Monthly Archives: June 2012

Keep it real. Keep it simple. Keep it real simple.

BlackBerry vs iPhone presentations

These photos say a lot about the value of keeping your brand messages simple and direct. Yes, this isn’t a perfect product comparison–a better image for the Apple presentation would be for iOS rather than iPhone. The point, however, remains valid–compare the product messaging language shown in each of these slides, by Research In Motion and Apple, respectively:

  • BlackBerry® WebWorks™ & bbUI.js
  • iPhone 4S

Note how RIM, like many companies, feels compelled to slap ®’s and ™’s on on everything, to brand every component, create a breadcrumb of cascading sub-brands, and end with the convoluted gobbledegook of “bbUI.js.” Yes, I know this is for developers, but still, the message gets out to the world that this is a techy, geeky, cold, inhuman environment–not the best message when your products are being killed by the simplicity of Apple. And when creating a long string of nonsense like this, it’s no wonder that typographical mistakes intrude, such as the ampersand that is superscripted like the  ™ it follows. Who really wants to proofread lines like this, let alone read them?

Am I harping on minor details? Perhaps. But my point is that details matter. I’m not claiming that overzealous trademark tagging or botched ampersand sizing is why RIM is laying off workers and delaying phones. But it IS indicative of the kinds of decisions companies make every day that often lead, in total, to a march toward irrelevancy. Look at Apple’s slide by comparison: just the phone’s name, no nonsense, no need to ® and ™ it for this event. This clean message is indicative of Apple’s approach to keeping everything they do as clean and simple as possible. Details matter, because they are the manifestations of what’s going on at deeper levels.

Amtrak renaming project, by Harry Shearer

All aboard the renominalization train

Amtrak “renominalization” — i.e. renaming — by Harry Shearer


The great Harry Shearer gives us a fly-on-the-wall perspective of a hypothetical Amtrak renaming / rebranding project, from his KCRW radio show, Le Show. It’s probably ten years old by now, but it’s a classic. If you’ve ever been involved in naming or branding, from the agency side or the client side, you might experience a little Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome shock of recognition when you hear this. Enjoy (or weep).

David Lynch’s hair as art motif

David Lynch's hair in paintings

Artist, filmmaker and composer David Lynch sports a head of hair that’s an art motif in itself, seen here in some famous paintings. Created / discovered by Jeremy Chen in his post, The Painter, which includes a couple more examples.

Listening to and visualizing the imagination

“On the other hand, although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.”
~Albert Einstein

“In Cold Hell, in Thicket” by Charles Olson

From the YouTube description: “Charles Olson reading ‘In Cold Hell, in Thicket’ (1950) sometime in the mid-60s in Gloucester, MA—late night, recorded for Robert Creeley. Audio courtesy Ron Silliman and PennSound audio archive.” This great video uses found footage from Britton, South Dakota, 1938-39.

In Cold Hell, in Thicket

In cold hell, in thicket, how
abstract (as high mind, as not lust, as love is) how
strong (as strut or wing, as polytope, as things are
constellated) how
strung, how cold
can a man stay (can men) confronted

All things are made bitter, words even
are made to taste like paper, wars get tossed up
like lead soldiers used to be
(in a child’s attic) lined up
to be knocked down, as I am,
by firings from a spit-hardened fort, fronted
as we are, here, from where we must go

God, that man, as his acts must, as there is always
a thing he can do, he can raise himself, he raises
on a reed he raises his

Or, if it is me, what
he has to say »»»

The words gave way like leaves

“With the sound of gusting wind in the branches of the language trees of Babel, the words gave way like leaves, and every reader glimpsed another reality hidden in the foliage.”
~Andrei Codrescu

Name origins: A Clockwork Orange

Alex from Stanley Kubrick's, A Clockwork Orange

The recent New Yorker science fiction issue, their first ever, included a great essay by Anthony Burgess from 1973, The Clockwork Condition, in which the author comments on his most famous book, A Clockwork Orange, and the “very close film interpretation” by Stanley Kubrick. Most interesting is Burgess’ description of the origin of the title, as well as the various lexicographical connotations of the antihero’s name, Alex:

I first heard the expression “as queer as a clockwork orange” in a London pub before the Second World War. It is an old Cockney slang phrase, implying a queerness or madness so extreme as to subvert nature, since could any notion be more bizarre than that of a clockwork orange? The image appealed to me as something not just fantastic but obscurely real. The forced marriage of an organism to a mechanism, of a thing living, growing, sweet, juicy, to a cold dead artifact–is that solely a concept of nightmare? I discovered the relevance of this image to twentieth-century life when, in 1961, I began to write a novel about curing juvenile delinquency. I had read somewhere that it would be a good idea to liquidate the criminal impulse through aversion therapy; I was appalled. I began to work out the implications of this notion in a brief work of fiction. The title “A Clockwork Orange” was there waiting to attach itself to the book: it was the only possible name.

The hero of both the book and the film is a young thug called Alex. I gave him that name because of its international character (you could not have a British or Russian boy called Chuck or Butch), and also because of its ironic connotations. Alex is a comic reduction of Alexander the Great, slashing his way through the world and conquering it. But he is changed into the conquered–impotent, wordless. He was a law (a lex) unto himself; he becomes a creature without lex or lexicon. The hidden puns, of course, have nothing to do with the real meaning of the name Alexander, which is “defender of men.”

At the beginning of the book and the film, Alex is a human being endowed, perhaps overendowed, with three characteristics that we regard as essential attributes of man. He rejoices in articulate language and even invents a new form of it (he is far from alexical at this stage); he loves beauty, which he finds in Beethoven’s music above everything; he is aggressive.

The new form of language that Alex invents is Nadsat, which “is basically English with some borrowed words from Russian. It also contains influences from Cockney rhyming slang and the King James Bible, the German language, some words of unclear origin, and some that Burgess invented. The word nadsat itself is the suffix of Russian numerals from 11 to 19 (-надцать). The suffix is an almost exact linguistic parallel to the English ‘-teen’….” Thus, Alex invents and speaks a “teen” language, a common occurrence the world over. By propagating a new form of language, he is partaking in creative destruction of the existing dominant language in his culture (English), but that is just an analog to the real violence he perpetrates on society. If only Alex had become a linguist and author like Burgess, (or a namer?) then perhaps he wouldn’t have been so violent. Then again, we can’t retroactively “cure” literary characters any more than the society of A Clockwork Orange could.

Bonus: A lexicon of Nadast words from A Clockwork Orange.

The Clock by Christian Marclay

Christian Marclay - The Clock (composite)

Chances are by now that you’ve heard of Christian Marclay’s brilliant work of art, The Clock (2010), though less likely that you have actually seen it (I haven’t as yet). As described by Wikipedia, the piece “is in effect a clock, but it is made of a 24-hour montage of thousands of time-related scenes from movies and some TV shows, meticulously edited to be shown in ‘real time’: each scene contains an indication of time (for instance, a timepiece, or a piece of dialogue) that is synchronized to show the actual time.”

A lot has been written about The Clock, and from what I’ve read, this is much more than just a collage of film images. The images not only work in sequence as a clock, but the pacing of the editing builds to moments of climax, as the top of the hour approaches, and then to a more relaxed pace after the hour has passed. And the soundtracks of the clips are overlapped and blended across transitions, creating new correspondences and “dialog” between disparate scenes. In short, this is a living, breathing clock, more like a day-long dream (a contemporary Ulysses?) than a typical film, clock, art work, or “typical” anything.

Check out this wonderful New Yorker profile piece by Daniel Zalewski, The Hours: How Christian Marclay created the ultimate digital mosaic. Here is an excerpt about how Marclay transforms the ordinary into art:

Part of Marclay’s fascination with the cinematic archive had to do with the way it resisted transfiguration. It wasn’t hard to turn a recorded sound into an estranged abstraction, by slowing it down or folding it into a new rhythm. But, even if you chopped a film into a single frame, specificity clung to it: Audrey Hepburn, Givenchy, Manhattan, 1961. Marclay wondered if he could fashion from familiar clips a genuinely unfamiliar film, one with its own logic, rhythm, and aesthetics. In his view, the best collages combined the “memory aspect”—recognition of the source material—with the pleasurable violence of transformation. If Marclay could turn the sky green for one day, he’d do it.

Later in the piece, Zalewski offers this observation about the paradoxical nature of time both in The Clock and in the viewing of it:

There were darker resonances, too. People went to the movies to lose track of time; this video would pound viewers with an awareness of how long they’d been languishing in the dark. It would evoke the laziest of modern pleasures—channel surfing—except that the time wasted would be painfully underlined.

… There was a lineage of avant-garde cinema that, with varying degrees of obscurity, examined the temporal qualities of film. Marclay’s contribution to the cinema of duration, though, would be pleasurable to watch. He sensed a creepy challenge. If his film was sufficiently seductive, he might coax people to sit for hours, literally watching their lives tick away.

There are several copies of The Clock owned by museums or private collectors that are in circulation, touring the globe for short-run performances. Be sure to catch all or part of it when it comes to a city near you, and watch your life tick away. I can’t wait.

Face off: John Stezaker and John Baldessari show how to create audience engagement

John Stezaker - Pair IV

John Baldessari - Man and Woman with Bridge

Top: John Stezaker, Pair IV. Collage, 2007. Whitechapel Gallery, London. Bottom: John Baldessari, Man and Woman with Bridge, 1984. Black-and-white photograph on board.

I really care about meaning in art. I want things to look simple, but to raise issues, and to have more than one level of comprehension.
John Baldessari

Our lives are inundated with images, and arranging and re-arranging them is often how we tell stories, convey meaning, or throw wrenches into the works of literal interpretation. Advertising creates image juxtapositions to communicate the messages of commerce: “you want this,” or “buy now.” In either case, the story, no matter how inventive, always has a rational, understandable outcome: a product is being peddled, it’s a great product, and you should buy it. Art, on the other hand, creates an open-ended type of non-linear narrative whose meaning is unique to the viewer / perceiver, rather than dictated by the producer (artist). The most powerful brand names function in the same way that art does: they have great depth and multiple meanings, creating manifold pathways for audience participation, which fosters emotional investment and attachment in the brand. By giving people the power to create their own narratives to explain the “meaning” of a brand name, they become participants in the creation of the brand, the very definition of brand engagement.

The works above, by the British conceptual artist John Stezaker and the American conceptual artist John Baldessari, deftly illustrate this concept of creating user engagement. In similar ways, and with a similar economy of means, they each set up a narrative event between a man and a woman, and it is up to the viewer to complete the story. There is no “right” answer. The story isn’t fixed, predetermined, or laden with ulterior motives. And it can evolve and morph over time — just like the best brands.

(Hat tip to Melanie Seyer for connecting the Baldessari to the Stezaker, on her blog melsbox: Stezaker, Baldessari & Hyperreality.)

Disrupt routine perception by slowing things down

From the Naming & Branding Manifesto, number 21: The key to getting noticed in the turbulent sea of cultural messages is not to speed up, but to slow down. If your name can disrupt someone’s ordinary routine, they will stop and pay attention.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem / The Second Coming

Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1991)
by Joni Mitchell
The Second Coming (1919)
by William Butler Yeats
Turning and turning
Within the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart
The center cannot hold
And a blood dimmed tide
Is loosed upon the world

Nothing is sacred
The ceremony sinks
Innocence is drowned
In anarchy
The best lack conviction
Given some time to think
And the worst are full of passion
Without mercy

Surely some revelation is at hand
Surely it’s the second coming
And the wrath has finally taken form
For what is this rough beast
Its hour come at last
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born

Hoping and hoping
As if by my weak faith
The spirit of this world
Would heal and rise
Vast are the shadows
That straddle and strafe
And struggle in the darkness
Troubling my eyes

Shaped like a lion
It has the head of a man
With a gaze as blank
And pitiless as the sun
And it’s moving its slow thighs
Across the desert sands
Through dark indignant
Reeling falcons

Surely some revelation is at hand
Surely it’s the second coming
And the wrath has finally taken form
For what is this rough beast
Its hour come at last
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born

Raging and raging
It rises from the deep
Opening its eyes
After twenty centuries
Vexed to a nightmare
Out of a stony sleep
By a rocking cradle
By the Sea of Galilee

Surely some revelation is at hand
Surely it’s the second coming
And the wrath has finally taken form
For what is this rough beast
Its hour come at last
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

New U.S. poet laureate: Natasha Trethewey

Natasha TretheweyCongratulations to Natasha Trethewey, who has been named the new poet laureate of the United States, the Library of Congress announced yesterday. Here are some excerpts from the New York Times story, New Laureate Looks Deep Into Memory, followed by two of Ms. Trethewey’s poems, Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus, or The Mulata, and Monument:

…the next poet laureate is Natasha Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three collections and a professor of creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. Ms. Trethewey, 46, was born in Gulfport, Miss., and is the first Southerner to hold the post since Robert Penn Warren, the original laureate, and the first African-American since Rita Dove in 1993.

…Unlike the recent laureates W. S. Merwin and her immediate predecessor, Philip Levine, both in their 80s when appointed, Ms. Trethewey, who will officially take up her duties in September, is still in midcareer and not well-known outside poetry circles. Her work combines free verse with more traditional forms like the sonnet and the villanelle to explore memory and the racial legacy of America. Her fourth collection, “Thrall,” is scheduled to appear in the fall. She is also the author of a 2010 nonfiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

…Ms. Trethewey’s great theme is memory, and in particular the way private recollection and public history sometimes intersect but more often diverge. “The ghost of history lies down beside me,” she writes in one of her poems, “rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.”

Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus, or The Mulata
by Natasha Trethewey

—after the painting by Diego Velàzquez, ca. 1619

She is the vessels on the table before her:
the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher
clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red
and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar
and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still angled
in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls
and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung
by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled
in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand.
She’s the stain on the wall the size of her shadow—
the color of blood, the shape of a thumb. She is echo
of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her:
his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans
into what she knows. Light falls on half her face.

by Natasha Trethewey

Today the ants are busy
beside my front steps, weaving
in and out of the hill they’re building.
I watch them emerge and—

like everything I’ve forgotten—disappear
into the subterranean, a world
made by displacement. In the cemetery
last June, I circled, lost—

weeds and grass grown up all around—
the landscape blurred and waving.
At my mother’s grave, ants streamed in
and out like arteries, a tiny hill rising

above her untended plot. Bit by bit,
red dirt piled up, spread
like a rash on the grass; I watched a long time
the ants’ determined work,

how they brought up soil
of which she will be part,
and piled it before me. Believe me when I say
I’ve tried not to begrudge them

their industry, this reminder of what
I haven’t done. Even now,
the mound is a blister on my heart,
a red and humming swarm.

Neil Young’s Americana: God Save The Queen / My Country Tis of Thee

This song is from Neil Young’s new album, Americana, which just came out this week. It features Neil Young and Crazy Horse cover versions of 11 classic Americana folk songs that many of us grew up singing: Oh Susannah, Clementine, Tom Dula, Gallows Pole, Get A Job, Travel On, High Flyin’ Bird, Jesus’ Chariot, This Land Is Your Land, Wayfarin’ Stranger, and God Save The Queen. Or, I should say, we grew up singing the sanitized versions of many of these songs, which are considerably richer and darker in their original lyrics, as Young sings them.

You might wonder why an album of Americana includes “God Save The Queen,” the national anthem of the country whose yoke the United States threw off over 200 years ago. Well, for one thing, “Americana” as an idea or regional identifier includes all of North America, not just the U.S., and as a Canadian Young grew up singing “God Save the Queen” every day in school. In the U.S., of course, our national anthem is “The Star Spangled Banner,” but prior to 1931 the national anthem of the United States was “My Country Tis of Thee,” sung to the tune of, you guessed it, “God Save The Queen.” Neil Young ends Americana with his version of  “God Save The Queen,” seen above, which morphs half way through into “My Country Tis of Thee,” the vintage footage along with the lyrics shifting to a decidedly different set of national archetypes. For England, the images are about authority, tradition, pomp and circumstance; for the Americas, they are about freedom, liberty, manifest destiny, and rugged individualism. Together, song + video, it makes a wonderful backhanded compliment our British cousins, a  fitting American tribute song for the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee this week, celebrating her 60th year as reigning monarch of Britain.

You can watch a long video on the home page of the Neil Young website that features all the songs on the album, with fantastic vintage film footage used throughout. And check out the Fresh Air interview with Neil Young that aired yesterday.

Here’s a little background history of these two famous songs, from Wikipedia, followed by the lyrics to the two songs presented side-by-side, so you can sing along at home and compare and contrast:

God Save the Queen

“God Save the Queen” (alternatively “God Save the King”) is an anthem used in a number of Commonwealth realms, their territories, and the British Crown Dependencies. The words and title are adapted to the gender of the current monarch, e.g. replacing “King” with “Queen”, “he” with “she”, and so forth when a queen reigns. It is the de facto British national anthem and of some British territories.

My Country, ‘Tis of Thee

“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” also known as “America,” is an American patriotic song, whose lyrics were written by Samuel Francis Smith. The melody used is the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” arranged by Thomas Arne and used by many members of the Commonwealth of Nations. The song served as a de facto national anthem of the United States before the adoption of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the official anthem in 1931.

Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics to “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” in 1831, while a student at the Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. His friend Lowell Mason had asked him to translate the lyrics in some German school songbooks or to write new lyrics. A melody in Muzio Clementi’s Symphony No. 3 caught his attention. Rather than translating the lyrics from German, Smith wrote his own American patriotic hymn to the melody completing the lyrics in thirty minutes.

Smith gave Mason the lyrics he had written and the song was first performed in public on July 4, 1831, at a children’s Independence Day celebration at Park Street Church in Boston. First publication of “America” was in 1832.

God Save the Queen My Country Tis of Thee
God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen

O Lord our God arise
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall
Confound their politics
Frustrate their knavish tricks
On Thee our hopes we fix
God save us all

Thy choicest gifts in store
On her be pleased to pour
Long may she reign
May she defend our laws
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen

Not in this land alone
But be God’s mercies known
From shore to shore
Lord make the nations see
That men should brothers be
And form one family
The wide world over

From every latent foe
From the assassins blow
God save the Queen
O’er her thine arm extend
For Britain’s sake defend
Our mother, prince, and friend
God save the Queen

My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountainside
Let freedom ring!

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

Our fathers’ God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.

Additional verse to celebrate Washington’s Centennial:

Our joyful hearts today,
Their grateful tribute pay,
Happy and free,
After our toils and fears,
After our blood and tears,
Strong with our hundred years,
O God, to Thee.

Additional verses by Henry van Dyke

We love thine inland seas,
Thy groves and giant trees,
Thy rolling plains;
Thy rivers’ mighty sweep,
Thy mystic canyons deep,
Thy mountains wild and steep,–
All thy domains.

Thy silver Eastern strands,
Thy Golden Gate that stands
Fronting the West;
Thy flowery Southland fair,
Thy North’s sweet, crystal air:
O Land beyond compare,
We love thee best!

Additional Abolitionist verses, 1843, A. G. Duncan

My country, ’tis of thee,
Stronghold of slavery, of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Where men man’s rights deride,
From every mountainside thy deeds shall ring!

My native country, thee,
Where all men are born free, if white’s their skin;
I love thy hills and dales,
Thy mounts and pleasant vales;
But hate thy negro sales, as foulest sin.

Let wailing swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees the black man’s wrong;
Let every tongue awake;
Let bond and free partake;
Let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.

Our father’s God! to thee,
Author of Liberty, to thee we sing;
Soon may our land be bright,
With holy freedom’s right,
Protect us by thy might, Great God, our King.

It comes, the joyful day,
When tyranny’s proud sway, stern as the grave,
Shall to the ground be hurl’d,
And freedom’s flag, unfurl’d,
Shall wave throughout the world, O’er every slave.

Trump of glad jubilee!
Echo o’er land and sea freedom for all.
Let the glad tidings fly,
And every tribe reply,
“Glory to God on high,” at Slavery’s fall.

Like most folk music, “My Country Tis of Thee,” as seen in the lyrics above, has been readily adapted to express new sentiments, viewpoints and causes. The same with “God Save the Queen,” which was completely re-imagined from an aggressive, counterpoint Punk perspective by the Sex Pistols:

God Save the Queen
by the Sex Pistols

God save the Queen
the fascist regime,
they made you a moron
a potential H-bomb.

God save the Queen
she ain’t no human being.
There is no future
in England’s dreaming

Don’t be told what you want
Don’t be told what you need.
There’s no future
there’s no future
there’s no future for you

God save the Queen
we mean it man
we love our queen
God saves

God save the Queen
‘cos tourists are money
and our figurehead
is not what she seems

Oh God save history
God save your mad parade
Oh Lord God have mercy
all crimes are paid.

When there’s no future
how can there be sin
we’re the flowers
in the dustbin
we’re the poison
in your human machine
we’re the future
you’re future

God save the Queen
we mean it man
we love our queen
God saves

God save the Queen
we mean it man
there is no future
in England’s dreaming

No future
no future for you
no fufure for me

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818.

Caspar David Friedrich,“Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,” 1818. Oil on canvas, 98.4 cm × 74.8 cm (37.3 in × 29.4 in), Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany.

Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?

“The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”
~Stephen Hawking

The Stranger Song by Leonard Cohen

It’s true that all the men you knew were dealers
Who said they were through with dealing
Every time you gave them shelter
I know that kind of man
It’s hard to hold the hand of anyone
Who is reaching for the sky just to surrender
Who is reaching for the sky just to surrender.

And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind
You find he did not leave you very much not even laughter
Like any dealer he was watching for the card
That is so high and wild
He’ll never need to deal another
He was just some Joseph looking for a manger
He was just some Joseph looking for a manger.

And then leaning on your window sill
He’ll say one day you caused his will
To weaken with your love and warmth and shelter
And then taking from his wallet
An old schedule of trains, he’ll say
I told you when I came I was a stranger
I told you when I came I was a stranger.

But now another stranger seems
To want you to ignore his dreams
As though they were the burden of some other
O you’ve seen that man before
His golden arm dispatching cards
But now it’s rusted from the elbows to the finger
And he wants to trade the game he plays for shelter
Yes he wants to trade the game he knows for shelter.

Ah you hate to see another tired man
Lay down his hand
Like he was giving up the holy game of poker
And while he talks his dreams to sleep
You notice there’s a highway
That is curling up like smoke above his shoulder
It is curling just like smoke above his shoulder.

You tell him to come in sit down
But something makes you turn around
The door is open you can’t close your shelter
You try the handle of the road
It opens do not be afraid
It’s you my love, you who are the stranger
It’s you my love, you who are the stranger.

Well, I’ve been waiting, I was sure
We’d meet between the trains we’re waiting for
I think it’s time to board another
Please understand, I never had a secret chart
To get me to the heart of this
Or any other matter
When he talks like this
You don’t know what he’s after
When he speaks like this,
You don’t know what he’s after.

Let’s meet tomorrow if you choose
Upon the shore, beneath the bridge
That they are building on some endless river
Then he leaves the platform
For the sleeping car that’s warm
You realize, he’s only advertising one more shelter
And it comes to you, he never was a stranger
And you say ok the bridge or someplace later.

And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind …

And leaning on your window sill …

I told you when I came I was a stranger.

“The Stranger Song” as written by Leonard Cohen
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Readymade Nomenclature: Proposed Descriptions for a Cutaway Diagram of The Future

Found Fragment Of A Discarded Cutaway Diagram of The Future

Found fragment of the Proposed Descriptions for a Cutaway Diagram of The Future.

Inscribed on the backside of this found diagram (7 in. x 5 in.): Polite dinner conversation! / Proposed Descriptions for a Cutaway Diagram of The Future / For discussion purposes only? Wasn’t this to be rendered in the manor of Arthur Garfield Dove / 194_ (indecipherable). 

  4. (truncated) CONCRETE SHOCK ROOF
  5. RADIO
  7. (truncated) ACCUMULATOR STORE
  9. BUNKS
  10. (truncated)S
  13. SAND
  14. W.C. & WASH BASIN.
  17. (truncated)Y

Underutilized Nomenclature: Bob Club


Bob Club.

The great Bob Club, an exquisite example of Underutilized Nomenclature, another treasure from one of our favorite websites, Yugodrom. A large part of the magic of this name is the extreme commonness of its constituent words, “bob” and “club.” How can two ordinary words combine to make something so strange? One likely reason is something that both names have in common: a variety of different definitions. Let’s take a quick look.

Quick definitions of “bob” from WordNet:

Noun Form
  • A short abrupt inclination (as of the head) (“He gave me a short bob of acknowledgement”)
  • A small float usually made of cork; attached to a fishing line
  • A hanging weight, especially a metal ball on a string
  • A hair style for women and children; a short haircut all around
  • A short or shortened tail of certain animals
  • A long racing sled (for 2 or more people) with a steering mechanism
  • A former monetary unit in Great Britain
Verb Form
  • Cut hair in the style of a bob (“Bernice bobs her hair these days!”)
  • Move up and down repeatedly (“Her rucksack bobbed gently on her back”)
  • Make a curtsy; usually done only by girls and women; as a sign of respect
  • Ride a bobsled (“The boys bobbed down the hill screaming with pleasure”)
  • Remove or shorten the tail of an animal

Quick definitions of “club” from WordNet:

Noun Form
  • Stout stick that is larger at one end (“He carried a club in self defense”)
  • A playing card in the minor suit of clubs (having one or more black trefoils on it) (“He led a small club”)
  • A formal association of people with similar interests (“He joined a golf club”)
  • A building occupied by a club (“The clubhouse needed a new roof”)
  • A spot that is open late at night and that provides entertainment (as singers or dancers) as well as dancing and food and drink (“The gossip columnist got his information by visiting nightclubs every night”)
  • Golf equipment used by a golfer to hit a golf ball
  • A team of professional baseball players who play and travel together (“Each club played six home games with teams in its own division”)
Verb Form
  • Gather and spend time together (“They always club together”)
  • Unite with a common purpose (“The two men clubbed together”)
  • Strike with a club or a bludgeon

Such is the rich ore that the strange beauty of Bob Club is smelted from. Join the Bob Club today, or pick one up in your hands, or dance the night away in one while bobbing up and down to the Bob Marley beat.

Time for us to hop into our bobsled and swoosh off to the next adventure in found nomenclature. Have a plumb, Bob.

Crazy factotum: The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me, by Delmore Schwartz

The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me
By Delmore Schwartz

“the withness of the body” 1

The heavy bear who goes with me,
A manifold honey to smear his face,
Clumsy and lumbering here and there,
The central ton of every place,
The hungry beating brutish one
In love with candy, anger, and sleep,
Crazy factotum, dishevelling all,
Climbs the building, kicks the football,
Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.

Breathing at my side, that heavy animal,
That heavy bear who sleeps with me,
Howls in his sleep for a world of sugar,
A sweetness intimate as the water’s clasp,
Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope
Trembles and shows the darkness beneath.
—The strutting show-off is terrified,
Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants,
Trembles to think that his quivering meat
Must finally wince to nothing at all.

That inescapable animal walks with me,
Has followed me since the black womb held,
Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,
A caricature, a swollen shadow,
A stupid clown of the spirit’s motive,
Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,
The secret life of belly and bone,
Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown,
Stretches to embrace the very dear
With whom I would walk without him near,
Touches her grossly, although a word
Would bare my heart and make me clear,
Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed
Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,
Amid the hundred million of his kind,
The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.

1. Schwartz’s epigraph is a reference is to the unity of mind and body in the work of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. See this excerpt from “Process and Feeling” by Jeremy W. Hayward:

Process philosophy was first proposed by that great English gentleman, mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, fifty years ago. Whitehead takes great care to show process philosophy to be a natural outcome of the Western tradition and to provide solutions to many of the seemingly intractable problems that had arisen in that tradition. It arises as a criticism of Berkeley, Hume, Locke, and Descartes, especially, but goes all the way back to find its roots in Plato and Aristotle. Whitehead himself is regarded by many as the greatest Western philosopher since Plato.

…Whitehead then points to a more primitive, and more fundamental, mode of perception at the level of feeling, which he calls “causal efficacy.” We can begin to understand causal efficacy when we acknowledge the mind-body unity and the “withness” of the body in all experience. We experience with the body. We do not merely see “red”; we see “red” with the eyes, we hear a sound with the ears, and so on. Whitehead points out that it is this “withness” that makes the body the starting point for our knowledge of our world. Therefore, the “withness of the body,” rather than be dismissed as irrelevant, must form the foundation of our theory of experience as perception.

With God On Our Side: K’naan’s brilliant interpretation of a Bob Dylan classic

K’naan, born Keinan Abdi Warsame in 1978, is an amazingly talented Somali-Canadian poet, rapper, singer, songwriter and instrumentalist based in Toronto after surviving a harrowing upbringing in war-torn Somalia. He recorded the song above, a cover version of Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side,” for a compilation album that came out earlier this year, Chimes Of Freedom: The Songs Of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years Of Amnesty International. K’naan’s version of the song, with substantially new lyrics, is fantastic, with his own desperate wartime childhood history woven into it. I’ve included the lyrics, below, side-by-side with Dylan’s original lyrics, and a stunning early Dylan recording of the song below. Enjoy.

With God On Our Side (K’naan / Bob Dylan) With God On Our Side (Bob Dylan)
It’s a movie and the whole world is viewing it
And the popcorn is dreams torn, but we’re always chewing it
The set design is by God but the costumes’ by the devil
And the screenplay is adapted from a book that’s embezzled

This is where I grew up
This is where I grew proud
This is where neighbors never say music is too loud
This is where the streets have no name, but they have history
This is loss’s victory

Oh my name it ain’t nothing; my age it means less
The country I come from could be like the rest
I was taught and brought up there, laws to abide
And the land that I live in has God on its side

I was young; I grew. I could tie my shoe
I was blind, but I knew, that I would always see blue
Blue seas I see through, on the bottom I’ll meet you
And when we come up for a breath, would you mind if I kiss you?

Childhood came up for the kiss, but its lips was painted with mist
And the sunny skies came and I missed it
Vanished and windswept
Landed and we slept in the arms of convenience, blanket obedience

Now the Somali-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too was soon laid away
And the names of our warlords
I was made to memorize
With guns in they hands, they say
God’s on their side

I had an undying wish to keep from dying
I had an untimely hitch keep me from climbing
But I climbed the hitch itself and I tried flying;
I had an uprising in my soul

The left was fighting the right
And the right was fighting the light
And the light was blind in the night
And the night woke up in tears
When my fingers went to wipe them
They became a poem but to write them
They would have to speak tears in another language;
That would take years

So now as I’m leaving
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feeling
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor:
If God’s on your side then
Would you ever need war?

Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I’s made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side.

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.

I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side.

In a many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war.

And for comparison, and because Mr. Dylan was just awarded the Medal of Freedom this week by President Obama, and because it’s such a great song, here’s a great live bootleg version of Dylan performing With God On Our Side from 1963:

As a Forgotten Nomenclature aside, the name shown on the video above, Elston Gunnn, was an early alias for Robert Zimmerman, before he changed it to Bob Dylan. Here’s the story told by Bobby Vee about the time that a young man named Elston Gunnn briefly joined his backing band, The Shadows:

“He [Dylan] was in the Fargo/Moorhead area. He was working as a busboy at a place called the Red Apple Cafe. We didn’t know that at the time. Bill [Velline] was in a record shop in Fargo, Sam’s Record Land, and this guy came up to him and introduced himself as Elston Gunnn–with three n’s, G-U-N-N-N.

“He said he heard we were looking for a piano player, which we were, and he said that he had just gotten off the road with Conway Twitty. Bill was blown away. ‘Man, how good can this be? This was as good as it gets!’ And went over to the radio station with him, over to KGFO, and there was this piano in the studio and auditioned him on the piano. He came back and he said, ‘He played pretty good in the key of C.’ We didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s all he could play in, was the key of C. I-IV-V in the key of C.

“So we hired him to come out. And he was a neat guy. He was friendly. I remember his dark, curly hair. We bought him a shirt to match ours and paid him 15 bucks a night, which was about what we were making. Went to pick him up for the show, and he didn’t have a piano. There weren’t a lot of piano players in our area anyway–there were mostly guitar players–but they had the little Wurlitzer pianos, and we just assumed he had a piano. He didn’t, of course. We took him to the gig anyway, and there was a piano there. It was terribly out of tune. He sat and he played that, and when he got lost he would come up and do background parts and do Gene Vincent handclaps. It was a trip!

“It was ill-fated. I mean, it wasn’t gonna work. He didn’t have any money, and we didn’t have any money. The story is that I fired him, but that certainly wasn’t the case. If we could have put it together somehow, we sure would have. We wished we could have put it together. He left and went on to Minneapolis and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. A couple of years later I was in New York in Greenwich Village. I was walking down the street. There was a record store there, and there was an album in the front window. And it said, ‘Bob Dylan.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Looks a lot like Elston Gunnn!’

“I probably plugged into him on the second or third album, and the stuff was really unusual. It was so far removed from what I was doing. Not long after that, I started listening to his stuff and really became a big fan.”

(Source: The Bob Dylan Who’s Who)

Now it’s clear that if Bobby Vee had had God on his side, Elston Gunnn may have made his career as a member of The Shadows. Oh well, you can’t always get what you want….