Charming Hostess


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1. Meister of Kultur 1:26
2. Gershom is Schocked 2:46
3. Fortress Moscow 2:52
4. Eskimo Suit 1:56
5. The Secondary Purpose 1:28
6. Still Holding Out 1:56
7. Hebrew Textbook 1:28
8. Touch of Her Hands 2:40
9. Bread and Circuses 2:30
10. The Moon and Asja 1:50
11. Dream of Me 3:52
12. Sicily 4:20

Short-Lived Love Songs
13. Guinea Tea :26
14. Social Contract 1:00
15. Bed/Café 1:55

Traditional Jewish Songs
16. Dame la Mano 2:28
17. Durme, Durme 2:22
18. Mi Dimandas 2:22
19. Adir Hu 2:35


1. Meister of Culture

That captialism sucked, we didn’t even have to discuss. He was against capitalism and had lost faith in the Tolstoyan idea of moral self-development. He was for a violent overthrow of the capitalist state. I met many intellectuals in Germany at that time who thought like this.
Often we would have the following dialogue. I would say:
“You are smart, you have a field of knowledge, you have an education, but you have no material foundation for existence!”
Walter was silent.
I would continue:
“You know, in Riga, I was poor too.
Because I was struggling against the bourgeois state and they brought all the forces of capital out to fight me.
But where do you stand, Meister of Culture?
Your brother is in the communist party, why not you?”



2. Gershom is Schocked
—Text partially based on Gershom (Gerhardt) Scholem’s intro to the Moscow Diary. Scholem was Benjamin’s best friend; he disapproved of Asja and didn’t understand their relationship.

G: Watch a couple lacking joy and easy courtship, looking at frustration and the city as a fortress. They’re almost always adversarial and she is so elusive she is slippery, slutty, slatternly she wants a new dress.
Continually rejecting the man, and standing him up again and again, he’s asking himself, “Well what can I do, if she might show up I’m not waiting in vain…” She’s enigmatic, baffling, an erotic cynic--
Grasping and quarrelsome, unresolved, diffident, hostile, cruel and sick.
A: You can’t say the attachment was easy-In fact at first the whole thing made me kinda queasy. The man is so obsessed with tragedy
He never learned how to romance a lady! Gerhardt, you can call me a cynic, but your buddy here is downright pathetic.
Gerhardt, you’ll never get this man to Palestine: I’m the queen of Moscow and he is mine.



3. Fortress Moscow

For me Moscow remains a fortress. The climate is harsh and I don’t speak the language, Reich is always there. Asja’s life is boxed in on every side: by Reich, by me, by poverty, by Daga, work and illness. By the attentions of a Red Army general and the exigencies of this revolution, which has made a people’s court of every building. But we can’t read ahead—walls within walls within walls.


4. Eskimo Suit
—imagined Asja

In the diary, Walter and Asja walk by a Siberian fur suit in a store window. Asja wants it, and Walter can’t afford it.

W: Well, 250 rubles seems like a lot for an Eskimo suit. If I got you that, I’d have to leave right off.
A: I want a basket of fruit and I want some high leather boots and
I want a basket of fruit and an eskimo suit
I want a lebanese oud and I want some home-made food and
I want a much better mood and I want an eskimo suit
I want a brand new dress.
When I’m with you, I am 9 feet long and I’m made of fur, I’m covered with pearls. And I’m sweating.
I want a question that’s moot. I want a javanese flute
I’m saying no loot, no voot. I want a green parachute
I want a chicory root. I want a little rooty toot
Iwant a brand new dress



5. The Secondary Purpose

Whether I achieve the secondary purpose of my journey—to escape the deadly melancholy Christmas—that remains to be seen.



6. If I am Still Holding Out Fairly Well

If I am still holding out fairly well, it is because despite everything, I recognize Asja’s attachment to me. The long gazes she directs at me—I cannot remember a woman granting gazes or kisses this long—have lost none of their power over me.



7. Hebrew Textbook

One time, Benjamin was carrying a Hebrew textbook. He said his friend Scholem was trying to talk him into moving to Palestine, where he would have a steady job. So with that in mind, he was trying to learn Hebrew.
I was speechless! And then I yelled at him:
“The way of any right thinking, progressive person leads to Moscow, not Palestine!”
I feel confident saying that because of me, Benjamin did not move to Palestine.



8. The Touch of Her Hands

Asja lay down on the bed. We kissed at length.
But the thing that excited me most was the touch of her hands.
I placed my right palm directly against her left one
And we stayed in that position a long time.



9. Bread and Circuses

Benjamin accompanied me to a festival in Capri.
(I was with Daga on the piazza, tried to buy almonds, he helped with Italian. Escorting me home, the packages fell from his
Hands were clumsy, spectacles threw sparks like small spotlights
Thick dark hair and narrow nose)
Fireworks in various colors exploded and their images were doubled: Above in the sky and below in the sea. We were hypnotized. He said:
That costs the state a lot of money!
Those in power know that it’s worth it.
The people need not only bread, but also circuses. 10. The Moon and Asja--Walter Will I always look at the moon and think of Asja?



11. Dream of Me
—imagined Asja

Susan Buck-Morss, in her book The Dialectic of Seeing about Benjamin’s Arcades Project, describes Asja’s frustration with Walter’s nebbishy behavior. She suggests the potential longing for more of a John Reed character, less of a rootless cosmopolitan. When Asja and Walter met, he was married with a son. She had two lovers and a daughter.

I won’t break up your home, I got one of my own
I ask but favor one: Just that you dream of me
Your wife is beautiful and true. She will not do the things you do to her to you. I give her all her due. But will you dream of me?
Oh will you dream of me when you close your eyes?
Go on, let Gerhardt judge me cuz I let Bernhard touch me. I tell you what: He couldn’t budge me if you would dream of me.
I’m not an arcade in gay Paris. I’m neither phantasm nor fetish nor commodity. I’m just the real thing, baby—free! And all I’m asking for is just a little bit of your dream state, baby.
A loving father to your boy. A pride and joy above all other joy.
It’s good to give him every waking bit of time
But when you close your eyes, let me come to mind
I dreamt I had you in my bed. I dreamt you had me on all fours.
I dreamt you fucked me like John Reed, and I’m a good red—I pushed back and begged for more. I dreamed the vanguard of the left she came so hard she had to scream--
So now close your eyes and dig the dream that I dream
Come on and dream of me when you close your eyes.


12. Sicily

The air fare is prohibitive and I don’t speak the language
The culture’s not near or dear to me but I wanna go to Sicily
Charlie Luciano took a ride--an ice pick in the throat and he survived. No wonder they called him Lucky-- an original gangster from Trapani. That’s his home town in Sicily
Back at home there’s two kinds of pizza--Sicilian is better and it costs more. Everybody else can go to Napoli. I’ll go by myself to Sicily
I wanna go to Sicily
I want to be strong, to be ready to be alone ,to swing from trees and not fall down. I’m keeping it real like a ministering angel. Cuz I’m amazed that somebody dumb as me is still alive to tell the tale
Paradise disguised as hell/Hell disguised as paradise. I can see it with my own eyes. I can see the times I lied to me.
I’ll go by myself to Sicily



13. Guinea Tea

Sitting at the kitchen table, watching him eat my food
He is wearing what he calls a “guinea T”
Others call it a “wife-beater”
But he would never do that.
He could take me away
I was hoping he would take me away
But he would never do that.

14. Social Contract

I don’t need anything
And I don’t like anyone who needs anything
I don’t need anyone
And I don’t like anything
Who needs anyone?
Who needs anything?
I’ll always be ambivalent
If you don’t like it stay away
You’ll be less frustrated if you take things more day to day.
(just do things my way)


15. The Bed, The Café

I can be here in your bed. I can go to a café. But I can’t be in your bed and go to a café—that’s too serious.




16. Dame La Mano
If the sea was made of milk, and little boats of cinnamon, I would plunge in completely to save my darling
In the sea, there is a tower. In the tower, there is a window. In the window, there is a girl who calls down to the women
Give me your hand, my dove, so I can come into your nest. Unfortunate is the one who sleeps alone! Come sleep with me.


17. Durme, Durme
Sleep, sleep my little one, sleep well. Close your lustrous eyes and sleep. When you wake you will study Torah.


18. Mi Dimandas
I have few demands. I want a house with a window I can leave out of. I want a bath attendant with sandals.


19. Adir Hu
God, mighty and powerful, hear my call and help me. Mend these breaches—that is my hope.


Text for songs 1,7,9 by Asja Lacis
Text for songs 3,5,8,10 by Walter Benjamin
Songs 16-19 Traditional
All other words and music by Jewlia Eisenberg.



The heart of this album is a setting of the work of Walter Benjamin (Marxist critic of aesthetics, philosophy and history) and Asja Lacis (Latvian Jewish firebrand and queen of agitprop).

I took Benjamin’s words from his Moscow Diary (1927)
His diary deals with a lot—the relationship of art to politics, what is radical art, what was Moscow like right after the revolution, Benjamin’s relationship to institutionalized socialism—but the emotional punch of the diary is provided by his insane love for the moody and diffident Asja Lacis. He really documents all his feelings, full-on opening a window into his emotional life. It’s very powerful and desperate.
Benjamin’s diary offers the thrill of an intellectual Rocky—a little guy kvetching against everything stacked against him. He’s willing to fight the impossible odds (theme music comes up) but since he’s a Jewish Rocky, he’s bound to lose. It’s pretty pathetic, pretty poignant, pretty funny too, like Kafka, but in real life—a story of love, politics, and the collection of toys, set among the Moscow art intelligentsia right after the revolution.

Asja Lacis’ autobiography, Professional Revolutionary, had not been translated when I started this project. Kristen Kopp, an old friend from anarchist commune days, did a translation, so it’s brand new and exciting. Professional Revolutionary is a strange piece of work: Published in 1972, it’s 1/3 Soviet propaganda, 1/3 addled rambling , 1/3 compelling fragments about this fiery charismatic and her cool radical circle of friends. She talks about herself in the most impersonal way imaginable, only including things that are important politically, and those in a very scattered way. In between she includes all sorts of seemingly meaningless details, like what kind of dress a communist functionary’s wife was wearing, or how Benjamin felt about her rug. (She mostly refers to him as Benjamin, not Walter, even though they were boning.)

Weirdly, there is no emotional reportage at all—no insight into any human relationship. We might expect some light shed on her strange triangle with Benjamin and her main squeeze, Bernhard Reich. Another thing you might expect to hear about is the shaky health and well-being of her daughter Daga. Or maybe a mention of Lacis’ own health—we know from Benjamin that she had a nervous breakdown in 1927 and was hospitalized. But why? And how did it affect her? How did she really feel about Benjamin, about Reich, and about the Red Army general she was also involved with? What was the relationship between her work and her romantic life? Between the children she worked with and her own child? All these questions are posed by the facts of her life, but addressed neither by Lacis or Benjamin. I ended up writing in Asja’s words a lot, trying to read her motivations through her actions, and writing about her mysterious inner life.

What held the most interest for me was Lacis’ work—organizing a workers’ theater, writing subversive plays with children, making speeches to packed halls, fleeing the forces of fascism and resisting bourgeoisie. She was a pioneer art-Bolshevik, deeply invested in the Soviet state and working with everyday people and brilliant artists, philosophers, and political thinkers to bring forth a revolutionary union of progress, justice, and art. Sadly, Professional Revolutionary does not have enough about the real nuts and bolts of any of this. We hear some propagandistic and revisionist patter about some of her work, but the visceral fears and pleasures that one expects with the life she describes are not there. I can’t imagine Benjamin being in love with the author of her autobiography—she’s way too dogmatic and flat. According to his diary she is an impassioned debater and also a good listener. When we read their collaborative work, it’s funny and trenchant. None of this shows up in her description of herself.

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Last updated October 25, 2014 Charming Hostess