Historians rely on but distrust the eyewitness account, the contemporary opinion. It is not that being there is not enough but instead that it is too much. Taking part in an event as it is happening (particularly if it is a Happening) overwhelms not just the senses, but one’s sense of judgment. Sometimes it seems better to deal with a contemporary photograph, audio tape or video divorced from contemporary commentary and judge for oneself, even though as we all know if picture is worth a 1000 words, most of them are lies and half-truths.
Yet sometimes a contemporary account, or in the case below a review, paints a picture of startling clarity and in the best of cases depicts the future. Leroi Jones’ review of An Anthology of Chance Operations from Kulchur 13 does just that, it depicts and predicts the future. As if Jones’ suggestion that jazz is every bit as experimental a performance as a Fluxus Happening did not cut rightly An Anthology of Chance Operations down to size, his prediction of the Anthology’s ultimate fate in the last paragraph is straight out of Nostradamus and just as devastating.
The later edition of the Anthology from 1970 is rare enough (and expensive at around $400), but the first edition, if you can find one, is truly precious (read this word in all its facets), much like the work depicted within. Currently not a single copy is available online. The last one I saw was in the rare book catalog of a well-known dealer in the solid four figures. I would guess it sold rather rapidly to just the type of individual Jones predicted.
Here is Jones’ review in its entirety. This is a fine example of the style of a Kulchur review, which is to say a typical review by Leroi Jones, since Jones’ critical voice is precisely how Kulchur sounds.
AN ANTHOLOGY OF CHANCE OPERATIONS, &c, &c, published by LaMonte Young and Jackson MacLow.
Abstraction is too tenuous without the lessons contained in banality. A line tends to be too amazing. We seek simple immunity: in art. In art what is possessed is, exactly what should be given. ABsTraCt art is too clean. Its purity wears down the moral issue until everything in existence is purely for us, to lose among our fantasies of some dreadful hygienic soul.
Language restores itself more quickly than any other energy. Dick Higgins’ words impress us, finally, with the sterility of his mind, before we even know they are words. But a painting is always there, more permanently fixed on a level of actual meaning. How can a painting be abstract when we can pick it up and put it in a closet?
Music has no such discipline. It can not even be turned off. (Write a poem after sitting under Cecil Taylor’s piano.)
But Dada was a baptism of fire intothe 20th century. It was not death it merely painted the signs warning everybody. ABsTraCt paiting (Neue Sachlichkeit 2) warns painters, but already too late. Like a man trying to arose you to tell you you’re dead. And it has to do, usually, with time. Now’s The Time, is a spiritual directive. The chord of experience its image coaxes is definite. Old fish stinks. (Real that anyway you can.) Altering history is a simple case of lying. But believes in God so who should you feel guilty about when you do lie?
Only march music is political. Only posters can call for volunteers. (Should a beatnik painter get social security? Why?) If everyone was a credit to the community could there still be art. Athletes are certainly happier.
How can a painting tell you people are vulgar (unless the painter has put a microphone in it, out of which comes the voice of Stanley Gould . . .) and if it did that it should be picketed, having traduced every viewer who has ever seen Donald O’Connor without being convinced it was art.
Jackson MacLow is dull because he thinks you’re going to learn something from him. I knew an old man once in Newark who could whistle with peas in his mouth. Nobody ever called him hip.
Franz Kline was not a great paint because of abstraction, but because he could paint. The same reason why professional intellectuals are so lazy. They don’t have to do anything: “Watch Me Think!” they cry, before you beat them to death with your stick.
It leans all the way over to this: Is the man who tells me, “Jazz is a useless noise,” staging “an event,” or is he proposing some socio-cultural arrogance from way back behind the mask? What we used to call Confidence. And he thinks when the buildings begin to crumble he can somehow renege, and ask God to make everything like it was. But what was it?
DeKooning can tell you what was happening a few minutes ago. And he’s still got the latest news. If you can’t say More than that, then don’t do it at all. No one needs to be shown a loyal group of apprentice intellectuals. Everyone who has not been studying for the priesthood can tell you 20th century art is Weird. I heard a cat turn Major Bowes out one night playing parts of Rites of Spring on a saxophone. And nobody in this book would ever have thought of that. But plainly a working man doesn’t expect the children to in the street everyday to tell him how groovy it is he’s got that gig. Thank God everybody doesn’t show you their new dental work either. I’ve seen teeth before, real and fake . . . but can you chew with them? It’s like a man explaining each punch to his opponent. The best way to do that would be to fight a girl.
Cage is not responsible for any of this, unless you can say Fletcher Henderson was responsible for the Ipana Troubadors.
Most of the events do not have surprise endings. There are not enough characters in them either. Most of the physical movement is written for people who can’t fight. I want to put a dime in the jukebox and see George Brecht perform his event. There is absolutely no one in New York named Malkie Safro. Jackson MacLow can not type.
Richard Maxfield’s name has a sideways Essays over the Ri. This is hipper than Hunter’s and 7-Up on the rocks.
Dieter Rot has holes in a page. Emmett Williams final learned to type and then typed too much.
LaMonte Young is interesting because his events, the words, are poem like. And you really don’t have to do what he says. But read them, and listen to them.
Earle Brown is a very good composer, but sound is his most convincing point, all this is vanity. Ditto Christian Wolff. James Waring is a dancer.
So someone will spill a lot of coffee on the book, then one day sell it for a great deal of money, probably to someone who laughed at your beards.