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.
Reproductions of Arneson’s Yin and Yang Eggheads appear along the Embarcadero, situated together just east of the Justin Herman Plaza fountain, across from the Port of San Francisco Ferry Building. The sculpture was dedicated in mid-December. A plaque recognizes it as a reproduction of one in a series of five acrylic-on-bronze sculptures commissioned for UC Davis.
A native of Benicia, Arneson taught ceramics at UC Davis from 1962 to 1991. His Egghead sculptures were created for specific campus locations and were installed during 1991-94. The original Yin and Yang Eggheads sit outside the UC Davis fine arts complex courtyard, where they were positioned by Arneson himself shortly before his death in 1992.
As relief from the grim tone of the page, with no pictures or conversations, here are some links to work by the great Alice Neel (1900-1984). A true Greenwich Village bohemian, she lived a life that (had I the time) would warrant an extensive post. Apparently her work was disparaged during the brief (and macho) hegemony of abstraction; and certainly she suffered for it, living at times on welfare. In 1934, her companion Kenneth Doolittle destroyed hundreds of her paintings “in a rage”. And yet she made an extraordinary body of work, from the 1920s into the 1980s. Her specialty was the portrait, but there are striking cityscapes and still lifes as well. Looking at the pictures, I’m perpetually surprised at how much variety she achieved with seemingly simple means — and in particular, what variety of expression and personality she could convey in the faces of her sitters.
On November 9, 1965, a crew from Bekins Moving Company arrived at 2322 Fillmore Street, San Francisco. In an apartment on the second floor, they cautiously unmounted an enormous painting — eight feet by eleven and weighing literally a ton — lowered it to the floor and packed it into a wooden crate. A carpenter cut out a window and part of the façade; the movers gently slid the painting out this slot onto the platform of a crane, then lowered it to the sidewalk and into the truck. The artist hovered, nervously smoking, clowning for a friend’s camera as her life’s work, unmanageable and well-nigh uncontainable, was shipped away.
Jay DeFeo was born in 1929, in Hanover, New Hampshire. She grew up in the Bay Area, and studied art at Berkeley, earning her MFA in 1951. After a year in Europe, she returned to Berkeley; in 1954, she married the painter Wally Hedrick, and they moved to San…
Across from the School of Business stands a burrito cart which makes outstanding burritos. The affluent MBA-seekers often go there to get lunch, and many of them, to prove that they are down with the gente, will place their orders in halting Spanish to the young lady who runs the cart. Like ordering in French at a French restaurant, but real.
Recently, a friend decided to get a burrito and stood in line behind one of these hotshots, who fumbled the Spanish for one of the toppings and then asked the burrito lady what the correct word was.
“I don’t know,” she says in English, “I’m from Malaysia, and I’ve only learned Spanish because people keep coming up and assuming I’m Mexican.”
On Oct. 7, 1955, the Six Gallery in San Francisco presented a reading by five well-known poets of the local scene (including poems by a sixth). Allen Ginsberg went on second to last, reading his new, unpublished poem Howl. The response was so strong — chants of “Go, go, go”, led by Jack Kerouac from the audience — that Kenneth Rexroth, the “M. C.”, called a break before the last reading, Gary Snyder doing “Berry Feast”. Afterward, elated, the crowd moved out for Chinese food.
It’s the signal event of the Beat moment in poetry — and yet it’s doubly exceptional. The poem is unique in Ginsberg’s oeuvre, to begin with. He wrote other good things (mostly during the same year or so), but nothing, not even Kaddish, is at the same level. Within a few years, he had moved on to the “King of the May” phase of his career, best captured, I think, in Jane Kramer’s book — a benignly inclusive…
The poet Jack Spicer is more blogged about than read, as you’ll read in practically every post about him. This will be no exception. I haven’t read him enough either: I’ve known him so far mainly as a focus of gossip. (A San Francisco poet I know once told me, as we marveled at the inanity of Billy Collins, that back in the day, Collins had been one of Spicer’s disciples in North Beach.) This week I’ve been reading Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian’s biography, Poet Be Like God (Wesleyan, 1998), which is a feast of anecdote. But there’s news, and I expect soon we’ll be hearing more about him again.
Spicer was born in Los Angeles in 1925. At UC Berkeley, he met Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser, who would remain the poets closest to him. He studied for a few years in Minnesota, and then briefly worked in Boston, but he soon returned to the Bay Area to stay. He worked at Berkeley as a …
Of her tumultuous, nomadic life, Tina Modotti spent only eight years in the United States. She was born in Friuli, northern Italy, in 1896, and spent her earliest years in Austria. Her father emigrated to San Francisco, and in 1913 she followed him. She worked as a seamstress, but soon began acting, rising to stardom in the local Italian theater. In 1918, she married a bohemian aspiring artist named Roubaix de l’Abrie (“Robo”) Richey, and they moved to Los Angeles. They had some success in crafts (e.g. batik), and Modotti made some first steps in a film career, appearing most notably in The Tiger’s Coat (1920). But in the same period, she met Edward Weston, and they began an intense relationship, both a love affair and an apprenticeship, which turned her toward the work for which she is now remembered.
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This blog is a blog about history, Yiddishkeit, and the Muppets, neither exclusively nor necessarily in that order. And as William Gibson said about this very blog (no, really), “History can save your ass.” Yiddishkeit and the Muppets are just extras.
is the associate director of the Cornell in Washington program and a senior lecturer at Cornell University. He teaches courses on European history, modern military history, guerrilla war, and the role of popular will in waging war.
is a professor of history at UC Davis. He is the author of A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans, which won the Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize in 2004, and his new book, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, will be published by Harvard University Press in fall 2012.
is a professor of history at UC Davis. She is the author of Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (Oxford, 2009); Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley (North Carolina, 2002); and Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI (North Carolina, 1996).