Bad Week for the Funk

R.I.P. : Clyde Stubblefield. In the Jungle Groove was the last mind-shredder JB anthlogy and Stubblefield was all over it. Too bad about his financial and health problems, but another reason to adore and mourn Prince.

R.I.P.: Junie Morrison. Obviously gregarious and lovable, I’ve found his work more lightweight than some other folks do — Bread Alone is the only item I play every few years. But he enjoyed the advantage of being a bit of a trickster like George Clinton. And when I discovered I did not have a disc with “Funky Worm” on it, I corrected the lapse.

Hey, a Jackson Pollock I Actually Like!

Finished the Sebastian Smee book The Art of Rivalry (highly recommended) and one payoff of reading top-notch art books is that you are almost certain to find a work that you did not know that matters a bunch.

Now, with Francis Bacon (another subject in the book, paired with Lucian Freud) I’ve had an interesting evolution. He was dissed in John Berger’s The Art of Seeing in part because Berger claimed Bacon painted the way he did because his limited drawing skills left him no choice. When I read Berger 40 years ago I thought he maybe had a point — I had seen only reproductions of Bacon’s paintings. But about 20 years later I saw an actual Bacon retrospective and Berger was fried. The Irishman’s paintings are shattering, harrowing, stupefying and intoxicating to look at. I agree with Berger it would be tough to have one in your dining room, but not because they are insincere, grotesque cartoons. It matters not a whit that Bacon “had” to paint the way he did.

It does make a difference that Jackson Pollock, even more technically challenged than Bacon, finally found an outlet all his own despite his limitations. I can’t get past the surface of almost all of his stuff I’ve seen — not because it’s “decorative” or whatever, but because it’s simply a chronicle of skittering mental chaos. This is not as dismissive as it might seem — every painting is a portrait of the artist’s mental state. But there’s no way into Pollock for me. Doesn’t help that Smee confirms how obnoxious, hateful, violent and deranged he was too much of the time. I’ve never bought the argument that you have to be a wild person to make wild art. (I do accept the weird rituals and routines of the ’30s-’50s art world in New York that Smee describes.)

But behold — suddenly in the midst of this, I am directed to a Pollock that is just a flicker before his breakthrough into his fame-gaining style. And I can read it emotionally. This work — not in his most famous action-drip mode — conveys torment and confusion with one’s own mind that moves me. It’s called “Stenographic Figure”:

pollock

There’s actually two figures, of course, but their postures, distortions, and above all the racket of forms scattered in front and behind and everywhere on the canvass feels exactly right to me. In this one, Jackson Pollock made you sense what he had to deal with every day, and even merge with it.

Little Cambridge Anecdote and Sad Update

The only supermarket I could get to easily without a car when I first moved back East was the rather whimsically named Purity Supreme. Our local branch was nicknamed “Poverty Supreme” because it seemed only the downtrodden of Central Square shopped there. (Ironically, the only new grocery outfit to open while we were in town was the marvelously named Bread & Circus, which started out granola-mad but soon became a higher-quality alternative to Poverty Supreme, when we could afford it — B&C later was acquired by Whole Foods.)

Purity Supreme was a good one-stop because it included Supreme Liquors, where I bought my first beers in MA. The state liquor store system in MT made them all into faceless dispensers, but Supreme Liquors boasted entertaining clientele and employees. It was a totally independent business that took the name for convenience of association — so when the supermarket disappeared, Supreme Liquors continued on. A few years ago, out of nostalgia, I stopped by to see what the place was like in the 21st century. What. A. Dump. Only the most basic and commercial offerings.

Then this morning, driving through Central Square, I noticed Supreme Liquors had decided to overtly cater to alcoholics: NEW STORE HOURS: MON-SAT OPEN AT 8 AM, SUN OPEN AT 10 AM. As a wise old drunk in Missoula once told me, “Nobody needs to buy booze at eight in the morning, but some people have to.”

Life Bounced Back Quick After “The Great Dying”

Of course something like this was one of my fantasies as a dinosaur-crazy kid. And of course I’m tickled that Montana State University at Bozeman has become a champeen prehistory center — be sure to visit the marvelous Museum of the Rockies if you get around there. The notion of rapid recovery after extinctions shows a moving away from more medieval mindsets in science. Best of all — after the next one, there won’ be any of those sad, sick, destructive hairless apes around.