Thursday, March 29, 2012

21st Century Paranoia (Parts 1-3)




"Some have told me that these poems [Flowers of Evil] might do harm; I have not rejoiced in that." (Charles Beaudelaire)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Baffled in B&W

"I have included a certain amount of filth to please the gentlemen of the press. They have proved ungrateful." (Charles Beaudelaire)


I've been delighted to illustrate magazines art directed by Patrick JB Flynn since Spring, 1989, when he was at "The Progressive." I can pinpoint the time because my first job for him had the then-recent death of Abbie Hoffman as its topic. Patrick remained at "The Progressive" until 1999, after which

moved on to "Rethinking Schools," a liberal-left education magazine, taking with him many of us who'd worked for him at "The Progressive."


(I'm hesitant to attempt to list the graphic artists who have worked for Patrick over the decades because there is a wealth of top tier talent, I'm certain to miss some. But the list includes: Frances Jetter, Sue Coe, Randy Enos, Steve Brodner, David McLimans, Katherine Streeter, Mark Fisher, Alain Pilon, Richard Downs, Heinrik Drescher, Rob Dunlavey, Jordin Isip, Stephen Kroninger, Melinda Beck, Peter Kuper, Scott Menchin, Michael Duffy, Joe Ciardiello. My apologies to those I've foolishly omitted!)


Now Patrick is at The MIT Press' "The Baffler," as of issue #19, landing the job on the recommendation of the aforementioned Steve Brodner.


What to call "The Baffler"? Technically, it's a magazine, with articles, poems, fiction and self-described salvos. But it more closely resembles a hefty trade paperback, almost 7" x 10," with half-inch thick square binding, and heavy cover stock. Notably, there is no price code! Huzzah! The few ads are aimed at eggheads: "Book Forum," "Granta," Harvard Bookstore, "Daedalus." The writers for this issue include Thomas Frank, Barbara Ehrenreich and James K Galbraith.


Much more info can be found at their Wiki entry here, and their site here.


My first graphic for "The Baffler" is at the top, for the article, "Disposable Hip," by G Beato. I'm happy to be aboard the ship! Thank you, Patrick, for this and all the jobs and artistic freedom since my halcyon Park Slope days! It's been a time!


PS: I'm going to take this opportunity to direct your attention to another PJBF art direction project: "Solo 3" (Mutable, 2003), a three CD collection of music by Roscoe Mitchell, the avant-jazz reed player. Recommended - for sound and visuals! Roscoe's Wiki entry can be found here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Corcovado No. 2

A further exploration of an artistic approach, an approach devoid of narrative and sentiment, those dusty staples of the bourgeois and reactionary. Thus, an approach that is, in essence, Marxist - in the purest meaning of that term, as it were. And musical, I believe. A bossa beat, a samba rhythm.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Truman and Sook

A Christmas Memory is a short story - a memoir, really - written by Truman Capote, published in Mademoiselle magazine in 1956. Since then it's appeared in various formats. Set in Depression-era rural South, it's one of the best short stories I've ever read, my favorite, an incredible tale of friendship and loss.

Although never named, the story centers on Sook, Capote's elderly and simple-minded relative, and Buddy, the name she used for Truman. In real life, Truman's mother had abandoned him, leaving him with relatives in Monroeville, Alabama. Incidentally, Harper Lee was one of Truman's Monroeville friends; he's Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird.

(In a funny way, A Christmas Memory presages A Day's Work, a non-fiction piece he wrote for in the late-seventies for Interview, later collected in Music for Chameleons. In both stories, he and a woman occupying one of society's lower rungs wind up getting high, singing and dancing, having a merry old time until dour authority figures intrude, rain on their parade.)

On Christmas morning, the Sook character asks seven-year-old Buddy, "When you're grown up, will we still be friends?" Buddy tells her, "Always."

Not long after that immortalized Christmas, young Truman was uprooted yet again, sent off to the torture of military schools.

I believe Sook was the person he most loved, his best friend. Their four or five years together were his oasis, a time when a discarded child found an unconditional love from an adult, this 'forever-child.' He'd go on to tremendous literary success, fame and fortune, be the toast of the biggest town, but I don't think he was ever happier than he was with Sook.

Truman Capote died on August 25, 1984, at the Los Angeles home of Joanne Carson. According to her his last words were, "It's me, it's Buddy. I'm cold."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Triptych No. 1



A triptych of quartets. From Auguste Herbin: Clarity. From Andy Warhol: Repetition. From JS Bach: Order. From Antônio Carlos Jobim: Color.


For what it's worth, I operate from this viewpoint: Most canvases, most sheets of paper, look better before someone attempts a painting or a drawing. The simpler an image is is almost always a formula for a better image. I prefer to remove all traces of my hand, just reduce everything to geometry, especially those most perfect shapes: the circle and the square.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Holly Golightly, Traveling

This week I read my favorite story, Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958), for the fourth or fifth time. I'm reviewing all my Capote books, working backwards in chronological order from Answered Prayers to Other Voices, Other Rooms.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is a very short novel - a novella - but also something of a long sauntering ode to a number of women in Truman's life, the Holly Golightly character a composite. Who these women were is a matter of some speculation; many claimed Holly's tiara. One Manhattanite, Bonnie Golightly, sued (unsuccessfully) the author for libel and invasion of privacy.

The photograph at the top is of Dorian Leigh, certainly one of the Holly prototypes, a top tier fashion model and friend of Capote's whom he'd dubbed Happy Go Lucky.

Most interesting, I think, are the very striking parallels between Holly and Truman's mother: Both were born in the rural South with very similar rustic names that they changed (Holly Golightly née Lula Mae Barnes in Texas, Nina Capote née Lillie Mae Faulk in Alabama); both married as teens then deserted their husbands, and abandoned close relatives to go to New York City; both attained cachet through involvements with rich men. Nina Capote must've been Holly, Mach 1.

So, a love poem to the enigmatic female, this sliver of a strange and beautiful teenager in the apartment below: her mouth full of French phrases and American slang; a girl who lived by her wits but needed to be buzzed-in at all hours because remembering to carry a key was beyond her grasp; the new neighbor he spies late one evening in front of a saloon, the lone lass with a shipload of wartime sailors, gaily dancing with them on the sidewalk, being tossed about like "a scarf."

Eventually they meet when the dream crawls through his window in the wee hours, eluding an oaf in her bed. Holly freely spills all sorts of personal details, a cup running over. But when he asks her a question? She hates "snoops" and flees the way she came!

They become friends and grow close, share nutty adventures, before a falling out, then a reconciliation. In trouble with the law, she flies the coop, leaves the country - traveling - points, eventually, unknown. It's the story of a friendship: fleeting and haphazard, brief yet leaving a watermark on the soul.

Breakfast at Tiffany's has paragraphs - sentences! - so beautiful, so revealing, so human, that you have to take an occasion to catch your breath, to cry, to savor knowing that there was a person who could capture life with such clarity.

Also of note for the Tru believer is an even slimmer volume, A House on the Heights. Originally an article that appeared in Holiday magazine, written concurrently with Breakfast at Tiffany's, it was published in hardcover by The Little Bookroom in 2002, with an introduction by George Plympton.

Part history, part travelogue, A House on the Heights covers Brooklyn Heights, the section of New York City he was calling home. A mural is painted of the area from an idyllic 19th century inception to its hard times in the early-20th century to a present of abandoned manses being reclaimed and refurbished by ambitious young families. In this freshly-minted halcyon age, he takes the reader on a tour of the Heights' shops and restaurants, odd and alluring, sketching portraits of local characters along the way.

He insists, he could live in Manhattan, but he chooses to live where he is.

The book ends ends with Truman trailing off the beaten path, down a hill to a scraggly waterfront community, challenged by its turf-holders, The Cobras, denim 'n' leather clad fellows who seem eager to relieve the pint-size egghead of his expensive camera, before he sprints, breathless, all the way home, to the safety of his apartment in a house on the Heights.

I only saw Truman Capote once. It was in the late-seventies when I lived at 85 South St in lower Manhattan, across the street from what's now The South Street Seaport Museum. The World Trade Center loomed a few blocks on the other side of the island. It was desolate after 5:00, the only activity centered on the Fulton Fish Market a block or two to the north, even as plans were actively afoot in City Hall to transfigure the real estate into a massive tourist trap and corporate zone.

One eventide a party was being thrown on a big old boat by Robert Stigwood. A group of 85 South St peasants milled about, arms crossed, hands in pockets, watching the rich and/or famous board the yacht. We saw Jackie O. (I recall her being alone, in a short black dress, wearing sunglasses after dark - but some or all that could be a trick of memory.)

Then Truman arrived. We broke into a spontaneous ovation, whereupon he turned to us with a curtsey and a smile before joining the party
Truman Capote, photograph by Irving Penn

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The TV

"Why do you call him Mouse? He's not a mouse! He'd like to eat a mouse!"


Sunlight lazed through the picture window, glinting off cut glassware, glaring on a coffee-table top, creating a square of warmth that Mouse dozed in, one paw stretched out, his tail twitching occasionally.


The TV was on, a Western in progress, two cowboy pals on their horses, running down outlaws. An old woman and a little curly-haired boy sat on her sofa, watching. He liked it now, just them. At first his older sister came along. When she chose the program, it bored him. At eight she yearned toward a sophistication of sorts: Art Linkletter, Virginia Graham, The Edge of Night.


Then she lost interest in visiting. Now it was just Mouse, Miss Gardner and her "gentleman caller." He didn't understand that phrase, it was over his five-year-old head, but he enjoyed being called that. And he enjoyed being doted on. Without Wendy, he got all the oatmeal cookies and his choice of the TV fare, Westerns: The Cisco Kid at the top of the list.


Mouse was mouse gray with white paws and a white belly and a white vee on his face. He rose from his patch of sun, arched his back, sauntered over for pets, trundled to his food bowl in the kitchen, stopping half-way there to shake a rear leg.


Miss Gardner wore print dresses and smelled of lilac, her was hair salt and pepper. She lived alone, just Mouse and her. Whatever the boy said she weighed as if it was of great gravity. He liked that. He told her, "When I grow up I want to be the Cisco Kid. And you can be Pancho!" She nodded while looking into his eyes and said, "We'll have six-shooters. You'll ride a golden palomino, and I'll ride a spotted roan. When we see banditos, we'll shoot 'em dead!" She held up her hand like a pistol, index finger pointed, thumb cocked, and said, "Pow! Pow!" His feet kicked a little.


No one else ever had time to listen closely to much of what he said, grown-ups were too busy, and Wendy told him he was a pest. When his parents said mm-hmm he knew they weren't really listening. But Miss Gardner cared. She listened.


He came over almost every day. Until one day he didn't.


There was no formal break or good-bye. He was just a little older, too old to spend afternoons with an old woman, even if she offered cookies. Now he had friends his own age, new kids on the block. They chased after Indians or Germans, then cars and girls. From her living room window, as Mouse slept, she watched them.


He grew taller, his soft features hardened a little, crept to adulthood. His curls got very long, hippyish. They'd see each other once in a blue moon at the market or around the corner. One summer she hired him to mow her lawn. But they didn't talk very much, their era was in a box on a shelf. Then early one morning, getting the paper from her porch, she saw the moving van.


By evening it was packed and the family, the boy, gone.


He swiped the plastic card through the metal slot, opened the door. Another Marriott room, he was sick of them. Pushing 60 he'd hoped to be done with this. But the best laid plans of mice and early-retirement and a forever-marriage went up in a poof in the crater that was 2008. That meant more conferences, more years. So be it. At least I have some money, my health.


With time the bounce of youth was, bit by bit, replaced with gray and sag and stout and wrinkle and ache. His long curls were long gone, what remained was clipped in a business cut. He told himself, "I need to start exercising." But he knew he wouldn't.


Before mixing a scotch and soda at the mini-bar, he stripped out of his suit, down to a comfy T-shirt, boxers and slippers, set the AC to a gentle cool, thinking, "I'd prefer the option of opening a window."


On the bed, remote in hand, drink in the other, clicking through the myriad channels, he happened on something that rang a distant bell, an old B&W TV Western featuring a heroic Mexican and his silly sidekick. "Huh," he thought, "I remember this show! I haven't seen it in a million years..."


It triggered memories: lilac, oatmeal cookies, a cat purring in the sunlight.


Like a vivid dream it came back, those afternoons with Miss Gardner. She'd seemed so ancient back then, older (even) than his parents. In retrospect she may've only been 50. "Younger than me today," he murmured.


What could've happened to her? She can't be alive. How did she die? I hope it wasn't painful. Was she alone? God, I hope it wasn't painful.


The program played on. Lost in thought he didn't hear horses galloping in a desert, barroom brawls, breaking glass, bullets ricocheting off boulders.


Without realizing he'd been drinking, his glass was empty. He got up to make another, but on the way, stopped. Slumping, his face contorted as he thought of days that were green with promise, afternoons that stretched to a far-flung horizon, when he was the center of someone's universe.


The show was coming to its close.


"Good-bye, amigos!" said Cisco.


"See you, soon! Ha!" said Pancho.