Rock & Roll

I found this to be an apt commentary on the state of Rock & Roll today, a sort of This Is Spinal Tap in less than a minute. If you dig it, there’s a lot more at the Cool 3D World Vimeo channel: sly, surreal, grotesque, and oddly humorous.

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The Triplets of Belleville

I have mixed feelings about movie trailers. With DVDs, I usually watch them without the sound. It’s better that way, usually. And music videos… need I repeat that I don’t like ’em?

That said, I was visiting Roy Edroso’s blog recently, part of my weekly list of reading. If the name sounds familiar, Edroso was a columnist for the late Village Voice where he covered and made fun of the conservative commentariat. He still does that on his blog and he has a newsletter you can subscribe to… which I would do if Social Security paid more than the rent… but what I was getting at is: His post for Friday, April 26, had embedded music from one of my favorite films, Sylvian Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville.

When it was first released in 2003, something resembling the following clip was used as a trailer.

I was instantly hooked and actually went to see it at an actual movie theatre. However, some folks could easily freak out over this particular presentation, so SONY is using this as the official promo:

Unlike most movie trailers, you’re not likely to learn just what the movie is all about from either of these. But you will get a taste and, yes, the movie has a sweet, sentimental and totally bizarre story to tell.

It was also released on DVD and you may be able to find it in that format — I’ve not checked — but it is available online from Amazon Prime Video, Vudu or iTunes.

See it.

The Mysterious Arrival of an Unusual Letter

A video by Scott Wenner based on a poem by Mark Strand:

This could almost (but not quite) as easily apply to mothers. Regardless, it certainly applies to many adult children for whom their parents are something of a cipher apart from being… parents. And of course, despite being firmly imprinted by the behavior of said parents, the same children could easily end up being something of a mystery to the parents. Remember the “Generation Gap”?

I Am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been…

a memory for May Day

… a Trotskyist, Surrealist Poet.

And what, pray tell, would ever cause someone – anyone! – to identify me as such an odd chimera? I’m frequently mistaken for someone else but the answer to this misidentification is found back in the mists of… well, back in the roiling fumes of grass in the past.

Way back in the early 1970s, I had ambitions, or at least aspirations, to be a poet. How and why and when I jettisoned that goal is another story, but part of the project of becoming a poet involved attending poetry readings. The really big Chicago event at that time was a weekly reading organized by Richard Friedman’s Yellow Press at a local theatre on Chicago’s north side.

For all that the Yellow Press readings were really the place to be for poets and readers thereof, the audiences were usually no more than a few dozen. And for me, the readings were almost always excruciatingly boring, no matter the quality of the verse. There was one memorable exception.

Friedman had scored a big fish. Robert Bly was to read. Given the vagaries of the Chicago Transit Authority, I arrived early that day and found the event in a larger than usual venue. It was already well populated by representatives of probably every English Department in the city. With my long hair and ragged Army field jacket, I didn’t exactly fit in, but neither was I unique. Most of the empty seating was in front. I took a seat in the first row.

Show time! Robert Bly came down the aisle to the stage. But then he stopped and sat next to me. Looking very intense and pointing to a utility table on stage, he hissed, “I’m going to sit on that table and read from there.”

I was thoroughly confused but managed a shrug and said something like: “Cool.”

Bly hadn’t gotten far into his first poem when suddenly a handful of long haired characters – a few in pristine Army field jackets – rushed the stage, scattering leaflets and shouting: “Bourgeois Pig!”, “Assassin!”, “M_____ F_____!” and other assorted obscenities. One threw a pie in Bly’s face. They didn’t pause but skedaddled out the exit with Friedman and a few friends in close pursuit. They may have gotten away.

As Bly wiped the pie from his face, he explained that he had published a book of his own translations of work by the great Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. When Bly announced his reading tour, a local collective of Trotskyist Surrealist poets threatened to “get him” if Bly dared to read in Chicago. Their beef was not only that Neruda was a Stalinist Communist (I can recall at least one embarrassing poetic homage to Stalin by Neruda.) but in 1940 while serving as a member of Chile’s diplomatic staff in Mexico, Neruda helped a suspect in an assassination attempt on Leon Trotsky get out of jail and out of Mexico. As Wikipedia put it:

“In 1940, after the failure of an assassination attempt against Leon Trotsky, Neruda arranged a Chilean visa for the Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros, who was accused of having been one of the conspirators in the assassination. Neruda later said that he did it at the request of the Mexican President, Manuel Ávila Camacho. This enabled Siqueiros, then jailed, to leave Mexico for Chile, where he stayed in Neruda’s private residence. In exchange for Neruda’s assistance, Siqueiros spent over a year painting a mural in a school in Chillán. Neruda’s relationship with Siqueiros attracted criticism, but Neruda dismissed the allegation that his intent had been to help an assassin as “sensationalist politico-literary harassment”.”

I don’t remember any more of Bly’s reading that evening. I do remember Friedman glaring at me as I left and again every week after.

Really, Richard, I was not then nor have I ever been…

But damn! That was the best poetry reading I ever attended.

A Brief History of Fat

This has gotten quite a bit of circulation on the web so perhaps you’ve seen it. If not, this is almost everything you might care to know about fat but were afraid to ask… with animation!

I’m most certainly overweight — obese to be blunt. It’s not a state that I like. Feel free to like it yourself as I don’t mean to body shame but for me… no. Over the past three years, I’ve lost about a dozen or so pounds. Not enough.

Why? It’s not health. It’s not sex appeal. It’s not longevity. It’s not even not having wannabeclever people greet me as “Santa” on the street. (“Shhhh…” I says, “Mrs. Claus don’t know I’m here. She thinks I’m in Nome, bargaining with the elves. Breath a word and you’ll get coal ash or worse in your stocking!”)

No, if I continue to lose weight, there’s a closet full of clothing that I could wear… Even some bell bottoms…

After all, Social Security pays only the rent and nothing else.

Above and Beyond

The National Veterans Art Museum‘s exhibition Above & Beyond is on the third floor of Harold Washington Library Center through February of 2020. The art installation features over 58,000 hand-stamped replicated dog tags representing U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. The dog tags are suspended from the ceiling of an open 13 feet x 34 feet installation on our third floor near the escalators. Nearby is an interactive kiosk where you can look up the names of veterans and find the location of their hanging dog tags. The piece was created by veteran artists and is meant to help viewers reflect on the impact of war. This is the only memorial to Vietnam veterans outside of Washington, D.C.

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Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman.
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Photo by Roman.

The exhibition is too easy to ignore. The tags hang silently, motionless, the weight of them no more than that of a passing cloud.

But “reflect on the impact of war?” What could those of us without the experience of it really know?

Not nothing. Neither you nor I can plead total ignorance. Here are the two things I know:

As of 2019, even though the fighting has long since ceased, the Vietnam War is not over and will continue for decades in the future. People continue to die as a result of it: injury, suicide, chemical contamination, unexploded weapons. It continues to cost money, both public and private. And as violence begets violence, echoes of the mayhem continue.

And finally, those 58,000 dog tags are really only our side of the story. The dismal tally of death from that criminal fiasco is two orders of magnitude greater. Imagine that hanging from the ceiling. Imagine that accompanied by the moans and sighs of the bereaved.

Pacifism is probably foolishness, but keep this exhibition in mind the next time some politician asks you to endorse a war or “military intervention”.