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Archive for September, 2011

The Greatest Speech Ever Made

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Spring
Spring is Edenic—all of the ancient cultures yearn for the lost paradise or “golden age” 
which is described as a recurring rebirth. What they are really after is the bliss of 
childhood, rarely captured as poetically as in 
Paradjanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors or Malick’s Tree of Life.




Summer
I concur with De Quincey in Suspiria de Profundis when he discerns that death 
is, subtly, more pronounced in summertime 
(not the finality of winter--a lingering malaise.)  
It is also, linked to this, an urge to escape.  Antonioni and Wenders both capture this 
hollow, fleeting emptiness of summer 
and the limbo its travelers are perpetually caught within.





Autumn
Autumn is the turning towards love (or the lack thereof), a longing for romance 
crystallized in the boyhood adolescent fantasies of Fellini's Amarcord.  
And it is the turning away from others to face the inner self 
and its recollections and regrets.  
This is crystallized in The Double Life of Veronique.





Winter
Winter is, of course, associated with death as it is the death of the year.  
On a more submerged level, though, winter deepens the return to one's core 
which unfolds in autumn.  
In winter one finally is face-to-face with the sublime infinite void 
and the meaning of home, 
represented, respectively, in the vastness of the primeval Siberian wilderness 
in Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala and the sacred climbing of the mount 
and snowflakes surrounding birth in Brakhage's Dog Star Man.



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Lost Harvest

Dry skin hangs from hollow bones

 

Eyes vacant

 

Gray September rain

Gives no harvest

This time ’round

 

Remove my voice

So that I can truly speak

Take away my words

So that I may truly listen

 

Wash out these rusted thoughts

Make them clean as spring onions

 

No growth 

Without decay

 

Yet still no moss

Has gathered

Upon this bleached stone

 

Still no golden barley

Sprouts in this parched clearing

 

And still the hunger gnaws

 

The belly’s whimpers

Do not cease

The heart’s murmurs

Cry ever onward

The soul’s sickness

Remains in the roots

 

Purify these apples rotten

 

So we will offer up

A new cup

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“My love, I am the speed of sound/I left them motherless, fatherless/Their souls dangling inside out from their mouths/But it’s never enough/I want you/I’ve waited/With a glacier’s patience/Smashed every transformer with every trailer/Till nothing was standing/65 miles wide/Still you are nowhere/Still you are nowhere/Nowhere in sight/Come out to meet me/Run out to meet me/Come into the light,” the stormy siren Neko Case sings in her most recent album, 2009’s Middle Cyclone.  She’s anything but typical, choosing to sing abstract narratives and poetic lyrics, eschewing traditional verse-chorus-verse structure and the usual topics, such as love.  When she does sing about love, as in the aforementioned album opener “This Tornado Loves You”, it’s from the perspective of a destructive force of nature wreaking havoc in its quest to find its other half.  Some critics and audiences wish Ms. Case would yield her more abstruse wordplay in favor of a straight-ahead song.  Listen to the track which follows “This Tornado Loves You”:  “The next time you say forever/I will punch you in your face.”  This appears very direct.

If looking for that early rock’n’roll sound, the same impetus which drove the garage rock revival in the early 2000s and the march of popular music, in general, all one needs to do is dig out her concert The Tigers Have Spoken, arguably the best live album of the past decade.  Most live albums serve as filler between studio releases and/or offer nothing more than the same songs recycled for the contentment of fans.  What about the art of the live album as an experience that stands the test of time?  Almost all performers have to start out in small dives (bands first break out in small local venues) yet this authenticity and excitement is rarely captured in most live albums.  Live albums are more likely to be released after musicians have conquered theaters and stadiums.  As a result, the set lists are all-too-often bloated ego trips, whether consisting of grandstanding image stroking or never-ending jams.  Plus, there’s no connection to the fabled past.  It’s as if the concert existed in a stuffy vacuum.

None of those charges can be leveled at The Tigers Have Spoken.  33 1/3 clocking in at a breezy 33 minutes and covering a diverse array of genres (folk, girl group pop, garage rock, country, gospel, blues, and Neko & her backing band’s own noirish, late-nite Americana), this concert is an exception to the rule.  She belts out a folk ballad about goin’ to the ball (Buffy Ste. Marie’s “Soulful Shade of Blue”), swoops over a locomotive-chuggin’ rhythm (the Shangri-Las’ “Train From Kansas City”), puts on a punk swagger (“Loretta”), twangs and winks slyly (Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X”), and takes it back to the ol’ church and dusty trail (“This Little Light” & “Wayfaring Stranger”).  She breathes new life into these forgotten relics of classic American songwriting.  Of course, that’s not all.  She croons nocturnal tales, melancholy existential questions (“Favorite”) and haunting snapshots (“Blacklisted”), which beg to be heard at closing time in a rundown bar.

Neko Case is, at the end of the day, a nature lover–letting bird song from a nest in a nook make its way onto a track (“Polar Nettles”), as well as tacking on a field recording of frogs at the end of Middle Cyclone.  It crops up in her album/song titles (Fox Confessor Brings The Flood), lyrics, and in her personal philosophy.  She knows that we’re all animals at heart yet try to hide or deny this simple fact with our human wiles.  In the end, this makes us less honest and realistic than we could be.  Her music is that of a rolling stone which has gathered moss.  Her voice is always inspiring and inviting us to go back and hear mother earth.  It’s rare in today’s age of disposable commodities.  Neko Case demands repeated listens and rewards you with “the tiniest sparks and the tenderest sounds.”

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The first cool day in September is a breath of fresh air.  Too much summer makes everything stagnant—whether it is the dry, dead grass or the pushy behavior between people caused by heat.  The first intimations of autumn elicit a calm joyousness alien to the more aggressive adulations of summer.  When these cool breezes are accompanied by the blessing of golden sunshine, individuals are inclined towards seeking a different sort of experience than the raucous riling of summer.  As farmers tend towards the immemorial task of gathering in the harvest, some tend to their own gardens.

The garden in one’s own yard can not only display flowers yet also cultivate healing herbs and edible vegetables.  The community garden can replace the soulless shopping centers with better communication between neighbors and healthier, more valuable food.  The fourth kind of garden (not decorative, herbal/vegetable, or community) is the focus of this piece.  It is the public botanical garden.

In childhood, the deepest spiritual experience and preservation of innocence is the sense of exploration and of inhabiting a hideaway, a sacred space, from the grown-up world.  This same experience can still exist for adults in the public botanical garden.  The intriguing discovery of the plethora of plants surrounding on every side; the wide-eyed appreciation of wildlife when a fluorescent blue butterfly, out of nowhere, flits atop the clambering vines wrapping round a tree or a chestnut brown chipmunk scurries beneath the fairy bells creeping near the feet; the serene admiration of the artist or the architect when passing various fountains, statues, sitting spots, and hidden pathways.

Perhaps the greatest Eastern poet, Matsuo Basho, discerned the origin of art is “to be one with nature, throughout the four seasons of the year.”  Since not everyone can participate in the ancient agricultural year or be a mystic, the public botanical garden is an accessible contemplation of the cycle.  As an illustration of how a garden can embody the seasons, it is interesting to observe how the Missouri Botanical Garden is demarcated.

The open vastness of the Japanese garden (Seiwa-en):  the curvature of the lake, the Zen sand patterns, and the lanes dotted with lanterns, bridges, and fruit trees summons the spirit of spring with the archetype of the cherry blossoms at dawn and the ephemerality of lovers strolling along at night.

The picturesque miniaturizations of the English woodland garden:  streams trickling underneath small rock archways and over pebbles until becoming tiny waterfalls or collecting into pools, winding stepping stones, and cleverly placed benches and tables offer shady rest and relaxation in the midst of a hot summer day.

The meditative insularity of the Chinese garden (Grigg Nanjing):  the stately Chinese scholar’s rocks and moon/lotus gates donated as gifts from Nanjing, the sister city of St. Louis (the first sister city between the U.S. & China); willows swaying in the wind over a glassy pond in which submerged coy can be seen to surface from time to time, circular mosaics (one of Yin-Yang) carved into the tiles beneath the feet, perfect pavilion viewpoint from which to study this realm of retreat (inspiration for a photographer, painter, or poet) or simply absorb the last light of the evening gives an autumnal ambiance.

The quiet and quizzical detachment of the hedge maze and nearby landmarks:  the verdant maze itself with its twists and turns, the lighthouse looking observatory where those in the maze can be seen from a height which gives the game a surreal distance, founder Henry Shaw’s mausoleum within which the white effigy tomb is enshrined, another shrine of sorts with a goddess staring mysteriously into the void—this last edge of the garden contains the strange melancholy which marks winter.

So what does the garden mean for you?

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