September 2011


9/11 at Ten

Incredibly enough, it is now ten years since the bombing of the World Trade Center. (And let us not forget, the Pentagon). Once again, it seems as if time has taken flight. And as would be expected, there will be many tributes and memorials regarding that tragedy. cityArts (a cultural newspaper based in Manhattan) lists eleven such events. ( We think one of the more interesting and unusual being Heart of a Soldier, which is premiering on September 10th as part of the San Francisco Opera's 2011-2012 season. As reported by the newspaper:

"…tells the story of Rick Rescoria, one of the most inspiring—and harrowing — tales to come out of 9/11. As head of security for a brokerage firm based in the World Trade Center, he led all 2,700 people under his care to safety before going back in, never to come out again."


"Rescoria's story is both dramatic and larger-than-life, particularly in one respect that lends itself well to opera: Rescoria actually sang his colleagues down the stairs and out of the burning building."

And of course we all will have our own stories of where we were and what we were doing on that day. And for some, the story will be all too painfully personal, as they will be remembering the loved ones that they lost.


In the aftermath, upon seeing what remained of the buildings, and noting how we all seemed united again for the first time in a long time, our reaction was to write this poem. We reprise it here from our first book of poetry, Shots from a Passing Car.




The Third World War

In the beginning
there was the end:


The Colossus of Rhodes
had once again been toppled


Though this time not while protecting a harbor.
We still had the Lady up to that task.


This time the stumps of those muscular legs remained
from the fire fueled by contempt in the form
of crashing planes
                            caught on camera

where no flowers in the fields of mythology can grow
too far off the main road
of concrete, iron, glass and steel;
blood and mangled human form.

Then ensuing goodbyes
via cellular phones.


And death came dressed in foreign clothes.


He looked like the man at the falafel stand
near 666 at 5th
                        and he did not bother


with the good form of knocking
and other such gestures in dignity.


And so that this time
the whole planet Earth itself was shaken.


It said as much in its cluster of candles
    that encircled its girth
in flickering flame.


Again, all seen live
through the eyes of technology.

And in the end
there was the beginning:

the prodigal sons and daughters returning
from their bell-bottomed days
to their Mother Country
to the Founding Fathers
to Flag and family dog

now dry-nosed and dying
in the corner.

                             —Ron Vazzano









A Wave of Flags Reprise



In a further tribute to 9/11, we offer a reprise of a three minute video we put together of what we experienced in Malibu on September 11, 2009. Imagine 3,000 large flags, in perfect array across across the broad expanse of the Pepperdine campus, each in honor of a victim—who while mostly American of course— included some 300 people from 90 countries. Domenica Press on Vimeo.







What are The McCartneys Doing in a Place Like This?



A ballet entitled Ocean's Kingdom will have a world premiere this month (the 22nd) at the New York City Ballet, and will run for only an additional four performances in September. We came upon this bit of news, via a 2011-2012 season program we received in the mail.

How we came to be on this mailing list is a mystery. The only ballet we can attest to having attended with certainty, was the de rigueur Nutcracker Suite, in the ghostly memory of a Christmas past. (It comes along with being a parent). Although we do have images of Odette transforming into a swan in that lake, which we either saw live, or on the Ed Sullivan Show following Señor Wences talking to his hand. We can't quite recall. Yet ironically, we are planning to see The Merry Widow ballet, which is an adaptation of Franz Lehar's romantic operetta, this month at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. (Yes, they do stuff like this in Tulsa…and no, we never expected to be there either).


A thumbnail for the libretto of Ocean's Kingdom, reads: "a romance between lovers from conflicting kingdoms." Boy, there's a unique angle. (Romeo and Juliet? West Side Story? Disney's Pocahontas? The marriage of Schwarzenegger and Shriver? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.). Ah, but Sir Paul McCartney was commissioned to compose the score. And his daughter Stella, was tabbed to design the costumes. Now that's a story line.

Paul ("the cute Beatle"), is actually no stranger to high brow artistic endeavors. While we had been familiar with an album of classical music he had done many years ago, Working Classical (in 1999 with the London Symphony Orchestra), we were surprised to learn that that was only one of four. His first effort was Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio as early as 1991, followed by Standing Stone (1997) and his most recent coming in 2006, Ecce Cor Meum (Behold My Heart). Who knew? And while this will the first time Paul has composed for dance, we now get it. But Stella?


From what we would gather here and there, Stella McCartney's modus operandi is creating fashions that are trendy, cutting edge, and appealing to decidedly "Gen Y" women. Though her boutique on Beverly Boulevard in LA, always reminded us of something out of a fairy tale. One expected Snow White to arrive at the door any moment.





Though every time we'd pass by, in addition to Snow White's knock, we'd hear the voice of Brando crying out in our head: Hey, Stell - Laaahhhhh!


She is after all the daughter of Paul. So the presumption initially, was that she was probably riding on the coattails (pun intended) of the family name. We were not alone in this. We have come to read that the critics were initially skeptical as well. But in time, the naysayers came around. And Stella McCartney, as her own brand name, has been in the process of building a small empire. She now operates fifteen free standing stores around the world. As an aside, we understand the Meat Packing District in New York, but a store in Beirut?


Beyond commercial success, she has won fashion awards too numerous to mention. Though the one in particular that stands out for her, and was quite emotional, was the VH1/Vogue Designer of the Year award in 2000. It was presented by her father who had flown out from New York especially for the ceremony.


And now father and daughter stand poised to take on ballet.





It is a recurring theme for us: the reinvention of oneself; the leaving of that "comfort zone" for new challenges and opportunities. And that is what the McCartneys are doing in this place. And that is why we will be there.








Duchamp Meets Magritte Across a Coffee Table… or Not?




In the perpetuity of proverbial "age old questions," we have always found one of the more compelling ones to be: What is art? (And conversely…what it's nart).


We touched on this question a bit upon seeing the fabulous play Red on Broadway last year, based on the murals Mark Rothko was commissioned to paint for the Seagram Building in 1958. (Seeing Red; MAY, 2010 MUSE-LETTER). Another Broadway play that we saw in '98 entitled Art, starring Alan Alda, went directly to this point with some comedic yet telling consequences.


"… Serge, indulging his penchant for modern art, buys a large, expensive, completely white painting. Marc, his close friend, is horrified, and their relationship suffers considerable strain as a result of their differing opinions about what constitutes 'art'." (source: Wikipedia).


That's how maddening at times this question can be. Which leads us to Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Duchamp by design, crossed the line—no actually erased the line—whereby everything is art if you perceive it to be. To quote from the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

"His most striking, iconoclastic gesture, the 'readymade', is arguably the century's most influential development on artists' creative process."

"With Bicycle Wheel (1913), the first readymade… he wanted to distance himself from traditional modes of painting in an effort to emphasize the conceptual value of a work of art…"

"Bicycle Wheel consisted of using mundane, mass-produced, everyday objects. Which is precisely why Duchamp chose them."




At least this took some construction in the bolting of a bicycle wheel to a simple stool. Later works would consist in presenting "readymades" exactly as he had found them. These included a snow shovel, a bottle rack and the infamous urinal which he christened Fountain, as shown below in this photograph taken by the legendary photographer Alfred Stieglitz in 1917.





All together now: "Ain't that a pisser!"


While Duchamp is associated with the surrealist movement, a real surrealist, so to speak, was Rene Magritte (1898-1967). His paintings are known for their thought provoking images, while at the same time showing a great sense of wit and whimsy. ("LA County Museum of Art Rolls Out the Carpet for Magritte" FEBRUARY, 2007 MUSE-LETTER).


Like Duchamp, his work "frequently displays a juxtaposition of ordinary objects in an unusual context" (Wikipedia). But unlike Duchamp, he will use objects in a representational way as other than what they appear to be. Never is this more in evidence than in his The Treachery of Images, in which beneath his painting of a pipe, he declares: "Ceci n'est pas use pipe." ("This is not a pipe").





The point being, that while this seems like a contradiction, it is in fact true. This is not a pipe...but a painting of a pipe; a representation of a pipe.


With a "marriage" of Duchamp and Magritte in mind, it inspired us to solve the problem of what to do when the delivery date for a coffee table we ordered, was pushed back a few weeks. Meaning, horrors, that it would not arrive in time for a big party we were to throw this past June. Buying three cheap serving tables ($9.95 apiece at BED, BATH & BEYOND), we produced the following (the spacing is intentional):






Absent the Duchamp/Magritte inspired whimsy, our guests might have thought that we were either too cheap to buy a real coffee table, or were making some sort of statement in decor—and a bad one at that. And of course, God forbid one's tastes should ever be questioned.


The intent was to discard them after the party when the real coffee table was finally delivered. But our daughter requested the tops of these tables, as she sees them as panels—a triptych of sorts— to be hung on a wall in her house. (God bless her). Which is a long roundabout way of coming back to the question... what is art?


While we make no claims that our "coffee table" epitomizes this definition, it seems for us to be something along the lines of… a good concept well executed.







Quote of the Month



Know something about something. Don't just present your wonderful self to the world. Constantly amass knowledge and offer it around.


                        —Richard Holbrooke (1941-2010)


We like to think that this maxim, for want of a better word, is at the core as to "the why" of these Muse-Letters.








Yes Virginia, There is a "Stanza Clause"



Starting as far back as 1937, in appointing a "Poet Laureate of the United States," a clause was written that more or less states, that said Poet Laureate: be charged with working to raise the nation's appreciation of poetry during his or her term. Currently, that term has been of only one year duration beginning in October.


In case you missed it last month, on the day the Dow was in a free fall (speaking of metaphors) dropping 520 points, the appointment of Philip Levine as Poet Laureate was announced. Mr. Levine, now the 47th poet to be named to the post, is said to be the "voice of the working man." As The New York Times piece noted:


"He built transmissions for Cadillac, worked in the Chevrolet gear and the axles factory, drove a truck for Railway Express. His early poems were gritty, hard-nosed evocations of the lives of working people and their neighborhoods."





As the article went on to provide a sampling of his lines from a poem entitled “He Would Never Use One Word Where None Would Do,” we could not help but note a similarity in a sentiment we had expressed in a poem we had recently written, "Touching." Not to suggest that we are on a par with a Poet Laureate, but here are the specific stanzas that refer to that which is better left unsaid:



Fact is, silence is the perfect water:
unlike rain it falls from no clouds
to wash our minds, to ease our tired eyes,
to give heart to the thin blades of grass
fighting through the concrete for even air
dirtied by our endless stream of words

—Philip Levine
Poet Laureate of the United States

In the speaking
before the mind has had the chance
to assess the worth of a thought,
words can spill out like pennies.
“I love you” comes to all of
      twenty-nine cents.

The tongue that is held
can go to a deeper place.

—Ron Vazzano
Poet Un-laureled of the Avenue of the Americas

We wish Philip Levine—a 1995 Pulitzer Prize winner—good luck as he goes about his stated goals of a) bringing poetry to people who have no idea of its relevancy in their lives, and b) bringing some lesser known poets into the limelight. They are what we would call "soft goals." For one thing, Levine has no pretensions about himself. He was shocked to learn he had been appointed to the post in the first place. But also, as we have noted before on these pages, poetry only seems to come to the forefront when some inexplicable disaster has occurred. So expect no sea of change in the way poetry is viewed. In the world of poets, but a trickle would suffice.







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