“I can’t be the aggressor. You have to be the aggressor.”
- Man on cell phone, Spring Street
“Rhythm is everywhere. And the trees. Especially in the trees.”
- Cecil Taylor
“Just seeing how you’re doing and how the dogs are.”
- Man on cell phone on Houston Street
“…but if you can find a young hungry fact checker that would be better.”
- Woman on crowded F train, to her colleagues
I saw the wonderful dark frenetic 1965 Italian tragicomedy I Knew Her Well at Film Forum; it was directed by Antonio Pietrangeli, whom I knew nothing about, and who died tragically at age forty-nine in a drowning accident. It stars the lovely Stefania Sandrelli as Adriana, an innocent waif who seeks stardom and fame. It has wall-to-wall music, with Sandrelli continually playing 45s on her portable record player. The opening song refers to Antonioni’s L’eclisse, and the film contains many crazy, high-speed dance scenes in clubs and a lot of music on car radios. Most of the tunes are Italian pop songs, none of which I knew, some sung by Italian icon Mina. But two tunes I knew well popped up: the seminal “More” from Mondo Cane, and Millie Small’s (of “My Boy Lollipop” fame) rendition of one of my favorite R&B songs, “What Am I Living For?”—sung in her very high-pitched, almost squeaky voice. (I am used to the version I have on 45 by Chuck Willis—or was it Percy Sledge? There’s about six or more versions of this.)
There is also another song by Small, a protégé of Chris Blackwell, “Sweet William.” The music is there mainly to enhance or represent Adriana’s moods and, as the notes to the film state, are “reminders of the empty promises offered by popular culture.” Here, as I wrote in a piece on Wenders’s use of music in his early work, the music is as much a part of the story as the actors. Each song is an “extra” on the set. The film is, I believe, rentable from the New York Public Library and I highly recommend it. Sorry I can’t give away the ending.
In his lecture on Art Brut in Chicago in 1951, Jean Dubuffet stated that it consists of “works uncontaminated by artistic culture [. . .] sans sense of mimicry [. . .] contrary to what happens among intellectuals.” He goes on to say that outsider artists, as they are now called, “draw results from their own being, not from hangovers of classical or fashionable art” and that they basically rely on the purity of a raw artistic process.
And then there’s the inability of professional (insider) artists to articulate their ideas without making them sound trite due to lack of skill, though sometimes, quietly, aggressively, or unsuccessfully, one manages to accidentally create something good. When exercising abilities or learning too consciously it can all end up sounding like a middle school book report or a “phone in,” with all the right elements but that certain something missing. Style and technique tend to take precedence over the “story,” though they should both be there to enhance/serve it. It can become genre-driven, mediocre throwback moodiness with a bit of mimicry thrown in. I’ve heard this countless times with great players, most of whom are well schooled. They created work that held promise, but all I got were clichés—and if lucky, a few brave solos, but mostly writing I’ve heard many times before. So often things seem to contain all the right components but none of the chutzpah, though at times I seem to be the only one who thinks or feels this way. But, as I’ve said before, all I have is my ear, instinct, and feelings of the moment and a purely subjective view. Not being a scientist, meteorologist, or weatherman, I can only consider my opinion a layman’s view of the clouds. Though there are always surprises, like artists outside their usual roles doing really well in other situations, just as there are many different types of clouds. Does this make sense?
To quote Dubuffet again, “Art does not come and lie down in the beds that are made for it. It runs away as soon as anyone utters its name. What it likes is being incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it is called.” And I’ve always felt that one of the biggest problems with most of the art that’s been made, good or bad, is that its creators suffer from self-consciousness disease. They think too hard when they should be feeling more. Ah, but still nothing can replace that over-the-top, right-in-your-face, give-it-all-you’ve-got solo.
A release I had been hoping for came out about two months ago: Gayle Force with Charles Gayle, Buell Neidlinger, and John Bergamo on K2B2 Records—it was recorded by Neidlinger on a snowy morning in Buffalo, where Charles grew up and was living at the time and has recently moved back to. But here’s the thing, it was 1965 and this is possibly the earliest and maybe only existing recorded document of Gayle from that era. What makes it even more exciting is, that aside from four collective spontaneous compositions with titles like “Very Fast” and “Even Faster” there’s a version of Ornette’s “Lonely Woman” and all the hints of what Gayle would become by the time I first heard him on tenor in 1987. If you are a fan as I am of Gayle and/or Neidlinger I suggest you pick this up. The catalogue also includes a duo CD between Neidlinger and Anthony Braxton.
This year’s 21st Vision Festival will take place from June 5 – 12. It will open with a program of Sun Ra films at Anthology Film Archives and will continue at Judson Memorial Church. The one-week program will present new artists and a few legends and will once again consist of music, dance, visual art, poetry, and panel discussions on the challenges faced by the worlds of art, social responsibility, and justice. Bassist, violinist, and poet Henry Grimes will be this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Grimes has been one of the very few musicians of his generation to play an active part in both mainstream and free jazz.
Other artists will include Cooper-Moore, Marshall Allen & the Sun Ra Arkestra, Kidd Jordan, Hamid Drake, Joe Morris, Jemeel Moondoc, and Michele Rosewoman. For more info go to the Arts for Arts website or call (212) 254-5420.
I’ve been writing for this paper a long time and I’m getting old and more and more insecure as I do so. I constantly ask George (my editor) if he thinks I have a readership. He always assures me that I do. But frankly I’m beginning to wonder if it’s true, and my fragile ego needs more boosting every day, so please, dear reader, help me out here. Even if you don’t read my column, next time you see it posted on Facebook click the like button. Or if you pick it up at some book store, art gallery, or art house, write the editors and tell them how witty, intelligent, and relevant it is, whether you mean it or not.
During intermission at the Alvin Lucier/Yo La Tengo mashup, I engaged the young man next to me in conversation. Turned out he went to Wesleyan and was a student of Lucier’s and a fan of Tengo. I asked if he ever took a class with Braxton, he said yes and didn’t like his stuff. We went back and forth on both Lucier and Braxton and I finally asked if there was something important he learned from either. “Yes,” he assured me, “from Lucier I learned how to listen for the most minute details of sonic texture [. . .] everything you encounter has its own sonic textures and vibrations. He taught me how to listen and be curious and how to find a lot of stuff in the mundane. Pots and pans and all objects have their own sounds. I took that experience back to listening to other artists as a result. Braxton I just didn’t get.”
When the concert was over I asked what he was doing now. “Oh I’m just a working stiff,” he replied. “Well, we all are in one way or another,” I answered, “but what exactly do you do?”
“I work with computer programs. I deal with money.”
“Lots of folks do,” I said, “the important thing is not to hurt anyone.” I put on my coat to leave.
“Nice talking to you,” he said.
“You as well.”
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.