David Bowie: head, heart, girls loving horsies

As a teenager, many of the girls around me who had a rabid (libidinous?) fetish for horses later had a rabid, libidinous fetish for David Bowie. It seemed best to not intrude between girls and their horses or their David Bowie. So I mostly ignored him.

David Bowie favors the U.S. flag and milk.

At age 18, on the sly, I bought The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Marvelous stuff, of course. But at age 20 I bought probably the best bunch of CDs in my life: David Bowie Sound + Vision.

The packaging was marvelous. For 1989, it contained three great CDs that ran a gamut of his career up to Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) including familiar tracks and alternate takes. It had a video CD with the video for "Ashes to Ashes" saying goodbye to his pre-1980 personas when hardly anyone had a player to do anything with it.

Bowie described himself as "synthetic". Before I closely listened, when I was a teenager he came across as always viewing his own work from a distance. Never fully engaged, but pulling a trick of some kind and watching to see everyone's reactions rather than being in the moment.

What is easy to miss, for all the hairstyles and colors and external trappings, is his voracious curiosity for music. He put a great deal of heart into his work, often getting far further in than trying on genres, but studying and expressing himself from the genre's center.

Over time I bought all his albums up through Never Let Me Down. His recordings at the BBC. For all this intense time of catching up, all his changes and playfulness had the safety of the past. It didn't offend or challenge me in the way it would have had I caught it at the first. The daring stuff struck me as wonderfully funny and clever. I could see things as they were meant and did not have to deal with the contemporary "What is he doing?"

Sound + Vision. Terrific packaging. Great music.

When strapped for cash at various times, I ended up selling a few of his albums I didn't listen to very often (Farewell, Never Let Me Down). I haven't purchased every album he released after 1987. I did like Tin Machine. Yes, really. And Black Tie, White Noise. And I especially liked Outside. And like much of his mid-level fans I had heard whispers about his ailing health in recent years, and was delightfully surprised when The Next Day came out, viewing it in 2013 as a final album emerging after ten years of retirement.

In 2016, with Bowie dead, I now drum my fingers, awaiting delivery of his final album Blackstar. I saw the video for his song "Lazarus" when it was released and knew he was near death. Not only tipped-off by the title of the song, and the prolonged shots on a sick bed, but most especially the black and silver-striped harlequin going into the chest/coffin at the end. This was goodbye.

And three days after the video's release, he was dead.

The news bummed me out, intermittently, for a couple of days. And I still shake my head a few times at the news. I don't associate a wide range of his songs with emotionally laden relationships or memories. But playing random tracks from the 25 albums of his that I still own evokes specific times in my life when listening and getting engrossed in his music was an experience distinctly (this is absurd) mine, even listening a decade or two behind others. His hunger to try things, his love of music and bending of forms all generated an impressive body of work. Yet, it feels like a chill has settled on all of those accomplishments for now. Once Blackstar arrives, his space on my CD shelves will not get much wider.

When thinking of an example of Bowie deploying both a sense of play and a clear drive to get into the center of a song, his cover of "Wild is the Wind" came immediately to mind.

Many of us will take solace in the work he left behind, even though listening to it for a while will be hard because we will sorely miss him.

I got sad writing this. Headed up the stairs. Then I started thinking of "TVC15" and Bowie's performance on Saturday Night Live with Klaus Nomi and started laughing. Had I seen this in 1978, at age 9, I would have wondered what was going on. Seeing it much later, it is so wonderfully fucking funny. Pink poodle with a t.v. screen. Stick around for the second number in the video of David Bowie acting like a puppet for "Boys Keep Swinging". Yes, that is Martin Sheen introducing him.

"Ready for Hillary"? No.

We are 200 years overdue for a woman U.S. President. But Hillary, at best, would be a mediocre start. What does she stand for? Similar to 2008, when her supporters are questioned the response is often conceptual like "It's her turn." The argument is based on proximity (she bade her time as First Lady for eight years in the White House, was a U.S. Senator for years, took a Secretary of State position as a consolation prize for losing in 2008, her last name is Clinton so it's only fair she should inherit the position after her husband).

"It's her turn" responses are often based on projection. A woman should be President. Women we know (or are) have been unfairly treated for centuries, and women should have their due. It doesn't so much matter which woman, so much as a woman becomes President. Of course candidates typically are screens on which we can project whatever we want onto, but the blankness around Clinton seems more pronounced.

Ad in my Facebook feed. No, lazybones, I won't link to the "instant poll" for you.

And the "it's her turn" rationale is often based on name recognition or that the entire nation owes both parties in the Clinton marriage a go at being U.S. President. That's a dynasty, and our nation was largely founded to get away from that stuff. Can we at least all agree to take a break from Bush and Clinton dynasties? We have another 300 million people to draw from. Sure, we're a plutocracy and republic, but at least plutocrats alternate the family names of those in charge. It's a courtesy they grant to us in the craven throng below.

Bolstering the theory that support for her is based on the concept, not reality, there's polling (yeah, yeah, I know) that shows that Clinton is more popular in times when she is not running for office compared to in the public spotlight as an active candidate. This may be why the Clinton's supporters in Democratic National Committee are trying to reduce the number of presidential candidate debates. Note Clinton's numbers in 2008 and Spring 2015 as her new campaign was starting:

Has Clinton taken stances on important issues that were ahead of the crowd? The only one I can think of is trying to move the nation to single-payer healthcare way back as First Lady in 1993. Good on her for that. She tends to be years, even decades behind the right place to be. Alert people knew marriage equality was the just stance, yet the Clintons supported the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ensuring decades of misery and shame for thousands of families. Many of us were howling that the case for the Iraq invasion was based on bullshit, yet Clinton voted for that due to expediency and posturing. I don't trust her to do the thing that's right, I do expect her to take public moral stances based on Dick Morris-style cynical "triangulation", though.

There is no doubt that she has been subjected to decades of frothing attacks by the verifiable "vast right-wing conspiracy". David Brock's Blinded by the Right laid this out in great detail, as he was one of the lead right-wing conspirators. And the expensive, vapid circuses continue. Trying to make Benghazi a thing, private email servers a thing, on and on.

I see that women in politics have a more difficult balancing act when it comes to a public persona. Too assertive and behaviors that would label a man "daring" or "ballsy" get a woman labeled a "bitch". Too soft and behaviors described as "empathetic" in a man get a woman labeled "emotional". Women have to worry about triggering responses to however people feel about their own mothers. Men in politics don't seem to have to deal with people's father issues so overtly.

But Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi, even Olympia Snowe (yeah, she's a Republican - there are sane, moderate ones out there - by the way take your party back you guys!) would make for more appealing candidates. How about Cecile Richards?

Heck, if Hillary Clinton ditched her married name and ran under her birth name as Hillary Rodham that would make me feel a little better. Actually, wouldn't that be marvelous?

Rhetoric v. poetry. Rhetoric + poetry.

Not Bernie Sanders, but W.B. Yeats

"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. Unlike the rhetoricians, who get a confident voice from remembering the crowd they have won or may win, we sing amid our uncertainty; and, smitten even in the presence of the most high beauty by the knowledge of our solitude, our rhythm shudders." - William Butler Yeats, "Anima Hominus"

Goddamn, I have got to get away from dunking my head in the politics bucket, and from the politics commentary bucket, then commenting on the politics commentary bucket, and put pen to paper on wrapping up the dirty book project.

Writing is progressing, but done in isolation. Commenting on political rhetoric is in the open and full of commiseration and wit and friends amusing each other. Maybe misanthropy would lead to more spans of time to tune things out and focus?

Is Frank Burns the true good guy of M*A*S*H?

As a nation reevaluates Atticus Finch - a purported hero in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and revealed to be a racist in the sequel Go Set a Watchman - we should take a closer look at Frank Burns. While binge-playing M*A*S*H in our household, familiar sitcom dialog from childhood coming to the fore, it occurred to me: what if Hawkeye is meant to be an unreliable narrator, unfairly maligning Major Frank Burns?

Think of it: Burns wants order and protocol to be followed in a dangerous wartime environment. Chain of command is essential to reliable operation. Safety is essential in a hospital. Emergency life & death issues emerge on a regular basis. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce is an agent of disruption with deep contempt for authority. Yet the story of M*A*S*H centers on Pierce. The camera angles in The Swamp tent always favor Pierce, not Burns. Through Pierce's eyes, Burns is reliably the ninny and appeaser to those in authority.

Consider a couple things:

  1. There is only one prominent female in the entire M*A*S*H cast for its full run, Major Margaret Houlihan. She is a woman in power, outranking Pierce and his sidekick-of-the-day, whether Trapper John or B.J. Yet, save for the last few seasons, Pierce and his toadies regularly hold the powerful, self-assured Houlihan in deep contempt. Burns manages a longterm relationship with her for many years.
  2. Pierce and Trapper John had a black tentmate the first season. A doctor, just like them. They called him "Spearchucker".

Even trying NYT? Sometimes the daemon evokes tedium.

Note to the New York Times Book Review: if your cover review has "bestrides [...] like a [...] colossus" in its second sentence my self-preserving cliché survival mechanism kicks in and I cannot retain anything farther.

Now, I hardly read. At all. But the few things I do read I often re-read multiple times. Harold Bloom's 80s & 90s books, especially The Western Canon (which I wrote about here) among them, and to a lesser extent The Book of J and the The Anxiety of Influence. So far as I can tell, the last few decades Bloom has largely been rehashing the same approach: encomium to classic/canon literature and comparing one established author to another even if he has already compared them to each other in other works. This new book, The Daemon Knows, appears to be more of the same. Bloom Brontosaurus Bardolator.

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"Wanda Why Aren't You Dead" by Wanda Coleman

Anyone who clings to the tow rope of self as we climb - as circumstances and others flit and swirl around to make you change, which of course is everyone - can relate to "Wanda Why Aren't You Dead".

This poem is already great, patters, vernacular, evocative of a variety of voices. With race riots in the news, again, with rage and hope fueling masses of people with demands for long overdue justice - many lines resonated with me. This poem is much grander than race, but "wanda what is it like being black" brought to the fore a dynamic that has jabbed many times.

Oregon is not a diverse state, and has a deeply racist past toward blacks in particular. And when talk of race arises, if there is anyone present at all who is non-white, that person is not only "other" in a room of whites, but often feels obliged to speak not on her/his behalf, but on behalf of the experiences of millions of people that run a range of experiences and a spectrum of barely-related shades spread across continents (but of course are people born and raised for generations in the U.S. like most everyone else in the room). And these obligations to speak on behalf of entire races/skin tones often leaves hanging in the air: "But what does she/he think as an individual?"

But that is only a part of Wanda Coleman's poem which wittily comments on womanhood and the human condition and the way we try to control one another, and how we have to resist being defined by others.

The photo montage in the video below, with many photos of Wanda Coleman in various stages of her life as Coleman recites her poem, is a brief & worthwhile. Coleman died in 2013. Her biography at Poetry Foundation.

Wanda Why Aren't You Dead
By Wanda Coleman

wanda when are you gonna wear your hair down
wanda. that's a whore's name
wanda why ain't you rich
wanda you know no man in his right mind want a
          ready-made family
why don't you lose weight
wanda why are you so angry
how come your feet are so goddamn big
can't you afford to move out of this hell hole
if i were you were you were you
wanda what is it like being black
i hear you don't like black men
tell me you're ac/dc. tell me you're a nympho. tell me you're
          into chains
wanda i don't think you really mean that
you're joking. girl, you crazy
wanda what makes you so angry
wanda i think you need this
wanda you have no humor in you you too serious
wanda i didn't know i was hurting you
that was an accident
wanda i know what you're thinking
wanda i don't think they'll take that off of you

wanda why are you so angry

i'm sorry i didn't remember that that that
that that that was so important to you

wanda you're ALWAYS on the attack

wanda wanda wanda i wonder

why ain't you dead


Ultron, the Emily Dickinson-quoting supervillain robot

Ultron would like you to look at his Dickinson-themed journal and let him know what you think.

The New York Times reports that Joss Whedon wrote a line in the upcoming Avengers Age of Ultron movie where Ultron quotes Emily Dickinson (Huzzah as the Venn diagram of comic nerds and lit nerds fizzes with glee...). James Spader, who voices Ultron, was later given a line from Pinocchio about not having strings for the final version (Bo-ring...)

I have tried to find out what the Dickinson quote was. However, after multiple minutes of Yahoo, Bing, and Google searches have yielded no answers, I am snatching the internet speculation license and claiming it mine.

Let's assume that Whedon would go broad and choose one of Dickinson's most recognizable poems. While her buzzing flies would work in many ways for an action film, let's go instead with a scene where Ultron, the fate of humanity seconds from ruination, decides to regale Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Thor — and, hell, let's add Loki — with a recitation that causes each of them to close their eyes and imagine sitting in a Carriage with Death and Ultron, the giant robot.

Imagine yourself, dear reader, watching a montage of soft-dissolve film edits as each brightly colored muscle-bound oaf, blood trickling down the forehead just so, gasping final breaths, ponders the point of it all.

I grew up on DC comics and don't know what the deal is with Ultron from Marvel comics, but I am eager to pretend James Spader as the preppie from Pretty in Pink has converted to robot form and aspires to more destruction than making fellow preppie Andrew McCarthy feel bad for dating someone trashy like Molly Ringwald.

Fingers crossed Walt Whitman and Hulk are combined in the next movie. DOES HULK WHITMAN CONTRADICT MYSELF? THEN HULK WHITMAN CONTRADICTS MYSELF!

Because I Could Not Stop for Death (479)
By Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –

The male gaze & Paul Blackburn: The Once-Over

"Persimmon" by Robert Rauschenberg (1964). Taken in the Art Institute of Chicago... by ME!

The "male gaze" is an important concept. However, the phrase often diminishes the sense of power held by the person being gazed at. Beauty and social hierarchy has its privileges, and its nuisances. "The Once-Over" by Paul Blackburn from the late 1950s holds that sense nicely.

"Stirring dull roots with spring rain" alludes to "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot (which I wrote about here), putting Eliot in the role of Blackburn's "preacher". While attending a religious service with T.S. Eliot holds some novel appeal ("Hey, that's T.S. Eliot!" would be my recurring thought), I'm not sure Eliot would hold my heathen attention for more than a few minutes on the topic of religion. Maybe if he talked about his banking instead I'd be rapt for longer.

The Once-Over
By Paul Blackburn

The tanned blonde
                                    in the green print sack

in the center of the subway car
                                                          standing

tho there are seats
                                    has had it from
I           teen-age hood
I           lesbian
I           envious housewife
4          men over fifty
(& myself),     in short
                                    the contents of this half of the car

                                     Our notations are :
long legs, long waists, high breasts (no bra), long
neck, the model slump
                                    the handbag drape & how the skirt
cuts in under a very handsome

                                                      set of cheeks
“stirring dull roots with spring rain”, sayeth the preacher

            Only a stolid young man
with a blue business suit and the New York Times

does not know he is being assaulted.

So.
She has us and we have her
all the way to downtown Brooklyn
Over the tunnel and through the bridge
                                    to DeKalb Avenue we go
all very chummy

She stares at the number over the door
                                    and gives no sign
Yet the sign is on her