Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sarah Palin, Patti Smith,Harry Smith, Ahmadou Kourouma,

She Who Shall Go Nameless apparently had the Number 1 Best Selling Book in Hardcover in 2009, according to a recently published PW report.A close friend of mine,knowing of my predilection for consuming vast quantities of literature, told me in no uncertain tone that she hoped that I hadn't purchased a copy of "Going Rogue". I hadn't and still haven't, although I don't generally make it a practice to read this sort of material. But it says something about the never ending detritus read by the American public that this book and Glenn Beck's right-wing pale imitation of Colbert are at the top of the best seller list, as is again Ayn Rand , whose ghoulish self-centered individualism (Atlas Shrugged, the Fountainhead) has been revived after Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan and the whole sick crew of the Chicago School of Economics used its ill advised precepts to help dig the biggest hole in the American economy in almost a hundred years.
I must confess however that I did read "Mein Kampf" for the first time 20 years ago- sometimes it's good to read rants before they're adopted as the marching song in the streets. In the nameless one's case, however, it's just another trashy celeb bio more than anything,or is it more infectious than that?

Highly recommended are two books by reccently deceased author Ahmadou Kourouma from Cote d'Ivoire---Waiting for the Beasts to Vote and Allah is Not Obliged- the latter just out from Anchor Boooks in the USA- The first is a great piece of storytelling by Bingo, a West African storyteller(sora) and king's fool, recounting the adventures of Koyaga , dictator of the mythical Gulf Coast- a magico- satirical history of African dictatorship ; the second, written shortly before Kourouma's death,is the story of the last few horrifying years told through the eyes and pen of a child soldier. Both are worth pursuing here or in the UK.

Patti Smith has a new memoir out- Just Kids- which tells of her early life living on the cheap in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe before they became,separately, icons of our world. It's a sweet piece of writing from a fiercely intelligent and truthful writer-I remember her when she was selling books in Scribners-the once two level magisterial bookshop on 5th and 48th St She was as delightful a spirit then as she is now- Go Rimbaud, Go Johnny Go!

For a time Smith lived in the Chelsea Hotel and made the acquaintance of, among others Harry Smith.-Harry passed from our world in 1991- litle known beyond his fame in the music world but an enormous influence on the counterculture- He was a collector, an amateur anthropologist, painter ,and maker of experimental films -

His collection of folk, fiddle, gospel, hillbilly, blues ,cajun, murder ballads,religious ecstasy and various off- beat pieces from the 20's and 30's became the basis of Folkways Famous six LP Anthology of American Folk Music- which was probably the single most important collection -maybe the UR music piece used by Dylan , Van Ronk ,Baez and the entire folk+ movement- It introduced America to the Carter family, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson and many others. But Smith , who made experimental films (like the kabbalistic stick figured Heaven and Earth) as early as the late 40's and 50's and was a talented painter, has been forgotten in the dusty gloom of a life lived in the company of people like Alan Ginsberg but always somwewhat in the shadows. He was neither a member of the avant garde who would commercialize his work nor a bohemian associating with others in rebellion, so much as a transgressive toothless wonder-yes a bum in the old sense of the word-- who lived from flophouse to flophouse and hotel to hotel ,and had his art thrown out for failure to pay rent and chucked into Staten Island's landfills in the 60's. At last, after years of living in Boulder and being involved with the Naropa Institute , he returned to NY to accept a lifetime music award and died paranoid and convinced that he was being poisoned at the Chelsea hotel in Nov 1991.

The Getty Museum ,some years after devoting exhibitions to Smith's work, has issued a brilliant volume of essays dedicated to him, edited by Rani Singh and Andrew Perchuk.It is entitled Harry Smith-The Avant garde in the American Vernacular This tome helps restores Smith, personal warts and all, to the important position he held in American arts in the 20th Century.

As Keats said-on the act and art of listening and seeing---
Away Away for I will fly to thee
not charioted by bacchus and his pards
but on the viewless wings of poesy
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet
nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs
but in embalmed darkness guess each sweet
wherewith the seasonable month endows
the grass the thicket and the fruit tree wild
white hawthorn and pastoral eglantine
fast fading violets covered up in leaves
and mid-May's eldest child
the coming musk rose full of dewy wine
the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves

and for this unexpected treasure, in decay and ecstasy- away away I will fly to thee

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