Monday, December 19, 2022

I ♥ Martha Wells

I've read science fiction now and then, and I'm a big fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but I wouldn't say I'm a huge sci-fi fan. 

But I've gotten into the work of Martha Wells in the past year, specifically her Murderbot Diaries and the series is really great. I even wrote a one-act play based on it, but I couldn't get permission to perform it from Wells' literary rep. Supposedly Murderbot has been optioned for a TV series, so maybe that's what the problem is.

The protagonist, Murderbot is:

...a security unit, or SecUnit, in a future where corporations dominate space exploration. Companies lease SecUnits as bodyguards. But even though SecUnits are self-aware and have emotions, they’re not trusted. Instead they’re considered dangerous and companies install “governor modules” to punish or kill them if they step out of line.

But Murderbot has a secret. It can step out of line if it wants to. Having hacked its governor module, it could go on a murder spree without punishment.

Fortunately for humanity, Murderbot would much rather watch entertainment. In the over 35,000 hours since it hacked its module, it’s partaken of a little under 35,000 hours of movies, plays, books and music.

To be honest, I haven't read Murderbot so much as listened to it on Audible. The actor/narrator, Kevin R. Free, is really great. You can listen to an excerpt here.

In addition to liking her work, Wells is close to my age, and I relate to her career-wise, in that she struggled along as a writer for many years without having a lot of success, but finally she broke through with Murderbot. I haven't had a career breakthrough but I appreciate Wells continuing on even when she considered giving up.

Wells, like all forward-thinking people, has quit Twitter and joined Mastodon at

This is an advantage to her fans, like me, because she doesn't have nearly so many followers on Mastodon as she did on Twitter - it takes time to build up followers on any social medium - and so she's more likely to give her new Mastodon followers attention.

Which is what happened today when she liked my toot. I'm so proud!

Saturday, December 17, 2022


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The bastards got another tree

What is it with me and trees? It seems like whenever I have a view out my apartment window of trees, sooner or later assholes will start chopping them down.

I was working from home and I heard the noise of the chainsaws in the morning, but didn't look out the window. The next time I looked out the window -  one of the trees was cut down! The one that was lit up in red, just a few weeks ago.


In the before and after pictures, you can see there appears to be nothing wrong with the tree they killed. And of course nobody ever bothers to provide an explanation for why they cut down a tree. Like it's no big deal.

Look at how tall the red tree is. It must have been growing there for at least 20 years. It could have been there for another 20, but no, when I move in it's killed.

True, unlike my last apartment, there are many other trees out my window, so it isn't quite the shock I had when transient renters on the first floor killed the pine tree so they could barbecue, or when the two creeps from one floor below me killed the elm tree so they could have a sun deck and do their chubby middle-aged man yoga.

But still. It's upsetting.

Monday, October 17, 2022

RIP Geri Harkin-Tuckett

Geri Tuckett, October 19, 1987
©NG McClernan
I wrote a post about Geri Harkin-Tuckett back in 2015, when I hadn't had contact with her for over 20 years. 

Our relationship had always been a bit of a roller-coaster since we met at the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) but it was pleasant after we re-connected on Facebook, shortly after I wrote that blog post.

But poor Geri had a horrible condition: hyperacusis and was basically house-bound - even without the pandemic - for the last seven or so years of her life.

But we chatted now and then on Facebook. 

She died last week and I didn't realize it until today when I decided to check in and see how she was doing.

Her niece Julia posted the news on Facebook.  

Then she told me via Facebook Messenger that it was lung cancer that got Geri.

Considering that both the portraits I drew of her include a lit cigarette, I guess it isn't a surprise. I wonder now if somehow the hyperacusis was another symptom as the mass in her lung grew. 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

You're a Big Girl Now

Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan was one of the first albums I owned. This was back in the last century, when music was recorded onto waxed discs and had to be purchased one album at a time, or even one single song at a time. You had to go to a physical store and hand over your cash money. Or in one case, I shop-lifted the single "Hurricane" - also by Bob Dylan - from the Cherry Hill Mall Sound Odyssey.

I didn't steal Blood on the Tracks, I won it in a game of chance on a boardwalk at the Jersey shore. Since it was one of the very few albums I owned, I listened to it a lot. Then I forgot about it and didn't really think about it again until last week, when I decided to listen to the whole thing through. Because nowadays you can basically listen to any song ever recorded, either for free on Youtube or inexpensively through an Apple Music account or something similar.

While listening to Blood on the Tracks, I was pretty surprised to find that I still knew the lyrics to Rosemary, Lily and the Jack of Hearts perfectly. But what surprised me most was the song "You're A Big Girl Now." It barely made an impression when I listened to it last century, but last week it blew me away.

I don't know if being almost a half century older makes the difference, or if the sound quality is just that much better, but I really loved it. Dylan's whooooahs! just grab me. And the guitars are wonderful.

Sunday, October 09, 2022

You're welcome NYC!

I will always think of these two as my signs
Last year I had a bad experience on the MTA - what a surprise.

It wasn't due to a public masturbator but rather because of bad signage. I went into the subway station at 14th St. and 6th Avenue and was looking for the stairs to the uptown F train. But all the signs said downtown. I ended up walking a city block to the 15th Street entrance looking for a sign that said Uptown F train. Not finding one, I walked all the way back only to see the sign - but you couldn't see it unless you were walking in that direction towards 14th Street.

I mentioned this to the surly guy in the booth who implied that the fault was mine rather than the bad signage.

I wrote to the MTA and complained about the situation and lo and behold, three months later I got an email from the MTA that said: "a member of our Signage team conducted an inspection and based on your helpful feedback we will be adding a sign above the staircase to the downtown F /M platform directing customers to use that stairway to access uptown..."

And the other day I happened to travel to a store near 14th so I checked it out - and there it was! 

You can fight city hall.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Happy Autumn Equinox 2022

I have discovered multiple Instagram tags  & accounts that are devoted exclusively to displaying images of autumn. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Earl Rich ~ one quarter century gone

I've been trying to write the perfect essay about Earl Rich for all these years.

This image, via Google Street View, is where Earl died on September 7, 1997. A guy named John Pluta (died in 2013) was driving in the opposite direction and suddenly turned left into the side street, his pickup truck becoming a wall of death at the instant Earl barreled into that t-intersection.

Just a few seconds either way and Earl would have been fine.

I've written about Earl on this blog many times, usually on the anniversary of his death. I did miss observing the anniversary in 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2018. But I've had this blog for about seventeen years now, so not a bad record. And I've written about him a few times on other dates besides the anniversary, so that kind of makes up for it.

It seems to me that more people should know about Earl. He was a sort of celebrity in his own world, which is probably common for very attractive people. He resembled a young Warren Beatty. Earl's father-in-law (died in 2019), an editor at the Philadelphia Daily News, was quoted in the newspaper, saying that Earl was "one of those guys you got to know within minutes and felt like he was your buddy."

Who was Earl Rich, to the world at large? He was a nobody, a tax-paying citizen with a 9 to 5 job and a mortgage. For all his exceptional beauty and charm, his legacy is little more than my binder full of emails and this minimalist web site.

But Earl could write an elegant turn of phrase, as in this email:
Dearest Nancy,

You are the swizzle-stick of my eight-hour cocktail. I hope I didn’t upset you today with that email stuff. No more from me, I promise. You have your hands full. It seems that everyone wants a piece of Nancy!

I hope you re-read Confederacy (of Dunces). I doubt very much that you can enjoy or appreciate it fully in a one-sitting reading. But who knows? You never cease to amaze me.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the Journal of Religious Thought: “Chance is a statistical concept which ‘explains’ deviation within certain patterns of probability. “ Hey – it beats the hell out of confession.

Hoping to see you shortly,
Your Friend and Fellow Co-Worker,
E.B. Weatherington, IV

Now nobody wanted a piece of Nancy. But that's how Earl made you feel, like you were as fabulous as he was. And that line: "You are the swizzle-stick of my eight-hour cocktail." I'd had many different jobs up to that time (and many more after) and neither before nor since have I had a co-worker who could write a sentence like that. Nor want to write such a sentence to me.

Part of my problem in writing an essay about Earl is that I feel I have to tell everything - as if he was a celebrity and I must brag about every time we connected, like smoking a joint in my car in Valley Forge, or when he loaned me his surfboard, or the time he pretended to be in love with my sister and called her on a dare. Or the time he was vacationing in Key West and tracked down my ex-husband, who lived there at the time.

Since Earl had the knack of making everybody feel fabulous, I often wondered if our friendship meant anything to him, or whether I just happened to be there and he would have established such a connection with anybody else. But his widow seemed to confirm that I had been special to Earl when she invited me to meet with her and Earl's sister at his favorite Cape May restaurant, on the first anniversary of his death.

After writing about thirty different versions of my Earl essay, both on this blog and off, I think I must resign myself to focusing on only two main themes: how our co-worker Lisa was obsessed with him and sexually harassed him - this was the 1990s, her behavior would never fly today; and the ESP incident.

Because Earl really was, technically, a nobody, no matter how special to me. If I want others to care about his existence the essay itself has to be notable. So the quest continues.

Friday, August 05, 2022

Why Publish?

Factsheet Five and its related booklet, Why Publish are significant now because that whole world of self-publishing on paper came to an end when the Macintosh computer came along. Well technically it was the beginning of the end - people switched to doing their artwork and layouts on the computer - "desktop publishing" - but then printed and distributed the results. It wasn't really until the Internet became available to most people - first via AOL (I had an AOL account in 1989) and then thanks to the Netscape browser in the mid-90s. The rest is history.

Sigh. My life is now part of antiquity

I did get a chuckle out of one of my illustrations for "Why Publish." Ah, the late 1980s.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

I've been archived!

Out of idle curiosity I Googled "Factsheet Five" a magazine devoted to cataloging 'zines - self-published
printed periodicals of the 1980s. I had contributed art for several covers of Factsheet Five.        Well lo and behold one of my covers was on display in 2016 in the NY State Library, in its Factsheet Five collection

That's my work in the lower-left corner. It's a student in math class getting a detention slip for reading an issue of Factsheet Five behind her algebra book.

This particular layout is meant to display how the Factsheet Five art changed over the years. My art uses the spot color printing technique - and I had to do the spot color separations myself. Hey, at least my one year spent at the Philadelphia Printing School was good for something.

Then they went into 4-color printing process work but I had moved on by then, having gotten my very own Macintosh computer in 1988.

Another one of my covers was apparently chosen for the "Factsheet Five Archive Project." Presumably because they like the logo I created for the t-shirt. I couldn't help but leave a comment.

Damn they also made it their banner art on Twitter.

AND some Factsheet Five issues are at

And here's issue #34 at the Poopsheet Foundation site - it actually mentions my name, for a change.

I'm pretty sure I did a third cover, which was an allusion to the Pandora myth. I haven't seen it online - I think that was probably my best cover too. I'll have to look around in my paper-based archives and see if I can find it.

I actually did previously mention my connection to FF on this blog back in 2008.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Sunday Philosophy Club #14

I've had an off-again, on-again relationship with the Sunday Philosophy Club, the series written by Alexander McCall Smith, best known for The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, now on its 23rd installment.

A few times I've vowed to stop listening to SPC - I always consume it via audio book - because of the Men are from Mars gender essentialism that crops up too often. In fact it crops up in this latest installment. *

But I keep coming back. 

Partly I suppose because I am interested in philosophy - that is why an actor friend told me about the series in the first place - because I was working on a play that had a philosopher character who was a devotee of Arthur Schopenhauer. 

That's been my most successful play so far, in my non-impressive theater career. I think my latest play, LE CHAT NOIR (currently being translated into French), is better, but who knows whenever that will see the light of day. 

Matt DeCapua portrays Schopenhauer 
in a dream sequence from

In between the thirteenth and fourteenth installments of SPC, I briefly explored The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, both in audio book form and the regrettably short-lived, one-season-only television series.

The concept behind the Ladies Detective Agency series is truly original and I really enjoyed the television series. But to my surprise I got bored during the first Ladies Detective book and stopped listening.

This recent installment of the SPC saga, The Sweet Remnants of Summer, has an unsurprising name - every book in the series is set during the summer. 

Even more notable is the temporal laxity of the series. The first book was published in 2004, and the protagonist, Isabel Dalhousie, was said to be in her early 40s (I was the same age at the time) and Jamie, her niece's ex-boyfriend back then, in his early 20s. The series doesn't normally reference current events so the fact that Isabel doesn't seem to age isn't noticeable - until this latest installment. The book mentions the Scottish independence movement, but really that could be almost any time. But at one point, Isabel mentions Pope Francis, although not by name, who became pope in 2013. So the series is now set at least nine years after it began - assuming the first book was set the same year it was published and not retroactively moved into the future.

So if it began in 2004, Isabel is now at least in her early fifties, but age hasn't seemed to have had any impact on her and nobody seems to think it surprising that she has two children around kindergarten age. But then, she got pregnant twice, in her early-mid 40s with no trouble at all, at an age when many women need help from fertility drugs.

Unlike Precious Ramotswe, the protagonist of Ladies Detective Agency, whose appearance is constantly discussed, and even referenced in a title, "Tea Time for the Traditionally Built," Isabel's appearance is never described. Is she supposed to be a brain in a vat, imagining her perfect placid life with her handsome young husband in Edinburgh?

Anyway, one thing I liked about this installment of SPC is that it treats the characters of Jamie and Isabel's housekeeper Grace differently than in previous ones. Although the point of view of the series has always been third-person omniscient, it has stuck closely to Isabel's point of view, with only occasional brief descriptions of the inner thoughts of other people (and one very memorable time, a fox.) But for this book, we get long passages of Jamie's and Grace's points of view, including a very amusing segment in which Grace imagines the personal lives of Aristotle and Kant. It really opened things up, I thought.

The plots of the SPC are never exciting, and very little changes, especially after the early days of the series when the Isabel-Jamie relationship evolved from friendship to marriage. In this book the most exciting plot point was that Isabel's oldest son has been biting people. But it's not about the plots, but rather Isabel's flights into philosophical thought, which are sometimes funny, even laugh out loud funny on a few occasions. In fact, if the plots did become more exciting, it would feel like a betrayal. I've come to expect placid, non-consequential plots set in an idyllic Edinburgh summer, spiced with the occasional philosophy.

And there has yet to be a meeting of this so-called Philosophy Club - on any day of the week. If there ever was a meeting, that would be a huge deal.

* Even worse, this book makes a positive reference to the dreadful, misogynist, Islamaphobic Richard Dawkins.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Yoko, bright and dark

The New Yorker recently published an article about Yoko Ono, focusing on her art, and it seems to present more evidence for my belief about Yoko's relationship with the three non-John Beatles. I wrote:
Hess compares Ono's behavior to a performance piece, but there's a more likely, if prosaic explanation: Ono was from a family of wealthy Japanese aristocrats. The Beatles were working-class musicians. In the world that Yoko came from, you didn't worry about the feelings of the people you outranked. Why should she care if she was irritating the fuck out of everybody? 
The New Yorker piece is written by Louis Menand, who wrote my favorite review of all time of the work of Steven Pinker, also in the New Yorker, 20 years ago.

This new piece, Yoko Ono's Art of Defiance is generally very positive about Ono and refers to her "Cut Piece" as a work of genius.

But it does say this:
...when she graduated she was admitted to Gakushuin University as its first female student in philosophy.

She left after two semesters. She said the university made her feel “like a domesticated animal being fed information.” This proved to be a lifelong allergy to anything organized or institutional. “I don’t believe in collectivism in art nor in having one direction in anything,” she later wrote. A classmate offered a different perspective: “She never felt happy unless she was treated like a queen.”

And the article points out that Ono, unlike the Beatles, was very well-educated (Ringo never even finished high school) and could read music. More evidence that the real issue in the Get Back recording sessions was that Ono felt she outranked the Beatles. And since they were used to being treated like gods by that point, you could see why they would resent that.

Recently I discovered The Making of 'The Beatles First US Visit', and it's great. The original film was made by the Maysles brothers, and Albert, the surviving brother (he died in 2015) discusses various outtakes from the film. 

There are two highlights for me. The first, at minute 15:00, shows Paul trying to help the Maysles get into the Ed Sullivan Theater. Such a nice man! And the second highlight, at minute 30:05, shows the Beatles being very interested in the relatively cutting-edge technology the Maysles were using.

So the Maysles made "The Beatles First US Visit" in 1964. In 1965, they filmed Yoko Ono's "Cut Piece." That was a year before Yoko met the Beatles. The entire Maysle movie does not appear to be available online, but here is a long excerpt.

In spite of my criticisms of Yoko Ono, I do appreciate some of her work. She was a pioneer in conceptual art and some of her ideas were very interesting. And recently I read something by her that I thought was very inspiring and comforting, and you can't ask for more than that from a conceptual artist. I can't find where I saw it, dammit, but it went something like this:
Don't feel alone. Having time to yourself is a blessing. Think of all the great books that could never have been written except for all that lonelines.
Thank you Yoko.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Happy Watergate 50th Anniversary

 It was fifty years ago today that security guard Frank Wills noticed something funny at the Watergate hotel - a door had been taped open. He removed the tape and when he came back later and the tape had been replaced he called the cops.

I am celebrating by watching "The Post" which is about the fight to publish The Pentagon Papers, followed by "All the President's Men" which I must have seen at least ten times by now and is of course about Watergate, which happened shortly after the events of "The Post."

Woodward and Bernstein, the reporters most well-known for their articles on the Watergate investigation, recently published a piece in The Washington Post, comparing Nixon to Trump - both evil men. From the piece, I learned something new about Watergate and I thought I'd heard it all:

In one of the strongest and most effective espionage efforts, Elmer Wyatt, a Nixon campaign operative, was planted in Muskie’s campaign, where he became the senator’s chauffeur. Wyatt was paid $1,000 a month to deliver copies of sensitive documents he transported between Muskie’s Senate office and his presidential campaign headquarters. It was a spectacular yield. The volume was so great that Wyatt, code-named “Ruby I,” rented an apartment midway between the two offices, equipped with a photocopying machine.

As evil as Nixon was, Woodstein clearly believe Trump is even worse:

As reporters, we had studied Nixon and written about him for nearly half a century, during which we believed with great conviction that never again would America have a president who would trample the national interest and undermine democracy through the audacious pursuit of personal and political self-interest.

And then along came Trump.

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Happy Cinco de Mayo

The first music I ever created - with the aid of GarageBand - is this piece, which I titled Cinco de Mayo. This is from 2005! Seventeen years ago! I can't believe it. Tempus fugit.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

West Moon Street Manhattan

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Bonjour Biqui, Bonjour - happy 129th anniversary!

According to Wikipedia:

When Pierre-Daniel Templier (1905-1987) published the first Satie biography in 1932, Valadon was still living, and the author omitted any direct mention of her relationship with the composer. He simply noted, "Women did not play an important part in Satie's life. As a mature man, he was not known to have had any affairs."
However, Templier included a facsimile of the complete Bonjour Biqui, Bonjour! manuscript - its first appearance in print - which by its intimate nature served as a tacit acknowledgement of this youthful liaison. The facsimile was republished in Rollo H. Myers' English-language biography (1948), but as Valadon had died in 1938 Myers felt free to identify her as Satie's one "affaire du coeur" ("affair of the heart").

I take issue with this passage in the Wiki page:

(the score is) accompanied by a drawing of an innocent-looking Valadon Satie subtitled an "Authentic Portrait of Biqui". One need only compare it to Valadon's self-portrait of the same year or her depiction in Toulouse-Lautrec's painting The Hangover (c. 1889) to appreciate the extent of Satie's idealization. The sketch and Satie's bold, angular signature beside it dominate the composition, in which the different elements (music, text, drawing) are carefully arranged on the page for visual effect.

I don't think the cartoony sketch of Valadon on the manuscript of "Bonjour Biqui, Bonjour" is in any way "idealized."

 She looks like a queen from a deck of playing cards, but with a weirdly elongated head and her shoulders and arms hanging far away from her body. This is the Queen of Clubs from a deck from around 1900.

And what an unfair comparison - a cartoony sketch as the idealized version, versus the author's representation of a "non-idealized" version, a profile view of Valadon in a picture called "The Hangover." 

In my play LE CHAT NOIR, Bonjour Biqui Bonjour was written before the Cher Petite Biqui letter, but BBB, based on the date on the manuscript came after. April 2, 1893 was Easter Sunday.

Which is a good time to mention the David Sedaris piece that discusses how the French celebrate Easter. An excerpt:

"Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb," the Italian nanny explained. "One, too, may eat of the chocolate."

"And who brings the chocolate?" the teacher asked.

I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, "The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate."

My classmates reacted as though I'd attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.

"A rabbit?" The teacher, assuming I'd used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wiggling them as though they were ears. "You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?"

"Well, sure," I said. "He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have the basket and foods."

The teacher sadly shook her head, as if this explained everything that was wrong with my country. "No, no," she said. "Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome."

I called for a time-out. "But how do the bell know where you live?"

"Well," she said, "how does a rabbit?"

It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes. That's a start. Rabbits move from place to place, while most bells can only go back and forth--and they can't even do that on their own power. On top of that, the Easter Bunny has character; he's someone you'd like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has all the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It's like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they've got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris? That's the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there's no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell's dog--and even then he'd need papers. It just didn't add up.

Friday, March 11, 2022

"Je t’embrasse sur le cœur" ~ the 129th anniversary of the "Cher petit Biqui" letter

One of two portraits
of Suzanne Valadon
by Erik Satie

Today is the 129th anniversary of the only known surviving love letter from Erik Satie to Suzanne Valadon.

This is significant to me personally, since Satie's relationship with Valadon is the inspiration for my play LE CHAT NOIR.

Satie wrote many letters and postcards, one of which got him sued, and images of them can be seen online. There is one currently available for sale for $5,000 and I admit I am tempted to buy it.

But the only online image of the Satie letter from March 11, 1893 is on somebody's Tumblr account. And it's only part of the letter and the image cuts off part of his signature.

The reason that this letter is so special is because it was written during their 6-month long affair, and because it survives. After Satie's death, his friends entered his apartment, and in addition to absolute squalor, found a number of letters (nobody seems to know exactly how many) written to Valadon, but never mailed. Satie's brother took them to Valadon, and she burned them all. 

I'm not the only one fascinated by this. In 2013 the BBC ran a program created by British media personality Alistair McGowan called The unsent love letters of Erik Satie.

It's pretty good except for the inevitable inaccuracies, like McGowan claims Valadon was 25 during the affair, but she was 27. 

McGowan has also written two dramatic works about Satie, Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear and more recently Erik Satie's Faction.

A composer, Elena Kats-Chernin, wrote a series of piano pieces called UNSENT LOVE LETTERS

The surviving Satie letter in the original French:
Cher petit Biqui            
Impossiblede rester sans penser à tout            
ton être ; tu es en moi toute entière ; partout            
je ne vois que tes yeux            
exquis, tes mains douces            
et tes petits pieds d’enfant.            
Toi tu es heureuse ; ce n’est pasma pauvre pensée qui ridera ton front transparent ;            
non plus que l’ennui de ne point me voir.            
Pour moi il n’y a que la glacialesolitude qui met du vide dans la tête            
et de la tristesse plein le cœur.            
N’oublie pas que ton pauvre amiespère te voir au moins à un de ces trois rendez-vous :             
1° Ce soir à 9 heures moins le quart de chez moi            
2° Demain matin encore chez moi            
3° Demain soir chez Devé (Maison Olivier) 
J’ajoute, Biqui chéri, que je ne me mettrainullement en furie si tu ne peux venir à ces rendez-vous ;            
maintenant je suis devenu terriblement raisonnable ;            
et malgré            
le grand bonheur que j’ai à te voirje commence à comprendre que tu ne peux point toujours            
faire ce que tu veux.Tu vois, petit Biqui, qu’il y a commencement à tout.             
Je t’embrasse sur le cœur.  
Erik Satie


Dear little Biqui
Impossible to stay without thinking of everything
your being; you are in me completely; everywhere
I only see your eyes
exquisite, your soft hands
and your little child's feet.
You are happy; it is not my poor thought that will wrinkle your transparent brow;
no more than the boredom of not seeing me.
For me there is only the icy loneliness that puts emptiness in the head
and sadness fills the heart. 
Don't forget that your poor friend hopes to see you on at least one of these three dates:
1° Tonight at a quarter to 9 from home
2° Tomorrow morning still at my house
3° Tomorrow evening at Devé's (Maison Olivier) 
I would add, dear Biqui, that I will not get angry at all if you cannot come to these appointments;
now I have become terribly reasonable;
and despite
the great happiness that I have to see you I begin to understand that you cannot always do what you want. You see, little Biqui, that there is a beginning to everything. 
I kiss you on the heart. 
Erik Satie

The image I found, online, of this letter, starts in the middle, with "don't forget that your poor friend" - "n'oublie pas que ton pauvre ami..."

The letter is read aloud, lightly edited and almost complete, in my play.

Friday, March 04, 2022

No, Erik Satie did not only eat white foods(!!!)

When you research the life of Erik Satie you will inevitably find many people claiming, in all sincerity, that Erik Satie only ate white foods. 

With radio documentaries and a BBC Prom on the composer to his name, comedian and actor Alistair McGowan is fast becoming the go-to man for all things Satie. He's accepted seeing reflections between the musician's eccentricities – this was the composer who notoriously ate only white food, had identical suits for every day of the week, and wrote 'pieces in the form of a pear' – and his own status as a bit of an outsider in the world of showbiz.

I regret to admit I took the claim at face value myself, before I started to do my own research.

The white food claim is based on an essay that Satie wrote for the February 1913 issue of La Revue Musicale S. I. M.  And since a digitized version of the issue is available online, here is exactly what the article looked like on the printed page.

Satie wrote a series of articles for this publication, grouped under the title "Memoires d'un amnesiac."

Even without translation it's pretty clear that means "memoires of an amnesiac" which of course is a deliberately absurdist title. This particular installment is entitled "The day of a musician."

And the translation is:

The artist must regulate his life.

Here is the precise schedule of my daily acts:

My get up: at 7:18 am; inspired: from 10:23 a.m. to 11:47 a.m. I have lunch at 12:11 p.m. and leave the table at 12:14 p.m.

Salutary horseback riding, in the back of my park: from 1:19 p.m. to 2:53 p.m. Other inspiration: from 3:12 p.m. to 4:07 p.m.

Various occupations (fencing, reflections, immobility, visits, contemplation, dexterity, swimming, etc.): from 4:21 p.m. to 6:47 p.m.

Dinner is served at 7:16 p.m. and finished at 7:20 p.m. Come symphonic readings, aloud: from 8:09 p.m. to 9:59 p.m.

My bedtime is regularly at 10:37 p.m. Weekly, waking up with a start at 3:19 a.m. (Tuesday).

I only eat white foods: eggs, sugar, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water; fruit molds, rice, turnips; camphorated blood sausage, pasta, (white) cheese, cotton salad and certain fish (skinless).

I boil my wine, which I drink cold with fuchsia juice. I have a good appetite; but I never talk while eating, for fear of choking.

I breathe carefully (little at a time). I dance very rarely. As I walk, I hold my ribs and stare behind me.

Looking very serious, if I laugh, it's without doing it on purpose. I apologize always and with affability.

I sleep with one eye open; my sleep is very hard. My bed is round, pierced with a hole for the passage of the head. Every hour, a servant takes my temperature and gives me another one.

For a long time, I have subscribed to a fashion journal. I wear a white cap, white stockings and a white vest.

My doctor always told me to smoke. He adds to his advice: — Smoke, my friend: otherwise, someone else will smoke in your place.

This is clearly meant to be extremely silly and nobody could possibly take this seriously. Also, Satie claims he has a horse, and a park, and a servant. The same people who credulously repeat Satie's alleged eating habits never mention those things. Because if you know even the basics of Satie's life, you know he was poor his entire adult life except on rare brief occasions. 

We know what Satie really ate - whatever he could get, preferably at a dinner party given by one of his wealthy friends. 

And yet in spite of all the information available for free online, people keep claiming Satie ate only white foods:
  • He ate only white food, lived alone, and owned seven identical grey velvet suits which he wore every day of his life.
This one is from the allegedly journalistically respectable Guardian(!):
  • The stories of his peculiarity are legion. The one-man religious sect he established in Montmartre in the 1890s. The crazy titles of his piano pieces. The purchase of seven identical, grey velvet corduroy suits which he proceeded to wear, with no variation, for 10 years. His claim that he only ever ate food that was white.
I guess they figure, "well if he gave crazy titles to some of his piano pieces, he's capable of anything, so why bother doing any research?"

I've even seen one biographer invent a conversation in which Satie confides his alleged eating habits to Valadon. Biography and journalism are professions full of the lazy, the careless and shameless bullshit artists.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

I'm Waiting for the Man in the supermarket

I walked to the supermarket, enjoying the first day of Sprinter 2022.

Back in ye olden days, when you went into the supermarket, you heard muzak. You can hear a selection of supermarket muzak on Youtube.

Eventually supermarkets began to play pop tunes, often considered "oldies" by the time they were played there. I discussed some of my favorites ten years ago.

Today in the supermarket I heard the Velvet Underground's 1967 "I'm Waiting for the Man," Lou Reed's ditty about going to Spanish Harlem to score heroine. The 4/5/6 subway line in Manhattan has a stop at Lexington and 125th Street.

A live version of the song can be heard on The Quine Tapes.

If the supermarket ever plays Sister Ray or Black Angel's Death Song, you'll know that things have gotten really weird.


I'm waiting for my man
26 dollars in my hand
Up to Lexington 125
feelin' sick and dirty more dead than alive
I'm waiting for my man

Hey white boy, what you doin' uptown
Hey white boy, you chasin' our women around
Oh pardon me sir, it's furthest from my mind
I'm just lookin' for a dear dear friend of mine
I'm waiting for my man

Here he comes, he's all dressed in black
PR shoes and a big straw hat
He's never early, he's always late
first thing you learn is that you always gotta wait
I'm waiting for my man, ah, work it now

Up to a brownstone, up three flights of stairs
Everybody-body's pinned you, but nobody cares
He's got the works, gives you sweet taste
ah, then you gotta split because you got no time to waste
I'm waiting for my man

Baby don't you holler, darling don't you ball and shout
I'm feeling good, you know I'm gonna work it on out
I'm feeling good, I'm feelin' oh so fine
until tomorrow but that's just some other time
I'm waiting for my man, walk it home

Friday, February 11, 2022

Qui était Jeanne de Bret?

Personne ne sait!

Erik Satie dedicated his first Gymnopedie, his most famous and beloved work, to Jeanne de Bret in the 1895 publication edition of the sheet music. 

The second Gymnopedie was dedicated to Satie's brother Conrad and the third was dedicated to the composer Charles Levadé. One personally significant to Satie, the other professionally significant. So what is the significance of Mademoiselle Jeanne de Bret?

In his 1992 article, Satie and the Art of Dedication, Satie scholar Robert Orledge wrote:

Jane Bathori incidentally, first heard of Satie and his music through Satie's classmate Jeanne de Bret, the dedicatee of the first Gymnopedie (in its private printing), and Jeanne's sister, Valentine, was the dedicatee of the early Contamine de Latour setting "Chanson" in 1888.

That's it for the de Bret sisters though. 

I did my own research, trying to find any mention of the de Brets on ancestry sites, and while there were many born Jeanne de Brets throughout French history, none of them matched the age of what I assumed was a contemporary of Satie and there has been no Valentine de Bret, ever.

So in exasperation I emailed Orledge and asked him where he got that information. His response was that it came from Ornella Volta and:
"Sadly she died last year and I never found out where she got her information from. But she was always extremely reliable though."
Ornella Volta is the greatest Satieologist. It's my impression that Orledge is the second greatest.

Jane Bathori was a singer and at one point ran a theater. She was eleven years younger than Satie and died in 1970 at the age of 92. Bathori worked with Satie and knew many of the musicians in his circles. She herself was the dedicatee of many pieces of music.

After I got that unsatisfactory response from Orledge I began to Google "Jane Bathori" and "de Bret" which is what I should have done in the first place after reading Orledge's 1992 article. 

It turns out that Bathori had written a memoir, published in 1964 by Journal of the British Institute of Recorded Sound called "Musicians I have known." This piece is quoted in a book I found in Google Books, Satie Remembered written by... Robert Orledge! 

In 1964, Bathori wrote:
What a strange figure Satie was! I did not know him until I met him at a talk about him given by Roland-Manuel in a Paris salon in 1916. I had often heard him spoken of about 1890 by a class-mate to whom he had dedicated some of his earliest works, but she had not understood whom she had to deal with and had not given him the attention that he perhaps deserved; and I was too young to be really curious - otherwise I might have appreciated both the naïveté and elegance of his early songs...

So the mystery deepens!

First, while it's probable that Ornella told Orledge about the Journal of British Institute piece, it's clear that Orledge got the info about Jeanne de Bret from the Bathori memoir. And the way it's written, it sounds like Jeanne de Bret was a classmate of Bathori, not Satie. Another odd thing, Bathori heard about Satie from de Bret in 1890, which was five years before the 1895 edition of the first Gymnopedie was published with the dedication to de Bret. Also, the only work known to be dedicated by Satie to de Bret was the Gymnopedie, contrary to Bathori's "some of his earliest works" plural.

Weirdest of all, was this part: 
(de Bret) had not understood whom she had to deal with and had not given (Satie) the attention that he perhaps deserved;
Which makes it sound like de Bret was a young woman Satie had a crush on, but who was completely uninterested in Satie. But it's hard to know how accurate Bathori's memory was, she was 86 in 1964. 

And if de Bret was a classmate's of Bathori, she would have been around 12 years old, in 1890 and Satie around 23, and if that's the case I hope Satie did not have a crush on her. If she was 12 when she knew Satie, that would explain why she didn't appreciate Satie any more than Bathori did.

There's probably more to the story than that, but if Volta didn't discover it, I doubt it will ever be discovered.

While I don't doubt that Volta was reliable, my research into the lives of Satie and Valadon, for my play LE CHAT NOIR, has given me a bad impression of biographers in general. Many times I've caught them making claims that I know are incorrect. For example, in a published biography of Valadon, the author claimed that Satie wrote "Bonjour Biqui Bonjour" for Valadon for her birthday. But their relationship lasted from January to June, 1893, and we know that for sure because Satie says it himself. Valadon's birthday is September 23.

And then there are the idiots who believe Satie only ate white foods.

I will have more to say about that soon.

Satie's hand-written score for le premiere Gymnopedie. Sans dedication to Mlle. le Bret.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Situations arise, because of the weather

I first heard the Velvet Underground's "Some Kind of Love" decades ago and I never really appreciated it until recently. The only thing that stuck with me about the song was the line "situations arise, because of the weather." I pretty much think of that line every time there's a snowstorm, like there was yesterday.

However, I was listening to Internet radio while doing some mundane online task recently and that song came on and it crept right up on me with its sneaky sexiness.

Perhaps it was because this was the first time I listened to it with headphones: I really picked up on Lou Reed's sexy little noises for the first time. Which in turn made me really listen to the lyrics.

Here it is. Put on your red headphones and find out.

Some kinds of love
Marguerita told Tom
Between thought and expression
Lies a lifetime
Situations arise
Because of the weather
And no kinds of love
Are better than others.

Some kinds of love
Marguerita told Tom
Like a dirty French novel
Combines the absurd with the vulgar
In some kinds of love
The possibilities're endless
And for me to miss one
Would seem to be groundless.

I heard what you said
Marguerita heard Tom
And of course you're a bore
But in that you're not charmless
Cause a bore is a straight line
That finds a wealth in division
And some kinds of love
Are mistaken for vision.

Put jelly on your shoulder
Let us do what you fear most
That from which you recoil
But which still makes your eyes moist
Put jelly on your shoulder baby
Lie down upon the carpet
Between thought and expression
Let us now kiss the culprit.

I don't know just what it's all about
But put on your red pajamas and find out

The song is only partially like a dirty French novel. Rather than combining the absurd with the vulgar it combines the absurd with the subtle.

We know that this isn't some kind of actual love because of the insult in the lyrics: "And of course you're a bore, but in that you're not charmless." That's not what you say to someone you love, it's what you say to someone you don't even like very much but you still find them sexually desirable. 

And that's what makes the possibilities endless.

Another subtle feature: put on your red pajamas. Not "put on your fishnet stockings" or "put on your ass-less chaps" but pajamas. Although they are still red pajamas.

Now about the jelly on your shoulder, which is mentioned twice. The Internet has thoughts:

 Jelly was old black jazz slang eg Jelly Roll and commonly picked up by white musicians like Van Morrison etc.

The "jelly" is KY, and it's on the shoulder for easy reaching?

Lou introduces this song on their live album as follows:

"This song is called 'Some Kinda Love', which is a dialogue between a guy called Tom and a woman called Margharita, and he's just trying to drink her like tequila and she doesn't like being salt thrown over her shoulder."

Hope to have helped.

Though I will say that “Some Kinda Love” ends with a pretty strong insinuation of girl-on-guy buttsex, unless there’s another way to read “Put jelly on your shoulder/ and do what you feel most… that from which you recoil but which still makes your eyes moist…lie down upon the carpet.” Who needs Fifty Shades of Gray?

petroleum jelly on the shoulder was used so the lube is easy to reach I believe

Between thoughts and expression... 

This one was my favorite:

I think Lou wanted to suggest a deviant practice so strange that nobody could put their finger on the details — like Iggy Pop's "Of course I've had it in the ear before." But that's just a hunch, and I can't see how anyone could prove it one way or the other.

That's the way to do it - it keeps things slightly inscrutable and open to imagination.

I never found Lou Reed especially attractive except for maybe his Transformer period.

But that man can make some sexy noises.