Tuesday, 07 April 2009

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Would that I had this writer's senses of comedic timing and telling detail. Before I continue with some bits on Blake, I wanted to share this truly extraordinary bit of literary profiling from the current issue of Rolling Stone. Everything about the opening anecdote to "The Last Outlaw Poet" works perfectly: the selection of the moment, the setting of the scene, the cadence of the prose, the timing of the punchline. They all conspire to produce a powerful (and powerfully funny) introduction to a profile of Kris Kristofferson. But you'll shit your pants when you learn—I'll save that bit of information for the moment. Here's the text: Standing backstage at the Beacon Theatre in New York, leaning against a crumbling brick wall in the dark, I could barely see Kris Kristofferson standing to my left. Willie Nelson was in the shadows to my right. Ray Charles was standing beside Willie, idly shifting his weight back and forth. A bit farther along the wall were Elvis Costello, Wyclef Jean, Norah Jones, Shelby Lynne, Paul Simon and respective managers, friends and family. Everybody was nervous and tight. We were there for Willie Nelson's 70th birthday concert in 2003. Up from the basement came one of country music's brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America's enemies back into the Stone Age. "Happy birthday," the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came "None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris." "What the fuck did you just say to me?" Kris growled, stepping forward. "Oh, no," groaned Willie under his breath. "Don't get Kris all riled up." "You heard me," the Star said, walking away in the darkness. "Don't turn your back to me, boy," Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him. The Star turned around: "I don't want any problems, Kris—I just want you to tone it down." "You ever worn your country's uniform?" Kris asked rhetorically. "What?" "Don't 'What?' me, boy! You heard the question. You just don't like the answer." He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. "I asked, 'Have you ever served your country?' The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man's life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!" I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. "You don't know what the hell you are talking about!" "Whatever," the young Star muttered. Ray Charles stood motionless. Willie Nelson looked at me and shrugged mischievously like a kid in the back of the classroom. Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, "Don't say a word." Then his eyes found me. "You know...
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Justifying comics as legitimate objects of study, Part II: HELL STALKS ON FOUR PAWS! I concluded the previous post with a nod to William Blake as someone who explored the word-picture relationship and I will get to that, but first I should clarify a few issues I raised without fully addressing yesterday: Vance rightly noted that titles of paintings were often left to benefactors and history, so putting that much interpretive weight on such thin ice might not be the best idea. I agree. I fully intend on leaving this series of posts immersed and hypothermic. JPool noted that treating paintings like panels could be a category error and Miriam and Gene implicitly agreed, suggesting I might be better served by a Hogarth or one of his ilk. I agree. But I chose to go with Caravaggio and Blake over Giotto and Hogarth because I wanted to focus attention on an individual image before I moved to discussing the interaction between multiple images arrayed in narrative. Andrew liked the arrows and will be disappointed with this post. Now that I have well and cleared my throat, let us venture forward to William Blake and "The Tyger" from Songs of Experience (1794). It reads: Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry? In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand dare sieze the fire? And what shoulder, & what art. Could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat, What dread hand? & what dread feet? What the hammer? what the chain? In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? what dread grasp Dare its deadly terrors clasp? When the stars threw down their spears, And watered heaven with their tears, Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee? Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? Where to start? Should I go full Keats and spend a day on each stanza? Probably . . . especially when you consider that 1) his manuscript looked like this: Because 2) he spent tedious years perfecting the placement of every word on every line. Maybe I'll declare next week Blake Week and do just that. But tonight I want to focus on the general impression of feline bad-assedness created by the text of the poem. What we have here is a TYGER! MADE OF FIRE FORGED BY DREAD HANDS AND SHARP TOOLS OF METALLURGY TO HAVE DREAD PAWS. So FEROCIOUS is this FIRE TYGER! that the poet cannot even imagine THE ABOMINABLE FOUNDRY in which SOME DEMENTED LORD created SO GRIM A BEAST. TRIGGER WARNING: IF YOU ARE NOT PREPARED TO LOOK INTO THE BRUTAL MAW OF HELL ITSELF DO NOT CONTINUE READING THIS POST BECAUSE I AM ABOUT TO POST THE PICTURE OF THE FIRE TYGER! BLAKE INCLUDED WITH THE POEM. SERIOUSLY IT'S WAY TOO MUCH...

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