Friday, April 13, 2012
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Project Gutenberg, Distributed Proofreaders.
I just finished The Gift by Lewis Hyde.
It was my Lenten Reading for the year, that difficult book that
takes forty days and forty nights to finish and greatly improves
my life. Past years' selections were The Invention of the Middle Ages,
Edge Cities, and the entire Sandman series in one go.
Subtitled "Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World,"
it explains why the english and the american indians couldn't
possibly understand each other, how Whitman and Pound fit in
the scheme of America, how science relies on intellectual gift
exchange, much to the bedevilment of patent attorneys.
The gift that keeps on giving is more than a cliche to Hyde---it is the desired foundation of the culture. "Pass it on", "Pay It Forward"
the penny dish at the register, Grateful Dead concert tape trees,
young mothers organizing babysitting coöps and children's clothing exchanges, Open Source code, (well, maybe not Napster); all are manifestations of freely circulating gifts that I see around me. Hyde's examples tend toward the anthropological--Bead Exchange Practices among the Trobriand Islanders.
The new edition has a delightfully titled afterward "On Being Good Ancestors". It goes a long way toward explaining why we at Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreading devote so many hours with such intensity to our task. Unpaid, but not unrewarding.
I've been fascinated by Ezra Pound for years; can't make head nor tail of his poetry, but his biography and his character have always puzzled me. Here was the most generous honeybee of the modern age, pollinating artists and bringing their work to fruition.
The only comparison is with Paul Erdös, (the most prolific mathematician since Euler), roaming the world, stopping in math departments and conferences and announcing "My brain is open", talking for minutes with professors about their most difficult research problems and delivering flashes of insight that knock down barriers to creativity.
Mathematicians treasure a low Erdös number, the rating of how many collaborators away one is from someone who worked directly with the great man.
But Pound's later history is troubling: the radio rants, his worship of Mussolini, the anti-semitism, his long stay in St. Elizabeth's, his eventual return to Italy.
I've read Kenner's The Pound Era, Findlay's book on Pound in captivity and slogged through [parts of] The Cantos, but no one could explain how such a generous man turned so nasty, like Scrooge in reverse.
Lewis takes a new tack, a mythological interpretation. He shows how Pound early on invoked the god Hermes in his poetry, the god of roads, commerce, theft, the internet. Once summoned, "Hermes answered his invocation...[and] Pound backed off. Then, like any spurned deity, Hermes began to increase in power,...until he had enough power to pull the ego from its pivot."
Hyde offers a lightly Jungian explanation of the shadow, then demonstrates how trying to deny the shadow will overtake one's psyche, like Hazel Motes in O'Connor's Wise Blood. I'm normally leery of this type of interpretation, but Pound was a poet, after all, and the closest of us all to the old gods. He took them seriously, even if we don't.
Hyde ends the section recounting the tender story of how Allen Ginsberg made the pilgrimage to Rapallo as a supplicant seeking the blessing of the master.
The situation reverses with Pound eventually seeking Ginsberg's blessing.
"--anyway, now, do you accept my blessing?"
[Pound] hesitated, opening his mouth, like an old turtle.
"I do," he said---"but my worst mistake was the stupid
suburban prejudice of antisemitism, all along, that
"Ah, that's lovely to hear you say that..."
Whether or not this anecdote is literally true, it is a lovely story that brings
triumphant closure to the Pound Era.
The Times did an profile on Hyde last year and described The Gift as a soul-opening book, which I distinctly noticed in myself. I thought that feeling was my pancreas acting up, but now I recognize it for what it was. The Times article also noted The Gift is extremely difficult to paraphrase or summarize.
What was that quote,
"Life is a differential equation, such-and-such is the boundary value"?
Look at gift-exchange not as a expression of culture but as an initial condition that determines it, from which much else follows as a consequence.
Reading The Gift was a revelation,
like a beautiful dream, but just as quickly, the feeling dissipated.
Rereading it, the logical connections in his argument
that had so charged me faded into mist.
The glamour departed.
Invoking greek gods to explain madness, indeed!
Everydayness had returned,
rudely shoving the soul off the throne.
Yet briefly, it all made sense.
I am pedantically obligated to state that
there is no apostrophe in Finnegans Wake, by
Jame's Joyce, author of Dubliner's and Ulysse's.
Friday, April 8, 2011
I took the day off to work the library used book sale.
On the way back from lunch, I thought, probably be
slow in the afternoon, I'll pick up a paper and do the crossword.
Instead of jumping to Variety, I read thru the main news,
for word on the Govt Shutdown (I still have to go to work,
I've been declared essential, but might not get paid until June.
The last shutdown we thought we were essential,
but we were only self-important, and barred at the office door.)
I see an entertainment ad on page 5, strange place for it,
oh, its the Dakota, that fancy jazz place downtown,
wait! what? Club ad for <<Mighty ---->>?
Oh, letdown, it's the "Mighty Clouds of Joy".
At least its not the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones.
Wait? Whats the next line?
Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose!!
Apr 21. I phone the club and there are just a few seats left.
Gotta check the bank balance, get permission from the wife,
offer a perfunctory invitation to my kids,...
No takers?... OK, go on-line....
Bingo!! (or should that be Bongo!) Got me a reserved seat.
Around ten days ago, I revive my blog for no discernible reason,
cut and paste in some of my old favorites,
then get fresh inspiration to post
a dozen Sparrow tunes and start writing
a layman's introduction to Sparrow and Calypso.
Ten days later, I find out Sparrow,
who retired several years ago,
is coming to my hometown.
Can I help but think I put Obeah on him
and executed a Summoning Spell?
This worked better than any chain letter or
internet prayer circle.
In my cultural universe, there's James Joyce,
Mighty Sparrow and Leo Kottke, with a few
others trailing in the distance. This is big.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Sparrow the Scold II - A Mother's Love
In Mother, he addresses all those wastrel sons
who don't pay enough respect to their poor old mothers.
Sparrow's melody goes through key changes guaranteed
to break down the roughest customer into a blubbering wreck,
rushing to a telephone to make a long delayed call, or if
Sparrow's message comes too late, to the florist for
an overdue graveside arrangement.
The clarity of his tone and ability to convey complex lyrics
with powerful emotion are like Louis Jordan's skill with sweet
yet clever phrasing. Sparrow is a master of the English language,
at least his Grenadian dialect that often substitutes personal
pronouns in a disconcerting fashion: she's for hers, me for my, or
dropping them entirely as in they mommy belly empty. Sparrow
slips in and out of dialect to suit his emotional purposes (and
the meter of the line).
This pairing of sentiment and music is as strong as Al Jolson
inviting Sonny Boy upon his knee to explain why his mother is
now with the angels.
"In this place, certain men should hide their face
The way they treat their mother is a disgrace.
Neglect the old woman for donkey years
and when she dead, they're sheddin' crocodile tears.
And spendin' money like hell, to buy a casket big like Hilton Hotel.
But when their mother was alive, they didn't know she then,
Twas nightclubs and brothels and money used to spend.
They used to carry on, but now that she is gone,
Those hypocrites does weep and mourn.
But if you are lucky and you still have your mommy,
remember what Sparrow say:
Forget them jagabots and all them jezebels
and make sure your mommy OK.
So indiscreet, some of them drunk in the street
and their ma have nothing to eat.
Buying company, every day they on a spree
And they mommy belly empty.
When his mommy was in need, he never paid her heed
And she used to eat the bread the devil leave.
It was so unfair, I mean, a postcard once a year,
to pretend he so sincere.
Though she don't need a lot, please give her what you got,
Whether you rich or you poor -- I say,
Not only on her birthday, no, that isn't the way
Ev'ry day should be Mother's Day.
Oh, no, don't neglect your mommy so,
Don't leave her in tears and sorrow.
Don't forget, boy, you owe her the respect
That all good mothers should get.
You've got to make it a point of duty,
Do your best to see that she's always happy.
Not like those who pay they doctor bill
Only to make sure that they name come out in she Will.
Oh, you drove her out of mind, you treated she unkind,
How could you be so blind, to leave your ma to pine?
The pain she had to bear, to bring you safely here,
And now you don't really care.
You treated her crude and for your ingratitude
Some day you will have to pay.
Because retribution meets ev'ry man
Who treats his mommy that way.
It's unkind to leave her undone,
Don't be a blasted ungrateful son....
You'll be a very lucky fella
If you still have the treasure
Of the wealth of a mother's love."
The recording goes on a bit long, but in live performance,
Sparrow would tailor it to maximum effect, judging his
audience like a preacher delivering the Mother's Day sermon
to a backsliding congregation.
Sparrow's phrasing is clear and usually easy to understand,
despite the unfamiliar dialect words and shifts in pronunciation.
The pain she had to bear to bring you safely here
And now you don't really care; in this line, bear and care are
made to rhyme with here. Obeah varies, but is usually sung Oab-yah.
"J'Ouvert morning" seems to be the Monday preceding Mardi Gras Tuesday,
but running from Sunday night to Monday's dawn.
Sparrow the Scold - I
By the seventies, Caribbean tourism became dangerous.
Several well-publicized murders and increasing violence
between rival troupes of calypsonians was keeping away
tourists and the Yankee dollar.
In Woom Poom, Sparrow personally guarantees the safety
of a visiting lady.
He exhorts her to "shake up ye woom poom, breakaway!
We can rest Ash Wednesday". The melody is so enchanting,
I had to listen to it many times before I caught on
to the undertone of reassurance in the face of legitimate fears.
Around the same time, the Jamaican Tourist Board ran the
"Come Back to Jamaica" campaign. It took me a long time to
recognize the tune as John Lennon's "War is Over (Happy Xmas)",
but later found they were both based in an old folk melody "Skewball".
In Rope, Sparrow directly takes on the gang rivalries, urging them
to "behave yourselves in public".
"While everyone was jumping up and having a good time
They were pelting and fighting, trying to spoil a songline."
"Boasting how they afraid no one, not even police
But this year is for love and peace so this nonsense must cease".
This song features a driving bassline and chordal rhythm guitar
throughout, with a horn section over it all.
If only rappers devoted as much effort in controlling their fans worst excesses.
A mad scientist, experimenting with "musical radiation" is caught in a
lab explosion. Music & Rhythm infect every part of his body.
The beat and the sheer inventiveness of the lyrics carry the day
through this unexpectedly melodic song, similar to a Gilbert & Sullivan
patter song, in the number of items listed and the depth of description,
as the twitchy music radiation affects each part of his body. [This was
the first Sparrow song I heard, on the Peter Gabriel WOMAD collection.
Many years later, while fishing on Napster, I rediscovered it and
continued searching out Sparrow. In 2008, I traveled to New Jersey
to catch Sparrow's 70th birthday tour.]
There is a Statue of Captain Cipriani overlooking the square in
Port of Spain, Trinidad, where the dance troupes assemble for carnaval.
One year, the music is too much for him. He comes alive, ripping himself
from the pedestal, clanking his metal feet down the street, joining the
(This song won the annual Road March award when it was
premiered in 1974. Twenty-five years later, a statue of Sparrow
was erected as well).
(Rematch) shows the two fighting again. In the first version, the
Monkey Judge awards the prize to Donkey as the greatest of beasts,
based not on power or strength or cunning, but on the indisputable
size of his member.
Sparrow the Historian
Remember that weird story about the man who left the
Buckingham Palace tour and wandered into the Queen's bedroom?
Sparrow used that as a starting point in "Phillip, My Dear", wrapping the
anecdote in a classic dirty joke, in a burlesque worthy of Jonathan Swift
(who would never have attempted it, as the royals still chopped off heads
for gross impertinence in those days).
Before the unexpected fiery climax made that joke not funny anymore,
Sparrow took on those misbehaving princesses and the Royal Family's
reaction in "London Bridge".
The foibles of British Empire weren't Sparrow's only target.
Off and on he lived in Brooklyn. His analysis of the Impeachment
and the Clinton/Lewinski affair is as detailed as a Sunday morning
news program and as funny as The Daily Show.
He came out of retirement to record "Barack the Magnificent," which wasn't
quite as driving and insightful as his other work. Over a fifty year span,
he recorded "The Juice is Loose" on the OJ Simpson trial, "Ayatollah" on
the Hostage Crisis, "Idi Amin", "Russian Satellite" on the Sputnik panic
and "New York Blackout".
"Castro Eating a Banana" will be discussed under the
Incredibly Dirty Jokes, Tastefuly Told category.