From ages 11-15 my outfit of choice amounted to a t-shirt of my favorite metal band, my pale-ass shaved head, and a pair of khaki shorts to beat the heat. The band on the shirts varied. The trend began with messy Slipknot and Tool and System of a Down shirts (metal snobs feel free to roll your eyes) and ended with the designs of Mastodon’s Blood Mountain plastered across my torso. I wore them for a lot of reasons, some of which had to do with how much I enjoyed sneering at the cute little middle schoolers who got weirded out by my fashion taste. But first and foremost I came to school in these morbid cotton nightmares because I thought the music was rad as hell.
Since Trump was elected, I am bothered every day by a certain set of questions and anxieties. Whenever I go on a news site or look at a paper, our current president apparently fits the bill of tyranny wearing a fresh set of big boy underpants. He has begun an enormous upheaval of all values we carried closely to our hearts. Truth, facts, common decency—these diamond American ideals have gone out the window. Meanwhile, the media stands by professionally wide-mouthed.
Admittedly, during times of intense crisis or panic, most people aren’t running around asking what the poets think. My own interpretation of this fact is not that people don’t care what poets have to say. It’s rather that they don’t believe in any reason for listening to them (a faulty judgement that I suppose amounts to the same result). If we experience social upheaval, for example, what good would reading Wordsworth do? If we encounter history in palpable manifestations, why read a poet to understand that history?
Maybe the oddest thing about the television show Reno 911! was how little work needed to be put in for a mid-2000s cable TV stint to become something unique and inventive. The show was founded mostly on a collection of whims by alumni of the infamous mid ’90s sketch comedy troupe The State, specifically Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney-Silver, whose endeavor Viva Variety had ended shortly beforehand on Comedy Central. Simply put, it’s a fake cop documentary about the Reno Nevada Sheriff’s Department, only the police aren’t depicted as heroes. Instead, they’re portrayed as magnificent buffoons.
From about age 15-17 I played bass for my high school’s in-house Christian worship band. Each Thursday once a week we would gather our gear in the chapel for a run-through of the classic standards our audiences had come to know with every Sunday of every month of every year. We jammed around. We sang pristine 21st century Christian music, which often sounded as if some type of cliché folk-indie band had encountered divine inspiration. It was usually fun, not to mention the shows.
“The MacDonald’s Man” folds the highbrow seriousness of literature in on itself. People come out and denounce it not as a poem, but as “good poetry.” Well I do think it’s a good poem, but for different reasons.
For the past twenty years the Academy of American Poets, with support from a number of big-name publishers and bookstores, has christened the month of April “National Poetry Month.” The Academy now claims that National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world. Each year it amasses plenty of support, due in some part I imagine to the simplicity and ease with which one can engage with poetry. If you’re running short of ideas, the Academy’s website suggests memorizing poems, showing other people your favorite poems and even asking your representatives in local government to issue proclamations in support of National Poetry Month (that last one is very real). It also suggests specific books to buy and particular essays to write, quite a number of which lead back to the Academy of American Poets. I find it pretty difficult to think about National Poetry Month from a critical standpoint.
Tim Hecker has always made physical music. His pieces target not only the mind or the emotions. They also aim at the body. Beyond the usual heart and soul, Hecker’s compositions induce quivers and shakes up and down the skin. Sentiments of love or hurt — the expected, comfortable motifs — fade out and give way to sensations of terror and reverence.
The past 20 years or so have witnessed a significant increase in the proliferation of technologies that transform the ways we make, distribute, listen to and think about music. Dangerous combinations of file-sharing and MP3s destabilized the industry. CD players sunk into obsolescence. We lamented the loss of vinyl only to take part in a resurgence of interest in physical media. A lot has changed.
And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead is a documentary about the American Beat poet Bob Kaufman, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Billy Woodberry. It was first released in Portugal last fall, but it will start showing at the MoMA this Friday. Although I haven’t seen it, what I can glean from reviews is that it is an honest attempt to make a substantial, non-fictional account of Kaufman’s life — which was a tough one in many ways. This profound aspect of the film is enough to merit approval, or at the very least, foster significant interest. Bob Kaufman’s poems are unique.