You say potato, eu digo batata.

Uh oh. Nobody emote. You might weird out this Scandinavian piano trio on ECM. Not exactly Bud Powell or Monk, this stuff. Is this what a century of peace, socialism and drunken blonde sex culminates in? It’s so careful. So tentative. So pretty. It’s good, sure, but I never liked Bergman movies either.

Finland I can understand, but they’re not Scandinavian in anything but propinquity. They’re more like an Estonia’s hip, rich uncle. Or the people on the nice side of town pretending they are not distant cousins of those crazy Hungarians in the trailer park. (Finnish has fifteen cases, Hungarian twenty eight, now that’s crazy.) But I understand the Finns, I think, mainly because I can’t understand then. I mean they’re loud, party too hard, love hockey and crazy rock’n’roll and hate when people push them around. That I can understand. I just can’t understand what they are saying. Now Swedes, Norwegians, Danes I could understand fairly easily, would be conversant in a year’s time. Might even get to like lutefisk. But Finnish? I mean just how many ways can you say potato? Which reminds me that I was at a fun Finnish party once, above a sauna. They made greyhounds in a huge bucket and didn’t tell any of the girls–they invited mostly girls–that it was Everclear (jet fuel in a bottle) and not vodka. The poor things got smashed. One pretty little blonde–they invited mostly blondes–got her foot stuck in a waste basket and stumped around for a moment, bewildered, the most darling Jerry Lewis you ever saw. The Finns laughed and said potato fifteen different ways. Great party, but we left before the orgy in the sauna.

The computer is shuffling its little brain out and switches from Sven Svensson or whoever to Tania Maria. Piquant. It’s on Concord and is about as far from the ECM label as Rio is from Flekkefjord or Bodø. Sunny Brazil. Brazilians I can understand. They’re crazy, for one thing. I understand crazy. And everything they do there could possibly wind you up in bed or in prison. I understand horny and dangerous, too. And they have the best music. Some of the worst music, too (it’s too bad the military didn’t ban Arp synthesizers when it banned everything else), but also some of the best. Tania Maria is riffing up a storm here, pounding the piano with almost Monk like muscularity, such strong little fingers she must have, and the melody flows this way and that, like a borboletta going from flower to flower. Hips sway, undulate, go backwards, then that way, then the other way, and finally two steps forward. Uh oh, dig that bass. It’s huge. Now she’s doing a cuica with her voice, and the cuica is doing the voice beneath crazy hand clapped syncopation. Repeated figures on the piano, building and building. Now more of the clapping,and the cuica voices and voiced cuicas, and a pile of overdubbed vocals in ways that would just confuse and frighten Scandinavians. I hear they dig this in Finland, though. If they can say potato fifteen or twenty different ways, who knows how many ways there are to say samba. It’s so much simpler in Brazil. You say potato, eu digo batata.

You say potato, and I say peruna.

So I tried boiling the potatoes until soft and then dunking them in a bowl of ice water for ten seconds and then peeling off the skins. It worked. Life just got a little bit easier. The skillet already had the diced onion, bell pepper, sweet pepper and collard greens. Dropped in the spuds and let them, brown and make an unholy mess out of the bottom of the pan and hot damn, Irish-German heaven. Spuds, baby, Kartoffels, pomme de terre, papas in a brand new bag. Well, recipe. Well, old recipe, new technique. Thank god for the Incas. Without them we might still be eating gruel. Though I don’t know who the lazy bum was who brainstormed on this boiling and dunking thing. A Finn maybe, leaping from the sauna into a ice cold lake. Peruna they call a potato. Comes from Swedish, something to do with pears. Probably Swedes fucking with their minds. Here, Aarni, have a pear. Though the Germans used to call then earth pears. At some point they became kartoffels, from the Italian. The French called them earth apples. The Swiss still call them earth apples. A little too close to road apples. I wonder about Europeans sometimes.

The Finns eventually Finnicized it into peruna. That crazy language has fifteen cases. Each one changes peruna into something else, and same for plurals. By itself a potato is a peruna. More than one is perunat. But as they were mine they were perunoiden. When I dropped them into the pot they were perunoihin. Once in the pot they were perunoissa. As they were boiling they were perunoita. When they were finally softened they were perunoiksi. As I took them out of the pot they were perunoista. When I removed the skins they were perunoitta. In the skillet with onions and peppers they were perunoineen. When I took them off the fire they were perunoilta. As I put them on the plate they were perunoille. As they sat there on the plate they were perunoilla. And when I gave them to my wife they were perunat again. (For those of you taking notes, those were the plural declensions for the nominative, genitive, illative, inessive, partitive, translative, elative, abessive, comitative, ablative, allative, adessive, and accusative cases.)

Luckily we ate them in English.


(This piece was also posted on


Love to love you baby

I remember back in the 80’s hearing Donna Summer sound check for an hour while we were walking around the Summerfest grounds in Milwaukee. We stopped to watch for a while and she was alone on stage listening to the backing track on headphones. Love to love you baby, she sang. She looked lovely and moved to the beat we couldn’t hear, quite oblivious to the small crowd collecting to watch the disco superstar. Love to love you baby she sang over and over. It was monotonous but she had a very nice voice. Then she began with the moaning and groaning and gasping and sighing. She was doing the extended long play version. No music was audible, just Donna Summer moaning and groaning and gasping and sighing over and over and over. It got embarrassing and we left to find a beer and you could hear her moans and groans and gasps and sighs halfway across the fairgrounds. Probably the loudest extended orgasm ever heard in Milwaukee. Teens were giggling. Mothers whisked their children away. Finally we settled down with beers and brats near a polka band and the way loud tuba drowned out Donna’s paroxyms of pleasure. I remember sitting through Beer Barrel Polka. I hate Beer Barrel Polka. It ended and the accordion player told a long joke in Polish. People laughed and Donna Summer had another orgasm.

Write what feels right

When it comes to rules regarding usage, grammar, punctuation, writing and language, I am an anarchist. And being an anarchist on usage, grammar, punctuation, writing and language allows me to write circles around most people, as constrained and rule bound as their writing is. Language rules are just that, rules, usually established by people to turn long dead upper class affectations and mannerisms into law. Fuck that. Freedom of language goes hand in hand with freedom of expression and the Freedom of Speech. All three go together, as a package, and you can’t have one of those freedoms without the other two. So write what feels right. Because knowing the rules does not make you a good writer. It just means you have memorized some arbitrary rules. And rules are made to be broken.


Wow. Yet another spontaneous celebration last night. In lieu of live music we watched the 27 hours long Director’s orgy of Woodstock, followed by the concise Gimme Shelter. A whole night spent in the last months of the 1960s. Sure I’ve seen both a zillion times, but never as a sixty year old. Noticed: music was way loose back then. Way. Also, people were way thin back then. Way. And septuagenarians now were once beautiful hippies. Beautiful. And also: weed was less strong and people rolled enormous bombers. And also as well, fat naked people on LSD, though that was Gimme Shelter. (Note to self, avoid LSD, or least keep clothes on.) Thin gorgeous people on LSD in Woodstock, pulchritudinous even. (OK, you try spelling pulchritudinous on a hungover Sunday morning after a couple hours sleep.) And you can tell where all this paranoia came from, though people are infinitely more paranoid now than then. Still, the two dudes yelling about the government seeding the clouds, man, was perhaps the only part of either movie that seemed like today. Finally, the Jefferson Airplane were one awesome band in 1969. Seriously. The extended 98 hour cut of Woodstock gives them more songs than any other band, they were that good. Damn.

Off to loll about in the flowers. Acid, incense and balloons. Figuratively speaking. I can’t stand incense. Punk rockers, you know, we just don’t appreciate nothing.

Also, think I’ll stay away from red wine for a while.

If that cat don’t stop it man.

Lotta freaks.


Rosa Passos

Very few people up here know her, but Rosa Passos is I think the finest bossa nova singer I have ever heard. She’s not as musically radical as Joao Gilberto (who invented the genre by reducing sambas to their barest elements–he’d play one song for weeks on end, hour after hour, stoned out of his mind, camped out on various couches till the owners couldn’t take it anymore and sent him packing) but just listen to Rosa’s take. She is just so in the groove here, everything light and precise and shimmering like water, the syncopation hinted at, the raw strident samba down deep in there, shadows of a shadow. Dig the crazy bass lines, almost cuica like, dragging, no one ever walked a bass line in Brazil. Indeed, try walking to her guitar chords and you’d be staggering like a drunk man. We walk with a back beat, but this is propelled by a surdo–that big deep drum beat of the samba, boom, boom, boom–but a surdo reduced to a silent presence by Joao Gilberto. It’s there but you can’t hear it, yet you can’t possibly move along to this stuff without the surdo, every step you’d make is around the surdo, you step around it, bounce off it, shimmy, everything but set a firm footed pace. Walk a straight line to this and you fall right over. There is nothing in our musical culture anything like this, our musics come from different parts of Africa, different parts of Europe. We rock, they sway. We’re on the beat, they’re loosely all around it. We get where we are going faster, they get there eventually. Indeed, Rosa fades off at the end of this cut without having got anywhere at all, just stays lost in the melody as it shifts about, driven by the afternoon breeze. I hit replay and the chords begin again as if they had never stopped at all.