Thanks for visiting my blog.
I'm posting my photos, poems and other writings here, along with news about my readings and publications.
I also plan to make available the sound files of my radio show, Across the Borderline, which has aired for six years on WBCR-lp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Paul Motian is inescapably linked for me with the pianist Bill Evans. And it was Jon who introduced me to the music of Bill Evans. It was on a day when we were washing our clothes in the machines in the basement of the New Men's Dorm at Reed College. We had brought my portable record player down to listen to jazz albums while we processed the laundry. Jon had an album by clarinetist Tony Scott, and he told me to check out the pianist on the session, an up and coming player named Bill Evans who was attracting a lot of attention on the NY City scene. I listened and liked what I heard—fast single note runs a la Tristano.
After my sophomore year, I returned to San Diego, and that summer I bought a recently released Bill Evans trio album, Explorations. I loved everything about it, especially the interpretation of a Miles Davis tune, "Nardis" and the tune"Israel," which I had heard on Miles' Birth of the Cool album. I saw that the bass player was Scott LeFaro and the drummer Paul Motian. I hadn't heard of either of them, but I liked the fluid way the trio worked together and LeFaro and Evans wove in and out and sometimes became co-soloists. I thought Motian's style was interesting and a little idiosyncratic, not at all like the drummers I was listening to—Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Philly Joe Jones.
Then three years later I made my first trip to NY City. I went to the Village Vanguard on Seventh Avenue South with friends of mine to hear the Bill Evans trio. Motian was on drums, but LeFaro had died in an auto crash and been replaced by Chuck Israels. Hearing the trio live was an amazing experience. It was a weeknight with a relatively light crowd, and during a break between sets I was surprised to see Evans sitting by himself at a table. I went over and sat down across from him. I told him how much I loved his music and how much I was enjoying it that evening. He was quiet and very agreeable; he didn't say anything, he just looked kind of blissed out. (I didn't know about his heroin habit at that time.)
Fast forward to forty years later. My daughter Colomba and I arrived at the Vanguard early and got a front row seat to hear Motian, guitarist Bill Frisell and tenor saxist Joe Lovano. When Frisell took his place on the bandstand, we were right under his guitar. It was a beautiful musical evening. I was watching the social and musical interplay between the musicians. Lovano and Motian exchanged smiles when Frisell went off into one of his spacey solos. During a break I told Motian that I had seen him play with Evans at this club. He just nodded.
Then in February 2010, I took my partner Karen to the Blue Note in NY to hear Frisell leading a group with Ron Carter on bass and Motian. We stayed for two sets, getting great seats for the second set, up by the bandstand in front of Motian's drums. That night I really heard everything he was doing and realized what an incredible drummer he was. Karen and I were blown away by the sheer musicianship of the trio.
After the last set was over, we were walking through the club in a cluster with Frisell, and I realized I needed to go to the bathroom. As I went up the stairs, Motian was coming down. He was energized and moving quickly. I said to him, "You were great!"
Motian smiled and answered without skipping a beat, "I was, wasn't I."
That is the last image I have of Paul Motian.
Friday, November 11, 2011
On November 17 Karen and I went down to the city to Gallery Henoch in Chelsea to the opening of a show by our friend and neighbor, painter Janet Rickus. Her work was beautifully displayed and lighted. Timeless still lives of vegetables and ceramics. Incredibly vibrant colors.
Gallery Henoch is located at 555 West 25th Street. The show will run through December 10.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
In one of her workshops Bernadette told us to write a poem about nothing. So I wrote this—
They’re having a pow-wow in Poway. While David Byrnes
his britches behind him, sits out on a limb,
brewing coffee thru conical filters,
random driplets, splash arrays, operations?
The lonesome cowpoke clutched his bedroll,
wishing real hard
it was a woman. Only make believe,
he humped as he sang—a humpback whale
beached on low topographical relief.
You get so alone (thank you, Buk)
at night on the prairie
even the prairie dogs
He blundered into a clearing where the brush was cut back—
there he was, facing his wife. He spun back around
quick like, into the forest
looking for the grizzly who was chasing him.
Hare Krishna, I follow the Mishna into the Tora Bora caves.
Make mine Michelangelo. Lying on his back
under the beamer, maneuvering
on a three wheeled creeper,
he was touched by the Divine Creator,
the differential in his greasy hands.
This poem ends here. We’ve reached the end time,
end of the line on this train to the sublime
boneyard. Aliens are fallen angels,
ancient progenitors, breathing
our history. Believe this bright lie,
and the radiant antichrist
shines like a searchlight
from his luminous throne
in the windshield sky.
© 2007 Phil Johnson
Bernadette looked at it and said, “That’s not about nothing.” She told me to go back and do it again. So I splattered the first poem against the wall, and I put the pieces back together. This is the result—
Aliens are fallen Michelangelos, they shine in the brush.
Lonely cowboy at night on his bedroll, wishing real hard it was all rolled back and he was facing Phoenix.
You get so alone, lonesome cowpoke (thank you, Buk). Maneuvers on his back, under the beamer, luminous throne, bright flotations.
So alone (thank you bright lie). Aliens are falling angels. Ancient progenitors, breathing in celestial realms. Only make believe, at the end of the prairie, chance events, operations, only make no sense, spun back like fictions.
I’ll show you operations. See the difference in his bright lie. And the captain says: I can sail it.
I’m sucking this scary shiver me timbers, random drops above the prairie, even the tailing plane? goes down my chest.
Scatter this sand where the ship falls searching for prairie dogs, scars down a cactus. Shunt shines like a searchlight.
Flash flood, follow this flight to the end time, end time. Dial the Divine space line.
Then the crash, luminous three where we smash arrays, quick like, sucking light out a cactus. Into the clearing—Krishna, Krishna.
Boots on, he blunders into the radiant. The lonesome cowpoke ends, clutching flotation. We’ve reached his bright see-through desert.
We beached his britches behind him, sitting on history. Bequeath his bedroll to the humpback whale, wishing away, facing the differential, facing the phosphorescent throne.
The lonesome cowpoke clutching his bedroll falling from poem ends here. We’ve reached the bright lie, and a straw. Roll out the three wheeled creeper.
Hare Krishna to the brush he cleared.
Hare Krishna to the windshield sky.
© 2007 Phil Johnson
The floor covering—marbled pattern I measured, cut, laid down
15 years ago in our bathroom: sepia clouds inside squares.
One section now a strange glaring red where sun radiated
through the skylight.
If you look at it like a child seeking visions in a cumulus sky,
there's a fish lying on its side, no longer undulating
through the river—caught and beached, its weight
pressing a fragile, scaled image into the sand.
Outside the frame, the angler is already casting his line
back into the bubbling waters running through the morning.
Here's a human face, cumulo nimbus forehead, shadowy
indentation at the temple, the nose a hazy triangle, the mouth caught between opening and closing. The eyes impossible to decipher. Emptied of feeling after some terrible conflict with wife or lover? Hearts shredded by rage?
Or does he anticipate a crossroads, gazing through the heavens
to divine what steps he should take? He and she
living in parallel layers as they shear apart. Knowing
he may need to make an irreversible decision.
I glance in the mirror. When I look back at the sepia sky,
the face is gone.
© 1997 Phil Johnson
Here is the link to Trembling Pillow Press, where good buddy Dave Brinks holds forth: http://tremblingpillowpress.com/
On November 17 Bernadette will be reading from her recently released book Ethics of Sleep. Go to http://tremblingpillowpress.com/ethicsofsleep.html
On the same date Phil will be reading from his new book.
I got an email from Bernadette Mayer’s partner, Phil Good. He said his longtime friend from Jersey Bill DeNoyelles had written a great review of Bernadette’s recently published Studying Hunger Journals. I could find it on the Exquisite Corpse web site:
After the book was released, I had invited Bernadette and Phil to be on my radio show, Across the Borderline, on WBCR-lp, where we talked and then read some of the book’s incredible passages.
I called Bill and told him I loved his essay. I told Phil G that Karen and I wanted to have a celebratory dinner for Bernadette at our place in Great Barrington. On November 5, Bernadette, Phil, and Brenda Coultas and her partner Atticus came over. We called Bill DeNoyelles and everyone had a chance to gab with him.
At the table I said how gratifying it was to have my two teachers at there (I took Brenda’s workshop at the Poetry Project and Bernadette’s workshops at her home). Two writers whose work I love and respect. We toasted Bernadette.
Then we ate the delicious dinner that Karen had prepared, and the conversations wound their way from the Occupy Wall Street movement—with Atticus and Brenda recounting their visits to Liberty Square—to Area 51, Roswell, and the possible presence of aliens and UFOs.
It was noted that Trembling Pillow Press in New Orleans is releasing Phil G’s new book of poems Untitled Writings from a Member of the Blank Generation. Bernadette and Phil are going down to NO to do a reading.
Eventually the guests toddled on out to their cars, heading home to Woodstock and East Nassau.
For my October 17 birthday my partner Karen and I took the train down to the city and got together with my daughter Colomba. We went to an amazing four hour play by one of my favorite off-off Broadway experimental theater companies, Elevator Repair Service. They presented a deconstruction of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which they called The Select.
I have loved the work of ERS since 2002, when Richard Foreman’s production manager Josh Briggs told me about their production of Room Tone at P.S. 122. Since then I’ve seen their versions of Gatz, No Great Society, and The Sound and the Fury.
After the play we went to a delightful little restaurant called Home on Cornelia Street in the West Village for a birthday dinner.