Monthly Archives: November 2014

Mark Strand – RIP

The best of the poets influenced by Wallace Stevens, Mark Strand’s work is distinguished by terse portraits of dimly lit rooms in which men sit, reviewing the passage of their lives. In a Paris Review chat in 1998, Strand confirmed that he needed “a place, a desk, a familiar room. I need some of my books there. I need quiet. That’s about it.” Reading Selected Poems in sequence is wearying; he was a poet made for excerpting. Unlike Philip Levine, to whom he is often compared, Strand’s lines don’t flatten into enjambed prose. Perhaps confining his poems to one a scene or mood at a time helps.

You stand at the window.
There is a glass cloud in the shape of a heart.
There are the wind’s sighs that are like caves in your speech.
You are the ghost in the tree outside.

The street is quiet.
The weather, like tomorrow, like your life,
is partially here, partially up in the air.
There is nothing that you can do.

The good life gives no warning.
It weathers the climates of despair
and appears, on foot, unrecognized, offering nothing,
and you are there.

This one is called “The Good Life.”

‘Inequality fuels economic policy’

Paul Krugman is wrong about Richard Nixon’s interest in the environment. It happened because he employed people who did care. As John Dean confirmed in last week’s Miami Book Fair International appearance, Nixon was clear on foreign policy and often incoherent on domestic (what he was clear about concerned approving CIA destabilization of Chile’s elected government and invading Cambodia, so I give him no credit for smarts anyway). Yet this column points to essential truths. Inequality fuels, no pun intended, environmental policy:

The basic story of political polarization over the past few decades is that, as a wealthy minority has pulled away economically from the rest of the country, it has pulled one major party along with it. True, Democrats often cater to the interests of the 1 percent, but Republicans always do. Any policy that benefits lower- and middle-income Americans at the expense of the elite — like health reform, which guarantees insurance to all and pays for that guarantee in part with taxes on higher incomes — will face bitter Republican opposition.

And environmental protection is, in part, a class issue, even if we don’t usually think of it that way. Everyone breathes the same air, so the benefits of pollution control are more or less evenly spread across the population. But ownership of, say, stock in coal companies is concentrated in a few, wealthy hands. Even if the costs of pollution control are passed on in the form of higher prices, the rich are different from you and me. They spend a lot more money, and, therefore, bear a higher share of the costs.

In the case of the new ozone plan, the E.P.A.’s analysis suggests that, for the average American, the benefits would be more than twice the costs. But that doesn’t necessarily matter to the nonaverage American driving one party’s priorities. On ozone, as with almost everything these days, it’s all about inequality.

Singles 11/28

There isn’t one Bruno Mars single I could stomach before this week’s Mark Ronson collaboration, so I have a remedy: less falsetto, more chalk. As in, chalky vocals. The Brown-isms didn’t grate last week but you watch as this thing takes off on radio, and it will if last week’s SNL studio audience was any indicator. Selena Gomez, often lukewarm, is also benefiting from enthusiastic airplay. Don’t underestimate Ellie Goulding though.

Broken English remains a touchstone, and 2002’s Kissin’ Time a lovely adaptation of her sprechgesang to synth landscapes produced by Billy Corgan and Beck. If the pope had a wife she’d sing like Faithfull. But the stylings of Nick Cave edge her to self-parody. Suggestion: recycle the title.

This week’s winner then is Gerardo Ortiz, doing his thing quietly and well for a couple years.

Click on links for full reviews.

Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk (7)
Gerardo Ortiz – Eres una Niña (7)
Calvin Harris ft. Ellie Goulding – Outside (6)
Katie Rush ft. Samantha Urbani – Dangerous Luv (6)
Selena Gomez – The Heart Wants What It Wants (5)
Belle and Sebastian – The Party Line (5)
Lil Wayne ft. The Lox – Gotti (4)
Marianne Faithfull – Late Victorian Holocaust (4)
Brett Kissel – Tough People Do (4)
Panda Bear – Mr. Noah (4)
Walk the Moon – Shut Up and Dance (1)

‘We’re better off apart’

I’ve written extensively about Tango in the Night; Marcello gets to it. Five weeks at #1 in England, three different times. Here’s a lovely and accurate evocation of two of its best songs as well as an accounting of influences and allusions:

Little Lies” works chiefly because of Buckingham’s keen awareness of New Pop mores – the arrangement and whispered chorales are distilled Prefab Sprout, whereas the chorus could be Bucks Fizz (“Tell-me-TELL-ME-LI-IES!” Who said something about their camera never lies?) – and its own little lie that it’s a charming late eighties love song when actually it is proposing a break-up (“We’re better off apart, let’s give it a try”). Likewise, the happiness on “Everywhere” sounds very transient indeed (“You better make it soon/Before you break my heart”); the latter is effective because of the cut-up symphony Buckingham and his Fairlight make of piercing, pointillistic stars of voices.

Elsewhere there is the unusual sight of three Lindsey/Christine co-writes. Of those, “Isn’t It Midnight” was again written with Quintela, and canters along like a standard mid-eighties MTV-friendly rocker until Buckingham’s furious, fuzzy and increasingly atonal lead guitar suddenly and terrifyingly appears on the scene and proceeds to erase the song altogether; the only other time this happens on the record is with the Buckingham-penned title track, poised as it is between morbid contemplation and unfettered fury, perhaps echoing the record’s cover painting, Homage á Henri Rousseau, by the Australian artist Brett-Livingstone Strong, which depicts a nocturnal glade by the seashore. At its centre something gleams with a light that has been pointed at it from a direction and source unknown; in the water there are two swans, one camouflaged, and between them lurks a crocodile, ready to come ashore and wreak havoc if it gets annoyed

This snake-in-the-bushes air to the album — a sinister force required in any idyll — has long fascinated me.

Out to get you: Citizenfour

Hours of explanation regarding how the National Security Administration spies on Americans with the collaboration of European allies. Nervous eye flickers as the Hong Kong hotel in which he’s hiding holds a fire drill. He has to plug the room phone he’d turned off (these new phones can record conversations) and call the front desk. Finally, ready to inspect Guardian columnist and reporter Glenn Greenwald’s laptop, he throws what looks like a red curtain from his grandmother’s parlor in 1976 over his head. Someone might be spying on him at that moment. From — where? The room titters with laughter.

At that moment the NSA contractor whose crisp jargon-free English betrays traces of his North Carolinian birth, becomes likable. Not that it matters. One of director Laura Poitras’ decisions when assembling Citizenfour was to exclude biographical montages, interviews with friends, relatives, and former lovers, accompanied by music — the cliches of documentary filmmaking. This isn’t Flag Wars or The Oath, Poitras’ best known previous films. The first thing out of Snowden’s mouth when Greenwald sits across from him is an insistence on depersonalizing the stories that The Guardian and the Washington Post will publish. Greenwald, a victim himself of smear campaigns and dismissals because he doesn’t hang out with Luke Russert at Peggy Noonan’s for Sunday brunch, practically claps. What the audience sees is an articulate twenty-nine-year old in a black tee on a bed explaining the extent to which a largely unaccountable state apparatus accumulates, with a bipartisan imprimatur, credit, banking, and electronic information from Americans. No NSA, State Department, or administration apparatchiks get interviewed for the sake of a phony balance. Snowden and Greenwald in a modern Hong Kong hotel, oitras invisible behind her camera, accompanied sometimes by Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill are all the film shows for a forty or fifty-minute stretch. There is never any question about Snowden revealing himself — how long he can evade detection without his story subordinating the purloined data shapes the drama. The only moment when Citizenfour succumbs to spy novel bait happens when Snowden and a human rights lawyer try to figure out how to slip him into a United Nations facility where he can claim asylum. Replacing glasses with contacts, fussing over how much mousse he spreads into his hair, smoothing his shirt, he’s like a star readying for a E! interview, albeit with a bullseye drawn on his back.

Separating my responses to what Snowden leaked from a full accounting of Poitras’ film is hopeless. Citizenfour is a political document. Readers of this blog know them. Click on the tags. It would be agitprop if Poitras belonged to a cause, but I hesitate to call an informed citizenry taking advantage of its constitutional liberties a cause. I wish she had drawn a line between Snowden’s revelations and Wikileaks. Using the fear of terrorism as an excuse to keep the United States as financial and military hegemon is the least surprising fact to emerge from Citizenfour,