Wednesday, February 29, 2012



Blind Tom Wiggins

Dizzy Gillespie at Blind Tom's grave
Columbus Georgia

Oliver Galop by Blind Tom (played by John Davis) on Grooveshark

Blind Tom was one of the nineteenth century’s most extraordinary performers. An autistic savant with an encyclopedic memory, all-consuming passion for the piano and mind-boggling capacity to replicate – musically and vocally – any sound he heard, his name was a byword for eccentricity and oddball genius.

Early Life

Blind Tom was born into slavery in Columbus, Georgia in 1848. His master, Wiley Jones, unwilling to clothe and feed a disabled ‘runt’, wanted him dead and, if not for vigilance of his mother, Charity, Tom would not have survived his infancy. But when Tom was nine months old, Wiley Jones put the baby, his two older sisters and parents up for auction, intending to sell the family off individually and not as a unit. The chances of anyone buying blind infant were remote - his death was as good as certain.

Tom’s life was again spared, thanks to the tenacity of his mother. A few weeks before the auction, Charity approached a neighbor, General James Bethune, and begged him to save them from the auction block. At first he refused her, but on the day of the sale, the lawyer and newspaperman turned up at the slave mart and purchased the family.

Apart from his blindness, Tom was ‘just like any other baby’ at first, but a few months after arriving at the Bethune Farm, things began to change and the toddler began to echo the sounds around him. If a rooster crowed, he made the same noise. If a bird sang, he would pursue it or attack his younger siblings just to hear them scream. If left alone in the cabin, he would drag chairs across the floor or bang pans and pots together – anything to make a noise.

By the age of four, Tom could repeat conversations ten minutes in length, but expressed his own needs in whines and tugs. Unless constantly watched, he would escape: to the chicken coop, woods and finally to the piano in his master’s house, the sound of each note causing his young body to tremble in ecstasy. After a string of unwelcome visits, General Bethune finally recognized the stirrings of a musical prodigy in the raggedy slave child and installed him in the Big House where he underwent extensive tuition.

Blind Tom at 10

Child Prodigy

By six, Tom was performing to sell out houses throughout Georgia. His early managers promoted him as an ‘untutored’, ‘natural’ musician - fully formed from the moment he first touched the piano - who could repeat any composition, no matter how difficult, after a single hearing.

The reality, of course, failed to match the showman’s spiel. Certainly Blind Tom had a flawless memory and was extraordinarily adept at imitating but even at the high point of his career, he was unable to reproduce complex polymorphic concertos after a single hearing. (He needed an entire afternoon to accomplish that). But if the piece had a recognizable harmony – a polka, waltz, slave song or minstrel hit - Tom could just about play it as an eight-year-old and easily nail it as a sixteen-year-old.

At the age of eight, Tom was licensed out to a travelling showman named Perry Oliver who promoted him as a Barnum-styled freak: ‘a gorgon with angel’s wings’. The more animalistic Tom was perceived to be – and newspapers routinely compared him to a baboon, trusty mastiff or hulking bear - the more astonishing the transformation that took place when he began to play. Before the audience’s very eyes, the incessant rocking and blank open-mouthed expression vanished and Tom would strike the keys with the precision and ease of a master. ‘I am astounded. I cannot account for it, no one can, no one understands it,’ wrote one baffled member of the public.

The mystery of Tom’s transformation has been solved, at least in part, as our understanding of autism has deepened. People on the autistic spectrum struggle to assimilate the sensory information bombarding them and many engage in repetitive behavior to deflect the overload. Music seems to have offered Tom this type of escape. Behind the piano, the splintering effects of autism – the sensory overload and fragmented perception – disappeared and Tom was able to experience a sense of integration: moments he clearly savored and his inspired outpourings of joy impressed many who witnessed him.

Cipher of the Times

Hard on the heels of Abraham Lincoln’s presidential nomination in 1860, Perry Oliver brought Blind Tom to Washington DC, sensing that something was about to erupt. But the issues that so obsessed his manager - slavery, abolition and secession - meant little to Tom although, ironically, he became a cipher of these times. He was taken to the deeply divided House of Congress to soak up the political vitriol and over the following weeks, served it up on stage to audiences chortling with laughter.

Later in the election campaign, Tom was taken to hear the Democrat’s presidential candidate, Senator Stephen Douglas and for years afterwards, performed the rally speech on stage. Tom perfectly captured the Douglas’s distinctive boom and somehow, inexplicably, his physical mannerisms and posture as well. Even more bizarre, was Tom’s inclusion of the crowd’s heckles and cheers. “Startling” was how one of Douglas’s supporters described it, despite at least one less-than-accurate slip: “The franatics of the North and the franatics of the South….”

Tom’s extraordinary powers of imitation, music and memory also earned him an invitation to the White House where he performed before President James Buchanan. While the exquisite quality of the executive mansion’s Chickering piano delighted him the most, one salient point eluded both him and the clique of Washington socialites before him: Blind Tom was the first African-American musician to officially perform in the White House.

Civil War

With the outbreak of war, Tom enlisted his heart to Confederate cause – or so claimed his manager who staged a series of benefit concerts in aid of the Rebel war effort. In fact, Tom was as oblivious to sectional politics as he was to the secretive game slaves played with their masters; the lip service they paid to their Master’s authority before slipping into the woods to pray for their deliverance. Tom heard not these silent prayers but the crunch of marching feet, rat-a-tat-tat of the drum and fife, boom of musketry and cannon and mayhem of battle.

These sounds he absorbed, channelling them into his most famous composition, The Battle of Manassas, when just a lad of fifteen. The sum total of his perfect pitch, hypersensitive clarity, elastic vocal chords, lack of inhibition and total immersion in the world of sound enabled him to re-create a ‘harum-scarum’ battlefield like no other.

White southerners heralded The Battle of Manassas as a work of genius though black audiences were less effusive – not surprising, as Perry Oliver would introduce the piece as Tom’s spontaneous expression of loyalty to the Confederacy.

However this Oliver’s version does not tally with the facts. For a start, nine months passed before The Battle of Manassas was first heard in public – hardly making it a spur-of-the-moment tribute. The wily showman seems to have used Tom as a propaganda tool to serve his own political agenda.

The Wonder of the World

In the decades following the Civil War, Blind Tom became a household name, celebrated by luminaries like Mark Twain and mid-Western novelist, Willa Cather. He played virtuoso pieces to sell out crowds across Europe and America (his tour schedule was relentless), following them up with unashamedly populist novelties: imitations of trains, banjos and music boxes, playing one piece with his left hand, another with his right while singing a third, then repeating the feat with his back to piano.

At every concert, audience members put his musical memory to the test and by the time he hit his full virtuosic stride, Tom was virtually unbeatable. As the crowds wildly applauded, he would bound across the stage in a series of spectacular one-footed leaps, howling along with them. The American stage had never seen anything like him.

But Tom’s enormous fame was sullied by the deep-rooted racism of the period. His so-called ‘idiocy’ was continuously confused with the widespread belief that Africans were closer to the animal kingdom than Europeans. But his savant powers also made a nonsense of these race theories. How could a man with gifts like his be an example of ‘the lowest rung of humanity’, ‘a mind dredged of all intelligence and purity’? A century and a half ago, there were few earthly explanations, although several unearthly ones were floating about.

Blind Tom in his 20'sSéances, ouija boards and spectral materializations were all the rage in the late nineteenth century and many saw Tom as a medium, an empty vessel, channeling the genius of the great masters. Years earlier, in his hometown of Columbus, his fellow slaves had reached a similar conclusion: Tom was blessed with the gift of ‘second sight’, and could communicate with spirits from other worlds.

Tom was undoubtedly in communication with something. Many of his compositions were the fruit of a deep and profound dialogue with the natural and mechanical world. He would pass hours rapturously absorbed in a thunderstorm then sit down at the piano and play “something that the wind and rain said to me.”

Tom’s savant powers enabled him to revel in a sonic world alive with vibration and detail. Powered by an almost superhuman capacity to concentrate on details most people would find inconsequential, he could tune into a fantastically intricate world of differentiated repetition: the crank of the butter churn, the drip-drip-drip of water down a drainpipe, the clickety clack of a train or warble of a bird.

The bliss he experienced as he drank in these sounds, erroneously gave rise to the perception that he was perpetually happy, but after years of social and physical isolation – locked up alone in a hotel room day after day - Tom became morose and suspicious of ‘strangers’.

The Last American Slave

Tom had no concept of money and, not surprisingly, was exploited, deceived, manipulated and robbed blind by his white masters and guardians. Emancipation failed to deliver him from the shackles of slavery, his master’s son – John Bethune - merely morphing into the role of guardian and manager. In 1872, Tom was adjudged insane and the vast sums of money he earned (the equivalent of $5 million dollars today) was squandered on Bethune’s extravagant lifestyle. Then in 1884, Bethune was killed in a railroad accident.

At the time of his death John Bethune was embroiled in a bitter divorce. When his estranged wife, Eliza Bethune, discovered she was cut out of the will, she tracked down Tom’s impoverished mother and persuaded her to move to New York to mount a legal challenge. It took three years of legal wrangling, but in 1887, victory was theirs and ‘The Last American Slave’ – as the press dubbed Tom – was set free.

But Tom’s so-called ‘emancipation’ was little more than a sham. Once Charity naively handed Tom’s guardianship over to the Bethune’s widow, she was unceremoniously dumped and sent back to Georgia, never to see her son again.

Final Years

Blind Tom’s final years were shrouded in secrecy and paranoia. It was widely believed he died in The Johnstown Flood of 1889, America’s biggest man-made disaster to date. In fact, he was in one of three places: touring the backwaters of North America (his glory days long behind him), holed up in a New York apartment on the lower east side or listening to the ocean’s roar at Eliza Bethune’s country hideaway in wilds of New Jersey (purchased at his expense). In 1903 he made a brief comeback on the vaudeville stage.

Blind Tom in his fiftiesHe died of a stroke in 1908 at the age of sixty and was buried in an unmarked grave at Brooklyn’s Evergreen Cemetery. Twenty years later, the daughter of his former master – Fanny Bethune – began efforts to disinter his body into the Bethune family plot in Georgia. A Columbus resident insists he carried out her request as best he could, Jim Crow laws forcing him to re-bury Tom at a nearby plantation. The Evergreen Cemetery, however, insists that the body was never removed. Today, two plaques – one in Columbus Georgia, the other in Brooklyn - mark his burial place: a fitting end to the enigma of Blind Tom.

By Deirdre O’Connell, author of The Ballad of Blind Tom .

to JG

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


"Everett Ruess was twenty years old when he vanished into the canyonlands of southern Utah, spawning the enduring myth of a romantic desert wanderer. It was 1934, and Ruess was in the fifth year of a quest to record wilderness beauty in works of art; their value was recognized by such contemporary artists as Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Edward Weston. From his home in Los Angeles, Ruess walked, hitchhiked, and rode burros up the California coast, along the crest of the Sierra Nevada, and into the deserts of the Southwest."

"When I go, I leave no trace."

Davis Gulch is the black hole into which Everett Ruess vanished in November of 1934. The erratic crease in the wrinkled landscape is like many similar indentations in the desert Southwest across which Everett wandered. It differs from most, however, because of the fleeting presence of the desert pilgrim and the mystery of his disappearance. Emotionally moved by Everett's story, others have followed him into the canyon during the intervening years. Some left their mark, like Everett, in various forms.

The arid canyonlands of southern Utah, and Davis Gulch in particular, are a hard and unforgiving landscape redolent with ancient human presences. Nearly impenetrable, gigantic slickrock battlements encase green fringes of vegetation along intermittent water courses. The trail and now a rough road head south from Escalante, avoiding the slot canyon beginnings of the gulch. The dirt road ends at Hole-in-the-Rock and the Colorado River. These are the remote borderlands between Utah and Arizona.

. . .

Disappearance was a recurring theme in these arid lands. The Anasazi vanished from David Gulch around 1300 C.E. They left ruins, which Everett combed for artifacts. Across the stream were a well-preserved kiva and the remnants of storage structures under a massive overhang. The elliptical kiva had survived nearly intact for almost a thousand years. The three-layered flat roof beams, thin sticks laid crossways, and an adobe roofing material partially covered the subterranean structure., It was nine feet in diameter and rose a little over five feet from the hard-packed dirt floor, in which a rectangular fire pit had been dug. Artifacts indicated a Kayenta, Arizona cultural origin from the south side of the Colorado River.

. . .

The writer-teacher-conservationist Wallace Stegner led me to Everett Ruess, whose trail I followed until it ended in David Gulch. Both westerners were shaped by landscapes and transcended their respective eras in their own distinctive ways. I read Stegner's book Mormon Country in the late 1970s in preparation for writing a book about the Colorado River and the West. The Stegner book mentioned Ruess's brief life, its fleeting promise, and his mysterious disappearance. Thirty years later I wrote a biography of Wallace Stegner. I described a man who lived a long, full life. I now write about a youth who lived a short, fragile life.

. . .

This book is the story of all of us and our loneliness and confusion during the teenage years, only writ large because Everett went to extremes. At that age our lives spread out like a topographical map before us, offering numerous diverging trails through the wilderness to choose from. How wonderful, how frightening, and how dangerous those years were. I hope readers, both young and old, can relate to Everett Ruess through either their own experiences or those of their children, a young relative, or a more distant youth. . .Everett's era forms the backdrop. His wanderings provide a snapshot of growing up nearly one hundred years ago on the East Coast and in the Middle West, the Depression years in California and the interior West, and the spaciousness of the national parks, monuments, and Indian lands in the Southwest.

In searching for a meaningful Everett Ruess, I sought the reality of who he was, or as close to that reality as I could get. I found the real Ruess to be far more interesting than the mythic one. I don't view him as a western Thoreau or a younger Muir, as some do. Those two men described and thought about their respective regions. Everett described places beautifully. However, he thought primarily about himself, which is perfectly understandable given his age. I don't know in what manner he would have matured, but I do know he was exasperating at times. This quality alone made him more human and interesting, at least for me, than the patron saint of western wilderness, as he has been portrayed.

. . .

After I began working on this project, others supplied a surprising addendum. Everett's bones were supposedly discovered three-quarters of a century after he disappeared and one hundred miles from where he had last been seen. Misguided and sales-driven journalism, as practiced by a publication of the National Geographic Society, drove the bad science that resulted in two false DNA positives. The third test, by a more experienced laboratory, proved that the bones did not belong to Ruess and that science has its own types of fragility. Then the silence of the desert returned.

University of California Press

Ruess was known for cutting linoleum prints of landscapes and nature and associated with Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange. His prints show scenes from the Monterey Bay coast, the northern California coast near Tomales Bay, the Sierra Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

Everett wrote no books during his life, but was a lifelong diarist and sent home hundreds of letters. His journals, art, and poetry were later published in two books:

On Desert Trails (1940) ed. Hugh Lacy; El Centro, California: Desert Magazine Press; 2nd ed. 1950; 3rd edition (2000) ed. Gary J. Bergera; pub. Gibbs Smith, ISBN 0879058250
Everett Ruess:Vagabond for Beauty (1983), ed. W.L. Rusho, Peregrine Smith Books; 2nd ed. 1985, pub. Gibbs Smith, ISBN 0879052104

His books are illustrated by the woodcuts for which Ruess is admired.

Everett Ruess (March 28, 1914 – 1934)

Monday, February 27, 2012


Going out

to see the moon

is part of seeing it


it inside

is another


At the back of

my head


thing crouching

I sit

down with

rain no

longer rain

I step


When the path I was on disappeared

I knew that was the path to follow


What we

listen to

the sea for

we are

ocean she

brings me


hands too




My daughter

writes me

a poem —

some words

she knows

on a page,

saying what-
ever she


for the sake of

hearing it


rain on

leaf I


--------my fingers



Skysill Press
3 Gervase Gardens
Clifton Village
Nottingham NG11 8LZ

skysillpressblogspot. com

a native islander, john phillips
lives in st. ives u.k. w/ his family
jasna, eva & lana ~

longhouse published three booklets
by john phillips that may be found
in our archive deep sea chest

thank you for the book j

Sunday, February 26, 2012


boat photo : pablo vanez

What am I crazy speaking aloud about the Academy Awards? It's past midnight.

Out of my head:

It was great to see Iran acknowledged. Their cinema has been terrific for years.

Cirque de Soleil's aerial act, over the heads of the powerful, now powerless, was exciting.

Too bad about The Tree of Life, maybe the only film absolutely hated by some critics and viewers, and likewise loved by many of the same. There's something there. Time is the teacher.

Not a bad relaxed and humorous acceptance speech by Meryl Streep, as if she is forever playing the part of her character in Postcards From the Edge in real life, though the award belonged to Viola Davis.

Emma Stone razing was a delight.
Robert Downey's, not as much.

Large cymbals in the hands of Will Ferrell could go anywhere, almost did.

Some excited guys got bleeped out, some others guy from Louisiana seemed genuine.

One of Billy Crystal's best jokes was about how — after he viewed the film The Help in a ritzy Los Angeles theater — he was so moved he wanted to hug the first black woman he saw, “which in Beverly Hills is about a 45-minute drive.” Others found the joke dated, "old", fuddy-duddy. Ah, what are you gonna do?

About this point in this summing up I'm already bored, ready to erase.

Chris Rock is growing his hair and not losing an inch of his stealth. His joke on voice over (donkeys & zebras) was the haiku moment.

George Clooney never got on stage. Probably for the better.

Nick Nolte should have, if we're talking about a work horse.

Jessica Chastain has to be the most down to earth beauty Hollywood has seen in a long time. One actually feels her rooting for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The In Memoriam segment should have given a longer pause and voice for Ben Gazzara.

The garish gold and red curtain on the big stage did look impressive. Like Douglas Fairbanks maybe was there. The company that owns the building has gone bankrupt. The wealthy are entertaining us and being presented with gold statues, all in a new era of the 1% vs. the 99%. And the Best Picture award goes to a silent film in the year 2012. Blame it on global warming.

There were many and many more films that should have been mentioned and never will in this world; it's what keeps us plugging.

Sacha Baron Cohen showing up in full regalia as "The Dictator" and depositing fake ashes of Kim Jong-il from an urn he carried onto a Ryan Seacrest was pretty okay live television. It sullied the red carpet. Stirred a to-do. As the satirist was being escorted away by security guards he said to Seacrest, “When someone asks you what you are wearing, you will say Kim Jong-il.” I await to hear what Joan Rivers thinks.

My smart cookie companion stayed up way past her bedtime until 10 and then gave up with these words, "It doesn't seem held together".

If it was a boat, you wouldn't get on.

nite nite


A cult singer, 12-string guitarist, and banjo player of the New York 1960s folk revival, Karen Dalton still remains known to very few, despite counting the likes of Bob Dylan and Fred Neil among her acquaintances. This was partly because she seldom recorded, only making one album in the 1960s -- and that didn't come out until 1969, although she had been known on the Greenwich Village circuit since the beginning of the decade. It was also partly because, unlike other folksingers of the era, she was an interpreter who did not record original material. And it was also because her voice -- often compared to Billie Holiday, but with a rural twang -- was too strange and inaccessible to pop audiences. Nik Venet, producer of her debut album, went as far as to remark in Goldmine, "She was very much like Billie Holiday. Let me say this, she wasn't Billie Holiday but she had that phrasing Holiday had and she was a remarkable one-of-a-kind type of thing.... Unfortunately, it's an acquired taste, you really have to look for the music."

Dalton grew up in Oklahoma, moving to New York around 1960. Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders, who was in her backup band in the early '70s, points out in his liner notes to the CD reissue of her first album that "she was the only folk singer I ever met with an authentic 'folk' background. She came to the folk music scene under her own steam, as opposed to being 'discovered' and introduced to it by people already involved in it." There is a photograph from February 1961 (now printed on the back cover of the It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best reissue) of Dalton singing and playing with Fred Neil and Bob Dylan, the latter of whom was barely known at the time. Unlike her friends she was unable to even capture a recording contract, spending much of the next few years roaming around North America.

Dalton was not comfortable in the studio, and her Capitol album It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best came about when Nik Venet, who had tried unsuccessfully to record her several times, invited her to a Fred Neil session. He asked her to cut a Neil composition, "Little Bit of Rain," as a personal favor so he could have it in his private collection; that led to an entire album, recorded in one session, most of the tracks done in one take. Dalton recorded one more album in the early '70s, produced by Harvey Brooks (who had played on some '60s Dylan sessions). Done in Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, it, like her debut, had an eclectic assortment of traditional folk tunes, blues, covers of soul hits ("When a Man Loves a Woman," "How Sweet It Is"), and contemporary numbers by singer/songwriters (Dino Valente, the Band's Richard Manuel). The Band's "Katie's Been Gone," included on The Basement Tapes, is rumored to be about Dalton.

~ Richie Unterberger

Karen Dalton struggled with drugs and alcohol for many years. She reputedly died in 1993 on the streets of New York after an eight-year battle with AIDS. However, an article in Uncut magazine, confirmed that Dalton was actually being cared for by the guitarist Peter Walker in upstate New York during her last months.

River by Peter Walker on Grooveshark

She was married to the guitarist Richard Tucker. She had at least two children: a son, who she lost custody of, and a daughter, Abralyn Baird, born when Dalton was 17, who she 'kidnapped' and took with her to New York when she was 19. By the time she was 21, she had been married and divorced twice.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Zora Neale Hurston

Crow Dance by Zora Neale Hurston on Grooveshark

Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891? – January 28, 1960) American folklorist, anthropologist, backcountry traveler and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance (1920s-30s). Hurston wrote four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays. Many know her best for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

in memory of dorothy scott loos


Ballad of a Teenage Queen by Cowboy Jack Clement on Grooveshark

On April 5, Cowboy Jack Clement will be 81
Long may he run

to J.D.


please click on the image

tom cheney
the new yorker
feb 27, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012


Author Edward Hoagland with some of the covers from his books at his summer home in Sutton, Vermont, June 7, 2011.

from Sex and the River Styx

I never totaled a car (machines may not have interested me enough) or
broke my bones, and had an upbeat view of life, experiencing the kindness
of many strangers when I hitchhiked, for instance. I speculated as
to what the anthropological purpose could be of the brimming, broadgauge
affection people like me felt when watching a wriggling tadpole
or clouds wreathing a massif — sights that have no reproductive or
nutritional aspect. Call it “biophilia” or agape; it wasn’t in response to
a hunter’s blunt hunger, or kinship-protective, or sexual in some way.
Was it a religious wellspring, then? Silence and solitude are fertile if
the aptitude is there, and love in its wider applications is also, I think,
an aptitude, like the capacity for romantic love, indeed — stilling for a
few minutes the chatterbox in us. That massif wreathed in clouds, or
the modest pond that has been left in peace to breed its toad, is not
a godhead. Like sparks flung, out each perhaps as evidence instead (as
are our empathy and exuberance), but not a locus. And yet a link seems
to need to take hold somewhere around nine, ten or eleven — about
Mowgli’s age, in Kipling — between the onset of one’s ability to marinate
in the spices of solitude, in other words , in puberty, when the
emphases will shift to contact sports, or dress, and other sexual ploys
and fantasies or calculations.

But nine was fine; and when you came to feel at home in Connecticut's
woods, New Hampshire’s were not a large step up the ladder,
or Wyoming’s expansive mountains after that, then California’s by
twenty, building toward British Columbia’s and Alaska’s, Africa’s and
India’s, in the course of the future. The sea was different, however.
I admired it from the beach or a steamship but never acquired the
nonchalance required for solo sailing; was afraid of drowning. On the
other hand, having been born in New York City and then returned to
live there as an adult, I loved metropolises and saw no conflict between
exalting in their magnetism and in wild places. Human nature is interstitial
with nature and not be shunned by a naturalist. This accidental and by ambidexterity
enriched by traveling because I enjoyed landing and staying awhile in London
on the way to Africa, or exploring Bombay and Calcutta enroute to Coimbatore
or Dibrugarh. Didn’t just want to hurry on to a tribal or wildlife wilderness
area without first poking around in these great cities, which I rejoiced in as
much. Although there are now far too many people for nature to digest,
we are all going to go down together, I believe. We are part and parcel of it,
and as it sickens so will we.

In the meantime, joy is joy: the blue and yellow stripes of a perfect day,
with green effusive trees in the dramatic shapes of the streaming clouds.
Our moods can be altered simply by sunlight, and I found that having cared
for primates, giraffes, and big cats in the circus made it easier to meander almost
anywhere. Few people were scarier than a tiger, or lovelier than a striding
giraffe, or more poignant than our brethren, the chimps and orangutans,
and you can often disarm an adversary if you recognize the poignancy in him.
Nevertheless, I prefer to step off the road, when I was walking in the woods at
night and saw headlights approaching. Better to take one’s chances with
any creature that might conceivably be lurking there than with the potential
aberrations of the drive-by human being behind the wheel. It may seem
contradictory that for reverence and revelation one needs a balance. You
can be staggered by the feast of sensations out-of-doors, but not staggering.
Your pins ought to be under you and your eyes focused. As in music, where
beauty lodges not in one note but in combining many, your pleasure surges
from the counterpoint of saplings and windthrow, or the moon and snow.
Both are pale and cold, yet mysteriously scrimshawed — the moon by craters,
mountains, and lava flows, the snow by swaying withes or maybe a buck’s
feet and antler tines. Although like snow, the moon will disappear predictably
and reappear when it is suppose to, moonlight is an elixir with mystical
reverberations that we can pine and yet grin over, even when “emptyarmed.”
It’s off-the-loop, a private swatch of time, unaccountable to anybody else
if we have paused to gaze upward, and not burdened with the responsibility
of name birdcalls, identifying flowers, or the other complications of
the hobby of nature study. One just admires a sickle moon, half-moon, full moon
that weightless and yet punctual, rises, hovering. Sometimes it may seem
almost as if under water, the way its dimensions and yellow-ruddy coloring
appear to change to butter, or russet, or polar. The Hungry Moon, Harvest Moon,
Hunter Moon, are each emotional, and expertise about their candlepower
or mileage from the earth is a bit extraneous. Although our own cycles are
no longer tied to whether they are waning or gibbous, we feel a vestigial
tropism. This is our moon. It’s full, will murmur; or it’s a crescent, or like a
cradle line partly tipped. And a new moon is no moon.

Twilight, the stalking hour, itself can energize us to go out and employ that
natural itch to put our best foot forward and “socialize.” The collared neck,
the twitching calf, and tumid penis will respond to daylight’s variations or
the moonrise, as we gulp raw oysters and crunch soft-shelled crabs that still
possess that caught quality, not that precooked pig or process cow. If we’ve
lost the sense of astrological spell and navigational exigency that the stars’
constellations used to hold, we at least present fragrant bouquets and suck
the legs of briny lobsters like savages on important occasions. The stunning
galaxies have been diminished to blackboard equations that physicists compute,
and are dulled eyes, when we glance up, instead of seeing cryptic patterns
and metaphors, settle rather cursorily for the moon.

Water does retain a good deal more of its ancient power to please or panic us.
Bouncing downhill in a rocky bed, shouldering into any indentation, and then
nurturing fish, mirroring a spectrum of colors, or bulking into waves that hit
the spindrift beach at the inducement of the wind, it’s the most protean of life’s
building blocks the womb of the world. “My God, there’s the river!” We will say,
in pure delight at the big waterway willows, the glistering currents bounding along
like a dozen otters seizing ownership of the place, as we walk within sight. Our
bodies, seventy percent water (and our brains more), only mimic the earth’s surface
in this respect. And we want a mixed and muscular sky, bulging yet depthless,
and full of totems, talismans, in the clouds colon not every day but when we have
the energy for it, just to know that we’re alive. Rising land of course will lift our
spirits too. Hills, a ridgeline, not to begin toiling right up today but the possibility
of doing so, perhaps discovering unmapped crannies up there and trees as tiny
as bonsai on the crest, yet dips for the eyes to rest in as we look. We already think
we know too much about too much, so mountains are for the mystery of ungeometric
convolutions, a boost without knowing what’s on top. Awe is not a word much used
lately, sounding primitive, like kerosene lamps. What’s to be awed about — is this
the Three Wise Men following the Star? — what hasn’t been explained? Actually,
I don’t know what has been explained. If we are told, for example, that 99 percent of
our genes are similar to those of a mouse, does that explain anything? Apprehension,
disillusion, disorientation, selfishness, lust, irony, envy, greed, and even self-sacrifice
are commonplace: but awe? Society is not annealed enough. trust and continuity and
leadership are deteriorating, and the problem when you are alone is the clutter. Finding
even a sight line outdoors without buildings, pavement, people, is a task, and we’re
not awed by other people anymore: too much of a good thing. We need to glimpse
a portion of the axle, the undercarriage, of what it’s all about. And mountains (an
axis, if not an axle) are harder to be glib about than technological news reports. But
if you wait until you’re mature years to get to know a patch of countryside thoroughly
or intimately, your responses may be generic, not specific — just curiosity and good
intentions — and you will wind up going in for golf and tennis and power mowers,
bypassing nature, instead.

author's photo : glenn russell (free press)
sex and the river styx (chelsea green)

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Ken Jordan, writing in the introduction to Evergreen Review Reader, 1957-1996, described the counter-cultural contents and the impact of the publication on readers:

The first issue featured an essay by Jean-Paul Sartre and an interview with the great New Orleans jazz drummer Baby Dodds. It also included a story of Samuel Beckett's Dante and the Lobster, the first of his many appearances in Evergreen's pages; these continued through the last issue published.
The second issue was a landmark. A banner across the cover declared "San Francisco Scene," and inside held the first collection of work by the new Beat writers - including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Jack Kerouac (before the publication of On The Road) and Allen Ginsberg, whose Howl had already been published as a pamphlet by Ferlinghetti's press, City Lights, and was confiscated by customs officials and faced trial for obscenity in San Francisco. The issue brought the Beats and Evergreen Review to the forefront of the American stage...

Evergreen published writing that was literally counter to the culture, and if it was sexy, so much the better. In the context of the time, sex was politics, and the powers-that-be made the suppression of sexuality a political issue. The court battles that Grove Press fought for the legal publication of Lady Chatterly's Lover, Tropic of Cancer, and Naked Lunch, and for the legal distribution of the film I Am Curious: Yellow, spilled onto the pages of Evergreen Review, and in 1964, an issue of Evergreen itself was confiscated in New York State by the Nassau County District Attorney on obscenity charges...
All of this was done on a shoestring budget by a tiny staff. Barney Rosset started the magazine with editor Don Allen and Fred Jordan, who was nominally the business manager in its early days. Richard Seaver joined the editorial team with the ninth issue, and Don Allen stepped back to become a contributing editor. Publication increased from quarterly to bimonthly to, in the late sixties, monthly, and the format changed from trade paperback to a full-sized, glossy magazine attaining a subscription base of some 40,000 copies and a newsstand circulation of 1000,000. The final issue, number 96, came out in 1973.

The original Evergreen Review ceased publication in 1973, but the magazine was revived in 1998 in an online edition edited by founder Barney Rosset and his wife Astrid Myers.

Barney Rosset 2008

May 28, 1922 ~ Feb. 21, 2012

photo: Michael Falco for The New York Times

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


John Rogers Cox, Cloud Trails (1944)

Good painting offers a mysterious pleasure that one cannot quite put his finger on because the painter, through honesty and hard work, has actually painted his own personality in a familiar subject; and any person’s personality or character or soul, or whatever your word is for it, is something of an enigma.
—John Rogers Cox, 1951


Keene Tank

Police 'Tank' Purchase Riles New Hampshire Town

"We're going to have our own tank." That's what Keene, N.H., Mayor Kendall Lane whispered to Councilman Mitch Greenwood during a December city council meeting.

It's not quite a tank. But the quaint town of 23,000 -- scene of just two murders since 1999 -- had just accepted a $285,933 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to purchase a Bearcat, an eight-ton armored personnel vehicle made by Lenco Industries Inc.

But those plans are on hold for now, thanks to a backlash from feisty residents...."

Wouldn’t you enjoy seeing one of these behind you as realize you’re doing 40 in a 35?

The sales manager for the Pittsfield, Mass.-based manufacturer, stated: “If a group of terrorists decide to shoot up a shopping mall in a town like Keene, N.H. wouldn't you rather be prepared?"

now that you've given someone an idea

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Diane Arbus in Central Park, 1969

Backroad Chalkies

Cindy Sherman

Arbus photo: Garry Winogrand
backroad chalkies photo © bob arnold
Diane Arbus (March 14, 1923 – July 26, 1971)
Cindy Sherman (b. January 19, 1954)


Man trapped in snowed-in car for two months now awake, says hospital

The man survived inside his car by eating snow. Doctors said he may have hibernated, like a bear.
Photograph: Scanpix Sweden/Reuters


A Swedish man who spent two months snowed inside his car as temperatures outside dropped to -30C is "awake and able to communicate", according to the hospital treating him, where stunned doctors believe he was kept alive by the "igloo effect" of his vehicle.

The man, believed to be Peter Skyllberg, 44, who was found near the north-eastern town of Umeå on Friday by passers-by, told police he had been in the car since 19 December without food, surviving only by eating snow and staying inside his warm clothes and sleeping bag.

Dr Ulf Segerberg, the chief medical officer at Noorland's University Hospital, said he had never seen a case like it. The man had probably been kept alive, he said, by the natural warming properties of his snowed-in car which would have acted as "the equivalent of an igloo".

"This man obviously had good clothes; he's had a sleeping bag and he's been in a car that's been snowed over," said Segerberg. "Igloos usually have a temperature of a couple of degrees below 0C and if you have good clothes you would survive in those temperatures and be able to preserve your body temperature. Obviously he has managed to preserve his body temperature or he wouldn't have made it because us humans can't really stand being cooled down like reptiles, for instance, which can change the body temperature."

Two months was at the "upper limit" of what a person would be able to survive without food, added Segerberg.

Skyllberg was found emaciated and very weak by a pair of snowmobilers who thought they had found a crashed car. They dug down through about a metre of snow to see its driver lying on the back seat in his sleeping bag, according to Ebbe Nyberg, a local police officer.

"They were amazed at what they found: a man in his mid-40s huddled inside in a sleeping bag, starving and barely able to move or speak," Nyberg, working in Vaesterbotten county, was quoted as saying.

A rescuer told the local newspaper Västerbottens-Kuriren: "It's just incredible that he's alive considering that he had no food, but also since it's been really cold for some time after Christmas."

Police said temperatures around Umeå had fallen to -30C. One doctor, Stefan Branth, said Skyllberg may have survived by going into hibernation mode. "A bit like a bear that hibernates. Humans can do that. He probably had a body temperature of around 31C which the body adjusted to. Due to the low temperature, not much energy was used up."

But Segerberg said he was "sceptical" of this suggestion. "We can't lower body temperature very much. A little bit we can, but if we lower body temperatures more than just a little bit, we lose consciousness and go into a coma," he said, cautioning that it was not his area of expertise.

Skyllberg is being treated in an ordinary ward in the University Hospital, where Segerberg said he was "feeling well". It was unclear how he had come to be stranded in the deserted lane.

Segerberg said that, even in a part of the world where sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow are the norm, this case was unusual. "There have been cases of people caught out in the mountains, and if they can dig themselves down in the snow they are able to survive and be found. But there must be something special in this case."

Monday, February 20, 2012


I love most libraries. In fact, as I was strolling through the deep forest racks and stacks of paper and books in one recently, on the third floor, with its eight foot tall windows, I told myself I would indeed go into a civil war with any force attempting to shut down such beautiful buildings, free to the public. An almost old time tradition, that some crazies call in a wicked way "socialism". Since when is a social good a social bad? And this library decked out for its three floors, with an almost unbelievable nest for a full floor all its own for children, with tucked away sanctuaries and hideouts and pillow soft resting spots. Plus a built in the wall lit watered aquarium and the piranha family very friendly jumbo size fish I have always gone to have a look at ever since I took Carson to go look at it when he was first walking. On this visit the other day we found out the fish and Carson are now exactly the same age. A quarter century old.

If I have a complaint about some libraries, it's how they wallpaper their books with labels and I.D. and stamps and over-kill. This already slim first book of poems by Lucas Farrell — I say his name since you can't quite tell looking at the book — is a case in point. The Many Woods of Grief is the title. I honor the library for having the book on hand, for us to find it, for them to keep it in stock (this library has books dating back a century in circulation, never mind what they harbor in special collections), but I wish they would honor the book designers and the overall look of a book. You can judge a book by its cover.

Now, to read a poem or two by Lucas.


And since I love you
I seek woodpiles,
an ax, blessings from mothers
with chapped hands like steeples.
I am undesirable, like,
I want to hurt you.
There is a chair on which you sit, rain bucket.
And I bathe you.
A wallpaper of famous faces,
hindquarters, domestic surprises.
I garnish all your limbs with arugula
and pink mellifluous oysters.
I offer apophasis, then cripple the table
of show-me-your-cards
And since you love me too,
the ice cubes won't unloose my eyes
for what's-her-face.
Spiders won't limp down my spine
hip-checking the railings of dream piers.
Endearments like scissored rain,
the timberline won't swell.
As if I love because I was born with mouth ajar.
As if a jar in Tennessee.


Natural history is the gentleness with which she placed
her arms through her shirt-sleeves. The faces
on the refrigerator newly dusted,
the lettuce wilted, wet timberline and brow. Mistrusted
fluids of the plastic sack. In this present, I fight
it precisely, twist and tear filled pockets. I am, unlike
my predecessor, entirely anxious when I awake to twilight,
an afternoon nap, feet beyond the edge of the sheet.
Autumn is upon me once again, and I sweep
the walls of nymphal skins,
of stonefly youths, small recognitions.
It was the gentleness with which she teethed,
broke free. Naturally, historically,
my dreams of late issue domestic truths
that gnaw my wrists to transformative raw.
I can awake to these soft hours of truce
no more. Misgivings and bruises.
I conjure the sound of the creek though I must
undress in the silence of recurring light.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


T-Bone Walker

That Evening Train by T Bone Walker on Grooveshark

another sort of train letter

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Todd Haynes film "I'm Not There"
(a sorta bio pic of Bob Dylan)

In the film Richard Gere portrays quite successfully the outlaw Billy the Kid. One of the many times Billy the Kid shows up in the world of cinema. His old pal and nemesis Pat Garrett also makes a showing, has the Kid surrounded, caught, and once again put into leg irons or held. As always, the Kid escapes. The great American legend ~ escape, freedom.

Billy's final words in the film, while hopping a train (the ultimate escape ferry) are, "People are always talking about freedom, the freedom to live a certain way without being kicked around. 'Course the more you live a certain way the less it feels like freedom. Me? I can change during the course of a day. When I wake I'm one person, when I go to sleep I know for certain I'm somebody else. I don't know who I am most of the time. It's like you got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room. There's no telling what can happen."

Some of these same words were spoken by Bob Dylan in a 1997 interview with Newsweek.

Keep it all fluid, possible, and moving.

to John Bradley