Posts Tagged ‘James Baldwin’

Kurt Weill. Who Wrote “September Song” with Maxwell Anderson


The summer ended. Day by day, and taking its time, the summer ended. The noises in the street began to change, diminish, voices became fewer, the music sparse. Daily, blocks and blocks of children were spirited away. Grownups retreated from the streets, into the houses. Adolescents moved from the sidewalk to the stoop to the hallway to the stairs, and rooftops were abandoned. Such trees as there were allowed their leaves to fall – they fell unnoticed – seeming to promise, not without bitterness, to endure another year. At night, from a distance, the parks and playgrounds seemed inhabited by fireflies, and the night came sooner, inched in closer, fell with a greater weight. The sound of the alarm clock conquered the sound of the tambourine, the houses put on their winter faces. The houses stared down a bitter landscape, seeming, not without bitterness, to have resolved to endure another year.”

― James Baldwin, Just Above My Head

In this strangest of years, September has crept in without barely any notice for me. Much in the way August departed. I barely noticed the comings and goings, even though time seems to drag in these days of waiting for what might come next.

In doing so, I have neglected playing what might be my favorite song as I do every year at this time. The son is September Song, written by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson for the 1938 Broadway show Knickerbocker Holiday. It was written in just a few hours after the show’s star, Walter Huston, requested that he have a solo  song in the show.

Of course, in doing so, the composers had to account for Huston’s limited vocal range. The result though is a song that has become one of the great standards, covered by an incredibly wide range of artists. I have played versions from Willie Nelson, Bryan Ferry and Lou Reed along with the more well known jazz vocalists.

The song is just lovely in a most wistful way and these days we can all use something lovely and even wistful. Here’s such a version from the great Sarah Vaughan.

Have a good day.

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“The Americans have no sense of doom, none whatever. They do not recognize doom when they see it.”

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

At the bottom of the moods swings that occupy my waking days and dreaming nights as of late. In the studio at 5:30 this morning, a Tom Waits song playing with huge clunking beats and his coarse, smoke burnt voice yelling over it all, And the earth died screaming/While I lay dreaming

Shuffling through things, trying to find something to hold on to and I come across this little painting, one that I quickly did years ago for my eyes only. Never meant to be shared, just a private reminder to myself of those days when the dark crows of doom have flown around my door. Meant to keep me aware of the signs that appear when these crows are coming back, to remind me of the immense fatigue and sense of doom they bring with them so that I might be able to stay clear of them this time.

To avoid hopelessness.

But sometimes hopelessness cannot be avoided.

If you have been at this point, you know there are only two outcomes:  to succumb to the doom or fight. You realize that hope, at that point, has become your enemy, a distraction that weakens your resolve and keeps you from being fully engaged in the battle.

Hope is a tool used by agents of doom, to tyrants and despots who tie themselves to religions that keep the masses passive with promises in lives after this one on earth. Hope makes you look forward when you need to be only in the here and now. Hope makes you sloppy and inattentive, willing to surrender to nearly the same terms and conditions that have brought you to this point.

Hope is a promise unfulfilled, a wish without action.

No, in times of doom, hopelessness is your greatest ally.

Hopelessness demands action.

Hopelessness is the greatest agent of change.

Hopelessness is fearless, with nothing left to lose.

I wasn’t planning on writing this this morning. God, I want to be cheery and optimistic and, dare I say, hopeful. I have always preached hope on this blog but that was in times when I thought the future was still a bright sky, not a dark and foreboding one like the one I see now, where the storm clouds have been amassing for the last four years. I’ve watched them gather but hope made me think it would somehow resolve without me engaging, that the sky would brighten of its own accord.

But I was wrong to trust hope. I can’t turn to hope this morning.

No, I am looking to hopelessness as my savior. I’ve have sometimes visited that abject blackness down where hopelessness dwells and it has always sent me back upwards. It has invariably set me in action and stiffened my resolve. It has made me realize that this life is a precious thing that is worth fighting for, against all hope.

Against all hope. I never thought about that term before, though I have used it on more than one occasion. I think we are at that point, where we must struggle against all hope with hopelessness as our great ally.

So, for the time being, I am setting hope aside. Oh, I’ll hope you’re doing well and staying safe because I want us all to have a brighter future at some point soon. But I will not depend on hope or trust that it will bring that desired future.

Only hopelessness can do that.

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The Need for Solitude

The artist must actively cultivate
that state which most people avoid:
the state of being alone.
-James Baldwin


I spoke with a drawing class from a local college yesterday.  I always feel like I could have done a much better job with these things and yesterday was no different.  I left thinking that I hadn’t fully expressed fully all the advice or warnings I might have wanted to offer.  I had sped over the idea of taking a  mindset for their work that makes it apparent that they view their work as important.  The idea here is that if you don’t take your work seriously, how can you expect others to  do the same?  I don’t think I got that fully across.

The one thing I did stay on was the value and need for solitiude in their work, how they must embrace being alone with their thoughts and work in order to take their work to its fullest potential.  They should be honest with themselves and if they are uneasy about being and working alone, this is not a path they should follow.  I told them that the solitude was actually the big attraction for me and that, even as I spoke with them, I was wishing I was back in the studio.  Alone.

Creation is most often done in solitude.  There have been successful artistic collaborations through the years but they seldom have the impact and power of the singular voice and vision.  And this is most often forged in solitude.

Maybe I’m biased towards this idea because of my cultivated  affinity for being alone.  I don’t know nor do I really care.  As the glorious Garbo said, ” I just want to be alone.”


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