Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Veteran's Day in New York City With Gershwin in My Ears
"Yes, We Can!" The terrorists of Afghanistan; They must be killed or they will kill us!
An American in New York City
Oh how damn American old George Gershwin was. He was unsprung right in the middle of a golden age in this country, an age of dancing, mysterious poetry, lyrics that were leading on stairways up to stars, and American music that was cracking out of eggshells all over the country and Gershwin heard it coming through windows of his family flat and later through windows of the Tin Pan Alley joints (they were directly south of my apartment) in which he peddled his tunes. Sounds. The old sounds. The sounds of the els; the old trucks; the trolleys; the horse-drawn conveyances; the arias of pushcart peddlers; the bell sounds when the street lights changed from Stop to Go or vice versa; the gongings of church bells; the sad calls of the boats out on the Hudson; and there were Steinway pianos that had such glistening tones, American tones coming from the best god-damn pianos in the world, Steinway pianos, made by Henry Steinway and his family in Queens, New York, and showcased in Steinway Hall on 42nd Street. Just think: Forty-Second Street before it was Disneyfied. Now Mickey Mouse produces our Broadway plays and musicals--but then, Mickey is American, too. I despise Walt Disney so much and what the Disney commercialization of Times Square has done to bring down the scintillating city sounds that inspired Gershwin to write Rhapsody in Blue, The I Got Rhythm Variations, The Second Rhapsody for Piano & Orchestra, and the Piano Concerto in F. And Gershwin went to Paris and he was that American in Paris that Nadia Boulanger who loved those nice sweet American boys said she couldn't handle. He was too wild for her. And for a while American musicians were too wild for the rest of the world. A music without perimeters; without gold standards based on European modes, especially German modes.
And Gershwin's Preludes! Have you heard those? Especially Prelude 1, Alegro ben ritmato e deciso--it's only going to take one minute and 19 seconds of your time to listen to it. I'm listening to it now played in 1944 out in Hollywood by Gershwin's old friend and a guy that meant a lot to me growing up for his showmanship, his wit, his intelligence, and his pianistic skills, Oscar Levant.
The Great Oscar Levant
The new sounds of New York City are those of the rasping sounds of garbage trucks crunching up tons and tons of garbage all day and night long; the hammering madness and explosive booms and bangs of the hundreds of construction sites around town festering like boils on the disturbed peace of our once-settled neighborhoods; the sounds and odors of diesel-smoking tour buses grinding down now gutter-filthy Fifth Avenue on their tours of the upchucks of garbage, trash, flotsam, spilled out over the sidewalks and streets--I see styrofoam containers from the Muslim fast-food carts up against building walls all up and down my block--some with swabs of rice still sticking to them; the sound of the European siren on emergency vehicles--gone the old American wailing siren--the siren of the Sirens! I'm being an old fogey about New York City these days--I know, I know. The flushing in of a new crowd of young aspirants to fame and fortune by the minute are whole-hog thrilled and excited about today's New York City. While I sit here bitching about my city's changing face and styles, these new wide-eyers don't know it any other way. Two-thousand-a-month rent to them is chicken feed. Most of them have just graduated college with debts already larger than any debt I acquired in my whole life time. They have grown up totally irresponsively, not understanding money, going deep into debt before they've gotten their first job.
Nostalgia is so fixed to be always better than what's with us in the present; yet, I see it literarily as the same just continuing as is continuing, as Gertrude Stein would write it, being she's a writer who sits and writes and writes what she writes because writing is simply describing in written words the continuing present, life always in the present tense, flowing along like a novel, like a novel flows like a river or babbling brook--Virginia Woolf drowned herself in a babbling brook--they reason she had to force her head down into the about foot and a half of water to make the drowning work.
Like when I'm listening to Gershwin and thinking about what a wonderful time of American creative genius his times were I tend to overlook the fact that all during that time of American creative breakaways there were wars going on, there was utter poverty, rich White men were jumping out Wall Street hi-floor windows (why they quit putting windows that opened in office skyscrapers--the buildings in the oldest section of Rockefeller Center still have what we call "suicide windows," windows you could raise and jump out of easy. Plus, too, there was segregation all over this Land of the Free and Home of the Brave and especially in New York City. And nowhere was this segregation felt any stronger than on the music scene of which Gershwin was a main part.
I'm rereading Billie Holiday's Lady Sings the Blues (actually written by William Dufty) and Lady Day keeps bringing up how racially divided New York City was during most of her life, how segregated it was and how ignorantly and pompous most White people were in New York City. Here's what Billie said about her first introduction to 52nd Street, at one time the "Jazz street"--with club after club along both sides of the street:
You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation. Take 52nd Street in the late thirties and early forties. It was supposed to be a big deal. 'Swing Street,' they called it. Joint after joint was jumping. It was this 'new' kind of music. They could get away with calling it new because millions of squares hadn't taken a trip to 131st Street. If they had they could have dug swing for twenty years. By the time the ofays got around to copping 'swing' a new-style music was already out all over uptown. Ten years later that became the newest thing when the white boys downtown figured out how to cop it. Anyway, white musicians were 'swinging' from one end of 52nd Street to the other, but there wasn't a black face in sight on the street except Teddy Wilson and me. Teddy played intermission piano at the Famous Door and I sang. There was no cotton to be picked between Leon and Eddie's and the East River, but man, it was a plantation any way you looked at it. And we had to not only look at it, we lived in it. We were not allowed to mingle any kind of way. The minute we were finished with our intermission stint we had to scoot out back to the alley or go out and sit in the street (p. 97, Lady Sings the Blues, Penguin Books, 1984 (originally published in 1956, three years before Billie passed in 1959, the same year Prez passed)).
That's what nostalgia, especially a White man's nostalgia glosses over. Today's White New York Citians are totally unaware of the bitter division between Blacks and Whites in the history of New York City right up to the present day. Unemployment among Whites in New York City, the statisticians say, is 10.9%--among Black males it's 17%--the more cynical Blacks say the figure is closer to 50%.
Don't get me wrong, there are a hell of a lot of well-off Black people in New York City. Whatever the racial tensions here, it's still the best "mixed" city in the USA. It's an International city except for the NYPD and the NYFD and the Mayor and the heads of the City Council who are racists. I live in a building where an English-speaking White is in the minority--though under the new landlord and the new rents young Whites are moving into the building at a rapid rate. My floor's current make up is me, the White guy; my nextdoor neighbor's Black; across the hall is a Vietnamese couple; in the main hallway is a Euro-trash family who most of the floor think are at best Baltic gypsies; next to them is a Chinese couple; next to them a single Chinese woman; around on the back hall there are two single Korean women, one single Korean man, and finally the Black bike racer. I'm the only White on my floor. Above us in the penthouse are single White guys, usually Euro-trash kids that are working for a European bank that has rented the penthouse on a yearly basis for the past 10 years at least.
New York City, however, is a very White ruled and owned city. Most of New York City buildings are owned by American and foreign Whites. If you are White in this town, yep, you've got the most privileges and the most chances at success. The first up the highest rungs of the ladders of success here in New York City are the Whites.
When I was a curtain climber it was called Armistice Day. It celebrated the end of World War I--remember that war? That was "the War to end all wars!" Woodrow Wilson became such a cocky son of a bitch trying to maneuver American's big white ass so it could butt into every country's affairs since without US involvement in WWI, Europe would be goosestepping to the Kaiser's pre-Nazi Nazi forces--with the steel helmets with spikes sticking out the tops of them.
War and warriors even in peace continue to motivate us; continue to send us off on these warring wild goose chases.
Though I had no choice back in my day, I had to join the army and was in the Army Reserves for 6 years, I am not considered a veteran. Let me clarify. I, for instance, can't join the VFW because I never went to a foreign war. I can't join the American Legion for the same reason. I'm a home-side veteran. If I'd a'gone on and gone to 'Nam like I was suppose to, even though I would have simply touched soil there and then shipped right back over here (like Lyndon "Big Balls" Johnson did his war photo-op--he flew over to VietNam in a B-57, touched down, waved, got back onboard and flew his ass straight back to the good ole USA)--even if that had of been the extent of my foreign-war service, I would be considered the kind of veteran who will be marching in today's Veteran's Day Parade here in New York City, making up just 3 blocks from my apartment down on 27th and Fifth or Madison.
I still have a summer field camouflage jacket from my military service--I was thinking of putting it on and going over and marching with the Veterans for Peace--I could do that--they are usually at the tailend of the parade so perhaps nobody will see them. Veterans for Peace are an embarrassment to the old Vets who march in these parades. Old soldiers looking for attention they never get usually. Old Legionaires and Vets of Foreign Wars and DAVs with their old uniforms on and their Legionaire cunt caps (I wonder if they still call them cunt caps now that there are ladies in the military? I also wonder, why the hell would a woman join the military? What would possess them to want to subject themselves to such humiliation and degradation; plus an equal opportunity to be killed or maimed or psyched out for life along with the male canon fodder).
I watched President Obama shielding himself behind a standing tall speech down at Fort Hood in Texas yesterday and today. Shielding himself in that he in a few weeks is going to have to announce that he as commander and chief is going to have to send some of that young canon fodder he was down there to commisserate with over the MUSLIM-looking major from the Old Dominion (born and raised in Virginia) who the Feds are now madly connecting to all kinds of Al Queda clerics running Al Queda terrorist cells all across the USA from L.A. all the way out to Queens right here in New York City wiping out 13 recruits (both the Major and these recruits were on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Major for his second tour). I thought it odd the carryings on of Obama over these 13 raw recruit canon fodder getting blown away before they could be blown away or maimed in Iraq or Afghanistan--BULLETIN: did you know 2,000 Iraqi vets died last year because they had no healthcare or medical coverage? At the same time, no such fol de rol is celebrated over the coffins of the hundreds of dead US troops coming into Andrews Air Force Base daily from our two wars of occupation. Yet, here was the President on his knees in prayer before these poor bastard Fort Hood canon fodders's coffins--all draped with flags--and covered with wreaths and tears and in his speech he made mention of "faiths" that allowed such a terrible unforgiveable action--adding that no God would never approve of such actions--isn't that hypocrisy. As if this military man, a military psychiatrist, was more influenced by his terrorist training and Muslim ideals than he was by the thousands of mental cases he had to deal with on a daily basis in his military service--a career military man--he'd been in the army since he was a teenager?
And here is our hypocritical President praising HIS soldiers for their "sacrifices"--he being the high priest who is sacrificing them up to our God of War is fixing to deploy 34,000 (the figure changes daily--at first it was 22,000 then it zoomed up, going up as high as 50,000) tired and weary soldiers over to Afghanistan, where Americans are getting killed now daily in double figures. And there our President was carrying on so patriotically over these 13 poor young bastards--poor bastards--unable to get a job in the real world so they out of desperation join the armed forces and these military recruiting jerks are now going all the way down into junior high schools to do their recruiting. Soon President Obama will make a speech in which he will justify using 15 and 16 year olds as canon fodder when the Afghanistan War (an occupation not a war) spills over into Pakistan--where nuclear bombs are lying around in some weakly guarded underground facility just waiting for a Taliban or Al Queda batallion to bust into it and come out hurling nuclear weapons at the rest of the heathen world. Only Allah is the true God; NO, only Yahweh (YHWH) is the true God. That Allah and Yahweh mean the same thing, "the only true God" in Arabic and Hebrew is of no concern to us true believers--"Allah Allah Ack Bar" becomes "Hallelujah!" or vice versa.
Such idiocy. Such human waste and material waste. These occupations have broken this country's back; yet we pretend it is all godly justifiable. All the things broken about us will somehow repair themselves--like in nanotechnology. Our trade deficit is way over 4 trillion dollars--that means We the People of the USA now import more than we export--can you believe that? Our clothes are made in Southeast Asia. Our pig meat, our chicken meat, all our veggies and fruits are imported. Our automobiles are mostly imported--even though they may be assembled in the USA. Ford made bushel baskets of profits this past quarter thanks to the government assistance and the clunker bailout deals and also don't forget Ford was the one car company who wasn't going bankrupt. The reason for our auto industry's collapse? After WWII, in order to keep territorial control over Japan, Gen. Douglas MacArthur first of all put American-style banking into place there. Then General Motors (check out the name Malcolm Baldridge) retooled all the Japanese military industries, Mitsubishi, Datsun (they changed their name to Nissan to avoid a connection to WWII), Toyota into automobile manufacturers. Later we gave away our culture to the Japanese: RCA-Victor, Columbia Records (as CBS) took our recording industry over there and made Japan a major player in the recording business. Sony would later buy all our television technology, our recording archives and our movie archives to become today the largest entertainment business in the world.
Even our oil is imported. Even our steel. Even our green industry is coming into this country from Denmark and South Vietnam (believe it or not) and is not originating in this country. Our cell phones are made in Finland. What oil production we still have in this country is owned by British Petroleum and Dutch Shell. The only thing we still produce the most of in the world are weapons of mass destruction. We are the biggest weapons dealers in the world. Our military budget is by far the largest military budget in the history of the world. We spend more on killing ourselves and other people than we spend on peace and life without the threat of death! The old soldiers are proudly marching in the Veteran's Day Parade--neglected the rest of the year this is their day for a little glory. It's so sad to see how on a day that supposedly celebrates PEACE, the end of WWI, we instead are celebrating our national institution of WAR and justifying through sacrifice and God our failings in these unwinable wars.
And these are not WARS we're currently trumpeting the necessity of--these are OCCUPATIONS, the result of illegal preemptive strikes, invasions--Afghanistan the first. Why we decided to invade and occupy Afghanistan started long before 9/11. Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11. There is no evidence even that Osama bin Laden ever said he masterminded 9/11; in fact, the only tape of him commenting on it he denies he had anything to do with it. Yet, because of him, we invaded and are still trying to occupy this ancient country that has never had a peaceful regime and has a history of invasions and occupations from the git go--a nation that Russia warned us was unconquerable and might even be our downfall.
President Obama is such a disappointment. The power of being the commander and chief has gone to his head just as it went to the empty head of G.W. Bush, who is still living the good life down in Big D--why right now he's asking Pickles if she's got any spare pot--he's got a little pain in his right shoulder--probably from playing too much golf. I see where the big G.W. Bush-Slick Willie Clinton debate has been canceled!
Obama's speeches nowadays ring insincere. The rhetoric is even deflating, becoming monotonous, repetitive, full of hot air and dishonest information! Like George McGovern once hollered, we got to run these rascals out of Washington--completely reengineer our government--completely clean house--I mean I'm talking revolution.
I know. I'm way on the other side of the universe when it comes to a revolution happening in this country. Another Civil War maybe, but no real revolution.
We the People are dutifully going down with our sinking ship of state while the same old captains and crews try to keep us floating on oceans of dreams!
for The Daily Growler