Saturday, January 22, 2005


workgirl, originally uploaded by oldominion.

We lived for a year in Bougouni, Mali, West Africa. Tabb turned two on Tabaski. That's what the Malians called the Muslim holiday of Eid el Kebir; it honors Abraham's decision to NOT sacrifice his only son, a son years in the begetting, to God. Tabaski is a holiday honoring a story familiar to most Christians and proves, if one needed any more proof, the long-forgotten sympathies between the Judeo/Christian and Muslim traditions: God's intervention between Abraham and Isaac, he who laughs, Abraham's only son by his wife Sarah. It is both a chilling story and a curious choice of an event to celebrate, this non-birth, this non-death, this curious, stained victory. God has told Abraham that in order to show his love for God he must sacrifice not a goat or sheep or any numbers of goats or sheep but instead his only son by his wife Sarah, a son named Isaac, begotten only after years of failing to conceive. Abraham, who is a hundred years old, agrees to God's request. He tells Isaac that they must go worship in the region of Moriah. Abraham gathers his servants and son and they travel to within sight of the mountain, where Abraham tells the servants to wait while he and Isaac scale the mountain in order to pray. He loads the wood to be used in the burnt offering on to Isaac's back.

"Father," says Isaac, shouldering his load as they begin to climb. "The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
"God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering," answers Abraham.

They scale the mountain, perhaps, as the singer sings, stopping en route to drink some wine. Isaac as a character disappears here in the narrative, becoming as faceless and inhuman as any base animal that might be sacrificed. He becomes a goat, a sheep, nothing more. We do not know what he does when he is bound and placed upon the altar, if he bleats or struggles; we do not know what he does when Abraham's hand rises above him, the knife blade glinting in the dull sun; we do not know what happens when the angel of the Lord intervenes just as Abraham prepares to slay his son, saying, "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. I swear that your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

Chris has left us. We helped her load up her gear---a single backpack---into Madou's Land Cruiser this morning. She and Andrea are spending a few nights out at a rural village. I couldn't tell if the anger brewing in me was directed towards her for leaving us or towards Bougouni for being Bougouni.

So late-afternoon on our post-nap yala yala, Tabb and I take the road West out of town, he in the barely post-industrial stroller, me on foot. Past the outer rim of Bougouni towards the Baole River there is a French-era stand of eucalyptus trees and across from them an old cluster of teak. Beyond these controlled growths of alien trees the woods clear out, scrub takes over and huge thin coconut palms stretch leaning towards the sky. We are joined by three nice boys. They teach us words in Bamanankan: river is Ba, they say. They find Tabb's jog stroller curious and ask me a question that I do not understand. I am beginning to think the question will remain forever unknown until I finally I realize they are asking me, Is the boy able to walk? "Yes,"I tell them. "The boy can walk."

The hard road ends and the stroller begins to bump over mounds of soft dirt. We continue to walk out the road towards the river, passing odd encampments made of sheets of tin, logs leaned against trees, circles burned into the ground. The sky is white and a hot wind blows dryly. It seems the last tubercular gasp of the harmattan. Hot season, we are told, is but a week away. Our friends tell us the earth will soon be as if on fire, the air still and hot and inescapable.

The brown river lies ahead below us. Down along the muddy shore women bathe and wash clothes. A few rows of weedy papaya trees grow along the edge. Across the river there are more scrub woods, more thin stands of mango, more desolate land.

Soon we are struck full-force by a vinegary rank smell and turn a corner and see the earth, suddenly black, covered by countless steer horns, some bleached white, some with black or dark red pieces of flesh still hanging off. I raise my hand reflexively and cover my face as my eyes burn; Tabb looks back at me and gags. We've been following the well-traveled path to Bougouni's abbatoir.

"Boeuf,"says one of the kids, pointing at all the horns. A metal frame with hooks and chains dangling from it is silhouetted against the horizon. I continue to cover my mouth and nose with my t-shirt. Tabb scowls, points at the primitive metal structure. It looks like a gallows.

The sun drops below the trees behind us as we stand there. The sky is orange, the earth gradually more deeply shaded. What I thought was rich black earth is instead earth encrusted with hundreds of years of blood. As we stand there looking at the skulls and the women bathing in the river the shadows grow black against the ground. Animals cry out from the woods; the women rise glistening from the river; the boys call out and we follow them back to town.
"Tell the boy to walk," they yell, running ahead of us.

* * *

I bought loads of music in Mali. I'm currently selling a few cdrs of folk music I recorded there, as well as the music of other artists whose cassettes I bought and burned to my hd. If you live in Baltimore, check them out at the TRUE VINE on the avenue in Hampden; I'm going to drop some off at ONCE:TWICE:SOUND, a great newish record store on Charles St in the Mt. Vernon 'hood here in Baltimore real soon. Was going to do it today but we are, thankfully, having our first real snow of the year. For any of yall who want to hear these musics and who don't live in Baltimore, email me and I'll send you more details.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Pollarding the Holly: or, Glissandoed Arpeggios

"A little sentence he had once read came in to his head: 'Happy is the man who believes he is happy.' Yes, he thought, and more accursed than the murderer is the man who works to destroy that belief." --Paul Bowles, A Spider's House .

I've already claimed in this word-water that I'm not what the kids today call a "hater": it seems the worst instinct to use this forum--and other online word-rivers like chat groups as well--as bully pulpits for your/my bloviating. At the same time, that's exactly what most of these dispatches from the global interweb overground are: bloviations. Some are more informed if not funnier or more well thought-out than others. Still, there's no reason to disregard blo(g)viations. Plenty of good to get done here in this word-droniverse: nothing wrong with openess, certainly nothing wrong with words . In any case, it's difficult NOT to think about how we let the power of our opinions frequently define us and, as writers, what else might there be to write about when the narrative lines start to loop in on themselves than what we think about this movie or that book or another productivity app? We are in large part what we are because of what we like, what we choose to submit to and, simultaneously, what we decide we will NOT submit to through liking (to paraphrase: ..."when gravity fails and negativity won't pull you through.")

The old bastard Hunter S. Thompson argues that the movement of many maturing writers towards objectivity is, in short, bad. Writers develop, or, more generally, intellects develop, inside of a societal mold that rewards objectivity; people are sought to seek objectivity--hell, it's what I teach in one of my classes--because objectivity is supposed to be informed and, therefore, truthful. From one perspective, Great! And thanks for the, uh, honestly and truthfullness. From another more interesting perspective: What an illusory and boring construct, that we're all moving towards a similar version of the truth. As Bunny Wailer might say, I overstand.

So let me state at the outset that I have actually thought about the infinitely subjective nature of what pleases us, to wit: I know the joys of the complex but simple pleasures that life often offers up, whether a bit of pleasant or noisy music or a well-made cinnamon and pecan muffin, maybe an interesting article about yogurt-aged clay pots or a random childhood memory shot through with harsh winter sunshine and the phantom-olfactory presence of wet wool. I know there is some satisfaction to submitting so completely to something that you abandon any pretense of actually thinking for yourself. It's hard actually having to think all of the time, isn't it? And a relief, to many, that a Spielberg movie is always going to be Spielbergian, a Willeford book always Willefordian, a Matthew Bower record always feeding back at you in a Boweresque way. It's also nice, sometimes, to submit to the idea of sentimentality, to that notion that it's too exhausting holding the present/future/unknown up to the same standards as the familiar and oft-processed past and sometimes it's best to drift. I know all of these things.

But it's articles like these that make the hater come out in me and also, by extension, force me yet again to recognize how so much music writing is just a waste of everyone's time, including the writer's. And also how I very often feel like I'm from another planet.

I have nothing personally against the cluster of fellow human beings who wrote and performed rock musics under the moniker of Guided By Voices and who, if we are to believe this article, are now finito. In fact, I did spend some time with an old "classic" version of the band and found them to be pretty good eggs. I watched the "Dayton line-up" every day for two weeks when we played Lollapolooza in 9(?) as Palace Songs, and they were pretty fun, the first day anyhow. Kevin Fennell beat the crap out of his drums, Mitch slunk around with a cig always Andy Capp'd to his bottom lip, square-ass TSprout looked like the third-grade teacher, not BP, and only Demos, on temporary vacation from his law firm, seemed to intuit how ridiculous it all was (he wore the same pair of striped pants every day). By the third day I noticed BP's leg-kicks seemed to occur the same place during the same songs; the theatrical brew-chugging and cig-huffing reminded me not a little bit of David Lee Roth's regular onstage upending of a Jack Daniel's bottle (It's tea! claimed my friends), and pandered to a lot of the indie-teens and fratstons who were there, and who I reckon went out and started buying GBV's records post-haste. It was like watching a bandfull of older embarrassing Uncles showing off for their cute teen nieces and nephews. We party, just like you kids! In fact, we could prolly teach you gize a thing or two! Backstage we heard more than once: We're GUIDED BY BEER! We Palace fellows had a fine time bellowing out effeminately I AM A SCIENTIST, I SEEK TO UNDERSTAND in our van while we were driving from one sun-baked parking lot in the midwest to the next. But we cracked on the Flaming Lips (Drozd got his heart hurt by Kim Breeder) and Luscious Jackson, too; I am not being overly humble when I say we ourselves probably were awful: we played exactly at 1pm, the same time the Boredoms started on the big stage, to a bunch of nitwits half looped on pilfered creme de menthe choogled out of nalgene bottles.

GBV was a perfectly fine rock band. Why the hagiography? Is it because at their very heart GBV satisfied the simple and brainless dictums of the honky rock crits' glorious teendom? Sang about comic books, superheroes and the joys of beer? I don't claim to know. What I do know is that Pollard must've been an extremely deluded egotist by the time it all "ended", and maybe he'd be the first to admit such in his great supplication to the idiot godz of rock and to the pseudo-dionysian gesture of the rock fool said godz require of all their supplicants: Whether Bowie canning the Spiders onstage or the apex of absurdly pretentious self-importance, the Band's Last Waltz, the whole "last show" drama is a directive for all you sucker fans to get dewy-eyed on cue. Pure gooey sentiment. Blech.

Again, I understand the desire, if not the NEED, for such hagiography, though I also recognize that it is destructive to both the worshiped and the worshiper and without any real worth. I guess part of this worship has to do with the idea that Pollard stuck to his guns through the thick and thin of, what?, not being *recognized* while he was making a perfectly good living as a teacher while writing and recording music?...poor chap...but then it's great that everybody came example of karmic justice, a reminder to (cue swelling cellos) *never give up*?

Start the countdown to the reunion tour .

* * *

Things I Read and heard This Annee Past that I Hope I will Hear and Read AGain (as well as worthy things revisited): Will In the World , by Stephen Greenblatt: Jacques Pepin's The Apprentice ; the below-mentioned book on deKooning; 'Forest' by Finnish freaks Circle ; Hala Strana's 'Fielding'; the Hototogisu 3lp jobber about the Japanese hummingbird; Anomoanon 'Joji'; has there been a better record made in the history of rock music than Mellow Candle's "Swaddling songs"? I dont think so. It's been years since I listened to The Dukes of the Stratosphear's cd comp of the two eps, and what a dandy it is, better than most if not all XTC. Speaking of Circle, I also enjoyed "Prospekt", "Guillotine" and "Pori". And the Pin Yer Ears to Your Head award goes to...the Parson Sound cd.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

That Beard Thing? I Started It

"He (deKooning) already knew, viscerally, what it meant to fail and become truly marginal--not marginal in the manner of an avant-garde intellectual who rues his alienation; marginal like a bum." --from the new bio of Willem DeKooning, by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan.

"The most serious threat to modern man, it would seem, is not physical annihilation but the alleged meaninglessness of life. This latent vacuum becomes manifest in a state of boredom. Automation will lead to more and more free time and many will not know how to use their leisure hours. This is evidenced today by what Dr. Frankl refers to as Sunday Neurosis, the depression that afflicts people who become conscious of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week stops. Nothing in the world helps keep man to keep healthy so much as the knowledge of a life task. Nietzsche wisely said, "He who knows a Why of living surmounts every How." --from the Barron book of LSAT practice exams, unknown source.

Ah, productivity! Ol Doc Frankl got some learnin'! Sunday Neurosis is the fire under my ass, I'm tellin you what.

Alternate titles for this day's essay:

Quinoa: Blessedly Free of Taste!


On That Laughing Cow "Cheese" One Often Finds in European Hotels


Contemporary Pop Fashion: Thanks, Hip-Hop!

Is there any more bogus and silly music in the world than contemporary bluegrass? I've tried to be Zen and accepting and positive about all music, tried to honor those fellow primates who are damned with the impulse to make music for a living, tried, oh allah have I tried, to NOT be a critic--and I count myself no great fan of hip-hop, scandinavian black metal, twee pop or new jazz--but no music makes my skin crawl more than that slicker'n pig shit bloo-grass you hear on, oh, NPR, for example. Never the ironists, the Anomoanon has given this music a literal and (supposing I've already showed my hand on this one) obvious nickname: NPR bluegrass. Fact is, we've all done time as bluegrass fans. We all lived in the types of idyllic mountain towns that contemporary bluegrass fans idealize, where the air is clean, the ridge is blue, responsibilities are few, the beer is cold and the people are white: a sort of billowy cotton dress and cowboy boot utopia where the sounds of galloping horses are always pounding away in the near distance, that is when the wind isn't whistling through the pines. I own a banjo. I can sort of play it (anyone who's twiddled with instruments for much of their lives can make a banjo sound okay); I'm not a big hater; I've got a passel of Stanley Brothers records that I like, even though they get an awful lot of mileage out of that one melody they use in every song on that Revenant record . There's just something grotesque and sentimental about so much new bloograss, something so....*Colorado* about it. I feel my gorge rise whenever I hear the annoying strains of the dobro. I loathe the dobro. Even the name is stupid.

waitasecunt: I forgot about House Rocking Bloos!

* * *

M- is the only person I know who wears a cape regularly and without self-consciousness. In fact, he looks quite dashing in his red satin one with the low collar. He's not so great at knot-tying; "Do this," he asks, fingering the ribbons. I'm not at all embarassed when we are walking through our neighborhood and he, seeing that our shadows are cast longways across the ground, breaks into a run and flips the cape up so the air will catch it, running while looking back at his shadow just to see the shape of the cape as it flows behind him. I think he'd admit to a weird sort of narcissism if he could. You'd think he might get tired of it: no, the cape has been a part of his wardrobe, I mean a solid part, for just about a third of his life.

"I'm pretty sensitive," T- said to me today. I'm not used to people unloading themselves on me but, truth be told, I like it.

"How so?" I asked.

"You know," he said. "Sensitive."

"Like you get your feelings hurt easy?"

"Well, maybe. That's part of it."

"A lot of people aren't real fond of getting their feelings hurt, you know. Anyway, it's good to be sensitive, to feel things."

"It is? Why?"

"Better than not feeling anything, I suppose."

"Yeah. Yeah. You're right."

* * *

Somebody please send in a report on the advantages of DEVONthink versus Sticky Brain . SB does, after all, cost 40 frogskins (as does DEVONthink), but the DEVON folks are running a deal on DEVONnote , sort of DT-lyte (click on the gift icon). Merlin's all in a tizzy over at 43 Folders as per productivity and whatnot; seems he mighta got bit by the same New Year Sunday Neurosis bug that got me...Could all these efficiency apps just be convenient tools for some other kind of psychological displacement or insecurity about my/your/his/her place in the world? As long as we're tippy-tapping away and convincing ourselves that we're *doing something* then the wolves go see what might be in our kitchen trash...I can hear 'em gnawing on the leftover pizza from supper now!