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October 20, 1971 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1971-10-20

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Y ednesddyr October 20, 1971


Pope Five

Wednesdoy, October 20, 971 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Five

1.1 . I I'll k - W-0- -o I il 1. If

A widow's


Nadezhda Mandelstam, H O P E
Atheneum, $10.00.
In 1912, five years before the
Great October Revolution, a
mottle of Russian poets, t h e
avant-boue of Russian letters,
published a manifesto titled, "A
Slap in the Face of Public
Taste." Its obvious intent was
to challenge the literary tastes
of the intellegentsia in the name
of a brazen and revolutionary
Futurism. The times were rea-
sonably safe then; the poets
who signed the mainfesto -
among them Vladimir Mayakov-
sky and Velimir Khlebnikov -.
could pretty much assume that
Stre ts,
John Stickey, STREETS, A C -
CULTURE- G. P. Putnam's Sons,
My memory can trace the
seeds of what is presently called
the counterculture only as far
back.as 1962 when the now com-
paratively adolescent and naive
Beatlemania began to sweep
America. From my first aware-
ness of this phenomenon and the
fads that followed, I felt es-
tranged from my generation,
somewhat like a voyeur. Late in
high school, with my hair still
recovering from over a decade
of brush haircuts, I latched on
to two books: The Strawberry
Statement, by James Kunin, and
I Ain't Marchin' Anymore, by
# Dotson Rader. Both books were
essentially personal accounts of
the Columbia riots. They put
me at ease. After re~ding of Ra-
der's affection for the trans-
vestite, Holly Woodlawn, and of .
Kunin's departure from the oc-
cupied administration building
to attend the varsity rowing
team practice. I became con-
vinced that the counterculture
was not a monolith, as Time
and Life had led the nation to
believe. I thought there would
perhaps be room for me.
This is the background I
brought to John Stickey's
Streets, Actions, Alternatives,
Raps, a book that claims to re-
veal "the national state of mind
within the counterculture."
Stickey was a staff member for
Life magazine before he resign-
ed expressly to hitchhike around
the country and write a book on
what he saw.
This idea of purposely search-
ing for experiences to capital-.
ize on in print is fraught with
potential problems. It is one
thing for a documentary cam-
eraman to unobtrusively follow
his subject. It is quite another
thing for an author to take his

the public would turn the other
cheek or simply leave the flam-
ing yellow gauntlet lying on the
They said, "Only we are the
face of time." When Osip Man-
delstam slapped Alexey Tol-
stoy's face sometime in 1934, his
reasons were more personal than
ideological. But the public, which
had made Alexey Tolstoy one of
its figureheads, was not as like-
ly to react as kindly as it had
to the slapsticks of the early
Futurists. The act. of insult
was a metaphorical one; 'the
act of retribution realized the
metaphor. Several days later
Mandelstam was arrested for the
first time and later charged
with writing a "counter-revolu-
tionary document," a genuine-
notes while carrying on conver-
sation or to tell his subject
that their talk may be included
in a book. The resulting con-
versation is of questionable
validity. In fact, two of the re-
ported anecdotes begin w i t h
"Well, here's something f o i"
you," and "Here's a story about
teaching." Similarly, one won-
ders what Stickey would have
done if he had finished his trip
without coming to any real con-
clusions about the state of the
Actually, this is all speculation.
In point of fact, the image of

ly libelous poem about Stalin.
Four years later he died in a
forced labor camp outside Vlad-
Nadezhda Mandelstam, wife of
the poet, begins her memoir with
the artful and slightly ellusive
description of the events which
followed her husband's meeting
with Tolstoy. The gossip value
of that meeting is dismissed in a
dependent clause, and we are
carried into a vortex of fear
and, hope which centers around
the frail figure of Osip Mandel-
stam. This memoir spans t h e
period from 1919 to 1938, a
time spanned by Stalin's fingers
as well, as they began to close
about the throat of Russia in a
grip that threatened to choke
off its cultural life. Madame
of opinion. If Kunin and Rad-
er's books had any charm, it
was precisely the unique, per-
sonal quality of their highly
subjective accounts, not their
accuracy. Streets, etc.. could use
some more of Stickey himself.
Finally,. if the book has any
redeeming aspect, it ' is the
quality of select parts of the'
conversation. Little of the talk,
however, is calculated to cheer
those who view the countercul-
ture as a viable, preferable al-
ternative to straight society.
Stickey quotes a spectator at a
free Ann Arbor rock concert:

'Hope 2
Mandelstam is one of the few
who managed, not only to
breathe again, but to activate
the vocal chords of her mem-
ory. Her memoir is written in a
hoarse voice, one which recalls
two decades of intimidation and
violence as Stalin attempted to'
stifle a nation in the garrot of
paranoia and his personal sense
of revolution
Some facts:
She was born in 1899 into a
reasonably well to do family. Her
mother was a physician, h e r
father's occupation is unknown.
She studied art. She knew Eng-
lish, German and French, all
of which were to prove helpful
during those years when she and
her husband had to translate
for a living because the state
Publishers had grown wary of
real poetry. She met her hus-
band in 1919 and they were mar-
ried three years later. Their
marriage coincided with the
publication of Tristia, O s i p
Mandelstam's second collection
of poems. The apex of his ca-
reer came in 1928 when an edi-
tion of his Collected Poems ap-
peared together with two prose
works, The Noise of Time and
The Egyptian Stamp. At this
time he had already earned the
suspicion and disapproval of
the authorities, and by 1930 he
was wholly caught up in t h e
retribution that afflicted a 11
"fellow travelers," those who
would not actively mimic the
twisted gestures of the revolu-
tionary contortionists. He w a s
arrested in 1934, exiled to Vor-
onezh, a town located beyond
the magic circle surrounding
Moscow, a circle whose peri-
meter no exile was allowed to
cross. In 1938 he was a g a i n
arrested. By this time Stalin
had apparently forgotten h i s
previous order to "preserve and
protect" the poet, and he died
under unknown circumstances
on the east coast of Russia.
After the death of her hus-
band Madame Mandelstam sup-
ported herself by teaching in
provincial towns across Russia,
and was allowed to return to
Moscow only in 1964. By that
time her husband had been "re-
habilitated." though his col-
lected works have never gone
beyond the galleys in the Soviet
There is something frighten-
ingly ingrown about these me-
moirs, something that lurks
even in the semantic corners of
the title. Nadezhda means hope:
Nadezhda against Nadezhda;
hope against Nadezhda; Nade-
zhda against hope: Hope Against
Hope. One has to grasp t h e
tone of the artificial English
title (there is none in the Rus-
sian), realizing that the writer
is a product of her own descrip-
tions, of this second Smutnoe
Vremja, Time of Troubles. She

to slaughter, or respectful as-
sistants to the executioners ...
Why did we never jump out
of windows or give way to
unreasoning fear and just run
for it - to the forests, t h e
provinces, or simply into a
hail of bullets? What had we
to lose. The end was the same
anyway, so there was nothing
to be afraid of. It was n o t
indeed a question of fear. It
was something different: a
paralyzing sense of one's own


son must be "that general Jrow-
siness which we still find 1o
hard to shake off." Sometimes
she is accurate, sometimes
merely defensive. Whatever the
case may be, her speculations
serve to drive the herd of night-
mares across the field of ;-ecol-
It would, of course, be unjust
to view this memoir merely as
a social document, though i'
does function on that level. It
is a good antidote to the com-
placency that lies cradled in the
inside curve of zeros, those in-
sular O's that line up at the
end of statistical tragedies. Lady
Mandelstam recognises the bru-
tal insignificance of her own
sufferings, and cries out for the
nameless kulak who is being de-
ported to death.
More than social document,
this work provides the f i r s t
really accurate account of the
life and workings of Osip Man-
delstam, who certainly must fig-
ure as one of the century's
greatest poets. The misleading,
cameotic portraits of o t h e r among his charges; Lezhev,
recollectors are replaced h e r e private publiser, waiting a
by an almost three dimensional full week by the telephone in
representation. Mrs. Mandel- hopes of receiving a call from
stam speaks not only of her Stalin. All these characters ap-
husband's aesthetic and social pear and reappear in anecdote
attitudes, but also of those in- and speculation as footnotes to
conspicuous details which serve an incredible past.
best to animate character: the But most of all, I suppose,
poet running out - where? - thc work is a self portrait. Vhat
to find some scrap of food for a comes' out clear in the work is
friend, returning with a h : tr d not simply the picture of a brave
boiled egg that remains u n - Jewess persecuted for her hus..
touched; poking his cane into band's lack of orthodoxy, but
the hoofprints on a muddy road that 'of a woman who insists on
outside Zadonsk, muttering a sense of optimism in spite of
something about memory. the terrors and absurdities of
There are the other details, the past:
equally telling, which freeze Far from being shaken in my
the characters in Mandelstam's optimism by the bitter exper-
past into pictures of beauty or ience of the first half of this
incongruity: Velimir Khlebni- incredible century, I am en-
kov, Russia's greatest avant- couraged to believe that all we
gardist, sitting in Mandelstam's have been through will serve
company, his lips repeating to turn people against the idea
soundlessly a series of Russian that the end justifies the
roots; the pink-cheeked police means and 'deverything is per-'
agent distributing hard cancaies mitted."

Her words are not a rowan
wreath tossed across the breadth
of Russia to land at the base of
a mass grave. They are alive,
and they grow well in the soil of
the past.
Her words are certainly dan-
gerous, and not likely to be
published in the Soviet Union
in the next few generations.
They can also be misleading for
the western reader. It is difficult
not to pity the author and those
who, like her, endured an im-
perfective past still reflected in
the present tense of Russian
society. But pity is the weak-
est possible reaction to Lady
Mandelstam's memoir. She is a
brittled, bitchy old woman who
will not endure the spaniel eyes
of sympathizers; when she is
approached, either in person or
in her memoirs, she demands
a sense of the present and the
optimism which must accom-
pany it. She lives in Mose6w,
and she loves it there.

the counterculture S t i c k e y
creates is not at all unlike the
popular image. It is not sur-
prising. It is easy to accept.
What is difficult to accept is
Stickey's writing style. In his
picaresque descriptions of his
experiences, he himself often
appears. He "raps he smokes
"dynamite grass," in short, he's
very human. His ,involvement
with his subjects is often very
personal. Yet when he reports
these experiences, it is with--the
cold, hard language of the pro-
fessional journalist, as if some
other reporter phoned in t h e
story. There is neither an in-
troduction nor a conclusion, no
personal material or expression

I'm getting kind of scared,
trying to keep my hip togeth-
er, right? I mean, I've done
acid fifty times, bought every
album The Dead ever made,
read One Flew Over the Cu-
ckoo's Nest and Planet News,
listenedsto Earl ilooker play
the blues on the South Side of
Chicago before he died, smok-
ed twenty pounds of dope,
worn my hair long since 1966,
gotten busted three times at
demonstrations - I'm h i p !
Aren't I?
Later, Stickey quotes Bob Dylan:

helplessness, to which we were
all prey, not only those w h o
were killed, but the killers,
How that paralysis took hold
is something that even Nadezhda
Mandelstam's intelligence find
difficult to grasp. The book is
full of speculations, none of
them completely convincing, all
of them manifesting the attempt
of an acute mind to collate the
experiences of the past and
draw them into a comprehen-
sible whole. As in most memoirs
and confessions, the author oc-
cilates between anecdote and
commentary, between incident
and an irrisistable urge to spec-
ulate on causes and effects. A
friend of the author, appalled
at the growing number of ar-
rests, cries out, "Treason and
counter-revolution everywhere!"
The writer muses, "Perhaps
there was also an element of
primitive magic in such woods:
what else could we do but ward
off the evil spirits by uttering
charms?" Her husband writes
no poetry for five years, be-
tween 1926 and 1930: the rca-

So let us not talk falsely now, We were all the same: either
The hour is getting late. sheep who went willingly to

Jazz Men

of fheDA Y.

Rudi Blesh, COMBO: USA;
ton Book Company, 56.75"
The title of this book is mis-
leading. This is not a history
of jazz groups. It is a collection
of eight biographical sketches of
major figures from the earlier
years of jazz. Not surprisingly,
all but two of these 'men are
black: Louis Armstrong, Sidney
Bechet, Jack Teagarden, Lester
Young, Billie Holiday, G e n e
Krupa, Charlie Christian, and
Eubie Blake. The range of mu-
sical styles is thus quite broad.
The author is an unquestioned
specialist in this field. He has
had a rich life in jazz criticism
and is repsonsible for at least
three important books which
should be known by all jazz,
buffs: S h i n i n g Trumpets
(Knopf, 1946), They All Played
Ragtime (Oak, 1966) and O
Susanna (Grove, 1960), each of
which has enjoyed several re-
prints and revisions.
Blesh approaches his subjects
with enthusiasm and devotion,
admiting his treatment is "sub-
jective as hell." Subjectivity is
certainly not out of place in
dealing with jazz or virtually
any other manifestation of Black
Culture. No apology is necessary.
The material itself forces a
humanised considera tion, and
several of the figures are really
soulful. Billy Holiday and Eu-
bie Blake, in their lives and
music, may illustrate this quality
4 best, and Blesh blossoms forth
in almost poetic terms when
treating them. With all of these
musicians, however, he is fac-
tual. He is not guilty as are

tangible information, but t h e
facts are all biographic.
There are valuable facts on
more people than the octet he
has selected. Three particular
names run through the pages :
Count Basie, Benny Goodman,
ard John Hammond. No matter
what his stock now, Basie has
played a very important role in
jazz performance and in jazz
history. So has Benny Goodman.
But; after .we have hit the ma-
jor performers and arrangers,
possibly the most significant fig-
ure is John Hammond. The
many references to Hammond
in the Blesh book barely sketch
the role this man has played in
active support of black music
and jazz, from Bessie Smith to
Aretha Franklin, and someone
must do the Hammond biogra-
phy before long.
The introductory remarks of
the preface (called "Tuning
Up") contrast strongly with the
sensitivity which follows. The
author does not so much tune
up, as tune out. Within s i x
pages, instead of leading us
directly to his topic, he attacks
the musical Establishment, in-
cluding the string quartet,
Brahms, and Steinway. Some-
thing was eating him. The im-
pression is that he is either
trying to convert non-jazz musi-
cians away from irrelevancy, or
warning jazz enthusiasts to stay
where they are. This caveat is
too late. Furthermore, he por-
trays the other side of the tracks
in simplistic, reactionary terms
in the perpetuation of an anti-
quated American aesthetic po-
larity. A sensitive reader should
avoid these first pages for fear
he might be less a believer when
he gets to the book's subjects.
If the preliminary pages a r e
rend let us keen in mind that

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