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The Unbeatable Madness of Bears

What?  Oh, where am I?  Let me not go mad!
Sweet Heaven, forgive weak thoughts!  If there should be
No God, no Heaven, no Earth in the void world;
The wide, gray, lampless, deep, unpeopled world!

-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Cenci, Act V, Scene IV.


This is Bear.  Bear and I have kept company now for over half a century.  I like to think I am holding up better than Bear has done, but I could be wrong.

Thomas Disch keeps company with a bear named Mortlake.  That, at least, is the name the bear seems to have given out.  Most bears guard their true names as they would their lives, lest in disclosing them they give away some power over themselves.  The circumstances in which a bear's true name may be revealed are said to be contained in the Tibetan Book of the Bears, although no man living has actually seen that fabled and terrible volume.  Better safe than sorry, my bear is Bear and Bear he shall remain.

Mortlake is reported to have become most agitated over the the recent unpleasantness in the Sudan in which the British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons learned of the dangers attendant to the naming of bears.  The British are not so bellicose in the Gordon Brown era as they have been in others, so there will be no "War of Gibbons' Bear" to join the "War of Jenkins' Ear" in the history books.

Recently, I have been concerned for Bear's mental equilibrium after Mr. Disch posted a new poem, "The Mad Teddybear," which begins:

I met a teddybear the other day
who'd lost his mind. They lose their minds,
some elderly bears, before they lose their lives.
It comes from being left alone
and staring too long at the ceiling.

Bear is not, I think, mad, only quiet.  I think he spends his time on his shelf communing with his little household gods, Bear's lares.  He has always been one for keeping his own counsel.  Mortlake, for his part, harbors imperial ambitions, often mistaken for madness but not really the same thing at all.


Although I have only recently found his LIveJournal pages, led there by John Crowley, I first mentioned Thomas Disch here over four years ago.  A rifling through the pages of Amazon reveals that several of my favorite Disch books -- includng Clara Reeve and The Castle of Indolence -- are not currently in print.  He does, however, have a new novella -- The Voyage of the Proteus: An Eyewitness Account of the End of the World -- due out next week, and in July will reveal "the intimate details of his sudden elevation to Godhood" in The Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten.  He, like the bears, bears watching.

Dies Natalis Invicti Solis


With solstice here we'll celebrate
This sacred time and have much cheer
We will bring warmth and we'll bring light
Unto the darkest time of year

The mistletoe will be cut down
With sickle from the sacred tree
A kiss I'll give to you my love
A pledge of friendship made to thee

For greater than the will of man
Or want of that which can be done
It falls and shines on where we stand
Beneath the great unconquered sun

from "Unconquered Sun" (Steeleye Span/Ken Nicol)

I have long held a soft spot in my heart for the Winter Solstice.*  It is always close to Christmas without actually being Christmas, and it comes freighted with oodles of colorful pagan, druidical, Golden Bough-ish regalia.  Even better, it is in that rare class of events that occur simultaneously for the entire world.  Unlike man-made holidays and calendar-based observances such as the variously calculated New Years, which occur at different times or on different days depending upon your time zone or creed, the Winter Solstice occurs for all -- as do its cousins the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes and that other, less interesting Solstice -- at that moment when the entire planet occupies a precise spot on Kepler's ellipse.  It is there and gone in a flash, but it is the same flash no matter where you are.  Whoa.  Dude.

Unfortunately, because I scheduled this post to appear at the moment of this year's Solstice, the fact that you are reading this means you have already missed it.

The solstice being no more than a memory already, lets continue to dwell on the past.  Here are links to my two previous Winter Solstice posts.  Not sure where I went wrong in 2003 and 2005:

Special solstice greetings to Cowtown Pattie, down around the Big Bend, in honor of her decidedly ribald suggestion of last year concerning appropriate celebratory rituals.

And extra special solstice greetings to each and all, out here lost in the stars.


UPDATE [122207]:  Because I originally pre-posted this, I was not able at first to link this year's contribution from that other congenital Solstice observer, David Giacalone at f/k/a.  There's haiku involved, naturally.  Also, a reminder that it's not too late to equip yourself for the coming year with the freely downloadable and printable 2008 Giacalone Haiga Calendar, combining David's poetry with his twin Arthur's photography. 

I've got mine.  Have you? 

(What's that?  You've got mine, too?  Get your own, why don'cha?)


* The Wikipedia article on seasons tells me I should call the Winter Solstice the "December Solstice" because "it is no longer considered appropriate to use the old northern-seasonal designations for the astronomical quarter days" lest one be thought a loathsome southernhemispherophobe.  (Antipodophobe?)  This comes as news to me, and I am not certain I actually believe it.


Photo: "Solstice Garden" by strollerdos via Flickr under Creative Commons license.

"Unconquered Sun" appears on Steeleye Span's 2004 Christmas album, Winter, available most affordably via
  Steeleye Span - Winter .

Who'll Stop the Layne?
(None But Himself)

If you search through this weblog, you will find that, although I have never actually met or spoken with the man, I have made more than a few references here to Ken Layne

I was not following things online much in the late 90s when he co-founded, but when I stumbled on to this whole weblog business around 2001, Ken's was one of the first blogs to be on my regular reading list.  His posts from that period are long gone: when Ken Layne projects disappear, they tend to leave nothing behind but crickets, tumbleweeds and grizzled 404 errors nursing their hangovers.

Over the past few years Ken Layne's adventures have included the near-miss attempt (with Matt Welch and former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan) to launch a print competitor to the Los Angeles Times, moving to Reno, editing Nick Denton's now-defunct Sploid, launching the also-now-defunct Highways West site [I surely do miss that one], returning to Los Angeles, and most recently serving as West Coast editor for Denton's Wonkette.  Having moved on again, over the past month or so Ken has re-reactivated his own blog and become a weekly contributor to AOL's Political Machine pages, where he continues to slam away without quarter at the venality and general stupidity so often to be found at large in our great Republic.

All very interesting, but what I want to talk about is music, and in particular the music of Ken Layne & the Corvids

It has been nearly four years now since KL&tC released their first CD, Fought Down.  All manner of big time bloggers embraced it at the time.  The Amazon page linked in the previous sentence is still full of rave reviews from Instapundit Glenn Reynolds and other luminaries of the conservative and/or libertarian segment of the blogosphere.  (Given Mr. Layne's profuse expressions of disdain toward the present Bush Administration since the release of Fought Down, I suspect he might not enjoy -- or wish for? -- quite so much support from those same circles today.) 

I waxed all enthusiastic over Fought Down here, among other places, and I can report that it still sounds good Even As We Speak.

Through 2005-2006, there were reports of a follow-up Corvids album having been completed.  A demo or two, or a live recording, would surface briefly then disappear back into the depths of the loch, and some streaming versions of tracks appeared (and remain) on the Corvids MySpace page.  The thing itself, however, did not manifest. 

Then, suddenly . . . 

In early November, I received an email from Ken Layne himself, telling me that he had some advance CD copies of the album, that he had "misgivings" about it, and would I like a copy?  I certainly would.  (Looking back, I am reminded that I wheedled rather shamelessly for a copy back in July of '06.)   

Transcontinental And so it has come to pass that for the past six weeks or so, I have been the proud possessor of a copy of Transcontinental, the legendary or possibly "lost" second Corvids album.  Because I have grown fond of the little critter, I wrote Mr. Layne to tell him so and to ask his permission to write it up here.  I also asked about the nature of those "misgivings" of his.  He has not shared much with me on that point: the thing has just been sitting unreleased for over a year, in which time he has recorded another entire solo collection, and so on.  In any case, he sees no harm in my saying kind things about the CD and, who knows, might even be persuaded to put it out into the world in some form via iTunes or CDBaby or such.  So here are my thoughts on it:

Transcontinental is musically close to Fought Down, straight on alt-country.  The three tracks currently streaming at MySpace ["For What They Did," "Happy McKaye" and "Watching Over You"] give a good idea of the stylistic range.  With the exception of "Happy" though -- which is a proper hoot and which I think of as the song Cormac McCarthy would write if he had a sense of humor to go with his sense of dread, a sort of Blood Meridian meets Butch & Sundance -- those samples don't convey the album's big thematic interests: the 19th century opening of the West, a love for wild and desolate places, and a recurring nervous thread of incipient violence.  It is much more fun than I just made it sound. 

I like the entire eleven-song collection -- there is only one track on it that doesn't quite work for me, and even that one ("Rattlesnake Mountain") has a fine air of Parallax View-style paranoia about it -- but I will single out two songs for special mention: 

"Transcontinental" seems to be excerpted from the journal of an unidentified narrator headed west on one of the great wagon trails ["To recall Omaha as we crossed Donner Lake was appealing"] until a time-bending encounter with a helpful bar man in Reno whose useful advice begins with "don't sit close to your TV set."  (Those televisions reappear, alongside piles of ash trays, as the detritus of our era in the closing post-apocalyptic rave-up, "Cenicero.") 

"Cuyamaca," meanwhile, is an elegy for the tiny mountain town of that name, where Ken Layne lived at one time, and its disappearance in the 2003 San Diego County wildfires.  The song had extra poignancy the first time I listened, as this year's round of fires were rampaging again through the same area.

It is not for me to say whether Transcontinental will ever be let loose in the world but, Ken, if my opinion counts for anything you can tally this as a vote in favor of putting it out there somehow.  Now, about that solo record....


What's that, kid?  You don't yet have a copy of Fought Down

There's no excuse for that, since it's still available through CD Baby, Amazon or, for swingin' DRM lovers,   Ken Layne and the Corvids .  Glitter on, kid.


UPDATE: Many thanks to Matt Welch -- Corvid, Ken Layne compadre, upstanding journalist and bane of McCain -- for his link to this post.  Thanks especially because Matt took time out to do it while in transit from Los Angeles to D.C. to assume his new role as editor of Reason magazine, a journal to which you really ought to subscribe if you do not already do so.

The Snow It Melts the Soonest When the Wind Begins to Sing

Horslips_drive_the_cold_winter_away Holiday joy descended early this last week when I discovered that reputable merchants of downloadable music are now offering the complete catalog of the Irish band, Horslips.  Active principally during the 1970s, Horslips pioneered "Celtic Rock," bringing electric guitars and keyboards to traditional Irish music in much the way that Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span did for the indigenous tunes on the other edge of the Irish Sea. 

Hugely popular in its homeland -- and highly influential, if the members of U2 are to be believed -- Horslips also achieved more modest success in the U.S., particularly with the title song from 1978's The Man Who Built America.  (The band toured the U.S. in support of that album, and I had the pleasure of seeing them perform at the Whisky a-Go-Go in Hollywood.)

In 1975, Horslips issued what remains my personal favorite Christmas record ever, Drive the Cold Winter Away, a collection of traditional tunes played and sung (sometimes in Gaelic) with charm and infectious enthusiasm.  The album has never been available in the U.S. on vinyl or CD except as an import, so this digital release makes it available to a much wider audience here than it has previously been able to muster.  The entire collection is a delight, of which this wintry ditty may serve as a sample:

As the band observed in the original liner notes:

This is a stereo album . . . .
It can be played on mono reproducers or on Christmas Day; or both.  Happy Christmas.

Drive the Cold Winter Away is available via  Horslips - Drive the Cold Winter Away.


  • The Official Horslips Web Site is filled with information on the history of the band, the post-1970s lives of its members, the [inevitable] legal battles undertaken to recover the rights to their music, etc. 
  • One of the most successful of Horslips songs in Ireland was "Dearg Doom," from 1973's The Táin.  Seventeen years later, Larry Mullen of U2 recycled a sample of the fearsome "Dearg Doom" guitar riff into "Put 'em Under Pressure," the fight song for the 1990 Irish World Cup team.  Video follows the jump, for those who prefer footie to Christmas. 

Continue reading "The Snow It Melts the Soonest When the Wind Begins to Sing" »

Watering the Cactus at Christmas

I can foresee that this is going to be a Musical Week at a fool in the forest.  This is a festive time of the year, and festive times call for music, whether it be specific to the season or simply enjoyable in its own right.  Let's begin with something seasonal, shall we?

Last year, Kyle Gann pointed to the video below in a post with a title that I would have loved to use had he not used it first: "The Twelve Tones of Christmas."  The video comes from the Arnold Schoenberg Center of Vienna, and combines Schoenberg's Weihnachtsmusik of 1921 with illustrations of Schoenberg's world and life, with an emphasis on wintry holiday time.   

Schoenberg, of course, was one of many artists compelled to flee Europe during the rise of Nazism.  He settled here in Los Angeles, and my own post title comes from the photo that shows up at about 2:20 in the video of the composer in the yard of his home in Brentwood, accompanying a line from a 1947 letter to Alma Mahler:

Heuer feiern wir Weihnachten statt mit Christbäumen mit einem kaktus!
["This year we celebrate Christmas not with a Christmas tree but with a cactus!"]

Kyle Gann's title notwithstanding, this is not Scary Twelve-Tone Schoenberg.  Rather, it is an arrangement for 2 violins, cello, piano and harmonium, combining two traditional Christmas songs: "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen" ("There is a Rose E'er Blooming") and "Stille Nacht" ("Silent Night").  The latter tune first appears in the piano at about the 3:30 mark, sounding for a moment suspiciously like "Good King Wenceslas."  Altogether very lovely.

The Schoenberg Center also offers a streaming audio version of this performance on its site.  There do not appear to be any other recordings readily available at this time.  A pity.

When I'm It Was '64
and '67 and '86 and '88 and -- HEY!


Ross Douthat included the photo above in a post about Mitt Romney and voters' attitudes toward Mormonism.  I am not going to talk about that post, though you are welcome to read it.  The young fellow with the cowlick on the right in that photo is Mitt; the gentleman on the left pointing out the sights is his father, then-Governor George Romney of Michigan, later the first member of the Romney clan to make a run at the Republican nomination for President of These United States. 

My reason for reproducing that photo has nothing to do with current events, Romney-related or otherwise.  No, my concern is with the past and with where and when that photo was taken: at the site of the 1964 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens.  I attended the Fair with my parents and the elder of my two younger sisters (the youngest being yet too young at the time), and that trip is one I remember fondly to this day.

The New York fair was memorable for any number of reasons.  Several of the U.S. exhibitors hired Walt Disney to construct attractions for them and a number of longstanding Disneyland attractions premiered in Flushing before being transplanted back to Anaheim: Abraham Lincoln was constructed for the Illinois pavilion; the dinosaurs encountered when circling Disneyland by train come from the Ford pavilion (Gov. Romney's arm is stretching across it in the photo); the now long defunct Carousel of Progress was featured in the General Electric pavilion (accompanied by a very loud demonstration of nuclear fusion, power source of The Future).  For better or worse, the Pepsi pavilion was the original home of the infernally catchy "It's a Small World."  (American tourists were smaller then, too.)

Despite the Cold War, the Fair touted a theme of "Peace Through Understanding," and the world's cultural riches were sent to New York without any of the security concerns of today.  Spain sent prime masterworks of Goya (a clothed Maja, not the naked one); Jordan sent some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Perhaps most remarkably, the Vatican pavilion imported Michelangelo's Pietà from St. Peter's.  Eight years later, the scuplture would would fall victim to the sledgehammer attack of Laszlo Toth.  (One viewed the Pietà in New York from a moving walkway, and I distinctly remember it being lit a sort of undersea green.  That recollection is borne out somewhat by the cover of the March 28, 1964, edition of the Saturday Evening Post.)

1964 Fair resources:

  • is an extravagantly thorough site devoted to the Fair, with copious maps, photos, etc. 
  • Modern Mechanix reproduces the entirety of a 1965 article on the Fair from National Geographic.

The New York Fair did not qualify as a "real" World's Fair, as it lacked the imprimatur of the Bureau International des Expositions.  Among other things, the BIE objected to the Fair running over the course of two years.  (True World Expositions are supposed to run no longer than six months.)

  • The comprehensive ExpoMuseum includes extensive coverage of New York, notwithstanding its unauthorized status.

The World's Fair bug bit me bad after that 1964 trip.  My contemporaries are welcome to their Summer of Love, but for me the summer of 1967 will forever be the summer of the [BIE-endorsed] Expo 67 in Montreal.  A true Universal Exposition, the Montreal fair was built on the all-encompassing theme of "Man and his World."  It is memorable among other things for the pavilions of the USA and USSR glaring at one another, each nation touting its prowess in the space race.  The Soviets were toasting the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, and were quite chuffed with themselves.  The U.S. Pavilion was architecturally notable as well, designed by R. Buckminster Fuller and housed in an enormous geodesic dome.  Damaged in a fire in 1976, the dome's remnants remain as the Montreal Biosphère.

  • Film Trivia: The abandoned interiors of one of the Theme Pavilions from Montreal, "Man the Explorer," were used as the sets for Robert Altman's obscure 1979 dystopian thriller Quintet.

I ended a nineteen year gap in Expo attendance on my honeymoon, which included several days at Vancouver's EXPO86.  Our last Expo venture was to Brisbane, Australia, for EXPO 88.  We flirted with the notion to taking a run at Seville in 1998, or possibly Hannover in 2000 -- electronic music afficionadi know that Expo 2000 featured an advertising jingle by Kraftwerk -- but those plans came to naught. 

There have been no sanctioned world expositions in North America since 1986, and none in the U.S. since New Orleans in 1984.  The U.S., in fact, has not been eligible to host or to participate in an exhibition since 1991, when it was expelled from the BIE for persistent failure of Congress to authorize the payment of dues.  Several Canadian cities are reported to be planning bids for a smaller scale 3-month exposition in 2017, the 50th anniversary of Montreal and the 150th anniversary of the Canadian confederation.

Next up in official expositionary circles is Expo 2008, to be held next year from June 14 through September 14 in Zaragoza, Spain.  This is an International Exposition -- the official site helpfully explains the distinction between "International Expositions" and "Universal Expositions" -- and is to be built around the wholesome theme of "Water and Sustainable Development."

Researching this post, I turned up two notable tidbits relating to the Zaragoza fair.  First comes this little fellow:

This is Fluvi, mascot of Zaragoza 2008.  You may not be able to tell, but Fluvi is "a courageous and funny little drop of water . . [who] will shape a greener and less polluted world with a little help from his friends."  Yes, he's courage, humor, environmental goodness and friendship, all in one soggy little package.  No upstanding mascot such as Fluvi would be complete without an opposite number, of course, so there must be Sec,


formerly "a humble slub," now transformed by environmental contaminants into "an evil being who wants to make everything filthy and vile."  You just know Sec has an incompetent henchman, don't you?  Indeed he does.  Sec is the epitome of the oversimplified environmental villain: he pollutes for the sheer wicked joy of it and he has a lousy HR department selecting his cronies.  Surely he cannot prevail.  (To find out, we will all need to travel to Spain to watch Fluvi, the series.  Be sure not to miss the episode in which Sec reveals "a new design of lavatories that dazzle everybody" but that use waaayy too much water.  It's a good thing there are market forces and thrifty consumers Fluvi and his pals to stop him.)

Now that you have read this far, you have certainly earned a reward, and here it is: Better by far than Fluvi, it's -- New Bob Dylan!

On behalf of Zaragoza 2008 and in keeping with the exposition's aquiferrific theme, Bob Dylan has recorded a new version of "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall."  This rendition is in the loopy, loping "ol' man Bob" mode most recently on display in last year's Modern Times.  I think that approach defangs the song a bit, but "Hard Rain" is 45 years old now so perhaps it has mellowed with the rest of us.  In any case, it is still a fine song.

A video for the new "Hard Rain" currently appears on the Zaragoza 2008 home page, linked above.  More information can be found on the related Únete a Expo site, including an array of additional Dylan-related videos and the opportunity to download (descargar) an MP3 version for free.  We are all about service here in the forest, so you can also listen or download right here:

Now, I have hunted about through Google and Technorati and Bloglines and the Hype Machine, and so far as I can tell I have beaten all of the other weblogs on the block to the punch in posting this tune.  So, for what little it is worth, I proudly declare this A fool in the forest Exclusive! at least until someone else writes it up and I am obliged to define exclusivity down.  Take that, all you cool kids d'un certain age!  And be sure to tell all your friends you Heard It Here First.

After the jump: the video of my personal favorite version of "Hard Rain."  Stay dry, friends.

Continue reading "When I'm It Was '64
and '67 and '86 and '88 and -- HEY!

Jeu du Vivre

Those horrid, horrid Europeans, blithely playing games with human life!


TETRIS video found while search Dailymotion for something altogether different.

My lady wife has been heard to complain that I post too many videos to this weblog.   As an old Tetris fan herself, I hope she will make allowances for this one.

"The true object of all human life is play. "
    --G. K. Chesterton

Tipping Point

Sometime in the past 48 hours or so, I reached and passed through the moment at which I had spent exactly half of my life as an attorney.

Does this mean that, as happened to the unfortunate Darth Vader, I am "more machine now than man"?

Ah, but enough about me.  Let me take this occasion to wish you each and all a Happy Repeal Day!


Repeal Day reminder via and Eugene, Oregon, bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who writes:

How many forms of pleasure are guaranteed by the Constitution?  None, unless you’re one of those who get an inflated sense of ego from holding a firearm or speaking in public.  Me, I’m going to stick with alcohol.

Salud, freedom lovers!

"The Hora! The Hora!"

Hanukkah will begin at sunset today.  It is not my own holiday season, but it is a holiday season for many -- most, really -- of my longest lasting and most cherished friends.  So, for them in particular, let me offer this excerpt from a 1989 Chabad telethon broadcast, featuring the festive song stylings of Mr. P. Himmelman, Mr. H. D. Stanton, and, looking very relaxed on the mouth organ, Mr. B. Zimmerman-Dylan.  L'Chaim indeed:

Those same friends of mine will appreciate that I could not resist this when it turned up in a search for appropriate imagery.  I detect the influence of Marc Chagall in this fine Menorah of the North:




Chabad video via Some Velvet Blog.

Moose Menorah photo by Kathy Willens (AP) via Ventura County Star.  Simply have to have one?  Try New Orleans' Dashka Roth contemporary jewelry and judaica.