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“Heart” Color etching. 5″x7″
Printmaker with Heart in Texas
* * * * *
by A. J. Stephens
After visiting Rebecca McGinnis in her studio space at Slugfest Printmaking Workshop during November’s EAST (East Austin Studio Tour) festival, we arranged to meet and talk about her artwork. I arrived late for our scheduled confab at the local coffee shop where we originally became acquainted, and soon discovered more about her enigmatic precision in communicating intangible emotion and concept. She was inspired to turn to printmaking in 2009 during her study of design and painting at Florida State, and was further inspired by the early efforts of studios like Drive By Press to reinvigorate a young audience’s respect for the art form. She has since cultivated her own relationship with expression through this medium.
Rebecca’s current body of work explores the mind-body connection, a theme that resonates with her interest “…in the deep complexity of human emotion…,” and particular curiosity “…about the reactions happening below the surface, subverted to the subconscious.” In her work, she explores “…the connections between the physical and the abstract world of emotions and create[s] metaphors referencing nature and science to describe our inner workings.” For this vision, what more perfect medium exists than one that, from its own intrinsic qualities, mirrors the artistry it enables her to channel: Printmaking.
McGinnis was generous in discussion, and encouraged the possibility that I would grasp the alchemy of it all —not something I could ultimately feign, despite my efforts. She remained committed, and patiently shared how an asphaltum wax, brushed on the copper, at once inputs and shields her vision for each copper plate from the ferric chloride that will eventually carve out the relief where the wax is absent. There is a science to this medium, but one that printmakers internalize as the natural tools available for creation.
From her background in painting, a medium with which I am more familiar, Rebecca added that there could be an analogous idea that printmaking is like “painting backwards”— the artist must first create negative space on the plate, however. Somehow, this made more sense to me. She went on to explain that during the process of etching the plate, she has not yet thought about the eventual color applications she will use in the future, that the depth of each section will impact the weight of ink and richness of color & shade transposed onto the paper, that only through unpredictable, possibly innumerable cycles of negotiation between etching-refining-burnishing-and-etching-again, can the relief take form.
“Cross Current” Color etching. 9″x12″
Finding her vision within the copper plate is only a step in the process of creation. Once the plate is ready to bring life into the world, the trials and trust begin. Most printmakers follow a tradition of using black-ink, but Rebecca favors the less conventional use or incorporation of color—which provides a vibrant quality familiar to her from her painting background. Sometimes, it is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat because, she shared, one never knows what comes out from the press: how did the ink take (or, not take) to the paper; what colors adhered or mixed as envisioned; were the contrasts achieved; was an unexpected result more than she could have hoped for? If not, back to the wells and wax. Or, maybe it’s just a matter of trying a different combination of color; a new solid color; or letting the plate rest. Certain patience and deliberation are required: often, the copper has a mind of its own, and a lifespan.
There cannot be too many trials. Each print must not, in fact, be considered a trial at all. Rather, each print is one of few given to the world. Eventually, the plate will run out. This “mortality,” Rebecca shares, makes the process bittersweet— eventually she must put it down after it has run its course, and each plate is different. Rebecca’s work leaves behind (or, sets free) impressions that can be shared without words and taken by each visitor into her world as they find them.
When I left Slugfest I did so with a small new piece for my collection, kept safe between the hard covers of my school texts: Heart. I had seen it on the flyer announcing the festival, but never would have imagined how the actual print might look or feel in person. Anticipating that each print would be unique and would resonate with different people for different reasons, I had difficulty figuring out why I was so moved by the particular version I adopted: its subtle harmony of color and a shadowy set of contrasts that strike a perfect chord. It was confusing.
At our follow-up meeting I heard of Rebecca’s hope “…to alert, orient, or empathize with someone else in their own uncertain journey, and to celebrate the exhausting and everlasting shared challenge of finding one’s own way.”
Maybe I hadn’t been able reconcile my reaction to the small print on my shelf because I am still learning about the piece itself — that it is not just a print, but a conversation as well. Upon speaking with Rebecca, I knew I was lucky to have met an artist who can still—at that stage of expected enthusiasm and incredible freedom—so delicately move between alchemy and art; and who recognizes the emotion and intellect of a conversation to which she welcomes each viewer, appreciator, or supporter.
January 13, 2013 Comments Off
The Fantasy Work of
Photographer Rahi Rezvani
Q) When did you take up photography? Did you train as a visual artist?
A) I started with photography when I was 16 years old but I always felt born as an artist. I come from a creative background my parents always have stimulated and encouraged my talent, that did help me to grow. But to feel inside ‘what is your call in life’ was always very clear to me.
Q) Seeing your work in Brooklyn was an eye-opener, as seeing any work in life is as opposed to a computer or in a book. What pushed you to making the larger-than-life prints?
A) The quality of an image is not depending on the print size. But some of my images need to be presented bigger than the human size. I want the audience to feel and see the details of my artwork and experience in this way what the human size is in comparison with my work.
Q) So, are you challenging the viewer, attempting to intimidate them, or merely to expand upon the presence of the subject in their eyes? If I see your images and then the subject in life, am I likely to be disappointed?
A) I challenge people to think about my art. I would not use the term “intimidation.” If a viewer feels intimidated by my images, it tells more about “who” the person is and where he is in his life.
Q) How do you find your subjects? Or do they find you?
A) I always find my subjects and look for it. I see reality in a different way than others do.
Rahi Rezvani / Photographer
Q) I’m not sure I understand. First, what is your different way of looking at reality, and second, what features do you see or look for that define a subject that would make you want to capture it “on film,” or as a digital image?
A) My vision of the world and mankind is formed through my cultural background and life experiences in so many levels. I don’t look for certain details or aspects, I just find them and know how to translate them. It is an open channel in my mind, in which my eyes register what I want to communicate in images to touch the human soul. But it comes from my heart.
Q) How much of your work is “commercial,” versus portraiture or art?
A) I am not interesting in analyzing in a pragmatic way how the circle is devided. I am in a continuing process to move on.
Q) So in other words, you make images independently of any outside influences, and if someone wants to purchase (commercialize) the image, then that’s their business? Or do you have expressed limits on where and how your images can be used or reused?
A) For me there is a big difference between art, conceptual art and commercial art; don’t make the mistake to mix that up or to put them all in a blender. Also the copyrights are an issue of importance as well as editions. Some request a certain limit, others don’t. But there has to be a connection with my work and understanding the art.
Q) Do you take commissions, or is your income derived from sale of work and grants?
A) Some artists work with an agent or gallery, others solely by their own. I have formed a great team and together we manage well.
Q) Are your photographs multiples or ones-of-a-kind?
A) It is always one of a kind. The industry sometimes require editions, that is a different story.
Q) How much work do you do in the darkroom, or is most of your work digital?
A) Seriously? Have a good look at the exhibition or see my print portfolio. It will speak for itself.
Q) As I recall, you use Hasselblads. What is your relationship with that company? How did it develop?
A) The current market supplies a variety of tools to work with, I do have my preferences but I also like to experiment a lot. I use different brands and cameras, Hasselblad is one of them. Brands also ask me to test their product out and I give advice in return.
Q) What kind of other equipment do you use? Lights? Printers? Paper? Why? Do you find much of a difference in cameras, materials, lights or processes?
A) Look, if you ask painter Julian Schnabel what materials he uses you will get a strange list. I use some materials the way I have made them for myself whether that is a digital secret process or a particular light or flash. I invent sometimes items and equipment because they’re not on the market to get.
Q) Do you spend much time traveling, and if so, what are your favored sites or cities to visit? How did you happen to have the show in at United Photo Industries in DUMBO?
A) Traveling is inspiration to me, I am always on the road, it is taking over a big part in our daily life. I look for authenticity in the way I experience that.
Sam Barzilay from UPI was impressed by my exhibition in Athens, that’s how our relationship started.
Q) What would you tell an aspiring photographer who is coming up in the field to keep in mind as they suffer the indignities of the artistic working class?
A) I don’t think like that. Follow your intuition and your heart if you are a true artist.
Rezvani’s web site: http://www.rahirezvani.com/
This interview was conducted via e-mail.
December 28, 2012 1 Comment
Best of 2012
Of course, ‘tis the season for “Best of” lists. There are lots of ‘em, usually broken down into subsets – best album, best reissue, best box set, and so on. But is that how you differentiate between your favorites of the year? Seems to me that what you hear doesn’t get sorted in your head into some prearranged marketing category. What you like the most you like the most, right? That’s my approach to a “Best of.” What did I like, what did I listen to with regularity? Ultimately that’s what counts.
Before I lay out my Top Ten, a word or two on an album or two. Paul McCartney’s Kisses On the Bottom, a slickly produced set of standards was the most pointless record of the year. I love Macca, and usually find a few bits of value in his worst work. It was hard for me to do so with Kisses. Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball garnered five star reviews everywhere. I still wonder why. It is one of his weakest turns, a nonstop pounding of sloganeering and anthem, as simplistic and weak as John Lennon’s “Power to the People.” The Boss means well, and that counts for a lot, though not so much here.
Here’s the list:
10 – Between the Times and Tides – Lee Ranaldo
Sonic Youth came to fame in a period of lost time for me rock wise. I was out of college and way into jazz. Every time I’ve chanced upon a Thurston Moore show, at Academy Records Annex and Solid Sound Festival, he leaves me numb. However, I’ve been catching up with their sound in good faith.
Lee Ranaldo opened for Wilco this summer and I was taken by the cuts from his new album. It’s a solid set of tunes worthy of a founding member of Sonic Youth. Immensely satisfying. Plus he’s a fellow Binghamton alum and came over to say hi to me after his set.
9 – Locked Down – Dr. John
Bayou by way of Akron, the good doctor’s return to prominence came with ample help from The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. The songs are best when swampy, but even when it’s more Black Keys than Mac Rebennack, it’s still damn good.
8 – Uno – Green Day
I very much disliked the overblown stadium bombast of both American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. Uno! is a return to form, a solid reminder of why Dookie was so wonderful when it came out almost two decades ago. Lots of fun, lots of attitude. Uno! is a nice throwback to why I liked them when they started. (Warning: Dos! the second in the sequentially released triology is much less rewarding. Like the Matrix, we may be in the midst ofrapidly diminishing returns. I’m kinda dreading Tre!
7 – The Only Place – Best Coast
Let’s just say I’m a sucker for the sound. It’s light and lovely, in the best tradition of female led pop groups.Bethany Cosentino rules.
6 – Roadcase 006 – 2012-07-28 Cooperstown, NY – Wilco
Is this an album? I’m not sure; I think it counts. From the Wilco website, this live recording of their Cooperstown show captures the best show I saw this year. A great set list, 25 tunes strong, which kept the crowd going through an early downpour. Nels Cline’s sputtering short phrase solo in “Impossible Germany” was a real highlight. Leader Jeff Tweedy was quirkily charming, as usual. Lots of fun, lots of laughs.
5 – Blunderbuss - Jack White
Is a Jack White solo project any different than a regular White Stripes record? Yes and no; it depends at what stage of their career you look. Blunderbuss isn’t so very different from Icky Thump in its collection of not so straightforward Jack and Meg type songs. Once a song like “Conquest” made it onto a Stripes album all bets were off. White’s first official work is a total triumph.
4 – Tempest – Bob Dylan
A great album overall, marred only by the shockingly awful “Roll On John,” Dylan’s shallow tribute, if that’s what it is, to John Lennon. He’s forgiven for that misstep. The record starts with the deceptively jaunty “Duquesne Whistle”- Bob Dylan as the “song and dance man” he once mockingly called himself. The title cut, nearly 14 minutes on the Titanic, is a true epic and the best of Dylan’s long form that stretches from “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” to “Brownsville Girl” to “Highlands.” Gravelly Dylan is proving to be as compelling as nasal Dylan.
3 – Vincebus Eruptum – Blue Cheer
The mono mix (Sundazed reissue) of this pioneering work of heavy metal (originally released in January 1968) is a bludgeon with little adornment, in the best sense. Paul Whaley’s drum sounds are positively Muppet-like, with the sense of abandon that Animal brought to the skins. The flat slap of Whaley’s kit coupled with Dickie Peterson’s resonant throbbing bass form a thick dense substance. Leigh Stephens’ guitar work, several notches above solid, if miles from Clapton’s and Hendrix’ virtuosity, lends a touch of the garage, making the sound that much more powerful. This joyfully psychedelic slop-take on the electric blues gives The Cheer much in common with Big Brother and the Holding Company. If you’re looking for the first contraction in the birth of metal, start here. Blue Cheer’s coming out wail is louder than any record of its time.
2 – The Carpenter – The Avett Brothers
The Avetts 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. The songs are seemingly of the simplest construction, and that’s the hook: straightforward, catchy, memorable. 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.
1 – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do – Fiona Apple
Off the charts brilliant. Stranger than even a standard run of the mill Fiona Apple album (as if there was such a creation), the latest offering comes with Native-American chanting, oddball word choices like the overly stressed “periphery,” and self-harmonies that sound like Morticia Addams’ sister Ophelia. Her breakup songs are terrifying. I can tell you that her willingness and enthusiasm in exposing the flaws and frailties of her exes scares the shit out of me. Man, you do not want to break up with that girl! Idler Wheel may not be as much fun as her others and is at times a very tough listen, but it was the best album of the year, a work of total genius. Nothing else came close.
About the author:
Jeff Katz, Mayor of Cooperstown, is the music editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.”
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
Cover of The Kif Smoker
The One and Only Peter One
By Jonathan Evans
In Ibiza, a Spanish Balearic island, back in the ’60s and ’70s, there was a plethora of Peters on the scene – Pink Peter, Dutch Peter, Intense Peter, even Peter Two – but only one Peter One. He was my next door neighbor and my dope dealer and we ended up pretty close – or at least as close as Peter got to anybody. He was tall, thin, dark and Jewish with hair that even Bob Dylan would have envied. I remember him as incredibly intense, unfailingly uncompromising and generally secretive. The nature of his unique work necessitated the latter. He would come and go mysteriously at different times of the year, probably at times when the cannabis harvest was taking place and when the “product” was moved around. He was a fearless man in his business, completely obsessive about what he did and had utter confidence in the hashish that he made. And we all knew it – his hashish and its psychedelic powers were the very best anywhere in the world. Perhaps things would be different today, were he still around, for the potency of the cannabis plants nowadays is vastly stronger than that prevalent in Moroccoin the ’70s. But when it came to smoke in 1970, Peter produced la crème de la crème.
As I said, we were next door neighbors in the glory days ofIbiza. It was a beautiful island, set apart from the Franco dictatorship of the mainland, where ex-pats had come in droves from all over the world and had bought land and houses and settled in to enjoy what turned out to be Europe’s final fling before the world went askew and the resulting recession and depression set in. Peter and I saw each other most days; he would either wander up the hill with his camera in his hand to watch the work in the outdoor studio, or I would walk down to his finca to watch sunset, often seated on the roof, over a pipe or three. I remember a magical Christmas day, sitting up on Peter’s roof, deep in all-enveloping mist, smoking sebsi after sebsi, oblivious to the world around us. Peter loved Bob Marley and Reggae music and we went to hear the great reggae star performing at theIbizabullring, a full moon creeping magically up over the lip of the stage. I also remember, to my shame and chagrin, borrowing his brand new copies of Marley’s “Exodus” and Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It” and bringing them back at night, climbing down over rocks and letting “Legalize It” slip out of its cover and shatter on the rocks. Yet, Peter took it very well – and I knew that he obsessed about this music – and only said that accidents will happen. He had a wife too, Pat, a very different kettle of fish, a quiet, serious New Englander who later went on to a successful career in academia, and a young son named Aaron, or “Fish,” as he was commonly known.
Peter One, The Kif Smoker
In the fall of 1977, Peter invited me to come toMorocco with him and Fish. We were going to the Rif Mountains for the marijuana harvest and first flew to Tangier to rent a car for the trip. I had spent a lot of time there ten or more years before, but Peter really knew the ancient city. We checked into a hotel, Peter asked for and got a specific room and immediately unscrewed the cap at the top of the bed post and retrieved some smoke he’d left there on the previous trip. Like I said, he was pretty obsessive about his drugs.
Chefchaouen, with its distinctive blue-painted buildings was our first destination and from there we drove higher, through the forests of oak and cork trees to Ahmed’s house, which was to be our home for the next six weeks. We lived in a lovely but primitive farmhouse amidst a constant sea of mud. The whole stay there remains vivid in my mind. It was a world of freshly picked marijuana plants, kilos upon kilos of them; our first step was an extensive and exhaustive sampling and testing of their different potencies and highs. Peter was as meticulous about this as he was high in his standards. He only selected the very best quality plants and we spent the following weeks putting the hemp through different sized sieves, collecting mountains of resin. For the Primo top grade hashish, we merely dusted the flower heads against a fine gauze, accumulating the very best resin. A large hot press turned the dust into dark pungent blocks of hashish. Peter was at all times in charge and was deeply absorbed in the work and the final product. The day we left to drive down to Fez, I remember, Peter drove the car up the hill through the mud, whilst Fish and I, hand in hand, walked up behind him. A mangy, vicious-looking dog from the houses below started to follow us; it came nearer and nearer and was quite threatening. Before it attacked us, as it looked like it would, I threw a large stone at it and broke its leg – the only time in my life that I have hurt an animal. But this wasn’t Ibiza or England; life up here was extreme and sometimes extreme measures were necessary.
We went through a road block on the way down to Fez but Fish’s presence in the car seemed to render us harmless to the Moroccan cops, no doubt sitting and waiting for “product” to be brought down from the Rif at that time of year. In Fez, we checked into a fabulously opulent palace hotel where we met up with Peggy, Peter’s equally fearless partner in crime. It was she who would transport the hashish toNew York, which was the primary market. They spent two or three days packing the suitcases for the trip, wrapping the blocks of hashish in several layers of plastic and then fitting them into the specially constructed suitcases. The last step was to cover the plastic with talcum powder to completely mask the smell. It was a careful, well-thought out routine which Peter and Peggy had perfected over years. That night, we washed all our clothes in the bath in our hotel room and I swear that the water turned bright green. The next day was a day of rest – or rather a day in which we took acid and spent the day roaming the dark subterranean depths of Fez’s ancient markets. They say that there are five or six levels to the huge area, one built upon another going back into the depths of time. We had a guide with us or we would never have been able to emerge.
Peggy had left for New York by a circuitous route, while we flew back from Tangier to Ibiza with a small amount of hashish hidden on us. Peter’s final, compulsive act before we left for the airport, was to fill up the bedpost at our hotel with a stash for his next visit. He was a man who looked to the future, whilst checking sideways in both directions as well as up and down.
In 1978, I left Ibiza in search of wider pastures and ended up in New York. And there, my second chapter of adventures with Peter started. He had a large apartment down off Canal Street while I had a loft at Times Square and we saw a lot of each other for a couple of years. It was a time of an explosion in music with Punk taking off in the city and my loft was across the road from the old Peppermint Lounge where all the new bands played. So we went to every band we could as well as a lot of reggae. We heard Bob Marley play at the Apollo several times and Peter even turned on the Wailers in their dressing room after a gig. One time, he and I posed as journalists from High Times magazine and went to a press conference for Bob. We got to talk to him and took a lot of photographs. Neither Peter nor I went anywhere without our cameras these days and took endless photos of our musical heroes. One day, I drove Peter up to see his parents in Connecticut; I remember his parents, the Adelmans, being really nice, highly educated people who seemed bemused by their son and the way he had turned out. How much they knew about his irregular life, I have no idea but they must have had their suspicions. He continued to come and go, to disappear for weeks on end but always come back toNew York during this period. Probably he seemed tenser to me than he used to be. He was courting disaster all the time with his flights abroad and his wheeling and dealing in the city. He continued to smoke like a chimney, did coke, drank neat vodka, ate a lot of red meat and liked his strong coffee. As I said, he was a full-on sort of guy. And he never ever got busted, unlike Peggy who went to jail. In the end, I think that I personally decided that his sort of life, with its secrecy, paranoias and drama, was not for me.
The final episode in this story took place a couple of years later. I had left New York, burned out on reggae, the pace of life there and the rat race, and was living in the hinterlands of Northern California. I had heard rumors of Peter’s illness but didn’t really know what was going on. And then the word came through that he had serious brain cancer and wasn’t doing very well. I wrote to him and told him how very sorry I was and asked him if I could connect him with my old friend Dr. Patch Adams who often worked with cancer patients at his Gesundheit Institute in West Virginia. He wrote me back an angry letter saying that he wasn’t going to eat fucking lentils for anybody – and that was the last contact that I had with him. I’m told that he died in great pain six months later, refusing to try alternative treatments after going through a ghastly illness.
It was typical of Peter never to compromise his lifestyle even when he faced death. I wouldn’t have expected him to. He was a charismatic man, well aware of his romantic image, I believe, and living his alternative existence, a world of travel, exotic places, high tension and drama, not to mention drugs, to the hilt. I never heard him talk of quitting for it afforded a glamorous lifestyle, nor did I ever hear him talk of doing anything else. He took a lot of good photos along the way, especially focusing on Moroccan kif smokers and women carrying bundles of marijuana and published a very nice little book of Moroccan pictures in 1976, called “The Kif Smoker in Morocco.” I realize that this is beginning to read like an “Unforgettable Character” story but that is exactly what Peter One was. He could pass for an Arab with his dark hair and colouring and he lived like one most of the time. It is tragic that his lifestyle probably contributed to his death and I shall never know what he might have achieved later. Or perhaps Peter achieved enough already in his short, fierce life. As I finished this piece off on the night of the U.S. presidential election, the state of Colorado, where I live, went Democrat and legalized the recreational use of marijuana, the very first state to do so. This is something that I had really given up on seeing happen in my lifetime. Peter was always a strong supporter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Lawis legacy, but an occasion to light a bowl and remember…
About the author:
Jonathan Evans is a batik artist living in Colorado with his wife and fellow artist, Beth McCoy Evans. Their previous contributions to Ragazine include an account of a UNICEF art education program in Haiti. See also: http://www.jonathanevans-batikart.com/
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
By John E. Smelcer
Novelist, poet, short story writer, art and literary critic, John Updike (1932-2009) was the author of numerous novels, the most famous of which were his “Rabbit” books. His Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won Pulitzer Prizes for literature, making Updike one of only a few writers to win two Pulitzers (William Faulkner was one). He won the O. Henry Prize for short stories several times in his distinguished career. Millions of American high school and college students have read his “A&P.”
My friendship with John Updike began in 1994 when he and I served as judges for the National Poetry Book Award. I remember very well the manuscript we selected that year. My wife and I were driving to our cabin in Tazlina, a Native village about 180 miles east of Anchorage, where we lived at the time. I had brought along a stack of submissions, and, to help, my wife began reading aloud a few poems from one of the collections. I abruptly stopped and asked her to drive so that I could read the manuscript myself. The remarkable poems were based on Eskimo myths from the circumpolar north. As a mythologist, I was immediately intrigued. I knew within a dozen pages that I was holding the winning manuscript. After our weekend at the cabin — where I carefully read the entire collection — I sent a photocopy of the manuscript to John, who called to tell me he agreed. And so Denise Duhamel’s The Woman with Two Vaginas won the $1,000 prize and was published the next year. The book gained national notoriety as a banned book when the contracted printing firm refused to print it, which, of course, only made it more popular. When I sent John his honorarium he refused it, telling me to donate the money instead toward promoting the winning book. John and I didn’t communicate much after that, although for a few years his family was on my Christmas card mailing list.
Five years later, in 1999, I was invited to read at a number of literary venues in and around Boston. On hearing news of my itinerary (my first visit to the East Coast since a lecture trip to Moscow) John asked me to arrange a free day so that he and I could visit. I called his house from the airport to tell him I had rented a car and was on my way to Beverly, the lovely seaside hamlet about thirty miles north of Boston where Updike lived. It was early morning, and I recall that Martha answered in a sleepy voice. When John came on the line, he said he had a surprise for me. On the short drive up from Boston, I wondered what it was he had in store. When we met in Beverly, we had breakfast at a café in town. Over pancakes and coffee, John shared his amazing surprise. He told me that he had called his old friend, J. D. Salinger, and had arranged a luncheon in Salinger’s home village of Cornish, New Hampshire, just a couple hours drive northwest of Beverly.
Needless to say, I was elated at the prospect of meeting J. D. Salinger.
Half an hour into the trip, as we were making our way over to Highway 93 North, we pulled into a town and began looking for a gas station with a restroom (ah, the wondrous effects of coffee). As we drove along the main street, I saw a store that sold used books and CDs. On our way back to the highway I managed to persuade John to let me have a few minutes inside the store, despite our schedule. I bought a couple of hardback copies of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories so that the venerable author could sign them for me and for my twelve-year-old daughter, who would undoubtedly read Catcher in school within a few years. I also bought a cheap CD of hits that were popular in the early 1960s, when I was born. I have a habit of singing aloud in the car. Some people say I have a good voice. My uncle Herbert would have disagreed. He always hated that I’d sing whenever we’d go anywhere together, moose or caribou hunting or salmon fishing at the headwaters of the Klutina River.
But then an unexpected miracle happened.
John started singing with me.
For the most part, we knew the words to every song. For the next hour we sang our hearts out to songs like Mark Dinning’s sappy “Teen Angel,” Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet,” The Tokens’ contagious rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl.” (I’ve been reminded recently that some of these songs were first popular in the ’50s but gained chart-topping success as remakes in the early ’60s). Imagine my glee: John Updike — thirty-one years my senior — and me, driving along in a rental car singing and laughing and cheering each other on, hollering lyrics neither of us had heard in years. It was a side of him that few people might imagine, especially given his age: playful, humorous, and genuine. Road trips often bring out the silly in folks. While writing this essay, I looked hard for that CD in my collection, but I couldn’t find it.
We arrived at the appointed restaurant in Cornish twenty or thirty minutes early. I don’t recall the name of the place, but it was downstairs in an historic inn. Come to think of it, it may have been the only restaurant in town. That someone as famous as Salinger lived in such a small and isolated hamlet amazed me. But, then, he was somewhat the recluse. While waiting for our guest, I was editing a spiral-bound, photocopied manuscript of my short stories I had been working on. I put it away when Salinger arrived. Updike, all smiles, introduced me, and Salinger told me to call him Jerry (the “J” standing for Jerome). John told Jerry about our singing in the car on the way up. To prove it, John and I sang a few lines of “Teen Angel.” People sitting nearby turned around to listen to our duet, and some even applauded. We were embarrassed. But Jerry laughed and told us how that song had been banned from radio play in the US and England, but climbed to the top of the charts in both countries nonetheless.
I used to wonder why J. D. Salinger would know that bit of trivia. Not long after, it hit me: Of course he knew that bit of trivia. Salinger was the creator of that quintessentially brash teenage underachiever, Holden Caulfield.
For the most part I was a third wheel at the table, listening to the two great novelists, John Updike and J. D. Salinger, catching up. But at some point during lunch, Jerry asked what it was I had been working on when he arrived. I reluctantly showed him the manuscript, and Updike complimented the stories enough so that Salinger asked to see them. After reading the first story at the table — while I fidgeted nervously and chewed off my fingernails — Salinger asked if he could keep the bound manuscript, promising to make comments and to return it to me in a week or two. In my blithering attempt to seem grateful, I insisted he accept five bucks for mailing costs and wrote my address on the cover. True to his word, the manuscript arrived some weeks later with his very useful suggestions, including his recommendation to trash a few stories or to start them over from scratch from a different angle or point of view. I often wonder what he thought about my boneheaded offer of five bucks. I think he volunteered to read my stories because I didn’t ask him in the first place and because he was legitimately interested, not so much in me but in Alaska.
Maybe he loved Jack London’s stories as a boy.
I didn’t see John Updike again until the early fall of 2006 when I moved to Binghamton, New York, to work on a Ph.D. in creative writing. John invited me to have lunch with him in Beverly. And although it was a long way to drive for a lunch, I went anyhow, and I’m glad I did. I remember we ate in a café on a village square where we could see docks and boats and seagulls just a few hundred feet down the hill.
In the months before his death, John volunteered to look through my poetry manuscript tentatively titled The Binghamton Poems, offering editorial suggestions and a jacket blurb, even though I’m certain he was very busy working on his own writing projects, including Endpoint, his last collection of poems, which was published posthumously.
From my own experience, at least, John Updike was more than a man of letters and a literary lion — he was also a man of great generosity. No matter how many years pass, I’ll never forget the two of us bobbing our heads and singing in that car.
About the author:
John Smelcer was recently the Clifford D. Clark Fellow of literature and creative writing at Binghamton University, State University of New York. The author of over forty books, he is one of the last speakers of two endangered Alaska Native languages and the editor-compiler of dictionaries of each (Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker wrote forewords to one; His Holiness The Dalai Lama provided a foreword to the other). His bilingual poetry book, Beautiful Words: The Complete Ahtna Poems (Truman State UP, 2011) was hailed a “literary landmark.” He served as judge of the National Poetry Book Award for over a decade. He is associate publisher and poetry editor at Rosebud magazine and a contributing editor to Ragazine.
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
Riding with Rodeiro:
Ireland to Italy
and back again
By Dr. José Rodeiro
RAGAZINE Art Editor provides a viable itinerary for a 2013 grand tour of Europe that examines key examples of Early Medieval visual art and architecture, listing “must-see” pieces and monuments that chronicle the intricate transition from the “Dark Ages” to the Pre-Romanesque, spanning a geographical swath that extends from Ireland to Italy and back again. Rodeiro sees this unique art historical overview as a type of informative “Christmas Card” or a “Holiday Greeting” for those RAGAZINE readers who desire art historical insights into visual art, architecture, civilization, and culture. The article below is a laudable attempt to satisfy those audacious cravings. At this 21st Century moment when the earth is beset by countless woes and pundits describe economic and geo-political harbingers of a “possible” pending “Dark Age,” the article also furnishes discerning and optimistic reflections about how “The West” crawled out of an earlier “Dark Age,” which might be in accord with Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Law of Eternal Return” or George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. ….,” although, in this case, it is: “art history.”
Lasting from the 7th to the 8th Centuries CE, the so-called “Dark Ages” were precipitated by four main geo-political conditions: 1). Perpetual un-Christian Viking raids against Christian coastal and inland monasteries throughout Europe, 2). The Byzantine Empire’s Iconoclastic Controversy, 3). The dire consequences of the military encroachment of Islam into France, Spain and Southern Italy, and 4). The fact that many European barbarian tribes had not yet converted to Christianity. Thus, the remnants of Roman and Byzantine power, lingering under the guise of the Christian faith, were in jeopardy. In fact, the authority of the former Roman world (Western Civilization) was on the brink of total extinction. Indubitably, it would have completely vanished had it not been for two driving forces: 1). The brave resolve of the outnumbered Christian Frankish arms at the Battle of Tours (732 CE) which began the Christian wars of reconquest against Islam in Europe, and 2). The tenacity of Irish monks who managed to keep the light of Western art and culture burning throughout the British Isles, and eventually Europe. By the 9th Century, Charlemagne and his heirs would take full advantage of both of these unforeseen cultural and political miracles, during the Carolingian Renaissance, fostering the revival of the West.
To understand the artistic contributions of Christian monastic culture on the British Isles in the Dark Ages, it is essential to study the Norsemen. During excavations in 1938 and 1939, a group of Viking ship burials (c. 655 CE) were unearthed in Sutton Hoo, England, providing many treasures, including an ornate purse cover.
The Sutton Hoo purse cover’s interlaced abstract decorations and organic figural elements correspond artistically to designs in Celtic illuminated manuscripts from the same period, as do the undulating serpentine decorations of the dragonhead ship’s prow from the Oseberg ship burial, Norway, c.820 CE. Even though Viking raiders violently
attacked Celtic monks throughout the British Isles, there seems to have been a cross-cultural influence between the two cultures.
These 7th and 8th Century Norse artistic influences on Hiberno-Saxon (Irish) art presumably derive from earlier zoomorphic filigree designs on ancient Russian Scythian gold works and Luristan (Iranian) bronzes that Vikings had noticed and acquired during their incursions into Russia and the Black Sea. The Norsemen’s stylistic influence on Celtic art is most evident in the famous Book of Kells (the Great Gospel Book of St. Columba). Until disruption by Viking attacks in 807 CE, which prevented its completion, St. Columba (St. Collin Kille) and his coterie of monks had painted it on parchment (13” x 9 ½”) on the Island of Iona. Then later, the unfinished manuscript would be taken to Kells, Meath, Ireland, to protect it from Viking raiders. There are many liturgical influences on the decorations of the Kells’ Gospels that relate directly to Roman Catholic iconology. This is especially noticed on the Chi-Rho Carpet Page of the Gospel of Matthew with its sensational monogramming of the first three Greek letters of Christ’s name forming an animated X-shaped configuration, cross-like emblem, floating on a hive of symbols. Exemplifying God’s nature, infinity and “eternal life,” the background is a maze of swirling figure-eights and volutes, which are comprised of snakes biting their own tails, and tiny whirlwinds. Amidst the chaotic surge, a miniature angel peeks out, indicative of the Gospel of Matthew, while the Apostle’s blond-haired portrait is attached to an extremely long undulating neck, forming part of another abstract and mystical emblem. This carpet page is one of the most energetic images in Western Art.
Abstract interlacing of organic serpents and abstract patterns bedeck the earlier (700 CE) St. Matthew Cover Page from the Lindisfarne Gospel (The Gospel of the Martyr St. Cuthbert) from the Monastery of Lindisfarne on the Island of St. Aidan, Northumbria. It was probably at Lindisfarne Monastery that a handful of Celtic monks did the most to preserve Western Culture during the darkest days of the Dark Ages by their devotion to classical learning. This work had been created by Edfrith, an English Monk, who had been trained by Irish monks. Eventually Edfrith became Bishop of Lindisfarne. In 875 CE, the Lindisfarne Gospels (along with the relics of St. Cutbert) were moved to Durham for protection from Viking raiders. An even earlier work, the Echternach Gospels of St. Willibrand, is famous for its fat swastika behind the abstract imaginative yellow leaping-lion on the St. Mark Cover Page, 690 CE. Also, similar intricate abstract patterns were carved on High Cross commemorative sculptures at Monasterboice, Carndonagh, Moone, Ahenny, and at other sites throughout the British Isles.
The greatness of Celtic-Christian influence on the Frankish Carolingian Renovatio (which was an attempt to revive the Roman Empire) can be best defined as a fusion of the Celtic-Germanic Spirit with that of the Mediterranean World. In the 8th Century, during the final stages of the Merovingian Dark Ages, Pepin the Short (Charlemagne’s father) attempted to recruit Hiberno-Saxon (Celtic) monks, (along with Italian scholars), to promote Classical learning among the Franks. This fact is expressed by the French medievalist Pierre Riche’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, (1988 edition, 205).
These events are the direct result of the 6th Century Celtic-Christian Reconversion of England by the Irish, continuing through the 8th Century Hiberno-Saxon (Celtic) Renaissance and culminating in the 9th Century Celtic scholarly involvement within the Frankish court. During the Celtic Renaissance in Ireland, Scotland, and Northumbria, Celtic-Christian religious communities formed scholarly spiritual-centers replete with scriptoriums and libraries. Within these communities, the monks devoted themselves to writing, copying, illuminating, preserving and maintaining Greco-Roman and Christian codices. These monastic congregations were located throughout the Celtic region in locations such as Durrow, Lindisfarne, Ruthwell, Leicestershire, Muiredach, Malmesbury, Kells, Durham, and other centers.
In the text The Era of Charlemagne, (1979 edition), Stewart Easton and Helene Wieruszowski expound upon the Carolingian Renovatio, stressing the Celtic-Christian role in the creation of the 9th Century Frankish Renaissance. They also note the inclusion of several Spanish and Italian scholars and poets within the Frankish court (88).
The Frankish Carolingian Renaissance is a great civilizing agent, reviving and re-standardizing lexicography, grammar, codifying spelling, promoting the visual arts (against Byzantine and Islamic iconoclasm), revitalizing many of the theological aspects of Christianity, re-advocating the rule-of-law, reintroducing liberal arts education, resuscitating Greco-Roman literature and offering many other Carolingian gifts to European Civilization. Charlemagne and his heirs furnish many important erudite instruments that have advanced Western Culture. All of these civilizing cultural achievements were carefully attained through direct contact with Celtic Christian scholars. The Carolingian Age greatly advanced the progress of Western Civilization. Therefore, it is incredibly wrong to negate the significance of Celtic-Christian influence on modern European and American Civilization(s). Therefore, we must acknowledge our debt to the Hiberno-Saxon Celts, who made many worthy contributions to European Civilization between the 7th and 9th Centuries, especially among the Franks, the Danes and the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons.
Celtic Christian beliefs were at the core of Charlemagne’s faith. Crowned by the Pope in Rome on Christmas Day, 800 AD, Charlesmagne was declared “Holy Roman Emperor.” He became the first Roman Emperor in 300 years. He established the imperium Christianum (Christendom): the Holy Roman Empire. Despite his close association with the Pope, whenever he was confused on religious questions concerning 9th Century Roman Catholic doctrine, he relied on Hiberno-Saxon Christian theology that he had learned from his teacher and principal advisor Alcuin of York, who had been trained by Irish monks. Even the Pope had to conform to Alcuin’s view of church doctrine, because Charlemagne wholeheartedly concurred with his own advisor.
Like Pepin the Short, Charlemagne wanted to invigorate his court with Classical learning. The Celtic Christians encouraged the study of ancient Greco-Roman literature. Charlemagne felt that liberal arts education would greatly enhance his court’s prestige, while reinforcing Roman Catholic theology.
In 1840, Jean Jacques Ampere named the reign on Charlemagne the “Carolingian Renaissance” in his History of French Literature (32-5). Many masterpieces of ancient Roman literature had been illuminated and preserved in Irish, Scottish and Northumbrian monasteries. These texts were carefully studied by Hiberno-Saxon (Celtic) scholastics during the Irish, Scottish & Northumbrian Renaissance of the 8th Century. The Northumbrian Deacon, Alcuin of York was the product of the Celtic-Anglo-Saxon monastic educational tradition that had flourished since the 8th Century on the British Isles. This legacy aimed at the preservation of Greco-Roman & Christian literature and culture throughout the British Isles. In France, Pepin the Short saw the potential of this effort, and tried to introduce Celtic learning among the Franks.
Alcuin was the heir to the Celtic Christian tradition. Along with a host of Irish scholastics, Alcuin helped instill these values throughout the Holy Roman Empire from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Scholars, poets and artists also came from Spain, Italy and other parts of the empire. But, according to the French medievalist Robert Folz in his The Coronation of Charlemagne, 1974, the Irish and Northumbrian contingent at Aachen’s Palace School played a highly significant role in the revitalization of classical learning (64).
The utter lack of erudite scholars in France and Germany during the Dark Ages caused both Pepin and his son to hunt for highly trained intellectuals among the Celts in the British Isles. Invitations were extended to scholars from Ireland, Scotland and Northumbria as well as Spain and Italy. The Franks knew that the Celtic Christians were known as great preservers of Classical learning (Folz 63). The Franks wanted to reestablish liberal arts education (Folz 66). Alcuin became the central figure in this effort. Alcuin’s devotion to liberal education is reflected by the sincere dedication to learning of his greatest student: Charlemagne!
Robert Folz describes the collegial interplay among the scholars of the Palace Academy (Palatine School), Aachen. The success and excitement of this educational venture within the Frankish court led to the eventual spreading of knowledge throughout the empire. Schools opened at Metz, Tours, St. Denis (Paris), Rheims, and later Laon. These schools would be responsible for the creation of several generations of scholars. This educational legacy would outlive the Carolingian Dynasty. In fact, the “modern university” is probably partly heir to this Carolingian educational innovation, although other traditions from Spain, Italy, Greece and Islam contributed as well in the evolution of modern learning. But, the Celtic-Christian scholastic idea of stressing Latin linguistic uniformity (the standardization of language), while focusing on codices/books (texts) as reservoirs of intellectual learning are important educational concepts that are of great interest even today during our technological “Dark Age,” when classical traditions are perpetually trampled. The lesson of Charlemagne is still there, “To go forward, one must first go back.” This new emphasis on “history” is another valuable ingredient of “civilization” that the Celtic-Christians helped to revive, during the 8th & 9th Centuries. Stewart Easton & Helene Wieruzowski’s The Era of Charlemagne (1979 edition) describes the activities of the Palace School (189).
The Ada Group was the chief Palace Workshop (scriptorium), creating illuminated texts at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) and Ingelheim. The Ada Group’s painters and scribes (which included Charlemagne’s sister Gisela) produced a bevy of famous manuscripts: The Sacrementary of Igitur, The Godescalc Gospel-Lectionary, The Gospel of Charlemagne, The Aachen Gospel, The Gospel of Medard d’ Soisson, etc., including the Gaelic Sacrementary of Gelasian that belonged to Alcuin. The Ada artists strove for classicism and directness in their images e.g. the St. Matthew Page from Charlemagne’s Coronation Gospels (795 – 810 CE). Other scriptoriums abounded at Metz, Tours, St. Denis (Paris), Rheims, and other locations, financed and supported by the Emperor. The most bizarre was the expressionistic style of the Rheims School, e.g. The Gospel Book of Archbishop Ebbo and the famous Utrecht Psalter. The Rheims style was extremely gestural and emotional.
During the Carolingian age, Western architecture was also revived. The greatest Pre-Carolingian (Merovingian) building was the Baptistry of St. John at Poitiers which greatly influenced Carolingian architecture. Although, Richard Krautheimer believed that Carolingian architecture derived exclusively from the styles of Constantinian Roman churches like Old St. Peters and Sta. Costanza. But, the Church of St. Vitale in Ravenna is also significant to the development of Carolingian architecture. Charlemagne had selected Aachen as his capital because of the near-by hot springs that he loved. He built several structures there, including the Royal Hall (aula regia), the Palatine Chapel, the Palace School and the Scriptorium which were destroyed by allied-bombing in WWII, except for the chapel. He also encouraged architectural works throughout his empire at St. Gall, Germigny des Pres, Cluny, Rheims, Lorsh, Corbie, Corvey, Mustair and other places. Odo of Metz was the architect of the gorgeous Palatine Chapel, Aachen (792 -805 CE). While Einhard of Fulda (Charlemagne’s talented son-in-law) beyond designing jewelry and authoring a biography Vita Caroli about Charlemagne was perhaps the designer of the St. Gall Monastery.
Charlemagne studied dialectics and astronomy with Alcuin and Dungal the Irishman.
Alcuin was Charlemagne’s principle advisor on both clerical and secular matters. Alcuin knew several forms of Gaelic, translating Gaelic texts into Latin. Charlemagne desired that Latin would be the imperial tongue, although he tolerated and encouraged the maintenance of vernacular (national) languages. But law and statecraft were conducted in Latin. To maintain his authority at court, Alcuin relied on his Irish colleagues, according to Pierre Roche.
Despite the constant English and Italian attempts to diminish the contributions of Celtic culture, a brief historical examination of the facts will instantly reveal that during the 6th through the 9th centuries, Europe profited greatly from Celtic Christian intellectual and artistic endeavors. In fact the greatest work of Western philosophy during that period was created by an Irishman who was employed by Charles the Bald (Charlemagne’s son) in Laon, France, during the 9th Century. St. John Scotus Erigena’s Divisions of Nature is perhaps the most profound text of that time, in terms of its understanding of Christian metaphysics. This Irish-born theological-philosopher was the ancestor of Scots who had migrated to Ireland. Pierre Riche’s account indicates Scotus’s profound significance. By the end of the 9th Century the intellectual wealth of the Celtic-Christian world had been generously poured into the Carolingian Renaissance, creating a renewed interest in learning throughout Europe.
Scotus evolved out of the long Celtic literary legacy that fostered authors and scholars like Clement, Dungal, Alcuin, etc., etc. Pierre Riche notes that even during the Carolingian Age, Non-Celtic scholars felt enmity, jealousy and vexation towards their Hiberno-Saxon colleagues within the Frankish court and Palace School. Sadly, even today there are those who ungratefully diminish and disregard Celtic cultural contributions to Western civilization.
After the Treaty of Verdun (843 CE) Charlemagne’s empire was divided in three among his heirs. This event eroded the Empire’s vital unity, causing an eventual Carolingian demise, ending with the rise of Hugh Carpet as King of France (938 -996 CE) in western Europe, and a new Saxon Holy Roman Empire in eastern Europe. The new Emperor was Otto the Great of Saxony (912 – 973 CE), who wisely tried to continue many Carolingian traditions, while fostering new Ottonian artistic innovations that would have far reaching consequences on the emergence of Romanesque Art in the 11th Century CE.
About the author:
Jose Rodeiro, Ragazine‘s Art Editor, is a professor of art and art history at New Jersey City University. You can read more about him in About Us.
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
Rolling Stones 50 Years:
Time is Forever on Our Side.
by Eric Schafer
Rolling Stones at 50. Time is on my side. Absolutely goddamn right. Know why? Oh, by the way it is not “The Rolling Stones,” it’s “Rolling Stones,” as it was in the beginning, on the first day that co-founder Brian Jones thunk it up in a jumping jack flash when a writer for Jazz News – ‘cause nobody covered rock ‘n’ roll back then, it was only jazz that was taken seriously, and blues and R & B were considered bastardizing of jazz – and the band, which began as Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, a great name but Rolling Stones beats it, asked what was the name of the band, and Jones glanced – wisely – at a Muddy Waters album and that was that, but over five decades people forgot – more likely got lazy – and assumed the name was like every other plural thing in the English language and added the “The.” “The Rolling Stones.” You even see it on their album covers sometimes. “The Rolling Stones” right there on the cover. But many times it’s “Rolling Stones,” as it should be; and on either type one can often find simply “Rolling Stones” on the spine of the album. Look at their record company – it’s not “The Rolling Stones Records” but “Rolling Stones Records.” Got it? Rolling Stones, like Pink Floyd or Pearl Jam. Though someone used to call them “The Pink Floyd.” Isn’t that fall-on-your-ass laughable? The Pink Floyd. Can you imagine “The Pearl Jam”? “The Metallica”?
Time is on their side. Rolling Stones are 50 years old. No, 50 years in. So what? Years don’t matter in rock ‘n’ roll, especially for Stones, the greatest non-progressive rock band that ever existed. They make time stop, they keep you young forever – this is a good thing – because before rock ‘n’ roll, people slowed down at 30 and had nothing more to say; they were old at 40 and dead though still breathing at 50. Rock ‘n’ roll does not exist in time. It’s always the same time, so there is no sense in marking this anniversary… especially since they’ve only released a single album of new material in the last 15 years. Rolling Stones are not 50, they are the same they were in 1962; they are timeless because they’re so simple. They began playing covers and then writing imitations of American country blues, R & B (when it still was R & B), country, and rock ‘n’ roll because that is the music that Mick and Keith and Brian loved, and Charlie loved jazz – which Americans also invented – and Bill went along for the gig. And to this day, not a single fucking thing has changed. They have not grown or “progressed” in the least. They were never as good as the Beatles, Kinks or Who in terms of creativity or musicianship; they are still playing covers and writing imitations of American country blues, R & B, country, and rock ‘n’ roll. Discovered and directed by Andrew Loog Oldham when he was 19 – younger than the band! – read his fascinating books, Stoned and 2Stoned, all about Swinging London and youth culture and Rolling Stones. So what that Jagger couldn’t sing and they often hit bum notes? What was great about Stones was their panache and the astonishing growth Jagger and Richards made as songwriters. In 1963 they were recording with no thought of writing songs; Oldham pushed Jagger/Richards together and by 1965 they were changing the world – “The Last Time,” “Get Off My Cloud,” “Satisfaction.” These songs are timeless. Charlie keeps time perfectly, so perhaps he’s the one counting. But it doesn’t matter.
Speaking of timeless, they recorded an awful lot of songs about time. Not the first, but the most notable was the scathing cover of Jerry Ragavoy’s “Time is on My Side,” slowed down and tarted up, the best version being the difficult to find guitar-dominated one – most folks are only familiar with the one featuring the church organ – this was the first time they really got global attention, with that bluesy picked guitar rubbing your face in it and that smartass little fucker out front yodeling the words. Before that was the raucous cover of the Womacks’ “It’s All Over Now,” and then Mick and Keith’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” “The Last Time,” the unjustly overlooked “Out of Time,” and then “Long Long While,” “2000 Light Years From Home,” “100 Years Ago,” the covers of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and Sam Cooke’s “Good Times.” And of course “Goodbye Ruby Tuesday Who Could Ever Hang a Name on You?” They’ve covered the time thing, and it don’t matter now. They are as they were the day when childhood friends then separated for a dozen years little boy blue Michael Jagger London School of Economics student with a bunch of precious sent away for in the mail American blues records tucked under his arm bumped into Keith Richards art school student on the train platform and someone said, “Eh, what you been up to?”
Been up to it ever since. But don’t count years, days, numbers. Doesn’t matter. They’ve been doing the same thing ever since that day, so they are that day, this is that day. When they began, the single was still the métier of rock ‘n’ roll, even though the Beatles were already showing the importance of the album, but the single has always been Rolling Stones’ modus operandi. The single, the tiniest of records, solid gold and a nuclear bomb contained in the smallest of packages, a couple inches of vinyl in a glossy paper sleeve, one song per side, the A-side the chart-topper, the mind-expander, the bomb that changed your life, the punch in the face to society, anyone could afford to buy it, my big sister had boxes full of them; the B-side often some throwaway but occasionally a gem in itself. Stones singles, killers, hot rocks, diamonds cutting against the grain – “Come On,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Not Fade Away,” “It’s All Over Now,” “Little Red Rooster,” “The Last Time,” “Satisfaction,” “Gerroff Me Fuckin’ Cloud,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Paint It, Black,” “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” (standing in your mother’s dress) “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” “We Love You,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” “Tumbling Dice” – statements of arrogance and flash, lurid fornication and impudence, brag and sneer, greasy hair and pimples, heroin and heroines but no heroes. Get it in all its glory, the collections Hot Rocks or Singles: The London Years, forget the albums, they’ve only ever made one great album, Rolling Stones Exiled off Main Street.
Single or album track, throughout them all there is a single constant – Keith Richards’ riffs. Beyond musical, there is threat in those riffs, menace in “The Last Time,” sex in “Satisfaction,” fear in “Gimme Shelter,” exultation in “Jumping Jack Flash,” riot and revolution in the Euro police siren wail of “Street Fighting Man,” the mind-bending rhythm shifts in the live version of “Midnight Rambler.” That’s what hooks people deep and forever – the threat in those riffs, all coming from Keith’s ripping, crunchy, shreddy, off-rhythm rhythm Telecaster (go ahead, just try to play the opening riff of “Tumbling Dice” exactly like him – no one can match that rhythm). Keith is the band, no, Keith and Charlie are the band. Take them away and you do not have Rolling Stones. Even Terence Trent Darby stood in for Mick one night and was fabulous. I don’t give a winkle for Brian, Bill, Mick; the band is Keith and Charlie. There is the battle between Mick’s predilection for pop and dance and keeping the rhythm section under control and under volume, and Keith’s pure “I don’t give a fuck” rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities. They’ve stayed together but Keith’s solo albums were the best Stones albums of the last part of their career. I recorded some demos at Studio 900 on Broadway, where Keef and Steve Jordan would demo their songs that ended up on Talk is Cheap and Main Offender. Keef had just been there. The air reeked of riffs. I cut my finger on a riff. My drummer got motion sickness from a riff. Saw Keef and the X-Pensive Winos at the Beacon Gotham City February 23 ’93, their next to last show ever, opened with “Reelin’ and Rockin’” and I watched it with Joe Strummer beside me. Heaven.
Greasy hair, menacing riffs, storming singles and those mismatched clothes. That was rock ‘n’ roll British ‘60s style, the best. They weren’t the first band to not wear matching outfits – the Beatles had their suits and so did Stones – if only for a while – and the Kinks had their velvet and lace, it was the Who that was the first band to never have never worn matching clothes – but it was Stones that were the first established band to dispense with trying to look like they were a single organism. I’ll always remember being a little boy and discovering my brother-in-law’s Big Hits (High Tides and Green Grass) collection, those striking photographs of those horribly ugly guys in horrible clothes; he played me “Get Off My Cloud” and I made him play it a dozen more times. Suddenly those guys are beautiful. It’s a masterpiece, one of the classic 15 singles released in the 15 months of the great rock period from the summer of 1964 to the autumn of 1965 (I’m writing a book about this period; hands off the topic is mine). It comes in like a panzer attack and never lets up; listen to how Keith and Charlie match each other perfectly from start to finish. There is no better matching of two men playing together in the history of smash ‘n’ roll. It’s pure nastiness in the great Stones nastiness period – “Heart of Stone,” “Mother’s Little Helper,” “Play With Fire,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Under My Thumb” … but not really. They were just being upstarts. Mick wasn’t actually mocking someone suffering from mental illness, he was talking about himself, he’s long suffered from depression, and Stones were actually nice middle class boys who were trying to be working class – whereas the Beatles were working class boys who would only be accepted if they pretended to be middle class. They did what Oldham told them to do, and played at being bad, but it was still great. Oldham was brilliant, but didn’t have to present them as anti-Beatles. It’s not about competition. As my Theorem of Expanding Economic Fandom proves, if there is a great rock ‘n’ roll band and kids buy their records, and another great rock ‘n’ roll band comes along, the kids are not going to buy just one record by one of the two bands…they’re gonna buy two great records by both bands! That was another myth, that Beatles and Stones hated each other. They were buddies and got drunk and got laid together.
All the Beatles albums were great but the early Stones albums were filled largely with horrid fake R & B songs, icky pop, rejects from singles sessions. The album covers were great – early punk sneering, no Rolling Stones name, just the brilliant color photos. Finally, Aftermath was half good, Between the Buttons (U.K. version) was all good; Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed is overrated but still, it contains “Gimme Shelter,” one of the greatest songs ever written; Sticky Fingers, the underrated Black and Blue, Some Girls, the sadly overlooked summertime fun of Emotional Rescue, Voodoo Lounge, Bridges to Babylon are all good, some even great, but they’re not albums – they’re collections of songs. Only Exile was a true album and it’s a masterpiece which some to this day still don’t comprehend.
Exile is a masterpiece because it’s a double album. Double albums allow artists to stretch out, play music for themselves instead of for the charts. Everybody’s best albums are the doubles – Blonde on Dylan, The White Beatles, The Who’s Deaf Dumb and Blind Kid with Four Personalities, Clash Calling and Clashdinista!, Led Graffiti, Stones on Main Street. Because it was recorded in Keith’s basement while Mick was chasing Nicaraguan pussy, Keith had complete control before he succumbed to heroin for a decade and Mick never knew what hit him – and made sure it never happened again. Listen to it – notice that Keith sings beneath Mick on every track? That’s why it’s so good. And in 1972, no one cared about the charts so the songs were real.
The Double Albums are dead (another book I’m writing; hands off!) and Rock is dead (yet another book on the way) so the big thing about Rolling Stones is we shall not see their like ever again. That is the only significant thing about 50 years anniversary. As Rolling Stones and the Who, Dylan and Bruce age, with no one coming after them, an epoch is dying. There have been good bands since – Counting Crows, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Metallica, Public Welfare – but really, it’s dead. Pete Townshend said it in 1979, “I’m sure rock ‘n’ roll will prove to have been a fascinating era.” There he was, putting a finite end to it. Rock and roll will go on forever – Bullshit!
The real hard-nosed stuff was done by the mid-70s and Woody left Faces to join Rolling Stones. I like Woody but so much of the character of his Faces guitar playing was subverted when he joined… They were still pumping out good solid rock ‘n’ roll but the Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World as they were now billed? No. One could only believe that if you don’t listen seriously to any other band. Compare Stones’ 1971 Sticky Fingers to the Who’s 1971 Who’s next. The Who blow them away. Even Keith doesn’t think so, he said it best, “World’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band? No. On some nights, maybe, but no, we’re not.” Keith, always honest, always from the heart. He cares nothing for anything but playing guitar, pumping out riffs. No ego whatsoever. Arrested in Toronto in 1977 for possession of brown sugar, Keith: “Why didn’t they arrest someone important, like a mailman?”
Super Bowl 2006, Stones still managed to get censored twice in three songs – fantastic! Still doing their jobs! And my Vietnamese sister asked, “Is this the band of the magazine about music? I’m confused.” Apart from that, all she knows about rock ‘n’ roll is: “The guy with the round glasses that married the Asian girl.” But for me it was over just months later with the Shine a Light film recorded at the Beacon and they changed the words to “Some Girls” – no more “Black girls just wanna get fucked all night.” They’re worried about what people will think now? Over.
I live in Viet Nam and believe it or not, Rolling Stones are a great soundtrack for VN. I guess it’s the Delta thing… About a hundred singles, all the same, copying American music, great rhythmic riffing stuff. Fantastic singles band, which is what they wanted to be and is the essence of rock ‘n’ roll. They’ve never strayed from that. Sometimes they really got to you – “Gimme Shelter,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Paint It Comma Black” but it was really about what it did to your gut, not your mind. They’re not 50 years old, they’ve just been doing it for 50 years, and we’re better for it. Thanks.
About the author:
Eric Schafer is a writer from New York who has spent most of the last decade in Viet Nam, writing books and advertising copy. He is the author of the short story collection The Wind Took It Away – Stories of Viet Nam, as well as two children’s books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. A musician and formerly a music columnist with the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin, Schafer is an occasional contributor to Ragazine.CC.
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
Wolf at the Door
I peeled back the curtain and peered through the window: “I am sure that if the devil existed he would want us to feel very sorry for him.”
“So you’re not inviting her over for biscuits?” My sister, Millie, stood on tiptoe looking over my shoulder, and from her tone I could tell she was not serious.
“I looked into her eyes and saw pure evil.”
“Don’t be silly. Evil doesn’t really exist,” said Millie.
“How would you explain the diamond mines of Africa?”
“Money. There’re people who feel they need to have more than others. A lot more, it turns out.”
“She de debil,” I said. “Duck!”
Quick-as-flash I pressed on Millie’s shoulder and pushed her to the ground. We squatted on the floor, me holding my breath. Then the doorbell started ringing. We knew it was Anna Tenin, and we knew it was she who had set the post office on fire.
“Damn it!” This was getting stupid. Time to get up and answer the door. “Damn it.”
“Damn her,” said Millie, as I straightened up and cursed some more.
“Hello Anna,” I said, standing in the doorway with my legs spread apart. No way she was coming in.
“Did you see that?” said Anna. She put her hand to her cheek.
“Someone set the post office on fire.”
“I was in line waiting to mail a package to my nephew when suddenly the place went up in smoke.”
“Wow, just like that,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, bobbing her head to get a look inside the house. I knew what was coming. I kept my arms crossed. “So,” she said, still bobbing and weaving. “What’s cooking today?”
“You mean literally?” I asked, ‘though I knew she meant figuratively.
“What are you gals up to?”
“Well, we’re kinda busy at the moment….”
Then Millie came out from hiding. “Hi Anna. What brings you here?”
“I’ve just been through trauma.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yes, you see the fire?” But, by now firemen had soused every bit of the flames.
“Does this mean we must invite you in?” says Millie.
I stood in the doorway, with crossed arms, wide legs and a set face. Millie was fooling.
“I was just telling Anna how busy we were….” Too late. Anna quickly made her way past me, as I stared at the blackened building.
So, I made Anna tea and listened to her tales of woe. Millie made a show of showing pity. Me, I daydreamed and smiled: in an older, better time, the Inuit would invite their sociopaths hunting, then push the bastards off the ice.
About the author:
C. Goodison earned her MFA from Syracuse University and her PhD in literature from Binghamton University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
The Soul of Zeitgeist
by Fred Roberts
In late 1980s’ West Germany, I often came across bands at various events or street festivals, German bands playing original songs, but in English. This puzzled me more than anything. “Why wouldn’t you write your music in German?” I asked them. The consensus I got was that German didn’t sound good in songs, or conversely, that English sounded better. This conventional wisdom made no sense to me, otherwise how could artists like Nena and Falco have landed such major hits in the US charts? I fell in love with the sound of Nena’s 99 Luftballons and the seductive mystery hidden in the words she sang. And Falco’s Der Kommissar simply sounded cool.
The sad thing at that time was that most German bands who performed in English sounded bland. They didn’t add anything new to what could be heard elsewhere. It didn’t seem like the band felt what it was singing; they were more about copying styles than creating a sound of their own. This wasn’t just my opinion. I heard it again and again from other Americans, and even Germans.
The decision to embrace English may have been an inevitable reaction to the fate of the Neue Deutsche Welle. The years 1981-1983 saw a wave of new bands performing in German and landing hits on the national charts. Much of the music was minimalistic and the bands vanished nearly as quickly as they appeared. There was rarely enough substance for a second album. Nonetheless I made it a habit to hang out in the record stores at the listening bar to find my own personal favorites of German music, old and new. Two albums stand out in particular, each with their own unique quality not normally found in popular music. Each, in its own way, captured a snapshot of a zeitgeist that’s now lost.
Wolf Maahn – Was? (1989, Electrola)
Working from 1982 to 1988, Wolf Maahn und die Deserteure became the most successful live band in Germany; in 1984 they toured with Bob Dylan. Theirs was a solid rocking sound as tight as The Pretenders or a Joe Cocker backing band. Maahn fronted with guitar and German texts. At the height of their success something happened that had many shaking their heads. Maahn dissolved his band and came out with a solo album, in English! With The Third Language (1988), he intended for an international breakthrough. It was a debacle. Not that the music was bad, but the songs as a whole lacked a certain cohesion, some igniting element to electrify a non-German audience. “Load This Train” was the standout track on that record, a song about the spirit of fascism escaping from defeated Nazi Germany to the South Africa of apartheid, but it seemed out of place in a collection of love songs and pop ballads.
Maahn returned to German with Was?(What?). It repeated some of the musical ideas of The Third Language but this time it amounted to a pop-rock coup. The language was the unifying force, showing a unique reflection of the mood in West Germany at the time, in many ways a land of bliss that would soon come to an end. The title song is a gold mine of cultural references, counting off one-by-one the elements forming contemporary ‘80s’ life: mega-show, sex shops, infrared, cable, Burger King, Marilyns, managers, freeze-dried zinc-plated TV shows made of zeitgeist, chocolate and plastic – as filling as one might expect. If you’re missing something important, goes the refrain, don’t worry, they’re working on it.
The song Bleib noch Hier (Stay Here with Me) handles the fears a boy and girl might talk about with each other: of the dentist, the greenhouse effect and low-flying planes crashing into their bed (a reference to the accident in Remscheid late 1988). Fahr, Fahr (Drive, Drive), captures the feeling of racing down the autobahn, a feeling in which the car takes over and the driver becomes a passive object, hypnotized by the experience. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the roads in Germany are so congested today, that the feeling is little more than a relic of the past. The ominous sounding Weit, Weit Ab (Far, Far Away) refers to the destruction of the environment that fueled the life style of industrial West Germany. As the song says – what this country needs is growth, technology and perfect know-how. The closing song Manche (Some People)is a catalogue of the motivations of people you might encounter anywhere, but Germany in particular: people wanting to see your driver’s license, wanting video text, wanting everything in triplicate, or to go to a movie at eight. Maahn then cleverly turns it into a love song: all I want is that you love me.
All in all Was? is a fine set of listenable songs, heavy on vocals, a good mix of ballads and intense pieces, with every track a standout. It’s just the thing to put on if you have a German girlfriend over. It’s also a reflection of the thinking and concerns in West Germany in the last months before the Berlin Wall fell.
Die Vision – Torture (1990, Vulture)
Torture is one of the CDs I came away with from one of my listening bar sessions. Hailing from East Berlin, the band Die Vision had an unpolished, indie sound reminiscent of Galaxie 500. The songs were upbeat and pleasant to listen to. Guitars dominated and the vocals were entirely in English, albeit with a distinctive pronunciation. The album was produced by Mark Reeder, an influential producer on the UK and German music scene.
The group formed in 1984 as Komakino (Coma Cinema) and was banned in 1986 for playing anti-music. They returned a year later under the name Die Vision and over the next several years built a loyal following, playing numerous concerts in East Germany. (Friends of mine who grew up in the German Democratic Republic tell me that no one listened to the official bands like Puhdys or Karat. They listened instead to bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Queen. German bands singing in English were also frowned upon by the authorities. It was the equivalent of a punk protest.)
Though they had produced and distributed several self-produced cassettes on their own, the album Torture was their CD/Vinyl debut, finished just days before the Berlin Wall opened on November 8th, 1989. It was already clear that something was happening. In September and October of that year crowds of East Germans massed on the Hungarian border to Austria and Hungary was letting them through. These historic events were the backdrop of the recording session.
For me the remarkable track of the album was After the Sunset with its positive sound and refrain “Sing it out loud, a song for a better world, sing sha la la la la.” It anticipated the mood of euphoria in the air once it was clear that the German Democratic Republic was dead and that East and West would be reunited, which happened officially on October 3, 1990. One heard amazing opinions then of how it would be: the Eastern states would become a shiny utopia with everything old replaced by state-of-the art machines and infrastructure. Schemes abounded selling office space in Leipzig, financed by life insurance policies.
The reality was slightly crueler. The entire social safety net took on an unbearable strain and unraveled accordingly. Thousands migrated to the West, leaving behind ghost towns and closed factories. The doctor-patient ratio was catastrophic, high rise apartments stood as uninhabited monuments to communism, foreigners fled from right-wing violence. West Germans carried an unspoken resentment to those from the East, who now for the first time in their lives had to cope with a real life work-ethic, as the stereotype went. Finally, Chancellor Kohl’s claim that he would not raise taxes to finance reunification taught everyone the difference between taxes and surcharges. But before all this became reality, there was the hope for something better and After the Sunset reflected it.
What became of Die Vision? For the first time, a band from East Germany succeeded at sounding international, but that was not enough. The record sounded like any number of British guitar bands. How did they expect to be noticed against competition like that? What remains is a title so scarce, German Amazon has one for 100 Euros.
(Slide show and Die Vision’s I Love You, from the cassette release:
Die Vision’s former bassist, Jörg “Joggy” Müller has posted some songs and videos at this page:
About the reviewer:
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
Beneath the Veils, acrylic, canvas, antique wood carving. Made on residency at Babayan Culture Center, Cappadocia, Turkey, 2011.
“Journeys: 30 Years of Art-making”
by Dr. José Rodeiro
From January 26 to February 26, 2013, at The Visual Arts Gallery, New Jersey City University, 100 Culver Avenue, Jersey City, NJ, celebrated visual artist Mary-Ellen Campbell presents a comprehensive retrospective-exhibit of her dynamic visual imagery. Her show is named “Journeys: 30 Years of Art-making,” representing three decades of rigorous and insightful creative endeavor, encompassing several highly-ambitious and distinctive artistic directions [(The Inner and Outer Space Series (1980s); The Back to the Land Series (early 1990s); Symbiosis Photography (1990s); Angels & Demons works (after-1997); Interactive Art Series (early-21st Century), and her recent Boxes and Book Arts visual-adventures)], which explore innovative and experimental ways of creating art.
When considering her exhibit as a whole, Campbell’s manifold directions are always intriguing, paradoxical, enigmatic and poetic. Her art reveals an ingenious propensity for creating alluring ‘sight-statements’ that function visually as twofold binaries that simultaneously intermingle familiar and tangible things with unfamiliar “intangibles” (i.e., riddles and mysteries) that are often suspended in an atmosphere of Postmodern différance. Throughout Campbell’s oeuvre, these merged-dualities are intensely dependent upon a particular schema, in which, each element is utilized, engaged, and/or subjugated in order to accrue greater iconological, artistic, and hermeneutic complexity.
Key to her art and herself (as an artist) is the glaring fact that Mary-Ellen Campbell is an ubiquitous resident-of-the-Earth; her trans-cultural exploits encompass lengthy sojourns in Asia, Australia, Oceania, Latin America, Europe, and Africa, visiting far and remote places from the Himalayas to the Sahara, from the rainforests of Central America to the lush jungles of Thailand. In all, over 55 nations have been visited; several repeatedly. Her vibrant imagination, and its resulting art is creatively nourished and imaginatively ignited by her perennial far-flung voyages, in which, she artistically examines and experiences each locality’s inimitable customs, environments, natural science, people, and culture. For example, she has lived, worked, and created in Nicaragua, Thailand, Australia, China, Nepal, Costa Rica, Cuba, Peru, and many other nations. Recently, she was the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to teach Book Arts in Thailand; she has also taught in other nations, and is the recipient of additional significant awards and grants, including her plethora of major artist-residencies, e.g., Arteles, Finland, 2012; New Pacific Studios, New Zealand, 2011; Babayan Culture House, Cappadocia, Turkey, 2011; Artsource, Fremantle, Australia, 2010; Penland Letterpress Residency, NC 2010; Wildacres Retreat, NC 2009 and 2007; Julia and David White Colony, Costa Rica 2007; Colorado Art Ranch, Salida, Colorado 2007; Stonehouse Residency, CA, 2007, and The Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, MN, 2007, as well as others.
Throughout each of her above-named series of works, her highly-inventive psycho-symbolic art relies heavily on collage and/or assemblage to portray her myriad worldwide experiences, as she explains: “These travel-experiences reemerge in my art, wherein they express unforgettable and vivid memories, my deepest feelings, as well as embodying intellectual pursuits. My numerous journeys serve to increase my knowledge and my awareness of the world that we share and inhabit. Moreover, these creative manifestations of travel-reveries in my art facilitate my creativity feeding my soul, in addition to aesthetically stimulating my artistic aspirations, creative inspiration, and help me refine my finished pieces by imbuing my art-work(s) with a host of transcendent experiences acquired through my travels.”
Thus, the spiritual and physical conjoin in Campbell’s retrospective art-show by communicating her innumerable observations of diverse places where she has lived and traveled, articulating abundant thoughts and feelings about her adventures, sorrows and joys, as well as expressing the entire emotive gamut (or conundrum), that life intrinsically and inherently bestows.
In this same light, the viewer must recognize that Campbell is an alchemist-of-collage as well as assemblage, and an heir to contemporary mixed-media collage/assemblage tradition(s), which include such masters as Joseph Cornell, and Robert Rauschenberg. And, like these preeminent modernists, Campbell attempts to break arbitrary distinctions between “art” and “life” through her discerning command of varied or combined media, including: book arts, sculpture, painting, printmaking, photography, computer graphics and video, which are all employed to express her copious subjects and themes. This apparent search for variation in her art-making identifies her as a prime exemplar of ‘chance-operations,’ mixed-media, and experimentation in 21st Century art.
In order to grasp the underlying complexity in her art, the viewer must consider that (when not gallivanting across continents) Campbell spends her days between her New York State country farm, and her New York City’s upper Westside residence, overlooking the Hudson River. Due to this unique urban/rural dichotomy, a curious contradiction appears in her art, integrating divergent urban iconology with rural themes and subjects.
Mary-Ellen Campbell / Art
US, digital images, canvas, mirror. 2002.[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_cornhsksprarigrasbind.jpg]50
Corn Husks and Prairie Grass, 36x12" open. Made on residency at the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Red Wing, MN. 2007.[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_mnrockbk.jpg]40
Rocks of Ages, 24x8", Made on residency at the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Red Wing, MN. 2007.[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_cosmictriptych.jpg]20
Cosmic Triptych, enamel on wood, 144x96" 1982[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_orbitting_a_red_giant.jpg]20
Orbiting a Red Giant, serigraph, 36x30" 1983[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_io3.jpg]30
Io3, serigraph, 36x30 1983[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_yosemitedawn.jpg]50
Yosemite Dawning, enamel, twigs on wood, 72x483", 1992[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_to_each_her_home.jpg]70
To each her home, 9x12x3", mixed, 2009[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_hawkbox.jpg]50
Death Be Proud, mixed, 7x10x3", 2012[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_nailmir.jpg]50
Nailed, mixed, 3x8x1", 2002[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_blkdols.jpg]90
Care-less, 8x3x2", mixed, 2002[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-art/thumbs/thumbs_rosewestdetal.jpg]80
Detail, Roses of the West, mixed, transferred antique photos, found objects. Made on a residency at Colorado Art Ranch, Salida, CO 2007
In the 1980s, Campbell earned her MFA at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY; where she began experimenting with a Futuristic push-pull of primary-geometric structures “in / as” cosmic galactic-space, creating daring 3-D prints, as well as experimenting with airbrush, spray paint, and enamels on wood surfaces, and other techniques. These metaphysical works are part of The Inner/Outer Space Series and include 1982 works like Cosmic Triptych, Io3, or Orbiting a Red Giant, each of which ingeniously and skillfully fuse the metallic Hard-Edge style with the mystical softness of Color-field Painting.
At the same time during these pivotal years (from the 1980s through the 90’s and even today), resulting from her former close association(s) with Phil Perkins at Pratt Institute and Dan Weldon in Woodstock, she developed her unique and extraordinary Symbiosis, a combining of Photography and other media including paint and collage. Both black-and-white and color photos were manipulated, dyed, sprayed, sewn or collaged with objects. They were abstract works concerned with form in space as in her earlier Cosmic Series or they presented a plausible reaction to nature and happenings in rural New York where she had moved in the mid‘80’s. These innovative photographs won several awards in prestigious shows on New York and New Jersey.
Before long, a series of shaped-surfaces ensued as part of her The Back to the Land Series (in the early 1990s), combining Neo-Surrealism with geometric imagery, furnishing (infrarreal or irrealist) landscape-elements; e.g., Yosemite Dawning containing ancient tree branches that were sandwiched between sky and earth as geometric forms. Plus, in Sands of Time, golden dunes flowed from unfolding geometric forms. These shaped-pieces metaphorically reveal the sublime chasm separating terrestrial realms from celestial realms. As the 21st Century approached, Asian cultural and philosophical ideas became increasingly influential in her oeuvre. In 1997, a crisis in her life generated a succession of psychologically expressive works that profoundly addressed Feminist issues via radical Postmodern hyper-emotive Neo-Expressionistic imagery, which pervaded an uncanny series of works, which she called: Angels, & Demons. At this time, she also created free-standing sculptures bringing her constructions from the walls to the floor to be viewed from all sides and dimensions.
In the new millennium, Campbell relinquished some of her artistic control as sole-author of the work by seeking audience participation and collaboration in her art, effecting the look and organization of her work, creating an analog Interactive Art style or form. The audience could manipulate surfaces with magnets and/or Velcro, which could be moved and rearranged, or, i.e., other works allowed viewers to scrawl graffiti-like scribbles that were written on signs. In addition, the exhibit furnished mirrors painted with acrylic portraits of ethnically diverse personalities; these trans-cultural images invited viewers to assume different and distinct cultural-identities; thereby, provoking greater awareness, identification, and empathy with other ethnicities and races. Objects were added and subtracted daily from the works exhibited. But the themes of the works also took-on or manifested a different direction dealing with society, people, and culture rather than her earlier predilection for uninhabited landscapes. Her first book, US, was created in the gallery, where people wearing different masks were photographed and immediately asked to write on-the-spot reactions to their “new” and startling masked-depictions of themselves, which were instantaneously available on printed pages. These “Interactions” continued throughout the early-21st Century, eventually spawning her recent innovative forays into “neo”-box-making approaches as well as her revolutionary contributions to contemporary Book Arts, which she also considers an “interactive” art form.
Currently, both Box-Art and Book Art represent her main aesthetic enterprises. After making large sized pieces of art for several years, she started a new series, working in a smaller-scale. The intimate settings of boxes that contained 3-D montages of many of the objects collected on her travels abroad and locally. The boxes soon developed into miniature fantasy world theatrical stage-sets, with some suggesting fairytales, while others suggested nightmarish scenes. Others afforded commentaries on contemporary society in the format of-or-as “dimensional poems.” At the beginning of the new millennium, she began writing poetry, which translated well into visual environments. The very small boxes when displayed resembled open books. They were the inspiration, along with her poems, to explore Book Arts.
Campbell acquired her technical and aesthetic mastery of Book Arts by studying with leading Book artists; e.g., she learned assorted binding techniques from Hedi Kyle at The Center for Book Arts, NY, and Penland, NC, as well as attaining incisive instruction from Australian book-maker, Adele Outteridge at Arrowmont, Tennessee, in addition to studying with other renowned faculty at respected Book Arts centers. In recent years, she began writing poems, as well as, experimenting and making books in various materials and formats. During her residencies in Colorado, Costa Rica and California, she made books from natural materials such as rocks, leaves, grasses, feathers, bones, twigs and even insects. On trips all over the world, she made books using small Impressionistic watercolor paintings in conjunction with particular cultural objects that conveyed explicit iconology. In addition, she made books that used poems and photographs, reflecting her various reactions to a plethora of places, which she had visited during residencies in New Zealand, Turkey, Finland and Australia. Soon books emerged that were constructed from fabric, floppy disks, tin cans, rubber gloves, clay shards, soldered metal insects, and other juxtaposed-things, which questioned the definition or concept of a “book.”
Through her anomalous Books, and the intimate world of her Boxes, she continued mixed media approaches developed in previous artwork. Due to her mastery of the craft of binding and printing; along with her years of studying graphic design, digital imagery, typography and layout, over the last decade, the intimacy of her Book Art narratives have crystallized and matured, affording a raw and vibrant subject matter, which is playful, intellectual, journalistic and emotional. She is continuously creating books, on the road; in the studio, or in the print shop. In the Book Arts world, she is well-established, given that her books are regularly included in national and international Book-exhibits, highly-prized, and purchased for special collections in such prestigious libraries as The University of Denver, The University of Santa Fe, Denison University and The College of William and Mary, to name a few.
Mary-Ellen Campbell / Book Art
Memories of Aotearoa, watercolor, abalone, tyvek, haiku, 12x7 open, 2011, made on New Pacific Studios Residency, New Zealand[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_flaxbindg.jpg]170
Homage to Flax, digital images, tyvek, haiku, 8x4.5x1".Made on residency at New Pacific Studios, NZ, 2011.[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_insidpg.jpg]110
Homage to Flax, digital images, tyvek, haiku, 8x4.5x1".Made on residency at New Pacific Studios, NZ, 2011.[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_bambobkopnins.jpg]110
Homage to Bamboo, bamboo, hand-made paper, digital image, haiku, 12x10 open, made on J & D White Residency in Costa Rica.2007[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_bambobkopngd.jpg]90
Homage to Bamboo, bamboo, hand-made paper, digital image, haiku, 12x10 open, made on J & D White Residency in Costa Rica.2007[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_finresbks.jpg]80
Assorted books completed on residency at Arteles, Finland, 2012.[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_grasrtsopn.jpg]60
Grass Roots, digital images, tyvek, poem, 8x4.5x1". Made on residency at Stonehouse, CA, 2007.[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_homagtobirchbk.jpg]60
Homage to Birch Bark, digital images, birch bark. Made on residency at Arteles, Finland, 2012[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_tidestopvu.jpg]90
Tides, gouache, collage, shells. 12x7" open. Made on residency at Artsource, Fremantle, W. Australia, 2010[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_tidesinsid.jpg]190
Tides, gouache, collage, shells. 12x7" open. Made on residency at Artsource, Fremantle, W. Australia, 2010[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_turkdelitspred.jpg]100
Turkish Delights, watercolor, transfers, haiku, tyvek. Made on residency at Babayan Culture Center, Cappadocia, Turkey, 2011.[img src=http://ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/mary-ellen-campbell-book-art/thumbs/thumbs_snowbkopn.jpg]100
The First Snow, digital images, poem, handmade paper. 2005.
In recent years, her work has conceptually transformed, incorporating items from her environment that function as metaphors for the passages of life; i.e., youth to old age; relevance to obsolescence; quantity of life and quality of life, as well as longevity and wisdom. Campbell believes that art can convey something special about this later period of life, which has a unique beauty and a sadness that the young cannot fully fathom. Today, she continues to create distinctive books that paradoxically disclose both a physical and metaphysical journey. These themes are explored through documentation of personal history, analysis of aspects of aging, realizing meanings across cultures and places, and consideration of nature’s dynamic concepts.
As previously mentioned, she is the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to Thailand, as well as the recipient of other major awards and residencies. During her years at New Jersey City University, she served as Acting-Chair of the Art Department, a founding member of the Global Arts and Awareness Network, Fulbright Coordinator, Coordinator of the Communication Design Area and the Graduate Art Coordinator. She has also curated important and acclaimed exhibitions in Feminist Art, Printmaking and Book Arts, and organized programs, workshops and presentations at New Jersey City University, and throughout the world in both global studies and the arts. After considering all of the above achievements, Campbell is certainly a creative and multifaceted dynamo with a vast reservoir of talent readily available to fuel her future artistic contributions as the 21st Century art-world unfolds. In view of her huge artistic potential and her wealth of acquired creative knowledge, one can only dream or imagine what Mary-Ellen Campbell will achieve in her next thirty years.
About the author:
Jose Rodeiro, Ragazine.CC’s art editor, is professor of art history at New Jersey City University. You can read more about him in “About Us.”
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
Lured Back into the Past:
An Interview with David Ray
by Roy Scheele
David Ray was born in Oklahoma in 1932 and grew up there during the Great Depression. The hard times Ray and his family experienced seared themselves into his imagination; these early memories are still vivid and have contributed greatly to his concern for social justice and his sympathy for the underdog in addition to providing subjects for many of his poems. As he puts it, he is still “lured back into the past.”
After taking both a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Chicago, Ray taught at Cornell University, Reed College, Northern Illinois University, the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he founded the journal New Letters. He is the author of over twenty collections of poetry, among the most recent of which are Music of Time: Selected and New Poems (The Backwaters Press, 2006) and When (Howling Dog Press/Omega Editions, 2007). His poems have appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review and in numerous university and little magazines, and they have been widely anthologized. He has twice won the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America and has received a variety of awards for his fiction.
The following conversation took place on April 4th and 5th, 2008, on the campus of Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, where Ray, accompanied by his wife, poet and essayist Judy Ray, had come to deliver a lecture, give a reading, and visit several classes. His long experience as a professor was evident in his masterful and enthusiastic relationship with the students, though he was equally well received by faculty and the community at large. We began by discussing one aspect of the current literary scene.
Q: One of your more recent books is Music of Time: Selected and New Poems, and I was struck in reading through it by how fresh and original your work continues to seem. One reason for this may be that much of what you write is in a far livelier and frankly more lyrical free verse than is the norm nowadays. Yet at the same time you can write very good formal poetry, especially in relaxed blank verse. How do you view the Open Form vs. Formalism debate that is so prevalent today?
A: Well, there’s too much polarization. That’s one of the things wrong with contemporary poetry—or contemporary poets, perhaps—the cultishness and invidiousness and so forth, and the sometimes almost ideological commitments, so that you’re either writing with the net or without it—
Q: Referring to Frost’s comment about free verse being like playing tennis with the net down.
A: Sure. To some people writing free verse is contemptible, as if you’re not able to write in forms; others don’t understand why anyone would want to write in forms. There are magazines devoted to neo-formalism, and others to free verse. Some are limited to purely political agendas. So it’s polarized, and you’re either in or you’re out.
Yes, I do write in forms as well as free verse. I have a friend who is a very formal poet—he won’t write anything but sonnets and sestinas, very, very rigid—and he rants on the subject. He has no sympathy for people whose every poem isn’t a perfect example of formal success. He’s very good at what he does, and he’s terrifically prolific; he writes new poems literally every day, and they’re very disciplined and impressive. But his intolerance for people who do not write like that is amazing, and very cruel.
Q:You obviously have an enormous love and respect for the work of William Carlos Williams and have written a wonderful poem of homage to him (“W.C.W.”). What most appeals to you in Williams?
A: His openness and lack of calculation. He wrote about everything. I taught a seminar on Williams at the University of Iowa, and I was constantly amazed by him. Every day, in getting ready for class, I would find something new in him, something I didn’t know about. He wrote in every genre. He wrote wonderful fiction, very powerful stories, had a terrific range and variety, was never apologetic or defensive, so far as I know. And he was generous personally. I had sent him some poems I’d published in The Trojan Horse, the student-faculty magazine at Cornell, edited by Mike Curtis, who later became editor at The Atlantic. And Williams wrote back that it was “the best work that’s come out of any English department in the last 50 years.” This was before my first book, X-Rays, came out. But I hadn’t yet learned to blow my own horn, and it didn’t occur to me to use Williams’s comment as a blurb. Anyway, he was just terrifically generous.
Q: One could argue that the best collection of your early work is Gathering Firewood (Wesleyan University Press, 1974). It seems to have more power and intensity than X-Rays and Dragging the Main (Cornell University Press, 1965, 1968), and this is largely owing to a number of poems which afford brief, haunting portraits of isolation and rural poverty in depression-era Oklahoma. I’m thinking of pieces like “Archeology,” “A Hill in Oklahoma,” “The Family,” “At the Spring,” “Nowata,” “The Touched Life,” and “Gathering Firewood.” These poems have a feel of having been written at fever pitch over a relatively short period of time. Is that impression accurate?
A: I don’t think it was over a short period of time… I’ve always been haunted by my childhood and by those Dust Bowl years, because they were very hard years. My father was a sharecropper and had to give it up; then he went into town and became a barber. And it was a very dysfunctional family, to say the least, so my sister and I were consigned to various foster homes, each worse than the last, and then finally to an institution called The Children’s Home—my poem “Orphans” is about that. Such poems are obsessive, and I still write them; I’m still lured back into the past.
Q: There’s a finality, a bleak sort of take-it-or-leave-it tone, about Gathering Firewood. And the collection ends with a kind of epitaph, the last line of the last poem in the book (“The Family in the Hills”): “Why not start at the beginning? With the first sadness.” How do you view these poems now, after all these years?
A: You know, I would have to go back and look at them, because mostly I go forwards; I’m always writing new stuff. I’m a graphomaniac. When I was at the University of Chicago Bruno Bettelheim, who was one of my professors, had his orthogenics school devoted to curing little psychotic children, trying to wipe their minds clean to get back to their first sadness. There was one boy who thought he was an electric train, so he had to plug himself in every morning. Bettelheim believed that in order to help people you really have to put yourself in their shoes; you have to get down on the floor with them. I think in a way I’m like that little kid: I’ve got to be plugged in to exist. And so I write; I can’t help it, writing is my electric train and I’m not plugged in until I get to work.
Q: The book that followed Gathering Firewood was The Tramp’s Cup (Chariton Review Press, 1978), which won the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. The volume’s title poem seems almost a gloss on the poems of Gathering Firewood; it views poverty through a tramp’s eyes, and says that in sleeping out “All one really needs/is to keep out/the damp.” The tramp has achieved this, and when the speaker of the poem brings him a cup of tea, this touch of comfort affords a quiet bliss: “And thus his cup of tea was sweet.” This Yorkshire tramp seems a cousin to Frost’s two logger tramps in “Two Tramps in Mud Time” and the astrologer tramp in “An Unstamped Letter in Our Rural Letter Box” who sleeps out under the stars. Was either of these Frost poems at the back of your mind when you wrote your own tramp poem?
A: No, I don’t think so. My love for Frost’s work only influenced my own work, I think, long after I read Frost, particularly after my son’s death, when I treated Frost’s poems almost like a Bible. You talked about the tramp’s view of poverty. But there’s a difference between viewing it and experiencing it. Robert Coles, for example, wrote wonderful things about poverty, but I don’t know that he ever came at it through experience. When I write about these things, it’s my own personal suffering, and that carries over. I think I say in one poem, ‘It’s not for these days, it’s for those days.’ That’s what it means to go back to the first beginning, the first sadness.
Q: Well, I just wondered. I feel a kind of kinship between “The Tramp’s Cup” and those two poems by Frost. In fact, there’s what one might call a sub-genre of such poems in modern and contemporary American literature. Robert Francis’s “Two Bums Walk Out of Eden” comes immediately to mind.
A: Last night you mentioned another one—about a mother giving breakfast to some hoboes.
Q: Oh yeah, David Wagoner’s “Bums at Breakfast.” And there are a number of oblique references to the down-and-out in Hart Crane and others.
A: Well, Hart Crane’s an interesting example, because he came from a wealthy family, and his father rejected him, so there was that pain in his life.
Q: From the beginning of your career you’ve written a good many ekphrastic poems: the one you read the other evening, for instance, “On a Fifteenth-Century Flemish Angel,” from your first book. In another poem, “The Art Museum,” you describe the confusion that one sometimes feels between art and real life:
Outside, the faces of waitresses
are immortal and in bronze
I get confused and cannot accept
the passing faces
for what they are
This suggests that it is the job of art, of whatever sort, to confront us with life’s complexity and multiplicity. That seems to be a steadfast concern in your work.
A: Yes, but it’s not self-conscious at all; it’s genuinely obsessive. In beholding a work of art, I cannot help but extend the frame. It’s almost like Magritte’s paintings, where reality is not tightly framed; it just extends through the open window and so on. So I can’t help being allured by the people around me; they are just as dramatic as the painting, so it’s very hard not to turn from the picture and stare at them. It’s very different from seeing a work of art in a book, no matter how good the reproduction is. Lucien Stryk, who was a colleague of mine when I taught at Northern Illinois, once mentioned that poem you just quoted from and said those lines about the passing faces. So yeah, that’s literal. I’m so interested in these people I want to know more about them; I want to follow them home, like a little dog.
Q: But why do you want to write about art in particular?
A: As I say, it’s obsessive; I can’t help it. I don’t choose to write about works of art, whether it’s Henry Moore or Renoir or whoever. One of my unpublished books is about art works: painting, sculptures, music as well. To me, life is inseparably lived, so that, for example, in a poem about a Renoir painting I fall in love with the woman in the painting, just as if she were a person I had met. I don’t have many boundaries, so I have to work to try to observe boundaries.
Q: Not having too many boundaries is probably good for the part of you that stores up material and reacts to it.
A: You know, Henry James said, Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost. Well, fine. You have negative capability, you have a flood of imagery. But isn’t that also a formula for going crazy? It’s self torture, because you’re always feeling you haven’t done justice to the poem.
Q: In your poem “A Portrait of the Mexican Barber,” the barber of the title is gradually eclipsed by a portrait of your own father, who was also a barber, and the poem ends with a brief meditation on General Custer, who “made his last stand on his knees/with pistol raised while all around him/the yelping braves took scalps.” This harks back ironically to the poem’s beginning, where the Mexican barber is described as needing a trim himself. The poem concludes with this unforgettable line about Custer:
He’d come to murder, stayed to die.
This poem is very effective, and it seems to me that it raises the question of why so much of our history has been so little explored by contemporary poets. Whatare your thoughts on this?
A: Well, that one is sort of like a snapshot—in fact, I did take a picture of that barber and we published it in New Letters, as I recall. As you say, my father was a barber, and I obsessively searched for him after he abandoned us, although I saw him only four or five times after that in my whole lifetime, so those meetings were very dramatic. I published a poem in Esquire, back when they were still publishing poetry, about seeing the hair under the crystal of his wristwatch. I guess I saw my father as a failure; I think of myself that way too. I think of soldiers, of course, as going to murder and staying to die.
But in my father’s barbershop in Mounds, [Oklahoma,] right before he left us, there was this big Anheuser Busch advertisement painting of the sort you used to see in bars, and as a kid I was fascinated by it when I went to the barbershop to sweep up and try to help my father. So when I saw this barber in Mexico… Actually, I have a whole thing about barbers. There’s one poem where I talk about my father’s cruelty, for example. Once when I visited him in California he was offended by my beard—this was during the Vietnam War—and so he said, “I’ll give you a shave,” and he cut me. It was just sort of symbolic, his hurting me like that. So my search for the missing father and the missing mother has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years, because I project that and have a rejection complex.
Q: You mentioned the Vietnam War. Robert Bly’s “Counting Small-Bone Bodies” is certainly one of the masterpieces of that conflict. It seems to me to have caught this country’s sense of its own superiority very well; it is a chilling masterpiece. How do you view the poem?
A: You know, if I may boast a little bit, I’m proud of some of the catalytic relationships I’ve had to other writers. That poem came out of the first read-in we did against the war. We went back to my house after the reading, and I said, “Robert, that thing you said about counting the bodies was wonderful.” “Oh,” he said, “do you think so?” And I said, “Yes, you should write that down. It’s a little poem.” So he wrote it down, and I was there at the birth of it, so to speak.
Q: The two of you were active in organizing anti-war read-ins, of course, but is that how you met Bly?
A: I met him when he came to Cornell for a reading, so we spent some time together.
Q: This would have been when?
A: It was in the early sixties —right after Silence in the Snowy Fields came out. Then we met again in ’66 in Portland at Reed College where I was teaching. He did his reading and stayed a few days and we launched American Writers Against The Vietnam War. Robert, as he still does, had plenty of charisma, which helped us recruit several terrific poets to join in giving and encouraging readings around the country. Auden said poetry makes nothing happen, but I think it did. My main contribution was reading my poem for Senator Wayne Morse, who was a very lonely senator as he protested the war. I was really pleased, still am, that the New York Times—April 6, 1966, as I recall—quoted the last line, “Some of us were born in the wrong land to become war criminals.” I still hope so, and I hope some people have thought about the issue. It’s certainly relevant to this year’s election.
Q: What has Donald Hall’s work meant to you?
A: Yes, Don was a member of our American Writers Against the Vietnam War too. And, well, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow, for one thing: he started his career with a bang, not with a whimper. Poets are very snobbish, and most of the poets I knew couldn’t forgive him for getting positive reviews of his first book, Exiles and Marriages, in Time magazine as I recall. But Don has just been such a great success, and I’m proud of knowing him and having read with him a couple of times. Like Robert, Don can have any audience eating out of his hands within minutes.
Q: A poem that I want to ask you about is “Throwing the Racetrack Cats at Saratoga.” Should the reader take what it describes literally?
A: Oh, yes. Actually, they use nanny goats and pups as well as cats to calm the horses. And then at the end of the season there are too many animals, and they literally throw them over the fence, away from the racetracks and stalls and so on. And I just thought that was so cruel. In the grounds around Yaddo in the winter you see these animals trying to survive. So the poem is a spontaneous response to that situation. And you know, once you start work with a subject like that it’s like a painting; you’re dabbing words around, and it’s a challenge. And as I recall, it’s a fairly formal poem.
Q: It was reprinted in what I think is the best formal anthology of the last 25 years, Strong Measures (HarperCollins, 1986).
A: That is a good anthology, because it doesn’t just describe the forms, it gives examples of them, and that’s what students need to see.
Q: Your time spent abroad, in Austria, Australia, Spain, India, New Zealand and elsewhere, has contributed a number of fine poems to the body of your work. One of these, “A Well in India,” is very immediate and moving. It pictures an Indian farmer who draws water from a well with a span of oxen and a camel-skin bag. Simply and straightforwardly, the poem describes the farmer and his animals doing a simple job that has not changed for thousands of years. How did you come to write this poem?
A: Just by being out there in that village, seeing the scene and realizing that it was probably the same a thousand years ago and will probably be there, just like that, in another thousand years. It’s just that sense of eternity that you also get from works of art. India’s had that right along; they’re doing what was always done.
Q: Do you have a favorite among the poems dealing with your various overseas stays?
A: Different ones from different books, different countries. Maybe “The Road Menders,” from The Maharani’s New Wall,aboutthe Indian women who work so hard carrying the heavy stones and getting a few rupees a day. The rural women there really have hard lives, and I think that poem may have caught that.
Q: I think so too. In fact, your work as a whole has always had a concern for social justice. What has animated that?
A: “A Hill in Oklahoma” kind of says it, and some of those other poems in Gathering Firewood. You know, Wallace Stevens said there’s a peasant in every poet, and I’m definitely a proletarian. I still identify with poverty because of those early years when we lived in a dirt-floored shack on this hillside where my father was trying to make it as a farmer and couldn’t, and then had to go into town and become a barber and was driven out of business by a price war. We were always fleeing landlords. So that’s an identification, and it never leaves. My view of wealth, prosperity, all of that sort of thing is constantly skewed by that, and by that restlessness that my father had, to always move on. He would become very successful at something—say, buying that barbershop, or in a personal relationship—and then just walk off from that.
Q: My own favorite of your New Zealand poems is “Coastal Farmlet,” in which the speaker daydreams about a property he sees advertised in the paper and, in spite of all the practical objections to the place, wants to go visit it “right now, this moment,/while tangy sweet gooseberries glow”—this last in light of the poem’s epigraph from Chekhov, “A man wants nothing so badly as a gooseberry farm.” This seems a particularly convincing sort of light verse, as it brings together the requisite throwaway tone and a real (if only psychologically real) human desire. I take it you enjoy writing this kind of poem.
A: Can’t help it, because humor is the great sweetener, and of course there’s always the bittersweet, there’s always irony. I guess it’s an attempt to cushion the pain of disappointment and so on—exactly the sort of thing we’ve been talking about, the sadness of having to move on with our lives.
Q: Yesterday you mentioned that you had been friends with Nelson Algren. What can you tell me about that?
A: Knowing him was quite an experience. In fact, several of the writers I’ve known have been a really big part of my life, and I don’t mean just in a name-dropping, celebrity-hunting way. My friendship with James Jones, the author of From Here to Eternity, for example, was a very powerful experience, and a very traumatic one. So was my friendship with Algren. He wrote about what he called “lonesome monsters,” the Gothic, Flannery O’Connor side of things. He was the official novelist of Chicago, and he took great pride in that. Saul Bellow, of course, later became the more famous writer. But Nelson collected these “lonesome monsters”; his apartment was virtually an underground railroad for crooks on the lam.
I have written essays about him and some of his fantastic adventures. For example, he had sold his archival papers to the Newberry Library, and one Saturday he asked me to go there with him. His papers were always very chaotic; he had manuscripts scattered all over the floor. So the Newberry people had sorted these out and put them in leather boxes on the shelf, with gilt lettering on them—just beautiful archives. And he grabbed these four big boxes in his arms and headed out the front door with them. The person in charge said, “What are you doing? You can’t take those!” And he turned and said, “They’re mine!” and ran out like a kid stealing candy.
I don’t want to slander him; he’s long gone. But the fact is that he betrayed his friends; finally, he left Chicago in great anger and moved to Sag Harbor. He had a very sad later life, including his infamous love/hate affair with Simone de Beauvoir.
Q: I believe you also knew Maxwell Bodenheim. What was he like?
A: Maxwell Bodenheim was a very colorful, desperate character. He had been a terrific poet back in Chicago, before he moved to New York, and it was rumored that women had killed themselves for love of him. He dressed like a dandy; I believe they called him “The Count.” So he was a very elegant guy before alcohol, I think it was, brought him down. He’d written several novels which were in paperback, and he had signed away the rights for very little money. So here these novels were in print, and he was very poor.
Anyway, one day he took my girlfriend and me on a tour round Greenwich Village, and we went into a place where a lot of writers had hung around in the 20s, and he said, “Edna [St.Vincent Millay] and I used to spend a lot of time in here,” and then he said, “The trouble with Edna was she had to have the seven arts at her fingertips.” And then of course he was killed in a very sordid way. He and a woman were murdered after they took a homeless man in for the night. Bodenheim was a character around the Village, because he had an “I am blind” sign and dark glasses, begging with a tin cup, and he sold copies of his poems, which were hung on a fence and his haunt was Fugazzi Bar, which I think is mentioned in Howl—in Ginsberg’s poem. In any case. I met Max there, too, and at that time I was drinking too much. I bought him a lot of beers, and once I gave him $11 for his rent. Some of his poems are delightful, very lyrical.
Q: Bodenheim has become almost a legend in modern American literature, and yet very few people have ever read him, I think.
A: You’re absolutely right. I don’t know if there’s a biography of him, but there should be. In an unpublished poem I call “Max” I describe all this.
Q: One final question. How did you come to be a Quaker, and how has it affected you as a writer?
A: A Friend invited me to a meeting in Kansas City years ago, and I just took to it immediately because people said things when they were moved by the spirit, for example, about the importance of truth in all things. The Quakers really care about the world, and their method of spiritual discernment is the same that I have always used as an aesthetic. They follow leadings and are guided by them. And historically you will find them all over the place, wherever there is a need to care.
How has it affected me? I used to be a totally out-of-control person. I’m bi-polar: that’s been very hard to come to terms with, and people have very little understanding of that. It’s very much a stigma, and it leaves one isolated. So the Quakers are my extended family. Some of the people we met abroad, in India, for instance, are also family. But I’ve been disappointed by not often feeling a sense of family with other writers. It’s an invidious field, very competitive, and that’s unfortunate. And of course our whole society promotes competition — we’re taught that from Day One — instead of cooperation, equality, mutual respect. David Riesman said that when everybody is somebody, nobody is anybody—which sounds like a line from an e. e. cummings poem. But I think he was right.
About the interviewer:
Roy Scheele is Poet in Residence at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska. His most recent collection is A FAR ALLEGIANCE (Backwaters Press, 2010). He’s also published profiles of/interviews with Miroslav Holub, Gwendolyn Brooks, Hayden Carruth, W.R. Moses, W.D. Snodgrass, Susan Starr Richards and others in such publications as POETS & WRITERS, VERSE, and NEW ENGLAND REVIEW.
More about David Ray:
DAVID RAY’s most recent book of poems is Hemingway: A Desperate Life. Others include After Tagore: Poems Inspired by Rabindranath Tagore, When, and The Death of Sardanapalus: Poems of the Iraq Wars. Music of Time: Selected & New Poems offers selections from fifteen earlier volumes, several of which received national awards. The Endless Search is a memoir. David now lives in Tucson, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and essays. www.davidraypoet.com
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
Zombies, Serial Killers
and the Disney Channel
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?
Disney Channel banned junk food ads. And in other news, McDonalds is banning non-stop TV watching./ I just assumed FOX News used “fair & balanced” ironically, like when big guys have the nickname “Tiny.”/ I’m too embarrassed to see a doctor for a colonoscopy- so I usually just ask a random person on the street to do it./ Saturday in the park I think it was the 4th of July. No- it DEFINITELY was cuz the guy who sold me bath salts was wearing an Uncle Sam hat./ A true friend is someone who stands by your decision to end the friendship./ QUESTION: What did Dracula say when Frankenstein & the Invisible Man opened the front door? ANSWER: “Hi, Frankenstein.”/ During his murder arrest, the cops never read him his special “ogre rights.” So the judge let him off due to a Shreknicality./ The truth will set you free… is not what Sandusky’s lawyer should’ve told him./ I had no idea I was on this season’s Big Brother. But I tuned in… and there I was, sitting on the couch, watching Big Brother./ Rihanna’s dress is on display at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame… which is sort of like the Baseball Hall of Fame displaying Joe Namath’s helmet./ Hey, Olympians. Not to put any pressure on you – but there’s a reason you don’t see Cash-4-Bronze commercials./ Attractive people inspire all of us to become better looking./ The only things certain in life are death, taxes, and your boyfriend’s probably cheating on you./ OMG! You were hit by a car?! Okay- I’ll be right over as soon as I finish my coffee!/ Sometimes I wonder if our planet has enough zombies & vampires to ward off an alien attack./ A few years ago I had a one-night stand with my soul mate. I should give her a call one of these days./ I’ve never borrowed money in my entire life. (I HAVE, however, accepted money without any intention of paying it back.)/ I’m trying to raise money for levitation research./ Serial Killer Joran Van Der Sloot is getting marriage proposals in prison. Don’t these women realize he’s unemployed?!/ I’m against gay marriage because the Bible clearly states that a man can live inside a giant fish./ I read about a guy who won the lottery and then his best friend murdered him & tried to steal the jackpot. Hey- you never know!/ “I would LOVE to look at pictures of your children.” (what I would say if I had only 3 seconds left to live)/ I’m freaking out right now! I just got a threatening tweet… and it came from INSIDE THE HOUSE!!/ When you SAY “outdoor festival”, what I’m HEARING is “porta-potties.”/ Nooooo! It’s so tragic!! My entire family was murdered by a psychotic abbreviation, LOL./ I spent the past few years living behind a few taverns. Then I was arrested. Now I’m back behind bars./ Today is the 50th Anniversary of 50 years ago. We will never forgot./ My doctor, Dr. Docktor Smith, likes his patients to call him by his first name./ “Wait a second, Uncle Joe! You mean this whole time you could’ve gotten your lazy ass out of bed & helped out around here?!”- Charlie/ I keep a cyanide pill w/me at all times in case I’m ever captured by a foreign enemy trying 2get me 2spill secrets or if Rachel Ray is on./ At first I wasn’t going to get cryogenically frozen. But then I figured, “Hey- you only live once!”/ He drank 12 Bud Lights and passed out so thin!/ “Look! A celebrity!” “Where? I can’t see because JWOWW is in the way.”/ Gee, Scooby-Doo has been so depressed & lethargic ever since he jumped into the real world. It’s sad because he used to be so animated./ RED FLAG ALERT: If you ask your blind date to name their favorite Beatle, and they answer “What’s a Beatle?” or “Paul.”/ #8 on list of things you don’t want to hear: “I’ll be your teammate on Jeopardy. And I’m a member of the Tea Party.”/ My daughter is reaching that age where it’s time for me to sit her down and have an honest, heart-to-heart discussion about Botox./ If u want 2reach your dreams, it requires hard work & commitment. This is a big problem 4me because my dream is 2not work hard or commit./ Crazy! Last night I dreamt that I won the lottery. And when I woke up this morning, I had lost all my friends./ Damn- I just realized my subscription to ‘High Times’ ran out 9 years ago./ Everyday I pray to God and give thanks for all the wonderful things I assume will eventually happen to me./ I’m writing a play about “Twitter.” It has 144 characters./ Facebook is so impersonal. So from now, I’m going to let you know my Angry Birds and Farmville scores by phone./ According to my Wikipedia page, I just sent this text./ We want our guests to think ‘success’ if a product of intelligence, competence, achievement, & honor. Quick- someone hide Clarence Thomas!/ There is so much bullying & violence in schools. When are we going to wake up and put an end to school?!/ I sleep 24 hours a day because I’m tired all the time./ I can’t wait for the new Motley Crue album to come out… is what nobody said today./ I went 2 www.PopeBenedict.com & was horrified 2find out it was a porn site. & I was even MORE horrified 2find out it IS the Pope’s website./ Life is all just one big simile. (Though I’m speaking metaphorically.)
About the author:
Scott Galanty Miller is a contributing humorist to Ragazine.CC. Read more about him in “About Us.”
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
She aches for the man she left in Daly City. She aches for the man
who came back to the airport with notecards, four different
translations of Neruda’s finest, spliced together, typed
painstakingly, with a ribbon older than her oldest self. Seeing him
makes her dissolve into insanity, she is unstable under the audacity
of a love this big. There is something graceful about the way the
black ribbon flies off its spool and dances on its way down. There’s
something to be said for falling. There were so many wheels, they all
fell off. The smoldering wreckage lies in the middle of a blue dirt
road. Grey mud churning up under the spokes of the wheel. Her wheel
only had spokes for him. She wasn’t at the center, she wasn’t in the
rotation, she was blowin’ in the wind.
I am constantly afraid of the next bout of depression. The bomb ticks
ecstatic to borderline mania, the smile crawls across its lips and
burns down to its feet. Happy in an overwhelming complete way,
according to no whim and every whim, and the sun will never stop. The
sun shines from inside me. The world punched the wind out of me, the
sail crumples, the ship capsizes. The darkness of the sky is nothing
compared to the darkness inside of me, the terrible quiet of a pain
that grows dense and hard with time. There’s a shotgun in my chest.
I’m pretty good at picking up quarters with my toes. There’s a bottle
of Zyprexa for the next time I want to die. Doc says to take one and
I’ll wake up when it’s over. When it passes. There are weapons
everywhere. On four wheels in my driveway, in the belt hanging from
my door, in the sunflowers stamped in the center of your eyes. There
are weapons in my mind. Love makes me unstable, makes me bigger than
I already am, makes the world end that much harder. I want to be with
you, or I don’t want to be. I think of my girlfriend, how she paints
out what’s inside her, how she tore at the weeds and rubbed them
against her face. The white calm of her brushstrokes betrays
something neither of us have. She creates a place. I cried at the
river with her, wondered what the next time I tore out weeds would
look like. I avoid bridges on my winter one am walks down riverside,
or main. I avoid streetlights, I avoid mirrors, I bury myself in
books. It’s the first day I haven’t drank since I lost you. Love can
put an ugly face on and make me laugh, and I needed to drink in the
laughter. I can’t laugh when I can see the color in your eyes, so I
buried you in your worst voice, in the angry scotch and cruel
insecurities of man. I let the best things anyone’s ever thought
about me die in a mask. I am a coffin. I was built to house dead
things. Don’t cry for me Argentina. I’m scared. I want nothing but
your bed, your too big belly, your bad teeth. I would saw off my big
toes with a dull machete to hear you sing Brooklyn Brooklyn, take me
in. The truth of us can destroy me. I fight fist and nail to forget.
For twenty four hours I had heaven in between my bones, in the
hangnails by my thumb, I had it down to my capillaries. We pulled the
band-aid off at the end, agreed it was for the best, but all my skin
came off with it, and now a slight breeze is enough to cut me down. I
break so easily under you. It’s a beautiful thing. Like cut flowers.
So beautiful, and so near their end. To believe in this livin’ is
just a hard way to go.
She prays to the sky that glows after the hail refuses to come. God
is not on her side. Certain types of rain compel her out doors, at
four am. The rain pounds down, delicate, artful. Hands on bongos and
jembes and the stretched death of animal hide. It is a rhythmic
downfall, pouring over her hair, dripping in forked trails down her
eyebrows and nose, running along her temples to her neck. She throws
her head back, her arms out like Christ. She is dancing to the noise
of the world, a beautiful cacophonous noise, indignantly refusing to
About the poet:
Molly K. Goldblatt is Associate Editor and Poetry Editor of Harpur Palate, a publication of Binghamton University. She is a Research Assistant, Institute of Global Cultural Studies, and a Graduate Student
studying English Literature and Rhetoric.
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
Monologue from a Jerk in Progress
Give me nothing. I’ll climb from these
tonsils without speaking
of my disorders, loftier than you could name,
leaning throughout, slouching as though I could sit
my will down, relax
it, give it a break, massage its blisters,
this that and the other, get it back on the road as they say
as though it is a thing
which is need of traveling. The question is:
Why the tenacity? Why the panting and alibi?
The veins and tooth decay, this talon
of a spine. Speak
to me. Tell me
again about the place where I rest.
Sometimes we thought Marmalade was English.
But we had never known the English to wear a red feather scotch-taped
to the forehead and his pants were bright orange, and baggy—too baggy.
On a morning walk his pants might have fallen six, seven,
I don’t count well, fifty—no that’s too high. Perhaps between three
and thirty separate occasions of semi-nudity. And
when these bright orange trousers, this flag of his disposition, was lowered,
passers-by made more of a stink of the rectum than the pole
the flag flapped from. In fact, in the cool breeze, the pole
buried itself like a family, member by member. I am
imprecise. I am okay with that. It’s inevitable. We get on.
We wake-up, and the prospect of something other than our bed
begs us to continue. Perhaps it is the hope of comfort
that begs the refusal of comfort. Perhaps there will be a day
when the work will end, when it is the comforter that wakes in tatters.
I’d love to go on blathering, but Marmalade says to me,
“You are a dirty washrag and you wipe no counter, saying with confidence
that the bed is a place of comfort, or of rest. What dependence
like sleep?” I don’t listen to him. I stare at the disappearance
of his genitals while the masses travel long distances
to stare at his bum-bum. It’s a good show, really.
He bends over and makes his crack speak like the prophets:
“A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to melt, and a time to coagulate;
A time to comb your hair, and a time wear your hair mattedly;
A time to use words, and a time to make noise;
A time to filter, and a time to be filtered.
There is time for you, and there is time for me.
There is also a time for silence, and a time to strangle the silence.
A time for warmth, and a time for thousands of blessings
poured over your head like warm butter.
A time to hiccup, and a time to speculate on ways one might suppress the hiccups;
A time for time, and a time for time without time.
There is a time for time without time, and a time for time.
A time for time without time, and a time for time without time.
There is finally a time for time, and a time for time.
I would say more about time but I do not.
Whenever I feel that I am without it, it all the more disappears.
And whenever I know that it is in excess, that excess also weighs on my scales.
Thank you for listening. If I pull my pants up,
will you promise to be nice to me?”
by Tom Bair and Lewis Levenberg
Thin blue, my friend, thin blue
The man turned into a shoe
The man turned into a shoe
He traded his head
For a place for his leg
And now he dreams thin blue
He dreams in déjà vu, my friend
He dreams in déjà vu
With his leg on the bed
He hums ‘til he’s red
He dreams in déjà vu
To you, my friend, to you
He sends his dreams by flu
He sends his dreams by flu
not out on a ship
where they’d dripdropdrip
He sends his dreams a-choo
It’s true, my friend, it’s true
He sends them two by two
With feathers for fists
And sleep on his lips
His story is nothing too new
thin blue, my
It flew, my friend, it flew
We tied it up tight
It squirmed left, then right
Now we’ll just have to make due
Although born before the quasi-transactive stylings of a Hard Rock Cafe billboard reading “Save the World,” Tom Bair has munched on several ears, including his own, when he gets “around” to it! Badum-Ching. Whatever. Differing from what is known as a Poet, Tom saves his thinly veiled Ashbery impression for his bios. This makes him hard to love. He loves Circus Book (circusbook.org) and John Ashbery.
December 28, 2012 Comments Off
1. Girl: Morning
The marsh, the morning, the way
the early light fractures, and long black wands
of cattail blades not given not greened
not yet. Her hair is dark but owns
its brittle edge of sun feeble sun. It masks her face
as she traces her hand in the water;
draws with her hand
in the silver and quick of the water.
This is his place,
and how she longs to move
away from him.
But how she loves she loves
the morning and the way the damp
will cure itself, the way
there is a different crystal note
behind each life in the shadow-cut glade.
2. Father, Morning
This is his doorway, his earth, the work of
his hands. He stands, framed in his door,
draws the cool into his chest, pulls on
his worn black vest, and calls for the girl
who dreams in a dawdle by the water.
She worries him- thin as the skin of an apple,
fair as the good end of spring – but he sees
the taut of her mother’s wire, he sees
the spit inside the fire
that will save her
where she goes.
He knows, and how he knows
how soon this will be small to her,
how much too small it will become
to be everything and all to her.
These gardens and these groves
this simple wild
is always numbered,
no matter if you break the dial
or keep it always in your shadow.
Tell Me Again
Tell me again of the crippling frost, of where the black
begins, talk to me of time when you were small,
how the ice would crack in crystals
on the curve of the world
between here and those last days of May,
when you could stand on piles of snow, to fall
down the face of the visible world, blue knife
of the sky spun above you.
The weather here is different now. Someone
has muddled the message of what we’ve learned best:
The direction of wind, the sense of perpendicular,
the notion of permanent objects we learn
when peek-a-boo no longer works –
a lesson we need to forget
as we discover that every language
is built on the back of a lie,
that history is a flip-book,
not a film.
December 28, 2012 Comments Off