July-August 2014 ………. The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment ………. Volume 10, Number 4
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Steve Bromberg’s China

©2012 Steve Bromberg

Changing faces of China: Empty apartments buildings, top, are dwarfed by the new high rises on the edges of Zhujiang New Town, Guangzhou, China’s third largest city.  Villages are being emptied then eventually leveled to make way for new construction.  A street scene, bottom, from an empty village outside of Guangzhou.

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“Ghost City”

Change For Better and For Worse 

Photos and essay by Steve Bromberg         

 At ten p.m. on November 4th 2009 I arrived at the PuDong International Airport in Shanghai to begin my adventure in China. I stepped out of the airport into yellow green night skies and I realized for the first time I really knew nothing about  this country, not the people, the culture, not even the language. I was awestruck at my naive behavior. I couldn’t ask for a cab and I didn’t know where I was going. I knew nothing. Humor is always best at moments of panic and I laughed, nervously. Jet lagged and exhausted from the flight, I found a taxi and after a lot of sign language, map pointing, and gesturing at an address, I was able to communicate where I needed to go. Construction sites along the road created a surreal feeling like being in a Mario Brothers game. My hotel was buried inside a construction site. It took the taxi driver an hour of driving around in circles through street barriers and pot holed roads to find it. We passed by it a half dozen times. It was midnight by the time he finally recognized the hotel. My hotel room was cramped, Chinese business style. The bed was wall to wall, small, and hard as a rock. The shower was cold and the water smelled. I thought, what have I done?

I have been in China now for almost three years. I came here to reinvent myself and my work. During this time I have learned a lot. Western perceptions of China don’t even begin to scratch the surface of this incredibly complex region. There are over fifty ethnic peoples and regions that speak their own languages. Mandarin has become the default language of China, though most people prefer their own to it. It is a second language taught in schools. English is now the third language by default in China. Except for the Chinese who grew up with Mandarin, no one knows how to speak either very well. However, that has not stopped China from having an economic explosion on a scale of unprecedented scope. You cannot go anywhere in China and not see the marks of progress.

When I first arrived here I was fascinated and amazed at all the construction taking place. Huge construction cranes filled the skies of every city I went to. It was a wow moment for me to see this country going up like an erector set. I became fascinated with the idea of a country in the throes of change. This appealed to me. I could identify with it. I photographed every new construction site and shiny new building I could find. Yet something was lacking in all this. Shooting pretty buildings became a “so what” moment. My interest shifted, from skyscraper to village, when I started noticing whole villages being leveled everywhere I went. I walked and rode buses for hours watching large swaths of farm land transformed into thirty-story apartment buildings, huge fifty -story office complexes,  or the most up to date bright shiny malls that consumes vast areas of land. Around the school I was teaching at in Wuxi was a village of several thousand people. Most of the people were farmers who sold their products in the local open market in the middle of the village. The village sat right on the edge of Tai Lake wetlands. A beautiful place to spend time in.  A year before I arrived, a developer had purchased half the village to the west and tore the village out in order to build a gated condo complex. There are now several hundred units sitting on the wetlands and only a few have been sold. The rest are empty. They are too expensive for the displaced villagers to buy. The villagers had to find other places to live. This was their home. What was once vibrant community is now someone’s investment. People sold their stability and family ties to line a few people’s pockets.

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Steve Bromberg / China's Ghost City

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When I left Wuxi that summer and moved to Guangzhou, half of the village was still standing. When I visited a year later that was gone too, along with the people I used talk to and do business with. Everything was leveled. Not a trace of the village existed except for the odd piece of clothing smashed between broken pieces of brick and scattered piles of rubble.

We were sipping tea with Vinci’s aunt and other villagers in a courtyard that once stood in front of the village hospital, now a six meter high mound of rubble. I was shooting  portraits.  Vinci was explaining that when the developers came in, the first thing they did was destroy the market, the school, and the hospital. Turning around, all I saw was a huge mound of twisted rebar several meters high. Someone got the word from someone else that the police were on their way. We needed to leave.   Quickly we thanked everyone for their time and said goodbye. We disappeared into the rubble behind us running at full tilt. Her aunt ran through the darkened empty buildings like a rat with a cat in pursuit. We followed. I was in the back. Once, while turning a corner I almost lost them. Vinci came back for me and told me to hurry up. The police were closing in. Gliding against the walls of an empty apartment Vinci’s aunt stopped. Shhhhhh. She looked left, right, she told Vinci to stay here. She left. We waited. Vinci and I waited a few seconds then we went. Around this corner, then that, then this, ….. a door opened and we slipped in. Her mother had been waiting for us. She shut the door behind us and led us up stairs to the eating room. It was lunch time.

I discovered Xian Cun while driving over a bridge four months ago on my way to Pangyu.  From the outside it looked abandoned. The construction company walled the entire village off.  On closer inspection guards were posted at every entrance and people were coming and going, in and out of the village.

The first time I went in, I had an eerie feeling about the place. I had been to Science City and walked through the empty houses there and felt emptiness. Here, I had a very uncomfortable feeling like someone was watching me. I took a few images and left. When I got home I looked at what I shot and though,t wow, I was blown away at the ghostly feeling they gave me. I went back. The second time I went with my friend who translated for me. She had read about Xian Cun and thought the place evil. She went only to make sure I was safe. We meandered through the streets but noticed brown-shirt rent-a-cops patrolling the streets. We spent an hour there. Stopped to talk to some villagers who told us they were being watched. We didn’t say much. We nodded to the villagers and left. Leaving the village we were stopped by the brownshirts and were  told, in a polite way, not to take photos. Fair enough.

There are deeper issues underneath China’s rise to become an economic superpower. I am touching on only one aspect of a very complex social issue and obviously I have not been able to explain everything. However, what Xian Cun represents to me is the loss of familial identity and a connection to “place.”  It is what makes China, China.  When I walk the streets of a village the spirit is vibrant and lively. When I walk through the malls and the apartment complexes I find the corporate replacements dull and empty. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think so.

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About the author:

Steve Bromberg’s work appeared previously in a Ragazine.CC PhotographySpot, January-February, 2012, and with Elizabeth Cohen’s poetry: http://ragazine.cc/2010/11/elizabeth-cohen/.

You can see more of his work at http://www.stevebromberg.com.

 

 

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Paul West / Essay

 

Beckett

By Paul West

He slept all day, if he could, and as much of the night as he could bear to. And Watt was with him, he of the red thatch and long cylindrical green overcoat, the boot on one foot, the shoe on the other, his gull-like eyes overlooking everything. There they sat, goggling, two graduates of the same asylum, the place where they were supposed to feel inviolable. Giggling as the rats ran up and down their trews, happier still when the milk churns clanged, mornings, and later when the mailman spins by, whistling The Roses are Blooming in Picardy.. Ay, but were they blooming in the hills above Avignon, here? They eyed the distant pearly mansion where God had come to rest and Watt once worked as a servant. Mentally both he and Watt were always chasing ambulances.

Beckett

And he still played at war, even in the thick of the heat of composition. He put the dynamite next the geranium lest Watt butter it and devour it, lest it blow up the little doomed house. Some of the Maquis led by Monsieur Char the poet killed some Germans come to investigate the bale of tobacco dropped by parachute (it was like the top of the morning falling, Sam said), but nothing happened. They went away. Miss Beamish, he, and Watt then recognized that something final but of indeterminable purport had just taken place.

Now, think, we listened to Jack McGowran’s (rather careless) performance of Text 8 that begins “Only the words break the silence, all other sounds have ceased.” It helps people more to read it aloud to themselves, but the truth of the matter is that the mind’s ear is where these words belong, that being where they start. For similar reasons, this is how Dylan Thomas’s poems are best assimilated. It is noteworthy that Beckett never read his work aloud, refusing to take part in that weird recovery of literary work into the oral tradition, as if a quiet read to oneself were a sacrilege to society. There are some writers you have to be alone with, and Beckett is by far the most disquieting of these because he is the complementary opposite to Nabokov, who believes in the full pagaeant and panoply of life and word, a maximalist author if we ever had one after Shakespeare. Beckett is starchy, astringent, the hunchback closing in ever more tightly on himself while great bells toll. Nabokov is the magician being suckered by the fake eyes of a certain butterfly because they are beautiful fakes. To read these two in conjunction gives anyone a pole and an equator, things worth having when you want to know where, say, Malcolm Lowry and Emily Dickinson belong.

One of the most fascinating components of this book is the Notes on the Texts, which gives the full history of each, chronologically all the way from his first short story, “Assumption,” to the last of “Stirrings Still.” This is how the fluent and elegant “Assumption” begins:

He could have shouted and could not. The buffoon in the loft swung steadily on his stick and the organist sat dreaming with his hands in his pockets. He spoke little, and then almost huskily, with the low-voiced timidity of a man who shrinks from argument, who can reply confidently to Pawn to King’s fourth, but whose faculties are frozen into bewildered suspension by Pawn to Rook’s third, of the unhappy listener who will not face a clash with the vulgar, uncultivated, terribly clear and personal ideas of the unread intelligenzia. He indeed was not such a man, but his voice was of such a man; and occasionally when he chanced to be interested in a discussion whose noisy violence would have been proof against most resonant interruption of the beautifully banal kind, he would exercise his remarkable faculty of whispering the turmoil down. This whispering down, like all explosive feats of the kind, was as the apogee of a Vimy Light’s parabola, commanding undeserved attention because of its sudden brilliance. 

If he had never written better than that, surely he would have made his mark. Something rippling evokes muscle and, as always in Beckett, a better mind than the mind on show makes the whole thing irresistible. The Vimy Light image works better than the Pawn to King’s Fourth, but who cares? This man can write. Look now at how “Stirrings Still 3″ ends:

“spite of all the one and if the reverse then of course the other that is stir no more. Such and much more such the hubbub in his mind so-called till nothing left from deep within but only ever fainter oh to end. No matter how no matter where. Time and grief and self so-called. Oh all to end.”

In between these two pieces lies the wasteland summed up elsewhere in the title of an abandoned novel, “Fancy Dying.” The amenities and civilities of conventional discourse have fallen starkly away, and what is left is the stertorous bicker of the ont — the existing creature. Earlier, he has gone deeper and lost more (punctuation, verb, sentence, noun), but he is always attempting a dereliction that tries to say more with less, or rather with fewer traditional constraints, as if, as some have said, his task was to purify the language of the tribe, stripping away its clever inflections, its ways of suppressing ambiguity, its disciplined way of speaking in a two-dimensional silence. So what comes in between the one quotation and the other is not so much a series of break-throughs as the intensification of just a few deficits cultivated not only to make a philosophical point but also to create an unmistakable unique style that doesn’t really thrive in the plays. Barbaric yawp maybe, but also agonistic shorthand. It is his way of “whispering the turmoil down.”

Introducing such a classic should be a work of self-effacing delicacy, as if regrouping someone’s bones, but S.E. Gontrarski, a New Zealander, makes a bad start with an opening sentence that means just too many things: “While short fiction was a major creative outlet for Samuel Beckett, it has heretofore attracted only a minor readership.” Is he talking about Beckett’s short fiction or short fiction in general? If the latter, he’s wrong. The trouble here is that untethered “it.” Does he really mean, as he seems to, that Beckett brought the tradition of short fiction out of the darkness? Beckett would have skewered that incompetent sentence, and rewritten it thus: Although a major creative outlet for Samuel Beckett, his short fiction…. That is Gontrarski’s only gaffe, though he pays far too much court to critics, refers to the novelist John Banville as a literary editor only, and pays the theater too much reverence. He rightly canes William Trevor for omitting Beckett from The Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories (1989) because he “conveyed his ideas more skillfully in another medium,” which is a scandalous, dumb thing to say. I wearied of Schopenhauer in Gontrarski’s introducing, but was glad to find him quoting Beckett on the novel Watt: “the unconscious mind! What a subject for the short story…. perhaps deep down in those palaeozoic profounds, midst mammoth Old Red Sandstone phalli and Carboniferous pudenda…into the pre-uterine… the agar-agar impossible to describe.” The scholarly and bibliographical apparatus provided are truly useful and the texts have been corrected from numerous erroneous versions.

About the author:

The author of 50 books, Paul West has received the Literature Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1985, a 1993 Lannan Prize for Fiction, and the Grand-Prix Halperine-Kaminsky Prize for the Best Foreign Book in 1993. He has also been named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library and a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government. The Tent of Orange Mist was runner-up for the 1996 National Book Circle Award in Fiction and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

 

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Alison Meyers / Fiction

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©2012 Walter Gurbo

Tennis Mice | Walter Gurbo

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PEST CONTROL

Whenever Anika tried to picture the men in their houses doing ordinary, everyday things, she came up blank. In early January, one or two of them might pass around Christmas postcards depicting pale offspring — a boy and a girl apiece. A smiling plump or skinny bottle-blond wife wearing a sweater embellished with a green wreath or red and brown reindeer made of thick yarn posed behind them, hands resting protectively on the children’s scrawny shoulders. Every so often, a blurred Polaroid of a birthday boy pedaling a plastic Big Wheel appeared. Mostly, though, the eight doubles players behaved as if no one had any claims on them. The Fernwood Tennis Club, neglected and under-subscribed, was their castle.

This Tuesday night, as usual, they sprawled on flimsy rattan chairs after finishing their matches, the wide-screen television blaring a basketball game from across the room. After laundering sweaty towels, vacuuming the locker room’s indoor-outdoor carpet and clearing up empty beer cans and crumbled corn chips in the small lounge on dozens of Tuesday nights like this one, Anika had memorized the stink of the men’s socks and the disorder of their gym bags. The eight teammates seemed to her like messy children who, upon discovering that their parents have left town for the weekend, grow giddy with their own freedom to misbehave. It was, she surmised, this single-minded dedication to their own pleasure — loud conversations on which she was forced to eavesdrop and their obliviousness to closing time — that prevented her from seeing them as grownups, capable of dignity or grief.

Tonight the topic of conversation was pest control. The small one with light brown hair feathered around his delicate, pink face announced his successful campaign against ladybugs.  He’d been battling an infestation in his split-level for weeks.

“Killing lady bugs . . . isn’t that supposed to be bad luck, or something?” ventured Brian.  Anika could remember Brian’s name because he was team captain, responsible for calling in the team roster every Friday. Even over the telephone his voice was loud and manly, the enthusiastic bark of a high school quarterback. He also was occasionally helpful, picking up empties and tossing them overhand into the trash. “Slam dunk!” he’d cheer, each time a can ricocheted in the big rubber barrel with a dull thunk. He ignored the recycling bin.

“Yeah, well, maybe if it’s just one lady bug. But hell, there were hundreds of these suckers. And in my house!”

“So, what’d you do?  How’d you get rid of them?”

Feathered Hair paused. “Scorched earth,” he enunciated slowly. He waited, then amplified. “Pure, scorched earth.”

The men tipped back in their chairs. Everything in the room, except the TV, went quiet as they simultaneously took long pulls on their beer and contemplated their companion’s prowess.

“Hey, Larry.”  The one wearing a Red Sox baseball cap with the brim bent down the center broke the reverie. “Remember that super-bad situation you had with those friggin’ squirrels in your attic?”

“Yeah, wasn’t that a bitch?  Talk about scorched earth.” Larry sipped reflectively for a minute.

“Hey, you guys know what my brother-in-law says about squirrels?”

“Un-uh.”

My brother-in-law says…″ he broke off, chuckling, then recovered. “Well, he has a theory. He says, with squirrels, you got to go for the direct hit. Then circle back and hit them again. Possibly a third time. ‘Cause squirrels?  Even when you think they’re dead, even if they probably are dead, they’re so stupid, they don’t know they’re dead. They’re just as likely to get right back up and try crossing the road all over again.”

“Shit.”

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Around 9:30, after she’d pulled the last load from the dryer and folded the towels neatly into thirds, Anika thought, Maybe I’ll call Phil, or he’ll call me. Talking to Phil broke up the night. By now, everyone except the eight pals had gone home. Customers had stopped calling to reserve playing time or complain about their bills. Anika had finished dragging the great, clay-laden broom across the courts and brushed all the lines. Phil was the one pro at the club she talked to. During the day he’d stop by the counter just to shoot the shit or ask her to tally up his receipts. He stored months of paperwork in a recycled business envelope that had seen better days and kept an impressive roll of tens and twenties in his warm-up pants pocket. His deep voice rumbled out from his chest in a faint sing-song, soothing and dreamlike, even when the topic was as mundane as signing up courts for next week’s tournament. Last week, Anika’d had to stop him from sending $200 in cash through the mail to his daughter who played Number Two for Florida State on a tennis scholarship.

“Don’t you know that postal workers rip open fat, card-shaped envelopes, just looking for money?” she warned him.

“See, that’s why I need you to be my wife,” Phil half-joked. “Someone to look out for me.”

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 Tonight was a night that Phil felt like talking.  He didn’t announce himself when Anika picked up the phone after the second ring, simply started the conversation in mid-paragraph, as if expecting her to read his thoughts, know his private grievances by heart. He rehearsed a mythical confrontation with Steve, the club’s absentee owner.

“I’ve got the wrong complexion,” Phil summed up, after running down all the reasons why Steve should fire the head pro and hire him as his replacement, but in the end, would do neither.

“Ha!”  He ended his diatribe with a mirthless sound. Phil, she guessed, had lost more than his share of battles in his 58 years.

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 When he gathered up his racquets at the end of the day, Phil sometimes would announce the particulars of his evening meal, saying, “I’m going home to make myself some nice Island food — fried fish, okra, spicy rice.” Anika could picture him in his apartment as daylight faded from the windows. She saw him moving about a compact, tidy kitchen the size of her own, silently preparing a solitary supper. Phil once told her that he collected vanilla candles of different sizes and shapes and lit them in the evening to fill his rooms with a scent of the tropics.

Anika wondered what he was like as a child growing up in Jamaica. She tried to imagine a miniature, innocent version of this self-reliant man. Who took care of little Phil, taught him things?  How did he come to play tennis and believe in it with the fierceness of a revivalist preacher? Anika often would look out the wall-length picture window that separated the lounge from Court One and watch Phil running drills. He’d stand in front of the baseline, methodically hitting balls from his hand to the striving teenagers or earnest middle-aged ladies on the other side of the net.

From a distance, his motions looked cool and languorous, like those of a young man thoughtlessly in love with the infallibility of his own limbs. Up close, two deep lines on either side of his down-turned mouth made his face look weary beneath the dark blue baseball cap he always wore.

One day Anika teased, “Hey Phil, what’s underneath your cap?” and he unexpectedly removed it, running long fingers over a smooth scalp.

“You like bald-headed men?” he asked.

Anika shrugged her shoulders and turned away quickly. “They’re okay.” Now she wanted him to cover up. Exposed like this, Phil was less tennis coach and more man. Seeing his flawless head made her stomach tighten. She did not want this power over him, this easy ability to make him show himself to her.

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Tonight’s talk of ladybugs and squirrels put Anika in mind of a science show — Discovery or Nova — she’d watched on TV last week. An expert said that the human race has the intelligence and resources to survive an ice age, but that virtually all other species would perish. The scientist explained that lower species are interdependent; only mankind can live alone. This was how evolution, survival of the fittest, occurred — not gradually or incrementally, but in response to catastrophic extinctions of vast proportions. Cataclysm.

What would this brave new world be like? Anika pictured living inside an immense, climate-controlled plastic bubble, sheltered from wind and the frozen whiteness outside. She imagined waking up to manmade sounds — automobile traffic, clock radios and the first showers of the day. No bird calls, no barking dogs. “I could manage,” she told herself.  “I wouldn’t be lonely.”

Earlier today, she had walked to the park a few blocks from her third-floor efficiency. This was her ritual four or five times a week — circling the paths, clearing her mind before boarding the noon bus out to the end of the city line, a mile’s trek from the tennis club. Usually she carried a walkman in a fanny pack around her waist and listened to Van Morrison or Muddy Waters.

Today, though, she traveled without music, just looked and listened as she strode down sidewalks and crossed three intersections. Her route never varied. It took her past a four-story brick townhouse with a basement apartment. Two front windows looked out onto a postage stamp yard where someone had built a tiny animal sanctuary. Bird feeders and a birdbath anchored in a raised flower bed attracted pigeons and squirrels that competed for seeds and crumbs.

Today she lingered to watch the puff-chested, self-important birds chase skinny squirrels away from their meal. The squirrels pretended to be intimidated, scurrying under a rhododendron or racing up the branches of a catalpa. Within seconds, they were right back, nervously trying to steal a small portion. Was this a game, or the rudiments of survival?  The animals seemed to have reached a kind of understanding, one that eluded her, but was nonetheless entertaining. As she stood watching their antics, she glanced up and saw a white-haired man gazing out over a green banker’s lamp and a computer screen from behind the windows. Briefly, she locked eyes with him. He nodded his head once, acknowledging their shared pleasure.

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As usual, Anika arrived at the club ten minutes early; taking the 12:30 bus would make her 20 minutes late. She switched on the display case lights that the first shift had ignored, dumped hours-old coffee and decaf from the carafes, and put on two new pots to brew. She wet a sponge and ran it across the sticky kitchenette counter, picking up spilled grains of sugar and instant cocoa powder from hastily opened foil packets. She restocked the refrigerator with bottles of spring water and yellow and blue Gatorade. Then she stowed her backpack behind the desk and punched in.

“Hey, Tricia,” she greeted the pony tailed teenager who worked the counter on Tuesdays. “Anything I should know?”

“Not really. Oh, yeah, Steve said to make telemarketing calls to new homeowners after six o’clock. You know, the ones in the Yankee Flyer.”  Trish handed her a copy of the local weekly, its ink smeared pages folded back to the real estate section.

Okay, Anika told herself, this still beats being trapped in a glass cubicle, inhaling exhaust fumes all day. She wanted to forget the months she’d worked at Harry’s Fast ‘n’ Good in the bowels of the city’s busiest parking garage. Though she’d never followed through, to console herself, she used to fantasize shouting out to the harried drive-through commuters, “The Belgian waffle mix is made from plastic!”  Or, “That oily corn dog you just ordered is three weeks old!”

“The cash register balance?” she called to Tricia’s back as the girl picked up her gym bag and racquet and headed over to play on the hardtops in Building Two.

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“The troops are getting real close to Baghdad,” a player from the Tuesday Night team announced to the room. A bulletin about Operation Iraqi Freedom crawled across the bottom of the basketball game the men were tuned to. Most of them ignored the screen except when the commentator’s voice reached a fever pitch, signaling a stunning move or a controversial foul. Only the dark haired, youngish one in Buddy Holly glasses had turned his chair squarely toward the set. Anika held out some faint hope for Buddy; his thick lenses made him look nerdy and sort of smart.  She wondered what he would say next.

“So what do you guys think about Iraq?” He stopped speaking abruptly, as if holding his breath. He waited for someone else to set the tone.

“Man, I tell you, if Bush liberates Iraq, he’ll go down in history as the president who brought democracy to the Middle East,” Brian volunteered.

Several others nodded sagely, assenting silently. If anyone disagreed with Brian’s pronouncement, he wasn’t saying. Anika bit her lower lip and walked down to Court Two to retrieve forgotten balls and a navy blue sweatshirt left crumpled on a metal folding chair.

As she bent down to pick up a soiled, balled-up Band Aid from the court, Anika thought of her Aunt Dora. She wondered how far she, herself, had come from her great aunt’s life. Dora had landed at Ellis Island alone, a teenage peasant girl who didn’t know a word of English and was barely literate in Yiddish. She found work in a sweatshop in New York’s garment district and boarded in a rooming house. She used to wake herself up before dawn each day, attuned to the shifts in light outside her window. A sudden absence of concentrated illumination when the nearby streetlight went out at 5 a.m. was her alarm clock. Dora worked 14-hour days for months, until one winter morning, her exhausted body refused to acknowledge the street light’s change. When she arrived at work late, breathless and panicked, the boss fired her on the spot. No second chances. There would be an endless stream of young women to take her place at the hat trimming station.

Anika first heard this story as a very little girl, and memorized it as if it were her own. It haunted her to think of her aunt’s terror and loss. Dora had run wildly down the streets, hatless and coatless, after the boss let her go. Kind relatives saw her, gathered her up into their tenement, stripped off her clothes and put her into a tub of warm water. Her life was not over, after all. What about the women and children of Baghdad, Anika wondered. Who would save them?

__________________

The men were leaving at last. Through the picture window she saw them shouldering tennis bags and mouthing their goodbyes. She glanced up at the hands of the big school-room clock mounted on the wall by Court One. Good, 10:35. She would have time to cash out and pick up the last of the potato chip bags and empties before locking up and hauling the full garbage bags out to the dumpster. Walking fast, she could just catch the last bus of the night.

As impatient as she’d been for the end of her shift, now that the club was finally emptying, disappointment washed over her. Shadows cast from the lights above Courts One and Two lay like a muddy hand across the dim far courts. Overhead, squeaky fans in need of grease and attention paddled the silent air. Errant puffs of green fuzz from beat-up tennis balls moved lightly in the corners. Anika could smell old sweat and spilled beer.

How is it possible, she wondered, that people look into each other’s eyes every week — transact business, exchange pleasantries — yet seem only to circle each other’s lives. Take Phil, the topic of this week’s scuttlebutt. A newcomer had overstayed his court time. He’d been using the ball machine, and at quarter past the hour, balls lay scattered all around the court. Phil was indignant when he told Anika about the incident the next day.

“I finally walked out onto the court. I told him, ‘Hey, man, you were supposed to be off fifteen minutes ago. I got a lesson to give.’  ”

Now Phil was going to have to start late and collect only half his fee.

“A white guy,” Anika stated flatly when Phil told her what happened next.

“He gives me this ‘Who the hell are you?’ look. Then he tries to hand me the hopper, like I’m supposed to pick up his mess!  Then he starts yelling about how he’s a friend of Steve, and how Steve is going to hear about this.”

No one was surprised when Steve made Phil telephone the next day and apologize. Steve was an asshole. Still, no one—not the Tuesday Night boys, not the Net Profts Ladies Team Phil coached— stuck up for him. Everyone gossiped behind his back while pretending to his face that nothing had happened. In the blink of an eye, Phil had gone from venerable pro to a stranger’s lackey.

___________________

Anika made a final sweep through the lounge, straightening chairs and Windexing the glass coffee table. Colin Powell’s face appeared on the TV just as she started to turn it off. He was fielding questions with authority, as if to say, Count on us, the men in power, to conduct the war that nobody asked for, the war that nobody wants. We’ll say who gets to win, who must die.

She switched off the television, walked to the control panel behind the counter and flipped down the light switches. Courts One and Two went black. She took one last look around, assuring herself that everything was in its place for tomorrow’s Early Bird players. Tomorrow, everything would start over again. Anika would fume aloud about Powell’s betrayal of the common people, and Phil would smirk and say, “Why are you surprised? Powell sold out the day he said ‘yes’ to a rich white man who’s never done an honest day’s work in his life.”

“Phil, you are so cynical,” she would answer, knowing he was right, but not wanting to believe that the world was this hard-hearted. They would not talk about what Steve had made Phil do, or that nobody had defended him.

Tomorrow, Anika would note fresh mouse droppings behind the stiff, green vinyl curtains that served as backstops for miss-hit balls. She and Phil would speculate on how many field mice had escaped the cold and come inside to feast on human leftovers during the night—the odd cheese crumb caught in a Nabs cellophane packet, sugary liquid on the top of an open coke can. Anika would leave a block printed note in Steve’s in-basket for the umpteenth time: MICE IN BUILDING.  Nothing would happen. She and Phil would laugh together about how poorly the club’s management provided for its workers, but how handsomely its members provided for the small creatures of the field.

 ………………………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………………

About the author:

Alison Meyers’ poems have appeared in Caduceus, Common Ground Review, Connecticut Review, Freshwater Reviewand Urhalpool. Her work will be included in the forthcoming anthology Blazes All Across the Sky: Writers Respond to the Poetry of Joni Mitchell. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she has served as Executive Director of Cave Canem Foundation, Brooklyn, NY since 2006. Previously, she directed the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, a multi-faceted program of Hill-Stead Museum, CT, where she concurrently served as Director of Marketing & Communications.

She can be contacted at: ameyers@ccpoets.org

 ______________________________________

 

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Cecil Jordan/Creative Nonfiction

The Sleep Scale

0→

Asleep

Sometimes I drool when I sleep, not much, not gallons or puddles, but when I awaken I know I’ve done it. There is a small patch of moisture, smaller than a penny, right where the corner of my slightly opened mouth lay.

The covers are off of me, I kick and thrash, I simply can’t lay still. My body is down but my mind is up, dreaming. If your mind is awake, are you asleep?

Some days I can sleep anywhere, on a lumpy couch or futon, in a kitchen chair, once or twice in class, slumped over my desk, maybe drooling, maybe not. Once I fell asleep standing up.

←1→

Upon waking there is always that confusion of where I am, although most often I’m in my own bed, having just slept the night away with Ray Charles playing, usually Georgia On My Mind. I’m alone, almost always, and books are scattered around me. Often I sleep with my homework. Academia is my current lover, past lover, and the only lover I see in sight for the future.

I’m cold and all the covers are on the floor, I’m not really sure how they got there, last night I was tightly bundled in all of them before my last fleeting thought drifted away, into the darkness, not really thought at all.

My eyes have those little, yellow dried chucks of goop in them, my hair is tousled everywhere, even less in control than usual.

←2→

Have I mentioned I sleep naked? Sometimes… rarely, usually. So I have to put on some boxers before venturing into the kitchen to make some coffee unless I want to give my housemates a show. The show wouldn’t be pretty, morning isn’t a good time for me.

Coffee, black. That’s what used to get me going in the morning. The sound of it percolating, the smell, slightly herbal and skunky, that was the reason to want to awaken alive every day.

I had to stop drinking coffee because my teeth were getting too yellow. Now I’m lucky to really get up before noon, if I get up any day at all.

←3→

I look at myself in the mirror, pick the yellow stuff out of my eyes, brush my teeth, and examine the bags my eyes packed today. In this moment, I need coffee. I’m an addict. I admit it, but I’m nowhere near recovery.

In the shower, the water is hot, unbearably so and I love it. Most of my morning is clearly spent naked. The soapy lather relinquishes its foamy fruity surprise to my slightly numb body as the water reddens my skin. Something about sleeping makes me feel dirty. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s something I don’t do very often.

I get out of the shower to dry off and the mirror is fogged and the room is foggy and I can’t help but remember as a kid being scared of a video game called Silent Hill. These creatures would come out of the white thick fog, seemingly from nowhere and attack the unsuspected fog-goers. I begin to dry my hair only to realize I forgot to wash out the shampoo. Back into the shower I go.

←4→

I don’t like to get up early. By now I’m showered so it’s probably at least ten, maybe eleven and I’m still barely awake. My body doesn’t look like it’s asleep anymore, but my mind is still dreaming a little dream of me. Why is it that my mind is awake while I’m asleep and refuses to leave its land of dreams when I need it most?

I walk outside, into the land of The Sun, and squint against its unimaginable power. I feel it’s warmth on my face, and for the first time of the day, I smile.

Walking slowly, still not energized but here, I meander my way to the bus stop, where the waiting that accompanies being awake begins.

←5→

On the bus throngs of people crowd on, the bus is almost full but I got on early and managed to secure a seat in the back. A young man stands in front of me, holding onto the handle that graces the top of the bus. As we move, his head nods, slowly, onto his shoulder. Within a couple minutes he is fully asleep, hand gripping the handle, standing up.

An apple and string cheese is my new coffee, I’ve stopped, and an apple is the caffeine I crave with a juicy crunch with an added bonus, it doesn’t stain my teeth. It may also keep the doctor away.

The man who sleeps while standing on the bus begins to drool on his shoulder, not much, just a small string really. Altogether it doesn’t add up to a puddle of moisture bigger than a dime. When the bus stops and people begin to depart, he stirred, wipes his mouth, then sauntered to class.

←6→

The day flew by, and I am awake, so very awake. It’s almost two o’ clock in the morning and I have no intentions of sleeping anytime soon. Surges of energy flush my body with tremors of nonsensical excitement.

At three o’ clock I go for a jog. Other night owls walk around, some dazed, some completely in the moment, but all wander around in a light fog that’s enveloped the streets. The streetlamps shine brightly in the fog’s distended moisture that hangs in the air.

I come back, sweaty, and take a shower. It’s almost four. My nights and mornings are overtaken by the fog. In the shower and on the streets, the fog is always there, it seems.

←7→

I look at the bed covered in books and I slip in between the sheets to read a few chapters before I go to bed. My energy has mostly dissipated, and I’m satisfied about the outcome of the day. When the book I read begins to bore me, I flick off the light, lay my head down, and prepare for the sandman to take me away.

He’s late, again. Every night, the sandman’s late. I wait and wait but he’s always late. Have I mentioned that I have a fairly severe case of insomnia? On average I get between three and four hours of sleep a night, but often less, oh so much less.

The covers are pulled up tight, the pillows are soft, the room’s the right temperature, but my thoughts race. The last time I remember looking at the clock it’s seven-forty-five. I drift to sleep at last. My alarm goes off at nine.

←8→

I seldom sleep any night because most nights the sandman doesn’t come. He leaves my mind tired and saddened, floating in a cerebral haze, much like a fog. My life becomes a dream after a couple days of sleeplessness.

The music is good though, I listen to music, all night long; hoping it will help me drift, drift into sleep. On nights when it doesn’t, which is most nights, I usually learn a new song for two.

I typically shave religiously, I don’t like the scratch of stubble on my face, but I’ve noticed after a particularly difficult fight with insomnia, I usually shave haphazardly, leaving sporadic patches of facial hair, some on my left cheek, some on my chin. I also stop doing my hair up and just spread some gel in it, shake like a dog, and then go for the day.

←9→

The bags under my eyes wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment if I was riding a plane.

My thoughts are jumbled masses like a ball of worms trying to pull itself apart but secretly tying itself tighter together.

I don’t even think about the sandman anymore, but when I do, which is often, all the time in fact, I pray to him.

←10

The longest I’ve been without sleep is five days straight, with no sleep, none at all. By the end of those five days I was a wraith, lost in a world of the living, those that sleep restores while it’s abandoned me.

After those five days, I slept for fourteen hours straight and what I remember last about that ordeal is that last thought, the one you don’t think before you sleep, and I think it was about the sandman, finally coming, mouth partway opened, books fill the bed, eyes closed and finally, fully clothed this time, I begin to drool again, just a little. Not enough to worry about.

During that sleep I didn’t dream. My mind entered the fog and stayed there.

 

About the author:

Cecil Jordan is twenty-two years old and a recent graduate from Radford University, in Radford, Virginia, with a B.A. in English. He is now pursuing his Master’s in English at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York.

 

About the editor: 

Creative nonfiction editor Leslie Heywood (http://www.leslieheywood.com) is a professor of English & Creative Writing at Binghamton University. She is the recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research. You can read more about her on Ragazine.CC‘s “About Us” page.

 _______________________

Walter Gurbo’s Drawing Room 


October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Phil Boiarski/Poetry

Hungry Man

I confess, I haven’t ever really
gone more than a day or two
without eating, and even then
I drank a lot.  If you can afford
to drink enough, you don’t eat.
You may feel hungry but not really.

If you are on a fad diet,
you don’t really know
what it means to be hungry.
You think you know, and if
you lost weight, you may have
some idea, but willful hunger
is not true, not real hunger.

In black and white, the photo,
the child has eyes the size of
hard boiled eggs, a face like
a leather-covered skull. Those eyes
stare at the camera, blank, empty
too dry for tears, feeding flies.
I hunger for words to say more.

 

Miles Frickin’ Davis, Man

1959, outside Birdland, NYC, white chick with thin black cat, smoke
cigarettes together. Her skin, perfect, glowing, alabaster, porcelain.
Miles, so stick-thin, he disappears sideways; horn on stage. So black,
obsidian blue-black, solidified lava in the midnight white street light,
glowing ashes.  After “Kind of Blue,”playing with Trane, a sound so pure
and airy, the woman tries to pick him up, the two, taking a smoke break
bony black cat with a white bird.  NY’s finest racist, ironically blue
man, comes up and hassles Miles, “What chew doin’ here, nigga?” Miles,
ever the minimalist, his thumb points back to the club, “I gotta gig
inside, I’m Miles Davis. “

The cop laughs, “Miles Frickin’ Davis,” he says, swinging his black club
and knocking Miles down. Then the bird sings, “Leave him alone, you
bastard.” And the cop goes crazy, beating Miles like a drum, the strange
archaic tribal rhythm of the arm and club, because, he has to know
what it means, what it means when someone won’t take
no disrespect. This is beaten in, down deep as a rhythm can go
into Miles Davis’ marrow. Then Miles is arrested.  After that,
he tries for a while to sue, but he sees how it is. His
European tour triumphant, Miles moves to Frickin’ Paris.

 

Nota Bene

“Unto what may the fetus, it its mother’s womb be likened?
Unto a notebook that is folded up.  Its hands rest on its temples,
elbows on thighs, heels against buttocks, its head lies between its knees.
Its mouth is closed and its navel is open…when it comes forth into the
air of the world, what is closed opens and what is open closes.”

               From the Babylonian Talumud,  Chapter 3, folio 30a

The notebook opens and the furious scribbling begins,
All small things get noticed, violet, Japanese beetle,
Wind when it caresses, coupled dragonflies hovering.
Many notes fill each page, all the minutiae from the crack
In the sidewalk to lightning leaping across the night sky.

Each chapter is there dissolved in time, a crystal of stimulus
And it will be recalled, a page turned back to reread again.
But the writing must continue, furious and focused.  Each
Insignificant detail must be recorded by the eye and ear.

Nothing gets past us.  We may not even be aware of the
Record but it is there, waiting to be misplaced or revived.
At last the notebook full, the ending weakens.  The cliché
Of Death like finis at the end of the movie.  As if one
Had not taken one last note of approaching emptiness.

About the poet: 

Phil Boiarski has been writing and publishing for more than forty years.  His work has appeared a number of times in The Paris Review, The California Quarterly, The Rocky Mountain Review, The Ohio Journal, Aspen  Anthology, Indiana Writes, Handbook, Green House and numerous other publications. Recently, his poems were translated and published in Nowa Okolica Poetow, a Polish literary journal, OFF_ Antologia, a bi-lingual literary magazine published in London & Warsaw; Private Photo Review, an Italian poetry/photo magazine, and The Tangled Bank, an Australian anthology celebrating Darwin’s bi-centennial.

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Nicholas Wilsey/Poetry

Walking Under the Crematorium Sprinklers

Walking under the crematorium sprinklers, I see a ghost catch on fire
at the last second, before the engulfment of breath. He says:

“When I am gone, throw water on me. Put me out.”

It is important we take death seriously. God isn’t joking around
when he says to me, in the corn maze, in the floor tiles,

“Run!”

I will know I am there when the spaceship comes, does a sketch
in the field. People will come from miles around

to see the portrait of Earth. A guy in a red suit

stands at the exit with a tip jar.
I tell him, “Take off your suit,”

pull the fire alarm, and fly out the door.

It’s raining. The rain is people’s voices reborn as white noise.
Heaven all around me, I step into a puddle and feel my foot sink,

feel myself get closer to this place.

The police cars shriek in an extravagant chase
through the lines on the palm of my hand

as my peripheral vision burns from both ends

and I see a tunnel that leads to where I have been.
I step in. I hear the angels tapping on the ceiling.

Everything has something to say to everything.

But I am busy.
I know where I’m going.

At the end of the tunnel is a fireplace.

 

My Father the Singer

My father can talk circles around a swimmer.
He can talk you down, talk your head off, talk you dead.
My father can talk a hyperventilator out of a paper bag.
Try to get in
a word
and he’ll talk
you out of it.
Talk is cheap
and he can afford it.
My father can talk the talk
and doggy paddle to stay afloat.
Waves whisper warnings he can’t hear
as he talks to himself. I see his mouth
filling up with water, hear a gargling sound.
He’s getting ready to say
tomorrow’s song.

 

About the poet:

Nicholas Wilsey grew up in Schuylerville, New York. He DJs the poetry-focused radio show “The Eggshell Parade” and is editor of Phoenix in the Jacuzzi Journal. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Right Hand Pointing and Paddlefish.

 

 

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Devin McMicken/Poetry

“Freedom” as a word I cannot define

Yesterday I paused
and saw that Lady Liberty
is an old woman. I want
to feel sad. She is
the same pallid blue
my grandmother was laid in the ground,
her hand tired of holding the torch.

I cannot blame her.
Now with fingers folded
I want to say
labored with resolve
she prays the way I used to
still believing every word.

With ancient incense
she would whisper to God
who-knows-what
in sacrosanct silence.
She would work her hands rough
saying she could stitch the sky
connecting disparate seas
if only she tried.

I want to know how
to free her flame,
aperture her conflagration
and stand in the inferno
a new colossus,
the ashes of freedom my ink,
faith just a word,
writing willfully, not wearily,
to live my life unpunctuated.

 

Brother in Arms

I was nine and we
waged 32-bit warfare
on that gray PSone,
the last thing dad gave us
with a disc marked: Medal of Honor.

We were men.
You were Jimmy Patterson,
I was William Shakespeare.
We thought that was a funny cheat because
“Isn’t the pen mightier than the sword” I said
and “Wasn’t war the coolest thing” you said?

I was twelve when Han Solo
said “I love you” with “I know.”
Nothing could be more manly,
more aloof, more accurate.
We knew it.

I was thirteen when Homer,
thinking he was dying,
taught Bart and me how to shave
and I took your razor. I thought
you would strangle me
you were so angry.

I was fourteen when grandpa
took us hunting and we both agreed
that though a deer was beautiful, there was
nothing graceful or lovely about
watching it fall—it just happens.

I was fifteen when you traded
your gray controller for a steel rifle
and you became Jimmy Patterson,
only the PSone was pixelated and obsolete.
Everything seemed a little more real.

I was twenty-one when you said
“Men drop like deer when you shoot them.”
I saw you choke and spit out
your cigarette, and as you heaved your tears
fell into your whiskey,
swirling undulations of the most stunning
32-bit colors I have ever seen.

Not knowing what to do, I echoed
Solo, “I know.”
When we got back home we
turned on the TV because noise
is better than nothing.

We sat in silence,
watched American Dad as mom fell asleep
between us. I watched you slip back inside
yourself and I—loving you and not knowing—
I wondered and I wept.

I wished I had words.
I wished that you were William Shakespeare.

 

voices around

I. I have hit a wall

I am the generation of
ever-connected-isolationists.
Whispered voices
of digital representation.
I only pretend
to know what that means:

I like to think
I am more than an echo
kaleidoscoping other echoes
through an ancient algorithm
of inconsistent composition,
but then again I don’t—
know what I’m saying?

No, reader, you are a pronoun
awaiting edification
which is how I have made you
only for this moment
so you can feel as I feel
(you can’t):
an extension of crafted confusion.

I want to tell you
that I know what I’m doing,
but I need to be honest:
I am trying
to reassemble echoes
through a mechanism
I do not fully comprehend.

We exist in the age of
understood misunderstanding
and call it home.
It is the 21st century
and yes. This is a poem.
I’m laughing, too.
Don’t be afraid.
Maybe we should be here now.

II. I am trying to go outside myself

Yes, people are now screaming
catastrophe skyward to a god

killed before their time.
I have silhouetted them

precisely in periphery
where they exist

in small screens. Turn them off,
they are safe in your pocket.

Plastic palm trees
hold snow with leaves

as children drink cancer
from flaming faucets.

We all thirst for something
to keep us warm,

which is a justification
I blanket myself in

surrounded by echoes
here in this now.

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

MUSIC Review/Tempest

No longer a person, but a myth?

By Jeff Katz
Music Editor

We live in a world where Bob Dylan can do no wrong. The Dylan who was the “spokesman of his generation” in the 1960s, whose lyrics were scrutinized for meaning and guidance, and whose garbage was incessantly searched by certain writers looking for clues, went dormant, critically speaking, for about two decades, from 1978-1997. That was the year Time Out of Mind was released to great acclaim and the present golden era began.

Since then, he’s been on an unparalleled roll – Academy Award winner, National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, Presidential Medal of Freedom wearer – and a gaggle of slavishly adoring books and reviews have followed albums of consistent excellence. Now comes Tempest and the reviews are of the 5-star, classic, all-time great sort.

I’m mostly on board. It’s a great album overall, with a couple of clinkers. Not quite as good as Time Out of Mind or Love and Theft or Modern Times; better than Together Through Life. The record starts with the deceptively jaunty “Duquesne Whistle,” which finally presents Dylan as the “song and dance man” he mockingly referred to himself as in his famous 1965 San Francisco press conference.

Tracks 2 through 9 contain a healthy amount of blood and gore, murder and mayhem. Much has been made of the carnage strewn throughout. There’s something else happening here and I think I do know what it is. Back in ’78, in an interview in Rolling Stone (or was it Playboy? I don’t remember.), while promoting Street Legal, Dylan laced his answers with religious overtones and when I read those answers years later, it was quite obvious that the vengeful Christian of Slow Train Coming was coming.

God permeates Tempest, from the “mother of our Lord” in the opener to the “angels and weary souls” of “Narrow Way” to the torn hem on the garment in “Scarlet Town;” a religious Dylan has returned. Bob croaking, “I’m searching for phrases, to sing your praises,” would not be out of place on Saved, his 1980 uber-religious tract. In a recent Rolling Stone interview with Mikal Gilmore, Dylan spoke often on faith. Clearly, he’s got a lot on his mind.

The album crescendos with a Dylanized take on the history of the Titanic, nearly 14 minutes of mythology and grand story telling. That should’ve been the end of it, the record going down with the ship. Unfortunately, it’s not.

“Roll On John” closes things and this tribute to John Lennon is downright awful. Lennon songs are tough. No one did personal and emotional better than Paul McCartney in “Here Today.” Nobody did sadness and heavy cultural loss better than Paul Simon in “The Late Great Johnny Ace.” George Harrison had the strangely peppy “All Those Years Ago.” Not so good.

Unsurprisingly, Ringo Starr does this kind of honorific the worst. His John song, “Imagine Me There,” has the uninspired inspiration of the cloying Lennon utopian pop hit. Ringo gets particular lousy with his Harrison ode “Never Without You” and Harry Nilsson eulogy “Harry’s Song.” What makes these so bad is that they contain nothing but strung along bits of history and a smattering of song titles or snippets of old tunes in the lyrics.

Dylan’s choices are positively Ringo-esque, with nods to the Quarrymen, Liverpool, “Come Together” and “A Day in the Life.” “Roll On John” has no resonance and not a hint of the personal. Like Bob’s little guitar riff in “I Shall Be Free No. 10,” it’s just something he learned over in England.

But why now, over three decades since Lennon’s murder? My son Joey got me thinking of a similarly weak Dylan celebrity song, “Lenny Bruce,” from 1981’s Shot of Love. A song about the controversial comedian emerging 15 years after his death was also confusingly placed. But Dylan saw himself in his version of Bruce, especially then, two years into the angry born again Christianity that confounded and angered both critics and fans. Like his fictionalized Lenny, Bob was an outlaw, he told the truth, and most surely didn’t play by the rules. And while he had turned on his followers, Dylan hadn’t done anything too bad, he thought; he hadn’t committed any crime or “cut off any baby’s head.” Ol’ Bob was simply a God-fearing Christian, proselytizing to the infidels and the lost.

Does “Roll On John” signal Bob sensing the end of his earthly time? Unlike the unlucky cruise passengers in “Tempest,” Bob is, and has been, nothing if not a survivor. But that can’t last forever. Does Dylan see his obituary a la Lennon’s, a dead man turned myth, whose life is encapsulated in a series of one-liners of trite factual reference and bits of song lyric? Is that how Bob sees himself in these days of hagiography, where he is totally revered, without reservation, where his hiccups are heralded as genius and even his weak work is worshipped? No longer a person, but a myth?

I think so. It’s enough to make a man turn back to the Lord.

 * * * * *

The Once and Future Carpenter

By Jeff Katz

Back in February I wrote in anticipation of what was then a soon to be Spring-released new Avett Brothers album. Since my youngest son took me to see them live, I’ve been hooked. Months went by without the much anticipated new album, but finally in September it came, lost a little in the same day Dylan release. The Avetts’ previous Rick Rubin produced I and Love and You brought the band into the Top 20. Could they do it again? The Once and Future Carpenter proves they can.

The Avett Brothers bring an aching sweetness that walks the line between soulful and maudlin but doesn’t cross over. They are sooo very sincere, and it works. A line like “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die” (from the title track) would usually make me heave. In the Avetts’ capable hands, it doesn’t. It’s all very appealing.

Highlights abound. “Live and Die,” “Pretty Girl from Michigan,” it’s all good fun, but when they burst out with the Beatley, “I Never Knew You,” I nearly passed out from over-smiling. That’s their gift; Seth and Scott have a way of spreading good feeling.

Like Springsteen, The Avetts’ songs feel old even when new. It’s easy to start singing along in mid-song, as if you’d known the words forever. Not many artists pull that off. There’s a new power to the songs, the pop tunes very Fab Fourish, with a dash of Wilco. And the more typical Avett folk picking feels more confident than ever. It makes for a fine mix.

The songs are seemingly of the simplest construction, and that’s the hook: straightforward, catchy, memorable. Having just seen Bon Iver, where not one song stuck in my head past its last note, I marvel at the Avetts’ ability to craft a solid song, built to last, like the craftsman they herald in the title. The Once and Future Carpenter is one of the best albums of the year.

 

About the reviewer:

You can read more about Jeff Katz, music editor, on Ragazine.CC’s “About Us” page.

 

 

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Pandora’$ Music Box

The Ever-changing Landscape

(and How to Pay for It)

By Jeff Katz

I’m not going to cover, in 500 words, the overwhelming and constant change that has revolutionized the music listening and buying experience since Napster emerged over 10 years ago and began the music business’ death spiral. I’ll try to cover just one: The Internet Radio Fairness Act.

Congress is taking up a new bill, sponsored by R’s and D’s alike, to lower the royalty rate that Internet radio stations like Pandora pay, from over 50% of total revenues, to the less onerous 7ish% of revenues that satellite titans like SiriusXM pay, or even the cable rate of 15%. It’s all about the fairness, no?

But it’s not quite that simple. For sure Pandora feels unjustly put upon in comparison to other corporate giants, but when I hear the trickle down economic argument they put forth it strikes me as empty. In an LA Times article, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in support of The Internet Radio Fairness Act cites that lowering of royalty payments by Pandora et. al. would allow the industry to grow and, in turn, there’d be more consumers and more payments for artists.

I’m still pretty old school. For God’s sake, I buy more records now than I did in the 1970s, but I do like Pandora. On more than one occasion I’ve sat on my front porch reading and listening to one of my self-created jazz stations. But with Pandora omnipresent on every smart phone, tablet and whatever device you may have nearby, could it be any more available? Why would a lower royalty to the artist result in more business for the radio station? Has anyone ever listened to the radio more or less frequently based on what the royalty rate is? Would it surprise you to know that AM and FM pay no royalties for regular radio broadcast?

______________

“Pandora is asking listeners to support the Internet Radio Fairness Act.
What they neglect to mention is another bill, The Interim
First Act, introduced by New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler.”

______________

The artists see it for what it is. Ted Kalo, of musicFIRST, a pro-artist group, makes it clear that Pandora is not some small mom and pop outfit. They have a market cap of nearly $2 billion and bending over to accommodate their claim only further hurts those who make the music in the first place.

Pandora is asking listeners to support the Internet Radio Fairness Act. What they neglect to mention is another bill, The Interim First Act, introduced by New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler. It’s referred to as the “willing buyer/willing seller” standard, and what it proposes is bring the satellite radio operations to internet radio levels of payment. That’s fair too, right? musicFIRST likes Nadler’s idea, as, I imagine, do the artists themselves.

The music business is just that, a business, and over the years one thing has remained constant – the suits do well, the artists get screwed. Even in our supercool, live streaming, iTunes downloading, internet radio world, that’s still the case. So help Pandora if you’d like. It’s of little relevance to the music makers. You want to support music, go see a band live, pay for your ticket and buy their CD/album directly. That’ll help the performer continue to create. Anything else just buys more sharkskin suits and fancy cars for the business class.

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Galanty Miller’s Re-Tweets

 Wry Bread

& Lots of Cheese

 

Writer, professor, social networker, humorist Scott Galanty Miller sends along a collection of his latest tweets aimed at whoever is still listening. Did someone just say something? Would you like to share it with the class?

Illustrations by Nadja Asghar


The richest man in the world has something in common with the poorest man in the world; they both want to be richer./ It’s normal for kids to have a crush on their babysitter. (My babysitter was former Vice-President Dick Cheney.)/ Oh- big misunderstanding. I meant to say I’m against “LAME-sex marriage. GAY people getting married? Sure, why not?/ Shakespeare In Love, The King’s Speech, The Avengers. What do they all have in common? They are (or WOULD be) much better with the Hulk./ As I said to the dying man w/2 hours left to live: “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. So go ahead and enjoy the movie.”/ Getting older is worse than dying. Because at least when you die you don’t get any older./ I had this weird premonition that I was going to die today. But I don’t believe in premonitions so I’m not canceling my plans to hang myself./ Why do we segregate ourselves with terms like African-American & Asian-American & Hispanic-American? Can’t we all just be AFRICAN-AMERICAN!/ Ted Nugent is actually a very unifying figure; both Democrats AND Republicans hate his music./ I would make a good Presidential candidate because I’ve already gotten my sex scandal out of the way./ I don’t like movies about classical music because I’m uncomfortable with graphic violins./ Mitt Romney’s personality is really resonating with out-of-touch voters./ Never forget your roots. (Because a little gray is showing.)/ I went back and deleted my “RIP Dick Clark” tweet because, in all honesty, I don’t really care if Dick Clark rests in peace./ I use a fake ID because I want the bouncers to think that I’m younger than I really am./ I just watched Tower Heist. It’s about a cast of wacky characters, led by Ben Stiller, who steal my valuable time./ My father wanted to turn me into a man so he took me to a whorehouse for my Bar Mitzvah./ I watch the Dr. Oz Show because I want to know exactly what it is that I’m going to die from./ This morning I imagined myself doing sit-ups. It’s important to exercise your mind./ I like to go camping in hotels./ I don’t think E = Mc squared. I’ve watched “E!”; it’s not smart./ I like sex. But I hate traffic. Hence, I have mixed feelings about sex trafficking./ The “Twilight” movies are so unrealistic. In real life, someone like Bella would NEVER be that dull./ I carry around Noam Chomsky books in order to fool people into thinking I’m pseudo-intellectual./ I just don’t have the energy to drink something that tastes like urine. Quick- get me a Red Bull!/ I didn’t realize that my Chevy Impala had such a rough childhood until I read about it in an autobiography./ Mark Zuckerberg just de-friended me!/ I refuse to stand for The Pledge of Allegiance to the Chair./ I love watching mixed martial arts because I appreciate the ancient art of choking a guy and punching him in the face./ Facebook is literally worth billions… which is ironic since Facebook is so worthless./ The Bible condemns heterosexuality. It’s Cain & Abel, not Cain & Mabel./ You know what you never hear? “Sure, I’d love to read your doctorate thesis.”/
I get mad & lose control which gives me a runny nose. Yes, I admit to having anger tissues./ You know what never follows “I went to see a friend’s band”? “…and I had a great time.”/ Until EVERY American has the right to get married, I refuse to buy anyone a wedding gift./ I spent all this time focused on ‘ying’- when I SHOULD have been concentrating on ‘yang’. Arghh! This is so frustrating!!/ I read vodka is effective in cleaning tile floors,bathtubs,etc.(Coincidentally, household cleaning products are a viable substitute 4 vodka.)/ Facebook is now using your photos in ads targeting your FB friends. Bad marketing strategy; my friends don’t value my opinion./ She might be married to God, but she’s the nicest public drinker I’ve ever met, bar nun./ To identical twins, I bet WE are the ones who all look the same./ Hot new couple Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are asking the media to respect their desire to constantly be in the media spotlight./ Queen Elizabeth celebrates 60 years on the throne. Has she been a good queen? Ask yourself: Are you better off now than you were 60 years ago?

 

Scott “Galanty” Miller

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Casual Observer/Mark Levy

Fooled in TV Land

by Mark Levy
Illustration by Nadja Asghar

Some time ago, I moved into a small, one-story ranch house in Queens. That moving day was unusually warm in September, as I recall, so I opened the windows in every room. I should tell you that the new house was only a few miles from LaGuardia Airport, as I soon learned, directly in the flight path of approaching aircraft.

The movers had already unloaded and placed most of the furniture in respective rooms. All that was left was to unpack boxes. I had just unloaded a number of heavy boxes of books and, unaccustomed to physical exercise as I was — and as I still am, in fact — I decided to rest a bit before continuing the mindless task of unpacking. So I switched on the TV and plopped myself on the unmade bed for a short rest.

The TV happened to be showing a United Air Lines commercial, culminating in a jet taking off into a very blue sky. From that image, I knew the jet was not flying in my new neighborhood, which is normally covered by a low ceiling of milky clouds the local weather forecasters insist on calling “partly sunny.” No, the deep blue sky in the airline commercial looked like it was over Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon or some exotic place so pollution free I thought this must be the first airplane ever to fly over it.

As the plane took off smoothly in the commercial, a pleasant jingle played and an announcer implored me to fly United. I heard a crescendo of music and jet engines, too. In fact, the sound of the engines eventually drowned out the announcer’s voice.

The next event really surprised me. The volume of the engines increased and increased, even as the commercial faded out and the Jerry Springer Show resumed. And then my windows started to rattle.

“Wow,” I thought, “this is one realistic airline commercial. It’s sensorama. I can still hear and feel the engines long after the TV image is gone. My bedroom feels like it’s in an earthquake. How did they do that?”

That’s when it occurred to me that the sound was no longer coming from the TV. Jet engines were overhead. I felt foolish, not only because I thought the TV could shake my windows, but because I realized I had purchased a house that would force me to experience this thrill every few minutes, summer after summer.

It is now about 30 years later. I no longer live in Queens. I have a large, flat screen TV with an auxiliary sound system, including expensive speakers that the sales person told me would make the difference between merely viewing television programs and actually living them.

“You’ll hear the crashing of football helmets, Dude, like you were on the field with the players,” he stated. “Singers will sound like they’re in the same room with you, Bud. Car chase scenes and NASCAR races will make you reach for your seatbelt, Sparky. You just have to have this X-3000 Super Sound System, amigo. There’s no sense having a large screen TV with little, wimpy speakers. It really defeats the purpose, don’t you think? Go with the X-3000 Triple S, Bro. Take it from me: you’ll never regret it.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll buy it.”

I don’t live near an airport anymore, I’m happy to report, but the place where I reside is fairly open. If the TV is playing in the living room, I can hear it in the kitchen and in the hallway and in the spare bedroom for what I hoped would be my office and private sanctuary.

Sometimes when I’m not watching the set, I hear a siren that sounds like it’s right outside. I can’t resist looking out the window for the ambulance. The sound from my TV is realistic enough for me to think a police car is about to crash through to my condo on the 26th floor.

Sometimes a telephone rings in a program, causing me to hunt for my cell phone. This is most embarrassing when friends are visiting, especially when I have to ask them to stand up so I can search under couch cushions for my phone.

Frankly, I’m concerned that if my condo ever does start burning, I’ll lose precious time racing around the place through the billowing smoke, turning off TVs instead of preparing to be rescued.

Today, none of us is taken in by the scratchy, blurry sounds of 1914 Charlie Chaplin movies or of Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast of the “War of the Worlds.” I suppose in a hundred years people might be amazed at how unsophisticated we were in the early 21st century, when the X-3000 was able to fool us.

All I can say is my TV does too good a job convincing me that the sounds I hear are real. Coupling that phenomenon with bigger-than-life close-ups of pizzas and ice cream, it amazes me that I ever switch the set off long enough to escape back into reality.

 

About the author:

Mark Levy, Ragazine.CC’s “Casual Observer,”  also occasionally contributes “Feeding the Starving Artist,” pro bono legal advice for working artists. You can read more about him in “About Us.”

About the Illustrator:

Nadja Asghar graduated with a degree in illustration from London Metropolitan University. She lives in Norway. You can read more about her in “About Us.”

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Fred Roberts/Germany’s Music Scene

Pia+Felix by S.Scardovelli 2001

Pia & Felix, by S.Scardovelli, 2001

Two Electrons

By Fred Roberts

Introduction

The early and mid-eighties were a golden age of music in America. Indie labels were on
the rise, university stations gave students the autonomy to play what they wanted, and alternative music filled the airwaves. It was a grand time to discover music and that’s what I did the second I left college and began earning money. Hearing the Velvet Underground for the first time was a formative experience for me. This was the art and purity that music should be, and it shocked me to realize that commercial and mainstream music could be so far removed from that honesty. I felt the Velvet Underground’s roots in much of what I went on to discover, fell in love with the music of Dream Syndicate, Violent Femmes, Patti Smith, Residents and others.

Then it all changed. After three years in the Binghamton area where weekend nights on WHRW college radio were legendary, where Jeff Katz ran the school-based Slipped Disc records, where Eric Schafer performed with his band Public Welfare, I pulled up all roots and moved to Germany. The day I arrived, May 31st, 1987, is forever carved in my mind, in Gothic German letters that look impressive but are cryptic to read. The first thing I noticed was all the music that was missing. At that time, radio in Germany was state controlled, and so extremely bland it made the Eurovision song contest seem like a punk festival. It wasn’t just me. A few years ago I read an article in the German weekly, Die Zeit, in which a number of their journalists listed their top ten favorite albums, and lamented that this music was rarely heard on any of the country’s radio stations, but that it should be, because great music is a powerful innovative force, something that Germany could use.

I will leave Germany to solve its own problems. It was up to me to develop different strategies to find the music to satisfy my stimulus addiction. It was a real problem. Record stores were stocked with a fairly commercial selection, more influenced by the UK charts than anything else. I was mostly cut off from the alternative scene I had come to love. Many of the popular German bands were weak copies of some sound out of USA or UK. I asked once at Schaulandt, a former record store in Hamburg, if there was something like a German Pink Floyd. They laughed at me. Still there were gems to find by browsing the bins, by listening to random records that looked interesting, by reading books about the German music scene. My favorite small talk question when meeting new people was “Who are your favorite German bands?” and it was good to do so, because it led me to many interesting discoveries. The other day I read a review at Amazon calling the 60′s & 70′s German band Amon Düül II something like a German Pink Floyd!

In this article, and hopefully in others to follow, I intend to share some of the music I found living in Germany, artists and albums that are very likely unknown stateside. Much of the music I found has been German by virtue of the fact that even the European music markets are fairly national. But anywhere I traveled around Europe, I tried to find out about the local music, and I’m glad I did, because I feel supremely enriched by it.

 

Mysterious Messages (1990) by Andreas Leifeld

The first title I wish to share is Mysterious Messages by Andreas Leifeld (1990), performed and mixed with digital instruments, as stated on the cover. It will be an extremely difficult title to find. Leifeld lived near Paderborn, and he was not well known outside of the region. Back then record shops in Paderborn stocked numerous cassettes and CDs of his. I listened to a few of the titles but it was his debut that struck me the most, and that I wound up buying. There is something great about the 11 instrumentals that make up the album. Some might classify the sound as new age, but it is more than that. The compositions all have a driving, progressive force to them. There are riffs and sequences that repeat and evolve, never once sounding repetitive. The album is at once relaxing and purposeful, occasionally with a sense of Koyaanisqatsi (especially on the spacious Le Li). Other highlights are the oriental sensibilities of Tokio and Japan, which reflect an Oriental mentality without resorting to the usual aural clichés. Less Time is a wonderful ten minute composition whose motifs build to an orchestral complexity. I found myself leaving the entire CD on repeat and reading for hours while the music played, and I don’t mean that in a bad way: the only other music I could listen to while reading was Chopin and Mahler. Even today Mysterious Messages sounds fresh every time I put it on.

About ten years ago I looked up Leifeld online and saw he had taken a radical turn from Mysterious Messages, immersing himself in the techno scene à la Love Parade. In retrospect though, the thoughtfully constructed track The Third Way does contains a hint of the techno styles that dominated four to five years later in Germany. While researching for this review I was saddened to discover that Leifeld had passed away in 2006. Mysterious Messages appeared in 1990 on Bernd Kistenmacher’s Musique Intemporelle label. This YouTube interview from 1991 includes an excerpt of The Third Way towards the end: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epFl9Rg97zA

 

Tesla’s Aquarium (2000) by Felix Kubin and Pia Burnette

Pia+Felix live at Westwerk 2001

Pia+Felix live at Westwerk 2001

Felix Kubin is a rare genius in the field of electronic music. In the seventies, when synthesizers first became a mass phenomenon, casual musicians were excited by the possibilities of pressing one key to synthesize the sound of an entire orchestra of violins, or a guitar, or a jazz combo, and so on. True artists however explored the new possibilities that transcended these familiar sounds and created something never heard before. That is where Kubin has established himself as a master of the art. Today he has diverse credits ranging from the 1990′s duo Klangkrieg, sound collages for radio, theater productions, numerous collaborations with other artists, and solo releases such as Matki Wandalki (2004), all worthy of attention. Tesla’s Aquarium (2000), his collaboration with Pia Burnette, is the one that especially won my heart.

Let’s back up for a moment and consider that an inventory of the last 100 years of music will reveal an overabundance of love songs. Wanting, loving, needing someone are primal to human existence, so it is no surprise that there are so many songs about it, ranging from the basest desire to spiritual forms of esteem, depending on the level of refinement. What is a surprise is when one of these songs achieves anything near to originality. Some may argue it is impossible to write an original love song; it has all been done and sung.

In Tesla’s Aquarium drifts the antithesis of a love song Enemy, a song whose refrain avoids any cliché that the inverse of love would suggest: be my enemy / for I saved all my rage for you – as Pia phrased it. The music is subdued, poised at the edge of an apocalypse, but still in the eye of its hurricane. Pia sounds as a priestess of fury, a holiness in her delivery brought out all the more by the accompaniment, suggestive of a solemn organ at a black mass, low key but with subliminal intensity, sung and played without anger. I was fortunate to see Pia and Felix at one of their concerts, where an audience member remarked, “I hope they play Enemy. I get chills every time I hear it.” I knew what he felt.

Tesla’s Aquarium stands as an underground masterpiece, a wonderful collaboration between a poetess and an artist of sound. It is post-modern electronic music with vocals given in English, German and Japanese. The piece Herz aus Schnee (Heart of Snow) is dark and threatening, morphing at times into a surreal nightmare, similar in spirit to what one encounters in the works of Gary Wilson. Other pearls are She Looks at Us and Shi Nu that shine with a strange and seductive beauty. There is a feeling of the cosmos in these, floating among stars and helpless to resist. Blind in Manhattan on the other hand, is a disturbing short story, stated in the best tradition of John Cage delivering Lou Reed’s The Gift. My favorite line, spoken as to an affront: “Excuse me please; I have a bullet in my head” (my translation).

There is no title track on Tesla’s Aquarium. That is befitting to the concept. These are primal organisms floating in unlit corners of an aquarium. Felix and Pia produced a follow-up to this album, Detached from All Objects (2007), drifting darker and deeper than its predecessor. Both are available at http://www.stora.de on Kubin’s own Gagarin Records label. Tesla’s Aquarium has to this date only been released on vinyl.

You may find out more about Felix Kubin at felixkubin.com.

 

Closing Words

By living in Germany for a quarter of a century I have missed all but the highlights of 25 years of the music scene in America, but in return I have gained access to whole other horizons I may never have discovered otherwise. Today, in the Internet era, there is so much music available to us that it’s easier than ever to miss something relevant. If my service as guide will help just one person to find something new it will have been worth it.

About the reviewer:
Fred Roberts is a native of Cincinnati who has lived in Europe since the ’80s. He has published occasional articles and short stories, and has received Google’s Blog of Note citation, as well as numerous awards for his artificial intelligence system Elbot, developed at Artificial Solutions. He has a passionate interest in music, film and literature. 

October 28, 2012   1 Comment

October’s Surprises/Satire

 

Last Minute October Surprises

by Doug Bond

The Obama camp is positively agog with the recent admonition, leaked from a highly placed informant across the aisle, to prepare for some sneaky stuff coming soon from fringe elements within the Grande Olde Partay.

Desperate to spice up a bland Romney-Ryan vanilla ticket and enliven what promises otherwise to be a rather moribund and desultory home stretch campaign, these GOP radicals are reaching way deep into their bag of tricks for wax figures, forged documents, re-animation, spiked hair…and more!

Look for these four new 11th hour entrants to really shake up the November ballot in the hopes of diverting the electorate’s attention just long enough to sneak Mitt Romney securely into the White House through the back door.

Bob Hope

A Man Called Hope miraculously emerges onto the nation’s electoral stage as a hologram joined again with his longtime partner, the avuncular crooner, newly constituted as rapper, “Bling” Crosby for barnstorming nightclub tour across the USA, culminating in a meth-laced, Gatorade fueled RUN to DC Marathon, complete with merchandising strategy and DVD launch, ROAD TO THE WHITE HOUSE! Order now and get the complete Dorothy Lamour Sunscreen skincare line (SFP-500) absolutelyFREE!

Joe the Plumber

GOP muckety-mucks come up with a sure fire way to clean up swampy DC with a partial reprise of starring rolls for the Allstars of the ’08 campaign.

VOTE in ’12 for Wrench and Wench!

Snakey Joe’s campaign gets a PR power boost in an ingenious re-appropriation of story lines from Watergate when the erstwhile handyman’s secret sex tape is leaked to the press by a mysterious source named “DeepGrout.” Showcasing a flush-faced slippery Joe speaking softly and carrying a big copper pipe, the candidate’s performance is a winning combination of flexibility and steely resolve bound to sway undecideds as he contorts into all sorts of impossibly compromising “under the sink” positions with the bombshell former First Lady of Alaska.

Follow Sarah & Joe on Twitter! @beaverandbuttcrack

“Drill Baby Drill!”

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Starring in his own candidacy and simultaneously produced political reality show “I’ll be Blaahck!” a liberally oiled and grossly over tanned “Ahnold” shocks and delights the world, as he literally storms onto the campaign trail astride a monstrously large mechanical elephant wearing only his bright white body-building skivvies, frantically waving a single piece of paper in his hand, the long lost proof of his birth on American soil. (Years later it will be revealed as nothing more than a faded type-set Hawaiian birth certificate stolen from the safe deposit box of Barack Obama’s late mother.) Also riding high, behind him on the “Jumbo,” Barney Frank in full leather harness struggles vainly to unseat himself from his uncomfortable position on the ticket. Nonetheless, pundits from coast to coast are willing to credit the Terminator for a brilliant, if bald, ploy to sew up what he calls “The Girlie Man” vote.

Nancy Reagan

Informed by RNC Chair, Reince Priebus, that she simply has to Do it for the Gipper, the ninety-one year old former First Lady enthusiastically agrees to a punked up re-brand, in a deft appeal to both young voters and late baby boomers. Darkly resplendent in bondage trousers, brass chains, rivet belts, body piercings and a black shredded “Anarchy in the US” t-shirt, Nancy sends the press corps into a tizzy every time she emerges into the campaign spotlight to reveal her once elegantly feathered dome coiffed into a brilliant row of satin white Liberty-Spikes. As attempts to revive the real Mr. Vicious prove futile, GOP operatives instead opt to press Gary Oldman into service to balance the ticket as “Nancy’s” “Sid”, force feeding him with enough heroin that he dependably trots out to adoring throngs from Paducah to Pennsylvania Avenue screaming in convincing Liverpudlian:

Never Mind Barack’s Bollocks! Ya Wankers, There’s Something Rotten in Washington…God Elect the Queen!

Rumors are swirling that the Super PAC behind Reagan’s candidacy, enigmatically titled, Nancy & Sid, RIPP, is in fact the Republican Inviolable Presidency Project, brainchild of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Shockingly, the two old men were discovered on the evening of the first Presidential debate unconscious in the sophisticated control center of an abandoned missile silo deep below Cheney’sWyoming ranchland.

Investigators have determined that the two had been listening to a non-stop loop of Nixon’s Checkers speech while re-engineering Diebold voting machines and preparing shipments of confusingly designed counterfeit ballots for battleground states when a hallucinatory sighting of Big Bird caused Cheney and Rumsfeld to simultaneously wheel and commence to peppering each other in the face with identical Remington 20 gauge double barrel shotguns.

About the author: 

Doug Bond resides along the Northern California coast in a foggy, windswept dune field once referred to as the Outer Lands. His work has appeared online and in the pages of Mad Hatters’ Review, Metazen, Defenestration, The Big Jewel and Necessary Fiction. Additional confabulations and portals to virtual worlds may be found here: www.dougbond.me

October 28, 2012   1 Comment

POLITICS / A Healthier Country

In Speaking About a “Healthier” Country…

By Jim Palombo
Politics Editor

This edition is two-fold in nature. The first part reviews a recent discussion held for the Dialogue Series in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Its nature seemed of import to our on-going political considerations here at Ragazine. The second part relates to the political campaigns, particularly some of the exchanges that took place at the Democratic and Republican conventions. With a legitimate sense of exasperation, I couldn’t help but mention something about what’s happening on that scene. As you will no doubt note, both segments are tied to the notion that we need to develop better ways to think about who we are and what we are doing.

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The Dialogue Series – Can We Make Our Country Healthier

The Dialogue Series is the title for a group of individuals who come together several times a month to discuss ideas that are pertinent to their interests.  The discussions are usually headed by someone considered “in the know” and the result often leads to further discussion of the issues at hand.  In terms of my participation, I was asked to come and create a discussion regarding thoughts and concerns that might contribute to making our country more “healthy.”

This theme – of having a “healthy country” – stemmed from the fact that I noticed that many of the prior gatherings within the Series had to do with a self-development/ self-empowerment.  Whether through nutrition, exercise, education or a form of spiritual/self-awakening, it appeared that getting individuals “healthy” was a primary focus for the people participating in the group.

In the context of my experiences, this “individual” focus had become one quite common for any number of groups.  In other words, it seemed to me that while I admit that having a “healthy self” is very important (I have some related experiences dating back to the “new-age” movement which supports this admission) what has at least equal weight, especially in this day and age, is to also have a “healthy” sense of one’s civic self, i.e., a well-rounded understanding of the political, economic and social variables that surround our collective existence.  Yet, even though common sense would tell us that, among other things, this understanding would fuel a better political and economic environment under which individual health can flourish, the civic notion of health was not something people have come to regularly consider. In fact, in quite contrary fashion, the ideas tied to “ideological” understanding have become something that we tend to publically ignore. (In this sense, just think of how people generally abhor talking politics and/or the feelings many have in regards to our own political issues.) This of course has stunted important and timely dialogue and encouraged a state where individual empowerment has significantly overshadowed our civic sense of self. And this has left us in a rather undereducated, desensitized environment, i.e., in an “unhealthy” state of affairs. Said another way, we could be experiencing an unattended collective identity crisis, while trying to work out our own individual crises, even while many of the variables connected to the former apply to the latter.

It should be noted that there are a variety of arguments that support the notion that this “individual” focus may have actually come about by design – a manifestation of a system or a group of people therein that are so centered on perpetuating the status quo that having an ignorant populace in terms of the “hows” and “whys” of what is taking place becomes one of its features. (See many positions that stem from Conflict Theory.)   Although a topic of significant note, and a difficult one not to focus on, this was not the premise of my discussion at the Dialogue. In other words, I was there to stress that we need to get “healthy” both individually and collectively/civically and to offer considerations about the “civic gap” in terms of what we might be missing in this context, what it has led to, and what, if anything we can do about it. Particularly given the times, with the economic crisis still looming,  and the world changing as it is, and the political banter continuing to sound much the same, it would seem crucial that this be something we must take on. And as my presence in front of the Dialogue Series evidenced, the group assembled there felt the same.

In sorting through all of the material and making things as concise as possible for the audience, it helped to refer to my previous book, Criminal to Critic – Reflections Amid The American Experiment (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers) which references my experiences dealing with civic concerns. It also helped to note my involvement with the Campaign for an Informed Citizenry (www.cicorg.com) which has at its heart the issues tied to the development of better civic understanding and dialogue.  As anticipated, these references did indeed serve their intended purpose as the discussion proceeded in a very positive and thought-provoking way. Suffice it to say that the people at the Dialogue were in tune with what was presented – including points tied to: liberal and conservative political positions; concepts like democracy, capitalism, socialism, communism and how the U.S. and the rest of the world might be integrating these; and the concept of “cultural instincts,” which speak to particular sets of behavior that develop under differing ideological frames.  The audience was also in tune with the action plan proposed via the Campaign website – that universities could take the lead in linking the public with important civic concepts by mandating special course-related attention to the issues.  And as important, they could also understand the difficulties that stood in the way of changing things, especially the “status quo” mindsets existent at both individual and institutional levels.

In the end, almost all present were in agreement that we need to involve ourselves more with civic understanding and dialogue. And just like with individual health, we will collectively have to face the fear, pain, anxiety and uncertainty that comes with “real change” – there is simply no other way around it. Suffice it to say, our discussion went well, so well that we intend to develop follow-up discussions that will continue to stay on the topic of developing a healthier, civic-minded environment, perhaps involving experts from the fields of economics, anthropology, medicine and environmental studies. This “integrative process” is in fact a mini-example of what is proposed at the Campaign website and it will be interesting to see what develops.

In short, the Dialogue discussion represented something positive.  So when you hear someone talking about their interest in becoming more “individually healthy,” ask them to what extent this includes a foray into understanding their civic health, as well. And when they inquire into what the heck you are talking about, chat with them a bit, mention this article, and reference them to the Campaign website, which is of course where I expect you to proceed shortly after finishing this piece.

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PPPPolitics…

Speaking of civic understanding and a healthier country, I would like to note several observations that flow from the conversation above, as well as from the continual ill-feeling I get from listening to most of what is coming from the political campaign trail. The first observation comes via the Democratic National Convention and the speech given by Elizabeth Warren, current Senate nominee and former governmental advisor. In particular Ms. Warren noted that the “system” no longer served the needs of our people. Now this is certainly a fair point to make, especially to a public that is feeling pretty much the same. But Ms. Warren then proceeded to describe the system as the “government” and then went on to expand upon, using a variety of economically related situations to stress, how it’s the conservative interpretation of what a democratic government should be that is at the center of the problem.

Upon hearing this, I thought immediately that although politically convenient, her explanation was very misleading. In essence, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Aren’t the majority of the problems we are facing, i.e., those Ms. Warren cited, tied to the nature of the economy and not democracy? In fact, isn’t the system that turns our individual daily decisions as well as the government actions themselves an economic/market oriented system i.e., not a governmental system?  And if this is the case, shouldn’t important leaders like her be talking more in these terms and not in terms that are actually misleading – like in terms of democracy or “just the government?

In other words, shouldn’t  they be talking about the overall market influences on our society  in terms of capitalism with both its positive and negatives – I mean, aren’t we the most advanced capitalist system in the world? And aren’t the other growth models that have developed in other countries, most notably China, also significantly tied to the nature of capitalism? And isn’t it just common sense that if we don’t talk about things in realistic terms we will end up in some silly (but not funny), nonsensical state of affairs, reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984 notion of “double think”?  All said another way, shouldn’t we be talking about our problems in relationship to our actual collective self?  And if we aren’t doing this, won’t the political exchanges just seem like rhetoric designed simply to pander to our vote – calling the vote’s true measure into question? In essence, these type questions represent a “wag of the finger” to the Democrats, like Elizabeth Warren, who seem to talk in circles when a straight line would be much more helpful.

With that being said, and in the spirit of non-partisanship, I want to also mention something said at the Republican National Convention that also speaks to clarifying (and not clarifying) “what is what.” The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, noted that from his party’s perspective, the Democrats had little to offer in terms of the current and growing problems we are facing, noting specifically the matter of unemployment.  Now I’m not at all a fan of the Republicans tendency to reference problems like employment/unemployment/underemployment without also noting the real history of those problems. Simply said, Republicans are not prone to do this as they refuse to acknowledge that capitalism has a downside, that the market (particularly an unfettered one) will always find its own “productive” level.  Nonetheless, this tact of looking at the problem solely on its face, and then putting it to the Democrats accordingly has become quite common, so a “wag of the finger” to the Republicans as well for not talking straight.

However, I would submit (with some reluctance, mind you) that this is actually a fairly clever move, especially as it’s played in front of a less than savvy public. In other words, the Democrats have to be extremely careful in their responses to the Republicans, a carefulness that will involve some manipulation between words and action, and the Republicans know this. To the point, if Democrats decide to honestly discuss the history of employment in the U.S. and attempt to prosecute the Republican policies to their fullest extent, they will have to include rather significantly the history of the country’s relationship to free market principles, and more particularly to the nature of capitalism.  And the Democrats, as Ms. Warren so aptly evidenced, won’t/can’t do that. For if they start down this road of talking about the negatives of capitalisms, the language itself would evoke the label of “socialist” from the Republicans, which would then translate, especially given our emotionally skewed electorate, less votes.  So Democrats have to tread carefully, again as Ms. Warren demonstrated. (Also think of the labels thrown at the President over the past four years.)

Although this assessment that talking in these terms is socialist or communist, i.e., not American, is hardly accurate, this is nonetheless a tact that the Republicans so greatly love to use, again in front of a public that is: 1. not very well schooled in terms of what actually is at point; 2. that also has a history of fear tied to discussing matters using any type of explanations that are outside of the “America is a democracy” frame. (In terms of this fear, think of “McCarthyism” and the “Cold War”)  Said another way, the Republicans have the Democrats by the proverbial “short hairs” over this particular point.

This all being said, it should be clear that this is indeed a most “unhealthy” circumstance, as we have both political parties speaking in some form of “doublethink.” The Republicans refuse to talk about capitalism in all its definitions because there are inherent problems in the nature of that system that speak to a variety of social conditions, which will shake their reliance on market strategies – and I might add, their penchant for profit. Instead, they rely predominantly on making the case that it isn’t any system failure in terms of social concerns like employment, but rather individual failure to assimilate to what the American experiment, especially in the context of it being a democracy, is all about.

The Democrats on the other hand, seem to lean into sorting through the realities of what is going on in the U.S., with its complex mix of democratic ideals and market/capitalist practicalities, but then stop short of clarifying the country’s political, economic and social milieu. So with both of these processes in play, the country is left in a very difficult spot, as neither party is really stepping to the plate in terms of speaking to/explaining the reality of what has, is and can happen with the American experiment.  So, in this sense this is an overall “wag of the finger” to the entire political process as it seems to be, to a significant extent, missing the point.  (See the August, Politics edition in Ragazine.CC – “Primer to the Primaries” – for a more detailed discussion on the political points referenced above.)

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We are surely in a difficult situation, with a lot of hard work and tough choices ahead.  In this sense, the considerations raised within the Dialogue discussion and the political observations point to the same conclusion – that in order to have a “healthier country” we have to come to grips with our realities, both the good and bad. And as also implied, this may well include pushing our leadership in directions they have been reluctant to go – that “we” may in fact have to lead the way. Again, this is difficult stuff.  But there are ways, and positive steps, and I would encourage that a review of initiatives like those proposed at the Campaign website can be of help. So it is once more suggested that you take a look there, especially in the context of what is being said on the campaign and debate trails. And, as always, let us know what you think – keeping in mind that after all is said and done, it is “We the people…”

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.”

October 28, 2012   Comments Off

Pablo Caviedes/Art in Review

Pablo Caviedes  and "On the Map"

¨On The Map¨

Obamanation” or “Abomination?”

by  Dr. José Rodeiro
Art Editor

Ecuadorian-American artist Pablo Caviedes fashioned a powerful image titled On the Map, with an unseen apparatus that permits the image to rotate on the wall.  Caviedes’s painting  depicts the “continental” United States as an asphalt-bitumen colored floating Neo-Pop map-shape containing a Warholesque portrait of the USA’s 44th President: Mr. Barack Hussein Obama II, Esq.  The map floats on a painterly surface of tinted turquoise flecked with blood stains; all these subtle hues abstractly and symbolically connote (or suggest): “red,” “white,” and “blue.”   By means of his highly imaginative “conceptual figurative” style, Caviedes places his image at the forefront of a “new” Latin American Neo-Pop Art stylistic movement: “Neo-neopop,”  which coincides perfectly with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s insightful “Regarding Warhol” exhibition, on display in New York City until December 21.

Side View of "On the Map", by Pablo Caviedes

In keeping with this universal reconsideration of the Pop idiom in visual art, in another recent Caviedes painting titled On the Map, he included a self-portrait (check RAGAZINE’s recent events-page).  As in that piece, Caviedes’s new Obama image metaphorically illustrates the importance of centuries of human migration throughout the USA’s vast expanse.  Hence, in this new work, President Obama has become America’s “new face,” circuitously turning the entire nation into a suspended, “surreal” Mount Rushmore, coalescing all of Mount Rushmore’s US Presidents into “ONE:” “President Barack Obama,” who, although painted, appears to be carved in stone.

Thus, as Caviedes’s On the Map  image rotates around, the whole nation is miraculously transformed into a hovering and spinning Keystone, South Dakota, the spot near where Mount Rushmore stands.   Paradoxically, when pondering Caviedes’s On the Map’s allusion to Mount Rushmore, it is ironic to recall that Mount Rushmore’s sculptor Gutzon Borglum sympathized with and briefly joined the Ku Klux Klan from 1923-25, an organization associated with white supremacy, fanatic nationalism, and racism. Nevertheless, despite Boglum’s naiveté or the Klan’s narrow-minded prejudices, in his image, Caviedes optimistically views the USA as a “big” nation filled with great potential and hopeful promise; a nation historically built by pioneers, immigrants, refugees, captured slaves and explorers. Ultimately, all were in one way or another “immigrants;” even the Native Americans arrived from somewhere else!  For this reason, Caviedes’s image answers all the “Birthers,” by seeing Obama as “America(n),” which is for some on the political Right an “abomination,” and for others on the Left, an “Obamanation.”

Perhaps, the viewer’s first impression, upon seeing a tenebristic portrait shadow-map containing sideways depiction of a human face, might be one of havoc and confusion. However, in time, by slowly visualizing the face, the viewer can find many analogies to our present society’s misguided perceptions of current immigrants – including the inability to value or acknowledge the vital contributions immigrants make each day to assure America’s overall success. Wisely, Caviedes’s image On the Map asks us to look deeper, to examine America from the perspective that all Americans might become beacons of a public-spirited light, as Caviedes  describes  as the piece’s raison d’etre:

“Portraying the true identity of the United States of America presupposes an approach to immigration as an ongoing phenomenon, since people from all over the world have never stopped coming to our shores — an influx of human capital that has fueled the engine of innovation that powers this great nation.

Now more than ever, it is imperative to support and grasp a better understanding of the fundamental human rights of immigrants, which directly or indirectly affect all of us.  We are the seeds that sprout (day in and day out); we are the present and the future of this nation, as we continue to shape our multicultural identity — enriched with cultural manifestations from every corner of the planet.

These very same cultures give shape to this painting, in the metaphorical sense, as they delineate the states of this nation,  as they delineate a human face that becomes visible as we turn the painting — as the point-of-view of the spectator is shifted to visualize an image, which visibly has (or signifies) humanity’s 21st Century spirit.

Now more than ever, it is imperative to provide testimony that we as immigrants are also part of the whole, not merely statistics.  All of us also make up this image: in that we are Obama; we are the USA, etc.  It could even be argued that all of our faces populate this territory, as the face of our President takes on collective meaning, as the embodiment of a brighter future filled with hope for social justice.”

— Pablo Caviedes
New York, June 2012

For more about Pablo Caviedes, visit: www.pablocaviedes.com.

 

About the author:

Dr. Jose Rodeiro, Art Editor of Ragazine.CC,  is Coordinator of Art History, New Jersey City University. You can read more about him in “About Us.”

October 7, 2012   Comments Off