Author Archives: Vance Maverick

May 22, 2014, 3:09 pm

Premature antiformalism

I checked out a study score of Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony from the local public library. It’s an early edition, maybe the first American one: © 1945, in the Leeds Music Corporation “Am-Rus Orchestra Scores series.” There’s an introduction by one Harold Sheldon, short but deeply bizarre.

shostakovich3

Shostakovich, though well established as one of the principal composers of the Soviet Union, ran afoul of the censors with the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1936), unedifying in its story and violent in its musical language. His 4th Symphony was already in rehearsal when he was persuaded to withdraw it — it doesn’t have a story to criticize, but the music is vast in scope and magnificently aggressive, exhilarating today but hardly the populist affirmation the Party and its Leader were starting to be clear they were looking for. Shostakovich went back to the drawing board to write…

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April 10, 2014, 3:34 am

I, the Gentry

Harvey Milk

A year ago, Rebecca Solnit wrote a “Diary” item for the London Review of Books titled “Google Invades”, complaining of the influx of moneyed Silicon Valley types, from Google, Apple, Facebook, Genentech, etc., into San Francisco. I sent in a short response, and the LRB published it (it’s appended to the piece online). Since then, the argument has grown livelier, and I’ve even heard from a couple of journalists. (See “The dawn of the ‘start-up douchebag’”, in the Independent. I’m not the douchebag — I almost wish I could boast I was.)  But I don’t think I’ve managed to get across what needs to change.

First, I should say that the problems Solnit and others are protesting are very real. Living is expensive, and getting worse. People without plush incomes have to weigh income against…

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February 11, 2014, 8:27 pm

Glass, thick and thin

 

Chuck Close, Phil (1969)

For a long time, I have detested the music of Philip Glass. As a teenager, I was swept away by Koyaanisqatsi in the theater (more because the images were new to me, and the dystopian picture of modern life sympathetic, than because of the music, however fitting), but under several influences came to dislike the blunt, in-your-face rigidity of his minimalism, preferring the Steve Reich of Music For 18 Musicians or the Morton Feldman of Rothko Chapel. I went 25 years without changing my mind, snickering at the unflattering Glass segment of Peter Greenaway’s documentary Four American Composers, sighing at the redundancy of the film scores — but a year or so ago, listening to the radio, I found myself rapt again.

Glass by Steve Pyke

Glass by Steve Pyke

The piece was Glass’s Symphony No. 9. It’s repetitive (what would …

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July 18, 2012, 5:14 am

Si monumentum requiris

My usual short bike ride in San Francisco — about 25 minutes starting from my home near Dolores Park — is to head northwest via the Wiggle to Golden Gate Park, on to the Concourse between the California Academy of Sciences and the De Young Museum, and loop back home. Along the way, there’s a series of monuments which I read as an index of our civic preoccupations from, say, the last quarter of the 19th century, into the first quarter of the 20th.

At the gateway to the gateway to the park, so to speak, the east end of the Panhandle, a robed bronze figure, massive but reserved in her grief, holds up a palm branch in memory of President McKinley.

 

Just inside the park proper, on the right, McLaren Lodge, headquarters of SF Park and Rec, remembers John McLaren, father of the park. It’s a heavy Romanesque affair in tan stone — I believe there’s a meeting room inside…

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March 21, 2012, 8:51 am

politics vs. rock ‘n’ roll

Johnny Ramone:

One night, the New York Dolls were hanging out there. They were already a band, but I hadn’t seen them yet. I pointed to Johnny Thunders and told Tommy that he looked cool. Tommy said that the band was terrible. But I knew, looking at him, that there was something there. To me, it’s always been about the look.

and

I’ve always been a Republican, since the 1960 election with Nixon against Kennedy. At that point, I was basically just sick of people sitting there going, “Oh, I like this guy. He’s so good-looking.” I’m thinking, “This is sick. They all like Kennedy because he’s good-looking?” And I started rooting for Nixon just because people thought he wasn’t good-looking.

January 1, 2012, 1:39 pm

best New Year’s wishes

Schilderen, roken, eten

Best wishes to all for the new year. Among my resolutions: more postings.

Philip Guston, Painting, Smoking, Eating (1973; via the Guardian). I like the heap of his signature hobnailed boots behind him — I think they stand for the compulsive quality of his work. May we all contrive both to harness and indulge our compulsions, in due proportion!

December 12, 2011, 12:05 pm

What is an anthology?

Helen Vendler’s review of the Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove, is quite a piece of work. (It’s been widely noted in the blogosphere, e.g. here, by I think the same Anderson seen commenting on likeminded blogs.)

Dove’s response is well worth reading. But not having been gored directly, the rest of us may wonder if Vendler hasn’t just missed the point. Do we expect of an anthology that it will supply a complete and final list of the “poems to remember?” That’s from the headline, but it does reflect Vendler’s thinking –

No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading, so why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value?

How flatly she equates “lasting value” with being “worth reading”! For me, these are pretty different categories –  especially for recent work, part of whose…

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December 16, 2010, 2:34 pm

hiatus?

On November 7, 1962, Richard Nixon conceded his loss to Pat Brown in the race for governor of California, saying famously, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” In 1963, after the assassination of President Kennedy, the Beat poet Bob Kaufman (pictured) took a vow of complete silence, spoken and written.† And in 1982, after four years as governor, Pat Brown’s son Jerry decided not to run for a third term, instead running for the Senate, losing to Pete Wilson, and withdrawing to study Buddhism in Japan.

In that spirit, it’s time for me to sign off. This has been a marvelous blog, and I’ve been happy to contribute to it. Cheers all, and see you in the ether.

† Which he kept until 1975, when he walked into a coffeeshop in North Beach and recited a poem.

November 30, 2010, 9:08 pm

-amount

This is far from the usual remit of this blog, but that remit, indeed the blog in general, seem to be in abeyance, and I don’t have another outlet for such trivia.

Eliza Griswold writes, warming up to praise Gjertrud Schnackenberg as highly as she can:

Despite this atmosphere of youth and mirth, there were a small handful of things about which the editorial staff was deadly serious. Language, the rigor and talent to wield it, was tantamount.

But not, evidently, the rigor to look in a damn dictionary to check that words mean what you think. And indeed, Schnackenberg’s poetry, by the examples given, appears to measure up perfectly to such proud but fallible praise.

(Photo by Flickr user M.V. Jantzen used under Creative Commons license.)

October 29, 2010, 6:05 am

Election season

Here on the eastern margins of San Francisco’s supervisorial district 8, one candidate stands out — his flyers pile up in drifts in the corners, his volunteers have rung our doorbell three times, and he’s out on the streets himself soliciting votes. I’ll probably vote for him anyway — though I suppose I ought to find out what he stands for first. (At least he seems to be able to inspire passion in his staff, if not logistical rigor.) The state and national races are not even as engaging as that — the stakes are high, true enough, but the less-bad candidates seem likely to win, on the whole.

How’s it looking where you are? Anybody volunteering?

(CC-licensed photo by Flickr user sashax)

September 8, 2010, 9:35 am

"Paolo Soleri to be demolished"

The Paolo Soleri

Paolo Soleri, now 91, was born in Turin and studied architecture there. He came to the US in the 1940s to work with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. (He recounts amusingly (The Urban Ideal, 23-4) that with the little English he commanded at the time, he found himself on a bus to Tolleson, Arizona before being set right.) After a few years back in Italy, he returned to Arizona, setting up an architectural center of his own, Arcosanti. Much of its income came from handcraft projects, such as cast metal bells; but it has also been a laboratory for his architectural ideas.

He’s a visionary, who has seen certain ecological issues very clearly — notably, that the most sustainable mode of living for billions of humans on this planet of ours is to cluster together in cities, leaving as much as possible of nature to nature. Check out the wide-ranging interview with Jerry Brown (1, 2), from…

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June 23, 2010, 8:45 pm

natural prayer

I had a vaguely negative impression (mainly received rather than first-hand) of Herman Melville’s abilities as a poet; but “Shiloh” is pretty strong.

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
    The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
    The forest-field of Shiloh —
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
    Around the church of Shiloh —
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
        And natural prayer
    Of dying foemen mingled there —
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve —
    Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
    But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
    And all is hushed at Shiloh.

A military sentimentality I can get behind. The density of rhyme is certainly artificial, and the…

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May 26, 2010, 3:33 pm

Let's hope this "top kill" works

Via Steve Benen, an awesome or rather horrific photo-set of the oil’s arrival on the Louisiana coast.

We hear about fears of its effects on the American Gulf coast, and of what might happen as it moves out into the Atlantic — but has there been much discussion of its effects on other Caribbean countries? This map, for instance, shows that it’s expected to move past Havana and the north coast of Cuba.

Update 5/27: optimistic reports.

April 6, 2010, 1:10 pm

a case of misplaced nostalgia?

Warsaw, 1938

The Times article on Roman Vishniac’s photographs of Jews in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust (a few days old now) is fascinating. I didn’t know him primarily through A Vanished World, the book that’s now (somewhat) in question. Rather, I knew first his scientific photography, probably through the many back issues of Scientific American lying around the house as I grew up. Then, when I began to look more seriously at general photography, I spent a long time with John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs, in which he’s represented by this dramatically suggestive scene.

From Maya Benton’s research, it seems that in composing the book, Vishniac winnowed down the wide variety of pictures he took, to present a vision of Jewish Eastern Europe as old, rural, narrow, timeless; and that he arranged them to illustrate narratives that didn’t really take place. Neither takes away, though, from …

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January 25, 2010, 8:22 pm

speaking of Gary Snyder

(Image by Flickr user northcascadesnationalpark, used under Creative Commons license.)

Gary Snyder has written a lot of rewarding poetry over the years. But for me no single poem has been as coherent and satisfying as the first piece in his first collection:

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