The Conversation Continues
|Welcome to Page 43 of my ďforum.Ē The subject matter here is anything to do with literature, books, reading, and writing, with a little philosophy thrown in, as well as other tangents and revelations that spring naturally from ďintelligentĒ conversation. To participate, send an e-mail. Thatís all there is to it. When I receive your message, I will add it to the bottom of the page ó unless, of course, it is rude or crude, in which case I retain the right to not post your message. The same goes for blatant advertising. Pertinent recommendations of reading material and related websites, though, are welcome within the natural context of our conversation. We all have plenty to gain from each otherís knowledge and experience. So, whether you are just reading or actively participating, enjoy your visit. I will post new messages as soon as possible after they are received. Be sure to check in often for the latest responses.|
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To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: See? Nothing like a clean slate. Now, if we can only find some new crayons, weíll be all set.
John Berbrich: Funny you should say that. For Christmas I received an acrylic paint set, along w/ like two-dozen brushes, a sketchbook, & six small canvases. So far Iíve painted one masterpiece I call, ďFuture,Ē a rather bleak though mysterious scene. If you want crayons, Iíve a few random ones, some broken in half, but nothing like a complete set. When I was a kid I loved to just read the names of the colors on the various crayons. That was true language poetry.
William Michaelian: And the smell was intoxicating. A masterpiece already? Iím not surprised. By any chance, did you notice the sound of a door being locked while you were painting? This might be Nancyís way of distracting you until the authorities arrive.
John Berbrich: Actually I foresaw this dilemma & painted the scene while Nancy was out. And funny you should mention the smell of crayons. I, too, loved the smell, but canít really testify if the smell was different for the various colors. I think it was just the wax. The color ďFleshĒ used to give me the creeps, just the word.
William Michaelian: The completely wrong name for a color. Little kids all over the country, handling those putrid flesh crayons. You expect the crayons to sweat, or sprout hair, maybe. As for smell, youíd think there would have to be subtle differences. Maybe even temperatures. How could a bright yellow crayon be the same temperature as black or brown, for instance? The same goes for taste. What does orange sound like?
John Berbrich: A mysterious, percussive boing, w/ overtones & undertones of spice & tang, plus a smooth creamy note on a sax.
William Michaelian: A child with a bell in his hand... and his teacher, looking on, says, ďShow me how to do that.Ē Now thatís coloring.
John Berbrich: I tried very hard to keep my crayon within the lines, but I usually chose crazy colors. Except when I drew fire. Then it was red, orange, yellow, w/ some black. Hellish flames rising in anger.
William Michaelian: Thatís also coloring. I can smell the brimstone. Did you save any of your kidsí colorings? We have quite a bit of ours.
John Berbrich: Our front porch is actually an art gallery devoted to our kidsí work. Thereís not a lot of coloring, but plenty of drawings & paintings. I have saved some of the more primitive artwork, but itís not displayed.
William Michaelian: Some of ours isnít even fit to be displayed, being crinkled and wavy, as in the case of reckless watercolors, or stuff done on torn butcher paper. There was one really remarkable portrait of me that our daughter did when she was about seven, but when we made our move I didnít find it. That doesnít mean it isnít buried around here somewhere, though. Anyway, using a piece of blackened burnt wood from our stove on the farm, she made a great likeness on a piece of typing paper in just a few minutes. Not exact by any means, but eerily accurate in ways I see now had predicted the future. Or maybe, after seeing what she had done, I subconsciously altered my life to coincide with her rendering. An intriguing thought.
John Berbrich: Isnít that what Oscar Wilde said, that life imitates art?
William Michaelian: Funny you should say that, because today I read that on this date in 1882, Oscar Wilde began his American lecture tour. At least one good anonymous poem came out of it ó this from the Chicago Daily News:
He comes with words sublimely dull,
In garb superbly silly,
To tell us of the Beautiful,
The sunflower and the lily.
Behold him here among you now.
Oh, how divinely utter!
His sensual chin, his narrow brow,
His brains like April butter.
Here in the energetic West
We have no vacant niches
For clowns with pansies in the vest
Or dadoes on the breeches.
We do not live by form or rule,
We love our wives and lassies;
We like to look at Western mules,
But not aesthetic asses.
John Berbrich: Wow. Sounds like a current blog ó only itís well written. ďSublimely dullĒ? I think Wilde was at least entertaining, although I suppose someone from Chicago couldnít relate to his late-Victorian scenes. Have you read a lot of Wilde?
William Michaelian: No. Iíve probably read more about him than by him. I have a little Dover edition of his The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I picked up a couple of years or more ago and started on, but set aside after a few pages. But I donít know if that was his fault or mine.
John Berbrich: I read that book years ago & liked it well enough. I havenít read any of Wildeís plays, but I should, since they are reputed to contain his finest wit. I do have a small collection of his book reviews & they are delightful ó gentle, comic, & poetic. Iíd love to read more.
William Michaelian: Once again, the reading list gets longer. Come to think of it, I havenít noticed that much Wilde lately on my used book excursions. I finished Proust today, and will probably start on Montaigneís complete works tomorrow. A beautiful book, from the Everymanís Library series. Translated by Donald M. Frame, 1,336 pages plus front and back matter, chronology, etc., 1,392 pages in all.
John Berbrich: Willie goes French! First off ó congratulations on finishing Proust. Youíve a stout soul. And as for Montaigne, I have a collection of his essays that runs roughly 400 pages. Read it maybe 10 years ago. Some delightful reading. His thoughts are so sane & basic. And so lucidly presented. Personal & sometimes funny in an earthy way. I recommend Montaigne highly. Oui-oui!
William Michaelian: Thatís French! ó you know that drives me wild. I do have a nice selection of Montaigneís essays that Iíve read around in before. ďSelected and Illustrated by Salvador Dali.Ē But the thick book is really appealing. And of all things, I just started on that Huck Finn edition I mentioned a while back. I havenít read that story since I was about twelve or thirteen. Iím thirty-six pages in. What a delight ó and a little scary, too, because while I was reading, I actually recognized two or three passages.
John Berbrich: Iím not surprised. Twain is rather vivid & sticks to the brain. I need to read 24 hours a day for a while & catch up on all the books I need to read. But I donít think that would work.
William Michaelian: Probably not. What you need to do is read thirty-six hours a day. Then youíll make some real gains. Otherwise, Iím afraid weíre just treading water. On the other hand, reading itself does seem to stop time in its tracks. An hour with a book in your hand becomes a lifetime in your mind.
John Berbrich: Thatís true, too. We need to come up w/ some kind of conversion table or an equation, so we know how many days & years weíre actually spending on a good book. Itís almost like dog-years. Do the math.
William Michaelian: No, you do the math. Iím terrible at math. All those numbers lined up in orderly little rows, jeering at me, mocking me. Besides, I donít think weíre actually spending days and years; rather, they are being added unto us. In fact, I think itís safe to say that by now weíre several thousand years old, give or take an eon. Unless you prefer śon.
John Berbrich: Well, lad, it sounds to me like youíre doing math. Actually, when it comes to math, my favorites are imaginary numbers & improper fractions. I write eon, although I love to see aeon etched in gold on the cover of a hardback book. I feel that marvels await therein.
William Michaelian: And they most certainly do, especially when the a and e are squeezed together like that, as if theyíve been in a can so long that theyíre permanently stuck together, making you wonder if you should give emphasis to the a or the e, or if they even know themselves.
John Berbrich: To me it looks as though theyíre back to back, you know, not facing each other. So maybe the one doesnít know the other is there. What a surprise if one should turn around. Or they both turn around simultaneously, like this: ea.
William Michaelian: And the first thing theyíd say would be ie!
John Berbrich: Ibid, ibid, ibid.
William Michaelian: What ó youíre a frog now?
John Berbrich: Itís an oblique reference to Bashoís famous frog poem.
William Michaelian: Splash. That is, if the pond isnít entirely frozen here in this new year. I think I might have mentioned a few years ago the minnows we had in a fish bowl behind our house once when I was growing up, and how the water they were in froze solid, and how, after the water melted, the minnows started swimming again as if nothing had happened.
John Berbrich: I donít recall you mentioning it but I have heard similar stories. Sounds as though there is some amazing message buried within your account but I canít quite grasp it. Like a kind of eternal, sage advice. I wonder how long the fish can freeze & not die?
William Michaelian: I have no idea. For that matter, much colder and the fish bowl might have shattered. Howís that for an image? Kind of like a permanent, tragic fright.
John Berbrich: Yeah. And then thereíd be this block of ice shaped like a fish bowl, filled w/ frozen fish. What an image.
William Michaelian: Especially when you add an elf standing alongside, clutching a spatula and wearing an apron.
John Berbrich: Seems as though elves always like to be in the middle of things. Donít they ever sleep?
William Michaelian: Yes. In heaps. Ghastly, smelly, unsightly heaps. Or at least thatís the way I imagine it. Maybe they donít sleep. Well ó I finished Huck Finn yesterday, and today I started on Tom Sawyer. Probably should have done it the other way around, since Tom Sawyer was written first, but I think Iíll withstand the shock.
John Berbrich: Yeah. Not like itís gonna be a surprise. Some great parts in that book too. I love the part where Tom...well, since youíre about to read it, I wonít give it away.
William Michaelian: Thatís mighty kind of you. Iím reading one of those nifty Readerís Digest editions, those nice hardcovers that look old and new at the same time. Iíve picked up a fair number of them used, each for two or three dollars, looking like theyíve hardly been opened.
John Berbrich: I hope this isnít a condensed version.
William Michaelian: Oh, it is. After finishing Proust I donít think Iíll ever read another full length novel again. Condensed version indeed. Anyway ó while your back was turned, I finished Tom Sawyer. Now Iím reading Oliver Twist. Iím on a reading rampage, I tell you.
John Berbrich: Good for you, man. I enjoyed Twist a great deal. Canít go far wrong w/ Dickens.
William Michaelian: Well, Iím a couple of hundred pages in and have enjoyed every bit of it. Quite impressive, turning out something like that in his twenties. I also have on hand David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities.
John Berbrich: Read íem all. Enjoyed the comic adventures of the Pickwick Papers, years ago. And Nicholas Nickleby. Dickens has the best villains, & the most sympathetic characters. Clearly a classic. And such detail. He examines everything & describes it exactly.
William Michaelian: Thatís just it. Thereís a wealth of detail, and each is as real and believable as the next. The filth and stench and atmosphere, societyís outcasts huddled in doorways ó the man clearly knew these things first hand. And if he didnít, Iíll gladly admit that Iím fooled.
John Berbrich: Well, heís fooled a lot of folks then. Not only did he write a great deal of novels, most of them were fat, too. And he performed in numerous amateur theatricals, some of them for large audiences. He searched for housing for the poor. He wrote thousands of letters that have been preserved. He took care of a number of sick family members. And on top of all this, Dickens found time to grow a rather thin & ungainly beard.
William Michaelian: Which I imagine responding intelligently to the sights and sounds on those nightly walks he took. Back at home, he probably combed out dozens of useful details and studied them at his desk before putting them into the story he was working on. Yes, Iíve read that he was quite the performer, pouring great energy into his readings. When he was in England years ago, our old pal Mr. Hinshaw actually went to Bleak House, and found the whole experience quite stirring.
John Berbrich: Wow. Itís like walking into the middle of a novel. I didnít know that there really was a Bleak House.
William Michaelian: Youíll find a brief note about it here, along with a photo. Apparently thatís where David Copperfield was written.
John Berbrich: Doesnít really look too bleak in the picture.
William Michaelian: Thatís because I made a mistake. Thatís a shot of my childhood home on the farm. It took up so much space, we almost starved, until my father got wise and chopped it up for kindling.
John Berbrich: Well, that is a bleak story.
William Michaelian: Oh, life in the barn wasnít that bad. Until the flood came.
John Berbrich: Was that the forty days & nights of rain, or is that another story?
William Michaelian: Thatís another story, but both have arks.
John Berbrich: I think I saw that movie. ďRaiders of the Lost Cubit,Ē wasnít it?
William Michaelian: The same. Whence came the memorable line, ďRain? The guyís one cubit short of a load. Always has been.Ē
John Berbrich: Yah. It was sheer genius casting Eminem as Noah in that weird flashback where heís rapping while hammering planks on that ark. The fake beard gave him an almost William Michaelian look.
William Michaelian: Rapping while hammering ó brilliant! Even more so in that ark too is a sound, assuming there were two seals waiting to shimmy aboard. Arkimedes. And the fake beard reminds me of one I wore once in a grade school play. I was a wise man at Christmas. The clever person who fastened the whiskers used some kind of horrible glue that was agony to get off. In fact to this day bits of that old beard still remain.
John Berbrich: So it follows that you havenít quite lost all of that original grade school wisdom.
William Michaelian: Those few shreds are all that keeps me from hunting her down. I remember now ó she was an evil classmate hiding behind olive skin and a sultry smile. She proceeded with such confidence that I was paralyzed. She also smelled like a chalky eraser. Or maybe Iím imagining that part.
John Berbrich: Evil classmate. Olive skin. Sultry smile. Have you tried googling her?
William Michaelian: Google someone whose name I canít remember and who probably doesnít exist? What if I find out we live in the same town?
John Berbrich: Maybe she can do something w/ that beard. After all, sheís partly responsible.
William Michaelian: More than that. I didnít realize it until now, but sheís ruined my life. I hate when that happens.
John Berbrich: Well, look at it this way. Now that you realize that your life has hit bottom, things can only get better. Man, just think of all those good times you can look forward to.
William Michaelian: Yes, but what will they consist of? What will they be like? Iíve hit bottom before, only to realize I can still go lower. Thatís the only thing that keeps me going. A form of bliss, really. Hey, thanks. I never thought of that.
John Berbrich: No problem. Hey, anything for a pal. Speaking of bottom, you ever have the urge to reread Proust?
William Michaelian: Oh, I have to fight it off all the time. Itís exhausting. But I manage. Iíve read about 500 pages now of Montaigneís Complete Works, along with several shorter volumes by poets of a more recent vintage, as in the early twentieth century.
John Berbrich: Who are the poets? And by the way, doesnít the word reread look like a typo? But then if you render it re-read, it looks all academic & 19th century. Sometimes you canít win. I usually choose to write re-read.
William Michaelian: As do I, but at times I flirt with the contemporary unhyphenated look. And my choice, humorously enough, might depend on what Iím reading or re-rereading at the time. Mountain Interval by Robert Frost. Chicago Poems and Cornhuskers by Carl Sandburg, and Early Poems by Ezra Pound, all in Dover Thrift Editions I picked up last summer in Port Angeles.
John Berbrich: Oh, youíve got some good ones there. I have Sandburgís Chicago Poems & Cornhuskers together in one weathered hard-backed volume, published in 1946 by The World Publishing Company. I also have Mountain Interval, which contains some of my favorite Frost poems, ďThe Road Not Taken,Ē ďBirches,Ē et cetera. I have some of Poundís old collections but not that specific book. As I said, some delightful work there.
William Michaelian: Definitely. And I like Frostís ďHouse Fear.Ē What I enjoyed most in the Pound collection were his translations from the Chinese. I also picked up another Peter Pauper Press volume a couple of days ago: Bittersweet Poems of Heinrich Heine, published in 1956, translated by Joseph Auslander. Some lovely little poems in there. They retained the German titles, and the poems themselves, which rhyme, are italicized.
John Berbrich: Sounds glorious. When you enter a bookstore, you never know whatís going to leap off a shelf into your hand. Speaking of Pound, have you ever read his Cantos?
William Michaelian: No, just brief bits here and there as I stumble on them in bookstores and online. I hear theyíre difficult. But of course that assessment is fairly meaningless. Finnegans Wake and Ulysses are difficult too, or challenging, or whatever term you want to use, and we know what tremendous works they are. What are your thoughts on the matter?
John Berbrich: The Cantos are tough. Like you, Iíve read bits here & there. A lot of it is translation, or it sounds like translation. Long sections remind me of Homer, of Italian letters written during the Renaissance, & of ancient Chinese poetry. At least one passage is written in musical notation. This is a challenge for the casual reader, like me. Still, it does have its effect, even if I donít really understand much of it. Thereís this sense of cosmopolitan historical awareness running through its many pages. And thereís a gruffness that I like, plus a sense that important things are being said. So, at this point, I prefer to read it in bits & fragments, assuming that these are significant parts of some colossal & worthy whole.
William Michaelian: A reasonable, pleasurable approach. Significant, too, is that the work was written over such a long period of time, through so many changes in the world and in his own life and mind.
John Berbrich: Pound had an effective way of mixing high erudition w/ slang. It gives the impression that he knows a subject from the inside & from the outside. He understands the official version, & he understands whatís really going on.
William Michaelian: So, then, itís not just cosmopolitan hysterical unfairness, as some people have said. His mystery and appeal run much deeper. I did feel some of the earliest poems were a bit awkward and contrived, as if he hadnít yet assimilated his already impressive store of knowledge, or quite figured out what to do with it, but wanted to show it off somehow. Or maybe Iím too dense to recognize what he was really up to. It certainly wouldnít be the first time, and it wonít be my last.
John Berbrich: Pound, Pound, Pound. I certainly donít consider him among the first rank of 20th century poets, although he wrote a few that are magnificent. But he does seem to dig up a lot of arcane knowledge; & from what Iíve read, he was highly esteemed by just about everyone as an editor. Itís like he could recognize talent & marvelous works of literary art, but couldnít quite measure up himself.
William Michaelian: On a side note, in glancing through my books, I see I do have one of his titled Selected Cantos, a New Directions paperback from 1970. Also his ABC of Reading, and another, Collected Early Poems. So I suppose I can Pound, Pound, Pound until the cows come home. What about Hart Crane?
John Berbrich: I keep hearing about the man but Iíve not read him. You?
William Michaelian: Iíve just started on his Complete Poems. Last December at Goodwill, I found a beautiful Franklin Library edition in perfect condition, full leather, gold accents, the works, for only $4.99. He didnít live very long, and jumped off a boat to end his life. What Iíve read so far definitely reveals a troubled, melancholy strain. Heís quite adept at the language, in the way of T.S. Eliot, say, but maybe a little less ironic, dense, and obscure. He uses a fair amount of rhyme, but thereís nothing blatant about it, and his lines are relatively short. I canít always tell what heís getting at, but it sounds good. Born in Ohio in 1899, died 1932. Apparently his letters have been widely published and are thought of quite highly.
John Berbrich: Sounds good, the way you describe it. Yes, Iíve heard good things about him. I know I have some of his work around here somewhere. But my office is such a mess. Iíve been reading, among other things, the work of a more contemporary poet: ďLoose WomanĒ by Sandra Cisneros. Hot stuff, erotic & all that.
William Michaelian: How quaint ó reading something by someone whoís still alive, I mean. I need to do more of that. Except that in reading, no writer ever really dies. So, then, are you enjoying this ďLoose WomanĒ?
John Berbrich: Actually, I am. Cisneros comes across in large part as a hot bitch, which is what sheís aiming at. So the work is successful. But today it was by pure serendipity that I read a brief analysis by the eminent critic Harold Bloom of Hart Craneís poem, ďVoyages.Ē Have you read this one? Bloom calls it ďone of the great but truly difficult poems of the twentieth century.Ē
William Michaelian: Yes, I read it a couple of days ago. Heís right, itís truly difficult ó but only if you try to figure out what it means, which I didnít. Really, I donít go in for those exercises, as you know from my ďinterpretationsĒ of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, which I thoroughly enjoyed as pieces of music. I donít think ďVoyagesĒ is great on that level, or even close to it, but it is musical and thereís no shortage of images that come to mind. And yet I enjoyed it more, say, than Eliotís ďWasteland,Ē which I always have a heck of a time getting through.
John Berbrich: See, I like the atmosphere of Eliotís poem, the dry, haunted timbre. I can just take my time w/ it, savoring each line like a bite of delicious food. But back to Crane, Bloom spends 13 pages talking about section 2 of ďVoyages,Ē & how some of the images relate to his suicide, which you mentioned earlier. Iím not crazy about those analysis games either. I try to enjoy the experience of reading a work of literature, although a little background on the poet or the piece does sometimes deepen that experience.
William Michaelian: It does. It can jog you into another mode of thinking and seeing, which is good. Actually, your description of reading Eliot echoes my first reading of that poem, which was the one I enjoyed most. I think some times are just better than others to be reading certain things. And of course, other things youíre reading at the time have their influence as well. Itís like being under multiple spells.
John Berbrich: Yeah, & you head for the one that attracts at the moment. Funny, isnít it? You can pick up a poem that youíve read w/ pleasure many times before, & it is just dead on the page. And others that youíve read maybe several times without reaction, suddenly leap out of the book at you. Itís all so random, so keep your eye peeled for marvelous accidents. Thatís a Zen thing.
William Michaelian: Yes, and thatís another reason I stand behind my random method of acquistion. The house is full of books that have found me every bit as much as I found them. Cisneros. What else? Seems you usually have some science fiction on the nightstand, as it were.
John Berbrich: Not reading any SF right now, but soon. Hereís something Iíve just finished. Ever read Walter Dean Myers? He writes mostly young adult novels. Very good stuff, realistic yet positive. Well, he was inspired by Edgar Lee Mastersís Spoon River Anthology to write something similar called Here in Harlem published in 2004. So youíve got poems by students, unemployed men, janitors, hairdressers, hustlers. The poems are accompanied by dozens of black & white photos, taken of random black people. Myers grew up in Harlem, so he knows the territory. Quite a few of the poems contain good-hearted humor. Myers is really worth reading.
William Michaelian: Interesting. I havenít read anything of his. I think you mentioned him once, but itís lost now in the mist. I looked up the book. Eighty-eight pages, ripe and ready for the picking at Amazon, in paper and hardcover editions. Tempting. I certainly like the premise. Do you have the book, or did you borrow it from the library? Okay, wait. Iím looking at it now in Google Books. The entry previews about fifteen pages and includes some of the photos, which are great.
John Berbrich: Yeah, the photos are great. I bought the book at a used bookshop. Itís a sturdy hardcover, published in 2004. It somehow found its way to northern New York from the Public Library in Willingboro, New Jersey. According to the card in front, the book was never taken out.
William Michaelian: Wow. It seems to me they hardly gave it a chance. Half a dozen years and banished from the stacks. One of my old Robert Burns collections still has a library card in it. Itís from the Senior High School Library in Salem, Oregon, and it was signed by fourteen students between 1940 and 1950. You can see it here.
John Berbrich: Pretty cool. Hey, thereís a poet we havenít talked about much, at least not in a long time. Robert Burns, how he could spin a rhyme w/ a leer. Or he could tear out your heart w/ a few words.
William Michaelian: You know, in all this time I still have read only a small portion of his work. But every time I pick up one my Burns volumes ó I have several now ó Iím delighted by any page I turn to. Your characterization says it exactly, and his voice is music. And that music, I think, is what keeps him alive in so many minds, across so many years.
John Berbrich: I have a complete 50-volume set of the Harvard Classics. Years ago, I read the Burns volume, which includes all of his poetry, plus many of his songs. How could anyone not like Burns? His voice, as you say, was pure music. And he was full of mischief. Always had that twinkle in his eye.
William Michaelian: Absolutely. As it happens, my most recent Burns purchase is a rugged Harvard Classic volume. Of course I now thereís more than one printing of those. I have about twenty volumes from a beautiful limited edition set, No. 4266. It even contains a fold-out of the ďfirst facsimile reproduction (slightly reduced in size) of the first page of Robert Burnsís poem ĎThe Cotterís Saturday Night,í published by permission from the original in the library of J. Pierpont Morgan, Esq.Ē Beautiful handwriting. I took a picture of a few of the books last year. They weigh a ton.
John Berbrich: My Burns does not have the fold-out poem. My set of the Classics lacks the date of publication. The copyright is 1909, ďDesigned, Printed, and Bound at The Collier Press, New York.Ē But thereís no way to tell when these books were actually printed, although my guess is pre-WWI. The covers are a rough blue fabric, pretty scuffed & beaten-up. Iíve read maybe a dozen of these volumes. Some are dreadfully dull, while others are fascinating.
William Michaelian: I aim to read Dante one of these days. I have some of those blue volumes, too. Also some with red covers. True, some of the material is on the dry side, as if youíre embarking on a glorious desert of words. A few pages in, and right away you start finding the bleached skeletons of readers who didnít make it out alive.
John Berbrich: Yeah, but I did find some fascinating material, such as Ben Franklinís autobiography & the letters of Pliny. Also liked Miltonís Paradise Lost & the travels of Herodotus in Egypt. Also those Viking sagas. Good stuff, all of it.
William Michaelian: And you have to like the concept, the five-foot shelf of books. And speaking of books, we made another trip to Powellís yesterday. I brought home ten musty old volumes ó in fact one, printed in French, was published in 1777. Thatís the thing about Powellís. Youíre browsing along, and all of a sudden you find something from 1810 or 1754 or the like. And thatís not even counting the rare book room. I guarantee youíd lose your mind in there. Paradise found.
John Berbrich: Or maybe Iíd find my mind. Wait a minute, thatís your line.
William Michaelian: No, my line is never mind. I did post a photo of the books. Here ó take a look. Iím already ready to go back. Already ready, though unsteady and out of gas.
John Berbrich: The books look like theyíre having a fine time, like old pals leaning against each other in a saloon. I like that crazy lamp to the right, & especially that bookcase off to the left. That old hardcover set looks like the Harvard Classics. Any truth to that rumor?
William Michaelian: That is a great characterization ó old battered drunks full of personality, vying for another turn to tell their story, which never quite turns out the same way twice. Aye, upon the top shelf rest the Classics, and there are a few more on the shelf above, out of view. Below them, the 1892 Britannica set. And my little stained glass dragonfly lamp, lit by a tiny bulb of dim wattage, to illuminate my dim wittage.
John Berbrich: I think when Iím out West Iíll go browsing at your used bookshop. I wonít buy anything, but Iíd love to look.
William Michaelian: Well, youíre more than welcome. By the time you arrive, there will be that many more to see. I just brought home a few more of the Waverley Novels, from 1857. You can see all eight of them in the foreground here, and another view of the Classics, among other things.
John Berbrich: What catches my eye is that book w/ the marble-ized cover toward the right. I have one or two of those. Gods, they used to make books w/ the utmost love & respect. Some people still do. Most are cranked out in Henry Ford factories. But not all, not all.
William Michaelian: Thank goodness. And you know yourself how you can pick up a book and tell by its weight and other telltale signs roughly when it was published. Iím not surprised the marbled cover caught your eye. I have six from that particular set. Theyíre from a massive compilation of Blackwoodís Magazine of Edinburgh, in the American Edition published by the Leonard Scott Publishing Company, 41 Barclay Street, New York, and printed by S.W. Green, Printers, 16 and 18 Jacob Street. Vol. 111, 1872; Vol. 112, 1872; Vol. 113, 1873; Vol. 122, 1877; Vol. 123, 1878; Vol. 124, 1878.
John Berbrich: Wow. Whatís in those Blackwoods? Stories, poems, articles? Notes from the Phrenological Society? Sounds absolutely fascinating. A shelf of old hardcover books always enhances the appearance & the spirit of a room. And two shelves? Do the math.
William Michaelian: Iíll get right on it. The aroma of these books and the delicate powder they leave on your hands is amazing. The magazine, founded in 1817, was quite influential and controversial in its time. Back in 1899, Conradís Heart of Darkness was published therein. I found a short rundown of the publication on Wikipedia. I think youíll find it quite interesting.
John Berbrich: Youíre right, that is interesting. In fact, a whole book about the history of Blackwoodís would be high on my reading list. Marvelous: duels, shootings, verbal wars. Exciting. Great that it lasted so long; sad that it had to end.
William Michaelian: And to think I have a little chunk of it right here in this room. Itís a wonder I get anything done at all. But thereís something about opening books like these that puts my mind right. And it happened again yesterday: Dollface and I were outside, and when we came in the first thing we noticed was that the house smells like an old bookshop. ďSee?Ē I said, ďweíve finally arrived.Ē
John Berbrich: I imagine thatís what the Junk Poem Shop will smell like ó a dusty-sweet blend of old books & ambrosia.
William Michaelian: To be sure. But I have to say, I canít help thinking that thatís where weíve been all along. Itís kind of like Waiting for Godot all over again, except that weíre waiting for anyone and everyone. Wait ó did you hear that? I think someoneís at the door.
John Berbrich: But which one? Thereís like 20 doors in this room.
William Michaelian: But what if itís not a room? What if itís a stage?
John Berbrich: Well, there are still 20 doors. Pick one.
William Michaelian: Thatís something I admire about you ó your ability to focus on the matter at hand. You realize, of course, that behind those twenty doors there are an equal number of doors, and behind each of those there are an equal number of stages, and on those stages are an equal number of puzzled performers who, in a pinch, could pass for us, if they havenít, in fact, already assumed our identity.
John Berbrich: Now youíre getting all Borges on me. We can spend eternity exploring this stage, these doors, this bucket of beer. Everything is a labyrinth. A straight line coils through the air, curling like a pigís tail. ďThe Pigís Tale,Ē thatís a decent name for a story.
William Michaelian: Well, there is a rather long poem by Lewis Carrol by that name. It begins
Little Birds are dining
Warily and well,
Hid in mossy cell: Hid, I say, by waiters
Gorgeous in their gaitersó
Iíve a Tale to tell.
Little Birds are feeding
Justices with jam,
Rich in frizzled ham:
Rich, I say, in oysters
Haunting shady cloistersó
That is what I am.
Is that what you have in mind? Because this stage is certainly large enough to accommodate twenty pigs.
John Berbrich: A door for each pig. Perfect. I expect theyíll make a grand entrance simultaneously. Thanks for the poem, by the way. I like that sort of nonsense.
William Michaelian: Well, you know me. Thereís always room for gloom, but I also love to laugh. Entrance of the Pigs would work for a play.
John Berbrich: Can you imagine the soundtrack? Mud-Luscious! Based on an old Roman drama by Seneca. Yeasty & porcine!
William Michaelian: With Toscanini in the orchestra pit. Dead as he is, we need his energy in there. We want his shadow playing on the wall, his eyebrows projected like curling dark waves about to crash ashore.
John Berbrich: We donít want him to overwhelm the pigs, now. I think the porkers should make their grand entrance on a greased stage, donít you agree? And each pig should be hooked up to a microphone. Aria of the ambulatory bacon.
William Michaelian: Brilliant! And Toscanini can be dressed as a chef, in a tall white puffy hat. Iím all for the grease. And an echoing chorus of pigs, hundreds of them. Weíll give them tilted, demented halos and install the microphones in there.
John Berbrich: We really need to do this now. I can hear the excited squeals from the stage ó & from the audience. But donít you think youíre going a bit far w/ Toscanini? I mean, w/ him being dead & all. Well, I guess he wonít mind. I know I wouldnít. If I was dead, I mean, & you asked me to conduct an aria for pigs. Really, now ó how could I refuse? Itís a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, even though Iíd be dead.
William Michaelian: Thatís exactly the way I feel about it. But now I wonder if the musicians would mind playing second fiddle to a dead guy. Unless we hire dead musicians. Bah ó details. The pigs are what count. And chandeliers. And ushers with little round caps and flashlights.
John Berbrich: Actually, it might be more fun to make a movie about the performance. Weíd still have the pigs & the ushers & all, but weíd also have the fun of cameras, lighting, & lots of additional actors. What do you think?
William Michaelian: Think? I have to think now? You just lost me. So. Just to be clear, weíre going to stage a greased pig play with a dead conductor, and said play is going to be filmed? In that case, who is going to film us filming the play? Because I sense great documentary value in this as well.
John Berbrich: Hmmm. Now Iím stumped. How are your elves w/ cameras? Do you think we could trust them? I almost feel as though this project is getting out of hand.
William Michaelian: I blame it on Toscanini. This happens every time Iím cheerful. My morbid personality canít handle it and I over-compensate. Even the elves are in therapy. As elves, theyíre not themselves. Have you ever noticed that? How the word themselves contains the word elves?
John Berbrich: I hadnít noticed, until you mentioned it. Is there like some kind of secret message in that word? Themselves. Them s elves. The ms elves. That last one implies that the elves have a secret manuscript hidden somewhere. Willie, search your beard!
William Michaelian: What? And wake up the birds?
John Berbrich: Priorities, William! The birds have been sleeping long enough. Besides, we could crack some of those eggs for breakfast. You got any cheese around here, & some wine?
William Michaelian: Letís hope so. Otherwise, this beard would be pretty useless. Whoa! ó whatís this? Champagne! And strawberries. By gad, theyíre early this year.
John Berbrich: And look at this! Whipped cream ó & a corkscrew! Man, better days are here again.
William Michaelian: Indeed, this old beard of mine has great insulating properties. Iím a walking thermos. There are unanswered questions, of course, but letís not pursue them. Except... do you suppose this crinkly scroll belongs to the elves? Or is it merely a cigarette paper? It could be both.
John Berbrich: Oh, yes, absolutely both. But what does it say? I canít read Elvish.
William Michaelian: If Iím not mistaken, it says, ďTry our new menthol.Ē
John Berbrich: Typically cryptic Elvish utterance. Wonder what the significance is, if any.
William Michaelian: Well, certainly, we can assume multiple layers of meaning. Cultural signposts, history, heresy, crusades, warring factions. A vast tableau. A tapestry. Pastry. Coffee stains.
John Berbrich: Now youíre getting to it. And what exactly do the elves add to their coffee, I wonder. Elvish Whiskey, Iíll wager. So damn gleeful & snarky, the whole mischievous lot of them. In fact, thatís a great name: Mischiefís Whiskey. Make mine a double shot.
William Michaelian: You deserve it, coming up with a great name like that. That easily rivals Burnt Elves. If I saw that on the newstand, Iíd buy it in a heartbeat.
John Berbrich: Saaaay, that reminds me. Whatever happened to Burnt Elves anyway? It was, & remains, a dazzling concept. I was really looking forward to seeing a copy.
William Michaelian: As was I. Now Iím thinking in terms of an incredible protocopy, made of outlandish materials with clasps and hinges, the cover surface part map, part historical depiction, echoing the great Elf Wars of antiquity and the Migrations that followed. A genuine museum piece, extremely heavy, requiring a ladder to read. Build it and they will come.
John Berbrich: Yeah, but how will you mail me my copy? Thatís gonna cost a ton, even if you get discounted business rates.
William Michaelian: Apparently you werenít listening. I said, build it and they will come. But if itís inconvenient, I could work up a traveling exhibition that brings it eventually to Russell, where the exhibition ends and I stay on for several months, chopping wood, agitating your bees, and raiding your refrigerator. Itís up to you.
John Berbrich: The only problem w/ that scenario is that our bees are dead, every one. A huge windstorm hit us about a month ago & toppled the hives in the night. It was pretty cold out, & when we discovered the mess in the morning, not a bee moved. It was a rather tragic scene.
William Michaelian: Ah. What a shame. Iím sorry to hear that. Those bees, I know, charged the atmosphere with their own special magic.
John Berbrich: Oh, yes. I really loved watching them in the morning, buzzing off one by one to work, then coming home in the late afternoon, again, one by one, their legs covered w/ pollen. I know weíll buy more, or maybe entice some new bees into the now vacant digs.
William Michaelian: Oh? And how is that done? With signs? Little bee whistles?
John Berbrich: Bee-whistles. I like the sound of that, no pun blah-blah-blah. Well, to answer your question. A woman we know, who has kept bees for years, seems to think that if we clean up the hives & just stack them up the way they were, that some wild bees might be inclined to call it home. This is perhaps wishful thinking, but Iím hoping it works.
William Michaelian: Well, despite the brilliance of my bee-whistle idea, which you can always fall back on, I think Iíve heard or read the same thing. Itinerant, harmonica-playing bees looking for a place to warm their knees for a while. It makes sense. The bees-blues.
John Berbrich: The bees-blues, kneeling on their bee-knees. Jeez, you know I like that idea of the hobo bees warming their knees & all of that. W/ a little tiny tape-recorder we could record that sweet harmonica. Pollen, the lure of nectar. I wonder if every bee-song sounds the same, or at least if theyíre variations of a theme. I mean the big theme, subject, & topic for bees. Honey?
William Michaelian: Bee-satchels and bee-bandanas. Honey, where ya been so long. You left me at the station, hum, hum. How about this for a title: The Melancholy Hive. An anthology of North American Bee Song, in the words of their elders.
John Berbrich: I do like it. Actually Iíve read that a lot of those old songs are still sung in endless variation by young bees in the orchards & on the hillsides today. ďLife of a DroneĒ always gets me.
William Michaelian: Oh, yes. That one is murder. After all these years, it still hasnít lost its sting. It inspired John Lennon, I think, to write ďWorking Class Hero.Ē You might even say it was in the key of bee.
John Berbrich: Oh, good one, Willie. Well, if it ever stops raining weíll set up the hives & wait for new customers. Until then, I wear my camouflage New York Yankee fishing hat every time I go out. And I try not to step on the ubiquitous worms.
William Michaelian: Just show them a fish hook and watch them scatter. Like Moses, parting the Red Sea. Speaking of The Melancholy Hive, Iíve just started reading Robert Burtonís The Anatomy of Melancholy. Do you have an edition of that, by any chance?
John Berbrich: Donít.
William Michaelian: Well, based on the little Iíve read, I highly recommend it. In the edition I have, all of the Latin phrases have been translated, which is nice, but Iíll definitely be on the lookout for a 1621 edition with the Latin intact. I imagine it will cost only a few thousand dollars.
John Berbrich: A mere pittance. By any chance, was Burton an alchemist? I recall reading that they believed in four humors, & melancholy was one of them.
William Michaelian: He was a scholar, vicar, rector, and sufferer of depression. The ďblack bileĒ of the humor theory definitely figures in. Work on the book itself was his own brilliant form of self-treatment. The writing is delightful, full of intelligent biting humor, seasoned with quotes from all the great minds of antiquity.
John Berbrich: Sounds fascinating. Iíve always liked that word, melancholy. Itís like a classy form of depression, deeper, w/ perhaps more of a philosophical basis. Itís two different things to say, ďIím depressedĒ or ďIím suffering from melancholy.Ē Thatís actually a decent name for a punk rock band: Bile.
William Michaelian: What? You mean such a group doesnít exist? Wait ó I wonít link to any of the results here, but go to Google and type in ďbile band.Ē Crimson Bile is intriguing. And be sure to click on the bilious image results. Gad, I feel another wave of melancholy coming on.
John Berbrich: No, Willie, I think thatís depression youíre feeling. As I said, you require a more philosophical basis for true melancholy. I prefer Green Bile.
William Michaelian: Which is also a great name for a river. Slowly, they made their way down the Green Bile.
John Berbrich: Sure, itís a great name but it sounds yucky. No place youíd want to swim.
William Michaelian: I imagine it would be hard on the oars as well.
John Berbrich: But think of all the muscles youíd develop in your arms, chest, & back w/ all that vigorous rowing. The dames would go crazy over you.
William Michaelian: Which brings us, naturally, to that long-forgotten adventure classic, Dames of the Green Bile.
John Berbrich: Wow. Hadnít thought of that one in years. Youíve read it, of course. Or seen the film. Amazing cinematography, especially for a book. They sure donít write them like that anymore.
William Michaelian: Dare I say it? No one has the gall.
John Berbrich: Ugh. Or not enough humors?
William Michaelian: Or tumors. Or rumors. But Iíll say this: none of it matters, because I received your beautiful February issue today. I havenít read a word, but what a great cover.
John Berbrich: Oh, thanks. Itís actually the label from our first batch of homemade wine, slightly altered. The vino is extraordinary.
William Michaelian: Whatís this? You made wine? Tell me all about it.
John Berbrich: Well, we made a batch of White Zinfandel in March & a batch of Merlot in April. Each batch was six gallons. The stuff is really good. Plenty of the Merlot left, if you want to travel east. Right now weíre making it from kits, but once we gather a bit of experience, we intend to experiment a little.
William Michaelian: Iím all for it. And I like both wines. But Iím afraid I donít know what a kit is. Is it a big box with a tiny vineyard inside, a harvest sun, and threatening rain clouds? Or does it contain powdered essence of Merlot in little packets?
John Berbrich: Well, basically you get a juice mixture to which you add water & yeast. Thereís a double fermentation process you need to follow, taking specific gravity readings along the way. The entire process from start to bottling takes roughly five weeks, after which you need to wait (this is the hard part) two or three months for the wine to mature. But itís certainly drinkable after three weeks. For the Merlot w/ added little chips of oak for flavor, which came w/ the juice pack.
William Michaelian: The oak barrel effect. What else plays into this? Do light and temperature affect the outcome?
John Berbrich: Light doesnít seem too important, but the temperature needs to be maintained in the 65-70 degree range. After the wine is bottled, the temperature should be kept lower, & steadier. So we have a wine-rack down the cellar where the temp stays cool year-round. So far this is working out very well.
William Michaelian: Sounds like it. Well, keep it up, because weíre on our way. Vin Barbarique. Chateau BoneWorld. Glass in hand, watching the sun set (or rise) ó paradise. What kind of cheese shall we bring? Or are you making that in your cellar too?
John Berbrich: I really hadnít planned on making cheese. We are growing mushrooms though, in the living room. And Nancy wants to start making paper. Tell you what. You & Dollface bring the cheese (anything but Limburger) & weíll supply the wine. Weíll all eat mushrooms & write poems on our fancy paper. Howís that sound?
William Michaelian: Perfect. I see this all as a beautiful quest for self-sufficiency. Losing the bees was a setback, but that story is far from over. The rest ó the wine, the mushrooms, the paper ó are all thatís really needed in life, as long as you count in some suds and a few books. Paper-making ó Iím not surprised at all. Iíd love to see a stately old printing press watching over the scene. And it should have a name, maybe something like ďPaumanok.Ē
John Berbrich: Hmmm. Paumanok Press. The very name rings in the air! Willie, youíre a genius!
William Michaelian: I doubt that, although I do have occasional brief moments of clarity, and then I quickly sink back into the mire. Now, with the history behind that name, and its beautiful appearance as a word, there has to be, or there has to have been, publishers by that name. But an actual printing press, with its iron and ink and wheels, with the name Paumanok chiseled into it ó I wonder if that would be a first.
John Berbrich: About the only way to find out for sure is to ask Willipedia. And you have better access than I do.
William Michaelian: Yes, we all have our cross to bear. I see there was, once upon a time, a Paumanok Review. But thatís merely interesting and hardly a clue. Then there are Whitmanís own words: See, the many-cylinderíd steam printing-press. Think of the noise that would make in the Junk Poem Shop.
John Berbrich: Yeah. I suppose we could somehow find a recording of a real printing press & play it super loud at the Junk Poem Shop, so weíd get that feeling. Weíd play it when we were putting together the Junk Poem Shop Newsletter. That would lend verisimilitude to the scene.
William Michaelian: Which is always a concern. And if we play it loud enough, we might be overrun with the ghosts of printersí devils. Whitman, of course, will keep them in line.
John Berbrich: Yeah. And having ghosts around always helps. Especially ghosts of devils. The Annual Junk Poem Shop Halloween Party is gonna be a smash.
William Michaelian: I like Halloween. Itís the one day of the year people donít look at me funny.
John Berbrich: Ha-ha. Hereís a question: On Halloween how many kids do you usually get at your door for Trick-or-Treat? Our average is right around 42 or 43 every year.
William Michaelian: Impressive. Where we used to live, there were so many kids in our neighborhood that sometimes we had that many by nightfall. Then over the years it slowly tapered off. In our current digs, itís an older neighborhood, meaning the people who live here are older, so generally we see about half that. Dollface used to make some great costumes ó pirates, tigers, fairies. We were talking about it the other day, how when we were kids, my entire costume was a plastic mask that cost forty-nine cents. And of course the parents had to drive us into town, since we lived out on the farm. Very exciting. Then from there to the carnival at the Tortilla Flat baseball diamond adjacent to Wilson School. Ten cent rides: the octupus, the hammer, the tilt-a-whirl ó endless fun.
John Berbrich: Sounds great. My neighborhood was pretty crowded when I was a kid. Walking just a couple of blocks Iíd end up w/ shopping bags full of candy. Our costumes were also cheapies. If Halloween night arrived & I was unprepared, Iíd shove a pillow under my shirt & go as a fat man. Small acts of vandalism usually rounded out the night.
William Michaelian: Toppled outhouses and the like ó although it occurs to me that you probably didnít have outhouses where you grew up. A great architectural and cultural loss, in my opinion.
John Berbrich: Youíre right, no outhouses. However, one of the chief reasons that I moved up here is that some people still have outhouses. Some of the Amish farms have quite a few. Apparently they bring the seats indoors in the winter, taking them along to the outhouse only when in use.
William Michaelian: Which brings us to the long unanswered and even longer unasked question, why have there been no outhouses on Yawp covers?
John Berbrich: Look closer. There have been plenty of outhouses on Yawp covers, only theyíre tiny ones. And sometimes they are located behind other stuff, like a building or a giant fish. Oh, you can find pretty much anything youíre looking for on a Yawp cover, if you look hard enough.
William Michaelian: I stand, or rather sit, corrected. And even as I typed out that foolish assumption, I was nagged by the incorrectness and sheer impossibility of it. Back to the stack I go, for an in-depth study. Call me if Iím not back by suppertime.
John Berbrich: What should I call you?
William Michaelian: if Iím not back by suppertime. Thatís my name now. I might even have it legally changed, to better reflect my inner angst. My outer angst is another matter. Thatís why I wear long sleeves.
John Berbrich: Willie ó I mean, if Iím not back by suppertime ó Iíve told you before, youíve got to learn to relax. Here, drink some of this.
William Michaelian: Youíre a true friend. I canít count the times youíve rescued me from my wretched, self-inflicted suffering. Mmmm. What am I drinking this time?
John Berbrich: Oh, itís just a liquid jumble of stuff from around the house. Trust me, itís good. Will put hair on your chin, & on the bottom of your feet.
William Michaelian: Just what I need. There goes my nice all-American image. A liquid jumble. In other words, whatever is well past its expiration date.
John Berbrich: Itís synergistic magic, Willie. Come on, lad. Just a taste.
William Michaelian: Taste. Thatís the name of Rory Gallagherís first band. Okay, Iíll do it. Here ó help me hoist this barrel.
John Berbrich: Wait a second. Put the barrel down. I have that record, Taste. How did you know that? Itís got ďCatfish BluesĒ on it & a sort of frenzied cover, hard to discern. Have you been checking out my record collection again?
William Michaelian: No need. All along, I knew you were a man with Taste. Thatís something you canít hide. No doubt about it, Rory is one of the greatest of the great.
John Berbrich: Hey, maybe today weíll play olí Rory on the radio. Thatís a great idea, Willie.
William Michaelian: It is great. I wish Iíd had it. In the meantime, hereís an interview with Rory I think youíll like. In it he even talks about some of his near-death performance experiences.
John Berbrich: Thanks, man. I like his thoughts about being on the fringes of the establishment, adopting a sort of punk attitude. And I love hearing personal anecdotes about the ďOlde DaysĒ of rock & roll. Electric guitar is an incredibly powerful, versatile, expressive instrument. It can be sweet & mysterious like moonlight or fierce like a firestorm. Knives & cannons. Slashing burning. Babyís breath wafted on a cloud.
William Michaelian: So true. And Rory was definitely one of the great and gifted in that department. And he had such a gracious way about him. My sonís in the process of collecting his bootleg performances, of which there are dozens and dozens. Surprises and thrills in every one.
John Berbrich: Bootlegs used to be a rarity; now theyíre everywhere. So many outstanding live performances, formerly lost, can now be captured for eternity. Wonder if someoneís bootlegging this Conversation?
William Michaelian: Well, one I know of, and probably the greatest bootlegger of them all. Google. As for rarity, think how hard it used to be to capture a live performance, compared to now with all of the handheld gadgets available. And then thereís the Internet, which is where Vahan is finding them. Some Rory fans even trade bootlegs to build their collections. And of course Rory was almost always on the road. A while back, Vahan also found a bootleg of the George Harrison concert a friend and I attended way back in 1974 at the L.A. Forum. The quality isnít too hot, but I was shocked at how familiar the performance was. So much is stored in these noggins of ours.
John Berbrich: A lot more than we know, thatís for sure. When I attended shows at the Fillmore East as a lad, my friend Dave always slipped in a cassette recorder under his coat. We had recordings of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, Rod Stewart w/ Small Faces, the Allman Brothers, lots more. The quality wasnít too hot, but they were fun to listen to. My gods, how Iíd love to hear some of those shows again.
William Michaelian: Sounds like you saw some good ones. Many a legend has passed through there. Hendrix, Zappa, Lennon, Jefferson Airplane. Hey, this is interesting: dig this paragraph from Wikipedia:
The theatre that became the Fillmore East was originally built as a Yiddish theater in 1926, a time when this part of Second Avenue was known as the ďJewish RialtoĒ because of the numerous theatres that catered to a Yiddish-speaking audience. Called the Commodore Theater, it eventually was taken over by Loews Inc. and became a movie theatre, the Loews Commodore. It later became the Village Theatre, and in 1967 began to present rock bands, including Cream, the Who and the Doors. When Graham took over the theatre, it had fallen into disrepair. Despite the deceptively small marquee and faÁade, the theater had a capacity of almost 2,700.
But I suppose you know all that already.
John Berbrich: Most of it. Was quite a place. Iíll illustrate that w/ a quick story. Towards the end, the Fillmore grew a bit stricter regarding security. On the way in, a staff member relieved me of a full bottle of wine I was carrying. He said I could pick it up on the way out. Well, after the show, I went to the office & told the guy (a different guy) about my wine. He couldnít find my bottle, but he did find two half-full bottles of different kinds of wine, & gave me those. So at least we had something to drink for the train ride home.
William Michaelian: The atmosphere in those days was amazing. Fans arriving with bottles and weird smokes hidden in every crevice of their clothes, and as soon as the lights went down out it would all come. Even if you arrived empty-handed, all you had to do was inhale, or someone nearby would be passing the hooch around. When it was all over (Mama told me not to come), you had to watch your step because emtpy bottles and bodies were everywhere.
John Berbrich: Sounds like you & I went to a lot of the same shows. Say, Willie. Remember a couple of years ago we were discussing poet Weldon Kees? I told you that I had an excellent article on him in my office but I couldnít find it. Well, I found it yesterday. Want me to mail you a photocopy?
William Michaelian: Ah, so it finally surfaced. Yes, by all means. Best of all, in two years, I can find the photocopy and send a copy of it to you, since by then you will have lost yours again. Ideally, this exchange will continue for another twenty years.
John Berbrich: Ah, but thereís where youíre wrong. I just inherited a couple of rather large filing cabinets, like the kind they used to use in offices until everything went cyber & we started borrowing money from the Chinese. So Iím working in the evening, filing various things. Iím finding all sorts of ancient goodies. My life is enriched. How do you keep everything straight?
William Michaelian: The filing system here is very sophisticated. I have a plastic tub full of sheet music and old music books from when I took piano lessons as a kid. I have several other tubs full of old writings and notes. Thereís a tub of drawings the kids did years ago. And there are many other tubs and boxes, but at the moment I canít for the life of me remember whatís in them. And thereís stuff on top of the tubs ó books and pictures and artifacts ó that would make it a job to pry them open. When we moved here, it was also necessary to create a Family Archive Closet, where there are more tubs with stuff in them dating back many decades, in fact spanning three centuries. And of course there is a Small Press Closet, which has taken on an interesting and very agreeable smell.
John Berbrich: That is a sophisticated system. I find it amazing that at some periods of my life, all of this accumulation means little or nothing to me (I could have said, none of this accumulation means anything to me), & at other times, I find it difficult to part w/ an empty candy bar wrapper. I mean, if your life is precious, then every moment of it is also precious, & you want to savor every moment forever. Is that asking too much?
William Michaelian: No, but what percentage of these moments, really, come with tangible evidence? And so a gum wrapper or ticket stub comes to represent an entire period of oneís life ó a key, if you will, to a larger moment. There are also things that Iíve lost, or that have disintegrated, which, when remembered, have the same effect. The one-dollar pocket watches my father would give me when I was a kid, for instance, after theyíd become too unreliable for him, but still had a few ticks left in them.
John Berbrich: Right. Then, when youíre a kid, a parent gives you something that they think is really special, some kind of family heirloom, which means absolutely nothing to you at the time. So either you forget about it or the gift acquires this terrible burden of responsibility. I can imagine the crushing weight of it, increasing w/ the years.