Friday, July 03, 2009

Notes for a Commonplace Book (1)

Lafcadio Hearn:

By the use of a few chosen words the composer of a short poem endeavors to do exactly what the painter endeavors to do with a few strokes of the brush, --- to evoke an image or a mood, --- to revive a sensation or an emotion. And the accomplishment of this purpose, --- by poet or by picture-maker, --- depends altogether upon capacity to suggest, and only to suggest. A Japanese artist would be condemned for attempting elaboration of detail in a sketch intended to recreate the memory of some landscape seen through the blue haze of a spring morning, or under the great blond light of an autumn afternoon. Not only would he be false to the traditions of his art : he would necessarily defeat his own end thereby. In the same way a poet would be condemned for attempting any completeness of utterance in a very short poem : his object should be only to stir imagination without satisfying it. So the term ittakkiri --- meaning "all gone," or "entirely vanished," in the sense of "all told," --- is contemptuously applied to verses in which the verse-maker has uttered his whole thought; --- praise being reserved for compositions that leave in the mind the thrilling of a something unsaid. Like the single stroke of a temple-bell, the perfect short poem should set murmuring and undulating, in the mind of the hearer, many a ghostly aftertone of long duration.

"Bits of Poetry," from In Ghostly Japan

Michael Jarrett:

Why didn't the Boatmen's music attract a theory? Why didn't it draw analysis into its orbit? The music was "easy to say." In short, it seemed ordinary. And when music seems ordinary -- self-evident, natural, and familiar -- explanations come off as either forced (arcane) or obvious (banal). Analytical discourse fails not in the face of complexity but when it perceives simplicity.

What remains are associations, impressions, the very sort of observations that analysis derides. [...] The Boatmen find their subject matter in ordinary life and, very often, create a distinctive kind of rhythm and blues, however disguised. They're more Stax/Volt than pop-art avant-garde. [...]

We can talk all day about rock. Making sense of rock 'n' roll is vastly more challenging. For example, why are there so many books on Bob Dylan and so few on the musical significance and contributions of Little Richard and James Brown? Why is Elvis Presley a sociologist's dream and a musicologist's nightmare? What lends itself more readily to detailed description, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" or "Tomorrow Never Knows"? Why is Pink Floyd easy to write about but impossible to enjoy? Why is Led Zeppelin more academically defensible than the Shirelles? Why does Jimi Hendrix matter more than Bo Diddley? Why is self-indulgence easier to theorize than self-effacement?

Liner notes to Wide Awake by The Vulgar Boatmen

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