Monday, December 12, 2011

Overdubs and images

It's perhaps not surprising that 'Free as a Bird' doesn't make it into many lists of the Beatles' greatest moments. The song features a nicely tremulous vocal from John Lennon, has a pleasant enough melody, and ends with one of those psychedelic rushes of backwards guitar George Martin was so good at engineering, but it wasn't even able to sneak in to Rolling Stone magazine's selection of the hundred best Beatles compositions.

For most Beatles fans, the circumstances in which 'Free as a Bird' was created make it a somewhat suspect artefact. Lennon recorded an acoustic demo of the song in the late '70s, and in the early '90s, more than a decade after his death, McCartney, Starr, Harrison, and Martin holed up in a studio and added layer after layer of overdubs. The result may sound nice, but it lacks a certain authenticity. Would Lennon, with his legendary capacity for self-criticism, ever have allowed the release of his song? And would the man who recorded Plastic Ono Band in a couple of chaotic days have approved of the elaborate embellishments his former bandmates gave to his demo?

I suspect that the 'collaboration' I make with Kendrick Smithyman in my new book Feeding the Gods suffers from some of the same problems as 'Free as a Bird'. With the approval of Smithyman's literary executioner Margaret Edgcumbe and the support of Creative New Zealand, I paired my poems with a series of black and white photos Smithyman snapped on his journeys through New Zealand in the 1970s and '80s. I think the photos look great, but I'm a long-time Smithymaniac, and the man himself isn't around to disagree with my selection, or the juxtapositions I've created. The newly-minted Australian literary journal Jacket2 features a rather less dubious collaboration between visual art and poetry. Jack Ross has made a selection of work by twelve contemporary Kiwi poets for Jacket2, and illustrated his selections with paintings by Emma Smith. Unlike John Lennon or Kendrick Smithyman, Emma Smith is very much alive, and I'm reassured to know that she consented to the coupling of her painting Lead with my poems 'Elegy for a Survivor of the War on Afghanistan' and 'Walking to the Dendroglyphs on Christmas Eve'.

Last year Emma took exception to my review of an exhibition she held at a former mental hospital in Auckland's inner western suburb of Point Chevalier. She didn't appreciate being portrayed as a wild-eyed outsider artist obsessed with morbid German Expressionist masters like Munch, and in a second post about her show I conceded some of her points, and suggested a different way of approaching her work.

While many of the paintings Emma was showing in the middle of 2010 did at least suggest the influence of Expressionism, with their deformed, shadowy figures, Lead is, to my eyes at least, a more abstract work, showing a fragment of blue surrounded and cut in half by black. The work's restricted palette and bold, almost violent brushstrokes give it an intensity which is both unnerving and thrilling.

Some of the recent posts on Emma's blog Tin Grew show that she can use abstraction in gentler ways. An untitled work uploaded on the 21st of October, for instance, features subtle shades of green, and an ambiguous central shape which reminds me a little of the opening in Jackson Pollock's luminously mysterious late painting The Deep.

Footnote: For the record, here's my Beatles top ten:

1. Your Mother Should Know
2. Rain
3. Because
4. You Won't See Me
5. Sexy Sadie
6. I'm Only Sleeping
7. She's Leaving Home
8. Norwegian Wood
9. Within You Without You
10.She Said She Said

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard Taylor is also in Jacket2.

He makes so many comments on does he find the time to do poems?? lol

4:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS What a joke - Warner not Doug Bracewell man of the match!!!

Bloody Ossies!!1

4:46 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Anonymous - good point. But I have always written quickly. I hardly revise anything, just destroy (or can) what is no good in my view.

But lately I don't write many poems or even read them. I mainly am interested in copying things out of books I read - mostly from libraries. I am not sure why I do this, except that I love doing it. I am not sure if I will ever use what I have copied out as a kind of diary of things I have read (or have been written myself or heard on the radio etc) but I did use some of it in one of the Brief issues and my Blog EYELIGHT.

But "commenting" is indeed time consuming and if I was greatly serious about writing I would spend less time comneting and many busy hours working (feverishly and highly industrially say like say a 21st Century Balzac or say Joyce Carol Oates) and some huge novel or a long poem, or more short poems - but I am too laid back so, as I say, I just read books, go for walks, play a lot of chess, and occasionally write a poem. But mostly I just copy things from other books.

I also just had to repair my car (I blew a head gaskett on the way to New Plymouth!) which was hard work even though I have a mate who is a mechanic. And Xmas is coming up!

12:18 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I suppose I've become a bit addicted to commenting, mainly on here.
Maybe that substitutes for other activities I might do.

There were a number of other very good writers featured that Jack Ross chose for Jacket2.

12:22 am  
Blogger Dr Jack Ross said...

btw Scott, I'm not quite sure why they left "The Parachutist" out of the selection of your poems I made for Jacket2 ... I see that there's still a link to it at the bottom of the page, though, so it didn't seem worth making an issue of it. For the record, though, I was intending to put in 3, not 2, of the poems you sent me ...

I'm glad you like the juxtapositions of images -- Emma's pictures seem to look extra-luminous online, as if they take on some special new quality there.

12:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Beatles were a joke band...did they do one song of lasting value?

5:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

video killed the radio star

10:15 pm  

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