Some Thinking

Does all art aspire to the condition
of music? – While someone
is always prepared to say so I put on
a tape, a CD, instead of writing
or put it on to write to.
As far as the art gets.
A tape rolls quietly – ‘Light Blue’,
‘Soul Eyes’ – to which I’ve done
a lot of reading, a lot
of pottering about, a few drawings –
& to which I’ve ‘cleaned house’ –
& a lot of writing – or of ‘trying to write,’
which comes to the same thing. Mal Waldron
wrote both these tunes.
                            I came across him
first in the poem for Billie Holiday – ‘The Day
Lady Died’, with the great last lines
where she whispers to him across the keyboard –
“& everyone & I stopped breathing.’
The great thing
about the line is the uncertainty: is it ‘everyone
& I stopped breathing’? or that Holiday whispers the song
‘to Mal Waldron & everyone’ – & it is then O’Hara
‘stopped breathing’?
It makes for a pause, a hesitation, a number of them –
that evokes the magic & tension
of her timing. And there’s Frank, leaning there
– near the door to the toilets? The ‘john’,
which always suggests the hard American 50s –
& ensures I think of him in a white shirt & narrow tie,
suited. Already the texture of life is disappearing
– exactly how it felt, to be in those suits, in that time, at a nightclub
how anxious or not, how preoccupied & with what –
how people held themselves – is gone. Well,
it survives somehow, unverifiably, hard to quantify,
in poetry . . . we still have the music, films –
but films lie. Cassavetes suggests the era to me –
was he ‘the type’ of the hipster – cool, uptight, hip, witty?
suited, a drinker, free, & maybe more exploratory –
within limits more circumscribed than now?
Or do we always see ourselves as more free –
& get it wrong? Did he
& O’Hara meet ever?
Different worlds.
The thing I was going to say about nightclubs
was that maybe how people feel & act in them
never changes. (I heard some magical things
at Lark & Tina’s, for example. I’ve been as tense
as anyone, at the Cargo Club – & wore suits there.)
But night clubs themselves might’ve changed – with the music:
amplified is different? the fashion for recorded
dance music, or for dee-jays, might have altered them.
On tape one of the moments I like best is the voice –
a little shakey, a little spaced – Jim Carroll’s by repute,
asking for tuinols, in the space between songs, at a great
Patti Smith gig. Or Velvet Underground –
they’re both on that tape. There’s some great
& wonderfully casual, relaxed things said, over the music
at a late 50s date that features Miles Davis
guesting with local hero Jimmy Forrest: a type of music, & experience,
continuous with the live recordings of Charlie Parker –
the same carefree ambience & same reason to pay attention
whereas Patti’s music gets to you pretty much
whether you listen or not. You don’t have to choose of course.
‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine’
is always great to hear said. This track,
the badly named ‘Soul Eyes’ (how can you not roll it
into one word?), is not live but so sad & so unhurried
it makes time, development, almost its subject. John
Coltrane. Well within his limits – as 
somehow imagined – & great the way conservative paintings
by great artists often are – a Gauguin still-life
that looks as though it wants to be Manet, or Fantin-Latour.


Ken Bolton, a gay, light-hearted bastard, cuts a moodily romantic figure within the dun Australian literary scene, his name inevitably conjuring perhaps that best known image of him, bow-tie askew, grinning cheerfully, at the wheel of his 1958 Jaguar sports car, El Cid. It is this image that also carries in its train the stories of later suffering–the affairs, the women, the bad teeth–and, speaking of teeth, the beautiful poems wrenched from the teeth of despair and written on the wrist of happiness ‘where happiness happens to like its poems written best’ (in his inordinate phrase). (‘Inordinate’?–can you use inordinate like that?) For further information see the author’s Wikipedia page.