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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Friday, August 31, 2018


I was recently told I was a good dancer. I can't do dance steps or ballroom dances, but just dancing the way people do freestyle. I have reason to think the compliment was sincere, since it came from two separate people who, though they might want to be in my favor, aren't given to gratuitous compliments. My partner doesn't say I'm good at things that I'm clearly bad at, and the other person, her cousin, can be a bit hyperbolic and eager to please, but wouldn't invent something totally off the wall. Even discounting it a bit, I think there some element of truth there.

Being told that caused a shift in my thinking. I wanted to think it was true, so I decided to make it true (if it isn't already), and approach dance in a different way than I have before, practicing at home and learning to do specific things I want to do. I'm thinking of my body in a different way to, as an instrument as it were. I've been getting down to what I want to weigh, which is about 160lb, from 165. I can also be thinking about clothes in a different way, thinking about the way the clothes fit the body instead of just whether I like the color of the shirt.  

It's similar to what I do with music. Once again, I know that my piano teacher would never tell me something was good when it wasn't. But since praise can be constructive too, in the sense that you will want to repeat that experience, do what got you the praise once again. For this to work, though, you have to trust the praise as earned, and think self-consciously about what you did right.


I was thinking that, say, if you wanted to write a graphic novel or become a good hip hop dancer, you could probably do it.  [Or substitute whatever you want here.] If you have had the idea of doing it, then you can. You wouldn't get the idea if you had never read a graphic novel and didn't like the form. If you didn't have ideas about what you liked and didn't like, and the kind of approach that was attractive to you. You might be insecure about your drawing or your narrative ideas, or have any number of the typical self-doubts that people have. But actually, you can do it.


The principle that "you can do anything" does not apply to competition.  You can run a marathon, let's assume, but I can't tell you that you will win a marathon or tennis tournament or dance contest or concerto competition, or that your book will win a prize. That's simply because other people can also achieve anything they want, not just you. I can tell you you can bake a pie, but not that it will win the pie bake off.


The first step in achieving results in competitive activities is to be very proficient at very basic skills, and knowing exactly how good the competition is. For publishing articles, for example, you have to realize that even graduate students can be struggling with basic high-school level skills, like writing well-formed paragraphs or having an introduction that fulfills all its rhetorical functions. I refereed an article by a very well-known scholar that had a clunky title, like "Theme and Structure in ..." I accepted the article but made him change the title. It was published and made a substantial contribution to Lorca studies.  

Cynthia Gooding - Tres Moricas-Anda Diciendo (LP Version)

All in Green

Let's look at Joan Baez's version of "All in Green Went my Love Riding." It's a poem by E.E. Cummings, and this version can be found on he album Baptism which also includes some spoken word versions of James Joyce and Lorca, among other things.

The first idea would that this takes a bit of "literary culture" into the realm of "popular culture." That's not a wrong way of looking at it at all, but let's think about it a little longer.

A second idea: there is a "literary turn" in folk music itself. Bob Dylan's fans think of him as a poet, and Leonard Cohen is also a self-defined poet who turns to music rather than staying in the purely literary world.

Concept albums like Baptism are kind of middle-brow in tone, aren't they? They aren't designed to have top-40 hits.

And then there's Cummings.  He is the modernist poet for ordinary readers or for adolescents.  This particular poem is well-known, maybe better known that its popularizing performance itself. From this perspective both the poem and the song seem kind of middle brow to me, and in similar ways even. The poem is brilliant for what it is, though the music, for my taste, is not. For one thing, the rhythm of the poem is ignored in the setting. I hear  the rhythm of the poem in my head as

ALL in GREEN WENT my love RIding / INto the SILver DAWN / ON a great HORSE of GOLD

Of course "folk music" itself is kind of middle-brow in this sense. It is not actual folklore music, but an adaptation of it for particular audiences at a particular juncture in time. What makes it middle-brow is its secondariness with respect to the original, and its populist rejection of the increasing harmonic complexity of modern jazz, a music for cognoscenti like flamenco is.

(The poem has a thumping meter but a sophisticated and imaginative use of the meter, similar to what Stevens does in "Sea Surface Full of Clouds," where you rewrite the same text repeatedly but substitute words in each instance. There ought to be a word for that form.)

JOAN BAEZ ~ All My Green Went My Love Riding ~


Well I got invited to give a keynote for a Lorca conference in February in Madrid. They want me to talk about "Los estudios lorquianos en Estados Unidos."  Which is just about ideal for me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

15 Minutes

I can't give a conference paper any more.  I need to play 12-18 minutes of music, so giving a 20 minute talk doesn't make sense.  Or 15, as I have seen in some conferences recently. Seriously? You want me to travel and have someone pay for that, and lodging, and I will speak for 15 minutes? I am not particularly long-winded, though more so than I used to be, but I need 50 minutes minimum nowadays. I wonder what musicologists do?  Or maybe they can refer to music that their audience already knows so they don't have to play it.  

Rito y Geografía del Cante Flamenco - Lorca y el Flamenco

Leonard Cohen - Discurso por el premio Príncipe de Asturias (Subtitulado...

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Cantes flamencos

What are actual flamenco lyrics like from the 19th century.

Here's one on page 154 of the Austral edition of Cantes flamencos y cantares:

Maresita mía
¡qué güena gitana!
De un peasito e pan que tenía
la mitá me daba.

[Madrecita mía / qué buena gitana / de un pedacito de pan que tenía / la mitad me daba]

[My little mother / what a good gypsy / if she had a piece of bread / she would give me half]

Or this one:

"No soy de esta tierra / ni en eya [ella] nasí [nací]; la fortuniya [fortunilla], roando, roando [rodando] / m'ha [me ha] traío [traído] hasta aquí."

[I'm not from this land / nor was I born here; / fortune, turning, turning, brought me here.].

They are quite wonderful.  Flamencology is a hornet's nest I don't want to open, but some of these have the quality noted by some as the pristine spare beauty of the medieval Spanish popular song.  In some cases, you don't even find a metaphor, just a bald statement or an artful hyperbole.  "My eyes wen to the sea / for water to cry / but there wasn't enough there / so they had to come back."

Let's note that you can write it out like this:

No soy de esta tierra
ni en ella nací:
la fortunilla, rodando, rodando,
me ha traído hasta aquí.

and you will get almost the same text, as long as you pronounce it in Latin American Spanish where ll and y and c and s have the same pronunciation. In this sense, the dialect spelling is needlessly exoticizing. I don't understanding writing biene for viene either.  

The Literary Turn

The literary turn in Flamenco... I could relate it to the history of literary appreciation of flamenco dating back to Machado y Álvarez... and continuing to Lorca himself.  There are missing pieces here. It rarely occurs to anyone writing about Lorca to cite actual lyrics from the cante condo.


I've gone from "am I qualified to write this book?" to "I have been preparing to write this book my whole life" in about 8 months. One way I've prepared myself is by publishing two other books about Lorca.  

A lot of it is putting pieces together, things that other people have written about but without an awareness of the full implications.  Through no fault of their own, of course. It is natural for each scholar to be focused on her / his own agenda, with no obligation to anticipate mine.

Monday, August 27, 2018

I'm reading a book about flamenco.  In 50 pages I've read so far, I found exactly two ideas that actually relate to anything musical. The book is clotted with Deleuzian theory and explains concepts that could be applied equally to anything else. To top it off, the guy can't write very well.

It's all about the way flamenco has symbolic capital in Andalusia, and the multiple contradictions of that. The ideas are interesting, even when poorly expressed, but it's not exactly what I had in mind when I pulled it off the shelf in the library.

Cameron isn't in the index.  We shall see...

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Words + Music

If you study popular music be only studying the words and their socio-political or psychological effects, then you are not just neglecting the music part, but the music + words (the way the music interacts with the words), and you are probably neglecting the poetry of the words while you are at it, insofar as the poetry of the song lyrics is tied up in their musicality. You are also probably also missing the culture part.


What I've identified as the "literary turn" in Flamenco might have its complement, critically speaking, in the "cultural turn" in musicology.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Los Adioses | "Autorretrato" Poema de Rosario Castellanos


Serrat's music, even fairly recent things like his most recent Miguel Hernández album,  sounds dated to me in a way that Morente's "Homenaje flamenco" a Miguel Hernández" (1971) does not.  Why is that?  Serrat is rooted in the 60s / 70s pop style. Flamenco evolves, but less rapidly, and tends to sound "timeless."

Joan Manuel Serrat - Miguel Hernández (1972) - 1. Menos tu vientre

Enrique Morente (Compañero del alma)

A Confession

I can't stand Serrat and other singers of that genre.  I hate Ana Belén's Lorquiana too.   I'm not going to divide the world of "Lorca in song" into good and bad categories, but some of this music does raise difficult issues for me. Mere popularization, without any added element of value, is indistinguishable from kitsch.

Borrowed Brilliance

If you think you are brilliant as an academic, what about Lorca or Coltrane, what about them? What word would you use for that?  I'm not talking about any false humility. You can be a smart academic and realize that.  But if you are a brilliant theory super star what do you do with someone in a wholly different category? You could be the best Nietzsche scholar but then where do you put Nietzsche himself? I'm not try to bring back the apparatus of the "genius," but if you think of yourself that way then how can you be so eager to tear down that apparatus?

I'm not saying a Dante scholar can't be brilliant and all that, or that criticism and theory are inferior to the truly creative arts. A second rate creative artist is still second rate and will even seem a bit dumb to a smart academic. What I'm saying is we can't have the second hand brilliance of Bloom and then claim it as our own.

Friday, August 24, 2018

I'm working on some cool ideas (cool for me, at least). I'm interested in music that popularizes poetry. Singing Góngora or Neruda with a folksy sounding guitar is cool.  I'm interested in the dynamic of what happens there. There is a lot of it, in the first place. We don't find this in the English-speaking world like this.

But then what gets really interesting is music in which this popularizing impetus is accompanied by a complex movement in the other direction. Now the music itself gets more intellectual, not only through the words, but through how the musical style itself has to change itself now that it is associated with this poem.  This counter-movement is where it gets really interesting.

When you play music in the classroom, students respond to it but don't have anything much to say unless they are given a framework for analysis. The worst thing is when they like the song but view it as audiovisual supplementation rather than the main point.


Julia called me for my birthday today and she was talking about certain trumpet players she liked.  The best ones have what she called a "sparkle" to their playing. I asked her to elaborate and she was able to explain what she meant in some detail, but, really, the word itself was better than any explanation of it. She said it was her own word for it but that any other trumpet player would understand what she meant by it.

She was able to describe the playing of each these players with quite a bit of precision and differentiation.  Each was good in his own way (they were all men) but not very similar to the others in the personality of their playing. All had a voice, a singing quality in their playing, and, of course, the sparkle, but some had darker tones or were more "aggressive."

Then I got to thinking about what it would mean to talk about the musicality of poetry in meaningful, non-trivial way, not just point to those qualities lazily as we often do.  What would it mean if we were to approach poetry in artistic terms, really, not just wave in that general direction. It is hard, because musicians can't always talk about music, or poets about poetry, with any real depth. It just doesn't happen very much. We have a lot of ways of not talking about it: talking about the artist's biography, or listing prizes won.  

Maybe that's what my book will be about. How to talk about poetry, as though it were music, when we don't even yet know how to talk about music itself.

Ronell (more on the case)

This academia of the Ronell saga is not at all mine, any more. All the unchecked ego, the pretentiousness, the warmed-over Derridean and Freudian theory, the cult of personality, the in-group feeling, the peculiar rhetoric of it all.  

The tone of all this takes me back to the 80s and 90, when I came up in the field. We might call it a particular "structure of feeling," a way of being in the world peculiar to that period. People getting away with crap because of their supposed brilliance. The sheer number of assholes in the field, horrible, horrible people.

I guess this modus operandi still applies to the Ivies and places like NYU, though the people I know in Spanish at NYU, Jo Labanyi and Jim Fernández, are the polar opposite of that. They are brilliant and unpretentious people.

I have never been as glad to be in a state school, far from this kind of attitude. I'm sure we have assholes here too, or arrogant people, etc... But at a good flagship state university this is not the way people think that they ought to act. People wouldn't be overtly proud to act like that, or to defend bad behavior in others.

So no, it isn't the bureaucratic, managerial university of Neo-liberalism that produces sexual harassment.  This is an older pattern, left over from the 50s, when you could get someone a job by calling up your buddy on the phone, and sexually harass with impunity.  This 1950s pattern gets refracted through the 1980s academic culture of theory stardom, and the results are toxic. It is especially toxic when wrapped up in "queer exceptionalism," the idea that sexual harassment is only a problem if it is the classic case of the middle-aged white guy hitting on the female grad student.  

The academic having control over doctoral students with the power to make or break them is not a bureaucratic problem, but one of charisma--to go back to Max Weber. It is people who think the ordinary bureaucratic rules don't apply to them.  Those rules are for the mediocre types in the state schools, maybe.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

avital ronell

Excuses for her include language like this

"misogyny" "practices of queer intimacy" "neo-liberalism"

Feminists who rush to her defense are not hypocritical, we hear, because ... "neo-liberalism"  They were never on board with "me too" anyway.

We shouldn't look at the abuse of power in this particular case, but only about "structural problems" in graduate education.  Nice try.

Supposedly she is an academic super-star.  It is funny I've never heard of her before now.  Maybe that is an indication of how far out of it I am.  I haven't seen her cited in my field ever.  I've heard of all the people defending her... it's very curious.

All those victim-blaming arguments that are supposed to be so bad are trotted out in defense of a supposed feminist and Lesbian. But is she really either of those things?

And certainly, let's smear the alleged victim.  He only sued because he didn't get a job.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Dumb joke

I saw this headline about "Elephants' low cancer rate explained" and I thought, well when was the last time you saw an elephant smoking a cigarette?


I got my book in the mail finally. Now I realize that I have been a Lorquista since 2006, when I began to write AL. Now having two books about him, and a third underway, I think I qualify as a Lorca guy by now.


I hadn't listened to Nuestro Flamenco for a while.  I looked yesterday, and the most recent interview was of Miguel Poveda about his Lorca record--just as I was about to write about this record.  I am listening to it right this moment. He doesn't say anything unexpected about his recording.

This record essentially justifies my entire project, but it came out after I had begun. If Poveda hadn't done a Lorca album he would have not helped me very much.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Fountain Pen

I took these notes in fountain pen during the first ten days of the month. During the second ten days, I will be writing on the computer. The last 11 days I will be devoted to producing a penultimate draft of what I have written during the second period.

The funny thing is that I haven't looked at my fountain pen notes as I have been writing.  I just know what I have to say.  If I threw them away it wouldn't be a problem, even.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The take away

Flamenco uses of Lorca actually tend to go against flamenco stereotypes and folklorism. They are not "popularizing" in any sense, or a way of "selling out" commercially.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


I came up with this idea for my 2009 Lorca book that I should be attentive to my own aesthetic reactions with a specific purpose in mind. This does not mean that my personal taste is the final word, but that the reaction to something contains information of value, if analyzed. So I find myself reacting to something as pretentious, kitschy, sentimental, that this also tells me something about the ethical stance of the artist toward the material. For example, sentimentality, as an aesthetic flaw, is linked to an ethical failure to see Spanish culture in its individuality: it is a way of using the stencil of Spanish culture and imposing it on the material.

Not being able to be attentive to one's reactions would be like not being able to feel physical pain, or like being a chef unable to taste food.

Where this gets me into trouble, of course, is when I then take that reaction as definitive.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Finding out you're wrong

A had some hypotheses about Flamenco versions of Lorca that turned out to be wrong. I had thought that Flamenco singing of Lorca would have the effect of emphasizing his connection with Flamenco, but what I actually found when I started to submerge myself in the material was something more interesting than that. If you always found what you expected to, scholarship would be very dull.


I'm doing a new thing with the chapter, dividing the month into three parts. The first ten days I take notes in fountain pen and sometimes on the blog itself. The next ten days I will work on a word document and get part of a draft written. The last third of the month I will perfect that part of the draft that I have written. It might not be the whole chapter, but the idea is to spend a month getting a substantial part of one chapter done.


I was looking at the CD I bought of La leyenda del tiempo. All of a sudden I saw that there was another cd in the case! Well, it wasn't a CD, but a DVD of the documentary.  My presupposition that I had bought just a CD made me not even look for this extra bonus, which I found purely by accident when I needed to look something up in the liner notes.  I felt stupid and lucky at the same time.

Monday, August 6, 2018


I'm listening to a Spanish pop-star / actress sing Lorca.  The album came out in 1998, at the 100th anniversary of Lorca's death.

The cover image shows a doctored photo of her standing behind an iconic picture of Lorca with her arms around his shoulders.  On the back of the CD we see what would have been the back of that image.

The instrumentation on most tracks is very commercial sounding, with drums, electric bass, and a lush string section. Other instruments on the salsa numbers.

The first track is "Son de los negros de Cuba." She does it in a son style, more or less, but with a thin voice.  It is pleasantly rhythmic.

The second is "Romance de la pena negra." She sings it as though it were a sweet, banal love song, with no depth at all.

3) "Herido de amor." She does this at a slow tempo, so at least there is not a strong disjunction between the words and the lyrics. The overly commercial background gets unbearable after a while.

4)  Now comes a version of Leonard Cohen's "Take this Waltz," translated into Spanish. Big surprise. Enrique Morente had already done this. Thumbs down. It smooths out Cohen's roughness and vigor.  

5) Now comes another pseudo-salsa number, "Nocturnos de la Ventana." Listenable but a little sweet.  Disjunction between word and music?  It doesn't seem like she actually understands the words she is singing.

6) Another slow number. "Siete corazones." She does this poem as another sweet love song, with sound effects of water running.  It's a poem about alienation, someone who has lost his sense of self. "I have seven hearts / but my own I cannot find."

7) "Romance de la luna."  A pleasant sounding commercial background, reminiscent of 70s pop. Yuck. This one actually made me laugh out loud.

8) "Canción tonta." Slow and sweet, in a pleasant ternary meter.   A sentimental treatment.  Music by Kiko Veneno, who was on "La leyenda del tiempo."

9) "Muerto de amor." Another LOL number. A very happy, dance-like tempo and beat.  Does she know what the poem is about?  

10) "Por tu amor me duele el aire." Not the most offensive track on the record.

11) "Canción del gitano apaleado." A rapid dance beat makes this into a happy song. It is about a gypsy getting beat up by the police.  I am speechless.

12) "Alma ausente."  A version of one of the sections of "Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías."  Very sweet sounding.

Am I being too harsh?  I don't think so.  I'll have to listen to other songs of hers to see if I just hate her as a singer or just her Lorquian efforts.  She also recorded the "Canciones populares."

I guess I don't object to the pop music per se, or even to a pop treatment of Lorca, but to the superficiality of the approach.  There is no emotional depth, no tragic consciousness. Pop music can express genuine emotion, but there has to be a genuine connection between the music and the words.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Romance Sonámbulo (Verde Que Te Quiero Verde)


A Swiss singer, singing a version of Lorca's "Son de los negros in Cuba," in French, in an unrecognizable (to me) style. That's my discovery of the day.

Laugh of the day

My daughter sent me this link with a LOL. Can you tell why she and I both thought this was hilarious?

Sun (FGL)

Who called you

Nobody would be surprised
(I would say)
seeing in the sky three letters
in place of your face
of gold

Memento (FGL)

When we die
we'll take away
a series of visions
of the sky

(daybreak skies
nocturnal skies)

though they've told me
that dead
the only memory
is summer sky
a black sky
in the wind

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Canción morena (FGL)

I want to get lost
in the dark landscape
of your hair, María del Carmen

I want to get lost
in your eyes of nobody
playing the keyboard
of your unkissable lips

In your endless embrace
the air would have dark hair
and the breeze would have
the fuzz on your arms!

I want to get lost
in the dark landscape
of your hair, María del Carmen

More Camarón

I knew Camarón and took him for granted, a bit.  What I'm realizing now, after watching a few hours of documentary footage, is the musical intelligence, precision, and nuance in his interpretations.  Before I had only thought about the raw power and emotionality of his voice. The way other musicians talk about him is very revealing.

Tiempo de leyenda

I'm watching a documentary now about Leyenda del tiempo.  I've always liked Cameron, but today like has changed to awe. I am humbled by his talent, in a way I feel only about Coltrane or Lorca himself (and a few others).  


La leyenda del tiempo

I think I'll start out my chapter with Camarón's La leyenda del tiempo, and finish with Poveda's Enlorquecido.  I listened to the former this morning and it is very compelling It illustrates some of the tendencies I've noticed in Flamenco versions of Lorca, like hybridization and popularization.  

It is not framed as an homage to Lorca per se, although Lorca was certainly in the air when it was recorded, in the transition period. Not all the songs are based on Lorca.

Camarón, before this time, was not particularly into Lorca, it would seem. It is not Camarón's homage to Lorca by any means, since the idea for the record was not his, but the producer's.  Camarón is described in the liner notes as "analfabeto" [illiterate]. I don't think that's inaccurate.

It is both more popularizing and more literary, since it departed from traditional Flamenco in its instrumentation, but also in its use of "literary" texts.  It was hated by the Flamenco purists (of course).  Now it is considered a landmark of "nuevo Flamenco."  

Nuevo flamenco reaches out both to other styles of music and to a more literary frame of reference.


The relation between Lorca and Flamenco is complicated [explain reasons for this]. Singing Lorca to Flamenco is never a simple or straightforward process.  I have identified five processes (overlapping at times) in Flamenco versions of Lorca:






In other words: bridging the gap between Lorca and Flamenco leads Flamenco to innovate in their own art form, sometimes by fusing it with other styles of music, sometimes by moving toward a more classical mode (making Flamenco less of a vernacular style, more of a "song-setting" of Lorca). Sometimes they bring non-Flamenco related texts of Lorca into the Flamenco world, and sometimes they popularize Lorca by associating his poetry with music styles more easily consumed by the public.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Getting my act together

Now it's August 1 and I'm ready to start working again. I'm going to make a push to get a lot done on the Lorca Music project. I came up with 4 or 5 ideas about Lorca and flamenco that I didn't even realize I had. I can download this music from the Apple Store, but I went to a record store in Barcelona and bought actual CDS of some of the material, in order to cite the ancillary material and get my facts straight.