Friday, January 04, 2019

A Few Recent Stooges Pick-Ups:

First, the 2009 Easy Action vinyl release of their 1971 material, Live at the Electric Circus, which I previously only had on CD.  Listening to this set again (first time listening on vinyl), I am once more convinced that this is some of their best material.  Hearing it on vinyl with decent speakers really brings a lot of their sound out.  As an audience recording, the acoustics are still fairly muddy, and the vocals are still mostly buried, unfortunately, but the attack of the guitars really comes through. It is a shame that the band was dropped from Elektra at this point and that these songs were never properly recorded for a studio album.  Very nice orange-and-grey vinyl pressing from Easy Action, though.  I’ve previously written about these songs here.  In the recent book Total Chaos (2016), Iggy says that the 1971 songs that have “simpler chords and [are] more organized,” like “I Got a Right” and “You Don’t Want My Name,” are his, while the songs that are “very, very complicated, interesting riff but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere, those are [James Williamson’s]” (p. 202).  Perhaps Iggy has a point, but I actually like all of the songs they were playing then. The last two or three pieces in the set indeed are based on one or two riffs each, but I like the improvisations and solos they play over them.  And anyway, many of their best songs are “complicated” single riffs (think “T.V. Eye,” for example).  Apparently, Ron Asheton was not doing much songwriting during this period, but the interplay of the two guitarists is great throughout.

Now, a few thoughts on the recent Rare Power LP (Columbia, 2018): It is nice to have the Raw Power outtakes on vinyl (“I’m Hungry,” “Hey Peter,” “Doojiman”).  Everything else has been previously released on vinyl, I think, except the terrible “Gimme Danger”-Josh Mobley remix.  I can understand wanting to include this remix from a marketing standpoint (it was in a video game or something), but it is frankly awful, with fake electronic drums, orchestral part, etc. — totally ruins the song.  From the 1972 Olympic sessions, we are once again treated to “I Got a Right” and “Sick of You,” which were also recently paired on the Gimme Danger soundtrack album.  So, why not include a couple of the now lesser-heard tracks from those Olympic sessions instead?  For example, “Tight Pants” would have been a better inclusion than the Iggy mix of “Shake Appeal,” if we’re going for “rare.”  They’re essentially the same song, but “Tight Pants” is an interesting alternate/earlier version.  I like “I Got a Right,” obviously, but again, no longer rare.  What about “Scene of the Crime” and/or “Gimme Some Skin” instead, or at least the take of “I Got a Right” that Bomp used, which you rarely come across nowadays?  “Head On” from the 1973 CBS rehearsal sessions was a good choice (previously available on the Rubber Legs album).  But why the Iggy mix of “Death Trip”?  Wouldn’t a better inclusion have been the album’s iconic tune “Search and Destroy” (no version of which is included here)?  I’d have voted for the early mix Iggy played on Detroit radio, the one with the backing-vocal “heys” that has appeared on a couple of hard-to-find bootlegs.  Further, the order of tracks is particularly illogical, and there are no liner notes giving context or explaining how the Stooges’ career and recording sessions played out in this period.  For the Stooges fan, Rare Power is still just barely worth having for the couple of benefits mentioned above, but really seems more like an income-generating ploy by the company than anything else.  It could have been a very solid project if a little more thought had been put into it.

The Detroit Edition of the Stooges’ first album is a relatively successful package, with solid remastering and cover design.  The glossy gatefold is aesthetically pleasing, lined inside in red.  It might have been nice to have a couple other/different band photos in there, but also cool to see the printed lyrics.  Disc one is the original album, while the second is an “alternative” version, with alternate vocal takes and the full, un-faded “No Fun” and “Ann.”  All of these were available on the 2010 Rhino Handmade release, but it is great to have them on vinyl.  My biggest complaint is that the “alternative” album does not include “Asthma Attack,” which really would have given the album an interesting slant and would have provided a real parallel to the original.  Unfortunately, the only source for the complete “Asthma Attack” on vinyl is on the Gimme Danger soundtrack (the single that came with the Rhino Handmade package had it split over two sides of a 45), and so whoever decided it didn’t need to be on what aspires to be the definitive vinyl re-release of the first album ought to have their head examined.  I said as much here, even before it came out, but what can you do; obviously they didn’t consult me (ha ha).  Another missed opportunity, though still worth having.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Poetry Blogging Network

Poetry Blogging Network: A loose affiliation of poetry bloggers, being organized by Kelli Russell Agodon, suggested, she says, by Dave Bonta.  Here is the link to the list of blogs (so far), and hopefully this will prompt me to get back to posting more on my own site (I have just been busy). . . .

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Paranoia in the Americas Symposium

Upcoming event: I am presenting a paper titled “American Punk Rock and ‘Political Correctness’ Paranoia,” at the Paranoia in the Americas Symposium: American Anxieties in a Transnational Context, University College Cork, Ireland, 24 November 2018.

In it, I will briefly analyze this Minor Threat song:

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Oíche Shamhna Shona (Déanach)

Beagáinín déanach (aréir a bhí Oíche Shamhna, agus is é seo an lá féin), ach seo grafac a rinne mé le haghaidh na hoíche móire. Tagann an ealaín (le Boris Artzybasheff) ón cnuasach filíochta Creatures, le Padraic Colum (Macmillan, 1927).

A graphic I made for Oíche Shamhna, using artwork by Boris Artzybasheff, from Padraic Colum’s poetry collection Creatures (Macmillan, 1927).

Friday, September 21, 2018

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Radio Interview, 8/8/18

[Updated to reflect the nature of time.]  I appeared on Bangor, Maine's AM620 WZON radio 8/8/18 on the Sports Lit 101 segment of the Downtown with Rich Kimball radio show, reading a few non-stereotypical baseball poems.

The segment is now archived online, so you can listen here:

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Essay in Western American Literature

My essay on the Santa Fe poets of the 1930s and The Turquoise Trail anthology is now published in the peer-reviewed journal Western American Literature (vol. 53, no. 2, Summer 2018, pp. 175-203), and it is already on Project MUSE. If you have a Project MUSE login, you can download the PDF or read it in HTML. Even if you do not have a login, the preview gives the first couple of pages:

The first page is reproduced above, and here is a further snippet:

However, as I argue in this essay, the Santa Fe poets — including Alice Corbin Henderson, Witter Bynner, Spud Johnson, and Haniel Long, among others — eschewed classical European models and instead sought out their mythic touchstones within a particular region and culture of the geographic United States. At the same time, embracing the Native Americans’ “ancient rites” and mythological tropes in furtherance of a new vision of American poetry (and America itself), the Santa Fe poets registered their resistance to the machine age by invoking an image of a primitive other, thus freighting their project with all of the contradictions that entails.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Dead Boys in 2018

The present-day Dead Boys
I recently (July 3) saw the re-formed Dead Boys, with only two original members, Cheetah Chrome (guitarist) and Johnny Blitz (drummer), and a Stiv Bators stand-in by the name of Jake Hout.  It is in a way an ambivalent feeling to see long-gone punk bands re-form in their old age, and I wasn’t expecting too much from this version of the Dead Boys.  However, they were far better than I thought they would be.  Mainly, it was just great to see Cheetah and Blitz play those old tunes.  They did all the first album Young, Loud, and Snotty (1977) (possibly omitting their cover of “Hey Little Girl”; I can’t remember now), plus a few from We Have Come for Your Children (1978), along with “Detention Home” (the crowd didn’t seem to know the latter song as well, as it appears only on the lesser-known Night of the Living Dead Boys LP [1981]). Having a Stiv lookalike singer is of course is a bit of a strange idea at first, but he does do a spot-on imitation vocally and was quite good, initial feeling of disconnect aside.

Of course, no one is going to come close to the real Stiv.  I am lucky to have seen him (with the Wanderers in 1981 or so).  When I saw Stiv, he did most of his Dead Boys moves: took a swig of beer then spat it onto the audience; put his head in the bass drum, etc.  The only thing he didn’t do, compared to the Dead Boys CBGB video, was the lunch-meat thing; otherwise, it was his Dead Boys act.  Hout did not do most of these specific things, but moved a lot like Stiv and as noted can “do” his voice well.  Funnily enough, it was the bass player who is apparently supposed to be the stand-in for Jimmy Zero (who was the second guitar player in the original band) (in other words, they seemingly transposed the current bass guy for the old 2nd guitarist, visually speaking), and so wore a new-wave tie, and had roughly the same hairstyle.  The crowd was predominantly older punks in their 30s, 40s, and 50s (maybe even their 60s, a few of them), but some younger 20-somethings too.

But for me, again, the main thing, I was just glad to see Cheetah Chrome play those guitar parts and sing backup on “you know that I’m just a dead boy,” etc. — and Blitz play those drum parts.  The songs were really tight and come across as great classics live, played by their originators.  It is interesting to be reminded how much the DBs get from the Stooges, primarily the Williamson period (say, 1972-74), but also a little bit from the Ron Asheton albums (1969-70).  People think of the DBs as epitomizing 1977 punk, and in a way they do, but they came out of the break-up of the Cleveland band Rocket from the Tombs, who started in 1974, and so when you look at the history of punk, there really is a continuity from the late 1960s, to the early 70s, to the late 70s, which has not much to do with England (I say this because in many people’s minds, even some punk historians, London still looms overly large).

An interesting moment at this show: one of the openers was Craig Bell, who was in Rocket from the Tombs, and when the DBs played “Ain’t It Fun” as an encore, a song written by Rocket’s Peter Laughner and originally played by that band, Bell could be seen off to the side mouthing the words.

A couple of related thoughts: The Dead Boys are often seen as being nihilistic, perhaps avatars of what today might be termed “drunk punk” — songs devoid of political content instead focusing on sex/drugs/rock’n’roll or what have you.  The DBs definitely have this element to them (it predominates even, perhaps), but many of their songs in fact do comprise sociopolitical comment on their time, particularly on the second album.  In an interview quoted in David Ensminger’s recent book The Politics of Punk (2016), Cheetah Chrome goes so far as to say, “I always tried to get more political stuff into things, used to say we played ‘dick’ songs: they were all about sex and partying. ‘Ain’t Nothing To Do’ I always considered a political song. ‘Not Anymore’ was a definite social statement. I used to rag on Stiv because, of course, as soon as he gets in the Lords of the New Church, it was all political!” (p. 3).

Aside from the Stooges, Cheetah in another interview (October 2017) mentions as a major influence the MC5, an often overtly political band: “The MC5 really sang about the issues. They nailed it. They put it in music we could rock out to, and the exact same problems are still here today. The only thing different now is we’re not under a draft. How long that will last, who knows. The MC5 would be just as relevant now.”  Not that everything has to be overtly or ideological political, or that there isn’t joy in simple heavy rock’n’roll music (of course there is!), but I sometimes lately see claims (in social-media threads, for example) that original or “real” punk was (or should be) only about the music, or that punk is now threatened by the supposed evils of “political correctness” (see Steven Blush, “KILL YR IDOLS”).  Reframing punk as apolitical is not a realistic move (in my opinion), and Cheetah’s comments show that it never was quite the case, even in the earliest iteration of what we now recognize as American punk per se.

Nor is this to say what side of the political spectrum punk is inherently on (it varies wildly at times, or among different factions in place and time and generation; that is one thing Blush is correct about), and, for that matter, it becomes near impossible to say what punk “authentically” means.  I do, though, have my own thoughts about all this.  Perhaps an essay for another time.  For now, I will sum up by saying that the Dead Boys, even reduced to two original members, are still a powerful live band whose songs I think are currently somewhat overlooked in the history of rock’n’roll.

The original Dead Boys, c. 1977

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Poetry Reading at the SLA Conference

I gave a poetry reading at the Sport Literature Association Conference this past week, on 6/20/18, in Lawrence, Kansas.  My presentation was titled “Baseball Poems / Baseball Images” — some previously published, some newer.  My reading of the poems was accompanied by a series of images, sometimes meant to illustrate aspects of the texts, but sometimes in conversation with them.  It went over well, I think, going on the response I got.

I was also glad to see that many of the papers presented took an overt political stance, including one that foregrounded Eduardo Galeano on soccer and politics.  Further papers analyzed racial discrimination, gender bias, and/or intersections of capitalism in sports, among other topics.  While one could easily have imagined the frequent indulgence in nostalgia, this was really not the case here, and the insights generated proved fruitful.  What is the point of literary criticism if it does not actually engage with the real-life problems of the world?  Then it is merely, as they say, “art for art’s sake” (though perhaps there’s occasional merit in that too?).  And especially in the arena of sports, which has always been a political arena, to stand on the sidelines and not to choose sides would be to my mind to abnegate our responsibility as thinkers and artists.  This was my first time at this conference, and I was encouraged by it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Five Homage Poems at Penumbra

I have five poems published at Penumbra, the official, refereed, scholarly journal of Union Institute & University’s Ph.D. Program in Interdisciplinary Studies. The journal, as it describes itself, is published at regular intervals and dedicated to challenging traditional academic and creative disciplinary boundaries in the context of social change.

My poems are in homage to Archie Shepp, Bill Evans, Peggy Pond Church, Leroy Carr, and Richard Realf (three musicians, two poets).

Read them online here:

Monday, June 04, 2018

Spectra Article in Twentieth-Century Literature

My article “‘bullets for hands’: Witter Bynner, Arthur Davison Ficke, and the Spectra Poems of World War I” is now published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Twentieth-Century Literature, vol. 64, no. 2 (June 2018), pp. 223-46.  Below is the abstract, and the first page is above.

The Spectra hoax, which saw poets Witter Bynner (as Emanuel Morgan) and Arthur Davison Ficke (as Anne Knish) publish the anthology Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments (1916), produced a quite striking body of poetry. Despite its parodic origins, Spectra included some of the most resonant responses to World War I. Recent criticism of Spectrism understandably tends to emphasize the hoax aspects of this fascinating episode in modernist history, focusing on the performance of identity, for example. Yet, Bynner himself stated his genuine affirmation of the anthology’s work beyond the satiric circumstances of its creation, and the experience of their self-created, alternative avant-garde ended up having longer-term effects on both his and Ficke’s careers. This essay argues that engaging with Spectra beyond its hoax limits allows us to explore its wider aesthetic and sociopolitical relevance to the period, shedding further light on contemporary perceptions of Imagism and Vorticism, particularly in the context of the poetry of the Great War.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bill Hughes, Delirium

Bill Hughes’s new poetry collection, Delirium, is out now from Six Gallery Press.  Call me biased, because I know Bill and did the layout for this book, but I think his (often) surrealistic work is visionary and marvelous, and that his new collection is his best yet.

As I said, I did the layout for this project, but of course it’s John Menesini’s paintings that really make this cover look great.

Order the book here:

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Smithereens Literary Magazine #1

The first issue of Smithereens Literary Magazine is out, featuring a slew of excellent poems, including from Mairéad Byrne, Maurice Scully, Ellen Dillon, Giles Goodland, and many more.  I have a new poem in there, myself.  Many thanks to Smithereens Press.

The magazine uses the Issuu platform, or can be downloaded as a PDF.  Links:

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Two Poems at Rabid Oak

I have two new poems up at Rabid Oak (issue 4), an online literary journal edited from California’s southern San Joaquin Valley.

Read them here:

Friday, March 30, 2018

Blackbird 13 & Penn/Stone Chapbook

Blackbird 13
Blackbird is a journal of poetry, collage, and mail art, edited and published by David Stone, poet and director of the Blackbird Institute.  The new issue 13 (2018) is now out, featuring contributions from poets Eric Basso, Simon Perchik, Arnold Skemer, Cheryl Penn, Stone, and many others including myself.  This is the kind of interesting publication you see less of nowadays, in our internet age — photocopied, physically curated, physically distributed. 

Copies can be obtained from David Stone at the Blackbird Institute, P.O. Box 16235, Baltimore, MD, 21210, USA.  $25.00 for domestic (USA), $35.00 international.  No credit card orders: pay by personal check or money order.

Also of interest is the recent collaborative chapbook by Cheryl Penn and David Stone, titled Unpacking Jasmine, Part I (2017).  It takes up the figure of “Jasmine” in Stone’s writing, to which Penn responds and elaborates, tracing his evolution through years and multiple publications.  Excerpts from Stone spark a further riff from Penn, and the result is a dialectic that crosses the genres of poetry, prose, and photography.  Covers are hand-painted.

Stone/Penn, Unpacking Jasmine, Part I

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Review: The Stooges - Highlights From The Fun House Sessions

Every so often Elektra will do a re-release package of some kind of the Stooges’ first two albums, such as the Rhino Handmade version of the first album or The Complete Fun House Sessions, both of which were released on CD.  There were also expanded mass-market CD releases of these albums in 2005.  Now that vinyl is most Stooges listeners’ preferred format again, Elektra has put out a color-vinyl double-album through the Run Out Groove imprint titled Highlights from the Fun House Sessions, of which only 2906 were pressed (they are numbered, with the individual number stamped on the back in gold-leaf).

One thing that is nice about this package is that the cardboard cover is thick and glossy, like an old-school gatefold record cover from the mid-60s (like the Impulse! albums, for example).  It is well designed, with liner notes in the gatefold discussing the importance of Fun House (the Stooges second album, 1970) and the rationale for putting out a new album of alternate takes culled from the Complete Sessions.  The iconic photo of Iggy being held aloft by the crowd at the 1970 Crosley Field gig is smartly chosen and the layout looks good.  Design-wise, there is one tiny flaw: the text on the spine gives “Funhouse” as one word, whereas the album is actually titled Fun House (two words).  This error is repeated once in the liner notes, though it is of course a minor complaint.

More importantly, Highlights from the Fun House Sessions sounds great.  Elektra/Run Out Groove have done a very decent mastering and pressing job, at least it seems on my stereo.  The selections are also not all the same as on the 2005 CD release, making this a uniquely thought-out collection.  There are a couple of overlaps with that CD, but also some different takes.  I like the longer 17-minute “Freak” (a.k.a. “L.A. Blues”) as the whole of Side 4.  What I don’t understand is that, on Side 3, the takes of “1970” and “Lost in the Future” are incomplete — the band breaks down and stops halfway through.  Not a huge deal with “1970,” since a good, complete version is also on Side 2, but particularly with “Lost in the Future,” it’s a kind of a missed opportunity, because there was a complete take of it (which is on the 2005 CD) (and obviously all of these are on the Complete Sessions), and you would think you would want to showcase it, as the one actual fully realized outtake song that didn’t make it onto the original album.  “Slide” is on here in complete form, appropriately, but that is really just a jam, where Ron Asheton practices the licks he uses on “Dirt.”  The band does get into a good groove on this.  But it is just a bit annoying about the lack of the full “Lost in the Future” (to me, anyway; others may not mind).  What I would have done with Side 3 is: cut the incomplete “1970” and the second version of “T.V. Eye,” and would instead have gone with: a further alt take of “Fun House” (because Steve Mackay really wails on those!), included the complete version of “Lost in the Future,” and then “Slide.”

In any case, this is a very cool release, which I enjoyed hearing and will undoubtedly play often.  It also makes me think: Elektra or Run Out Groove should do an “alternative” version of the first album, on vinyl, like this new Fun House package.  It should include the full versions of the songs on the first album without the fadeouts, including the super-long “Ann,” some of the alt-versions, and add “Asthma Attack.”  These have only ever been released on CD, not on vinyl (aside from the 7” of “Asthma Attack” included in the Rhino package).  If they really want to go all in, they could include a third disc with the original John Cale mixes at the proper speed (since Rhino mastered them too slow on the Handmade release, I think it was), and make it a triple album.  Here’s roughly how that album should go; Elektra take note:

Side 1:
1969 (full version, no fadeout)
I Wanna Be Your Dog (full version, no fadeout)
No Fun (full version, no fadeout)

Side 2:
Real Cool Time (full version, no fadeout)
Ann (full version, no fadeout)
Not Right (full version, no fadeout)
Little Doll (full version, no fadeout)

Side 3:
Asthma Attack
We Will Fall (the alt version, first released on Rhino Handmade)

Side 4:
All the best alt-vocals versions and outtakes that can fit on the side.

Sides 5-6:
The Cale mixes, mastered at the proper speed, in the sequence of the album.
Do it!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review in Poetry Ireland - Trumpet

My review of three Irish poets’ recent work is published in the latest edition of Poetry Ireland’s journal of criticism and opinion, Trumpet (Issue 7, Winter 2017/18).  My review focuses on Trevor Joyce, Fastness (Miami University Press, 2017), Nerys Williams, Cabaret (New Dublin Press, 2017), and Susan Connolly, Bridge of the Ford (Shearsman Books, 2016).

Here are just a few snippets:

Following on from his previous engagement with Edmund Spenser, Rome’s Wreck (2014),  Trevor Joyce’s Fastness is a translation from the heightened English of Spenser’s Mutability Cantos (written during the late 1590s) into a more contemporary if still intensified language, which Joyce describes as ‘an artificial dialect’. . . .

Like Joyce, Nerys Williams too is concerned with the impact of history and oppression. In Cabaret, however, she takes up the more contemporary history of the twentieth and early twenty-first century, moving across Ireland, Wales, and the United States. Her focus is often on the ways in which capitalism and imperialism shape society and the environment, but also on the role of art and culture in resisting dominant discourses.

Susan Connolly, in Bridge of the Ford, bridges the ancient (the field of Gaelic place-name study known as dinnseanchas) with a kind of work that is usually seen as modernist or avant-garde (visual, concrete, typographical poetry). In her introduction, Connolly states that she is influenced by bpNichol, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Dom Sylvester Houédard, on the one hand, and the Irish illuminated manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Book of Durrow and the Book of Kells, on the other, in equal measure.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Meng Chiao’s Late Poems

Meng Chiao (also spelled Meng Jiao) (751-814), a poet of the late Tang Dynasty era, has been something of a revelation for me.  Via the immense distraction but occasional wonders of modern-day social media, I saw a poetry friend post a couple of Meng’s works, translated by David Hinton, and immediately had to acquire the book (The Late Poems of Meng Chiao, Princeton University Press, 1996).  I had previously read the couple of short poems of Meng’s included in Witter Bynner’s 1929 translation (with the assistance of Kiang Kang-Hu) of the classic anthology Three-Hundred Poems of the T’ang (which Bynner titled The Jade Mountain), but hardly registered them.  As Hinton writes, Meng’s earlier work was “decidedly mediocre: conventional verse often mired in petty obsessions and inevitably undone by his penchant for the strange and surprising” (xiii).  A. C. Graham’s Poems of the Late T’ang (1965) gives a good overview of Meng’s career, but Hinton’s Late Poems of Meng Chiao encompasses their broader breadth.

In these sequences, Meng has decided to foreground the “strange and surprising,” verging into what we might now call surrealism, marshaling intense images of the natural world, often of winter, ice, frozen streams, moonlight like sword-blades, ephemeral blossoms.  These long sequences allow for repetition of the images, with certain differences or variations on the theme, building up layers of meaning in the process of writing (and reading) them.  Hinton points out that such larger sequences were rare in Chinese poetry at this time, and that Meng’s “innovations anticipated landmark developments in the modern western tradition by a millennium” (xv).  In Hinton’s translation, they do read rather like avant-garde, twentieth-century American poetry, a bit like William Carlos Williams or George Oppen perhaps.  Without facing originals or some discussion of the translation process, it’s hard to tell how much of this effect comes from Hinton himself (for example, I suspect Meng’s original Chinese lines were end-stopped, whereas Hinton frequently enjambs them), but in any case the images and repetition come through to give a quite stunning sense of what Meng was doing here.

Though informed by Taoism and its affirmation of change and the cyclic nature of life, Meng’s worldview is somewhat harsh, at times pessimistic: “The Way of heaven / warns against fullness: it just empties away” (70).  Of poetic “fame,” he writes in his elegy for Lu Yin, “after a long illness, your body lies waiting // among all those prize books hungry mice / shredded and scattered through the house” (5).  The keynote, throughout, though, is winter’s ice and cold, or, as in these lines from “Autumn Thoughts,” the foreboding of coming winter:

Bitter winds sob among thorn-date branches,
wu-t’ung leaves now faces of frost on high,

and as old insects cry parched-iron cries,
a startled animal howls lone, jade-pure howls. (74)
Perhaps, it could be said, Meng’s poems themselves are “lone, jade-pure howls.” Though he sparked a significant if short-lived alternative movement in ancient Chinese poetry (one of his acolytes being Li He, who I wrote about here), Meng seems still to be somewhat overlooked in the West, despite Hinton’s now 22-year-old reclamation project.  However, there is a bleak beauty in these late poems of his.  Not only do they make up some of the greatest of Tang-era poetry, but they also, I would suggest, speak to our present moment, however obliquely — philosophically, politically (the late Tang was a period of political uncertainty, corruption, and war, and this hangs in the background of Meng’s work), and metaphorically.  Here is one poem from Meng’s “Cold Creek,” utterly, shockingly un-ignorable:

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Haniel Long and Kropotkin

In my essay “Haniel Long’s Pittsburgh Memoranda: Documentary Form and 1930s Political Poetry” (College Literature, vol. 4, no. 1, 2015), I discussed Long’s progressive political orientation, especially his embrace of Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty (1879) (indeed, Long writes a whole section of the Memoranda [1935] inspired by George).  I also noted his suspicion of fanatics, whatever side of the political spectrum they happened to lean toward.  For example, throughout the first sections of the Memoranda, Long writes a lot about Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Carnegie, his henchman Clay Frick, and the anarchist Alexander Berkman, who attempted to assassinate Frick in response to Frick’s crushing of the 1892 Homestead steelworkers’ strike.  While Long is completely on the side of the workers, for example lauding them as “more gleaming, than skein of metal” (16), he does not affirm Berkman’s actions.  In fact, he equates them with Frick’s and portrays both men as fanatics, one in the service of capitalism and the other of anarchism: “Frick was sure God was with him. // So was Berkmann [sic]” (30).

The problem here, for Long, is what he sees as the excesses of ideology, or of ideologically driven, self-important individuals.  In his book-length meditation on Whitman, Walt Whitman and the Springs of Courage (1938), Long attacks “our twentieth century world of megalomaniacs, neurotics, and convicts locked up in the jail of themselves and their theories” (43).  In place of such “theories,” Long, in Pittsburgh Memoranda, posits the necessity to overcome the self and move beyond such egotism: “Some people are not afraid things can overpower them,” he writes; “Some people can accept things without forcing their will upon them” (30).  While Long eschews prescriptive dogmas, it does not however mean that he constructs Pittsburgh Memoranda in the absence of any sort of political, philosophic, or economic foundation, and of course Henry George is important for him. 

But there are other thinkers who inform this work, including the Russian anarchist Petr Kropotkin.  While Long’s dismissal of Berkman might suggest that he was hostile to anarchism itself, this is not quite the case.  In an interview with Mary Frances Mackel, Long avers, “I have been greatly influenced by Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid as a Factor in
Evolution” (qtd. in Benjamin A. Botkin, Introduction, Notes for a New Mythology and Pittsburgh Memoranda, 1971).  As David Kadlec summarizes in his book Mosaic Modernism: Anarchism, Pragmatism, Culture (2000), “Peter Kropotkin is perhaps the best-known example of an anarchist who openly engaged with the writings of Charles Darwin.  In his 1902 treatise Mutual Aid, Kropotkin argued for cooperation rather than competition as a guiding principle of evolution; that work became one of the most widely read anarchist texts of the twentieth century” (250).  Kadlec numbers Kropotkin among the ranks of “nonviolent anarchists” (42), which further helps to explain Long’s willingness to extol him, where he discounts Berkman.

Though not explicitly referenced in Pittsburgh Memoranda, Kropotkin’s influence is apparent.  In Mutual Aid, he attacks the “reckless prosecution of personal interests” (1955 edition, 283) and “the self-assertion of the individual . . . in its efforts to attain personal or caste superiority” (295).  In Pittsburgh Memoranda, Long too attacks “self-assertion” (30) and the egotism of those he calls the “granite men” (12) or “the Napoleon-man” (85).  At the same time, Kropotkin makes clear that his emphasis on collectivity and cooperation does not come at the expense of individual expression, with “its much more important although less evident function of breaking through the bonds, always prone to become crystallized, which the tribe, the village community, the city, and the State impose upon the individual.  In other words, there is the self-assertion of the individual taken as a progressive element” (295).  Similarly, in the “Duse” section of Pittsburgh Memoranda, Long argues that “the need for the disappearance of the individual / has come upon us — but never of the individual soul” (63-64).  While Long is not an anarchist (following George, Long sees a role for the state as administrator of an egalitarian society), Kropotkin’s cooperative anarchism could be said to inform the dynamic between the individual and the collective that plays such a major role in this book, indeed in much of Long’s poetry.

Long, in Pittsburgh Memoranda, writes about political corruption, the growing power of corporations, and the exploitation of workers.  While his braiding of the thinking of Kropotkin and George is idiosyncratic, it is not to say it is easily dismissed.  It makes poetic sense, and, more than 80 years later, perhaps it can still even be inspiring.  Kropotkin formulated his political ideas in Mutual Aid by observing nature, and Long notes that “Science / teaches its lesson with a ruthless quiet” (83).  As he builds toward the conclusion of Pittsburgh Memoranda, he attacks the corruption that had befallen the democracy of his own time, but suggests hopefully that “The way of political action still remains”:

. . . Humility and brotherly love
and a knowledge of corporations
and a knowledge of mass production
and a recollection of the ancient truths
and thoughtful watching of how a good vine bears its grapes—
these are to be among the guides for action.  (83)
Finally, it is the collective power latent in the people that Long identifies as the mechanism for confronting and resisting political oppression.  As he comes home to Pittsburgh and observes the city through the smoke and fog, he gives us these lines:
Despite the horrors of my time, I knew
(and knew it with the greatest joy life gives),
that there were people in that hidden city
seeking the laws of life, mingling their knowledge,
suffering but finding peace in one another,
and learning more and more not to wish power
over anyone but themselves. (84)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Hüsker Dü, Savage Young Dü / Extra Circus

Savage Young Dü is the Numero Group’s long-awaited box-set collection of early Hüsker Dü recordings (four vinyl records and a hardcover book, also available on CD), from their earliest demos and live stuff in 1979, up through the recordings of their first two albums (Land Speed Record [1982] and Everything Falls Apart [1983]), and even live performances anticipating the recording of Metal Circus (1983).  This material is significant musically in itself, but also for filling in an important historical gap in the development of American rock’n’roll, especially punk and hardcore.  HD were up there with Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, et al. as one of the simultaneously quintessential and most original of hardcore bands.

Hüsker Dü’s “theme song” “Do You Remember” (which translates the Danish/Norwegian name of the Minnesota band) dates to a 1979 demo, and fittingly starts off the collection.  It’s a heavy punk number, with strong bar chords and a Ramones-like mid-tempo feel.  The next tune, “Sore Eyes,” foretells the combination of melodic chord progressions and vocals with the energy of hardcore that characterizes much of their more well-known work.  It is interesting to notice, right off the bat, how the seeds of their signature sound are sown in their earliest recordings.  At the same time, we see them in this early period making forays into other sounds, experimenting with poppy new-wave tunes and post-punk (“Outside” has hints of Joy Division or perhaps the Cure in places). Other early highlights include a cover of Johnny Thunders’s “Chinese Rocks” and a live 1980 version of “Data Control” (which song was later the highlight of the Land Speed Record album).

Beginning record two of the collection is Hüsker Dü’s first single, “Amusement” b/w “Statues,” which exhibits a post-punk Pere Ubu or Gang of Four-like sound and suggests the confused reaction of the audience at the time — other songs from this 1980 recording session which were not released are in HD’s by-then signature punk style (“Writer’s Cramp” and “Let’s Go Die”).  An early live version of “Wheels” (which was later recorded for Everything Falls Apart) is heard originally here in an industrial mode, with Grant Hart on a Casio keyboard and Bob Mould unexpectedly playing rudimentary drums. Greg Norton’s “Termination” sounds like an outtake from Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures.  HD finally come into their own, both according to the historical account and to this listener’s ears, after their cross-country (or -countries, since they played in Canada too) 1981 tour, which resulted in the live recording of the fast-paced Land Speed Record.

As for Land Speed Record, the original is sludgy and I was not bowled over by it when I got it in late 1982.  This is probably why I didn’t buy the subsequent “In a Free Land” 7” at the time, when I could have, which of course I regret — so it is nice to have the songs now, as that EP I think is the best of their very early releases, and puts forward a still-relevant political stance.  The original tape of the LSR album was lost, and Numero, working with Grant Hart, found another, similar live recording from the same time period to make up an “alternate” version of the album.  The new version actually sounds a lot better to me, but I was a tiny bit disappointed that it didn’t have “Data Control” and others.  Yes, those songs are there in other parts of the anthology, but it isn’t the same as having a fully replicated LSR album.  What we do have, though, is better than the original version.

Obviously, all of this material is great.  But from the early press releases, I expected actual “re-issue”-style packages of stand-alone albums for Land Speed Record and Everything Falls Apart, with reproductions of the original covers and lyrics sheets.  Instead, those recordings are contained on one side each of the ongoing anthology package.  It doesn’t matter that much to me, as I have the original albums, but it was just a little different than what I was expecting.  All wonderful listening, though.  The new LSR better exhibits Hüsker Dü’s speedy hardcore sound, and this package includes part of the second set from the LSR August ’81 show that didn’t appear on the original, including an early version of “Diane.”  EFA is nicely remastered and sounds amazing.  The last side includes live material from late 1982 that was shortly to be recorded for the 1983 12” EP Metal Circus (SST Records) — e.g. “It’s Not Funny Anymore,” “Real World,” “Out on a Limb” — and these are blazingly tight versions.  The box-set fittingly ends with an announcer saying, in a Minnesota accent, “Let’s hear it for one of the greatest hardcore bands in the country, the Hüskers, huh?”  Whoever he was, he was absolutely right.

The accompanying book is well-written and nicely printed, with tons of photos, flyers, and ephemera.  Incidentally, it includes two photos from a 1983 Love Hall show in Philadelphia, the first time I saw Hüsker Dü.  The textual narrative traces the band’s origins from the very beginnings, highlights how early their connections with Black Flag and the SST people were, and takes them up through late 1982.  After this, of course, their SST releases were recorded (Metal Circus, the great Zen Arcade [1984], and so on) as they moved beyond hardcore (though they were never formulaic to begin with), leading eventually to major-label success.  But Savage Young Dü stops there, keeping its focus on the earlier years of the band, a seminal period in the development of a seminal band.

Numero Group has also concurrently released a separate 7” of the outtakes from the Metal Circus sessions, titled Extra Circus, which looks ahead tangentially into the next stage of their evolution.  This comprises the songs that for whatever reason were left off of the SST 12” and that all together would have made up a full-length LP.  I like how Numero imitated the SST layout of the labels (and back cover), along with an alternative color front photo of the mysterious office from the same shoot.

There are five songs: “Heavy Handed,” “You Think I’m Scared,” “Won’t Change,” “Is Today the Day?” and “Standing by the Sea” (the latter was later rerecorded for Zen Arcade).  Most of them are hard-hitting punk/hardcore blasts (a few recalling Black Flag’s sound on Damaged), which leads one to think that they were possibly originally omitted in order to highlight the band’s burgeoning melodic songwriting skills.  Much has also been written about HD’s disillusion with the growing conformism of the hardcore scene.  That said, Metal Circus is still pretty punky, so who really knows.  In any case, this record sheds new light on the broader project and suggests, to my mind anyway, that it should have been a full-length album, with all twelve of the tracks included.  There is not one song here that is somehow lacking or second-rate.

Taken as a whole, the 69 songs of Savage Young Dü and the five on Extra Circus create a sonic portrait of a group moving from its already strong beginnings to the height of its powers.  They reveal Hüsker Dü not only as an important punk band, but one of the greatest American rock’n’roll bands of all time.  Along with Metal Circus proper and Zen Arcade, this collects the most indispensable chunk of their music in one exhaustive anthology (and paired 7