PROSE ROUND ONE MADNESS: NABOKOV, MARTIN LUTHER KING, LOLITA VS. I HAVE A DREAM

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JFK, Lincoln, Lennon, MLK, all murdered in America, suddenly, in a public manner. Reagan, almost killed in the same way. Poe, most likely assassinated, too, found on the streets in Baltimore, where newly president-elect Lincoln, 11 years later, was disguised as an old women by Pinkerton’s police on route to the U.S. capitol to be sworn in.

Why do those who improve the United States, who give it unity and hope, in a grand, profound, public manner, die in America in the public square—murdered by those lurking in the shadows?

Because the United States thwarted a world Empire—deep-state-on-a-global-scale—on the verge of  world conquest in the late 18th century—a world conquest based on war, law-bending, subterfuge, royalty, monetary manipulation, criminality, free trade, immorality, opium; the British Empire—a far-reaching, press-controlled, business-as-usual, divide-and-conquer globalism.

There are Romes within Rome.

Rome hates nothing more than the springing up within it of a greater and grander and freer Rome.

To the Rome that was the British Empire, America became a Greece, and floated away.

From the ruins of the American Civil War (Russian fleets in SF, NY harbors reminding superpowers France and Britain not to invade the U.S. on behalf of the Confederacy), the 1860-65 bloodbath, the U.S. gradually became the world’s Rome, the announcement made fully with the loud bombs dropped on Japan—Britain’s former ally and brutal Chinese invader. The savagery of the 20th century was the ferocious, big-tech-driven, reaction of London bridge massively falling down.

President LBJ, whose window of fame was between the JFK assassination in 1963 and the MLK assassination in 1968, was a U.S. Southern Democrat, repairing the image of the Democratic party’s historic racism, as he bombed the hell out of Vietnam—a cynical, 1960s, consolidation of that “deep-state, Ivy League, uni-party” which ruled the U.S. from the summer of 1850 until November, 2016.

Martin Luther King was, like everyone else who goes into politics, a political pawn, but he gave a really good speech in which he said what should matter in Plato’s Republic is character, not the color of one’s skin.

Vladimir Nabokov, who spoke French, English and Russian in a privileged childhood in Russia, first fled the Soviets and later in Paris, the Nazis. His Jewish Russian wife prevented him from burning the manuscript of Lolita—written while he was teaching literature at Cornell and collecting butterflies. One of Nabokov’s siblings knew Ayn Rand. As a professor in the U.S., Nabokov, known as a sexist, disliked the American left.

Plato’s Republic would have banned Lolita. Good literature is about sin.

Color of skin, sin, and character.

It’s the complex middle term above—sin—which makes the other two impossible to reconcile; although it should be easy, right? Character. Yes. Skin color. No.

Nabokov wins.

 

 

 

 

 

FAME: IS IT REALLY HOLLOW?

Fame is not anything like we expect.  Fame is an ‘outside’ experience which has no correlation with our ‘inside’ experience—with ourselves, with who we are.  This is why fame so often leads to madness.  It splits the person.  But what if the ‘inner self’ wishes for fame and does not get it, that could ‘split us’ and lead to madness, as well.  “Sweet fame” is how the Romantic poets referred to it—it was considered a worthy ambition for the poet. Perhaps fame is a comfort to some, a vindication, a desire to spread goodness and beauty.  We are not here to simply disparage it.

But we suspect fame is often misunderstood.

How is it…hollow?

Let’s see…the first myth of fame which needs destroying: fame is not adoration; it is, in fact, its opposite.

To be “talked about” is the last thing a good moral reputation needs.

And, as the famous Poe once quoted, “No Indian prince to his palace has more followers than a thief to the gallows.”

A hanging draws great crowds, and disgusting curiosity is enough, in itself, to crown fame upon almost anyone.

We hear that some writer is famous, and we often don’t know how they came by that fame.  We often have no idea.

We assume their fame is because they write well.

This is mostly naive.

There are millions of beautiful women.  Why do only some—for their “beauty”—become famous?

Think about it.

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, James Joyce and his Ulysses, Charles Baudelaire and his Fleur du Mal, Allen Ginsberg, and his Howl, Nabokov’s Lolita, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, just to name six famous modern examples, all owe their fame to law courts and cases of public morality. (one might note: the authors here are all men)

These are not just six ‘juicy’ works—these are icons in the top ten of Modern Literature, period.

Fame by cheating?

Poe—mentioned above—was chaste in manner, but his fame exists for another dubious reason: parody.

The Raven, Poe’s famous poem, was immediately parodied when it was first published.  Poe was reviled, as a harsh critic, in certain circles: parody and dislike often leads to fame, as well.

Another example which quickly springs to mind is the ridicule which greeted works of modern art—Marcel Duchamp and his museum-placed urinal—or the indignation elicited by new works of music.

The Beatles, in a sense, were parodied by The Monkees, a “manufactured” Beatles-type band for TV, and this leads to the question: is fame always a formula?

Those who worship the Beatles as sophisticated musicians often forget that children made up most of their audience when they first attained fame, and later, too, with their film and album, Yellow Submarine.

But is this such a bad thing?

We can almost say that fame is produced in two ways:

1. Sexually, offending child-like innocence—Flaubert, Joyce, Baudelaire, Ginsberg, Nabokov, and Lawrence.

2. Naively, offering up child-like innocence for sophisticated adult disapproval—Poe (“Once upon a midnight dreary”) The Beatles (“Yea, yea, yea”).

We could simplify the two types above by calling them the 1. Tragic and 2. Comic routes to fame.

The really famous will often feature a hybrid of the two:

For instance, when people found drug references (not innocent) in Beatle John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” song, inspired by a drawing done by his kid (innocent).

Poe was ridiculed for a “childish” poem, “The Raven,” but was attacked for depraved habits, as well.

This interpretation of fame which we are now outlining is more accurate than the commonly used: Offends bourgeois taste.

Flaubert and Baudelaire date from 1857, and “Howl” went to trial in 1957, so we are looking at a 100 year window of sex, fame, and modernity, the so-called Tragic path.

T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Edna Millay, W.C. Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath have had some success, but since Plath’s “Daddy” was published in the wake of her suicide in 1962, not one poem has become famous, not like “The Raven,” anyway, or one of Frost’s little gems; that’s a drought of 50 years, and we now live in a ‘social media’ age where things “go viral” all the time.

Recently, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, a poem by Patricia Lockwood called “Rape Joke” made a stir.  The numbers were not phenomenal, but they were pretty good for the ‘poetry world.’

The raw content of “Rape Joke” could easily be filed under Tragic, and yet in a gesture to the “hybrid” characterization mentioned above, Lockwood’s poem “jokes,” also—if grimly.

We published a response to “Rape Joke” on Scarriet.  One reader reacted to it angrily, which we—writing about our experience as an innocent child—never saw coming.

Perhaps we have entered a Post-Famous-Poem Age.

Maya Angelou asks in her 1978 poem, “Still I Rise:” “Does my sexiness upset you?”

Patricia Lockwood makes this rueful comment in her poem, “Rape Joke:”

“The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.”

THE ONE HUNDRED GREATEST HIPPIE SONGS OF ALL TIME

If Mick Jagger’s hair had been shorter, the whole face of the earth would have changed.

When we mentioned to the poet Marcus Bales we were putting this list together, he immediately assumed a pejorative intent; yes, “hippie” has come to mean a term of censor, even in music—but we assured him our research was sincere.

Categories are safe, even when they dissolve into others.  We know what “hippie songs” are, even as they expand like a stain.  And what is amazing is how great and various and popular this list of hippie songs is.  In a thousand years from now, when we look back at this era, all of our popular music will be seen for what it really is: hippie music.

The 1960s, as one would expect, features prominently, a time which, artistically, happily resembled the great Romantic era in poetry: sensual, but not overly so, intellectual, but not overly so, and perhaps because indulgence was miraculously tempered by a certain unstated restraint, popular.  It sounds crazy to say the 1960s featured conservatism and restraint, but it did. Now that we’ve traveled through post-modernism, we know how conservative the lyric is, and the 60s were lyric.  Tradition had yet to be toppled.

Only a few really like chaos, and when chaos threatens, lyric structure and common sense fight back in all sorts of hidden, wonderful ways. Shelley’s spring is never far behind. Tender, conservative feelings survive in the frenzy, even as rebellion gets the headlines.  In an early interview, the Beatles made the astute observation that in England, kids hated what their parents symbolized, but not their parents, whereas in America, it was the other way around.  The cliches of the 60s are just that: cliches, and should not be used to bash what was a spectacular confluence of events and sensibilities.  There are movements which are self-consciously internationalist: one country fawns over another nation’s art, like the rich American ladies who in 1905 suddenly hankered for Japanese vases and haiku.  But in the ’60s, England and America, two great nations, both gave and took, equally, appreciably, in a healthy, natural, intense, rivalry of shouting, stomping, feeling, and sharing.

So how is it that “hippie,” a demeaned, belittled, mocked, obsolete, term, symbolized by long, unwashed hair, drug derangement, and artsy-fartsy, pie-in-the-sky ideals, translates into such significant and wonderful music, as seen in this list of undeniably great songs—greater than any similar list of popular songs one might compile?  Who knows?  But there must be a lesson here, somewhere.  Perhaps it’s this: art responds to popular focus, popular sincerity, popular desire and material accident (length of hair, for instance); art cannot be intellectualized into greatness.

Two more observations before we present the list: John Lennon wrote more good ‘hippie songs’ than anyone, and yet, in person, he was the opposite of a ‘hippie’ in so many ways: a bully as a kid who routinely made fun of ‘spastics,’ John was too sarcastic and mean to care for anything ‘hippie.’  John was recruited into the ‘hippie movement’ almost against his will by various forces, and, proving how complex and powerful the whole ‘hippie’ sensibility is, John’s extremely complex working-class/art school/inner turmoil/ life became a fountain of ‘hippie music.’

There were divisions and fears in the 60s, as well as money to be made, and this surely fueled music being made in the safety of recording studios.  The quality of songs on this list does not translate into a ‘hippie’ era that was nice.  When George Harrison first met his producer, he told him he didn’t like his tie.  George famously had a bad experience when he visited hippies in California. In the words of his sister-in-law:

We were expecting Haight-Ashbury to be special, a creative and artistic place, filled with Beautiful People, but it was horrible – full of ghastly drop-outs, bums and spotty youths, all out of their brains. Everybody looked stoned – even mothers and babies – and they were so close behind us they were treading on the backs of our heels. It got to the point where we couldn’t stop for fear of being trampled. Then somebody said, ‘Let’s go to Hippie Hill,’ and we crossed the grass, our retinue facing us, as if we were on stage. They looked as us expectantly – as if George was some kind of Messiah.

Laugh—along with John—or sneer—along with George—as you will, but all these very different songs are very much ‘hippie,’ (in feel, as well as idea) and, improbably, are many of the loveliest, most significant, and most enjoyable songs ever recorded.

1. Imagine -John Lennon
2. Here Comes the Sun  -The Beatles
3. Woodstock -Joni Mitchell
4. Going Up the Country -Canned Heat
5. I’d Love to Change the World   -Ten Years After
6. If I Had A Hammer  -The Weavers
7. Live For Today -Grass Roots
8. Suzanne  -Leonard Cohen
9. Hurdy Gurdy Man  -Donovan
10. In a gadda da vida  -Iron Butterfly
11. That’s The Way  -Led Zeppelin
12. Tiny Dancer  -Elton John
13. Heart of Gold  -Neil Young
14. All You Need Is Love  -The Beatles
15. Mr. Tambourine Man  -Bob Dylan
16. Knights in White Satin  -Moody Blues
17. Get Together -The Youngbloods
18. We Are Young  -Fun
19. Ohio  -Crosby Stills Nash & Young
20. Wild World  -Cat Stevens
21. Feelin’ Groovy  -Simon and Garfunkle
22. The Wind Cries Mary  -Jimi Hendrix
23. This Land Is Your Land  -Woody Guthrie
24. Alice’s Restaurant  -Arlo Guthrie
25. Eve of Destruction  -Barry McGuire
26. Creeque Alley  -Mamas & Papas
27. What Have They Done To My Song, Ma   -Melanie
28. Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In   -The Fifth Dimension
29. White Rabbit   -The Jefferson Airplane
30. Walk Right In   -The Rooftop Singers
31. I Love The Flower Girl  -The Cowsills
32. Crimson and Clover   -Tommy James and the Shondells
33. Incense and Peppermints  -Strawberry Alarm Clock
34. She’s Not There  -The Zombies
35. Eight Miles High   -The Byrds
36. Light My Fire   -The Doors
37. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?   -The Beatles
38. Mr. Bojangles  -Jerry Jeff Walker
39. Do You Believe In Magic?  -The Lovin Spoonful
40. Green Tambourine   -The Lemon Pipers
41. I’m Free (from Tommy)  -The Who
42. San Francisco   -Scott McKenzie
43. Spanish Pipedream (Blow Up Your TV)  -John Prine
44. Us and Them  -Pink Floyd
45. Pleasant Valley Sunday   -The Monkees
46. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place  -The Animals
47. For What It’s Worth  -Buffalo Springfield
48. Strawberry Fields Forever  -The Beatles
49. The Sound of Silence  -Simon & Garfunkle
50. I Gave My Love A Cherry  -Doc Watson
51. Georgy Girl  -The Seekers
52. Space Oddity   -David Bowie
53. 99 Red Balloons  -Nena
54. Norwegian Wood  -The Beatles
55. When The Music’s Over  -The Doors
56. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35  -Bob Dylan
57. Instant Karma  -John Lennon
58. Hey Jude  -The Beatles
59. Truckin’   -The Grateful Dead
60. Me and Bobbi McGee  -Janis Joplin
61. Hotel California  -The Eagles
62. Sympathy for the Devil   -The Rolling Stones
63. Almost Cut My Hair   -Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
64. I Feel Just Like A Child  -Devendra Banhart
65. Fortunate Son  -Creedence Clearwater Revival
66. You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)  -White Stripes
67. American Pie  -Don McLean
68. Good Vibrations   -The Beach Boys
69. What The World Needs Now Is Love  -Jackie DeShannon
70. People Are Strange  -The Doors
71. Melissa  -The Allman Brothers Band
72. The Times They Are A Changin’  -Bob Dylan
73. Buffalo Gals  -John Hodges
74. Wonderful World  -Louis Armstrong
75. Lola  -The Kinks
76. Universal Soldier  -Buffy St. Marie
77. Freaker’s Ball  -Dr. Hook
78. I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)  -The Electric Prunes
79. Melody Fair  -The Bee Gees
80. Old Man   -Love
81. Brand New Key  -Melanie
82. Stoney End  -Laura Nyro
83. Vincent  -Don McLean
84. Indian Reservation -Paul Revere and the Raiders
85. We’re Only in It for the Money  -Frank Zappa
86. Eleanor Rigby  -The Beatles
87. Hey Ya!   -Outkast
88. Born To Be Wild  -Steppenwolf
89. Rocky Mountain High  -John Denver
90. Young Folks  -Peter Bjorn and John
91. Smells Like Teen Spirit  -Nirvana
92. I Shall Be Released -The Band
93. Lucky Man  -Emerson Lake & Palmer
94. In the Summertime  -Mungo Jerry
95. Piggies  -The Beatles
96. Sunshine of Your Love  -Cream
97. Hesitation Blues  -The Holy Modal Rounders
98. Mother Nature’s Son  -The Beatles
99. A Horse With No Name  -America
100. 21st Century Schizoid Man  -King Crimson

THE TOP ONE HUNDRED POPULAR SONG LYRICS THAT WORK AS POETRY

The phatic is common to both song lyrics and poetry; music aids the lyric, condemning it to be not quite poetry forever, while poetry is its own music, condemning it to be naked without music forever.

The two are never reconciled—the standard of poetry is never–-never—reached by song lyrics, which breaks the poet’s heart, a heart which travels into music’s realm, shunning its help.  Madness and torture!  Why do the two exist–-never to meet!  Poetry and music!  Divided heart!  Divided mind!  Poor, divided mankind!

As a healing device, we list the top 100 Song Lyrics As Poetry of All Time, with the single criterion: when we hear the song, do the lyrics intoxicate us as much as the music?

Note we do not ask the song to be judged as poetry—as words on the page.   And yet—and yet—words are being judged.

The list below is not based on reading the lyrics alone on the page as if it were a poem, for this is to take the creature out of the water: we judge the lyrics with its music as poetry.

If an especially beautiful music accompanies the words of a particular song, making the words even more beautiful, we have to assume the words are responsible; the songwriter will sometimes experience this phenomenon: words inspire the music, as if the words and music were born together.  It is as if the music were an aura around the the words—words which nonetheless are not strong enough to be poetry, since they need the music.  We celebrate this paradox—in our list—of poems which are not poems.

If one were to boil down the two essential criteria they would be: 1. originality and interest and 2. strongly realized feeling or idea, but we’ll briefly comment on why for each song.

1 Perfect Day  (Lou Reed)  performed by Lou Reed   —Why: The haunting ambiguity: drug fix or romance? “I thought I was someone else, someone good”
2. Day In the Life  (Lennon/McCartney)  performed by The Beatles   –“Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall”
3. The Good Life  (Distel/Broussolle/Reardon)  performed by Nancy Wilson  –A love song with a tantalizingly puzzling message
4. Coming Back To Me  (Marty Balin)  performed by Jefferson Airplane  –“Through a window where no curtain hung I saw you…coming back to me…”
5. Like A Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)  performed by Bob Dylan –“You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you”
6. America (Paul Simon) performed by Simon & Garfunkle –“Toss me a cigarette I think there’s one in my raincoat…”
7. Over the Rainbow  (Arlen/Harburg) performed by Judy Garland  –“That’s where you’ll find me”
8. Is That All There Is?  (Lieber/Stoller) performed by Peggy Lee  –A life-flashing-before-your-eyes song
9. Ruby Tuesday (Jagger/Richards) performed by Rolling Stones  –“She comes and goes, no one knows…”
10. Both Sides Now  (Joni Mitchell) performed by Judy Collins  –“I don’t know clouds at all…”
11. I Want You (Bob Dylan) performed by Bob Dylan  –“The cracked bells and washed out horns blow into my face with scorn…”
12. Forbidden Fruit (Oscar Brown Jr) performed by Nina Simone –“Eve and Adam had a garden, everything was great…”
13. American Pie (Don McLean) performed by Don McLean  –A perhaps overly sentimental tribute to Buddy Holly…”the day the music died…”
14. Lather (Grace Slick) performed by Jefferson Airplane  –A haunting lyric about growing up…”Lather was thirty years old today…”
15. She Loves You (Lennon/McCartney) performed by The Beatles  –“She” instead of “I” makes it a song about three people instead of two…
16. Me and Bobby McGee (Kris Kristofferson) performed by Janis Joplin  Best going-down-the-road song ever.
17. If You Go Away (Jacque Brel)  performed by Shirley Bassey  –One of those crushingly crushed-up love songs
18. Horse With No Name (Dewey Bunnell)   performed by America  –“The heat was hot…”  You can walk into this song…
19. Yellow Submarine (Lennon/McCartney) performed by The Beatles  –Intimates the ‘we’re-all-together’ spirit so nicely…
20. Jennifer Juniper (Donovan Leitch)  performed by Donovan  –“I am thinking of what it would be like if she loved me…”
21. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite (Lennon/McCartney) performed by The Beatles –Phantasmagoria at its best.  “And of course, Henry the horse…”
22. Maggie Mae (Stewart/Quittinton) performed by Rod Stewart  –“I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school”
23. Play With Fire (Phelge) performed by The Rolling Stones  –“Well you’ve got your diamonds and you’ve got your pretty clothes…”
24. Mrs. Brown You Have A Lovely Daughter (T. Peacock) –The boy complains to the mother…different.
25. You’re Lost Little Girl (The Doors) performed by The Doors –The “little girl” is really the one in control; one can hear William Blake in it…
26. Sunny Afternoon (Ray Davies) performed by The Kinks  –“telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty…”
27. Yesterday (Lennon/McCartney) performed by The Beatles  –A simple, but perfect lyric: “yesterday came suddenly…”
28. Fakin’ It  (Paul Simon) performed by Simon and Garfunkle  –a  masterpiece of introspective nostalgia
29. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (Lennon/McCartney) performed by The Beatles  –“Rose and Valerie screaming from the gallery…”
30. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Bob Dylan) performed by Bob Dylan  “When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Eastertime too, and your gravity fails…”
31. Fire and Rain (James Taylor) performed by James Taylor  — a wreck of a song, in the best possible way…  “I always thought I’d see you one more time again…”
32. Irreplaceable (Beyonce, Ne-Yo, Eriksen, Hermansen, Lind, Bjorklund) performed by Beyonce  “You must not know ’bout me…”
33. Mona Lisa (Evans/Livingston) Nat King Cole –“They just lie there and they die there…Are you real, Mona Lisa?”
34. Cry Baby Cry (Lennon/McCartney) The Beatles  –“The duchess of Kircaldy always smiling and arriving late for tea…”  one of John’s best…
35. Night And Day (Cole Porter) Fred Astaire  –“in the roaring traffic’s boom, in the silence of my lonely room I think of you, night and day…”
36. As Time Goes By (Hupfeld)  Dooley Wilson  –“hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate…”
37. Ferry Cross The Mersey (Marsden) Gerry and the Pacemakers  –“we’ll never turn you away…”
38. Georgia On My Mind (Carmichael, Gorrell) Ray Charles  –“Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through…”
39. Ring Of Fire (Gilgore/Carter) Johnny Cash  –“the flames gettin’ higher…”
40. The End (Jim Morrison) The Doors  –“this is the end, beautiful friend, no safety or surprise, the end…”
41. The Times They Are A Changin’ (Bob Dylan)  Bob Dylan  –the ultimate protest/wake-up-to-reality song…
42. Everyday (White, Crisler)   Buddy Holly  –“Everyday, it’s a gettin’ closer, goin’ faster than a roller coaster…”
43. All You Need Is Love (Lennon/McCartney) The Beatles  –“There’s nothin’ you can’t do that can’t be done…”
44. This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie) Woody Guthrie  –“This land was made for you and me…”
45. My Generation (Pete Townsend) The Who  –the slinging, self-righteous, celebratory anger of the 60s in 3 minutes…
46. Let It Be (Lennon/McCartney) The Beatles  –“Mother Mary comes to me…”
47. What’d I Say (Byrne/Robinson) Ray Charles  –“Tell me… What did I say?”
48. Sympathy For the Devil (Jagger/Richard) Rolling Stones  –Jagger wrote a Bob Dylan-type ballad and the Stones added mayhem..
49. Crazy (Willie Nelson) Patsy Cline  –“Crazy for cryin’ and crazy for tryin’…”
50. A Whiter Shade Of Pale (Brooker, Reid, Fisher) Procol Harum  –“and the waiter brought a tray…”
51. I Say A Little Prayer For You (Bacharach/David) Dionne Warwick –“The moment I wake up, before I put on my makeup…”
52. Dream A Little Dream Of Me (Gus Kahn) Mamas and Papas  –“Stars shining bright above you, night breezes seem to whisper I love you…”
53. California Dreamin’ (Phillips) Mamas and Papas  –“Well I got down on my knees and I began to pray…”
54. Hotel California (Felder, Henley, Frey) The Eagles  –“But they can never leave…”
55. Walk On By (Bacharach/David) Dionne Warwick  –“make believe that you don’t see the tears…”
56. Guess Who I Saw Today? (Grand/Boyd) Eartha Kitt  –what a beautifully constructed little urban story…
57. Lovely Rita (Lennon/McCartney) The Beatles  –“sitting on a sofa with a sister or two…”
58. White Rabbit (Grace Slick) Jefferson Airplane  –“and the white knight is talking backwards and the red queen is ‘off with her head!'”
59. My Favorite Things (Rodgers/Hammerstein) Julie Andrews  –“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…”  Keatsian.
60. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Kern/Harbach) The Platters  –“Now laughing friends deride…”
61. Stranger In Paradise (Borodin, Wright, Forrest) Tony Bennett  –“If I stand starry-eyed, that’s a danger in paradise…”
62. Misty (Garner/Burke) Johnny Mathis –“When I wander through the wonderland alone…”
63. (They Long To Be) Close To You (Bacharach/David) The Carpenters –“Just like me, they long to be close to you…”
64. Ain’t Misbehavin’  (Waller,Brooks, Razaff) Fats Waller –“I’m home about eight, just me and my radio…”
65. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (Ellington/Russell) The Ink Spots –“They’d have asked me about you…”
66. I’ll Be Seeing You (Fain/Kahal) Billie Holiday –“In all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces…”
67. Mack The Knife (Brecht/Weil, Blitzstein) Bobby Darin  –“Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear…”
68. Pirate Jenny (Brecht/Weil) Lotte Lenya  –“Asking me, kill them now, or later?”
69. Tiptoe Through The Tulips (Burke/Dubin) Tiny Tim –“tiptoe from the garden, by the garden of the willow tree…”
70. What Is And What Should Never Be (Led Zeppelin)  Led Zeppelin –“and if you say to me tomorrow oh what fun it all would be…”
71. Golden Vanity (anonymous) Pete Seeger –a tearful adventure novel packed into song…”and down sunk he…farewell, farewell to the Golden Vanity…”
72. Star Spangled Banner (Key) Various Artists  –“O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light?”
73. Tiny Dancer (John/Taupin) Elton John  –“Jesus freaks out on the street, handing out free tickets for God…”
74. White Christmas (Irving Berlin) Bing Crosy     Best-selling single of all-time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records
75. Barbara Allen (anonymous) Pete Seeger  –the most popular of the old ballads…”oh mother, mother go make my bed…”
76. Tenderly (Lawrence/Lawrence) Sarah Vaughan –“the evening breeze caressed the trees tenderly…”  this is not corny; this is poetry
77. Lady of Carlyle (anonymous) Pete Seeger  –another beautiful old ballad…”and for a space of half an hour, this young lady lay speechless on the ground.”
78. Take Me Home, Country Roads (Denver, Nivert, Danoff) John Denver  –a big, outdoors song, one the best…”Almost heaven, West Virginia…”
79. Winter Wonderland (Bernard/Smith) Various Artists –so many great Christmas songs, but this one is especially charming…
80. If I Had A Hammer (Seeger/Hayes) The Weavers –Pete Seeger, who cut Dylan’s cords at Newport, was Dylan before Dylan…
81. Wayfaring Stranger (anonymous) Burl Ives  –“I’m going there to see my father, I’m going there no more to roam…”
82. Silent Night (Gruber/Mohr) Various  –the Ur-Christmas carol…
83. Paint It Black (Jagger/Richard) Rolling Stones  –“I see a red door and I want to paint it black…”
84. Every Breath You Take (Sting) The Police –“I’ll be watching you…”
85. It’s All In The Game (Dawes/Sigman) Tommy Edwards  –“And your hearts will fly away…”
86. You’re So Vain (Carly Simon) Carly Simon –“And your horse naturally won…”
87. Killing Me Softly With His Song (Fox/Gimbel) Roberta Flack –“I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud…”
88. It’s My Party (Gluck, Gold, Weiner) Lesley Gore –“I’ll cry if I want to…”
89. The End Of The World (Shave, Smith, Pebworth, Astasio) Skeeter Davis  –“Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?”
90. Under the Boardwalk (Young/Resnick) The Drifters  –“People walking above…”
91. It’s Now Or Never (Schroeder, Gold) Elvis Presley –“Tomorrow will be too late…”
92. I Will Survive (Perren/Fekaris) Gloria Gaynor –“At first I was afraid, I was petrified…”
93. Moon River (Mancini/Mercer) Andy Williams –“we’re all after the same rainbow’s end…”
94. Paper Moon (Arlen,Harburg, Rose) Nat King Cole –“it’s only a paper moon over a cardboard sea, but I’ll believe in make-believe if…”
95. Bennie And The Jets (John/Taupin) Elton John  –“she’s got electric boots, a mohair suit, you know I read it in a magazine…”
96. Freed From The Gallows/Gallows Pole (anonymous) Ledbelly  “I think I see my mother coming, riding many a mile…”
97. She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain (anonymous) Pete Seeger  –“she’ll be riding six white horses when she comes…”
98. Jam On Jerry’s Rocks (anonymous) Pete Seeger –“crushed and bleeding on the beach lay the form of young Monroe”
99. Come All Ye Fair And Tender Maidens (anonymous) Pete Seeger  –I wish I were a little sparrow and I had wings and I could fly…”
100. Groundhog (anonymous) Pete Seeger –“We’re all going out to hunt groundhog…”
101. September In The Rain (Warren/Dubin) James Melton –“The leaves of red and brown came tumbling down, remember?”
102. Pretty Polly (anonymous) Pete Seeger   –“Leaving nothing but the wild birds to moan.”   We had to include one murder song…
103. Danville Girl (anonymous)  Pete Seeger  –“She took me to her kitchen, she treated me nice and kind…”   And one hobo song…

“HERE TODAY,” THE BEATLES ARE BACK TOGETHER

It will always be the great Boomer dream that never came true.

The Beatles getting back together.

The 1940s: Ringo, John, Paul, and George born during the Blitz.

The 1950s: Rock n’ roll

The 1960s: the Beatles.

The 1970s: hoping the Beatles will get back together.

The 1980s: grieving that the Beatles will never get back together.

The 1990s: angry that the Beatles will never get back together.

The 2000s: relieved that the Beatles will never get back together.

The 2010’s: Paul and Ringo still producing solo albums

What would it be like to experience a Beatles reunion?

By now everyone must realize how anti-climactic it would have been, as the Beatles themselves surely understood back in the 1970s, when the world was waiting for it to happen—while listening to Elton John, the Bee Gees, John Denver, Queen, David Bowie, Led Zepplin, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones.

The Beatles were so BIG to so many people in a splendid window of time of unprecedented material and social change that the idea of the group took on extra dimensions, supplemented by the magic of widespread musical recordings, as well as the varied interests and personalities of the four men themselves.

One could blather on like this forever, as so many journalists and rock critics have done, but words can’t do justice to the Beatles phenomenon, nor can the banality of it finally be grasped, either.  The Beatles now occupy a little space on the shelf of history, and that’s about it.  All that’s left is for the Yoko and Paul estates to gain what they can in publicity squabbles as the sun sets on all the living participants.  A few songs, like “Imagine” and “Yesterday,” remain iconic, but it’s hard to judge what a hundred years from now will look like.

The Beatles made records from 1962 to 1970, and the original albums and greatest hits still sell moderately well.

The solo Beatles released their first original recordings starting in 1968, Paul wrote for other bands even earlier, and Paul and Ringo are still putting out records as of this day in 2012.  (Ringo’s latest will be released this month. http://kool.radio.com/2012/01/03/ringo-starr-earns-his-wings/)

The Beatles, 1962-1970

The ‘solo’ Beatles, 1968-present.

8 years v. 44 years.

Three of the four Beatles probably produced work outside of the Beatles as interesting, if not more interesting, than what they produced as Beatles; only Paul is more interesting for the work he did as a Beatle than for the work he did afterwards—though Paul might disagree, and insist it’s true for all four.

In terms of musical output and interest, then, it’s safe to say post-Beatles music is at least as important as Beatles music, and yet the former remains scattered, suffers from the indignity of not being Beatles music, and has never been anthologized into anything resembling a Beatles (Solo) 1968–present album or albums.

The Beatles have produced records for 50 years, but production-wise, only 8 of those 50 years really exist.

Ringo has been releasing songs on his albums, recently, which musically quote solo Paul songs.  The Beatles used to do this (‘She Loves You” is quoted at the end of “All You Need Is Love”).  Why can’t Ringo?   Paul and Ringo have released songs for John and George, and both Paul and Ringo, even as old guys, have produced songs on their solo albums that sound more Beatle-esque than the Beatles did.  The two remaining Beatles are still behaving like Beatles.

Recently I experienced a Beatles reunion, where one should really experience it—in my own ears.

I put together a CD mix many months ago, and forgetting what songs were on it, I gave it a listen.

The CD player was on random shuffle, so the experience of the ‘concert’ felt entirely ‘new.’

It began with Paul saying to an appreciative crowd, “Fancy a bit of rock n’ roll?” and then “Hi Hi Hi” from a live Paul album, and, in no certain order (I’ve already forgotten exactly what order the songs were in) I heard a live, up-tempo recording of “Give Peace A Chance,” a wailing Indian music instrumental composed by George from the soundtrack album he made without the Beatles in 1968, called “Crying,” a live version of John’s agonized “Mother,” Paul’s 1980 “Dress Me Up As A Robber,” a live version of Paul doing his tribute to John, “Here Today,” with the words, “you were in my song,” and Paul’s live version of “Something” with only a banjo, the spicy “When We Was Fab” by George, the up-tempo numbers “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” and “Oh Yoko!” by John, “See Yourself” (musically sweet, lyrically preachy, just like we love him) from mid-70s George, classics “Imagine” by John and”My Sweet Lord” by George (that glorious, ground-breaking song ripped from a 50s melody) and, of course, one Ringo song, recorded not that many years ago, called “Elizabeth Reigns,” a song that almost sounds like it could have been written by late 60s Paul or John, sweet, over-produced, and campy.  If the Beatles were finally an homage-driven, semi-meaningful lark, “Elizabeth Reigns,” fits the bill nicely, with its loving, yet cheeky, lyrics:

Elizabeth reigns
Over and under
Elizabeth reigns
Lightning and thunder
Elizabeth reigns
Since I Was younger
She’s head of the family
Elizabeth reigns over me

When the album finished playing, and I took my ear phones off and stretched, alone in my house, half-shrugging, I thought to myself: that may not have been the best 50 minutes of my life, but you know what?  That’s probably the closest anyone will ever get to the Beatles getting back together.

Welcome back, boys.

WHEN I WAS A CLOWN

David Meltzer in his day

T.S. Eliot painted his face green, had a nervous breakdown, and imprisoned his wife, but he took poetry seriously.

John Berryman was a stinking drunk, but he taught Shakespeare.

When did poets start disliking poetry?

When did poets start being ashamed of poetry, so that all of a sudden poets were not talking about poetry anymore, but themselves and the scene?

Just take this piece by Garrett Caples from Blog Harriet, “The Maestro: David Meltzer, Part I” 5/24/2011.  It is brief enough that we may quote it in full:

Michael McClure invited Andrew Joron and me to a reading in the Berkeley Hills, as we wanted to consult him in the course of editing the (forthcoming) Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia. Contact was made, a meeting was set up, and McClure would provide much valuable information regarding Lamantia’s activities in the late ’50s. His devotion to Philip is both inspiring and moving.

But something else would also happen that evening in the hills. Reading with McClure was David Meltzer, whom I’d previously met once when he read at City Lights with Andrew and Micah Ballard. Meltzer had done the cover collage for Ballard’s book Parish Krewes (Bootstrap Productions, 2009), so it seemed fitting to add him to the bill, and he read a new poem called “When I Was a Poet.” A short long poem—the best kind—“When I Was a Poet” has that easy virtuosity born of a lifetime pursuing said occupation. Micah invariably refers
to Meltzer as “the Maestro” and that’s just it: his touch is so light and low-key the lines feel almost unwritten, clear as air, the evolution of that Williams strain running through so-called “Beat” poetry. But Meltzer has a rhythmic swagger wholly absent from WCW, and “When I Was a Poet” sustains its lyric flight by chorus-like returns to its title-phrase. It has the sweep of a vintage Dylan epic but with a nimble, angular swing—Lenny Tristano kicking “Sad-Eyed Lady”?—and was definitely the showstopper.

Ferlinghetti was out of town when Meltzer read at City Lights. But when I arrived at the reading in the hills, there was Lawrence! I say “!” because I’ve never just bumped into him at a reading before, in Berkeley to boot. At the time, besides editing for City Lights, I was also working as his assistant, so naturally I never knew where he’d be. The reading was actually an opening for a sculpture show by Amy Evans McClure, in a small art gallery attached to a large
house whose owners are Lawrence’s friends, so he decided to make the scene. Clearly some stars aligned that night. Meltzer again ended his set with “When I Was a Poet,” wowing the packed audience. After the reading, I made my way over to Lawrence. He seemed excited.

“What’d you think?” I asked.

“That was an extraordinary poem!” Lawrence said with decision. “We should publish it!” He paused a moment, then almost sheepishly added: “Ask him if it’s available.” Though Meltzer was only a few yards away, Lawrence is actually a little shy—back in 1955, when he caught the first public reading of “Howl” at the Six Gallery, he sent Ginsberg a telegram the next day asking to see the MS—so his reticence here was hardly surprising. As I slipped through the crowd
over to Meltzer, two thoughts occupied me: 1) This is so fucking cool—it’s like “Howl”; 2) A big shot like Meltzer must have books in the works, so someone’s probably already claimed the poem. As it turned out, however, Meltzer and his poem were both available, and pleased to be asked. As it also turned out, the most recent volume in the Pocket Poets series was #59. Wouldn’t Meltzer make a good #60?

“Yes,” said Lawrence.

Yes!

The scene is everything—we get people’s names, addresses, books, presses—and the poem, raved about, is not even worth quoting.  Not a line of the poem, but there’s time for a cool reference to a long Blonde On Blonde song and a jazz artist. (It’s Lennie, not Lenny, Tristano, by the way.)

“A short long poem—the best kind” it seems, but the “best,” how short, or long, is it?  A car alarm is always too “long,” so if we were to say a “short long car alarm—the best kind,” it would have no meaning.  Since we haven’t the faintest idea of how good the poem is, the reader has no appreciation of “short long,” unless we mean Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition,” but that work of Poe’s considered a famous poem, “The Raven.”  “When I Was A Poet” is unquoted and unknown.  Beat culture has that tendency to have no real poems,  short, long, or short long; the Beats’ most famous poem, “Howl” is boring half-the-way-through, (can anyone quote the last two-thirds of that poem?) but no matter, the scene around the poem is all we need.  The 1955 Gallery Six reading—which of course gets a nod by Caples—a handful of drunks nodding off in a little room—is now mythic, even though an obscenity trial and Look magazine put “Howl” on the map, not any actual utterance of its inanities in public.  But the subject of Caples’ piece is a poetry reading and the discovery of a “short long poem,” not Main Street v. Obscenity—so rose-colored Gallery Six it is.

Caples’ ecstatic “Yes!” at the end of his piece reminds me of John Lennon climbing the ladder of Yoko Ono’s art exhibit in London, before they were a couple, and finding the tiny word ‘Yes’ written on the ceiling.  A 1960s icon died at that moment.  Had only the ceiling said, “No.” Then the 1960s might not have turned back into an even more stupid 1950s, disguised as the 1970s.  From the moment John was inspired by that “Yes,” it was only a matter of months before the song-writing Beatle genius with wife and son and twenty-five number one hits, would transform into the self-pitying junky of the Plastic Ono band, with one number one hit left in him, a song performed with Elton John.

Yes. 

After landing John, Yoko, the artist, would surround herself with yes-men; sadly for all mankind, one of her yes-men turned out to be John himself—as it began with a yes, continued with heroin, and fizzled into May Pang and LA benders, finally dying in the mawkishness of “Starting Over.”  Starting over?  In a self-imposed prison with Yoko?

Caples positively revels in the positive, yes yes yes “so fucking cool” vibe of the hipster clique—the rule is: ‘yes, yes, and always yes, while sitting in the circle of the clique.’  Everything revolves around good vibes and friends, all poets, and every poem written and read is magic.

Here, again, is the description of the Beat poet, the Beat Maestro, the Beat WCW, the Beat Dylan, and the Beat poem with lines that “feel almost unwritten:”

A short long poem—the best kind—“When I Was a Poet” has that easy virtuosity born of a lifetime pursuing said occupation. Micah invariably refers to Meltzer as “the Maestro” and that’s just it: his touch is so light and low key the lines feel almost unwritten, clear as air, the evolution of that Williams strain running through so-called “Beat” poetry. But Meltzer has a rhythmic swagger wholly absent from WCW, and “When I Was a Poet” sustains its lyric flight by chorus-like returns to its title-phrase. It has the sweep of a vintage Dylan epic but with a nimble, angular swing—Lenny Tristano kicking “Sad-Eyed Lady”?—and was definitely the showstopper.

And now, without further ado, we quote the first portion of the poem itself:

When I Was A Poet

When I was a Poet
I had no doubt
knew the Ins & Outs of
All & Everything
lettered
in-worded
each syllable
seed stuck to
a letter
formed a word
a world

When I was a Poet
the World was
a cluster of Words
splattered upon white space

When I was a Poet
I knew even what I didn’t
I thought I knew the Game
whereas the Game knew me
played me like an ocarina

When I was a Poet
I was an Acrobat
a Tightrope Walker
keeping balance
in my slippers
on a wire above
Grand Canyon
Inferno
Vertigo

Oh I did prance
the death-defying dance
whereas now
death defines each second
of awaking

When I was a Poet
everyone I knew
were Poets too
& we’d gather at spots
Poets & Others
met at & yes
questions yes
w/out pause
w/ no Answer

Ultimates
certainly
Absolutes
absolutely
but otherwise
Nada
Zilch
great Empty
blank page
blank stare
into the core of it All

When I was a Poet
Willie Nelson
was back to back w/
Paul Celan
side by side
on the Trail of Tears

—from David Meltzer’s “When I Was A Poet,” published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

This poem, with its childish platitudes and hammy beats, was a showstopper?

I guess you had to be there.

WHO WAS EDGAR ALLAN POE?

Poe is a great artist, reviled by so many, and by so many fellow scribes.  The critic Harold Bloom apologized to my face for his cowardly attack on Poe; “I was intolerant,” Bloom said, shamefully.

Helen Vendler simply laughed in my face.   I don’t think there’s any hope for her.

John Lennon, in 1967’s “I Am The Walrus,” wrote, Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.  And there is Poe, looking over everyone, in that Sgt. Pepper’s album cover.

Lennon wasn’t celebrating Poe; John was too smart for that, for the more important fact was “you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.”

This is the fact that remains.

Not the Vincent Price fame.

Not the “macabre” Poe who appeals to all the imbeciles.

The most important fact is that Poe was kicked by so many who should have known better.

Is it because Poe triumphs in so many areas that he frightens away the specialists?

Was he too mainstream for the avant-garde?

Was he too brilliant for the mainstream—who merely carry all the errors of who he was forward?

Was it the manner of his death?

The status quo greeted Poe’s murder with deafening silence; the atrocious libel by “Ludwig” was permitted to take root, and the view of his slanderous enemies grew.

Was there a seeming unspoken lesson here: the true genius will die horribly, and die alone?

Happy Birthday, Poe.

We know who you are.

And we won’t forget you.

LOSER NOWHERE MAN: HELP

He proved John Keats’ thesis: like Keats’ poet, the most unpoetical creature on earth, John Lennon was, in many ways, without star qualities, without confidence, without talent, without poetry; but he was a star’s star.  

Look at the video of the Beatles’ first American tour: confident Paul McCartney takes charge, while John looks uneasy, even scared to death; terrified, grinning, just trying to get through it.   On that first Ed Sullivan show, Paul’s singing is much stronger than John’s.  John is clearly scared.

Yesterday: Following Paul’s solo-in-the-spotlight performance in 1965, during the height of Beatlemania, of his song, that almost, by itself, transcended Beatlemania, and is still doing so, and perhaps, 100 years from now, may eclipse it entirely, John caustically said to the audience, “Thank you, Ringo, that was woon-da-ful!”   Here was John’s genius in a nutshell: insulting Ringo, Paul, “Yesterday,” rock music, and the whole idea of the Beatles in a few, off-the-cuff, words.   John’s wit demolished the expert, towering, sentiment of Paul’s two-minute pop genius in two seconds.

The quickness displayed by John’s mind is a mind easily bored, lazy and arrogant, too fully aware of its own power, and, of course, jealous.  John was a prolific songwriter when an-album-in-a-week composing deadlines made laziness impossible; as soon as the Beatles became cultural gods so that songwriting was no longer entirely necessary (Paul and George were talented and ambitious enough by 1968 that they could easily carry the Beatles themselves), John’s songwriting fell off tremendously; in the early 60s, John wrote hit after hit; from 1969 until his death, he wrote almost none, and many released after 1968 were actually written by John in 1967 and earlier.  “Imagine” sounds like it was written to order for Yoko Ono; “Imagine” sounds like a Yoko lyric, not a Beatle one.    When John was motivated to write, he was the best, but he was not a self-motivated genius.   

His competitive, love-hate relationship with Paul surely had a lot to do with his early 60s output, as well.   He soured on Paul for many reasons, but one  important result was that John became less and less a songwriter, and more and more a shrill egomaniac.

John the genius had no identity; he was absorbed by his environment; thrown in with Paul, he became a great songwriter, married to English Cynthia, he was a “fat,” meat-eating, English suburbanite, married to sophisticated, worldly Yoko, he was a skinny, tea-drinking, Big Apple-dweller.  As a rock star, he couldn’t resist women and drugs; as a cultural spokesman, he couldn’t resist shallow culture-speak.   The fat, 1965 married-to-Cynthia John scolded Allen Ginsberg for getting naked in public.  The skinny, 1969 married-to-Yoko John got naked in public.

By his own admission, John made fun of the weak—as a bullying kid, neglected his first child, and was cruel to his first wife.   Yoko was the perfect wife for the reformed John because she was picked on, and he got to defend her in front of the world.  This may be a crass way of putting it, but this is the sort of life John led, and he knew it.

There’s something cruel and jealous about a mimic, and perhaps Plato’s wariness of art has something to do with this, but John could cruelly mimic like no one else.  In recording out-takes, one can hear Lennon doing Bob Dylan, and John gets Zimmerman right—in a spot-on, cruel manner.

In the mid-60s, John struck out on a literary route, but as with everything else, he got bored of that, too.    John wrote his best lyrics in the 1966/1967 period, a brilliant, but small window of time.  “Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe,” John wrote in “I Am The Walrus.”   It takes a special kind of insight to see that Edgar Poe was picked on, and John, the ex-bully, who was reading a lot at that time, saw it.

Even during the height of Beatlemania, in photographs, John could look ugly, even though, in many photographs, he looks very handsome.  Knowing John, he certainly must have noticed this.   Even John-the-Beatle’s good looks, just like Keats’ unpoetic quality of the poet, was uncertain; doubtful at its core.

Jealous, ugly, shy, depressed, cruel, self-conscious, and in need of help. 

A star.

Happy Birthday, Johnny.

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