Picking Rags

News of the Dead…December 24 – December 30, 2012

a familiar pattern is beginning to emerge. i turn my attention to these entries late at night, typically between eleven and two o’clock in the morning, after the day’s work is done, the child is asleep and i am alone with my thoughts.  like a rag-picker under a streetlight, i sift through the news collecting stories and artifacts left behind by the dead.  when the gathering is done — or, more to the point, when i realize the days are turning into weeks and the project threatens to lose any relevance whatsoever — i spread out the pieces to see what they have to say.  i rearrange them, i make connections, i notice themes, i recognize patterns. i paste them into a type of collage that is as much a kaleidoscope of my life, my own memories and desires, as they are a measure of those who have passed away.  far from being morbid, it is, for me, an obeisant ritual. exhilarating. humbling.

in my solitude i watch obscure italian movies with spanish subtitles (by the way, Emidio Greco’s (October 20, 1938 – December 22, 2012) 1972 L’invenzione di Morel/Morel’s Invention is a must), i process the words of south american poets, i absorb paintings from france, sculpture from the philippines and photographs from bangladesh…and so i have no desire to rush this along.  when all is said and done, the shock and awe of death is less interesting than the quiet contemplation of life’s substance. these entries will, therefore, inevitably be offered several steps behind the calendar as i follow in time’s wake gleaning the refuse that i suspect will disappear given the irreverence of our collective amnesia.


Wifredo Óscar de la Concepción Lam y Castilla (林飛龍, December 8, 1902 – September 11, 1982), Woman with dove


Wifredo Lam, Trópico

 They have breasts shaped
like papayas  like grapefruits  like spades & shovels & picks & mangoes
They erupt
and swirl into baby  tornadoes They mutate and chalk into burnt  out bulbs of
decorated  pus in paint
They merge and melt into other forms
Swallow  themselves and gush forward
They connect  their sockets to spermatic strings
of dried centipedes
moving in half steps toward center of the darkness of the dot to become ancestral shadows
saturated  between Damballah’s tattooed  toes and Qya’s  fishhook fingers
between Ogun’s  rust colored neck and Oshun’s  wine coated  tongue between Shango’s red leaves matted  to tiny pyramid  teeth of a barking sorcerer
and Yemaya’s silver-rimmed eyelids expanding and contracting  into a cyclonic breeze of double-headed  bats
They bum  up the brushes
with raffia swishing and shooting from buttocks  of vibrating  nostrils
with knee-caps swelling on stilts of bowlegged nails
with grinning horses galloping from navels of frying fat
with purple stems of cane protruding from
green lips of machetes
with zigzagging flamingoes fluctuating on
the roof tops of Matanzas 
They billow and overlap in broaches of
charcoal spittle
They cross and dissolve into
a fleet of orange blotted organs
They have their bull horns
their yellow snake arrows
their triangular forest skulls
their blood vessels sprouting from daggers
their upsidedown faces in pelvises rotating
and perforating in spider specked sex of the gouache

Jayne Cortez, poet, activist, May 10, 1934 – December 28, 2012

bijon sarker

Bijon Sarker, 79, (December 29, 2012), Bangladeshi photographer, injuries from traffic collision.


Bijon Sarker, 79, (December 29, 2012)

if i had to pick one person whose passing touched me the most last week it was, without a doubt, the high priestess of the Black Arts Movement Jayne Cortez.  it isn’t so much that i was enamored by all of her poetry, although when she hit, she hit and for that i take my hat off and give her all the props she’s due, but truth told, i actually found a lot of her work to be didactic to the point of annoying — and this despite the fact that i shared and loved her politics. what moved me the most about Jaynewas her courage, the sheer force of her presence.  she stands tall among a canon of intelligent, creative, heroic and now legendary black women such as Odetta (December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008), Nina Simone (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003) Abby Lincoln (August 6, 1930 – August 14, 2010) and Nikki Giovanni, women who rattled the walls of the establishment. like them, she was a woman on the vanguard of a new era, a tremendous role model in forging the revolutionary shift in the public posture and collective conscious of black women that was a hallmark of the women’s movement of the fifties, sixties and seventies.  Jayne’s was a fierce politics. a fearless poetics. a persistent hammer against the gates of the status quo. with her presence and her words, her humor and conviction she paved the way for an entire generation, an entire culture of women.  hers was a generation of women of color, of black women, who answered the call, who stepped up to take their rightful place in society with unapologetic dignity.  born in the early to mid nineteen thirties, these women were already grown when Brown v Board was passed and the civil rights movement commenced….


Jayne Cortez, poet, activist, May 10, 1934 – December 28, 2012

but it was more than just being a role model or a warrior voice who raged against injustice and advocated for social and political change.  Jayne was hip.  she was on the scene when joey mccarthy was busy jerking off roy cohen under the table as he was screwing the rest of the country in the senate chambers.  i mean, the woman was down with Ornette Coleman in the early l950s, five or six years before ornette dropped The Shape of Jazz To Come…..she literally helped nurture that masterpiece, giving birth to his child, denardo, while at the same time forging her own autonomous identity as an artist, developing her craft to the point where it stands on its own terms, without any man’s authentication. one of the original spoken word cats she was who the beats wanted to be. more than anything, what i have always respected about Jayne Cortez is that she never quit speaking her truth.  she never sold out her politics, her commitment to social justice, to human rights, and universal indignity.  she never got comfortable or let us fall into a haze of denial.  she was a relentless critic of imperialism; a defender of the earth; a voice of the downtrodden until the very end.  and for that, she will be missed dearly.

for a while, the week of december 24 – december 30 felt hazy…it wasn’t from a lack of intrigue or fascinating life stories, it’s just that the sum total was disjointed….i wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all. there were the athletes, politicians and actors which always seem to dominate the public’s obsession with death. there was another sanctified mass murderer in a green uniform, stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf (August 22, 1934 – December 27, 2012),  but after dancing with robert bork last week i couldn’t stomach it.  as i set out to make my collage of snippets, nothing seemed to unify these lives….

that is until…

I read the story of

frank calabrese

Frank Calabrese, Sr., AkA Frankie Breeze,  March 17, 1937 – December 25, 2012

by all accounts this mafia dude was quite a, well, how shall we say it, “character” — the quintessential self-made made-man who earned his money the old fashioned way: he killed people for it. i mean, i’d give the guy in that picture my loot if he asked for it in just the right way…and he had a nack for getting people to share.  before judging Frankie too hard, we need to take into account his circumstances. he never really had a chance.  he was born dirt poor, and i mean fucking dirt poor (his family ate oatmeal for dinner for christ’s sake), on Chicago’s west side, dropped out of elementary school and was in jail for grand theft auto by the time he was seventeen.  Calabrese went into loan sharking and was eventually the boss of a multi-million dollar cru, using extortion and murder to run chicago’s chinatown district.  but all of this is Tony Soprano shit, you’ve heard it before.  what really caught my attention about Frankie was the way his black market empire finally crumbled to the ground.  he was busted in an fbi sting called, “Operation Family Secrets.”  so this is how it all went down…Frankie was arrested in the mid-90s for racketeering, gambling and using violent intimidation to get his way in matters.  and he wasn’t the only one to wear stripes.  he was busted with his brother and two kids, one of whom was his namesake, frankie fucking jr.  now, little frankie decides to write the fbi from his jail cell offering to strap on a wire to help bust big Frankie.  he wants to save the streets of chicago from his father’s wrath. in the letter jr wrote to the feds he said of his pops, “I feel I have to help you keep this sick man locked up forever.”  apparently, he didn’t even offer the pigs any special conditions, like parole or reduced sentencing for his own cooperation.  just up and screwed the old man like that.  the pigs, of course, jumped at the offer and the rest is history.  at big Frankie’s trial on eighteen counts of murder, his brother and son provided the evidence needed to convict and the son of a bitch died in jail.

so, to close out this post, there is the music. collecting the noise is usually the first step on my tour through the afterlife, taking in the rhythms, harmonies, tones and timbres the dead have left behind can alone keep me up till sunrise.  and this week the angels are having a ball.

Disclaimer: if an artist is on this set list it does not necessarily mean that they have passed away.  Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethania, for instance, are included here in honor of their mother Dona Canô (1907 – December 25, 2012) who passed away on x-mass at the age of 105.  For a list of the dead referenced, represented or symbolized in this playlist, I will be adding information to the bottom of this post.


Robert Courtright American-born French artist, painter and sculptor, December 27, 2012

r courtright_x

Robert Courtright American-born French artist, painter and sculptor, December 27, 2012

HARTMAN: Do any of you people know who Charles Whitman was? None of you dumbasses knows? Private Cowboy?

COWBOY: Sir, he was that guy who shot all those people from that tower in Austin, Texas, sir!

HARTMAN: That’s affirmative. Charles Whitman killed twelve people from twenty-eight-storey observation tower at the University of Texas from distances up to four hundred yards. Anybody know who Lee Harvey Oswald was? Private Snowball?

SNOWBALL: Sir, he shot Kennedy, sir!

HARTMAN: That’s right, and do you know how far away he was?

SNOWBALL: Sir, it was pretty far! From that book suppository building, sir!

HARTMAN: All right, knock it off! Two hundred and fifty feet! He was two hundred and fifty feet away and shooting at a moving target. Oswald got off three rounds with an old Italian bolt action rifle in only six seconds and scored two hits, including a head shot! Do any of you people know where these individuals learned to shoot? Private Joker?

JOKER: Sir, in the Marines, sir!

HARTMAN: In the Marines! Outstanding! Those individuals showed what one motivated marine and his rifle can do! And before you ladies leave my island, you will be able to do the same thing!

Full Metal Jacket

Houston McCoy, 72, (January 1940 – December 27, 2012) American police officer who killed Charles Whitman, the University of Texas sniper, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Musical References:

Dona Canô, 105, 1907 – December 25, 2012, Brazilian centenarian, mother of musicians Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethania.

Sohrab Hossain, 91, 9 April 1922 – 27 December 2012, Bangladeshi singer, who was devoted to the ideals and spiritual philosophy of Nazrul Sangeet, 25 May 1899 – 29 August 1976, a revolutionary musician and poet during the Indian Independence Movement.  I am still looking for more of Hossain’s work and beginning to acquaint myself with Nazrul…it is simply gorgeous, don’t you think?

Ornette Coleman’s 1958 tribute to his then wife, Jayne Cortez.

Fontella Bass, 72, July 3, 1940 – December 26, 2012, complications from a heart attack. Bass was an african american rhythm & blues and jazz singer most famous for composing the 1965 hit “Rescue Me.” keeping to the theme of family, i have chosen to feature the work she created with her husband, legendary jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie, October 11, 1941–November 8, 1999, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Lloyd Charmers, 74, 1938 – 27 December 2012, jamaican ska and reggae singer and record producer whose influence was huge outside of the united states.  it is pretty obvious, to me at least, that mick jagger’s shift to an upper register on his late 70s albums can be traced to the time the stones spent on the island…is it any coincidence that one of the rare covers the group did after beginning to write their own songs was a rendition of the Temptation’s Just My Imagination (running away with me), one of Charmer’ssignature singles?  i think not, but listen and judge for yourself.

Hamid Ghodse, 74, April 30, 1938 – December 27, 2012, Iranian-born British academic, expert in substance abuse and dependence. Ghodse’s work focused on the biological effects of opiates on the body and helped transform the field of addiction treatment.

Mike Auldridge, 73, December 30, 1938 – December 29, 2012, pioneer bluegrass musician and resophonic guitar player, founding member of the group The Seldom Scene, cancer.

Ray Collins, 73, November 19, 1936 – December 24, 2012, singer for The Mothers of Invention, cardiac arrest.


Ray Collins, center, with the Mother’s circa 1966.

Augusto Bracca, 94, April 23, 1918 – December 25, 2012. quite possibly the most revered songwriter and folk musician in venezuelan history.  this was definitely one of the biggest personal discoveries of the week for me.



~ by dAlton Anthony on January 5, 2013.

One Response to “Picking Rags”

  1. nice report, dalton. you should go audio.

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