Monday, March 11, 2013

#62 Guest Poem by Amit Majmudar

From the New Yorker September 17 2012, entitled "To the Hyphenated Poets"--its title perhaps an in-joke for in-the-know denizens of the Poesisphere ... which without a little research on my part I don't quite "get"-- no question though that he's being purely symbolic/metaphoric in his thoroughgoing praise of two-mindedness. I've inserted a guest painting illustrating abstractly what a hyphenated mind might look like –  artist unknown –because that's what is poem is about basically, the problem of AMBIVALENCE==literally and etymologically "two forces"-- holding in one's consciousness two opposing or conflicting attitudes toward a person, a situation, a thing etc. –in its multiform manifestations: emotionally and intellectually--there's a split right there--love/hate, dilemmas of one kind or another, dual complications, rock and a hard place in the popular cliché, difficult choices one way or the other etc. etc. – OF TWO MINDS about one thing or another, and we all have had this experience. here for the poet it's a CREATIVE and spiritually healthy experience, at least in the enterprise of poetry creation – but implied is the healthy exercise for everybody to work through it no matter the outcome. Generally the poet lauds this state of mind as healthy positive happy etc. and is the mother's milk as he puts it for the new generation of ideas born by conflicting ideas in one's head. I quote it now:

Richer than mother's milk
is half-and-half.
Friends of two minds,
redouble your craft.

Our shelves are hives, our selves
a royal jelly,
may we at Benares and Boston,
Philly and Delhi

collect our birthright nectar.
No swarm our own,
we must be industrious, both
queen and drone.

Being too beings requires
a rage for rigor,
rewritable memory,
hybrid vigor.

English herself is a crossbred
mother mutt,
primly promiscuous
and hot to rut.

Oneness? Pure chimera.
Splendor is spliced.
Make your halves into something
twice your size,

your tongue a hyphen joining
nation to nation.
Recombine, become a thing
of your own creation,

a many minded mongrel,
the lines renewal,
self-made and twofold,
soul and dual.

Notice that the poem needs to be READ as well as listened to out loud or in one's head to get the pun in the last line on soul/sole – a very bold assertion at that. The sole whole consciousness of the poet is one of ambivalence always – never ONENESS at all. That is a CHIMERA– as he points out in stanza six. Just what I need: a poem that justifies my entire life ha ha – since I have been two or three minded about everything and nothing throughout my entire threescore and 10 years on this planet.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

#61 Take-Your-Pick Haikus

My Late Afternoon Pond

Slanting sun makes

Toy sailboats from floating geese.

Who is the child?


Sly slanting sun 

Makes toy sailboats out of the

Floating geese. Childish!  


Monday, August 27, 2012

#60 "I Give the Mass." Continued His High Quarkness. "but Not THAT Kind."

[c.f. last post]
No, not related, etymologically. There's a great joke going around though: a Higgs boson walks into church and the priest says, "I'm sorry we don't allow sub-atomic particles." The boson parries, "But you can't have MASS without me."  hahaha. I love a good laugh because it's serious stuff literally, that I deal with down here, 24/7 times infinity--a real head- (if I had one) ache keeping all those other quirky quarklets (some officially monikered e.g. "strange" and "charm"  no kidding) in line, giving them mass, and a certain gravitas. Haha ...told you  This is why I affectionately refer to St. Peter of  Higgs also as Dr Higglety-Pigglety. The quantum scene is to my poetic ear (if I had one) a double-dactyl rumbling-tumbling surreal sort of miasmic musical maelstrom (ha) that even I/ME find hard to believe in.                                                                               

[1] But back to the point: mass in the hieratic sense derives from the Late Latin "Ite, missa est" which means literally in order "Go,  dismissal is" from the past participle of mittere, to put, to put out, to place, to go,  etc. (and cognate with so many other Latin borrowings like mission and mess, in the sense of meal – the putting-out and placing thereof). Did I mention that I dearly love Latin, my second language? Well, so the Ite etc. phrase means more loosely something like Go away, it's put-you-out time. Funny isn't it that the parishioners would remember the end of the service as if glad to be through with it, rather than the beginning or the middle or the whole. The poor peasants didn't understand a word that was being said anyway. But in the late Middle Ages with the usual linguistic forces of phonetic compression and folk etymology ( the sense of "massing" together) at work, the phrase became the single word mass, unrelated historically to any other usage. But I love folk, and their etymology, and massing-together is so sweet an idea to a sentimental Old Particle at heart, if I had one – haha, somebody please stop me – because there's a symbolic connection at least between the priestish mass and myself. We're both in the congregation business – aggregating, gathering together bunches of people massed together at these holy functions, like e.g. the "masses" showing up in huge quantities for Funny Hat Day at St. Peter's (pace Higgs) Basilica most famously on Easter Sunday.

[2] But for me, the original Matter-Maker, mass has in fact a much more ancient and pregnant meaning, if you will. Goes like this: Proto-Indo-European root into Greek "Massein" = to knead (massage is related), and then into the Latin noun masa, the finished product = a lump of dough. Interesting creational implications here of course. and even Eucharistic. Matter is another matter – ultimately coming from another Latin  borrowing: mater, and, hey, I'm sort of in the mothering business myself. One more thing and I'll shut up:

[3] As to mess, as in meal, repast, brunch, munchies, snack, etc-- it's like the biblical mess of pottage or modern mess hall or in the epigraph to this blog's fraternal twin Daily Mosteller Weekly (below masthead), which asks the reader pun-ishingly to sit down to a "mess" of memes and mummery. You would expect the form to be related to the mass-masa-maize lump-o'-dough family, but no. We're back to  the holy service once again with that workhorse Latin verb mittere, which means, we recall, to place or put out though NOT in this sense the parishioners, but rather a meal. Of course the Eucharist is in its own way a mess, and after church they could mass in the mess hall and maybe get a group massage ...

Our interviewee continued in this vein for some time, later extolling in particular the virtues of the old-timey Latin form of mass, even praising current practitioners like Mel Gibson and Antonin Scalia as among his favorites, reminding us that grammar school originally meant learning LATIN grammar back in the day (one simply KNEW English already, forheavensake), and that Anglo-Humans should return to the old practice of high-school Latin for everybody, and Greek in college. Modern languages--pshaw. After this lengthy divigation the Supreme Quarkman returned to the issues at hand::

However, jokes and etymology aside, there's a nice parallel here because I AM in the congregation/aggregation business. I get things together and afford them weight and quant-ity, so to speak ... and then let them go. There's a cosmic cuteness there--don't you agree?-- and I'm the guy-particle who does it, by God. My good friend Peter Higgs figured it out mathematically. Another old friend, Pythagoras, had it half-right when he said that mathematics gives you the key to the universe, but only after you humans bumped your heads and started counting things. Incidentally, isn't it weird that Pythagoas, the first great "bean counter" in history, hated beans and forbade his followers from eating them! But I digress. Sorry. My first interview after all. Anyway, for Peter Higgs Ph.D. my quarkhood just had to be there, somehow, either as a particle, or field, or maybe both at the same time. Also weird, but that's Quantumland for you. Kudos to the young man– oops, it was 50 years ago– who predicted me, and now the CERN people, whoever they are, confirming my existence in the Large Hadron Collider, whatever that is.. I understand that they actually have sparkly images of me in action, or I should say REaction, to some pretty painful neutron bombardment just short of the speed of light. Ouch.  One of Me only lasts a Godzillionth of a second, but they managed to get me in the picture. You should be able to detect a smile.
Higgs Boson Residue, Two Lines on Right
This reporter readily agreed with the painful aspect of his experience because I had spent some stock-still bombardment-time in an MRI sound tunnel while in terrible back and sciatic pain ... and could sympathize. I felt like a subHUMAN particle. So why was it, I asked, that he/it could "crack" a smile, as it were. And how did it feel personally to be a SUB-atomic particle, the lowliest of the low in the material universe, not up even to the atomic level ... a fortiori the molecular and above (using a little Latin to put him at ease).

I'll take the second question first: technically I'm not quite a quark, since they discovered so many of us little buggers at Fermilab or Livermore or someplace North American, exploding the atom into all of those literally strange and plasmatic parts underlying everything that is or ever was even onto the Big Bang. They had to rename some of us undergirding the atom, which poor unsung Democritas, another old friend, discovered some 2500 years ago! I'm a big-banger, you know, from the very beginning of things. And remember, young man, I keep YOUR (M)ASS together. So I'm lately not a quark because of something or other, I don't know, but a boson. Nothing against the term quark – and I'll explain that in a minute –but I do alternatively like the very sound of  b o s o n. Pronounce it. How deep and masculine it is, and dignified, suitable for one in charge of massivity throughout the shiny parts of the universe. Sonorous. Nothing wimpy or tinny to the ear. Two great (un-morphemic) half-words as well: bow and son, the whole comprising deep-throated, low-back vowels. Nice.

But back to quarkitude: I don't mind being lumped with with those guys; they're terrific crazy twee things ...  fun to be with. I have, on the other hand, the weightiness of a proton or neutron, I'm told, all the better to throw it around and get these little Big-Bangers into a bonding frame of mind. Got to, in order to make things work, and let the graviton do ITS thing. And BTW I'm just crazy about Finnegan's Wake, though even I can't understand it. But I know enough to know that Murray Gell-Mann and his gang were right on track, and in probably a celebratory state, in naming all of us drunken and shaky maelstrom mavens after a phrase from the novel. The barman of the public house yells to a dipsodic regular, "Three quarks [quarts] for Muster Mark!"
 Since I forgot question #3, if there was one, I'll answer #1: Why am I smiling? Well, it's like this: as for the material, luminous universe, YOU'VE NOW GOT ALL THE ANSWERS ... right down to the singularity and the act of creation, a.k.a. the Big Bang. The subatomic quantum world is complete. No more mystery. Okay, y'all may need to deal with arcane problems like oscillating neutrinos etc etc and blah blah a bigger puzzlement afforded by those dread twins, Dark Matter and Dark Energy that seem to make up only the other 95% of the cosmos! But no more need for the SUPERnatural to answer the age-old question of how you got here. I am the answer. Here's the catch.[another smile] It's a terrifying but at the same time liberating idea that you humankind have reluctantly known in your hearts for a long time: you're on your own.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

#59 "Yes, Virginia," Says the God Particle, "'There Really Is a ME."

Hiya, kids Hiya! ... or as I should say, 'Yea and Verily,' to keep up godish decorum here for the doubting Virginias and Thomases out there. That's Me, Your Everlovin' Holiness, sort of on the lower left--where FINALLY, after 3 million years of evolution, the humanoid brain of one Reverend Dr. Higgelty-Pigglety, as I playfully like to call him as only I can, got it right. To My mind--and I've got the biggest one--Peter Higgs will go down as a PROPHET surpassing Jesus or Mohamed any day of My week! And you guys at CERN, whatever that means, CONFIRMED it ...  bless your hearts--I'm  a QUARK!"

Of course, Mr. Yahweh's first statement was in the form of sparky and blippy things transmuted somehow onto computer machines at the Large Hadron Collider, someplace European. The resulting interview is a mathematical translation of literally TRILLIONS of the sparky-blippy things into readable Latin prose, then King James English, and finally--

That's right. [said the Subatomic One] I'm one in a trillion, upon more trillions ad infinatum--just loves Me that Latin, by the way, though I don't speak it very well--but then who DOES these days?! Ha, Ha  Not my native tongue, as if I had one. Sorry. But to get all quantumy on you: I GIVE the MASS.  .............

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

#58 Death of a Childhood Hero [in progress]

Smilin' Ed McConnell died right in front of me ... sort of. He was right there on the television machine one minute, and then he wasn't ... because he was dead, I was alive and only eleven,  What's happening? He was right over there on the screen last week. It's gotta be that old Froggy playin' tricks again. But there seemed no amount of  plunking on his magic twanger could get Ed back.

I.didn't know him "face-to-face" till his transition from radio to TV, which sadly was a short 2 or 3 years. And it took me at least that long to get over it. Here's the deal ... I loved the guy.  I got to know Smilin' Ed before I could see his smile/ Ed was in my head.

[ A "partial post"  related to DMW #233. More to come, but here it is for now.]

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

#56 Double Down THIS! ... Food-Pundit Persons

One last time--I guess almost literally ad nauseum--for the notorious Double Down aka KFCT = Kentucky Fried Church Triumphant. Because it got new life. A resurrection, if you will. Originally a limited-time promotional item, perhaps on the order of "Hey Madge, I'm sure as hell not gonna eat one--I promise, just the Colonel's new UN-fried grilled stuff for me on account of those love-handles you keep bringing up lovingly, Dear--but let's take the kids out for a bucket or two so's we can see one of them Double Downs in it's natural environment ... roamin' about maybe outside its cage. Should be a sight to behold."

So before its projected six-weeks of fame expired, the DD's run was extended (and presumably still going on) by dint of an outpouring of popular demand, or so we're told by the Colonel's representatives here on Earth. Not surprising. Our selfish CAVE-PEOPLE genes (in the Dawkinsian sense) know what's good for us; we just eat too much of it for our savannah-less lifestyles. Our DNA will eventually mutate and adaptively catch up with (in a few tens of thousands of years, say, at best--sorry, dieters) our light-speed cultural evolution. (See earlier KFC posts MM # 48-50.) For on the molecular level we're still a grab-and-gorge organism ... till the next meal, and our deep-dish, autochthonous programming can never be sure when that will be.

However, speaking of programming, here's another typical party-line food-nanny, like SFGate's Mark Morford in earlier posts (q.v.), telling us a couple of weeks ago just how very bad the KFC sandwich is for us. This time, though, Mr. Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post actually tastes the thing--Morford only imagined, wrongly, how oh-so-awful it would be. But it's in the eating--it's not clear if he spits, wine-taster-wise--wherein lies the proof of this fellow's hypocritical pudding. The video clip "Tom Tries the KFC Double Down" starts out portentously enough, invoking vaguely the authority of Michelle Obama, but then loses all credibility--take a look--when he admits to a "love" for McDonald's french-fries and a "soft spot" for Popeye's chicken and biscuits!

He obviously wants to dissociate himself here from the common run of food-fascists and be more one-of-the-guys, but it doesn't work. A dead give-away is when, before tasting it, he describes the sandwich as made up, first of all, of "two salty slices of chicken breast." Qua?! How does he know that yet? More important question: What kind of salinity does he think he's getting in his favorite McFries or his Popeye drumstick? Both also deep-fried, and the latter pressure-cooked to a turn. Sure enough, when the video gets to the point, the headless voice-over avers that
In the hand it feels like a greasy paperweight. As for the taste [chomp above camera angle] I feel my mouth flooding with salt and fat. This is not a guilty pleasure. More like an endurance test, best served with a gallon of water. I can see how these [hefting two of them for effect] might go over well at a frat party, but, seriously, there's nothing enjoyable about this sandwich. Thumbs down for the Double Down!

O ye Hypocrites! ... the Colonel might be heard intoning somewhere beyond the grave.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

#55 "The Bread Worked, Mr. Wilbur: One More Spring."

Or, Gaia Mater may have just skipped it all together--in deference to our suffering through so protracted a winter. We've been getting summer temperatures hereabouts, since April. Several: record-breaking.

I'm sure the record depredations of the Winter of 2010, which ended only a matter of a couple of weeks ago on the East Coast, had something to to do with the desperation behind "Ecclesiastes 11:1." This entitled poem appeared in the New Yorker about a month ago, and it is testimony to my slackitude lately that before I could get it to the Blog, the old man (89) has gone and done another one for this week's issue! (That one being a nice take on Arnold's "Dover Beach"--both of which recommended.) Twice Pulitzered Richard Wilbur has always been one of my favorites, noted for using traditional poetic forms--here the tercet stanza and even rhyme (a-x-a), of all things--to explore modern themes. (To oversimplify.) Thus:

Ancient preacher said,

Trusting that it may
Amply be restored to us

That old metaphor,
Drawn from rice farming on the
River's flooded shore,

Helps us to believe
That it's no great sin to give,
Hoping to receive.

Therefore I shall throw
Broken bread, this sullen day,
Out across the snow,

Betting crust and crumb
That birds will gather, and that
One more spring will come.

It's a poem about spring, but mostly about Love, especially in the agape/caritas sort of way. Bread, birds, people connect transcendentally in the natural rhythm of give and take. Note the key word "sullen"--a people-adjective primarily, but here gloomily projected upon the natural landscape, "affective-fallacy"-wise. The speaker un-sullenizes himself and Nature by joining with Her in that very traditional love-gift: bread. An item, by the way, symbolically merging the Raw of nature's granary and the Cooked of the man-made world. And the birds mediate between the two.

For Sandro Botticelli and the Ancients, it was always the power of Love that moved the earth from fallow to fecund. The artist's famed "Birth of Venus" above (which I compared in a little different context to Farah Fawcett's immortal poster in MM #7) is really about the arrival of Spring. That's the titular Goddess of same offering Venus the cloak, and those on the left are the warm-west-wind Zephyrs blowing flowers all over the place.

The Greek mythos behind Aphrodite (= "foam-arisen") and transferred to the Roman Venus represented Love in the most primitive form. Not bread; rather the testicles of Uranus were cast into the sea by his son Cronus after he had so very Oedipally cut them off. Later, they emerged from the ocean on the shore of Cyprus quite logically in the fully-grown form of the Fertility Goddess herself. Spring in the mortal world could officially begin; Love had arrived. Sort of like:

Cast thy BROAD upon the waters, for she will amply be restored, after many a day.


Monday, May 3, 2010

#54 Nashville/Music City Footnote Endnote

Well, whaddyaknow. Nashunal news. Worst rainfall in historic times befalls the Music City over the weekend. Flooded the place. Maybe I put a jinx on it. But here's the interesting thing, itself worthy of one last annotation: it's been put to music already!

More about that in a minute. Here, yesterday, is the very evacuated, very wet, and very east end of "Lower Broadway" in Nashville's downtown tourist-district mentioned in last posts. Cumberland River in background ... and foreground! To your right a couple of blocks up would be Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, and, further up a couple of more, the equally iconic Ryman Auditorium, spared any damage (I gather) to its refurbished but still-humble self. Across the river, however, its come-lately counterpart and new official home of the Grand Ole Opry, the mawkish Opryland Complex--including convention center, hotels, and amusement park (true Spamalot, if you will)--reportedly suffered the most flooding. Poetic justice there, maybe.

As for "Camelot" on the other side of town--Vanderbilt, Parthenon, etc.--it's not only high-brow, but also very high-ground. No damage that I could locate amongst the online news reports. For there's really quite a steep drop from the western "headlands" to the bottom-land around the river (you'll notice that at one point on the video I came across). It's Tennessee, after all. Hillbilly country. In a good way and all due respect.

However, while surfing the internet for news I ran across a YouTube piece that must be shared, because so much in the Music-City spirit. For if there's a tragedy in your life--usually of the boy-girl-heartbreak kind--simply write a sad and twangy song about getting drunk about it. You can think of examples immediately, I'm sure. My archetypal favorite: "There's a Tear in My Beer from Cryin' over You." But then there's the punnish "She's Actin' Single; I'm Drinkin' Doubles (for My Troubles)." Or the lyrical "Pop a Top ... Again." Oops ... a whole 'nother post, never to be written.

Anyway, a fellow identified as Michael Deppish put this video together (in apparently no time at all), chronicling the great Nashville flood of 1-2 May 2010, along with an instrumental piece (though not really Nashville-sound at all) entitled "Windows" by a band called The Album Leaf. Very much worth the watch and the listen. (Notice at 1:17 that the cops are barricading Broadway's lower reaches behind them and down off in the distance.) Here it is.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

#53 Nashville/Music City Footnote III

For any good shaggy dog story, or furry footnote, the teller must dilatate and attenuate the plot(less)line sufficiently to result in complete anti-climax. So far. so good. The bathetic conclusion is nearby, however.

But first, that other side of town. To the east past Music Row (the record companies), on to downtown and now all the way over the river to the Disneyish Opryland complex--here is represented the Nashville most associated in the national consciousness. Spamalot let's call it, to distinguish it from the highbrow western end with its Athenian pretensions.

More specifically, from the (now-restored) old cathedral of country music, Ryman Auditorium, and down a few blocks to the Cumberland River you've got the revitalized, just-like-the-old-days Lower Broadway. This was/is Nashville's Bourbon St., or Beale St. in Memphis--its blues with "twang" if you will--where you can walk and sample for free the "Sound" coming from little open-door bars lining both sides of the street. No cover but a beer to get into these living definitions of a "honky-tonk," because most nights are amateur ones. And they're all only a few doors down from the next, punctuated by arcades, fast-food places, and "museums"/fan-shops dedicated to one country-music star or another, or all of them. Apocalyptically tawdry ... and great fun.

And, de gustibus, good music. The wannabe Porter Wagoners and Dolly Partons who flock to Lower Broadway most often bring some talent with them. Tootsie's Orchid Lounge has always been the ultimate mecca for those pilgrims. The real-life proprietor Louise "Tootsie" Bess could be seen hovering around the bar in my day, and several years later be seen doing the same thing, cameo-wise, in Robert Altman's Nashville (1975). She was to aspiring country-singers what Johnny Carson was to would-be stand-up comics. As in Altman's movie--and in the under-appreciated W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings that same year, with Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed, including a cameo by guess-whom--if you got a gig at Tootsie's, you got it made in Music City.

So it was for Ms. Parton, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, and Waylon Jennings, among others. Roger Miller reportedly penned "King of the Road" at Tootsie's. Porter Wagoner, on the other hand, was already a recording and television star when he hit Nashville in the late 50s. He had been featured on TV's Ozark Jubilee in his native Missouri for some years, had several hit records to his credit, and had earned the moniker, Mr. Grand Ole Opry, before Dolly even signed on with him.

He was almost a literal "hit" with me, too. Or call it a near-physical "brush" with celebrity. Enough. Here's the story. I'd been commuting to Vanderbilt from our place across the river for a couple of weeks before the fall semester had started, and could easily find parking on campus. But this was the first day of classes on that morning in 1968. Parking lots full. So back around to just off big 21st Ave., across from what was then the Divinity School, where I found a spot. Also across from campus on 21st was a pancake house--could have been an IHOP, but it shortly became a Lum's beer and hot-dog joint anyway--whose parking-lot driveway debouched into the side-street upon which I had parked, and upon whose sidewalk I was soon walking, carrying my briefcase, thinking intently upon the very new day ahead.

Gap in sidewalk ... proceed across driveway a step or two ... catch glimpse of bright yellow object in corner of right eye ... closing fast ... jump back ... see Cadillac convertible inches away sliding by and galumphing to a halt halfway into the side-street and already well into a right turn. Car rocks back and forth a moment ... driver with long, houn'-dog face, topped with flamboyant cowboy-hat, looks over shoulder of garishly embroidered jacket ... says in distinctive baritone:

Sorry about that, Pardner.
And drives off.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

#52 Nashville/Music City Footnote II

Nashville ... 'tis a silly place. It's Camelot and, pace Monty Python, Spamalot both at the same time. Two separate but equal kingdoms. Wonderfully schizoid. On the one hand there's the city as the "Athens of the South," with an actual full-size replica of the PARTHENON in Centennial Park to prove it. (Another Greekism, hubris, might also come to mind here.) There it is, right across West End Ave. from Vanderbilt University. But the latter is only one of literally dozens--think Boston or the NC "Triangle" hereabouts--of higher-learning institutions dotting the landscape.

The crown-jewel, my doctoral alma mater, was founded by steamship-mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt, the "Commodore"--a strictly honorary title like chicken-mogul Harlan Sanders' Kentucky "Colonel"--in 1873. Might as well have been called "Vanity" U, because once he had bought up the little Methodist college on the west side of town; had donated his money and his name; he and his family had little to do with it after that. Unlike those other trickle-down tycoon-clans like the Carnegies and Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts have never been great philanthropists, even unto "poor-little-rich-girl" Gloria. For example-- sort of a "NEWS FLASH!"--the Obamas just visited the spectacular Biltmore House this weekend on their romantic getaway to Asheville. They were doubtless the only ones who got in without paying the pricey entrance fees. That monument to gilded-age excess nearly bankrupted that line of the Commodore's progeny, which has been trying to catch up ever since Biltmore was almost but never quite "built" to this day. They were always good at spending, not giving.

The University is most noted today for its top-ranked MEDICAL SCHOOL/med-center--two Nobel laureates (seven total, incl. other departments)--and its #1 ranking (last week's USNews) in grad-school EDUCATION, due in large part to the purchase and full incorporation a couple of decades ago of the venerable Peabody College for Teachers next-door. A long-time partner. Tipper Gore got her M.A. there; Al was Vandy Law. But in my day it was ENGLISH. It was the home of the still-influential New Critical School for the study of literature (Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren), and the "Fugitive Movement" in poetry, producing three U.S. Poet laureates: Alan Tate, Randall Jarrell, and Robert Penn Warren again. "Red" Warren is the only author, in addition, to win the Pulitzer for both poetry (twice) AND fiction: the novel, All the King's Men (1947). My "convention-buddy" James Dickey, Pulitzer-prized poet and movie-star-manque in his novel-to-movie, Deliverance, hailed from those heady environs too.

Let me pause over the former. He was no crowd-rouser like John Forsythe, but Robert Penn "Call-Me-Red" Warren was a hit nonetheless when we were able to bring my fellow Vandy alum to our little college in the late 70s. Still active, he was then working on a libretto ( !) for a collaborative operatic version of his famous novel (truly a man for all genres). Called Willy Stark, it was presented on PBS a few years later, and is now on DVD. During his visit to campus, we were able to screen the original, Academy-Award-winning movie-adaptation of All the King's Men (1949) with Broderick Crawford (Best Actor winner) et al., as yet unsullied by the disastrous re-make of several years ago, with Sean Penn (relation?) in the Willy Stark/Huey Long role.

As for my association with wild-man James Dickey, it'll have to wait for a later post. As for the luminaries on the other side of town--Nashville's Spamalot, if you will--I need to get back to the great clash/crash of cultures that occurred on that fall morning in 1968 where driveway + sidewalk + street met in near-deadly triangulation for the two people involved. And so I shall, right now. (more).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

#51 Nashville/Music City Footnote

Make that a quarter-note; I'm still semi-quavering from the incident. A truly comic, Minnie-Pearl moment. Never thought, just because I wasn't particularly fond of Country Music--even though I will lay claim to deep Southern roots--that I'd be RUN OVER for it! Well, almost--if my reflexes hadn't been awake enough that morning in the fall of 1968, my very first day of class in Vanderbilt's Ph.D program. Grand Ole Opry stalwart Porter Wagoner was only a hair's-breadth innocent of vehicular manslaughter. At the least: mayhem and manglement. His speed wasn't Toyota-lethal.

Look at those "-dos"! His pompadour challenges the heights of Dolly's B-52. And look at his long, houn' dog face (and voice to match). The archetypal country singer--famous already for classics like "Green, Green Grass of Home" and others, but today more so for his early partnership with Dolly Parton ... both of her. She was a recent "replacement" (who knew then?) for Wagoner's former female sidekick/duetist on his long-time popular TV show. But before Dolly broke away some six years later to her own spectacular fame, they were the most adored couple on Nashville's famed WSM, the Opry's eyes and ears, which beamed country music around the planet.

So ... not surprising that theirs was one of the very first shows we happened to tune into on the motel TV-set during idle moments late in the summer of '68, before our arrival that fall. (We were in the process of scouting locations to accommodate our home at the time--a "mobile" one, the "grad-school caravan"--that we would be having towed from the environs of U. of Toledo to "The Athens of the South" in just a few weeks)

We couldn't have missed it. Their weekly, live-0n-tape show from the venerable Ryman Auditorium was repeated and syndicated every day and all over the dial, so popular was it. "Oh, no," we thought, "better find something palatable about country music. Were gonna get a steady diet of it." What the hell, we'd be halfway there--livin' in a trailer-park an' all (though an "upscale" one, complete with pool).

It wasn't hard to become a fan. Particularly of the two pictured above. I firmly believe that the two of them, especially Parton's later celebrity, contributed to getting the Nashville Sound well into the mainstream. If it wasn't Robert Altman. Trivia-alert: If you'll recall, in that director's acclaimed movie, Nashville (1975), Henry Gibson (of TV's Laugh-In fame) was cast as "Haven Hamilton," a pompadoured country-singer, garishly clad in rhinestone vestmentage. Altman patterned him after none other than Mr. Wagoner, then added political ambitions to his character for plot-purposes. Trivium #2 (can't resist), same movie: Lily Tomlin was cast in a major role as an aspiring country-singer/song-writer; she's a divorced, working mother, waitressing till she gets her big break. (The actress actually wrote and performed her own song for the film.) Flash-forward to the great comic film 9 to 5 (1980), inspired by Dolly Parton's top-40 hit. Lily Tomlin, again playing a struggling divorced Mom, co-stars with Parton, who now has Tomlin's Nashville role as an aspiring country-songstress working office-jobs till she gets her big break. Cosmic.

Anyway, six years before her Hollywood breakthrough (Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, 1982, came soon after her success in 9 to 5--not to mention the very-close-to-home Rhinestone, 1984, the bomb which may have killed it for her) ... here she is with Porter Wagoner just before the break-up, clearly demonstrating why they were so popular. Take a look. Notice the good-natured banter, the blend of voices--very nice is the alternating of harmonics: she will descant soprano when he's baritone melody; he will provide lower-register "continuo" when she takes the melodic line.

Take a good look. Another six years prior to that show, he's the same guy who almost ran me down with his bright-yellow Cadillac convertible. (more)