Sunday, September 11, 2011

9.11. dexter, sinister

On the subject of 9/11, I have little to say, save that I notice an elderly man across the street has planted American flags in his window. One large flag taped to the centre pane, two smaller ones either side.

The wound is too raw, even ten years on, the ceiling torn away so toweringly iconic, that it is difficult to reconcile trauma on the ground with repercussions rolling out from its epicentre.

I watched old footage of Bush, Jr on our television this morning. Bumbling toward some public play at catharsis. All sense of emotion evaded him then, I seem to remember, the human scale of things. Wide-eyed like a nodding imbecile in the classroom, he merely looked to have soiled himself.

New York City's mayor made a better job of mobilizing a response. Bill Clinton, stepping out of retirement. Dogshit and disgrace.

I was listening to the Ramones when flight 11 nose dived into the North Tower of the World Trade Center - 'Road to Ruin', I am not fabricating events - and I could not engage a pause. I sat and smoked a cigarette. The telephone rang. The word 'apocalyptic' is frequently misused, but the unfolding of the impossible seemed to resonate with biblical import. Twenty-two floors up, myself, small potatoes granted, I sat on my little wooden stool and braced myself for further impact; an explosion of concrete and glass.

Chicken Little, stripped to the bone.

I worried for my young son's safety - just three-years-old at the time - and decided there was nothing to be done.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

poem for a stand up guy, in beer

I could not listen
for the scraping retort.
the explosive Guffaw,

Ears burning,
pricked by stitching,

Even the word
Arousing raw heights
of inanity,
Spittled lips puckered
in rows, front and back,

The spotlight trained
tired, spotted flesh,
at the armpits,
Small beer, short shrift,

Arrivists in cashmere
Hanging on each word.

it is not the metal taste
of fear
which saws and stings -

the spoon,
the knife, the fork -

It is the copper ringing,
the dread
of the seasoned familiar,
The strings,
The posies,
The lantern jaw of the
wooden marionette in the
Shadow of a beard,
The singing of the crowd,
The flaccid chatter,

The monkey,
the organ, the grind.

I tossed out the above poem, listening to it rattle through my skull, between a supermarket trip and charging electricity to my key. Milo had been shrieking since 7 AM. There was no respite from his teething. Whingeing. He headbutted me twice, I think. He may have unplugged a tooth.

The last of the loosely presentable.

I was thinking on '
Hostage', recorded live at Redondo Beach in April, 1980; Jon's Trotskyite cronies in Echo Park, 1972, too consumed with politicking to peer over their noses long enough to register discomfit.

From a grandiose brownstone, to a pier on Venice Beach.

I don't know if you are familiar with '
Hostage'. It is all but insufferable. Charles Bukowski, it is alleged, detested public performance. The routine humiliation.

There is no sense in stepping in a prize stallion's shoes, it is remarked, unless one is prepared to break from the stalls at a gallop. Of course. Charles Bukowski studied form.

The odds, the skinny, shortfalls in rent.

Despite all this, he could not stomach the notion of pandering to the crowd. There is more joy, perhaps, in trudging pavements in the snow. I have tried that too. I have written of it in private correspondence.

Coming home from the night shift with one's arms three inches longer. Fingers torn and bloody from mail sacks fresh off the 3 AM flight. Falling straight into bed knowing Christmas is in the bag.

Well. The postman brings good news. A Trust here in Glasgow has agreed to finance a good part of my tuition fees. I am relieved. Ecstatic. That they have backed my horse before it is dragged off to the knacker's yard, that I have composed my mouth in one last gasp.

Allen Ginsberg famously courted the crowd. It was a good gig, while it lasted.

Such as it is, I am of a mind to visit a home recorded reading from New Orleans, Louisiana - of all places - from 1970, forty years and many ailing dogs ago.

Of course. I have not arrived. Not quite yet, I am not so addled, though the Merlot is back on the menu. The beer tucked away in our fridge.

It is a nod, to the living at least. As much a public nicety as I am capable of.

CHARLES BUKOWSKI: HAMMER AND LEASH from "King Of Poets" CD (Chinaski Records) 1997 (US / Germany)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

jock's away, in a manner of speaking

Oscar Wilde Brendan Behan Sean O'Casey George Bernard Shaw Samuel Beckett Eugene O'Neill Edna O'Brien Lawrence Stern Sean Kavanaugh Sean McCann Benedict Keilly Jimmy Hiney Frank O'Connor Catherine Rhine Russell Hoban Charles Bukowski William S. Burroughs Robert Stone...

Recorded by Ian Sommerville.

From a lecture given by WSB at
the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics,
Naropa Institute, April 20, 1976,
and Brion Gysin's Permutational Tape fragment,
BBC Studios, London, 1960.

Sans Big Jimmy Paterson on trombone.

WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS: ORIGIN AND THEORY OF THE TAPE CUT-UPS from "Break Through in a Grey Room " CD (Sub Rosa) 1994 (US/UK)
BRION GYSIN: RECALLING ALL ACTIVE AGENTS from "Break Through in a Grey Room " CD (Sub Rosa) 1994 (US/UK)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

4 million buys you shit

photograph by robert altman.

"It was cheap; cheap; cheap-uh," squealed Jonathan Richman at the age of 41, moved by the vaguely unclean spirit of Bubba-Ho-Tep. Mo Diddley. Blue Mask era Lewis Reed as dessicated hip priest. "Nowadays I hear the rents are steep."

I fell back on the futon, feigning a head cold. My wife busied herself in preparation of a Sunday morning expedition to the swimming pool. With our young son. My stepchildren. If I wasn't unspeakably selfish, I might never find the space to scribble.

Such is the routine loneliness - surliness - of the long distance sniveller.

I sheltered behind a paper shield. Saturday's edition of what was once a broadsheet.

Like everything else, it has diminished in stature somewhat.

"Mumbai's slums are being gentrified," writes their foreign correspondent, "as middle-class Indians... sell their flats in distant suburbs and purchase illegal shanties in the city's central areas."

Actually. It was the headline which glued my eye.


In a week which saw UK mobsters, RBS slapped with a writ issued in the US - for their part in the subprime confidence trick which all but crippled global faith in free market religion - India races one step farther in paying through the nose for a silk purse fashioned entirely out of a pig's ear. Stealing the show in staging a masterclass in the art of turning the other cheek.

In a country where it pays better to dabble in out-sourced customer 'service' from a US or European financed call centre, than to take the Hippocratic Oath, India's new wealth is defined by hard currency.

It is not immediately apparent just who is making a killing.

On the face of it, it is those people living in the heart of Mumbai's slums who stand to make a profit. Typically, investing in a slum dwelling may net the aspiring buyer a loss in straight 'trade'. A modest shanty in Sewri, for example, may fetch as much as "four million rupees". £50,000. The stench of human waste running freely in the gutter seals the deal; vermin openly feeding on untreated filth.

But as rents soar as a direct result, it is those families who settled there generations previously who are being squeezed out. To establish new illegal settlements in ever more harrowing no-go zones.

No schools. No community. Scant opportunity to make ends meet.

The scandal evolving, then, has less to do with the modern parable of playing pass the parcel with toxic securities than the age-old saga of slum landlords ruthlessly embracing token regeneration.

Lest one forgets. In the 1980s, the darkly comedic double act of Regan and Thatcher popularized the free market economy to a staggeringly gullible and avaricious electorate. Privatizing one industry after the other; peddling them back to the public at large in shrink-wrapped token stocks and shares.

Mr. and Mrs. John Doe, not so much asleep as intoxicated at the wheel, were impervious to the consequences.

In such a climate, social housing was auctioned off with the rest of the family silver. Many individuals turned a tidy profit. Others inherited negative equity.

A lot of people spoke quite often of "collateral damage". Laughing all the way to the bank. A newly entrenched underclass - in Detroit, Glasgow, Manchester - took on the mantle of India's untouchables, and never shook it off.

House prices rocketed. Entire inner city areas, too, turned to shit.

Of course, there will always be a vocal element who stand to profit from shrouding the great illusion in still more smoke and mirrors. Mumbai, they will argue, is on the up. What's happening in Sewri, Dharavi, is indicative of India's commitment to eradicating poverty.

Really ? I think we've heard word to that effect numerous times before.

The Commonwealth Games village in Delhi dribbling sewage on the white hand stitched leather uppers of its athletes' Nike Airs, while government shoots for the moon. And an estimated £1 Billion in International Foreign Aid which still can not be accounted for. Not this side of Bollywood's space race.

Jonathan Richman tells it more entertainingly than I, sibling.

At some time in 1972 I guess he relocated to Venice Beach. In the company of David Robinson, Ernie Brooks and Jerry Harrison. The original Modern Lovers. 

On the heels of an east coast session for Warner Bros., recorded at Intermedia Studio in Boston, Massachussets, the group secured two demo sessions in LA; the first overseen by one John Cale. The Venice they encountered then might just have been invaded by surfers operating out of Dogtown, a seedier bay area on the south fin of Santa Monica.

In 1972, Jeff Ho, in partnership with Skip Engblom and Craig Stecyk, founded Zephyr Surfboard Productions in the decrepit heart of Dogtown. Stecyk, a local artist, invested Ho's board designs with a delinquent edge informed by graffiti tags seen all over the street; wholly at odds with those saccharine airbrushed sunbursts washed up on Muscle Beach. In Dennis Wilson's beard.

Dogtown's surfers were hard core. Digging in and occupying an abandoned amusement park on the Pacific Ocean Park Pier - the P-O-P - midway between Venice Beach proper and their home turf back in Dogtown. The P-O-P was a dangerous spot to surf, seemingly teeming with rotting timber pilings, an Iwo Jima fought for and defended with dogged enthusiasm, it is alleged.

In 1972, too, polyurethane skateboard wheels emerged, and Dogtown's Zephyr crew slipped the leash, taking to the streets and sidewalks like punk Angels on a staggered run.

Zigzagginng as ferociously as hoodlum circus collies on rollerblades.

In 1972, this would have been a part of The Modern Lovers' Venice Beach. A part of the scene they stumbled into. Between the shabby rooming house inhabited briefly, and that studio session produced by Cale.

Who could have anticipated it ? 

Slumdog. Dogtown. Roadrunner, Once, Twice, Three Times.



Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"an experimental approach to understanding burnt fish bone"

The rain threatened, a sickly purple glowering, and I was listening again to some Charles - Bukowski not Ray - while my wife dressed the baby between coffees. '90 Minutes in Hell', via Nothin' in Sacramento.

Three short damaged pieces. I did not get so far as 'May Make Paris Yet'.

The readings are almost perfect, the theatrics of the title forgivable, his delivery - the timing - telling. Charles was acquainted with his own failings more intimately than most.

The mildly wheedling Hollywood inflection reminds me a lot of Bernstein - Steven Jesse, not Leonard - despite the younger man's relocation to Seattle; a maladjusted adolescent in oversized glasses. Pimpled round the edges.

The tone of each reminds me of all that is fine in poetry.

It startles me greatly that some are quick to dismiss his writing as miserable, coming out the armchair with scalpel blade as bookmark in their 'Grapes of Wrath'. Stabbing at perceived haemorrhoids, 'Their Finest Art' made tumorous flesh. Carver, for example, strikes me as more acutley grim. Editorially concise. Even while I admire the economy.

I don't know. There is nothing so silkily noir in those utterances from a bungalow with the drapes half drawn. Just the sense of making sense of routine.

Restriction. Absurdity.

We bundled Milo into his buggy and set out for the second hand shops permeating Dumbarton Road. An outdoor market. The rain held off for a little more than half an hour.

I had the most peculiar dream much later, in the early hours of the morning, with our youngest son waking us for the third time before the grey of 5 AM.

I saw a book opened in front of me. A line or two in sharp relief.

"...Red on the outside with blackened channels, charred transgressions touching 1 mm at the bone."

I could not make sense of it. It conjured for me notions of plague. Bubonic transmissions. That "1 mm", though, seemed altogether too modern. Anatomically precise.

The metric overture to an excision.

I sat in front of the desktop monitor after I'd made coffee and punched open a tab. Googled the line as I remembered it. The computer is growing too sluggish to be smartly useful, the beach ball spins and idles. Like its operator, it may require therapy. Psychiatric intervention.

The search unexpectedly yielded more than one result. Nothing verbatim, but close enough.

"illustrate the taphonomic complexity involved in the formation of burnt fish .... transgression, supra-tidal berm building, ... fragments smaller than 1 mm in size. ..."
"DNA from burnt bone in the early stages of burial. Nicholls. (2000) also considered bone mass as a ...... in the site at all levels, particularly in the 1 mm fraction'. ...... transgression (c.6000 BP). Thus, the archaeological record ..."

More than a possibility, then. "An Experimental Approach to Understanding Burnt Fish Bone"; something more vaguely archaeological. Well. I am no chef. I might occasionally dabble with sauces on the side, but my capability with fish is strictly third rate. Raw tuna; a breaded haddock tossed under the grill.

I don't remember consulting any recipe. Less, any stone cold treatise. Locked in Mesozoic deposits.

This conundrum, such as it is, is more curious than debilitating.

King Charles' 90 minutes - 12-14 of them, at least - has again given me pause for thought. The finances are not good, but I am working up contingencies. Drumming up a sweat.

The poetry waits in its implementing.

The telephone rang.

"Hello, " a passive aggressive voice intoned. A woman's voice. Crisply officious, faintly bored. "We have your son here at the office. He does not look too good."

"Well, " I said. "That's a matter of opinion."

"No. He does not look good. Period. You will have to collect him."

I left for the bus stop with a bottle of Peptac Liquid in a plastic carrier bag. Aniseed. The Peptac Liquid, not the bag. There is a world of difference between heartburn and underlying condition. When I was a young man, I suffered from heartburn a good part of the time.

A little Milk of Magnesia always worked a treat.

"Hey," I greeted my older son. Bowed over on the bench and clutching his chest. "How are you feeling ?"

When I was staring at my teens, the notion of credentials got in the way. I decided I had not lived enough. That all good writers must first acquire a consumptive skin; tanned by alcohol, at least, like Kerouac. Yage, as with our more exotic Uncle Bill.

Except for Hemingway.

Even strawberry nosed bank managers, I knew, sought quite earnestly to emulate that inflated florid robustness. Right down to the ridiculously tidy maritime cap. Seemingly reserved for holidaying in remote Scottish parts; possibly called upon as an aphrodisiac where oysters failed.

The irony, of course, is that Kerouac - up on bricks - was more often off, than on the road. Visions of Neal. Cody. The train hurtling past his bedroom window as he sat at a desk and fed white paper in and out.

It was the rhythm which appealed to me, I think. The music of it. Before Eliot. Plath. Camus. Joyce. Stone. Trocchi. Ezra pounding.

An unabashed exuberance. Sharp creases duly crumpling.

"Listen," I said. "It's all simple chemistry. The litmus test."

Well. You are familiar enough with dipping those little squares of paper. Coming up red or indigo, occasionally a neutral yellow green. The rainbow in a bruise.

It's all the forensics I know.

It's why the Latin crash course feels so apposite. I am less taken with dispassionate bebop, possibly, than the heat of the rash. Heartburn. Thrush. Immediacy.

'An anger which moves', emphatically.

Maybe a Pablo could make sense of it all.

And my older son ? Thank you for asking, he's doing quite well. A lukewarm glass of milk was all it took. At a pavement cafe. Stay with me awhile, and we'll maybe figure it out.

Cold suite to follow.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

hurricane irene | descargas in miniature

The last I looked, Manhattan was Joe Bataaning down the hatches in preparation for the worst. All along the financial district, while the last revelers refused to vacate Times Square even as the tourists were being flushed north. Within an inch of Harlem.

Irene, Irene. Turbulent of eye. The calculating stare of a catatonic in heat.

Cruelly inflicting Category 3 destruction in the Caribbean where she first dabbled in tearing down the house, horrifying astronauts in perpetual orbit; truck drivers from Carolina through Virginia.

A raffia skirt whipping. Foam from the chops of a slavering dog.

Born in Havana in 1918, the universe of Israel 'Cachao' López was shaped - moved - by waves from the outset. Schooled at home by classically trained parents, indulged by a burgeoning extended family of professional musicians, López stepped in on contra bass for the Orquesta Filarmónica de La Habana before he turned thirteen.

Credited with devising the mambo, circa 1937, his role in popularizing African rhythms - integrating them seamlessly into mainstream Cuban culture as an immediately identifiable motif - is impossible to overestimate.

"He played the acoustic bass with his late brother, multi-instrumentalist Orestes López. The brothers composed literally thousands of songs together and were heavily influential on Cuban music from the 1930s to the 1950s. They introduced the nuevo ritmo ("new rhythm") in the late 1930s, which transformed the danzón by introducing African rhythms into Cuban music, which led to mambo. They co-wrote the danzon "Mambo" which was called the "Mother of all Mambos" by Cuban writer G. Cabrera Infante."

More crucially still, in the thick of Batista era corruption, Havana's love affair with the tourist dollar - those government sanctioned rackets catering to Meyer Lansky's junkie cronies at the Hotel Nacional - Cachao was able to cement Afro-Cuban music as something beyond the disposable; a hoodoo preamble to louche excess.

A pastel coloured zoot suit. A lonely valise parked under the bed. An airline ticket. Prophylactics.

The exhausted platinum bleach job wilting at the table; the priapic used car salesman with his face melting like a French pastry on the beach.

In 1957, in those neon early hours staggered on from one paid set to the next, Cachao allegedly assembled a posse of musicians in a Havana recording studio to kick out the jams. To give vent to those emotions festering behind an endless circuit trotting out the same tired staple for vacationing guests.

The result was an outpouring of improvisation on a par with Miles.

Locked down in New Jersey with Pete Rugolo; Gil Evans. Hatching his birth of the cool. Plotting, maybe, some rudimentary sketches of Spain.

Israel López dropped the needle straight on the groove.

Delighted with what he knew lurked in the can, Cachao immediately set about touting the reel to Panart, Havana's leading independent record label, situated on San Miguel 410, between Campanario and Lealtad, founded 14 years earlier by musician and engineer, Ramón Sabat.

Panart, allegedly, did not share his enthusiasm. Nonetheless releasing his 'descargas'. Under the title, "Descargas: Cuban Jam Sessions In Miniature", issue # 2092.

The world pricked its ears. Fidel proved not so generous.

Whatever seeds of disquiet were sown in vinyl, the Revolution of 1959 turned at a different rate. Havana's reign at centre of a profligate storm was finished, felled with a rifle shot straight between the eyes.

Cachao himself, walking wounded.

Departing for Miles' Spain with Ernesto Duarte's Orchestra in 1962 - while he could, or as directed - Israel López threw on the yoke of self imposed exile, trading the Egypt of his fathers for New York City, then Vegas. A dead red sea.

Faux pyramids; pharaohs; jazz and jism.

The hurricane, when it arrived, was all but spent. Spitting pennies onto the carpeted forecourt of a jangling casa. Front of house. An affront. Clasping hands, laundering old favours with those CIA pension cheques stacked up in chips.

Irene, Irene. She'll give you a slap, still.

All the way from her sulking retreat in a Latin safe harbour, those tortured silk knickers.

An acquaintance of an acquaintance - several times removed - is said to have alighted here. Arriving by cab, these past 48 hours.

"I don't get it," he is said to have said. "Is it real ? Pretense ? It reads like shit."

What's to get ? You're either on, or off the bleachers. Puckered in, or nudged between the benches on a trombone's sliding fart. Breaking wind in the dark.

Everything else is circumstantial.

CACHAO Y SU RITMO CALIENTE: DESCARGA CUBANA from "Descargas: Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature" LP (Penart) 1957 (Cuba)
CACHAO Y SU RITMO CALIENTE: TROMBON CRIOLLO from "Descargas: Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature" LP (Penart) 1957 (Cuba)


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

incremental air strikes


It had all the ingredients of some kind of coup d'état. What began with an 8:30 AM jaunt to the labour exchange - "wash n' go", the knives safely locked away for sharpening - saw me madly waving in the coordinates for an air strike less than one hour later.

Cellphone in hand. Leaning out over the geraniums on our balcony.

There was no rumbling approach of tanks. No three-wheeled baby carriages, even.

While insurgents were busy strafing Gaddafi's compound with heavy calibre machine guns mounted in flatbed trucks, an old friend of mine had lost her bearings.

"What's that ? " I screamed into the phone. "Just follow the road straight on down. No, no. Right, I said. Turn right."

My wife left the baby with me to go and intercept my friend and her four-year-old daughter. Needless to say, they missed each other by a couple of streets.

I windmilled my arms and paced back and forth like Fidel on his mountain in 1957. I lit a cigarette. It has been years since I have been close to a good cigar.

Fidel might have been dribbling a basketball, still, in baseball shoes.

We met up. We drank some coffee and ventured back out to collect my friend's five-year-old from school. He has just completed his first week there; my older son, his first out of the primaries. One through seven. Not an election in sight.

On the way there, her daughter stumbled and split her knee. The blood was streaming into her shoes. She did not cry. She is made of sterner stuff.

Her five-year-old was immensely affable. Dispensing observations on the nature of the duckbill platypus. And snakes. The hooded cobra, to be precise.

His sister imprisoned Milo in a chalk circle. Fitted dancing shoes on his little sockless feet.

We made our way home in the middle of the afternoon. Stopped off at the supermarket for groceries. The leaves on the trees have not begun to redden quite yet, but it is coming all the same. We turned the corner and caught up with our three older children, in time to redistribute the weight.

The key had scarcely turned in the lock when my stepdaughter stepped on the mail. Airmail, at that. Incremental Decrepitude. #1.

All the way from Connecticut.

Well. It's author, Dave Brushback, claims to have borrowed the title from one of my posts. I don't know. I'm immensely flattered, of course. I'm astounded that he managed to turn it around.

It has been a while since I've fallen back from the monitor into hard copy. The issue of obsession. Photographs; copy; the works.

"This issue was made entirely by hand.
Which is why you probably didn't get one."

The digital revolution has been something of a godsend to all manner of peons, the world around, on and off the bleachers. One base on an overthrow. The elimination of the need for camera ready artwork. Paste-up. The prerequisite to get to grips with paper; to wrestle with pagination.

A staple through one's index finger.

Newspaper is all but finished. News International, PLC. It strikes me, though, that should it all come down - incrementally, all at once - the digital paragraph will be the first to fail. SMS; ADSL.

Just goes to show. Don't throw your hat in the air next time those NATO jets scroll by. Or raise a clenched copper fist. How does one know if the postman knocks a third time, if nobody's home to hear it ?


Sunday, August 21, 2011

hot sauce | no colonel sanders, fast food pharaoh

photograph by james joern.

It was vaguely my intention, late into last week, to bring Alice Coltrane onto the bleachers. To dispel all notion of Yoko to her John. I don't know.

Dizzy psychotropic laments. Meandering astral flights in the footsteps of pharaohs, priests.

Instead, I tumbled through Friday afternoon into the weekend proper swaddled not by harp, but immersed in bugalú. Old Seeco and Tico releases from the barrio. Feverishly documented by Teddy Reig, Pancho Cristal, Miguel Estivill, Art Kapper and Joe Cain. Engineered, in the main, by Fred Weinberg.

A handful of Puerto Ricans dug in with the cockroaches up in Spanish Harlem before those Beatles disembarked at JFK: Tito Puente, Joe Cuba, Héctor Rivera.

By the end of it, I was itching to book a ticket to Havana. Pummelled half unconscious by mambo; cha-cha-cha; salsa; too much hot sauce.

I don't own a passport, and I am a woefully poor dancer, but I like to marvel at the women. The cars. Those tail fins; the radiator grills like the grins on a party of circling sharks.

Hot-pants. Basketball vests. Mojitos. Fidel's rationing out the good times when the generators fail. The gangster resorts of the Batista regime reclining in the twilight, a ring of fingers along the Malecón.

It is a little late in the summer to be thinking this way. The riots have subsided into facile politicking. A mother of two, languishing in gaol after receiving looted goods, has seen her ludicrous sentence overturned; David Cameron has set off to Cornwall to reconvene his holiday in the sun; the fractured jaw of the Malaysian student mugged on a London pavement seems to be mending nicely.

The tabloids have commenced a campaign to reclaim England's streets.

Tico Records was established as an outlet for Latin music by New York garment dealer turned impresario, George Goldner, in 1948. While Goldner was allegedly compelled to sell all stakes in Tico, Roulette Records, Rama and Gee in 1957 - to cover considerable gambling debts - his commitment to the label never waned. Artists signing to the label in its lucrative first phase included Mambo Kings, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, and Machito; huge draws on the dance hall circuit, but unable to capitalize on local demand for recorded product.

By the early 1960s, however, the US embargo on Castro's socialist republic was making an impact on those Cuban influences so integral to Tico's trademark sound. Its islands fell under quarantine as the Bay of Pigs fiasco ushered in yet worse to come.

The second generation of Latin youth, too, in New York City - born and raised in Manhattan's north-east quarter - was gravitating more towards those influences filtering out of Detroit, Berry Gordy's Tamla Motown. Incorporating elements into a new wave of homegrown music. Bugalú. Salsa.

Percussively anchored in familiar Caribbean rhythms, but buoyed - energized - by drifting currents.

Partly in response to Tico's success - now exclusively under the partnerhip of Joe Kolsky and Morris Levy - and partly informed by its decline, Fania Records opened business on 888 7th Avenue on March 25th, 1964. Dominican born musician, Johnny Pacheco, and Jerry Masucci, an Italian-American divorce lawyer who had previously worked in Havana's visa department, forged an alliance which sought to service that fundamental shift in focus.

To refine it. Market it to a global audience.

Fania incorcorated Tico records in 1974, with Masucci stepping out as chief producer for the imprint between that time and its ultimate collapse in 1981.

Bang, bang. Revolution - 45rpm - and foment.

JOE CUBA SEXTET: EL RATÓN from "Vagabundeando! (Hangin' Out)" LP (Tico Records) 1964 (US)
JOE CUBA SEXTET: LA MALANGA BRAVA from "Wanted Dead Or Alive ('Bang! Bang' + 'Push, Push, Push')" LP (Tico Records) 1966 (US)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

book of job

leonaert bramer, circa 1630.

Good things, it is said, come to those who wait.

In my experience, it is more often a case of the postman's second knock. A bum rap. Seldom - if at all - a welcome intrusion. Chinaski in tissue overshoes.

And puddles on the stairs.

Our mail, it is observed, largely arrives by brown envelope. From somewhere in Manila. Unwanted circulars. Bills and warrants, more commonly. Harbingers of farther ill tidings.

Knock-knock, the door goes. The letterbox.

In the absence of the giro - an anachronism - it is safer to remain in bed, the kitchen, to wait for the kettle to boil out the dread. The toast to pop. Or steam seal the cigarette paper, still on tiptoe, a resting bus conductor driven by fears.

No news is good news, they are wont to say, too, fudging
the issue.

In the event that first avalanche of mail drops like a stone; ill met by a sneer or ritual sign of the cross, the expected lottery result.

An ashen face fallen to scowling. A fermented apple, sourly caving in on itself.

I mention this, by way of habit. Better by far to prepare for the worst.

There is no mileage in premature ejaculation beyond the inevitable anticlimax, the disappointing end to a coveted false start. Better by far to dress for a funeral when all are making wedding plans. Better to buy in a litre or two of lamp black paint.

Then again. One would not want it said that one was parsimonious. In terms of casting runes.

Ejecting the unsolicited.

Even druids must have good days, though the very sound of it seems a contradiction. A sacrificing of verisimilitude.

I know of one druid at least who was always smiling, through one catastrophe to the next, it was his preordained lot to nod where others might wince. It was in his nature. The first time the mob turned on him he embraced it quite affably, the fool, they turned him upside down and the idiot grin did not falter. Without a hint of the Biblical, let's get that straight. He was as heathen as they come.

He spent some time in dharma. Absconded from it quite unpenitent.

"I don't know," he said, coming up for air on the Ducking Stool. "It's all so much water under the bridge."

Well. Such was his crime. When it all came down, he was unable to relinquish the predilection to paint a good face on it. An Easter egg. A beating.

In much the same way, it might be argued, I am inured to all talk of frogs; boils; gnats and lice. Staff and rod, and smiting.

Let my people go.

A caravan of wind-up amputees falling down. Marching off the table.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

the BBC observes | the GLC protests

tottenham high road
. after Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes.

WIRE: REUTERS from "Pink Flag" LP (Harvest EMI) 1977 (UK)

Friday, August 12, 2011

goodbye blackberry way

montage by ib.

While the bleachers blistered through July into the beginning of August, it was never going to get hot enough to legitimately demand intensive care. The contrast of just a few degrees makes all the difference.

I largely avoided commentary on the London riots because, in common with most of those people who immediately started banging on the pots and pans as luncheon vochers spontaneously smouldered - erupting in flames from one borough to the next - my perspective on it seemed indelibly coloured by what I watched on TV. As close to 'live' as it gets. From the comfort of my greasy spot on the carpet.

In short, I was not actually at the game; I had little enough foresight to even book a seat.

The temptation was there from the outset to lay claims that those tensions ignited by the shooting of a twenty-nine-year-old man in Tottenham were somehow inevitable. Darcus Howe, a shade hysterically, played the disaffected race card as invited by the BBC in the televised autopsy which (inevitably) ensued, but his exaggerated wielding of a scalpel - to seek to draw parallels with events in 1985 - seemed ill-advised and hopelessly out of touch.

Neither did he seem in possession of incontrovertible material facts.

The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by police no doubt sparked unrest; the wholesale rioting which followed directly on its heels was wholly cynical and opportunistic.

Engineered by a welter of Fagins on Blackberry phones. A closed network choreographing its own closed network of very damaged children.

It is ironic that the very device which proved so effective in galvanizing support in the election campaign which would return the world's first black president - Obama might have lost the race to the Whitehouse if not for his Blackberry - should, three years later, play a key role in such meticulously orchestrated looting and civil disorder. Adopted by every Artful Dodger seeking to grab a slice of pie before the authorities fell out of bed. The last gang in town.

It is not remotely credible to attempt to politicize events, none of which have even spurious parallels with civil unrest as reported elsewhere in the world. Greece. Syria. It has nothing to do with the overturning of an inalienably corrupt regime; it has little to do with the post-apocalyptic living death of capitalism. Unless one digs deep beneath the rubble.

There was no targeting of government collateral, here. No attempt to besiege fiscal infrastructures, beyond the occasional corner shop ATM.

Plain and simple, those London riots in 2011 were nothing more than an unexpurgated shopping spree: the sociopathic desire to line the pockets of a purloined pair of Georgio Armani slacks.

Should a mother and her children accidentally burn to death in the process, should local businesses fail,
it is of no consequence. Like hooded rats, the tide of lobotomized youth simply out-pedals the screams; returning home to their lairs by bike to deposit the spoils.

Mick Farren made an enlightened stab at it, but got it only partly right:

"A tribe of Sids Vicious without a Joe Strummer among them."

John Simon Ritchie might have been empty as a hole without a Lydon or
McLaren, but Strummer, too, had his Simonon and Rhodes. Uncle Bernie. There are a million Sids in tens of thousands of decrepit council estates - from East London to Merseyside, Wolverhampton to Easterhouse - but the element of iconic nihilism lacks hard currency.

This isn't a youth movement. It's genocide in the waiting.

Consumerism in extremis, a plague of locusts operating with impunity.

In this era of bland conformity, hive mentality, the events of last week are nothing more than England's 'Trumpton Riots'; as superficial and lacking in substance as any cretin mugging his way vacuously into this year's final of the X-Factor.

An audition. An experiment in CCTV containment.

Flummoxed ?

Don't be. In the final analysis, this is England's just reward. No future. No vision. No hope for evacuation.

Police and Thieves, with scarcely a unform in sight.

London may have burned for three and a half minutes, but the object of its charring was not a tinderbox of parliamentary misrule, so much as a sofa on Reeves Corner, Croydon. Too unwieldy - or just plain ugly - to stash in the back of a ringed white van.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

the grape, the grate, and me

photograph: the old kichen window, and others, by rosa b.

Me and the grape appear to have come to a parting of the ways.

Whether we are finished, or whether he is merely on holiday, is cause for some debate. A sobering thought. Either way, our rules of engagement - the gushing over that till death do us part - are on ice.

I was turning the bacon. Musing on the convoluted paths we've trod. We used to get on together so famously, stopping some way short of setting the house on fire, but lately things have turned a little sour. Routinely I might wake in the morning, sharing the outline of a long-running joke into the pillow, only to find he'd fled.

Closing the door mid conversation with a whisper.

Bedroom. Kitchen. The parlour with its shades of the morning after partly drawn.

Of course. Many sip their share of one-night-stands. Illicit slumberings between the decades. The grape slowly maturing. We took comfort in each other's arms, certainly, neither one of us giving the advantage. Shook hands quite amicably in a gentleman's agreement; while the hands simply shook in the morning.

The times we had.

I remember when we both fell out with cousin jack - sometimes 'Jack', more often 'Mr. Walker'; what's in a name ? - his humour ran a little dry. Shallow as a snorting drain.

"What's that all about ?" me and the grape exclaimed, in unison, when jack fell heavy on a curse. And did not make it up off the floor again.

Well. We gave that bum his marching orders. Sent him to Coventry before the quarter broke out in flames. Again. Let's not split hairs; we met up occasionally from time to time, Mr. Walker turning up unannounced in that awful raincoat peppered with holes - bowed over with heartburn and remorse - but things seldom flowed quite the same. Too dark and unsavoury by far, for my liking. Blood in the urine. Staining the bowl.

Me and the grape frequently argued about it. The easy option, to forgive, forget.

This was something which was spoken about at length. Never resolved. And, too, there was that small matter of walker's continuing peccadillos behind our backs. Nothing wholly outrageous, true, but a source of irritation nonetheless. Extramarital affairs. Innuendo. It did not sit well. Untidy as the wrong bottle cap screwed down at sixes and sevens, a dribbling tap which could not be turned off. No matter how determinedly one went at it.

He never could exert one ounce of self-control.

That is not to say we did not miss him. I did not miss him. We exchanged letters all through that winter he was in stir, but I refused to visit in person.

And let's not forget to consider how we were always moving in opposing directions. All the way back to god knows where. In the rain. The snow. Throughout it all, me and the grape remained tight. Thick as thieves. If jack fell asleep at the wheel of the getaway car, we two were never at fault. Of that I am more than certain.

He ought never to have fallen in with us in the first instance. We ought to have been more careful.

Of course, it's easier to read the bluff when the cards are finally laid out for all to see. Palms up, hands raised. Hindsight is a peculiar thing. Like taking aim through the back end of a telescopic sight, tracking a bead straight along the barrel to where the eye yawns huge; unblinking.

I think on this as I ladle the bacon over on itself, the pools of crackling fat.

It has been some time now, but I cannot say I miss the grape. Not really.

Sometimes - fixing breakfast, for example - I wonder if the grape and jack might not have been in cahoots all along. Conspiring against me. Enjoying a laugh at my expense. That is the problem with people like that. One might spend all one's years in and out their company, for better and worse, but one never knows for sure.

Oh, we were tight alright. You can't take that away.

But how well does one ever know what makes another person tick ? Especially in a bind. For all I know, the grape and jack are living it up with ginnie, mary - the hired help - while I am alone here in the kitchen. Pouring over a mess of scorched flesh. Eggs breaking wind.

When all's said and done, people like that are no end of trouble. Jack shit. The grape included. And you know how much I loved him.

Come here a moment. Listen. Did I ever tell you all about that one time me and the grape and mean jack black got ourselves in the most ridiculous scrape ?

Monday, August 8, 2011


milo, by rosa b.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

three from the tombs

the gorbals, 2008. photographs by rosa b.

Of course, this is not the first that I have pried up the corners of anonymity. Cautiously. An ill advised act of self sabotage, I am inclined to believe.

The faint waft of marzipan. Imagined sulfur.

The forensic evidence - provided by my now wife - is of your sibling from a period sometime in 2008. Or 9. Broadly coinciding with the first phase of 'regeneration' which prompted my wandering out onto the bleachers. Driven by the starting pistol in a convoluted demolition derby. At first glance, it appears to capture the no longer quite so young bohemian in pensive mood. Hangover is by far the safest scenario; the attempt to memorize a shopping list, windows ablaze, the greenhouse effect. Nothing of substance can be seen through the fragment of glass between lower face and shirt cuff. A bottle. A four storey blur down on the street.

On the whole it is a quite flattering representation. I have come across much worse.

The second photograph in the above series of three opens a window on the universe we inhabited until September last year. The third, by its nature, is more easy to document with confidence: a little after 9:30 AM, July 1st, 2008; south west as the crow flies, shot from my kitchen window. They did not bother to evacuate us that first time. The building rumbled up through our feet, the panes rattled.

When it was done, I may have curtsied like a fighter in the tenth round. Glass jaw exposed. Weaving back to my stool after a mandatory count.

Our very diluted Hiroshima.

We breakfasted and dined on dust. Teeth rudely pulled. Marveling at the cavities.

Three from the tombs, midnight to six.

For lack of USB support, nothing was uploaded.

Our camera - my wife's camera, to be precise - met its end sometime over Christmas that same year. The result of a tumble, I am told. Did it fall or was it pushed ? The former, I suspect. We did not replace the camera until very recently. Either way, that the flash card survived is some cause for relief. Perversely more robust than those undeveloped spools of old. I have allowed too many memories to wither and fade. In and out their can. The fridge. A stretched canvas paling over sprockets.

Twelve years ago, when I stepped out of the elevator onto the 22nd floor, I was of a mind to establish a dark room of sorts. In two minds, more accurately. The walk-in cupboard never proved inviting enough. The electricity meter jostling for supremacy from behind the coats like drapes.

So it is we resurrected something of the path between Bridge Street and Partick, and several stops between. The stuttering trajectory of a clockwork orange.

Ripened. Squeezed. Poured.

Well. The temptation largely prevails to bombard one and all with snapshots of Milo. My youngest son. To blow the lid for good. For various reasons, this unsettles me vaguely. I might ask him, of course, to waive all rights; I might take a wobbly grin as tacit consent.

Tottering without guile as I ink his little thumb on a plate of pureed tomato. For the record.

For better or worse I have resisted the urge.

Some time last year my wife encouraged me to apply to the Creative Writing Programme at Glasgow University. Much of the material which formed the basis for my portfolio submission was culled from pieces originally published here. It is quite some time since I have dabbled in academic circles. A quarter of a century. Their offer of a place took me a little by surprise.

So did the announcement that my wife was pregnant. Those routine demands of a baby. A move across the city, fortuitous though it was.

I deferred until this year. I accepted a renewed offer.

Well, wait just a second. While I am elated to have at least secured the opportunity, the end result is far from a foregone conclusion. Not even here is funding at postgraduate level a given. The not insignificant cost of tuition fees.

All the thornier when one is seemingly unemployable, a burden on the public purse.

Am I boring you yet ? Is that cr@ss enough for you ?

Still. I have determined to somehow do it. This may be my last stab at turning things around. I have applied to an assortment of trusts, of course. Those ones for which I am even shakily eligible. The activity of drafting 'begging' letters fills me with dread. Some days I have embraced it quite enthusiastically, some days I am given over to crippling anxieties.

A general proclivity to fall in line with the great economic downturn of our times.

I mention this merely as a means of belatedly lancing the boil. To spill my cards out on the table.

I have never been much of a one for poker.

The wise money, granted, may predictably ride on those who play their diamonds and spades close to their chest. Red and black. The short odds.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of the yellow.

Better to let it all hang out. Better to deck the empty bleachers with steaming crimson coils.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

auntie | stalking runes on stilts

The legacy of the British Broadcasting Corporation as laudable custodian of culture is something of a poisoned chalice.

Ever financially accountable to its board of governors, and - by extension of its reliance on a mandatory license fee - the public purse, its historic policy of erasing tapes of significance in a bid to balance the books has courted grieving and contrition.

At the same time, it is only as a direct result of its quite impeccable role in the fostering and nurturing of emerging talent, that such criticism might be justified.

Whereas in the commercial recording sector - EMI at Abbey Road; Decca Studios at Broadhurst Gardens - master reels may have been 'lost' due to human error, less than meticulously implemented systems of archiving, for decades the BBC deliberately pursued a quite ruthless policy of wiping - a relentless marching back to Year Zero - wholly at odds with its much trumpeted position as cornerstone of popular culture and the arts.

And while coverage of key institutional events was zealously preser
ved for posterity, a dusty corner in the vaults was seldom a given for the rattle of pots and pans in the servants' quarters.

Sadly, in the era before negotiating overseas rights became financially lucrative, and the domestic technological boom saw video transfer usher in a whole n
ew market, that which could not be recycled was all too often irretrievably destroyed or swept straight into landfill.

So many canvases painted over.

The millions squandered as it sought to compete with the ITA for a share of prime time audience make those pennies saved all the more ludicrous.

A curious paradigm of the cult of dubious celebrity. The galloping cost of auntie's costume jewelry.

The zeitgeist, then, through the 1960s into the late 70s and Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, may have been broadcast but it was glimpsed as a flash in the pan.

In 1998 Hux Records was launched as a conduit for hitherto unreleased archive recordings, often specializing in sessions originally commissioned at the BBC. Working in collaboration with those featured artists where possible, each release is a painstaking effort of restoration; compiling and remastering material where found, the end result annotated by extensive liner notes corroborating detail where speculation previously reigned.

The 2007 twin CD release of those BBC recordings made by the Incredible String Band between 1969 and 1974, 'Across The Airwaves', is an indispensable document gathering material from sessions for John Peel, Stuart Henry, and Pete Drummond, in addition to three 'In Concert' live performances at the Paris Theatre and Golders Green Hippodrome, London, recorded and broadcast between 1971 and 4.

With fourteen pages of liner notes researched by Adrian Whittaker, and - for the first time - a complete sessionography, '
Across The Airwaves' plays in perfect counterpoint to official studio releases. Across and through '5,000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion'; 'Wee Tam & the Big Huge'. 'The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter'. As Whittaker observes:

"The ISB soon adopted an adventurous approach to their BBC work, using the sessions to try out new, unreleased... or radically rearrange older material. This makes their sessions particularly deserving of a wider audience, as many of the tracks remained otherwise unrecorded."

Of the thirty-three cuts included here, thirteen had never been issued in any shape
or form.

Nothing from the band's first two sessions - Pete Drummond & Tommy Vance's Top Gear from October, 1967; John Peel's Nightride from March, 1968 - survives
in sufficient fidelity to merit selection (albeit both sessions may be accessed on the seven CD bootleg, 'God's Holiday'), but a further session for Peel's Nightride, recorded and originally broadcast in March of the following year is represented in its entirety; intriguingly so, given that the closing track of the session, the Robin Williamson composition 'Fine Fingered Hands' - which would only resurface years later on his solo 1998 release, 'Ring Dance' - missed its scheduled spot when a live poetry reading from Adrian Mitchell ran well over time.

The track was broadcast, but not until after the 1:00 AM news bulletin, into a wholly unrelated segment of programming, and the original tape was consequently mislai
d. That it features here at all is entirely fortuitous; preserved as it was by String Band aficionado, Richard Bartram, who captured its airing on his father's reel-to-reel.

The Incredible String Band, of course, trod a very peculiar path.

The highlight of those studio sessions, for me perhaps, is Mike Heron's arrangement of the traditional Hindu devotional, 'Raga Puti' (Ragupati) which was twice recorded for the BBC over separate sessions in late 1970: Stuart Henry's Sound of the Seventies in September, and Peel's Top Gear a month later, the broadcast of which was uncharacteristically postponed until January, 1971. The version which appears here, as on 'God's Holiday', is from the former; performed by Heron and Williamson, Rose Simpson and Likky McKechnie.

In the period broadly coinciding with the recording of 'U' for Elektra and Joe Boyd's departure as manager and producer.

Again, the original session tapes, we are informed, have not survived. B
ut for amateur "off-air" recordings of the original broadcasts, such insights may almost certainly have perished.

Heron's 'Raga Puti' is every inch as gloriously deranged as anything by th
e Velvet Underground in their finest incarnation. Or the first Amon Düül. Well. Almost. Itself an interpretation of a treatment by Ananda Shankar - according to Whittaker's sleeve notes - Heron and Williamson weave an addled dervish over an insistent cauldron pulse, a Northern Irish lambeg drum, stirred over by Rose and Likky as watchful acolytes.

These two sessions focus on the Incredible String Band as an intimate circle in transition. A knot unravelling. By the time of 1971's 'BBC In Concert', recorded on 28th March, Malcolm Le Maistre was drafted in as official replacement for Simpson, an integral functioning part of the collective since 1968.

The performance is polished but - to my ears, at least - queerly inhibited, showcasing new material which would not grace their first album release for Island that August, 'Liquid Acrobat as Regards the Air', or find its way onto vinyl at any later date.

Further sessions for Peel and Drummond were commissioned in October and November but are not represented on either 'Across the Airwaves' or 'God's Holiday'. A subsequent session for Peel's Sounds of the Seventies was recorded in February of 1972 and broadcast - in part - that March. Once more, the original tapes were wiped, but a transcription produced by BBC International yielded 'Secret Temple', a joint composition by McKechnie and Williamson tentatively slated for release on 'Earthspan', and never aired.

"Lyrically it's rather an opaque song - is it addressing a lover, or a deity, or both ?"

Neither Williamson or Heron profess any shred of understanding as to motivation, seemingly preferring to maintain a respectful distance. Allowing it to speak in tongues. A language lost.

As it stands, it steals out of the lungs of Autumns gone as Likky's last breath as part of the Incredible String Band.

By no means, though, would I wish to suggest that this changing of horses effectively hobbled progress. Even a casual listen to 'No Ruinous Feud' refutes that, and further sessions for John Peel through August 1972 to October 1973 demonstrate Williamson and Heron experimenting with a revolving personnel to fine effect.

This last session, in particular - featuring promoted roadies Stan Schnier on pedal steel and Jack Ingram on drums, alongside Le Maistre and the newly recruited Graham Forbes - is arguably one of the String Band's most successful in that it produced the immediately engaging and never officially released Mike Heron composition, 'Jane'. And Williamson's 'Dreams of No Return'; the latter later resurfacing on their twelfth and final album release, 1974's 'Hard Rope & Silken Twine'.

Admittedly, this particular session was covered previously through Strange Fruit's 1997 CD issue, 'On Air', compiling 12 songs from various Peel Sessions, but where 'Across the Airwaves' excels is in mitigating the damage done by the very body responsible for commissioning such a tangle of fabric in the first instance. The administration of a trust fund under a benign but bipolar tottering maiden aunt.

Setting it out in something approaching a fully lucid chronological context; inviting the listener to draw educated comparisons between material in the raw, and the evolution of a very fluid winding jaunt as presented by a series of definitive studio releases.

No small undertaking. No ruinous feud.

Painting detail(s) and study by Richard Dadd;
Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix.

INCREDIBLE STRING BAND: RAGA PUTI from "Across The Airwaves: BBC Radio Recordings 1969-1974" 2 x CD (Hux Records) 2007 (UK)
INCREDIBLE STRING BAND: DREAMS OF NO RETURN from "Across The Airwaves: BBC Radio Recordings 1969-1974" 2 x CD (Hux Records) 2007 (UK)