Mingus directed by Thomas Reichman in 1968 is a film that is much more than a music documentary about Charles Mingus. It digs deep into what was like to be Black, a genius, broke and living in America in the Sixties.
On the music tip, there’s plenty of terrific footage of Mingus playing that bass. And there’s plenty of substance in Mingus who had an incredible mind and who refused to shut up in the face of a culture designed to keep him in his place or deny him any place at all.
Mingus has been available in segments on YouTube. Here it is in uninterrupted form.
This vintage Neiman Marcus ad from their 1972 Christmas catalog is, in a word, disturbing. While it’s a obliviously not meant to be taken seriously (trolling their own customers has long been a custom at Neiman’s), it’s still a rather creepy image.
“Full-dimensional, life-size, reasonable facsimiles of you, or your favourite other person.”
“I have a long history of being told I have no rhythm, and of people saying ‘I’ve heard chickens sing better than that’.”—Mary Margaret O’Hara
Although it’s probably true to say that in her status as a micro-cult artist she is somewhat considerably less known, at least in terms of name recognition and general popularity—and most certainly in terms of how prolific she’s (not) been—than, say, Daniel Johnston (or even Jandek), the fan devotion that has been bestowed upon oddball Canadian chanteuse Mary Margaret O’Hara is no less intense.
In fact, O’Hara’s fans are some of the most devoted followers of any eccentric musical artist on the planet, period, and some have been known to travel to abroad to see her rare live performances that have been described as “life-changing.” I know two people, one male, one female, who fall into the mega-hardcore, love that knows no boundaries category of Mary Margaret O’Hara worshipers.
O’Hara’s reputation rests, almost entirely, on her now twenty-five-year-old Miss America album, the 1988 release that has seen its reputation grow steadily over the years, but that you could pick up for less than a buck in cut-out bins the year of it came out (I bought my copy for 50 cents). To say that Miss America is a quirky album is like saying Syd Barrett was merely a lil’ bit “different.” A decent short-hand for O’Hara’s ultra-distinctive, highly original sound would be to (maybe, sorta, kinda) say that it’s not unlike Meredith Monk fronting a jazz/folk/blues combo with a gospel influence. O’Hara’s swooping, soaring, anxious vocals emerge from her lungs as mutant, almost incontinent, skat singing that often seems caught in her windpipe before it’s hiccup’d out and released like butterflies. She has been called an “epileptic Edith Piaf” and there is a deep truth in that description as she shudders and shakes during a performance like she’s possessed, in equal measure it would seem, by demons and angels. Suffice to say, her entire presentation and artistic gestalt isn’t for everyone, but O’Hara’s art has never, ever had “popularity” (let alone record sales) as a goal.
Based on some demos that she’d recorded in the early 80s, Virgin signed O’Hara to a “do whatever you want” deal in 1983 and put XTC’s Andy Partridge in the producer’s chair where he lasted all of a single day. It took five years before she turned in Miss America only to have the label fret “What have you done?”
Since 1988, Mary Margaret O’Hara has recorded just a Christmas EP, a film soundtrack and made several guest performances on other people’s projects (she did background vocals, for instance on Morrissey’s “November Spawned a Monster”). She’s also an actor with a considerable onscreen presence, but unlike her sister, comic actress Catherine O’Hara (SCTV, Home Alone) Mary Margaret seems to have no real career drive and perhaps some emotional issues that are often broadly hinted at in articles that have been written about the singer (For her part, O’Hara dismisses all the “Mad Margaret” talk: “If I’m nuts, it’s my birthright to be myself.” I find that attitude terribly admirable).
In recent years O’Hara has been seen much more often performing onstage in Canada (as you can see from a growing assortment of YouTube clips). She was featured at Hal Wilner’s big 2005 Leonard Cohen concert in Dublin (she sang a duet of “Hallelujah” with Gavin Friday—now that must’ve been a real treat), the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival that was curated by The Dirty Three in 2007, in performances of Tom Waits and William S. Buroughs’ The Black Rider and last year she appeared at a Nick Drake tribute concert. She always seems to be up for singing Christmas songs.
Above, “When You Know Why You’re Happy” on Night Music in 1989.
“Don’t Be Afraid” from Hal Wilner’s 1997 Kurt Weil tribute, September Songs.
Sesame Street has always dealt with social realities with a frank and sympathetic voice, from folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie explaining breastfeeding to Big Bird, to Jesse Jackson’s impassioned “I am Somebody” speech (seriously, that one’s a kick right in the old working-class ovaries). A few days ago the beloved children’s institution released an online toolkit for educators and families to help children deal with having a parent who is incarcerated.
The American Prison Industrial Complex (which is becoming quite a cash cow for a select few 1%ers) holds 25% of the world’s prisoners, though we only make up 5% of the world’s population. We jail more people than any other country in the world. One out of 28 children in America have a parent in prison, and it goes without saying that it’s both traumatic and difficult for a child to understand.
It would seem that helping a child deal with that sort of trauma would be a completely unobjectionable project, but Meredith Jessup at Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze, seems to think Sesame Street failed by not explicitly portraying law-breakers as wrong-doers.
As Liz reported yesterday, PBS’ “Sesame Street” is moving on from ABCs and 123s to offer its young audience bigger life lessons, including coping strategies for when mom and/or dad winds up in the slammer.
At the show’s site, “tool kits” offer tips for caregivers, including explaining the concept of incarceration in a kid-friendly way. I was particularly struck by this one:
“When explaining where an incarcerated parent is, you can say, “Daddy is in a place called prison (or jail) for a while. Grownups sometimes go to prison when they break a rule called a law.”
Is it me or does this make it seem like jail time is par for the course?
It’s nice that Sesame Street has stepped forward to try and help kids left behind by parents serving time. Being removed from a parent can be seriously traumatic for kids and lend itself to developmental problems of their own. These are kids who need support.
That said, however, I’ve watched each of the videos produced by Sesame Workshop for the campaign. It strikes me that there’s no real advice offered for teaching kids lessons in right vs. wrong; there’s no guide for driving conversations about what crime has been committed and/or how mommy or daddy could have acted differently. Instead, the focus seems to be on alleviating the stigma attached to having a parent in prison.
Which would be absolutely terrible, wouldn’t it?
It’s essential to be supportive of innocent kids caught in these terrible situations, but I think it’s just as important to make sure they have the tools needed to avoid the same fate as their parents — a moral education and established expectations of responsibility. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem like we’re doing this kids any great service.
Oh, for sure. Discussing a complex and incredibly unjust legal system that disproportionately jails black, Latino, and/or poor men is totally appropriate for an eight-year-old. Destigmatizing incarceration would simply make the child feel better about themselves and their family, and we can’t possibly have that, now can we? We should really be pulling children aside and calmly explain to them that their Daddy is a terrible person because he got caught with a baggie of weed.
Congratulations, Meredith Jessup, you are officially the worst person in the world (at least for this morning).
Last week there was the horrible lady berating a Dunkin’ Donuts employee over an alleged receipt oversight, and now there’s this fire-breathing dickwad berating a Wendy’s drive-thru employee over a hamburger. You see, he didn’t want cheese on his hamburger so his response is… totally reasonable!
Like I’ve said before in prior posts, I’ve worked in the customer service industry and minimum wage is simply not enough to endure this particular breed of asshole. There’s no excuse for this stuff. No need to believe in a concept like “karma” to wish that his fast food purchases forevermore be spit upon by those he mistreats.
Dear lord, my brain was just scrambled, then fried, and then scrambled again with cheese, onions and a side order of LSD while watching this 60-second Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas homage by 1A4STUDIO.
One of the YouTube commenters is asking for a minute-long version of The Big Lebowski. That would be good, too.
Whenever listening to Leonard Cohen’s “The Story of Isaac”—a song in which war is conceived of as the semi-ritual sacrifice of a younger generation by an older one a la the Biblical myth— I have always savored its mysterious last line.
“Have mercy on our uniform,
Man of peace or man of war, The peacock spreads his fan.”
In 1968, when Leonard Cohen came to record it for Songs from a Room, he had already seen an impressive amount of action for someone whose name remains a byword for tremulous introspection. Not only had Cohen made a point of visiting Cuba during the fall of Batista (purportedly as a kind of freelance revolutionary), but he had also made a beeline for Israel during the Six-Day War, where he hooked up with an “air force entertainment group” and performed for soldiers going into battle! Cohen’s experience on (or relatively near) the front line was apparently a very rewarding one:
“War is wonderful. They’ll never stamp it out. It’s one of the few times people can act their best. It’s so economical in terms of gesture and motion, every single gesture is precise, every effort is at its maximum. Nobody goofs off. Everybody is responsible for his brother.”
The kind of conflict alluded to in the “The Story of Isaac,” though, sounds closer in type to the Vietnam War, which pitched, to an arguably unique degree, the old—who waged it—against the young—who fought in and against it. In 1974, Cohen expanded on the concept behind the song:
“One of the reasons we do have wars periodically is so the older men can have the women. Also, to completely remove the competition in terms of their own institutional positions.”
It’s an especially dark idea, this, that behind the draft and the domino effect and the military industrial complex, lurked (and forever lurks) an aging establishment’s instinct to safeguard its tribal, reproductive privileges—shipping off the emergent generation to distant killing fields.
That Cohen was apparently thinking in the above quasi-Darwinian terms inclines me to think that (as I’ve long suspected) the song’s last line—“The peacock spreads its fan”—is intended to evoke or echo Darwin’s famous misgiving: “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!”
Darwin’s point is widely taken to refer to the egregious impracticality of a peacock’s fan, as being inhospitable to the notion of natural selection. The paradox of the peacock’s fan can be applied to the paradox of war—surely both should by now have condemned their native species to extinction. Or inevitably will,
Today is Bloomsday—the day that commemorates and celebrates the life and works of James Joyce across the world.
Bloomsday is the day on which the events of Joyce’s most famous novel Ulysses take place, June 16th, 1904. This is also the date on which Joyce first stepped out with his future wife, Nora Barnacle, to stroll around the city of Dublin.
To celebrate Bloomsday, here is James Joyce reading Episode Seven: “Aeolus” from Ulysses. This recording was made in 1924, on the insistence of Sylvia Beach, proprietor of the Parisian bookshop Shakespeare & Co. and publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses. As the recording is rather basic, a transcription of the extract is been included of below.
— Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: Great was my admiration in listening to the remarks addressed to the youth of Ireland a moment since by my learned friend. It seemed to me that I had been transported into a country far away from this country, into an age remote from this age, that I stood in ancient Egypt and that I was listening to the speech of some highpriest of that land addressed to the youthful Moses.
His listeners held their cigarettes poised to hear, their smoke ascending in frail stalks that flowered with his speech. And let our crooked smokes. Noble words coming. Look out. Could you try your hand at it yourself?
— And it seemed to me that I heard the voice of that Egyptian highpriest raised in a tone of like haughtiness and like pride. I heard his words and their meaning was revealed to me.
FROM THE FATHERS
It was revealed to me that those things are good which yet are corrupted which neither if they were supremely good nor unless they were good could be corrupted. Ah, curse you! That’s saint Augustine.
— Why will you jews not accept our culture, our religion and our language? You are a tribe of nomad herdsmen; we are a mighty people. You have no cities nor no wealth: our cities are hives of humanity and our galleys, trireme and quadrireme, laden with all manner merchandise furrow the waters of the known globe. You have but emerged from primitive conditions: we have a literature, a priesthood, an agelong history and a polity.
Child, man, effigy.
By the Nilebank the babemaries kneel, cradle of bulrushes: a man supple in combat: stonehorned, stonebearded, heart of stone.
— You pray to a local and obscure idol: our temples, majestic and mysterious, are the abodes of Isis and Osiris, of Horus and Ammon Ra. Yours serfdom, awe and humbleness: ours thunder and the seas. Israel is weak and few are her children: Egypt is an host and terrible are her arms. Vagrants and daylabourers are you called: the world trembles at our name.
A dumb belch of hunger cleft his speech. He lifted his voice above it boldly:
— But, ladies and gentlemen, had the youthful Moses listened to and accepted that view of life, had he bowed his head and bowed his will and bowed his spirit before that arrogant admonition he would never have brought the chosen people out of their house of bondage nor followed the pillar of the cloud by day. He would never have spoken with the Eternal amid lightnings on Sinai’s mountaintop nor ever have come down with the light of inspiration shining in his countenance and bearing in his arms the tables of the law, graven in the language of the outlaw.