Remember last week and all that great weather and trips to the park? This week began in rain (and ended in rain) and a broken foot for our youngest who was just getting the hang of sliding down the “fire pole” by herself. She’s in a cast and a Franken-boot since it’s more dangerous for little ones to have crutches. I assume more dangerous to herself, but I have a feeling if she had crutches, we would be treating her older sister for a concussion or worse. We know she’s been in pain and sometimes it catches up to her, but overall she’s been so good about everything, despite what I titled this entry.

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It’s quite difficult to work with and respond to canonical texts without having the older work overtake the new one. Brown shows masterful control here. Where there are resonances with the Bible, the language never takes control of Brown’s own. He’s writing contemporary poetry rich in its own melody, yet rich in historical overtones.

I’m taking a break from the grind of the submission process, and to some degree a break from poetry writing itself. I’ve naturally fallen into nonfiction–it’s what I started writing back in sixth grade. And music is now taking up some of that time I used for writing and submitting. One of the benefits of this break is taking the time to read many of the contemporary poets I’ve been wanting to read. Brown’s name has come up a lot recently.

 

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I think this may have been the first time I watched Man with a Movie Camera (1929) as a whole. Anyone with an interest in film or film theory has likely seen images from it (like the Odessa steps sequence of Eisenstein). This is a fantastic film built on a montage of daily life and the creation of film itself. The “man” of the title is often filmed by another man with a camera. I watched this in relation to Peeping Tom (1960), another self-reflexive film that I’m writing about for my next Test Prep essay.

 

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One of my favorite movies is Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), so it’s strange that I somehow missed Escape from New York (1981). Overall, it’s a well-done popcorn movie. I liked the images of the city, blacked-out, skyscrapers green and hulking and empty. I also liked the palette for many of the night scenes: high contrast red and greens or cool blues (and grays and tans? if I remember correctly) played against the darkness (and Carpenter’s score).

Anyway, I’ve never noticed Carpenter use so many focus pulls.

Frank Doubleday’s creepy, oddball performance as “Romero” just about steals the whole movie, which is saying a lot for a film rife with scene stealers.

This week I’ve been listening to Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op. 1. It was his first published composition, but his only sonata. Berg wrote this as a student of Schoenberg, who developed the most lasting version of twelve-tone composition we have. I love the coloring of these chords and how within this context dissonance and consonance–or rather a traditional notion of these ideas–gets altered. I’m going to listen and pick through the score some, just to gain some understanding of what’s going on, though for the moment, staring at something like this:

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seems way beyond my comprehension at the moment.

Anyway, I’ve mostly listened to Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recording of it, but I plan on listening through some other performances to hear how different players approach a work like this. Glenn Gould has also recorded it, so I’m interested to see how his compares to others. I really hated his Bach recordings for years, but they’ve grown on me.

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I’ve been working on the first Bach cello suite and had an insight that I’m almost embarrassed to admit. Maybe I will when I have the piece under my fingers again.

For sightreading practice I’m playing some of Haydn’s E Flat string quartet (No. 31) and playing the cello part on electric bass.

And for workouts this week I’ve been revisiting:
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Metallica’s music never made me interested in playing guitar, but Megadeth, especially Rust in Peaceinspired me to try more guitar playing. Great riffs and solos. A friend’s dad once described Mustaine’s vocals as like “a little, green head yellin’ at me.” Sure, some of that’s cringy–but Mustaine takes on characters at times, which was kind of a risk in thrash. I forgot how funny some of the lyrics were (“Immense in my girth, erect I stand tall” –C-mon, it’s about a missile!–“Launch the Polaris! The end doesn’t scare us!”). I remember enjoying the references to Roswell and general dystopian theme of this record.

I’m also trying to redevelop the walking bass chops I once had. I’ve also discovered some Paul Chambers isolated bass tracks, which I’m excited to learn from as well.

If I can ever get these essays graded.

We’ve had great weather here, so when the kids get home we’ve been going to the park. I miss when the geese would waddle around us. Now there’s just screeching trees, but at least the insects and the heat haven’t taken over…yet. Mostly it’s just Spider-Man jumps and running around the playground. My oldest likes to run at least two laps before playtime and two after. She is the only runner in the family, even her competitive younger sister watches and says, “Let me hold the clock!”

I wrote a whole page on bassist Bakithi Kumalo that I ended up editing out of my latest post on Lost Chords & Serenades Divine. I’ve been researching a variety of African rock and pop styles, partially out of general interest and partially for bass playing inspiration. The one personal positive outcome from our flood has been my rediscovery of bass playing.

In true reanimated fashion, I published an essay I wrote on zombies over a decade ago for Test Prep to go with their episode on Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Mother! (2017). George Romero remains an inspiration.

 

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I’m always reading a book of poetry, but that may mean reading only a poem or two a day. I had enjoyed a few of Smith’s poems in various publications, and I admired not only the individual lines and poems, but also the organization of Life on Mars. Smith weaves several topics together, grief, the death of a father, David Bowie, etc. What struck me was how Modernist the book was, while being contemporary. I don’t know much about Smith, but there was this echo of style and device of Eliot and Pound and Yeats, but not mimicry. The multiple dimensional use of Bowie as a reference reminded me of Pound’s use of references. After Silverstein, Hughes, Poe, and Dickinson, the Modern poets, for better or worse, were my first real poetry obsessions. I knew poetry would be a part of my life after reading them.

 

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So this came with my Audible account I started two years ago. I enjoyed Krakauer’s Into the Wild, but I thought this was the Mt. Everest book, which only sort of interests me. I didn’t have any credits left and didn’t want to spend any more money on books, so I decided to listen to it since it was free. Wow. This isn’t the Everest book. This is the Mormon murder book. If you’ve listened to the podcast, you know that I’ve been studying religion and religious texts informally for over a decade. I hadn’t done much work on Mormonism, fundamental or otherwise, though I’ve had pleasant conversations with Mormon missionaries.

It’s a mix of Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Seriously.

 

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Moby Dick is one of my favorite novels, and when I heard that there was a metal record based on it (to some degree), it cracked me up. Someone tried to get me to listen to it once, but I just wasn’t interested in hearing metal at the time. Time’s change. Mastodon’s Leviathan (2004) has been cued up several times this week and I think it’s a blast. I’ve previewed a few of their other albums and none of them have caught my ear yet.

 

I generally don’t write about stuff I don’t like. It just doesn’t seem useful. Sometimes work is just not for me at a specific time (see above paragraph) or simply not for me. That’s ok. I may personally analyze something that I don’t think works in order to learn from it. Anyway, this particular week brought me two unexpected cases.

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I’ve been reading Clowes since he was in Cracked. I’m wondering if I missed something with this one. It felt like a chore getting though it sometimes and I’ve never had that experience with his work (though I recently attempted a viewing of the Ghost World adaptation–a movie I liked when it was released–and found it unwatchable). There were interesting nods to other cartoonists’ styles, like the time dimensions would be characters visiting different strips or universes drawn by a different author. Any other Clowes fans have the same reaction?

 

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I had only heard good things about Diner (1982). While there are some sparkling performances here, I felt like Kevin Bacon’s character most of the time: I either wanted to drink or punch windows or both. I don’t think that was what I was supposed to get from it. I much prefer the Baltimore of John Waters.

The best thing about the week was going to see some of my oldest daughter’s work in a children’s art show at a small local museum. The youngest would wake up every morning and yell, “We’re going to the art show!” and we’d have to explain when it was. We walked around the museum and the town and got to have dinner at a little place together. The rest of the week wasn’t as soothing.

This is always a busy time at school. We’re doing new material and reviewing for exams. It always seems like we have a lot due at the same time and a lot of absences from field trips and sports. Then our state just dropped a giant standardized test on us that we have to do in May. So I need to research that in order to make sure my students know what to expect.

Along with that, we finally had our clothes and linens delivered from the flood. We’re in the process of going through that and we found out that part of the claim had to be fixed. This process has affected us for two months and counting…

With all this, my writing schedule had to be adjusted, but I’m still working. I should have a piece on Oumou Sangeré’s new record up this week and I’m revisiting an older essay on zombies for a Terror Test viewing of Night of the Living Dead (1968), one of my favorite movies. I was Romero- and zombie-obsessed for a good part of my pre-teen and teen years.

 

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I had been recommended Locke and Key several times and either I bought something else or the library didn’t have the first volume. I’ve now read the first two volumes and really loved them. This is the first longer work that I’ve read by Hill, too. What I particularly like about the series is that it is obviously horror–it goes for scares, it goes for creepiness, it goes for gore–unapologetically. But with that it also works on developing characters, which horror doesn’t always do well. In some ways, it’s like Tales from the Crypt (each key is would almost be like a story in one of the anthologies) but with character development.

 

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I loved the structure of this book. It’s Daniel Clowes working in a page-length gag strip format, while telling a longer narrative that spans maybe a couple of decades. Kind of a sardonic For Better or Worse fronted by–I don’t know–calling him a misanthrope seems kind. It cracked me up, yet it still manages to evoke poignancy, and, somehow, even empathy.

 

I’ve been spending more time listening and playing music, which as I’ve mentioned before hasn’t happened in years.

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Carcass: Symphonies of Sickness (1989)
I hadn’t listened to Carcass in ages. I’ve heard them called all kinds of genres: grind core, hardcore, death metal, burp metal, whatever. I find it strange that I can’t remember any of this material musically (I don’t remember any melodies, riffs, anything–then again “Ruptured in Purulence” has some sweet riffs), but I still like it. One of the early pioneers of death metal. I need to find my copy of Napalm Death’s Scum.

 

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Paul Simon: Graceland (1986)
I was writing about the bassist on this record, Bakithi Kumalo, and decided to give it a listen. I hadn’t heard this record in decades. I’ve never heard a Simon and Garfunkel album and I’ve only listened to two or three Simon solo efforts, but this record was the first one I consciously remember listening to for the bass playing. It’s still one of my favorite bass performances, particularly in pop music.

 

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Henry Kaiser / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter: Plane Crash (2009)
Spectacular free improv set by three monsters. Oddly, though he’s the most well-known, I’ve heard the fewest recordings of Kaiser’s and this one made me realize that he’s likely a fan of Davey Williams, a great Birmingham guitarist.

Black Sabbath recordings have been a balm to my soul lately.

Our just-turned-four-year-old makes dinner a full contact event. We quit trying to play into her attempts at doing anything but eating, so we just hope that she eats a few forkfuls of something. Every now and then she eats a whole dinner or just ignores it.

This week I had asked her to eat a few times and she just wasn’t interested. We have leftover Easter candy and she and her sister get a little bit for dessert if they eat their meals. Evidently, I enforce Draconian dining rules.

At the point we figured she just wasn’t going to eat, she decided to distract us. “I’m going to draw a picture of the family. First, I’m going to draw Daddy, who doesn’t listen…he looks like a crazy old lady with lasagna on his nose.”

Bravo.

…..

One nostril seemed to go into some sort of allergic shock while I was administering the ACT exam. Half an allergy. I don’t know. It quit after 48 hours.

Meanwhile, the four-year-old reminds me every day that it’s ok to step on the pine catkins because they aren’t worms.

That explains some of the nightmares….

…..

Driving through fog and from a wedding reception, the children got into an argument that devolved into tears and shouts. The argument was about whether or not “Starlight” was a good name for the vacuum. I told them they had to stop. They went to sleep.

…..

I don’t really understand Pinterest yet. Mostly I look at pictures of libraries, studies, and studios. Probably a kind of wish-fulfillment. Maybe I do understand Pinterest. Anyway, I was fascinated by their choices for me:

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I was able to return to Lost Chords this week with a short review on the Angles 9 record Disappeared Behind the Sun.

Another record I found surprising is Sun O)))’s Monoliths and Dimensions. I physically couldn’t listen to more than one track at a sitting because of the intensity of the experience. I recommend listening on a nice loud system or good headphones. I had never heard the band before and I just can’t imagine what a live set is like.

I’ve been listening and learning Black Sabbath tracks for fun. After the flood, I had to go through my instruments for damage (just the upright needs some repairs), but they all need some TLC. It’s been exciting to dig back into playing music again after so many years away from it.

 

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“Monkey Love Experiments” (2014), partially based on the Harlow surrogate mother experiments, is a beautiful and beautifully sad short film about a monkey who believes it is going to the moon. There’s an amazing amount of information in this nine-minute film, but it never feels forced. It’s partially filmed in stop-motion, one of my favorite techniques, but it also skillfully blends computer and live-action effects.

 

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Bill Frisell is an astonishing musician and a rarity. He has always seemed in control of his ego and has never been afraid of melody or tenderness or complexity. He’s engaging on recordings and live. Bill Frisell: A Portrait (2017) traces his life and career up to the present.

The post below is originally from Friday, February 23. As we were settling down for the night, we heard running, then rushing water. Within minutes water was pouring out of the ceiling and flooding over my shoes. Parts of the ceiling fell in. No one was physically hurt, but we had to move to a new apartment and the kids will be waiting for another month before we have all of their clothes and toys in order to know if they are too damaged from the water. We were in a hotel for about two weeks. We’re slowly getting life back together. 

I’ve had to abandon several writing projects that I hope to resume as soon as I can. Until then, this may be the last update for a while.

I have to give thanks to family, friends, students, and colleagues who have been patient and helped support us through this. Thank you! 

Also, a big thanks to Elton Ripley, who has been incredibly helpful. We couldn’t have gotten through this process without him.

Here’s what I was writing a few Fridays ago: 

Shorter work weeks feel more difficult than a normal week. It’s like everyone still crams in the same amount of work and expectations over fewer days.

And that’s been most of the week, really. Lots of work and essay grading, which will likely continue for at least a month before reviews start kicking in.

My AP students did an exercise writing descriptive paragraphs that used polysyndeton in one version and asyndeton in another. Then they analyzed how the devices altered the tone and tempo of their writing. Though descriptive writing can be blended into any writing mode, it sure felt like a break reading these in between the various analytical papers we generally write. It’s nice to see a different side of their personality come out in their writing.

I did a random line doodle that turned into a portrait of a donkey. Balthazar? I was once told I was like the Eeyore of faculty meetings. I’m trying!

Balthazar

 

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Bluebeard (1936)

I love stop-motion animation and I had never heard of this one before it turned up on FilmStruck. It’s short, but fun–and extremely violent. I mean it’s like California Raisin gore, but still. It retells the Bluebeard folktale of a powerful, ugly nobleman whose wives have a habit of disappearing. He warns a new wife that she can go anywhere and enjoy any treasure, but to stay away from a chamber in the bottom of the castle.

While not the smoothest animation, Bluebeard has some interesting design concepts and sometimes an interesting use of materials, for example, the cottony fabric used for dust coming off of the roads.

And the quality in some spots is breathtaking, though you can tell that the film stock or stocks that the restoration was done from were damaged. It’s part of a Criterion Collection of Jean Painlevé’s, Science Is Fiction, which features some outstanding short films on underwater subjects like the octopus and sea horse.

We celebrated our oldest daughter’s birthday. She was excited that she got to hear her name over the intercom at school. She is still young enough that everyone in her class brings in cards and treats. The youngest was stashing candy and wrappers everywhere, a chaotic flurry of plastic and chocolate. Demanding pizza. Drawing on doors. Then being as sweet as anything.

I had a man express his unsolicited thoughts to me on the state of frozen pizza in Mal-Wart. Things aren’t good, but Red Baron is best. I grew up eating Red Baron and as much as I like a fresh pizza out of a brick oven, I love frozen pizzas, too. I wanted to suggest some of the newer, more expensive ones that are really good, but this wasn’t a conversation.

Lost Chords #6 featured an album I quite like, Screen Memories by John Maus. I wrote several paragraphs about the cover image and mediation that I removed. Maybe I’ll add to those thoughts later.

I also wrote about the profound effect Eraserhead has had on me for The Terror Test: Test Prep.

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A good friend of mine brought Amphibian Man (1962) to my attention. He’s been on-and-off researching the history of horror in Soviet and Russian film and mentioned this. It’s hard to describe, but it’s about a mad scientist who gives his son gills. The son falls for a lady much in the same way the Gill-man falls for one in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). There are familial and societal roadblocks to their love affair. There are shades of Victor Hugo, Beauty and the Beast (and other fairy tales), and Frankenstein, and it has a look somewhere between Forbidden Planet and Star Trek. An obvious precursor to The Shape of Water, and  possibly to films like Starman or The Man Who Fell to Earth–as told by Powell/Pressburger.  It’s on Amazon Prime if you’re interested.
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Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (2017)  is a fantastic documentary for fans of rock music, American music, and folk traditions. Highlights disturbing laws and violence against American Indians and also traces the thread of their musical cultures though American vocal music, blues, and rock. I’m hoping to read Like a New Sun, a collection of new indigenous Mexican poetry.

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Jon Ronson’s Lost at Sea collects various articles and essays from throughout his career. Indigo children. Psychopaths. Frank Sidebottom. I wanted each chapter to be a book of its own. The audiobook is fantastic partially because he reads it. Hearing this in his own voice is addictive. I wish Zadie Smith would record her novels.

This week included speeding tickets, stomach viruses, the stinkiest, and ultimately most inedible, Brussels sprouts ever, and a white-knuckled trip to work in rain, standing water, and without streetlights, among other slight disasters.

My just-turned-four-year-old got a special present of pull-ups for her birthday because of the stomach virus.

Taking care of sick children did allow for a lot of snuggling, watching cartoons, and some reading.

Getting writing done is another story.

I did write a Lost Chords on the heavy metal art book Hellraisers.

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It’s been two decades since I’ve seen Buñuel’s work, with the exceptions of Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age D’Or (1930). These are strange, beautiful films I revisit every year or so, each containing images seared into my visual memory. Well, aural memory, too. Almost every version of Un Chien I’ve seen uses “Tango Argentino.” It’s a piece of music that I hear in my head on a weekly basis. I’m not kidding. Maybe I should have given a warning before that link.

With Viridiana (1961)Buñuel managed to anger not only film censors, but also Franco and the Vatican. There is a fearlessness to his work, even if some argue that some of his metaphors are too obvious. I don’t know. Those images! These films were uncanny and almost incomprehensible when I was a young viewer. I enjoyed and felt transported by that quality. Now I can see the historical and social implications in his work and the films have taken on multiple meanings.

He was asked to change the ending in order to make it less suggestive. Originally, Viridiana goes into her cousin’s room and it is assumed that they are beginning an affair.  [spoiler here] He reshot it and had three characters sit down to play cards, and suggest the beginning of a polygamous relationship among them. And the censors okayed that ending! Cojones, Buñuel!

There are a several films I’ve missed by him (Robinson Crusoe?) and I’m hoping to dig into his work more formerly over the next year or so.

 

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Tom Hart’s How to Say Everything is a fantastic addition to the art/craft/storytelling shelf. Seriously. I found it as smart and warm as it is inspiring. I’m hoping to take a class at his Gainesville school, The Sequential Art Workshop (SAW), and who knows, maybe I could develop some online classes in literary content that he wants the school to have? I’ve been trying to establish a creative writing class for years and there just doesn’t seem to be money available to make that happen in the public schools where I work. But then again, it would be great to do some sort of film, philosophy, literature, or mythology course for these students. SAW’s website includes some free resources among other cool items.

I read excerpts from Hart’s Rosalie Lightning, his most famous work, several years ago and I just can’t read it in its entirety right now. I had a baby almost the age of Rosalie when I started reading it, and I knew the background story from a friend who teaches at SAW sometimes. What I read was beautiful and painful. The book is about the deepest love and loss that may be possible. I am planning on reading some of his lighter work, though, and I’ll read Rosalie some day.

 

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I ignored Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead initially because of the oxen-like contrariness I seem to have about something I hear about too much in popular culture. Finally, after so many people I respect had mentioned this, including Ashley M. Jones, I decided to check it out.

Smith’s work is confrontational, political, personal, and can somehow be serious and seriously funny at the same time. Their use of form in this book is fantastic–styles that work against the traditional stage or page dichotomy. These are poems that live on the breath and breathe on the page.

 

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Delaine is awesome. Not My Small Diary is a series that she has edited for more than two decades now, while also doing her own autobio comics series My Small Diary. I was so excited to get this one because I’ve been a fan of the the series and the “unexplained” since before I could read. I had more than one Time Life collection on oddities, and for a brief period I had cable which made Monster Quest a great way to start a weekend.

The bittersweet center of this collection is that within days of getting mine it became known that longtime contributor (he’s possibly in every anthology in the series) and all-around cool comix guy Mark Campos took his own life. Unlike a lot of contributors and fans of this series who knew him personally, I can’t say that, but I can say that I deeply enjoyed his work and his contribution was always one of the first that I read. His work reminded me of some of my favorites from MAD (Aragones, Jaffee, etc.), and while he could be funny, he also took that cartoon style and fused it with so many disparate influences, and wound it through his own perspective, moods, and tones.

He is missed.