“Vehicle for idiomatic communication”

I have posted links to this Youtube video of Alan Ginsberg performing his poem ‘Father Death Blues’ on Facebook a couple of times. The second time because the first one got taken down and thus the embed code had changed. I love the poem and particularly this rendition of it for many reasons, one of which is that I can equally well imagine Ivor Cutler singing it.

The recording is from a BBC interview programme called Face to Face from 1995. A previous posting of the video included host Jeremy Isaacs asking Ginsberg how he would like ‘us’ to remember him, to which Ginsberg replies, perhaps surprisingly, ‘Oh, I think “Father Death Blues”, the poem “Father Death Blues”. Maybe I should sing that? Would it be of interest?’

The current clip with its Italian subtitles has lost this brief introduction. So it’s lucky that the whole programme is also available on the fabulous Ubuweb, where this exchange occurs around 35 minutes in.

Ginsberg is thoughtful, generous and insightful throughout. At one point Isaacs asks him whether he is a writer or a performer. It feels like a slightly forced question but actually it prompts Ginsberg to talk about poets who perform their writing; about the ‘dimension of sound’ in his own work, and his use of

‘vernacular rhythms and diction […] So that it is possible to perform, or recite, or orate, or vocalise – I would say – my poems, and have them understood more rapidly, almost instantaneously, as ordinary speech. Or intense fragments of ordinary speech…’

I particularly like the slightly garbled way he introduces the train of thought: ‘And there is the preparation in America of vehicle for idiomatic communication.’ [His emphasis.]

I was thinking about this on Monday when I had an email from publishing provocateur and visionary James Bridle of the excellent future of publishing blog Booktwo.org and founder of the experimental Artist’s eBooks project. He wrote with news that the three short stories of mine he published in the EPUB format at the end of 2009 (which I blogged about here) are now also available free from the new iBooks store, a development which operates alongside iTunes and eases compatibility and functionality with iPads and 4G iPhones.

If like me you don’t have an iPad or a 4G iPhone, you can still download the stories free of charge from the Artist’s eBooks site to read on a host of devices, including a Mac or PC using the free Adobe Digital Editions software. Much much more reliable information on formats etc is available on the help page of course. There is also a very nice one on there by the writer Niven Govinden.

One of my stories, ‘How we made “An American Legend” part 1’, was commissioned by Las Cienegas Projects in Los Angeles to accompany a group show entitled Landscape Memories Revisited. I’ve worked with the artist Steven Hull of LCP on a couple of previous projects — including Ab Ovo, a huge collaborative relay that mobilised the psychiatric testing of visual artists to generate children’s stories — and I love his work, so this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

It was a timely commission too, since I’d been wanting to write about the California where my own late father had lived. At the time, my father’s friend and executor was still trying with little success to sell his car — a 2004 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS — and wind up the estate, so perhaps it was inevitable that this worked its way into the story:

‘What you get?’ I asked him. ‘An LS?’



‘Yup ha ha ha’

‘How much?’ We were looking for fire-sale prices, a dead man’s car.

‘Five three. Dude wanted six nine nine two.’

What we had got for our $5k give or take was a sixth generation 2004 Chevy Monte Carlo SS, two door coupe. Silver with black interior. Good condition. No accidents. Thirty-some-thousand on the clock.

That is SS as in ‘Super Sport’ for any of you non-GM heads. So pretty much a 3.8 liter Buick V6 unit in there. Two-hundred HP. Yes OK I will admit there are better numbers on the SS Super…, but Scott was not complaining. Nice details on the trim too, such as front license plate close-out.

Cool :-)

Never mind idiomatic communication, it crossed my mind as I was writing to wonder, and only half-jokingly, whether I was invoking this particular vehicle as an act of sympathetic magic. As if by writing about a couple of fictional Serbian-American Chevy freaks looking for a second hand car I might help to conjure up some real buyers…

My father was a bit of a gearhead himself and a European migrant though from the UK rather than the Balkans, where Patricia a.k.a. ‘SD Chevy Girl’ the story’s narrator tells us her grandparents hailed from. I don’t think I need to say that all characters and situations in the story are completely fictional and any resemblance to persons living or dead would be entirely coincidental etc. I should also point out that the numerous misspellings in the story — including the name of Filippi’s Pizza Grotto — are the narrator’s own. However the locations are real, and included in the story is a plug for Cruisin’ Grand, a classic car cruise that takes over several blocks of Grand Avenue, Escondido, Ca. every Friday night during the summer.

This Friday’s Cruisin’ Grand (24 September 2010) is the last of the season, so if you’re in the San Diego area or even the wider SoCal megaregion you might want to check it out.


Download ‘How we made “An American Legend” part 1’ for free from the Artist’s Ebooks site or on iBooks.