Happy 88th Birthday to the Quiet Beat!

12 Mar

Go

John Clellon Holmes is the friend Jack Kerouac was talking to when he coined the phrase “Beat Generation.” Holmes actually found success more quickly than Kerouac did in writing about the scene when he published Go in 1952. The writing style is vastly different than Kerouac’s, as it takes a much more traditional approach to novel writing, but it is fantastic! Go is one of my favorite books of the so-called Beat canon. Holmes does a fantastic job bringing all the familiar characters — Gene Pasternak as Kerouac, Hart Kennedy as Neal Cassady, David Stofsky as Allen Ginsberg, Will Dennison as William S. Burroughs, and so forth — to life as he explores hipsters partying it up in New York City. Dare I say his descriptions of the 1940s party scene are more memorable to me than Kerouac’s?!

Holmes was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, on this day in 1926. Celebrate his life and work by reading Go!

 

Happy 92nd Birthday, Jack Kerouac!

12 Mar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto I took two years ago at Kerouac’s birth home when I attended Lowell Celebrates Kerouac

On a Sunday in winter, Jean-Louis Kerouac was born to Leo and Gabrielle Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts. He was the baby of the family, the youngest of three, and his French-speaking family called him Ti Jean, or Little John.

It was March 12, 1922. Warren G. Harding, a Republican, was president and had just introduced radio to the White House the month before. Women had received the right to vote two years prior to that, but even the month before Kerouac was born the Nineteenth Amendment was still being challenged in court — a fact important to understanding the gender politics in which Kerouac grew up.

James Joyce’s Ulysses was first published that year by Sylvia Beach in Paris, and the experimental novel would impact Kerouac’s own writing. Kerouac himself would grow up to become the voice of his generation, the Beat Generation, a generation that had been born around the time of the Great Depression, that had seen the destruction of World War II and lost many friends and loved ones, that had faced a repressive government. Kerouac remains a startlingly refreshing voice even today, reminding readers to observe the sparkles in the sidewalk, to embrace life over possessions, to blaze their own paths.

KerouacCakephoto I took at Kerouac’s birthday bash last year at the Northport Historical Society

Mino Cinelu Plays the Blue Note

11 Mar

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At Greenwich Village’s famed Blue Note Jazz Club on a cold Monday night in February, instruments are strewn across the stage. There’s nary a place to step, yet Brooklyn-based French musician Mino Cinelu intuitively finds each new instrument he needs amongst the pedals and wires, without missing a beat. He seamlessly switches from drums to egg shakers to water drum. He flicks a triangle like it’s hot to the touch. He stretches his hand across the stage and caresses a belly-dancing scarf, its gauzy fabric dripping with coins that stir in his fingers. His body itself becomes an instrument, as he claps his hands together and punctuates beats with forceful stomps that reverberate off the stage floor.

Mino Cinelu is a musician—and a performer. The jazz percussionist draws energy toward him and releases it back to the audience in a swell of notes and beats.

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“He’s the most sought out percussionist,” Ra Araya whispers to me, speaking of Mino Cinelu with sincere authority. “Art Blakey literally picked him up and said, ‘Now you’re coming with me.’” Araya, the poet and poetry event organizer who set up the premier reading for Burning Furiously Beautiful, had invited me to the show, asking me to review it.* It is my first time ever hearing Cinelu live or otherwise, and I sit mesmerized by the way the jazz musician embodies his music.

Cinelu’s music is simultaneously out-of-body and corporeal. The tempo echoes the pulse of the earth and his vocal cord arrangements hum like the sounds of nature, building toward an ethereal plane. Pulling from various traditions, his world-fusion jazz unites through the exchange of ideas and sounds and cultures. It makes the listener think. It makes the listener feel. It makes the listener anticipate. His lips move to the beat of the drum as he slaps it. He scrunches his face and groans. The flesh of his cheeks tremble to the beat. Sweat drips from his temple as he whips his dreadlocks around. His muscles are taut, suggesting his years of making music have built his body.

Cinelu was born in Saint-Cloud, in the western suburbs of Paris. “From a very young age I had to take care of myself. Let’s just say that,” says the musician, who grew up in a violent home. He was born into a musical family, and as a child learned to play the guitar. By sixteen, he was already a professional musician with gigs in London and New York. In the 1980s, after moving to New York, he met Miles Davis and went on tour with him. Like others who played with Davis, Cinelu then went on to be part of Weather Report, one of the earliest jazz-fusion bands, though the band dismissed that label. The ever-changing roster of musicians in Weather Report played an amalgamation of free jazz, funk, rock, R&B, Latin jazz, and other ethnic music. In the ’90s Cinelu emerged as a solo artist, releasing his self-titled album in 2000. Cinelu has played with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Herbie Hancock, and from Sting to Lou Reed.

Cinelu continues to surround himself with an impressive array of talent, and the Mino Cinelu World Jazz Ensemble seems to grow in number as more and more musicians take to the stage as the evening progresses. The band includes Jamshied Sharifi (keys & flute), Mamadou Ba (bass), and Jose Davila (tuba & percussion). A graduate of MIT, Sharifi went on to study at the esteemed Berklee College of Music. He composed the soundtracks for Muppets from Space, Harriet the Spy, The Rugrats Movie, Clockstoppers, and The Thomas Crown Affair. Ba was the musical director for Harry Belafonte’s orchestra and was one of the founding members of African Blue Note Band. Davila has played with everyone from Ray Charles to Marc Anthony, and from Tito Puente to Nora Jones.

At the Blue Note, special guest Bria Skonberg (trumpet & flugelhorn) joins the Mino Cinelu World Jazz Ensemble on stage. She covers the mouth of the brass instrument with her shiny red nails, playing along with the music, til suddenly she tilts her head back and BLOWS! Face scrunched in exertion, much like Cinelu’s, Skonberg plays powerfully, masterfully. “We’ll keep her after the gig,” Cinelu jokes in appreciation of her talent.

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By the end of the first set, Cinelu is standing on top of an amp. He thanks everyone, including the waitresses at the jazz club. Despite the snow still on the ground and despite the early day of the week, fans have poured into venue. Among them is actress Pauletta Washington, Denzel’s wife. “I stole some of her moves,” teases Cinelu.

Then, just as they arrived, one by one the musicians file off the stage into the aisles of The Blue Note, still playing their instruments. The music stays with us as they disappear in the dark.

*My ticket and minimum were comped, but these opinions are my own.

“One’s Life Were Like a Museum”

10 Mar

proust

“[O]ne’s life were like a museum in which all the portraits from one period have a family look about them, a single tonality….”

~Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis

Also Proust-related:

Writing Wednesday: Reliving Those Awkward MFA Days

5 Mar

“This was a missed opportunity.”

Haha. Enjoy.

 

Clean Monday

3 Mar

Go home and wash up.
Clean up your act.
Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings
so I don’t have to look at them any longer.
Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.

~Isaiah 1: 13-17

In the Greek Orthodox faith today is Καθαρά Δευτέρα — Clean Monday. Clean Monday is to Greek Orthodox believers what Ash Wednesday is to Catholic believers. It’s the start of Great Lent. Well, technically it begins at sunset the Sunday before.

Lent is thought of as a time of abstaining. We fast from meat and dairy. But it is more than that. It is also a time of taking on new, better habits. Today we not only wash ourselves from our past wrongdoings, but we work on behalf of those who need a helping hand.

Happy 89th Birthday to Lu the Glue!

1 Mar

“Lu was the glue,” said Allen Ginsberg, talking about how integral Lucien Carr was to connecting the people who would go on to become collectively known as the Beat Generation. Carr and Ginsberg met when Ginsberg came knocking on his dorm door at Columbia (well, technically they were attending Columbia but lodged at Union Theological Seminary) to discover who was playing the delightful music of Brahms. Carr was also friends with a fun-loving student named Edie Parker who introduced him to her boyfriend Jack Kerouac. Meanwhile, around that same time, Carr’s stalker, David Kammerer, and William S. Burroughs, whose family Carr had known back in their hometown of St. Louis, arrived in New York City. A charismatic wit, Carr drew this circle together and came up with the idea of a New Vision that embodied “naked self-expression,” a “derangement of the senses,” and the doing away with conventional morality” when it came to art.

Lucien Carr was born on this day in 1925 in New York City.

The Mardi Gras of Greece

28 Feb

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This weekend is the big Carnival weekend in Greece. Don’t let New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro get all the glory. Patras is the number 3 for Carnival.

Usually you can make it to more than one Carnival because Greek Orthodox follow the Julian calendar, while Catholics use the new, Gregorian, calendar. However, this year our calendars coincide.

Carnival is basically a time to many go wild right before the seriousness of the 40-day fast of Great Lent leading up to the Crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Though it’s certainly tied to Orthodox Christianity, practicing Orthodox believers don’t participate in its more reckless aspects that are tied to Dionysus. The parades and floats, though? Those are fun!

Clip: Scripps Magazine Features “Burning Furiously Beautiful”

27 Feb

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If you flip — or scroll! — to page 40 of Scripps Magazine you’ll see me featured in their regular column of alumnae authors, “ManuScripps.”

The column talks about how Scripps, the women’s college of the Claremont Colleges, fostered my education in the Beat Generation. …Which just goes to show you that feminists can like the Beats!

Special thanks to the Scripps Magazine and the Scripps College Alumnae Association for their support of my writing.

And if you missed it, here’s a post on the New York chapter of the Scripps book club reading Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Lack of Translation in America Is “Shameful,” Says Lahiri

26 Feb

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Jhumpa Lahiri criticized the American literary world as “shameful the lack of translation, the lack of energy put into translation in the American market.” The Indian American author said this on the panel about global literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival that I blogged about earlier, when I remarked on Xiaolu Guo’s sentiments that American literature is “overrated.”

I agree with Lahiri that our reading preferences in America are too inward focused. Ideally, we’d all be able to read in at least a second language, like Lahiri, who apparently hasn’t read anything in English in over two years. Good for her, but I’m a Greek school dropout. When I was in high school, I used to read Spanish decently, but I unfortunately haven’t kept it up and nowadays only read the Spanish advertisements in the subway station. Sometimes I tell myself one day I’ll go back to school to really study a language, but that day hasn’t come yet. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important. It’s that I know my limitations, and as horrible as it is to admit this learning another language just isn’t a priority at the moment.

That pains me especially when it comes to contemporary Greek literature. I am quite curious about the literary trends in Greece right, particularly in how they treat the economic crisis. I’ve read some translations of contemporary Greek works, but the truth is they’re hard to come by.

Translation in general is, as Lahiri pointed out, not a priority for American readers. Maybe because for many, reading isn’t a priority. With the difficulties the publishing industry has faced, it feels sacrilegious to condemn them for not publishing more translations. I do want to applaud one publishing house I’ve been keeping my eye on for the past few years: Europa Editions. Here’s why:

Europa Editions was founded in 2005 by Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri, who are also the owner-publishers of Rome-based Edizioni E/O, one of Europe’s most prestigious independent publishing houses. Our idea was to capitalize on Edizioni E/O’s decades-long experience to bring fresh voices to the American market and provide quality English editions of international literature by enlisting some of the best translators in the business. Our appearance would be distinct, incorporating both European and U.S. jacket design standards, reflecting our conviction that books today must be pleasing to the senses as well as to the mind.  Our catalog  is eclectic, for we believe that dialogue between nations and cultures is of vital importance and that this exchange is facilitated by literature chosen not only for its ability to entertain and fascinate, but also to inform and enlighten.

Also, can I make a bit of a suggestion for those interested in translation? If there’s a note from the publisher or translator, read it! It’s fascinating and eye opening to read about the decisions the translator grappled with when bringing a foreign-language work to an American audience.

What contemporary Greek authors should I be reading right now? Where’s a good place to find Greek works translated into English?

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