Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I've heard of tree huggers, but . . .

Richard Torres and Blushing Bride
Google Images

. . . few of them get serious enough to tie the knot! Richard Torres, however, has just married a tree:
Peruvian environmental activist Richard Torres . . . pose[s] for a photo during a symbolic marriage to a tree . . . . Torres invited [people] . . . to care for trees . . . . Torres says that he intends to take his message of saving the environment to other Latin American countries. (Yahoo News, 2014)
He's actually an infamous tree-polygamist and has probably married a whole forest by now. That's what made the above photo from Google Images possible - it shows an earlier wedding, and I needed a photo because the image at the Yahoo site was worthless.

Just like a polygamist's wedding vow . . .


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Lying about Dylan . . .

David Kenny, in a New York Times column, "Freewheelin': Bob Dylan, Jonah Lehrer and the Truth" (August 2, 2012), notes the irony of Jonah Lehrer making up quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan:
He earned a place among journalism’s shamed stars by playing it fast and loose in a story, coincidentally enough, about a cultural icon known for liking his facts slippery.
Lehrer, who ought to have been teaching us to imagine how creativity works, instead taught us a moral lesson by way of a bad example, lying about a creative artist known for being a man with a penchant toward 'telling stories' about himself:
In 2004, when Bob Dylan published his memoir, "Chronicles: Volume One," it was hailed for its striking candor. In it, he tells the story of arriving in New York and hitting it big in the 1960s, and about losing his way and rediscovering himself in the 1980s. The critics cheered. Finally, the Sphinx was telling it like it was.

Dylan obsessives knew better than to take him at his word. This was the master fabulist, a man of many masks, king of the tricksters, and memoir is the least dependable of genres.
Everyone knows Dylan 'lies', but he's a creative artist writing a memoir, so he gets a free pass, whereas Lehrer . . .
. . . was working in nonfiction rather than memoir, where scenes and dialogue are understood to be reconstructed from memory rather than from rigorous reporting.
In short, Lehrer was 'creative', but no artist, so bye-bye Bro-Jo.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Michael Butterworth Exhibition: International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester

Michael Butterworth
Prior Incarnation
The One on the Left
Photo by Ben Blackall

My friend Carter Kaplan - the intellectual and pragmatic force behind the Emanations anthology series - has informed me of a Michael Butterworth Exhibition of writings and art that is currently taking place in Britain and may even come to America. Moreover, the first volume of Emanations is also included and on display, as seen here, though I wasn't able to download a photo (which explains the 1998 photo above).

This exhibition is sponsored by The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, and is titled the Butterworth/Savoy Exhibition, with photos visitable here on Gareth Jackson's Flicker site.

Michael published an exceptionally impressive story - "Das Neue Leben," in the first of the Emanations anthologies - that plays upon old conspiracy theories in its portrayal of Hitler as having escaped the destruction that he had brought down upon Germany and living in genteel, though obscure comfort in his jungle mansion in South America, with a faithful German as 'lover' and an enormous, sinister serpent as pet.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Never 'trust' Dylan . . .

Stuart Ostrow
Google Images

In Present at the Creation, Stuart Ostrow swears that Bob Dylan is 'telling a story' about being invited by Archibald MacLeish:
"Archie's letter said that he'd like to meet with me to discuss the possibility of me composing some songs for a play he was writing . . . ." Baloney. MacLeish never asked Bob Dylan to collaborate on Scratch.
Click on the link and read more of Ostrow's account, which is more about how Ostrow invited Dylan to work with them on the play . . .


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Funny how things return . . . or the times, they aren't a-changing . . .

Archibald MacLeish

In Chronicles, Volume 1, Bob Dylan reminisces about Archibald MacLeish, who 'wrote' Dylan a letter, inviting collaboration:
Archie's letter said that he'd like to meet with me to discuss the possibility of me composing some songs for a play that he was writing, called Scratch, based on a Stephen Vincent Benet short story. (Dylan, Chronicles, Volume 1)
That collaboration never transpired, but of interest to me is that the short story by Benet was "The Devil and Daniel Webster," the tale that so deeply influenced my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer.

And I've used a MacLeish poem, "The End of the World," as the 'prescript' to a new story of mine . . .

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Bob Dylan telling stories . . .

Bob Dylan

Seth Rogovoy, writing in Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet (Scribner, 2009), reviews volume one of Dylan's memoires and pegs him as a "storyteller":
The most striking thing about Chronicles is how it introduces an entirely new voice - that of Bob Dylan, the colorful, garrulous storyteller. *More important than how closely he adheres or doesn't adhere to the facts* is the language that he uses to recount his life and times, and the detours and byways down which he leads the reader, through literature, music, philosophy, and life's learned lessons. (Rogovoy, Bob Dylan, 280)
The term "storyteller" here means someone who misleads the reader in entertaining ways, and having read a bit of Dylan's Chronicles myself, I'd say that he 'misleads' with a nod and a wink, signaling to the wary reader that he's not as good as his word, he's better than that. A passage early in volume one makes this clear when Lou Levy, a higher-up in Leeds Music Publishing company, gives Dylan a big break and tells the head of publicity for Leeds, Billy James, to have a talk with Dylan and write promotional material on him for a press release:
Billy dressed Ivy League like he could have come out of Yale - medium height, crisp black hair. He looked like he'd never been stoned a day in his life, never been in any kind of trouble. I strolled into his office, sat down opposite his desk, and he tried to get me to cough up some facts, like I was supposed to give them to him straight and square. He took out a notepad and pencil and asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Illinois and he wrote it down. He asked me if I ever did any other work and I told him that I had a dozen jobs, drove a bakery truck once. He wrote that down and asked me if there was anything else. I said I'd worked construction and he asked me where.


"You traveled around?"


He asked me about my family, where they were. I told him I had no idea, that they were long gone.

"What was your home life like?"

I told him I'd been kicked out.

"What did your father do?"


"And your mother, what about her?"


"What kind of music do you play?"

"Folk music."

"What kind of music is folk music?"

I told him it was handed down songs. I hated these kind of questions. Felt I could ignore them. Billy seemed unsure of me and that was just fine. I didn't feel like answering his questions anyway, didn't feel the need to explain anything to anybody.

"How did you get here?" he asked me.

"I rode a freight train."

"You mean a passenger train?"

"No, a freight train."

"You mean, like a boxcar?"

"Yeah, like a boxcar. Like a freight train."

"Okay, a freight train."

I gazed past Billy, past his chair through his window across the street to an office building where I could see a blazing secretary soaked up in the spirit of something - she was scribbling busy, occupied at a desk in a meditative manner. There was nothing funny about her. I wished I had a telescope. Billy asked me who I saw myself like in today's music scene. I told him, nobody. That part of things was true, I really didn't see myself like anybody. The rest of it, though, was pure hokum - hophead talk. (Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, Simon and Schuster: New York, 2004, pages 7-8)
In short, Dylan told Billy James a pack of entertaining lies, and he did so because he "didn't feel the need to explain anything to anybody." People want a story anyway, so he gives them one.

But Dylan is primarily a songwriter and performer, and he is better known as a storyteller in his songs. One blog post by Jason Boog, "Best Bob Dylan Songs That Tell a Story" (Galleycat, June 15, 2011) lists 24 of his best storytelling songs.

As regular readers know, I've already blogged on one of these, namely, Isis.

UPDATE: The text had "Less important than how closely he adheres to the facts", but after checking with Mr. Seth Rogovoy, I've edited to reflect what he intended to write: *More important than how closely he adheres or doesn't adhere to the facts* . . .

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Congratulations to Suh Ji-moon

Suh Ji-moon (Middle) and Other Winners
Winners of 12th Korean Literature Translation Award
Mahmoud Abdel Ghaffar and Cho Hee-sun on Left
Suh Ji-moon in Middle
Im Yun-jung and Maria Kuznetsova on Right
Photo: LTI Korea

My literary friend from my Korea University days, Professor Suh Ji-moon, received a prize for her translation of Kim Won-il's book House with a Sunken Courtyard, as reported by Ahn Sung-mi in "Translation award honors Suh Ji-moon" (Korea Herald, November 18, 2014):
When emeritus professor Suh Ji-moon first began translating Korean literature into English in the 1970s, she used to write by hand or use a typewriter, which required writing and retyping over and over again before submission.

Though times have changed, the prominent Korean scholar with a 40-year career in teaching, research and literary translation still admits that translating is difficult, often accompanied by frustration and distress. Yet, it is a fulfilling experience, just like a time-consuming and strenuous search for hidden jewelry.

Now, the 66-year-old scholar has received an award for her efforts. On Monday, Suh won the top prize at the 12th annual Korean Literature Translation Awards for translating Kim Won-il's "House with a Sunken Courtyard" into English. The award is given by Korea’s state-run Literature Translation Institute of Korea.
Ji-moon actually allowed me to take a look at the translation in manuscript, and I could already see its very high literary quality rendered in her excellent translation - plus, the story was enthralling! I encourage everyone to read it!

Moreover, she worked upon the translation at a difficult time of her life, as the article relates, so for acess to the entire article, which gives more details, click here.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sunni Muslims in Mosul: "considering becoming . . . atheist"

Thomas L. Friedman

In an op-ed piece, "Who Are We?" (New York Times, November 15, 2014), by Thomas L. Friedman, a writer whose columns I ordinarily just skim (no offense intended, Mr. Friedman, I do a lot of skimming), I found the stunning words that I've cited above and now explain below:
Rasha al-Aqeedi is an Iraqi editor from Mosul working at Al-Mesbar. She has stayed in touch with people in Mosul since ISIS took over. "What is happening," she told me, is that the Sunni Muslim population of Mosul "has now awakened from the shock. Before, people would say, 'Islam is perfect and [the outside world] is after us and hates us.' Now people are starting to read the books that ISIS is based on. I hear from people in Mosul who say, 'I am considering becoming an atheist.'"
Why do I call these words "stunning"? Because this means that some educated Muslims in ISIS-dominated territory are looking into the sources of the Islamic State, probably in an attempt to refute ISIS ideology, but are discovering that ISIS is correctly reporting what these sources say, and the problem is that these sources are classic early Muslim writings: the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sunnah.

As classics, such books cannot be shrugged off, as though the Islamists who call themselves ISIS are extremists at the margins of Islam. No, Islamists are radicals at the core of Islam. Some moderate Muslims living in Mosul recognize this, and those moderates considering atheism to be a proper response have decided that Islam itself is incapable of reform.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Strange things in a new book . . .

I've just finished reading Michel Faber's recent novel about interstellar mission work (yes, sharing Christ with space aliens), and it's outstanding, though not perfect - I'd say 4.5 stars out of 5 on the Amazon ranking (though the readership gives 4).

I was relieved that the story didn't take a Heart-of-Darkness turn, though I feared for a while that it might - and maybe it will, if Faber writes a sequel.

I did think there were a couple of implausible coincidences in the story - you know, the coincidence that gets a character out of trouble. Unless I misread . . .

By the way, Faber gives credit in his Acknowledgements to the people who worked at Marvel Comics, and his reference to the 1960s and 1970s means that he and I were reading the same comics at the same time, more or less:
I would like also to express my appreciation for the team of writers, pencilers and inkers who worked at Marvel Comics during the 1960s and 1970s, giving me such enjoyment as a child and ever since. All the surnames in The Book of Strange New Things are based on theirs, sometimes slightly altered or disguised, sometimes not.
Faber says more, but what am I, your secretary?! Go read the book for yourself!

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Bob Dylan as Storyteller

Photo by Ken Regan, Fall 1975
Rolling Thunder Revue

The song "Isis," the second track on Dylan's album Desire, was co-written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, as was also the case with "One More Cup of Coffee," a song I recently blogged on. You can listen to the song here, and follow with these lyrics, to which I've added punctuation:
I married Isis on the fifth day of May,
But I could not hold on to her very long,
So I cut off my hair, and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country, where I could not go wrong.

I came to a high place of darkness and light.
The dividing line ran through the center of town.
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right,
Went into a laundry to wash my clothes down.

A man in the corner approached me for a match.
I knew right away he was not ordinary.
He said, "Are you looking for something easy to catch?"
I said, "I got no money." He said, "That ain't necessary."

We set out that night for the cold in the North.
I gave him my blanket, and he gave me his word.
I said, "Where are we going?" He said, "We'll be back by the fourth."
I said, "That's the best news that I've ever heard."

I was thinking about turquoise, I was thinking about gold,
I was thinking about diamonds and the world's biggest necklace.
As we rode through the canyons through the devilish cold,
I was thinking about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless.

How she told me that one day we'd meet up again,
And things would be different the next time we wed,
If I only could hang on and just be her friend.
I still can't remember all the best things she said.

We came to the pyramids all embedded in ice.
He said, "There's a body I'm trying to find.
If I carry it out, it'll bring a good price."
It was then that I knew what he had on his mind.

The wind, it was howling, and the snow was outrageous.
We chopped through the night, and we chopped through the dawn.
When he died, I was hoping that it wasn't contagious,
But I made up my mind that I had to go on.

I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty.
There was no jewels, no nothing - I felt I'd been had.
When I saw that my partner was just being friendly,
When I took up his offer, I must've been mad.

I picked up his body, and I dragged him inside,
Threw him down in the hole, and I put back the cover.
I said a quick prayer, and I felt satisfied,
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her.

She was there in the meadow where the creek used to rise,
Blinded by sleep and in need of a bed.
I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes.
I cursed her one time, then I rode on ahead.

She said, "Where ya been?" I said, "No place special."
She said, "You look different." I said, "Well, I guess."
She said, "You been gone." I said, "That's only natural."
She said, "You gonna stay?" I said, "If you want me to, yes."

Isis, oh Isis, you mystical child,
What drives me to you is what drives me insane.
I still can remember the way that you smiled,
On the fifth day of May in the drizzling rain.
There it is, the entire song, a great story sung by a great storyteller! But why do I call this song a story? Because things happen in a sequence that fulfills our expectations, expectations set up with the first line: "I married Isis on the fifth day of May." You see? Something happened. We hear the line and wonder, "What's next?" Dylan tells us: "But I could not hold on to her very long." What happened then. Dylan continues to tell us . . .

Very different than "One More Cup of Coffee," which offers a portrait of a lady: "Your breath is sweet / Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky / Your back is straight your hair is smooth / On the pillow where you lie." Nothing's happening in this scene. Nothing much happens in the entire song. In that song, we're between stories, maybe, but we'll never know what those stories are.

Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .

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