... 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.
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:
I know David Foster Wallace was a brilliant writer, but I've never been able to enjoy his ponderous novels. So I looked forward to the posthumous publication of Fate, Time and Language: An Essay on Free Will, a paper he wrote to earn his philosophy degree at Amherst College in the early 1980s. I was especially excited to read this work because I was also a philosophy student in the 1980s. I figured I'd be able to relate to this work more than I ever could to his fiction.
Fate, Time and Language is getting a lot of attention, partly because it's the first book release from the acclaimed postmodernist's archives since his inexplicable suicide (another book, a novel called The Pale King, will come out in April, 2011). Because it's a philosophy text addressing the question of free will, there is an implicit hope that the book may explain something about Wallace's work, or perhaps even illuminate the tragic thought process that led him to kill himself. It's also being floated as a serious work of contemporary philosophy, even a groundbreaking one.
I think Fate, Time and Language will have a lot of sentimental value to DFW fans, and is also valuable as an earnest, carefully composed demonstration of philosophical argument, or dialectic. However, I'm sorry to say there's nothing groundbreaking about this essay. It's thoroughly the work of a smart student. While I don't disagree with Columbia University Press's decision to publish it, I do find it hard to believe that Wallace, if he were alive today, would be particularly proud of it, except as a relic from his past. And I don't think it does readers a service for anyone to hype the book as an actual advancement in its field.
(One of our many missions here at Litkicks is to call attention to a particularly neglected period in American literature: the experimental/postmodern fiction of the 1960s. Here's the debut appearance on this blog of April Rose Schneider of Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, California, Bangkok and New Mexico, telling us about a favorite novel by a writer who died too young. -- Levi)
An old adage says lightning never strikes in the same place twice. Don’t believe it. In the electric, eclectic atmosphere of post World War II academia, a series of refreshing lightning bolts sparked a new genre of American literature beginning in the early1950s. In the afterglow of the last Great American Renaissance [1950-1975] the fading light of those embers -- named Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Pynchon, Brautigan, Thompson, and Kesey -- still shine over the ragged, rutted-out roads of the American Dream.
Yet, one brilliant star of this latest explosion of new American writers burned out in a brilliant flash, barely noticed by the rest of the illuminati. This real-gone star’s name was Richard Farina, and he was as Beat as Beat would ever be. Farina’s only claim to fame, Been Down so Long It Looks Like Up to Me was in many ways the 60’s complement to the rollicking, wide open classic On the Road. If On the Road was a careening, pedal-to-the-metal sort of hopped-up, amphetamine driven travelogue through a burned out Freudian landscape, Been Down So Long was a stroll through a Jungian meadow where Farina’s archetypes asked deep, pot-inspired philosophical questions of life and love and raged against the machine.
(As a longtime Ramones fan, I was very moved by Mickey Leigh's memoir about growing up as the younger brother of Joey Ramone, who died tragically of cancer in 2001. The book has just come out in paperback with a new epilogue. I was thrilled to have a chance to ask Mickey Leigh a few questions. -- Levi)
Levi: Though it has a sort of jokey title, I sense that I Slept With Joey Ramone is meant to be a serious entry in the field of punk rock literature, along with many other good books like Rotten by Johnny Rotten, Go Now by Richard Hell, Poison Heart by Dee Dee, Please Kill Me by Legs, the new Just Kids by Patti Smith, even And I Don't Want To Live This Life by Deborah Spungen. Why do you think punk rock has become so literary, or has it always been so?
The minutes get shorter, the walls start to close in
Feels like the brain is hanging on but with clothes pins
I've hidden in the darkness for too long
I make it look all right but in the inside its so wrong
I want life to change but I don't know if it can
for a man or machine or whatever the fuck I am
I stand alone burned every bridge over the troubled water
No longer hiding from my personality disorder
-- Even Shadows Have Shadows
1. I first heard of Eyedea a couple of years ago from my son (who also tells me about Cage, Aesop Rock, Yak Ballz, Slug, etc.). The talented rapper from St. Paul, Minnesota suddenly died this weekend, at age 28. There's still no word about how it happened.
2. I really don't know what it means, probably nothing, that Eyedea was from Franzen country.
3. Was the Cadbury factory in Birmingham, England an inspiration for Roald Dahl's Wonka works?
2. I've always been interested in the real-life stories behind great works of fiction, so this Jezebel gallery is up my alley. Most of these are familiar, but I didn't know that Humbert Humbert's road trip with Lolita Haze was based on a real news story.
Greenwich Village poet and scenester Tuli Kupferberg has died at age 86. Most legendary as a founding member of the 60s rock/poetry band The Fugs (who are more talked about than listened to today, though you can actually listen to them here), he was also widely beloved for being a funny, unpretentious and approachable New York City street hipster through several generations.
I'm a little skeptical of the story (which I only began hearing in recent years) that Tuli was immortalized as a character in Allen Ginsberg's Howl. He did, however, write a book called 1001 Ways To Live Without Working, and lived that ethic to the end.
The experimental novelist and one-time pulp/satire novelist David Markson (This Is Not A Novel, Wittgenstein's Mistress, The Last Novel, Epitath For a Dead Beat, Dirty Dingus Magee) has died at the age of 82, and many of the literary folks I follow are posting tributes. I'm impressed by the intensity of the reaction at Literary Saloon, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, HTML Giant, Gigantic Sequins, Filthy Habits, The Big Other, The Constant Conversation and Kenyon Review. These tributes prove that this author (who was never very well known or widely read) really broke through to a select group of readers in a unique way.
Can I pay respect to an author I've never been able to read myself? It's an interesting question. I've tried several of Markson's later novels and never got anywhere. Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of my very favorite philosophers, and I've read several thick books by and about him, so David Markson's postmodern send-up Wittgenstein's Mistress should have been a natural for me. I tried it and couldn't figure out what the hell the wandering narrative was trying to do, and ended up closing the book for good, gasping for air, after about seven meandering pages. I'm sure it's some intellectual failure of my own that's at work here, but I have no taste for self-referential postmodernism. I like books about life, books about people, books about things that happen -- and David Markson's books seem to be about the act of writing, about the fragmentation of thought, about, well, about themselves. It's not my cup of tea. Still, when I see the intense outpouring of emotion in the links above I can only wish I were a broader-minded reader, that I could better understand what all these other smart readers are so excited about.