Curiouser and Curiouser

I got back from the AMS annual meeting last night. I’m extremely tired — sort of hung over from talking, eating, and staying up way too much. I don’t feel up to writing something about What It All Means. Maybe tomorrow? Anyway, for now, let me just say this: when you go to someone’s paper and you wish to convey that you would have done it differently, please do not start your question with "I find it curious that . . ." As in, I find it curious that you failed to read this, or didn’t talk about that, or whatever. There’s something especially annoying and passive-aggressive about the "it’s curious" locution. How curious that you didn’t mention [fill in name of article/book/piece of music/methodology/theoretical stance]. I wonder why you didn’t? Well, we all know, don’t we? I mean, it’s obvious. But I won’t say anything. Really, it’s better if I don’t. I’m nice that way. You can just . . . think about it.

Other variations:

"I’m troubled that . . ."
"It concerns me that . . . "

Ah yes, it’s all very worrying and troubling and concerning. When I hear this sort of gambit being played, I always wish someone would answer, well, you know, it’s OK, you should relax! Don’t worry so much! I’m sure everything will be all right.

Mostly, though, people were nice. I didn’t see a lot of fireworks in the sessions I saw — just a lot of pretty good papers, and a few very good papers. I didn’t read anything this year, and spent some of my time at USC, doing research in the Lawrence Lipton papers. Lipton was a Los Angeles poet who jumped on the Beat movement with both feet, writing a rather silly book called The Holy Barbarians and organizing a recording called Jazz Canto, which consisted of various folks (including Bob Dorough, later of Schoolhouse Rock fame, and John Carradine, the father of American independent film) reading poems to jazz. This record is incredibly rare, and it was one of the greatest moments of my life (well, my record-collecting life) when I got it for a measly 26 dollars from some dude on EBay who clearly didn’t know what he had. Anyway, the Lipton papers have all the correspondence between Lipton and the various poets whose works were read on the album. Lipton preserved a postcard from e.e. cummings, whom he had politely asked to contribute a poem for the recording. Cummings (sorry, cummings) wrote a short, brutal reply:

"your letter of February 19 is here
my answer is–most emphatically–NO."

Jerk. Really, it’s hard enough trying to get anything off the ground. We’re all doing our best here. How about "my answer is–most emphatically–NO THANK YOU."

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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One Response to Curiouser and Curiouser

  1. Gary A. Lucas says:

    In 1974 I found “Jazz Canto” among a friend’s lp’s. I made a cassette tape and sent it around to friends, including Robert Wyatt (long story, maybe later). Recently one of these people told me that “Jazz Canto” had been released on cd. So I looked. Sure enough, it’s on Amazon. Just do a search. So I ordered it. The one I ordered is from a British shop! Apparently Wyatt either told someone about it or they copied his cassette? Maybe not. Anyway, it on a London label, Righteous, and dated 2009. Interesting. And in retrospect, what a phenomenal album! I’ll resist the temptation to write a backstory just now. Maybe later. Except to say I owe the discovery of this to Miles Davis and the inclusion of “Nothing Like You”, also from 1962, to his 1967 album “Sorcerer”. I’ve never found out if it was his idea or Macero’s.

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