26 December 2007

Oscar Peterson

Sad to report the loss of the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson on Christmas Eve. A National Hero in Canada (the only living person, other than Queen Elizabeth, to have a stamp issued in his honor back in 2005), his dazzling speed on the keyboards -- the man could sound like two pianists sometimes -- sometimes obscured his improvisational inventiveness, and his ability to swing/funkiness as well. A great loss.

(Personal aside: the first Peterson album I purchased was 1979's live "Digital at Montreaux" (pressed on red vinyl!) with Oscar and the similarly named bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. His whip-fast, finger breaking '(Back Home Again In) Indiana' knocked my teenaged butt on the floor....)

A sample of his work.....

Some links:

A message from the Official OP website

Boston Globe

Toronto Star

A 2003 NPR Interview

Washington Post

Merry Happy

Had the mixed pleasure of spending a couple of pre-Christmas days in New York City.

The "mixed" part of it was due to how brief a time I and others from the library were there (for meetings). My apologies to all my friends for not even letting you know I was coming but this was practically the textbook definition of 'whirlwind': come up, go to meetings, sleep, get up go to meetings, leave. I do so love New York, as impossible as it is, and it had been much too long since I'd gotten the jolt of being there during the holidays. The streets were filled, the shops along 5th Avenue were their usual glittering astonishments (Harry Winston's sales staff were even wearing tuxedos and floor length black ball gowns), and Times Square was even brighter than usual, if that's possible, making coming away from them to the side streets feel like walking from day into night. There's always something thrilling to me about being in New York, and also something inside me that makes me think "I'm Home!"

I've been curious about recent discussions of how safe the streets are in The City...and how some people think they are perhaps too safe. They miss the mess, the trash, the element of danger being in New York usually implied. Makes me wonder: Is pleasure/enjoyment always mixed with an element of risk? Sadly, the Old Home Place continued its reputation as Bodymore Murdaland this year, with few of NYCs amenities to lessen the pain of the numbers.

I also said something there about the holidays which made me sound like a pro-consumerism fanatic. One of my co-workers complained that it 'didn't feel like Christmas' and I remarked how, as we get to be adults, the fun tends to go out of the season. "We even get boring gifts!" I said. She took my comment to mean that we should be spending more on presents.

What I wanted to say, but didn't say too clearly, was that we should focus on joy, and pleasure, on returning to a state of innocence. We should try to do things that reawaken the sense of wonder and excitement inside of us. I've gotten a lot of 'things' over the years since I've been an adult, but I think I was most touched to get a stuffed bear from one of my friends. And I usually buy myself an inexpensive 'Matchbox' car of some kind (one of my continuing childhood weaknesses) and usually spend a few minutes Christmas morning making that 'vroom vroom' sound as I guide it across the floor or desk.

Make your inner child happy, as well as your outer adult, this season. And it doesn't (or shouldn't) require you to spend a lot of money to do that.

Speaking of Joy and Wonder: Part of the time in NYC was spent in museums, and -- revealing even more of myself! - I was somewhat overcome in the Museum of Modern Art. It was my first time in Yoshio Taniguchi's 'new building' -- a treat in and of itself. In addition to the dazzling Martin Puryear retrospective (up close his work displays an almost breathtaking level of craft and beauty), I wandered through the 'classics' on the museums' 4th and 5th Floors: Cézanne, van Gogh, Matisse (although I'm NOT happy with Dance I being in the stairwell!), Picasso, Léger, Jackson Pollock, Rauschenberg,
Magritte .... a room filled with Mondrians showing his stylistic progression to the jazzy glory of Broadway Boogie Woogie.....the "hits" just keep on coming, one astonishment after another. I was wiping away tears on my way down to the main floor. My Inner Child doesn't get exposed to anywhere near enough Art (bad parent to him that I am) and it was quite a rush to be flooded with seeing so many great works (again, in most cases -- Bonjour, Demoiselles, I'm home!) 'live' and up close (reproductions truly do NOT measure up). A Joyeux Noël indeed!

12 December 2007

Out of Balance

Risking the wrath of Terry McMillan, I recently read her ex-husband Jonathan Plummer's novel, Balancing Act.


During the McMillan divorce saga, I was inclined to be in Plummer's camp, and the book does nothing to change that. I can feel for and understand the man's dilemma. Not everyone knows or excepts their sexual orientation at an early age, and Jamaica is a country where gay people are taunted, chased, beaten, and sometimes murdered. I can understand how someone might not be ready or able to deal with being gay until after they left the island. Terry was and is an attractive woman (who may have been engaging in just a touch of sexual tourism), with the added bonus of being wealthy and offering him a ticket to the States.

As for the novel, I don't think Ms McMillan needs to worry about having a literary rival. Plummer's book, thanks, in part I'm sure to his prolific co-author Karen Hunter, falls into the "Urban Lit" genre (the first line of the book contains African America's favorite 12-letter profanity, for example, although the later sex scenes are, relatively, chaste). There's the same element of wish fulfillment one finds in many of these books, although in this case instead of from Ghetto to Riches it's from Jamaica (and relative wealth) to Riches -- and Magazine Cover Fame. There's a dash of early E Lynn Harris, and more than a little 'up market' product placement/name dropping. There's also more emphasis on 'what happens next' and plot than on developing any of the characters into real people. One skims along the surface of this book, but doesn't really feel anything.

What intrigues me here is that the novel, although written by someone who is now openly gay, still manages to fall into any number of stereotypical traps. Colorful 'flaming' characters dance around the edges of the story (set in the world of high fashion modeling, how could that not be the case?) providing comic relief and/or saving the day. The main character discovers his orientation at the hands, lips, straw (?!? ....don't ask....) and tongue of a white man, making it seem (once again) that "white people are the Source of Homosexuality." And once the main character leaves the security of his situation with the woman he's been involved with, the only sexual experiences mentioned are fleeting ones he engages in at a porn shop.

With friends like these, who needs Focus on the Family?

I don't mean to be shooting fish in a barrel, or taking a lightweight 'entertainment' too seriously. But it does disturb me: I've read a couple of 'urban'-styled novels, written ostensibly by someone either LGBTQ or a supporter of the community, that fall into similar traps (and I've heard similar things from a friend who read the deliciously titled, 'Jail made me gay, yo' novel, Homo Thug) and I'm wondering if what I've seen is a conceit of the genre. Leaving out the need to 'explain' the characters orientation, none featured characters who are comfortable with their homosexuality, or shown in a happy or even well-functioning, relationship.

I'm not saying an interesting novel could NOT be written about characters wresting with who they are. I do, however, wonder 'how far we've come,' this many years into the 21st Century.

Bonus Note: For a brilliant, hilarious take on the novel, check out author Stanley Bennett Clay's review on Amazon (scroll down the page).

04 December 2007

Poem: "Self-Portrait at Twenty Years" by Roberto Bolaño

(Author Photo from Latinoamerica- online)

It's been a while since I've posted a poem, and thought I'd put this up, since the subject of translation has been one some friends and I have been discussing recently. This is by the amazing Chilean author, Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) whose work the angels at New Directions have been issuing in English in recent years. Bolaño's massive, glorious novel, The Savage Detectives has made most if not all of the "Best of 2007" booklists I've seen (both the New York and Los Angeles Times, for example).

An excerpt from Bolaño's 'fictional dictionary' Nazi Literature in the Americas, appeared in the wonderful Virgina Quarterly Review's "South America in the 20th Century" issue; a short story, Álvaro Rousselot's Journey appeared in The New Yorker, his poem "Godzilla in Mexico" appears in a recent issue of The Nation., and this one, reprinted on the New Directions site, first appeared in Harpers (Take THAT "The Magazine is Dead" people)

!Que viva Bolaño!

"Self-Portrait at Twenty Years"

I set off, I took up the march and never knew
where it might take me. I went full of fear,
my stomach dropped, my head was buzzing:
I think it was the icy wind of the dead.
I don't know. I set off, I thought it was a shame
to leave so soon, but at the same time
I heard that mysterious and convincing call.
You either listen or you don't, and I listened
and almost burst out crying: a terrible sound,
born on the air and in the sea.
A sword and shield. And then,
despite the fear, I set off, I put my cheek
against death's cheek.
And it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing
that strange spectacle, slow and strange,
though fixed in such a swift reality:
thousands of guys like me, baby-faced
or bearded, but Latin American, all of us,
brushing cheeks with death.

Roberto Bolaño (translated from the Spanish by Laura Healy)