The Artist’s almanac for Dec. 10th, 2017

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Olivier Messiaen and Richard Pryor.

“Two things people throughout history have had in common are hatred and humor. I am proud that I have been able to use humor to lessen people’s hatred.” – Richard Pryor

The Artist’s Almanac for Dec 9th, 2017

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Trumbo, Douglas, Lovelace.

To Althea, from Prison.

When love with unconfined wings

Hovers within my gates,

And my divine Althea brings

To whisper at the grates;

When I lie tangled in her hair

And fettered to her eye,

The gods that wanton in the air

Know no such liberty.


When flowing cups run swiftly round,

With no allaying Thames,

Our careless heads with roses bound,

Our hearts with loyal flames;

When thirsty grief in wine we steep,

When healths and draughts go free,

Fishes that tipple in the deep

Know no such liberty.


When like committed linnets I

With shriller throat shall sing

The sweetness, mercy, majesty,

And glories of my King:

When I shall voice aloud how good

He is, how great should be,

Enlarged winds, that curl the flood,

Know no such liberty.


Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage:

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage.

If I have freedom in my love,

And in my soul am free,

Angels alone, that soar above,

Enjoy such liberty.


Richard Lovelace 1617-1657

The Artist’s almanac for Dec 8th, 2017

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Rivera, Schell, Wilson, and Lennon.

In 1968, John Lennon expressed an interest in overseeing the production of a movie based on his first two books, ‘In His Own Write’ and ‘A Spaniard In The Works.’ While a film of his books was never made, a play was produced. Victor Spinetti directed the play adaptation, entitled ‘In His Own Write.’ The play opened June 18th 1968 at the Old Vic Theatre in London. A book of the screenplay written by Adrienne Kennedy and Victor Spinetti based on John’s characters was also published in 1968.On June 6th 1968, Peter Lewis chatted with Lennon and Spinetti about the new play. The filmed interview would air on BBC-2 as part of the arts program ‘Release.’

John discusses the impetus for his short-story writing as an early expression of his lifelong attitudes, and describes the meaning behind a few of the characters and concepts in the books and play.

During the discussion, Lennon mentions ‘Beanos,’ referring to the popular, long-running comic book in Britain. The Beano was first published in 1938, and still continues as a popular magazine today.

Victor Spinetti is famous for his acting roles in the Beatles’ first two motion pictures, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Help!’ as well as their made-for-TV film ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’

In the Sixties, the Old Vic Theatre was the home of the National Theatre Company, who have since found a permanent home at the Royal National Theatre in Lambeth. These days, the Old Vic Theatre is well looked after — with Kevin Spacey as the artistic director, Lord Attenborough on the Trust Board, and Sir Elton John as Chairman of the Board.

– Jay Spangler,

JOHN: “When I saw the rehearsal of it, I got quite emotional, as if I’d written it. I mean, I knew in my heart of hearts who was who and what the book was saying, but not enough. I was too involved with it when it was written. And any criticism it had was either just rubbish or still only writing about what was on the paper. So it took something like this to happen to make me see what I was about THEN, you know.”Q: “Well, an awful lot of the play is about radio and TV.”

JOHN: “Well I mean, that’s all I ever heard, didn’t I.”

Q: “Yeah.”

JOHN: “I mean you go home…”

VICTOR: “Comic books. You got the church…”

JOHN: (comically) “You got your comic books, your classic comics, your Beanos.”

VICTOR: (comically) “Your church. Your classic comics. Your School.”

JOHN: “Aye! Your School, your pub, and your TV, and your radio.”

Q: “Exactly.”

JOHN: “And that’s it.”

Q: “Funny thing you didn’t put in pop music.”

JOHN: “No, because up ’til then it hadn’t hit me. Pop music didn’t hit me ’til I was 16 and this is all before. The things that happened before 16.”

VICTOR: “But it’s not really John’s childhood. It’s all of ours, really. Isn’t it, John?”

JOHN: (giggling) “It is. We’re all one, Victor. We’re all one, aren‘t we.”

VICTOR: “It is, you know.”

JOHN: “I mean, what’s going on?”

Q: “There’s another thing about this boy. And that is, he won’t talk plain English. He invents his own language…”

JOHN: “Yeah.”

Q: “…which is what you did when you started writing, when your books started coming out.”

JOHN: “Well, yeah. That was just a hangover from school, you know. I mean, I used to make the lads laugh with that scene, talking like that, and writing poetry. I used to write them and just give them to friends to laugh at, and that was the end of it. So when they all go down in a book, when it turns into a book or a play, etcetera, etcetera, it’s just my style of humor.”

Q: “Instead of saying ‘for example’ as I was going to, say ‘forsample.'”

VICTOR: “Forsample, yes! And ‘He was astoundaghast’!”

JOHN: “Well, some of them… ‘cuz I was never any good at spelling, all me life. You know, I never quite got the idea of spelling. English and writing, fine. But actually spelling the words. So… And also I typed a lot of the book, and I can only do it very slowly with a finger. So the stories would be very short because I couldn’t be bothered going on.”

VICTOR: (laughs)

JOHN: “And also I’d spell it as you say it, like Latin really, you know. Or just try and do it the simplest way to get it over with. ‘Cuz all I’m trying to do is tell a story, and what the words is spelt like is irrelevant, really. But if they make you laugh because the word used to be spelt like that, that’s great. But the thing is, the story. And the sound of the word.”

Q: “A lot of people wrote about your book and said “Oh! James Joyce, Edward Lear,” and so on. What did you think when they said that?”

JOHN: “Well, when they said James Joyce I hadn’t… I must have come across him at school but we hadn’t done him like I remember doing Shakespeare and remember doing so-and-so. I remember doing Chaucer a bit, or somebody like him doing funny words. But I don’t remember Joyce, you see. So, the first thing they say — ‘Oh! He’s read James Joyce,’ you know. So I hadn’t. And so the first thing I do is buy Finnigan’s Wake and read a chapter. And it’s great, you know, and I dug it, and I felt as though he’s an old friend. But I couldn’t make it right through the book, and so I read a chapter of Finnigan’s Wake and that was the end of it. So now I know what they’re talking about. But I mean, he just went… he just didn’t stop, you know. Yeah.”

Q: “What actually, though, had you read that you KNOW was important to you when you were young?”

JOHN: “Only kids books, you know. Alice In Wonderland. The poems are all from Jabberwocky… started me into that kick.”

Q: “Did it.”

JOHN: “And drawing. I started trying to draw like Ronald Searle when I was about eight. So there was Jabberwocky and Ronald Searle I was turning into by the time I was thirteen. You know, I was determined to be Lewis Carroll (giggles) with a hint of Ronald Searle.”

Q: “Were you a Sherlock Holmes reader? ”

JOHN: “No. I had a holiday, after we first made it big as Beatles, in Tahiti. And there was nothing else on the boat but books. And Tahiti, we’re on all those Islands, great, but I still got into reading. So I was writing ‘Spaniard In The Works’ and I knew… I never got past a story longer than a page. So I read a whole stack — sort of ‘The Madman’s Sherlock Holmes’ where you get all the stories in one, and realized that every story was the same story. So I just wrote one ‘Shamrock Womlbs’ after three weeks of Sherlock Holmes in Tahiti. And that was the end of it.”

Q: “There’s a very, very sad poem at the end of the play about Kakky Hargreaves who is some sort of person whose name changes during the poem who’s gone lost. Who was Kakky Hargreaves?”

JOHN: “Well, nobody, you know. It was Kakky, or Cathy, or Tammy. So it was all those people. But the point is that you GOT it — the sadness that I wrote into it. But after you write something, a song or anything, you get the sadness and then you perform it or you put it on paper and then that’s gone. And the only way you get the joy back of writing it or the sadness back, is when somebody like Victor or somebody else comes and reads it to you, or acts it out. Like, when I first saw the rehearsal of the play, and they said these words back to me and I got the sadness from Kakky Hargreaves like I’d never heard it before.”

Q: “You wrote that one when you were very young.”

JOHN: “Yes. That was, sort of, pre-Beatle. Eighteen. Nineteen.”

VICTOR: (laughs)

Q: “And have you written lately?”

JOHN: “Well I write, I think, all the time. So I mean, it’s the same. I actually don’t put it on paper so much these days, but it goes into songs — A lot of the same energy that went into those poems. I don’t know what I actually do with the thoughts, but they come out either on film, or on paper, or on tape. I’ve just got lots of tape, which, I suppose if I put onto paper it would be a book. But it’s just a matter of, do I want to make those tapes into paper or make the tapes into records.”

Q: “Does it feel the same to you when you’re writing something on paper and when you’re writing a song lyric?”

JOHN: “It does now. In the old days I used to think, if song writing was this… you know, ‘I love you and you love me,’ and my writing was something else, you know. Even if I didn’t think of it quite like that. But I just realized through Dylan and other people… BOB Dylan, not Thomas… that it IS the same thing. That’s what I didn’t realize being so naive — that you don’t write pop songs, and then you DO THAT, and then you DO THAT. Everything you do is the same thing, so do it the same way. But sometimes I’ll write lyrics to a song first and then I’ll get the same feeling as Kakky Hargreaves or a poem and then write the music to it after. So then it’s a poem, sung. But sometimes the tune comes and then you just put suitable words to fit the tune. If the tune is (sings) ‘Doodle-loodle loodle-leh,’ and then you have ‘Shag-a-boo choo-cha.’ You know, you have sound-words then, just the sound of it. ‘Cuz it IS all sound. Everything is vibrations, I believe, you know. Everything is sound, really, or vision. And just, the difference between sound and vision I’m not quite sure about. But its all just (imitates a vibrating sound) ‘vuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh.'”

Q: “The boy (in the play) hates a lot of things and, in a way, you could say you were attacking these things — like, organized religion, and the way people teach you in school.”

JOHN: “I feel the same now, really, about organized religion, education, and all those things that everybody is still laughing at. But I mean, I expressed it THAT way THEN. I don’t know how I’d express it now, you know. It’d be slightly different really. I’ve always sort of suspected that there was a God, even when I thought I was an atheist. But I beleive it, so I am full of compassion, really, even still. I just hate things less strenuously than I did. I haven’t got as big of a chip about it, because maybe I’ve escaped out of it a bit. I think our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. And I think that’s what I sussed when I was sixteen and twelve, way down the line. But I expressed it differently all through my life. It’s the same thing I’m expressing all the time. But NOW I can put it into that sentence that I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends, you know. If anybody can put on paper what our government, and the American government, and the Russian, Chinese… what they are all trying to do, and what they THINK they’re doing, I’d be very pleased to know what they think they’re doing. I think they’re all insane. But I am liable to be put away as insane for expressing that, you know. That’s what is insane about it. I mean, don’t you agree?”

Q: “I do, actually.”

JOHN: “It’s not just a bit strange. It’s just INSANE, and nobody knows. Half the people watching this are going to be saying, ‘What’s he saying! What’s he saying!’ You know… That you are being run by people who are insane, and you don’t know.”

VICTOR: “We are living in insane times, aren’t we, you know. We really are.”

Q: “Yeah. And the thing that you feel, all the way through, is that — there is this boy trying to get out.”

VICTOR: (laughs)

JOHN: “Well, I did, you see. (giggles) I got out. But that’s just a sort of picture of somebody who is still in it. I mean, you get out in your mind.”

Q: “Yeah, all the time he is dreaming his way out.”

JOHN: “But I mean, you do, until you actually physically get out of it.”

Q: “Dream your way out into being Sherlock Holmes or…”

JOHN: “Whatever.”

VICTOR: (agreeing) “Whatever.”

Q: “At the end of the play there’s this big family group and there’s a great big family row.”

JOHN: (to Victor) “Is there?”

VICTOR: “Yes. Brummer Striving.”

JOHN: “Oh! Brummer Striving.”

Q: “It’s all about Brummer Striving.”

JOHN: “Yeah.”

Q: “Do tell us about Brummer Striving.”

JOHN: (giggling) “Brummer Striving is Brummer Striving — all those jobs that people have that they don’t want. And there’s probably about 90 percent Brummer Strivers watching in at the moment.”

VICTOR: “Yeah.”

JOHN: “But you don’t have to be a Brummer Striver, you see. It depends how involved in Brummer Striving you are. But Brummer Striving — Paul explained it at the beginning of the book. Uhh, it doesn’t… (giggling) What does he say he was saying? (paraphrasing) ‘What is Brummer Striving? It isn’t anything.'”

The Artist’s Almanac for Dec 7th, 2017 Cather – Chapin

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Cather, Chapin, and a poem by Harry Chapin.

Here are the words of Chapin’s epitaph, taken from his song, “I Wonder What Would Happen.”

Oh if a man tried

to take his time on Earth

And prove before he died

What one man’s life could be worth

I wonder what would happen

to this world

To get involved, go to The Harry Chapin Foundation for more information.

To get involved, go to The Harry Chapin Foundation for more information.

The Artist’s Almanac for Dec 6th, 2017 Gershwin – Moorehead – Howe

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Gershwin, Moorehead and a poem by Marie Howe.


We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.
Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.
And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

A poem by Marie Howe, reprinted from “When She Named Fire,” ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009. First published in “The Kingdom of Ordinary Time: Poems” by Marie Howe, W.W. Norton, 2008. 

The Artist’s Almanac for Dec 5th, 2017 Mozart – Disney – Kasischke

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Mozart, Disney, and a poem by Laura Kasischke.

Recall the Carousel

Recall the carousel. Its round and round.
Its pink lights blinking off and on.
The children’s faces painted garish colors against
an institutional wall. And the genetics. The
We won’t be here too long Do not step off
The carousel? Do you recall? As if
we were our own young parents suffering again
after so many hundreds of hours of bliss.
And even the startling fact that
what had always been feared might come to pass:
A familiar sweater in a garbage can.
A surgeon bent over our baby, wearing a mask.
But surely you recall
how happily and for how long
we watched our pretty hostages go round.
They waved at us too many times to count.
Their dancing foals. Their lacquered mares. Even
a blue-eyed hunting hound
was still allowed back then.

A poem by Laura Kasischke. Her new book of poetry, “Where Now: New and Selected Poems” from Copper Canyon Press can be found here, or wherever you buy your books.

The Artist’s almanac for Dec 4th, 2017 Britten – Wilson – Hostovsky

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Britten, Wilson, and a poem by Paul Hostovsky

One Ambition by Paul Hostovsky

All I ever really wanted
was to whistle with my fingers—

I knew I would never
be the one up on stage

blowing everybody away
with beauty, brilliance, virtuosity…

But to be the lightning
inside the thunderous applause,

to have the audacity
and the manual dexterity

to make a siren screeching
through a dark auditorium,

to be the killer hawk
in all that parroting, pattering rain,

to be, finally, the very best at praise—
now that was something

I thought that if I gave my life to
I might attain.

From his newly released collection of poems, “Is That What That Is“, published by FutureCycle Press, 2017.