Thursday, February 28, 2013

Whitman: Speech is the twin of my vision (5 days to DR. BIRD)

With only five days until the release of Dr. Bird, I give you one of the passages James thinks about early on in the novel.

"Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.

We also ascend dazzling and tremendous as the sun,
We found our own O my soul in the calm and cool of the day-break.

My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.

Speech is the twin of my vision, it is unequal to measure itself,
It provokes me forever, it says sarcastically,
Walt you contain enough, why don't you let it out then?"

"Come now I will not be tantalized, you conceive too much of articulation"

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Whitman: This then is life (6 days to DR. BIRD)

One of my favorite quotations from Leaves of Grass was going to be the epigraph. But I decided to leave the quotation in the text only, since it comes to James at a powerful moment in the novel.

"Victory, union, faith, identity, time,
The indissoluble compacts, riches, mystery,
Eternal progress, the cosmos, and the modern reports.

This then is life,
Here is what has come to the surface after so many throes and convulsions.

How curious! how real!"

"Underfoot the divine soil, overhead the sun."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge

Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge
Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic history of the Seattle music scene labelled grunge. Yarm's strength is, aside from the wealth of material he culled from his interview subjects, is the fact that he knows the scene. The book begins back in the early 80s and successfully traces the rise of the huge bands as well as the ones (like TAD) that could've made it big but didn't for reasons random, sometimes cruel, sometimes understandable, but ultimately fascinating.

Working with the structure of an oral history still leaves Yarm room to create a narrative. Juxtaposing contradictory perspectives allows for a certain sense of tribulation -- who do we believe if there are only two presentations of an event? Well, Yarm's done us the service of staying out of the way. Put another text might make conclusions based on the comments/quotes, but Yarm emphasizes that the issue here isn't really the factual trajectory of the individuals, but the overall movement. For example, who knows if Courtney Love is telling the truth. Ever. And who knows if anyone talking about Courtney Love is telling the truth or has a grudge. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but ultimately how people talk about the scene tells you more than the facts. Maybe that's not what everyone expects but if you go in looking for a beautiful mix of insider gossip, facts, perceptions, and caricature (not one of those things but all).

A highly satisfying presentation that moves quickly and doesn't seem to lack anything essential (except maybe Chris Cornell's post-Soundgarden decent into drugs and alcohol, though I suspect the blind spot was intentional and not due to a lack of interest or work on Yarm's part).

View all my reviews

Whitman: Who degrades or defiles (7 days to DR. BIRD)

In my novel Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, the main character's name is James Whitman. He's not related to the poet, but it's one of those great things about life that sometimes the connections that seem obvious are the ones that will help the most. In fact, I didn't include James's discovery of the poet in the novel itself, but did write a short story that helps explain his initial reaction to Whitman's beautifully meandering poetry. Regardless, we don't need to know James's full experience of Whitman, just that he's decided to use Whitman as part of his self-therapy cocktail. The imaginary Dr. Bird, Whitman, photography, poem writing, and friends all contribute to keeping James afloat. But they are not enough.

Who degrades or defiles the living human body is cursed. 
Who degrades or defiles the body of the dead is not more cursed.

"the living human body"

Monday, February 25, 2013

Whitman: the writer of melodious verses (8 days to DR. BIRD)

At one point, James finds himself at odds with Whitman. It's bad enough he's a sixteen-year-old wrestling with depression, talking to an imaginary pigeon, and failing his sister -- but fighting with a long-dead poet? James might be hopeless!

"You think it would be good to be the writer of melodious verses,
Well it would be good to be the writer of melodious verses;
But what are verses beyond the flowing character you could have? . . . . or beyond beautiful manners and behavior?
Or beyond one manly or affectionate deed of an apprenticeboy? . . or old woman? . . or man that has been in prison or is likely to be in prison?"

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Whitman: Great is the earth (9 days to DR. BIRD)

In Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, James finds himself challenged to be optimistic when he learns something grim about his sister Jorie. But no amount of Whitman seems to be able to give him guidance -- or keep him from succumbing to his own depression.

"Great is the earth, and the way it became what it is,
Do you imagine it is stopped at this? . . . . and the increase abandoned?
Understand then that it goes as far onward from this as this is from the times when it lay in covering waters and gases.

Great is the quality of truth in man,
The quality of truth in man supports itself through all changes,
It is inevitably in the man . . . . He and it are in love, and never leave each other." [1855]

"The quality of truth in man supports itself through all changes"

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Whitman: Great is youth (10 days to DR. BIRD)

Here's Whitman again helping to celebrate the imminent release of Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, which focuses on a boy named James who recites Leaves of Grass to cheer himself up. (The results are mixed.)

"Great is youth, and equally great is old age . . . . great are the day and night;
Great is wealth and great is poverty . . . . great is expression and great is silence.

Youth large lusty and loving . . . . youth full of grace and force and fascination,
Do you know that old age may come after you with equal grace and force and fascination?

Day fullblown and splendid . . . . day of the immense sun, and action and ambition and laughter,
The night follows close, with millions of suns, and sleep and restoring darkness." [1855]

"and equally great is old age...."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Whitman: A million suns left (11 days to DR. BIRD)

More wisdom from Whitman, this time from the 1892 version of "Song of Myself" section 2:

"Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are a million suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self." [1892]

"You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me"

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Whitman: Commonest (12 days to DR. BIRD)

What is commonest, cheapest, nearest, easiest, is Me,
Me going in for my chances, spending for vast returns,
Adorning myself to bestow myself on the first that will take me,
Not asking the sky to come down to my good will,
Scattering it freely forever.

"Adorning myself to bestow myself"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Whitman: Vivas! (13 to DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS

Our countdown continues today with a passage from "Song of Myself" section 18:

"With music strong I come, with my cornets and my drums,
I play not marches for accepted victors only, I play marches for conquer'd and slain persons.
Have you heard that it was good to gain the day?
I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.

I beat and pound for the dead,
I blow through my embouchures my loudest and gayest for them.

Vivas to those who have fail'd!
And to those whose war-vessels sank in the sea!
And to those themselves who sank in the sea!
And to all generals that lost engagements, and all overcome heroes!
And the numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known!" [1892]


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Whitman: 14 days to Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets

With fourteen days remaining until the release of Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, I give you a Walt Whitman gem from the "Preface to Leaves of Grass (1855)":
Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body……..

"Men and women perceive the beauty enough, probably as well as [the Poet]...." 

Friday, February 8, 2013

On Alice in Chains

I've been listening to lots of Alice in Chains recently. One of my favorite bands from the 90s, their music had that nice blend of dirty guitar, dark lyrics, and amazing vocals that pleased this heavy metal and grunge music fan more than most bands. Jerry Cantrell, I should note, is a phenomenal songwriter and his backing vocals on much of AIC's work provides a texture that's unique, but also made the band's reunited effort, Black Gives Way to Blue, both a familiar and excellent album even if the original vocalist, Layne Staley, was nowhere to be found thanks to his drug overdose in 2002.

The Onion's non-satirical A/V Club has a great article about Layne Staley's life and death that I also came across recently. It's a fantastic and sad look at Staley's decline as well as a deep appreciation for Dirt, which is the band's masterpiece and a clear chronicle of the singer's struggle with (and sad unwillingness to overcome) heroin addiction. The album showcases a variety of attitudes about drug use, most of them more complex than simple regret or hope. Certainly titles like "Junkman," "Sickman," and "Hate to Feel" suggest Staley is already resigned to his fate as a user, likely an overdoser. Consider, also, the various lyrics:

"ah, what's the difference, i'll die / in this sick world of mine" -- Sickman

"Seem so sick to the hypocrite norm / Running their boring drills / But we are an elite race of our own/ The stoners, junkies and freaks" -- Junkman

"What in God's name have you done? / Stick your arm for some real fun!" -- Godsmack

Whether celebrating the status of the sick outsider, at least aware of his hypocrisies, or lamenting the pain he's causing himself, Staley's songs never find a true joy, only gritty rejection of what I'm sure were well-meaning pleas from his friends and family to get off of junk. ("Godsmack" itself seems to be a rejection of the Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous method of placing faith in a higher power in an effort to find strength to kick the habit. "And God's name is smack for some" is Staley's gruff response. Later followed by the more solemn declaration "Down in a hole and I don't know if I can be saved" underscored by the foggy questions of the entire song "Would?" which links Staley to another drug overdose story from the Seattle scene, Andrew Wood (who's sad death resulted in the founding of Pearl Jam.)

So, I've got the Alice In Chains Unplugged album on this morning as I write and after "Heaven Beside You" Staley says, "I would have to say that this is the best show we've done in about 3 years." In the background, one of the other bandmembers responds with "Layne, this is the ONLY one we've done in three years."

Layne's response: "It's still the best." Laughs. They then play "Would?"

I didn't know it at the time because I was not a major concert-going teen, but Layne's drug problem had limited Alice in Chain's ability to play shows in the mid-90s. Their last major tour with Staley was 1993, when I was 15. I saw them at Lollapalooza that year and bought two Alice in Chain shirts. They played "Godsmack," my favorite song at the time because of the guitars and chorus.

MTV recorded the Unplugged show in April 1996. The band would perform only 4 more concerts together, with the last performance coming in July 1996.

Handout from 2002 Memorial Service
Staley was found dead in April of 2002; "the tip-off that something was amiss came not from concerned family members or friends but from Staley’s accountants, who noticed that he hadn’t spent any money in several days." This, from a 2003 SeattleWeekly article on heroin's resurgence in Seattle, says more than anything about what is lost:
In addition to the singer's tracked-up and paraphernalia-littered bathroom and front room, detectives found a kitchen counter covered with more used needles, more narcotics pipes, and more spray-paint cans. Needles also were found beneath Staley when his 86-pound body was removed. He lived alone in the two-story, three-bedroom apartment (one bedroom contained toys and video games, another musical instruments; the master bedroom had a bed and TV). When police played back Staley's answering-machine tape, it was filled with two weeks' worth of calls asking where he was.

Donations to aid in addiction recovery services are best made locally to area communities where you can see the benefits; those in the Seattle, WA area can contribute directly to the Layne Staley Memorial Fund here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

On Radiohead's Water Obsession

People who know me, know I'm a bit of a Radiohead fan. In fact, the top hits for a Google search of my name once were song lyric interpretations on Radiohead sites.
I'm not embarrassed, though I am glad newer things have taken the top spot.
WATER! © Evan Roskos 2012

One of the great things about following Radiohead for so long is the magic of becoming familiar with lead singer Thom Yorke's various obsessions. My favorite is his constant anxiety about water, which now far surpasses his once famous obsession with car accidents.
Seriously, Yorke sees water hazards all over the place. If he's not asking us to "pull him out of the lake," he's going to "jump into river" or "jump off the end / into a clear lake" after he's "lost at sea" and "floats down the Liffey" or warns us that "The waters break, the waters run all over [him]", which isn't surprising since if he's not "in the deepest ocean / at the bottom of the sea" worried about a "house falling into the sea" or how "the sea would / electrocute us all" or especially about how "the rain drops" (even though he asked for it to "rain down on [him]"), then he's "standing on a beach with [his] guitar" "while the ocean blooms" wishing someone would "build an ark" because, aside from all menacing water, there's an "iceage coming."
Okay, that last one's a stretch, but you get the point.

[Songs quoted: Lucky, Pyramid Song, Codex, In Limbo, How to Disappear Completely, Vegetable, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Where I End and You Begin, Nice Dream, Sit Down. Stand Up., Paranoid Android, Anyone Can Play Guitar, Bloom, Sail to the Moon, Idioteque]