The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘music’

In Tangier with a Beetle and a Tape Recorder, and Other News

March 31, 2016 | by

Paul Bowles in Morocco, ca. 1970.

  • Imre Kertész, a Holocaust survivor whose novels won him the Nobel Prize, died this morning at eighty-six. “I was able use my own life to study how somebody can survive this particularly cruel brand of totalitarianism,” he told The Paris Review in 2013. “I didn’t want to commit suicide, but then I didn’t want to become a writer either—at least not initially. I rejected that idea for a long time, but then I realized that I would have to write, write about the astonishment and the dismay of the witness—Is that what you are going to do to us? How could we survive something like this, and understand it, too?”
  • Olivia Laing’s book The Lonely City takes David Wojnarowicz as one of its subjects. With Rebecca Mead, she looked at some of his early work: “The other day, Laing was in New York, and she stopped by the Fales Library, at N.Y.U., where Wojnarowicz’s archive is kept: photographs, diaries, recordings, and an orange crate crammed with odds and ends which he called his ‘Magic Box.’ ‘It feels like his work has this capacity for resisting all those silencings and false histories,’ Laing said, as she opened a folder containing an early series, ‘Arthur Rimbaud in New York.’ The photographs, taken by Wojnarowicz in the late seventies, show a figure wearing a mask of the French poet’s face while riding the subway, masturbating in bed, wandering the decrepit Hudson River piers. ‘I can’t think of another artist who works in that same way—the more that attempts at silencing happen, the more potent they become,’ she said.”
  • In 1947, Paul Bowles moved to Tangier and began writing The Sheltering Sky. Ten years later, he returned to the city to make field recordings of its vibrant music, now reissued as The Music of Morocco: “As Bowles saw it, Morocco’s sounds were forms of experience that had yet to be contaminated by Western influence … Bowles set off on his first recording expedition in mid-July 1959 in a Volkswagen Beetle that belonged to a Canadian expatriate friend, Christopher Wanklyn. He was forty-eight years old … Over the next five months, they took four separate trips—covering a distance Bowles estimated at 25,000 miles—returning to Tangier for a few days after each journey so that Bowles could check in on his wife, who was ill. Bowles recorded 250 pieces of music, in twenty-two separate locations, with an unwieldy twenty-eight-pound Ampex 601 tape recorder.”
  • In midcentury Britain, where it was officially illegal to be gay, a secret language called Polari emerged as a means of clandestine communication: “Polari is a language of, in linguistic professor Paul Baker’s words, ‘fast put-downs, ironic self-parody and theatrical exaggeration.’ Its vocabulary is derived from a mishmash of Italian, Romani, Yiddish, Cockney rhyming slang, backslang—as in riah to mean ‘hair’—and cant, a language used by eighteenth-century traveling performers, criminals, and carnival workers. Many of the words are sexual, anatomical, or euphemisms for police … During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the language was used by merchant seafarers and people who frequented the pubs around London’s docks. In the 1930s it was spoken among the theater types of the West End, from which it crossed over to the city’s gay pubs, gaining its status as the secret language of gay men.”
  • If you like your dead languages a little older, try Etruscan. Though few examples of it survive, archaeologists have just unearthed a five-hundred-pound slab of sandstone with seventy legible letters and punctuation marks—so things are about to get easier for the novice speakers. “Researchers with the University of Florence will be examining and conserving the sixth-century BCE stone … Being that it was found at a temple, salvaged for its foundation some 2,500 years ago, it’s likely the writing may relate to religion, potentially filling in gaps in historic knowledge of Etruscan practices … Deciphering Etruscan can still be difficult, as no literature or major written work still exists, and although it shares characteristics with the Greek alphabet, it was distinct.”

Worst. Kid. Song. Ever.

March 28, 2016 | by

The other day, my husband and I were talking about putting together a playlist for our nieces: a list of empowering, kid-appropriate songs in which women were treated with respect. We had fun thinking of titles: Aretha and All Hail the Queen and plenty of Dolly, for sure. But also Belle and Sebastian and sixties Brit pop. I started a Spotify station based on “I’m Into Something Good” because I’ve always thought the lines “So I asked to see her again / And she told me I could” were sweet.

And then, from this place of idealism, came perhaps the most inappropriate song to place on a little girl’s playlist ever written. 1964’s “Little Children,” which was a number-one UK hit for Billy Jay Kramer and went on to chart at number seven Stateside. Read More »

Branded Man

March 23, 2016 | by

The long tradition of outlaw poets.

From the cover of Merle Haggard’s Branded Man, 1967.

Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on Austin Reed’s The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict, here.

Early in the first volume of Panegyric—the bad-tempered, ironically self-deprecating eulogy he wrote for himself in the late eighties­—Guy Debord sang the praises of a kind of writer he knew he could never become. “There have always been artists and poets capable of living in violence,” he wrote. “The impatient Marlowe died, knife in hand, arguing over a tavern bill.” Five hundred years earlier, in the picture Debord goes on to imagine, the medieval poet François Villon presided over a cluster of writers who lived raggedly and riskily at the banks of the Seine. These were outlaw poets, “devotees of the dangerous life”­—starved, browbeaten figures for whom pariahdom, persecution, imprisonment and homelessness were both facts of life and the materials out of which they made their art.

Outlaw poets are what certain prison writers become when their term is up—when they’ve been let loose into a world that spurns them and whose values they reject. In some cases, the poetry they write from this position turns out bitter, sour, and defiantly indigestible, full of lines that dare their civilized, comfortable readers to tolerate rude language, unhinged imagery, and wild variations in refinement and shape. In others, it comes off as a seductive, pining lament, a plea for pardon or a performance of rueful self-blame. Some of the great outlaw poets shuffle unpredictably between these two tones. “I’d like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am,” Merle Haggard sang in 1967, less than a decade after the end of his two-year term in San Quentin: “but they won’t let my secret go untold; / I paid the debt I owed ’em, / but they’re still not satisfied; / Now I’m a branded man / out in the cold.” He could write an equally convincing song that placed the fault on precisely the opposite side: “Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied; / that leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried.” Read More »

Automaton

March 18, 2016 | by

Paris’s Musée des Arts and Métiers, which reopened in 2000, is an age-of-reason triumph—it’s even on the site of an old priory. Devoted to inventions of all kinds, it’s divided into sections like Materials, Energy, Mechanics, Construction, and Scientific Instruments. It’s an interesting place, but it is not the best place to see the famed automaton of Marie Antoinette, playing the dulcimer. Read More »

You Can Still Hear It

March 14, 2016 | by

George Martin, 1926–2016.

In the summer of 1971, I got a lift to Marblehead, Massachusetts, to audition for George Martin. It wasn’t my idea. I wasn’t ready; musically I was barely ambulatory, but my friend Dick Shapiro had dropped out of school a few months earlier and landed a gig with a mobile recording service who’d set up shop in an old house on the Cape to record Seatrain. George Martin was producing, and had agreed to see me. 

When Martin walked in, he filled the room. He was trim and neatly pressed, gracious, with just a hint of malice behind his poise, like an assistant principal making a surprise visit to the classroom. I got the sense that he’d rather be sharpening pencils. Read More »

Staff Picks: Deadened Hues, Deer Boys, Dullard Fiancés

March 11, 2016 | by

From The Electric Pencil.

I spent this week madly reading Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear, not wanting to put it down until I’d finished. The novel concerns the search for Beatriz Yagoda, a Brazilian novelist who was last seen climbing into an almond tree with a suitcase, but of course it’s really about the characters who take up the pursuit: Yagoda’s two adult children, her bygone publisher, and her ardent American translator. The translator, Emma, runs to the aid of her missing author (“as if there weren’t anyone as reliable in a kidnapping as a devoted translator”), while also running away from her stale life and dullard fiancé in Pittsburgh. Yet even in Brazil, amid the excitement and chaos, she finds herself existing on the margins of a story in which she is also a central actor, returning again and again to the solace and structure of her author’s invented worlds: “And wasn’t the splendor of translation this very thing … To arrive, at least once, at a moment this intimate and singular, which would not be possible without these words arranged in this order on this page?” —Nicole Rudick

“Your book hurts me,” writes Julio Cortázar to Alejandra Pizarnick in the letter that opens her final collection of poems, A Musical Hell. The slender compilation, published before Pizarnik’s suicide in 1972 and translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert as part of the New Directions Poetry Pamphlet series, had escaped me until last weekend, when I found it nestled on the shelf of my local bookshop. Saddle stitched and no more than sixty-four pages long, it’s an intimate coup d’oeil of a mind tormented by depression, paranoia, and genius. In it, Pizarnik breathes a sort of hushed devastation into every verse, believing, as she once said, that “to write is to give meaning to suffering.” Her poems are at once gentle and macabre, with tremors of madness and nightmarish whimsy: Pizarnik writes of the nuns that nip like crows between her legs, she makes a list of all that dead lovers leave behind, she talks of suicide as beautiful. Hers is an indelible art, one I’ll revel in for a while. From “Mortal Ties”: “That savage room was made up in the deadened hues of repressed desire; its light was the color of a mausoleum for infants.” (NB: a new collection of Pizarnik’s poetry will appear this month.) —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »