Tag Archives: jazz

A Collage of Art and Literature at the Guggenheim

14 Aug
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Carol Bove, Vague Pure Affection, 2012, wood and steel shelves, paper, brass, concrete, and acrylic, 85″ x 35 1/2″ x 16″. © Carol Bove, photo courtesy Maccarone Inc., New York
When I was growing up, I wanted to be an artist. So I became a writer. At Scripps College, I majored in English literature and minored in studio art. I wrote my thesis on the influence the Abstract Expressionist painters had the Beat Generation. At The New School, I studied the collaboration between the poets and painters of the New York School, which also touched on a lesser extent on the Beats. Next month, at the Festival of Women Writers in the Catskills, I will be teaching a writing class called Cut-Ups, Jazz-Poetry, and Picture Poems: Writing Under the Influence of the Beat Generation.
 
So you can imagine how excited I am about the Storylines exhibit at the Guggenheim. Robert Anthony Siegel did a provocative write-up on it in The Paris Review.
 
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You can pick up your copy of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” here.
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Video from David Amram & Co.’s Inspiring Show at Cornelia Street Cafe

15 Jun
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Every time I go to hear David Amram & Co. perform, I am blown away and walk away inspired to be more creative and to live life more fully. This month with no different.
 
On Monday, June 1, I brought my friend who was visiting from Brazil to Cornelia Street Café to hear David Amram perform with Kevin Twigg (drum, glockenspiel), Rene Hart (bass), Elliot Peper (bongos), and special guest Robbie Winterhawk on congas. They played all the literary-inspired classics, from Arthur Miller’s After the Fall to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady’s Pull My Daisy.
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Between songs, David Amram told stories of how he came to learn to play the hulusi, a Chinese flute made of bamboo pipes that pass through a gourd wind chest; how he met Woody Guthrie (“There was Woody sitting in this little kitchen….” in an apartment between Avenue C and D in New York City); to the fact that Pull My Daisy was written in an exquisite-corpse fashion (“People would come into town and add lines”). The stories behind the songs are themselves sweet melody to a life of passion, dedication, and originality.
 
David Amram uses his platform to inspire people both on and off the stage. He encourages the crowd with words of wisdom:
 
“Every day is an experience. Every day is an adventure.”
 
“Pay attention to anybody and everybody, and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.”
 
He invites people up to the stage to perform him. 
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People like Frank Messina, who is known as “the Mets poet.” He told a story about playing baseball with some of the legends of baseball while growing up in Norwood, New Jersey. It was so fun to hear because I grew up a few towns over from him and lived across the street from a Yankees player! Messina’s handwritten journal of 9/11 poetry is in the permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
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And people like Mike Shannon, an actor, who read Kerouac’s “Children of the Bop Night.”
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I happened to have incidentally sat down next to one of the performers, Connie Diamandis. She turned out to be a Greek American from Lowell and that we knew some of the same people! A singer, she did an amazing rendition of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” She also told a story about Jack Kerouac and friends coming back to Lowell and hearing the Beatles and the new music of the era and pronouncing it good “but nothing like the classics.”
 
You can find out where David Amram will next be performing here.

Happy 118th Birthday, Fitzgerald!

24 Sep

442px-F_Scott_Fitzgerald_1921Photo circa 1921, “The World’s Work” (June 1921 issue), via Wikipedia

The man who perhaps best captured the glitz and the glam of the roaring twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Fitzgerald is, of course, the author of The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender Is the Night, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” He was connected with a group of expatriates living in Paris, who became known as the Lost Generation.

It was this Lost Generation that inspired Jack Kerouac to come up with the term the Beat Generation when he was having a conversation with John Clellon Holmes one day. However, in many ways, Kerouac’s content is dissimilar to Fitzgerald’s. F. Scott — named after Francis Scott Key, the lyricist of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and his second cousin, three times removed (whatever that means!) — glamorized America’s economic boom during the Jazz Age, while Kerouac glamorized the American hobo that sprung up following the Great Depression. Yet, their language, their syntax, is similar in capturing all that jazz.

 

You might also like:::

Life Continues to Be Absurd: Saul Bellow, Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fizgerald, and Eugene O’Niell

 

Hear Me Read at The Red Room This Wednesday

25 Aug

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I’m excited to reveal that poet RA Araya asked me to read with a bunch of super talented artists this Wednesday, August 27, 2014, from 7 to 10pm, at The Red Room. RA usually somehow manages to persuade me to read Homer in the Ancient Greek (no small feat!), but this time he said I was free to read whatever I wanted so I’m planning on reading from my memoir. If you’re interested in getting a candid look into my weird life, now’s your chance!

Author Ronnie Norpel will be hosting. She runs a great reading series uptown, and I admire the way she makes transitions between sets so natural. The other artists scheduled are each so unique that it’s kind of a dizzying array of poetry, jazz, fiction, and tap dance:

poets performance at 7pm:

  • Moira T. Smith
  • Sarah Sarai
  • Stephanie Nikolopoulos
  • Liz von Klemperer
  • Linda Kleinbub
  • The tap-dancing and choreography of Camille Schmoeker

music by The New York City Brass Brothers at 7:45pm

Chris Barrera & the ‘flash-back-puppy’ band at  8:15pm

The venue is gorgeous. I kind of want to live inside of it. The brainchild of Denis Woychuk, The Red Room is a lush speakeasy-style lounge on the third floor of KGB Bar (85 East 4th Street) in the East Village in New York City. It even has a bathtub by the bar!

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The event is $10, but I have a special discount offer for you: if you rsvp on Facebook you get half off! There’s also a 2 drink minimum.

See you there!

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For other upcoming events, check out my appearances page. If you’re looking to book me for a reading or hire me to teach a writing workshop, you can contact me at snikolop {@} alumna.scrippscollege.edu.

See New York Through David Amram’s Eyes Tomorrow

25 Apr

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Ever since pioneer jazz French-horn player David Amram mentioned that he’ll be doing an urban hike, pointing out places of importance to him on the Upper West Side, I’ve been counting down the days.

I usually associate David with Greenwich Village. Whenever I see him play at Cornelia Street Cafe or (le) poisson rouge, he always tells enthralling stories of how we’re only steps away from where he and Jack Kerouac did their first jazz-poetry readings or how he used to go into the music store down the street and learn how to play instruments from around the world. It’s that curiosity, though, along with talent and tenacity that allow him to transcend any particular place or “movement” or style. Uptown, he worked, for instance, with The New York Philharmonic’s conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos; in 1966, Leonard Bernstein selected him to be The New York Philharmonic’s first composer-in-residence.

Now, the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has acquired David Amram’s archive and is hosting David Amram’s New York, a series of free events, which includes a screening of a documentary about him and the urban hike. Here’s the info via the New York Public Library:

Composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and author David Amram is a musician with a celebrated career as prolific as it is diverse. While his achievements and influences extend far beyond the city, New York has played a vital role in Amram’s life and music. Specific locations throughout New York have served as inspiration for Amram’s compositions, and his pioneering work with Leonard Bernstein and The New York Philharmonic, Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan, Joseph Papp, Jack Kerouac, Dizzy Gillespie, Pete Seeger, and many other jazz, folk, and world music artists has helped shape the city’s cultural landscape. To celebrate the recent acquisition of Amram’s archives, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center will present David Amram’s New York, a series of public programs and offerings that explore his remarkable career and ongoing relationship with the music of New York.

The series begins on Saturday, April 26 with a screening of the documentary feature film David Amram: The First 80 Years, followed by a conversation between the filmmaker Lawrence Kraman and Amram. Later that afternoon, Amram will lead a walking tour of Manhattan locations that have played a significant role in his life and music. The walk will be co-hosted by author Bill Morgan and sociologist Dr. Audrey Sprenger of SUNY Purchase.

On Tuesday, April 29, the series concludes with a special concert of Amram’s chamber music compositions, featuring a program that spans Amram’s career and musical influences. Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody Guthrie, will also be in attendance to celebrate her commissioning Amram to compose THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie. Performers for the concert include Howard Wall and Kim Laskowski, both members of The New York Philharmonic, former Metropolitan Opera concertmaster Elmira Darvarova, and saxophonist Ken Radnofsky. The evening will also mark the release of two new albums of Amram compositions: The Chamber Music of David Amram – Live from the New York Chamber Music Festival (Urlicht AudioVisual), featuring Darvarova; and Newport Classic Records’ album of Radnofsky performing Amram’s compositions for saxophone, including the concerto Ode to Lord Buckley and Trio for Tenor Saxophone, French Horn and Bassoon.

In conjunction with the programs, The Library for the Performing Arts will exhibit original materials from Amram’s archives.

One of the most influential and prolific composers of his generation, David Amram has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works, two operas, and scores for the award-winning films Splendor in The Grass, The Manchurian Candidate, and Jack Kerouac’s Pull My Daisy–all while balancing a career as a pioneering jazz improviser, symphony conductor, and multi-instrumentalist featuring 35 instruments from around the world, all of which remain a source of inspiration for many of his formally composed classical works. Amram was a vital force in the Beat Generation, and presented the first-ever public jazz-poetry concerts in New York City in the 1950s with Kerouac. Amram was the first Musical Director and composer for Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, for the Phoenix Theater, and for The Lincoln Center Repertory Theater, where he composed scores for new plays by Arthur Miller directed by Elia Kazan and Harold Clurman. In 1966, Leonard Bernstein named Amram The New York Philharmonic’s first Composer-In-Residence. Five years later, Amram became the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s first Musical Director for Young People’s, Family and Free Parks Concerts, a position he held for nearly three decades.

Today, Amram continues to compose music while traveling the world as a conductor, soloist, bandleader, author, visiting scholar, and narrator in five languages. In addition to the David Amram’s New York programs at The Library for the Performing Arts, Amram’s other projects this spring include the release of THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie (Newport Classic Recordings), a live recording of Amram conducting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in a performance of his work by the same name, and the DVD release of David Amram: the First 80 Years in May. Amram’s fourth book, David Amram: The Next 80 Years, will be published in 2015.

All events included in the David Amram’s New York series take place at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (40 Lincoln Center Plaza), and are free and open to the public.

David Amram’s New York

Saturday, April 26 @ 1pm
Film Screening: David Amram: The First 80 Years
Post-Screening Conversation with Lawrence Kraman and David Amram In Person

http://on.nypl.org/1l4ObCG
Lawrence Kraman’s 2012 documentary about the life and times of David Amram features interviews and performances with Buck Henry, Pete Seeger, Sir James Galway, Kurt Elling, Paquito d’Rivera, Max Gail, Larry Merchant, Candido Camero, Bobby Sanabria, John Ventimiglia, Philip Myers, Maurice Peress and the Queens College Orchestra, David Broza, Avram Pengas, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, the Earl McKintyre Orchestra, and David Amram and his three children Alana, Adira and Adam. This compelling film not only explores Amram’s unique career and the breadth of his talents, but as the title implies, also proves that one of the most exciting aspects of Amram’s story is knowing that with his endless energy and zest for life, his narrative is far from over, and the future chapters are sure to be just as exciting as the past.

Saturday April 26 @ 3pm
Walking Tour With David Amram
Meet in the lobby outside of The Bruno Walter Auditorium, located at the Library’s 111 Amsterdam Avenue entrance
http://on.nypl.org/1hpUzo5 
David Amram leads this walking tour of Lincoln Center and other nearby locations that have influenced his life and music. The tour will be co-hosted by Bill Morgan and Dr. Audrey Sprenger.

Tuesday, April 29 @ 6pm
Chamber Music Compositions of David Amram: from 1958 – 2014
http://on.nypl.org/1gqMVsQ
Over the course of his career, David Amram has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works. For this concert, he selects four of his favorite chamber works:

Trio for Tenor Saxophone, French Horn and Bassoon (1958)
Ken Radnofsky – Saxophone
Howard Wall – French Horn
Kim Laskowski – Bassoon

Violin Sonata (1960)
Elmira Darvarova – Violin
Linda Hall – Piano

Blues for Monk for Unaccompanied Horn (1982)
Howard Wall – French Horn

Three Greenwich Village Portraits (2014)
For Alto Saxophone and Piano
Ken Radnofsky – Alto Saxophone
Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek – Piano

About The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses one of the world’s most extensive combination of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. These materials are available free of charge, along with a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts — whether professional or amateur — the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters and photographs. For more information please visit www.nypl.org.

Don’t live in New York? Check out David Amram’s extensive calendar to see when he’ll next be in your neighborhood.

You may also like:::

 

 

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.

UCLA Prof Blames “Beatniks” for Kristen Stewart’s Poetry

12 Feb

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Kristen Stewart’s poetry has been blowing up the internet. I read a bunch of snarky comments about it on facebook last night, and this afternoon on my lunch break I discovered via Poets & Writers that the venerable Poetry Foundation gave it attention on their blog, Harriet.

I wasn’t going to comment on it, but then I read, via The Poetry Foundation, what Brian Kim Stefans had to say about it:

My own initial post went like this: “The second stanza isn’t horrible. Worst part of the poem are those awful adjectives! Stupid Beats.” What I meant by this was that the words “digital” (applied to moonlight), “scrawled” when linked to “neon” (neon is a much overused word by poets who want to sound like Beatniks) and “abrasive” (applied to organ pumps) weren’t working for me….”

What Stefans doesn’t say and what The Poetry Foundation doesn’t say is that Kristen Stewart played the role of Marylou in the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s Beat novel On the Road. Part of her training for the film included “Beatnik Boot Camp,” where biographers and Neal Cassady’s son, John Allen Cassady, talked to them about the real-life individuals the novel was based on and the time period. It’s important to state this upfront because the very critique hurled against her work is that it sounds too Beatnik. Whether that’s because her poetry does sound too “Beatnik”—we’ll come back to defining that word in a moment—or whether her association with the Beats fueled criticism of her work is up for debate. Maybe, more than anything, though, the criticism surrounding Stewart’s poetry has less to do with the work itself and more to do with her celebrity persona—which, let’s face it, is similar to how the Beats are reviewed. Even before her poem was revealed, the media has loved to lash out at Stewart.

Actress Amber Tamblyn was also in a Beat-related film—One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur—and has gone on record about being influenced by the Beats. Except Tamblyn blogs for The Poetry Foundations’ Harriet and has published a jazz-inspired poetry chapbook, while Stewart, seven years her junior, revealed her road-trip inspired poem to the women’s glossy Marie Claire. This certainly says something about the difference in the seriousness and literary merit of their work, but it also says something about their celebrity persona and how they are received by the media.

Okay, so now we’re caught up on Stewart. In case Stewart, or you, didn’t know, Stefans makes his authority known at the outset of his open letter:

I’m a poet and professor at UCLA, and thought you might be interested in what some of my poet friends (most of whom also teach and are otherwise very accomplished) and I have been writing on Facebook about your recent poem published in Marie Claire.

I take it Professor Stefans is not a fan of the Beat poetry. That’s fine; to each their own. Stefans is actually quite an accomplished poet, and I particularly respect his postmodern innovations in digital poetry as he bridges the gap between new media and literature. From his UCLA faculty page:

My interests in electronic writing stem directly out of my work as a poet, though it has branched off into any number of art genres that have fallen under the persuasion of digital technology, such as photography, film/video and book publishing. Research interest include creating a “bridge” between the concepts and traditions of various 20th-century avant-gardes — Language writing, the Oulipo, concrete poetry, conceptual art, Situationism, metafiction, etc. — and the various genres of digital literature, including animated poems, interactive texts, algorithmically-generated and manipulated texts, “nomadic” writing, hacktivism and experimental blogs. Presently working on a series of wall projections called “Scriptors” which will appear as gallery and environmental installations in the coming years.

His research and work in electronic literature suggests his open-mindedness toward new and experimental ideas that may not yet be culturally accepted. I would think then that he’d find Stewart’s use of the word “digital” related to his own interests, but perhaps it wasn’t “working” for the Brown graduate who got his MFA in Electronic Literature because it was too obvious of a connection, the word “digital” sounding contrived or outmoded in today’s ever-changing technical world. I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. His forward-searching eye may also be why he lays into her for relying on passé Beatnik clichés and the word “Whilst.” Stefans’ critique of Stewart’s poem is fair and balanced. There is validity to his point about “overused words” in poetry and even Beatnik buzz words.

My contention is with Stefans’ comment “Stupid Beats” and the lumping of Beat literature with “people who want to sound like Beatniks.” Yes, I get that this is a flippant response to pop culture that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, however the cultural knowledge of so-called Beatniks is wrought with so much misconception that it makes me uncomfortable to see a humanities professor at a well-known college perpetuate the stereotype.

Here’s a little Beat 101 refresher course:

  • Jack Kerouac coined the term “Beat Generation” during a conversation with fellow novelist John Clellon Holmes, in which they were riffing on the Lost Generation and their own generation.
  • Holmes went on to write “This Is The Beat Generation” for The New York Times Magazine in 1952.
  • Six years later, journalist Herb Caen coined the term “beatnik” in an article for The San Francisco Chronicle. An amalgamation of the word “beat” and “Sputnik,” the word, as conceived during the Cold War, was derogatory.
  • In fact, “The Examiner had a headline the next day about a beatnik murder,” reported the SF Gate. Note that this had nothing to do with David Kammerer or any of the writers associated with the literature of the Beat Generation.
  • In the column in which Caen coined the term “beatnik,” he was eye rolling at how Look magazine was doing yet another photo spread on the San Francisco Beat Generation scene, saying “250 bearded cats and kits were on hand.” So right there we have it that he wasn’t commenting specifically on Kerouac, Holmes, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and the specific poets or poetry associated with the Beat Generation. He was talking about the scene, man.

Let me put this into more current context. Caen used the word “beatniks” the same way people today use the term “hipster.” Think of the way people in the 2000s equated the Williamsburg hipster with the eccentric trust-fund kid wearing aviator sunglasses and skinny jeans and making really bad “art.” That’s the equivalent of a “beatnik.” They’re both pop-culture fads that aren’t wholly indicative of the art, literature, and music that loosely inspired these “scenes.”

Consequently, saying Kristen Stewart was writing in the vein of bad beatnik poetry could be a worthwhile critique and even a very interesting one if the critic were to delve into more specific examples like the use of the word “neon” (HTML Giant questions if “neon” is solely beatnik; I apparently already have a tag for “neon” because I used it for light sculptor Stephen Antonakos … was he a beatnik??), discuss the appropriation and disfiguration of Beat ideas and style (Stefans mentions a colleague who posted a response to Stewart’s poem that suggests an evolution of Beat literature: “If it’s ‘beat’, it’s more Bolinas or young Bernadette than hortatory elder beat.” [hyperlinks mine]), and analyze the cultural phenomenon of beatniks.

Saying “Stupid Beats,” though, is akin to saying “Idiot Pre-Raphaelites,” “Dimwitted Transcendentalists,” or “Insipid Oulipo.” It’s negating an entire body of literature that has resounding cultural importance.

You can read Stewart’s poem “My Heart Is A Wiffle Ball/Freedom Pole” on IndieWire’s blog, The Playlist.

David Amram On Contributing Our Gifts

3 Dec

It was musician David Amram’s birthday last month, and he left the most inspiring message in the comments section on my blog. Since a lot of readers don’t go back and reread the comments on blogs, I want to draw attention to what he said because its worth paying attention to. It’s worth really meditating on. You can read his entire comment here, but I’ll highlight a few things in particular.

On what we should be doing with our time here on earth:

I am still searching for some wisdom, and recently realized that when you get as close to Methusala City as I am, and try to figure out what it all means, you realize that the most important thing for us to do in this life is to make SOME kind of contribution while we are here.

On our gifts:

And we all have something worth sharing with others, but often our dreams appear to be hopeless to experts who themselves have often given up hope.

[…] We are all born with gifts.

On persevering:

I hope my efforts will inspire young kids to hang in there FOR LIFE, especially when they are told by their career councilors that they should give up before they have had a chance to even get started.

On taking action:

So when young kids come to me and say “I wish i had been around when knew and worked with all these fantastic people. i wish i had lived during that time”, i always tell them what Charlie Parker told me in my basement apartment in 1952 in Washington D.C. when i asked him what it was like to have his song “Now’s the Time” (which he had composed seven years earlier in 1945)

“It’s just the way it should ” he said. “Now was and will always be the time because Now is the RIGHT time!”

My own birthday is coming up, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve done with my life and what I want to do with my life. I’ve been thinking about how I spend my time and what my goals and dreams are. Sometimes dreams feel impossibly unobtainable. Sometimes they feel like work. Work gets a bad rap. So does dreaming, for that matter. I think, though, that it’s essential to dream, and it’s crucial to work towards those dreams.

As David said, “We are all born with gifts.” Therefore I believe it is our responsibility to contribute them.

I think we often wait for a reason to change or start something new. After the holidays, we’ll exercise. At the New Year, we’ll make our resolutions. Next November, we’ll write our novel. In a different season of our lives, we’ll make time to volunteer more. And then when we fail to meet our own expectations, we wait for the next big marker to begin again. Every minute of every day is a gift. We have the chance to become who we want to be TODAY. We can start using our gifts RIGHT NOW. Sure, over time, our gifts will be honed that much more and we might look back and cringe at our past efforts, but without those past efforts we won’t get to where we need to be.

“Now’s the time.”

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Happy Birthday, David Amram!

17 Nov

Happy birthday to David Amram!

Michael Limnios of Blues.Gr put together a great tribute to David Amram featuring:

It is well deserved!

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

 

The British Are Coming!: Beat Influence on The Kinks

13 Nov

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Today I’m continuing my discussion of Olivia Cole’s fascinating thesis that American media had a profound impact on post-World War II England, argued in her article “Won over by the West: The irresistible allure of Americana for post-war Britons” for the November 2013 issue of British GQ.

Cole points to The Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies’ “love/hate relationship with America,” referencing a Kerouac-like affair with the road.

A little background info that doesn’t appear in her article but might be helpful: The Kinks are the British rock band behind the songs “You Really Got Me” and “Lola.” They were formed in North London in 1964 — also known as the year The Beatles landed in America and set off the British Invasion.

In reviewing Ray Davies’ new memoir Americana: The Kinks, The Road And The Perfect Riff, Cole explains how the British band leader’s youthful obsession with “the cowboy heroes of Fifties Westerns” and American comic books “got him daydreaming and writing songs.” Growing up the seventh out of eight children — the youngest being Dave Davies, his Kinks bandmate — Ray Davies had barely even traveled out of his hometown of Fortis Green and dreamed of America.

Cole reports that the freedom of the road was at first alluring to Davies. Using Amazon’s preview, I read in Davies’ chapter The Empty Room:

In recent years I had become a transient observer, never settling anywhere and, after a life on the road, never committing to a place or a person.

Davies’ romantic relationships could not be sustained on the road. Cole refers to his failed relationship with Chrissie Hynde, but following the dissolution of his first marriage he attempted suicide. Rockin’ Town town put it this way:

First, his wife of nine years, Rasa, split taking the kids. A week later, Davies was admitted to Highgate Hospital and treated for a drug overdose that looked suspiciously like a suicide attempt.

Cole reports that Davies felt the loneliness of the road. She writes that he:

wonders to what extent the rock-star/beatnik lifestyle lets anything meaningful stand a chance.

Ray Davies, born in 1944, would have been thirteen when On the Road was published in the US. It does not appear from Cole’s article that the Beat Generation’s influence on The Kinks was explicit. However, Davies discusses the same jazz musicians that captivated Kerouac, the adventure and disappointment of a life on the road, and Americana.

Here is Barnes & Noble’s overview of Ray Davies’ memoir Americana: The Kinks, The Road And The Perfect Riff:

As a boy in post-War England, legendary Kinks’ singer/songwriter Ray Davies fell in love with America—its movies and music, its culture of freedom, fed his imagination. Then, as part of the British Invasion, he toured the US with the Kinks during one of the most tumultuous eras in recent history—until the Kinks group was banned from performing there from 1965-69. Many tours and trips later, while living in New Orleans, he experienced a transformative event: the shooting (a result of a botched robbery) that nearly took his life. In Americana, Davies tries to make sense of his long love-hate relationship with the country that both inspired and frustrated him. From his quintessentially English perspective as a Kink, Davies—with candor, humor, and wit—takes us on a very personal road trip through his life and storied career as a rock star, and reveals what music, fame, and America really mean to him. Some of the most fascinating characters in recent pop culture make appearances, from the famous to the perhaps even-more-interesting behind-the-scenes players. The book also includes a photographic insert with images from Davies’s own collection from the band’s archive.

The book was published by Sterling Publishing on October 15, 2013.

Tune in tomorrow when I talk about Cole’s discussion of Iain Sinclair’s take on the Beat Generation in his forthcoming book American Smoke.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!