Sunday, November 30, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt eleven)

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

An airport hangar is a strange place to rehearse, even if you do have a spaceship. It was absolutely cavernous, to the point where Bootsy could be down at one end with his band and we could be at the other with the spaceship, and we could both be playing and we wouldn’t interfere with each other. Down on our end, we had basically built the stage out to look as it would on tour. The P-Funk stage equipment had come from Aerosmith, who had retired it in 1976. We had a kind of indirect history with them: Bernie had played with Joey Kramer in Chubby and the Turnpikes, and we ended up having the same manager for a minute. I saw them as a funk band, strangely enough—they played loose and with rhythm, which you can hear in a later song like “Rag Doll.” The only other rock band capable of that was Led Zeppelin, and only onstage: when they went into the studio they started tinkering with effects and complexity. And the ship—well, it was all I had hoped for and more. It looked like some kind of unholy cross between and American car from the late fifties and early sixties, a piece of equipment from a children’s playground, and a giant insect. It was awesome. I went into a black box, sort of like a magician’s cabinet, at the base of the ship, came up via an elevator, and then, as smoke and lights went crazy, appeared at the top of the steps. It made for quite an entrance. Soul music had never seen anything like it—for matter, neither had rock and roll. It was like a Broadway show in the most elaborate sense, or what Las Vegas would become decades later.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt ten)

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

California was a rarity. For the most part, we were back East and in the Midwest, touring hard as always. One night, Calvin was driving and I dozed off. When I woke up, the grass was parting in front of us and trees were whizzing by on the left. Calvin was still in the driver’s seat, but with his head down on one shoulder, snoring lightly. I couldn’t reach the wheel, so I started to whisper to him so he wouldn’t wake up alarmed. He resurfaced with a look in his eyes that was so calm that it must have been desperate, took the car up the embankment, fishtailing like a motherf*cker the whole way. Fuzzy and Grady woke up, too, and they cheered him on: “You got it, Calvin.” Heads were hitting the ceiling of the car, but we ended up right back on the highway, like we had never left.

Friday, November 28, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt nine)

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

What did it mean to taste the maggots in the mind of the universe? Well, it meant all of it: the lack of self-knowledge outlined in “Free Your Mind,” the consumerism and short-sightedness in “Eulogy and Light.” It was writing that moved away from prose and even poetry into a kind of sloganeering. That made it compact, mysterious, and memorable. But the song’s immortality came from Eddie Hazel’s guitar solo, which occupied most of the rest of the ten-minute track. I remember recording the solo, of course. It’s possible I’ll never forget. Eddie and I were in the studio, tripping like crazy but also trying to focus our emotions. There was a band jam going, a slow groove I knew he could get into, and we were trying to launch his solo. Before he started, I told him to play like his mother had died, to picture that day, what he would feel, how he would make sense of his life, how he would take a measure of everything that was inside him and let it out through his guitar. Eddie was the kind of player who rose to a challenge. If you gave him instructions or a prompt, he’d come around to it. And when he started playing, I knew immediately that he understood what I meant. I could see the guitar notes stretching out like a silver web. When we played the solo back, I knew that it was good beyond good, not only a virtuoso display of musicianship but also an almost unprecedented moment of emotion in pop music. That was the missing ingredient that arrived in time for that song; it was maybe the first time that our emotional ability as artists matched our technical ability as players.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt eight)

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

Right around the time that Free Your Mind came out, Jimi Hendrix died. That was the end of an era as certainly as anything else was. He had come up to Toronto in May of 1969 and gotten busted. They had opened his luggage and found drugs right there. I just assumed that it had been planted. Why would he be so stupid as to leave it right on top like that? And so when I heard that he had died, I took it for granted that he had been killed. To me, the music he was making was far too great a threat to the establishment. It was generating questions that no one wanted to answer, and the only other way you can quiet a question is by quieting the questioner.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt seven)

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

The two artists who did this better than anyone else, obviously, were the Beatles and Bob Dylan, which is why they not only survived the era but set the tone for everything that came afterward. When the pressure started to mount for them to be spokespeople, when fans and reporters started fishing around for deep thoughts, they had sharp-enough instincts to deflect and say something off the wall. They made an art out of nonsense. Even when John Lennon got in trouble for saying that the band was bigger than Jesus, he was doing it sarcastically and snottily, to make a point. He wriggled so you couldn’t catch him. It got into his art, too, and you can see it clearly in a song like “I Am the Walrus.” Was it deep because it showed how shallow everyone else was? Was it making fun of the idea of being deep? Was it just a matter of opening people’s heads up a little wider than they had been before? It was the same with Bob Dylan, though it took me longer to understand how he was operating. At first, he seemed especially sincere: just a guy out there with his guitar, singing in a nasal voice about love and politics. But when I started seeing his interviews, and then especially when he broke out of that troubadour mold, I saw more clearly what he was. He was a poet, and he was using language to open things up.

Those two influences fed me during that first phase of Funkadelic, along with many others. I was also doing lots of reading: Black Power books, novels, pulpy shit, underground comics, and then all those best-sellers that people now think of as the classics of the hippie era. One of the most influential books of that time was Erich Von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods. Everyone had a copy of it. He had a theory that the greatest achievements of human history, from the pyramids to crop circles, were the work of aliens. They had come down from outer space and given the gift of advanced civilization to humans. Why else would the Egyptians embalm somebody to last so long and put all their belongings in the tomb with them unless they thought that they’d be collected later on? Maybe the aliens were coming back for the pharaohs. It was an intriguing idea that didn’t seem entirely crazy on its face. It seemed like something to explore. These ideas of serious wisdom, these intriguing theories that bordered on historical conspiracy, they all got mixed together in my head. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that they were dissolved in acid. Free Your Mind . . . and Your Ass Will Follow was written almost entirely on LSD. You can hear it in the guitar sound we got, and the way we produced it, and you can read it in the lyrics and the song titles.

Monday, November 24, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt six)

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

My love affair with British rock followed me back to the States; soon after we returned, I found myself in Boston, tripping my ass off, watching a double bill. Jethro Tull opened the show, and Ian Anderson’s flute was a transformative experience. All the good bands from England were starting to experiment with classical elements: Procol Harum, the Moody Blues, and especially the Beatles, through George Martin’s production. And the headliner, Led Zeppelin, was as loud as anything I had ever heard but with subtle details, too, a sledgehammer with a filigreed handle. They were taking black American music and feeding it through a white heavy-metal filter. They had great songs and a legitimately dangerous energy. And even though they weren’t exactly using classical sounds yet, they had ancient elements that gave their music historical scope. Jimmy Page was playing a thousand-year-old folk song, the same way that Cream was playing off of Greek mythology. My vision of the future sharpened.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt five)

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

For years in the sixties I talked about getting a pig or a skunk. I loved farm animals, pigs and rabbits and that kind of thing. Maybe it was because I was a country boy at heart; if I closed my eyes I could still feel the Virginia ground under my bare feet. People around me vetoed the skunk, and because of that I got more and more serious about the pig. Sometime in 1968, Jeffrey Bowen, who was a producer at Motown, bought me one. It was just a little thing, a piglet, and I named it Officer Dibbles, after the character on the Top Cat cartoon. Dibbles went everywhere with us. He was an official band mascot. He would curtsy and show people the diamond bracelet around his neck. Dibbles got treated better than any pig ever had. We kept him on a good diet regimen and scolded people when they tried to feed him scraps. We took him on airplanes when we toured, and even though airline rules required that we check him, like a dog, he was so cute that when we were at the ticket counter the ladies would just tell us to carry him through.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt four)

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

And so, one day, the Parliaments packed into a 1956 Bonneville and went to Detroit. The car was a juiced-up specimen that belonged to a friend of ours, William “Stubbs” Pitt. That care was like a rocket. The cops would try to catch Stubbs racing around Plainfield, but they’d fail because all he had to do was drop the accelerator pedal. He was gone. The next day the cops would come to the barbershop and ask after him. “Where’s Stubbs?” they’d say. “We couldn’t catch him.” Sometimes, though, illegal drag races took place at night where the cops would look the other way. Sometimes they would even place bets on the racers. They all bet on Stubbs. On the drive to Detroit, I stayed in the front as a passenger, mostly because I was good at staying awake. Stubbs drove the whole way. Something happened to the transmission right outside of Toledo, Ohio, and he jumped out and went up under the car and fixed it. He put his jumpsuit on over the top of his suit. We were all wearing suits. That’s how you had to dress when you were going to make an impression at Motown. They were supercool, and we thought we were supercooler.

Friday, November 21, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt three

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

I was cutting hair but sometimes cutting out early to work on records. That was the beginning of a pattern that would pop up over and over again during my life: I was doing real good with hair, making lots of money, but I was putting all that money directly back into records and music. We had other groups we considered our competition, healthy rivals like Sammy Campbell and the Del-Larks. Ray Davis was in that group, and later he came over and sang bass with me. Ronnie Taylor was also in that group: he was really close to me. They released records on Ea-Jay and other labels around the area. We went to play with them in Perth Amboy and New Brunswick and even in New York.

Not only were we writing songs like crazy, but we were trying to keep focused on music in other ways, too. By that time, there was an up-and-coming younger generation of musicians in Plainfield. At first, that scene was centered around the Boyce brothers. Their father, Clarence, had been in the Carnation Jubilee Singers, and their mother had a group, too, called the Plainfield Five. The group included Richard, Frankie, and Jo Jo—Frankie was the middle one, and a real fantastic guitar player. The Boyce brothers played with lots of other boys who later became part of P-Funk: Cordell “Boogie” Mosson, Garry Shider, Eddie Hazel, Bernie Worrell. They were all Plainfield kids, and lots of them came by the barbershop at one time or another. Years later, the Boyces were drafted, and Frankie went to Vietnam and died there. This wasn’t until 1968 or so, but it was still a tremendous blow to everyone we knew.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt two)

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

New Jersey in the fifties was a breeding ground for the next generation of American music—or, more specifically, African-American music, though it wasn’t called that then. In East Orange, my mother lived right next door to Reverend Mancel Warwick’s grocery store. He had been a Pullman porter and then a cook, and he had ended up as a promoter for gospel records. He was also Dionne Warwick’s father. When we went to visit my mother, the Warwick kids were always out playing in the neighborhood, and I got to know them all: not just Dionne, but Cissy, Dee Dee, the whole family. I used to steal candy out of the reverend’s store, and my friends and I played at the ballpark up the street, right there in East Orange. I wasn’t any good at baseball. I couldn’t even be on my own team. They called me Porky and Feet—I had huge feet, adult-size by the time I was twelve years old.

There was another branch of my family over in Passaic: my aunt and my cousin Ruth, who took me to the apartments in town where the Shirelles were working on “Mama Said.” I was swept up right then and there. Ruth also took me to the Apollo, where I saw the Drifters, the Chantels, and dozens of other groups. I listened to them obsessively and loved them unconditionally. I loved the Flamingos, who had a huge hit with “I Only Have Eyes for You.” I loved the Spaniels and especially their lead singer, Pookie Hudson, who became the model for almost every young singer within earshot. I loved the Bobbettes, who were from Spanish Harlem and had a hit with “Mr. Lee” in 1957, and the Blue Belles, who were from the Trenton-Philadelphia area and featured a girl named Patsy Holt. They had a hit with “Over the Rainbow,” and she had a real powerful voice even then. Cindy Birdsong, who would later replace Florence Ballard in the Supremes, was also in that group. Years later, when Patsy was renamed Patti LaBelle and I was a hairdresser, I would end up doing her hair.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

the last book I ever read (Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? excerpt one)

from Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman:

The Bomb. That’s the first thing I remember. It was the end of World War II, and I was four years old, living in Washington, D.C., where all the talk was about the atomic bombs the United States had just dropped on Japan: Little Boy on Hiroshima and Fat Man on Nagasaki. People hoped that they would bring an end to the war, because the country was getting worn-out, and not just the soldiers overseas. They were having blackout drills where you had to turn your lights off at seven o’clock at night, and the planes flying overhead couldn’t even see the city. Other days there were military aircraft in the sky, rows and rows of them, and an overall sense of power, or threat, depending on your point of view. Nowadays people say they come from military families but back then every family was military: I had uncles who had been in the war and an aunt who was in the WACs. When the first bomb fell on Japan, people were happy, but they were also holding their breath: no one knew what was going to happen next. The only other thing I remember was potato chips. The Wise potato-chip factory was near us, and we could smell them in the air. Atom bombs, potato chips—you can’t eat just one.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

the last book I ever read (Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley, excerpt six)

from Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley:

Neither man spoke for a stiff moment.

“You doing any good with the song?” Jack finally asked.

“Oh, just middlin’,” Tom Dooley said. “A little Girl Scout action, that’s about it. Occasional old hippie frailing a banjo. To be honest, I ain’t done much good since Burl Ives died. Jack tales doing all right?”

Jack made a face. “Ah, storytelling festivals, mostly. Appalachian Studies scholar every once in a while, but the pointy-heads have done drunk that well about dry.”

“Law, law,” Tom Dooley sighed. “What a world.”

Monday, November 17, 2014

the last book I ever read (Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley, excerpt five)

from Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley:

“Where y’all headed?” Ray asked. He’s always been a big question asker, and some days it strikes me as charming.

“Memphis,” the old woman said. “We’re going to take a paddle wheel all the way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. I’ve always wanted to do that. Tonight, though, we just wanted to make it as far as Monteagle.”

“That sounds exciting,” I said. “I really like New Orleans.”

“It’s a good town,” Ray said. “But it gets hot.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

the last book I ever read (Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley, excerpt four)

from Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley:

“You got any kids?”

“I got a daughter.”

“Is she on crack?” She asked the question before she had time to consider its politeness and discard it.

“No,” said the plumber. “Her specialty is eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts and having illegitimate children.”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

the last book I ever read (Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley, excerpt three)

from Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley:

Jesse James, while hiding from the law in Nashville in 1875, had lived for a time at the address where Mrs. Virgil Wilson’s house now stood. For years, Mrs. Wilson delighted in telling trick-or-treaters about the outlaw, but then one Halloween she noticed that the trick-or-treaters did not seem to know—or care—who Jesse James was. They also wore costumes that she didn’t recognize and that had to be explained to her—mass murderers, dead stock-car racers, characters from movies she’d never heard of, teenage singers seemingly remarkable only for their sluttiness—and she realized that she had somehow become the crazy old lady whose tedious stories you had to endure in order to get the disappointing candy that such crazy old ladies invariably offered. For how many years, she asked herself, had she been boring children with her tales of Jesse James, and for how many years had they been laughing at her as they walked away? Every Halloween since then, Mrs. Wilson had sat in her kitchen in the dark, listening to the radio at low volume and pretending she wasn’t home.

Friday, November 14, 2014

the last book I ever read (Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley, excerpt two)

from Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley:

In 1975, when Rose turned twenty, married Fieldlin Kohler, and moved to the farm, Argyle, the nearest town, had seemed to be as close as one could get to the end of the earth and still have access to a grocery store. That was why Fieldlin had bought it. He had been Rose’s painting teacher at the small state college in Georgia onto whose campus she had wandered after graduating from high school. He was an emaciated praying mantis of a man who stuffed the legs of his paint-spattered chinos into knee-high fringed moccasins. He pulled his thinning gray hair back into a greasy ponytail, and wore vaguely piratical linen blouses whose sleeves billowed when he waved his arms. In class, he paced and chain-smoked while ranting about the soullessness of American art, and routinely offered beer and gas money to any student who would drive to Pennsylvania and personally shoot Andrew Wyeth.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

the last book I ever read (Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley, excerpt one)

from Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories by Tony Earley:

An hour and a half into their journey the road tunneled through a hollow so thick with balsam and rhododendron that they could see neither the sky above their heads nor the rushing stream whose echo hissed in the leaves all around them. Once they climbed out of the hollow Plutina noticed that the woods continued to hiss even though they had moved out of earshot of the creek. It had begun to sleet. The tiny, flat hat that she wore with her wedding suit was mostly ornamental, and within minutes her hair began to freeze. Plutina’s hair had never once froze before she married Charlie Shires and set off on a mule into the wilderness, so she pushed his forearm away from her breasts. Back in Weald, Henrietta would be cooking supper, probably chicken. Their father would be reading and rattling the Asheville paper, which came without fail every afternoon on the train. He was more than likely grumbling about Herbert Hoover to anybody who would listen. Now Henrietta was the only possibility. Plutina had always felt a little sorry for President Hoover, but because he was a Republican (an affiliation that could get you shot in Weald on certain days of the year) she had never said so out loud. With the hand she wasn’t using to hold on to the mule, she reached up and patted her stiff hair. But honestly, how could the problems of an entire country be the fault of just one moon-faced man? Shouldn’t people at least be nice to him because he was trying? Plutina found the state of the world too much to think about with frozen hair, so she decided to go ahead and cry. If Charlie noticed her sobbing he never let on.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

the last book I ever read (Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word, excerpt eight)

from The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:

Twenty-five years from now, that will not seem like such a facetious idea. I am willing (now that so much has been revealed!) to predict that in the year 2000, when the Metropolitan or Museum of Modern Art puts on the great retrospective exhibition of American Art 1945-75, the three artists who will be featured, the three seminal figures of the era, will be not Pollock, de Kooning, and Johns—but Greenberg, Rosenberg, and Steinburg. Up on the walls will be huge copy blocks, eight and a half by eleven feet each, presenting the protean passages of the period … a little “fuliginous flatness” here … a little “action painting” there … and some of that “all great art is about art” just beyond. Beside them will be small reproductions of the work of leading illustrators of the Word from that period, such as Johns, Louis, Noland, Stella, and Olitski. (Pollock and de Kooning will have a somewhat higher status, although by no means a major one, because of the more symbiotic relationship they were fortunate enough to enjoy with the great Artists of the Word.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

the last book I ever read (Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word, excerpt seven)

from The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:

One day—in 1963, it must have been—I ran into a magazine editor, a culturatus of sorts, and I happened to bring up the subject of Abstract Expressionism, whereupon he told me with a tone that indicated I must be the only person in town who hadn’t gotten the inside news: “Listen, Abstract Expressionism is dead. It’s been finished off by a professor at Hunter College, a guy named Leo Steinberg.”

I don’t know that Steinberg finished off Abstract Expressionism. It only needed a little push. But Steinberg was certainly one of the authorities who made it okay to like Pop Art.

Monday, November 10, 2014

the last book I ever read (Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word, excerpt six)

from The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:

Nobody was immune to theory any longer. Pollock would say things like “Cézanne didn’t create theories. They’re after the fact.” He was only whistling “Dixie.” The fact was that theories—Greenberg’s—about Pollock—were beginning to affect Pollock. Greenberg hadn’t created Pollock’s reputation, but he was its curator, custodian, brass polisher, and repairman, and he was terrific at it. With each new article Greenberg edged Pollock’s status a little higher, from “among the strongest” American abstract artists ever to “the strongest painter of his generation” in America to “the most powerful painter in contemporary America” to a neck-and-neck competition with John Marin (John Marin!) for the title of “the greatest American painter of the twentieth century.” To the few remaining dissidents, Uptown or Downtown, who still pulled long faces and said Pollock’s work looked terribly “muddy” or “chaotic” or simply “ugly,” Greenberg had a marvelous comeback: but of course!—“all profoundly original art looks ugly at first.” Well… yes! That’s… right! In an age of avant-gardism, when practically everybody in Cultureberg could remember some new ism which he “hadn’t gotten” at first, this Greenberg dictum seemed to be a pivotal insight of Modernism, the golden aperçu. To COLLECTORS, curators, and even some dealers, new work that looked genuinely ugly … began to take on a strange new glow …

Sunday, November 9, 2014

the last book I ever read (Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word, excerpt five)

from The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:

Greenberg didn’t discover Pollock or even create his reputation, as was said so often later on. Damnable Uptown did that. Pick me! Peggy Guggenheim picked Pollock. He was a nameless down-and-out boho Cubist. She was the niece of Solomon (Guggenheim Museum) Guggenheim and the center of the most chic Uptown art circle in New York in the 1940s, a circle featuring famous Modern artists from Europe (including her husband, Max Ernst) who were fleeing the war, Uptown intellectuals such as Alfred Barr and James Johnson of the Museum of Modern Art, and young boho protégés such as two members of Pollock’s cénacle, Baziotes and Robert Motherwell. In a single year, 1943, Peggy Guggenheim met Pollock through Baziotes and Motherwell, gave him a monthly stipend, got him moving in the direction of Surrealist “automatic writing” (she loved Surrealism), set him up on Fifty-seventh Street—Uptown Street of Dreams!—with his first show—in the most chic Modernist salon in the history of New York, her own Art of This Century Gallery, with its marvelous Surrealist Room, where the pictures were mounted on baseball bats—got Sweeney to write the catalogue introduction, in prose that ranged from merely rosy to deep purple dreams—and Barr inducted one of the paintings, The She Wolf, into the Museum of Modern Art’s Permanent Collection—and Motherwell wrote a rave for Partisan Review—and Greenberg wrote a super-rave for The Nation … and, well, Greenberg was rather later getting into the loop, if anything. The Consummation was complete and Pollock was a Success before the last painting was hung and the doors were opened and the first Manhattan was poured (remember Manhattans?) on opening night. To that extent Greenberg was just an ordinary reporter bringing you the latest news.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

the last book I ever read (Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word, excerpt four)

from The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:

So Modern Art enjoyed a tremendous social boom in Europe in the 1920s. And what about the United States? A painter, Marsden Hartley, wrote in 1921 that “art in America is like a patent medicine or a vacuum cleaner. It can hope for no success until ninety million people know what it is.” Bitter stuff! In fact, however, he couldn’t have gotten it more precisely wrong. Modern Art was a success in the United States in no time—as soon as a very few people knew what it was, the 400, as it were, as opposed to the 90 million.

These were the New Yorkers of wealth and fashion, such as the Rockefellers and Goodyears, who saw their counterparts in London enjoying the chic and excitement of Picasso, Derain, Matisse, and the rest of Le Moderne and who wanted to import it for themselves. This they did. Modern Art arrived in the United States in the 1920s not like a rebel commando force but like Standard Oil. By 1929 it had been established, institutionalized, in the most overwhelming way: in the form of the Museum of Modern Art. This cathedral of Culture was not exactly the brain child of visionary bohemians. It was founded in John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s living room, to be exact, with Goodyears, Blisses, and Crowninshields in attendance.

Friday, November 7, 2014

the last book I ever read (Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word, excerpt three)

from The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:

With a sigh Braque waited for his old comrade Pablo’s imminent collapse as a painter and a human being … But the damnedest thing happened instead! Picasso just kept ascending, to El Dorado, to tremendous wealth but to much more than that, to the sainted status of Picasso, to the point where by 1950 he was known at every level of opinion, from Art News to the Daily News, as the painter of the twentieth century. As for Derain and his blue serge suit and Braque and his scruples—the two old boys, both very nearly the same age as Picasso, i.e., about seventy, were remembered in 1950 chiefly as part of the pit crew during Picasso’s monumental victory.

Not to beg the question of differences in talent—but here we have the classic demonstration of the artist who knows how to double-track his way from the Boho Dance to the Consummation as opposed to the artist who gets stuck forever in the Boho Dance. This is an ever-present hazard of the art mating ritual. Truly successful double-tracking requires the artist to be a sincere and committed performer in both roles. Many artists become so dedicated to bohemian values, internalize their antibourgeois feelings so profoundly, that they are unable to cut loose, let go, with that cathartic shriek—pain! ecstasy! paff paff paff paff paff paff—and submit gracefully to good fortune; the sort of artist, and his name is Legion, who always comes to the black-tie openings at the Museum of Modern Art wearing a dinner jacket and paint-spattered Levi’s … I’m still a virgin! (Where’s the champagne?)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

the last book I ever read (Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word, excerpt two)

from The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:

The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in Modern Art, the notion that the public scorns, ignores, fails to comprehend, allows to wither, crushes the spirit of, or commits any other crime against Art or any individual artist is merely a romantic fiction, a bittersweet Trilby sentiment. The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened. The public that buys books in hardcover and paperback by the millions, the public that buys records by the billions and fills stadiums for concerts, the public that spends $100 million on a single movie—this public affects taste, theory, and artistic outlook in literature, music, and drama, even though courtly elites hang on somewhat desperately in each field. The same has never been true in art. The public whose glorious numbers are recorded in the annual reports of the museums, all those students and bus tours and moms and dads and random intellectuals … are merely tourists, autograph seekers, gawkers, parade watchers, so far as the game of Success in Art is concerned. The public is presented with a fait accompli and the aforementioned printed announcement, usually in the form of a story or a spread of color pictures in the back pages of Time. An announcement, as I say. Not even the most powerful organs of the press, including Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times, can discover a new artist or certify his worth and make it stick. They can only bring you the news, tell you which artists the beau hamlet, Cultureburg, has discovered and certified. They can only bring you the scores.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

the last book I ever read (Tom Wolfe;s The Painted Word, excerpt one)

from The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe:

By 1900 the artist’s arena—the place where he seeks honor, glory, ease, Success—had shifted twice. In seventeenth-century Europe the artist was literally, and also psychologically, the house guest of the nobility and the royal court (except in Holland); fine art and court art were one and the same. In the eighteenth century the scene shifted to the salons, in the homes of the wealthy bourgeoisie as well as those of aristocrats, where Culture-minded members of the upper classes held regular meetings with selected artists and writers. The artist was still the Gentleman, not yet the Genius. After the French Revolution, artists began to leaves the salons and join cénacles, which were fraternities of like-minded souls huddled at some place like the Café Guerbois rather than a town house; around some romantic figure, an artist rather than a socialite, someone like Victor Hugo, Charles Nodier, Théophile Gautier, or, later, Edouard Manet. What held the cénacles together was that merry battle spirit we have all come to know and love: épatez la bourgeoisie, shock the middle class. With Gautier’s cénacle especially … with Gautier’s own red vests, black scarves, crazy hats, outrageous pronouncements, huge thirsts, and ravenous groin … the modern picture of The Artist began to form: the poor but free spirit, plebian but aspiring only to be classless, to cut himself forever free from the bonds of the greedy and hypocritical bourgeoisie, to be whatever the fat burghers feared most, to cross the line wherever they drew it, to look at the world in a way they couldn’t see, to be high, live low, stay young forever—in short, to be the bohemian.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt twelve)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

“You are materially changed since we talked on this subject before.”

“I hope so—for at that time I was a fool.”

Monday, November 3, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt eleven)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

Her change was equal.—This one half-hour had given to each the same precious certainty of being beloved, had cleared from each the same degree of ignorance, jealousy, or distrust.—On his side, there had been a long-standing jealousy, old as the arrival, or even the expectation, of Frank Churchill.—He had been in love with Emma, and jealous of Frank Churchill, from about the same period, one sentiment having probably enlightened him as to the other. It was his jealousy of Frank Churchill that had taken him from the country.—The Box Hill party had decided him on going away. He would save himself from witnessing again such permitted, encouraged attentions.—He had gone to learn to be indifferent.—But he had gone to a wrong place. There was too much domestic happiness in his brother’s house; woman wore too amiable a form in it; Isabella was too much like Emma—differing only in those striking inferiorities, which always brought the other in brilliancy before him, for much to have been done, even had his time been longer.—He had stayed on, however, vigorously, day after day—till this very morning’s post had conveyed the history of Jane Fairfax.—Then, with the gladness which must be felt, nay, which he did not scruple to feel, having never believed Frank Churchill to be at all deserving Emma, was there so much fond solicitude, so much keen anxiety for her, that he could stay no longer. He had ridden home through the rain; and had walked up directly after dinner, to see how this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults, bore the discovery.

He had found her agitated and low.—Frank Churchill was a villain.—He heard her declare that she had never loved him. Frank Churchill’s character was not desperate.—She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house; and if he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt ten)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

After being long fed with hopes of a speedy visit from Mr. and Mrs. Suckling, the Highbury world were obliged to endure the mortification of hearing that they could not possibly come till the autumn. No such importation of novelties could enrich their intellectual stores at present. In the daily interchange of news, they must be again restricted to the other topics with which for a while the Sucklings’ coming had been united, such as the last accounts of Mrs. Churchill, whose health seemed every day to supply a different report, and the situation of Mrs. Weston, whose happiness it was to be hoped might eventually be as much increased by the arrival of a child, as that of all her neighbours was by the approach of it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt nine)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

“Only think! well, that must be infinitely provoking! I have quite a horror of upstarts. Maple Grove has given me a thorough disgust to people of that sort; for there is a family in that neighbourhood who are such an annoyance to my brother and sister from the airs they give themselves! Your description of Mrs. Churchill made me think of them directly. People of the name of Tupman, very lately settled there, and encumbered with many low connexions, but giving themselves immense airs, and expecting to be on a footing with the old established families. A year and a half is the very utmost that they can have lived at West Hall; and how they got their fortune nobody knows. They came from Birmingham, which is not a place to promise much, you know, Mr. Weston. One has not great hopes from Birmingham. I always say there is something direful in the sound; but nothing more is positively known of the Tupmans, though a good many things I assure you are suspected; and yet by their manners they evidently think themselves equal even to my brother, Mr. Suckling, who happens to be one of their nearest neighbours. It is infinitely too bad. Mr. Suckling, who has been eleven years a resident at Maple Grove, and whose father had it before him—I believe, at least—I am almost sure that old Mr. Suckling had completed the purchase before his death.”

They were interrupted. Tea was carrying round, and Mr. Weston, having said all that he wanted, soon took the opportunity of walking away.