Poest's Talk: Linh Dinh, Jackson Browne, Betty Davis, et. al.
By Gary Corseri & Charles Orloski
15 December, 2012
What's worth holding onto in a world of accelerating change?
"They sell us the president the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us every thing from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars"
--Jackson Browne, “Lives In The Balance”
"The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil." -- Albert Einstein
"Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society" -- Albert Einstein
Note: E-friend Thomas Lotts sent me the above quotes by Einstein and Jackson Browne, and the link to Browne's splendid song, “Lives in the Balance”… and it struck me that some of the best information and inspiration that I receive and probably pass on these days comes in those energy-packets known as e-mails.
Used to be, in slower-paced days, more contemplative types would read the correspondence of great men—unfortunately, there was much less available from great women then—to gain essential, personal insights into the passing parade, the Zeitgeist . In my late teens and early 20s, I learned much of the little I know about the mysteries of love and poetry from the poignant and brilliant correspondence of prematurely doomed John Keats—letters addressed to his friends and to his amour, Fanny Brawne. Later, the correspondence between Adams and Jefferson honed my thinking about the business of politics: what methodologies of compromise do not deprecate ultimate values and ideals.
Some of humankind's greatest teachers—Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad—employed the dialogic technique to sharpen their own thoughts and the logical skills of others. Yet, while we can gain insights into character and vision from the Lincoln-Douglas, Kennedy-Nixon, Obama-Romney debates, much is lost in the hastening pace of response and counter-response—and those we turn to for clarity and leadership strut about the stage more like spot-lighted prize-fighters garnering points with judges than ratiocinative guides who warrant more considered attention.
E-mail exchanges between equally matched and striving intellects open the possibility of a different kind of criticism of social, political and cultural events. Like time-lapsed photographs there is enough space between thought, reflection and response to appreciate the nuances of the moment even in the midst of cascading change.
Friend and poet Charles Orloski shared his thoughts on our cultural-political milieu in the following, recent, spontaneous and considered exchange:
To Charles Orloski: An e-friend sent me this article by the very estimable Linh Dinh [link below] ... and the music-video of Jackson Browne's song [link above]. I hadn't heard Browne's song before. In an age of cardboard youth idols like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga... it's great to recall what real art is all about! Here's an excerpt from Dinh's piece [he alludes, of course, to John Lennon and the way his ideals have been despoiled!], and a link—
“Imperial and colonial ambitions have often assumed a transnationalist mask. …The US has often cited “The Free World” to justify war on another country, with Libya and Syria the latest examples. Beware, then, of the supranationalist's pitch of mutual peace, security and prosperity, for it often hides an evil reality. ‘Imagine no countries,' he'll sing, ‘and the world will be as one,' before hushing to murmur the refrain, ‘Imagine no possessions.' … Imagine.”
To Gary Corseri: Saw the Linh Dinh article on DissidentVoice and CounterPunch . Writing is excellent. … Vietnamese, he's seen so much, “been there” (face-to-face) with Imperialism! Such experience earns my respect.
To CO: I agree! Dinh is one of my favorite younger writers--i.e., younger than me!
To GC: I am a long-time Jackson Browne fan, going back to L.P., Late for Sky. Title cut has lyric, “Some of us angry at way earth is abused.”
Mr. Dinh writes crisp and clear. A reader cannot help but get his point.
Browne's career has flourished, but of course the style does not fit with modern popular bedlam & ugliness in song. A few years ago, Jackson released solo-acoustic L.P.s, two (2) albums, each exceptional, and he's been taking this show on the road with some success. This past summer, he played a Scranton, PA venue, but many people are broke in these parts, and it was NOT well-attended. But again, Jackson Browne remains principled in his music & lyrics, and he has definitely not cashed-in to the degree other “folkies” have, for example, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
To CO: I was suspicious of Bob Dylan when I first heard him. I guess I was 19. Later, I came to like him better, but I never was part of the "craze" surrounding him--never thought him the equal of Simon and Garfunkle or the Beatles--especially Lennon; or the female singers I loved--Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Laura Nyro, Judy Collins.
To GC: It's very interesting that Springsteen's recent album Wrecking Ball was heralded as radical. ... I considered Wrecking Ball to be the best & most radical rock & roll statement made in decades. Maybe EVER!
However, in run-up to November “election,” an unexpected shift, and fans witnessed Springsteen on campaign-stump with Bill Clinton, rah-rahing, singing praises for Obama re-election. About two weeks ago, CouterPunch editor Jeff St. Clair described Springsteen as member of “glitterati” and how they willingly do not need financial contributions from his ilk. Took some grit for C.P. to break-away from such fame & fortune!
To CO : Very good for St. Clair! Now I respect him even more. … I liked it, too, when Dinh was critical of Michael Moore and Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky re their enthusiasm for Obama. (It seems even good minds get taken in by the hoopla and the propaganda!)
To GC: At very least , it seems Jackson Browne is satisfied with who he is, what he does, where he's been, and does not want blood money.
To CO: I like the way you put that! Kudos for Browne!
To GC: There are folk singers like Steve Earle who, like J. Browne, did not cash-in like Dylan & Springsteen on Columbia label. Steve Earle was once described by Dave Marsh as the “real Neil Young.” Marsh disliked Young's joining forces with W. in aftermath of 9/11, and the former recording blood-lust song, “Let's Roll.” However, as Earle grow older, maybe sees his time for making “big-bucks” passing, he's recorded the blazing song “The Revolution Starts Now.” Earle even recorded an excellent song in defense of the California guy (forgot name?) who went to Afghanistan and joined the resistance. Later on, Steve Earle sold the brave & defiant “Revolution starts now” to Chevy Truck and a T.V. commercial!
To CO: It's all very twisted, isn't it?
I think a major problem is that our popular artists are not well-informed… or, too often, willfully ignorant… or just plain stupid!
Most artists--especially in US Empire today--are more emotive than intellectual. They are unable to combine the left and right hemispheres of the brain--the analytical and the intuitive.
Your notes on Neil Young and Steve Earle are enlightening to me. I have never heard "Let's Roll" or "Revolution Starts Now." But the way these songs have been twined into the fabric of the Empire is symbolic of catastrophic unawareness!
To GC: We should carefully watch the path$ of aging folk artists and where they go. Finally, on Springsteen's latest Wrecking Ball L.P., he is joined by Tom Morello, lead guitarist for ultar-radical band Rage against the Machine. Afterwards, Springteen's on-stage with Bill Clinton in the State of Ohio where students were once gunned-down on campus. Pretty shitty sometimes!... This is one reason I like Oregon poet Robert J. Davies so much – his voice and consistency approaching 90-years old.
To CO: Thanks for the rec. I've read R.J. Davies in the lit. reviews, here and there over the years—and always liked what I read. I shall delve deeper. …
BTW, I sometimes think there might be some value in our doing a weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly column on the order of a "Poets' Talk" in which we simply take some of our e-dialogues and publicize for a larger audience. Perhaps DissidentVoice would like it? What do you think?
To GC: That would be a worthy endeavor. We can zero in upon an interesting topic and discuss. … I feel a natural (maybe strange?) sense of angst about the emptiness of journalism, and I am finding our email conversations quite a learning experience.
To CO : "Angst" is a relatively mild term for you! Perhaps you're being diplomatic?
I feel disgust for mainstream journalism!
I want to think more about the concept and how to present it to the editors we respect.
To GC : I have a sense that a lot of exceptional dissident-writing should have a “trickle-down” effect to the proletariat dinner table, but it does not. Maybe talk about the art forms of advertising and TV commercials which occupy millions of lives; the very shitty constrained issues they are required to think about, and then blindly cast votes? A slim percentage of American population could find Iran on a map! They still see Africa as a place where savages are running around with blowguns, beating drums like in Tarzan days. They never heard of Cynthia McKinney, the Green Book, Bradley Manning – who dat? Such lack of knowledge makes it easy for bad people to paint others as evil – what do they call that, bait & switch? I stay tuned to your idea.
To CO: I think a strength of sharing our dialogues would be the differences in our backgrounds and experiences--and the points of convergence. How we both find ourselves in the Arts--and share progressive, sometimes "radical," viewpoints.
Some of the Progressive sites have comments' sections, but the comments are often off-base, tangential or ad hominem, with a commenters fixating on one sentence, even one word. Or, the commenters lose sight of the original article—and simply add to the general confusion! Nevertheless, I feel that there is room for intelligent, to-the-point dialogue about the vital issues of our times. There is a way for readers to enter vicariously into that kind of dialogue. ...
To GC: Your “Poets' Talk” concept has got me going. I don't know if Progressive audience would share my enthusiasm for such moment-to-moment look at art scene-- including poetry from outlets like CounterPunch's Poet's Basement-- , and T.V., film, etc.” I have no goose to kill except to think and learn. I believe we can top shows that feature a foursome of glitter-ladies like The View.
To CO : I think we can top The View! Let's try to match what Ted Koppell did back in the 80s with the original Nightline. One doesn't get that kind of talk on TV anymore—not on PBS, or anywhere else. It's a medium for hacks to sell their war-mongering ideas, wrap it in patriotic drivel about “freedom and democracy”—and all the memes nobody even questions anymore!
This idea of a public e-mail exchange—it's a different way to construct an article, to develop an argument. It feels very NOW!
To GC: I'd like to take apart some of those memes you mention!
Back in the mid-1980s, an undergraduate at U. of Scranton, I stepped away from some of the notables on the philosophy curriculum, and read a measure of Nietzsche's Will to Power. Either I was too weak for the work, or the work was too weak for me . Eventually I put Will to Power away, never returned, but I find myself in a society where such dark strength is dominant, and at times, profitable for those who can WRITE well in Nietzsche's and Goebbels' spirit. I am most content having a will to HOPE rather than a Will to Power.
To CO: And in your case, you know the difference between real HOPE and the cotton candy offered by Obama & the little obamas!
To GC: Let's go for it! About hope: Last night, before tucking-in, I wtached TCM 1938 film, "Jezebel." Topic was deadly Yellow fever epidemic in an upper-class southern town, homes being burned by officials, victims quarantined to island. Film was very interesting when slaves came to the door of an afflicted family, and sang songs. I liked the hopeful & dignified role the slaves played, and presumably they were not paid a cent.
To CO: I happened to be channel-surfing at that time and I caught the last part of the movie (from Betty Davis's entry into the ballroom in the scandalous red-for-harlot dress!). I saw the movie once before, some yrs ago. I think it's an excellent movie--better in many ways than GONE WITH THE WIND, which took all the kudos a year later. Spectacle-wise, GWTW was spellbinding and beautiful, of course (and beautiful physical specimens like Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh didn't hurt!). JEZEBEL is a more serious literary piece. The theme is redemption--and Betty Davis is magnificent. GWTW's theme is survival, perseverance, triumph over adversity--also played splendidly by Vivien Leigh--but it's a much easier theme to convey--almost hackneyed in movies, popular fiction, etc.
I disagree with you about the slaves. I found that a false note. They were presented as children (even "Uncle" Cato)--who could sing and dance despite the prospect of death approaching with Yellow Jack (Fever), and in spite of their mental (and too often physical) shackles.
To GC : I appreciate your challenge to my perception of the slave community in Jezebel. I was taken by the scene where the little children came to the aristocrats' door -- simple, pure, exuding life, definitely different than the kids one sees in the Taylor, PA neighborhoods where I've lived. Then, of course, the slave's choral singing outside the mansion – that scene was reminiscent of something POSITIVE the Byzantine Catholic priest of my childhood used to do with parish kids .
To CO: Above is very interesting to me. It develops an idea I have about Art being primarily interactive--a dialogue or conversation between artist and audience. So... that scene that troubles me because I have nothing to relate it to in my background nevertheless works for you because you have a reference point. This is an issue we could develop further--and it's pertinent to politics as well as Art!
To GC: Father Steve devoted Monday evenings to teaching kids Slavonic hymns, and come Christmastime and Easter, he'd take the group singing all over the neighborhood. I remember a lot of the lyrics, and these days many Catholics are fearful of allowing their children to get near priests. This is a very dramatic cultural change especially in these Church-going “coal-cracker” parts.
To CO: We sextagenarians (!) are lucky to have known it somewhat. I find myself craving the old actresses. I can get lost in their faces! Last nite I watched "Pride and Prejudice" with Olivier and Greer Garson. I think Alexis Smith was Garson's sister. 2 unique beauties! Then, of course, there was Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Jones, Marilyn M., Audrey Hepburn, et. al.
Goddesses! After the cultural revolutions of the 60s and 70s, everything changed--at least in that sphere. Too raucous now--in the U.S. of Porn! This is too often the case--after "liberation"... excess! True about politics, economics, culture. …How can we hold on to the best of the old values while moving into a world of accelerating change?
To GC: That troubles me about so much of our culture! I have a terrible suspicion that many writers, artists, film-makers, etc. believe that a profaned civilization can be redeemed by a higher and potentially more ruthless profanity--where does one go with such an attitude?
At times I look back at my grade & high school days, some beautiful, some ugly moments, some raunchy. … Currently I am glad for the gift of reason, ability to look back, comprehend the world from where I came. Tonight, at rest, I look at civilizations in this manner; for example, the philosopher-scientific Greeks, to the frustrated Greeks hitting streets today. … The constitutional America to the lawless power of today. The innocent humor of Jackie Gleason to the raw vulgarity of the modern TV sitcom. Measures of transcendance in humanity are accompanied by dirty drop-off descent.
Charles Orloski 's work has appeared at Hollywood Progressive, CounterPunch, DissidentVoice and elsewhere. He lives in Taylor, Pa and can be reached at: CCDJOrlov@aol.com . Gary Corseri 's work has appeared at Countercurrents, BraveNewWorld.in, Outlook India, The New York Times and hundreds of other venues worldwide. His dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum. His books include novels and poetry collections. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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