Robert Smithson, Pulverizations, 1966 / Photostat, Collection of Virginia Dwan
Robert Smithson, Pulverizations, 1966 / Photostat, Collection of Virginia Dwan
Mr. Rossetti has been known for many years as a painter of exceptional powers, who, for reasons best known to himself, has shrunk from publicly exhibiting his pictures, and from allowing anything like a popular estimate to be formed of their qualities. He belongs, or is said to belong, to the so—called Pre~Raphaelite school, a school which is generally considered to exhibit much genius for colour, and great indifference to perspective. It would be unfair to judge the painter by the glimpses we have had of his works, or by the photographs which are sold of the principal paintings judged by the photographs, he is an artist who conceives unpleasantly, and draws ill.
Like Mr. Simeon Solomon, however, with whom he seems to have many points in common, he is distinctively a colourist, and of his capabilities in colour we cannot speak, though we should guess that they are great; for if there is any good quality by which his poems are specially marked, it is a great sensitiveness to hues and tints as conveyed in poetic epithet. These qualities, which impress the casual spectator of the photographs from his pictures, are to be found abundantly among his verses.
There is the same thinness and transparence of design, the same combination of the simple and the grotesque, the same morbid deviation from healthy forms of life, the same sense of weary, wasting, yet exquisite sensuality; nothing virile, nothing tender, nothing completely sane; a superfluity of extreme sensibility, of delight in beautiful forms, hues, and tints, and a deep seated indifference to all agitating forces and agencies, all tumultuous griefs and sorrows, all the thunderous stress of life, and all the straining storm of speculation.
Mr. Morris is often pure, fresh, and wholesome as his own great model; Mr, Swinburne startles us more than once by some fine ﬂash of insight; but the mind of Mr. Rossetti is like a glassy mere, broken only by the dive of some water—bird or the hum of winged insects, and brooded over by an atmosphere of insufferable closeness, with a light blue sky above it, sultry depths mirrored within it, and a surface so thickly sown with water~lilies that it retains its glassy smoothness even in the strongest wind. Judged relatively to his poetic associates, Mr. Rossetti must be pronounced inferior to either. He cannot tell a pleasant story like Mr. Morris, nor forge alliterative thunderbolts like Mr. Swinburne. It must be conceded, nevertheless, that he is neither so glibly imitative as the one, nor so transcendentally superficial as the other.
We at once recognize as his own property such passages as this:
I looked up
And saw where a brown—shouldered harlot leaned
Half-through a tavern window thick with vine.
Some man had come behind her in the room
And caught her by her arms, and she had turned
With that coarse empty laugh on him, as now
He munched her neck with kisses, while the vine
crawled in her back.
Or this: —
As I stooped, her own lips rising there
Bubbled with brimming kisses at my mouth.
Or this: —
Have seen your lifted silken skirt
Advertise dainties through the dirt!
Or this: —
What more prize than love to impel thee,
Grip and lip my limbs as I tell thee!
Passages like these are the common stock of the walking gentlemen of the ﬂeshly school. We cannot forbear expressing our wonder, by the way, at the kind of women whom it seems the unhappy lot of these gentlemen to encounter. We have lived as long in the world as they have, but never yet came across persons of the other sex who conduct themselves in the manner described. Females who bite, scratch, scream, bubble, munch, sweat. writhe, twist, wriggle, foam, and in a general way slaver over their lovers, must surely possess some extraordinary qualities to counteract their otherwise most offensive mode of conducting themselves. It appears, however, on examination, that their poet—lovers conduct themselves in a similar manner. They, too, bite, scratch, scream, bubble, munch, sweat, writhe, twist, wriggle, foam, and slaver, in a style frightful to hear of. Let us hope that it is only their fun, and that they don’t mean half they say. At times, in reading such books as this, one cannot help wishing that things had remained for ever in the asexual state described in Mr. Darwin‘s great chapter on Palingenesis. We get very weary of this protracted hankering after a person of the other sex; it seems meat, drink, thought, sinew, religion for the fleshy school.
Robert Williams Buchanan onDante Gabriel Rossetti
Contemporary Review, October 1871.
Comrades! Ugh. This year. But — yet — always — all year long — the weirdest, wonderful things shot through cracks. Blackstars in a black sky — absence has a pull of it’s own. And in this imploding year the void pulled hard, pulling beauty from random trajectories, shining bright —
A resurrected Modern English played the years best show. Embracing their strident, tribal, chanty early sound it was urgent & archival in equal measure. A column on world hardcore I read never led to the submerged sizzle of Barcelona’s Chroma. LA punk legend Alice Bag’s jukebox of received wisdom was pent up & aged for 30 years — every song a shimmy & taken together a shiny suit of armor for bright, headstrong girls everywhere. Angel Olson’s new record was the years most vital — in no way beholden to nostalgia, obscurity, revival, genre, or personal obsessions, not crate dug, not researched, not referenced – just a new, challenging, bracing salvo of ace tunes by a smolderingly gifted woman. Dig, friend, the smudge stick of oddball embroidered heavy boogie of Blood Ceremony & the aching dignity & yearning of the fallen Byrd, Gene Clark. Two unexpected & random reunion records stunned this year / Si Sauvage by Minneapolis’ fauvist sophisticates The Suburbs & SoCal hardcore legends Shattered Faith’s Vol III. The former sports the years best single tune & an gleefully pompous & sexy cover design by Kii Arens. From the latter I feature nothing because no digital form of the record exists. Genius gentlemen! But for LA punk nerds it’s a circa 81 time warp. Aces. Ah! the medicinal power of pure feyness! — swooning power-chorded sashay – teenage swoons unfurled like blazing wings on the roof of a burgundy Camero, lollipop lust, gymnasium passes, Milk n’ Cookies. Ex-Bad Seed Mick Harvey’s translations of Serge Gainsbourg’s songbook provide technicolor details that were once just suggested by his louche croon. And the words are funny & lusty as hell.
Now, about the bookends — David Bowie’s death was the implosion that marked the beginning of the new year. I mourned here, and ruminated on the amazing Blackstar here. I kept coming back, though, to the live unhinged swoon of “Station to Station” from the legendary 1976 Isolar Tour. And Cortez? Well, it came on randomly one wrecked mid-November night, shuddering into focus & this whole aching tide of a song seemed to wash over the years dark closing days. Fade out. You can download the full compilation here.
Public Image Ltd. & Muriel Spark?! Cue that silent head exploding poof gesture to express the moment your head explodes at an improbable convergences like Public Image Ltd. & Muriel Spark. Found rabbit-holing at Fodderstompf, the complete online PiL chronology,
New Musical Express, July 22nd 1978: John Lydon officially announces to the press that the new group will be called ‘Public Image’ (Limited will follow). He also announces that they will manage themselves, and that they have signed an eight album deal with Virgin Records; no doubt influenced by the support Lydon was receiving from Virgin in his legal battle. The name ‘Public Image’ was inspired from the title of a 1968 Muriel Spark novel.
John later commented in Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, “I got the name Public Image from a book by that Scottish woman, Muriel Spark, who wrote ‘Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’. When I was in Italy, somebody introduced her writings to me. I checked out some of her other books when I got home. One of them was called ‘The Public Image’. It was all about this actress who was unbearably egotistical. I though, Ha! The Public Image. Limited. Not as a company, but to be limited – not being as ‘out there’ as I was with the Sex Pistols.”
Outro from the magnificent The Courtesans — The Demi http://nygoodhealth.com Monde in 19th Century Paris by Joanna Richardson
George & the Dragon
This killing will never stop.
It’s not enough
to slay the beast, he has to make it clear
how calm his loathing is, how utterly devoid
of fellow feeling;
and though she is present,
the woman is incidental;
whatever he hoped in the past, he’s not here, now,
for the wet of her mouth on his skin, or his curdled hands
tangling in the spilt folds
of her gown.
It isn’t love he lacks. It’s narrative.
The gown is red, which symbolises
otherworldly grace, or else
protection from the witchery of blood
– it’s hard to say
what ritual this is. All we can know
for sure is that too much is being
sacrificed, the dragon with its throat
transpierced, a sign
left over from the damp, pre-Christian world,
led from the cave on its chain (the woman holds it
lightly in her hand) to be destroyed
for no good reason, given that it’s tame
and captive now.
Perhaps it’s just too green
or too expressive, set against this knight
whose mind is elsewhere, blank as ordinance
and formal, like the host, or like
this seeming bride-to-be, whose only love
is senseless agape.
No guessing what lightens their days; no guessing
how quietly each soul upholds its grey
dominion, at the near edge of a marsh
that runs into the dark
and egrets flickering across
its waterlands, a salt wind in the grass
so like a voice, the body longs
but they never leave this spot
where flesh is conquered, time and time again,
the lance fixed in the dragon’s
larynx, old blood
cooling in the sand, like candlewax,
the cave a myth, the storm, mere ornament
the new god in the throne room
of high heaven,
observing our trespasses, judging us,
keeping us pure.
When I look at these absolutely breathtaking handmade made-to-order objects by Swedish fabircator Love Hulten, I covet.
In fact I covet three ways. At first I covet crassly, wishing I could afford these hand turned masterpieces. Then a little more thoughtfully, I covet the skills & craft to build these kinds of things myself. Then, finally, I covet philosophically, wishing that this was a genuine commercial aesthetic — that as we chase the geewhiz we’d take the texture and soul of what worked before and roll it in as we roll foward. We’ve left so many beautiful things behind.
[RERUN: Originally Aired Sept. 2009 / An old favorite lost in the great SQL database corruption of 2012. I never tire of thinking about the electric confection that is Fellini & Manara’s Trip to Tulum, so here it be. Admittedly dated by my still fresh allergic rejection of the very idea of Zac Snyder’s appalling adaptation of Watchmen}
Comics, and the ghostly fascination of those paper people, paralyzed in time, marionettes without strings, unmoving, cannot be transposed to film, whose allure is motion, rhythm, dynamic. It is a radically different means of addressing the eye, a separate mode of expression. The world of comics may, in its generosity, lend scripts, characters and stories to the movies, but not its inexpressible secret power that resides in that fixity, that immobility of a butterfly on a pin. –Federico Fellini
The graphic novel Trip to Tulum has its roots in an aborted film of Fellini’s called the Journey of G Mastorna. Fellini’s entry in the “whoa… he was dead the whole time” mini genre, the movie was plagued by strange mishaps throughout its production. Already haunted by nightmares, Fellini threw in the towel after a huge Gothic church set collapsed minutes after it had been erected. The script and its attendant themes and vignettes sunk back into Fellini’s imagination. Over time bits and pieces floated to the surface in other films.
Fellini’s affection for comics and graphic storing telling is well known. In the mid 80’s, he allowed an Italian newspaper to serialise a version of the story, now called Trip to Tulum, with accompanying illustrations by Milo Manara. Manara, mostly known for his tony, Euro sci-fi erotica, is an illustrator and artist of the highest caliber. When Manara wanted to expand the story into a graphic novel, Fellini agreed, and took to the collaboration with gusto.
The result is simply one of the lost classics of the form. It begins with a stunning Anita Ekberg ringer finding Fellini asleep on the edge of pond in a a lush grove swept through by gusts of wind. Fellini’s hat flies off and as she reaches to grab it she falls in. Swimming after the sinking hat she descends to a vast, surreal field of sunken planes and ships. It emerges that they are all physical manifestations of Fellini’s films and unrealized notions. On one plane she finds a nattily dressed, kelp encircled Marcello Mastroianni, and…. oh never mind, from there the story just unfurls from one scene to the next like wax balls in a lava lamp… it’s a frisky fantasy adventure, a hallucinatory dream, a self referential commentary, an allegory of film-making, and finally a meditation on the creative act itself. Out of print now, copies can be found here.
(Incidentally, the Fellini quote is one of the definitive statements on the relationship between movies and comics. The notion of characters on “loan” lies at the heart of Chris Nolan’s respectful yet inspired cinematic interpretations of Batman. Its warning against literalism is precisely what an earnest vulgarian like Zach Snyder does not understand – which is why there is nothing whatsoever to be gained, and everything to be lost, in seeing Watchmen)
So, Bowies’ Blackstar arrived, finally — ordered while Bowie was earthbound, listened to when he wasn’t. Let me see if I can get this exactly right — it’s the first & last classic Bowie record since Let’s Dance.
Bowie played rock like Duchamp-ian chess. Each classic Bowie album occupied & held a square on the board. The records are “about” the move, so they work as self contained experiences — they point inward, ultimately.
This is why the whole “best album since Scary Monsters” critical framing misunderstands Bowie. Although he released some great salvos since Let’s Dance, they didn’t represent moves to a new square. Sometimes, like Earthling, he deftly rode a cultural or aesthetic wave, othertimes like Heathen or even The Next Day they were grand & vital reprises of old glories.
Blackstar is, before it is anything, a bracingly new statement. The avant-jazz hybrid he’s synthesized here is — once again, like all classic Bowie — an occupying move. The album refers, thrillingly, only to itself. There’s a new sound & vision here — skronky, sinewy, dubby… What a triumph!
Honestly, I was wary of listening, & crabby that I hadn’t the opportunity to hear it at at least once as the work of a living artist. I shouldn’t have fretted. Rather than a melancholy encomium, a stately funeral parade, it was the best & most unexpected gift of all — The last classic Bowie album: Space Oddity, Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, Low, Heroes, Scary Monsters, Let’s Dance, Blackstar.
There’s a reason when the news hit that so many of us instinctively reach out and gather our memories of first hearing ChangesOneBowie / Because that wasn’t a record, it was a door. A magic door. Here’s how it was magic. Because if you knocked on it, it opened easily, and you could go in and just boogie. But. But. If you pushed on it just right, if you were bent, just so, you tumbled through — and you never stopped falling. And as you fell, year after year, your freak flag just kept unfurling. And as you fell & flew you wondered — when do I get to the bottom? And there is no bottom. It’s just Bowie all the way down. Today every freak flag flies at half mast. Goodbye David Bowie.
My last flareup of Star Wars fever — These illustrations were featured on the playing cards included with Escape from Death Star board game. Playing it again out of sheer nostalgia confirmed my vague memory of the game itself as pretty janky. I was struck, however, by these quick, scratchy, pen & ink sketches of iconic scenes from the movie. More than anything they reminded me of Jim Holdaway’s classic Modesty Blaise newspaper strip that ran throughout the 1960s. In any case, just hanging this small bit of ephemera here on the Internet in case anybody needs it.
Also while we’re the closing subject I’ll leave you with the smartest pop cultural assessment I’ve read of the new flick, the essence of the original, the folly of the prequels (of which I’m finally mostly persuaded, although I’m still with Kevin Smith on Sith) — Our Star Wars Holiday Special by Aaron Bady in The New Iquiry:
[The prequels] were marred by horrific writing and joyless characters, of course, but those superficial failings pale in comparison (or resulted buy vicodin los angeles from) the more fundamental underlying problem: they tried so hard to explain that they killed the joy of the thing itself… How did Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader? How did the republic fall? Where did the emperor come from? How did Luke and Leia end up separated, who is Obi Wan Kenobi, and where are all the mothers in this universe? These are not plot holes; these are the dark matter that holds the galaxy together… Instead of placing their faith in the force—the way an open-mouthed child lets the storyteller carry them off—the prequels tried to explain what the force really was and worked so hard at it that they made the entire thing tedious and boring. They turned their targeting computer back on.
It also has perceptive & compact assessments of Star Trek vs Star Wars and why JJ Abrams’ approach arguably disfigured the former while revitalizing the latter (again persuasive personally, but my imaginative stake in Trek is much looser so I think the reboots are mostly a gas) With this, then — nerd. Out.
Live, before every song John Lydon gargles a mouthful of Bushmills then flamboyantly spits it into a large black trashcan. Male Gaze skronks out of the gate like Flipper doing disco. “Disco Flipper” is a pick-to-click shortcut for a win ’round here. Well played, gents. 45rpm LP, 28 minutes total. Brian Eno said his earliest musical inspration came from hearing the Supremes & Ronettes records broadcasting from US Navy bases. I like to think those scratchy transmissions sounded like U.S. Girls. Welcome Back to Milk by Du Blonde began as a nervous breakdown, explodes like an estrogen fuled roman candle every time it’s played and is the best record of the year. So, then this Sparks/Franz Ferdinand record drops out of the sky like some glamtastic piñata. Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks. Dream Lover, I know — Oh shit, here comes the sun. A tame impala is medium-sized African antelope. They are diurnal, most active shortly after dawn & before dusk. They use various kinds of unique visual, olfactory and auditory communication, most notably laying scent-trails and giving loud roars. Did you miss the announcement that Helen Marnie of Ladytron self-released a solo album 2 years ago. Me too. She did. It’s aces. Sugar & spice & everything. The emergence – at last – of a new Chills record should be cause for celebration throughout the galaxy. Girls Names win this year’s Martin Hannett Pennant for Reconstituted Post Punk. It’s like french onion soup with me, this stuff — I have barely any critical distance & each spoonful is fucking delicious. Aparrtly the 16 yer old goth girl is still using my noggin as a hostel given my besotted affection for this years darkwave discovery Xmal Deutschland. Recommended to those who think Siouxie sounds better in the original German. I haven’t sown a rock patch onto a jean jacket in over 30 years. 20 small impalements later — Christian Mistress. Hella! Zombi? Zombi.
14 songs, total time 53 minutes. As ever, download the mix here.
A selection of exquisite portraits by Don Bachardy — the longtime partner of author Christopher Isherwood. He’s often featured in appraisals of of Isherwood as a somewhat benighted boy toy, more made of their age difference & his feathered California handsomeness than his formidable gifts & sensitivities as a portrait artist. I came to find this work in the context of an an article that made a passing mention of a Bachardy buy vicodin with credit card portrait of Terry Garr. As my fasination with Garr runs deep, down the well I dove, looking for the portrait. I found it among the rest of these delightfully rendered portraits. Enjoy. Great interview with Bachardy, now 80, here. A another, along with a review of the compendium of these portraits, Hollywood, here.
(above Natalie Wood, Marlene Dietrich, Michael York, Angela Lansbury, Jane Fonda, artists Vija Clemins, Ed Ruscha, Richard Diebenkorn, her awesomeness Terri Garr)
Members of the State Merited Chorus and the Moranbong Band from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea arrive at a railway station in Beijing. More thoughts on the unsettling ratio of beauty & the dead weight of the state in an earlier post, here, regarding photographs of North Korea by documentary photographer Tomas Van Houtryve. Photo by Jin Liangkuai / CORBIS