What Martin Luther King Jr. Said About Jazz

Spike Wilner

Spike Wilner writes the electronic newsletter for Smalls Jazz Club, where he's the congenial manager and one of the owners. The newsletter is always informative. Never sinks to mere PR. Which makes it one of the best around. (Wilner doesn't just write the newsletter. He's a first-class jazz pianist. Click the photo or this link to hear him play. I'm particularly fond of Wilner's solo piano playing.) Anyway, it's fitting that on Martin Luther King Day, today's newsletter showed up in my email box with a recollection of what King had to … [Read more...]

Oxford: ‘An Old Hooker Past Her Sell-by Date’

Architectural design for the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.

The lede graf of Connie Bruck's story in the current New Yorker about the Ukraine-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik caught my eye. Although her profile "The Billionaire's Playlist" focuses on "how an oligarch got into the American music business," the lede has plenty to say about the awful state of affairs at Oxford University. Knowing how the poet Heathcote Williams, who lives in Oxford, feels about the university he once attended, I sent him Bruck's lede. His reply was swift, pointing out that there has been a local protest campaign "to … [Read more...]

Do Many Women Admire William Burroughs?

Hanne Lippard

My staff of thousands hasn't taken a survey, but I can count his female fans on one hand. When it comes to the number I actually know, make that one finger. Her name is Hanne Lippard, the Berlin-based poet and performance artist with the killer voice. I've blogposted about her before: Prick Up Your Ears for Hanne Lippard and Every Crumb Can Become a Piece of Cake. "By the by, speaking of Burroughs," she emails, "this one is actually somewhat inspired by his reading of Junky." Go listen: It's a tongue twister called Boys. … [Read more...]

A Poet Chases Away the Pallbearers

William Cody

The American expat poet Cody Maher messages that "some years back in a diabolical playful mood" he jotted down a few notes called "The Pallbearers." "Most of those pallbearers have already bit the dust," he adds. In a similar mood, I asked my staff of thousands to post the poem, which I like for the grim story it tells and for its mordant humor. THE PALLBEARERS The pallbearers arrived late It was uncomfortable to say the least I didn't like the looks of them from a distance and they looked even worse up close It looked like they … [Read more...]

Ginsberg Does Indian Mantras on Sloow Tapes

'London Mantra' Sloow Tapes cassette [2014]

Speaking of Allen Ginsberg, I'm told a new Sloow Tapes cassette entitled "London Mantra" is about to be released. Bart de Paepe, producer of the indie label, writes, "It's a recording George Dowden made at his home in July 1973." The tape features "Ginsberg solo on his harmonium, singing Indian mantras and a few of his own songs." As I replied to de Paepe, "The truth is I've never been a fan of Allen's harmonium singing." One of Ginsberg's closest friends, William Burroughs, couldn't stand his off-key droning either. Which is being … [Read more...]

Amiri Baraka Has Died, a Remembrance

From VDRSVP#2 (enhanced with Amiri Baraka photo)

Amiri Baraka's obituary in the NY Times this morning mentioned his first contact with Allen Ginsberg. ...to whom, in the puckish spirit of the times, he had written a letter on toilet paper reading, “Are you for real?” (“I’m for real, but I’m tired of being Allen Ginsberg,” came the reply, on what, its recipient would note with amusement, was “a better piece of toilet paper.”) It reminded me that back in 1968, long after they'd connected, Ginsberg wrote up a dream he had about Baraka and sent it to me for a little magazine I was editing. … [Read more...]

Portrait of the Painter Who Loved Braque

'Portrait of Willem de Kooning' by Gerard Bellaart

"Willem de Kooning always maintained that Braque's early analytical cubist paintings were the last great bout of true painting." -- Gerard Bellaart (who also loves Braque) Now have a look at what de Kooning was talking about.Here are some of the analytical cubist paintings Braque did from 1908 to 1912. Houses at Estaque [1908] Castle at La Roche Guyon [1909] Glass on a Table [1909] Guitar and Fruit Dish [1909] Harbor in Normandy [1909] The Castle in La Roche Guyon [1909] The City on the Hill [1909] The Park at … [Read more...]

Above the Wintry Fields

The poem "A Murmuration of Starlings" is by Heathcote Williams, the narration by Alan Cox. After a visit to the Wordsworths in the Lake District, Coleridge caught a glimpse from his stagecoach Of a gigantic flock of birds as it swooped, rose then fell Above the frozen, wintry fields of a passing farm. It was November 1799 and he described the phenomenon As “a vision” in his Journal, then detailed the way This “vast flight” drove along “like smoke, and expanded Then condensed”, then continually shifted shape. First he saw the … [Read more...]

How a Brilliant Writer Got in His Own Way

'Humpty Dumpty' [1924]

I'm told Ben Hecht was recently inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. That could be why I was asked to write a piece about him for a special "Chicago Issue" of the Chicago Quarterly Review, but something tells me it was pure coincidence. I also have a feeling the Hall of Fame won't appreciate the piece. Since I wrote it pro bono (of course), one of the editors told me I'm free to sell it elsewhere after the issue comes out (of course). So now that the issue has gone on sale as a whopping 357-page whale of a doorstop with none of the … [Read more...]

‘In Praise of Folly’: Advice for 2014 or Any Year

Early 17th-century illustration for Erasmus' 'In Praise of Folly'

Excerpt from Erasmus' 'In Praise of Folly' (translated by John Wilson) Spoken by Folly in her own Person Do but observe our grim philosophers that are perpetually beating their brains on knotty subjects, and for the most part you'll find them grown old before they are scarcely young. And whence is it, but that their continual and restless thoughts insensibly prey upon their spirits and dry up their radical moisture? Whereas, on the contrary, my fat fools are as plump and round as a Westphalian hog, and never sensible of old age, unless … [Read more...]

Notes on Writers: Maugham Offers a Handful

Somerset Maugham

Edmond White writes: "I was invited to a dinner at the apartment of Ted Morgan on the East Side. Later, in 1982, I would write a positive review of his biography of Somerset Maugham, in which he gave a horrifying portrait of the aging writer as having lost his mind to Alzheimer's though he was pumped full of youth-enhancing monkey glands. Virile and hyperactive but incapable of thinking, the once witty and ironic author would greet guests at the gates of his Riviera compound by present them with a welcoming handful of his own shit." -- … [Read more...]

In NYC: Catching Up With Peter Schumann
and the Bread and Puppet Theater

Celebrating 50 Years of the Bread and Puppet Theater. (Click for slide show.)

Peter Schumann: The Shatterer is the first solo museum exhibition of Bread and Puppet Theater founder and director Peter Schumann. The exhibition opened in November 2013 as part of the first season in the museum’s newly expanded galleries. It marks the 50th anniversary of the theater company and introduces New York audiences to a largely unseen body of work by one of the most independent, prolific, and complex artists of our time. -- Queens Museum … [Read more...]

‘The Red Dagger’ by Heathcote Williams

The Red Dagger

London's symbol for the hub of global finance in the City (Shown on the city's flag to convey heraldic grandeur) Comes from a blood-soaked dagger that killed the rebel, Wat Tyler, For Tyler had challenged London on behalf of the poor. The dagger survives and is on display at Fishmonger's Hall In the City's secretive ministate within a state And, like a trophy, its red silhouette is on the City's coat-of-arms As if Tyler's murder were something to celebrate. But the hundred thousand marching on London in 1381 Were serfs objecting to … [Read more...]

On Burroughs, The Adding Machine, & Blurbophobia

'The Adding Machine' by William S. Burroughs, with a New Introduction by James Grauerholz [Grove Press, 2013]

I see that Grove Press has just put out a spanking new edition of The Adding Machine by William S. Burroughs. I also see it has what Grove calls on the front cover a "new" introduction by James Gauerholz, the numero uno keeper of the righteous Burroughs flame. Since there never was an old introduction, I wonder what Grove means by "new." I know there was an old edition, though, because I reviewed it. That's where the blurb on the back cover comes from: "Sheer pleasure. . . . Wonderfully entertaining." —Chicago Sun-Times I'm not one of … [Read more...]

Nelson Algren on Frank Lloyd Wright

This is Algren reading his poem "On the Heart It Don't Matter How You Spell It." It's from a 1972 recording. Frank Lloyd Wright was the saint of American architecture. He liked steel buildings, stone buildings, tall buildings, low buildings. He liked new buildings and old buildings. He like dry buildings and damp buildings. He liked buildings on mountaintops. He liked buildings on deserts. He liked buildings broken by suffering And buildings that were happy from morning till night. He even liked buildings built on top … [Read more...]

Terkel Reads from ‘Chicago: City on the Make’

I've been going through all my old Nelson Algren files to give to Colin Asher. He recently landed a contract to write Algren's biography for Norton -- that's W.W. Norton & Co. (one of the last big indie publishers, and a great one, too). My files include all sorts of primary documents, among them a recording of the memorial tribute to Nelson that Studs Terkel organized at Second City on June 29, 1981, not long after Nelson died. Studs arranged the program, emceed the event, and concluded the evening by reading this excerpt from Nelson's … [Read more...]