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Monday, March 28, 2005

Schiavo, DeLay, Leon Russell and The Sea Within

What an Easter parade of hysterics, scoundrels, posers and hypocrites...the whole sad Schiavo mess is not profound nor is it new. You can tell the Supreme Court doesn't want to touch it. As Randy Newman sang in his almost unbearably bleak and beautiful song Goodbye Old Man:

"Everybody dies."

It isn't nice and it isn't going to change, much as we want to try with ever more invasive techniques and equipment. The real question is why the religious right, which allegedly believes in an afterlife, wants to prolong this life. There is a serenity in accepting that it's time to go. Closing time, gentlemen! Drink up, head out into the night.

Instead we have grandstanding Tom DeLay exposed as pulling the plug on his own Dad, not allowing for a moment any sort of tube, ventilator, etc, despite there not being a living will. The court documents show him and his family saying, "Dad would never want to go on like this"--in a coma. Which is exactly what Schiavo's husband said she said. DeLay never even tried to extend his father's life. And he sued and won a big judgment even as he was denouncing trial lawyers.

DeLay is the perfect riposte to the writhing prayer-lawn-jockeys we've seen in the news. Happy Easter! Christ and the Dow are both risen, what's your problem? If you believe, death is just a way station on the golden road. Does this frenzy reflect a lack of belief?

So around Friday afternoon--Good Friday--amid this pious nonsense, what should come on my iTunes shuffle but Leon Russell's great religious rocker: Roll Away the Stone. Of course you'd never hear it on the radio, but check it out if you can. First, great song. Great arrangements. And consider a time when it could be a hit--what a great country we were then (1970) that this song could become popular. Some lyrics:

What a strange time we are passing through
I thought you'd tell me when your time was through
I guess you thought I knew

What a strange time that we are living in
I thought she was my woman and you was my friend
But I was wrong again

[Pssst--don't tell Tom DeLay, but the speaker/singer, whom we don't yet know is Jesus, has just said that he has been cuckolded by Mary and one of the disciples. Do you think Dan Brown was listening to Leon?]

Roll away the stone
don't leave me here all alone
don't neglect me/don't forget me
don't leave me laying here

what will they think in two thousand years?

Finally, on Saturday night before Easter, I gave in to the wife's request to see a movie that was about something other than fireballs and fast cars pinballing around. We went to The Sea Within, mostly because of Javier Bardiem, who is great in just about everything he does. And here was a paralyzed Spanish sailor trapped in his Galacian family's farmhouse for 26 years, trying his best to talk somebody, anybody into helping him kill himself. I felt pretty strange watching it given the holiday and the Schiavo background noise, but it's a serious and even beautiful movie, despite some didactic moments, which seem, however, honest. Funny too. The character Ramon has had it: He's always wanted to die because he was wrongly saved from dying the first time around--he'd seen his life run past his eyes, he'd broken his neck and had even drowned, then whoosh! Saved. For what? To lie in bed and learn to write with his tongue?

Somehow the movie is sexy too. Two women vie for his favors--such as they are, as he reminds both. There is a calming effect, despite the terrible subject matter, to seeng someone take their best shot at an impossible subject with honesty and dignity. Too bad we can't say the same for certain of our compatriots.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Gary Snyder + Robinson Jeffers, Easter 2005

Introducing a new feature: The 18th Century Word of the Day. Drawn from period dictionaries and other sources. My interest -- a novel in progress, The Log of Matthew Roving, that takes place in the 1770s.

HUBBLE-BUBBLE, Confusion. A hubble-bubble fellow; a man of confused ideas, or one thick of speech, whose words sound like water bubbling out of a bottle. Also an instrument used for smoaking (sic) through water in the East Indies, called likewise a caloon, and hooker. [Reduplication of course: on which word, uncertain.]

from A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Captain Francis Grose, ed. Eric Partridge.

Modern useage: "I'm also mindful that man should never try to put words in God's mouth. I mean, we should never ascribe natural disasters or anything else, to God. We are in no way, shape, or form should a human being, play God."—President Bush, Appearing on ABC's 20/20, Washington D.C., Jan. 14, 2005. From Slate, Bushisms.

A poem from Gary Snyder's latest book, Danger on Peaks. (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004).

Loose on Earth

A tiny spark, or
the slow-moving glow on the fuse
creeping toward where
ergs held close

in petrol, saltpeter, mine gas,
buzzing minerals in the ground
are waiting.

Held tight in a few hard words
in a dark mood,
in an old shame.

said Jeffers, is like a quick

explosion on the planet
we're loose on earth
half a million years
our weird blast spreading--

and after,
rubble--millennia to weather,
soften, fragment,
sprout, and green again.

--Gary Snyder

Happy Easter? My wife's comment: "I wished people Happy Easter and they looked at me to see if I was making a right-wing statement. The religious right has ruined Easter for everybody!"

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Surfabout (a movie by Jennifer Hedley) + Link Wray

SURFABOUT (a film) Link Wray (a guitarist)

My niece, Jennifer Hedley, has had her movie, SURFABOUT, about her experiences in New Zealand and Australia, accepted to the IFCT, International Festival of Cinema and Technology, a film festival down under. (Details to follow.) SURFABOUT is Jenny's own digital journey through a year of exploration among surfers, aboriginals, deer farmers, and others. One whose star emerges is Pauline Metzcer, who ends up winning the World Championship by the film's finish. It's professionally edited (Jenny is now working in Hollywood and attending the USC Film School Extension program) and scored: a real breakthrough. Congrats, Jenny.

You can see Jenny surf at in a story called Surf Patrol, which features a boat called a Protector 40.

A MUSICAL NOTE (Link Wray, + worst pop songs ever)

In last week's Slate, James Sullivan dissects "We had seasons in the sun," as the possible worst pop song ever. It's been getting lots of covers, some folky, some punky, because it's-just-so-bad. Worst songs are in a category all their own, and this one certainly qualifies for an award of some kind. I think of Melanie's "I have a brand new pair of roller-skates (you have a brand-new key)" as belonging up there.

What caught my eye, though, was the assertion that Link Wray contributed the guitar intro on the original No. 1 English version (the song was originally a morose French tune). Link Wray is one of my obsessions, so thanks to Sullivan. The fact that it's the intro that he contributed lends support to the theory-Link's intros and TV movie theme work feature a lot of short expressive stuff that makes the guitar almost seem to talk (he did the TV Batman hook, Rawhide, etc, in addition to the first fuzztone in Rumble).

Sullivan's piece is modest and very astute. Just the way we like 'em. It is not, however, the way to be introduced to Link Wray's work. Most people today first got him in Pulp Fiction, where his instrumental Jack the Ripper sets a certain tone.

I first heard Link in my bedroom as an 11-yr-old listening to Rev Ike on the radio in Los Angeles. He played Link's single Fire and Brimstone--Link was in a holy-roller backwoods phase, necessitated by being dropped by his label.

I met Link at Santa's Village in Los Gatos, Calif. on a summer night in 1974. Someday I'll tell that story. Not now.

A POLITICAL NOTE (Blogging and Catallus in an age of decline):

In the poem Be Not Angry At The Sun (see earlier), Jeffers tries to jolt me/us out of anger at our low era by saying there's nothing new here. It comes to me he also cautions against doing a blog:

"You are not Catullus, you know/...You are far from Dante's feet..."

And yet, to say nothing corrodes morale. Even if we embarrass ourselves, it's still better to stick up for something.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

A Mile Down by David Vann (review)

A Mile Down by David Vann

Just skim-read A Mile Down by David Vann (Thunder's Mouth Press, June 2005), a story by a former Stanford Writing Fellow and adjunct who, following in his Dad's flawed footsteps, threw over his career to become captain of his own boat.

Vann's father was a dentist turned fisherman turned failure and, after a return to dentistry, a suicide. Vann falls into the same déjà vu-like pattern, buying and losing a yacht off Guatemala, then convincing himself and his friends and partners to stake him to a 90-ft charter yacht built in Turkey. He's going to offer upscale Aegean visits to Ulysses' old haunts, combining his love of lit and boats. Everything goes wrong. The Turkish boat starts to fall apart at the seams by the second charter. Everyone rips him off. He's like one of those dumb Englishmen in Eric Ambler's novels who blunder into danger and somehow blunder out-except Vann does not get out. He almost loses the boat in an epic battle with a storm and a greedy freighter captain who sets out to exploit the laws of salvage (and helps to put Vann and his friends in peril in order to force them off the yacht).

There's a whole other half to the tale, when he gets his boat out of bankruptcy and puts it into charter in the Caribbean. The Bird of Paradise runs into more trouble. Everybody seems to have it in for Vann. Customs officials, shipyard men, his oldest friend. Maybe with good reason, he admits. While the honesty is refreshing, it doesn't diminish the suspicion that indeed what we have here is a failure to communicate. Or, as Vann himself says, "Perhaps I'm just an asshole."

The Bird ends up sinking, too-in an unexpected near-hurricane--helped along by the Coast Guard's lame first attempts to assist, perhaps, but more by the fact that Vann is just not a very careful sailor. He's always trying too much with unskilled crew and a mindset that asks for fatality. So it isn't so much that bad luck dogs Vann. After all, he has an interesting ability to tap wealthy friends for money. The Bay Area thing, I guess (speaking as a former denizen). But it really makes me snort at times-"Gee, if this fool's friends would just stop writing him checks, maybe he'd use his brain in ways that would anticipate the problems that keep arising on his boats."

But, as a lower-case ocean person myself, I know that we're all extremely vulnerable in the water or on it. It's easy to end up under it, too. A Mile Down is very well written, perhaps too well given the authorial revelations.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Be Angry at the Sun - Robinson Jeffers vs Bush

Beginning should not a problem. Yet beginning is a problem. The ego thing.

I know. Here’s a poem sent to me by my friend Ralph in Squaw Valley, with whom I took a RIB (rigid hulled inflatable boat) down the California coast in November. It was two days after the election. We were in beautiful, rare surroundings in perfect weather. Off Pt. Lobos I mentioned Robinson Jeffers, or maybe Ralph did. Anyway, he recited one of Jeffers’ poems, his head poking out of the boat’s sunroof, as we watched fog and kelp beds and ocean swells blend and heave.

Be Angry At The Sun

Robinson Jeffers

That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept,
Like the historical republics, corruption and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people, those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies, the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack.

You are not Catullus, you know,
To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar. You are far
From Dante's feet, but even farther from his dirty
Political hatreds.

Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

A bleak vision which pretty much summed our mood up. Nuff said.

It did bring back memories of haunting the Special Collections of the library at UC Santa Cruz as a junior, back in 1972-3, reading Brother Antoninus’ (William Everson) unpublished thesis on Jeffers.

I was looking into the sources of the California literary myth for a paper in a class taught by Jim Houston. I also had taken Everson’s Birth of a Poet class in an enormous teepee, snickering, as we all did, at this 67-yr-old in buckskin bearclas lavaliere mic his fourth wife too sexy for me! How Santa Cruz. But the old guy pulled it off, day after day. Brave and embarrassing—like a blogger.

Jeffers read like a cross between a mountain man and a classical Greek. The long narrative forms he liked, novels in stanzas, feels dated, the scenes are sometimes way over the top, or just obvious, but boy, is there some strong stuff—Tamar, condors and grizzlies, harsh violent images and sometimes spare, sometimes thundering language.

Out of fashion, until you read something like Be Angry at the Sun. Like Yeats, you toss out the drivel and mysticism and save the pure hard nuggets.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Anthony Powell Gets Me Going

Consider this quote as the Prolog to a Blog, perhaps also as a mea culpa. It is from the long, long novel A Dance to the Music of Time, by Anthony Powell:

"He too should have harnessed his gift, in early life, to an ever renewing art from which there was no retiring age. To exhibit themselves, perform before a crowd, is the keenest pleasure many people know, yet self-presentation without a basis in art is liable to crumble into dust and ashes. Professional commitment to his own representations might have kept at bay the melancholy.... Sometimes, after a day’s racing, for example, he might return to the old accustomed form. Even then a few misplaced bets would bring the conviction that luck was gone for good, his life over."

(Of character Dicky Umfraville, p 2, Temporary Kings)

Now, if that isn't a good reason to exhibit one self, on stage or on line, I'd like to hear why not.

Tomorrow, the story begins.