Iggy without a Shirt

Buy any album with Iggy without a shirt. . .

I recently picked up a used copy of Iggy Pop’s 1982 album “Zombie Birdhouse” and, looking at the seated, shirtless Iggy on the cover, I was reminded of a general buying principle for Iggy Pop albums passed on to me by Michelle Pessaro, owner of Savvy Vinyl Records in Melbourne, FL: “Buy any album with Iggy without a shirt.” It carried with it the implied corollary, “Shirted Iggy albums suck.” This buying principle had been passed on to her by Chris, the owner of the former Vinyl Request Records, whose store Michelle inherited when he passed away in 2019. It was a great store, one that had the space to host live music, and it was a staging point for a lot of great bands around the Melbourne, FL, area. It also hosted some better known bands like Agnostic Front.

Needless to say, I had to test that theory. I had to test it because it seemed testable, because there is objective data available by which we can test the theory, and because I’d graded waaaay too many papers over the last three days and desperately needed to do something else.

So, I made a spreadsheet.

Dare I say it? This spreadsheet is a glorious instance of Digital Humanities at work, one that quantified ratings of each Iggy Pop album on a 5 star scale and correlated those ratings with album cover features (shirted/non-shirted/other). I submit for your consideration The Table:

Results: average rating of shirted Iggy albums, 3.0. Average of shirtless Iggy albums, 3.4. The principle holds with a couple of early exceptions, such as Iggy Pop’s Bowie-produced solo albums from 1977, which have ratings of 5, and the late album Naughtie Little Doggie, which even a shirtless Iggy couldn’t save from sucking horribly.

Score distribution:

  • 9 shirtless albums: 7 of 9 shirtless albums are rated 4 or 5.
  • 8 shirted albums: 3 of 8 shirted albums are rated 4 or 5 while 5 of 8 shirted albums are rated 3 or below.

Bottom line: Chris was right!

This whole “project” leads me to think about record stores in general, and what makes a good record store good. At the risk of sounding cliché, a good record store loves the music, while a worse record store either doesn’t love it as much, doesn’t know how to love it properly, or just exists to take your money.

This difference is measurable and quantifiable from store to store. It is observable. I’m not just being sentimental. A store that loves the music loves its vinyl. If they’re selling you a piece of used vinyl above $10.00, it will have been checked for scratches, scuffs, and dirt and cleaned if necessary. It might be given a new inner sleeve, even if the original is still there. The record store can’t control what condition the vinyl, inner sleeve, and vinyl are in when the album arrives in the store, but it can control the condition it’s in when they sell it.

And sellers can also control their selling price. Ebay and Amazon selling prices for used vinyl are all over the place, and there is no quality control in check. Discogs.com is a better source for the real value of any given piece of used vinyl on the market. It will display the selling history of any used vinyl by specific edition and by condition, which has to be listed on the website following their guidelines, which list vinyl and covers in conditions from Mint (basically, new) to Poor. I’ve published two books on rock music and literature, and have two more under contract right now, and I’ve found Discogs.com to be an invaluable resource on the details of any specific release of almost any specific album.

I’ve bought some used vinyl in my lifetime, including over the last couple of years, and my go-to store is Savvy Vinyl Records because the owner takes care of her vinyl — she has a cleaning machine on her table next to the register — because she prices in the middle of Discogs listings, and because she stands by her product. If an album turns out to be in bad shape, she asks you to bring it back. If the album leans a bit on the expensive side, she’s probably listened to it before selling it. She has an extensive Discogs catalog of her own, by the way, so she’s a safe vendor to buy from online. Another great vendor is Gator Records on Instagram. I’ve never regretted a purchase from that vendor, and he cleans his vinyl before shipping it and puts his vinyl in new sleeves.

There are a number of good online vendors for new and specialty vinyl as well. Experience Vinyl has some interesting curated editions — for example, Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain in yellow and red swirl vinyl curated by Carlos Santana, selected by him and including his notes on the album, and it has recently begun expanding its catalog. Sound of Vinyl is great for colored vinyl reissues from popular bands and other specialty releases. Vinyl Me Please has some fantastic releases, but a very limited and somewhat expensive catalog at any given time. Look for Music on Vinyl rereleases from any store, or Back to Black, and of course some of the most interesting vinyl releases during any given year come out on Record Store Day. Look up the RSD website to see when this year’s RSD albums will drop and what they will be.

The best thing to do, however, is to find a small, independent seller that loves its vinyl and support it.

Maybe There’s a Little Bit of Natural Religion?


  1. The human mind detects patterns in the natural world.
    The human mind is a part of and proceeds from the natural world.
    Therefore, patterns exist in the natural world.

  2. Patterns exist in the natural world.
    The human mind perceives patterns in the natural world.
    The human mind is part of and proceeds from the natural world.
    Therefore, the human mind is the natural world reflecting on its own patterns.

  3. Therefore, anthropomorphism is not a fallacy.

  4. A part is not equal to a whole.
    The whole cannot be reduced to a part.
    Therefore, the relationship between part and whole need not be mutually exhaustive.

My Blakean Life

I have been lax in celebrating William Blake’s birthday, which passed by recently, on Nov. 28th. A Londoner almost all of his life, he was born in 1757 and died in 1827, just short of his 70th birthday. He’s best known for The Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and within that, the poem “The Tyger,” and also for an excerpt from his long poem Milton a Poem which was set to music by Hubert Parry in a piece called “Jerusalem” (And did those feet…), a composition used as a school song for many schools around the world also famously covered by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Selections from “Auguries of Innocence” are found in the Tomb Raider movies, his art in the Hannibal Lecter movies, and his poems are probably used for lyrics by contemporary musicians more than any other poet from any time. There are book-length lists of Blake poems set to music. 

I didn’t learn about Blake in school, however — I learned of him when I heard the song “William Blake,” which was written by Terry Scott Taylor for the band Daniel Amos on their Vox Humana album. Hearing that song was enough to get me to rush to — remember these? — a B. Dalton Bookseller, where I picked up a copy of the Viking Portable Blake. That started me on a journey that took me through graduate school, a dissertation, my first book, and then two Rock and Romanticism books. But it was all about music and literature from the beginning, not just the stuff they make you read in school, as it was for Blake himself, who originally sang many of those poems at dinner parties to his own original musical compositions. He was said to have a good singing voice, and scholars of music notated his compositions at the time, though those are lost to us now. Roy Starling was my first instructor in Romanticism, and he made Romantic poetry come alive for me, as he did all the literature he taught to all of his students at the college and high school levels. 

I chose Blake because I wanted a subject of study that I could attend to for twenty years without getting bored, and he has not disappointed. In addition to my own writing about Blake, I was also privileged to work with Michael Phillips on three occasions for Blake printmaking demonstrations, one of these resulting in an exhibit at Rollins College and another in an exhibit curated by Lee Fearnside that consisted of contemporary artists inspired by Blake alongside Phillips’s own reproductions of Blake’s work through his reproduction of his printmaking methods. 

And Blake has informed and inspired my own creative work — following in his footsteps I’m working on my own reworking of Milton’s Paradise Lost as a steampunk western as well as assorted collections of my own poetry. We will see where it all leads, but I remain grateful for what Blake has meant to me.

I should end this with Blake’s own words… 

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

Beating Trump Isn’t Enough

Beating Trump Isn’t Enough

 

we have to beat the conditions that got him elected to begin with

 

When I was 14 I was asked by a friend of my parents if I was proud of being a Puerto Rican. I said, “No.” He said, “What, are you ashamed of it?” I said, “No, I’m not proud of being Puerto Rican or ashamed of it. I can’t be proud or ashamed of it because I didn’t do anything to be Puerto Rican. I didn’t earn it. I was just born that way.”
I still think that way. So if a candidate for President was Puerto Rican, I wouldn’t care either way. That’s not what I look for in candidates. I don’t need my identify validated in that way, and I’m not so tribal in my thinking that I will support someone just because they’re part of my tribe. I’m also not naive enough to think that I can trust someone just because they share that point of identity with me.
I started supporting Bernie Sanders in late 2015 because I’m a political pragmatist, not because I deeply self-identify with a white socialist Jewish male from the NE who is 20 years older than me. There’s not a single descriptor in the line above that connects with me: I’m not white (at least not to the racist whites I’ve known), not socialist (I support distributed private ownership), not Jewish (raised Catholic, briefly atheist, now broadly ecumenical Protestant), and not from the Northeast (Southern California in the 70s!). I started supporting him because I saw how his platform would directly benefit me, and by extension, literally tens of millions of people just like me. And I saw that he meant it: he didn’t develop his platform just to get support. He really is committed to his platform because he really is committed to working and middle class Americans.
I also saw how Sanders’s platform solved numerous problems that we’re facing, and I see how the coronavirus crisis illustrates how his platform points — such as Medicare for All — are desperately needed right now. We have the highest unemployment rate since the onset of the twentieth century, higher even than during the Great Depression, and millions of Americans are still dependent on employer-based healthcare. Does that even remotely make sense? Not to mention savings in costs by having one administrative system over all fifty states, rather than fifty different administrative systems, and not to mention the fact that it seems almost literally suicidal to trust your healthcare to companies that make their profits by collecting premiums and not paying out claims. So long as private health insurance companies are running our healthcare system, they will be trying to pay out as little as possible. They will always try to cut coverage for pre-existing conditions, for example.
I’ve been saying for weeks now that Biden needs to pick a black woman as running mate — for a number of reasons — so I do get that identity politics matter in national politics. But I’ve also been reading some detailed examinations of Harris’s record that have been out there since at least early 2019, and most of them say that she talks progressive but then actually does the opposite on a consistent basis, when it really counts. For example, she talks police reform but has been said to protect the police officers who commit acts of police brutality.
I haven’t followed up on this reporting to verify it for myself, but she was never my first pick, and if these reports are true, she may be another Amy Klobouchar: she may have at some point protected an officer who will be involved in some future killing that provokes more riots. What would that do to the Democratic ticket if that happens between now and November? My impression from her Twitter feed over the past year or two has been that as well: she’s never been a committed progressive so much as a politician committed to advancing her career. She constantly tests the waters to see what policies have the most traction rather than advocating for policies that will address our real problems.
But there’s a bigger picture than even this: we need to account for the fact that Trump was indeed elected president in 2016. He won the popular vote in forty-nine out of fifty states combined, in fact: HRC’s popular vote lead was entirely from the state of California, which she won by over 4 million votes. Biden and Harris represent a political mainstream that many Americans distrust and rejected in 2016.
So, does Harris’s gender and multiethnic identity matter? Not in terms of her politics. There’s no reason to trust her just because of that. We need to look at her record and her donor base. That’s all that matters. After 8 years of Obama, though, I can see that it mattered culturally to have a black president. It outed our racists and gave black America hope. And I have to admit I’m looking forward to the Harris/Pence debate even more than Biden/Trump. She has demonstrated the ability to fight: in her debates with Biden, in the Kavanaugh hearings, and at other times.
The question remains, though: who is she really going to be fighting for? Biden and Harris need to do more than beat Trump. They need to address the situation that led to Trump’s election to begin with, and that’s a political mainstream made up of people who care more about the wealthiest Americans than the rest of us in almost every way that counts. They need to do it through the DNC platform, which I think is not going to give me everything I’d like to see, but which will still be pretty good, but then they need to do it by enacting the platform. That is what will matter.
Only time will tell. If they don’t come through, Trump can always run again. And when he’s gone, there will be others like him. He’s proven that people like him can win, and the next Trump that comes around may be smarter, more savvy politically, and by extension, even more dangerous.

Line and Poetry

20821239I read a few pages of Mary Oliver’s Blue Horses (2014) this morning — which is very enjoyable, by the way, pick it up if you can — and while reading recalled an experience I had publishing one of my own poems in a small journal. The poem was a little gimmicky. Titled “Liber Abaci,” it was based on the Fibonacci sequence, a series of numbers in which each number is based on the sum of the two preceding ones: 0+1=1; 1+2=3; 2+3=5; 3+5=8; 5+8=13; 13+8=21, etc. The sequence was discovered by Leonard de Pisa in 1202, later known as Fibonacci, and is historically and mathematically significant because it’s so often found in nature: tree branches, leaves on a stem, bracts on a pine cone, fern leaves, and on and on.

I wrote my poem so that each line had a number of syllables corresponding to each sum in the sequence. 1, 3, 5, 8, 13, and then 21. The poem was six lines long ending with a twenty-one syllable line almost too long for the page, and it compared objects in nature to a woman waking up in the morning and not wanting to get out of bed. I used words like “stone” and “mountainous.”

Now I’d like to describe publishing in the United States: there’s real publishing, and then there’s poetry publishing. In real publishing, publishers allow authors to see proof copies and make corrections before the book goes to press. If the publisher edits or changes your work, you know about it, and you know how and usually why. In poetry publishing, at least most US poetry publishing, you don’t see your poem until you get it mailed back to you in the published work, you may not have even been told your work was being published, and often they — whoever they are, but they’re everywhere, you know them — do whatever they want to your poem without telling you.

In my case, the published product was eleven lines instead of six, none of the line breaks were followed, and of course that ridiculously long twenty-one syllable line was broken up into at least three lines. The editor of the collection didn’t understand the main conceit of the poem, didn’t understand the placement of the line breaks, and was only reading the poem for imagery and nothing else. In all fairness, it’s a weird and unexpected conceit, but the poem looked weird enough that s/he might have thought to ask first. I would bet, though, counting syllables doesn’t land on the editor’s radar, but even if it did in this case, the pattern may not have been identifiable.

Either way, I initially wanted to title this post “The Unbearable Stupidity of Poetry Publishers,” but somehow (and in the end only partially) restrained myself. To be honest, I’ve collected a number chapbooks and poetry collections over the past couple of years, and aside from the big publishing houses, what I find is very inconsistent. Some of it is very good, but quite often poetry publishers and editors seem to care only about what is being said with no attention to how, or how well, and the results are often juvenile and embarrassing. Poetry publishing follows the basic US business model: selling a lot of stuff cheap will make you rich, so don’t sweat the details or worry about quality. Save time and money and just get it out there, especially if you can get a bunch of people to pay you to publish their work. The product itself doesn’t matter.

So I’d like to start on the ground floor about what a poem is. A poem is a written creative work characterized by attention to…

  1. rhythm
  2. sound
  3. imagery
  4. metaphor/metonymy
  5. originality in its use of all of the above

Notice what I’m not saying: “meaning” and “emotion.” It’s not that meaning and emotion don’t matter, but that meaning and emotion don’t make a poem a poem. Prose works, both fiction and nonfiction, convey meaning and emotion. Paintings and sculptures do. Movies do. Facial expressions do. Hand gestures do. Almost everything does, but not everything is a poem. What makes a poem a poem is attention to rhythm, sound, imagery, and metaphor/metonymy, not meaning (in a big sense — imagery and metaphor are a kind of attention to meaning) and emotion. Poets who know what they are doing certainly convey meaning and emotion, but they do so by paying this kind of attention, by paying attention to the craft of writing a poem.

Rhythm and sound don’t necessarily mean fixed rhyme and meter, as in a sonnet. Free verse pays attention to rhythm and sound too, and employs it deftly to create emotional and other effects. It’s not that free verse doesn’t follow any patterns of sound and rhythm, just not fixed patterns of sound and rhythm. Free verse creates its own patterns and its own effects. But I think this brings us to a fundamental truth about poetry: what makes a poem a poem is its attention to line.

How poems divide up their lines controls their rhythm, sound (whether or not they’re using rhyme), metaphor and metonymy (as words at the ends of lines will be implicitly linked), and the poem’s arrangement of white space, which can also convey meaning. In other words, the poem’s use of line, more than anything else, is what makes a poem a poem. There is one exception: prose poetry, which runs its lines from one margin to the other just like prose, but that’s a lone exception. Otherwise, you know that a poem is a poem just by looking at it because it is broken up into lines, even if you don’t know anything else about poetry, or in other words, if you’re like most poetry publishers.

So mungling up a poem’s line breaks is a cardinal sin, and not paying attention to where you put your line breaks is a sign of ignorance in poetry writing. Amateur poets pay attention, and use line more or less effectively (as do professionals), but a complete lack of attention means you haven’t written a poem but a sentence with line breaks. And no, a sentence with line breaks is not a poem. It might be a greeting card, or a song lyric, and it might get you laid, or published, or both, but it’s not a poem.

So, if you like reading poetry, and want to try writing poetry, and especially if you’re publishing poetry: pay attention to line. Start there. Write the whole thing out as one sentence and then break it up into lines again and ask yourself: what changed? If you noticed a difference, that’s a poem.

 

%d bloggers like this: