fjb, local currency: solo 1992-1998 (fayettenam)

the human hearts, civics (tight ship)

the human hearts on myspace

nothing painted blue, taste the flavor (shrimper)

info on older band and solo work; I have no idea who compiled the scarily complete discographies

free music, discography, etc. here

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[66] Rough Cut and Ready Dubbed (1982, Hasan Shah and Dom Shaw). U.K. doc covering late punk and associated musics (oi, mod, two-tone) in and around London. Valuable as a reminder of just how everyday subcultural gig violence was at the time, and for sharp interviews w/ John Peel, Tony Wilson, and the NME’s Charles Shaar Murray, who is hilariously smart and self-regarding. Of the musicians interviewed, Stiff Little Fingers’s Jake Burns comes off as the most reflective, and the performance clips of “Suspect Device” and “Alternative Ulster” are strong. The Purple Hearts and The Cockney Rejects, by contrast, are just shite; Sham 69’s in-studio lip-sync of the Transformer-ish “Poor Cow” is a pisstake; The Selecter are represented, unfortunately, by one of their weaker songs (“Missing Words”); A Certain Ratio, whom I’ve never really gotten, would be nothing w/o (black) drummer Donald Johnson; Patrick Fitzgerald should be getting royalty checks from Jeff Lewis (not that I expect that Jeff Lewis is rolling in it); an unknown-to-me figure named Johnny G has the last word with “You Can’t Catch Every Train,” a solo-electric-plus-kick-drum ditty that anticipates, hmm, early Everything But the Girl. This is on DVD, but I don’t know whether that release includes the 25th anniversary coda the film shown here (in BAM’s “Punk ‘n’ Pie” series), with many of the original, now much fleshier interviewees. The guys from the Purple Hearts appear to have gotten smarter, Jake Burns more pretentious, and the Cockney Rejects look curiously Americanized, collectively working a pukka-shell/Warp Tour roadie look. Tony Wilson, who makes some latter-day claims for current black U.K. R&B (“of course, I always love my own artists,” not sure who he meant) not long before his death, ages the least. The recent footage also includes an acoustic performance by Burns, Bruce Foxton, another guitarist who doesn’t seem to have been identified, and The Selecter’s Pauline Black (a bit guant and far less joyful than in the early performance clip) of a fucking horrible new song called “She Grew Up” (“…but she never grew old.”).

Makes me a little nervous about the upcoming Magazine reunion. Devoto is about the last person I want to see tarnish his legacy. (That Buzzkunst album wasn’t good, but hardly anyone noticed it.)

[67] Brian David Mogck, Writing to Reason: A Companion for Philosophy Students and Instructors (2008, Blackwell). What the subtitle says; meant as a sidecar to whatever texts constitute the first-order content of an intro course in philosophy. Much of the advice (section title: “The Only Outline You Need is a Sketch of the Argument You Plan to Make”) seems unremarkable to me of course, but I doubt that the book’s often sclerotic tone (“The Cardinal Virtues: Logical Rigo and Clarity of Expression”) would do much buy confirm the prejudices of the students with whom one struggles the most – bright but resistant, either tempermentally or because of early exposure to other methodologies in the humanities – against a certain kind of careful dialectical work on sharply-articulated questions. (That said, the identificatory footnotes on Continental figures are admirably non-snarky.)

Two somewhat philosophical points that bug me. A glossary early on states:

“The truth conditions of a sentence are the states of affairs that must hold in the world for a sentence to be true. The truth conditions of the sentence “Snow is white” are simply that crystals of frozen H2) must reflect all wavelengths of light equally.”

The first sentence is, of course, an accurate description of the way the notion of “truth conditions” is used, whether or not one cares for the metaphysical picture broadly implied. As to the second: well, Tarski and Davidson, among others, would disagree mightily; more to the point for the student reader, there’s an uncashed rhetorical check in the implication that the “wordly” conditions that make an ordinary sentence true (or false) are canonically expressed by a scientistic-sounding quasi-precisification in the object language. The claim made assumes too much about the semantics of “snow” and “white”; if these assumptions of made, too much epistiemology is imported into the semantic and merely formal notion of “truth” at issue. Unfortuately, the safer disquotational account that could be given – “The truth conditions of ‘snow is white’ are that snow is white” – will look empty to most students (I can assure you) without a grasp of the object/meta-language distinction.

The discussion of thought experiments and conceptual analysis (98-99) seems to go silent on just how the philosopher is to judge whether theoretical reconstructions comport with concepts as we actually use them; that judgment, it appears, requires some intituive appeal to our own facility with the concepts. Maybe that’s troubling, maybe not, but for the author’s purposes, the issue needs to be made far more explicit.

Overall, there seems to be a bit of mission creep here from methodology and writing advice to philosophical substance; Martinich’s similarly intended Philosophical Writing is more pragmatic.

[68] Jennifer Bartlett, Derivative of the Moving Image (2007, University of New Mexico). Lyric occasioned by trauma (primarily, the death of a sister) and sustained more by intensity of observation than by ‘music.’ The poet’s cerebral palsy is frankly present (“If my spine were not a question mark”), but neither the body nor others’ misunderstandings of it is made the central fact of the book; the obvious ways one might write mimetically of “disability” are avoided. Not as much cinema as the title might indicate: one poem on a specific film by Assayas, a few set more generally in theaters and one in a “Camera Obscura” (“When I was a child/my parents brought me here/but kept me here/but kept me outside,/Excluded from this dark chamber,/the projected landscape.”) Not a cheerful book, but by any measure an honestly made one.

[69] P.G. Wodehouse, The Mating Season (1949, Herbert Jenkins Ltd.). I’ve never read a Jeeves book; now I have, and probably won’t read another (though I could believe that radio or TV adaptations might be enjoyable enough). I like encountering the U jargon and all, but, really, isn’t the central joke that the butler is a hundred times smarter, more competent, and decent than anyone he serves a bit of a sad, not to mention repetitive, one? The mannered quality, and much else, would seem more forgivable if the book were twenty years older, and the extent to which the humor of Wooster’s narration depends on hyperbole (“…her son Thomas, one of our most prominent fiends in human shape…”) also wears thin, almost immediately. Even in a mood for “trivial” fiction, I think I’d be more apt to reread Firbank, Harry Matthews , or Van Vechten (esp. Firecrackers and Spider-Boy).

[70] Kevin Killian, Action Kylie (2008, I.G.I.N.e.C.I.) I’m down with Kylie and all, in a non-obsessed generalist kind of way (I’m now inclined to look up Towa Tei’s “G.B.I.”), but Kevin is probably the only poet who can make me swallow references to her or anyone else’s appearance in Luhmann’s Moulin Rouge, probably because I feel secure in assuming that he’s not ignorant of Huston’s. Love that there’s a poem here that consists entirely of the release information and tracklisting (including, crucially, writers and producers) of KM’s City Games (cf. Jane’s “French Narratives”). I think the main risk of the book – more so, if memory serves, than the more overtly form-intensive Argento Series -- is its casualness at the level of the line, but it almost always pays off by the end of the poem: “Good Like That” and “Is It All Over My Face?” are beautiful poems, tricking us into fear, even sublimity, and making it look easy. And, of course, the poems for Gwen Aurajo clarify, if there was any doubt, how high the stakes here actually are.

[71] Colette Inez, Spinoza Doesn’t Come Here Anymore (2008, Melville House). One of those books you briefly flip through a full-price copy of somewhere (the bookstore in Penn Station, I think), and are sufficiently intrigued by to pick it off a dollar rack at The Strand. Strong, funny start w/ the localisms of the title poem (“We seek him out at Leroy’s Pharmacy”) and a pantoum on Perry Como, but soon looses focus in a round-robin of adolescent memory poems, magic realism, jotty observational lyrics (I think one needs to title a poem something other than “On a Day of Elliptical Musings,” even – especially – if that’s accurate), and higher-register myth-and-history stuff. The arrangement of the book as a whole appears unstrategized, and weakens some good individual pieces (“Pegeen, Real Lace”). Afraid this one didn’t make it over for me.


This doesn't reproduce online that well, but I'm playing the Sun. after Thanksgiving in Arlington VA; club link @ screen right:

And while I'm in promotional mode, I should mention that this chapbook:

is now available ($8 via check or PayPal) from the so-not-lame Lame House Press. Please attend to their other offerings as well.


To be a hair more specific: George Sanders is my favorite person to watch being bored onscreen. Also, to be fairer to Rossellini’s heavy metaphors, the plaster casting of the holes left around Pompeii by bodies turned to ash is a neat figure for the movie’s desiccated lovers – it’s a conceit out of a Mountain Goats song, or that one Bill Knott sonnet. Negative space, indeed, speaking of which

[63] Negative Space (1999, Chris Pettit). Half-hour or so British essay/doc that moves among the videographer’s road-trip footage (29 Palms, Leucadia, Vegas), appropriated fragments of (mostly) Out of the Past and The Big Sleep, and interviews with Manny Farber and Dave Hickey. In sum, an attempt to understand the American landscape, and how it affects our character and movies, through Farber’s criticism. I don’t know that I particularly agree with some of Pettit’s generalizations, as when he suggests that we don’t have much use for irony because actual physical distance (wide-open spaces) makes it redundant, but there are many pleasing way-stations along the road thereto: Farber comparing the car trip at the opening of Breathless unfavorably to that in Voyage to Italy and claiming that half the reason he came up with “termite” and “white elephant” is that they looked good in type; Hickey commenting that Farber is “so amazed when anything is good – I mean, this is a really negative guy”; and an anecdote about Shirley MacLaine making a point of asking Robert Mitchum the time when they worked together, “just so she could get a straight answer.” (Isn’t Mitchum, though, both an ironist and utterly American?) Excellent soundtrack choice: Dylan/Shepherd’s “Brownsville Girl,” an aimless narrative that doubles as film criticism (“All I remember about it was Gregory Peck and the way people moved.”) Shown with [64] New Blue (1995, Paul Schrader), a five-minute film (which can be seen here, though it doesn’t really work at this size) about a painting of Farber’s owned by Schrader, a web of notes, fruits, onion blossoms, and rebar (“to cut the sweetness”). Heartening to be reminded that Farber was painting at full force at 76 years of age – as marked by his inclusion of an orange 76 service station antenna ball, also a pop/Californian/Ruscha-esque play on still-life tradition.

[65] Me and My Gal (1932, Raoul Walsh). Highly structured and spatially controlled early Walsh, eminently watchable both on the level of the relations between settings (docks/chowder house; rooms of an apartment), the almost sculptural use of hats, the observation of Irish immigrant faces and folkways, and the push-pull of sweetness and toughness in the performances of Joan Bennett (seemingly a very different actress before she went brunette) and Spencer Tracy. Many of the selections in the current Farber tribute series are films he didn’t get around to writing about at length but (according to Kent Jones’s worthwhile little essay, which I wish were online, in the Lincoln Center Film Society’s monthly schedule) taught repeatedly in San Diego, and you can see why this one might have repaid study – almost nothing in this film, including dialogue and minor physical business, happens just once, with the net effect of strong organization of potentially chaotic material. Despite the “street-level”/”little folk” concerns, Walsh isn’t programmatic about his choice of techniques: Bennett’s farther directly addresses the camera twice (to ask us if we want a drink!), and a sequence in which Spencer Tracy mentions that he’s just seen “Strange Inner Tube” (that is, the 1932 Norma Shearer/Clark Gable adaptation of Strange Interlude), upon which the principals play a love scene with audible internal dialogue, per the play/film – it’s funny, but not ultimately played strictly for laughs. (The O’Neill was a not infrequent object of satire at the time: cf. Groucho. I think there’s a routine along similar lines in one of Wheeler and Woolsey’s films.) Best thing I’ve seen in ages.


[53] Patricia Highsmith, The Cry of the Owl (1962, Atlantic Books ed.). Middling Highsmith, repeating the play of literal innocence and psychological guilt taken up in the slightly earlier and more energetic The Blunderer and This Sweet Sickness; everyone whom the protagonist by rights should want dead ends up dead, including an ex-wife whose shrewishness strains credibility, but one somehow doesn’t feel as implicated as in the other books mentioned, simply because said protagonist is a bit of a cipher. Even not counting Ripley, I’d put several of her later novels ahead of this, particularly The Tremor of Forgery.

[54] Simon Blackburn, Truth (2005, Oxford). Meant as a popularization of contemporary debates over the titular concept, this didn’t seem to me to hit quite the right pitch to serve its intended audience as advertised: Blackburn shuns the kind of boredom-courting technicality that might make matters really perspicacious, but at the same time casually assumes too much background at points – an occupational hazard. Decent on deflationism about the theoretical interest of ‘truth’ in the abstract; that is, the view that it is true that p adds no semantic content to p; and his taxonomic discussion of elminitavism, realism, constructivism, and quietism is useful (even though every time someone tries to explain to me what “constructivism” actually is, I feel as though I must have glanced away at just the key moment). Less convincing on questions about why we might want to be realists in one area (commonplace claims about objects and events, say) and (I guess) constructivists or what have you when it comes to aesthetic or ethical claims. By the final pages, Blackburn writes, “I hope we have become confident in using our well-tried and tested vocabulary of explanation and assessment. We can take the postmodernist inverted commas off things that out to matter to us: truth reason, objectivity and confidence.” I think I missed where this was accomplished – the threat of regress implicit in the notion of confidence of confidence being, perhaps, one reason why.

[55] A Historical Guide to Langston Hughes, ed. Steven C. Tracy (Oxford, 2004). Collection of commissioned essays giving an overviews of how Hughes’s work (which, just about all contributors note, is too voluminous over five decades of activity to be reduced to a single position) stands with respect to some overarching concerns: place, music, “genderracial” issues, and black politics. The latter piece, by James Smethurst, is the most useful by some distance, arguing that Hughes wasn’t merely representative of Popular Front aesthetics but lays some claim to being one of its architects, and tracking the extent to which a critical perspective was still present in coded but not exactly opaque form in his Chicago Defender stories and columns, even in the wake of his humiliating appearance before HUAC. The music chapter, by the editor, is disappointingly short on critical distance and not notably successful in its vernacular moments: “May the Lord be praised, Hughes was aiming not always for the dignified, select, austere poetry that Cullen sought but for the sensuous, visceral throb that bursts forth into human life.” The point that Hughes was drawn more to urban female “blues” singers of the sort that drew whites to Harlem than to what I suppose rock critics would think of as ‘folk’ or ‘country’ blues, however, deserves further consideration.

[56] Joyelle McSweeney, The Commandrine, (2004, Fence). Well, the rococo vocabulary certain makes one feel that one’s getting one’s money’s worth: The end-words of the first few lines of “Application Ballad” run: chorizo/cabeza/djinn/Florida/Barcelonic/embarcadero. Sometimes, though, the insistence on verbalizing it slant seems excessive: for some reason, the phrase “a world that wouldn’t math up” (“Youth Idiom”) sticks in my craw the way that Gary Lutz or Ben Marcus can. Faves: “Lives,” prose blocks containing widely separated but vivid aural relations (“cosseted”/”Cassette!”); and the closer, “The Born Fetus,” a success (like sections of Jean Day’s The Literal World) in the hard-to-bring-off epistemology-of-the-neonate mode, which is also less strenuously stylized than most of the book.

[57] The Romance of Happy Workers (2008, Coffee House). A very carefully wrought book, even in apparently casual moments, that I’m not going to pretend to be able to do justice to here. Just wanted to this register that this poet needs flarfiness like a squid needs a bodystocking. The title sequence, with its boho-lover figure named “Woody,” is perfect.

[58] The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971, dir. Dario Argento). What’s Hitchockian about Argento’s second feature (I didn’t make it to MOMA in time for its predecessor, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) is the extreme MacGuffinosity of the plot mechanism, some nonsense about chromosomal research that one could, I imagine, plumb for thematic resonance – that and the near-comic absurdity of the suspense-for-suspense’s-sake set-pieces, including a sequence involving the Italian equivalent of Floyd the Barber, a will-they-drink-the-milk-we-know-is-poisoned bit, complete with showy allusion to Suspicion, and a graverobbing scene. Oddly unbalanced for the American viewer by the presence of Karl Malden as a blind crossword compiler – in a way, the film peaked for me early on with the detailed attention paid to his laborious working method. The kidnapping of Malden’s character’s pre-teen niece is a harbinger of the career to come.

[59] Voyage to Italy (1954, Roberto Rossellini). Shown as part of the Walter Reade’s welcome tribute to Manny Farber, curated by Kent Jones. An emotionally unsubtle film, subtly acted by Ingrid Berman (caught, almost cruelly, at the precise age necessary for her character, a great beauty to whom time is just beginning to happen) and George Sanders, one of my favorite human beings to watch on a screen. The film survives, and was admired by Farmer, for the composition, blocking, and photographic attention to the landscape surrounding Naples, rather than the hefty metaphorical freight which Rossellini makes it bear – not to mention the seeming suggestion that the couple’s marriage is finally “saved” by the intervention of the Blessed Virgin, in the form of a village procession. (This sequence, complete with canopy carried by local worthies, looks remarkably similar to one the Cordasco clan -- my mother’s extended family -- still participates in every March around St. Peter’s near Chinatown in L.A., as the ceremonial component of the feast the Madonna della Stella.)

[60] Invitation (1952, Gottfried Reinhardt) Tightly controlled melodrama – it is no great surprise to find that expat director, who did not have the U.S. career of many of his fellows, is the son of no less than the great Max Reinhardt. In a nutshell, sickly and ‘plain’ (you just have to take this on faith in ‘50s studio pics, which contain even fewer unattractive persons than our own) Dorothy McGuire has a year to live, doesn’t know it, and also doesn’t know that doting dad Louis Calhern has more or less hired Van Johnson to marry her so she can be happy in the time she’s got. Then she finds out. Of course, in the meantime, Johnson has actually fallen in love with her, plus there’s a new operation, so it all works out, but the uneasy middle of the picture has some real intensity – it’s really an edge-of-the-construct deal, minus any alien/supernatural element. McGuire’s slenderness and elegant wardrobe do a lot of her work for her, but not all of it, and there’s also good support: Ruth Roman, the weak link in Strangers on a Train (speaking of Highsmith and Farber, come to think of it), is above-par here as the justifiably catty spurnee whom Johnson would have married had he not been bought off, and – if the Reinhardt pedigree wasn’t enough – the film includes one of the few recorded performances by the important acting teacher Michael Chekov, nephew of Anton. A genuine oddity that I’m glad I caught, especially because the presence of Johnson as an ineffectual husband and Calhern as a father who deceives out of love make it a dramatic companion piece to the fascinating Confidentially Connie, possibly one of the great lost ‘50s comedies, and of which more, sometime.

[61] Big House U.S.A. (1955, Howard W. Koch). Decent-to-good “semi-doc” crime drama. [That is, a member of the late-noir subgenre marked by strong police-procedural elements, location shooting, and “object lesson” voiceovers: see The Naked City, He Walked By Night, T-Men, and the radio series This Is Your FBI.] The completeness with which lawful order is restored allows the movie to get away with much cruelty on the way, with a kidnapped kid (a asthmatic afraid of the nurse’s needle with whom I immediately identified) thrown into Grand Canyon – mystifyingly renamed “Royal Gorge” throughout, as if there were a copyright involved – within the first 20 minutes, and criminal-mastermind-type Broderick Crawford ordering William Talman (so good as a heavy, here and in Ida Lupino’s The Hitchhicker, and so familiar as the prosecutor in Perry Mason that it’s a shock to realize that that role was the one that was “against type”) to burn a dead buddy’s face off with a blowtorch. Come to think of it, the structure here (and the use of an imperiled kid) has a good deal in common with the Argento, above. Thrills is thrills.

[62] Joan Miro, Painting and Anti-Painting 1927-1937 (MOMA, through 1/12/09). Not an artist for whom I have a lot of context, but here go my strictly amateur-hour observations: Miro could be kitschy, even garishly so – I particularly dislike the black-light poster coloring of Still Life with Old Shoe -- but also spare and bracing, as in the object trouvés of the “Spanish Dancer” series. Over the decade covered here, the most interesting series are those that attempt to combine these extremes especially two bodies of work from 1933. One group somehow makes the referentiality of sentimental and/or cheesecakey postcards that even Cornell might have rejected disappear into large-scale compositions on paper. (Some related pieces on reflective foil backgrounds, however, have a crummy, prom-décor look.) The other, paintings full of his familiar biomorphic forms, turn out to be abstractions from collages of mechanical ones, para-works that are displayed alongside the finished ones, presumably not in accordance with Miro’s intention but to the advantage of both components. The thinking here is intriguingly Duchampian, though the peculiarities of the transformation seems Miro’s own. Finally, some smaller, later works on Masonite wouldn’t look bad on the front of a book of poems, particularly Two Personages in the Presence of a Metamorphosis. (Just about the entire exhibition is online.