Category Archives: those we admire

Everyday Music

I love this 5-min video by Serbian multimedia artist Miloš Tomić. Like John Cage, he hears the music in everyday life. What to some might be an annoying racket is transformed into a celebration of banging, clanging, guitar tuning, and impishly drumming on every dang thing in site. Check it out here.

Joe Cocker, Out on a Beer Run

Sometime in the mid-1980s, Don Colvin (1960-2014) sent me this poem. I’ve given it a title and, because Don wrote in an architectural all caps hand, used lower and uppercase in the idiosyncratic way I think he would have liked. On the back of the sheet of computer-printer paper he wrote, “If you publish please refine, rewrite, and edit freely.”

Joe Cocker, Out on a Beer Run

by Donald Colvin, Jr.

It feels like I want to write like the singing

Star Joe Cocker’s yogurt-like, satiric-commemorative, residual latex type rendition of: Consequence, the Remaining Imbalance. Never, Have I heard of that.

I’m sure about one thing about Joe Cocker, that I cannot share.

No other time ago, the Poems were gone. None had been seen or heard from in some time.

The people (Poems) could not stand still for this. They cried out, “We must find them!” And went about it.

It started, well, like a scream, knowing all along that it would be like a scream, but all the while pretending to be one. It wasn’t a scream at all. I twas a force we resist, and stare at each other for. A force we have, still.

The colors streaked past the frightened faces, repelled by their acknowledging expressions, free to soar past in a glancing represent sweep.

“Love to!” The Shrieked and Sped by the mirror of a local sunset.

It feels like Joe Cocker came by, while I was making a beer run. It isn’t the same as when I left.

Post-humanism, the Nisi Shawl edition

My latest, new (50+-year-old, so renewed) obsession is looking for writing from non-human perspectives. In non-human voices.

Because, humans. Very tired indeed of them right now. Nothing personal. This guy, this dog you see, is attached to me by this piece of thread. He is wild, strong, I go where he wants. Mostly. We work on it together, for I am fairly massive as well, so can actually get my way pretty easily. Still, where once a five-year-old was the captain of my ship, I now give the helm as often as possible to a middle-aged Mixit Hound.

But, I digress, because: Nisi Shawl! A human one does not grow tired of, her imagination ranging out beyond us normies squirming on the griddle of quotidia. She is way finding, probing the differences and nurturing them with languages of justice: she and her fictionable voices are charming, funny, alarming, actionable…. I’m still trying to figure out my own post-humanist words, so this is hard, but it’s also the reason I read. And was so happy, in a some-how search, to stumble here:

Black Betty” is a Nisi Shawl short story told from Betty the Dog’s point of view. Betty already knows what we’re saying; like a reader, or a child, Betty understands so much more than she can say or pronounce. (“I don’t have your tongue,” snips the cat.) Which is precisely nothing, until Betty the dog is modded through a diet addition that gives her the power to articulate human speech.

A twist on dog food leads to a talking dog and a linguist’s delight: is dialect a sign of–anything? Because… Betty is different. She talk funny, Betty do. Shawl does a fine and interesting and genuine job of adopting something very much like what I suspect a dog’s mind might articulate, if a dog chose to articulate like a human and realized that, hey, this whole pack thing is super complicated. And fucked up and weird. So while there’s still that adherence to a normative (human) core of cognition–as with Spencer Quinn (though in a totally different way)–Shawl is, after all, telling us a story, not her dog. Humans need to mind other-critters as well as dogs do. We are probably much poorer at it than we think, but respect to all who try.

Shawl cuts to the chase (no pun, it’s not really Betty’s thing, though her first whiff from a car window of possible-rabbit gets an exclamation), and covers a lot of ground, some thoughtful, deep, touching, some funny and touching (but: sucker for dogs here; and Shawl’s writing is, often, like an atomic force microscope, brushing the surfaces and depths with the lightest but most discriminate of touches), and all of it curving on a lovely narrative arc that has, I can’t believe I’m saying this, a cat teaching a lesson. That’s not a spoiler dammit! But those killers, those house cats let out, that one could be right and inspire such an act of insurrection!

Go Baby Boo, go Black Betty.

And then, when it’s done and I’m chewing on my thoughts, I am left with these questions:

If you spun a dog a story, what would that sound like? Would a dog tell this story differently? Is there a difference in degree or quality between the socialities, the cultural mores and forays, of dogs and humans? (Well, of course there is, stupid: but has that ever been described in any useful sort of way? Perhaps by Elizabeth Thomas? [review by me]) Maybe it’s humans what needs the mods?

I know I sure do.

Natalie Wynn Makes The New Yorker

I’m crazy about Natalie Wynn. And here she is popping up (um?) in The New Yorker. Can that be a good thing? I honestly fear for her and though I wish her wealth and publicity and all good things on her mission to propagandize socialism, well, fear. Life is full of it! But this:

“You often hear, with regard to the alt-right or the Intellectual Dark Web or pro-Trump nationalists, that the way to avoid normalizing them is to avoid responding to them, or to only respond by calling them offensive and terrible and bad,” she said. “And, look, sometimes they are offensive and terrible and bad, but you don’t win by saying that. You win by pointing out why they’re wrong, and by making better propaganda than they do.”

Yes! Here’s to better propaganda.

Here she is on Incels, doing her “politics as aesthetics” thing. Right on!

Jack London and Louis-Auguste Blanqui

Could Jack London have read Louis-Auguste Blanqui’s Eternity by the Stars?

London, a well-known socialist, wrote The Star Rover, published in 1915. It’s an early science fiction novel, the narrative delivered by a professor serving life in San Quentin for murder. Tortured by prison guards and squeezed into “the jacket,” Professor Standing “escapes” via trance that enables him to walk among the stars and visit his many previous lifetimes. So, star walking and reincarnation are themes in this novel.

Blanqui was a famous French revolutionary, a socialist who was imprisoned “for his role in the socialist movement that would lead to the Paris Commune of 1871,” according to a piece by Paul Halpern (a professor!) in Aeon called “Time after Time.” Eternity by the Stars was published in 1872.

As Blanqui looked up at the night sky [from his prison cell], he found comfort in the possibility of other worlds. While life on Earth is fleeting… we might take solace in the notion that myriad replicas of our planet are brimming with similar creatures – that all events, he said, ‘that have taken place or that are yet to take place on our globe, before it dies, take place in exactly the same way on its billions of duplicates’. Might certain souls be imprisoned on these faraway worlds, too? Perhaps. But Blanqui held out hope that, through chance mutations, those who are unjustly jailed down here on Earth might there walk free.

I don’t know if London read French or if he was familiar with Blanqui, but he did join the Socialist Party in 1896. London was born four years after Blanqui’s Stars was first published, but that doesn’t mean that London didn’t at some point see it or hear about it. And, perhaps tellingly, he was accused of plagiarism on a number of occasions.

I’m no London scholar, but just as London’s The Iron Heel influences Orwell’s 1984, the two socialists, Blanqui and London, might have had a intellectual connection. He is said to have been largely self-educated but, in Oakland, he met a librarian who seems to have acted as a mentor and literary guide. So who knows what he might have read as a kid or discussed with fellow travelers as adventured around the world.


Review of Steve Tibbetts, “Life Of”

The flesh of Steve Tibbetts’ fingers flows across the worn frets of his father’s old Martin 12-string like water over rocks in a stream. Every note is liquid, sensuous with microtonality, appearing as if just thought of in that exact moment of performance. The music here is molten, but Life Of is a slow eruption: this is music for meditation, guitar music that luxuriates in Tibbetts’ long-time collaborator Mark Anderson’s relaxed percussion grooves, the cello drones of new collaborator Michelle Kinney, and Tibbetts’ own reverby piano. The spiritual heir to 1988’s Big Map Idea, Life Of is a sonic practice compressed over many years into a diamond sutra of theory where everything sounds easy, the impossible techniques now all second-nature muscle memory. Tibbetts is an alchemist, the wise guy on top of the mountain who, when you finally gain the summit looking for enlightenment, just grins at you and keeps on playing. The wisdom, you realize, was never going to be in words but rather is in this ancient-sounding music that bathes your brain with distant memories of melancholic bliss. Life Of is photos of family and friends, photographs not so much gazed at fondly as held to the chest to let the heart do the seeing. Hard to explain Tibbetts, in other words, which is why the most common descriptors of his music are “unique” and “one of kind.” He’s been releasing albums since 1977, a lot of them on ECM, and is criminally underknown. His oeuvre spans not just decades but continents: every album he’s done sounds like it’s from elsewhere, some explicitly so, as his collaborations with Tibetan Buddhist nun Chöying Drolma, Chö and Selwa. Others, such as 1994’s The Fall of Us All or 2002’s A Man about a Horse, are transcendental metal music from a galaxy where fuzz pedals and high-gain amps are cures for depression and anxiety. For fans of the ECM label, Bill Frisell, Terje Rypdal, David Torn, or anyone seeking sonic transportation.

This review was first published by Minor 7th.