ladies and gentleman
blaise cendrars is not dead
by patti smith
Ladies and gentlemen
Blaise Cendrars is not dead
that rummy you buried in such
grave ceremony was his own enemy
true the right arm gone
Blaise slashed it himself
that little puff box run
run at the mouth
was jack rolling our hero
with a wicked pack of cards
But Blaise a jack dandy himself
noted the error
(all the chips were on puff boxes’ side)
and like the great Hammurabi
Blaise cut him down
right hand for that bad hand of poker
He is alive in every marked deck
every poker chip
he has a pair of slick dice
and he’ll wheel you straight to hell
and when you dial round the black market
you deal with him
yes it’s our man who drops that cigar ash
on the receiving end
yes it’s him crooning liquid music
and sonorous tin pan
through every cable line
linking every slob sister swindler
little snakesman two bit gambler
even slightly illegal and angel
has an ash in their vest pocket
and a kodak of that scoundrel
vainer now one armed crack face
than this mock hardy youth
he drags me in and out
of every photo booth
and praises in bad poetry
the polaroid sixty second snap
A fool hearty documentarian
his choppers have spun the globe
and for want of a straw hat we were trapped
knee deep in the swamps of Panama
we suffered malaria
and as a result
slaughtered 2/3 the mosquito population
of that hot hole
Christ it was a lusty battle
we were sick with laughter
and sick ourselves
runny assed and cunt with clap
hair red with crabs and lice
in our boots we rolled our own smokes
twisted up a few panama reds
and plotted the destruction of that wily insect
we danced to Vulcan our private god of flame
and sacrificed a few of those blood suckers
snapping their heads with our nails
which turned our hero slightly pale
Some years I bragged the beauty of my hands
“I have music neath these fingernails”
and true these fists never failed
to spiel whole logs full of
literatures Roman a clef
and now it’s come to this
mosquito in fire
mosquito death hiss
Christ then it began again
the old fever and thirst
for raging fire
with torches we ran whole lengths
of those Panama fields
and as the brush caught up
I cried out in my most disgusting French
Blaze on Blaise
and that bastard burnt me with a cigarette
Like a great epic movie
we’ve reeled the world
why only six months ago
I assisted that cur in the most marvelous
hoax of the gentle midwest
Our wagon rolling in a dry bone state
Blaise posed as Louis Saucer
humble rainmaker prophet in rain boots
but when the clouds cracked
the white rain was liquor
and all of Iowa was soused with tequila
every pour sap that poured to the scene
of the great rain left drenched
to the teeth
and drunk to the teeth
Blaise curled that famous lip
and we laughed and laughed
and caused more mischief since
It was his ticklish fingers
that caused Mick the jagger
to dance like a fish
he shot lightning from the theatres
robbed the actors of their shadows
and backstage mirrors
it was his sassy diseased kiss
that laid miss universe out with the mumps
the recession? our man’s been pinballing
with the Jewish jewel thieves
feeding opium into IBM
and sparing no one the bugger
robs school children
The dirty shit still spits poetry
between his clicking spaced teeth
tracing aerial views of Greenland
land of the treacherous iceage
and fanatic hun
gold mine dreams in goat canyon
charting the gold where the moon slaps
then drunk with that special glitter
running lyrics in gold dust inks.
Mike Stax, of Ugly Things magazine, wrote this moving tribute to the late Greg Shaw in October 2004, talking about Shaw’s influence on him and friendship…
With the death of Greg Shaw the world lost not only a pioneer of rock fandom but the chief architect of an entire musical universe, populated by innumerable bands, writers, fanzine publishers and independent label owners. Defining the boundaries of this universe would be an impossible task. The present day garage rock movement is just one of its most recent manifestations, but to call it Greg’s biggest achievement, as many writers have done in the obituary columns, would be to completely miss the much larger picture.
The big picture was something Greg seemed to understand better than any other writer or scene-maker. When punk rock exploded in 1976 with all its ‘Year Zero’ and ‘No More Heroes’ bluster, Shaw was one of the few observers who understood that the movement was neither a musical coup d’etat nor a disposable fad, but the latest chapter in a rock’n’roll continuum that stretched back to the garage bands of the ’60s and the rock’n’roll rebels of the ’50s.
As a rock writer and historian, Shaw’s insight and breadth of knowledge was unparalleled. Bangs, Meltzer et al, get most of the ‘rock writer’ plaudits, but when I need to actually learn something about the music I turn to Greg Shaw’s work. Starting with Mojo-Navigator in 1966 (probably the first rock fanzine) and continuing through the 1970s with Who Put the Bomp!, he set the standard for rock fandom, championing the best overlooked bands – new and old – and illuminating the more obscure nooks and crannies of rock’s history: the small labels, regional scenes and no-hit bands that had been forgotten by all but a small core of collectors. With Greg Shaw at the helm, Bomp! magazine helped galvanize an entire generation of rock’n’roll fanatics worldwide; fanatics who, realizing they were not alone in their obsessions, began to form bands or start fanzines of their own. Without Bomp! magazine there would have been no Kicks and certainly no Ugly Things.
With the release of the Flamin’ Groovies’ “You Tore Me Down” single in 1974 Bomp became a record label too. In its first decade it helped nurture a variety of genres, including punk, power pop and garage rock. For the latter, Shaw created the Voxx subsidiary, which he began in 1979 with the Crawdaddys’ Crawdaddy Express LP.
In parallel to releases by new bands, Shaw launched Pebbles, a series of compilations drawing from his massive collection of rare ’60s garage singles. Pebbles was inspired by Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets set, but Shaw’s archeology investigated a much deeper strata of ’60s obscurity. Pebbles became the model for an avalanche of ’60s garage compilations that continues to this day, and set the stage for today’s reissue market. The inspiration for Norton, Crypt, Sundazed, Dionysus, Get Hip and dozens more labels can be traced back directly to Shaw.
Shaw, however, would be the last person to proclaim his own importance. Unassuming and soft-spoken, he preferred the role of the quiet catalyst: bringing people together and providing them with the tools, the materials and the environment they needed to make it all happen.
Greg Shaw was the ultimate mentor. One word consistently comes up when I talk to the people who knew him: encouragement. “He was always so encouraging,” they all say. All of them. Encouragement is a rare commodity, especially from the right person; somebody you respect. Greg’s encouragement was always generous and sincere, and it was a source of strength to many.
I speak from personal experience. Greg’s encouragement changed the course of my life in a very real way. In 1979 I was a 17 year-old kid living in Yorkshire, England, when I heard a track from the Crawdaddys album on John Peel’s radio show – a raging version of “Oh Baby Doll.” As a passionate fan of ’60s British R&B I was stunned to discover this was not some vintage obscurity but a new band – from San Diego, California, of all places. I immediately tracked down and bought the LP and shortly afterwards wrote an effusive fan letter to the band, c/o Voxx Records in San Fernando Valley, California.
Greg Shaw received my letter and forwarded it on to the band. “This guy sounds really sincere,” he wrote to Ron Silva, “you should write him back.” Ron did write back and several months later I was on my way to America to become the Crawdaddys’ new bass player. It was the beginning of a difficult but exciting few years for me as I struggled to get by without money or a green card, but Greg was a constant source of encouragement. His words of support helped me find the self-belief I needed to tough it out through the hard times. Greg’s encouragement continued and even increased after I left the Crawdaddys to form the Tell-Tale Hearts. Within a few months of our formation, he offered us an album deal. He released several of our records over the next few years, booked us regularly at his Cavern Club (which he established as a venue for the blossoming scene) and helped us establish a following. He did the same thing at the time for other up and coming garage bands: the Miracle Workers, the Gravedigger Five, the Primates et al. We even got our photo in People magazine posed in the club behind Greg and other Cavern Club regulars.
During the same period I started a fanzine Ugly Things, inspired largely by the now-defunct Bomp! magazine. Once again, Greg was there for me, happy to look up any obscure fact or figure, provide a rare photo or clipping, or turn me onto obscure bands or records I was unfamiliar with. He went way beyond the call of duty. One time, for example, I was working on a series of articles about English producer Joe Meek, so I asked Greg to help me fill some of the (quite considerable) gaps in my Meek collection. A couple of weeks later, he handed over more than a dozen 90-minute cassettes. He’d taped his entire collection of Joe Meek singles – hundreds of them; it must have taken him days of painstaking work cuing up 45s and typing up the tracklists. That was the kind of person Greg was. He recognized the passion I had for what I was doing, and fueling that passion was its own reward.
I didn’t see much of Greg in later years, but he would still send me emails from time to time – always offering me words of encouragement about my work, both as a writer and a musician. As I stated earlier, Greg was a HUGE inspiration for me with Ugly Things, so you can imagine how I felt when, just a couple of years ago, he told me in an email that he considered Ugly Things “the best fanzine ever.” For him it was probably just a casual piece of hyperbole, typed in the heat of the moment, but for me it was the most meaningful and inspirational compliment I’d ever received. I’ll never forget it.
And, like countless other people out there who benefited from his inspiration and encouragement, I will never forget Greg Shaw.
for all the world lies
hushed & fallen
green ships dangle
on the surface of
Ocean, & sky-birds
glide smugly among
Gaunt crippled houses
Strangle the cliffs
In the East, in the cities
a hum of life
begins, now come
Of the Great Insane
sending our gift
to its vast promise
Pilots are a problem
The rain & hungry sea
greedy for steel
Say a soft American Prayer
A quiet animal sigh
for the strong plane
We rode on opium tires
from the colossal
airport chess game
at dawn, new from glass
in the broken night
landed then in quiet
fog, beside the times
out of this strange river
Then gladly thru
a wasted morning
happy to be alive to
signs of life
a school girl
are we in Harlem?
accept this ancient
which has travelled
far to greet us
From the East
Call out to him
From the mountain
high, from high
as the mind
& wends its way
grant us one more day
the hero of this dream
who heals & guides us
Forgive me, Blacks
you who unite
as I fear & gently
fall on darkness
Science of Night
Earth Air Fire Water
Mother Father Sons & Daughters
Airplane in the starry night
Forest follow free
I love thee
watch how I love thee
The Politics of ecstasy are real
Can’t you feel them working
Turning night into day
Mixing sun w/the sea.
cruel swimming ambience
sweet swimming fish hook smile
I love you all the while
even w/the little child
by the hand
Keep off the walk
listen to the children talk
Cobra sun / Fever smile
-No man kill me
“Who is this insane messenger?”
In times like these we need
men around us who can
see clearly & speak the truth.
Out of breath
~Cassandra at the Well~
Help! Help! Save us!
We’re dying, fella, do something.
Get us out of this!
What have we done now!
We’ve done it, fella, we’ve committed the
This is the end of us, fella.
I love you fella.
I love you fella.
I love you cause you’re you.
But you’ve got to help us.
What have we done, fella,
What have we done now?
Where are my dreamers
Today & tonight.
Where are my dancers
whirling & screaming
Where are my women
caught like angels
on the dark porch
of a velvet ranch
dance dance dance dance
dance dance dance
It was the greatest night of my life
Although I still had not found a wife
I had my friends right there beside me
Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding
Ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind
We scaled the wall
We tripped thru the graveyard
Ancient shapes were all around us
No music but the wet grass
felt fresh beside the fog
Two made love in a silent spot
one chased a rabbit into the dark
A girl got drunk & made the dead
And I gave empty sermons to my head
Cemetery cool & quiet
Hate to leave
your sacred lay
Dread the milky coming of the day
In this full-throated
we must try again
to speak of the ununited
miles of sleep around
Bumbling thru slumber
In a tiled room
We sit & brood
Refuse to move
The guards refuse
and in the last place
and in the last sweet breath
& in stroke of sine-wise crab
and in stars of plenty, stars of greed
in the written book & majesties
in fulfillment on a cliff
on the inside of butter
on smooth backs & camels
in the open vessel
in the vein
in lives untold
who witnessed everything
For those people who died
for the heavenly creed
for you, for me
These lines are written
to convey the message
To ignore the warning
To spree upward into
To visit under-seas
Things more horrible
Things out of the tales
All these monstrous
Words forsaken, falling
by all Hell
loose walls, forgotten
tumbling down into
fellows of the one true cross
earthly lovers crash
sweet sorrow blackness
on the spilled roadside
down, into fire
while I cry
it must come
from the center
it must come
like the dawn
We create the dawn
I fell on the earth
& raped the snow
I got married to life
& breathed w/my marrow
I saw young dancers
I am meat & need fuel
Need the whorey glimmer of tears
in women, all ages
Laughter sandwich, fuel
for the lunch of meat minds
Now damn you, dance
or die sleek & fat in your
reeking seats, still
buckled for flight
If the writer can write, &
the farmer can sow
Then all miracles concur,
appear, & start happening
If the children eat, if their
time of crying was Mid-
The earth needs them
soft dogs on the snow
Nestled in Spring
When sun makes wine
& blood dances dangerous
in the veins or vine
To have just come wondering
if the world is real is
sick to see the shape she’s
made of. What wandering
lunacy have we soft created?
Certain no one meant it
sure someone started
Where is he?
Where is he or it when
we need her?
Where are you?
In a flower?
To have just been born
for beauty & see sadness
What is this frail sickness?
Round-up, Rondolay, Rhonda,
Red, Rich roll ruse rune
rake roan ran regard
if you know what I mean.
This is concrete imagery Vermont
The mouth leads this way
I that way
No good faster the hand too slow
To exist in time we die construct
prisms in a void
The truth faster These hang-ups
hold-ups shooting the republic
The president’s dream behind
four-score fast fever the clinic
the wisdom syphilis doctor nurse
Indians americans Atlantis
Save us guide us in time of need
prayer to the mind cell body
prayer to center of man prayer
to evening’s last whisper as the
hand silently glides into peaceful
thorns stones storms
I await your coming
w/negligence Speak to me!
don’t leave me here alone Torture
clinic chamber I know the man
arrested The stale bars his mother
who will help a match a cigarette
I’m going. God? What is your name
There must be some way to define
stop happening space shades
postures poses snapshots The
World behind the word & all
utterance Can’t now
coming for us soon leave all over
The Republic is a big cross in a
big cross the nation The world on fire
Taxi from Africa The Grand Hotel
He was drunk a big party last
night there. Pastures fields
skunks snake invisible night birds
night hawks summer disasters
out of doors listen to the lions
roar in the empty fields
These are forgotten
lands Speak confidently of
the forest the end the joke
is on me most certainly
There must be someone today who
knows they do but they can’t
Tell you like feeding a child
Wine like sniffing cortex
blue babies lists real estate
cleaning offices word-vomit
mind soup crawling lice book bonds.
Feeling streams lead to losers
back going back in all directions
sleeping these insane hours
I’ll never wake up in a good mood
again. I’m sick of these
stinking boots. Stories of animals
in the woods not stupid but
like indians peeping our their
little eyes in the night I know
the forest & the evil moon tide.
“We sure look funny don’t we fella?”
Plu-perfect. Forgotten. Songs
are good streams for a laugh.
The mind bird was a good fella
Who minded labyrinths & lived
in a well He knew Jesus
Knew Newman Knew me &
Morganfield I hope you can
understand these last parables
were hope (less) sure if you can
regard them as anything beyond
matter Surely not more than
Twice-fold fork follow & loose-
tree Now here’s the rub rune
Rib-bait squalor the women of the
quarter yawned & meandered
swimming dust tide for food
scraps to child feed No noon
for misses The Church called bells
inhabitants of the well come to hell
come to the bell funeral jive
Negroes plenty, fluttering their
dark smiles. Mindless lepers-
con-men The movie is popular
This season in all the hotels
rich tourists from the continent
shore up & hold a story seance
nightly The birds tell & they
Know all Telephones crooks
& castenets The lines are wired
Listen hear those voices & all
This long distance from the other half
I love to hear ya ramble boy
missionary stallion One day
The devil arrived only no one tell
or you’ll ruin the outcome. He
walked to the pulpit & saved
The city while certainly scoring
Someone’s female daughter.
When his cloak was hoisted
The snake was seen & we all
slipped back to lethargy.
Buildings gilded no interruptions.
Constructions everywhere. Our
own house was solid astrology
Tiny flutes won their starlings
sunrise. And in the estuary
side-traps stopped our dinner
He came home w/bags of meat
& sacks of flour & the bread
rose & the family flourished.
Those who Race toward Death
Those who wait
Those who worry
The Endless quest a vigil
of watchtowers and fortresses
against the sea and time.
Have they won? Perhaps.
They still stand and in
their silent rooms still wander
the souls of the dead,
who keep their watch on the living.
Soon enough we shall join them.
Soon enough we shall walk
the walls of time. We shall
except each other.
Fence my sacred fire
I want. To be simple, black & clean
A dim nothingness
The sea is green
like the child’s version of a
Why the desire for death.
A clean paper or a pure
white wall. One false
line, a scratch, a mistake.
Unerasable. So obscure
by adding million other
tracings, blend it,
But the original scratch
remains, written in
gold blood, shining.
Desire for a Perfect Life
Instructional article on the best way to listen to The Flaming Lips’ 1997 experimental 4-CD set opus Zaireeka. Written by a guy named Drew (don’t know last name) and taken from the WBR.com website (link below)…
Okay, so you’ve gone out and bought Zaireeka. Now what? Do you have four cd players? Do you have four hands? Can you decide which disc to put in which stereo? Can you get it to run smoothly?
The answers to these questions probably aren’t all yes – a lot of people have certainly written and asked things along these lines. If it’s the case that you’re wondering about which way to go, then what follows might help you to progress but remember one thing – the whole point of the multiple sound source idea is to allow you to become involved and be an interactive decision making part of the entertainment. It’s up to you – don’t do the same thing all the time, experiment on your own terms and see what happens! These notes are just some of my (Drew’s) ideas to help people get started or to keep a gathering running smoothly if you’re involving the unconverted……. once you’ve tried a few, then just do everything you think of – even if it seems like a bad idea, you may be suprised and thrilled by the results!
The question everyone asks about Zaireeka at some point is about getting your cd players synched up. Well, don’t be afraid – you just have to learn a little about how well your players start. A simple count in (eg “One, two, three, go!”) should suffice if all your cd players start instantaneously from pause play (see liner notes for further instructions). However, if you (like me) have a particular cd player that needs a few seconds to think about it (even from pause) then obviously you need to get some delays going on there. So, what you could do is figure out where your slowest starter compares to the middle starter and how the fastest starter compares to the middle starter. Then adjust where you start each one on the count – still aiming for all the players to start around the time (or fractionally after) you say go. Try it out a few times, and the you should be able to get it right every time you start a track. The sound of all the players seeming like one voice for the start of track announcements is most satisfying and when you have to check they all started, you know you’ve synched it so well to sound great – the next variable comes from how closely the players run in time with each other (which will have a lot to do with heat, so assume nothing from one session to the next!). If they go well, you might not have to restart if for each track – judge that on how close to one voice the announcements sound at the start of each track. Of course, you might want to stop it all anyway and go for a different track, or go for a different disc combination…..
So, the other regular thing that comes up is about the number of cd players. I can tell you this – you can play cd one and get a great set of tunes, for the most part. Perhaps Track 2 and Track 6 lose a bit too much, but it’s still quite great. If you’ve two or three cd players, then you’ll be wondering which disc(s) to leave out. Well, the obvious answer is to try all six combinations with the two cds, or all four combinations with three cds. But if you want some thoughts about where to begin then, for the easiest and most song based listen try cds one and three – you’ll get almost all the vocals except ‘Future Crashendos’ which will sound completely ethereal without the vocal from cd two. Similarly, for three players, try one, three and four to give the same result with slightly more substance to the air around you! You could also try cds one, two and three for a similar result and get all the vocals I think. I actually like ‘Future Crashendos’ without the main song part but if you want that bit, then just fool around with any combination containing cd two. So, that’s the safe way – next it’s time to start deliberately choosing the cds to eliminate the vocals or certain melodies and then see what strange soundscapes you end up with. Believe me, it’s worth spending a few hours at that!
So, that’s all isn’t it? Well, no – we forgot something: how do the stereos compare to each other for sound quality and what controls do you have on each stereo? Volume, tone, equalization, pan, and more in some cases. You’ve got multiple sound sources and they’ll create a different mould according to what cd you allocate to what source and what you do to the variables for that sound source. If you’re going for an easy listen, then cds one and three are probably the ones to put in your best stereos, with the controls set for normal listening. If you want to explore the horizons of the sound offered to you, then try anything else that comes to mind! Set the controls for no bass, lots of bass, or saturate the treble and the bass… turn it right up or right down, put the main part cd in the trashiest cd player and the texture sounds in the expensive seperates hi-fi on low volume… put your speakers along two walls, surround youself with speakers in pairs, put each left speaker together and each right together, stack speakers on top of each other from all over – get random or WHATEVER! This is a multiple sound source experimentation kit waiting for you to have fun. You have huge potential to alter the shape of the great music in that four cd box. (personal hint: try playing all the cds except number three… but put cd one in a real trashy stereo and the other two in good machines – spacious sound will ensue… well, I like it anyway!)
Of course, if you’re feeling really adventurous, you could then take it all to an extreme and deliberately start the cds at intervals to see what happens… I haven’t tried that one myself yet but it might yield some interesting results.
As you can see, the possiblities with Zaireeka are many – you could listen to it a hundred times and make it specifically different each time. Besides which, each listening experience is likely to be unique due to speed variations on the cd players! Whatever you do, remember this – with Zaireeka, YOU are in charge! Find your own way through new sound experiences with the experimentation kit you’ve got at your disposal… and if anyone offers you a single cd of Zaireeka mixed down from it’s four parts, remember to laugh in their face.
I just recently saw this movie for the first time, and was blown away by its simplicity and poignancy. I definitely recommend it to any lover of cinema.
This article comes from the PopMatters website and was written the day before I saw the movie (although I didn’t know it until a week later) – April 3, 2009…
François Truffaut’s first film, 1959’s The 400 Blows, may very well be his finest. Indeed, Truffaut himself wondered if he would ever devise a script that engaged him as deeply and as personally as this semi-autobiographical exploration of a clever and rambunctious schoolboy who seeks the pleasures of cinema, camaraderie, and freedom while attempting to navigate the cold neglect of his family and the bitter demands of his schoolteacher. Often mistakenly credited as the first film of the French New Wave, The 400 Blows managed to inaugurate many of the characteristics closely associated with that style.
The release of a new edition of the film on Janus Film’s “Essential Art House” series, however, reminds us that The 400 Blows is more than an example of a cinematic style; it is an evocative and lyrical meditation on the exasperations and disappointments but also the joys and aspirations of youth. It is perhaps the quintessential film on adolescence, and thus should be considered a vital constituent of any serious film collection.
Truffaut’s first film and the French New Wave in general, emerged not out of practice but rather out of theoretical speculation. Truffaut was a writer for the film journal Cahiers du cinéma and in his critical assessments of directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford, Truffaut contributed to the so-called “auteur” theory (la politique des auteurs). This was the notion that, despite the fact that film is necessarily a collaborative act, a good director ought to be considered the film’s author, inasmuch as it is the director who decides upon the specifically filmic elements of the work. In other words, the director leaves an authorial trace upon the film by implementing his/her personal style and imbuing the frames of the film with his/her vision of the subject matter.
The important thing to note concerning this theory is that the writers for the Cahiers are not claiming that the director need write the script nor are they claiming that the script is, in any strong sense, the meat of the film. Rather, the auteur theory insists that one look to the specifically filmic elements of the work (such as camera angles, the editing of shots, the use of close-ups and pans) in order to read the film qua film as opposed to reading the film qua narrative.
Indeed when proponents of the French New Wave came to direct films themselves, they emphasized precisely those elements that were under directorial control to build new filmic languages. The use of the plural here is important because, aside from an increasing interest in the shot as the building block of a filmic language, the differences among the various directors of the New Wave far outweigh their similarities. To clarify this observation, consider a comparison between Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut.
Both directors are masters of the panning shot (perhaps Godard can be said to have sensationalized the technique in the extremely long panning shot in Weekend); both draw attention to the camera itself as a presence within the filmic moment (that is, neither attempt to conceal the actions of the camera in the manner of earlier French narrative film). Both directors seek to communicate with audiences through the use of filmic technique, relegating dialogue to a secondary and largely inessential source of meaning. But here the similarities largely subside.
Godard emphasizes the artificiality of film. He endeavors to make his viewers constantly aware that they are watching a contrivance. Thus, characters speak directly to the camera. The camera sometimes seems to get bored with its subject and meanders off toward something else. Godard makes use of the voice-over in a manner that intrudes upon the narrative aspects of the film. In all of this, we cannot help but think of Godard’s filmic technique as a cinematic reworking of Berthold Brecht’s theatrical technique of alienation.
We are meant to understand Godard’s work as something “worked up,” something manufactured. We are meant to register our distance from the characters and events onscreen. We are meant to feel discomfort and not be allowed to invest ourselves directly in the film. We are always aware of our presence as viewers because we are aware of the camera’s presence as medium.
Truffaut also draws attention to the movements of the camera, but the effect he creates totally diverges from Godard’s overt irony or his later agitprop. If Godard can be said to employ Brecht’s alienation effect, then Truffaut reminds one of the effect of absorption that Michael Fried discerns in French painting of the early to mid-18th century (particularly the works of Chardin). In Truffaut, the camera works not to keep the viewer out of the constructed reality of the film but rather to draw the viewer into the artifice, to make the viewer complicit in its feigned reality.
As an example, take the delightful sequence from The 400 Blows in which the camera follows a group of students being led by the gym teacher in a jog through the streets of the city. While tracking the procession, the camera sweeps high into the air. We witness small groups of students peal away from the phalanx to disappear into alleys and small shops. The teacher remains oblivious and the joggers eventually amount to only two students.
The camera offers us a view that can be held by no casual passerby (except perhaps a passerby of the avian sort) but the artifice of the shot does not separate us from the scene it records. Rather, the view from above becomes part of the joke so that we seem to participate in duping the teacher right along with the students. We become absorbed into their prank by the overt manipulation of the tracking shot.
Similar examples abound within The 400 Blows. Truffaut articulates his story not through plot (relatively little happens in the film) and not through dialogue (the conversations are largely repetitive and pointless), but rather by following the protagonist Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), documenting his movements, his reactions, recording his expressions, his moments of surprise and astonishment, his increasing awareness that the structures of his life will offer him no respite, no chance for liberty.
None of this is said as such; it would be far too trite if Truffaut announced such themes openly. Our understanding of Antoine emerges from our willingness through the kind blandishments of the camera to become increasingly solicitous of his position in the world. When we first encounter him, Antoine is caught drawing a moustache on the photograph of a scantily clad woman. He is sent to the corner for engaging in the same misbehavior as the rest of the class. This scene sets the tone for the film. Antoine is hardly a saintly child. He is mischievous and given to prevarication. He prefers to wipe his dirty hands on the curtains rather than walk a few more steps to get the towel. However, in these habits, he differs little from his classmates. Antoine’s most grievous sin seems to be his penchant for getting caught.
However, as the film proceeds, we cannot help but become involved with Antoine’s concerns and tribulations. He skips school and goes to a film and a carnival. We watch him on a ride, his form spinning within the machine. He contorts his body into odd shapes, attempting to derive as much joy as possible from the fleeting moment. The world whirls by and Antoine seems so small. We see him fascinated by the writing of Balzac. He goes so far as to create a shrine to the author and nearly burns his family’s apartment down in the process. He runs away, steals milk, washes his face in nearly empty fountains, and hides in the shadows.
He steals a typewriter, only getting caught when he attempts to return it. His parents send him to a reformatory near the sea. He had never seen the sea. He escapes during a soccer game, launching one of the most memorable sequences in any film by Truffaut. The camera tracks Antoine as he runs down the dirt roads toward the beach. His feet pound a rhythm—steady, incessant, mesmerizing. He reaches the sandy beach and we follow him still. There is no fear in the child’s eyes but not much hope, either. He just runs and we follow. He escapes but not from us.
He reaches the water’s edge, turns, and gazes directly at us while Truffaut freezes the frame. It is a remarkable moment. It is an ending constructed not from narrative as such but from something essentially filmic. Perhaps that is why that particular image is not likely to be erased from the mind of anyone who truly sees it.
Talks keep breaking down
between the two of us
as we struggle to find common ground
within our narrow parameters
The silence grows heavier by the hour
when you’re traveling through darkness
no compass to lead the way
only a bottle of whiskey to keep you warm
but then the bottle runs out
& the loneliness that you feel inside
is enough to drive you insane
but we can’t give up
you must drive those thoughts
straight out of your brain
And just when you feel like tomorrow
Will never come again
You wake up from this sleep
& see the blinding sun
Our hell is over,
our race is run.
Recent article (March 30, 2009) on the (resurrected) Crawdaddy! website about the coming death of the compact disc. Considering I probably own about 7,000 of the damn things (give or take a few thousand), I really hope CDs don’t completely die out. Even though I’m all for downloading as much as the next person, there are simply thousands of albums that I could not live without the physical product. It makes me wonder if in the future, nobody will be recording albums anymore. Or if they will just be digital “albums” – but that just doesn’t replace the beauty of a product with liner notes and printed lyrics and what have you…
The compact disc is dead! Long live the compact disc!
I read the news today oh, boy—the compact disc had just lost the war. A crowd of people stayed away. And now we’re stuck with fucking downloads. Stupid, crap-sounding, immediately gratifying but ultimately dissatisfying downloads. They deprive as much as they empower. Goodbye, context.
From a greedy capitalist point of view, this news makes sense. For the disposable background rock enthusiast, this news was probably met with a yawn. But for the rock album fan, the news is rather sad. And for the musician earning a living from his art = pain, why, I wouldn’t be surprised if he blew his mind out in a car—with his demo still spinning in the CD player.
The most telling part of this day in the life of music is that a medium was all but wiped out of existence by another medium of lower quality. For those who remember cassettes, yes, they were lower fidelity than vinyl records and far more portable, but they did not seal vinyl’s fate. CDs did. And while purists will win the argument that vinyl is of better quality than compact discs, there are too many variables that must be considered to preserve their case against the lowly 16-bit coaster. Vinyl’s superiority rests on many factors—the quality of the disc (180-gram virgin vinyl is the benchmark for great-sounding vinyl records), the quality of the turntable motor, the stylus, dust—just to name a few. CDs bear no such burden because they are digital. Once mastering and duplication engineers learned how to apply their craft for a digital medium, and once 20- or 24-bit DACs (Digital-to-Analog Converter – It is the hardware component in a CD player that converts the binary information on a CD into rock ‘n’ roll) became standard in even the cheapest CD players, CDs started sounding pretty good, all things considered.
In my mind, a 24-bit CD format should have overtaken the current 16-bit format long ago. That was the next logical step, and one that happened on the production side more than a decade ago. In fact, I wonder if CD sales would be growing, or at least not shrinking, if that were the case. The original argument against this was that 24-bit CDs required a new 24-bit CD player. And 16-bit players were all they ever made in quantity. However, because of the way bit depths and DACs work, a 24-bit CD player could play all your old 16-bit discs, too—they might even sound better. And you could still rip them into any kind of download-friendly medium you wanted. The cost of making a 24-bit player would be nearly the same as that of a 16-bit player (better DACs would cost a few cents more). And the discs themselves would cost no more to produce, though they would hold less music since, at 24 bits, you’re adding an additional 6 Mbs per stereo minute.
I think another factor that prevented 24-bit CDs from becoming a standard was that this higher bit depth was often married to a higher sample rate. Higher sample rates (96k is considered the sweet spot) are more technically challenging with regards to mainstream adaptability, and would really eat up space on the disc. Upon hindsight, I think CD producers and buyers would have been very satisfied with the improvements in bit depth alone. That even the most inexpensive home studio gear supports 24-bit, while the output medium never budged beyond 16, is another example of how record labels failed to lead in the digital world.
As I’ve written about previously in Riot Gear!, bit depth in a waveform (audio in a digital format) is responsible for amplitude, and therefore dynamic range. Dynamic range is the difference between the noise floor (inherent noise generated by the electronics without any music being pumped through it) and the loudest possible undistorted signal. If you do the math, the available dynamic range for the 16-bit audio found on your CDs is about 96 dB (theoretically higher but technically lower). The human ear is capable of perceiving anywhere from 103 dB to 140 dB, depending on how many rock concerts you’ve attended sans earplugs.
Now here’s the rub: You’re only getting that 96 dB dynamic range from your audio CD if its waveforms (CD tracks) were recorded at full volume, meaning all 16 bits are used up. Well, even bad music has some dynamic range and headroom, so at 16 bits, you’re probably averaging 12 to 14 bits if you’re lucky and things are well-recorded.
The magic of 24-bit audio is that, even if you do not use all 24 bits, you are using at least 16 bits, probably more. So now your tracks have a dynamic range as good as or better than what we lowly humans can handle (24-bit audio has a dynamic range of about 144 dB). This spread is heard at the top and at the bottom. While maximum loudness is the same at 16 and 24, at the latter there is less chance of distortion and hard clipping by DACs struggling to keep up. At the bottom, the noise floor is well below what we can possibly hear. It also gives us enough bits for a sound to fade out before quantization errors kick in. This is what 24-bit and its wider dynamic range offers—more clarity, more expression, and the ability to retain some warmth because you have so many more levels of volume to work with and you can recorder hotter without the fear of hard clipping. And for those of us who work and play in digital, warmth is what is often missing. Put simply—greater bit depth equals greater sonic depth.
Even though we are making music at 24 bits (or sometimes higher), our end product will be that 16-bit CD (or an equally low-res downloadable file). Somehow, we have to ditch 8 bits to get to lucky 16. The choice is simple—truncate, or truncate and dither. Since this is digital, each bit in your 24- or 16-bit file contains either a zero or a one. If those last 8 bits (known by the politically incorrect term of least significant bits) had only zeros, then truncating is no big deal. But some of those bits have ones, and now they are (sniff, sniff) gone. And at that point where the truncation was made, your audio still had something to say, but now all it can say is a meek and plaintive fzzzt. We call that fzzzt a quantization error, which is a techy way of saying math boo boo). The end result—really crappyfzzt soundingfzzt digitalfzzt audiofzzt.
Dither to the rescue.
Dither doesn’t really stop the truncation—after all, your world is now 16 bits, and no matter how hard you try, pouring 24 ounces of beer into a 16-ounce glass truncates 8 ounces all over your lap. What dither does, is add some very low level noise to the least significant bits, where the music is really quiet but still goddam important. This makes for a smoother transition from the sweet bits where the audio is nice and chunky, to the wee bits that no one loves because they have a tendency to go fzzzt. In affect, adding low-level noise fills those last bits with information that, in turn, pushes vital song information up into the higher more successful and popular bits. That fzzzt may still happen, but if it does it is masked by noise, or it happens at a level or frequency we cannot hear. The reason this all works is because our ears are smart. They ignore low-level noise when it is at a uniform frequency which lets us focus on the music in and above it. That’s why dithering works. Dithering also does something called noise shaping. Noise shaping strategically places the noise in and around certain frequencies, especially ones we don’t hear so well. So now those least significant bits will be making their offensive noises at frequencies we cannot hear or hear well.
In those subtle places where the hair stands up on the back of our necks while listening to a tune, dithering makes it happen as best it can considering it’s a 16-bit moment in a high resolution world (blasted downloads notwithstanding). We’re talking reverb tails, the last rings of a cymbal, and other sounds on the edges of silence—that’s where dithering is god.
The point I was trying to make before your eyes glazed over is that, of all the recording industry cock-ups in the digital age (and there are many), CDs not being allowed to evolve into a 24-bit medium is one of the biggest. Would it have saved the compact disc and the shuttering of record stores, the sound of which no amount of dithering can hide? Maybe. 24-bit is not a solution to downloading; it is an antidote, or at least a genuine alternative. Even though downloads are often lower quality than CDs, which I’ve used numbers to convince you aren’t much better, 24-bit audio would provide the differentiator that 16-bit CDs lack—and an accessible one. You don’t need to be an audiophile to appreciate the difference, nor do you need to invest in a high-end stereo. Face it: You were going to buy a new CD player at some point anyway, right?
I suppose it’s not too late, especially if someone puts me in charge (All hail King Dither!). But we’d better hurry. The news on the CD front is dire. And we already have enough monopolies fucking with the access and ownership of music.
Thanks to music stores shutting down, from mom and pop record shops to Virgin Megastores that have become such a small chain they can barely make a child’s bracelet, we’re going to have to rely on Amazon.com for our album purchases (which makes going without a record label that much easier). With labels rarely producing back catalogs anymore for non-mainstream or downstream artists (you know, the really good rock), expect to pay more than 16 bucks for their archive material. Christ, another sad ending…
A guide to the present situation
Our purpose here
is to take action
and have an effect on the world.
We have been born
into a moment
of unprecedented danger and opportunity.
Our failure to act
is itself a choice.
There is nowhere to hide
from this awareness.
It is time.
It is time for each one of us
to commit our energy, time, money, attention
to a vision of enduring peace and abundance
to a vision of humanity as a sound mind
in the healthy body of the biosphere
to a vision of a world that works
to a vision of our children’s children
growing up in a world without war
a world committed to the freedom and dignity
of every individual
regardless of race, sex belief or nation
a world committed to clean air, clean food, clean water
a world united in the awareness
that in diversity lies strength
a world more full of love than hatred
It is time for each of us
to vote with our lives
–our daily lives–
for or against
the vision of a more hopeful future.
Our purpose here
is to build a bridge.
The purpose of the bridge
is to span the distance
between our present situation
and our vision of a better world.
The beauty of a bridge is that,
once it is in place,
anyone can walk on it.
A few people can build a bridge
that can be walked on by many.
This is our response
to the dangers that face us:
We will build a bridge of faith
over the great ocean.
Every individual on earth
to take part in this work.
It is as individuals, working alone or in groups,
that we will accomplish our goals.
This is the greatest challenge we have ever faced.
We humans are being given the opportunity
to use what we’ve learned.
Hey, I see you, hiding under the rug there.
Come out, my friend, and be of service. It’s time.
breathe in, breathe out
breathe in hope, breathe out fear
breathe in courage, breathe out despair
the time for action has arrived
breathe in love, breathe out fatigue
breathe in, breathe out
fear keeps going out
there’s never an end to it, but it’s not a problem
there are no problems
I am bringing forth my own energy
I can feel it welling up in me
and pouring out into my work
I can’t say thank you for the gifts fast enough
I can’t stop crying out for more
What a wonderful moment to be alive in!
The momentum achieved
by many different people
in different places
working towards a common goal
is a tremendous source
of encouragement and strength
it allows each of us to approach our individual efforts
with joy and energy and love
and yet that moment always returns
when we are alone with our uncertainties
On the edge of the dream
we face our deepest doubts.
Now that it all is almost real
a terrible fear of success takes hold
and we grab desperately, uncontrollably, for failure.
One last chance to get off easy.
Who among us really wants to save the world,
to be born again into two thousand more years
How much sweeter to be the doomed generation,
floating gently on the errors and villainy of others,
towards some glorious apocalypse now…
Hallelujah! It’s not my fault —
Bring on the end times!
We hate our enemies
to provide ourselves in advance
with excuses for possible failure
Only when we give up
the comforts of pessimism
the luxury of enemies
the sweetness of helplessness
can we see beyond our own doubts.
I am speaking today of a great possibility
a chance to return to life
a chance to create a world for our children
not worse than the one we have
How dare I be discouraged in the work
by anything so trivial
as the fear of personal failure?
Fear of success and fear of failure
must be pushed aside and replaced
with enthusiasm for the work at hand
every day a new beginning
Let’s go —
There are bridges to build
new maps of consciousness to be delivered
to every planetary address
in every planetary language
We are ironworkers, skywalkers,
of light and life.
why we’re here!
The truth is, we have the skills
and we have the courage
if we could only keep our minds
on what we really want.
When you know what you want
all things are possible.
We want many things.
Now is the time to take a look at our priorities.
I can’t believe we want security and comfort
more than we want good health and full lives
for our children.
But our actions don’t always express our priorities.
Not because we’re afraid to admit
that our daily choices of where to commit our energies
will make the difference.
We are afraid to admit
that we could be building bridges
The truth is, we have everything to gain
and nothing to lose.
The satisfaction of knowing
you are doing your heart’s work
cannot be matched by any other pleasure on earth.
The freedom of total service to a greater good
is exactly what every seeker is searching for.
Maybe what really scares us
is that if we stopped procrastinating
something real might happen.
What is the nature of the work?
I think the first step is to add yourself
to the vision.
Imagine that you have a specific role to play…
and don’t take no for an answer.
breathe in, breathe out
it is time to remember what I already know
it is time to gather the tools I already have
time to walk forward naked in the direction
where my heart’s voice tells me to go
confident that my tools and my knowledge
will be at hand when I need them
breathe in, breathe out
fill my lungs with patience
exhale anxiety and greed
today I take a vow
not to love the world more than myself
not to love myself more than I love the world
I vow to build a bridge
over this gulf of imagination
that pretends to separate
my awareness of my own needs
from my awareness of the needs of the planet
we are one
that means I must serve you
if I wish to please myself
Let us serve as models.
And let us vow
to enjoy our work so much
that the hesitant and the fearful will grow jealous
and drop their chains
and run to join the fun.
How to prevent world catastrophe:
1) Admit that it could happen.
2) Decide that it will not happen
3) Commit your vision and energy to number two
without ever forgetting number one.
To choose to build a bridge
is the essential act of love.
This article about Jack Kerouac and “On the Road” was written by freelance writer Matt Miller, Sept. 1, 2002, and comes from the Literary Traveler website…
satori – Pronunciation:
n. Zen. sudden enlightenment.
In 1957, Jack Kerouac, a French Canadian kid from the mill-town of Lowell, Massachusetts, published his second novel, On the Road, and became an instant celebrity. The book would become a stone thrown into a cultural lake whose ripple would grow to Tsunami proportions and wash across the American landscape.
Forty years after its publication, in the summer of 1997, my buddy Dave Robinson and I packed up all we knew of life in the back of a black Ford Bronco and left our hometown for the west destiny highway. We burned out of town, leaving behind the worn bar brass polish of the Gaelic Club, the grease and bacon smell of Arthur’s Diner, the glory-day field of Cawley Stadium, and the heavy worn redbrick faces of the mills that always tempt to pull the world down into the sad black Merrimack canals. We burned out of Lowell. Kerouac’s hometown. Our hometown. Bouncing between route and interstates we wound across the open roads of the continental U.S. Some weeks later, near Broadway and Columbus, in San Francisco, outside “Vesuvios” and “City Lights Books”, we stood in front of the little alley known as “Jack Kerouac Street.” Our journey had been much inspired by Kerouac’s writing. As we stood there, I felt, if for just a moment, that swelling and erupting feeling of complete arrival that Kerouac had written of
Behind us lay the whole of America and everything I had previously known about life…We had finally found a magic land at the end of the road and we never had dreamed the extent of the magic.
Kerouac was hardly the first to create a work of inspirational travel. America itself has had a long tradition of literary travel. Huck Finn, Hiawatha, and Ishmael are all testaments to such tradition. These works show that the reason behind such travel is not necessarily the prize of arrival but the experience of the journey itself. And yet, while following in such literary tradition, Kerouac broke away from previous such works in that he wrote from, and of, a setting more intimately and uniquely American than rivers and oceans and forests. This setting was the American highway.
Nowhere in the world is there such a criss-crossed intricate web of comings and goings than on the American highway. Nowhere else can a person drive away from an Atlantic Coast fishing town on Monday and be wading in the warm surf that rolls in just beyond the Pacific Coast Highway by Friday, and en route see the mass multicultural strangeness of the United States. No check-points and no papers of passage required. The whole country is a breathing expectant free road mother of creation. Interstates and routes, city streets and suburban avenues, they all cut across the land in long asphalt scars connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific and Canada to Mexico. And in between is the beauty of chaos and commonality inherent in the American late summer afternoon. In On the Road, Kerouac wrote of screaming across these highways in a style of writing he called “spontaneous bop prosody.” Inspired by the mad jab melee between genius and incoherency that was Neal Cassady. Kerouac used this spontaneous prosody to reflect the highway driving speed, the drug and booze blitzkrieg, and the hot bop jazz that all came together to thrust him again and again across the American highway.
And yet the heroes of On the Road, Sal and Dean, do not launch themselves arbitrarily into this intoxication of music and movement. Kerouac sought to show two men on a journey of the soul, a religious quest for God and reason in an age heavy with the apocalyptic fear of nuclear war and America’s quest for homogeneity. Sal (Jack Kerouac) and Dean (Neal Cassady) were trying to break loose from the military industrial culture and cold war conformity of mid-century America. A sun spawned Promethean truth was what Kerouac was seeking as Sal and Dean stung their tires on the asphalt in Dean’s “old jalopy chariot with thousands of sparkling flames shooting out from it”. As Gerald Nicosia wrote of On the Road in his critical biography of Kerouac, Memory Babe,
… no matter how far they travel in the external world, they (Sal and Dean) are ceaselessly penetrating deeper into their own souls. They are constantly aware their travel, by the excitement and curiosity it generates, is a means to understanding themselves. Travel to them is a conscious philosophical method by which they test the store of hand-me-down truisms.
The highway journey, then, metaphorically becomes the ritual path on which you test the truths you have been told against the truths you have learned. On the highway, one finds the cosmic crossroads at which you determine your destiny. On the Roads between New York and San Francisco, Denver and Texas, or Chicago and Mexico somewhere racing along those stretching highways arrives the meaning and mastery of each possible moment of a person’s life.
Kerouac sought to move so fast and to live so hard so as to burn off forever the stiff mechanical mental wings and physical fuselage that bound him to this world. Thus he could be thrust into the universe by the absolute truth of the soul:
And just for a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete slip across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiances shining in bright Mind Essence
So Kerouac lived to wash in the truth of experience, trying to find the people and moments that would bring him ever closer to that world-waking enlightenment. Kerouac, for his part, followed and recorded himself and his friends who were to him,
…the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww! ‘
It was in such moments of witnessed beauty when you feel the touch of the universe divine. It was this search inward for divinity that drove Kerouac to such external extremes.
While hardly his only work of art, On the Road, for better or worse, has become Kerouac’s most famous. It has become a catalyst for countless other restless and curious souls. The book itself spawned a cultural revolution, putting millions on new vision paths. At the same time it vaulted Kerouac to a fame that his quiet, religious soul was not prepared to deal with. The consumer culture that Kerouac sought to break with would ultimately consume him, as he fell into a flat spin of alcoholism and reactionary conservatism. Yet On the Road remains as a testament to the wandering pioneer spirit of America, a spirit that knows it is lost and attempts to be found. On the Road still sparks the piston psyches of readers everywhere. It showed people that sometimes it is just enough to point the soul and go, and keep going, not slowing down enough to stiffen up because only the dead should be stiff.
Kerouac wrote in On the Road that, “everybody goes home in October.” These words could not have been more prophetic, as Kerouac died on October 21, 1969, at the age of forty-seven.
So now, back on the East coast, in the lonely quiet of late August afternoon, looking over the antennas and satellite dishes of Boston rooftops where already the evening star has begun “drooping and shedding its sparkler dims” and already Autumn has its cool breath on the evening air, I imagine myself some twenty seven miles north pulling off Route 3 to the Lowell Connector where I take a right at the last exit. I imagine myself beyond the rundown dustiness of Ghoram Street, within the gated city of Edson cemetery, on Lincoln Avenue between 7th and 8th Streets, where a small marble tablet reads “Ti Jean – John L. Kerouac – March 12, 1922-October 21, 1969 – He honored Life.”
And for all the sadness and bitterness that crept into Kerouac’s later years, there was a time, before the “hero-hungry” world dragged him down, that Jack Kerouac did “Honor Life.” More so than many of us could do in several lifetimes. Whether or not he ever completed his own vision quest is irrelevant in that he gave us a starting point and the first corner edge of a map to our own often lonely-road-search for soul and self.
What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too huge world vaulting us, and it’s goodbye. But we lean toward to the next crazy adventure beneath the skies.
The extremely psychadelic new video from Prince….a cover of the old Tommy James classic (incorporating a bit of “Wild Thing” by The Troggs, by way of Jimi Hendrix)…from his new collection LotusFlow3r…