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September 2005
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November 2005

Moody Moony Music for Hallowe'en

'Twinkle, twinkle, little bat...'


I'm not nearly the fan of Halloween that I once was.  Ever since beer sales became as important as candy sales to the occasion, it just hasn't been the same.  But enough harrumphing from me:

Here, for your All Hallow's Eve pleasure, we offer a tune from Howe Gelb and his Tucson-based band/collective Giant Sand.

This is not a particularly spooky tune -- though the band originally used the more spooky moniker Giant Sandworms -- but it has a fine bleak empty desert quality to it, and begins with the slightly nervous observation that

Something's in the water
Besides a moon that don't know when to quit....

Submitted for your approval,

Bonus Tricky-Treat: By happy coincidence, Alan Williamson has just posted a link at Sixeyes to a live version of "Shiver," recorded in early September.  This is a slightly more scary performance, particularly if you live in morbid terror of feedback, distortion or the artistic influence of Neil Young.

As You Lycanthrope It:  All right, one more, somewhat more directly apropos of the day.  stereogum points the way to Bars & Guitars, whence comes this ruralized cover of the late great Warren Zevon's paean to manicured nails and extra-long sideburns:

[Moon and fruit bat photo by macduncan, via stock.xchng.  Original source for the live Giant Sand recording is here.]

The Wharton School of Poetics

The poet at restThe latest volume from the American Poets Project -- so new that it isn't even mentioned on the official site yet -- is a near-complete collection of the poetry of Edith Wharton, much better known as the close friend of Henry James and, like James, a tireless fictional chronicler of the oft-cruel workings of human nature, culture and class in the forum of The Novel.  This collection is edited and introduced by the patrician Manhattan attorney-novelist Louis Auchincloss.  this is an appropriate choice of editor: Mrs. Wharton and Mr. James draw several references in the New Criterion's 1997 profile of Auchincloss on the occasion of his 80th birthday.  (Note, if you will, that Mr. Auchincloss stands as a reminder that attorneys who turn to fiction are permitted to write something other than Grisham-style thrillers.)

As a poet, Mrs. Wharton was no trailblazer.  Readers of this volume will not discover some hitherto unsuspected kindred spirit to the likes of Baudelaire or Whitman or Pound.  The poems here all work within well settled and received forms, including the occasional archaisms that marked out the "poetic" voice of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and that work so well to irritate many contemporary readers.  Mrs. Wharton proves to be a highly skilled wielder of those highly traditional tools, with a particular gift for Robert Browning-style dramatic monologue.  In his introduction, Louis Auchincloss goes so far as to claim that Mrs. Wharton's "Vesalius in Zante" "can stand up against almost any monologue of Browning's; only 'My Last Duchess' is its superior."  Well all right then, if you say so.

"Vesalius" appeared in the 1909 collection, Artemis to Actæon, and Other Verse, which is overall a strong collection of verse of its kind.  The title poem posits that the hunter Actæon, far from being punished for his overreaching when his own dogs tore him apart for having looked upon Artemis at her bath -- Titian helpfully provides both "Before" and "After" versions of the usual version of the myth -- was the essential component of the goddess' very existence, one who perceived the goddess' presence in all things natural, who could only achieve his own purest moment by seeing her essence plain, and without whom the goddess (and by extension all the Olympians) comes to nothing, literally bored to death.  The poem, in the voice of Artemis, explains:

For immortality is not to range
Unlimited through vast Olympian days,
Or sit in dull dominions over time;
But this -- to drink fate's utmost at a draught,
Nor feel the wine grow stale upon the lip,
To scale the summit of some soaring moment,
Nor know the dullness of the long descent,
To snatch the crown of life and seal it up
Secure forever in the vaults of death!

And this was thine: to lose thyself in me,
Relive in my renewal, and become
The light of other lives, a quenchless torch
Passed on from hand to hand, till men are dust
And the last garland withers from my shrine.

My personal favorite in that 1909 volume is probably Mrs. Wharton's paean to the cathedral at Chartres, which drives her to a Keatsian, Eve of St. Agnes-style piling up of luxuriant verbiage while simultaneously absorbing the vastness of the empty sacred space (cf. Dover Beach):


Immense, august, like some Titanic bloom,
    The mighty choir unfolds its lithic core,
Petalled with panes of azure, gules and or,
    Splendidly lambent in the Gothic gloom,
And stamened with keen flamelets that illume
    The pale high-altar.  On the prayer-worn floor,
By worshippers innumerous thronged of yore,
    A few brown crones, familiars of the tomb,
The stranded driftwood of faith's ebbing sea --
    For these alone the finials fret the skies,
The topmost bosses shake their blossoms free,
    While from the triple portals, with grave eyes,
Tranquil, and fixed on eternity,
    The cloud of witnesses still testifies.


The crimson panes like blood-drops stigmatize
    The western floor.  The aisles are mute and cold.
A rigid fetich in her robe of gold,
    The Virgin of the Pillar, with blank eyes,
Enthroned beneath her votive canopies,
    Gathers a meagre remnant to her fold.
The rest is solitude; the church, grown old,
    Stands stark and grey beneath the burning skies.
Well-nigh again its mighty framework grows
    To be a part of nature's self, withdrawn
From hot humanity's impatient woes;
    The floor is ridged like some rude mountain lawn,
And in the east one giant window shows
    The roseate coldness of an Alp at dawn.

To judge by this collection, Mrs. Wharton flirted only once with a shorter line, nudging herself in the direction of imagism or semi-haiku in this piece, not collected in her lifetime, published in the January 1920 issue of the Yale Review:

Lyrical Epigrams

    My little dog:
A heart-beat
At my feet.

    II  Spring
A winter wind,
And the new furrow.

    III  Friendship
The silence of midnight,
A dying fire,
And the best unsaid. . . .

A pointed steeple
Above square trees --
Rustic France.

A blunt steeple
Over round trees --
Rural England.

    VI  Soluntum
Across these giant ruins
The greatest cloud-shadows
Dart like little lizards.

Of Mrs. Wharton it may also be said that she had rather a nice house.

Vinous Vignettes

Aussie Reptiles Against Drunk Diving

CrocodilewineIs there nothing those Neo-Prohibitionists won't try?

Almost one in three people bitten by deadly saltwater crocodiles in Australia had been drinking alcohol before the animal attacked, new research has found.

An Australian review of unprovoked crocodile attacks on humans between 1971 and 2004 found that 29 percent of the 62 attacks had involved some alcohol consumption by the victim.

'About one-third of the people who had been attacked had actually been drinking alcohol,' study co-author Charlie Manolis told AFP Wednesday.

Stompin' in the Foothills

The Los Angeles Times Business section reported earlier this week on how the small wineries of the Sierra foothills are capitalizing on the recent liberalization of direct shipment laws.  Familiar villains rear their heads, however:

'If you can sell every drop of what you make out to the tasting-room door, through your wine club or by direct shipping, you will be king,' said Scott Klann, winemaker at Twisted Oak Winery, a small producer in the Calaveras County hamlet of Vallecito.

* * *

Already, the Sierra foothills wineries are seeing an increase in business from the gradual liberalization of the shipping rules.

Boeger Winery is on track to ship $65,000 worth of wine to out-of-state consumers this year, 30% ahead of last year.

Shipping companies such as FedEx Corp. are starting to supply small wineries with marketing materials such as 'Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Ship!' signs to remind tasting-room visitors that they can probably send any purchases home.  But increasing direct sales isn't as simple as just taking down someone's credit card number.

Distributors don't want to lose market share — even a small amount — to the small wineries pursuing the direct-sales strategy, said Barbara Insel, managing director for research at MKF Group, a St. Helena, Calif., wine consulting firm.  They have used their political clout to get complicated compliance procedures written into legislation by states legalizing wine shipments to consumers.

'There's all sorts of paperwork, the wineries have to collect and keep track of taxes, they have to keep statistics on how much they ship to a customer, and in some states they are going to have to buy special permits that won't be worth the cost unless they are selling a lot of wine there,' Insel said.  'But if they can conquer those hurdles, this is going to mean a lot of money to a lot of people.'

The Times, by the way, maintains a page devoted to aggregating its most recent Business stories on wine and the wine business.

A Sad Soap Opera at Sanford

Also from the LATimes, on the front page of today's Food section, a long report on why there's no Sanford at the Sanford Winery anymore.  Outside investors, big distributors, clashing philosophies, and organic farming are all involved.

Fred Wine Goes With Everything

I've been meaning to link this since early September:

The SF Weekly provides the most comprehensive profile I have yet seen of the man behind "Two-Buck Chuck," Fred Franzia.   Among other things, you can learn from this article

  • why Fred Franzia is legally prohibited from putting his own name on any of his wines,
  • the secret significance of his company name "JFJ Bronco," and
  • the forgotten link between the real/original Charles Shaw winery and . . . Luciano Pavarotti.

[Link via Hit and Run.]

Two-Tank Common, Two Cents Plain

How I Spent My Tuesday Afternoon:

I confess it: I slipped away yesterday afternoon, family in tow, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), there to succumb yet again to the charms of the Boy King, the Pharaoh, that most 'gyptianest of the Egyptians, the one and only . . .


There is criticism galore associated with the financial arrangements surrounding this tour, which is organized as a for-profit venture with correspondingly high ticket prices, but I cannot help but be pleased to have an opportunity to see more of the fine fine artifacts that the 18th Dynasty was capable of producing.  There is almost no overlap between the current touring materials and what was seen here nearly 30 years ago, meaning that, yes, most of the most patently spectacular objects have stayed in Cairo this time around.  Still, if you are as easily seduced as I am by beautifully wrought artifacts from some 3000-odd years agone, the current exhibition is certainly worth seeing during its few remaining weeks in Los Angeles.  Florida (Fort Lauderdale), Philadelphia and Chicago get it over the next two years.

This jolly archaeological jaunt has moved me to poetry, specifically to my first double-dactyl in many many months, to wit:

This is not Howard Carter, the discoverer of the tomb of TutankhamenTut Tut Tutsie

Roi des Egyptiens,
Fair Tutankhamen-oh,
Reigned for ten years before
Coming to grief;

Now on display in L.
A., he's explained by the
Unctuous narration of
Omar Sharif.


I am a regular victim of the Curse of Free Association.  I was looking for an image of Howard Carter, who located Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, and searched his name in Google Images.  That led to a version of the image above, attached to this rather interesting weblog post at the now-seemingly-inactive ideofact.  The image (you can click to enlarge it somewhat) is, of course, a poster for the magician Carter the Great -- exploiting the similarity between his name and that of Lord Carnarvon's favorite Egyptologist -- whose fictional version appears in Glen David Gold's thoroughly entertaining novel, Carter Beats the Devil.  A further search for that poster image led to this page, from which you can access an array of Carter's posters and advertisements, including the image above and the poster with the Devilish card sharp that serves as the cover for Gold's book.  Those who have read the book may also appreciate these images selling "The Lion's Bride," an illusion of some importance to the plot.

Fun Things To Make and To Do:  Whether or not you have read the book, you can help Carter beat the Devil, here.



Pinter Patter

George Hunka's 75th birthday tribute to Harold Pinter is looking particularly timely, with today's news that Pinter has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature


I'll confess I have not followed Pinter's work for the past couple of decades -- I've missed out on most everything since Betrayal in the early 80's -- but his early to mid-period work, the accumulation of plays and screenplays that made his reputation, is quite enough to satisfy me that he is deserving of his Prize.  My high school drama teacher (of whom more here) did me the great favor of introducing me to the The Theatre of the Absurd, the great trinity of which at the time was Beckett [Nobel Laureate 1969], Ionesco, and Pinter.  I devoured the Pinter of that period: The Dumb Waiter, The Caretaker, The Birthday Party (I directed an abridged version of that one in class, playing the role of the sinister Goldberg), The Homecoming, and so on.

The abortive American Film Theater project provided a double dose of Pinter in its first season in 1973, offering up an excellent film version of The Homecoming, directed by Peter Hall and featuring a quietly riveting turn by Pinter's then-missus, the late Vivien Merchant -- a 2002 BBC write-up of the film, with a good quote from Charles Champlin's 1973 review in the Los Angeles Times, is available here --  as well as Pinter himself directing Alan Bates in one of Bates' very best roles as Simon Gray's Butley.

Pinter has taken his share of abuse from the conservative end of the weblogosystem in recent years, particularly for his poetry savaging the British and American political leadership over the Iraq War.  What I've seen of the poetry is just bad poetry, as is true of the vast majority of political verse in any era, regardless of the particular politics being expressed.  Bad poetry and political views with which I would often disagree take nothing away, in my view, from Pinter's accomplishments as a dramatist.  So, good on 'im for his Award and good on the Academy for awarding it.



UPDATE [1309 PDT]: That nice old couple Meg and Petey from The Birthday Party comment.


Still involved in some sprawlin' courtroom brawlin', so allow me please to tide us all over with yet another postful of online miscellanery, accumulated over the past month or so, in no particular order:

Sarah Polley, 17 years on, corresponds with Terry Gilliam on the perilous experience of having been the child lead in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (a film I persist in thinking more sinned against than sinning).  [Via Defamer]

The Guardian catches a fleeting glimpse of the first new Kate Bush album in a dozen years and declares her to be "still seething with strangeness and brilliance."   As if one would expect anything else.

  • There's No Mania Like Ro-Mania:

Matt Welch -- once hailed in this space as "The Next Davy Jones" -- really wants you to read his Reason magazine article, "The Second Romanian Revolution Will Be Televised", now available online.  And you should.  It resembles one of those good, long New Yorker pieces on faraway places with strange sounding politics, except that it omits the East Coast pomposity and such.

First, the mysterious tale of Jelly Roll Morton and the Voodoo Curse.  "As the self-styled inventor of jazz, [Morton] wore diamonds in his teeth and owned over two hundred tailor-made suits."   He burned them all:

In desperation Morton visited a voodoo woman who told him the only way to break the curse was to destroy all his clothing:

I always had a lot of clothes and the stack I made in my backyard was way over the top of my head.  I poured on the kerosene and struck a match.  It like to broke my heart to watch my suits burn.

In another item, Ms. Longmore considers the unfortunate post-War American symbiosis of Jazz and Heroin:

After the Second World War, the image of the happy-go lucky jazz musician undertook a horrific transformation.  No longer did the world associate jazz with jollity and Fats Waller-style wit.  By the late forties, the idea of a jazz player was that of a tortured heroin addict.  Headlines such as Hey Ho Billie Holiday Arrested Again on Narcotics Charge sprinkled the headlines of the daily newspapers.  One wonders what triggered this bleak state of affairs.

"[T]he sinister Miles Davis" is involved, naturally, albeit more as a carrier than a cause.

  • Bonus Opera Content!:  Elsewhere at the Social Affairs Unit, David Conway reviews the Covent Garden premiere of Maskarade, the little-performed-outside-of-Denmark 1906 comic opera from the great Danish symphonist (a personal favorite of mine), Carl Nielsen.  Mr. Conway is not favorably impressed and his accusatory finger points firmly at the composer:

The plot, which is so thin as to make Fledermaus appear like a work of Immanuel Kant, requires above all, if it is to sustain an evening, two qualities which Strauss J. (and R. for that matter) possessed in abundance but Nielsen totally lacked – wit and romance.

The sign language interpreter stage right apparently displeased him as well.

This Fool wishes a most cordial Happy Fifth to that constant doorway to wonderments, wood s lot.

If someone says that he’s planning to kill you, believe him.

If someone says he’s going to die, believe him.

Avoid navigable waterways.  Don’t let yourself be talked into going down by the wild rippling water, the wan water, the salt sea shore, the strand, the lowlands low, the Burning Thames, and any area where the grass grows green on the banks of some pool.  Cliffs overlooking navigable waterways aren’t safe either.

To which I might add: if a hideous crone of apparent supernatural abilities offers you raiment and riches if only you will Sit in Her Lap and Be Her Own True Love, take her up on it.  The alternative is even less pleasant.

[Link via Belle Waring at Crooked Timber.]

  • And in Conclusion . . . Something Kinky:

Whether you take the recommendation of native Texan Cowtown Pattie, or the recommendation of distant Schenectadeluvian David Jackalope Giacalone, y'all should amble to the Official Site of the Independent Texas Gubernatorial Campaign and Marching Society of musician, mystery writer, and action figure Kinky Friedman and view his proud and patriotic Kinkytoon.  It is the most amusing political ad since Arianna Huffington's [no longer available] Arnold-in-a-Hummer spot. 

No poker-playing dogs were harmed in the making of this picture.