Happy 100th, Olivia de Havilland

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She’s still with us, physically and mentally. Her birthday was yesterday. One of the greatest actresses in the world.

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“Part 1 is astonishingly ambitious, but I consider Part 2 to be messier and more human and more political and a thrilling, thrilling, thrilling masterpiece.” – George Wolfe: Angels in America: An Oral History

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The must-read of the day, the week, the month: Slate’s Oral History of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Parts 1 and 2: “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika”.

Kushner’s is the most important and unforgettable voice to emerge in my lifetime. Clifford Odets, who also mixed the poetic with the political, who also changed American theatre (briefly) in the 1930s, giving rise to playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, is the only valid comparison to what Kushner has done, what Kushner SOUNDS like on the page. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. There are too many good quotes here to mention but the oral history takes us through the entire history of this astonishing play.

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Happy Birthday, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Today is the birthday of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Here is an extraordinary excerpt from Wind, Sand and Stars – a book I last read in high school, when I was in my Richard Bach-airplane-writing-soulmate-search phase. Listen to this prose.

And yet we have all known flights when of a sudden, each for himself, it has seemed to us that we have crossed the border of the world of reality; when, only a couple of hours from port, we have felt ourselves more distant from it than we should feel if we were in India; when there has come a premonition of an incursion into a forbidden world whence it was going to be infinitely difficult to return.

Thus, when Mermoz first crossed the South Atlantic in a hydroplane, as day was dying he ran foul of the Black Hole region, off Africa. Straight ahead of him were the tails of tornadoes rising minute by minute gradually higher, rising as a wall is built; and then the night came down upon these preliminaries and swallowed them up; and when, an hour later, he slipped under the clouds, he came out into a fantastic kingdom.

Great black waterspouts had reared themselves seemingly in the immobility of temple pillars. Swollen at their tops, they were supporting the squat and lowering arch of the tempest, but through the rifts in the arch there fell slabs of light and the full moon sent her radiant beams between the pillars down upon the frozen tiles of the sea. Through these uninhabited ruins Mermoz made his way, gliding slantwise from one channel of light to the next, circling round those giant pillars in which there must have rumbled the upsurge of the sea, flying for four hours through these corridors of moonlight toward the exit from the temple. And this spectacle was so overwhelming that only after he had got through the Black Hole did Mermoz awaken to the fact that he had not been afraid.

Incredible writing.

Saint-Exupéry – and his plane – vanished over the Mediterranean in 1944. Neither he nor his plane were ever found. Until … 2004, 60 years after his disappearance, the remains of his Lockheed Lightning P38 aircraft were found off the coast of Marseille. It is still a mystery why the plane went down, and we’ll probably never know.

The fact that the author of The Little Prince, a story of a mysterious prince from another planet, who visits us for a short while before vanishing again, was symmetrical to the extreme, and led to much speculation over what happened.

The final line of The Little Prince:

“Ne me laissez pas tellement triste: écrivez-moi vite qu’il est revenu… ”

“If this should happen, please comfort me. Send me word that he has come back.”

In 1939, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry met Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

What follows is just one excerpt from War Within & Without: Diaries And Letters Of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1939-1944, that describes the weekend encounter with Saint-Exupéry.

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The volume opens with the Lindberghs returning to America in 1939 after a couple of years living in England and France. 1939 was a dreadful year, and Europe hunkered down for war. The Lindberghs settled on Long Island. Charles Lindbergh was causing an uproar, through his involvement with America First, the isolationist nationalist movement, and much of Anne’s diaries at this time were an anxious apologia for his views. Within a month of their return, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry came to visit the family. Unbelievably, the two famous aviators had never met. Anne Morrow Lindbergh had felt for a long time that they were kindred spirits. The entries of his brief stay with the Lindberghs go on for pages and pages and pages. It reads like a love story. Maybe it is.

Her feelings for Saint-Exupéry were so strong that Charles admitted he felt a little bit jealous. The entries give a good portrait of Saint-Exupéry only a couple of years before his disappearance, and seen through the frantically romantic and fangirl eyes of Anne Lindbergh.
Excerpt from War Within & Without: Diaries And Letters Of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1939-1944

Sunday, August 6th

We talk all morning on the porch, C. and he on Aviation, Germany’s strength, England’s next move, France’s inherent strength, war tactics. Of war: it is so terrible, I say, it must be avoided at almost any price, and he agrees.

Also, C. tells the Göring lion story and at the crucial point Land hands St.-Ex a turtle, which proceeds to act. “Tout a fait comme le lion de Göring!

There is really nothing to say at this point but “Heureusement que vous n’êtes pas dans un uniforme splendide!

I ask him to write in our copy of Wind, Sand and Stars, which he does – something polite besides his name – and C. says then that I must write something in Listen! the Wind, which we have given him. I can think of nothing to write except, “In gratitude for the adventures he has given us” and then a quotation from Whitehead on adventure (in English, of course)…

We ask him if he will come back again and he says he’d love to come back for supper. So we plan to come for him at 5. C. and I talk about him, going back. I am convinced he is going to be killed if he goes on flying. C. talks of the impossibility of being absolutely first-rate – perfection in the world of action – and being anything else (at the same moment). And I suddenly remake an old discovery. It is the striving after perfection that makes one an artist. It is the sense that one is imperfect, unfulfilled, unfinished. One attempts by a superhuman effort to fill the gap, to leap over it, to finish it in another medium. And one creates a third and separate thing: “Adventure rarely reaches its predetermined end. Columbus never reached China. But he discovered America.”

The stutterers (or those who cannot speak well or quickly like me) write. But it is not enough to be a stutterer. One must also have glimpsed a vision of perfect articulateness which presses one on to compensate for one’s inadequacy…

Then we go for St.-Ex at 5. He is doing card tricks on the porch with his friends…Coming home in the car we talked – he and C., really, I translating – of missing the desert, of desert weather. How danger and solitude are the two factors that go to form a man’s character, that do the most for him. There is a kind of mountaintop, clear, cold-air austerity about him that reminds me of Carrel or of a monk, dedicated to something – what?

He says he can talk to us as to his own family, and how quickly one recognizes that one is on the same level. “Je comprends tout ce que vous dites.” (“I understand all you say.”) “There are the people one can talk to and there are the people one cannot talk to – there is no middle ground.” The three greatest human beings he has met in his life are three illiterates, he says, two Brittany fishermen and a farmer in Savoy.

“Yes,” I say, “it has nothing to do with speech – quick brilliant speech – though one thinks it has when one is young.”

“Oh, yes,” he says, “mistrust always the quick and brilliant mind.”

And then he goes on to say that the great of the earth are those who leave silence and solitude around themselves, their work and their life, let it ripen of its own accord…

We have supper on the porch – with a very red sea and very green trees – and they talk about the state of France, what is wrong with it, various ills, alcoholism. We talk about Dr. Carrel, too, and how they must meet. (And we get bitten by mosquitoes). A little June bug gets caught in my hair. I take it out hastily, a little afraid, and then put it on the table. (If you kill it … I think.) But he picks it up gently and looks at it. “It is trying hard to take off,” he says, and when it does, only to land on his arm. “It was hardly worth taking off for such a short flight!”

Then we walk down to the beach. He talks about the south of France (the interior), where he says we must go and which we would like, and people he would like us to meet.

I say of La Grande Chartreuse: “Quelle vie admirable!

And we talk of Illiec, where we want him to come. Though in this changing world I fear neither of those things will come true. We are living in a dream interlude – before what cataclysm, I don’t know but fear.

We walk home through the heavy drowning sea of cricket song.

St.-Ex talks of Baudelaire, his life, his poetry. He says that Baudelaire was great not for what he said but because he was one of those who knew best how to knot words, and he recites some of his poetry to me and goes on, about his theory of style – that the same words arranged differently became banal, did not mean the same thing. The unexpressed finds expression in style, rhythm, etc. – words carry only half the freight. Of how inverted words sometimes gave quality.

Yes, I say, it is the breaking of rules, but cannot explain all I mean by that, which is much more – a union of the familiar and the strange which makes for an artistic creation – in fact, for any creation.

Then he talks of the poetic image – which is, technically – very exciting. He describes how in comparing things one has one object and another object and a bridge with which they are linked – so-and-so is like so-and-so. Like is the bridge. But sometimes one has no bridge. The mind must vault the gap, one’s mind creates the bridge. It creates a new thing entirely. A whole new civilization – in the case of “Les Archevêqyes de la mer” one’s mind imagines a whole hierarchy of things, an imaginary world.

“But perhaps this doesn’t interest you?”

“Oh, yes … yes!”

Then he takes the example of the stereoscope – two pictures of the same thing taken from a different angle – you put them together and the mind makes the adjustment. The mind supplies a third picture.

I tell him about the missionary in Baker Lake, translating the 23rd Psalm – the Lord is my shepherd – to the Eskimos in terms of reindeer and whale blubber. He asks about the Eskimos – where they interesting people? I talk a little about their rigid codes. C. disagrees and cites their changing of wives.

Yes, I say, but for utilitarian reasons, not for pleasure. Is that more moral? C. asks. Of course, St.-Ex and I answer together, looking at C.

I hardly know, looking back, which are my thoughts and which his, for he would start a train of thought and I would go off on a line of my own, jumping ahead, finishing his thought, whether correctly or not I can’t tell.

All of this, of course, is not accurately stated, because it has been translated and filtered through my mind. I wonder if it would not be the same if I met any of the people whose minds have touched mine in books – Rilke, or Whitehead (but no, I could not talk to him), V. Woolf (when I most admired her), L.H. Myers (for his preface to The Root and the Flower and Strange Glory), Thornton Wilder, for his Our Town. The man who wrote They Came Like Swallows. Victoria London for Jenny in February Hill. Perhaps my excitement comes because so rarely do I tap that world (my world – even if I am not a master in it – world of artistic vision). I have not yet found my circle, my friends, my nation. If this is true then “O brave new world, that has such people in ‘t!”…

We get ginger ale and milk and C. and he talk on what he wants to do in this country and see – planes, factories, etc. St.-Ex says he wants to see the Grand Canyon!

Then to bed, very tired. What a comfort is C.’s unspoken understanding. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

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And finally I will post excerpts from what is probably the most famous chapter of The Little Prince, the chapter where the prince meets the fox, and learns the most important lesson. I’ll post it in English – but then I’ss post it in French. I first read it in French in high school French class, and the English translation is just not as beautiful.

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Here is Chapter 21:

“Men,” said the fox. “They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?”
“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean– ‘tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”…
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
“Please– tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”
“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me– like that– in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”…
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–
“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.” And then he added:
“Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”…
And he went back to meet the fox.
“Goodbye,” he said.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose…”
“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

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Okay, so here comes the French!

Chapter XXI

-Les hommes, dit le renard, ils ont des fusils et ils chassent. C’est bien gênant! Il élèvent aussi des poules. C’est leur seul intérêt. Tu cherches des poules?

-Non, dit le petit prince. Je cherche des amis. Qu’est-ce que signifie “apprivoiser”?

-C’est une chose trop oubliée, dit le renard. Ça signifie “Créer des liens…”

-Créer des liens?

-Bien sûr, dit le renard. Tu n’es encore pour moi qu’un petit garçon tout semblable à cent mille petits garçons. Et je n’ai pas besoin de toi. Et tu n’a pas besoin de moi non plus. Je ne suis pour toi qu’un renard semblable à cent mille renards. Mais, si tu m’apprivoises, nous aurons besoin l’un de l’autre. Tu seras pour moi unique au monde. Je serai pour toi unique au monde…

Le renard se tut et regarda longtemps le petit prince :

-S’il te plaît…apprivoise-moi! dit-il.

-Je veux bien, répondit le petit prince, mais je n’ai pas beaucoup de temps. J’ai des amis à découvrir et beaucoup de choses à connaître.

-On ne connaît que les choses que l’on apprivoise, dit le renard. Les hommes n’ont plus le temps de rien connaître. Il achètent des choses toutes faites chez les marchands. Mais comme il n’existe point de marchands d’amis, les hommes n’ont plus d’amis. Si tu veux un ami, apprivoise-moi!

-Que faut-il faire? dit le petit prince.

-Il faut être très patient, répondit le renard. Tu t’assoiras d’abord un peu loin de moi, comme ça, dans l’herbe. Je te regarderai du coin de l’oeil et tu ne diras rien. Le langage est source de malentendus. Mais, chaque jour, tu pourras t’asseoir un peu plus près…

Ainsi le petit prince apprivoisa le renard. Et quand l’heure du départ fut proche :

-Ah! dit le renard…je pleurerai.

-C’est ta faute, dit le petit prince, je ne te souhaitais point de mal, mais tu as voulu que je t’apprivoise…

-Bien sûr, dit le renard.

-Mais tu vas pleurer! dit le petit prince.

-Bien sûr, dit le renard.

-Alors tu n’y gagnes rien!

-J’y gagne, dit le renard, à cause de la couleur du blé.

Puis il ajouta :

-Va revoir les roses. Tu comprendras que la tienne est unique au monde. Tu reviendras me dire adieu, et je te ferai cadeau d’un secret.

Le petit prince s’en fut revoir les roses.

-Vous n’êtes pas du tout semblables à ma rose, vous n’êtes rien encore, leur dit-il. Personne ne vous a apprivoisé et vous n’avez apprivoisé personne. Vous êtes comme était mon renard. Ce n’était qu’un renard semblable à cent mille autres. Mais j’en ai fait mon ami, et il est maintenant unique au monde.

Et il revint vers le renard :

-Adieu, dit-il…

-Adieu, dit le renard. Voici mon secret. Il est très simple : on ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

-L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux, répéta le petit prince, afin de se souvenir.

-C’est le temps que tu a perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante.

-C’est le temps que j’ai perdu pour ma rose…fit le petit prince, afin de se souvenir.

-Les hommes on oublié cette vérité, dit le renard. Mais tu ne dois pas l’oublier. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé. Tu es responsable de ta rose…

-Je suis responsable de ma rose…répéta le petit prince, afin de se souvenir.

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Voici mon secret. Il est tres simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

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R.I.P. Scotty Moore

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Elvis’ first guitarist, who played on all of those tracks at Sun, and then moving on to RCA with Elvis, and then moving on to Hollywood with him (Elvis was loyal), has died at the age of 84. Here is the Rolling Stone obituary.

Moore was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 as part of the inaugural class celebrating sidemen, a category that honored “those musicians who have spent their careers out of the spotlight, performing as backup musicians for major artists on recording sessions and in concert.”

A legend. He’s sitting there on that crowded stage in Elvis’ 1968 comeback special. He’s such a legend that guitar players from all over the world would make pilgrimages to see him, to talk with him, to play with him.

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Listen to Elvis’ first track, the track that shook the world, that started it all, and listen to what Scotty’s doing in the background. Elvis really couldn’t play the guitar. Scotty’s presence was essential.

After they recorded that song on July 5, 1954, Scotty remarked, “They’re gonna run us out of town for that one.”

Well, they didn’t.

Mark Knopfler, who – along with Eric Clapton, Albert Wood, and a couple of others – did a concert with Scotty Moore (one clip to follow), was interviewed about Scotty Moore.

Here’s a clip from that concert.

From Keith Richards’ great autobiography Life, on the first Elvis Sun tracks:

That Elvis LP had all the Sun stuff, with a couple of RCA jobs on it too. It was everything from “That’s All Right,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, “Milk Cow Blues Boogie.” I mean, for a guitar player, or a budding guitar player, heaven. But on the other hand, what the hell’s going on there? I might not have wanted to be Elvis, but I wasn’t so sure about Scotty Moore. Scotty Moore was my icon. He was Elvis’s guitar player on all the Sun Records stuff. He’s on “Mystery Train”, he’s on “Baby Let’s Play House”. Now I know the man, I’ve played with him. I know the band. But back then, just being able to get through “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone”, that was the epitome of guitar playing. And then “Mystery Train” and “Money Honey”. I’d have died and gone to heaven just to play like that. How the hell was that done? That’s the stuff I first brought to the johns at Sidcup, playing a borrowed f-hole archtop Höfner. That was before the music led me back into the roots of Elvis and Buddy – back to the blues.

To this day there’s a Scotty Moore lick I still can’t get down and he won’t tell me. Forty-nine years it’s eluded me. He claims he can’t remember the one I’m talking about. It’s not that he won’t show me; he says, “I don’t know which one you mean.” It’s on “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.” I think it’s in E major. He has a rundown when it hits the 5 chord, the B down to the A down to the E, which is like a yodeling sort of thing, which I’ve never been quite able to figure. It’s also on “Baby Let’s Play House.” When you get to “But don’t you be nobody’s fool / Now baby, come back, baby …” and right at that last line, the lick is in there. It’s probably some simple trick. But it goes too fast, and also there’s a bunch of notes involved: which finger moves and which one doesn’t? I’ve never heard anybody else pull it off. Creedence Clearwater got a version of this song down, but when it comes to that move, no. And Scotty’s a sly dog. He’s very dry. “Hey, youngster, you’ve got time to figure it out.” Every time I see him, it’s “Learnt that lick yet?”

RIP to Scotty Moore, one of the greatest sidemen of all time.

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On This Day, 1957: Jerry Lee Lewis Kicks That Stool Back

Jerry Lee Lewis made his TV debut on the Steve Allen Show. The performance is terrifying. Imagine tuning in in 1957 and seeing THAT come out of your screen. He’s an Old Testament speaking-in-tongues preacher, he’s a leering sex maniac, he’s a juke-joint boogie-woogie maestro. He controls that crowd, bringing them up, bringing them back down. He’s testifying in a muddy field under a tent. He’s hollering from a pulpit. He’s ordering everyone around. And they love it. When he stands up all of a sudden, pushing the stool behind him – it’s exhilarating but it still has the power to shock. I don’t care that we have more “license” to show more explicit stuff on television now. None of that can hold a candle to how shocking this still is. Because he MEANS IT.

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Gibson Girls Gone Wild

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Girls don’t just WANNA have fun. They already HAVE fun.

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Fonts in Space

It’s best not to provide a preamble to this marvelous post. It’s best to go into it cold, like I did. If you’re interested in fonts, well … it will be a post made in heaven. If you’re insanely observant about the smallest peripheral details in any given film (or in anything, really), you will be gratified to know that you are not alone. And make sure you read the comments, because it gets even better in there. This post has made my day and it’s not even 9 a.m. yet. It also made me laugh out loud. It’s my new favorite blog and there’s so much more to discover there.

Alien: Typeset in The Future

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The Girls, by Emma Cline

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Since I am the type of person (is there such a type) who created a Google alert for “Leslie van Houten” (so that I can have up-to-date information on her various parole hearings), the subject of The Girls: A Novel by Emma Cline was naturally of great interest. I approached the novel (Cline’s debut) with some trepidation. I know the subject so well and I have some proprietary feelings about it. (I have a similar thing with the current Hamilton mania. I’m not saying it makes sense. I’m just saying when you know something well, you feel you have at least a little bit of ownership over it since you put in all that time getting to know whatever subject it may be). I was also trepidatious because of the hype the book has been receiving (before it even came out. The hype even reached me and I don’t follow book news.) Any time a debut novel is hyped to this degree, I get suspicious. How good can it be… is generally my contrarian response. And often I’ve been right. But the times I’ve been wrong I’ve been REALLY wrong. Off the top of my head: Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End: A Novel, Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, Joanna Kavenna’s Inglorious: A Novel. These are the most recent examples of books that received a lot of press, pre-and -post publication, press that was actually a turn-off for me (especially in the case of Kushner). Like: tone it down a notch, people, for these first novels. A lot of the time I think things ARE over-praised but in the case of those three: the praise was more than justified. I was blown away by each of those books. So glad I “caved” to the hype and read them.

And I feel the same way about Cline’s novel which details a summer in the life of a 14-year-old girl in California in 1969, who finds herself somehow hanging out with a group of hippies – mostly women, plus a charismatic male leader at the center – who live out on an abandoned ranch. The narrator is captivated by the group dynamic, the freedom, and turns a blind eye (sometimes consciously) to the more disturbing things she sees. The hippies eventually, for complicated reasons, break into the house of a famous musician and kill everyone who is there.

If you know the Manson story inside and out, you will see where Cline borrowed from it (heavily) and you’ll see where Cline deviated (in some pretty important ways). The characters are eerily familiar (if you’ve read Helter Skelter, even down to Dennis Wilson, of The Beach Boys, who – briefly – got sucked into Manson’s web, drawn by the easy access to all of those available women out on the ranch). There’s a 1-to-1 connection in some cases: Suzanne = Susan Atkins. Donna = Patricia Krewinkle. Helen = Leslie van Houten. Roos = Mary Brunner. Russell = Manson. Guy = Tex Watson. The murder has been changed slightly, although there is a caretaker involved (just like there was at Cielo Drive), and a bunch of people who weren’t supposed to be there.

“Evie,” the narrator, is unhappy at home, but there’s nothing really awful going on. Her parents are separated, and both are dating again. Evie doesn’t like that. She’s being sent to boarding school in the fall. She’s stopped hanging out with her best friend. And one day she sees three girls floating through the park, girls who are filthy, in ragged dresses, but who exude a kind of ferocious and compelling power. Self-possessed, haughty, regal even, but also raunchy (one pulls down her dress to expose her breast, laughing), the girls are then seen digging through a dumpster for food, before being chased off the property and then picked up by a big black-painted bus, which roars off to parts unknown.

The way Cline writes about the effect that those “girls” have on Evie – and the way Cline writes about female interactions in general – is one of the main unforgettable qualities of the book. Cline understands what girls provide other girls. Cline understands that much of what is important in a girl’s life has to do not with getting reactions from boys, but reactions from other girls. Performing for your own gender. Checking out members of your own gender. Compare and contrast. Maybe it’s that the “male gaze” is so prominent, such a default, that women look at each other with the eyes of the “male gaze,” in an assessing way, almost like: “I’d tap that” or “Hell, no, I wouldn’t tap that.” In such a world, true friendship between girls is impossible. You can’t get past it. You’re performing for the men around you … and you’re performing amongst yourselves … both as a way to dominate, but also as a way to “present” to the watching males. Go visit a high school cafeteria. That’s half of what’s going on, at all times. Meanwhile, the boys drift by oblivious, having NO IDEA of the sheer amount of drama that they cause. And it’s not their fault that they’re oblivious. They’re LUCKY to be oblivious. So much of this rang true from my own high school days, where our various crushes were invested with so much power that our emotions floated around the earth in orbit, as opposed to having any connection with any version of reality.

Cline is very very good at capturing this dynamic, in striking prose that gets into your head. There’s a compelling line on almost every page, piercing observations tossed off with casual grace, but flourishing with verbal control. She’s a show-offy writer, and in her case it’s a compliment, since so much of it works so well. It’s attention-getting writing. Rachel Kushner’s is as well. Kushner is superior to Cline (and almost anyone else writing right now) because you don’t feel the “show off” in her writing at all. But still you wonder: HOW is she DOING this?? It’s a distinctive style. The Flamethrowers also involves a cult-like atmosphere (in the second half of the book, which takes place in a fracturing Italy in the 1970s), and also understands the detached and heartless quality so common in self-defined “revolutionaries.” Great book. Have I said that already? Read it. I appreciate Cline’s “attention-getting’ style in The Girls, especially in a world where so much prose sounds the same, where everyone comes out of MFA programs with the same style (one of the main strikes against such programs where a bunch of writers work together in a workshop setting: there becomes a “group” style that is accepted as the norm, and everyone critiqued to move into the same style). Cline finds adjectives and images that suit her story, increasingly hallucinatory, as though the whole thing is happening in a haze of smoke (as, indeed, the summer of 1969 must have felt like, especially in California).

The book is quite frightening, especially since it’s told basically in flashback, from a middle-aged Evie’s perspective, so the narrative is punctured with phrases like “I can see now that …” Or “This wouldn’t become clear until later …” It’s chilling, because it shows the fragility of youth, how vulnerable we are when we are teenagers to outside influences. Historically, cults have had the most success recruiting on college campuses, a time when teenagers are away from home for the first time, looking for structure and community. It’s sinister. Tory Christman, famous “defector” from Scientology and now one of its most vocal critics, says repeatedly in her Youtube messages: “You don’t join a cult. A cult finds you.” That’s what happens to Evie. She’s in the middle of a “lost” summer, in transition, with minimal parental involvement. It’s also the 1960s so parents didn’t hover over their kids. She’s growing apart from her best friend, she’s curious about sex and has no experience, she’s disturbed by her new view of her parents as silly and ineffective, and she’s about to go off to boarding school. In that in-between-moment, she is ripe for the plucking. And pluck her they do.

In a way, the deviations from the Manson story work well (and I think it would be offensive, actually, to do a re-creation of those horrible murders, and yet change the names. My reaction then would be: “Think up your own story!”) I’m not sure about Suzanne’s pushing Evie out of the car on that horrible night. Anyone who’s read it, I welcome discussing it. Because I’m torn. Maybe it’s just because I know too much about Susan Atkins. That’s probably it, and that’s probably unfair and I should be dealing with fictional Suzanne as opposed to the real-life woman who so clearly inspired her (so many of the details are identical). So I’m just not sure about that aspect of it, and almost feel like Cline cringed away from not only the implications of her own story, but its dark and intriguing possibilities. How far would Evie go in denying the awful-ness in order to stay part of the group? How does the mind-adjustment process work, what happens when critical thinking skills are turned off for good? Susan Atkins, who became a born-again Christian in prison (typical), was the most frightening of all of the girls (at the time, and now). When Sharon Tate begged for the life of her baby, Susan said, “Bitch, I don’t care anything about you” before stabbing Sharon in the stomach. At the trial, when shown a picture of Steven Parent, shot dead in the driveway, who “wasn’t supposed to be there,” and asked whether or not she recognized him, Susan said, “Yes. That is the thing I saw in the car.” Thing. Susan Atkins was a monster and I do not care – one bit – that she had an unhappy childhood. Plenty of people have unhappy childhoods and they don’t become what Susan became. There was something in Susan Atkins (or something lacking in Susan Atkins) that made her embrace murder with an enthusiasm and a passion that must have far surpassed Manson’s wildest dreams for the kind of power he wanted to wield. Emma Cline (to my eye, coming at it as I do with an insane amount of knowledge about all those girls) nails what it was about Susan Atkins that was 1. so appealing at the outset – so pretty, the baby-voice, the floating disconnected quality that seemed deep to those who knew her and 2. so incomprehensibly evil later. And calculatedly evil. At one point, Evie observes that there were times when Suzanne’s eyes became a “brick wall.” One of the really insightful aspects of the book is the difference between pot/LSD and speed/amphetamines. There’s a palpable shift at the ranch, once people start popping amphetamines, paranoia, edginess, hardness, and Cline nails those essential differences, so important to understanding the sheer delirium of the late 1960s.

Russell (i.e. Manson) is a predator, but also a charismatic guy who knows how to talk to these lost girls in a way that makes them feel special. Evie notes that he keeps saying her name in their first conversation (a brainwashing technique). He controls the group through sex and power, and all of them bend their body language towards him whenever he is present. Cline is very good on brainwashing, and how the ranch became the whole world … making the outside world seem not only incomprehensible but silly and dispensable. Within a couple of weeks, Evie is stealing for the group and breaking into a neighbor’s home to look for cash.

Except for one moment of violence, when Russell spontaneously slaps Helen across the face, Cline does not show his increasing paranoia and anger at the failed record deal (although she hears about it), nor is there evidence of Manson’s apocalyptic viewpoint, the stockpiling of guns and knives, the dream to blow up the world and hide out in the desert, the “Helter Skelter” of it all. Similar to Jim Jones, who isolated his followers in Guyana, and then bombarded them with end-of-the-world-and-end-of-us propaganda, in his lectures and “sermons” and over the loudspeakers. Without contact with the outside world, his followers relied only on him for information. Manson operated the same way, and increased the group’s fear that something Big was coming, and they were at the center of it, and they needed to do something Big to counter-act it (or start the confrontation in the first place.)

Evie is mostly a “guest” at the ranch, and so its maneuverings often happen behind the scenes. I am not sure that this works entirely. Because to me the really interesting question is, and it’s the eternal question: If Evie had seen more of the backstage story, more of Russell’s violent nature, the mania, the planning for a violent confrontation … would she have still stayed? When would the red flag have come for her? Would it ever come? In real-life, it came to some of the girls involved. There was, after all, a line they would not, could not, cross. After all of the penetrations of and obliterations of boundaries, there were some people there who finally said, “Nope. No can do, Charlie.” Many walked away and never came back. For Linda Kasabian, who became the witness for the prosecution, the moment came the night of the murders when she refused to participate. “I’m not a murderer,” she said. And – and this is very important – Manson did not punish her for it. So, Ms. Leslie Van Houten, your excuses don’t really ring true. You say everyone was in thrall to Charlie, you say Charlie manipulated everyone? You say you would have been punished if you didn’t obey Charlie? Then how do you explain Linda? Linda wasn’t punished. She refused to kill, and Manson shrugged it off. Didn’t even care. In her interview with Diane Sawyer, Leslie van Houten insisted that Sawyer couldn’t know what she would have done in the same situation, because Sawyer wasn’t there, she didn’t know Manson’s power. Leslie’s point was: Sawyer might have participated too because you just can’t know what you would have done in that same situation. Sawyer said, “I do know. I would not have killed anyone.” “But how can you know that?” “Leslie, I know.” And etc. Leslie van Houten is still avoiding personal responsibility. When you think of the example of Linda Kasabian, it is clear that Leslie/Patricia/Susan WANTED to kill someone, to prove their love for Charlie, to show just how much they didn’t give a shit about our world, to kill off their former selves forever, whatever. Linda Kasabian – to this day – lives in fear of holdout Manson-lovers and groupies coming for her to punish her for her “betrayal”. She is still in hiding. In her 2009 televised interview with Larry King (her first interview ever [Correction: Her first interview was in 1988 with Current Affair), she didn’t show her face.

To really get the level of what these women were capable of and their denial of personal responsibility (well, Leslie van Houten parrots all the right words, but I don’t buy it one bit): At one of Patricia Krenwinkle’s recent parole hearings, she was asked, “Who was most hurt by your actions?” Krenwinkle responded, “Myself.” I’m sure she thought that was a lovely and self-aware and Oprah-ish answer. But the parole board heard in that one word that still – after ALL THIS TIME – Patricia Krenwinkle, now an elderly woman, does not get it. She still does not understand what she has done. WRONG ANSWER, Krenwinkle, wrong answer. The person most hurt by your actions, you sociopath-liar, was Abigail Folger, whom you stabbed so many times that the cops who came across the body in the yard the next morning thought she was wearing a red nightgown. Thankfully, after that comment, her file was inked with yet another stamp: PAROLE DENIED.

There were so many who stayed, no matter WHAT Manson did. And some are devoted to him to this day. Squeaky Fromme. I wouldn’t trust Sandra Good as far as I can throw her. So what was that about? Cline’s book does not address that. Nor should it have to, I suppose, because the main appeal for Evie is “the girls,” as the title says. Particularly Suzanne. Suzanne is the main draw. When the other girls at the ranch hover at Russell’s feet, waiting for a touch, a glance, the grand honor of giving him a blowjob, whatever … Evie hovers at Suzanne’s feet. Breathless. Waiting. For approval, attention, inclusion.

And THAT element is what makes the book so unforgettable. How girls look at other girls. What girls will do to get the approval of other girls. How girls relate to one another when a man is present. What jealousy means between girls. What love means between girls. Cline’s conclusions are extremely disturbing.

It’s a book deserving of the hype. I read it in two days.

Posted in Books | 6 Comments

Happy birthday, poet Frank O’Hara

FrankOHara2

“Attention equals Life.” – poet Frank O’Hara

Sometimes I feel that I know everything I need to know about Frank O’Hara just from reading his work. A fascinating guy off the page, he’s still one of those people whose personality is so on the page that you feel like he is sitting in the room with you reciting his poem out loud when you read it. His voice is witty and deep and observant, his heart is drawn to tributes and celebrations, rather than sorrow and angst. Mitchell and I reference his poem about Lana Turner all the time, and can recite it from memory. One day, Mitchell did it for me as a dramatic monologue.

Poem
by Frank O’Hara

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

(Mitchell and I just recently referenced this poem when we discussed Joan Rivers.)

Frank O’Hara lived and worked in New York City in the 50s, perhaps its Golden Age, and New York clatters around his poems, sounds and sights, the sense of brightness, possibility, life, bustle. Nights in jazz clubs, days on 2nd Avenue, breakfast diners, and movie theatres. Frank O’Hara was not a native New Yorker, but like many transplants he loved the city and SAW the city in a way those born-and-raised did not. New York made him possible. O’Hara had been in the Navy, had been serious precocious youth (a bit of a prude too), he went to Harvard on the G.I. Bill. He found the atmosphere stifling, he met a couple of other artists there, and eventually moved to New York.

New York set him free. He found his “tribe”. His friends were painters, writers, dancers, musicians. Some were gay, some were not. Sexuality was less important in an artistic atmosphere. It took its proper place as just one aspect of his personality, as opposed to the defining thing. In New York, he could be free. He celebrated people. People valued his opinion and turned to him for advice. Just reading his poems, you feel like he was a wonderful person (and you don’t get that from a lot of poets). He got a job as a cashier at MoMA and eventually (which is incredible and speaks to his likability as well as his smarts and ambition) worked his way up to being a curator. Cashier to curator? He presented some very important shows at MoMA.

He died at 41 in a freak accident on Fire Island.

You can feel his voraciousness, his desire to live, his happiness to be alive, in his poems.

POEM

Light clarity avocado salad in the morning
after all the terrible things I do how amazing it is
to find forgiveness and love, not even forgiveness
since what is done is done and forgiveness isn’t love
and love is love nothing can ever go wrong
though things can get irritating boring and dispensable
(in the imagination) but not really for love
though a block away you feel distant the mere presence
changes everything like a chemical dropped on a paper
and all thoughts disappear in a strange quiet excitement
I am sure of nothing but his, intensified by breathing

O’Hara wrote:

Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don’t give a damn whether they eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete). Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to, if they don’t need poetry bully for them. I like the movies too. And after all, only Whitman and [Hart] Crane and [William Carlos] Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies.

Let’s hear that one again:

“Only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies.”

O’Hara loved other people’s work, celebrated other people’s work, and operated from a space of generosity. He was ambitious, but not ruthless or envious. However, if he had a problem with another poet’s work, he had no problem saying why. He had real issues with the Star of the Day, Robert Lowell. O’Hara wrote:

Lowell has … a confessional manner which [lets him] get away with things that are really just plain bad but you’re supposed to be interested because he’s supposed to be so upset … I don’t think that anyone has to get themselves to go and watch lovers in a parking lot necking in order to write a poem, and I don’t see why it’s admirable if they feel guilty about it. They should feel guilty.

Ha!

O’Hara wrote poems when he could. On his lunch break. At parties. He would forget where he put them. He would only have one copy. He died young, so after his death newly discovered poems started pouring in. He had given one to a friend, he had ripped out a page in his notebook and it was discovered somewhere. Poetry was part of the rhythm of his life. He was very conscious of what he was doing. He was extremely well read. He thought that while you were here on this planet, you might as well enjoy yourself. This is not a pose that is respected among poets and is one of the reasons why critics sometimes pooh-poohed him. They failed to see the seriousness behind what he was doing.

Michael Schmidt, in his Lives of the Poets, makes the interesting point:

His casual attitude to his poems tells us much about him and them: it’s not that he didn’t value them, but he didn’t worry much about them after they were written. He was not especially interested in a final permanent text … He preferred to work with galleries, as though the poems were entries in an exhibition catalog, an exhibition made of his daily life.

Why I Am Not a Painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mikes’ painting, called SARDINES.

Schmidt also writes, comparing O’Hara to the Beats, who were his contemporaries:

O’Hara begins with a rather witty, spoken simplicity, the poems in the language he used with his friends, wry, light, a little naughty, but without the scatalogical grittiness of the Beats. Ginsberg may have affected some of his poems, “Second Avenue” in particular, but while Ginsberg is always comfortably unwashed and hairy of face, O’Hara is cleanshaven and unobtrusive, keeping his own rather than everyone else’s counsel. There is a reticence about the man and the poems. In many ways he is closer to Whitman than Ginsberg ever gets; and to Lorca and Mayakovsky because he understands Futurism and Surrealism, and when his poetry surrealizes it is with a knowledge of what he wants the surreal to do for the poem. He doesn’t blunder and risk like Crane, or rant like Ginsberg. His poems are busy in the world; they haven’t the time to stand back and preach or invent monstrous forms. He is the most New York of the New York poets.

There’s something about Frank O’Hara’s poems, its listings of places and names and street intersections and automats and delis that remind me of Joseph Cornell’s work, and makes me wonder if they knew one another. (Post about Joseph Cornell here. They were in New York at the same time. Cornell never left New York, except for one trip as a kid to the Jersey Shore. Cornell stayed in Queens, took care of his brother who had cerebral palsy, and in his spare time, scoured the junk shops on Second Avenue for books and movie postcards and objects – all of which he used in making his magical boxes. Cornell’s boxes exude that entire landscape and era: movie palaces, museums, second-hand book stores, Edward Hopper’s lonely nights, the automats … it is 100% urban, and so is Frank O’Hara.

As an example of O’Hara at his best, here is a poem he wrote in 1964 about the day Billie Holiday died. (Mal Waldron, referenced in the poem, was Holiday’s pianist from 1957 until her death.)

The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
in Ghana are doing these days I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

frank&ashbery
Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery

Joan Acocella’s essay on Frank O’Hara, included in the wonderful collection Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints: Essays, is one of the best things I’ve read about him. She reviews a biography of O’Hara by Brad Gooch, one she does not appear to like all that much. As is often the case with biographies, Gooch does not seem to understand how to talk about “the work”. The work is secondary to the life, and that’s a real issue, especially with someone like O’Hara, whose life WAS his work. Because O’Hara died young, because he was gay, there is a lot of retrospective analysis going on. (“He knew he was going to die, he was a martyr to the cause”, etc.) However, as Acocella points out, O’Hara was not “gay enough” for Gooch, and Gooch scolds him for that. Oh, you silly biographers. O’Hara slept with women sometimes too, and Gooch labels this as “self-denial”, when maybe it was that O’Hara was the type of guy who loved sex and intimacy and loved women too, maybe his sexuality was fluid, Gooch, and also it was a different day and age, and why are you scolding the subject of your biography in the first place? O’Hara displayed attitudes that do not line up with contemporary thinking. He got annoyed by “queers” – etc. and Gooch doesn’t like that. Of course O’Hara doesn’t express himself in a late-20th century context because … duh … he lived in the 1940s and 50s, not now. Why does this even need to be said?

Acocella understands why the focus of the biography is ONLY on O’Hara’s sexuality. We are in a corrective atmosphere now, and that’s a good thing. For too long, for centuries, gay artists had to hide who they were, and now the pendulum has swung. But lets not scold O’Hara for not living up to Tumblr’s terms of engagement and language requirements! That is such a REDUCTION of him. He is an important mid-20th century American artist. His sexuality is part of what made his voice what it is. When he loved something (a person, a celebrity, a diner), he LOVED IT.

POEM
“A la recherche de Gertrude Stein”

When I am feeling depressed and anxious and sullen
all you have to do is take your clothes off
and all is wiped away revealing life’s tenderness
that we are flesh and breathe and are near us
as you are really as you are I become as I
really am alive and knowing vaguely what is
and what is important to me above the intrusions
of incident and accidental relationships
which have nothing to do with my life

when I am in your presence I feel life is strong
and will defeat all its enemies and all of mine
and all of yours and yours in you and mine in me
sick logic and feeble reasoning are cured
by the perfect symmetry of your arms and legs
spread out making an eternal circle together
creating a golden pillar beside the Atlantic
the faint line of hair dividing your torso
gives my mind rest and emotions their release
into the infinite air where since once we are
together we always will be in this life come what may

There is a sexiness to O’Hara’s rhythms, informed by his love of jazz and ballet. With all the chattiness, he has a great flowing lyricism, and great descriptive power. How much do I wish that I lived in Frank O’Hara’s New York! New York was O’Hara’s ultimate muse.

gay_1

O’Hara sounds like someone I would have liked to know. I can’t say that about too many poets. I love Milton too, but I don’t think, “Damn, I wish I could have hung out with him.”

At O’Hara’s funeral, one of his friends said that there were about 60 people there who introduced themselves as “Frank’s best friend.” And they meant it. Now that SAYS something. That says that this was a man who knew how to connect, he knew how to listen, to be there for people. He had a gift of friendship. Not everybody does.

Excerpts from Joan Acocella’s essay.

What [O’Hara] loved, he fostered. Important though he was as a curator and writer, he was probably more influential in the art world simply as a hand-holder, an encourager. He would look at his friends’ work and tell them what it was, and how wonderful it was. As Kenneth Koch described it to Gooch, “they’d have all these wonderful ideas and feelings about themselves, and they’d say ‘Duh’, and Frank would say, ‘Yes, you put that green there. T hat’s the first interesting thing that’s been done since Matisse’s Number 267.'” Larry Rivers and Grace Hartigan notably thrived under his encouragement, and so did others. Edwin Denby, though he was twenty-three years older, said that O’Hara was a catalyst for him. “But then,” Denby added, “he was everybody’s catalyst.”

Another:

And this amoral, almost animal quality of attentiveness gives to O’Hara’s sweetness a sturdier character. What might have been sentimentality becomes large-mindedness, zest – a capacity for interest and enjoyment that can still, across the space of decades, suck us back into the minds-on-fire spirit of those years.

Yes!

Frank-OHara-007

I’ll close with his haunting and beautiful poem “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island.” But first, Acocella has this to say about this poem:

In the doomed-poet drama that has been retrospectively read into O’Hara’s story, this poem [‘A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island’] has been taken as a premonition of death. But to me the most remarkable thing about it is O’Hara’s sense of blessedness, an emotion that surfaces again and again in his verse. Indeed, it is one of the things (“gay, glancing”) held against him by those who feel that he was not a serious person. This, in turn, has led some of his defenders to overstress the sadness – presumably a warranty of seriousness – that can sometimes be detected in his poetry. The light tread of his lyrics, Geoff Ward says, “is only a step away from the grave.” It is true that O’Hara had the Irish sense of life, but the note of grief would be far less persuasive if it were not accompanied, as it almost always is, by the keenest possible responsiveness to life’s goodness. Even at his most depressed, when his romance with Vincent Warren is falling apart, O’Hara is witty. (“I walk in / sit down and / face the frigidaire” – presumably Vincent.) When, on the other hand, that relationship is going well, even bad things seem good to him: “Even the stabbings are helping the population explosion.”

Boyfriends aside, he finds a thousand things to like. Ballet dancers fly through his verse. Taxi drivers tell him funny things. Zinka Milanov sings, the fountains splash. The city honks at him and he honks back. This willingness to be happy is one of the things for which O’Hara is most loved, and rightly so. It is a fundamental aspect of his moral life, and the motor of his poetry.

A True Account Of Talking To The Sun On Fire Island
The Sun woke me this morning loud
and clear, saying “Hey! I’ve been
trying to wake you up for fifteen
minutes. Don’t be so rude, you are
only the second poet I’ve ever chosen
to speak to personally

so why
aren’t you more attentive? If I could
burn you through the window I would
to wake you up. I can’t hang around
here all day.”

“Sorry, Sun, I stayed
up late last night talking to Hal.”

“When I woke up Mayakovsky he was
a lot more prompt” the Sun said
petulantly. “Most people are up
already waiting to see if I’m going
to put in an appearance.”

I tried
to apologize “I missed you yesterday.”
“That’s better” he said. “I didn’t
know you’d come out.” “You may be
wondering why I’ve come so close?”
“Yes” I said beginning to feel hot
wondering if maybe he wasn’t burning me
anyway.

“Frankly I wanted to tell you
I like your poetry. I see a lot
on my rounds and you’re okay. You may
not be the greatest thing on earth, but
you’re different. Now, I’ve heard some
say you’re crazy, they being excessively
calm themselves to my mind, and other
crazy poets think that you’re a boring
reactionary. Not me.

Just keep on
like I do and pay no attention. You’ll
find that people always will complain
about the atmosphere, either too hot
or too cold too bright or too dark, days
too short or too long.

If you don’t appear
at all one day they think you’re lazy
or dead. Just keep right on, I like it.

And don’t worry about your lineage
poetic or natural. The Sun shines on
the jungle, you know, on the tundra
the sea, the ghetto. Wherever you were
I knew it and saw you moving. I was waiting
for you to get to work.

And now that you
are making your own days, so to speak,
even if no one reads you but me
you won’t be depressed. Not
everyone can look up, even at me. It
hurts their eyes.”
“Oh Sun, I’m so grateful to you!”

“Thanks and remember I’m watching. It’s
easier for me to speak to you out
here. I don’t have to slide down
between buildings to get your ear.
I know you love Manhattan, but
you ought to look up more often.

And
always embrace things, people earth
sky stars, as I do, freely and with
the appropriate sense of space. That
is your inclination, known in the heavens
and you should follow it to hell, if
necessary, which I doubt.

Maybe we’ll
speak again in Africa, of which I too
am specially fond. Go back to sleep now
Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem
in that brain of yours as my farewell.”

“Sun, don’t go!” I was awake
at last. “No, go I must, they’re calling
me.”
“Who are they?”

Rising he said “Some
day you’ll know. They’re calling to you
too.” Darkly he rose, and then I slept.

Posted in On This Day, writers | Tagged , | 7 Comments

“You just have to make plans for when the dreams die.” Stephen Colbert to Eminem on cable access show

How have I never seen this before. How have I never seen this interview between Stephen Colbert and Eminem before? Stephen Colbert hosted a public access show in Michigan called “Only in Monroe.” He interviewed the hosts. He did some news-y items. And then he introduces “a local Michigander who is making a name for himself in the competitive world of music.” And there is Eminem, slumped in his chair. Colbert does his schtick, and pretends that he has no idea who Eminem is or really what rap is all about. Colbert is earnest, and fatherly (even though he is only 10 years older than Eminem), urging Eminem to set up a retirement fund in case rap doesn’t work out for him. Eminem plays along (but he’s an amazing actor and so it looks totally real) – he’s totally confused, trying not to say “Do you know who I am?” and trying to be polite about it. It’s like he’s trying to be nice to this totally clueless public-access TV host. The whole thing is DEADPAN as hell (reminds me of the faux interview with Eminem that starts off The Interview. At one point, Colbert asks Eminem if he is inspired by Bob Seger, another Michigander. Because yeah, when you think of Eminem, you think of Bob Seger. Colbert then starts to list all of Seger’s songs, singing brief snippets of them, and of course Eminem knows most of them, but hearing Colbert shrieking “Kathmandu” at Marshall Mathers is the most bizarre thing I’ve seen all … Ever?

The whole “Feat” thing. “Have you ‘Feat’-ed for anyone?”

“You seem a little angry.”

“I’m so frightened,” says Eminem, off-screen.

“Do you do hot yoga?”

“I’m starting a new project in the fall and I’d like to be ‘phenom-ee-NAL’…” Colbert, keeps imitating Eminem’s pronunciation in the song, and I’m dying.

And then the two of them read community announcements at the end (unfortunately not included in this clip).

This is some surreal deadpan performance-art, I’ll tell you that.

Posted in Music, Television | Tagged | 2 Comments