July 2006


Recording my instrumental album, searching for the right timing on a guitar part. Exactly ‘with the beat’ wasn’t working. My engineer Matt Forger said, “What we need here is ‘Irish Time’ ” Exactly. An Irish lilt is what we needed, floating above, in and out of time. Reading about the new TV series called ‘The Brotherhood’ that celebrates the Irish in America, one of the Italians refers to an Irish guy’s thinking as “Mick Logic.” Yes, that’s it! There was a beautiful article in today’s NY Times Sunday Magazine (7.30.06) by Marion McKeone in the ‘On Language’ column. Here’s some of what she has to say about speaking ‘Irish’ and the thought process behind it.

“The grandmother…handed her an envelope. My sister, who was making the standard $50-a-week au pair’s pittance, opened the envelope and found it thick with $2o bills. Fifty of them, to be precise. “Oh, no,” she protested. “I can’t accept this. No, No, really. It’s far too generous.”
Grandma looked at her quizzically. “If you say so,” she responded. Without further ado, she repossessed the envelope, removed a single $20 bill and handed it to her instead. “Is this about right?” she asked.
Helene swallowed her bile, bit her tongue and nodded mutely as she uttered silent curses. She had been speaking Irish, and Grandma had been speaking American. My sister’s refusal of the money was meant to convey her gratitude and acceptance of the gift. You might think a simple “Thank you” would have done the job a lot more efficiently.
But we Irish just can’t say yes. Or no. It’s not in our genes. In Irish Gaelic, our native language, we don’t even have a word for them. The closest is “Is ea,” which means “It is so.” And “Ni hea,” which means “It is not so.” There are, however, about 50 different approximations that indicate various degrees of equivocation.
Our genetic inability to call a spade a spade and our compulsion to say no when we mean yes, and vice versa, are but surface manifestations of a deeply ingrained reflex to subvert, invert and pervert the English language at every opportunity.
In Ireland, the words must fit the rhythm, often at the expense of logic or clarity. Irish Gaelic has its roots in the ancient Goidelic of the Celts. English comes from the Germanic. We may be geographic neighbors, but when it comes to linguistic traits, we’re poles apart.
The great voices of Irish literature possess a unique ability to adapt to the uncomfortable imposition of the Queen’s English on the Irish rhythm while remaining faithful to the ancient traditions of narrative and storytelling…
“The Irish language…ducks and swerves.”…
For Americans, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The idea is to get the point across, not fashion it into a pair of earrings. But we Irish are more interested in the journey than the destination, and every exchange presents an opportunity to dawdle, double back and doublespeak.
The liberal, and frequently illogical, peppering of conversations with swearwords by Irish writers is more a method of retaining a rhythmic pattern of speech than an expression of hostility…’they plug the rhythmic gaps.” Nothing like a volley of expletives to ensure that the beat goes on…
Having grown up in a culture of ambivalence and allusion, I was initially astounded by the staccato, rapid fire directness of American English…I made a routine attempt to jaywalk across Fifth Avenue. I was frozen in to a state of temporary paralysis by a New York cop who, having blocked my path with a beefy forearm, bellowed, inches from my face: “Whassamatterwitchya? ya wanna be road pizza, ya [expletive] MORON?” having achieved his laudable aim of saving my hide, he broke into an enormous grin. “I’m Irish-American,” he said, by way of explanation for the explosive consequences that occur when Irish riddlespeak collides head-on with American directness.

I saw this post on the “3 Quarks Daily” blog, regarding the pros & cons of marriage; from Charles Darwin in 1838. Don’t ask me for my opinion. I’ll let you decide!

Marry

Children (if it Please God)
Constant companion (and friend in old age) who will feel interested in one
Object to be beloved and played with. Better than a dog anyhow
Home, & someone to take care of house
Charms of music and female chit-chat
These things good for one’s health—but terrible loss of time
My God, it is intolerable to think of spending one’s whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, and nothing after all—No, no, won’t do
Imagine living all one’s day solitary in smoky dirty London House
Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire and books and music perhaps
Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Great Marlboro Street, London

Not Marry

Freedom to go where one liked
Choice of Society and little of it
Conversation of clever men at clubs
Not forced to visit relatives and bend in every trifle
Expense and anxiety of children
Perhaps quarrelling
Loss of Time
Cannot read in the evenings
Fatness and idleness
Anxiety and responsibility
Less money for books etc.
If many children forced to gain one’s bread (But then it is very bad for one’s health to work too much)
Perhaps my wife won’t like London; then the sentence is banishment and degradation into indolent, idle fool

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Charles Simic is a great writer. As much as I love reading his poetry, I love reading his essays. I had 3 or 4 of his essay books, that I can’t find now, otherwise I’d recommend the titles. I think it was from one of his essays that I read that every great story starts with a weather report. “The day was grey and cloudy…it was the hottest July on record…the night was dark, no moon at all…” etc. He writes the most vivid descriptions of food. I love food. Believe me, there’s a fat man inside me that wants out! If it weren’t for my desire to get a gig now and then, I’d buy a pair of overalls, and eat the WHOLE pie! Another round for the table please. Exactly when, is enough enough? Here’s a poem of Charles’ regarding Death. Death is an Irish obsession, for some reason. Death and Drink. I was on a tour bus with the Canadian singer Lynn Miles and she created an endearing, lively Irish priest character, to while away the road hours. “You’ve got to stop the fightin’ and fornicatin’!” But why?

Eyes Fastened With Pins
by Charles Simic

How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death’s laundry.
The beautiful daughters
Setting death’s supper table.
The neighbors playing
Pinochle in the backyard
Or just sitting on the steps
Drinking beer. Death,
Meanwhile, in a strange
Part of town looking for
Someone with a bad cough,
But the address somehow wrong,
Even death can’t figure it out
Among all the locked doors…
And the rain beginning to fall.
Long windy night ahead.
Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death’s side of the bed.

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A few years back, I did the tourist thing and walked back across The Brooklyn Bridge from a visit to Junior’s Deli on Flatbush Ave. I had my super 8 camera with me, and took some footage of Manhattan and The East River on a cloudy day. It turned out beautifully. There’s no match between film and digital images. The rich grainy black & white of super 8 film makes everything look timeless. I pulled some stills from that shoot which I plan on using as the cover art for my instrumental album, tentative title being, what else, “The View From Brooklyn Bridge.” Watching the footage inspired my favorite piece on the album. The music will be accompanied by a DVD of images for each track. Hopefully we’ll use a bunch of other film that I’ve shot over time, in and around New York. The other titles on the album are, “Cathedral Parkway”, “Jesse”, “Mia Bella”, “Michael”, “Rainy Night in Red Hook”, “King Street”, “Last Week of August”, ” Peace”, and “BQE.” B.Q.E. The Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Strange parkway of mythical proportion, wending it’s way through the rooftops of Williamsburg. There’s a spot where you exit the L.I.E. and swerve under a few overpasses to enter the B.Q.E. I swear, I always see a late 70s sedan, bomb past me there at 85 miles an hour. I don’t know how those ‘Grandma cars’ stay alive in New York, what with the rust, the elements, car thefts and accidents, but the city is swarming with them. You’re not going to park a ‘nice’ car on the street, only to be guaranteed of it being broken into, or worse. My songwriter friend, Jesse Harris, used to have his Grandmother’s huge 70’s boat in the city. Huge trunk that could hold an entire band’s worth of gear, and a few dead bodies as well! Coming in from Long Island or JFK airport, you come up onto the bridge (called The Kosciuszko Bridge) onto this amazing view of Manhattan in all it’s glory from Battery Park heading up to The Bronx. Home. So huge, so manic and uncontrollable, and yet in the midst of all that, the peace and familiarity of streets, faces and places close to my heart.

more musings on Love & Desire:

Séverine in Summer School
by Rex Wilder

Naked for twenty-four of our last thirty-six
Hours together, and I mean museum-quality, sex-
Shop, God-riddling naked, sapping gold
Light from the windows of her hundred-year-old
Baltimore dorm, we were hungry for selling
Points, like a couple in a showroom. Compelling
Arguments were made to close the deal
And children were discussed. I kissed her from heel
To head in a shower without water;
Then with. Nude, she read me a letter as a waiter
Would his specials, and I couldn’t keep
My eyes off: smooth shoulders, belly, pelvis,
Deep olive skin all a balm against sleep.
It was from her sexy grandmother in Dieppe
And Séverine translated, both of us
Somehow drawn to this third party in a tidal
Sort of way, her lunar candor, her antipodal
Ease with words and the world. We were difficult,
Séverine and I, a beautiful strain, a cult
Of two. Even eating, we made lots of noise.
Even resting in bed, watching the trees,
Our lighter breathing, our limb-shifting, sheet-
Rustling, even our dreaming had fight.
Her heart was exceptionally loud—not with love,
But with knowing. Knowing what to be afraid of.

regarding the mysteries and vagaries of Love & Desire:

Incubus
by Craig Arnold

The chain uncouples, and his jacket hangs
on the peg over hers, and he’s inside.

She stalls in the kitchen, putting the kettle on,
buys herself a minute looking for two
matching cups for the lime-flower tea,
not really lime but linden, heart-shaped leaves
and sticky flowers that smell of antifreeze.
She talks a wall around her, twists the string
tighter around the tea bag in her spoon.
But every conversation has to break
somewhere, and at the far end of the sofa
he sits, warming his hands around the cup
he hasn’t tasted yet, and listens on
with such an exasperating show of patience
it’s almost a relief to hear him ask it:
If you’re not using your body right now
maybe you’d let me borrow it for a while?

It isn’t what you’re thinking. No, it’s worse.

Why on earth did she find him so attractive
the first time she met him, propping the wall
at an awkward party, clearly trying to drink
himself into some sort of conversation?
Was it the dark uncomfortable reserve
she took upon herself to tease him out of,
asking, Are you a vampire? That depends,
he stammered, are you a virgin? No, not funny,
but why did she laugh at him? What made her think
that he needed her, that she could teach him something?
Why did she let him believe she was drunk
and needed a ride home? Why did she let him
take her shirt off, fumble around a bit
on the spare futon, passing back and forth
the warm breath of a half-hearted kiss
they kept falling asleep in the middle of?
And when he asked her, why did she not object?
I’d like to try something. I need you to trust me.

Younger and given to daydreams, she imagined
trading bodies with someone, a best friend,
the boy she had a crush on. But the fact
was more fantastic, a fairy-tale adventure
where the wolf wins, and hides in the girl’s red hood.
How it happens she doesn’t really remember,
drifting off with a vague sense of being
drawn out through a single point of her skin,
like a bedsheet threaded through a needle’s eye,
and bundled into a body that must be his.

Sometimes she startles, as on the verge of sleep
you can feel yourself fall backward over a brink,
and snaps her eyelids open, to catch herself
slipping out of the bed, her legs swinging
over the edge, and feels the sudden sick
split-screen impression of being for a second
both she and her.
What he does with her
while she’s asleep, she never really knows,
flickers, only, conducted back in dreams:
Walking in neighborhoods she doesn’t know
and wouldn’t go to, overpasses, ragweed,
cars dry-docked on cinderblocks, wolf-whistles,
wanting to run away and yet her steps
planted sure and defiant. Performing tasks
too odd to recognize and too mundane
to have made up, like fixing a green salad
with the sunflower seeds and peppers that she hates,
pouring on twice the oil and vinegar
that she would like, and being unable to stop.
Her hands feel but are somehow not her own,
running over the racks of stacked fabric
in a clothing store, stroking the slick silk,
teased cotton and polar fleece, as if her fingers
each were a tongue tasting the knits and weaves.
Harmless enough.
It’s what she doesn’t dream
that scares her, panic she can’t account for, faces
familiar but not known, déjà vu
making a mess of memory, coming to
with a fresh love-bite on her left breast
and the aftershock of granting another’s flesh,
of having gripped, slipped in and fluttered tender
mmm, unbraided, and spent the whole slow day
clutching her thighs to keep the chafe from fading,
and furious at being joyful, less
at the violation, less the danger, than the sense
he’d taken her enjoyment for his own.
That was the time before, the time she swore
would be the last—returning to her senses,
she’d grabbed his throat and hit him around the face
and threw him out, and sat there on the floor
shaking. She hadn’t known how hard it was
to throw a punch without pulling it back.

Now, as they sit together on her couch
with the liquid cooling in the stained chipped cups
that would never match, no matter how hard
she stared at them, he seems the same as ever,
a quiet clumsy self-effacing ghost
with the gray-circled eyes that she once wanted
so badly to defy, that seemed to see her
seeing him—and she has to admit, she’s missed him.
Why? She scrolls back through their conversations,
searching for any reason not to hate him.
She’d ask him, What’s it like being a girl
when you’re not a girl? His answers, when he gave them,
weren’t helpful, so evasively poetic:
It’s like a sponge somebody else is squeezing.
A radio tuned to all stations at once.
Like having skin that’s softer but more thick.

Then she remembers the morning she awoke
with the smear of tears still raw across her cheeks
and the spent feeling of having cried herself
down to the bottom of something. Why was I crying?
she asked, and he looked back blankly, with that little
curve of a lip that served him for a smile.
Because I can’t.
And that would be their secret.
The power to feel another appetite
pass through her, like a shudder, like a cold
lungful of oxygen or hot sweet smoke,
fill her and then be stilled. The freedom to fall
asleep behind the blinds of his dark body
and wake cleanly. And when she swings her legs
over the edge of the bed, to trust her feet
to hit the carpet, and know as not before
how she never quite trusted the floor
to be there, no, not since she was a girl
first learning to swim, hugging her skinny
breastless body close to the pool-gutter,
skirting along the dark and darker blue
of the bottom dropping out—
Now she can stand,
and take the cup out of his giving hand,
and feel what they have learned inside each other
fair and enough, and not without a kind
of satisfaction, that she can put her foot
down, clear to the bottom of desire,
and find that it can stop, and go no deeper.

 

 

Apropos of nothing, here’s a cool quote I found:

from Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”, p. 79

  The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair,
all the traditional attributes of Youth … come and go with us through life;
again and again in riper years we experience, under a new stimulus,
what we thought had been finally left behind, the authentic impulse to action,
the renewal of power and its concentration on a new object;
again and again a new truth is revealed to us
in whose light all our previous knowledge must be rearranged.