Saturday, November 26, 2011

Well, do you love me, now that I can dance

The story goes:  Berry Gordy
was so anxious to record this
extremely strange song, right 
away, that he grabbed the first
group he ran into in the hall,
and said, Like, OK, now, you do
it. Mashed potatoes recur, in a
constant refrain having to do
with whether one likes it like
this; and I had always prized
Mr Porter for being silly. But
billions of this thing are in
print; I mean billions, rush-
ing down to the sea as we speak,
videos of it streaming all over.

I was motoring down our little
Constitution Highway, only yes-
terday - the part musing past
Somerset Plantation, whence you
can see fuh absolutely evah -
I couldn't get this crotchety, 
nagging lyric to go away. It 
started shaping the tongue, de-
forming the lips, invading the 
ear, can you stand it. It then
came over me, the whole thing
is involuntary; it flies under
the radar of criticism, avoid-
ing cognition, itself, hence
its ridiculous persistence. I
could see why he'd be so impa-
tient to get it out there, as
its writer. There wasn't any
time to book The Temptations;
and so The Contours got it -
as you must have heard.

Berry Gordy, Jr.
Music and Lyric
Do you love me?
Motown, 1962©

Saturday commute xlviii: Down to the language lab

A healthy musical culture is one in which
the creative function, the function aris-
ing from a strong and prevalent love of 
music, is the primary one, and in which 
the activities of the composer, the per-
former, and the listener .. are in their
several ways embodiments of that love.
It is obvious that real love for music, 
as for anything else, depends on inner
security; but it is also true that inner
security depends on the strength of love.

The style of structuring these 
pre-requisites changes all the 
time, but in their necessity 
they do not. I reflect upon 
necessity in the terms with 
which I learned of it, and 
did my best to live up to it. 
And this - I don't know - does 
this count anymore: a vision 
one could believe in, embodied 
all about one, to vindicate? Is 
it really useful to know how to 
say, petit verdot, if it is shaped on the vine and harvested as if it were something else?


Roger Sessions
The Musical Experience of
  Composer, Performer, Listener
op. cit. 

i   Jeremy Young
ii  Vine photo, TPF

Friday, November 25, 2011

The disaffected scion and the importance of important days

Chef Thomas

A lively dissonance in this portrait of the ill-manicured, workmanlike hand's settling upon the pure-shot clavicle of natural elegance, suits the occasion of a discussion of obligation and resistance, and the difference between manipulation and learning. From these points of view, the gesture becomes so much one of reclamation that I hope a reader will forgive my not putting forward an intimate portrait from a family of my own, because it doesn't exist. I know all one could want to know about the vitality of disaffection with ostensibly important holidays, yet none of that information could possibly contribute to its crisis management. I would draw this, instead, from the common principle of three misconstrued chefs ~ Waste nothing. 

Mindful of Will Hunting's snarky challenge, Let the healing begin, one doesn't think in those terms, or even of reconciliation. Little could more inflame disaffection, than the common effort to suspend it pro tanto and gain no understanding that it is all right. The doctrine of waste nothing is derived, in fact, from a dismembering process, and goes, rather, to the appreciative celebration of every fragment. I like its relevancy.

The important days are every day, and define the chef's answer to the falsity of eliciting a recalcitrant youth's collaboration in what is, from his perspective, a one-day farce, possibly even a parody of appetites gone awry. Thomas Keller is deeply on to something, in his brief essays on killing a rabbit, trussing a chicken, and cooking offal. The same is true by cultural definition in Daniel Boulud's almost Rilkean Letters to a Young Chef, and in Gabrielle Hamilton's poetically pragmatic inadvertent education of a reluctant chef, but Chef Thomas's are the arguments which ring through to our case. I never did ask him, but they seem to come from Melville's rendering of the whale, not The Bear, not Hemingway. There are circumstances where gastronomy is superior to tragedy, unless they really are the same thing.

They give the youth a justification for coming down from Truman Capote's pecan tree, which challenges none of his pain or anger, none of his opinions of folly or form, but goes directly to the thing he plainly prizes the most, his personal nourishment. They give him the experience of pity without self-implication; they give him a model of caring rooted in his most accessible qualities - craft, feeling, play; and they give him a sense of participation with natural conduits - the ingredients of the feast - in the contribution he has found himself unwilling to make to those he distrusts. Engage him in the carcass of the occasion; let his pride be shown to him.

Ultimately, the important days are important days from his perspective. It's nice, if he can be enlisted in the proper address of form, in the pursuit of behaving properly under stress. But he gets that at school, and we have seen the limits of those expectations at home. These are the days when caring for him is put to its most stringent test; the days when he needs the most to know what that means, and to inherit the essence of it, to do the work, himself. The rest can and will come later. But this, this is all you ever wanted.

One day, I asked my rabbit purveyor to show me how to kill, skin, and eviscerate a rabbit. I had never done this, and I figured if I was going to cook rabbit, I should know it from its live state through the slaughtering, skinning, and butchering, and then the cooking. The guy showed up with twelve live rabbits. He hit one over the head with a club, knocked it out, slit its throat, pinned it to a board, skinned it - the whole bit. Then he left.

I don't know what else I expected, but there I was out in the grass behind the restaurant, just me and eleven cute bunnies, all of which were on the menu that week and had to find their way into a braising pan. I clutched at the first rabbit, I had a hard time killing it. It screamed. Rabbits scream and this one screamed loudly. Then it broke its leg trying to get away. It was terrible.

The next ten rabbits didn't scream and I was quick with the kill, but that first screaming rabbit not only gave me a lesson in butchering, it also taught me about waste. Because killing those rabbits had been such an awful experience, I would not squander them. I would use all my powers as a chef to ensure that those rabbits were beautiful ..

Thomas Keller
  with Susie Heller and
  Michael Ruhlman
The French Laundry Cookbook
  The Importance of Rabbits
Artisan, 1999©

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A reader on his birthday

.. saw a large flock of wild geese, right overhead, not very high up, ranged in V-shape, in relief against the noon clouds of light smoke-color .. Queer thoughts melted into me the two or three minutes, or less, seeing these creatures cleaving the sky - the spacious, airy realm - even the prevailing smoke-gray color every-where, (no sun shining) - the waters below - the rapid flight of the birds, appearing just for a minute - flashing to me such a hint of the whole spread of Nature, with her eternal unsophisticated freshness, her never-visited recesses of sea, sky, shore - and then disappearing in the distance.

They did not make it up, Preacher and Billy Bob; it was not because they didn't want to, it was only that there did not seem to be any straight way for their friendship to happen again. But they couldn't get rid of this friendship: each was always aware of what the other was up to; and when Preacher found himself a new buddy, Billy Bob moped around for days, picking things up, dropping them again, or doing sudden wild things, like purposely poking his finger into the electric fan .. But then, and though it was a cold winter day, he went in the backyard and climbed up into the pecan tree, crouching there all afternoon in the blue December branches.

There is no closing of the book, on the formation of the flock in flight or on the crotch of the pecan. I have nothing to give any reader but gratitude for his company in these places where we all are found, high and low, and to two of the purest, clearest springs in New World letters, to wish for any friend love on his birthday - and mirth, because it is our way. 


Walt Whitman
Specimen Days
  A Hint of Wild Nature
Justin Kaplan, editor
Walt Whitman: 
  Complete Poetry and 
  Collected Prose
Literary Classics of
  the United States, 1982©

Truman Capote
Children on their Birthdays
The Complete Stories of
  Truman Capote
Truman Capote Literary Trust
Random House, 2004©



Well begun: a tumblr
on seeing and selec-
tion, a gallery of a
distinct heart -

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


You wouldn't want to have to sit and listen
To the soft voice of the cithara telling you stories
About the long wars against the fearsome Spaniards,
Or Hannibal the tough, or how the sea

Near Sicily ran red with Punic blood,
Or about the Lapiths and the wine-crazed Centaurs,
Or how by the punishing hand of Hercules
The Sons of the Earth were tamed, the Giants who caused

Old Saturn's shining house to quake with fear.
Maecenas, you'd be better able to tell
Straightforwardly in prose stories like these,
About the triumphs of Caesar and about how

Chained by the neck once-dangerous kings paraded
Disgraced along the streets of jubilant Rome.
Instead of this the Muse wants me to use
The peaceable music of my cithara

To celebrate Lycymnia's shining eyes,
Lycymnia's wit, Lycymnia's lovely singing,
Lycymnia's faithful loving marital heart,
Lycymnia dancing with such seemly grace,

Lycymnia joining hands with the festal band
Of maidens on Diana's sacred day.

Odes, ii.12
David Ferry, translation
op. cit.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Come, sweet rain

  Had no other chore 
  presented itself 
  to language, than 
  to make allusion 
  memorable, would 
  language have 
  resorted to au-
  thority, or to 
  desire? Would a 
  good opinion of 
  an ironclad coup-
  let, say, in Pope, 
  have held without 
  internal power; do
  we marvel at what
  it holds, or that
  it floats?

The blueness of the hour 
when the spine stretches itself into a groan, then the golden cheek 
on the dirty pillow, wrinkled by linen.

Odor of lanolin, the flower
pressed between thundering doubts of self, 
cleaving fresh air through the week 
and loading hearts to the millennium. 
Go, sweet breath! come, sweet rain, bewildering as a tortoise 
embracing the Indian ocean,
predictable as a porpoise
  diving upon his mate in cool
  water which is not a pool.

Frank O'Hara
  Angel Hair 6 
Donald Allen, editor
The Collected Poems of
  Frank O'Hara
op. cit.