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Thursday, 20 November 2014

POET OF THE MONTH #22: Fay Zwicky



'Feed Fred and sit with him
and mind he doesn’t walk about.
He falls. Tell him his ute is safe
back home. Thinks someone’s pinched it,
peers around the carpark all the time.
His family brought him in it and
he thinks it’s gone.
He was a farmer once...'

I take the tray.  The ice-cream’s almost
melted round the crumbled orange jelly
and the soup’s too hot.  I know
I’ll have to blow on it.

Hunched, trapped behind a tray,
he glances sideways, face as brown
and caverned as the land itself,
long thin lips droop ironic
at the corners, gaunt nose.
The blue and white pajamas cage
the restless rangy legs.
In and out they go, the feet
in cotton socks feeling for the ground.

'Are you a foreigner?'
'Not exactly.  Just a little sunburnt,'
and I put the jelly down.  I mustn’t feel
a thing: my smile has come unstuck.
I place a paper napkin on his lap.  He winces.

'You’re a foreigner all right,' he says.
'OK,' I say.  What’s one displacement more or less,
wishing I were a hearty flat-faced Fenian
with a perm and nothing doing in the belfry.
Someone like his mother.  Or a wife who
spared him the sorrow of himself.
Now he grabs the spoon.  'I’ll do it.'
'Right,' I say, 'You go ahead.  Just ask me
if you want some help.'  The tone’s not right.
I watch the trembling progress of the spoon
for what seems years, paralysed with pity
for his pride.

How does a dark-faced woman give a man called Fred
who cropped a farm and drove a battered ute
a meal of soup and jelly?

Outside the window, clouds are swelling
into growing darkness and there’s a man
hard on his knees planting something in the rain.

from Ask Me (1990)

The Poet:  Fay Zwicky (née Rosefield) was born in Melbourne on 4 July 1933, the daughter of fourth generation Australian-Jewish parents whose families had originally emigrated from Eastern Europe.  Already an accomplished pianist by the age of six, she began performing with her sisters in a chamber music group known as 'The Rosefield Trio' and continued to work as a concert performer for over a decade, in both her native Australia and overseas, after gaining her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Melbourne in 1954.  

In 1972 she and her Dutch-born first husband Karl Zwicky re-located to Perth, where she became Senior Lecturer in American and Comparative Literature at the University of Western Australia - a post she retained until her retirement from academic life in 1987.  Her first book of poetry, Isaac Babel's Fiddle, appeared in 1975 and she went on to publish four more poetry collections between 1982 and 1999, including a 1993 retrospective volume titled Fay Zwicky: Poems 1970-1992.  In addition to her poetry she has also published many essays and, in 1983, the short story collection Hostages.  What she has declared will be her final book, the poetry collection Picnic: New Poems, was published by the Giramondo Press in 2006.

Zwicky has received numerous awards for her work, including The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, the Western Australian Premier's Book Award (which she has won three times), the New South Wales Premier's Literary Award, the Christopher Brennan Award of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and, in 2005, the Patrick White Award - an annual prize of $25,000 awarded to a writer who has made 'a significant but inadequately recognised contribution to Australian Literature.'  She was also named 'a State Living Treasure' by the Western Australian government in 2004, an honour she deemed, in her frank uncompromising way, to be 'most repulsive.'

Click HERE to read more poetry by FAY ZWICKY at The Poetry Foundation website.  To read a short article about her which originally appeared in the 12 November 2005 edition of the Melbourne newspaper The Age, please click HERE.

You might also enjoy:
POET OF THE MONTH #20: Anna Świrszczyńska
POET OF THE MONTH #21: Kingsley Amis
POET OF THE MONTH #7: Esther Granek

Thursday, 13 November 2014

LA CHANSON EST LA VIE #1: Claude Nougaro


 Cécile ma fille
[To My Daughter Cécile]
[Lyrics: C. Nougaro, Music: J. Datin]
Clip from French television, c. 1963


She wanted a child
Me, I didn't want one
But her arguments
Made it easy
To become a father 
To my daughter Cécile

When her belly was round
Feeling cheerful from your kicks
She said to me: 'Go on, celebrate,
It'll be a boy!'
And here you are
My daughter Cécile

And here you are
And I'm here with you
I'm thirty years old
And you're six months old
We're nose to nose
Our eyes locked together
Who's the most surprised?

Long before I had you
I had other girls
Playing heads or tails with my heart
I won from a brunette
I lost to a blonde
My daughter Cécile

And I know that soon
You too will have 
Ideas and affairs of your own
With words sweet as sweet can be
And hands grabbing at your stockings
My daughter Cécile 

Me, I'll wait up all night
I'll hear you come in without a sound
But in the morning I'll be the one to blush
In front of you, your eyes clearer than ever

Still we touch each other
Like I'm touching you now
My breath on your eyelids
My kiss on your mouth
In your sweet childlike sleep
My daughter Cécile


 Translated by BR 

Le Chansonnier:  Claude Nougaro was born in the southern French city of Toulouse - a city he would later go on to immortalize in his 1967 chanson of the same name - on 9 September 1929.  His French father Pierre Nougaro was a well-respected opera singer while his Italian-born mother, Liette Tellini, was a noted piano teacher.  Despite this strong musical background, Nougaro himself never learned to play an instrument nor to read music.  Still, his lack of formal training did not prevent him from developing a lifelong admiration for the work of composers like Jules Massenet and Gabriel Fauré.

His 'real' musical training came in the form of the American jazz, blues and swing recordings he heard as a boy on Radio-Toulouse, with performers like Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and Glenn Miller becoming firm favorites as well as crucial influences on what would become his future singing style.  He was equally inspired by French chansonniers like Charles Trénet and Edith Piaf who, ironically, would help to launch his career as a songwriter when two of his poems, Méphisto and La Sentier de la guerre [The Path to War], were recorded by her in the early 1950s.  Before this could happen, Nougaro first had to fail his baccalauréat (the French equivalent of the American SAT exam, the British A-Level exam and the Australian HSC exam) and begin a career as a journalist, working first for Le Journal des curistes de Vichy, an in-house trade publication produced for those involved with prescribing and promoting the 'Vichy water cure,' and then for the French-based Algerian pied-noir newspaper L'Echo d'Alger.  

Nougaro's careers as journalist and fledgling poet/performer were interrupted by his national military service, which saw him inducted into the French Foreign Legion in 1949 and posted to the Moroccan city of Rabat for the next two years.  After returning to France he resumed his poetic activities and, from 1954, regularly recited his poems at the Montmartre cabaret Le Lapin Agile (once patronized by, among others, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and the young Pablo Picasso) and several other Paris nightclubs.  During this period he began to work as a lyricist for other artists, with several of his songs being recorded not only by Piaf but also by other popular French singers of the day including Colette Renard, Marcel Amont, Philippe Clay and Richard Anthony.  Important friendships were also formed at this time with the Absurdist poet, novelist and playwright Jacques Audiberti and chansonnier Georges Brassens, who became his musical mentor.  

It seemed a natural progression to move from writing lyrics for others to eventually performing them himself, a move which, in 1958, saw him enter the studio to record his debut LP Il y avait une ville [There Is A City] - an interesting mixture of jazz motifs and chanson-inspired lyrics created with the help of future French songwriting legend Michel Legrand.  But it was not until Nougaro signed with the Philips label in 1962 and released the songs Une petite fille [A Little Girl] and Cécile ma fille [To My Daughter Cécile] that his music truly began to find an audience, his jazz and Bossa Nova influenced style making him the ideal performer for the coming decade and, as many have suggested, a pioneer of what's now come to be known as 'World Music.' 

Following a serious 1963 car accident which kept him out of concert halls and the recording studio for most of the year, Nougaro travelled to Brazil where, in addition to meeting and working with some of that country's finest musicians, he also found time to father a son.  (His daughter Cécile had been born in 1951 to his first wife Sylvie, a former waitress whom he'd met when both had been working at Le Lapin Agile.  His son was the product of a shortlived liaison with a Brazilian woman.)  His return to France saw him perform to sell-out crowds at iconic venues like L'Olympia and Le Théatre de la Ville in Paris while his music continued to be heavily influenced by the sound of modern jazz, featuring performances by renowned French organist Eddy Louiss, bassist Pierre Michelot and saxophonist Michel Portal as well as by visiting US superstars including Ornette Coleman.  The late 1960s saw Nougaro go from strength to strength as a performer, with albums like Petit Taureau [Little Bull, the nickname given to him by his recently-deceased friend Jacques Audiberti] and Une Soirée avec Claude Nougaro [An Evening with Claude Nougaro] topping the charts in France and selling respectably in many parts of Europe as well as South America.  

The late 1970s were less kind to Nougaro, with his second label Barclay ultimately choosing to drop him from its roster in 1985 - a move which caused him to sell his Paris home and relocate to New York where he recorded a successful 1987 'comeback' LP, Nougayork, for his new label WEA.  From 1993 until 1997 he won the awards for both Best Album and Best Artist at the Victoires de la musique, the French equivalent of the Grammy Awards.  In the 1990s, however, his health began to fail, with him entering hospital to undergo open heart surgery in 1995 - the first of several operations that would see his condition gradually deteriorate during the next nine years, forcing him to cancel concerts and finally abandon stage work altogether so his limited time and energy could be put to better use in the studio.  This allowed him to create what would prove to be his final and arguably best album, La Note Bleue [The Blue Note], in 2002-2003 - an album recorded for the US jazz label of the same name and one which featured him and others performing stunning new versions of some of his most memorable songs including Dansez sur moi [Dance With Me], Armstrong and, of course, his signature tune Toulouse (albeit in a new, completely instrumental arrangement).  Unfortunately he didn't live to see the October 2004 release of La Note Bleue and its subsequent storming of the French charts, having died of pancreatic cancer in March of that year.

Thankfully, the legacy of Claude Nougaro lives on.  Le Prix Claude Nougaro [The Claude Nougaro Prize] was established in 2007 in the Midi-Pyrénées, the région he was born in, to help nurture and encourage young talent while 2009 was declared L'année Nougaro [The Year of Nougaro] in honor of what would have been his eightieth birthday.  The July 2014 Bastille Day celebrations in his home city Toulouse were also the occasion of a public homage to him that was followed, two months later, by the erection of a statue of him in that city's Square de Gaulle.     

Click HERE to visit the website of CLAUDE NOUGARO (unfortunately available only in French).  To listen to more great music by CLAUDE NOUGARO, please click HERE. 

Special thanks to those who took the time to upload this music to YouTube.  Your efforts are appreciated by music lovers everywhere.


Elle voulait un enfant
Moi je n'en voulais pas
Mais il lui fut pourtant facile
Avec ses arguments
De te faire un papa
Cécile ma fille

Quand son ventre fut rond
En riant aux éclats
Elle me dit : " Allons, jubile
Ce sera un garçon "
Et te voilà
Cécile ma fille

Et te voilà
Et me voici moi
Moi j'ai trente ans
Toi six mois
On est nez à nez
Les yeux dans les yeux
Quel est le plus étonné des deux ?

Bien avant que je t'aie
Des filles j'en avais eu
Jouant mon coeur à face ou pile
De la brune gagnée
À la blonde perdue
Cécile ma fille

Et je sais que bientôt
Toi aussi tu auras
Des idées et puis des idylles
Des mots doux sur tes hauts
Et des mains sur tes bas
Cécile ma fille

Moi je t'attendrai toute la nuit
T'entendrai rentrer sans bruit
Mais au matin, c'est moi qui rougirai
Devant tes yeux plus clairs que jamais

Que toujours on te touche
Comme moi maintenant
Comme mon souffle sur tes cils
Mon baiser sur ta bouche
Dans ton sommeil d'enfant
Cécile ma fille.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

IVAN TURGENEV Fathers and Sons (1861)

Penguin Classics UK, 1975

'Ah, my dear friend, the way you express yourself!' Bazarov exclaimed.  'You see what I'm doing: there happened to be an empty space in my trunk, and I'm stuffing it with hay; it's the same with the trunk which is our life:  we fill it with anything that comes to hand rather than leave a void.  Don't be offended, please; you remember, no doubt, the opinion I have always held of Katerina Sergeyevna.  Some young ladies have the reputation of being intelligent because they can sigh cleverly; but your young lady can hold her own, and do it so well that she'll take you in hand also - well, and that's how it should be.'  He slammed the lid of the trunk and got up from the floor.  'And now, in parting, let me repeat...because there is no point deceiving ourselves - we are parting for good, and you know that have acted sensibly:  you were not made for our bitter, harsh, lonely existence.  There's no audacity in you, no venom:  you've the fire and energy of youth but that's not enough for our business.  Your sort, the gentry, can never go farther than well-bred resignation or well-bred indignation, and that's futile.  The likes of you, for instance, won't stand up and fight - and yet you think yourselves fine fellows - but we insist on fighting.  Yes, that's the trouble!  Our dust would corrode your eyes, our mud would sully you, but in actual fact you aren't up to our level yet, you unconsciously admire yourself, you enjoy finding fault with yourself; but we've had enough of all that - give us fresh victims!  We must smash people!  You are a nice lad; but you're too soft, a good little liberal gentleman - eh volla-too*, as my father would say.'

Translated by ROSEMARY EDMONDS (1965)
[*et voilà tout = and that's all]

The Book:  The 'angry young man' has become such a stock figure in Western literature, beginning with Shakespeare's Hamlet and persisting into the modern era with characters like JD Salinger's Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye, 1951), John Osborne's Jimmy Porter (Look Back In Anger, 1956) and Chuck Palahniuk's Tyler Durden (Fight Club, 1996), that it can be easy to forget what a powerful impact he's had on the reading and playgoing public and, to a lesser extent, on society as a whole.  Every generation seems to require and reinvent its own specific version of this character - the lone embittered rebel who yearns to destroy the prevailing social order and establish a new society where ideas like honesty, equality and compassion will rule the day, replacing the inevitable hypocrisies, lies and compromises which, in democracies and dictatorships alike, so often combine to define the nebulous concept of 'government.' 

But the 'angry young man' has not only been a popular figure in the West.  He was equally popular in nineteenth century Russia, a vast feudal nation ruled by a tyrannical Czar who believed, as had his ancestors for centuries before him, that the only way to prevent revolution was to ruthlessly crush anyone who dared express even the slightest desire for social, political or economic change.  It was a time of extremists, of Nihilists and Anarchists, of cold-blooded revolutionaries determined to drag their virtually medieval nation - where an aristocrat's wealth was literally measured by the number of 'souls' (ie. serfs) he owned - into alignment with the more 'civilized beliefs' and 'scientific practices' of the West, by persuasion, agitation and acts of undiscriminating violence when necessary.  On the other side stood the conservatives and moderates, men for whom the idea of reform was abhorrent because, to their fretful minds, it violated the natural order of things and challenged their right to continue leading the graciously indolent lives they led on their vast, poorly-run estates courtesy of the unremitting labour of their serfs.  It's the conflict between these 'old' and 'new' orders, between the conservative patriarchs and their radicalized offspring, that serves as the backdrop to Ivan Turgenev's 1861 masterpiece Fathers and Sons - a novel many critics believe to be the greatest Russian novel ever written.

The story opens with Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov, a middle-aged landowner and unsuccessful farmer, impatiently awaiting the homecoming of his son Arkady and his son's friend and mentor - the unsentimental medical student Yevgeny Vassilyich Bazarov - from the university in St Petersburg.  Arkady has recently graduated from this institution and his return to the family estate has been eagerly anticipated by his father and his Uncle Pavel for several anxious months.  But the arrival of Arkady and his guest, who soon reveals himself to be a Nihilist and an outspoken opponent of everything Nikolai Petrovich and the ultra-conservative Pavel value and respect, only serves to widen the gulf that's opened up between father and son since the latter's previous visit home.  Although Nikolai Petrovich and Arkady remain on friendly, even affectionate terms with each other, the former feels that he's now being replaced in his son's affections by Bazarov - a man of strong, forcefully expressed opinions whom the easily swayed, eager to please graduate quite clearly idolizes.  

Although Bazarov prides himself on being a Nihilist, even Nikolai Petrovich can admit that this doesn't automatically make his rival a completely untrustworthy or despicable figure.  His son's hero is intelligent, articulate and certainly has something of the common touch about him, making him a favourite of Nikolai Petrovich's recently freed (if still impoverished) serfs and of his pretty young de facto wife Fenichka, mother of his 'other' infant son Mitya.  (Arkady's mother has been dead for twelve years by this time.)  Bazarov believes in science, reform and progress - all the things, in short, that a so-called 'enlightened' Russian nobleman should believe in but which, in the case of Nikolai Petrovich and the aloof and disappointed Pavel, spell the beginning of the end of the leisurely if sterile life they've lived together since choosing to turn their backs on progress by deliberately 'burying themselves' in the country.

The young men manage to amuse themselves for a fortnight on the Kirsanov estate - eating, walking, hunting, gathering specimens of flora and fauna and, in Bazarov's case, attending to the various ailments of its few remaining serfs.  A sort of inter-generational truce prevails until Bazarov  quarrels with Pavel at dinner one night, accusing the older man of being an out of touch sentimentalist who, along with all his kind, remains woefully ignorant of what Russia and its suffering people require to make them truly free and happy.  Pavel is outraged by these claims, but Bazarov is unmoved by his arguments, just as he is by what he curtly dismisses as being Pavel's futile, self-justifying theorizing.  'Your vaunted sense of your own dignity has let you down,' Bazarov sneeringly informs the older man.  'I shall be prepared to agree with you...when you can show me a single institution of contemporary life, private or public, which does not call for absolute and ruthless repudiation.'  After this, he and Arkady bid farewell to the Kirsanov estate, leaving Nikolai Petrovich and his brother to lament over everything they and their class have been accused of condoning by this misanthropic member of the younger generation.  Grateful to be free again, the young men travel on to a nearby town where they're warmly received by Nikolai Petrovich's friend Kolyazin, the district's progressive-minded but ineffectual (and thoroughly despotic) Governor.  From here it's their intention to travel next to the home of Bazarov's parents, cash-strapped landowners who live on a much smaller estate located some sixty miles away.

Life as the guest of Kolyazin proves no more appealing to Bazarov than life as the guest of Arkady's kindhearted if unimaginative father had been.  To relieve the monotony, he allows Arkady to drag him to the home of an 'advanced woman' named Madame Kukshin who proceeds to bore him stiff with her talk of women's rights and her reverence for the writings of several well-meaning but politically irrelevant philosophers.  She does, however, invite him and his young protégé to a ball, where she introduces them to a beautiful widowed aristocrat named Anna Sergeyevna Odintsov - a woman, rumour has it, who gained her fortune by cynically seducing and marrying her much older, now dead husband.  Like her more garrulous acquaintance Madame Kukshin, Anna Sergeyevna finds herself both attracted to and repelled by the outspoken Bazarov, whose reputation for radicalism has preceded him even into this quiet rural corner of Russia.  Nevertheless, she invites him and Arkady to stay with her at her estate before they travel on together to the infinitely more humble home of Bazarov's parents.  The young men are curious about Anna Sergeyevna and happily accept her invitation, arriving at her estate to find themselves greeted by a pair of footmen in livery in the grand 'old-fashioned' style of Catherine the Great.  Their hostess appears half an hour later and introduces them to her shy but pretty younger sister Katerina, known to everyone as Katya, and to the cranky, doddery old aunt who shares their large, efficiently-run house with them.

Signet Classics US, date unspecified
Prolonged exposure to such a beautiful if emotionally distant woman soon sees Arkady and Bazarov both fall madly in love with her - the former in a calf-eyed, silently adoring fashion and the latter in a way which poses a direct threat to his firmly-held convictions about life and the despised concept of 'romance' on the most fundamental levels.  Bazarov finds himself resenting Anna Sergeyevna for making him so conscious of her loveliness, for distracting him from what he insists is his only 'true' vocation.  'Suddenly he would imagine those arms that were so chaste one day twining themselves round his neck, those proud lips responding to his kisses, those intelligent eyes gazing lovingly - yes, lovingly! - into his own; and his head would swirl and for a moment he would be lost in reverie, till indignation boiled up in him again.  He caught himself indulging in all sorts of "shameful" thoughts, as though as devil were mocking at him.  At times it seemed as though a change were taking place in Madame Odintsov too, that there were signs of something special in the expression of her face, that perhaps...But at that point he would generally stamp his feet or grind his teeth and shake his fist at himself.'  

Everything seems hopeless until Anna Sergeyevna invites Bazarov to visit her alone in her room one morning, ostensibly to discuss a scientific text he had previously recommended she should read.  Granted this unforeseen opportunity, the besotted medical student takes matters into his own hands and candidly declares his love for her, only to find his hostess unprepared, even flabbergasted, to be the recipient of such a passionately expressed declaration of his true feelings towards her.  Neither party is left satisfied by the conversation and Bazarov, feeling tormented and humiliated, resumes his interrupted journey to the home of his adoring parents, who have been expecting him all this time without realizing what's kept him dallying on the Odintsov estate so long.  Arkady, confused by his own recent discovery that it's the shy, piano-playing Katya, not their world-weary hostess, whom he actually adores, also decides to leave, intending to return to the Kirsanov estate until he changes his mind at the last minute and decides to accompany Bazarov to his parents' house after all.

Arkady finds his friend much changed during the journey to the obscure and rather forlorn little village his parents call home.  Although Bazarov has lost none of his cynicism, he now seems exhausted and disappointed, a sufferer from the very 'romanticism' he has, in the past, so vehemently rejected.  Naturally, Bazarov's aging parents are overjoyed to see their son, not having laid eyes on him for three years, and his mother can't stop showering him with kisses, alternating these embarrassing displays of affection with promises to dash off to the kitchen and make him something nice to eat that very moment should he wish her to do so.  Bazarov's father, an ex-Army surgeon named Vassily Ivanych (who served in the same regiment as Arkady's paternal grandfather during the Napoleonic wars), behaves in the same adoring fashion, the result of which is to embarrass and irritate his son to the point where the young man is forced to extract a promise from Vassily Ivanych that both he and his mother will strive to 'control themselves' for as long as he and Arkady remain their guests. 

Bazarov's visit, however, proves to be of much shorter duration than originally anticipated.  He soon grows restless in such depressingly familiar surroundings and declares his intention to depart again for the Kirsanov estate, where he hopes to rededicate himself to his long-suspended scientific and medical studies in undisturbed seclusion.  He and Arkady leave the following day, travelling only as far as the first town before Bazarov decides to take a detour that will permit them to pay an unexpected call on Anna Sergeyevna.  They return to her estate to find their hostess looking listless and distracted, full of apologies for her failure to behave as graciously towards them as a woman of her class is expected to behave.  The friends soon bid her farewell again, her invitation to revisit her estate when she's in a brighter frame of mind ringing a little hollow in their ears as their carriage rolls away.

Life in the home of Arkady's father soon re-assumes its former predictable routine.  Bazarov spends his days dissecting plants and animals and arguing politics and other contentious issues with the easily angered Pavel, while Arkady divides his time between mooning over Katya and discussing the estate's future with Nikolai Petrovich - someone, it's now obvious, who's aging rapidly and will soon be incapable of managing his land without the assistance of his son.  Aware that the uneducated but very pretty Fenichka finds him both dangerous and attractive, Bazarov attempts to overcome his unreturned feelings for Anna Sergeyevna by clandestinely kissing the girl in the estate's seldom visited lilac arbour early one morning.  Unfortunately, this scene is witnessed by Pavel, who later that day challenges Bazarov to a duel in order to defend what he feels to be the shamelessly besmirched honour of his brother.  Bazarov is more amused than frightened at the prospect of having to fight a pistol duel with Pavel and gamely accepts the older man's challenge, only to find himself being missed when it finally takes place, making it necessary that he wound Pavel in the thigh with his own unfired pistol in order that 'honour' should be satisfied.  

The wound is not a serious one and Pavel spends the next few weeks in bed recuperating from it, granting him the opportunity to speak privately to Fenichka about what's happened and ascertain if it's really Bazarov or his forgiving if rather dimwitted brother whom the girl loves.  After Fenichka declares her undying love for Nikolai Petrovich, Pavel recommends that his brother break with tradition and marry her immediately - something Nikolai Petrovich has secretly longed to do for years so as to legitimize his 'other' son and repay Fenichka for the years of pleasure and loyalty she has so unstintingly given him.

Bazarov, in the meantime, has left the Kirsanov estate and returned alone to the home of his parents - an event which allows the lovestruck Arkady to cease thinking of himself as his friend's protégé and at last take the steps required to become his own man.  Arkady soon pays another solo visit to the Odintsov estate, where he proposes to Katya, much to the delight of his father and, eventually, of Anna Sergeyevna, whose feelings for the absent Bazarov remain mixed to say the least.  Although she realizes that she loves Bazarov, Anna Sergeyevna remains too afraid of him - and of the personal and social challenges he personifies for her and those like her - to confess her feelings or make anything more of their relationship.  This, she feels, is a moot point anyway, as Bazarov himself made it abundantly clear, at the time of their last meeting, that he had no intention of making a fool of himself again by making any further effort to pursue her.  

Everyone seems to settle into their assigned roles until word reaches Anna Sergeyevna that Bazarov, who had been treating one of the local peasants for typhus, has become fatally infected with the disease and is being nursed in his final illness by his heartbroken parents.  Bazarov begs to see her one last time before his death and she kindly agrees to visit him, arriving with an eminent German physician who immediately confirms the patient's own diagnosis that his case is a hopeless one.  The dying man tells Anna Sergeyevna that he's never ceased to love her but that his love for her is useless to both of them now, something she should make herself forget as quickly as possible.  'Love is a form,' he tells her, 'and my particular form is already disintegrating.  Better let me say - how lovely you are!...Live long, that's best of all, and make the most of it while there's still time.'  He dies soon afterwards, the imprint of his beloved's lips still damp on his feverish forehead.

Many changes occur in the lives of Anna Sergeyevna and her friends during the ensuing months.  Winter finds Katya happily married to Arkady, whose father has been granted his fondest wish and is now just as happily married to Fenichka.  Pavel, fully recovered from his leg wound, has left the family estate and retired to the German city of Dresden, where he plans to live out the rest of his days in genteel if exceedingly dull seclusion, a barely living relic of a vanished era whom his fellow Russian emigrés consider to be a perfect gentleman if something of a long-winded, petty-minded bore.  Anna Sergeyevna has also remarried, her new husband a man considered to be one of the future leaders of Russia by his friends, an up and coming lawyer who is 'quite young still, kindhearted and cold as ice.'  It is only Bazarov's parents whose lives have taken a turn for the worse since the untimely demise of their son.  Deprived of their darling Yevgeny, they spend their days lamenting his loss and tending to his grave in the tiny, otherwise neglected village cemetery he's buried in, their adoration of him - despite his passion, his cynicism, his honest if rebellious heart - as strong and unconditionally unwavering as ever.

Russian edition, date unspecified
Fathers and Sons was a novel that stirred up considerable controversy, if not outrage, in its day, with conservatives condemning Turgenev for glamorizing Nihilism in what they saw as being his overly worshipful portrayal of Bazarov while the radicals took him to task for not going far enough in condemning Czarist oppression and the socially destructive impact it continued to have upon their countrymen.  Turgenev himself became a vilified figure, distrusted and attacked by critics on both sides of politics because - unlike his more fiery contemporaries Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky - he refused to view his work as propaganda, seeking only to reveal in it the situation in Russia as it actually was in all its seething, violent and often contradictory complexity.  The task of the novelist, as Turgenev saw it, was not to deliver sermons about what were the 'right' and 'wrong' ways to fix Russia's many grievous social problems but, rather, to show how these problems influenced the lives and emotions of ordinary people, problems that would not begin to be addressed - and then only after several more decades of unrelenting oppression and bitter political in-fighting - until the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917 changed the political landscape of his homeland forever.  

Bazarov, who for most readers remains the book's most compelling character, has frequently been described as 'the first Bolshevik' - a description that, while accurate in one sense, ignores the crucial role that emotion plays in his story and what his attempts to deny and defy it ultimately cost him.  The scornful medical student is no bloodthirsty revolutionary, no ranting demagogue preaching Nihilism for its own sake.  Rather, he's a deeply divided human being torn between his sincere desire to see change occur - someone who freely acknowledges the sacrifices that such change will require of him in personal terms - and his equally strong desire to lead a productive and contented life that does not exclude friendship, marriage to a woman he adores and, in time, a family of his own.  I suspect that it was Bazarov's all too potent humanity, rather than what he and his 'type' represented and symbolized in socio-political terms, that raised the ire of Turgenev's many vociferous detractors, causing them to stop and consider the fact that people, not the ideas or the slogans they choose to shout in support of them, are what endure and ultimately matter in the end.  They clamoured for a one-dimensional black and white sketch and instead Turgenev gave them a meticulously detailed colour portrait, devastatingly realistic in its depiction of an unreconciled society and of everything that, in the very different world of pre-Soviet Russia, so tragically defined it.

The Author:  'He felt and understood the opposite sides of life,' Henry James once wrote of his friend and fellow novelist Ivan Turgenev, 'our Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, moralistic conventional standards were far away from him...half the charm of conversation with him was that one breathed an air in which cant phrases...simply sounded ridiculous.'  What to James' finely tuned ear sounded like virtues - Turgenev's reticence and skepticism, his lifelong unwillingness to take sides, to pass binding judgements on people and issues that would subsequently have to be adhered to no matter what - struck others as being proof of his procrastinating nature and lack of moral fibre, a betrayal not only of himself but also of the ongoing struggle to free Russia from its long unhappy history of Czarist oppression.  Another friend, the poet Jacob Polonsky, writing to a reactionary minister two years prior to Turgenev's death in 1883, unflatteringly described the novelist as being 'kind and soft as wax...feminine...without character.'  These conflicting views of Turgenev are and remain, even today, entirely typical.  No one, it seems, can quite decide if he's somebody they should celebrate or deride, a writer whose work, while undeniably great, deserves to be praised for its candour or criticized for its author's failure to take a fully committed political and social stance in what were dangerous and exceedingly turbulent times.

Turgenev's ambivalence - or what some, friend and foe alike, chose to call his 'moral weakness' - can perhaps be best understood by examining the circumstances of his birth and childhood.  The writer's father was a cavalry officer who, legend has it, was physically prevented from leaving the estate of his future bride-to-be so he would literally have no choice but to stay where he was and marry her.  Colonel Turgenev was, by all accounts, a handsome and charming man who enjoyed the favours of literally dozens of women - qualities which made him doubly appealing to his allegedly 'ugly' bride, the heiress Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova, and also aided her transformation, in the words of critic Isaiah Berlin, into 'a strong-willed, hysterical, brutal, bitterly frustrated woman who loved her son, and broke his spirit.'  Even before their father's death, which occurred when Ivan was sixteen, it was Varvara Petrovna who ruled the lives of himself and his brother just as she oversaw every aspect of life on their family estate, Spasskoye-Lutovinovo, located near the Ukrainian city of Oryol some 350 kilometres from Moscow.  

As a child, Turgenev often saw his mother and other members of his family behave with unspeakable cruelty and even barbarity towards the serfs who worked their land for them.  One one occasion, he allegedly watched in horrified silence as his maternal grandmother smothered a young peasant boy with a cushion so as not to have to listen to him groan after she'd struck him to the ground in a fit of senseless rage.  The fact that his mother also beat himself and his brother regularly and, by all accounts, with great gusto (whether they'd done anything to rate a beating or not) was perhaps another reason for his later unwillingness to commit himself to radical or unpopular causes, no matter how noble or admirable their aims may have been.  As a victim of what would nowadays be considered prolonged and trauma-inducing child abuse, he probably learned at an early age that to protest or even express an opinion of his own was tantamount to inviting his mother to behave irrationally if not violently toward him.

Turgenev, his mother and his brother Nikolai left their estate in 1827 and moved to what, from that point onward, would be their new home in Moscow.  After completing his schooling, Turgenev spent a year studying at that city's university before transferring, in 1834, to the University of St Petersburg where he remained for the next three years, reading Classics, Russian Literature and Philosophy.  Although he published his first poems during his student years and had the chance to read History under professor (and novelist) Nikolai Gogol, he was dissatisfied with what he saw as being the inferior standard of education offered to men of his class in their native land and, in 1837, transferred again to the University of Berlin.  He returned to Russia in 1840 to complete his Master's Degree and in 1841 began what was to be his brief career as a civil servant - a career that ended for good with his resignation from the Ministry of the Interior in 1845 in order to pursue his 'gentlemanly' interests in literature, travel and hunting.  

His retirement from public life also allowed Turgenev to pursue another interest - the Spanish-born opera singer and composer Pauline Garcia-Viardot whom he had first met in 1843.  Turgenev soon followed Madame Garcia-Viardot and her husband and children to Paris, renting an apartment close to where they lived so he could visit her every day.  He would never again live very far away from his heart's desire, accompanying her and her family on her concert tours of Europe and even sharing homes with them at various stages of what some believed to be a fully-fledged affair while others believed the relationship to be nothing more than an unconsummated (and strictly one-sided) infatuation.  Although he never married himself, Turgenev did have several affairs with women who worked on his family's estate and even fathered an illegitimate child by one of them - a girl named Pelageia who was later rechristened Paulinette and sent to Paris by her sempstress mother, at his request, to be raised alongside the Viardot offspring.

After 1862, when he left Russia for what proved to be the final time, Turgenev made his home permanently in Paris where his status as the 'family friend' of a famous opera singer gained him automatic entrée to the city's most fashionable salons and guaranteed his acceptance as one of their own by its most prestigious writers, publishers, artists and musicians.  The appearance, in 1852, of Sketches from a Sportsman's Album - a book of interrelated short stories which was one of the first literary works to offer readers a realistic depiction of the lives of Russian serfs - had been greeted as a masterpiece both in Paris and in its author's homeland, as had been his subsequent novels Rudin (1857), Home of the Gentry (1859) and On The Eve (1860).  Turgenev's clear, balanced, meticulously exact style of writing earned him the respect and friendship of many of France's leading literary figures, including Gustave Flaubert, George Sand, Edmond Goncourt and Guy de Maupassant.  His work also became increasingly popular in England and the United States, with friends and admirers like Henry James doing everything they could to ensure his works were translated and read shortly after they were published in French or, less and less frequently as time went on, in their original Russian.

It was, of course, in Russia that Turgenev received his greatest praise and found his staunchest critics.  The 1861 publication of Fathers and Sons proved, in many respects, to be the culmination of the Russian intelligentsia's love/hate relationship with his work and what he - a wealthy landowner who had fled to the West rather than join the fight to improve the lives of the serfs whose miserable lot he 'pretended' to feel so moved by - represented to it in political if not in literary terms.  The book was attacked by many radical critics for what they saw as being its lack of 'seriousness' and many of the writer's own friends, including his own editor, accused him of having made the controversial figure of Bazarov too attractive and sympathetic, a sort of literary rallying point for the young with whom, they insisted, he had always striven too hard to curry favour.  The controversy never really ended and Turgenev, despite many attempts to do so in letters sent to a wide variety of correspondents, never became fully reconciled with the energizing impact the character he'd created had come to have on Russian politics.  

Not even his two greatest contemporaries, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, could quite forgive Turgenev for what they separately dismissed as being his lack of backbone and conviction.  The publication of his next novel Smoke (1867) led to an open quarrel with Dostoevsky in Baden-Baden, the German resort town in which both writers happened to be living at the time.  Turgenev's relationship with Tolstoy, whom he was distantly related to and whom he had praised as a great writer long before Tolstoy had published any of his own masterpieces, was even less promising.  Although they had been friends of a sort in their youth, with Turgenev taking Tolstoy to Paris and showing him the sights and visiting him several times on his family estate Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy once challenged him to a duel and described him as 'a bore' whose attempts to show his children how to dance the can-can were, as he famously confided to his diary, 'sad.'  They didn't speak for seventeen years but this did not prevent Turgenev, on his death-bed, from pleading with his kinsman to stop playing the role of a religious visionary and 'return to literature.'

Like its predecessor, Smoke failed to win the approval of the Russian critics - a situation that repeated itself with virtually everything Turgenev published between 1867 and his death from spinal cancer - in the town of Bougival, just outside Paris, with Pauline Garcia-Viardot at his side - on 3 September 1883.  Although these later works - the novels The Torrents of Spring (1877) and Virgin Soil (1879) and shorter, elegaic works including King Lear of the Steppes (1870) - reveal a deepening of his artistic vision and, for their time, an uncannily perceptive interest in the role that memory and dreams play in defining human consciousness, they were generally not held to be the masterpieces they are until the early years of the twentieth century, when new translations by Constance Garnett and others began appearing in England, the USA and France.  The success of these translations, and his growing reputation as the equal if not the superior of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, saw Turgenev become an important influence on a new generation of Modernist writers including Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf and the young Ernest Hemingway.

Click HERE to download free and legal eBOOK copies of many works by IVAN TURGENEV - including Fathers and Sons (listed under its alternative title Fathers and Children) - from Project Gutenberg in English, French, Russian and Finnish.

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Thursday, 30 October 2014

BENTLEY RUMBLE Early Writing (2014)

My first attempt to write what I daringly called ‘a book’ was a kind of story-with-pictures titled Spies that I produced at the age of ten at the urging of my fourth grade primary school teacher.  I took its composition seriously and worked extremely hard to get each of its many incidental details right, determined to make the finished product look and read as much like a ‘real book’ as possible before I did what all writers secretly dread to do and handed it in to be assessed (a polite euphemism for ‘criticized and/or edited’).  Even then I was a perfectionist and I’m ashamed to say that the self-defeating habit of striving for perfection is one I’ve never lost – an admission which possibly explains my snail-like rate of production and the embarrassing meagreness of my literary output.

File Size: 
20 pages (.pdf) / 7408 words / 4 MB

eBOOK Formats: 

.azw3, .epub, .mobi & .pdf

Mediafire eBOOK/Zip File Download Link: 

BR-Early Writing (2014)-eBOOKx4


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BENTLEY RUMBLE Early Reading (2013)
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Thursday, 23 October 2014

JAZZ ICONS #11: Wes Montgomery


Of all the many and varied excitements of jazz, surely none is more dramatic and stimulating than one of those rare occasions when a new star of major importance suddenly bursts through from nowhere, to full-scale recognition.  In the even rarer instances when such a newcomer also offers a startlingly different and revitalizing approach to his instrument, the impact is of course all the greater.  Such is the case with the lightning-swift emergence of Wes Montgomery.

from the liner notes for
Movin' Along (1960)

The sound is unmistakable.  It's warm but powerful, quiet and at the same time inviting and supremely, almost magically supple.  Note follows note with a kind of graceful fluidity born of the combination of astounding virtuosity and the ability to capture the emotional essence of a tune in a way that remains a benchmark in jazz improvisation even to this day.  It's a sound that's influenced literally dozens of guitarists - including Grant Green, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lee Ritenour and Emily Remler to name just a few - and will continue to do so for as long as anybody continues to play and seriously study the instrument.  The fact that it was created by a musician who was almost entirely self-taught, who developed and perfected his technique in obscure mid-western nightclubs while holding down a physically demanding day job as a machine operator, only makes what he managed to accomplish in just eight, immensely productive years that much more remarkable.

John Leslie 'Wes' Montgomery was born in Indianapolis, the capital of the US state of Indiana, on 6 March 1923.  Little is known about his early life except that he grew up in Indianapolis, attended school and married his wife Serene there in 1942, and that he was one of four siblings - Thomas (who died at sixteen), Monk (born 1921), Buddy (born 1930) and a younger sister named Ervena.  All four Montgomery children were blessed with musical ability - Thomas had been a drummer prior to his death, and Ervena would eventually go on to perform as a singer under the name 'Lena Montgomery' - and it was with his brothers Monk (bass) and Buddy (vibraphone and piano) that the future guitar virtuoso would make his earliest recordings, including Fingerpickin', his hastily assembled debut LP, released by Pacific Jazz in 1957.

The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (1961)
FULL ALBUM - 6 Tracks

Montgomery first began to 'mess around with music' at the age of twelve, teaching himself to play a four-stringed instrument known as the 'tenor guitar' before falling under the spell of Charlie Christian - at that time the most famous and most widely imitated guitarist in the country thanks to the many, soon-to-be legendary recordings he was making as a member of the Benny Goodman Orchestra and as a member of the various small groups the white clarinettist and bandleader liked to record with on the side.  Despite having received no formal training as a guitarist and allegedly never having played the six-stringed version of the instrument before (a claim which has yet to be verified), the newly-married Montgomery bought himself a secondhand guitar and amplifier (paying for them with money borrowed from his brother Buddy) and dedicated himself to learning all of Christian's solos note for note, developing an unorthodox fingering technique along the way which, according to jazz critic Scott Yanow, allowed him to play what he was hearing by 'plucking the strings with the fleshy part of his thumb, using downstrokes for single notes and a combination of upstrokes and downstrokes for chords and octaves.'  Playing in this 'quieter' fashion also made him more popular with his neighbors, some of whom had objected to the all-night practice sessions he regularly conducted after working his eight hour factory shift each day.  Within a year he was proficient enough to begin playing professionally, gaining a reputation as a kind of human jukebox for his ability to reproduce Christian's solos with such unerring and seemingly effortless accuracy.

It was his encyclopedic knowledge of Christian's music that earned the guitarist his first full-time professional job as a member of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, which he joined in 1948 and would tour and occasionally record with until 1950, when the stress of being away from his young and growing family saw him return to Indianapolis.  The father of eight children, Montgomery found another full-time job as a welder for a company that manufactured radio parts, sleeping for six hours after his shift ended at 3pm before going off to his 'other' job as a musician, routinely playing in the city's jazz clubs until the early hours of the following morning.  While this punishing schedule did not make him famous, it did provide him with the space and time he required to further refine and develop his unique, thumb-dominated 'strum and pluck' technique - a technique which had become that of a genuine virtuoso by the time he was heard by visiting tenor saxophonist Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley at an Indianapolis venue called The Missile Club in 1958.  Adderley immediately recommended him to Orrin Keepnews, A&R Director of the New York label Riverside Records, who signed him in 1959 and would go on to produce many of the albums - including The Wes Montgomery Trio (1959), The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (1960), Movin' Along (1960) and So Much Guitar! (1961) - that would establish his as the most exciting name to emerge in jazz guitar since the untimely death of Charlie Christian at the age of twenty-five. 

Judged an overnight success by those who had no idea of how long he'd been playing nor under what circumstances he'd been obliged to develop and refine his technique, Montgomery soon became an in-demand studio musician and a headlining live act in his own right, appearing in clubs across the country with his own trio as well as in a trio that featured his brothers Buddy and Monk whose previous band, a quintet called The Mastersounds, he had occasionally recorded with during the 1950s.  He was also invited to join the band of saxophone giant John Coltrane - an invitation he turned down - and appeared as a featured sideman with the Wynton Kelly Trio, formerly the backing band of Miles Davis, another well-known admirer of his inimitable and now immediately recognizable guitar style.  

The early 1960s saw the guitarist appear frequently as a sideman on record dates by, among others, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, trumpeter Nat Adderley (brother of 'Cannonball' Adderley) and soul-jazz organist extraordinaire Jimmy Smith.  In April 1963 he entered the studio to record what would be released as Fusion, his penultimate LP for Riverside and one that, unusually for the time, featured him performing beautifully-rendered ballads with full orchestral accompaniment.  Although no one may have realized it, the relative success of this LP established a formula that would be exploited with even greater commercial success by his new record label Verve, with whom he signed in 1964 following the death of Riverside founder Bill Grauer and that label's subsequent filing for bankruptcy.

Here's That Rainy Day (1965)
Tempo, ABC TV
London, 7 May 1965

From 1964 until his death four years later Montgomery would record a series of highly successful 'crossover' LPs for Verve and then for A&M Records which saw him increasingly eschew jazz material in favor of cover versions - lushly orchestrated by arranger/conductor Don Sebesky - of the sometimes less-than-memorable pop hits of the day.  His fifth Verve LP, Goin' Out of My Head, went gold and would go on to win him a Grammy Award for 'Best Instrumental Jazz Performance' of 1965 - a nomination thought to be undeserved by some who had followed his career since his Riverside days and saw his new direction as being a cynical betrayal of the 'pure' jazz upon which his reputation as an improviser had originally been built.  The move from Verve to A&M Records, another pop-oriented label co-founded by the guitarist's one-time collaborator Herb Alpert, saw this process confirmed by the 1967 release of A Day in the Life, the title track of which - a Lennon and McCartney tune which had recently appeared on The Beatles' LP Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - became an enormous hit on AM radio and saw the album itself go on to become one of the biggest-selling 'jazz' LPs of all time.  

Montgomery, a shy and diffident man who had never learned to read music and played everything he played by ear and instinct alone, publicly sought to distinguish his later commercial music from his earlier work and the alienating impact his runaway 'pop' success was having on both disappointed jazz fans and on his own artistic integrity.  'There is a jazz concept to what I'm doing,' he explained to journalist Gary Giddins shortly after the release of A Day in the Life, 'but I'm playing popular music [now] and it should be regarded as such.'  The controversy did not harm his record sales in either his native USA or in Britain and Europe, both of which he successfully toured in 1965, performing a largely jazz-based programme to festival audiences who, by all accounts, could not get enough of him.  In time, however, it became obvious that he felt trapped by the conventions of the 'easy listening' format and longed to return to his former, more improvisational style of playing - something he was able to do consistently on stage even if he was not able, or willing, to do so in the studio.

Wes Montgomery died at his home in Indianapolis on 15 June 1968 during what was a rare break from touring and recording.  He told his wife he felt unwell when he woke up that morning and fifteen minutes later he was gone, victim of a massive coronary which killed him almost instantly.  While it's tempting to speculate on the direction his music might have taken had he lived, there's no evidence to suggest that he would have abandoned what had become a highly lucrative commercial formula to return, at least in the short term, to recording so-called 'pure' jazz - a style of music that was in serious decline by the late 1960s thanks to the worldwide dominance of rock music and one that would soon face a new threat as the emerging fusion movement began to gain momentum.  The point is not what the guitarist would or might have done had he lived, but what he actually did manage to achieve during the eight years which saw him rise from obscurity to become one of the world's most genuinely admired musicians.  Compromises may have made between art and commerce, with jazz being the loser in many respects, but as DownBeat critic Pete Welding once put it:

He couldn't play uninterestingly if he wanted to. Time and time again...his supple sense of rhythm, his choice and placement of notes, his touch and tone raise what might have been in lesser hands merely mundane to the plane of something special, distinctive, masterful.

And that, as anyone who has ever heard the music of this extraordinary musician must certainly agree, counts as no mean feat by anybody's standards.

 How Insensitive (1966)
GEORGE DEVENS [vibraphone]; RAY BARRETTO [congas]
From the 1966 Verve LP Tequila

Click HERE to visit the official website of WES MONTGOMERY sponsored by Resonance Records.  You can also click HERE to listen to more of his music on YouTube.

Special thanks to everyone who took the time to upload this music to YouTube.  Your efforts are appreciated by music lovers everywhere. 

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JAZZ ICONS #2: Django Reinhardt
JAZZ ICONS #9: Lee Morgan
JAZZ ICONS #10: Bernie McGann