“I’ve been on the top. I’ve been on the bottom. Both places are empty”
- Nico (from the film Nico, 1988)
“Only guys who can’t appreciate jazz get into fights.”
-Akira (from the film The Warped Ones, 1960)
1st man: “The structure is built but has to be instilled with a substance.”
2nd man: “That means it has to be investigated. Let’s…”
-Overheard in Soho
In Jake Marmer’s latest collection of poems, The Neighbor Out of Sound, his second on Sheep Meadow Press, we have his continued interest in Jewish constructs—in this case the nigun—described in the book as a traditional Hassidic chant, usually wordless. Here, however, Marmer translates this idea of “chant/lever for ritual” into words in an attempt to achieve the “sound” of this deep, mystical almost sub-sonic variable. And achieve it he does with such magnificent clarities and critical gems as “word stems shaved . . . echoes will stretch your voice into a song . . .” and “. . . song paint . . . sound rises like an animal . . . standing mercurially.”
Within these poems and throughout this book of praise, filled with wisdom as well as co(s)mic relief—“I thought everyone’s penis looked like an accordion . . .”—Marmer never forgets or resists two of his great loves, Music, with a capital M and his own Russian/Jewish roots, with an emphasis here on tradition and family. His uncles, his aunts, family seders, and his father: “In the middle of the meeting I suddenly remember my father spinning the egg to tell if it’s raw or cracked without cracking it . . .” And here again in the work place—about which there are many poems—we get this almost Talmudic question/ answer akin to a Zen koan; from “Lunch Break”: “life has not materialized / as fulfillment / as revelation / and yet / and yet.” In “Nigun for Cecil Taylor” we have these haunting lines: “melody’s oblivion pounded into lint / to sing it is to possess / through resemblance . . . in field of pure color.” These poems sing. Complain. Remember “. . .pointing to some unmarked destination on this odyssey . . . dragged by a force unknown to itself.” Pick up this book, its “echoes / will stretch / your voice / into a song / your shadow / into myth / will stretch till you can’t / tell between thinking and listening.”
If you haven’t seen Nico, 1988, which deals with her final two years (1986-88), spent touring mostly around Eastern Europe, I strongly advise you catch it, for nothing else than the incredible performance by Danish actress Trine Dyrholm as Nico. Then if you want to learn more find the documentary Nico Icon (1995). I could give you an account of the tragic details of her life in almost perpetual decline but see it for yourself. Nico has always been one of my favorite “non”-singers and Dyrholm shines through in this role as real and dark as the life depicted, including the heroin shots in the legs, Nico’s tragic relationship with her suicidal son Ari—he was fathered by actor Alain Delon, though Delon never owned up to it. Women directed both films mentioned. BRAVO.
With The Warped Ones, directed by Koreyoshi Kuraihara (a new name to me) in 1960, with a musical “jazz” score by famed classical composer Toshiro Mayuzumi, we find the ultimate postwar class struggle between young delinquents and their bourgeois elite artist-type counterparts. A good part of the action takes place in a jazz bar filled with portraits of such icons as Blakey, Bird, Dizzy, Monk, Bud Powell, and Clifford Brown to name but a few. There is also the one token African-American jazz aficionado who hangs out there. In contrast, the artists, who all paint abstract, hang out in a big country studio on the outskirts of Tokyo and play only Tchaikovsky. The bad boys are really bad, especially Akira, who always complains when the music is what he refers to as “fake jazz,” and who later beats up the rich/straight boyfriend of the young artist gal, then rapes and impregnates her. Afterward she haunts Akira by showing up at the jazz club day after day always complaining how her suit-and-tie intellectual lover always acts as if this never occurred. That lover is finally seduced by and sleeps with Akira’s friend’s girl—who is a hooker because her father is in jail. The friend eventually is murdered because he didn’t take Akira’s advice about remaining independent and in his attempt to climb up the Yakuza ladder is offed by said gang while he himself knocks off the leader. The “artist” seeks her revenge in an attempt to match how slutty she now feels while constantly being rejected by Akira, and later with her boyfriend unsuccessfully tries to kill Akira. There are many twists in this over-played-jump-cuts-of-a-black and white film that totters between grade B and greatness borrowing from Italian neo-realism and the French New Wave. The end leaves us with the feeling that there is little difference between the privileged and the poor and that in fact the poor might be the better of the two classes on some surreal level.
In contrast we have Jacques Becker’s Rendezvous in July, which begins with the almost ominous “You think their life is jazz and dancing but you don’t know them…”, another coming of age film that takes place in another big city, Paris. Most of the characters get along fine and except for the professions of their individual parents—from doctors to hair dressers to butchers—there is no negative emphasis on class. They are all intellectuals who graduated or are in the process of graduating from university with such degrees as acting, cinematography, anthropology, etc. One character is a passionate trumpet player and here we have a major similarity between this and The Warped Ones—one of the driving forces of the film is jazz, the other comradeship. But in the long run what is most important to each individual’s integrity is to fulfill their ultimate goals beyond their intense love for jazz. There is also a token African-American in this film as well, trumpeter Rex Stewart, and there are many scenes in a jazz bar (the typical French cave) with live music. Also central to both films are LPs and turntables. The jazz scenes are very St. Germain. Very Boris Vian. And the party scene is in a big artsy loft very similar to the studio in the Japanese film. There’s only one bad egg, an over-ambitious young actress who sleeps with the director to get the part. Later she tries to reconcile with the boyfriend, who is leaving with his buddies to film a documentary about pygmies—he blows her off. One of many major differences in this film is that jazz is treated as a wild—but nonetheless high—art form appreciated by young intellectuals, who also enjoy classical music, and not just music for a bunch of hardcore down-trodden misfits. Catch that French gal singing a Billie Holiday type blues in really poor English.
Tom Surgal’s new documentary Fire Music tells the story of an irrepressible art form known as free jazz that has inspired generations of fans the world over. It captures the sights and sounds of one of the most innovative movements in music history. To quote Surgal “[Free jazz] is the cultural precursor to all the seminal musical protest scenes that followed, such as punk, hardcore, and hip hop. It gave voice to a disenfranchised generation galvanized by the burgeoning civil rights and anti-war movements . . .” He then goes on to say “Free jazz broke all the rules, challenging the very notion of music by jettisoning conventional melodic structure and traditional timekeeping in favor of collective improvisation.” The film had its successful premiere at this year’s New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center and should hit the theaters within a year.
There are certain people who change the way one eats, listens, thinks. I dedicate this to three such people. Kenny Shopsin, Hamiet Bluiett, and Chris Mann. Kenny’s food was like un-interpretable music. Chris was a friend, beloved, honest, fast-spoken human. He mixed language the way Kenny mixed pancakes—brilliantly jumbled spontaneous stacks. Bluiett changed the way people listened to music and to the baritone sax. When I first heard him play I finally fell in love with the instrument. Like Kenny and Chris he altered the vocabulary of his art. Thank you Bluiett, soft-spoken man with that wispy comical laugh. They will all be missed. Three one-of-a-kind humans. May they mix those crazy ba(n)tters up yonder for eons.
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His bookÂ The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs areÂ The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CDÂ Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books includeÂ Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) andÂ where night and day become oneâ”the french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.