For a long time, my image of the Ugly American was a thick-necked Prince hater I met (early in the Age of Reagan) when he drove me around the Upper West Side as I delivered Christmas gifts for a package store. This piece of work (who had a familial connection to the owners and wanted me to know he was tight with my bosses) had seen Prince open for the Stones in 1981. He’d been among thousands in the overwhelmingly white crowd who booed the “faggot” unmercifully.
Bobby Keys and Jim Price put some horns on the end of “Honky Tonk Women” mixed down so low you can only hear them in the very last second and half on the fade. Chuck Berry had a saxophone just for the very end of “Roll Over Beethoven.” We loved that idea of another instrument coming in just for the last second. Keith Richards, Life
Whittaker Chambers is my idea of an exemplary conservative. He dug Beats and Sorrow Songs, did in Ayn Rand in a definitive National Review piece, distanced himself from William Buckley, hung tight with his old friend James Agee, and tried to convince other conservatives Khrushchev wasn’t Stalin.
Eugene Goodheart has invited responses to his new First piece (posted below) which takes in student protests against microaggressions and the more macro analysis of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. I’m skeptical of Goodheart’s attempt to hook-up the world-view of those students with Coates’s World. (More on that anon.) But his critique of the protesters has pushed me to think through the theory of microaggression.
Part 2 of an essay that begins here.
It is absolutely false to imagine that there is some providential mechanism by which what is best in any given period is transmitted to the memory of posterity. By the very nature of things, it is false greatness which is transmitted. There is, indeed, a providential mechanism, but it only works in such a way as to mix a little genuine greatness with a lot of spurious greatness; leaving us to pick out which is which. Without it we should be lost.—Simone Weil, “The Need for Roots”
“Loss of the past, whether it be collectively or individually, is the supreme human tragedy, and we have thrown ours away just like a child picking off the petals of a rose… We owe our respect to a collectivity, of whatever kind—country, family or any other—not for itself, but because it is food for a certain number of human souls.”—Simone Weil, “The Need for Roots”
Simone Weil once lived in a building around the corner from Tiemann Place in West Harlem where we held our 29th annual “Anti-Gentrification Street Fair” in October.
William Greider published a piece last week criticizing a New Yorker “Talk of the Town” take on Trump (and Bernie Sanders) that conflated their political theater with American populism. Greider emailed a link to his Nation piece, which he self-deprecatingly described as a “rant,” to me (and others). I responded as follows…
You couldn’t buy a copy of Between the World and Me on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for a stretch last month since it was sold out of every book store. It was rousing to find out readers were hungry for Ta-Nehisi Coates’s polemic against structural racism.
Dylann Roof almost didn’t go through with it–“everyone was so nice to me.” The thought of him waiting/wondering in the church before he used the gun he bought at “Shooter’s Choice” reminds me of this passage in Intruder in the Dust where Faulkner claimed every white Southern boy could lock into the moment before Pickett’s Charge–the disaster at Gettysburg that came to stand for the Confederacy’s mad gambles:
Writers and cartoonists who refuse to honor Charlie Hebdo aren’t thinking straight. Yet I don’t hate their impulse to distance themselves from those who are down with gratuitous humiliation of Muslims in France or anywhere else.
First is reposting this piece in honor of the great jazz pianist Don Pullen who died 20 years ago today.
About 100 pages into David Ritz’s unauthorized biography of Aretha Franklin, Respect, I flashed on Greil Marcus’s tagline for his book on Punk, Lipstick Traces, which he dubbed: “the secret history of the 20th Century.” Ritz’s concept of Respect is less expansive, but his deeply sourced raps on black musicking speak to the “secret history” of the African American nation in the second half of the 20th C.
Respect’s lost and found historical conjunctures include one night in 1962 (February 20th to be exact), when Aretha Franklin played NYC’s Village Gate along with Thelonious Monk.
Philip Levine responded to early First of the Months with assonance-first praise of your editor whom he termed a “young warrior for justice in the nut house of America.” That praise was insanely over the top and I proved it to Levine double-quick by screwing up a quote in the poem he contributed to the next First. He gave me dispensation—“Forget it.”—and I need more now since I’m about to ignore his last bit of advice about First. I checked in with him last summer: “What am I doing wrong?” He wrote back: “Ask your wife.” Then he added: “It’s good that First lives on. Maybe fewer words would let in more light & silence.” But, a month after his death on Valentine’s Day, loss means more…
“Scripture tells us we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”
That line from Barack Obama’s speech on his executive order protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation took on a different resonance in the wake of Grand Jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island. Obama’s vision of a more empathetic America seemed beamish if you read Darren Wilson’s testimony about why he had to kill the “demon” Michael Brown or watched video of police taking down Eric Garner (then mulling around him afterwards like he was a beast of no nation). The retaliatory assassination of the two cops (and family men) last Saturday in Brooklyn wasn’t a blow to empire so much as a blow to empathy itself. Those head-shots went to the heart of the country.
Bill McKibben’s Oil and Honey is a Jeremiad about Global Warming that’s also a charm offensive. The author’s faith in the appeal of his teacherly Yankee persona seems almost as strong as his certitude rising levels of atmospheric carbon will have a devastating impact on the climate.
“Yo’r my pride and joy…Everything for a growing boy.” Al Green chuckles at his own double entendre (cum Marvin Gaye reference). “That’s extra,” he teases, adding a phallic riff to the polymorphous plenitudes of his 1973 live concert on Soul. The flow of the sexiest singer ever is beyond quid pro quos. Green embodies erotic variousness. He muses, sighs, cries, laughs, murmurs, shouts, baritones, moans low, skies for notes in his upper register. Miss this high drama and you’re missing a Mississippi—not a mere stream of consciousness. Thanks to Joe C. (who posted the 56 minute clip at Peter Guralnick’s website: peterguralnick.com) for allowing me to dip into this river again.
I’m sure you’re going to somehow manage to say the opposite but mean the same, which we two I like to think always do. It is a good necessity. I just hope we don’t get caught, isolated from each other, across the river, waving.
…[R]isk is something I need…I don’t expect to be right, but it does profit my energies when I am. Moreover it’s the swing itself I dig, if I feel it. Ditto I think you go by that. But I do feel close to you, whatever I say or however.
—Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones
Lawrence Goodwyn—great American historian of democratic social movements (and First friend)—has died.