Friday, June 07, 2019

Sarah Jensen talks about Maynard James Keenan, founder of the band 'Tool' in the 'Neighborhood.'

Sarah Jensen (Left) Shelia Borgess ( Right)

Sarah Jensen talks about Maynard James Keenan, founder of the band 'Tool' in the 'Neighborhood.'

By Doug Holder

Sarah Jensen met me at the Neighborhood Restaurant in Union Square, Somerville to talk about her book A Perfect Union Of Contrary Things. The book is a biography of Maynard James Keenan, the founder of the iconoclastic band,“ Tool,” not to mention a well-regarded vintner, and Renaissance man. A Perfect Union of Contrary Things (Backbeat Books) debuted at number 10 on the New York Times best seller list in 2016 and has since been translated into French and Italian and is forthcoming in Hungarian

According to Jensen, "The authorized biography of musician and vintner Maynard James Keenan, an intimate portrait of a multifaceted man far more remarkable than his public persona suggests. The story of his journey to his place in the international spotlight, the book explores his isolated and stultifying childhood, his doubts and joys, the difficult decisions he faced and how he surmounted them, and his influence on contemporary music and regional wine-making. The narrative is enhanced by the small details that transform personal reminiscence to universal tale: the songs that sustained him, the species of birds he watched take seeds from his father’s hand, the wines he sampled on a Somerville roof deck.”

It was fitting that we met at the Neighborhood, over a bowl of their renowned cream of wheat. It was here that Keenan hung out ( and still visits when he is in town) with his high school friend  who lived in Somerville at the time. They became acquainted with each other back in Ludington, Michigan, a small town about a five hour drive from Chicago. Through her brother Kjiirt, Jensen became long time friends with Keenan. She knew him vaguely years back—but the first time she really became aware of him, was when he came to visit her in the North End of Boston --where she once lived. Her first impression of Keenan was that, “ He was very punk. He was dressed all in black. We became fast friends. I spent a lot of time with Keenan and my brother in Somerville.” Keenan had an appreciation of wine, and good food. Jensen can recall sitting on a Somerville rooftop—drinking good wine, having great conversation, and eating good cuisine.

Keenan's love of wine eventually led him to become an award-winning vintner. He has a a vineyard and restaurant in Jerome, Arizona, and other locations.

I asked Jensen about Tool's music, she said: “ There is really no way to describe it. It has been described as progressive, art rock, etc.... It is symphonic, it is at times simply noise, but there is nothing clichĂ© about it. The message is, “ Think for yourself.. If you have talent you owe it to the universe to share it."

In her book Jensen wanted to get behind his image as a rock star—to the more nuanced man beneath. Jensen told me, “ He reads a lot—philosophy, he studies ancient geometry, and is a big fan of Joseph Campbell. “

Jensen told me that Keenan worked at Stanhope Framers in Union square. She said, “It was a steady gig, but the work was too intense, and involved meticulous attention to detail. He learned about merchandising and other things that proved valuable for his career when he worked for Boston Pet in Boston.

The Neighbor hood restaurant was the real focal point for Keenan in Somerville. Jensen smiled, “It was home for him and my brother. Shelia Borgess, who has run her family restaurant for years joined Jensen and me. She impressed me as a down-to-earth women, who likes to laugh and seems to revel in her work environment. As for Keenan she said. “ We were both outsiders. I came up from new Jersey to help run the family business, and Maynard was from a small town in Ohio. He was really a genuine and regular guy. A guy you felt great being around.” In the book Borgess is quoted:

Maynard was quiet,” Sheila would recall. “You didn’t hear too much from him, but he was a funny, sly, quick-witted kid, and so accepting. He must have been going through his own Michigan withdrawal and being out of his comfort zone. I was out of mine, but we found each other and got through those years.

I asked Jensen, why she thought people should read her book. She replied, “ Because it is about all of us. It is a metaphor for our lives. He followed his own bliss, and what he believed in. He stayed true to himself.”

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Doug Holder Interviews Luke Salisbury author of "No Common War"

Amounting to Nothing Poems by Paul Quenon, OCSO

Paul Quenon

Amounting to Nothing
Poems by Paul Quenon, OCSO
Paraclete Press
Brewster, MA
ISBN: 978-1-64060-201-4
93 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Like Tibetan prayer flags hung outdoors, pervading the natural world with wisdom and blessings before fading into invisibility, Paul Quenon’s newest poems, included in his collection Amounting to Nothing, are wind-blown mantras of belief and renewal.

Quenon, a Cistercian (Trappist) monk living at Gethsemani Abbey in rural Kentucky, atomizes himself into his wondrous community of creatures and phenomena. His self-deprecation informs both his wit and wisdom. Inconveniently, however, the poet's brand of humility questions even his own judgment and thus his attempts to measure out a life. A flaw perhaps, but also an artistic irritation and poetic spur.

Abnegation of being or a merging with the divine holds the key for any good monk seeking holiness. In Quenon's opening poem, Mad Monk's Life Ambition, his persona tries to figure things out. Double negatives aside, clever word play animates the piece. Here the monk considers his mission,

Did someone lay on a jinx and say:
You'll never amount to nothing?

How sad, since I took nothing
as my monastic goal.

I still don't amount to nothing,
still think I'm something.

I hardly amount to a hill of beans but
this already is too much of something.

What ever might you mount
to amount to nothing?

Where is that magical mountain?

Hide and Seek may be a popular children's game, but Quenon discovers that it suits his monkhood perfectly. In practice the poet finds hiding as an opportunity to observe and understand the nature of creation. Other poets would agree. Quenon goes one step further in his poem entitled Alone with the Alone and declaims the divineness in distraction,

Some poet said galaxies
are a good place to hide-- in a thicket of stars.
But any Kentucky thicket would be good enough for me;
there I could secretly watch small creatures
who want to go hide. And then I'll know
the thousand and one ways to be
and to be unknown.

It might seem like playing God on a small scale.
But God doesn't mind. God likes to pretend
at being God on a small scale.

Mankind unpleasantly ages in parcels that bump into the future and fall back into an inescapable past. But there is a whole, a smooth sphere with no outer rims, an eternity of centers. Quenon mulls over timelessness in the context of his friend and mentor, Thomas Merton. His poem entitled Merton’s Anniversary explains, for lack of a better term, monk’s time. It opens this way,

passed” 50 years ago, they say.
Well, that number counts for nothing.
Better to say, “subsists in the ever untimed.”

Years count not, no measure there is
for boundless embrace of All-time.
Was-is-will be
co-exist there

Outside this, nothing is.
Time inside this revolves;
history is a closed circle
ever completed, ever changing.

My favorite poem in this collection Quenon calls Critical Change for Whom? It begins with a troubling exchange between Quenon and Fr. Matthew. The perturbed Matthew questions the reality of things at hand as illusion. He further posits that reality is something other. Quenon, concerned with his friend’s state of mind, asserts that simplification makes more sense. What you see, a table, a bed, really exists or at least is anchored in the real. Then the poet delivers the rest of the story,

I step from Matthew’s room,
leave him to his dark concerns—

suddenly I wake, startled to find myself
elsewhere, alone, on a mattress prone,
under Orion, stars and night—

no table, no room, no Matthew,

already three years passed,
all except for this—the dream he knew
was a dream.

Quenon excels in externalizing his thoughts and emotions. In his poem Winter Conversation of Trees he imposes expressionistic attributes on a variety of Trees with an ear to attention and expository internal need. The resulting tableau quantifies his human concerns and suggests much higher levels of discussion. The poet dispenses his fervors thusly,

Complex cherry branches look cross.

Tearless weeping willow
faints earthward
from summer’s heavy losses.

Cottonwood widely embraces year’s completion.

Gingko finely probes every minute detail of space.

Cedar of Lebanon—straightforward
In all he speaks or tells.

All herewith written
is foreign language unto
their lofty discourse.

The phenomenon of illumination and understanding Quenon chronicles in his poem Fireflies. Here he contemplates in the humble firefly’s existence and obsessive activity, specifically the unresting continuity of the fly’s off-on body switch. Individually, the fly seems to be trying a little too hard to highlight bits of earthly knowledge. In contrast the community of such creatures creates the context for their own magnificent artwork. The poet explains,

night crowds in.
Dark flees lamps lifted,

cautiously hides from
that fly-filled field spread with
lonely, drifting stars

that never collide—
earthly constellations swarming
the dark, grassy range

ever without owning it.

Belief trumps death as Quenon , in his piece Walking Meditation, strolls through the monk’s graveyard at Gethsemani. He connects with tradition and individual remembrances delineated by simple crosses. Comfort turns to monastic anticipation,

I sense a kind acquaintance
at each step pressed in grass
soles to souls
assembled below

outside of space.

The wash of dew is cleansing,
is peace, and pleasure.
This brief moment awaits
that blink of eternity’s

Monastic traditions have always offered little insights and large illuminations. Paul Quenon, steeped in that heritage of great silences, offers a bit more—first rate poetry.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Poplar Hill By Stephen Ramey Glines

Poplar Hill
By Stephen Ramey Glines
Wilderness House Press
Littleton, MA
ISBN: 978-0-9827115-9-0
268 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Living well demands a nobility of style, opportunity, ability and daring. Dying well demands a good sense of self, stoicism, and a lot of luck. Very few mortals, unfortunately, achieve both estimable objectives. Stephen Ramey Glines, in his first novel, Poplar Hill, chronicles the life of one rather eccentric woman named Kitty Stevenson, who, with finesse and karma to spare, attains each of these aspirations.

Kitty, the scion of a once prosperous New York society family fallen on hard times, exudes a sense of royalty and command. She is one of those characters who centers herself in any context and watches with wry satisfaction as the world adjusts. Pictou County in rural Nova Scotia provides the setting for most of these adjustments.

Glines’ quasi-fictional (Kitty was a real person) account of this singular woman divides into two tracks: her end-of-life adventures in Pictou County, and her stories of personal exploits in the “cabaret atmosphere” of pre-war Nazi Germany. This counterpoint technique adds wonderful depth to both the emotional and historic sides of the building chronical.

Right off the bat Glines draws the reader in with the unconventional celebration of his protagonist’s wake, orchestrated and managed by that same protagonist, the very much alive Kitty Stevenson. He accomplishes this effectively in a seductive Prologue. Kitty’s celebration of her upcoming passing is suitably covered by Canadian TV and catered by the local Oddfellows Retirement Home. Appropriately, the cooks from the retirement home are students of Kitty, who, it turns out, is one of only six master chefs in all of Canada.   

Among the end-of-life scenes constructed by Glines, the January ice storm, which opens the book proper stands out with memorious authenticity and gut-wrenching detail. Here is a comical section of that scene, which mixes in marvelous local flavor with anxiety, in between power outages and shortly after Kitty’s heart attack,

…To Kitty’s surprise, she heard a dial tone. As she
was about to dial Earl’s phone number, she heard the pound-
ing, thud, thud, thud, on her back door.
   “Hello Missy,” roared the voice. It was Earl, crashing
through the door.
   “Hello yourself. Barb got a hold of you I see.”
   “Oh yes Missy, she said you were feeling poorly, and that
I should check on you. Are you all right? It’s still icing out,
must be an inch or three all over everything; probably lost
most of me orchard. The roads are bad enough, and me
truck’s in the ditch so I can’t take you no place but I see you
have plenty of food. That’s good. I bought you some milk,
Missy. I’ll put it right here. You shouldn’t open the refriger-
ator when the power is out ya know. The lights should be
Back on in a bit. It’s cold in here. It’s a pity you sold off that
Beautiful wood stove. How much did you sell her for, Missy?
Would you like your quilt?”

In the country everyone knows a character like Earl.

Glines, following his protagonist’s physical decline, switches back and forth onto his second narrative track, Kitty’s resurrected memories of pathos, danger, and murder.  During the late 1930s she studied opera in Munich Germany. Her family still had some money but it was tied up in German investments and those German marks could not be exported. Kitty’s job was to spend the money in intellectually stimulating Munich and freewheeling Berlin. Every teenager’s dream… except for the looming catastrophe of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.

Timing is everything and much of the story’s tension revolves around Kitty and her expat American friends as they plot their eventual escape before war breaks out. Leaving Germany at that time often involved complicated machinations beyond the scope of the American Consulate—especially after the devastation of Kristallnacht. It doesn’t help that Kitty and her crowd frequent CafĂ© Heck, a hangout that also accommodates the likes of Hitler and Hermann Goering.

Glines’ technique often contrasts the utter seriousness of those dark times with youth’s lightheartedness and recklessness. Here Kitty describes the group’s amateurish, but well-meant preparation to photograph a concentration camp,

…We rode out from the ‘English
Garden’ single file with Joe leading the way; I was right
behind him with Sam behind me. Kozie brought up the rear.
The plan was to ride out to the Dachau camp then ride by
on the access road while I photographed it with the camera
Joe had given me. If there was any trouble, I was to toss the
camera over my shoulder and keep riding if possible…

… the pack was supposed to
split into four groups, each pedaling down a different road.

Unexpected success sometimes rewards recklessness and Glines’ narrative takes that plausible turn.  

Kitty’s growth as a woman and her growing horror at Nazi atrocities, Glines ties to the plight of a Jewish bookseller and his family unable to get out, but still trying to survive the insanity. They are personal friends of Kitty. Add to the plot’s intrigue an SS officer, who has infiltrated their group of friends and the stage is set, inexorably, for violence.

In the book’s denouement Kitty finishes her hitherto untold story with flourish, then, showing off a bit of classical knowledge, comments on Plato’s description of Socrates’ leg numbness as he died. She now notices the same phenomenon in herself. Having bequeathed her body to science, Kitty fades quickly. She dies. The book ends. But the usefulness of this well-lived life, fictional or not, continues.