YES! Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (and Why It Matters), the first Litkicks Kindle book, is generating some heat, climbing up the Amazon Political/Ideologies chart to number 21, which I am thrilled to note is two higher than Mitt Romney's No Apology, clearly a less exciting work.
Thanks to my swell friends who tweeted me up and Facebook'd me up, and to Conversational Reading, Literary Saloon, Lightning Rod's The Poet's Eye and the great Maverick Philosopher for posting blog notices. (If you blogged about the book and I missed it, please send me the link).
One person (who I do not know) has already reviewed the book on Amazon. This is a lukewarm but well-written and thoughtful review, and I'm sorry the reviewer feels I "didn't do my research" because I didn't know that Ayn Rand had addressed the validity of psychological egoism. I know Ayn Rand has addressed this, but I believe she's done so only superficially, and not satisfactorily. Indeed, that is the entire substance of my book: a critique of Ayn Rand's ethics on the basis of her reliance on the (weak) scientific doctrine of pscyhological egoism. However, I do appreciate the fact that this Amazon reviewer named "poem2poes" took the time to read and understand my book, and I am happy to have survived my first Amazon bad review. (May the next one please be better.)
1. Billy Joel had a contract to write a memoir, but got cold feet. Too bad. We know this Long Island boy can write, and I bet he had some stories to tell. The alleged book (my personal guess is that he never began it, though the cover artwork was finished and released) was supposed to have been called The Book of Joel.
2. You know I've been wanting to read this Long Island boy's life story. Jay-Z's recent semi-memoir Decoded had its moments, but Jay hardly dug deep. Good hiphop memoirs or biographies are rare, but I eagerly snapped up Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office, a new unauthorized biography by business writer Zack O'Malley Greenburg, who has covered hip-hop culture and money for Forbes magazine. I suppose it works as a business book, but I found it very disappointing. This white boy, unfortunately, does not know hiphop. The author also seems to think Jay-Z's best years must be right now (naturally, because this is when he's making the most money) which proves, once again, that he doesn't know anything about hiphop.
This is the song that made me take Yoko One seriously as an artist, as a genius. "Don't Worry Kyoko" is a 16-minute blast of noise that appeared on John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1972 album "Some Time In New York City". It's a musical tour de force that manufactures a primal scream, intended to represent Yoko's agony over her separation from her daughter, and it's also a howl for the Vietnam War, for a once-celebrated death penalty victim named James Hanratty, and for the plight of every human being on earth. Yoko mainly intones "Don't Worry" over and over, fast and slow, loud and soft, sometimes saying "worry, worry, worry" instead of "don't worry, don't worry", maintaining throughout a measured, controlled but near-hysterical intensity. Listening to the song can be a drenchingly emotional experience.
Yoko One has been made fun of through most of her career, and when comedians make fun of her primal scream schtick they are often making fun of "Don't Worry Kyoko". Despite the mockery, the song is a masterpiece, and it has more structure than its detractors admit. John Lennon was the co-author, after all, and John Lennon knew a bit about writing songs.
1. Scientists have discovered linguistic signals indicating that sperm whales may refer to themselves by names when they speak. Sounds like the kind of fact Herman Melville would have been interested to hear. It also makes me think of T. S. Eliot's cats with their "ineffable, deep and inscrutable singular names".
2. Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, a tremendously popular book of philosophical poetry first published in 1923, will be adapted into a film, apparently with a series of directors contributing interpretations of separate chapters.
(April Rose Schneider's first Litkicks article was about nearly-forgotten 1960s novelist Richard Farina. Here, she analyzes the poetic sensibility of a not-forgotten but barely appreciated rock drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart of Rush. Enjoy! -- Levi)
Rock and Roll lyrics are generally anything but artful. Flimsy as a piece of tissue in a tornado, the words to most pop or rock songs are best suited for head scratching. Remember "Louie, Louie", first released in 1963?
... And suddenly Neal stared into the darkness of a corner beyond the bandstand and said "Jack, God has arrived." I looked. Who was sitting in the corner with Denzel Best and John Levy and Chuck Wayne the onetime cowboy guitarist? GEORGE SHEARING. And as ever he leaned his blind head on his pale hand and all ears opened like the ears of an elephant listened to the American sounds and mastered them for his own English summer's night-use. Then they urged him to get up and play. He did. He blew innumerable choruses replete with amazing chords that mounted higher and higher till the sweat splashed all over the piano and everybody listened in awe and fright. They led him off the stand after an hour. He went back to his dark corner, old God Shearing, and the boys said "There ain't nothing left after that." But the slender leader frowned. "Let's blow anyway." Something would come of it yet. There's always more, a little further---it never ends. They sought to find new phrases after Shearing's explorations; they tried hard. They writhed and twisted and blew. Every now and then a clear harmonic cry gave new suggestions of a tune that would someday be the only tune in the world and which would raise men's souls to joy. They found it, they lost, they wrestled for it, they found it again, they laughed, they moaned----and Neal sweated at the table and told them to go, go, go. At nine o'clock in the morning everybody, musicians, girls in slacks, bartenders, and the one little skinny unhappy trombonist staggered out of the club into the great roar of Chicago day to sleep until the wild bop night again. Neal and I shuddered in the raggedness.
British jazz hero George Shearing died on Valentine's Day at the age of 91. The blind piano player was one of two famous jazz musicians immortalized by direct appearance in Jack Kerouac's novel On The Road (the other was vocalist Slim Gaillard).
Just for the fun of it, I took the quote above from the recently published original scroll version of On The Road rather than the canonical edited text. The main difference is the lack of paragraph breaks; most of the original words made it verbatim into the published book.
1. Here's a newly-found old video of Beat Generation/Summer of Love poet Michael McClure reading poetry to caged lions. The last section of the poem consists of McClure yelling "roar" repeatedly. The video might strike some as precious -- Steve Silberman called it "beat kitsch" in a recent tweet -- but it gets cool around the time the lions start roaring back in harmony with McClure. If you can get a bunch of lions to respond to your poetry, you must be doing something right.
2. Suzuki Beane! I heard long ago that YA-novelist Louise Fitzhugh (Harriet the Spy is her most famous book, though I liked The Long Secret even better) began her writing career with an illustrated book, Suzuki Beane, a parody of Hilary Knight's Eloise starring a punky kid with beatnik parents. But I'd never been able to find a copy of the book until I saw a link to this digital version in a Boing-Boing article that also links to a surprising TV show pilot version of the book (the show never got made, which is too bad, because it looks pretty cute). Serious fans of Harriet M. Welsch, Sport and Beth-Ellen will find many echoes of their favorite Fitzhugh books in Suzuki Beane, particularly in the affectionate depictions of the tortuous relationships that sometimes exist between eccentric, artistic parents and their stubborn kids.
Dylanologists rejoice! I've heard from a semi-reliable source that Renaldo and Clara, a much-discussed and little-seen 1978 epic film by Bob Dylan, will soon be finally released on DVD.
This astounding, rich and often frustrating movie represented one of the most dramatic episodes in Bob Dylan's long career. An ambitious, intentionally difficult postmodern art film, Renaldo and Clara was panned by critics for being pretentious, incomprehensible and painfully long (all of these things are true). Released in the early years of the punk-rock/new-wave era, the film's windy self-indulgence revealed Dylan as completely out of step with his times. Stung by the criticism, Dylan has refused to release the film ever since. It has not shown in theatres since the 1970s, and has never been officially released on VHS or DVD.
But this movie is a masterpiece in spite of its faults, or perhaps because of them. Conceived by Dylan as an early experiment in cinema verite (a genre now typically known as "reality tv"), Renaldo and Clara tells a single story but deliberately confuses the identities of all the characters, several of which are played by Dylan, his former lover Joan Baez or his then-wife Sara Dylan. Bob Neuwirth, T. Bone Burnette, Ronee Blakely, Mick Ronson, Scarlet Rivera, Ronnie Hawkins, Rob Stoner and countless other friends come along for the ride. Various improvised or real-life scenes introduce themes of love, politics and the meaning of America, and by the end none of the themes are easily resolved. The film quality is erratic, the direction is often unclear, and the acting is often clumsy (guitarist Mick Ronson is particularly wooden, and Dylan is no Brando himself)
However, stirring scenes and images emerge. Most importantly, the narrative scenes are intercut with stunning complete performances of great songs like Tangled Up In Blue, It Ain't Me Babe, Never Let Me Go, When I Paint My Masterpiece and One More Cup Of Coffee. The film features Dylan in a peak moment of live performance with the Rolling Thunder Revue (the largest and, in my opinion, most exciting band he ever played with).
When we talk about philosophy, we should have some idea what we're aiming to achieve.
There's a popular misconception that philosophy has no purpose, other than perhaps to exercise and train the mind. If this were all it was good for, I wouldn't bother much with it. When I read or write or discuss ideas, I am always hoping for satori, an event of understanding. This Japanese word can sometimes be used to refer to a specific kind of understanding, and it can also be used to describe the sensation and experience of this understanding, which can be so sudden and surprising as to resemble a lightning bolt, or a smack in the head.
But descriptions of satori may over-emphasize its instantaneous nature, because it's actually not the quickness of satori but rather its permanence that matters most. It's a popular mistake to think that a lightning-bolt realization must be an ephemeral or elusive thing. Satori can be made of concrete, and can be a sturdy and reliable building block to place further ideas upon. The theory of evolution was Charles Darwin's great satori, and is satori as well for everyone else who learns and comes to understand the theory. Sigmund Freud's discovery of dream analysis was also satori, and Einstein's theory of relativity. Buddha's moment of enlightenent under a Bodhi tree may be the most singularly celebrated satori in history, but that's only because there is no biblical record of the specific moment when Jesus of Nazareth realized that the meek would inherit the earth, or Abraham that there is one God. Jack Kerouac once wrote a poignant novel called Satori in Paris, though this is one of his least-loved works, probably because it's about a guy who goes to Paris looking for satori rather than about a guy who finds it. Sometimes, as in this book, satori makes its presence felt most when it can't be found
But we yearn for it often, and luckily we find it often as well. What could be more depressing than an entire day without a single moment of enlightenment? We should never let that happen. When we work on crossword puzzles or sodoku games, we may think we're passing the time or training our minds, but in fact we're sustaining ourselves with little, constant doses of satori.
Did Captain Beefheart represent a philosophy of life? The California-raised singer and songwriter who died on Friday was an eloquent poet whose uncommon lyrical non-sequiturs sometimes recalled Gregory Corso:
It was a tropical hot dog night
like two flamingos in a fruit fight
Or Charles Bukowski:
they say she's a witch
ain't that a bitch
Mostly, he did one of two things: he channeled Howlin' Wolf or he spoke in tongues. He spoke in tongues a lot. Debra Kadabra, the song quoted above, got even better: