Day of Tragedy

Yesterday the inevitable came early.

I was sufficiently inebriated and listening to Coltrane's Live at Birdland, a pristine Nippon Colombia 1976 pressing. The record had just then arrived by post from Tokyo. The postman had brought it to my door and had me sign for it. Marvelous, just marvelous. 

I cracked another beer and listened to Side 2 play out. The sound was perfect. There was no sense at all paying twice as much for beat-up original Impulses when I could get the same quality of sound from the friendly Japanese for half as much and in perfect condition. 

I picked up the record from the platter and held it against the light. The vinyl was a perfect glassy surface. Not a single imperfection. It reminded me of the perfect smoothness of Mount Morris lake on those still and windless Wisconsin summer evenings. It was marvelous. It was just marvelous. 

I put the record back in its sleeve and placed it back carefully onto the shelf with the other orange and black Impulses. It was a fine, fine day. Indeed, it was marvelous. There were other Nippon Colombia Coltranes out there and I was now committed to them. 

Perhaps I should clean my stylus so that next time it will be nice and clean when I go to use my turntable. I took my cube of Magic Eraser foam and wet it and set it on the Dual next to the stylus and tone arm on its rest. I lifted the tone arm and positioned the stylus over the foam and with the cue lever dropped the stylus cantilever and its diamond carefully into the foam. It sunk in slowly and satisfactorily. I could feel the diamond being cleaned. Things were wonderful. These special records would sound so wonderful when I listened the next time.

I should clean the tiny stylus brush too, I thought. It always picks up so much dust and then drags that dust back through the record grooves. With the square of wet foam I started to wipe the hairs of the tiny brush that is placed just in front of the cantilevered diamond. There was not much dust but I was trying to clean it thoroughly. I dragged the brush over the foam again and again. And then a tiny pop rang out. Something had happened. I felt that something tragic had happened. 

I looked underneath the cartridge. Where the cantilever and its diamond once hung there was an empty space. Everything inside me sank. It was gone, all gone. I squinted and looked more closely. But there was nothing there now. I went and got my reading glasses and looked. There was nothing there at all. 

I looked about the Dual and then on the hardwood floor I saw it. The tiny beryllium cantilever with its diamond. It looked like a tiny black piece of something on the floor. Something inconsequential to be swept away. That was all it was now. I had rendered the stylus useless. I had destroyed it. 

Because of the beryllium demands of the US military Shure had discontinued production of these styli ten years ago. I quickly went and checked eBay. The most recent ones had been bid up over $500. My tragedy had deepened. What a drunken fool I am. Just look now what you've done.

I tried to console myself saying the stylus was no doubt worn from much use over the years. No doubt it needed replacing in the next few months anyway. At least I had gotten great enjoyment from it. Perhaps it was even now worn and damaging my records. In 2004 I had only paid $75 for the stylus and cartridge. But these were empty justifications for the tragedy I had caused. I was still all hollow inside. There was no way to mitigate what I had done.

I took a deep breath and gathered myself. 

Now, at last, I would need to get a replacement stylus. I would not pay for one of those discontinued Shure VN5xMR styli. I would get instead one of those JAS VN5xMR SAS styli that fit the Shure V15VxMR cartridge. They were $250 and shipped from Japan. They were said to sound excellent on the Shure cartridge.

When the Japanese stylus came I would mount it myself. At last, I would learn to measure and set the tracking force and the anti-skate. The time had come for me to learn to perform these technical operations and to understand my Dual 1209 in a deeper way. I would need a tracking force gauge and a protractor and a level. I would need expensive test records shipped from overseas. I would need a fozgometer to test for azimuth. Life had suddenly become difficult but necessary. Indeed, this day was inevitable whether I had broken off the cantilever or played the stylus until it had worn down and begun to damage my records.

And with the new stylus I promised myself I would not clean it when drinking. And I would note down each time I had played a record so I knew accurately how many hours were on the stylus and when I should replace it. And I would only really listen to records, sitting and listening carefully, and not letting them play and slowly wear down while I was not giving them my fullest attention and doing something else. Out of this tragedy would come a new commitment to my vinyl and to learning how the turntable operates and to understanding all those technical terms the audiophiles use. I was going to give meaning to this tragedy. I was going to make things right.


I'm Fussy (Dual 1209)

And the operator of this machine will begin to speak knowledgeably of its gimbal, and the majesty of its stasis while all rotates around it.

He shall speak too of the plinth, the depth of the walnut's varnish, perhaps even its flip-front for storage. 

Above all he shall point out the Shure V15Vx cartridge and stylus and speak of its ability to track any record, even upside down; how coveted the Shure is and how it is no longer manufactured because of beryllium shortages.

And he shall speak of the Germanic brothers Steidinger, who learned machining parts from their clock-maker father. They would begin the manufacture of Dual turntables in the Black Forest, nearby to where Martin Heidegger was performing ontology in a hut, and these marvelous pieces of sound reproduction would be made by the brothers until their falling out and disassociation, whereby one brother would carry on with the Dual name and the other would become his competitor. In the late '70s the Japanese would end this family struggle, finally, as from the Orient they exported machines that did what Duals did but for cheaper.


"The Words of Svend Herlufsen" by Knut Hamsun

 my translation of "Svend Herlufsens Ord" from Det Vilde Kor, 1904

My beloved is like this I say

In the East Indies lives a predatory spider,
a creature the color of a red orchid.
In the middle of the day it lies about contorted,
with legs spread wide and belly up it lays there.
Motionless, the spider seems dead.

The butterfly knows nothing of the spider,
and down to the red orchid he flutters on a whim,
just a beautiful flower laying below him.
The butterfly will not fly back up from there.
Into the arms of death he flew.

The orchid will go on laying there, unmoving as before.
To it new butterflies will come and die, always more.
And after each the flower will again unmoving lay.

My beloved is like this I say.

Do you want to know

Do you want to know that love that only she can profess
and how hot your own fire will burn when awakened?
Then seize her and hold her to your wicked breast
— that is, if she allows herself to be taken.

Do you want to know how to keep her love for you
and how to stop her from ever leaving?
Then grip her by the arm, never let her out of view,
and with your whip give her a beating.

I have this

I have this: a single thought pursues me,
an odd pain pulsing in my forehead,
the coming breakdown of my sanity.
Through my veins a fiery waltz spreads
and beneath my feet the floor turns red —
The chimney is howling — the Devil howling with glee,
and the fire leaves a strange soot instead.

Dear God! I hurry to the room above,
I stand and look out for the moon there,
and I see only the face of a dove,
crouched and curled up without a care.
Together we two coo blindly as a pair.
With the fire dead came the darkness I've such fear of.
My heart was left red and rough and bare.

And it was a mighty love for her I did declare,
As my bride at my side she was a godsend.
But what happened ended our joyful affair:
In the dirt I now grovel, to her I attend,
Upon her I rely as upon God I depend,
all in vain . . . . . To Hell with this despair!
Will that howling in the chimney never end!

See, the night is life

Listen to how it rumbles on a calm night!
Put an ear to the earth and hear it played:
an insistent sound, familiar yet slight,
a tone that does not fade.
But what is it? Maybe like fermenting wine its sound.
No. More a seething and dissolving and corroding underground
— Or upon the world a kind of scratching made.

What — is it for that silence of night you wait,
where the spring and life itself has its seat?
It comes as a quivering struggle boundless and great,
the animals appearing to meet and greet.
There in their chicanery, chiding and cheating
their testing, tormenting and entreating,
as eye to eye they mate in heat.

At midnight a wanderer makes his escape,
such is your blessed right.
A wound is a wound, and this but a scrape,
a minor change to your plight.
You patch yourself up with laments and prayers,
and drink yourself drunk with despair
— Only then do you feel contrite.

You come upon a procession you will forever remember —
for where are these creatures headed so fast?
To the observer, it is horses ridden along together,
in all their knowing honor stomping past.
— See, the night is life and it is ruled by women,
and men are but oxen over the earth driven
by that tone pulsing on to the last.


"In One Hundred Years All Is Forgotten" by Knut Hamsun

my translation of "Om Hundrede Aar Er Alting Glemt" from Det Vilde Kor, 1904

Tonight I'm adrift, conflicted, and in doubt,
I feel like a capsized boat,
and for all I suffer and moan about
I have found no antidote.
    But why should I feel so rotten?
    In one hundred years all is forgotten.

I sing songs and prance about in pride
and live my life as a beautiful novel.
Like a full-grown troll I eat at God's side
and drink like the Devil's apostle.
    But why act in ways so misbegotten?
    In one hundred years all is forgotten.

It is best to end this struggle without delay
and into the sea with my tormented soul I will head.
There the world will find me one day
by the bitterest of drownings dead.
    But why come to an end so ill-gotten?
    In one hundred years all is forgotten.

No, it is better to wander about and stay alive
and write a new book every year
and for the noblest lines continue to strive
until I die a writer of great revere.
    If that's all there is, where then do I begin:
    In one hundred years all is forgotten.

** Previously translated in free verse here 


"A Consideration" by Knut Hamsun

my translation of "Betragtning" from Det Vilde Kor, 1904

These Muslims should be shamed for their profane talk,
by we who here follow the Protestant or Catholic walk.
Their God they call Allah, their Bible the Quran,
a Devil they have too, but without any fans.

Our Christ learned from them they claim,
and in place of Christ their Muhammad came.
By that "hypocrite" and "viper" they in heaven are received.
Ha ha, in what nonsense these Muslims believe!

If they are to be saved there is just one way,
become sheep in Christ's flock, to them I say.
For what are your Mosques? Build churches instead.
A heathen receives no salvation when dead.

Will they learn anything from what I here argue for?
No. To these pagans we are "Christian dogs," nothing more.
That I believe not in the Quran they judge me brazen
to have a faith so blind as beyond all imagination.

But watch how God becomes angry. Persecution He does not tolerate.
Muhammad, the Quran and Allah himself He then sets straight.
And thereafter door to door through Muslim lands He goes
meting out upon them a boundless justice as only He knows.

This text at a Sunday sermon would find its place,
for Muslim heathendom is an unambiguous disgrace.
Still, God's patience is vast and allows for grace to grow,
though in death His mercy He can no longer bestow.

Oh, loving Creator, so what then is it all about?
Why allow some to live and die in a heathen faith devout?
Muhammad was, these people believe, God's greatest prophet;
perhaps as a limitation of nationality God accepts it.

For our sins He sacrificed His son, and He was a Jew,
and only by belief in Him do His descendants live on anew . . . . .
Yes, for so long as the world goes on His Word is greatest
and should by all of His true sheep be reaffirmed on a daily basis. 



View of Resurrection Bay from the second floor of the Seward Library

In the summer of 2014, to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Good Friday Earthquake in southern Alaska, the Seward Public Library exhibited a series of crayon, pastel, ink and pencil drawings made by a class of Seward schoolchildren in 1964, one week after the 9.2 magnitude quake.

On display were marvelous renderings of the fires that burned on the waterfront, billowing black smoke, buildings and homes and cars destroyed, exploding Texaco and Standard Oil tanks, Resurrection Bay covered in a burning oil fire, boats washed up into the town, and tiny stick figures fleeing towards the mountains from a giant tidal wave. 

Most interesting among the drawings were two by little Jimmy Bradford. In what a half century later would be labeled "Fake News", little Jimmy Bradford had illustrated two alternate factual accounts of the tragedy and its devastation. 

In the first of little Jimmy Bradford's drawings a Nazi warplane flies over the town dropping its munitions onto the defenseless citizens. In the second, a giant reptile, perhaps a dinosaur, has emerged from Resurrection Bay and is rampaging through the buildings on the waterfront.

Perhaps the Seward boy was expressing his incredulity with the official explanation for his town's destruction. But it should be assumed possible too, that little Jimmy Bradford did indeed observe a giant sea creature and an enemy bomber from a war concluded 20 years previous, and that his account was deliberately left unreported by the main stream media.


On This Day, 3 Years Ago

Some members of Front Dock at Tony's Bar, St Patrick's Day 2014

Only Jason was in green. The Russians were bringing in the p-cod. This was us at Tony's, where we started the celebration. Dominic, pictured laughing, was still with the dock crew. He would be fired in the last days of p-cod season, when the work ran 20 hours a day, the Russians arriving in boats one after the other through the night and it was blowing a gale with wind and sleet and snow. Dom couldn't handle it and walked off the crane. Even Charles was down on the dock pitching fish and running one of the cranes and raving like a madman. I got on the crane Dom abandoned and had to  forklift two boats at a time. It was a helluva spot Dom put the crew in walking off. But this picture comes before all that. Dom was a good guy after all. This was St Patty's Day and we were just getting started here. Mad Jack had brought us downtown in his quacking taxi. 

There was a movie crew rumored to be in Seward and on this night the locals thought I was an actor in this film that was to be shot. I did nothing to dissuade this presumption and encouraged it and Jason and Dom spread fabulous lies about my acting career. The movie plot was some sort of secret but we explained it all: there were Alaska bears and snowmobiles and Inuit hunters in the film. Extraordinary things were happening. We made promises to get these locals in the film and took their phone numbers. The locals offered their snowmobiles and expertise. We said we would need it all, most definitely. Dom, I said, was a production assistant. He would be in touch with them.

Then, naturally, we met more people as the night got drunker. These people were from Los Angeles and they were the actual film crew. Jason, fish pitcher and the film's head of cinematography, was now concerned our lies would be exposed, and had us flee to the Yukon where we ran into more of the Los Angeles crew. Things got sloppy after that. Things I cannot write, that I might tell you if we were together and there was a solemn promise made not to repeat these things. For a St Patty's Day is not complete if it does not get a little strange and Seward late in the night and early morning could get as strange as ever.
Copyright © Moraline Free