Thursday, December 20, 2012

The guns thing

I CAN'T HELP WANTING to add a few comments of my own to the gathering millions of paragraphs, though I know I can't really comprehend the problem, let alone comment on it rationally; and though I know whatever I write (or anyone says or writes, for that matter), reasonable people will find a way to find fault with it at best, with me even more likeley.

Still. Some points simply have to be addressed. I think the problem arises in three distinct areas — related, no doubt, but distinct enough they need to be considered and perhaps acted upon distinctly: Guns; Violence; "Mental Illness."

•GUNS: Whatever the "framers" may have had in mind with their Second Amendment, they made a mess of it. I've read and heard a number of explanations: that they were remembering the first battle for independence, which erupted over the British intent to seize weapons at the Concord militia armory (or was it Lexington?). That it was slaveholders who knew they needed their arms to prevent insurrection. That it was states-righters who feared the imposition of a tyrannical federal government which would have to be overthrown.

Whatever the reason for the drafting of the Second Amendment, it seems clear enough to English-major me that it expressly states that the right of the people to keep and bear arms will not be infringed, because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of the state.

Note that there's nothing here about individuals having the right to keep arms to secure their own individual security. It's all about the community. (It's possible, even likely, that the right of individuals to have arms for their own private protection was simply not at issue, of course.)

(I leave the question of hunting equipment out of the formula for the moment; and I suggest that the concept of "sporting firearms" would likely have been thought odd by most rational men in the late 18th century. Unless you count duelling, perhaps.)

In any case it seems clear the "framers" might not have had automatic or semi-automatic weapons in mind.

What I would do: 1) ban the manufacture, importation, sale, and holding of large clips or magazines, over, oh, say six shells, before reloading is necessary. Do this immediately, by executive action if necessary.

2) Begin a Congressional discussion, with input from panels and commissions, on the question of the manufacture, sale, export, import, and holding of automatic and semiautomatic firearms, and perhaps even nonautomatic firearms over a certain caliber.

3) Simultaneously, a similar investigation into hand guns, which are responsible for a great many killings every year.

•VIOLENCE: The United States is addicted to violence — real violence, symbolic violence, depicted violence. Playful violence and serious violence. Ours is an adolescent nation, impatient and impulsive; and it is also a nation devoted to a sense of entitlement, thinking itself exceptional and all-powerful. We need to simmer down. I have no idea how this can be done on an institutional level. Clearly we should scale back both our desire and our ability to engage other nations and societies in violent action. We should also stop using depictions of violence as entertainment and commercial advertising. But it's hard to see how legal action can address the latter, or how political action can address the former.

We can, however, address the problem individually and in small local groups. Nonviolence was a potent force in the advancement of civil rights. Perhaps the most basic civil right is the right to security, from violence of all kinds but especially human violence. We should demand this right.

•"MENTAL ILLNESS": I set the term in quotes, because I believe it's a bogus term: health and illness are a continuum, and what one person considers pathology another may well see as mere eccentricity. Clearly a murderer is pathological. But to turn immediately to a concern for mental or emotional or developmental "health" or "illness," in the wake of a monstrously violent assault, threatens to be merely a diversion from action that should be taken on immediate practical issues like ammunition control.

Furthermore, it is unfair to the vast majority of those who are thought to suffer some form of mental illness. Some are violent; most are not. Of those who are violent, some may turn to firearms; most cannot.

Further: many who take up arms in a violent fashion seem to me to do so in what many would consider a perfectly rational manner; or, if not rational, then merely impetuous. A violently angry person is not necessarily mentally ill.

AND THEN there are other questions: suicides; accidents.

There have been suggestions that the arming of good people will discourage the use of firearms by bad ones. I don't think we should ask innocent people, let alone the teachers of small children, to arm themselves and to kill intruders, not even armed ones. I think the current craze for the carrying of concealed weapons, even loaded ones, is antisocial on the face of it, and that any society that encourages such behavior is irrational at best, hypocritical in any case.

There. I feel better now.

Monday, December 10, 2012


I'M EMBARRASSED to have misspelt Brent Lindsay's surname yesterday — I plead fatigue at the time of writing; I know his name perfectly well. (It's not that far from my wife's, after all.) And I thank a reader for drawing my attention to the error.

While I'm here, let me enlarge a bit on my very cursory note on his performance (and those of his colleagues on the Hamelintown Council). Brent Lindsay is truly an amazing actor. His physical presence is unbelievable: even in a fat suit, he bends, weaves, preens, jerks, even melts with total conviction.

His voice is as impressive as his body. Speaking or singing, he can push a solid bass voice through an wide dynamic range, subtly inflecting vowels, clearly articulating consonants. And his sense of timing is no less masterful.

It seemed to me yesterday that Eliot Fintushel was acting better than I'd ever seen before, perhaps rising for the first time to Lindsay's challenge. And Amy Pinto, who alternates in her role with another actress, was equally in her element on that absurd, detailed, all too realistic caricature of a small-town legislature.

The Ratcatcher sprawls a bit, and the closer to the floor the younger actors are, the harder it is to make out just what it is they're saying. But the audience gets the point. And one of the points is, there's more here than is immediately apparent. I'm still thinking about it.

Sunday, December 09, 2012


rustdogs.jpgIT'S NOT MUCH of a photo: I apologize to the reader for having nothing better, and to the Imaginists for sneaking the photo during tonight's performance. But I want to draw your attention to some arresting cabaret theater going on here in Santa Rosa, our provincial capital twenty minutes to the south of Eastside Road.

We've known and followed them for some time now, admiring their work, which stands among experimental, agitprop, local, improv, professional-and-student productions, sometimes drifting to the established repertory, sometimes apparently making things up as they go along during rehearsals.

And did I mention they are not paid? Well, they mentioned it a few times tonight. The Imaginists are getting national and statewide attention, but are not as well known or supported in their own community as they should be — a common problem, of course. So in this production they're addressing the situation quite confrontationally.

The Ratcatcher is cabaret theater centered on the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who was hired by the town council to rid the town of rats, but was then stiffed. In revenge, he piped the town's children away as he had done their rats, and neither they nor he was ever seen again. The program credits, as sources, Wikipedia; Marina Tsvetaeva's play The Ratcatcher; workups of the tale by Robert Browning and by the Brothers Grimm; and Lewis Hyde's The Gift.

I'm not quite sure how that last item fits in, but clearly the story stings to a number of current issues: support for the arts; political economic agendas; exploitation. As the Imaginists generally do, they hinted at other issues. I was fascinated to discover, watching this show, that the Pied Piper story is an interesting commentary on the Orpheus myth: the power of music; the musician leading his audience; the musician understood by innocence but ignored and even feared by rational listeners.

The Ratcatcher weaves the town-council-versus-Piper story together with a subplot involving the mayor's daughter, who like all the town's children seems to have left town for more enticing, more fulfilling communities. Hamelin, after all, is interested only in promoting itself for the tourist dollar: it's a typical wine-and-cheese weekend destination. (Are you listening, Healdsburg?) The show also weaves together the town-council plot as acted by three professionals — Amy Pinto, Brent Livesay, Eliot Fintushel — with four student (or perhaps more accurately emerging) actors. Their scenes alternate, resulting in problems of scale, pacing, and clarity.

But for the most part the show is professional, powerful, and engaging. Pinto, Livesay and Fintushel are as good as I've ever seen them, which is saying a lot; and while the three young actors (whom I can't credit, as the program doesn't specify roles) seemed to relate more to one another than to their audience, their story emerged as ultimately both touching and persuasive. And Quenby Dolgushkin, in the final scene, found a high emotional pitch just under the top, just this side of hysteria; it reminded me of formal tragic acting I've seen on classical stages.

The instrumental music was provided by The Crux Ensemble, six musicians who among them play eighteen or twenty instruments, now improvising spooky sound effects, now merging in tight ensemble on written-out charts. As the spoken text was developed by the actors, the music is all the work of these performers.

Only four performances are left: December 13-16. Efforts are being made to record the sound track; I hope they succeed. The songs are marvelous, as just their titles suggest: Boskers; Onward Soldiers; The Cheese Song; Dogs Made of Rust — how can you go wrong with such titles? And they are sung (and accompanied) with intensity and a strange beauty. I'm glad I saw this show; I hope, somehow, it evolves to the printed page, and enters the repertory. (It would make a marvelous show for student productions.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Dave Brubeck

I SUPPOSE I FIRST heard Dave Brubeck on a recording, undoubtedly an LP, in the fall of 1952, when I was beginning college. I think by then he'd played his epochal date in Eagle Rock, not far away, where (I think) his first big recording Jazz Goes to College was made. Already the big tune was "Take Five," the famous 5/4 piece.

The music is insinuating, clever, lyrical. Later it became significant to me intellectually, when I learned he'd studied with Milhaud at Mills College, and that his music was informed by his study of — gasp — serious music, Bach and so forth. (He loved Milhaud; he named his son Darius.)

Well, Dave Brubeck died this morning, as you must already know, a day short of his 92d birthday, having created, then lived, then survived a Legend. He was the cool intelligent supple patient well-adjusted avatar of West Coast Jazz, that indispensable alternative to Bop — a category that would have saved jazz for the next generation, would have made Rock a silly sidetrack, if only Bossa Nova had not intervened, and convinced the next generation that jazz, all jazz, anything referred to as jazz, was irrelevant, intellectual, over thirty.

The radio stations and the Internet today have made a lot of "Take Five" and, in some instances, of "Blue Rondo alla Turk." The latter especially, at least in the version I heard in the car this afternoon, said a lot about what Brubeck must have learned from Milhaud. Toward the end it almost sounds like Milhaud. There's a curious non-Parisian Frenchness here: wit and pleasure in intelligence without irony, and substance, substance, like something Schumann might envy.

I met Brubeck once, at the Cabrillo Festival, when a Mass of his was performed there — a piece that didn't do a lot for me, but so what. That was thirty-two years ago, August 1980; I don't recall a lot about it. We hardly exchanged three words, I think; though perhaps I interviewed him; I don't know.

I better recall going to the old Black Hawk in San Francisco in the late 1950s — once only; we couldn't afford such things often in those days — to hear him and his Quartet. I remember Paul Desmond put down his alto and took up a clarinet for a couple of tunes. I remember Brubeck was cool, very cool. It was a wonderful night.

There's one Brubeck recording that always sends me into another — what? another plane? It's the last track on an old jazz sampler LP that I got free from the Columbia Record Club in the late 1950s: I Like Jazz. It's true enough that Paul Desmond's alto is a compelling reason the recording's so memorable, has so completely taken over a corner of my synapses; but Brubeck's steady, subtle, modest, generous, knowing, authentic musicianship grounds and enables it. You can hear it here, and I hope you do: it's one of the most beautiful recordings I know..

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Seven for Andrew

            Seven Elevens for Andrew Hoyem
a beau présent on his seventyseventh birthday


      drown ye no awe.  Rhymed dream,
                   yen: how
Read me?  Why on end, Worm?  Yeah! Wordy
He, mean…
         Hee! Own day, Mr.!

O hymned!  Wear, ye hard women, endow
My hare, my dear; he won.


A mewed, horny nomad?
                  Why, ere day
When more random hew ye ear,
Deny whom warmèd honey hand, eye,
Worm, or whey.

Ye hard women;
Endow my hare, my owned hare.


And woe, rhyme! Need army,
Who drew home, nay, rend home,
Yaw enamored. Why, where Monday

Had women, rye — Oh my raw need!—
Yawned Homer, era demon.
             Why me? Wan, dry? Home?


Amen. Redo.
Why no awed rhyme?
Dreamy, he won remedy. Ha! Now
End, hay mower. We harmed yon

Harmony weed. One dream:
                  Ye damn whore,
Eh? A wry demon-mad rye, now he…


A dower hymen neared. Who? My day,
When more ran dewy — oh my end.
                  Oh me! Awry, whom deanery

Hard money we own;
Adhere, my yew and Homer.
Endear, who my mad rye hew. O.


And O where my new road, he, my dawn;
O her, ye ready men, who enemy
Draw — Oh warmèd, homey,

Homeward yen; ore —
Why, maned yardmen? Oh we earned,
Who my many he rowed.


      And he wore my
      Name, who, dyer,
      Dreamy now, he
      Read — woe, hymn —
      Earned how my
      Wand (ye Homer)

      Harden my woe
      Or he may wend
      Yawn, Homered, (
      Enemy word) — ah,
      My heron, wade…

THE BOOK I MENTIONED a few weeks ago, but have neglected until now to name, even, let alone discuss, is Levin Becker's Many Subtle Channels, a fascinating, engaging, rather prickly survey — personal, because based on personal engagement with the subject — of OuLiPo (as I prefer to spell it, with the internal caps clarifying the etymology): Ouvoir de Littérature Potentielle, the Paris-based Workshop for Potential Literature, writing, to put it over-simply, with self-imposed constraints, whether for inspiration or simply for amusement.

(Not that the experience of being inspired isn't amusing.)

Well, it's more than that:
“Potential literature,” Levin Becker explains, “is both the things that literature could be and the things that could be literature.”
And on the subject of inspiration, as I posted here on my birthday last,
Queneau's most quoted remark is probably his declaration, in the 1937 novel Odile, that the true artist is never inspired—he is always inspired. As a counterpoint, recall his dictum from an early Oulipo meeting that there is no literature but voluntary literature, and this begins to come into focus: meaning, such as it is, doesn't exist on its own. Someone has to find it, midwife it, present it to the world as more than just a coincidence. The real artist is always inspired not because he creates things that are unmistakably intentional, but because he is sensitive to the sorts of things that at first seem like accidents. He replicates them on his own terms, as an expression of his own preoccupations or sensibilities or desires, or he just sticks them on a gallery wall and calls them art; even when he's wrong, he's right.
—Daniel Levin Becker, Many Subtle Channels: In praise of potential literature, pp.297-8

I won't review the book here; Eastside Viewers will know by now my excuses, among which laziness counts most. There are plenty of reviews online: here's one that seems particularly useful. (The quote in the previous paragraph is taken from it.) I find, retrieving the book from its overlooked pile in the attic, that it is pristine: no annotations, no date of purchase, no owner's name on flyleaf — all very unusual. I know I bought it in Portland last summer, and was obviously reading it in August; I know I took a good many notes — where the hell are they?

Internalized, perhaps.