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DU WARST mein Tod:
dich konnte ich halten,
während mir alles entfiel.
“Du warst”, Paul Celan, 10.3.1967
Bob Dylan once said Smokey Robinson was the greatest living American poet; he was “asked” to clarify, and said he meant to say Artur Rimbaud instead. Here is “Tears of A Clown”, and honestly I have to say it bothers me that Smokey says “pagliacci” and not “Pagliacco”.
Next, the greatest Motown song of all, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”: James Jamerson’s bass arpeggios are amazing. Unfortunately, Terrell died of a brain tumor at age 24, but sometimes technology gets better.
I’d like to plug two Portland radio programs that play new “independent” music — the “alternative” station, 94.7, is somehow both dated and not representative of what people in Portland listened to back when KBBT existed. OPB’s weekend program “In House”, on Saturday and Sunday from 8 to 11 PM, showcases new US bands that, like most, do not achieve wide distribution of physical records; hearing the sounds from across the country is fascinating. For insight into the traditional Northwest scene, though, Brandon Lieberman’s venerable Drinking from Puddles on Wednesdays from 8 to 11 is probably the good deal: he’s moved on slightly from the days when Corin Tucker used to call him out for being “heterosexist”, but there’s still a lot to learn about the fabulous Northwestern ’90s and their sequels.
The British Red Ensign or “Cromwell Flag”, in use since 1707 in Britain and its colonies, was the first official flag of the United States. Long may it wave.
You may be more familiar with its variant, the “Continental Flag” that replaced the Union Jack with a pine tree. It was flown at the battle of Bunker Hill, but don’t expect to see it back.
Although I’m not actually feeling very philosophical, I think I ought to let drop a certain thought I had a while ago about the relationship between the science of biology and the art of letters. Although of course organisms are physical entities susceptible to genuine experimental research, no matter how molecularly accurate our understanding of organ and organelle and cell function becomes there is still something of the elan vital to biology, simply because our understanding of the living does not reflexively close; biological advances and the medical and agricultural engineering advances they drive change the status of life on Earth — though perhaps not quite as radically as biotechnology enthusiasts would have themselves believe. From the other side, the reality of evolution undermines our biological mastery; even if we reasonably thought we had a fundamental fix on the reality of a biological phenomenon like HIV transmissibility, it could easily change for any number of reasons making our formerly excellent theory inapplicable — including even social dynamics induced by the common knowledge of the statistics themselves.
Really, to get an Archimedean point on living things, we would have to have an experiment where cells were “fixed” for eternity, and that would necessitate the removal of all observers composed of cells (Christian biologists, explain to your colleagues that’s not going to be a problem). No perfect knowledge possible; however, there is a humanistic index of good biology. The greatest naturalists, like Darwin and John Muir, are also very good writers, and this is no accident: their writerly skills keep human “drives” in equilibrium with the reality of biological phenomena, so we have the best possible theory of the living possible at any particular time. Furthermore, perhaps the Victorian futurism of the term “consilience” indicates the problems with E.O. Wilson’s “evolutionary psychology”: no such thing, since creatures great and small are allotted one brain per lifetime, with which they cast about for “proper functions”. And finally, literature proper makes a contribution to biological understanding by allowing us to understand when it is time to let go of the Wille zum Leben, which keeps us in a state of “blissful” confusion, and focus on “getting things straight” and letting others know.
You know, Lucky Strike green went to war, and it never came back.
By the way, people, all this rockin’ doesn’t come for free. For the last five years, my monthly disability payment of $745 (and help from my parents designed to work around the rather patent fact that this is less SSDI than I’m owed and totally inadequate for living in the Portland area) has brought you amazement and edification, but although I have been graciously allowed to spend the remainder of the extant funds on living in my genuine flophouse I could use a little help, and you can deliver it anonymously using PayPal. My PayPal account is associated with firstname.lastname@example.org, the mail address I use when I’m not a piece of the American state apparatus; in truth I’m not a greedy man, but every little bit would help. Otherwise, I could be given other funds I’m owed through the miraculous functioning of the American legal system or being allowed to have a real job, but hey, Let’s Get Real.
UPDATE: Don’t even bother trying PayPal.
It’s now aesthetics time on Fortunes of the Dialectic. In discussions with my life partner John Lacny and some guy named Richard Seymour, I bruited a theory of which British bands corresponded to which British parties: the parallels with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and the Clash are obvious enough for “trainspotters” of British leftism, but there’s a super-obvious choice for British Maoists: the “Theory” band Gang of Four. Gang of Four played very intense “punk-funk” with lyrics heavily inflected by Continental social theory, reflecting the sharp disenchantment an ordinary college-leaver could have with everyday life in late-’70s Britain. Here are a few live selections:
Alma Woodsey Thomas, Secret Sage Dancing a Whirling Dervish, 1976
Although WordPress hasn’t “felt” like having YouTube embedding work for a while, just for fun we’ll revisit the Western suburban past with what was once very many people’s favorite band, the fundamental “pop-punk” band The Descendents. The Descendents were formed in 1978 as a trio, and intitially played a kind of hard-edged power-pop: then Milo Aukerman, a biochemistry student, joined as lead vocalist and the group assumed a fun, energetic form which was immensely appealing against the backdrop of the dark and ambiguous messages of LA punk at the time. The group recorded four albums, Milo Goes to College, I Don’t Want to Grow Up, Enjoy!, and ALL: after the last album, Milo (it is Milo) left to pursue a doctorate, which everyone knows he got. The rest of the group continued on in the same vein with a different lead singer, under the name All.
The Descendents were never my favorite band; to me the lyrics reflected a certain sense of white suburban privilege, including in the famous homophobia of their best-known song “I’m Not A Loser” and the Asian fixation of an insecure white man. [My secret LA punk identity is “Falling James”, although Leaving Trains records are apparently strictly verboten now.] However, they were just what people wanted to hear, and presumably those people still want to hear them all the time: the band reformed and released two albums to date, Everything Sucks and Cool To Be You. And although really it is about the Western suburban experience, skateboards and all, I did even hear them being played at a Caravel ice cream shop in Franklin Township, New Jersey, in the mid-90s. Today we’ll have a few selections from a classic live show, the “Mississippi Nights Bootleg” recorded in St. Louis in 1987; if you’d like to see them right on the page, mention it to the good folks at Auttomatic.
Wendy — that’s right, the Beach Boys one