March 23, 1989
Poet Bob Trammel, his girlfriend, Allison, and I are in a house that extends over a riverbank on a swiftly flowing river. Through a window, I see a larger-than-life water buffalo swimming against the current toward the house. My first thought is that the buffalo is so big it will crash into the house and sweep it into the river. I watch in amazement as the water buffalo clambers up the almost vertical riverbank, defying gravity. Before I can tell Trammel what’s happening, the buffalo is walking on the roof of the house. Each step is loud, and I think it’s trying to crush the house. I ask Bob if he knows what’s happening. He seems unconcerned, and I think: He doesn’t hear me or the buffalo – I may be dreaming.
I look out the window again, and more water buffalo are swimming toward the house. I must confront the largest buffalo. She exudes great power, but I feel I can tame her. I jump into the river, swim over, and scramble onto her back. Then she turns and begins swimming to the other side of the river. On the riverbank, she turns into a normal, calm water buffalo, and I slide off onto the ground.
Roxy Pays a Visit
Jan. 9, 1989
My friend, the writer Roxy Gordon, and I are standing beside each other, watching life-sized skeletons dancing in the air. The sounds of rattling bones surround us. Suddenly, I turn into an owl, and I hoot three times deeply, hoo, hoo, hoo. Then I’m awake in my bed, and I’m still hooting in the dark. Who, who, who?
Fly Me to the Moon
May 27, 1989
I’m in a small room talking with a monk. He doesn’t want to answer my questions. He’s called away and leaves me alone in the house. I look through the rooms for books, poems or writing of any type to read. I find a magazine and some old books about stars. I see a scroll painting sticking out from under the monk’s bed. I feel cheap and phony for nosing around behind his back.
Then the monk returns, and we are standing outside in the dark. There’s a threat of danger from somewhere, and the monk says, okay. Suddenly, we’re flying through the vast, cold sky with the moon on our right. We fly through space until we suddenly enter heaven. We turn around and fly faster, downward toward Earth. Then a spacecraft is shooting at us. The monk creates a cloud cover to enter Earth’s atmosphere undetected. Suddenly, I notice several hundred babies are flying behind us and they are in our care — all pure and ready to be born.
When we land on Earth, the babies disappear, and I say, “Be careful, they’ll try to get you.” Then I’m back in the monk’s room. We’re aware someone is searching for us, and we have to leave.
What did Van Gogh know and how did he know it? This is the latest picture (sort of) of the beginning of the universe, taken of a patch of sky showing the temperature and polarization of cosmic microwaves from the end of the Big Bang, as reflected by dust swirling in the magnetic field of the Milky Way. The story from The New York Times is here. (Credit European Space Agency)
Philip Larkin comes under the scalpel again, but this time the hand is friendly. The book, Philip Larkin – Life, Art and Love, takes a look what’s become a focal point of the great poet’s life and work: his seemingly banal Life as a librarian (I never shared that view – library work is richly rewarding for the literary inclined), his Art, which suffered tragic abuse when several critics and higher journalists blurred the picture by noting some seemingly racist and sexist language in his collected letters followed by a respected biography noting the same thing. And along with all that, his secretive Love life was exposed, which came as a shock and added spice to the staid picture he had painted of himself as a bored, suburban bachelor in a staid, middle class town.
Life, Art and Love are given a therapeutic scrubbing in this book, returning him to the shelf of normal, healthy souls who chose to live their life in semi-seclusion and not in the public eye. After all, Larkin’s true charm came from presenting himself as being un-Byron and un-Shelley, and, yet, he is, for our time, as great as the greatest British poets.
Larkin’s steadfast champion over the years, Clive James, gives the book high marks for setting the record straight and throwing water on whatever fainting spells caused the sniping in the first place.
This is an independent Western shot in the early 70s with two worthy performances by Cliff Potts, who is terrifically good in this movie but whose career never reached the heights he seemed capable of, and Harry Dean Stanton. It was produced by Elliot Kastner, who did some interesting independent films. He produced Tom McGuane’s modern revisionist Western, Rancho Deluxe, and the hilarious classic, Missouri Breaks (great dialogue).
The story is stark, the dialogue is scarce, but good, and the villains are a troop of US Army cavalry who hunt down an Indian girl and rape her. Earlier, Potts’ character befriends the girl and they fell in love. After witnessing the rape, he sets out to revenge her death. He’s a convincing gunslinger who meets the fate of a lot of gunslingers: he’s shot in the back. Harry Dean appears in key scenes at the beginning and end. Good performances by James Gannon (who stared in several Sam Shepard plays) and others. It was a time when a lot of talent was underused in Hollywood, and this film shows what can be done on a small budget when in the hands of good filmmakers.
Some critics faulted the filmmakers for not having a “payoff” for viewers at the end. The girl is raped, dies, and the hero is shot dead. That’s real storytelling. The film fails because you want a happy ending? Spare me…
Here’s an essential new book by Greil Marcus, our best writer and social critic on Rock, Blues and early American music. The premise is 10 Rock songs as a way to approach the intertwined history of Rock music. He has an uncanny knack of taking a knife and opening up the heart of songs, putting you inside the music, making you wish for a compilation of the songs he illuminates. The choices are not what you’d expect – some are very obscure – leaving you wishing you had his ears and knowledge to “read” the music. Here’s an interview.