“I don’t recommend people coming to New York for a dream anymore. There’s only reality.”
—Anthony Zapata in the film Streit’s Matzo: An American Dream
“If the musician is true the form takes care of itself.”
Dexterity within the music sets the pace and the overture begins.
In her new chapbook Empty Set (Overpass Press, 2016), a collaboration with visual artist Alexis Myre, Anne Waldman has proven yet again why she is one of our major poets. The writing is dense, intuitive, intelligent, and elegant. It is filled with science and math, secret doors, bossa novas, supernovas, and worlds that exist between the notes and the words. It soars beyond its own chemical and alchemical languages, enveloping, developing pure bell tones. At La Mama Galleria, to celebrate the opening for Myre’s magnificent sculptural, math-formulated work (which shares equal domain with the text), Waldman read the complete, quasi-epic, seventeen-page poem while accompanied by her nephew Devin Waldman on alto sax (he’s appeared in this column before). The younger Waldman, who has grown tremendously since I first encountered his playing, started out with an extended technique solo, bridging the gaps of inside/outside playing with multiple tones and sparse melodies, bringing the same impassioned and difficult ideas to play that Waldman brings to her work. When their universes collided, magic was made. We heard the sound of engines ringing as space opened, filled, emptied, and opened again, just as the science behind the words and magnificent visual art suggests. Buy this magnificent gem of a book. A “singing, / whistling” journey into “the domain of the extended reals.” Absorb its beauty and catch both Waldmans together and separately whenever you can.
In his most recent collection, Anarchy for a Rainy Day (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2015), collagist, dadaist, surrealist, visual artist, art critic, and above all, poet Valery Oisteanu (Romanian-born, and a longtime resident of the Lower East Side) shows why he is a master of elegy, homage, wit, dark humor, eroticism, and constant musicality, with a singular voice containing complicated metaphors, tense yet natural relaxedness, and a penchant for complex image and double meaning.
In his many years in America, writing primarily in English, Oisteanu has managed to combine a very post-beat New York sensibility with an Eastern European old-world tradition of depth and romanticism in his unique palate/palette. His is a voice within a long continuum of important writers who have adopted a second language and made it their own in both the vernacular and intellectual sense. Some examples of this can be seen in such work as “Surreal Cosmos”: “Our nightmares live free [. . .] Sexualizing the masses through poetry and jazz.” Or “Looking Under the Skirts Streets” where he declares, “ [. . .] the Shanghai Opera goes non-stop [. . .] The grand piano is equipped with a strap-on vibrating dildo.” Or take his homage to Lou Reed, “Suddenly the soundtrack has ceased
[. . .] just a perfect night [. . .] the night the music almost died [. . .] the soundtrack of my life [. . .] Raspy voice tugging at my emotions.”
There are many other examples, and homages to figures from Duchamp to Warhol, Malina to Billie Holiday, to “The Priest of Jazz, Ted Joans.” As Oisteanu puts it in “The Dreamwalker’s Guide To the Sleep Gallery”: “Life, despair loneliness are dangerously boring / Sleeptalking tango-jazz [. . .] / Walking-talking, surreal dream rocking.” Pick up these celebratory “songs” by a “sleepwalker that knows no sleep” and wake yourself up.
What we get with the digitally remastered DVD of Mitch Corber’s long awaited John Cage, Man and Myth (originally produced in 1990 on VHS) is an intimate, casual portrait of Cage in his own words, plus the words of many interviewees, including Philip Glass, who claims that while the musical differences are immense, Cage was a big influence on his generation. Suddenly his cat jumps on the piano keys, creating a truly Cagean moment. Glenn Branca, whose concerns are primarily with pitch, flatly states that he doesn’t consider Cage a composer but does, as do many others, consider him a philosopher. David Antin feels Cage is a consummate composer but above all a poet, a view shared by the likes of Joshua Pierce, Jackson Mac Low, Allan Kaprow, Richard Kostelanetz, Johnny Reinhard, and many others both still with us and long gone. This DVD is a truly valuable, insightful and historical document and a welcome addition for anyone who values Cage’s contributions—or for those who want a bit of insight into one of the 20th century’s greatest, most perplexing figures.
When last I mentioned Carl Watson in these pages, it was in a short review of his wild novel Backwards the Drowning Go Dreaming, about a Beat cross-country road trip, which was saturated with Janis Joplin references. Now in his latest novel Idylls of Complicity (Spuyten Duyvel Press, 2016) Watson takes us on another maniacal joyride, this time from America to India, at times guided by opera with none other than Maria Callas at the helm. We even get a bit of Puccini sung by our anti-hero. There’s a world waiting for you out there filled with assholes, Bodhisattvas, and skin bags, so if you want to have “your mind scraped” pick this one up. This is the second in a trilogy where music, and in particular female singers, play an important role. “Maria Callas [. . .] her voice has been called the lost secret re-found.” I’d say that goes double for Watson, so go out and find this book for his voice as well is “vibrating in space” and “will not cease emitting energy.” (In installment three, Only Descent, coming early next year, the characters will be guided by no less a saint than Billy Holiday, in a romp from New York to Paris, as our hero “descends through the streets of each city contemplating the nature of the universe.”)
Even though most folks think I hate folk music, there are many singer/songwriters I admire that came to prominence in the ’60s, from Tim Buckley to Tim Hardin to Richard Fariña to Eric Anderson to Bob Dylan, etc. At present, there’s a folk resurgence and two people who have been helping its cause are Kathryn Bloss and the poet and author Alan Kaufman. On June 19 at 7 p.m. they’ll present The East Village Folk Festival at Theatre 80 St. Marks, 80 St. Marks Place, featuring Malcolm Holcombe, Greg Trooper, Diana Jones, David Massengill, Paul Sachs, Amy Allison, and Sandy Bell. Be there or be square.
One of the most comical and tragic moments I’ve seen in music this year was when, during a recent performance, Lee Konitz, whose horn still sings (though he now sings more than it does), blew his nose in the middle of playing “Just Friends” then laughingly proclaimed, “I’m blowin’ man. I’m blowin.”
Speaking of Konitz, I recently told a young friend to bend more into the music but not to bend too much. I was astounded at how his use of polyphonics and multi-directional sound had widened. I mentioned that it’s wise at times to reference a tune even if it is a tune composed right on the spot and to dissect, move away from, and come back to it (things I was already beginning to hear him do). I realized when listening to him that, like Konitz, he was enveloping, dissecting, and corrupting his language and what was emerging was his own personal sound. His Voice. Not his Master’s, so to speak. I mentioned that having a foundation was important (though not always necessary) in order to go someplace else—any place as long as it was another place—and that it was a must that one deal with the changes, then change them. And most importantly that he should always listen but not listen too much. He smiled and I knew he got it.
Recently Weasel Walter led a twelve-piece ensemble at JACK, playing an intense one-hour extended piece he composed which dealt mainly with freedom. The group consisted of Elliott Sharp, Steve Swell, and many strong and powerful younger players like Jaimie Branch, Michael Foster, Tim Dahl, Peter Evans, Chris Welcome, and Shayna Dulberger. Foster’s T-shirt bore one bold word, WARS, and Evans’s the word LISTEN. Need I say more?
For Tony Conrad, brilliant artist, composer, filmmaker, educator, may his light flicker brightly for eons, and for John D’Agostino, friend, collaborator, visual artist, talker, historian, and above all true listener and lover of the arts.
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.