". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, March 30, 2009

My Concern Is the U.S. Use of Torture and Incarceration

Not some other nation's past use.

Full story reported in the UK Guardian here; pull follows below:

Criminal proceedings have begun in Spain against six senior officials in the Bush administration for the use of torture against detainees in Guantánamo Bay. Baltasar Garzón, the counter-terrorism judge whose prosecution of General Augusto Pinochet led to his arrest in Britain in 1998, has referred the case to the chief prosecutor before deciding whether to proceed.

The case is bound to threaten Spain's relations with the new administration in Washington, but Gonzalo Boyé, one of the four lawyers who wrote the lawsuit, said the prosecutor would have little choice under Spanish law but to approve the
prosecution. "The only route of escape the prosecutor might have is to ask
whether there is ongoing process in the US against these people," Boyé told the
Observer. "This case will go ahead. It will be against the law not to go

The officials named in the case include the most senior legal minds in the Bush administration. They are: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney's chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon's general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who were both senior justice department legal advisers.

Court documents say that, without their legal advice in a series of internal administration memos, "it would have been impossible to structure a legal
framework that supported what happened [in Guantánamo]". Boyé predicted that
Garzón would issue subpoenas in the next two weeks, summoning the six former
officials to present evidence: "If I were them, I would search for a good

If Garzón decided to go further and issued arrest warrants against the six, it would mean they would risk detention and extradition if they travelled outside the US. It would also present President Barack Obama with a serious dilemma. He would have either to open proceedings against the accused or tackle an extradition request from Spain.

Obama administration officials have confirmed that they believe torture was committed by American interrogators. The president has not ruled out a criminal inquiry, but has signalled he is reluctant to do so for political reasons.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

More "Tremé" & Wendell (da Bunk) Pierce

Rainy and chilly today. An excellent day to stay in, read the papers, workout, write and make a week's worth of stock.

Two packages of drumsticks, seven per package (the Cantonese Lucky 7) purchased yesterday in the Chinatown Deluxe meat market for about 3 dollars/ A single box of 8 packets of non-sodium chicken bouillon now costs $2.99. I got the most aromatic bunch of parsley in the now Wong Chow, previously named Shing Hing, produce market for $.50, some bludgeon carrots for $.65, three enormous Spanish onions for $.60 and some lemons for $1.00, plus some herb medley brought from New Orleans, to make my own stock. The apartment is aromatic now, in a good way. Toward the end I may add some wine. This stock will be the basis for a mushroom medley-greens-chili-sweet-pork-and-tofu soup.

In the Sunday NY Times art section.

It includes a terrific photo of Pierce in his Tremé character as trombonist, Antoine Batiste, who is still not reunited with his family in the months post Katrina and the Levees' Massive Failure.

Then the London Times provides instruction in how to watch The Wire, now that all five seasons have been acquired by 'normal telly,' i.e. BBC2. However, from this perspective, this advice seems strange, considering the sorts of series that British television regularly runs.

Viewers are advised to " ... concentrate on the most popular characters, such as Omar and Bubbles, at the outset ..." and " ... switch on the subtitles for the hard of hearing until you get a grasp of things."

But I've viewed the entire series twice, discussed it in detail with close professional writing friends, some of whom are on staff as script writers for other popular television programs, and by now have met some of the principals, so I've maybe I've forgotten what The Wire seemed like initally? Still, among the great delights provided by this series is finding out who these characters are on your own, the dawning realization that your first impressions can and do change as you get familiar with people on the screen, just as happens in your daily life.

The First Day of Spring Is Already Nine Days In the Past!

Can you believe that the first day of spring was on the 20th, a week ago Friday? The Hudson River Tide Race is my urban version of suburban relaxation in the backyard. I did my first River Walk of 2009 last Sunday. I got in the second River Walk of 2009 yesterday. Even in seven days there are high signs of seasonal progress. The rust and green haze made of swelling buds on trees and bushes was visible in long distance landscape view yesterday, whereas last Sunday it wasn't there. Last weekend, the lavender mist of pasque flowers, crocus and minature iris hadn't spread over the small brown lawns and undergrowth of the gardens facing the river side.

I walked the river all way to the bottom of the island for the first time this year, and walked back too, spying out the subtle, early signs of spring. The most blatant sign of spring is the Teal drake who chases away other drakes from the female Teal who has taken placid residence in the Koi pool of the River park. The Koi were out too, which last Sunday they still weren't. Each year they get larger. I remember when the pool was constructed, before it was stocked with the fishes. The small ones are inevitably eaten now that the local fishing fowls have discovered the pool too. The larger the survivors grow, the fewer new ones are restocked.

The non-migrating geese who wish take over the lawns of all the parks have been thwarted to a degree by a winter's tarp covering those of the River park. A flock of these geese, no doubt taking a break from wrecking planes at the Newark Airport, honked indignantly about the tarps, complaining, complaining, complaining. These geese manage to out-complain our demanding, indulged, over-weight squirrels. But yesterday's squirrels are skinny, presumably the males, out foraging for the nursing females, tucked up in the many squirrel nests still visible in the unleafed tree branches.

It started off pleasantly, this walk, but it got overcast again about a quarter along, and the wind came up. As I was on the edge of the river, the change in temperature was noticable. This walk, performed with brisk speed, for about 2 and half hours, left me so limp by the time I got home again, it felt as though I'd taken a massive dose of valium. I've never had valium in my life, though so I'm only imagining this is what it would be like.

I regret not taking the camera. But then, with the overcast the great light was gone. And anyway, with the the camera, I wouldn't have seen as much

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Wire / David Simon in Britain

Interview and story about Simon and The Wire in the U.K. Guardian here.

The take away:

The key principle of Simon's storytelling was encapsulated in a
remark that caused raised eyebrowswhen he uttered it, late last year, on
BBC2's Culture Show: "Fuck the average viewer."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Calming the Atmospheric Psychic Disturbances

This is what we're doing tonight.

This is what we're doing tomorrow night, with some friends, including our houngan and his wife.

Nothing is as healing, settling and balancing as music (and dancing to) out of these deep traditions.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Some People

Refuse to climb down from their self-imposed position on the cross of fail.

The same people don't ever learn to let go of the spade either.

No matter how many announcements they declaim that they've done so.

Nor do they depart via the open door no matter how often they say they have left and left forever.

Pathetic and ridiculous, yes. But worse, damaging others, close to them.

Disaster State -- North Dakota

The flooding in North Dakota has made it a state of disaster, even more so, it looks like, than the terrible blizzard and flood year of 1997.

I've been getting e-mail and phone reports. Relatives and friends are needing to evacuate, all up and down the Red River Valley. Many fear they will lose their homes. Even my step-mom is anxious, and her home is far from the river, relatively speaking.

It's no better further west. Bismark had to shut down state capital business due to flood threat.

Blizzard and flooding simultaneously -- only in the midwest. I'm waiting for the additional flourish of tornadoes plus thunderstorms to make the mix of catastrophic weather complete.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vaquero - Photo Credit - New Yorker

A New Yorker roundtable on Haitian music via Sasha Frere-Jones, with:

Ned Sublette
Edwidge Danticat


Let The (Cuban) Stars In!

Larry Blumenfeld reports in the Village Voice re the Afro-Cuban All Stars and our activist activities to change the ridiculous laws that rule our face-to-face relationships and visits with Cubans, both here and there:

"When Juan de Marcos González brings his 14-piece Afro-Cuban All-Stars to Town Hall on March 28, they'll include residents of eight countries, from Mexico to Sweden, Spain to the United States. But none from Cuba. No musician living there (and planning to return) has played here since December 2003, when pianist Chucho Valdés headlined the Village Vanguard. After that, the Bush administration effectively shut down all U.S.-Cuba cultural exchanges.

González has contributed mightily to that cut-short exchange. Best known as the architect of the Buena Vista Social Club, he assembled that band with musicians drawn from the first edition of his All-Stars. (Their debut CD, A Toda Cuba Le Gusta, released simultaneously with Buena Vista's, was the better recording.) But he soon went his own way, turning down offers for more retro-styled recordings, or what he called "la onda de los viejitos" ("the fad of the old-timers"). He's been cleverly crossing stylistic boundaries with his latest batch of All-Stars ever since, blending traditional and contemporary Cuban sounds. His 40-city tour is equally resourceful in terms of border crossings: The band's members, all with roots in Cuba, have passports in other nations, thus sidestepping the rules that exclude Cuban musicians.

"This band is bringing a message," he says. "Cuba is here, independent of any politician or policy. Our music and our influence cannot be stopped. And it's time for the policy to catch up with the reality."

Such change may be afoot. Tucked into the recently approved Omnibus Appropriations Bill, despite vociferous objection by such hard-liners as New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, are provisions that liberalize travel for Americans to visit relatives in Cuba. However, the bill does so essentially by defunding the Treasury Department agencies that police such activity, which is different from legal sanction—besides, it expires in six months.

"But Mr. Obama is a smart guy," González adds. "He's going to open the doors wider, at least to cultural exchange."

To that end, the President's inbox holds the urging of more than a thousand noted artists, educators, and cultural leaders via signatures on a letter calling for, among other measures, the elimination of restrictions that prevent Americans from traveling to Cuba, and Cuban artists from performing in the United States. (See it at "I shouldn't have to ask permission of my government to travel anywhere," says Louis Head, co-founder of the U.S.-Cuba Cultural Exchange, which orchestrated the letter campaign. "Historically, cultural expression in the U.S. and Cuba are joined at the hip, and it's time to respect that vital connection."

"The letter is very important," Grammy-winning pianist Arturo O'Farrill told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! "For us to be denied access to this source of cultural sustenance is absolutely insane."

The "Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act" (H.R. 874 in the House and S. 428 in the Senate), a more effective and lasting option than the Omnibus add-on, is attracting a growing list of co-sponsors and, if passed, would permit all U.S. citizens unrestricted travel rights. That should allow, for instance, O'Farrill to realize his dream of bringing his Afro-Latin Orchestra to Cuba to perform the music composed by his father, Chico, in the home Chico left in 1958, for good.

Still, we need the door to swing open both ways, so that, as Alicia Alonso, director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, wrote in a 2007 open letter to American artists, "a song, a book, a scientific study, or a choreographic work are not considered, in an irrational way, a crime." González envisions bringing a 30-piece band to the U.S., adding such musicians as pianist David Alfaro, who lives in Cuba. No one should stop him.

Juan de Marcos González and the Afro-Cuban All-Stars play Town Hall March 28"

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Last Few Days

Wednesday: TR does the Louis Armstrong airport pick-up. At his house, his super Gumbo is waiting, and is even more super than he claimed it to be. TWTMNO is in the airport bookstore, though the woman working there said they'd just come in -- they'd been out. "Did you know it was sold out and the publishers didn't have any more until they re-printed?"

Thursday and Friday: Nothing like the thrill of entering a bookstore and seeing that your book is at the cashier and being bought by a customer. This happened not just once, but twice with The World That Made New Orleans. Everyone working in the bookstores recognizes Vaquero the moment he walks in. Book stores concerned that they are running out and can't get it -- "Did you know that TWTMNO was sold out from your publisher? It seems they re-printed, and we just got our copies, please sign."

Nightimes: Walking on the streets, hanging at Marky's, checking out the music venues, people running up, including Martha Ward, professor at New Orleans University, who wrote Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau, telling you how much they love the book. Vaquero's happy. How not?????

Saturday: The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Award luncheon at Houmas Plantation (the Posse – J., TR & Vaquero – named it the Liberace Plantation, i.e. ersatz, a plantation theme park. The Tulane History Personage who did the Book Award introduced Vaquero by calling The World That Made New Orleans "The best history of New Orleans ever written." He had to say that, of course. This is an awards banquet. This is Southern hospitality.
The good part about the event (along with the food, which was spectacular from appetizers to dessert and all local, including the duck), is that most of these awards LEH awards go to people you're not likely to know -- particularly teachers and librarians. This meant that many women of color were present, with their posses, for their awards. They love the book, they love Vaquero. Back then, writing the book, we knew, if the sisters love the book, we win, if they don't like it, we lose. Gads, these women work! Oh do they work. And against such odds. Yes indeed, this is the best part of the entire LEH awards event. It's also much more integrated than most cultural events. Every book available was sold.
Night: On Frenchman, L., our musician-across-the-street neighbor from ybtf appears. He volunteers the information that when the tenant (or a tenant) after us found out about the murder in our house, she, being a lawyer, threatened to sue Landlord if he didn't let her out of the lease. Hahahaha! Especially as the murder is one of the book's themes. But we didn't know how it all ended until now. The trial, conviction and sentencing just took place last week, after all these years. And now this is the last tie-up, as Landlord still hasn't done anything to make invasion of that house any more difficult.

Super Sunday: Super Sunday isn't only about Mardi Gras Indians. It's also the greatest Second Line in the round of New Orleans's year. Second lines are most about the social aid and pleasure clubs, and the communities they grew out of generations ago, the communities they still serve, the communities they still help hold together, even through the Failure and the Struggle for Recovery. Many of the greatest figures of Jazz and other American popular music came out of the social aid and pleasure clubs -- many of whom also 'play Indian.' These clubs, with their sponsorship of Second Line parades (the brass bands) are the ground for keeping the music alive and evolving. They also accept white members these days, which is only a good thing.This is a queen of one of the social aid and pleasure clubs. Vaquero called out to one of her maids, "Does it hurt to be so beautiful?" (The clubs deliberately do what they can to signal a sense of luxury and wealth -- thus the champagne flutes, the big cigars, the ribbons.) She giggled and threw him a handkerchief with her name and the club's on it. The clubs have children's auxillaries too. The attentive care of the children on this very long Second Line parade excursion is one of the deep delights of Super Sunday.

Introductions -- Clarke Peters (Detective Lester Freeman in The Wire), and David Simon via Blake Leyh, his music director. Simon's read the book – Blake gave it to him. Monday, he begins shooting the pilot for Tremé at 7 AM.

Night: C. & L.'s + kids.

Monday: Arrive at the shoot about 8; see Clarke again; further introductions to members of cast and crew and production staff, including Wendell Pierce (da Bunk in The Wire – he's been studying the trumpet for his role in Tremé). The series is contemporary, featuring the lives of individual musicians, with their families, their community, their social aid and pleasure clubs, as Mardi Gras Indians -- Donald Harrison has a big role and is a consultant -- and as performing musicians. Agnieszka Holland, is directing the Tremé pilot (she directed many eps of The Wire and of Generation Kill). Everyone says they've read The World That Made New Orleans – it seems to have been required reading. Holland says TWTMNO was the most useful book of all they read about NO. Evidently the pilot is utilizing a great deal of what is the concluding chapter of The World That Made New Orleans. It's set two - three months post Katrina. Everyone will read The Year Before The Flood when it comes out in August -- but only if the pilot is picked up by HBO, one presumes. Another, among those met is one of New Olreans's four forensics medical people, a woman. She said, "I'm probably the only person you'll meet who wanted to move to New Orleans because of the murder stats."
Later: Going to hang out with PS, yay!
All The Time: Copy edits, copy edits, copy edits for TYBTF ....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Air Tells Us So

The back of winter's broken.
The air smells not of iron but of earth.
Our coats are off.
Convertible tops are down

Book Promo - YouTube

Amigo Dan Wolff has put up a YouTube video for his new work, How Lincoln Learned to Read: Twelve Great Americans and The Educations That Made Them.

It contrasts greatly with the lameness of most book promo videos. You might want to take a look, here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sláinte Mhaith!

To all our Irish friends, and those who are Irish for the day.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shichinin no samurai

Some months back as part of the ongoing movie Western project I watched The Magnificent Seven (1960), the Hollywood re-make of Seven Samurai (1954).

I hadn't seen this film other than as the grainy flicker undergrad days of student foreign film series, which were all about 'the Film as art' and the serious consideration of same. I'd not known the word, 'katana' or 'sushi.' I hadn't known any Japanese history other than Hiroshima. Shogun hadn't even been published. I had not met or known anyone who was Japanese. I didn't drink tea or eat rice or live in a neighborhood with a Japanese specialty grocery. A goodly number of my friends hadn't spent years of their lives training in Japanese martial arts, or collaborated with Japanese artists, or lived in Japan for a period of time, or received commissions from Japanese art institutions or sold some piece of their work to be used in Japanese advertising.

I watched the 2006 Criterian restoration, lush with velvety blacks, spanking with half tones, the images sharp as the blades of the katanas of warring 16th c Japan. The film score seems odd now, to my 21st C ears. If the film had been made now rather than in 1954, the score wouldn't have been 50's classic Hollywood movie music, founded in jazz. It would have been more 'Japanese' (well, it would also be mostly electronic too). I'm wondering how much that western score had to do with Hollywood's decision to re-make it for the U.S. market?

The emphasis Seven Samurai put upon what a farmer's life is like, what it mean to be rooted in the land, preyed upon by all, perceiving all as the enemy, resonated with me so strongly now. In my undergrad days I couldn't even see that; was that, because like Kikuchiyo (the Mifune role), I was also seeking to escape the bondage of the farming life?

Friday, March 13, 2009

An Alternative History of American Popular Music

The very best history of American popular music, so far, has been written by amigo, Elijah Wald, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. Beatles Worshippers, do not be alarmed. The title is a a bait 'n' switch; to the disappointment of some, Elijah doesn't really say the Beatles destroyed R 'N R.

Pub date, June 2009. From the Oxford University Press.

He's been in town the last couple of days. The things you don't know about your friends! His parents, for instance, were both biologists (like Vaquero's, but unlike Vaquero's, they are politically very leftist). Elijah's father, George Wald was a Nobel Prize winner. His mom is Ruth Hubbard. Elijah even wrote a book with his mom.

The ARC doesn't include the illustrations, which ought to be brilliant. Elijah says they are. This book was being written while The World That Made New Orleans and The Year Before the Flood were being written. There was a great deal of draft and conversation back-and-forth so reading the galleys isn't that kind of content revelation. IOW, this book has been a significant presence in the casita. But this is the first time I've read the whole roll as part succeeds part. Deeply researched, the book is brilliant, overflowing with vivid, fascinating, revelatory detail. It reads quickly and easily, though, because Elijah, another of that rara avis, a writer about music, who is also a working musician, is also an excellent writer.

This is a different kind of book than Elijah's previous titles, which include Narcorridos: A Journey Into the Music of Drugs, Guns and Guerrillas and Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. As he stresses strongly, this isn't a book of music criticism, but a book of history. If you are interested in American popular music you will need to read this one.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Another Historic Message, Penned in the Present

"President Obama Announces White House Council on Women and Girls"

The announcement of this Executive Order can be found here.

[ During its first year, the Council will also focus on the following areas:

  • Improving women’s economic security by ensuring that each of the agencies is working to directly improve the economic status of women.
  • Working with each agency to ensure that the administration evaluates and develops policies that establish a balance between work and family.
  • Working hand-in-hand with the Vice President, the Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women and other government officials to find new ways to prevent violence against women, at home and abroad.
  • Finally, the critical work of the Council will be to help build healthy families and improve women’s health care.

The White House Council on Women and Girls will meet regularly, and will serve as a forum for all involved agencies to focus on women. ]

Then came the luncheon launch.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Historic Messages Preserved in Time

President Lincoln's watch contains a secret engraved message put there by the Irish immigrant who was repairing the president's watch when the news arrived in Washington that the rebels had fired upon Fort Sumter.

This is a fascinating story -- the NY Times:

In the article Mr. Dillon, then 84, recounted that he was working at M. W.
Galt & Company, a watch shop on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, in April
1861 when the shop’s owner, Mr. Galt, hurried upstairs to tell him, “War has
begun; the first shot has been fired.”

“At that moment I had in my hand Abraham Lincoln’s watch, which I had been
repairing,” Dillon told The Times, adding that he later learned it was the first
watch that Lincoln ever owned.

An immigrant from Waterford, Ireland, he told The Times, “I was the only
Union sympathizer working in the shop."

First, such a mundane thing, this small repair, for this time. It was a gold watch and such watches were so valuable they were commonly family heirlooms, passed down from first son to first son. Thus the President of the United States sends his watch out for repair rather than get another one. Lincoln certainly wasn't presented this gold watch by his father, thus this watch must have had such deep significance for him, earned by his own efforts in the law. Nor was Lincoln fortunate with his sons, as we know but Lincoln wasn't.

Second, this repairman is the only Union sympathizer in the shop. That small detail shouts volumes about the state of the nation that Lincoln had been elected to govern, and even more particularly about the state of the nation's capital, in which the sights of slave coffels herded through the streets was so common as to become a scandal that had to be outlawed by an act of congress. (Not, mind you, the outlawing of slavery or the slave trade, but the public view of it, so that visitors from other nations wouldn't write about it.) The repairman is an Irish immigrant; at this time Irish immigrants were regarded as barely human, barely a step above the despised slave class. The Union army recruited Irish immigrants by the thousands, many, many of them literally right off the ship. Recruiting tables were set up on New York City's wharfs. The Irish went directly from the ship to the army.

Third, this confirmation of his family's long memory of Dillon's action is confiirmed by a search his descendant did in The York Times archive, now available to anyone, anywhere, from their own homes, since it made the digitized archive free for use to any registered reader. Woo. All the historical pointers and markers for research that can be found now, in the world's newspapers with keywords searches. What a remarkable research tool. The story of Lincoln's watch was reported in The New York Times. The confirmation of memory of this story is also reported in the New York Times.

Is this time and history as an arrow, or time and history as a wheel?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Things have been so busy that we haven't made much progress these last 8 - 9 days with Assmann's, The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs. We only began chapter 14 last night, the establishment of the New Kingdom with the wars of liberation against the Hyksos.

The inclusion in the Keynote Address at the conference of Assmann's structuralist paradigm reading lost historic information as messages, memories and traces worked out very well in terms of discussing the circulation of music in music's pre-history. The description of the Uluburun ship and its cargo ranging from the Baltic north to Nubia dramatized this circulation in a concrete, material illustration. Thinking only a moment about this, anyone understands that in these eras music was also circulating along those watery trade routes of rivers and seas and coasts.

People were the containers of music, and people circulated, whether musicians, slaves, sailors, soldiers, merchants, camel drivers, you name it. Music was contained in people and people always travel. The point of the presentation is that pre-recording technology, all music exists in the pre-historic realms. Musical notation is just that -- notation. It doesn't tell you how it sounded in its own milieu.

This seemed to impress the young 'uns quite a bit, never having thought in that way previously. One did raise her hand and inquire plaintively if Vaquero was telling them to study history and geography and anthropology* and archeology and literature, when they were ethnomusicologists and thus they studied music! When she finished her involved question, he answered, "Yes."

Nothing exists in a vacuum, including the past. That's another reason the past changes so much.


* Even now, often enthnomusicology is regarded as part of the anthropology dept., not the music dept., while the anthropology dept. regards ethnomusicology as part of the music dept., which can leave the students rather twisting in the wind, neither one nor the other, while not allowed a dept. to itself. At the same time this perhaps accounts for why enormous amounts of the primary research and best musicology still is accomplished by non-academics, non-faculty.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Happy International Women's Day!

In observance of International Women's Day Vaquero sent me a pome:

i would not be happy sending e-mails
without the presence of the female
i could not stir from dreaming deep
without a spoon to make me sleep
dear C, i am inspired to say
happy motherfucking women's day!


This last week was extraordinarly busy. Not a single night at home except Monday, because it was a snow day (we had a blizzard here). It was also extraordinary in terms of weather then, and temperatures. One morning it was 11 degrees when I woke up. Yesterday it was 70.


I'm glad that's over. Today we just took it easy. I fixed a very late but huge brunch. Then we went shopping for new sneakers, t-shirts and few other sundries.

The number of dead stores grows every day. Particularly all the small boutiques. How they ever made the kind of rents they were paying before the economic catastrophe could no longer be denied, I could never figure out before. But now, there evidently is no way. Restaurants that were always packed 7 days a week -- I walk past them on a Thursday or Friday night and there's nobody in them. Yet around here, commercial rents for this footage is not falling, nor are the prices of clothes or food, either. There are still so many young Japanese women coming to NYC with all their income presumably disposable the designer label places stay open. With the good weather and warm temperatures this weekend, my neighborhood was a gridlocked as it ever has been. Even the restaurants were full. But at night, things get very quiet, very soon, even on the weekends.

A sign of the times: I was buying coffee at the usual coffee place for Vaquero Thursday. It was about 4:30 pm. Usually, if you go into Augie's after 11 am all their muffins, scones and cookies are gone. I noticed while the beans were grinding that all the platters and jars were almost still full of the high sugar snacks. Either not that many people are going to work these days or people have cut back their habit of 2 - 3 times a day getting 5 dollar coffee plus 3 dollar snack. Of course, street traffic is way down too, as the neighborhood was without the kind of tourist trade it's been groaning under for so long 24/7.

I wonder if the nabe will revert to what it was like when I first moved here, with restaurants closed on Monday. I've seen several stores not open here now on Mondays.

We shall see what spring brings.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding

This is Dr. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's (stet) new work. She's my favorite evolutionary biologist. If you've read Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants and Natural Selection, you know why.

About the new work, from today's NY Times Science section:

[ Our capacity to cooperate in groups, to empathize with others and to wonder what others are thinking and feeling — all these traits, Dr. Hrdy argues, probably arose in response to the selective pressures of being in a cooperatively breeding social group, and the need to trust and rely on others and be deemed trustworthy and reliable in turn. Babies became adorable and keen to make connections with every passing adult gaze. Mothers became willing to play pass the baby. Dr. Hrdy points out that mother chimpanzees and gorillas jealously hold on to their infants for the first six months or more of life. Other females may express real interest in the newborn, but the mother does not let go: you never know when one of those females will turn infanticidal, or be unwilling or unable to defend the young ape against an infanticidal male.

By contrast, human mothers in virtually every culture studied allow others to hold their babies from birth onward, to a greater or lesser extent depending on tradition. Among the !Kung foragers of the Kalahari, babies are held by a father, grandmother, older sibling or some other allomother maybe 25 percent of the time. Among the Efe foragers of Central Africa, babies spend 60 percent of their daylight hours being toted around by somebody other than their mother. In 87 percent of foraging societies, mothers sometimes suckle each other’s children, another remarkable display of social trust.

Dr. Hrdy wrote her book in part to counter what she sees as the reigning dogma among evolutionary scholars that humans evolved their extreme sociality and cooperative behavior to better compete with other humans. “I’m not comfortable accepting this idea that the origins of hypersociality can be found in warfare, or that in-group amity arose in the interest of out-group enmity,” she said in a telephone interview. Sure, humans have been notably violent and militaristic for the last 12,000 or so years, she said, when hunter-gatherers started settling down and defending territories, and populations started getting seriously dense. But before then? There weren’t enough people around to wage wars. By the latest estimates, the average population size during the hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution that preceded the Neolithic Age may have been around 2,000 breeding adults. “What would humans have been fighting over?” Dr. Hrdy said. “They were too busy trying to keep themselves and their children alive.” ]

Full article here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Music In The Snow

The predicted snowstorm arrived at the predicted time, about a half hour before LLO was scheduled to take the stage at le P. R. We walked the four blocks to the club under our umbrellas. This is how it used to be when we were young here. We, and the audience, were able to walk to hear our music, experience art, and to perform it. We knew each other. We knew what each other were working on. We interacted daily, with the work and socially. We had breakfast together in the cheap coffee shops in our neighborhood, and danced together at night via the guest lists at the clubs. Work and social life were the same.

All gigs matter, of course. But some have historic significance. This was one of those. For one thing several historians of the scene out of which both P. and Vaquero emerged have been here for the last few weeks interviewing and doing research for their books on the era. It was one of those serendipitous convergences that get some people written into the history while some, equally or even more important and influential, are left out. It's hard to express just how aware I am of the effect this kind of convergence of fortune has on how history gets written, now that for the last 10 years I've been living with so many people writing histories of the world I grew up in, as well as from the experience I've accumulated myself, as to how this is accomplished.

This is a fully mature and experienced assessment of what's going on right now, not exaggerated sense of self-importance. I'm not important at all. What I am is a witness, an observer and a memory.

However you analyze these decades in music though, P., who was here from the beginning and had to leave NYC, is among the 'most important' and the most influential. Yes, Vaquero is also important and influential, because Vaquero kept NYC as his living address through all this period. Even separated, sometimes, by continents, P. and Vaquero continued to work together. They remained friends and colleagues as they'd been since college. Long before Kit and Peter were a couple, K. had been part of that too, creating video art with music artists ranging from Ryuichi Sakamoto to Max Roach, as well this circle of musicians, including Vaquero and of course, her husband, and already too, now, with their son.

I saw some people who I was close to back in the day, but we'd drifted apart due to all the changes in the city, real estate, the music industry and the arts and funding for individual artists, as opposed to only official institutions such as the Metropolitan Opera and associated Lincoln Center ventures, etc. Somehow we've managed to survive -- too many of us just barely. An individual who was instrumental in the birth of that brilliantly creative time in NYC, and then, rippling outwards, everywhere else, was present. (Hook up via MySpace, natch!). He said somewhat sadly to me, "I'm poor now. It hasn't made a difference in how live. I never lived rich. The real difference is that I had to ask to be on the guest list when I used to own the guest list."

P. had been gone from NYC for a decade, partly because he detoured his life as a composer and musician to raise a child, and to be caretaker to aging, ill, incapacitated parents. (Women do that all the time -- interrupt their careers for the sake of their family, of which he's most aware.) After his parents died, he returned -- to teach in a small, struggling hbc -- with those extraordinary networking skills that were instrumental in the birthing of that marvelous time when we were all very young, very struggling and had no idea of what would be ahead. Now we're mature. You can hear it in the music. It is recognizably still P.'s unique sound and orchestration that have been there from the beginning. But it has a lot more rhythm and percussion now, due to the Afro-latin musicians that Vaquero brought into P.'s life -- and even more significantly into his son's life, who fell in love with the same music that Vaquero loves, and takes lessons in playing every week from a Cuban trumpet player to whom he was introduced by Vaquero.

K.'s accompanying video has acquired depth, with overt reference to world history, past and present -- there was a sequence of revolving cubes of 'crushed history' with hieroglyphs, and other ancient references that she'd never have cared about, except her son is a history enthusiast, so they spend hours together with books of ancient art. She reads with him in these areas of his interest. She began to employ 'narrative' a few years ago as part of her professional glossary.

Most of all though, it was real in the way so little is now. The musicians were playing together, on in the same space as the audience, with actual instruments in a room full of warm, breathing bodies, experiencing the sounds through ears and skin, hearing and dancing. Some of us in that room went back together at least for 30 years. And some of the people in that room were half that age -- and at least one was no more than six.

It all feels amazing -- probably because is it my / our life / lives. Thus not amazing at all to anyone else. Nevertheless we had another in a life's sequence of nights of music and magic. I feel blessed.

It's daytime, time to resume the struggle now. Though with the snow still falling, and the fog swirling and all so quiet outside and in, the sense of wonder, the sense of magic manages to sustain. That's what art and nature do for us.