Thursday, April 30, 2009

I do agree with Jess Harvell: Bonzo Goes To Washington's legendary cut "5 Minutes" is a dud. This collaboration between Talking Heads utility man Jerry Harrison and bassist Bootsy Collins adds layers of gimmicky effects and porn slap bass reminiscent of "Seinfeld" to the infamous Ronald Reagan quip uttered before a radio show in 1984 ("We begin bombing [Russia] in five minutes"). Greil Marcus thought otherwise:
"[Reagan] rushes it because while this really is a joke -- you can hear people laughing in the background -- it is also unmistakably sexual. The lust in the passage is what makes it so terrifying. It's anything but unknown for soldiers to fuck the corpses of women killed in search-and-destroy missions; they're turned on by death. That, that exactly, is what you hear."
Certainly it's inferior to what Negativland did a few years later, or the whiskery, whispery need that Laurie Anderson injected into "O Superman" and other cuts from Big Science in 1982.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

So Arlen Specter is, in the words of Jonathan Chait, an "unprincipled hack," but in that he's not charmless. Better an unprincipled hack than a senator with actual convictions and such (the South has senators and congressmen with plenty of those). But with news like this, I can't imagine the modern GOP luring anyone who isn't like this Principled Person With Convictions. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The death of Bea Arthur has got me wondering where else to get my fill of her pert bullfrog voice and inflexible smirk besides old "Golden Girls" episodes. Pauline Kael's review of the Lucille Ball film version of Mame ("Too terrible to be boring; you can get fixated staring at it and wondering what exactly Lucille Ball thinks she's doing," Kael writes, delighted. "When that sound comes out -- it's somewhere between a bark, a croak, and a quaver-- does she think she's singing?") has got me excited.

A CD-R filled with bullfrog croaks would irritate less than Michael Haneke's Funny Games, his English-language version of his 1997 film, which itself predates the Abu Ghraib photos by several years. Outside the work of auteur Sylvester "Sly" Stallone (Cobra and Rambo particularly) I can't think of another filmmaker who took such exquisite pleasure in inflicting pain on his characters. "Exquitite" is right: his sets gleam with the unemphatic chic taste of Good Housekeeping. 2002's The Piano Teacher worked because of the too-perfect casting of Isabelle Huppert, who is to mashocism what Julia Roberts is to dentrifice; beneath the undigested Freudian subtexts and stupid ideas there was Haneke's perfect composure, the unhurried confidence with which he sustains a mood of dread. But I understand the complaints of those (many) who hated it. Cache (2005) was supposed to make us feel guilty about something, but I'm not sure what -- the French treatment of Algerians? Haneke treats lacunae as reverentially as Naomi Watts does her kitchen counters in Funny Games. He's the asshole who would blame the impulse to ask honest questions about his films on capitalism and Twitter.

It doesn't help that Funny Games' cast performs like Haneke instructed them to stare at a black spot in the corner of the frame. I've so tired of Naomi Watts' open-mouthed Kewpie doll routine; she either needs another comedy like I ::Heart:: Huckabees or a director more sympathetic to her gift for unearthing the hysteria in ordinarily pretty people. Tim Roth's in this farrago too, I think. As for Michael Pitt, he's a chubby nothing. From certain angles he looks like Truman Capote wearing an Andy Warhol mask. Shifting his weight from one tennis shoe to the other, he can't decide what to do with his body, or whether he should be on the set at all. If Pasolini were still alive, he'd cast Pitt as a too-long-for-this-world hustler, which would at least have the virtue of being convincing. In how many movies has Pitt been the object of leers from other boys? He and Haneke are ideal partners -- they each have something to pimp.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thomas swears by the first Wendy and Lisa record -- it's one of his top ten albums, he told me once. The only post-Prince works of theirs I know is their literally unaccountable studio work (Wendy co-writing Madonna's "Candy Perfume Girl," fer instance). Anyway, OUT publishes the first interview (I love Barry Walters) in which their relationship is discussed without euphemism, although at this point it's no surprise. Alex Hahn's terrific Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince includes an ugly anecdote wherein Prince, frustrated by a session and his own weird relationship with Wendy's twin sister Susannah, calls them dikes who'll burn in hell or something. This exchange is telling -- the politics between Prince and W&L remains, shall we say, fractious:
OUT: Won’t [Prince] be proud of you too?
Wendy: No. No. No.
Lisa: He’s not very generous like that.
That Prince is no prince won't shock anyone; it's the dirt they dish on Trevor Horn (with whom they produced a shelved album years ago) that shocked me:
LISA: I hate to say it, but he wouldn’t even let us eat off of his silverware on Friday because he was Jewish. It turned into this nightmare. He and his wife, oh God, I don’t want to talk disparagingly about anybody, but it made us very uncomfortable.
Yes, the audiophile/scion who produced Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Grace Jones, and the Pet Shop Boys is a homophobe.

Anyway, if someone recommends the first W&L record -- or, better, sends it my way -- I'll appreciate it.

(h/t to Tal)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

While Adam Lambert can't bear the weight that Ann Powers puts on his (lovely) shoulders, she does as good a job as Tom Smucker, Peter Shapiro, and others in defining what happens on the dance floor when the spirit of communal ecstacy give us the freedom to enact roles for which we'd normally be ill-suited. As a character in my own disco drama last Friday, I know something about the pain and release of "Let The Music Play" and "Lost in Music. From the clips I've seen of Lambert, he looks more conscious of his potentially outsize weirdness than other "American Idol" contestants, and he's got an audience far bigger than any his idols got at their peaks, with the weirdness to match (and not in that chemically impacted Clay Aiken way either):
The life-changing pop stars Lambert emulates, from David Bowie to Prince to Madonna to lesser lights like Pete Wentz and Lady GaGa, open up the doors to these alternate universes. Through their example -- their music, their style, their way of moving through the world -- admirers can dream of a life beyond the confines of their "normal" lives.
Someone hook this boy up with the Scissor Sisters, please.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

At the Supreme Court today, justices wrestled with the question of whether a strip search of a thirteen-year-old at a public school for Ibuprofen was constitutional. Stephen Breyer brought the laughs:
"In my experience when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old, you know, we did take our clothes off once a day, we changed for gym, OK? And in my experience, too, people did sometimes stick things in my underwear." Breyer hesitated as he realized what he said as the courtrooom erupted in laughter.

He quickly recovered and added: "Or not my underwear. Whatever. Whatever."
Yeah, whatever.
After several recent desultory appearances, it's a relief to see Gore Vidal at near peak form, as he was on "Real Time With Bill Maher" last week. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

The new Pet Shop Boys album isn't memorable, sad to say. My review of Yes takes off from a discussion first stared by Scott and Thomas here

Saturday, April 18, 2009

StinkyLulu has a nice appreciation of one of the most beloved characterizations in movies: Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oh, look: Nora Ephron still thinks that Mike Nichols makes movies for Intelligent People. "One of the main things about Mike’s movies is that, with a few exceptions, they’re all really smart movies about smart people," she avers. "They’re about something. And he’s funny. You’re certainly not going to lose a joke. And if there’s one hidden, he’ll find it.” The director of Charlie Wilson's War, The Birdcage, and What Planet Are You From?

This guy's wise ass tone -- an irony fashionably distant enough to flatter the watchers of clever sitcoms -- is TV incarnate, for better or worse.
The latest subject of George F. Will's ire: denim. So Tory he makes Samuel Johnson look like Clement Atlee, George the Bemused doesn't like the faceless humanoids out there wearin' Levis and Gap:
Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.
He's got kids. He's never seen teenagers comparing loose and easy fit? Or those two globules punching through a girl's chest?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Playground Indie and Its Malcontents

Exile produces silence more often than cunning. After two months of not publishing a single rock review (this should change very soon) and compensating by listening to more indie than ever, I've left amused by the suspicion that as the market for rock writing collapses the polarization between the pop world and indie expands. It's a strange world when Flo Rida and Animal Collective debut high on the same chart, separated by sales of a few thousand, and their partisans can't shake hands across Flyoverland. This is a landscape in which Billboard confirms the hegemony of the Pitchfork ethos. I know colleagues who drool over Ghostface or Lil Boosie as much as they do over Animal Collective or Dirty Projectors. They're smart enough to note their differences and intentions, yet unwilling to examine what accounts for the championing of artists determined to make clear statements to a recognizable public and artistes who speak for and to a cult that won't look past its own biases.

Spending fruitless hours agonizing over Fever Ray, Grizzly Bear, and the increasingly paradigmatic Animal Collective was instructive. That age is much more than a number explains only the half of it. In the case of Animal Collective, I hear a half-understood but determined effort to approach the guilelessness of the young adult sensibility. AC wants domestic bliss to resonate like the unmediated wonder of thirteen-year-olds making sense of their bodies. But a twentysomething isn't a pre-teen, and if you're still having trouble figuring out the difference, you need to find another analyst. I expect bands to realize that confusion is sex -- as X, Springsteen and Yo La Tengo's own explorations uncovered. But they didn't dumb down their approaches to get at higher truths; if anything, their albums showed that human drama often can't accommodate them. For artists ideals are fine, but they're a burden too, maybe a luxury, and an economy increasingly hostile to the pursuit of venalities puts a greater demand on clarity than Animal Collective are prepared to give. As for the other two, Grizzly Bear and Fever Ray live in a world I don't recognize: it's retrograde in a hostile way. Fascinated by their adolescent grievances, they perform a shadowplay illuminated by a light that's dim and wrongly colored, intended to show their music in the most attractively disfigured way.

It isn't so dire though. Fumbling through Dirty Projectors' predictably named Bitte Orca, I heard a lot of too-pretty harmonies and ambitious, not-quite-there arrangements and not enough of the peculiar androgynous subtexts that impressed me when I saw them at Pitchfork Festival last summer (it's as if Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie took turns changing into one another and took turns harassing an equally protean Lindsey Buckingham) . Then, in "Two Doves," Amber Coffmann or Angel Deradoorian, I can't tell whom, lets this out: "Your hair is like an an eagle/ your two eyes are like two doves/But our bed is like a failure." Buttressed by fingerpicked acoustic guitar, foiled by string swells, these are pretty good verses, especially after the girl demands an open-mouthed kiss at the beginning of the song. Bands uninterested in expressing emotions are often perplexed about how to express them; here's an example of how to do it right.

Anyway, Christgau's review of two new charity comps helmed by indie/Pitchfork all-stars articulates the dilemma of how to size up songs of experience performed as songs of innocence. To put it another way, it's the best example of how an old guy, with characterstic good humor and common sense, scrunches his eyes real tight to evaluate an ideology as alien as Arianism.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has published a series of well-considered takes on the last fifty years of Cuba policy. In light of the Obama administration's lifting of restrictions for family visitations and remittances here's another good post, a follow-up to one made last week regarding the Congressional Black Caucus' disgusting obsequiousness during its visit to Fidel Castro a couple of weeks ago. Coates last week: 
I get the politics of the 60s and the 70s. I understand that the Vietnam-era was a different dynamic. But today, in the 21st century, in the era of Barack Obama, I have no idea how any lefty can say of Castro, "It was like listening to an old friend."
Or, as one Tel succinctly puts it in the comments section: "There's nothing contradictory about believing that Castro is the scum of the earth and also believing that the embargo is a stupid way of addressing the situation."

As the son of Cuban immigrants who sought political exile in the early sixties, the issue is a raw one –and generational. Many Cubans who emigrate today have no interest in politics; they want better jobs for their families so they can afford the consumer goods denied them in their homeland. My "hair stylist" (who does a superb job under the circumstances) once described the awesome experience of visiting his first American supermarket a dozen years ago. "What abundance!" he said. Perhaps his reasons are more venal than my grandparents'. But if there's anything that a democratic republic is supposed to offer its citizens, it's the space to indulge their venalities, an experience with which Cubans are unfamiliar. It's cruel to dismiss the pleas of new emigrés who want to send money and visit their mothers as often as possible. Remittances keep the Castro regime alive in part; the continued romantic attachment to a cruel and vain dictator by black men and women who should know better depresses me; but Cuba isn't Poland or East Germany. The aim of the embargo – to diplomatically and financially isolate the regime such that internal pressure causes its citizens to overthrow their masters – failed because it ignores the gnarled shared history of the United States and Cuba, dating back to the McKinley administration. You can argue that Cuba, despite its liberal Constitution of 1940, high literacy rates (even pre-Castro), and thriving middle class, was always doomed – a victim of Cold War politics and the Caribbean basin's indifference to coups and skullduggery of all sorts.  

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A poignant story about Nicholas Hughes, the son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, an ecology professor who, like his mother, committed suicide:
In Fairbanks, the responses are more complex. Here a community of scientists knew him not through his parents’ poetry, but through the ingenuity of his research into freshwater ecosystems. They knew him from ice fishing and cycling, from gardening or making pottery. And with his death there is building resentment, a sense that his life and death are being distorted by strangers, depicted as either the inevitable after-effect of his father’s infidelities or somehow genetically foreordained by his mother’s demons

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter. A searing performance of my favorite John Cale song:

Jessie Eisenberg does a dead-on Alvy Singer channeled through Bob Newhart. After three movies (Romper Stomper and the superior The Squid and the Whale are the other two), of his schtick, he's found new wrinkles, and although Adventureland has his best performance yet, I can see a time when, like Michael Cera in writer-director Greg Mottola's last movie Superbad, his originality may harden into caricature. For now it's a treat watching him interact with an actress as alive to gesture and response as Kristin Stewart (without makeup she looks a bit like a young Helena Bonham Carter). Even with the all-too-wet ending (literally: there's sensitive emoting in the rain), I suspect that Stewart will, like Annie Hall, wise up to Eisenberg's routine and dump his ass.

As for the rest of Adventureland, its slightness and lack of tension is a slight letdown after the subcurrents beneath the post-Meatballs machinations of Superbad. Mottola has a talent for catching peripheral beauty: there's a lovely scene between Eisenberg and Stewart in a kind of graveyard for amusement park parts shot with the light of dusk as gray, cheerless, and familiar as the weed the two smoke. The rhythms feel genuine too; we've all had jobs in the service sector that allowed too much downtime and not enough stress to take home, therefore allowing us time to get drunk and high at after work parties. I expected a familiar payoff between Eisenberg and his jowly, depressed dad that thankfully never came. Most of the cast seems way too young for college graduates, though (except Ryan Reynolds, who has the kind of doughy plasticine looks and wardrobe that can get him cast as Matthew McConoughey Dazed & Confused-style lecher-slacker if he's not careful). But I can't be the only one who expected Martin Starr to admit to a crush on Eisenberg instead of Stewart; the behind-the-beat detachment he projects from behind those owlish glasses also flashes self-loathing.

If I started looking at my watch too often past the 75-minute mark, blame my taste in music: no Big Star studio album runs 106 minutes. This is the problem when writing the kind of movies inspired by your favorite albums; the evanescence of perfect pop doesn't require the concentration of film watching. Mottola pats himself on the back with the kind of musical (these late eighties post-graduates listen to Husker Du, the Replacements, and the New York Dolls) and literary (Starr gives the amusement park's resident Hot Girl a dog-eared copy of The Overcoat) cues designed to make an audience applaud. It's axiomatic that all indie and quasi-indie films will advertise their cool soundtracks. But I don't want my tastes gratified.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Confirming the suspicion that one's perceptions of a decade are formed by audiovisuals blasted into you at an early age, Stephen Metcalf theorizes that Morrissey and The Smiths came at the right time and place because, well, the eighties were so heartless (he's right about Sting's implacability in the "Every Breath You Take" video, though). In ten years New Order, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Beastie Boys, and Prince released an untold number of good records between them; they forced us to reckon with the tension between superficiality and depth in music whose import often depended on visual representation as much as audio. But he's aware of the inherent paradox in appreciating The Smiths, especially those dire early albums: for such a mope, Morrissey is so insistent
...It was Thatcherism that made Morrissey. The Iron Lady represented a hardness of purpose, a pitilessness that would allow England once again to produce winners. But also, inevitably, losers. And here is the source of Morrissey's originality. Rock singers had blasted the trumpet of Nietzschean triumph before; they had mewed like Keatsian lambs. But before Morrissey, had anyone done both? In the same breath?
I've opened my heart, I'll make you love me.

Robert Christgau wrote at the time, "These guys impose their post-adolescent sensitivity, thus inspiring the sneaking suspicion that they're less sensitive than they come on." Early Smiths songs like "Accept Yourself" and "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" are cases in point. If I don't have much room for The Smiths these days, I credit my increasing (and relieved) detachment from post-adolescent sensitivity and aesthetic impositions; but when I feel like playing tourist I turn to Louder Than Bombs, whose scrambled chronology creates the mistaken impression that Funny Moz and Serious Moz were hats he discarded at will instead of a pair of argyle socks he had to accustom himself to wear. His latest album Years of Refusal is a return to the jackhammer guitars of the mid nineties; he hasn't come up with any memorable vocal embellishments, unfortunately, or any one-liners worth a second listen. Like Thatcher, the context that made a Morrissey possible – compelling even – has vanished. What remains is history: a vivid but fading memory of hardness and purpose. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Another chip falls. Anti-marriage activist have remained quiet today, I suspect, because they can't use the tired canard that Activist Judges rescinded the will of the people. It won't happen under the skittish Obama administration, but Chief Justice John Roberts can expect the Defense of Marriage Act's constitutionality to be argued before his court in the next five to ten years.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bob Dylan on Barack Obama, the weird South, and Ulysses Grant (a better writer than Dylan remembers, but boring). What fascinates Dylan, as ever, is the intersection of performance and character, or rather, the degree to which performance creates character. Good and bad as a priori determinants matter less than, to quote one of his better songs, simple twists of fate; I'm pretty sure he would salvage something meaningful from George W. Bush's autobiography once Bush has "written" it:
BF: What else did you find compelling about [Obama]?

Bob Dylan: Well, mainly his take on things. His writing style hits you on more than one level. It makes you feel and think at the same time and that is hard to do. He says profoundly outrageous things. He’s looking at a shrunken head inside of a glass case in some museum with a bunch of other people and he’s wondering if any of these people realize that they could be looking at one of their ancestors.

Bill Flanagan: What in his book would make you think he’d be a good politician?

BD: Well nothing really. In some sense you would think being in the business of politics would be the last thing that this man would want to do. I think he had a job as an investment banker on Wall Street for a second - selling German bonds. But he probably could’ve done anything. If you read his book, you’ll know that the political world came to him. It was there to be had.

BF: Do you think he’ll make a good president?

BD: I have no idea. He’ll be the best president he can be. Most of those guys come into office with the best of intentions and leave as beaten men. Johnson would be a good example of that … Nixon, Clinton in a way, Truman, all the rest of them going back. You know, it’s like they all fly too close to the sun and get burned.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

The first EP and album were striking throwbacks disguised, cleverly, as artistic statements. Karen O sang, wrote, and writhed like many young women whose exceptional histrionic gifts copped to romantic misery. I may have overrated 2006's Show Yr Bones, whose thick acoustic textures bespoke a professionalism you don't ordinarily hear in post-punk inspired bands uninterested in Linda Perry, so Karen O fronting an electro-punk sounded like a dream I'd never wake up to. Wow. Stretching and reaching like Deborah Harry, Romeo Void, and Le Tigre were bad dreams she couldn't wait to tell her analyst about, Karen O hooks Nick Zimmer and Brian Chase up with Dave Sitek and the best drumpads and synths that money can buy. It's not that Karen is more human than ever; it's that the truce between her limitations and appetites encompasses sloganeering far beyond what Romeo Void and Le Tigre's logocentric approach. Until the pillowy "Hysteric" the middle stretch sticks to their midtempo bellow-and-belch, but they've earned it; the electro-Burundi of "Shame and Fortune," "Zero" and especially song-of-the-year "Heads Will Roll" open possibilities promising enough to make the band stop in its tracks. I can't wait until Hot Chip or Aeroplane loops the "Off off with your head/dance dance dance till your dead" part in "Heads Will Roll" into infinity (btw: "You are chrome" is Gary Numan-worthy), reminding Karen and her two indie cohorts that getting lost in music pays better dividends than pretending it's a backdrop. Faults and all, I love this fucking thing.


Another one of those Death of the Album essays.
If you were honest how many albums do you own that demand to be listened to from beginning to end? AV Club recently came up with a list of 25, some of which I agree with and Rolling Stone, Spin and other mags regularly post their lists of the “all time greatest albums” whether its 100 or 50 or less. My band Gang Of Four’s album Entertainment!is often featured on these lists but take it from me it has its flaws. The problem with lists and suggestions is that they are all subjective. Being engaged by music requires too much of a personal commitment on an emotional level for anyone to be able to provide an ultimate list
No shit.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Libraries adapt to depressed times. I've seen this: vagrants learning to use the Internet so they don't lose their temporary homes. I can sympathize. My mother taught me to revere libraries. The same afternoon she acquired a child's library card for me when I was six marked the day when I really started to become acquainted with myself. More than bookstores, more than alcohol, my university and local branches shaped the contours of my hedonism. I experimented without mercy, gorged without limits, tested the limits of my endurance, and forged lasting and temporary relationships. What are books for besides creating a sense of interiority?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Moment of Surrender

In one of my favorites of his recent work, SFJ combs over U2's peculiar anti-charm. "The band has done relatively few cover versions, a tacit acknowledgment that its gift is peculiar and limited, despite its potency," he asserts, although the first clause doesn't necessarily lead to that conclusion.

As Mick Jagger has no doubt told Bono on many occasions, being a public figure is hell on your observational powers; it's difficult to concentrate on subtleties of human behavior when your fellow public figures speak in slogans and ad man propaganda. I can't discount the diminishing returns of the Eno-Lanois partnership either. While the latter is a supplicant to U2's idea of itself (rock stars who are Dublin boys Underneath It All), the former's choice of clients lately suggests a quiet panic about the currency of his aesthetic methods; it's possible that the keyboard blips and loops and illusion of endless space Eno always brings to a U2 project represent the return to first principles in which every self-styled intellectual revels, like one of those volcanic muds that spa employees smear over your pores. Ye Olde Rolling Stones have often produced compelling work at war with itself (and themselves) because the conservative forces at work in the band fulfill the late William F. Buckley, Jr.'s dictum. But U2 don't stand athwart history – they conceive themselves as history (has any band trafficked so long in pseudo-sheepish interviews about the role of thinking man's stadium rock?). Meanwhile the band's rootlessness produces gestures of rock inclusiveness like "Vertigo" and "Get On Your Boots" as hollow as the hole in the Edge's guitar.

I can't think of a band in so heartbreaking a position. Although I only started getting them with the Achtung Baby-Zooropa double shot that will likely remain their lasting achievements, it wasn't until I read Bill Flanagan's U2 At the End of the World that I was ready to give their back catalogue the benefit of the doubt. Flanagan's U2 is so self-aware yet so wide-eyed. Bono sounded like the missing link between Irish and Cuban shit-talkers. They were irresistible (then), so it disappointed me when every subsequent album failed to match the flawed, very interesting people Flanagan wrote about. Pop, All That You Can't Leave Behind, and How To Dismantle an Atom Bomb were lapidary efforts by a band on permanent holiday from itself, the work of dilettantes devoted to a work ethic that too closely mirrored the grind of democratic politicians on both sides of the Atlantic; like senators who likes to pretend they're not in safe seats, they immerse themselves in "policy" and parliamentary minutia to prove they've mastered an issue. Telling Edge to play the blues and getting away with American flag jacket linings, each incident thirteen years apart – the permanent campaign.

Hello April

Others taught me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.

Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths--and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

– Robert Frost, "For Once, Then Something"