The Actual Summer Cool-Down

September 20, 2011

Well, there’s nothing like skinny women brushing down the streets with their trailing dusters and rain, rain, and more rain to signal that summer has come to a close and that chilly, grey days are here to stay. And the Autumnal Equinox officially arrives this Friday. Bah. Time to get in a couple more sun salutations before it really isn’t “’tis the season” anymore.

So… summer is fading, yes. In its place, we fill our hearts with the warmth of creative energy. Here are some items and projects I’m really digging while I go about my days in denial of this dreaded seasonal transition.

1. Keith Haring-inspired designs

Whole Foods is selling purses or at least lunch bags with prints of Keith Haring’s squiggle people in  simple red and black color choices. But I’ve been thinking back to some chairs I saw years ago in Barcelona, modular furniture in fact, that also featured blown-up prints of Haring’s designs. A mere search of the internet oracle doesn’t turn up the designs stored in my memory, but Keith Haring chairs of other varieties are definitely a reality.

2. Rethink NYC

Rethink NY(C)

I came across this poster on the subway, and I really like its clever subversion of the rampant urbanism (of the concrete variety) of New York City with the use of borrowed imagery — the manicured lushness of Central Park, were it able to skip its bounds or jump its banks (pick your metaphor).

3. Sara K. Rubin Ceramics

I’ve been thinking a lot about S.K.R. and her pottery because of a designer (to be discussed in a later post) that I see at work all the time now, whose creations remind me of Sara’s gorgeous wall hangings.

And the best for last!

4. Scarfy!

Video by angela+ithyle

Designlovefests’s Bri Emery told me there were no rules so I got much more excited about my underloved scarf collection. Et tu?

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Common Vs. Common

April 4, 2011

Today only!

Geographers’ Special: Cities, Decadence, et cetera …

Another day featuring bands with male vocalists. I kind of feel like I need to wedge The Go-Go’s in here somewhere just to balance it out. Or Portishead, maybe. And it’s another British and another American band. C’mon, other countries, catch up! (Actually, that’s ultimately the focus of this blog – more on that in future posts!)

Architectural Style: Brutalism. Exhibit A.

I’m really glad I had the month divvied up before I started blogging musical poetry for National Poetry Month because it sure keeps things flowing smoothly around here, but I’ve only stuck to the chosen song once (on the 2nd), and every other day, I’ve shuffled things around, made alternate arrangements. Today, I changed my mind, on a dime, as usual, this time due to a lovely line I came across in an interview with poet Catherine Theis on the semi-blog from Salt Publishing. She responded to a question, in part, with the remark, “The inside of a verse play or poem (or a painting or a song) is one of the last decadent places on earth.” I then went hunting for a decadent song tucked away in my little list of April’s flowers. (If you didn’t guess on the first day, yes, that’s a layered reference to all these gorgeously-written and mellifluously-echoed songs, as well as the fact that in spite of April’s showers, April has some of its own flowers.) And after paying more careful attention to the exact wording of one of my newer favorite compositions from Editors, “The Boxer,” off their most recent 2009 album, In This Light and On This Evening, I decided it would make an even better double-feature with my second-favorite creation from The National, “City Middle,” off of Alligator, from way back in 2005. The amateur geographer in me tries to look for inspiration even in diversions, like rock music obsessions, which really shouldn’t be considered diversions but appreciated for the high art they so often achieve (and critiqued when they don’t, of course!).  I think part of me feels guilty for lavishing more attention on this blog than on my more academically-oriented endeavors. Ah well. Music heals those wounds, too.

Architectural Style: Brutalism. Exhibit B.

As much as I want to wrap this up and get this syndicated to you guys, some points I shouldn’t put off:

1. If there’s a Simon & Garfunkel connection in Editors’ lyrics, it’s slight, but I don’t disavow its potential presence. That would, of course, only make the gravelly-smooth beauty of the song more delectable.

2. “City Middle” (and its counterpart, “Karen”) features some of The National’s most explicit, grimy lyrics, but the instrumentation and vocals are so beautiful that they would perfectly make up for the partially crude storyline if the storyline itself didn’t have its own redeeming qualities. For me, its in the vividness of the imagery and the way that hazy (or not so much hazy as uncertain) childhood memories are evoked for me by the line “pissing in a sink, I think.” I swear the woman that lived in the next room in the communal apartment of my childhood, who I wholeheartedly believed was my Great Aunt (also uncertain on that now, after all these years, though I still continue to believe it, for lack of an alternative explanation for pieces of my memories, some including threads of conversations structured explicitly around the referent, Great Aunt, though what if that’s an inaccurate memory, too? My toddler years were so very long ago, after all!), had some incident in the apartment which afterward involved a lot of screaming by all parties about pissing in sinks. Maybe a fabrication of my imagination? What an imagination that would be, though… Doesn’t seem right to me. TMI again? Oops. Sorry.

3. The thing about what remains, in our society, of archaic poetry — that is, sung verse — is that there seems much more repetition in song than in printed, never-attempted-sung verse. Aside from ballads, most of today’s songwriters, even the best ones, adhere fairly strictly to industry conventions involving choruses, bridges, echoing of verses, and all that jazz. It’s true — We the audience do very much like the tantalizing hooks, mostly to ensure we have some snatch of tune stuck in our heads all day. We hate silence above all else, it seems (which is quite disheartening!). Repetition works. Poets do use it, too. And there are songwriters who use it less than others. (I dare you to give me example of those who hardly use it at all!) But in our inexhaustible taste for easily-devour-able material, written lyrics can seem not at all smooth, a bit jumpy, a bit coarse, a bit bogged down, to drag their feet more than slightly. Yet when we listen, we are hardly aware of the echoing. It’s a strange phenomenon, and I’m not entirely sure that I have a preference one way or another in terms of the written versions, in spite of all that obstructiveness.

4. Okay, I’m getting antsy and impatient now. Tennessee Williams references! You can easily connect them back to Ms. Theis’s comment about “verse plays” ; I once dreamt that Common Vs. Common was a band that came to play at my school ; I’m having too much fun adding punctuation to lyrics to find the best ways to enunciate the poetic in these lyrical creations, which we might otherwise overlook as too mundane for poetry (shame!) ; … long red socks and red shoes! Are you overwhelmed yet? Great!

Now on to the poems of our bleak cities, occasionally beautiful in their dreariness!

When all the world is dripping poetry, how easily we forget our concrete prisons.

 

The Boxer

A bruised full moon
Play-fights with the stars.
This place is our prison,
its cells are the bars
So take me to town,
I wanna dance with the city.
Show me something ugly, and
Show me something pretty.

Damn this place
— makes a boy out of me.
The ring meets my face
by the count of three!

An unwanted sun
pulls rank in the sky.
The boxer isn’t finished,
He’s not ready to die.
I’m attracted to the light,
I’m attracted to the heat.
It’s a violent night;
There are boxers in the street.

Damn this place
— makes a boy out of me.
The ring meets my face
by the count of three!

And damn this place
— makes a boy out of me
The ring meets my face
before an oak tree!

Dazed in the final rounds,
Dazed in the final rounds,
Dazed in the final rounds,
Dazed in the final rounds.

"I wanna dance with the city..."

 

City Middle

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

I’ve got five-hundred in twenties,
And I got a ton of great ideas;
I’m really worked up.
I’m on a good mixture, I don’t want to waste it.
I’m on a good mixture, I do not want to waste it.
I wanna go gator around the warm beds of beginners;
I’m really worked up.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

I have weird memories of you,
Wearing long red socks and red shoes,
I have weird memories.
I have weird memories of you,
Pissing in a sink, I think;
I have weird memories of you.

I wanna go gator around the warm beds of beginners.
I’m really worked up.
I wanna go gator around the warm beds of beginners.
I’m really worked up.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle,
Where they hang the lights,
Where it’s random,
And it’s common versus common, la dee la.

I have weird memories of you,
Wearing long red socks and red shoes,
I have weird memories.
I have weird memories of you,
Pissing in a sink, I think;
I have weird memories of you,
Parking your car — you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”
You were thinking out loud, you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”

You were parking your car, you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”
You were thinking out loud, you said, “I’m overwhelmed.”

You said, “I think I’m like Tennessee Williams.
I wait for the click,
I wait, but it doesn’t kick in.”

“I think I’m like Tennessee Williams.
I wait for the click,
I wait, but it doesn’t kick in.”

I have weird memories of you,
Wearing long red socks and red shoes,
I have weird memories.
I have weird memories of you,
Pissing in a sink, I think;
I have weird memories of you,
La da da da …

I have weird memories of you.

Named By A Poet

April 2, 2011

We live, we die. We’re fragile, more fragile than we care to notice. In a snap of the fingers, it can all disappear. And on the flipside, if you live long enough, everything you came to know will disappear, and an entire landscape of the unfamiliar will expand out before you. It’s that sort of heady stuff we tend to shirk from, because it’s just too overwhelming. It’s part of why we drown out our confusions and preoccupations in a haze of television and other bright screens. The modern world is just a fantabulous cataclysm of marvels and mayhem.

Avalon, Mad Men, Imitation of Life… Plenty of big and small screen creations tell the stories of our chaotic times tremendously well, what with all the frenzied changes upon changes unleashed by the Industrial Age.

I’m in such a weighty mood after watching that terrific eighties film, Avalon, again after many years. (It features a young Elijah Wood, if that’s what it takes to get your attention.) I couldn’t keep from crying, even though I already knew the scenes were going to play out the way they did. Serendipitous, really, that I wanted to watch that film today, when in my grand plans for National Poetry Month, I’d already slated today’s spot for R.E.M.’s classic single, “Imitation of Life,” itself titled for the fifties film starring Lana Turner, perhaps the style icon dearest to my heart.

What attracts me to poetry is the way it cuts through all our layers of b.s. and puts us face to face with our own fragility. Mortality, after all, is the poetry at the heart of everything, from theatre and film to sunflowers and sunsets. For me, nothing encapsulates that truth more than my own little staged funerals as a four year-old. Even as a young’n, I was attracted to melodrama, theatricality, movement, family history, the geography of a sterile Soviet concrete fortress of an apartment building, through the fact of death. Our ultimate fates are difficult to acknowledge, but it’s best if we face the music sooner rather than not soon enough.

“Imitation of Life” was prevalent on the airwaves back when I obsessively listened to my hometown’s rock stations, before I dabbled with Christian radio and hip-hop and then completely gave up on radio for a decade (TMI? Yeah, probly). At one point, I got the melody stuck in my head, along with the word “sugarcane,” but internet search wasn’t as good back then as it is now, and it took me years to trace the song back to R.E.M., even though I had some of their other tunes, such as “The One I Love,” perfectly squared away in my mental musical ledger. (I remember I had something like “na na na” and “sugarcane” scrawled on a faded blue Post-It note for years, and I tried my hardest not to lose it. Good thing I did not.) Hold tight to your childhood loves, my friends, for you never know if, or when, words like “sugarcane” will be all that you have left.

In the words of the poets…

Imitation of Life

Charades, pop skill;
Water hyacinth, named by a poet–
Imitation of life.
Like a koi in a frozen pond,
Like a goldfish in a bowl.
I don’t want to hear you cry.

That’s sugarcane, that tasted good,
That’s cinnamon, that’s Hollywood.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you try.

You want the greatest thing,
The greatest thing since bread came sliced.
You’ve got it all, you’ve got it sized.
Like a Friday fashion show teenager,
Freezing in the corner,
Trying to look like you don’t try.

That’s sugarcane, that tasted good,
That’s cinnamon, that’s Hollywood.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you try,

No one can see you cry.
That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s freezing rain, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

This sugarcane,
This lemonade,
This hurricane, I’m not afraid.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

This lightning storm,
This tidal wave,
This avalanche, I’m not afraid.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see me cry.

That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s who you are, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon, no one can see you cry.

That’s sugar cane that tasted good.
That’s who you are, that’s what you could.
C’mon, c’mon on no one can see you cry.