Jan 7, 2011

Frank O'Hara, Max Weber: Sodom and Gomorrah

Ave Maria by Frank O'Hara : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

"New York Apartment Store" by Max Weber, American, 1881 - 1961

Awhile ago, I was slamming Picasso for sending his brain in to sterilize any bit of heart in his cubism. I say again, I don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to art, but that’s my reaction. It's the American Way.

Max Weber’s painting here, “New York Department Store” (1915),
is an example of a painting that works for me even though it strikes me as more or less at one with Picasso’s way of being in the world.

The painting also made me think of New York City, which certainly has a way of being in the world. That way, in turn, made me think of Frank O’Hara’s poems, which are surely as New York-y as poems can be—hip, wry, free-form updates of Walt Whitman.

That, in turn, made me think of growing up in the 1960s in a hilly southern Ohio village, which sat on the outer edge of Appalachia and coal country.

There were two movie theaters on the square in Clawson, a dry town of 1,700. Frank Fellows owned and operated The Roxy, and it was not unusual for Frank to show up drunk for work.

In that time and place, alcohol consumption and signs of inebriation were silently ordained to be private affairs. So when the normally dour Frank handed out free popcorn and was slurringly friendly to us teens one Saturday night, we felt as if we’d been magically transported to Manhattan. Or Sodom and Gomorrah. Or at least Marietta, Ohio, the big town 30 winding miles away, across the river from West Virginia.

The adult in charge was drunk, and the food and drinks were free. We were getting away with something. For a moment we thought Frank was too, but we knew better. We had only vague notions of what price the gaunt, graying man would pay, but we knew there would be one.

That seemed both right and wrong, like everything else in New York City—dark and bright, exuberant and grimy, elegant and coarse. Clawson, Ohio was the simple, predictable, understated center of a tiny planet. New York might as well have been Constantinople, complex and distant, morally ambiguous, not our kind of people—maybe they were cold cubists. No one in town would tell us what we were supposed to make of that.



Barbaro said...

How ironic that O'Hara equates movies with sinful, dangerous indulgence largely b/c they allow kids to get out of the house, when now so many things adults fret over as "bad influences" (Internet, TV, texting, videos) come right into the house.

Kids still go to the movies, but they're hardly counter-cultural anymore. Almost like the waltz, which was scandalous in its day, they now seem oddly formal, even stuffy.

Jean Spitzer said...

Such a different upbringing.

My early experiences were big-city ones.

Banjo52 said...

Jean, experiences such as . . . ? If you care to, of course.

For us, drivers' licenses meant we could go to the big city (15,000) 20 miles away-- YMCA dances where we did not dance and a bowling alley where we did bowl. Onion rings there were our first sampling of exotic food.

Brenda's Arizona said...

What movies did you see as a child that 'took you away' from Clawson for those few hours? Which movies transported you? It would be interesting to read your teen-year list.

Free movie, free popcorn - didn't you giggle, knowing you were getting away with it?

After the shootings in our state this weekend, I find it easy to think Arizona is foreign to me anymore. Gabby Giffords has been a true friend - what world allows this to happen? It doesn't feel like mine anymore. It feels like... your description of NYC - or something just awful.

Banjo52 said...

Barbaro, "oddly formal, even stuffy" movies? I MIGHT know what you mean--feel free to wax on. I do wonder how many high school or college kids go to the art theaters to see indy movies, which can be counter-cultural in subtler ways than Easy Rider or Deer Hunter were.

Do the kids take advantage of what's out there that's more artful (sometimes) than the stay-at-home influences you mention. Remember, they said TV would kill the movies, and it hasn't even come close, with a gazillion channels. So are the movies putting stuff out there that makes all of us, including the young, question things? I don't know. I bet there's a higher percentage of Republican young now than in, say, 1970. If we re-instituted the draft, would youthful converts to social awareness come a running?

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, interesting question. One that pops to mind was Elvis's Love Me Tender, but maybe that was because Ted Mahoney's sister, Mindy, 17, went to every showing (5 of them?), and had to be helped, sobbing, out of the theater every time. We thought that was pretty weird, even for a girl.

Mostly it was mindless Westerns--so from small town to no town, just prairies and horses and shootin' and spittin' and sometimes singin' a song.

Splendor in the Grass was probably the closest thing to a serious film that grabbed me prior to college.

At some point in high school we saw Butterfield 8. It must have been somewhat explicit in sexual language--I don't recall. I think most of us had no idea what was going on, but we sensed we'd crossed a boundary--at least a bit like getting free popcorn, but we understood popcorn.

We did chuckle about the popcorn, but I think it also worried us for Frank Fellows. I don't know if the town ever brought him down in any way for his drinking, but I suspect we thought it might have the same power over him it had over us. When Hillary came out with "It Takes a Village," one of my little voices said, "I can't believe they're just now figuring that out."

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, about your Rep. Giffords, I find too much to say (sermons) and too little of use to say. It's a blow here, so to be in her state must be really bad. I do think the whole incident takes us into dark places we probably try to ignore unless we're cops of some kind.

Ken Mac said...

penis festival? Banjo, yer, uh, yanking my chain...

Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed this!

Banjo52 said...

Ken, I would never yank a chain. Go here to Wiki, it's short--er, brief:


Others, this stems from--er, arises out of--er, is the result of some sexually charged posts and/or visitor commentary at Ken's place and Kitty's blog, New York Daily Photo, both good places to visit.

Lovers' Lane