Monday, October 30, 2006

Thoughts for the Evening

  • I am surprisingly sad that Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Philippe split up.
  • I could listen to the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack all night long.
  • Pablo has an eye infection, and twice a day we have to stick two different kinds of paste in his left eye. So he kind of hates me for a chunk of each day, but luckily he also has a very short-term memory.
  • Welcome to the coolest google maps hack you have ever seen, courtesy of my friend Pete.
  • I'm thinking of sending in an abstract for a paper on pop hits of this past summer. From blog posts to academic paper...we'll see.
  • Grading...oy. Beethoven's 9th refuses to leave me alone.
  • Do you know what's ironic? The Blogger spell check doesn't know the word "blog."
  • My fifth college reunion is this next spring. That's a scary thought.
  • Why won't my room magically clean itself?
  • The annual national meeting of the American Musicological Society is this weekend. It is in Los Angeles this year, which is fun, although parking at the conference hotel is $30 a day. I didn't make AMS last year; the last I went to was the one in Seattle. It was one of the most fun times I ever had a conference. Six of us stayed in one hotel room, and in all honesty, my friends and I were the life of the conference. Fueled by free booze pilfered from Princeton's party, we managed to be the last ones to leave two nights in a row. The second night, we straggled up to our room, and watched Paris Hilton's One Night in Paris while doing cartwheels and headstands in our pajamas. That, my friends, is how conferences should always be.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Poetry Sunday

Carlos has reminded me that I forgot last week's Poetry Friday. And not only that, October 7 was the 50th anniversary of the publication of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." I have always thought that Carlos's name was a Hispanicized version of Karl, as in Marx, but I just remembered that Carlos is also the name Kerouac gave to Ginsberg in On the Road. And given that we suspect Pablo might be a Neruda, perhaps we need to re-think Carlos's alter-ego.

At any rate, in honor of all these things, I present a lovely poem by Ginsberg, written like "Howl" in 1955. It's a little long for a blog entry, but I think it's worth it--although again, I'm really not enjoying the difficulty of formatting poems correctly in Blogger. You can find this in Selected Poems, 1947-1995.

"Sunflower Sutra"

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.

Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.

The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hungover like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.

Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust--

--I rushed up enchanted--it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake--my visions--Harlem

and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past--

and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye--

corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,

leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,

Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!

The grime was no man's grime but death and human locomotives,

all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis'ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt--industrial-- modern--all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown--

and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos--all these

entangled in your mummied roots--and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!

A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!

How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?

Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?

You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!

And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter, and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack's soul too, and anyone who'll listen,

--We're not our skin of grime, we're not our dread bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we're all beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we're blessed by our own seed & golden hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by oureyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.


Well, sort of. I left two sections incomplete: a few paragraphs in the middle, and probably another 2-3 pages at the very end. But I have solid 48 pages, and that's enough to get good feedback from the reading group. I'll keep adding and revising tomorrow, get comments from the reading group on Tuesday, and then send off the completed first draft to my advisor by the end of Wednesday. He promises to get me comments within a week, at which point I'll meet with other members of my committee to get whatever feedback I can, and then it is off to the fellowship people on November 15.

I feel like I should have some eloquent thoughts on what it feels like to have basically completed my first chapter--as a friend just pointed out to me, I'm now 1/5 done with my dissertation! But...I feel too drained to be eloquent.

But not too drained to go sit in a coffeeshop, get a large cappuccino, and starting grading undergraduate papers about Beethoven's 9th. Life marches on.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Final Push

Apologies to those whose emails I don't return, phone calls I don't pick up. By the end of today, I'm supposed to send out a draft of my first dissertation chapter to our department's reading group. I've got a lot written, but also lots of little spots to fix and loose ends to tie up.

I realized last night that it is not actually so strange that this chapter is so hard to put down on paper. Not only is it my first chapter, but it is an entire chapter devoted to one piece of music, a piece that is four and a half minutes long. And that four and a half minutes is, of course, four and a half minutes of silence. Fifty pages discussing four and a half minutes of silence? In retrospect, I can see why I'm having trouble wrangling prose together.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Treat Myself?

Amazon apparently has a low opinion of what it takes to make me happy.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Patti Page's Guide to Marriage

In honor of a friend of mine who just got engaged, I present Patti Page's "How to Be Married and Still Live Happily Ever After," from her amazing 1960 self-help book for teenage girls Once Upon a Dream. Which, of course, I own an autographed copy of. There are explanations after each of these tips, a few snippets of which I have included.

How to Be Married and Still Live Happily Ever After

1. Be feminine
("I read somewhere that sixty per cent of American husbands get their own breakfasts while their wives stay in bed. To me, this is a sign of trouble.")

2. Don't protest if your husband takes you for granted.
("I don't know why so many women take this as an insult. All it means is that your husband is comfortable with you, trusts you and never questions your loyalty to you...personally, I think it's one of the highest compliments a man can pay a woman.")

3. Don't meet your husband at the door each night with the story of YOUR day.

4. Control your jealousy.
("The one way to get a man to come home every night and want to stay there is simply to make your home the place where he enjoys himself the most.")

5. Don't be too interesting.
("I think you'll find, when you're married, that it isn't nearly so important for you to be interesting as it is to make your husband feel that he's interesting.)

6. Share something bigger than yourself with your husband.
("It's essential that you share some interest, hobby, career--anything to give you a common objective. Usually, of course, that something bigger than yourselves is children.")

Keep in mind, though, that Patti's husband was probably gay (Elvis's choreographer, c'mon!), and they divorced in 1972.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Walking to my car today, I got stung by a bee on the bottom of my foot. I was wearing sandals, and I guess the bee flew between sandal and foot mid-stride, and his dying act before being squished was to sting me.

Also, I drove by the most amazing accident on the way home from school: on the curvey part of Sunset Blvd, the #2 bus was halfway up the hillside, about to tip over, and a fire hydrant was geysering water a good twenty feet into the air. Pretty impressive! It looked like a scene from Speed.

In more important news:
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bunny Cage

I discovered something today that made all the expense and hassle of this trip instantly worth it.

The nickname that Xenia Cage called her husband?


That's right, John Cage, the pillar of mid-century modernism and the stern, ascetic father of experimental music, was affectionately called "Bunny" by his wife, or "B" for short. Maybe that's why he left her for Merce Cunningham.*

Seriously, it has been a productive trip. I'm actually glad I made it so short, as the archives are much smaller than I expected. The correspondence from the 1950s fits in one thick manilla folder. I had no problem taking detailed notes about all of it in one solid day of work. And I was relieved to find that there was nothing too shocking--most of my ideas about Cage are still intact, only now I have lots of details and evidence to back those ideas up. So that's a good thing.

Cage is still so slippery for me though. The man was so, so careful never to reveal anything about his personal life. I have now been through five different archives related to Cage, and I still have little to grasp on to: the Wesleyan papers, which contain mostly correspondence and rough drafts relating to his books, the Virgil Thomson papers at Yale, and the M.C. Richards and David Tudor papers, both at the Getty. All of these collections are voluminous, and all are places where one would expect to find at least some correspondence from Cage that might be at least a little personal, and deal with at least a little of his private life. But, no. None to be found, so far. Lots of polite letters home to his parents, lots of business correspondence. The most revealing correspondence was a series of letters from Xenia to some friends back in San Francisco. I don't think it is a coincidence that these letters surfaced after Cage's death, and were connected people outside of Cage's immediate circle. Those who were close to Cage clearly protected his privacy--even in their own intimate letters to each other, such as in David Tudor's letters to M.C. Richards which discuss Cage in only the most oblique terms, even as they gossip about everyone else.

Interesting. Very interesting. I should probably stop before I blog my entire chapter! Tomorrow I will poke around a bit more, and than I am having lunch with my cousin who goes to school here. Then home, and the race to write this damn thing takes off in earnest.

* Lest I sound like one more Xenia-basher, I want to go on the record as saying that I find her to be utterly charming and fascinating. Why has nobody ever done any work on her?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

My Bus Redeemer Liveth

The bus is a harsh mistress.

There is nothing worse than trying to use a public bus in a new city. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how many maps you study and internet planning thingys you consult, there will be some local custom that messes things up--especially if you are like me, and refuse to ask for help. A few years back, I was in Seattle to give a paper at a conference. Being my frugal graduate student self, I attempted to take a city bus from the airport to my hotel. Getting from the airport to downtown was easy, and I successfully boarded a second bus that looked like it should take me right by the hotel, up by the space needle. I had memorized the names of a few cross streets to look for, and as the bus made its way uptown, I carefully noted that people seemed to be pulling the stop cord in the normal fashion.

So when I saw one of my cross streets, I reached up and confidently pulled the cord, doing my best impression of a jaded Seattle-ite commuting home from a long day at work, albeit with a suitcase. As soon as I pulled, every single head in the bus swiveled around and looked at me like I was an alien. What had I done? Somebody had literally pulled the cord in the exact same manner one block earlier, and yet somehow, I had done something different that made me the object of bus-wide scorn.

About thirty minutes later, when the bus had, instead of stopping for me, made its way across a body of water, left the city, and seemed to be entering a forest, I sensed that perhaps I might be on an express. About forty-five minutes later it finally stopped, and everyone got off, looking at me sympathetically. I tried my best to pretend like I had intended to get off in Alaska, but soon had to slink across the street, still in full view of all the other passengers, to catch the bus coming back the opposite direction to Seattle.

Actually, the whole point of this post was to brag that today, en route to do some reasearch at Northwestern, I managed to navigate by public transportation from Midway Airport in Chicago to a cheap little motel in Niles, Illinois, via two subway lines and one suburban bus line. And this time, I pulled the cord, and the bus gracefully coasted to a stop right in front of my motel.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Does anyone out there actually enjoy Clint Eastwood movies? I don't care how "good" they are. I'd see Wimbledon over Million Dollar Baby or Flag of Our Fathers any day.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Poetry Friday

When I was in ninth grade, a freshman in high school, I had an awakening. See, when I was a child, I read a lot. Kind of obsessively, really. When my mom used to take me to the library, I seem to remember that we had a rule that I could only check out a certain number of books at a time, because otherwise I was liable to check out dozens of books. And I still remember looking at the shelves in the children's section, and being really frustrated that there were no more books I hadn't read. If all else failed, I would go over to the handy World Book Encyclopedia my parents had bought, choose a volume, and sit down with a bowl of cereal and start reading.

But at some point in middle school, I stopped reading quite so much. Actually, maybe that's not true. But in craziness of being thirteen years old, reading stopped being such a fundamental part of my identity. I was making half-hearted attempts at being popular, I was learning to play the guitar, I was growing my hair long. Reading didn't overwhelm my life the way it used to.

In high school, tossed and turned by new people and new experiences, I felt a little bit of an identity crisis. And I soon realized that part of my problem was that I had fallen behind in my reading. So I went to the school library, and started looking for new stuff. I think the first book I picked up was Walden Pond, but soon I turned, like every other teenager in the world, to the Beats. Howl came first, I remember reading it aloud to myself in a corner of the library. Then On the Road and Dharma Bums, and the Viking Portable Beat Reader. Never really got into Burroughs for some reason.

So anyways, this is all to introduce the poem for this Poetry Friday. After reading Dharma Bums, I wanted to be Gary Snyder like nobody's business. I still have the copy of Turtle Island I bought in ninth grade, and this was my favorite poem from it. Blogger isn't letting me reproduce the spacing correctly unfortunately, but this'll do.


Snowmelt pond warm granite
we make camp,
no thought of find more.
and nap
and leave our minds to the wind.

on the bedrock, gently tilting,
sky and stone,

teach me to be tender.

the touch that nearly misses--
brush of glances--
tiny steps--
that finally cover worlds
of hard terrain.
cloud wisps and mists
gathered into slate blue
bolts of summer rain.

tea together in the purple starry eve;
new moon soon to set,
why does it take so
long to learn to
we laugh
and grieve.

Venus in Fur

All the music blogs are talking about it:

I think I need to explain to my non-musicological readers that "Venus in Fur" is a Velvet Underground song, which like most of the Velvet's stuff uses long drones. Like the kitten does, you see...nevermind.

Second update: apparently, this video has removed from YouTube due to copyright violations. heh!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Inevitable Dissertation Post

So, here's the thing about my dissertation. I would really like to write it in two years. This seems reasonable to me, and is in keeping with my department's time-to-degree expectations. Theoretically, this is supposed to be a five year program: two years of coursework leading to an MA, and one year of specialized coursework leading to a dissertation proposal and subsequent advancement to candidacy. I've managed to stick to this timeline, although the constant bureaucratic hurdles have not made it easy.

But that then leaves you two years to write your dissertation. Which sounds fine, but I have run into a complicating factor: ideally, one would like to have a fellowship for their last year of dissertation writing, so that you don't have to teach while you are finishing up and applying for jobs. For me, that would mean getting a fellowship for next year. However, fellowship applications are due in the fall and winter of the preceding year, i.e., now--the first one is due November 15. And these applications all require you to submit at least one completed chapter. To summarize, in my mind this means that if I want to finish in two years, I need to have completed a dissertation chapter by November 15, and it needs to be Good.

I am somewhat optimistic that I will be able to do this. I've done a lot of research, and have written a good chunk. I've given myself a November 1 deadline at which I need to have a fairly polished draft to distribute to committee members for revisions. I have two more research ends that need to be tied up, both of which will be hopefully solved next week with a quick trip to Chicago and a even quicker trip back to the Getty.

It means, though, that I need to write. A lot. And I am finding this difficult. The subject of this chapter is a topic that I have been working on since I was a junior in college. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on it. I have written several seminar papers on it. I have given several conference papers on it. I have published on it, I have been cited on it. I know this topic.

And yet, writing everything I know about this subject down, in the form of a dissertation chapter, is extraordinarily difficult. I am pulled in two different directions: on the one hand, I despair at fitting everything into one chapter, and mercilessly cut down excess points that seem tangential. On the other hand, I find myself questioning every single little point, checking every fact, re-thinking every argument, knowing that this time, above all, everything I write needs to be right in some fundamental way.

Phew. I can do this. I just need to stop thinking, and start writing. My goal is to write ten pages today. I'm hoping that by blogging this goal, I will have to stick to it!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

In memorium

My family's cat, Timothy, passed away today. He was seventeen and a half years old.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Turtles and Puppies

I'm a little emo myself, having just dropped Mary off at the airport. But I have to say, this is indeed the saddest thing ever.

But if missing turtles make you sad, I have a solution. I was intending to show a cheer-inducing picture here of my family's dearly departed dog, Webster, as a puppy. But just as I was searching for a picture, I received an email from my father with the news that they just got a new puppy today!

Meet Cascade. Be sure to go to the second page of pictures, as there are some snapshots of Casey meeting our cat Timothy, who has outlived three dogs and is gunning for a fourth.

Poetry Friday-ish

Dr. Crazy has a tradition of posting a poem every Friday. I think I need more poetry in my life, so I'm going to to do that too, even though I'm already a day late!

This poem is by Frank O'Hara, and was written in 1958. I first read it as an undergraduate, having been assigned it by my favorite professor in a course on gay and lesbian history. It's a lovely poem, but also a beautiful political statement.

Ode: Salute to the French Negro Poets

from near the sea, like Whitman my great predecessor, I call
To the spirits of other lands to make fecund my existence

do not spare your wrath upon our shores, that trees may grow
upon the sea, mirror of our total mankind in the weather

one who no longer remembers dancing in the heat of the moon may call
across the shifting sands, trying to live in the terrible western world

here where to love at all’s to be a politician, as to love a poem
is pretentious, this may tendentious but it’s lyrical

which shows what lyricism has been brought to by our fables times
where cowards are shibboleths and one specific love’s traduced

by shame for what you love more generally and never would avoid
where reticence is paid for by a poet in his blood or ceasing to be

blood! Blood that we have mountains in our veins to stand off jackals
in the pillaging of our desires and allegiances, Aimé Césaire

for if there is fortuity it’s in the love we bear each other’s differences
in race which is the poetic ground on which we rear our smiles

standing in the sun of marshes as we wade slowly toward the culmination
of a gift which is categorically the most difficult relationship

and should be sought as such because it is our nature, nothing
inspires us but the love we want upon the frozen face of earth

and utter disparagement turns into praise as generations read the message
of our hearts in adolescent closets who once shot at us in doorways

or kept us from living freely because they were too young then to know what they would ultimately need from a barren and heart-sore life

the beauty of America, neither cool jazz nor devoured Egyptian heroes, lies in
lives in the darkness I inhabit in the midst of sterile millions

the only truth is face to face, the poem whose words become your mouth
and dying in black and white we fight for what we love, not are.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Judy and the Beach

According to my little Sitemeter widget, which tracks visitors to my blog, readership has blossomed to a whopping 33 unique visitors a day. Why is this? Is it the trenchant commentary on Beethoven, Kandinsky, and the perils of British horse farms? No, 90% of the visitors to my blog come here, apparently, by googling the phrase"What does Fergie's song London Bridge mean?", whereupon they are directed to my epic exegesis of said song, which unfortunately comes to no solid conclusions. Sorry kids. That, and a bunch of people doing image searches for Boston terriers are being directed here, for no reason I can fathom. Pablo does indeed look like a Boston terrier, but no pictures of Boston terriers are to be found here. Just one slightly loopy looking cat.

Anyways, today I tried to achieve the perfect day for an academic living in Los Angeles. That is, I attempted to combine, in one day, a trip to the beach, and a lecture by Judith Butler. The beach went great--we went to Will Rogers, and spent a happy two hours splashing around. Unfortunately, the equally important Judith Butler aspect of the day was unsuccessful, as the the lecture hall was so full we couldn't even get near the door. Apparently, the entire world is dying to hear Judy speak about "Sexual Politics, Torture, and the Secular." I did get up on my tip-toes and actually saw Butler (greyer hair than I expected), so I can at least now say that I've seen her. My friend who arrived earlier and made it inside the hall reported that the talk was great, even humorous. So I'm actually quite sorry to have missed it, especially given how awesome her recent work has been. Incidentally, did you know that Butler's first teaching job was at my alma mater? Forward-thinking institution that it was at the time, Wesleyan didn't think it prudent to offer the future Smartest Academic of the World a permanent position. But for a brief shining moment in the mid-eighties, it was possible to take her course "Philosophy of Sex" concurrently with Henry Abelove's course "History of Sex," with frequent campus visits from then-unknown Eve Sedgwick, who was up at UMass-Amherst adjuncting and finishing Between Men. My non-queer studies readers might not appreciate what that all means, but trust me--man, that would have been cool.

Finally, this evening, a trip to the theater. It's Mary's birthday in a week, so her mother got us tickets to see the LA production of Doubt as an early present (Thanks, Phoebe! Great seats!). I will let my more eloquent and theatrically-inclined roommate review the play when she goes to see it next week, but we both thought it was really terrific. Crisp and intense.

Enough for now. I've been a bad TA recently, so I need to go do the reading that I've been telling my kids to do. E.T.A. Hoffman on why Beethoven is his boyfriend. Tomorrow we're doing Ludwig's Piano Concerto No. 5, the "Emperor." Ironic footnote? I first performed this work when I was a last chair violist with the Oakland Youth Orchestra, circa 1996. The soloist was a young pianist in the area, who later went on to Juilliard, and is now... a classmate and friend of mine! Small world.