A few words from Vladimir Nabokov

I recently finished Nabokov’s autobiography Speak, Memory. I feel like I understood most of it. With Nabokov there’s always a vague sense of embarrassment, even annoyance, that his writing in English — which is not even his native language, mind you — seems to be pitched at people with a level of literacy above my own. Forget about feeling in any way competitive with him as a writer; I’m talking about the struggle for basic comprehension on a survival level.

And then you come across a paragraph like this one, and what can you do but shake your head and bow in reverence?

Whenever in my dreams I see the dead, they always appear silent, bothered, strangely depressed, quite unlike their dear, bright selves. I am aware of them, without any astonishment, in surroundings they never visited during their earthly existence, in the house of some friend of mine they never knew. They sit apart, frowning at the floor, as if death were a dark taint, a shameful family secret. It is certainly not then – not in dreams – but when one is wide awake, at moments of robust joy and achievement, on the highest terrace of consciousness, that mortality has a chance to peer beyond its own limits, from the mast, from the past and its castle tower. And although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow the blissful feeling that one is looking in the right direction.

Song of the Week, 10/26/2019

As we count down to Halloween and impeachment, this song from CCR’s 1969 album Green River seems appropriate to the moment, both chronologically and politically. With its dark subject matter and top-quality riffage, it’s every bit the equal of “Bad Moon Rising,” only a lot less overexposed.

It’s also fun to imagine that it’s actually called “Sinister Porpoise,” and go with the mental pictures prompted thereby. Try it, you’ll like it.

Song of the Week, 10/6/2019

Word came across the transom today of the departure from this realm of Ginger Baker, drummer extraordinaire. Although most of the obits led with Cream, a great band to be sure, that was only about three years of his 50-year-plus career. He also played with everyone from Brit jazzbos the Graham Bond Organization and Afrobeat godhead Fela Kuti, to Hawkwind and his own Ginger Baker’s Air Force, to post-punk bands like Masters of Reality and Johnny Lydon’s Public Image, Ltd.

Here he is adding a relentless, pile-driving rhythm to PiL’s “FFF,” circa 1986. Say what you will about Ginger — subject of the aptly named 2012 documentary Beware of Mr. Baker — he was a force.

Song of the Week, 9/21/2019

The great and powerful Ric Ocasek left us this week, and we are all the poorer for it. Ocasek was not just a rock legend, not just an esteemed producer, but also a genuinely funny person who had become a late-night comedy staple.

The justly beloved first Cars album was full of hits, but “I’m in Touch with Your World” was not one of them. In fact when I first owned the record, on vinyl back in the day, I would go out of my way to lift the needle and skip over it; it was just too strange, too spiky, too different. Now it’s my favorite song on the album, and it is, indeed, a lovely way to go.

Song of the Week, 7/28/2019

This is one of my personal theme songs. It pretty much captures what I sound like when someone asks me what I do. “I don’t know… but I do it every day….”

And while we’re on the subject, here’s a quote I saved from the recent obituary of pianist Jörg Demus. To be honest I’d never heard of him before that, but he sounds like my kind of guy.

I do not have a career. I’m a person who had a life to live. I am leaving “careers” to other people. A career is like a racetrack for horses — I’m neither a horse nor am I running on a racetrack.

A Clearly More Sinister Dimension

A few days ago I started J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, a 1975 dystopian novel set in a London apartment tower. A paragraph in I was nodding to myself and mumbling, “Now that’s one hell of an opening.”

Imagine my surprise at scrolling the Twitter today and seeing it again, but in a new context.

Song of the Week, 7/14/2019

Somehow or other I mostly missed Blur when they were happening. My first Blur album was their fifth, the self-titled one that came out in 1997. It was only later that I went back and explored their earlier stuff, and some of it fell through the cracks… like this one from 1995’s The Great Escape.

What a smashing number. I particularly like the unconventional structure, the way what appears to be the chorus — “there must be more to life/than stereotypes” — shifts into a chorus-within-the-chorus, the “all your life you’re dreaming” part, and then back. I listened to this song at least once every day this week, and I’m not tired of it yet.

6/13/2019: Raptors 114, Warriors 110

Yup.

If beauty were indeed truth, and truth beauty, I would be sitting here right now writing about how Steph Curry hit a buzzer-beater last night to send the NBA Finals to Game 7. That is undoubtedly the better story.

Things were all set up for it to happen. The Raptors, nursing a 1-point lead in the waning seconds, committed a horrible turnover to give the W’s one last shot. Steph received the pass, got a good look at the basket, and let it fly. It should have been glorious.

Unfortunately, in the timeline I currently find myself in, the shot clanged off the rim and caromed back toward halfcourt. All 10 of the large men in short pants scrambled for the ball; Draymond Green ended up with it and the W’s tried, as one does, to call time out before the clock expired. Unfortunately, they were out of timeouts, which resulted in their being assessed a technical foul. (In basketball this is known as a “Webber.”) And that was pretty much that. The dream was over.

After years of being lucky as well as good, the Warriors found themselves rolling snake eyes over and over in this series. First they brought back Kevin Durant and quickly lost him to a torn Achilles; then in the 3rd quarter last night Klay Thompson went up for a dunk, was fouled in the air by Danny Green, and came down awkwardly on his left knee. After writhing in pain for awhile he headed back to the locker room.

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6/10/2019: Warriors 106, Raptors 105

“We’re alive!”, Steph Curry was heard to say as he jogged through the tunnel to the visitors’ locker room after Game 5 of the Finals.

It is true. And so are the Dub Nation’s hopes for a third straight title, after a tense, hard-fought game came down to Kyle Lowry on the left wing in the final seconds, Raptors down one. He rose to take a jump shot that could have won the game, and the trophy, for the Canadian upstarts. But Draymond Green, who was lurking nearby, extended one long arm and brushed the ball, causing it to fall way short. The clock expired and the Warriors lived to fight another day.

This came after the W’s found themselves down 6 with three minutes to play. Toronto had all the momentum and their fans were starting to celebrate — prematurely, as it turned out. It was at this point that Raptors coach Nick Nurse chose to take a timeout — a decision that has been hotly debated all day today by those who care. He says that he wanted to give his team a rest, but he gave the Warriors one too, as well as a much-needed moment of calm amidst the frenzy.

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Song of the Week, 6/9/2019

As fate would have it, we were walking down St. Charles Street in New Orleans on Thursday when I happened to glance in a shop window and saw on the TV screen that Dr. John had died.

I actually met the Night Tripper back in the early ’00s, when I was working at the Lake Merritt Hotel in Oakland. Yoshi’s Jazz Club often put their guests up at the Lake Merritt , which was a funky old art-deco place well-suited to musicians and other degenerates. The Dr. spent about a week there. He was very nice and frail-looking even then.

The day after his passing a second line was organized — if that’s the word — starting at Kermit’s Mother-in-Law Lounge in the Treme. It was there that I saw this sign:

That’s a reference to a song from Dr. John’s 2012 album Locked Down, which coincidentally I had listened to earlier in the day. It’s a good one.

And it’s true, of course. There will never be another like him.

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