Saturday, January 3, 2009

"The Secret Jew" by Chris Dingwell (and Pops Farrar)

This evening a blogpost from my old friend, the tattooist Chris Dingwell, begat a blogpost of my own reminiscing about wandering down Cherokee Street with him long before the current Cherokee Street revival (such that it is). This in turn got me up and gazing at the magnificent painting, The Secret Jew, that Dingwell contributed to the 2006 Poetry Scores Art Invitational devoted to Blind Cat Black. It lives with me, now, because I bought it.

It's a large diptych - 24" x 64" - and I'm no museum-grade art photographer, but hopefully the two details suggest some of the marvelous artistry that went into the piece (if you double-click to enlarge them). I might add that if you came to my house just to look at the piece, you would not be the first person to do so.

The art invitational rules require that the artist respond to the poem and title the work after a verbatim quote from the poem. Dingwell chose the title of one of the individual prose poems that form Ece Ayhan's prose-poetic sequence. Here it is, in Murat Nemet-Nejat's translation:


The Secret Jew

Lidless, one of the devils, he is pulling out with my streetcar money. From time to time, going downtown like this, I feel sad and shaky. In the hotel I sleep in his (my Corpse's) bed. When his hair keeps growing jet black like that what is it that my live body begrudges and I try to give to him. With my large beefy hands. A sharp spur. Odor of sulphur. A scarred copper-branded ass. In the sewers of my veins, there, a rat. It nibbles at the town and the hanging tree in me. Crazies, rats, male rats, share (you must share, children) a charred corpse. In the cellar. There were no little words of loving him, these keys on his belt (warden, lover!) couldn't be little cooing words of loving him. I ran away, scared, not to meet the porcelain doll. To meet him. That would be my going back to the Lexicon of Torture. The widow plant of the idiot forests eating up joy, the poppy hatred of seven years, the silk hand with cowhide gloves doling out inheritance. He doesn't want to be buried, he says. He is cold. On the back platform of the streetcar the young devil on fire disappearing. I am picking out my spectacles from the swamps of my envy. After the arsonist’s fire the brother of my Ex-Mistress (my Corpse) who disappeared. He can be recognized by the delicate insect-eyed family mask covering his coarse face. That guy. Why should I sob anyway. He loves easily, passes his hand below the belt of my vault, forgets easily what a secret Jew I am.

Our score to the poem began inadvertently on an abandoned hippie commune in central Tennessee. On a road trip, Pops Farrar and I visited with three highly creative musicians who improvised every day in one of the cabins on the abandoned commune property, where the bandleader lived. They were doing their strange thing on their homemade instruments, when I handed Pops my copy of Blind Cat Black, expecting that something good would come of it.

Something really good came of it.

"The secret Jew
(Pops Farrar, Flatrock)

But Pops didn't follow the poem as it continued after a page break, which happened to fall at a sentence break, thus leaving the final four sentences of the piece unscored. Adam Long and I caught this mistake while mastering what we thought was a finished score, which sent me digging through my satchel of masters for an appropriate piece of music we had not yet used.

I found a guitar fragment Tom Hall had recorded for the score to Crossing America that we never used. I could hear Stefene Russell reading these lines in my head, so we called her and recorded her voice through through my cell phone.

That guy
(Stefene Russell, Tom Hall)

Strangely enough, "The Secret Jew" provided the occasion for the very first and (more than ten years later) the very last pieces we recorded for the poetry score - and it inspired one of the most magnificent works of art yet submitted to one of our art invitationals.


More work by Dingwell on his MySpace page.

No comments: