Jonathan Swift on the Writing Process

From Richard Nordquist, a poem by Jonathan Swift:

Consult yourself, and if you find
A powerful impulse urge your mind,
Impartial judge within your breast
What subject you can manage best;
Whether your genius most inclines
To satire, praise, or hum’rous lines,
To elegies in mournful tone,
Or prologue sent from hand unknown.
Then, rising with Aurora’s light,
The Muse invoked, sit down to write;
Blot out, correct, insert, refine,
Enlarge, diminish, interline;
Be mindful, when invention fails,
To scratch your head, and bite your nails.
Jonathan Swift, “On Poetry: A Rhapsody,” published on December 31, 1733
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“Bette Davis Eyes”

The story behind this very popular 1981 song, was found at The Pop History Dig. The introduction:

 In May and June of 1981, the most popular song around was a tune about a Hollywood actress — or more precisely, about her eyes. “She’s got Bette Davis eyes” was the refrain made famous by the top-selling song of 1981, appropriately titled, “Bette Davis Eyes.”  The song was performed by singer Kim Carnes, and was originally written in the mid-1970s by singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss.  DeShannon had also recorded a version of the song on her New Arrangement album of 1975.  But it was the Kim Carnes version of the song in 1981 that became the big hit.

“Bette Davis Eyes,” in fact, became the third best-selling song of the entire 1980s decade, ranking only behind “Physical” by Olivia Newton John and “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie.  In 1981, it also won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Record of the year. Released on the EMI America label as a single in the spring of 1981, the song spent a total of nine weeks at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100chart during May, June and July.  It remained in the Top 40 for about 20 weeks.  The Kim Carnes album containing the song — Mistaken Identity — also hit #1 and sold over eight million copies.

Read more details at the link. And for a little Kim Carnes: Betty Davis Eyes


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Discover Guitarist Pierre Bensusan

For a taste, here is Pierre Bensusan playing a song called Wu Wei. And here is an article about him, Learning From the Fingers and Mind of a Guitar Master from The Jewish Daily Forward. A quote from the top:

Resolve not to bore the instrument.

The text:

Continue reading

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The Shady Music Business

From Salon, The music business’s real shady history:

From Ice-T’s memoir to a history of the Memphis club scene, four new books explore the dark side of the art form…Memphis-based Preston Lauterbach’s “The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll” relishes the criminal origins of the mostly southern black club scene from the early ’30s to the late ’60s. Journalist-bizzer Dan Charnas’s history of the hip-hop industry, “The Big Payback,” steers clear of much small-time thuggery and leaves brutal L.A. label boss Suge Knight to Ronin Ro’s “Have Gun, Will Travel,” but plenty of crime stories rise up as profits snowball. Ice-T’s “Ice”devotes 25 steely pages to the lucrative heisting operation the rapper-actor ran before he made music his job. And ’60s hitmaker Tommy James’s “Me, the Mob, and the Music” is an artist memoir distinguished by its substantial portrait of American pop’s most legendary gangster, Morris Levy.


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10 Great Books on Jazz

From novelist Reggie Nadelson at the Guardian. She says,

Of the books I’ve chosen, there are three where the authors somehow achieve a kind of “jazz prose”, this without forgetting the narrative. Of the thousands of non-fiction books about jazz and jazz musicians, I’ve picked those that seem to really illuminate their subjects in an original way, and tell you something new about the music and the musicians, something new about American culture.

Since I like books and jazz, this is a good list to reference.

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In honor of Easter, a poem by Jennifer Grotz found at Boston Review:

In the image of utter doubt, Thomas’s accusing finger
probes into the wound of Christ.
Nature returns silence but nature does not

say no‚ that’s what humans do.
The rest of creation glorifies God: “The birds
sing to him‚ the thunder speaks of his terror. . .‚
Continue reading

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Anne Sexton—Poetry & Suicide

From Today in Literature:

Sexton began to write poetry in 1957 after watching a half-hour show on educational television entitled “How to Write a Sonnet.” Her first encouragements came from her psychiatrist — Sexton had just made another of her many suicide attempts — and from Robert Lowell, who taught both her and Sylvia Plath in his Boston University poetry workshop. Sexton and Plath would often discuss the ideal suicide — when Plath took her life in 1963 Sexton complained to her psychiatrist, “That death was mine!” — and her “Wanting to Die,” from the 1966 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Live or Die, is among many which attempt to puzzle out the obsession.

Does one have to be unbalanced, suicidal and in need of psychiatrists to write poetry? I doubt it. I know people who write poetry that are clearly healthy personalities, but the art does seem to attract its share of neurotic persons.

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Thoughts on Steely Dan

While I don’t relate to all the drug references—too square, I guess—in this piece from The Nervous Breakdown called It Takes a Lot of Cocaine to Be as Smooth as Steely Dan, I’ve been a Steely Dan fan since the early ’80s. Yeah, I know their first album hit the market in 1972, but I’ve always been slow at these things. I’ve seen them live, own some old LP’s, a bunch of CD’s, and listen to their old stuff regularly. I try to play some of their complicated songs on my guitar. I even named a grulla appaloosa horse Steely Dan in my soon-to-be-published novel. The article states:

Becker and Fagen are known primarily for two things: Bitter, sarcastic lyrics that glorify the bebop hipster of yore and a maniacal attention to studio perfectionism.

The albums Gaucho and Aja are pretty fantastic representations of this cool jazz-rock perfection.

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Beat Poets

From John Baker’s Blog,  sample poetry by Diane di Prima and Elise Cowen who committed suicide at age twenty-seven. The post opens with a quote:

There were women, they were there, I knew them, their families put them in institutions, they were given electric shock. In the ’50s if you were male you could be a rebel, but if you were female your families had you locked up. There were cases, I knew them, someday someone will write about them. Gregory Corso

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The Second Coming

Joni Mitchell singing Slouching Toward Bethlehem and the poem it was based on…The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


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