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Days of Future Posts Mid-February Edition
Several potential posts I'm working on, which you may see or may never see.

1. A point-counterpoint of the extremes in my attitude towards politics. 10 items in all, plus further musings and slip-slidings. For a taste, here are numbers 1 and 2.

Odd number. (1) Politics is a social space that allows for people to say things that are more stupid and destructive than what they allow themselves to say in almost all other spaces.

Even number. (2) Politics is a means by which the most vulnerable and targeted people in society can organize to defend themselves and gain some social power. (Obviously, it's also the means by which other people can target and rip off the most vulnerable. Those vulnerable people themselves can't actually organize and defend each other unless they gain allies and advocates among the less vulnerable. In fact, it's these latter who do most of the organizing and defending.)
2. Kind of bouncing off this first post, my psychologically creating the conditions under which I might actually engage in politics per se.

(1) Don't assume we have to dumb ourselves down to (a) sway voters, (b) pressure our enemies, (c) get along with our allies.

So, let's say, as a working premise, that we can and should speak and act honestly and thoughtfully, and if colleagues claim that strategy and tactics demand we don't, the burden of proof should be on them. Don't fall for tones of voice that sound "realistic" and "knowing."

This argument is with myself as much as it's with the world.

(2) Joy. There needs to be joy and satisfaction not just in the outcome and the sense of trying to do the right thing (neither of these joys being very available e.g. when we're losing or when we're flailing and confused); there needs to be joy in the doing, joy every day or at least every week. This reverts back to the previous point. The joy of thinking, the joy of discovery: these are always available if we want them and for me they're necessities, not luxuries. But also, for me, they ultimately — thinking, discovering — need a community. This isn't just because ideas get better when discussed and argued over. For me, ideas need to be shared or the whole process rots. Maybe that's because, in my head, the audience I imagine for my words is even worse than the one that's actually out there. Nonetheless, out there there's obviously a malfunction, a train wreck, a breakdown...
3. For a brief period, mid 1977 to mid 1978, I was writing poetry. I'd barely ever read the stuff, barely read anyone's poetry, not counting Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, and not counting song lyrics (the latter being a pretty sizable amount of "not counting") — to the extent of knowing traditions of poetry were there but barely knowing what they were. I approached the enterprise with alienation and adventure: this was someone else's dinner table, but I could somehow leap the process, start in the neighborhood of my own rocks and foothills. I was using as my workbook Kenneth Koch's books on teaching the writing of poetry to kids and old agers (Wishes, Lies, And Dreams and Rose Where Did You Get That Red and I Never Told Anybody). I worked hard at not falling into being "writerly" or "poetic." —Harold Bloom and Mark Sinker to thread, but note that poetry and poets definitely weren't my touchstones: this came at a time when I was running away from my music obsession, and trying to evade my calling as a critic. I emphatically did find my poetic voice, one like no other. And then I stopped. More accurately, music called, and songs, and criticism, "poetry" somehow briefly installed on the path.

4. Bob Dylan really did deserve that Nobel prize, but there's a point-counterpoint here, too. The first point is that if the Nobel people really did want to open the floodgates to American song, allow for songs to come rushing in, Dylan is a gutless choice, the songwriter who's the anomaly with the billboard sign "A Poet, Not Just A Songwriter" rising up to the sky above him. Whereas the true obvious worthy recipient, the living master and genius who nonetheless doesn't safely push the Respectability button or the High Art And Literature button, is Chuck Berry. And once you've got Chuck you've opened those gates to everybody from field hollers and nursery rhymes to Brill Building to Jay-Z, hicks and hacks and streetcorners, truly breaching the cellophane that separates low and high and medium.

But the counterpoint here is that if you take songwriting for granted, and the breach as long done, Chuck is a rather staid choice, obvious indeed as an accepted classic — whereas Dylan is the danger guy still,* the one who explodes everything, simply wipes out the limitations of what you can do with words, draws on everyone and invites you to overthrow them all, no limitations on ambition, yet try it yourself and you're more likely to blow off your own hands than to produce much of value.

And then, this not on the subject of whether or not he's prizeworthy, we need to take account of the content of a lot of those exploding words. Dylan as much as Lou and Iggy (not to mention the more decorous Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon) effectively inserts into popular song the idea of self-destruction as a form of social protest. If you put together my critiques in "The Autobiography Of Bob Dylan"** and my "PBS" essays in the first two issues of Why Music Sucks, what you get is that we — indie-alternative, the supposed underground, the rock critics, our set of Musical Marginal Intellectuals — let self-destruction stand in the place of social analysis. Or let it validate the social analysis, let it make the analysis feel real whether or not the analysis was actually any good. And of course this applies in spades to the Academic Left. (This isn't Dylan's fault, it's in our culture without Dylan anyway, and I wouldn't say that you should think of self-destruction as the main legacy or message of Dylan, what the guy's about in full, and of course he pushes against the self-destruction too — he's an overload of messages, that's a feature — just there's this whole extolled "poet" thing that manages to sidestep huge hunks of what the poetry actually says and does.)

*I mean, I don't think of what he's doing now in the 2000s as danger-guy stuff (though maybe if I knew it better I would). 1965 and 1966 are the key danger-guy years, and they're still there, as it were — still here — haven't been assimilated.

**And here (or here if Google books switches up as it sometimes does and makes the other two go blank).

This entry was originally posted at Comments still welcome here, there, and anywhere.

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Noticed a brother and sister sitting by the window at the Whole Foods coffee shop. So, I'm imagining the lives of brothers and sisters. Saw a couple of them on the way here, on the 20 bus: first, a woman, a dish (in the old parlance), me wondering if she knew my eyes were on her as she walked down the aisle. Then, getting on the bus right after her, was a 13-year-old boy, short and wiry. Were they together? She sat on the side seats near the back, put her tush on one and her feet up on the one next to it, half-lounging and half-enclosed, hugging her knees as the kid followed her to the back and sat next to her. I realized she was a teenager herself, even though she looked really full, like a woman in her twenties. I decided, "brother and sister," rather than "tough girl and little squirt." So there they were: people.

I remember that back in my poetry year I was picking up a variety of different poetry anthologies, not just Frank O'Hara and the New York School. There was one of "Young Poets," most of it was pale and fatuous, one poet writing about listening to "his friend Bob Dylan" on the record player, Bob Dylan being his friend on the record player. That made it into one of my poems as the line, "Nor does my friend zero on the record player." Zero was from this little squirt of a friend of Lester Bangs. Bangs had said, deeply, in some intellectual way, that he didn't want to be anyone's hero, inspiring the kid to start singing, "Don't wanna be a hero, wanna be a zero" at him. My zero on the record player. I was pushing forth words and phrases as jabs and abrasives, as scouring brushes, each phrase trying to erase the one that preceded it. A poem ended, "Since I agree with you completely there's nothing to say." So, the end, and maybe that was the last good poem I wrote before "poetry" stopped being a goal, before song fragments reappeared. Twelve years later I wrote a stanza's worth of doggerel as the opening of a long, noisy and searching and sand-sifting piece of criticism, The Disco Tex Essay, the poem's title being "Munich Beer Hall Pooch." "He tried to be famous/And he tried to be blameless/But he couldn't do both at once/Woof woof woof." Hero and zero as the only two choices, and the land where actual humans live and get on buses with their sex-bomb babes who turn out not to be bombs but just someone's sister hugging her knees, this land was all left blank, the land between hero and zero where we actually live.

Then a sheet of words spit forth, prose, from the uncertain middle.

Edited at 2017-02-25 01:56 pm (UTC)

Down the halls and into the street

Chuck Berry, October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017

How simple and natural it sounds, how hard to do. Another future post, I hope.

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