Two USAs

usa1

Delighted to have this poem posted today at International Times. Please visit to read.

Like many, I have written much in 2017 about Donald Trump explicitly as President or implicitly as such but also more widely his impact beyond the USA and on the world.

Therefore, when writing my second found poetry sequence this year, American Finds, as an American and based on the Great American Novel, his existence intruded on a number of the poems. This was generally not a conscious attempt to include him and his effects/impacts: but language and ideas in those great historical American works could not help but reflect Trump and the pervasive negativity he not only projects but creates and embeds.

Further published poems from this sequence are posted on this site and can be found by accessing this link.

 

Top Fifty 5: Fill Your Head With Rock, 1970

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[originally posted June 2011]

Fill Your Head With Rock – CBS Two LP Sampler

Choosing this as one of my top fifty albums is a cheat, but I’m Prospero over my musical world so I can do what I like.

I have mentioned this LP earlier in this blog when writing about the huge impact and influence of the sampler albums of the late 60s and early 70s, but this is, for me, the zenith of that promotional tradition. It introduced so many great bands – and their best ever tracks – at a time when I was the most influenced by such inspiration. It has been a quest to collect the albums from which these songs were taken as well as others from those various artists’ careers. Here is the hall of fame:

Chicago – Listen
Santana – Savour
Spirit – Give A Life, Take A Life
Steamhammer – Passing Through
Blood, Sweat And Tears – Smiling Phases
The Flock – Tired Of Waiting
Black Widow – Come To The Sabbath
Argent – Dance In The Smoke
The Byrds – Gunga Din
Skin Alley – Living In Sin
Laura Nyro – Gibsom Street
Leonard Cohen – You Know Who I Am
Moondog – Stomping Ground
Amory Kane – The Inbetween Man
Trees – The Garden Of Jane Delawney
Al Stewart – A Small Fruit Song
Tom Rush – Driving Wheel
Janis Joplin – Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)
Al Kooper – One Room Country Shack
Taj Mahal – Six Days On The Road
Mike Bloomfield – Don’t Think About It Baby
Pacific Gas & Electric – Bluesbuster
Johnny Winter – I Love Everybody

This will have been the precursor to obtaining most of the albums I will now recall. Chicago’s Chicago Transit Authority will in fact be one of my ‘Top Fifty’ albums, and Listen is a great pop track from that album’s brilliant mix of orchestrated balladry to heavy rock. I may have had Spirit’s Spirit before this sampler [having been introduced to Fresh Garbage from another sampler The Rock Machine Turns You On], but I can’t be sure: Give a Life Take a Life is such a gentle, calm song from their glorious offerings. Steamhammer’s Passing Through is a stunner and the best thing they ever did, just trumping Junior’s Wailing. The Flock’s Tired of Waiting introduced rock violin to those of us who hadn’t heard much jazz before, and Come to the Sabbath was simply weird and wonderful in the way that was often all you needed in those experimental days. Skin Alley’s Living in Sin has that wonderful rolling drum and flute core that breaks into a memorable guitar solo.

The Byrd’s Gunga Din has those sublime harmonies, and Laura Nyro’s Gibsom Street wrenched me to her soaring vocals. Trees’ The Garden of Jane Delawney is so beautiful it is painful, whilst Al Stewart’s A Small Fruit Song is so short it is subliminal: a lightning flash of acoustic excellence sparking off the aphorism of its ridiculous lyric. It was this album’s mix of ‘heavy’ and ‘folk’ that appealed too, eclecticism tapping into the idealism of sharing and exploring everything.

Pacific Gas & Electric like so many bands of that time simply had a cool name to complement their take on the blues, as did Taj Mahal. But the blues got ripped to electric shreds of tension in Johnny Winter’s I Love Everybody where his opening laugh launches one of the great guitar pumped songs of all time, his voice growling out the lyrics along the guitar lines with the stereo oscillations slamming around inside your head, filling it fully.

I haven’t mentioned all of the tracks but they are all superb. I have every album from which these tracks were taken, though not all of them are vinyl. Not yet.

Ennio Morricone Memories

ennio - Copy

Listening to
the palpable

wistfulness
in its ennui

minor piano
lush foreign

words sung
by women

in bobs or curls
flowing skirts

muted horns
orchestrally

adorned in
sixties streets

passing sixties
cars and

deep nostalgic
sensibilities

so bright and
light and hopeful

the pain of
loss sweeps

across me like
the strings

painting love
scenes in

panting breath
with harpsichord

plucks and
woodwind death

Top Fifty 4: Bert Jansch – The Bert Jansch Sampler, 1969

[originally posted October 2011]

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Bert Jansch – The Bert Jansch Sampler

Like many, I’m genuinely saddened to hear of Bert Jansch’s death yesterday, aged 67. I’ve seen him play once with John Renbourne – a local gig, supported to encourage artists to play in the wider, small-venue community – and have listened to and followed his career with enjoyment, though I couldn’t claim to have been a massive and consistent fan. No reason for not being; just the amount of music out there. But his influence as guitarist and songwriter on the folk and wider music scene is enormous.

Being honest, I doubt I would have initially picked this album as a top fifty, but I have no problem doing so now having been prompted by this news. A top fifty was always going to be a movable feast anyway; never ever a finite thing. There is no question, however, that this album was hugely influential in my fledgling listening experience. As I have recounted before, the sampler albums of the late 60s/early 70s had a massive impact because of the quality of music presented but also, and obviously, their cost. As a teenager I didn’t have much cash for records. Bert’s sampler album came out in 1969.

Favourite tracks are Rabbit Run, Go Your Way My Love, Needle of Death [and what a powerful impression this made on a young mind yet to experience the drug culture], Blackwater Side, and David Graham’s brilliant Angie made popular by Jansch [and which I heard last night played on Planet Rock and thought it odd for that station, not having heard then of his death]. Every single song resonates because being one of the few albums I had at the time it was one I always played. So each – in addition to the inherent excellence – conjures images and remembered feelings of growing up at that time, and this fuels the emotion I feel today in hearing he has gone.

Unlike some of my friends at the time who were more skilled and diligent as budding guitarists, I never learned to play Angie as well as I should. I can still turn out a near approximation, but it’s pretty basic stuff. Bert Jansch will have encouraged so many young guitarists at the time to emulate his style and hone their skills. What a legacy that is in addition to the recorded music and live performances.

In reading other tributes today I came across this quote from Neil Young and it sums up with huge affection the high regard fellow artists had for Jansch:  With deep regret Pegi and I acknowledge the passing of Bert Jansch. Pegi and I were lucky to play with him on all of our shows for the last couple of years. He is a hero of mine, one of my greatest influences. Bert was one of the all-time great acoustic guitarists and singer songwriters. Our sincerest sympathies to his soul mate Loren. We love you Bert.

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Additional: Loren sadly died two months after Bert. A friend and I were working in London in December 2011 and we visited Highgate Cemetery – my first time – and just beyond the entrance to the East Cemetery we came upon Bert Janch’s burial place and, to our surprise, the freshly dug grave of Loren’s beside him. This is the tribute there today,

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The BBC’s Fake News

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Donald Trump The Largest Purveyor of Fake News?

The news announced yesterday that the BBC is going to set up an educational programme for schools to teach/explore the issues of ‘fake’ news [read more here] is naturally a laudable enterprise, but its presentation as some kind of noble initiative – even apocalyptic in the apparent realisation that something needs to be done about this, now – is quite amusing but also annoying.

What the BBC is proposing is, of course, a timely layer to add to the long-standing subject of Media Studies, not that this layer won’t already be a key element of existing teaching. I was annoyed but also bemused to hear this announcement yesterday because it is in its own way fake news: the idea that an educational gap has to be filled and filled by this organisation.

For decades Media Studies has been pilloried as a soft subject, the ‘mickey mouse’ of academia, denigrated by the likes of the Daily Mail [always ironic as a key representative of why we all but especially young people need to have the critical faculty to analyse the bias and outright lying of such media organisations] and rejected by some universities as an ‘appropriate’ subject for admission purposes.

I’m not going to detail the importance of Media Studies by looking at curriculum content over the years. The obvious ‘fake’ news about Media Studies throughout the history of its denigration was a focus on TV study and especially soap operas and similar. What this purposefully ignored was the critical analysis element to that study – perceived as accessible and pertinent to a young audience – and it is this critical structure that is a skill applicable to all study and life in general. Of course, soap operas are unlikely to be applicable to a youth/school audience today: it is social media and the way social media has been used as the major vehicle for the dissemination of fake news, and disseminated for a whole range of dangerous and unacceptable reasons.

And it is for these reasons that Media Studies should be a core, compulsory subject, supported by the expertise of a news organisation like the BBC who should, one would hope, be able to analyse its own examples of bias as evidence of the pervasiveness of such.

My opening picture of Donald Trump and the headline with a question mark is one simple example of how easy it is to manipulate: had there been no question mark and so making the comment a declarative we are already in the world of trying to control message and meaning.

Not that he isn’t, by the way. Without doubt. There is all that evidence, too much to place here…

Finding Nigella in Her Perfect Roast Potatoes

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The following is a preamble by Nigella Lawson to a recipe she contributed in yesterday’s ‘Observer Food Monthly, 20 Best Christmas Recipes’,

Needs must and all that, so I have always been an open anti-perfectionist, but in truth it is impossible to cook roast potatoes without needing them perfect, which to me means sweet and soft inside and a golden-brown carapace of crunch without. And, strangely, no matter how many tricksy things you may succeed at in cooking, nothing gives quite the contented glow of achievement that cooking a good tray of roast potatoes does. Unfortunately there is concomitant decline when you feel you’ve failed. The brutal truth is that you either get it right or you don’t, and anything less than perfect is a disappointment. There are three critical things that I think make the difference: the first is the heat of the fat – if it’s not searingly hot, you don’t stand a chance, and since goose fat has a very high smoking point and tastes good, it is my annual choice here; the second is the size of your potatoes – you want them relatively small, so that the ratio of crunchy outside to fluffy interior is optimised; and, finally, I think dredging the potatoes – and this is a family practice, inherited through the maternal line – is semolina rather than flour after parboiling, then really rattling the pan around to make the potatoes a bit mashed on the surface so they catch more in the hot fat, is a major aid.

This is an interesting, signature piece of writing by Lawson, sumptuously sautéed with language that at times oozes charm but at others is a little cloying. Overall, I think it engages because it is distinctive though I do not think its descriptive qualities match its aural ones: not poetic, but linguistically melodic enough to sing above plainer recipe tunes.

And there you go: my spuds would seem to have been splashed a bit by her linguistic oil. I’m not alone. Mike Bradley writing in The Observer’s TV guide began his ‘Pick of the Day’ for today’s ‘Nigella: At My Table’ with the line Preview tapes were not available for this evening’s final feast with the silk-shrouded purveyor of all things delicious, a mimetic take too of Lawson’s alliterative and hyperbolic style.

I could produce a detailed analysis of her piece [and in fact have, linked to teaching writing] but won’t here for now. Not detailed. It is, as I’ve said, mixed: I think it is characteristically stylised for that signature; is linguistically rich at times; has a reasonably coherent narrative drive, though is also occasionally incongruous [the brutal truth does not really match, even as exaggeration, the disappointment of imperfect potatoes], and the nerd in me applauds her handling – simply accurate, but accurate all the same – in the construction of the triplet beginning three critical things.

As a model for teaching writing, it isn’t! I certainly wouldn’t use in a wholly grammatical exploration as exemplification which government English Key Stage testing would endorse and insist open – despite evidence otherwise [see here]. I would and have used such with which to be playful in a workshop for writing: I used Nigella Lawson recipes as a text transformation task in my co-authored GCSE textbook Writing Workshops [and I’ll post a screengrab of a single page as illustration at the end: there is clearly instruction as well as advice in the teaching approach, but reading and student discussion of the style model – not reprinted here – is the key stimulus].

I did yesterday, however, experiment with Lawson’s piece at the beginning of this article to find a poem within it all, using a random word generator and then crafting a found poem, and I would happily do similar with students for that playfulness, but not in terms of teaching writing for GCSE [and, of course, beyond]. And it is the playfulness I wanted to focus on here rather than the mild teaching argument, but I couldn’t resist the latter. Here is the outcome for the former,

Finding Nigella in Her Perfect Roast Potatoes

To me,
perfect is

a carapace
of rattling

golden
optimised –

anything less

is a fluffy
interior

without
crunch and

without the
ratio of

soft to fat:

searingly
tricksy

in a decline
of the

maternal
line.

NL eg

The following is a page from the teachers’ resource I wrote to go with this workshop, and for the whole book:

NL 2