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February 13, 1977 - Image 8

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Michigan Daily, 1977-02-13
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Page Four THE MICHIGAN DAILY SUNDAY MAGAZINE Februdry 13, 1917 February 1,3, 1977

Poge Four


Februdry 13, 1977

Februory 1,3, -1977-



Warren s varied verse,
Steven's flat biography
by Robert Penn Warren
Random House, 325 pages, $15.00
by Holly Stevens
Alfred Knopf, 288 pages, $12.50-
COMMON WISDOM HOLDS that Robert Penn Warren was once,
long ago, an adequate writer, a recently declined self-elected
poet who fared better as a novelist. In short, dismissable.
And although Yeats, Dickinson, and Donne needn't fear for
their reputations, this volume indicates that the common esti-
mate is all wrong, and that Warren is a poet whose writing is
improving with his age. It is to our benefit that he is still pro-
ducing and publishing.
Apropos of publishing, I wonder whether Random House
plans to pump out selected or collected editions of "name" poets
every eight or ten years. This is the third selection of Warren's
work (the last was in 1966) and it, like its predecessors, is
essentially additive--that is, it's not new,merely larger. Readers
are, in fact, paying fifteen dollars for only ten new poems:
pretty steep. It would seem to make more sense for Warren and
Random House to issue individual volumes of new verse, and
-save up material for a big, posthumous, selected tome-unless
some ulterior motive is at work.
SELECTED POEMS shows that Warren's curious imagina-
tife weakness is so bound up with his most pronounced strength
as to be inextricable. The formulation would run something like
this: despite his declared interest in religion, metaphysics and
history, Warren is still bound by place, time and culture. His
inability to extract himself from his own homey space is exem-
plified by "Pad Year, Bad War: A New Year's Card, 1969," an
especially gruesome little ditty which concludes
Dear God, we pray
To be restored to that purity of heart
That sactifies the shedding of blood.
t-N THE OTHER hand, Warren's peculiar sense of immanence
is poignant and persuasive, as in this passage from "A Way
to Love God":
I do not recall what had burdened my tongue,
but urge you
To think on the slug's white belly, how sick-slick and soft,
On the hairiness of star, silver, silver, while the silence
Blows like wind ...
"Ballad of Mister Dutcher and the Last Lynching in Gupton".
demonstrates that Warren's work with prose has granted him a
talent for narrative verse, and for evoking mood using very
sparse imagery.
One hot
afternoon in Hoptown, some fool
nigger, wall-eyed drunk and with a
four-bit hand-gun,-tried to stick up
a liquor store, shot the clerk, and,
still broke, grabbed a freight, and was high-
tailing for Gupton, in happy
ignorance that the telephone had ever been invented. So
when they flagged down the freight, the fool
nigger made one more mistake, up
and drilled one of the posse. That
was that, and in five minutes he
was on his way to the county
seat, the constable driving, but
mighty slow, while back there
in Gupton, in the hardware store,
a business transaction concerning
rope was in due process.
"Homage to Theodore Dreiser" weaves together the easy
sentimentalism of popular ballads, while "Where Purples Now
See WARREN'S, Page 8
- -- ---- - -

Marnie Heyn is a graduate student in English and a regular contri-
butor to the Daily's Editorial Page and Magazine. -


Msings presents his d
music- with a touch o

WHEN OHARLES MINGUS lumbered up onto the stage of the Union
Ballroom with his ensemble of jazz musicians in tow, getting
ready to start the Saturday afternoon public rehearsal, an announcer
stepped up to the microphone and explained, "Mingus is going to
teach the band a tune called, 'Better Get It In Your Soul'."
"Wait a minute," Mingis objected. "The composition is called,
'Better Get Hit In Your Soul'."
Mingus was just needling the announcer-the word really is "It,"'
not "Hit." But the remark seems tame compared to some of the
thing's Mingus said on stage Friday night. That evening he punctuated
his performance by snapping angrily at saxophonist Ricky Ford, who
-had flubbed a passage by leaving out a phrase. "Stupid," Mingus
snarled. "Don't stop now, motherfucker."
It can be quite hard to adjust to the contrast between Mingus's
gruff stage presence and his melodies. But it's precisely his hard-ass,
critical personality which begets that delicate yet highly-charged
Pianist Bob Neloms, who joined the band and put himself under
Mingus's command only a few weeks ago, insists that if Mingus
sometimes has a harsh manner, the reason for it is simple and
justified. "The man writes music," Neloms remarked, "and he wants
it played the way he wrote it." Whatever else can be said about
Mingus, it can't be denied tlgat he does his job-he gets his music
played the way he wrote it.
A ND THE MUSIC Mingus makes is a treasure of American culture.
He's been at it for several dozen years, and the concerts he's
played, the records he's pressed and the compositions he's penned
during those years represent some of the most engaging, moving
and technically advanced music of our time. It's not very popular
music-acoustic jazz doesn't earn a hell of a lot of money. That's
something Mingus is obviously bitter about: he told the audience at
his Saturday rehearsal:' "You don't have to buy my records, you
can just take them off the shelf at the store and listen to them there.
It seems like that's what people do."
But Mingus has never reshaped his music to try to make it
more marketable-you can tell that by studying the records he's
produced over the years. He has faithfully developed the jazz tradi-
tion from which he emerged, branching out at various times with
various sorts of innovations, on occasion moving in the direction of
neo-classicism, more often expanding familiar jazz formats. The
music is usually complicated-and judging from the stream of cri-
tical remarks Mingus made during the four concerts and the re-
hearsal, it's a struggle for some musicians to learn to play it in a
way that satisfies-him.
But the -musicians do eventually learn their lessons. The concerts
here went off practically without a hitch, despite the absence of the
group's drummer, Danny Richmond, who couldn't make it to Ann
Arbor. Even without a drum beat to cement the sound together,
the music was as disciplined as that of any Mingus session. It worked
so well that Mingus even flashed a rare simle or two at the
'What's more, the drummer's absence gave Mingus the oppor-
tunity to perform some theatrics on stage. At a point in one set
where a drum solo was called for in "Better Get It In Your Soul,"
he marked off the time with a scat-singing imitation of a drum solo,
failing his arms in the air while clutching an imaginary pair of
drumsticks, beating out occasional notes on his bass and kicking
wildly in the air. At the concerts the scat-singng was barely audible,
but during the rehearsal it was a high point, lending charm to the
numbers and evoking memories of the old days when jazz scat-
singing was in its heyday.
The scat-singing brought home the fact that Mingus's music takes
its style--not its harmonies or form but its general style-from the
jazz of earlier times, the jazz of the be-bop era and the Duke Elling-
ton era. Mingus's music is different but not radically different from
that older jazz, and so it's not the kind of music that sells well these
BUT MINGUS INSISTS that his style is substantially different from
the style of the music he used to make when he played with
Charlie Parker ,and Duke Ellington. In an interview after his last
concert, he declared that he's not a conservative musician. "My
harmony is not conservative," he said.
I suggested that his arrangements are quite similar to the older
"The lines are not conservative," he retorted. "Charlie Parker
played 32-bar songs and 12-bar songs. I don't have any set bars in my
songs. I always have different bar lines."
But when I persisted, saying that the flavor and general form of
his music seems to have remained static throughout most of his
career, he asked, "What form? If the bars aren't the same, then
the form can't be the same."

But after the afternoon rehearsal,
folding chair and relaxed for a fe
the audience. Mingus is a very lar
is getting slightly long, is tinged w
his forehead. He was wearing a gri
jacket, which made him look som
He wore a kind of bemused ex
began to shout their questions. I
were somewhat pointless, but he
asked him to name some of his fa
mentioned Stravinsky, Rebussy a
strongest praise for another musica
ven. I don't like his arrangem
I like his string quartets best."
As to tips on composing, Mingu
who plays the saxophone, and he
playing the saxophone he's whistii
sometimes - you've got to get y
you can get onto something new. B
I was always whistling, too, or w
ming. Composing isn't any differ
Another spectator asked if M
cians who have played for him in
Dolphy, the masterful saxophonist
who played with Mingus frequentl
school together. Mingus protested
day's musicians, but suggested, n
jazz greats would be better directe
Charlie Parker.
"Charlie Parker used to play
choruses," Mingus recalled. "If he
do today, they'd still be home prac
wouldn't dare get close to the mi
mike. To just hear the bigness of t-
thought he was seven feet tall an
"That stuff he played isn't eas
stage Saturday afternoon. By t
mood seemed a little more impati
the ensemble would be playing witl
took the stage he shot back that a
sence wasn't necessary. "If we
wouldn't be here," he said.
By The end of the second sho
started the day with had pretty m
that show that he consented, to an i
ile rooms upstairs from the Union
chair, looking tired. He briefly ans
the meanings behind some of his
When my questions started to
his music or toward his creative
asked what the process of writing
asked why I wanted to know. With
"If I'm on the toilet and there's
peeing and I whistle, I whistle a tt
and I play a concert there, and th
write. Either that or I don't write
By this time Mingus sounded v
too kindly to my next question. I a
niscences about the days when he
and how his feelings about the m
his feelings about the music he usi
he didn't want to discuss his feeling
"A critic is supposed to be a p
sit down and analyze an event and
"That's the critic's job. He doser
Kong, did you like that white girl
girl in your arms-can you feel h
Why should I do that for you? Yoi
of question.
"You know what I did," he w
derisively. "We played four concert
drums, and that's a miracle in itse
,ne these docksucker questions. Gel
you need to know?"
That cut the interview short,

Mingus doesn't seem to like answering questions about his music. Stephen Hersh is a former Dail;

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