Another Magical Musical Moment . . .

. . . courtesy King Crimson again. In “A Sailor’s Tale,” there are two, actually: when the dual guitar/sax melody line emerges the first time atop the cool bass-drum pattern that opens the song, but even better: after the solos, the key melody emerges again with some sort of blast of mellotron and organ and maybe another bass, I’m not sure, but the sound is like . . . . BRONK!!!!!! . . . and then it becomes this really dark, minor drone, very haunting and haunted souning. But it’s the BRONK!!!! moment that makes the song.


Music Criticism (The Lack Thereof)

It’s been almost a year now since I had my last music review published. I feel pretty good about that fact, actually . . . . since lately I’ve been having a hard time even reading other people’s reviews. For instance, I saw one article that used the word “tropes” in analyzing an Outkast song. I love Outkast, and I’m a pretty literary and intelligent guy, but I don’t know how “tropes” fit into the picture.

I recently went back and skimmed through some of my own work on my web page and cringed a lot: there are some good pieces in there, but a whole lot of hack work is buried in there as well. I may go cull the dead wood at some point and leave that portion of my web page in a more skeletal, but high quality, form.

I am also utterly aghast and appalled at my critical breathren for embracing The Darkness as the next coming of something or other, having finally heard that “hot” English band today for the first time. Ugh. Teddible, teddible, but the critics are falling all over themselves fighting over which one of them spotted this next big thing first. I’m glad not to be in the scrum.

Not writing reviews totally changes the way I’ve been listening to music over the past year, in that I can do it for enjoyment and enjoyment alone, not having to worry about finding an angle or making a pitch or turning a clever phrase or rushing through it to get my review out before Rolling Stone or Spin or one of the majors, so I could say I said it first. Whatever it was. I’m not worried about getting new things as soon as they’re available, either, as an extension of that same lack-of-rush. I can listen to old stuff for a month if I want to, and not feel like I’m “missing” some scoop or another. I don’t have to explain why I like something. I can just like it, and nobody else needs to know why.

I originally thought that I might do the poetry project this year as a way of cleansing my palette and then get back to writing music reviews. I don’t think that’s likely any more, though. Feature work I enjoy, creative work I enjoy, but I’m not sure that I ever want to write a review of anything else ever again. Criticism comes easier than craftsmanship . . . and while I may not be a craftsman yet in fiction or poetry or feature writing or whatever, and while I may well never become one, I sure am enjoying cutting things up and hammering them together and painting them funny colors and otherwise playing in the creative wood shop at the moment.

And I’d hate to have to re-learn how to pretend that I was excited by something as tired and retro and ridiculous as The Darkness.

Crimson and Codex


Been doing one of my fairly regular spins through the King Crimson canon this week. I love their records to pieces (see here for my comparitive review), and there are numerous spine-tingling musical moments for me, but I think the one that stands above all the rest is in “Fracture” from the Starless and Bible Black album. There’s a quiet interlude in the middle of the song that ends with an absolute explosion of three-piece rock fury, and that moment when the silence is shattered is breathtaking, one of the most dynamic moments in recorded music history, honest. Must hear stuff.

Poetry Analysis

I’ve had several people ask me questions about my poem, “Codex.” While I won’t explain it exactly, I can I suppose offer insights into the arcana I stuffed into it.

Here it is in its entirety:

Aethelwulf wrote
on the skin of a goat:
“cecidit corona capitis
nostri; vae nobis,
quia peccavimus,”

dipping the hollowed quill of a goose
in iron gall ink and thick
gum arabic.

Candle wax fell
in the monastic cell
as the parchment was laid out and dried;
the new Jeremiad
was illuminated
with figures Aethelwulf created
during dark ergot dreams
of profane things.

Here are some questions and answers:

What is a codex? A precursor to the book, the succesor to the scroll: a codex was a stack of parchment that allowed you to “surf” right to the page you wanted, rather than having to unroll the whole scroll to find what you were looking for.

Who was Aethelwulf? “Aethelwulf was the son of Egbert and a sub-king of Kent. He assumed the throne of Wessex upon his father’s death in 839. His reign is characterized by the usual Viking invasions and repulsions common to all English rulers of the time, but the making of war was not his chief claim to fame. [Key Text:] Aethelwulf is remembered, however dimly, as a highly religious man who cared about the establishment and preservation of the church. He was also a wealthy man and controlled vast resources. Out of these resources, he gave generously, to Rome and to religious houses that were in need. He was an only child, but had fathered five sons, by his first wife, Osburga. He recognized that there could be difficulties with contention over the succession. He devised a scheme which would guarantee (insofar as it was possible to do so) that each child would have his turn on the throne without having to worry about rival claims from his siblings. Aethelwulf provided that the oldest living child would succeed to the throne and would control all the resources of the crown, without having them divided among the others, so that he would have adequate resources to rule. That he was able to provide for the continuation of his dynasty is a matter of record, but he was not able to guarantee familial harmony with his plan. This is proved by what we know of the foul plottings of his son, Aethelbald, while Aethelwulf was on pilgrimage to Rome in 855. (Ed. note: my idea for “Codex” was that Aethelwulf lived the life of a simple monk while in Rome, transcribing and illuminating sacred texts). Aethelwulf was a wise and capable ruler, whose vision made possible the beneficial reign of his youngest son, Alfred the Great.”

Why was he writing on the skin of a goat? Because that’s what parchment was made out of. If it was made of the skin of a veal, it was vellum.

What does the latin text mean? It is from the Bible, Lamentations 5:16, translating to: “The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned.” Since, as noted, this is Aethelwulf on pilgrimage to Rome, not sitting as King of Wessex, so his crown his gone, and he is a sinner.

What is iron gall ink? What is gum arabic? An ink that came into common use in the Middle Ages, although its roots go back further than that: “Iron gall ink is created from four primary ingredients: Tannin, vitriol (iron sulfate), gum Arabic and water. Different products were included in the recipes over time, but using these ingredients alone will produce a fine ink.” The gum arabic served as a binder to the ink: you could write without it, but it made the ink easier to work with and caused it to stay on the parchment better.

What’s a Jeremiad? Lamentations was written by the Prophet Jeremiah. He was known to be a gloomy sort, and his dour and sour proclamations (and others like them) are often called Jeremiads.

What do you mean by “illuminated”? Is it the candles that are illuminating the Jeremiad? Illustrated, not lighted. Aethelwulf was drawing pretty pictures next to his words.

What is ergot? See here. The key line is: “Another form of ergot poisoning involves severe hallucinations and madness, caused by pschoactive alkaloids in the sclerotia.”

Okay. Got it? That’s a lot of explanation for a tiny poem. Either it was terribly incomplete, or I managed to squeeze a lot into a small container. You can decide.

Today I Became the Father of a Teenager

I am speechless.

Because Marcia and Katelin have the same birthday (today), we tend to stretch the celebration to make sure that everybody feels like they got appropriate attention. So I let them open presents yesterday (sample gift: a book for Katelin called How to Be A Villain), then had family dinner at My Linh in Albany (our favorite restaurant), and came home for home-made creme brulee. (Mmmm . . . carmelized sugar, mmmmm). Today Katelin has school birthday stuff and Marcia has work birthday stuff. (She was supposed to get flowers at the office today, but the florist messed up and delivered them last week . . . d’oh!) Then next Saturday night, Katelin has friends over for a sleepover. Then the week after that, Marcia and I are going to Atlantic City for a couple of nights. So we’ll get a solid four weeks of commemoration out of the occasion.

Happy Birthday, Marcia and Katelin, if you’re reading this today! I love you both more than I would have thought possible!

I also love creme brulee . . .


2 egg yolks (lightly beaten)

2 eggs (lightly beaten)

1/4 cup sugar (we use vanilla infused sugar)

1/8 tablespoon salt


2 cups of very hot (but not boiled) heavy cream

Pour into custard cups, bake at 300F for about 40 minutes.


Right before serving, cover the top of the cooled custard with an even layer of sugar (we use granulated turbinado brown), then broil the dishes until the sugar carmelizes, but doesn’t burn.


Say “mmmmmm.”

How Did I Miss This?

Trey Gunn has left King Crimson and Tony Levin has agreed to go back on active duty with the band. Rehearsals begin in April 2004 for the next era of Crim. I have mixed feelings: I love Levin, of course, but I felt like the current (or last, rather) line-up finally pulled it all together nicely on The Power To Believe, my fave Crimson album in a long time. It was harder and less funky than anything they created during the Levin era . . . I’ll be interested to see whether Levin pulls them back in a more groove based direction after a couple of albums of smash and bash. The one thing that remains constant in Crimson is that each evolution offers something of merit and note, so I’m interested and intrigued to see what comes next.

I suck!

Two years ago, Yahoo had an “Oscar Pick’Em” game, and I finished 9th out of about 350,000 participants, putting me in the 99.99995th percentile of Oscar pickers.

I shoulda rested on that laurel.

But I guess instead the karma wheel spins full circle, since yesterday I finished a distant third in my home. Marcia picked 19 of 24 Oscars, Katelin got 16 . . . and I got 13. Oops!

Glad to see LOTR win everything it was nominated for. Wish it had one more nomination, though, so it could be the all-time Oscar record holder, and not be tied with that big ball of cheese, Titanic. (And Ben Hur, but that’s okay with me). The only award that it won that I think I begrudge it was the Best Original Song: “Into the West” was pretty ehhhh . . . pretty typical of the types of ballads that Oscar tends to like, although there were some pretty interesting other songs nominated this year, especially “Belleville Rendezvous” and (dare I say it) Sting’s “You Will Be My Ain True Love.” Certainly the best thing he’s written since around the time of Synchronicity, I think.

I would have prefered Holly Hunter win Best Supporting Actress than Renee Zellweger. I also would have prefered that either Bill Murray or Johnny Depp win Best Actor . . . not because I don’t like Sean Penn (he was robbed once already, not winning for Dead Man Walking), but because I figger this’ll probably be the last great chance for Depp or Murray to win the award, since they both tend to operate outside of Oscar’s purview, while Penn will probably be nominated another half-dozen times and win a few more, because of the big studio scenery-chewing roles that he will always be given.

I hope I’m wrong, particularly in Depp’s case . . . but I doubt that I am, although my Oscar picks this year prove that I don’t know diddly, so don’t listen to me.