“The modern dilemma is one of communication. After the revolution everything will change.”
—From the film Here is a Life.
“Okay babycakes I’m gonna head back up to my crib.”
—Young woman on the street to her friend.
“I don’t give a fuck about what happens because I know it’s what God wants.”
—Man on cellphone in middle of the night
standing on East 69th street in front of
2nd Avenue subway construction site.
“[…] taking a line for a walk.”
—Visual artist James Sienna.
“The walls were lined with books and records […] A modern looking hi-fi sat on the table […] lying beside it were various records […] Jelly Roll Morton […] Fats Waller […] Phineas Newborn Jr.” When asked by his uncle what music he likes, Adlai (the male, hermaphrodite anti-hero of Romy Ashby’s delightful novel Stink) replies, “Well I like Maria Callas and Janis Joplin.” The conversation continues in this vein across pages forty-four and forty-five.
Originally written in 1995 and centering around the wackiness that was part of a quickly changing mid-’80s Manhattan, Stink has been published by Folio Book Club. There are sections throughout that mention Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden, along with a cast of characters that includes Lee Wiley in a cameo role singing “You’re a Sweetheart” and a guy at an amusement park playing “Stardust” on a glass harmonica. Ashby says, “It’s full of great old jazz music from the ’30s and ’40s, and the jukebox in the Fausto bar hasn’t been updated since 1946.” From the cover flap:
A Greyhound bus rolls into a dilapidated wharf neighborhood in an unnamed city and deposits twenty-two-year-old Adlai before a crummy hotel. He’s left behind a past filled with suffocating bleakness and shame (having been born with what was considered a terrible birth defect) to seek out his Uncle Jechiel, an imperious conjurer, poet, jazz fanatic, and kleptomaniac. Once ensconced in the atmospheric waterfront district, Adlai gives himself over completely to a new life and, as he does, stumbles upon a few shocking old secrets. It’s a story of finding out that life can be a lot more interesting than it seems in bleak moments. There’s magic and jazz,”
also pickled penises, conjuring, madmen, and an amazing insight into the pluses and minuses of cat possession: Harry, the owner of an old occult shop with a resident cat named Aleister, finds a way to establish a psychic link with the cat in order to ride around in its mind on its adventures. This book will make you laugh, scratch your head in bewilderment, and above all, seek out more “disordered minds.” You can get it at St. Mark’s Bookshop or from Romyashby.com.
The Collected Poems of Michael Gizzi, edited by Clark Coolidge (The Figures Press, 2015), should also be sought out by anyone who loves deep, poignant, solid—yet also elusive and disorienting—dualistic/trick language. It reaches deep into the soul and out into the universe. As Gizzi states in “The Ripoff,” “spores […] shining black light on my internal world […] Wind says touch me and I bleed.” These poems are filled with ungraspable yet palpable images that lead you in one direction while pulling you in another. From the book-length poem “NO BOTH”: “The wooden knob of the favorite song she lived inside […] She was invented that I look up / Brimming with minimalist music / I don’t mind living in old movies …” Gizzi, who, sadly, died way too young, was a lover of music, particularly jazz. One short volume of prose poems, Cured in the Going BeBop, attests to this with references to the likes of Roy Haynes, Andrew Hill, woodshedding, Artur Schnabel, “Mr. P.C.,” Billy Bauer, and a host of others. In the section “Interferon” from the poem “Honey of His Music Vows:” “Perhaps humans are not the natural state of progress / But just hanging out on the guest list.” Read this book and see where you might fit into this equation.
Another poet who left us too soon is Amiri Baraka, whose posthumous S.O.S. Poems 1961-2013 (Grove Press, 2015) is just that, an emergency call to arms that shows the near complete life changes of one of our greatest thinkers/poets/essayists/playwrights. It chronicles love, activism, hope and hopelessness, rage and tenderness, and is filled with “musical screamings” and musings. Baraka writes, “I used to be a child I got outta that / I used to be excited by what I didn’t understand.” And “[…] I think I know what a poem is) / […] A turning away from what it was / that moved us / A / madness.” And check out the section on Monk, who “looked at his wrist like he had a watch.” This book shows us the maddening dimension we must live with/in every day in this cockeyed, prejudiced world. From “Pres Spoke in a Language,” for Lester Young: “Pres spoke in a language all his own […] Ding Dong Pres said meaning like a typewriter / it was the end of a line […] / Pres had a language and a life […] all his own.” As did Amiri Baraka, with all his “Rhythm / Rapping / capping […]” and “[…] hand clapping.” You can always find him “Among things with souls …”
There has been more music in museums and galleries, like when I was a kid in the ’60s and got to see everyone from Muddy Waters to Cecil Taylor in such environs. One of the most interesting of these shows was curated by Jay Sanders at the new Whitney Museum. It was one week of Conlon Nancarrow, and consisted of musicians like Alarm Will Sound and Steve Coleman. But the real stars of the show were an exact “copy” of Nancarrow’s player piano and a wall with his scores. Demonstrations occurred regularly, but the exhibit culminated with an eight-hour marathon of his entire scores for player piano—I caught three-plus hours. It was glorious and touching, particularly when the composer’s wife spoke. His only titled piece was his final one, which was written/named for her. Sanders, who is an integral part of the Whitney’s programming, particularly in performance, has also presented three days of David Rosenbloom and John Cale and Tony Conrad.
I actually got up at 3:30 in the morning to catch Yoko Ono’s sunrise ritual “Morning Peace” at MoMA, which started at 4:30. There was plenty of coffee, juice, croissants, fruit, etc., but the event was anything but peaceful, and it was a rainy morning, hence no sunrise worth seeing. The place was packed with yuppies. Ono spoke and gargled for a few minutes, then a group called Blood Orange came on, followed by a loud DJ. The music was a din and incomprehensible. It was like being in one of my most detested situations: a loud club full of idiot drunks. I finally went upstairs to catch the show, which included a room of Lennon-related material and her early work, which was brilliant and possibly her best period.
I actually saw the Björk show too, and this excerpt from her diaries is the one impression I walked away with: “[…] abstract wordless movements. nothing gets further. sounds go between the muscles and touch cells who haven’t been touched before. these cells are virgins that wake up slowly. nothing will be the same.” Need I say more, other than listen?
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become onethe french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.