With her bangles and her spangles and her stars

the making of "beauty and crime"

[…] “I met Philip Glass as I was walking
down the street,” she explains over the phone from, of course,
Manhattan. “I run into him fairly often. And he said, ‘How’s it going?’
I said that I was without a record deal, and he looked really happy and
said, ‘Congratulations. That means you can do what you really want and
finally have freedom.’

“I wasn’t clear how I felt about it at the time.
I wasn’t seeing it from that point of view. Two weeks after 9/11, I
found out my deal with A&M was up and asked them for another year
on the label, and they didn’t pick up the option, so I quietly went
away.”

But she began thinking about Glass’s reaction.
“I decided to hire an engineer to work with, Brit Myers, and we just
played music into the computer. I riffed around and made loops and
things, without lyrics. It was a new way for me to work, and part of
the sleekness of these songs may be that I was working on a computer,
which compresses everything and allows you to edit and alter your work
in really interesting ways. It becomes like a collage."
[…]

That's from Ted Drozdowski's "Village Folk" in The Phoenix

Indianapolis, when he was 9 years old

[…] He wants to tell us things: It is not the fittest who survive – it is
merely those who happen to survive who survive. The earth is a
''fragile habitat'' that our big brains have failed to take care of. We
must hope for flippers and beaks – or nothing at all. We are all,
finally, being too mean to one another. ''I'll tell you what the human
soul is,'' a character in ''Galapagos'' says. ''It's the part of you that knows when your brain isn't working right.'' […]

[…] No matter how
corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our
media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the
music will still be wonderful.

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC

Now,
during our catastrophically idiotic war in Vietnam, the music kept
getting better and better and better. We lost that war, by the way.
Order couldn’t be restored in Indochina until the people kicked us out.

That
war only made billionaires out of millionaires. Today’s war is making
trillionaires out of billionaires. Now I call that progress.

And
how come the people in countries we invade can’t fight like ladies and
gentlemen, in uniform and with tanks and helicopter gunships?

Back
to music. It makes practically everybody fonder of life than he or she
would be without it. Even military bands, although I am a pacifist,
always cheer me up. And I really like Strauss and Mozart and all that,
but the priceless gift that African Americans gave the whole world when
they were still in slavery was a gift so great that it is now almost
the only reason many foreigners still like us at least a little bit.
That specific remedy for the worldwide epidemic of depression is a gift
called the blues. All pop music today – jazz, swing, be-bop, Elvis
Presley, the Beatles, the Stones, rock-and-roll, hip-hop, and on and on
– is derived from the blues.

A
gift to the world? One of the best rhythm-and-blues combos I ever heard
was three guys and a girl from Finland playing in a club in Krakow,
Poland.

The
wonderful writer Albert Murray, who is a jazz historian and a friend of
mine among other things, told me that during the era of slavery in this
country – an atrocity from which we can never fully recover – the
suicide rate per capita among slave owners was much higher than the
suicide rate among slaves.

Murray
says he thinks this was because slaves had a way of dealing with
depression, which their white owners did not: They could shoo away Old
Man Suicide by playing and singing the Blues. He says something else
which also sounds right to me. He says the blues can’t drive depression
clear out of a house, but can drive it into the corners of any room
where it’s being played. So please remember that.

Foreigners
love us for our jazz. And they don’t hate us for our purported liberty
and justice for all. They hate us now for our arrogance. […]

[…] I
went to an overachiever’s high school in Indianapolis, which no longer
exists. It was called Shortridge High School, and since 1906 had a
daily paper. I was an editor of the Shortridge Daily Echo, and
I learned to write. It was beneficial, really, because it made me aware
immediately of the response of readers. You publish something people
don’t like and you hear about it right away.

I knew how to
paste up a front page and write headlines. At the City News Bureau, we
phoned in our stories and we phoned in leads. The first thing you’d say
is who, what, when, where and why. In writing fiction, that’s what I
always did. I made sure the reader knew at once where he was, too.
Fiction is a game for two. You have to make it possible for a reader to
play along.

[…] DAVID BRANCACCIO:
Well, I want to ask you about this. You ask in the book a question that actually you don't answer so I want to –

KURT VONNEGUT:
I'm old.

DAVID BRANCACCIO:
But I want to– think about answering this one. You write "what can be
said to our young people now that psychopathic personalities — which is
to say persons without consciences, without senses of pity or shame —
have taken all the money in the treasuries of our government and
corporations and made it their own?" What can we say to younger people
who have their whole lives ahead of them?

KURT VONNEGUT:
Well, you are human beings. Resourceful. Form a little society of your own. And, hang out with them. Get a gang.

DAVID BRANCACCIO:
You're preaching getting into gangs?

KURT VONNEGUT:
Yes. Well, look, it's–

DAVID BRANCACCIO:
A good gang.

KURT VONNEGUT:
Look, I don't mean to intimidate you, but I have a master's degree in anthropology.

DAVID BRANCACCIO:
I'm intimidated.

KURT VONNEGUT:
From the University of Chicago– as did Saul Bellow, incidentally. But
anyway, one thing I found out was that we need extended families. We
need gangs. And, of course, if they're tribes and clans and so forth
have been dispersed by the industrial revolution by people looking for
work wherever they can find it. And a nuclear family, a man, a woman
and kids and a dog and cat is no survival scheme at all. Horribly
vulnerable.

So yes, I tell people to formulate a little gang. And, you know, you love each other. […]

[…] Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to
reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This
makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of
the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about
themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and
intentional, elements of style. […]

[…] One thing which has not changed is that none of us, no matter what
continent or island or ice cap, asked to be born in the first place,
and that even somebody as old as I am, which is 80, only just got here.
There were already all these games going on when I got here. … An apt
motto for any polity anywhere, to put on its state seal or currency or
whatever, might be this quotation from the late baseball manager Casey
Stengel, who was addressing a team of losing professional athletes:
“Can’t anybody here play this game?” […]

[…] What painters and sculptors and writers do, incidentally, is put
very small properties indeed into good order, as best they can.

A painter thinks, "I can't fix the whole planet, but I can at least
make this square of canvas what it ought to be." And a sculptor thinks
the same thing about a lump of clay or marble. A writer thinks the same
about a piece of paper, conventionally eleven inches long and
eight-and-a-half inches wide. […]

[…] I put my big question about life to my biological son Mark. Mark is a pediatrician, and author of a memoir, The Eden Express.
It is about his crackup, straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from
which he recovered sufficiently to graduate from Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we are
here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” So I
pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you
can forget it. […]


He hit it and quit it

James Brown- Sex Machine / Soul Power
James Brown
James Brown Olympia 1966
James Brown

[…] When the band hits its first notes and the room begins to ride
the music, a kind of metamorphosis occurs, a sort of transmutation
of the air of expectation in this Midlands crowd. They've been
relieved of the first layer of their disbelief that James Brown has
really come to Gateshead: At the very least, James Brown's Sound
has arrived. After the band's long overture, Danny Ray, every
impeccable tiny inch of him, pops onstage. He says, "Now comes Star
Time!" and the roof comes off. Under Danny Ray's instruction, the
crowd rises to its feet and begins to chant its hero's name.

When James Brown is awarded to them the people of Gateshead are
the happiest people on Earth, and I am one of them. Never mind that
I now know to watch for the rock-paper-scissors hand signals, I am
nevertheless swept up in the deliverance of James Brown to his
audience. The Sun God has strode across a new threshold, the alien
visitor has unveiled himself to another gathering of humans. I see,
too, how James Brown's presence animates his family: Keith, fingers
moving automatically on frets, smiling helplessly when James Brown
calls out his name. Fred Thomas bopping on a platform with his
white beard, an abiding sentinel of funk. Hollie, the invisible
man, now stepping up for a trumpet solo. Damon, who during Tommie
Rae's rendition of "Hold On, I'm A-Comin' " can be heard to slip a
reference to "Lady Marmalade" into his guitar solo.

The show builds to the slow showstopper, "It's A Man's Man's
Man's World." The moment when James Brown's voice breaks across
those horn riffs is one of the greatest in pop music, and the
crowd, already in a fever, further erupts. When they cap the ballad
by starting "Sex Machine" it is a climax on top of a climax. The
crowd screams in joy when James Brown dances even a little (and
these days, it is mostly a little). Perhaps, I think, we are all in
his family. We want him to be happy. We want him alive. When the
James Brown Show comes to your town — when it comes to Gateshead,
U.K., today, as when it came to the Apollo Theater in 1961, as when
it came to Atlanta or Oklahoma City or Indianapolis anytime, life
has admitted its potential to be astounding, if only for as long as
the Show lasts. Now that James Brown is old, we want this to go on
occurring for as long as possible. We almost don't wish to allow
ourselves to think this, but the James Brown Show is a precious
thing that may someday vanish from the Earth.

Now James Brown has paused the Show for a monologue about love.
He points into the balconies to the left and right of him. "I love
you and you and you up there," he says. "Almost as much as I love
myself." He asks the audience to do the corniest thing: to turn and
tell the person on your left that you love him. Because it is James
Brown who asks, the audience obliges. While he is demonstrating the
turn to the left, turning expressively in what is nearly a curtsy
to Hollie and the other horns, James Brown spots me there, standing
in the wings. The smile he gives me is as natural as that one he
gave Fred Wesley, it is nothing like the grin of a statue, and if
it is to be my own last moment with James Brown, it is a fine one.
I feel good.

I had a feeling I'd want to return to this year's very best writing about music, but not like this, not this way.