Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why Bill Frist is a Nazi

My friend Emily sent me the following via an email rightly entitled: "As if being a Republican isn't bad enough."

Bill Frist medical school experiments controversy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

While he was a medical school student in the 1970's, Bill Frist (now a Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee) performed medical experiments on shelter cats while researching the use of drugs on the mitral valve. By his own account, Frist improperly obtained these cats from Boston animal shelters, falsely telling shelter staff he was adopting the cats as pets. [1] In his 1989 book Transplant, Frist admitted that he killed these cats during medical experiments at Harvard Medical School , as part of what he claimed were his studies. [2] [3]
In his book, Frist explained that he succumbed to the pressure to succeed in a highly competitive medical school. Frist stated that he "treat[ed] them as pets for a few days" before he "cart[ed] them off to the lab to die." He went on to say, "And I was totally schizoid about the entire matter. By day, I was little Billy Frist, the boy who lived on Bowling Avenue in Nashville and had decided to become a doctor because of his gentle father and a dog named Scratchy. By night, I was Dr. William Harrison Frist, future cardiothoracic surgeon, who was not going to let a few sentiments about cute, furry little creatures stand in the way of his career. In short, I was going a little crazy." He went on to describe why he conducted animal experiments: "It can even be beautiful and thrilling work, as I discovered that day in the lab when I first saw the wonderful workings of a dog's heart . . . I spent days and nights on end in the lab, taking the hearts out of cats, dissecting each heart, suspending a strip of tiny muscle that attaches the mitral valve to the inner wall of the cat heart and recording the effects of various medicines I added to the bath surrounding the muscle." "I lost my supply of cats. I only had six weeks to complete my project before I resumed my clinical rotations. Desperate, obsessed with my work, I visited the various animal shelters in the Boston suburbs, collecting cats . . . it was a heinous and dishonest thing to do."

Senator Bill Frist
Although Frist's book had been published more than a decade before, the matter created public controversy after mention in a Boston Globe profile, published after his election as Senate majority leader. [4][5] PETA, which opposes scientific experimentation on animals that results in death or cruel treatment demanded that Frist atone by sponsoring legislation to protect animals from unnecessary suffering. [6] In response, Frist's office reaffirmed that he denounced the action, but made no promises about any animal protection legislation.
According to an ASPCA lawyer, Frist's action was "fraudulent and probably was illegal". Another ASPCA official stated it "probably would be considered cruel." [6] Massachusetts has a criminal statute prohibiting cruelty to animals. [7] Frist was never charged under this statute and his defenders have pointed out that until 1983 Massachusetts law permitted shelters to release animals for laboratory experiments, and some states continue to permit such activity today. Because the Boston area animal shelters in Frist's case did not release the animals to Frist knowing they would be used for experimentation because of the manner in which he adopted the cats, these laws may not have applied to the facts presently in the public record about Frist's actions. However, the statute of limitations has passed

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Alice Coltrane RIP

Sad to hear the news. This fall my friend Sam and I decided, last minute, to attend what turns out to be one of her last concerts (Ann Arbor ,(September 23, John Coltrane's birthday). We scrambled to get a ride to A2 with friends since neither of us had a car, and, literally, we--kindly driven by friends Brad and Becky. I am especially thinking of Brad today who loved Alice so much--arrived at Hill Auditorium with a minute to spare. It was a lovely, uplifting concert, unsurprisingly. She played with her son Ravi, Charlie Hayden, and Roy Haynes, which was really a special treat. Not to be cyncial, but there were moments when the spiritual uplift got a bit treacly, and the short movie tribute of John Coltrane's life was bizarre, hagiographic. But... it was also filled with amazing, beautiful moments. Leaving the concert, I saw so any people I knew (or recognized) standing in the rain outside Hill Auditorium chatting, smiling, looking and feeling happy. It's interesting to realize that you shared that last musical moment with a community of Alice Coltrane devotees.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why I love Richard Meltzer

From Vinyl Reckoning

"Having fled the academic gauntlet, escaped by the skin of my shoes, I walked smack into a new gauntlet about as depressing, and almost as draining, one with--what? not again?!--distinct academic coloration. Neoacademic? Crypto-academic? Pseudononacademic?
Like femmes fatales who "don't know it," academes who don't know it, or feign ignorance of the fact, can be--as they used to say--bad medicine. Bad enough. But wave the academy flag as if to disclaim it--"Only funning!"--while meantime masquerading as a practicing populist, and you're fucking RAT POISON. A pair of parties-I-have-known fit this bill, have fit it hand in glove for the last quarter century, behaving for all the world not merely like entrenched (and very constipated) academes but petty administrators...self-tenured department heads...deans, by golly.
Christgau, good old Bob, once dubbed himself the Dean of American Rock Critics. He had a T-shirt made up with his name above that title, and a likeness of Little Richard. What, you might wonder, could possess someone to adopt a handle so aridly pretentious, so dauntingly...insipid? Part was just ill-conceived hoax, as obtuse a sham as Springsteen's in bearing a nickname with zero proletarian reverb--the Boss!--but in larger part, it did accurately convey the man's aura of swaggerless dogmatism. Both personally and professionally, he is one drably imperious prick.
The Dean!--who to this day (in his syndicated "Consumer Guide") gives LETTER GRADES to albums and has a routine enabling him to monitor, or simulate monitoring, the complete "curriculum"--every current release. Years ago, more than once, I saw him in action. He'd put six LPs on the changer, stack all the covers in the same sequence, go about his bizness. If he suddenly heard something to catch his fancy, he would count discs and check the covers--"Three, four--oh, isn't that something?--Tom Paxton." Nowadays, I would assume he's got a multi-CD unit with a digital display so he needn't even count: technology favors the lame. (Dean of what branch? Admissions? Paper clips? Alphabetic studies?)
For us rockcrit underlings, the Dean in his incarnation as bigwig editor tried his darnedest to affect a supervisorly demeanor with an almost schoolmarmish (hit-you-with-a-ruler) facade. Looking back, it was sorta laughable, but every time I turned in an article, a review, sooner or later he'd phone, "Get your thesaurus--it's word choice time," and for two hours try to argue me out of certain key adjectives. Laughable but exasperating, and in hindsight maybe mostly laughable.
It was more in his "intellectual oversight" capacity--as surveillance pilot at large, unpaid and unassigned, far above the rockwrite fray--that this joker did me any lasting damage. In tandem with copilot/tag-team partner Greil Marcus, he at a crucial juncture blocked my progress to wider (um) recognition, effectively consigning me to marginality, and in the long run has denied me any significant role in official--"authorized"--"accredited"--rockwrite (as opposed to rock) history. The annals--the archive--the fugsucking "pantheon"! Oh yes--another pathetic house-o-cards for sure, but these two clowns act like they fucking OWN it.
And why do I care? Why do I care? I CARE.
It irks the hell out of me that while Marcus doesn't grade albums, he does grade people's CONDUCT, and conduct--alone!--is what kept me out of this high-bounty, high-visibility anthology he edited, oh, probably 18-20 years ago--yup, another old grudge. Stranded he called it, and he asked purt near every living, breathing rockwriter or rockwrite pretender of even quasi note to contribute an essay on his/her favorite album--the one you'd bring to a so-called desert island. I know, I know: cor-nee. But each contributor got $750, a whole lot more than I'd ever made off a single piece.
And what kept me out, he told me three years later, was my rude behavior at the final Sex Pistols show, the last of the Sid Vicious era, at Winterland. My job that night, well it wasn't a job, it was a labor of love, had been to go out and insult the audience before and after each band. Some guy from the Pistols' crew thought it all seemed too placid, too pat--"like a Grateful Dead show"--and asked me to give the ticket holders a jolt. All the invective in my arsenal I dispensed--in spades--I was one uncouth lout--until Bill Graham physically picked me up and threw me out of the building--"You can't insult my city!" Although what, precisely, was/is rocka rocka roll--or punk--or any kind of youth twitch--supposed to entail "if not that"? If not the high risk of behaving like a FLYING FUCKING ASSHOLE?
Marcus, who had been there, and been offended, never expressed regret for the slight, the exclusion, but later in the 80s he averred that, knowing what he knew now, now that he "understood punk," he would NOT have excluded me. Oh goody.
What I heard on the grapevine at the time the book came out was that he'd also disapproved of what I might write. The buzz was that Christgau, who "knew" me better than Greil did, told him, "Oh, he'd probably pick a Doors album anyway"--an odious no-no to Bob and Greil both--but that's just rumor. In his foreword to the '95 reprint of Stranded, Christgau, in a curious negative name-drop, draws attention to the lack of anything by "the irrepressible Richard Meltzer"...irrepressible? Is that like being a bon vivant? And if I couldn't be repressed, why the fuck did they have to repress me? (Like that of Meister Eckehart's cold Germanic God, my presence remained in my absence.)
A more persistent rumble back thereabouts was that these bozos found my rockwriting "politically incorrect" (ostensibly: I wasn't as keen as they on helping rock-roll find, adjust, and micro-tune its moral/humanistic compass, or in lieu of its willingness to accept same, SUPERIMPOSING suchever upon it)--the first time I actually heard the now-all-too-familiar aspersion. Basically, this signified only a slight upping of the transgressional ante, as I had already been deemed of dubious intellectual grounding. As far back as '73, Christgau was branding me "anti-intellectual": in a saner universe (in his purview), I'd have been tarred, feathered, run out of town.
What's daffy about this pair coming on so hoity-toity in their exercise of sovereignty is these're guys who need a telescope to reach--approach--make out the general outline of--whatever it is they purport to be confronting, so mega-removed are they from any tangible earthly what-the-hey. Like most culture wags laureate, what they are--all they are!--is pious OUTSIDERS. (Like Sam and Ann Charters.) Breast-beating squares. (Like George Will and Norman Podhoretz.) Stuffed-shirt know-it-alls. (Like John Updike and Leonard Feather.)
As point-to-point-to-point-to-point arbiters of the socioculturally valid, they're as embarrassing as the Medveds.
They don't have the existential oo-poo-pa-doo to be trucking in anything so both high and low (and so alien to their alleged lives) as standard-issue rock 'n' roll. In their frigging 50s, they haven't caught on yet that one thing rock does rather well, too well to ignore or dismiss--one of its stocks-in-trade--is SECOND-PERSON HOSTILITY. The many stations of I-dislike-you. Which isn't "good" or any such easy-moral A equals A, certainly isn't "nice," but it's the goddamn rock-roll terrain, it's fucking given. Might I add "universal"? Such itchy biz rubs Bob and Greil the wrong way, especially when the targeting is, well, nonrational, irrational, and above all "unjust." Taxonomically prejudiced (and prejudicial). They insist, for inst, that ANYTIME a male gender-specific voice expresses antipathy to a nonmale gender-specific other, UGLY SEXISM has reared its head--ring the alarm!--the voice forfeiting any claim to even antipathetic universality. It doesn't matter, say, that the gender voicings could be reversed, that with minimal change a female subject could be cussing out, shitting all over, a male object...that ill will is as central to rock as it is to boxing...it doesn't matter!
So meticulous have they been as rock watchdogs that they've troubled 'emselves over what Randy Newman might really've MEANT by "Short People" (yes--of course! Randy's being ironic--but should anyone even say these things?)...how poignant.
They try so-o-o hard to be good, caring New Deal Democrats, and good Boy Scouts, and far more telling: good boys, they've never been bad boys, never even tried it on for size. They wouldn't dare commit adultery. Never farted in the subway. They don't know danger from the inside looking out, locked away from any relief, asylum, any exterior safety net. Fuh, do they even know mischief? They've never tasted their own bile, never looked death in the eye in a mirror.
When I wrote somewhere that one of the things that helped kill Lester Bangs was WRITING, each of them accused me of romanticism--how can writing kill? they questioned. Well, guys, it doesn't always kill, but it certainly comes closest when you're doing it right. Only when it makes active use of your blood, your heart, your nerves, glands, sex fluids, vertebrae, and whatall, and don't forget your stink, in a word: your body. In a word: your life. They were more annoyed, I would guess, that I considered it a pity rockwriting was the genre that gored Lester, that a diet of rock and nothing but had rendered him too dumb to get out of the way.
At the risk of overextending my own second-person animus and getting downright ad hominem about all o' this, I'm gonna introduce a new term to the proceedings: COOTIES. I don't give a ding dang doodle if these blockheads ever stumble on some remote semblance of the True, or accurately peg the Good and/or the Beautiful--the smutch of their imperialist intentions will contaminate anything they touch, their seal of approval rendering LESS ACCEPTABLE the goods of its unfortunate recipients. In my idea of a saner universe, the sight and sound of such card-carrying outsiders fattening up, even commentarily, on the goodies of the culturally/intellectually aboriginal would release fucking ANTIBODIES in the world. Imperialist cooties: nothing to sneeze at.
Or if "imperialist" sounds too vigorous and resourceful--too vibrantly alive--like Teddy Roosevelt or Cortez or somebody--let's just call it "proprietary." Ideational as opposed to material proprietorship...dominion...superintendence of turf and sight lines. No matter how you slice it, the reigning King of Proprietary Cooties--let's print that on a shirt--is Greil Marcus.
It's hard to go very long without seeing this man's maiming-by-NOT-damning commentary on something. No other recent celebrity outsider--not George Plimpton, not Nat Hentoff, not Dr. Joyce Brothers--has functioned so relentlessly, so adamantly, as proponent, evaluator, certifier of relevance both passing and eternal, chalkboard huckster for so turgid a line of see-Spot-run. Michael Cuscuna? Well, that's only on jazz reissues.
So unremitting has Marcus been in affixing his byline to so much NOT requiring his collusion, his stultifying illumination, and certainly not HIS italics, that every juxtaposition of it and anything has come to feel as WRONG (i.e., as corrupt) as the mating of basketball footage to "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" in a Nike commercial.
Last year an article in the New York Observer complained about Marcus's liner notes for the reissue of Harry Smith's Folkways anthology. Author Mark Schone's beef was that in gushing all over Harry there was an implied denigration of rival folklorist Alan Lomax, who Schone felt deserved a better fate.
What irritated me about Greil's presence in the package was simply that--his presence--although I could nitpick and say his lyric/historical spinout on Clarence Ashley's "The Coo Coo Bird," for one thing, bore traces of a METHODOLOGY of song dissection (and archaeology) I introduced to rockcrit (and yes, was better at) in my first published pieces 30 years ago...but fuck, I'm too much the folkie and populist myself to ever invoke an intellectual "copyright"--ownership isn't my game. (I don't own things in the air, I don't even own names I've given them.)
Anyway, it would've been preferable, I think, for Schone to have been more patient: chances are, left to his proprietary avarice (the pipe dream: champion something and you'll forever be associated with it), that Greil would eventually have carved his name on Lomax's legacy too...and still may.
Hey: this is a man who accepted payment to report nightly on a MICHAEL JACKSON TOUR for Ted Koppel's Nightline. Who/what won't he put his name on?
He even put his grimy stamp on one of my books, the '87 reprint of Aesthetics of Rock--which he didn't even like. And I didn't ask for him (I wanted Billy Altman), but he insisted and the publisher acquiesced. Wittingly or un-, his intro did little more than bracket the work, trivialize it (first paragraph: "I'm most of all convinced that the book is not a joke"; key word: "convinced"--thanks MUCH, you fucker), make it small (while lauding its hefty page count), finite, bounded, glibly sum-up-able, socially agreeable ("...the coolest book to be seen carrying"), no longer autonomous: a Greil-endorsed hunk o' pulp.
The endorsement didn't even improve my case with the endorser. So shallow had been his display of regard for me, so much did he not deem me even a colleague, that I didn't make it onto the mailing list for his own next book, Lipstick Traces, and he balked at first when I asked for a copy (how much humiliation did I think I needed?), telling me to go bother his publicist...he was in no mood to do so himself.
It wasn't mere protocol that prompted me to ask him, as this was the tome in which Greil reputedly "came to terms" with the events of Pistols night at Winterland. When I finally saw a copy, I wasn't in the index, or onstage at his Winterland, or anywhere else. Once an apparent eyesore, I was now beneath his notice (both forward and back).
It was a book that struck me also as, yes, derivative--secondary--and that M.T. Kinney would later proclaim a "broken-leg try at duplicating the Everest climb R. Meltzer pulled off in The Aesthetics of Rock. On an insight level it's the pits"--he said it, not me.
So what the hell am I after?
My due.
Don't think I want credit for having "influenced" Greil, or Bob, or the pen pushers of their cardboard academy, for trailblazing an activity that inevitably leads to them. I didn't (and if I had, I would rather I hadn't) and I don't.
But if they didn't actually "get it from" me, plenty of it, it didn't hurt 'em to have me as forerunner. To have my trial and error, naked as it was, ease the path and prime the pump.
Credit? I want credit for being Copernicus--Magellan--goddamn Socrates to their coffee-table Thoreau, and Thoreau to their Michael Medved. (Do you have any idea how degrading it is at this stage of my life to have to beat my own drum? What such a dance does to my "dignity"? They can kiss my fucking feet.)
Lester Young once said of Stan Getz, who profited mightily from a saxophone way-of-being Lester had pioneered: "There he goes driving my pink Cadillac." I don't want no Cadillac (though a middle-class income, after all these years, would be OK); I want to terminate the academy.
And what, precisely, is it that gives me the willies about the ascendancy of their shit and not mine--other than the obvious?
The reality of their ultimate message. Everything they write testifies: THERE IS NO JOY. NOTHING IS POSSIBLE. Regardless of what they imagine or wish it to be saying.
Seeing this travesty and obsessing on its repercussions forces me to redouble my efforts. I'm tired and tired and thinkin' I might maybe resign from this sorriest of "callings," and here I am stuck with a bran' new mission.
Needed (first things first): a countercootie to their cooties on everything. On things I still love.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Took a too long nap this evening and had, again, vivid, strage dreams. They were *so* strong, memorable--not something I normally experience. One, right before I awoke, with my mother... so sad, she was so *present* and I awoke feeling that. She and I arguing in a friendly, mother-daughter way, as was typical of our relationship, about these boxes of jewelry we were looking at (my mother *loved* jewelry). The jewelry was bright gold; she preferred the classy, *real* gold, while I preferred the trendier, artier but faux kind. I mean, I can still *see* the jewelry we were arguing about.
(In a Freudian vein, I'm wondering too, if *jewelry* is somehow connected to *jewishness*, my father, and my thinking so much about judaism since I've been writing this Reznikoff paper-- I mean, the issue of fake vs a real jew(elry)... authenticity... hmmm)

But the strangest thing about all these little dream vignettes--one after the other-- was that they focused on a strange *place*--me riding a bike on a strange, circuitous, extremely narrow bike path that edged magnificent views of the ocean. The bike was odd too, had a very large silver frame that almost didn't fit into the narow path. The landscape looked like a cross between California then, at times, it became like Colorado in the Rockies when the ocean was lost to view. Then a switch to me housesitting a place right off the ocean, in a setting that felt very lush and tropical, like Hawaii. Again, the ocean was predominant. I could see it, but no matter how I tried, I couldn't *get* there. The house was very complex, and couldn't find my way around it, was frantic about cleaning it up before the owners got home, and meanwhile *really* wanting to just get to the ocean....

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Reznikoff and historiography

Writing a paper on Charles Reznikoff (actually, it should have been turned in a week ago for a seminar this fall, but, alas, as is my wont, it is late). I'm looking, specifically at his two volume Testimony. I've spent a good amount of time thinking about various theories of historiography, especially since that's what the seminar was concerned with. (Well, actually it was *about* time, history, and modernity, but historiography played a major role in our attempts to understand the relationship betwen texts from that period as well as the relationship between the three themes.) So, anyway, like I said, for my research on the Reznikoff paper I went through a good portion of our texts from the course, trying to find the *right* frameworks or methodology. I looked back through Latour, LaCapra, Chandler, de Certeau, Macheray, Jameson, Lukacs, and a few other short pieces I've forgotten now. Then I realized something. I had spent all of two minutes reading Reznikoff. This reminded me, sheepishly, of a moment early on in my grad school career--an attempt to write a paper on experimental music. I was talking about my struggle to understand and frame my paper's argument with a (non-academic) friend, and he asked me: " Have you listened lately to any of the music you're talking about?" "Um...no." I think this is a common grad student issue/mistake, and certainly one that can be leveled at the rise of theory in the academy (though it is, in general, I think, an overblown and not generalizable accusation). The fact that I found myself nervously avoiding a serious read of the very texts I was ostensibly about to stake an argument on struck me as a return to this misguided habit, and certainly not at all what the seminar itself had attempted to accomplish; we had spent a considerable amount of time and critical focus on how literary texts construct history. Now the relation between form/content, historiography, and justice is not quite clear to me, but I feel it is where I'm moving, circling around.

This all prompted... a return to Reznikoff. Now I know why I initially decided to write about him. The question of how one might narrate history--to my mind, *the* concern/question of historiography--is the central issue of Reznikoff's work. The fact that Reznikoff chooses to piece together/ transform legal cases--the archive of written documents that determine legal history/practice--in order to present an epoch as well as critique its failures and injustices through and as poetry is to question, to think through, the relationship between various narrative forms and historical contents, and to see them as inextricably linked to the institutional mediums and discourses in which they arise. The question of narrative/historical voice, and the issue of witnessing (the poet as witness) is then almost impossible to locate, which means that one's decision as a reader (as judge and jury) is also put to the test. I'm not making that tired old "the reader makes the meaning" argument. Rather, I'm interested in the ways Reznikoff's work, his practice, attempts to discern the outlines of a fragmented, particular, lived historical moment through the transformation of archival documents, and how those documents then become an attempt to redeem ( in the Benjaminian sense) a forgotten or erased history. This may sound naive, but this issue of redemption reminds me of one of the central questions Socrates poses in Plato's Republic : "What is justice?" I think Reznikoff 's work asks that question, or pushes his readers to ponder it. I'm also reminded, in this context, of Robert Creeley's correction of his often (mis) used remark--"Form is never more than an extension of content." Creeley reminds us that this is only half of the quote, the other half being: "And content is never more than an extension of form." Historiography as a quasi-literary practice and literature as a quasi-historical act seem, to me, to map onto the constitutive relation between form and content. In fact history is, in a way, the central term.

Finally, reading Reznikoff , I was struck by how deeply moving is the tragedy of working class, impoverished life. I've been thinking of my father throughout. His death due to unsanitary working conditions, which literally poisoned him (carbon tetrachloride used illegally at a printing factory), could be a test case in Rez's work. In fact my father's legal case was the first workmen's compensation suit won in the state of Michigan (1977). I think I know why Reznikoff wrote Testimony.