChance.

Rabus has offered an effective solution to a one-man show in a small room by producing a large number (27) of small and very small paintings. This gives the visitor a lot to look at without crowding the walls or making you feel like you're in a dorm room with a picture pinned everywhere.

Compared to the other work of his I've seen, he also gives us a lot to look at in the form of figures. Jeremy's work usually strikes me as a phenomenon of gushing color where I don't even begin to wonder about what might be going on under the abstraction, in a representational sense. This work is a little different.

I see more things. Judging by the frequently representational titles of the pieces, it seems that Jeremy sees more things too, though we almost never see the same things. Where he sees, or at least says, "Teal Beam," I see a dolphin tail; where he sees "Strapped Cloud," I see a bird beak; his "Turbine" is my whale; his "Ice on Embedded Platform" (above) is my high-heeled shoe.

We also have two hits, or only near misses: his "The Bikeway" is my highway, and his "Striped Bug" is "Easter eggs" on my scorecard.

Moving toward a more substantial point, where Jeremy thinks he has painted a "Birdbelly," I am seeing sexy bikini thighs, and in a piece he titles "Avoid the Void" I'd swear I'm seeing a fragment of a female nude belly-down, with the creamy rise of her buttocks.

Up until now, I'd say his work has been asexual, though deeply in touch with the forces of nature we associate with the feminine: waterfalls, mountains, rainclouds. I think he is finding more flesh on his pallette. That's not a bad thing.

I also appreciate his respect for the local art buying public's poverty. These pieces are priced $50 to a low ceiling of $375. He already had sold 15 of the 27 paintings when I walked through yesterday evening, and the more people who see the show, the more he'll sell. It's good, fresh work by an artist who is growing, priced to move.

Twilight Canopy is up at Hoffman LaChance, 2713 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood, through May 26. Curator Michael Hoffman may be reached at 314-398-9636 or info@hoffmanlachancefineart.com.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Open letter to the mayor of Alton

Dear Mayor Hoechst,

You lead a river city, and yet you missed the boat.

Burlesque is the art of the almost nude. Burlesque artists do not get nude on stage. They get almost nude. You'd know this if you attended burlesque shows, but you have said you do not, and would not.

Fine, don't. Better view for the rest of us. But don't shut down what you don't understand.

I don't expect that a man of your age and inexperience would know this, but Burlesque is flourishing in our river cities. St. Louis is an international leader in this art form. Alton has been contributing to and benefitting from St. Louis' leadership and success in this art form.

You have put a stop to that.

Mayor, is it better for a city to encourage the vitality of young, creative people, or to destroy it? Do you want lively, engaged people in your city -- or leaving your city?

I am a Metro East boy (Granite City), though I live in St. Louis now. The St. Louis mayor is not much to my liking in his politics, but he has the sense to encourage the emergence of St. Louis as a world city for Burlesque.

Could our mayor find a code violated by our Burlesque performances in St. Louis? Does a fish shit in the river? Does our mayor and our police force allow our Burlesque artists to flourish because Burlesque artists do not, in fact, get naked, only almost naked? Does a fish take a drink in the river?

Mayor, you missed the boat. But it's not quite too late. Come on onboard. The water is fine, and the dancers are almost naked.


Chris King
Community-based artist

cc: Mayor Slay

Friday, March 30, 2012

Reading at The Royale: eight poets & a sculpture

Noah Kirby's sculpture With Solid Stance and Stable Sound inhabited by Chris King at Laumeier Sculpture park's The Platforms performance. Photo by this guy I know Sean from Twitter.

There will be a free live poetry performance 7-9 pm Wednesday, April 4 in the courtyard of The Royale public house, 3132 South Kingshighway.

Starting at 7 pm and performing for 15 minutes each in this order will be:

Aaron Belz
Jazzy Danziger
Uncle Bill Green
Devin Johnston
Chris King
Stefene Russell
Stephanie Schlaifer

Brett Lars Underwood

with the option that our traveling poet, Belz, do a brief second set at the end if people come late and miss the guest of honor.

I don't know all of these poets, but I did build links that are hyper into each of the names, so you can read more by or about us.

There is an added feature. Our arts organization Poetry Scores is curating Noah Kirby's sculpture With Solid Stance and Stable Sound for 2012, and it currently is curated into The Royale's courtyard. Poetry Scores translates poetry into other media, and we encourage the poets to perform at least one of their poems through Noah's sculpture.

I think we'll eventually count this as the opening reading of a 2012 Poetry Scores Reading Series. Our board has agreed to doing a reading series based around Noah's sculpture, which engages our mission of poetry entering another medium. But Belz just dropped this availibility on us at the next to last minute, so we slapped together a reading potluck-style.

Again, the reading costs no cash money, though some of us will hawk books. Publican Steven Fitzpatrick Smith will operate a bar and food service as only he so stylishly can. Belz starts prompt at 7 p.m. -- don't miss him!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Poetic travelogue of notorious Roman suicide sites

I was deeply saddened this morning by news that Fakhra Younus killed herself by jumping from the sixth floor of the building where she lived in Rome. Ms. Younus, age 33, had survived a vicious acid attack by her then-husband in Pakistan, Bilal Khar, who was acquitted of any crime. Thinking of the beautiful young dancing girl who gets smothered in a repressive marriage and survives horrible disfigurement only finally to end her own life in a grand foreign city like Rome made me wish I had the poetic resources to write an elegy for her. The best I can do is offer this co-translation of the contemporary Roman poet Roberto Gigliucci that I did with Leonard Barkan. It's a poetic travelogue of notorious suicide sites in Rome. (For those who dislike reading longer texts online, I have uploaded the poem as a Word document.)



By Roberto Gigliucci
Translated by Chris King and Leonard Barkan

There’s a hotel with a courtyard that stinks,
a hotel that opens out to a narrow street,
almost an alley, and its lobby
is a tunnel of wind, never gets warm,
not even in summer, staircases green,
the rooms modest, not too clean,
with big tall wardrobes and a bathtub
equally majestic and useless. In Room 34
a young man killed himself,
a writer, a poet, I'm not sure,
you could ask the hotelkeeper
but he doesn't like talking about it too much ...
The suicide's room is small
also because – as I have said – the furniture
is overblown and invasive, and the window
faces the courtyard that stinks,
a stagnant pool of scrawny light and odors
which come up from below slowly
miscegenating, ugly odors of cooking
and animal corpses, smelly rags,
underfoot rot, soft wood,
live animals in heat, cats, mice,
rotted ghosts, sweaty souls.
The suicide's room – the poet –
that's what I want to call him, the poet,
because the young man, the handsome young man,
did, in fact, write poetry, in some little
magazine he’d even published a bit,
rather well written, they had substance, even
if they were exceedingly sad, when not positively
gruesome. The poet’s room,
as I was saying, was, and is, narrow, but not
savagely melancholic
as you might like to think, so sweetly
shadowy and romantic, with a painting
depicting fruit, and, above the bed,
a madonna in the Byzantine style, but tender.
A watermelon split in two might seem
almost jolly, with grapes and bees,
and the tiny bathroom
with that improbable barge of a tub
could even seem touching, if only the poet
hadn't killed himself in it,
the handsome young guy, this poet
who obviously didn't know what to do
with all his youth, his beautiful hands,
his beard of a man at twenty,
his whole body mercilessly young,
a passing gift, precious and defiant,
that he refused to give to anyone.
He took his life with sleeping pills, in a hot
bath where he also drowned, poor guy,
once he had lost his senses; he wasn't naked,
he'd put on underpants and a shirt
and a gold chain around his neck
and a watch that was waterproof (never mind
the irony...).

                      It's a beautiful winter’s day
and I want to take you to a pensione,
economical but gracious, somewhat
away from the city, facing a simple park
with pines and maybe a palm tree,
where the sun sets behind a hill
that seems like an emblem of unlucky joy,
some small suffering mystic penitence,
a flight for old nighttime gentlemen,
for hard luck dogs and mute infants.
The pensione is called Aurora despite
its position facing the sunset.
The proprietor is a young woman
with a strange accent, half-English,
half-German (who knows?), with two permanent
rings under her eyes always violet, very polite,
delighted to tell you at length
the story of the man who killed himself in his dressing gown
on the terrace of Room 18,
a terrace suspended in front of the park
with the green glow of the suburban, as the poet said.
Not a narrow terrace,
fifteen meters square, without plants,
naked but nice and airy
with a wicker easy chair and table
and pillows with hand-painted roses.
The man in his dressing gown must have been
fifty, had a leather attache case
full of papers, forms, reports,
pens, little aluminum tins
with cigarettes and cigars and some new
socks, some white, some black,
that sort of thing. He shot himself
on the terrace around noon,
tired of his great shock of hair
so silver and magnificent, sick
of the dressing gown and the attache case.
He had on his feet not slippers but shoes,
black, almost elegant, with no socks
(even though he had just acquired some)
and his naked knees were wounded, as though
he had fallen to his knees on brambles or stones
or the thorns of his own thoughts
wading in the thorny lake of bitterness.
He blew himself away at noon.
Some old lady probably reset her clock.

       Let's get out of here, let’s get very far away,
because I want you to see this elegant hotel,
right on the main square of a celebrated town
with a beautiful cathedral and a cute little cafe
and a really pretty fountain. We’re talking
the best hotel in town, four stars,
recently built, enviable
lobby, all green with plants
and a marble bar with mahogany and mirrors,
elegant waiters and a liftboy
with flame red hair, a handsome boy
if a bit short and cow-eyed.
It's great talking to him, going from floor to floor,
hearing him, young and a little cruel, tell the story
of the lady who slashed her veins
in the toilet of Room 49.
A lady unlovely but refined
with money and a heavy unhappy face,
face enough to make you scratch
your balls, he said, but he exaggerates
to seem callous and virile;
a lady alone on a final vacation
in a bubble of ultimate emptiness,
desperately bejewelled, useless
in the elegance of the moribund
like a solitary noble mummy (I translate
the words of the liftboy into verse).
With a razor blade the lady sliced
her veins, then managed to swallow
the blade after breaking it in half;
the liftboy swings his big boy hands,
frantic while speaking, he never stands still,
when he smiles it is life itself that smiles,
hot life full of blood and fiber
which speaks of death and rotted blood shed.
I believe the lady was flirting
with this boy, this brutally cheerful boy,
at least he suggested that,
their courtship graceful and funereal,
glances, smiles, glances, wind
surrounding towers, bunches of flowers,
petals strewn at the feet, imaginings of roses,
how beautiful on the mountain are the feet of the messenger!
(I believe he wears Size Eleven Double E).
The lady left a note with a few last words: I have lived
little, not even seventy years,
I die young, and I feel selfish
because I've never given anything to anyone,
and I feel generous because no one
has ever tried to take anything away from me.
The boy recites her testament from memory,
forcing a smile, but his stupendous
wet nowhere eyes reflect
a shapeless helpless sadness.
We're on the ground floor, light
glares off the piazza, sour
odor, a burst of spring,

           so let’s go, let’s go toward the sea
to a marvelous terrace facing the gulf,
a hotel with a view where you drink lemonade
and navigate, myopic, the tepid air.
Beneath it cliffs, gentle not scary,
cliffs that are not cliffs but precious stones,
almost mirrors, or emeralds, or fantasies.
It’s difficult to think that from this balcony
a blond girl threw herself down,
in autumn as brilliant as this spring
but more shining and moody, three years ago,
a pale girl, blond and crazy
on a brief October holiday
with parents who were dead with fear
for her. She must have hit the cliffs
the way a scarf falls on glassy gems,
bright, gold, and mad. Perhaps
there wasn't any blood, only
waves and splintered light. Surely
it was unexpected; the girl
passed quickly through the lobby
flew to the terrace and into the gulf,
her father and mother on the edge
of the pool frozen
like statues that never feel the sun.

       Best to get away from this sky too
and from these waters, hit
the highway and wait for night,
stop at that motel which in the moonlight
doesn't look all that squalid after all.
There, in a room green and yellow,
light soft, a television even,
minibar and a big bright vanity,
a boy and a girl, numb to hope
and perhaps desire, abandoned life
by gulping pills, wrapped up together
in a yellow wool blanket, drunk on bad wine
and sweet tears mixed in a glass,
having sung so many songs together,
no guitar but keeping tune,
“shiny happy people holding hands,”
barely adults, incomprehensible,
sacred perhaps, perhaps beloved of God, who knows,
maybe even airborne and transformed into stars.
To me, terrifying wastrels of beauty,
of flesh, love, sense, and emotion,
hard sinners against youth.

       Wait, before I end up all rhetorical, let’s
take shelter at the Pensione
Regina, ignoble hostel of derelicts,
where in a puddle of dementia and shit
an old painter hanged himself.
His canvases he stained with colors,
with tomato sauce and ink,
threw on there coffee and wine
then even pissed on it, if the mood took him;
he was an ape, filthy shadow
of a painter, and finally was evicted;
so he found a room at the Pensione Regina
and decided to end his existence there,
terminate everything in Room 21.
He was loathsome, filthy, raging; not a soul
will regret him, so his lament is mine
to tell, against my will. He had
with him his last painting, which he spat on,
which he shat on, and which he vomited on twice;
he also painted it with toothpaste
and drops of gum blood.
When they told him to get going
from the pensione, he took a belt
and attached himself to the window clasp,
falling seated, half-drunk,
who knows how he managed to die that way
but it's certain that he did. Room 21
got disinfected, the last painting
burned. I’m an abysmal
biographer, but perhaps it is enough to sing
the life and death of an artist
who never sought the admiration of anyone,
least of all himself.
He will get from me some limited
admiration, a little esteem,
a little disgust.

       I could lead you on
to a hotel in the mountains where a very rich
man offed himself in a suite,
swallowed poison like an old
school suicide (he died in hospital),
or else to the pensione in the city
where two women died together,
one lovely, one vile, or else
to the Hôtel de la Ville where a madman
dropped lead into his wife and then
slammed his head against the wall (you don't believe me?),
or else, or else, or else, or else – but enough.


This translation appeared in TriQuarterly issue 127 (Northwestern University, 2007).

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lola takes the mean girl out

Last night a good friend and I took in the 2nd annual Shimmy Showdown at Jumpin' Jupiter. A Lola Van Ella production, the Shimmy Showdown mashes up burlesque routines with solo improv comedy and the "death match" model of competitive live performance.

It goes like this. After lavish and hilarious introductions, twelve dancers compete in groups of two for the first round. The pairs are drawn one at a time from a bowler hat. For each pair of dancers, Lola goes back to the hat and pulls a prop and a musical genre (big puffy red stuffed heart pillow; "hip-hop classics").

The dancer whose name was pulled first takes the first pass at a solo routine, incorporating the prop and danced to an unexpected piece of music; then the second dancer is handed the same prop (often fresh from the clenched teeth, or some other hinge, of the first dancer) and faces a different, unexpected piece of music within the same genre.

After each pair of dancers is finished, there is no raw instant elimination. Rather, the girls ("girl" is the word when the stage lights are on) giggle their way backstage as the names of the next pair are picked. Only after the first round of twelves dances is completed does Lola move into elimination mode.

She does this with great tact and insight into morale. Half of the dancers sail right through the first round; the other six face a modified dance-off, where two winners advance to the next round while four girls are escorted off-stage. They are escorted (by impeccable-looking stars from the local burlesque scene) to a V.I.P. lounge replete with craft cupcakes, chicken satay and champagne. That's what "losing" is like in Lola's world.

It goes like that until the final dance-off -- the very final round -- which is the first time for any girl the dance is sudden death elimination, with a single winner and a single loser. So the only time the potential hurt is that raw, it's all over right away and the "loser" is being lauded with love and gifts as the second to last girl strutting.

Lola totally takes the mean girl out. That's one of her most sustaining gifts. The production team of wild women (and the odd stray man) that has evolved around her just pulses with love and compassion. She creates a safe space, a sanctuary. It's a major reason why dancers from other cities gravitate to St. Louis. I admire this in Lola dearly and have tried to learn from it as her friend and occasional production colleague.

Okay, so I totally get the more immediately amazing things about the St. Louis burlesque scene -- the pee-your-fishnets hilarity; the dangerously acrobatic dancing; the absurd and fabulous costuming; the incomparable beauty of all these differently sized, shaped, and toned women stripping down nearly to how God made her in the flesh. But if you watch how Lola (and Kyla and Katie and Michelle ...) operate, it starts by taking the mean girl out. I love these girls!


Photo by Alex Rimorin.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When are we going to get together, John Ashbery?

I have been thinking about John Ashbery, because he was honored by President Obama yesterday, and I have been thinking about love poetry, since it's Valentine's Day. So, I pulled out Ashbery's book-length poem Flow Chart (1991), which has several sustained passages of straight-forward love poetry -- unusual for a poet who is seldom straightforward and seldom in the mood to sustain anything.

Reading my marginal notes over a Valentine's Day dinner with my daughter, I picked out this passage from part I of the VI-part Flow Chart. It takes awhile, in this bit I've typed in, before we get to the straightforward love poetry, but that's essential to give the flavor of Ashbery.


This mound of cold ashes that we call
for want of a better word the past wouldn't inflict the horizon
as it does here, calling attention to shapes
that resemble it and so liberating them into the bloodstream
of our collective memory: here a chicken coop, there a smokestack,
farther on an underground laboratory. These things then wouldn't
depress (or, as sometimes happens, exalt) one, and living would be just that:
a heavenly apothegm leading to a trance on earth. Yet one scolds
the horizon for having nothing better to offer. Did I order that?
And when the bill comes, tries to complain to the management
but at that point the jig, or whatever, is up. Yes I've seen many fine
young girls in my time take that path and wonder afterwards
what went wrong. I've seen children, taken from their homes
at too early an age, left to wander about like Little Nell,
not knowing that they were never obliged to do this thing. O
paradise, to lie in the hammock with one's book and drink,
not hearing the murmur of consternation as it moves progressively
up the decibel scale. Yet I see you are uncertain where to locate me:
here I am. And I've done more thinking about you than you perhaps realize,
yes, a sight more than you've done about me. Which reminds me:
when are we going to get together? I mean really -- not just for a
drink and a smoke, but really
invade each other's privacy in a significant way that will make sense
and later amends to both of us for having done so, for I am
short of the mark despite my bluster and my swaggering,
have no real home and no one to inhabit it except you
whom I am in danger of losing permanently as a bluefish slips off
the deck of a ship, as a tuna flounders, but say, you know all that.


Then he goes on like that for another 187 pages!

Flow Chart is dedicated "To David," that would be David Kermani, Ashbery's partner since 1970. It must be a central work in Ashbery's mind, as it certainly is in mind, since he apparently has named his legacy The Flow Chart Foundation.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A town without shade and a Cherry County corn man

I was happy to receive a package in the U.S. mail from a friend in northern Italy this week. It's the first solo record by Andrea Van Cleef, Sundog, a more quiet folksy statement from a leader of rock bands.

Andrea sent me the record because it has a co-write with me on it, "Town Without Shade." Here is that song.

Andrea.Van.Cleef.Town.without.shade by ChrisKingSTL

Andrea wrote the music, I sent him some lyrics, and then he rewrote the lyrics quite a bit.

The lyrics I sent him were drawn from my first visit to Lakota country, all those reservation towns without shade.

I'm most proud of these lines, which conclude his song:

I wish we could get the sun drunk and high
And watch it fall down, off the sky

That sums up the desperation I saw in Indian country. It wasn't all desperation, but that's what the desperate parts looked and felt like.

I took this trip a very long time ago, about twenty years ago, so it's odd that in the same month Andrea's record with this song was released, I also released a chapbook with a poem culled from that same journey across the Plains.



He tore each head open, see
it’s good, I done good, I can do something right,
I can make people happy.
I’ll give you a deal: fourteen head, two dollars;
here, you can take two for free.
He never wanted to see forests on fire.
Nobody ever explained

Communism to me. Not democracy
either. I went to study
trees in Missouri, but they sent me to die
in Vietnam. Now isn’t
that nice? He can’t pronounce the name for what went
wrong, but he can grow corn, so
sweet, fourteen head, two dollars; here, take two free.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

On giving anarchism to the anarchists & Cherokee Street before superfluous hipsters

Today I went to Black Bear Bakery on Cherokee Street to drop off a few things.

Last year my friend Paul Reiter was shot dead interrupting the burglary of his neighbor. I helped Paul's sisters clean out the bachelor's house and sell some of his stuff. I held onto a book called Anarchism Today -- the "today" in question being 1972 -- thinking Paul would like it if I took it to our local anarchist bakery. More than eighth months after Paul was taken from us, I finally put that book into anarchist hands.

When I grabbed the book from my trunk, I also snagged a copy of my new chapbook, The Shape of a Man (Intagliata Imprints). A friend who is a successful businessman paid for this printing, so I am doing my very best to sell the little books rather than give them away, as is my wont. But my publisher is a far-left progressive and student of philosophy, and I just knew he'd like the thought that our first library copy was donated to the library at an anarchist bakery.

And then there is the example of Roque Dalton to think about. The great Salvadorean poet and revolutionary -- one of my most important models as a poet -- wrote, "Poetry, like bread, is for everyone." Roque Dalton approved of this donation.

The man at the bread counter accepted both donations. So, if you want to read up on anarchism ca. 1973 or read my new poems, Black Bear Bakery is the spot.

I also brought a copy of the CD Outstandingly Ignited: Lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings Vol. 4. This 1995 compilation of bands making songs from a nursing home resident's poems features my band, Eleanor Roosevelt. I've kept in touch with the producer David Greenberger, who recently mailed me a box of these discs.

Some neat-looking young Asian woman at the Black Bear counter liked the looks of the CD, her eye drawn first by the cover art work, drawn by Daniel Clowes.

She has her own copy now.

Walking up and down Cherokee Street, which I no longer visit as much as I'd like, I was struck by the things one hears about "The Street" nowadays, namely, the influx of so-called hipsters. I have a soft spot for hipsters, having lived in St. Louis at a time when one would have killed to have thousands, hundreds, even dozens of strangers running around who liked weird music, tattoos and comic books.

When I see this new Cherokee Street in formation, in fact, I am reminded of the years that I lived in the neighborhood, when there was no such thing as superfluous hipsters on Cherokee Street, or any other place around here. I wrote a song one day after walking up and down Cherokee Street right about when Eleanor Roosevelt was appearing on this hip compilation in the mid-1990s.

It's pretty grim, but this is what "The Street" looked like then.
"Song from Home"
Chris King
Recorded by Roy Kasten

Song From Home by ChrisKingSTL