Remembering Miss Winehouse (Cabaret Music pt.2)

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!
      –Edna St. Vincent Millay
        (From Figs from Thistles)




There was once a cool college radio station in Boston.

When I was a teenager it taught me everything I knew about the Blues, and older alternative music (not just the stuff on MTV). It even turned me on to a cappella music. Hold there for a moment, Gentle Reader, and do not scoff — it steered me well.

The station’ s last gift to me, before it died an undignified corporate death, was Amy Winehouse. It was when Frank came out and “Stronger than Me” was on heavy rotation. I didn’t know anything about her. I had never heard of her, and the infamy of her hobbies hadn’t yet eclipsed the fame of her vocation.  That song used to be pretty consistently on the radio when I woke up and drove to work in the morning. It wasn’t the perfect time to listen to her. She didn’t sing in a morning mode, unless ‘morning’ means 3 a.m., but the music stuck with me.

Pretty soon I had my own copy of the album, and slowly America became aware of the gossip and the baggage. The British seemed more interested in her bad behavior, smoldering eyes, and beehive —  but none of that matter much to me. I had fallen in love with the voice, and the songs.

The songs had an edge to them that were lessened by all the things that critics like about them — the cursing, the Mark Ronson production, and the deadening remixes. Maybe the pre-fabbed pop versions did vault her to the top of the charts — but it hardy matters — they did neither her nor her music any favors.

She wasn’t a repository of kitsch and slander — she was a magnet for them.

She was the greatest cabaret singer of our century. And, in the years since she died, the music has improved. Her voice and her songs have gotten stronger over the years, even if all of the celebrated ‘hip-hop’ influences have only become increasingly distracting and dated. There are a few unmarred tracks she did, on a a BBC album that is pure, sound, edgy, and unkitschy, but there aren’t enough.

It was her decision of course. She embraced all of the tawdriness — the weed, the sampling, the drum machines, everything. It is part of her and there is no separating her from any part of it. If she wanted to be the bad girl she would have to reject some of the good, and so she wanted and so she rejected.

When she died, a friend of mine was envious, because she joined the famous 27-Club, as if it were an accomplishment. I chalk it up to her and me getting older (we were in our early 30s) and our chances of living fast dying young and leaving good-looking corpses were up. But I can’t envy it now, and I couldn’t then.

My friend and I had come to the age when we knew that we weren’t going to live up to our early potential. It is a knowledge that still hurts. But wasting potential, letting the match burn itself to nothing before it lights any other fire isn’t a solution or even a cop out. It’s only a waste.



Hallowe’en on the Town with John Hewitt but Far from Home

Generally I would be at home celebrating tonight with a not-terribly-thought-out costume,  a smoking bowl of dark-and-stormy, and a few  old friends. But instead I’m braving the night, the weather, and the Fæ by bumming around London — a city that long ago forgot about Hallowe’en — by myself.

The odds are against me bumping into any of you readers whilst I’m on the town (and also against us recognizing each other if we did).  So, instead of offering you a bowl of anything, I’ll leave this old poem of John Hewitt’s here.

At least it’s not a bad night for coming and going, and maybe we’ll all end up wandering into the places where we ought to be.




Hallowe’en: Plugging the old Chapbook

If anyone is interested in reading something this Hallowe’en, my book Priceless Treasures and Ghastly is still available from the Oldstyle Tales Press. It’s a perfect book for sitting by the fire waiting for kids to stop by trick-or-treating, and short enough to read in one night.

And, if you order it now, it will arrive just before the fæ.

Michaelmass Eve

It’s Michaelmass (I believe it rhymes with ‘fickle miss’) Eve, the day in which we celebrate the archangels, and the celebration of the day Satan fell from heaven onto a blackberry bush.

Not uncoinsidentily it it also the day old Scratch laid a curse on the whole species of shrubbery.

It is not advisable to eat black berries after today.

It’s Not That I Forgot to Write

I have been off this blog for a while now, and long-time readers haven’t had any new material.

It has been a crazy few months. I am now living in Lithuania, working, adjusting, and trying to manage the language. I will keep posting irregularly, and those of you who are interested can see announcements of my new fiction pieces on my Facebook page.

Sips and Sounds: a Retrospective

NOTE: This was first published August 21st 2016.


NOTE: This was first published you-know-where August 21st 2016.

Last week I posted number five in my “Friday Night Sips and Sounds” series. The idea came to me because of the arbitrary association that I have between the song Bell Bottom  Blues and Tom Collinses.  There is also another blog that long paired belts and booze, which proved to be an inspiration, although I am a suspenders-man myself.   

I learned a few things from the experience.

First I learned that the series didn’t meet a pressing need in anyone. Pairing cocktails with old poems or songs seemed quite natural to me, the way pairing cocktails with cheese might be for someone else. The issue may be that I am quite picky with art and love cheese rather uncritically, and the opposite impulse is far commoner. And, whatever the case, nobody told me that their life had been transformed by the pairings, which might be for the best.

Second I learned that I had a lot of thoughts on these things already and I had unconsciously associated them in my mind long before I wrote them down.

Third I affirmed what I said in the first installment about bringing people together. I made each of the drinks for friends before I wrote about them and I tend to make them a little over-strong, and sometimes people would get a little tipsy, or maybe ever tiddly, but never so far as forschnookered. It may be that we are getting old. It may be that people don’t trust me to hold their hair. I suspect, however, that it has more to do with the social and indeed the ritual that comes along with these things. After all there are many elderly pukey-haired people out there, but they didn’t come my way.



A Drink and a Poem (The Mudslide and The Emperor of Ice Cream)

NOTE: This was first published on my old blog July 15th, 2016.

NOTE: This was first published on my old blog July 15th, 2016.
The Emperor of Ice Cream
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
–Wallace Stevens, 1922
I read somewhere that the true use of literature is to help us understand why we do what we do, to uncover our true motives.
And here are the motivations uncovered — ice cream.
It’s hardly a surprise that lofty ideas sometimes lead to disappointment, and, in truth, our appetites can lead us to strange situations, not necessarily bad ones. They may lead us to do the right thing. They probably won’t, but they might. Even a small act of kindness — attending a funeral one doesn’t want to attend — can have good results.
Stevens and I are both New Englanders and we all have an extravagant taste for ice cream. We eat a lot of it. One might think that Hawai’i would eat more but that isn’t really the case. Where we come from, ice cream is for all occasions — dolorous ones included.
This poem is likely set in some place where people roll cigars, since there is a cigar roller (also Stevens used to vacation in a place with palm trees)  but I understand his impulse, because the impulse to ice cream belongs to the north.
It is in this fine ice cream eating tradition that we drink the mudslide. In other places mudslides are a kind of gross cocktail with a cool name, because most people don’t know how to make them. The proper Mudslide (or Frozen Mudslide as it is sometimes called) is made in a blender with ice cream.
Stevens — although he likely never had a mudslide in the prohibition-era stage in his  writing career  — would surly understand the overabundance and decadence of the mixed ice cream and booze.  It isn’t a way to stave off death, or forget one’s sorrows,  but a way to get all of one’s desires in a single glass, and to take it all in at once  — to be buried, perhaps smothered, by desire.
Repent. Repent. Repent.
* People who roll cigars are not called ‘rollists’ although they should be.
* Some simple drinks — like the first two discussed in the series — had been around since Victorian times.
* This is when complex mixed drinks were first coming into vogue so I guess the possibility that he had a mudslide is still there, but it seems unlikely.
* As far as lofty ideas go, I assume that for most of you ice cream in this case is a disappointment but what do I know?
* I really don’t like the word ‘decadence’ the way contemporary people use it. I may give into my appetites, but those appetites don’t involve anything decaying.
* The notes in this series don’t follow any particular order but nobody seems to have noticed.
* So you are wondering how it is made? a blender full of  vanilla ice cream, and a couple shots each of coffee liquor and vodka. I suggest some home made whipped cream for the top.
* This blog does not endorse doing the right thing for the wrong reasons on moral grounds.