the dry humour of lord berners

from lord berners’ second volume of memoirs, the château de résenlieu, about the author’s stay in france as a young man:

The luncheon hour had been delayed for our benefit — usually the midday meal was at half past 12. Two more members of the household appeared in the dining room. One was an anaemic looking youth with a blackbeard whom Madame O’Kerrins introduced as her nephew and addressed as Gerard. He was only a few years older than myself but the black beard created a formidable impression of seniority. The other was a diminutive woman with a tight little face, a swarthy complexion and rather beady eyes. Her dark hair was scraped up into a knot on the top of her head. She was very plainly dressed in a tailor-made costume but a profusion of oriental jewelry, bangles, necklaces, brooches added an exotic touch to an otherwise prim exterior. She looked like a secretary who told fortunes as a sideline. She was a distant relation of Madame O’Kerrins and helped in the administration of the household. Her name was Mademoiselle Laurens but she was always known as ‘Baghdad.’ Her father had been Consul in Baghdad and she was born there. Even the servants referred to her as Mademoiselle Baghdad.


Lord Berners (1883-1950) a composer, novelist, painter and conspicuous aesthete. The character of Lord Merlin in Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love is based on Lord Berners, who would drop his pigeons into basins of magenta, green and ultramarine so that when released they resembled, as Mitford wrote, “a cloud of confetti in the sky.” Known as “The English Satie,” Berners as a composer collaborated with Sacheverell Sitwell, Gerturde Stein, and Serge Diaghilev.


bud powell: godfather to “geniuses who occasionally got their mail in mental health facilities”

"Much of what I try to do on the page is create a state of mind: quite often the extreme and occasionally conflicting drive to stay alive and not kill yourself or anybody else in the process."

Jerry Stahl
                                          Frank Delia
Jerry Stahl

Living With Music: Jerry Stahl

Jerry Stahl’s books include “Permanent Midnight,” “I, Fatty” and, most recently, “Pain Killers.”

1) “Better Git It in Your Soul,” Charles Mingus
. One of my favorite memories is seeing a white guy tell Mingus to turn on the air conditioning at the Five Spot. Mingus was about 5-foot-2, built like two tanks glued together, and wearing a pair of tan-and-brown checkerboard leather pants. The look Mingus gave the man was life-changing — not unlike the up from the underworld growl of his vocal in “Devil Rode a Black Horse.” Bonus point: “Beneath The Underdog,” Mingus’s autobiography, may be the most viscerally brilliant memoir ever written in English.)

2) “Enter Evening,” Cecil Taylor Unit.
Listening to Taylor is like reading “Ulysses.” You know you’d need post-doctorate work in five different fields to comprehend half of what the artist is doing, but you hang in for the music even if you can’t understand it. By the end you’re shaking and sweating. But you’re cool for the day.

3) “Ascenseur de la Chaffeud,” Miles Davis.
Part of what makes writing hard, for me, is transitioning from the ho-hum quotidian of life to whatever weird space is required to create. “Elevator to the Gallows” goes right there. According to the liner notes, Miles improvised this on the spot, while watching Jeanne Morreau noir it up. The theme is so haunting, so effective at conveying the desperate, end-of-the-line joy of doomed couples in black-and-white movies. It’s one of those songs you can play 20 times in a row. The CD has a half-dozen different takes of the same song. They can all penetrate your aorta.

4) “245,” Eric Dolphy.
What I remember most about this record is the monster growth sprouting on Dolphy’s forehead on the cover. The way he plays, I half imagined the thing was some kind of tumor the saxophonist blew out of his brain while recording this track. That kind of intensity, apparently, you really have to pay for.

5) “East Broadway Rundown,” Sonny Rollins.
Some music I listen to for the same reason I re-read certain books or stare at certain paintings — in hopes that by osmosis, or some kind of cosmic leakage, a sliver of the artist’s power might somehow pass my way. Rollins has that kind of power. Most famous for his two-year stint woodshedding on the Williamsburg Bridge, on “Blessing in Disguise” Rollins rolls in at 20 plus minutes. For some reason, listening to it reminded me of this interview with Norman Mailer, where he talks about how, when you’re starting out, you have nothing but wild energy, which compensates for the fact that you might not know what the hell you’re doing. When you get older, Mailer said, you don’t have that energy — but you have the caginess to know how to use what you have. Beyond the music, the album is worth tracking down for the William Claxton photo of Rollins in gunbelt and cowboy hat in the middle of a desert in a sharkskin suit. Whatever hep-cat marketing whiz came up with the idea of Rollins dressing like Roy Rogers, I hope he’s happy now.

6) “Un Poco Loco,” Bud Powell.
Powell is godfather to the fraternity of geniuses — from Oscar Levant to Brian Wilson to Syd Barrett — who occasionally got their mail in mental health facilities. In 1947 the pianist underwent electroconvulsive therapy at Creedmor. In 1954 he recorded “Un Poco Loco,” on which (maybe it’s me) he sounds as though he’s playing with an orchestra only he can hear. Harold Bloom includes “Un Poco” in his 100 Greatest Works of the 20th Century. But forget that, and check it out anyway.

7) “Speedball,” Lee Morgan.
Jazz guys were way ahead of rock stars when it came to dying young. The way Morgan plays on this, it’s almost as if he knew what was in the mail. Morgan bought it at 33, when his girlfriend — who had the incredibly prophetic name of “Helen More” — walked into Slugs, a club in the East Village, and shot him between sets, in the heart. Morgan played as if he had one toe in a puddle and one in a wall socket. That agitated soulfulness always hits something I can’t quite name. Whatever it is, you can feel it.

8) “Chinatown,” Luna.
Of the 50 million great and “essential” (as they say on iTunes) songs to include, this one, from Luna’s “Penthouse” album, hits the occasionally necessary Soothe button. Dean Wareham has an unlikely quiver of a voice that, for whatever ungodly reason, sounds as if he’s survived something his music alludes to but never gives away. There’s something that goes all the way back to Tom Verlaine and Television in this sound. It’s as if the singer is the quiet guy who never made any trouble.

9 “Katrina,” James “Blood” Ulmer.
It’s not the blues’ fault it got turned into music for beer commercials. As the saying goes, “Ideas are not responsible for the people who embrace them.” Ullmer put in years playing with Ornette Coleman, and his fractured, vein-popping guitar on “Katrina” cuts with a kind of rawness for which there’s no other term but avant gutbucket.

10) “I Feel That Old Feeling Coming On,” James Brown.
Brown wailing “I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I ,I, I” from down in his toe is flat-out inspirational. His urgency could rouse a liver off life support. This is the song you play when you need to keep going. Plus he gives all the advice you ever need about writing. In five words: “Hit it and quit it.”




gary indiana on consumer capitalism & cultural flotsam

In this chapter from Do Everything in the Dark Gary Indiana muses about popular music — that old leitmotif of Theodor Adorno — to show the totalizing commodification of mass culture in twenty-first century America (not surprisingly, Indiana is an accomplished social and artistic critic in his own right): 
Malcolm sits in Union Square Park, on a bench facing the white tent tops of the farmers’ market, braced for another day of floor-walking at the Virgin Megastore. People buying music and video DVDs fall into a trance induced by clustered rows of monitors, clashing streams of music, and a huge Orwellian video grid strategically placed to lure shoppers down to Level One, where three items or two items or four items of the same kind of thing are forever on sale, but never displayed in close enough proximity for the sensorily battered to distinguish two for one from three for two or four for three. The calculated illogic of everything sends thousands each day into transports of credit card abandon that move a Niagara of cash around the world.
       He’s recently read a news item about the millions in bootleg CDs that funnel through Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, along with trucks stuffed with counterfeit Marlboros, real marijuana, and heavily disguised convoys of depleted uranium, stolen fuel rods, Kalashnikovs, any species of unthinkable thing desired or sold by shadows traveling under the rose.
       At the Megastore, all is legitimate, flawlessly manufactured, factory sealed. Its revenue spills cleanly into the raging river of cash and credit and digital wealth, spinning numbers in and out of corporate bank accounts. Somewhere, no doubt, this river sucks up the tributaries of loot generated by the inauthentic, the counterfeit, the Jennifer Lopez knockoffs. A spike in the current from the world’s numberless laundries sends it all rushing faster to the Falls.
       Malcolm doesn’t have to persuade people to buy things. They can’t help themselves. He merely has to interpret, a few times a day, the sometimes fractured language of the customer’s desire, recognize the piece of music or musician whose name they’ve forgotten or can’t quite bring to mind, or figure out from froggily hummed signature riffs what album by which performer a song they want appears on. The gross abundance and variety of music and books and movies stimulates an epidemic wish to own a copy of everything. As customers dawdle or race along the wide rows of product bins, their eyes snag on reissued memory tracks, groups they’ve read about in magazines, music they might not like to hear but which is thought to define the present in an important way As each moment passes, by the time they get this music home to their audio systems, other, newer music defines the moment they’re listening to these acquisitions, and still newer music will nail down the moment that replaces that moment. All these moments eventually condense into a boxed set as the perfect past, the sound of an era. Memory becomes the sound track of perfection.
       Malcolm is most comfortable working on Level One, handling DVDs: every week, eons of long-forgotten films fill shelves in reformatted special editions, their sound tracks digitally scrubbed, with clickable sidebar interviews with directors, even the original trailers, optional commentary from stars, material that sparks Malcolm’s interest. Shanghai Express, Eyes Without a Face, Bunuel, Godard, Fassbinder, Dracula’s Honeymoon, Porky’s, everything from the moronic to the sublime returns from the grave in suavely designed, oblong snap-open cases, even the silents Malcolm cherishes. The only aspect of this eclectic, bonanza resurrection of every movie ever made that irritates him is that they’re grossly overpriced compared to the vanishing videotape format. However, he gets a substantial store discount. He also steals copiously Even Anna doesn’t know Malcolm hates music. When he moonlights as a DJ, he wears earplugs that virtually deafen him.
— from Gary Indiana, Do Everything in the Dark