Right Here (or There), Right Now (or Then)

Opening title from 'Now and Then, Here and There'

[Image: opening narration/subtitle from the 1999-2000 anime series Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku (Now and Then, Here and There), critically and commercially very successful — but also but very dark . One site which I consulted about the series highly recommended watching it, but added that you won’t want to watch it a second time.]

From whiskey river:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

(Natalie Babbitt [source])

and (italicized lines):

Night and the River

I have seen the great feet
leaping
into the river

and I have seen moonlight
milky
along the long muzzle

and I have seen the body
of something
scaled and wonderful

slumped in the sudden fire of its mouth,
and I could not tell
which fit me

more comfortably, the power,
or the powerlessness;
neither would have me

entirely; I was divided,
consumed,
by sympathy,

pity, admiration.
After a while
it was done,

the fish had vanished, the bear
lumped away
to the green shore

and into the trees. And then there was only
this story.
It followed me home

and entered my house—
a difficult guest
with a single tune

which it hums all day and through the night—
slowly or briskly,
it doesn’t matter,

it sounds like a river leaping and falling;
it sounds like a body
falling apart.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

One of the saddest realities is most people never know when their lives have reached the summit. Only after it is over and we have some kind of perspective do we realize how good we had it a day, a month, five years ago. The walk together in the December snow, the phone call that changed everything, and that lovely evening in the bar by the Aegean. Back then you thought “this is so nice.” Only later did you realize it was the rarest bliss.

(Jonathan Carroll [unknown source, but quoted all over])

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Midweek Music Break: Lynn Tomlinson, “The Ballad of Holland Island House”

[Lyrics copyright © Lynn Tomlinson]

Says artist (and lyricist) Lynn Tomlinson at her site:

I came across the haunting image of a house standing alone in the water in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. Reading more about this house, I was struck by its story, and its relevance today, when so many communities are facing challenges from sea-level rise. The images I chose and the visual style reflects the artwork of Winslow Homer, Van Gogh, and Kathe Kolwitz, artists working in the late 1800s, the time period when the house on Holland Island was abandoned.

This video’s construction involved much more than that brief paragraph suggests: each frame was hand-painted in clay — not oil, watercolor, gouache, or other traditional medium — on glass. I’ll give you a moment to think about that — especially about the relationship between art and artifice, between real and ideal, between temporary and permanent, natural and man-made, and then and now

On this page at a site called Sometimes Interesting, you can read many details about the island and its last house, with many photos (including what appear to be the last known photos before the house’s collapse beneath the waves). Wikipedia, of course, offers its own useful summary.

My favorite “fact”: Holland Island is not an island of rocky protrusions; it’s an island of clay and silt. Although Tomlinson does not (to my knowledge) say so explicitly, it’s hard not to draw a dotted line between that geology and the physical media at the heart of the visual one.

(Tomlinson’s film won 1st place in the Greenpeace USA “Postcards from Climate Change” Student Film Contest. And as you can see from the still frame of the Vimeo video about, it’s picked up a good number of other awards as well.)

Aside from the work of the animation itself, Lynn Tomlinson wrote the ballad’s lyrics. The music and the performance, though, are courtesy of a roots-music/Americana duo going by the name Anna & Elizabeth (surnames Roberts-Gevalt and LaPrelle, respectively). Their joint mission, says their Web site:

WE HOPE THAT OUR WORK

  • BRINGS LIGHT to old ballads, tunes, hymns, and the stories of everyday people.
  • HONORS the lives & creativity of those who have gone before us — ancestors, pioneers, friends, and dear teachers
  • PASSES THE TRADITION to a younger generation & encourages friendships across generations
  • INSPIRES people to make art in their own homes.
  • JOINS conversations with other artists & community makers — in learning how to create art that feeds, that brings people together to sing, dance, and ask the difficult questions.

Which, you might say, is a mighty big chunk of ambition to bite off. Nonetheless, they’re making a pretty sizable dent in it. A couple weeks ago, they released their second album of reimagined “old-timey” music. They are touring over the next several months, performing at venues up and down the east coast of the US, the Midwest, the Northwest; in the UK; in Canada.

Finally, both relevant and not to be sneered at: Anna & Elizabeth are aficionados of an old, old art form called “crankies.” Picture a story or ballad — a story song — told visually, by way of a series of consecutive panels… which are joined together in a looooong roll and hand-cranked through a frame to illustrate or comment on the passing scene and moments.

Not only their sweet-harmony performances and musical tastes, but also this affinity for frame-at-a-time storytelling, make them the perfect accompanists for Lynn Tomlinson’s video.

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Finding Home

[Video: “Die gut gemeinten Fesseln,” by Bernhard Riedl, on Vimeo. The title translates as something like “The Well-Meaning Ropes (or Bonds, etc.).”]

From whiskey river:

Pillow

There’s nothing I can’t find under there.
Voices in the trees, the missing pages
of the sea.

Everything but sleep.

And night is a river bridging
the speaking and the listening banks,

a fortress, undefended and inviolate.

There’s nothing that won’t fit under it:
fountains clogged with mud and leaves,
the houses of my childhood.

And night begins when my mother’s fingers
let go of the thread
they’ve been tying and untying
to touch toward our fraying story’s hem.

Night is the shadow of my father’s hands
setting the clock for resurrection.

Or is it the clock unraveled, the numbers flown?

There’s nothing that hasn’t found home there:
discarded wings, lost shoes, a broken alphabet.

Everything but sleep. And night begins

with the first beheading
of the jasmine, its captive fragrance
rid at last of burial clothes.

(Li-Young Lee [source])

and:

The country seems bigger, for you can see through the bare trees. There are times when the woods is absolutely still and quiet. The house holds warmth. A wet snow comes in the night and covers the ground and clings to the trees, making the whole world white. For a while in the morning the world is perfect and beautiful. You think you will never forget.

You think you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them that are equal to them or that can restore them to your mind. And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in this presence.

But you have a life too that you remember. It stays with you. You have lived a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present, and your memories of it, remember now, are of a different life in a different world and time. When you remember the past, you are not remembering it as it was. You are remembering it as it is. It is a vision or a dream, present with you in the present, alive with you in the only time you are alive.

(Wendell Berry [source])

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Pssst! Hey, You. Yes — You. The One with the Brain.

[Video: “7 Myths About The Brain You Thought Were True”]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Is there a single thing in nature
that can approach in mystery
the absolute uniqueness of any human face, first, then
its transformation from childhood to old age—

We are surrounded at every instant
by sights that ought to strike the sane
unbenumbed person tongue-tied, mute
with gratitude and terror. However,

there may be three sane people on earth
at any given time: and if
you got the chance to ask them how they do it,
they would not understand.

I think they might just stare at you
with the embarrassment of pity. Maybe smile
the way you do when children suddenly reveal a secret
preoccupation with their origins, careful not to cause them shame,

on the contrary, to evince the great congratulating pleasure
one feels in the presence of a superior talent and intelligence;
or simply as one smiles to greet a friend who’s waking up,
to prove no harm awaits him, you’ve dealt with and banished all harm.

(Franz Wright [source])

…and:

Something else gets under your skin, keeps you working days and nights at the sacrifice of your sleeping and eating and attention to your family and friends, something beyond the love of puzzle solving. And that other force is the anticipation of understanding something about the world that no one has ever understood before you.

I have experienced that pleasure of discovering something new. It is an exquisite sensation, a feeling of power, a rush of the blood, a sense of living forever. To be the first vessel to hold this new thing.

All of the scientists I’ve known have at least one more quality in common: they do what they do because they love it, and because they cannot imagine doing anything else. In a sense, this is the real reason a scientist does science. Because the scientist must. Such a compulsion is both blessing and burden. A blessing because the creative life, in any endeavor, is a gift filled with beauty and not given to everyone, a burden because the call is unrelenting and can drown out the rest of life.

This mixed blessing and burden must be why the astrophysicist Chandrasekhar continued working until his mid-80’s, why a visitor to Einstein’s apartment in Bern found the young physicist rocking his infant with one hand while doing mathematical calculations with the other. This mixed blessing and burden must have been the “sweet hell” that Walt Whitman referred to when he realized at a young age that he was destined to be a poet. “Never more,” he wrote, “shall I escape.”

(Alan Lightman [source])
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Confused Reality

From whiskey river:

The most interesting thing about the world is its fantastic and unpsychoanalyzed character, its wretched and gallant personality, its horrible idiocy and its magnificent intelligence, its unbelievable cruelty and its equally unbelievable kindness, its gorilla stupor, its canary cheerfulness, its thundering divinity, and its whimpering commonness.

(William Saroyan [source])

and:

The Great Clod belches out breath and its name is wind. So long as it doesn’t come forth, nothing happens. But when it does, then ten thousand hollows begin crying wildly. Can’t you hear them, long and drawn out? In the mountain forests that lash and sway, there are huge trees a hundred spans around with hollows and openings like noses, like mouths, like ears, like jugs, like cups, like mortars, like rifts, like ruts. They roar like waves, whistle like arrows, screech, gasp, cry, wail, moan, and howl, those in the lead calling out yeee!, those behind calling out yuuu! In a gentle breeze they answer faintly, but in a full gale the chorus is gigantic. And when the fierce wind has passed on, then all the hollows are empty again. Have you never seen the tossing and trembling that goes on?

(Chuang Tzu [source])

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Feeling Your Way

Cartoon by David Sipress, from The New Yorker 2000-07-31

[Image: cartoon by David Sipress, from The New Yorker (July 31, 2000). Original here.]

From whiskey river:

Goods

It’s the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; work-weariness,
earned rest; the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
The gayety in the stride
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry.

(Wendell Berry [source])

and:

Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist, there are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges and absorbs the impact.

(Nicole Krauss [source])

and:

298

A monk said, “In the day there is sunlight, at night there is firelight. What is ‘divine light’?”

The master said, “Sunlight, firelight.”

(uncredited [source])

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Here (for Now)

'Too bad about old Ainsworth,' by Barney Tobey in the New Yorker

[Image: cartoon by Barney Tobey in The New Yorker of September 13, 1982 (source)]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

The Sensual World

I call to you across a monstrous river or chasm
to caution you, to prepare you.

Earth will seduce you, slowly, imperceptibly,
subtly, not to say with connivance.

I was not prepared: I stood in my granmother’s kitchen,
holding out my glass. Stewed plums, stewed apricots —

the juice poured off into the glass of ice.
And the water added, patiently, in small increments,

the various cousins discriminating, tasting
with each addition —

aroma of summer fruit, intensity of concentration:
the colored liquid turning gradually lighter, more radiant,

more light passing through it.
Delight, then solace. My grandmother waiting,

to see if more was wanted. Solace, then deep immersion.
I loved nothing more: deep privacy of the sensual life,

the self disappearing into it or inseparable from it,
somehow suspended, floating, its needs

fully exposed, awakened, fully alive —
Deep immersion, and with it

mysterious safety. Far away, the fruit glowing in its glass bowls.
Outside the kitchen, the sun setting.

I was not prepared: sunset, end of summer. Demonstrations
of time as a continuum, as something coming to an end,

not a suspension; the senses wouldn’t protect me.
I caution you as I was never cautioned:

you will never let go, you will never be satiated.
You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.

Your body will age, you will continue to need.
You will want the earth, then more of the earth —

Sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond.
It is encompassing, it will not minister.

Meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you,
it will not keep you alive.

(Louise Glück [source])

and:

Aphorism #33

One of the best means for arousing the wish to work on yourself is to realize that you may die at any moment. But first you must learn how to keep it in mind.

(George Ivanovich Gurdjieff [source])

and (italicized portion):

Sabbaths: VII

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

The sky
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.
What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.

(Wendell Berry [source])

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Midweek Music Break: Melodía Pegadiza, Part 2 (Pérez Prado’s “Patricia,” and the Mambo in General)

Perez Prado, per Mexican cartoonist Saul Herrera, a/k/a 'Qucho'

[Image: Pérez Prado, in the imaginative eyes of the Mexican cartoonist (Saul Herrera) calling himself “Qucho.” I found the image on the Web right away; Qucho, only with some hunting. And I’m not sure this image appears even there, on his blog.]

It’s been a few months now since I posted the first of these Midweek Music Breaks on Latin-music earwigs from the 1950s. That post dealt with “Blue Tango,” by decidedly non-Hispanic classical composer Leroy Anderson. This week, we take a look at one of this genre’s hits penned by the self-styled “Mambo King,” bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado.

First, an (apologetically pedantic) aside about that name: Dámaso was his given name; Pérez, his paternal surname; Prado, his maternal surname. Thus you’ll find many references to him as simply “Pérez Prado” — which “feels,” at least to a native English speaker, like a first/last name combination. For all I know, this was common during his lifetime. Maybe he even got used to it: when someone shouted out “Pérez!” on a street corner, maybe he turned his head more readily than when they called for Dámaso. But really, it’s never quite correct to refer to him as plain-old Prado — like the Spanish national art museum. Speaking from experience, this is harder than it sounds. Nevertheless “Pérez Prado” is right — just like the dark-and-stormy-night author is never called simply Lytton but always Bulwer-Lytton.

Pérez Prado cut something of an exotic figure on the mid-20th century American musical landscape. Born in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1916, he started out studying classical piano. By the 1940s, he had moved entirely into popular Cuban genres, specializing in the rhythm called the mambo.

What exactly is mambo, anyhow? Unfortunately, most of the descriptions of it are cast in terms of other styles which — presumably — you already do know enough about to discuss intelligently. One Joseph Levy, about whom I can report pretty much nothing at all, seems to have taken a special interest in Pérez Prado. At his site, he says of the mambo:

Prado’s conception of the mambo began to develop in 1943. He later said that four, five, and sometimes six musicians would often play after hours jam sessions on the tres (a small Cuban guitar) and the resultant cross rhythms and syncopation give him the idea. Jazz writer and critic Ralph J. Gleason reported that “Prez” talked to him about the mambo as being an Afro-Cuban rhythm with a dash of American swing. According to Prado, the mambo is “more musical and swingier than the rhumba. It has more beat.” He also explained, “I am a collector of cries and noises, elemental ones like seagulls on the shore, winds through the trees, men at work in a foundry. Mambo is a movement back to nature, by means of rhythms based on such cries and noises, and on simple joys.”

…The mambo as we know it today is actually a rhythm whose tempo may be slow or fast, and almost any standard tune can be set to its tempo. The saxophone usually sets the rhythm pattern and the brass carries the melody.

That reference to “cries and noises” and the squawks of seagulls may allude to Pérez Prado’s own style of band leadership. Often, you can hear him grunting aloud as though to punctuate the rhythm; sometimes these grunts are actually exultant variations of the imperative “Dilo!” (“Say it!”) and sometimes they seem — at least to me — just, well, grunts.*

Pérez Prado’s departure from Cuba is sometimes described as though he’d been ridden out of town on a rail, for tainting the purer strains of local music with foreign jazz elements. Well, maybe. Maybe the musical establishment of mid-twentieth-century Cuba was fiery, conservative, nativist; maybe people really did (still do) work themselves up into a frenzy of distaste over such matters, and not just in Cuba. What seems more likely, given what we could later tell of Pérez Prado’s ambitions: he just felt too constrained by a narrow — oh, say, island-sized — popularity, and left on his own. Whatever the case may be, when he left, he left for Mexico. And except for his big but fairly brief success in the US, from then on he seemed to present himself as a citizen of Mexico rather than Cuba.

His first introduction to US audiences came via across-the-border radio broadcasts from Mexico. He had a big hit there with a number called “Que Rico del Mambo,” which was repackaged and -recorded by American bandleader Sonny Burke as “Mambo Jambo.” That song’s success first brought Pérez Prado to the US.

“Patricia,” in 1958, was the last of Pérez Prado’s releases to reach #1 on US charts. To characterize it as infectious (as I, at least, am tempted to do) is to gloss over the recording’s supreme oddness. The orchestra’s swing is punctuated not so much by its leader’s vocal cries — it doesn’t seem to feature any of them — as by weird little bursts of horns and percussion which almost suggest to me a burp, or the compressed-lips Pppppbbbfffflllt! of a raspberry/”Bronx cheer.” But the tune itself seems to pinpoint a moment in time, in pop culture, captured by Federico Fellini in La Dolce Vita:

In [1960], even the composer Nino Rota would turn to mambo, reworking “Patricia” (Perez Prado) for the La Dolce Vita soundtrack. The song is used on several occasions, including in the “orgy” scene… As [the character of Nadia] prepares to take it all off, an inebriated guest calls for some “Middle Eastern music.” But in a truly exotica moment, the hi-fi needle falls into the groove of “Patricia.”

[source]

If you’re not familiar with that scene in the film, here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

To celebrate her recent divorce from Riccardo, Nadia performs a striptease to Pérez Prado’s cha-cha [JES: ???] “Patricia.” The drunken Marcello attempts to provoke the other partygoers into an orgy. Due to their inebriated states, however, the party descends into mayhem with Marcello throwing pillow feathers around the room as he rides a young woman crawling on her hands and knees.

(Ah, the early Sixties…) Of course, you can see this scene on YouTube, starting at around 3:55 into that seven-plus-minute clip.

Anyhow, here’s “Patricia,” as recorded by Pérez Prado’s own orchestra in 1958:

[Below, click Play button to begin Patricia. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:05 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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Cut the Now, and Dance

[Video from the PBS Blank on Blank series of animated “vintage [and previously unheard] interviews” with various celebrities. Others currently include, e.g., Jim Morrison on “Why Fat is Beautiful” (1969) and Dave Brubeck on “Fighting Communism with Jazz” (2008)]

From whiskey river:

Ours is a planet sown in beings. Our generations overlap like shingles. We don’t fall in rows like hay, but we fall. Once we get here, we spend forever on the globe, most of it tucked under. While we breathe, we open time like a path in the grass. We open time as a boat’s stem slits the crest of the present.

(Annie Dillard [source])

…and:

But it is never over; nothing ends until we want it to.
Look, in shattered midnights,
On black ice under silver trees, we are still dancing, dancing.

(Gwendolyn MacEwen [source])

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Spirits Tossed, Lost, Messed Up, Redeemed

[Lyrics here; see additional notes at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river (which seems to have had a rough week):

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.

(Philip Roth [source])

and:

Willow flowers, snowflakes, the same . . .
They’re feckless.

No matter whose garden they fall in,
They’ll always follow the wind away.

(Yuan Mei [source])

and:

What does it feel like to be alive?

Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, bangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly back up, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. Can you breathe here? Here where the force is the greatest and only the strength of your neck holds the river out of your face. Yes, you can breathe even here. You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling!

It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation’s short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit.

(Annie Dillard [source])

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