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.