So, Allen Ginsberg comes to Portland in 1956 with his friend Gary Snyder and they spend a couple of days at Reed College. He’s 29 and just about as full of desire as a human can be. He wants to touch the firmament and he wants to savor the most exotic pleasures of the flesh, he wants to be the greatest poet ever and he wants everyone to know it, he wants to drink with the gods and use the hangover to prove that he’s caroused with them. And what separates him from just about every other ambition-drenched artist out there is that in 1956 he is carrying “Howl” in his pocket, and all the contradictions, the spirit and the flesh, the yearning for desirelessness, the hunger to be both participant and observer at the same time, have been resolved, temporarily, on the page. After reading several shorter poems on the second night, he turns to “Howl.” And, well, you should check it out.
Reed College has now posted the audio tape of Ginsberg’s reading of “Howl” at the college in 1956. It’s offering a range of options (from the master tape unedited including several other poems and Ginsberg’s intro to “Howl” to an edited version of “Howl”). For the most concentrated dose, go straight to the edited “Howl.” He starts out slowly, deliberately, in a youthful version of the nasal tones that only became nosier as he aged. It picks up. Faster. Higher pitched. More intense. This isn’t the final published version of “Howl” (which wasn’t finally reached until 1986): If you follow along with the printed page, he skips around, changes the order, drops some phrases and adds others. But, after rather lackadaisically making his way through the other poems that preceded “Howl” that night (and available at the site, too), he is fully engaged with the text. He KNOWS it’s good, and tries to live up to it with his reading, even though the crowd is small (though responsive, laughing at some of the more delightfully over-the-top moments in the poem). And I was laughing too.
The first week of Art Scatter is littered below us! There were takes on great Oregon painter James Lavadour, “The Dancer” exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, the discovery at Reed College of the earliest known tape of Allen Ginsberg reading “Howl,” a defense of sorts of Herbie Hancock’s River, some observations about Portland theater and, yes, more. And some interesting comments — thanks! Really, for us, Art Scatter is about the conversation. Without it we sink into curmudgeonly ranting, which might be amusing at first, but loses any possible charm with repetition.
Looking ahead: This weekend the Portland Jazz Festival honks into life, with Ornette Coleman looming ahead tonight. We’re going to try to be there and at his “lecture” this afternoon. A few words will be forthcoming. And Reed is releasing the Ginsberg tape on its website today: we’ll give a listen. One of our company is in Houston, rich with art bought with oil money. We’re all reading something, too. And really, Portland is bristling with SO much activity right now that it’s hard not to take aim at something.
So, to both of you who’ve been here from Day One and those joining now, stay tuned… and join the fun.
By BOB HICKS
Maybe you spotted it, near the end of a generally mild-mannered editorial urging people to help pay down the debt at Portland Center Stage’s Gerding Theater at the Armory, in the Saturday, Feb. 9, Oregonian: a throwaway insult guaranteed to boil blood.
“Portland has long been recognized,” the editorialist sniped, “as a first-rate place to see second-rate theater.”
That didn’t get past Oregonian reader Mary Starrs, who replied angrily in a letter to the editor on the Tuesday, Feb. 13, op-ed page, and if the original editorial hadn’t happened to run on a Saturday, by tradition the least-read edition of any daily newspaper, it might have raised more of a ruckus.
Now, there probably isn’t a writer in history who hasn’t experienced the clever line coming back to bite him on the behind, so I’m not going to toss too many pebbles at the anonymous editorial writer: glass houses and all that. Nevertheless, this particular cute line is a big mistake in a couple of ways.
First, it muddies the main message of the editorial, which is that Portland Center Stage is still almost $11 million short on its $37 million rehab of the Armory — a troubling figure that hasn’t much budged in the past year. The whys and wherefores of the company’s inability to pay off its debt — you always want to have bricks and mortar paid for before a new museum building or performance hall opens, while there’s still some excitement about the project — are fit subject for some serious analysis, but that’s another story.
Second, if the editorial writer actually meant what he or she wrote, it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of local and regional theater. What exactly does “second-rate” mean? (And isn’t the reference to Portland as a “first-rate place” just another example of this city’s increasingly annoying habit of overestimating its own charms? — but that’s another story, too.) Continue reading Second rate? Second rank? A snarky dispute
I’m listening to River: The Joni Letters, Herbie Hancock’s interpretation of Joni Mitchell songs that won the Album of the Year Grammy on Sunday. This was a surprise, if only because this little album had sold so few copies (50,000 according to Soundscan) and was facing the twin Goliaths of this year’s Grammy awards, Kanye West and Amy Winehouse. OK, calling Winehouse a Goliath is perhaps going too far.
But apparently it wasn’t a surprise to Ben Ratliff of the New York Times with whom I’m about to have an argument. Which isn’t smart on my part. Ratliff is knowledgeable about music, I bet even obsessive. Worse for me, from reading him, you can tell that he hears music with the keenest of ears. And finally, he writes about it clearly and intelligently. I’m a fan of his book “Coltrane: The Story of a Sound.” So I have no doubt that this is going to go badly…
OK. Tina Turner is singing “Edith and the Kingpin,” Wayne Shorter is finding some impish sax lines and Lionel Loueke has this funny clucking going on his guitar, while Hancock himself is enjoying himself by finding some chords that clearly amuse him. Tina Turner? Yeah, and she’s just fine, thanks.
Ratliff’s argument in the Tuesday New York Times: If a “jazz” album was going to win Album of the Year, it’s predictable that it was an album like River, because it resembles the non-jazz albums that frequently win — “soft-edged, literate and respectable.” And these are fighting words for jazz fans, though Ratliff also praises elements of River. But it’s not REAL jazz, he implies; it’s a combination of jazz and singer-songwriter. And jazz fans shouldn’t take any comfort in Hancock’s victory, by considering it some sort of sign of the form’s return to the middle of the musical discourse.
Continue reading Herbie Hancock v. Ben Ratliff
This report from my wife, Laura, who was walking in the South Park Blocks near the Portland Art Museum this morning, Tuesday, Feb. 12:
An elderly gentleman is standing beside that stern, sorrowful, loving statue of Abraham Lincoln. A bouquet of flowers is resting by the pedestal.
“Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday,” the gentleman says.
“Did you put the flowers there?” Laura asks.
“Yes,” he replies. “I do it every year.”
“Oh,” says Laura. “Let me get a picture.”
But by the time she has her cell phone out of her purse and in her hand, the gentleman has disappeared.
Now, that’s public art.
— Bob Hicks
â€œWhat does not change / is the will to change,â€ as the poet Charles Olson said, meaning that, wherever we look, change is fundamental, continuous, and irrevocable. We know this but often forget it in broad prospect as we round our own daily planet.
James Lavadourâ€™s recent paintings are landscapes of such change. Now on view at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem (February 2-March 30), are several of Lavadourâ€™s large-scale works formed from nine, twelve or fifteen small, intricately-painted panels. The paintings are essentially abstract, and yet in their depths they suggest the great forming cataclysms of the Pacific Northwest: exploding mountains, lava floods, draining seas, massive dragging glaciers and the great Missoula floods that carved the Columbia Basin. These convulsive geologic images are echoed in the painting process visible on the wood surface of the paintings, showing how Lavadour has scraped, dripped and wiped the layers of paint.
The paintings are astonishingly beautiful. Most of the individual panels range in size from 12 x 18â€ to 24 x 30,â€™â€™ and yet they draw you into what are really monumental landscapes, as if glimpsed through and framed by a car window on a drive up the Columbia Gorge, the mountains, cliffs and falls just out of focus through clouds, mists and rain splatter rendering the view from the window a blear. Continue reading James Lavadour: Landscapes of Change
By BOB HICKS
In Paris they were called abonnes.
In Moscow and St. Petersburg they were balletomanes.
Lincoln Kirstein, the impresario who founded New York City Ballet with George Balanchine, rolled his eyes and referred to them waspishly as “balletptomaines.”
One way or another, they are nuts: nuts for the ballet, for the dancers, for the social swirl, the easy access. The ones who know every step, and know better than the choreographers how the steps ought to be combined. The ones who give money to the company and assume they’ve bought the right to make decisions about how it’s run. The starstruck, the shoulder-rubbers, the bedazzled. The gents who love the bodies — in an entirely aesthetic sense, of course. The best friends a ballet company can have, and a bane on its existence.
The Portland Art Museum’s current exhibition “The Dancer: Degas, Forain, and Toulouse-Lautrec,” which continues through May 11, 2008, gives an almost unseemly amount of attention to the abonnes, those wealthy and well-connected Parisian gentlemen of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who, by virtue of their season subscriptions to the Paris Opera and other performance halls, had unprecedented access to the backstage life. Some of Degas’ prints in the exhibition touch on the subject, but they are the compulsion of Forain and to a certain extent the exhibit as a whole, throwing the thing into a curious imbalance: Forain, by far the least important of these three artists, becomes the defining figure in the show.
Continue reading Balletptomaines at the museum
Art Scatter is an ongoing assemblage of our cultural material, our occupations and preoccupations, our hand print and shadow on the wall of the cave.
In archaeology the term “scatter” refers to the distribution of evidence of human activity. In archaeological resource surveys, a lithic scatter site denotes the haphazard arrangement of chipped stone flakes struck from obsidian or flintstone during the production of tools such as knives, arrowheads or scrapers. The arc of scatter shows us where the toolmaker squatted; the size and shape of the fragments reveal his craft. A more general artifact scatter may include the maker’s finished tool, as well as pottery, bone or other evidence of habitation, diet or culture of the tribe. A trash scatter â€“ a dump â€“ will include successive layers of discarded or abandoned items, a record of things disused, broken, forgotten. Scatter is thus at once the thing made, how it was made, and its history of use.
Art Scatter is our surface reconnaissance of the contemporary arts and culture landscape (with some subsurface burrowing as well), the arc of our own scatter as we examine the scatter of others.
Art Scatter is thus not to be confused with so-called â€œscatter art,â€ those minimalist installations or found environments of randomly collected materials that have aesthetic meaning only by virtue of their chance arrangement.
No, Art Scatter is about the purpose and meaning we bring to creation and observation. We gather, we carve, we leave marks, we study marks. We observe culture, we are part of culture.
— Vernon Peterson