30 October 2009


Poetry, music, paintings and dance moves from the Harlem Renaissance, the period between the end of the Great War and the beginning of the Great Depression in which Harlem blossomed like never before. Louis Armstrong, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes and Ella Fitzgerald were just some of the main players who would make the Manhattan neighborhood famous worldwide.
The poem is "The Debt" by Paul Laurence Dunbar; the song, "Star Dust" by Hoagy Carmichael.

29 October 2009

"There is no why"

One night, a man named Philippe Petit hid in the World Trade Center with some friends, and the next day, somehow rigged a steel cable between the Twin Towers, and then walked across. This is a CBS news report about the event from August 8, 1974.

28 October 2009

These vagabond shoes

A Public Service Announcement for the homeless.

27 October 2009

New York was his town, and it always would be

Woody Allen's ode to New York in the opening scene of "Manhattan" (1979). The music you hear is "Rhapsody in Blue" by Leonard Bernstein who, while not originating from New York like Brooklyn-born Woody, was the conductor of the New York Philharmonic for many years.

26 October 2009

A gentleman in New York

Nobody can be out of place in New York City.
Except Quentin Crisp, to whom Sting dedicated this song.
Englishman in New York.
Quentin Crisp, his naked civil servant highness, appears in the video.
I don't drink coffee, I take tea my dear.
We oh so wish that Quentin wrote the lyrics.
Yet, Quentin Crisp... he is one of those men who need not write. Other people's stories will find him. And no city is so full of characters around which we spin our stories as New York.

24 October 2009

Saturday bonus story: Where are you headed?

A Chinese folk tale, Heaven and Hell, as related by Eth-Noh-Tec. A bow to Dare Varka and his guest blogging during the past two weeks.

23 October 2009

Wordless Story

Our trip around the 5 continents (the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania) concludes Down Under with this animated story of the Australian aboriginals about a song man who must decide between living underwater with the mermaids, or in the outback with his family.
This animation is part of an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) project called Dust Echoes. Go there to see more videos of folk tales from Australia.

22 October 2009

The Rabbit and the Moon

Part I:

Part II:

Sister Unity Divine proves that looking at someone who tells a story doesn't have to be boring. Here, Sister Unity tells us a tale from India about the Rabbit and the Moon. This image explains the ending of the story.

21 October 2009

Tony and the Donkey

An Italian folk tale over 400 years old, told with a New York Italian accent by author Norah Dooley. The audio more than makes up for the lack of video.

20 October 2009

The Spider Man

Anansi, also known as the Spider Man, is a well-known character in the stories of West Africa and parts of the Caribbean. This is the story of all the stories, and how Anansi freed them from their golden box, so that they could spread out across the world. All the stories --including this one.
The accompanying animation is an American-Czech coproduction, done by Krátký Film studios in Prague, in 1973, and directed by one Gene Deitch, an American animator who moved to Czechoslovakia in 1960, where he directed, among others, a number of Krazy Kat cartoons.

19 October 2009

I saw a Hole in the Man

Storyteller Espiridion Acosta Cache tells an ancient Mayan tale.

16 October 2009

An innocent victim of circumstance

Captain John Joseph Yossarian of the 256th Squadron of the US Army, stationed in Pianosa in Italy in the Second World War, was a man who was cursed with common sense in a time and place where nonsense and absurdity reigned supreme. Consider this conversation with one of his fellow officers, Clevinger:
'They're trying to kill me,' Yossarian told him calmly.
'No one's trying to kill you,' Clevinger cried.
'Then why are they shooting at me?' Yossarian asked.
'They're shooting at everyone,' Clevinger answered. 'They're trying to kill everyone.'
'And what difference does that make?'
Yossarian spends his days trying as hard as possible to stay as far away as possible from the people who want to kill him. If that means that the bomber plane he flies in drops its bombs in the Adriatic Sea, he's perfectly fine with that.
Fortunately for Yossarian, some people around him agree with him on the important point that people are, in fact, trying to kill him, but unfortunately for Yossarian, those people are not the people who can get him out of this war. The only way to get out of it (other than getting killed), as far as Yossarian knows, is to be insane. But there's a catch: men who are insane would never want to leave the army, as it is the perfect place for them. Everything Yossarian experiences confirms this idea.

15 October 2009

Walker is my name and I am the same

Riddley Walker was born in 2335 OC (Our Count) in the area known as the Barrens. He and his tribe live in a world devoid of technology or convenience. There are no cars or doctors or digital watches. All of that has been lost when Bad Time happened, in some distant past. And although Bad Time was thousands of years ago, Riddley and his people still know the ancient tale known as the Eusa Story. It tells of Eusa and Mr Clevver (pictured above), and of the Littl Shynin Man the Addom, and how they brought the world as we know it to an end.
Riddley has been taught from childhood that it's dangerous to be 'clevver', but when his father dies just a few days after his naming day, when he turned 12, he leaves his group to roam the country and find out what he can about the world's past and make the best of the future. He finds friends and foes, lies and the truth, and in his own small way manages to make sense of it all.

14 October 2009

One Hep Kat

Krazy Kat is the most hopelessly romantic inhabitant of Coconino County, an area full of vast plains, occasionally interrupted by a majestic mesa. The sky and landscape seem to be in a constant state of flux, with day turning into night in the blink of an eye, and rock formations jumping into existence in an instant.
The object of Krazy's affection is a mouse by the name of Ignatz. Ignatz knows only one response to the Kat's incessant advances, which is to throw a brick at Krazy. Krazy, however, considers these brain-bashing brick bouquets tokens of love, and always pleads with the local arm of the law, a dog called Officer Pupp, to have mercy on poor Ignatz. To no avail; Officer Pupp inevitably takes the rock-throwing rodent into custody. Such is the strange triangle in which these animals are forever trapped.
They are surrounded by secondary characters such as Joe Stork, purveyor of progeny to prince and proletariat; Kolin Kelly, the bricklayer who benefits so handsomely from Ignatz' unquenchable thirst for fresh bricks; and Don Kiyote, a local nobleman.
Reports about Krazy are sketchy. Is Krazy male or female? We do not know. The last tales about the Kat date back to the first half of the 20th century. But there is no reason to think that somewhere out there in Arizona, a brick isn't still whizzing through the air, about to make the acquaintance of Krazy's kranium.

13 October 2009


Truman Burbank was born in 1968 on the island known as Seahaven. He was raised by loving parents, and from a young age, had a strong desire to travel the world; a desire that somehow never materialized. The loss of his father at sea and his subsequent fear of water may have contributed to this.
Instead, Burbank went to high school in Seahaven and met the love of his life, Lauren, but lost her when her parents took her away to Fiji, claiming she was mentally unstable. Instead, he settled for Meryl, the girl who always seemed to be around when he was around. They married; she became a nurse, he became an insurance agent.
Then, suddenly, a series of strange, inexplicable events made Truman begin to doubt his own sanity. He confided in Marlon, his best friend, who tried to reassure him that he was imagining things. Marlon even produced Truman's long-lost father, who had not drowned but instead had been in a coma for many years.
But even this shocking event could not silence the voice of revolt in Truman's head, and after a series of near-escapes from the island, he finally managed to commandeer a vessel and sail off into the sunset. Said sunset turned out to be made of plywood, the background of a humongous television studio in which Burbank had lived these thirty years. The producer of the show, one Christof, desperately tried to convince him to stay on, but instead, Truman walked off the set, into the real world, finally a free man.

12 October 2009

Gaston The Blunder

In 1957, a strange young man arrived at the offices of Spirou, a popular Belgian comics magazine. When asked what he was doing there, he said he'd been told to come, but didn't remember by whom or why. Puzzled, the editors decided to hire him as a mailroom boy, spelling their own doom.
Over the decades that followed, Gaston LaGaffe, literally Gaston The Blunder, blew up the offices several times with his experiments in chemistry and/or cooking (the two were often hard to tell apart), caused two of his bosses to have a nervous breakdown, shattered all the windows with his self-designed Gaffophone musical instrument, and in countless ways prevented a very important contract from being signed.
The local fire department made it a sport to beat their previous record getting to Spirou. Gaston was an inventor, a hippie, an animal lover (his seagull and his cat became much hated office pets), and a punk. He never meant any harm but he left a trail of destruction in his wake nonetheless, while the unanswered mail piled up.

09 October 2009

Guest blogger

I am concluding this week with Nina Simone's unique take on My Man's Gone Now (from Gershwin's songbook). In the coming two weeks Dare Varka will be guest blogging in my place. As for me, I am off to Bryant Park. Or was it Patriarch's Pond?

08 October 2009

Her Highness Bessie Smith

Ms Bessie Smith (1892-1937), a contemporary of Louis Armstrong, was nicknamed 'The Empress of Blues'. Here she sings the song 'Muddy Water' (1926), not to be confused with the musician Muddy Waters.

07 October 2009

Checking in

When you listen to 'Heartbreak Hotel', the song that made Elvis Presley famous, the tempo and beat can easily make you forget what the lyrics are about. John Cale, formerly of the Velvet Underground, here turns the evergreen blue again, putting the Heartbreak right back in the middle of the Hotel lobby.

06 October 2009

Blues in the Night

A man is a two-face
A worrisome thing
Who'll leave you to sing
The blues in the night

This blues classic, originally written for the 1941 movie of the same name, was intended to be sung in a jail cell. It was recorded by just about everybody in the jazz and blues world, from old-time favorites like Ella Fitzgerald to trendy kids like Katie Melua. Here is a version by Anne Shelton, as featured in the TV series "The Singing Detective".

05 October 2009


I'd rather go blind boy
then to see you walk away from me, child
You see I love you so much that I don't want to watch you leave me, baby
Most of all, I just don't want to be free, no

I'd rather go blind, as first recorded by Etta James in 1969.
The song was written by Ellington Jordan and has been since praised for its poetic qualities.
While I've always loved this song, I never cared much for the lyrics.
But then, I may be blind to poetry.
Besides, women from Balkans don't do sentences like that.
If you have to see them go, Etta, at least make them run in fear.

02 October 2009

Pro Eto

Alexandr Rodchenko, a photograph of Mayakovsky and a maquette (photocollage) for Mayakovsky's Pro Eto.

01 October 2009

Futurist storm

This is a 2009 video clip for Storm (Буревестник), a song of Lyapis Trubetskoi(Ляпис Трубецкой), an interesting group from Belo-Russia. Gem has already featured another excellent video of this group here.
Sergei Mihalok, the group's leader, appears as the poet of the poets: Vladimir Mayakovsky. The other members of the group enact Pushkin, Gorky, Tolstoy, Gogol and Jesenin.