The Mountain Goats’ “Foreign Object: An Unofficial Fan Slideshow

The Mountain Goats’ “Foreign Object: An Unofficial Fan Slideshow

I got interested in The Mountain Goats from hearing Steven Page’s cover of “Lion’s Teeth” on the A Singer Must Die album. They have a varied catalog, which I’ve only scratched the surface of, but I was quite charmed by their 2015 bBeat the Champ  album, singer-songwriter John Darnielle’s tribute to the professional wrestling he was fascinated by as a child and an adolescent, a lifeline to hold on to in his abusive home and school environment.  Although I don’t think my childhood was a horrific as Mr. Darnielle’s, I do remember how weirdly important professional wrestling seemed (this was way before I read Roland Barthes), in that it always threatened to make sense of the chaos of reality, although often resolving into more chaos (which had the odd effect of making it seem both more scripted and more authentic). If you have memories of seventies and eighties professional wrestling, you might find this fun; if not, it may be sort of horrifying. In any event, don’t try this at home.

“Take it Outside”: An Unofficial BNL Slideshow (with a guest appearance by Me)

“Take it Outside”: An Unofficial BNL Slideshow (with a guest appearance by Me)

“Take it Outside” is a song from Everything to Everyone (2004), an album I have always liked. An intriguingly unromantic song about the price of romance and squaring that with personal integrity (this is my unironic reading of the song; however, I realize I could interpret ironically, with the speaker as the target), “Take it Outside” illustrates Ed’s increasing skill and confidence at songwriting following the global success of Stunt. I find it interesting because in my interpretation it explores a kind of heroism not usually celebrated in Hollywood movies. The last section is mostly photos I took when I saw them in Las Vegas last month. As it was an outdoor concert, it literally takes it “outside,” although to celebrate rather than fight. Anyway, I present it with apologies for putting myself in at the end, (I just couldn’t resist), and I hope you enjoy what I have always found to be a rather thought provoking song.

Lucy Wainwright Roche’s “Bridge”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Lucy Wainwright Roche’s “Bridge”: An Unofficial Slideshow

This is a lovely little song that is actually the first song on Lucy Wainwright Roche’s first ep, “8 songs,” from 2007. In some ways it is about the difficulties of reaching out in order to connect with other people, but it could probably applied to cultures and people more generally. Lucy’s voice also has some beautiful warm tones that further underscores the song’s message. Oddly enough (and I’m not quite sure why this seems relevant), Lucy was actually a teacher before she was drawn into the family business of folk music (on both her mother and father’s side). In any event, I’m glad she made that choice.

Martha Wainwright performs “I Am a Diamond”: An Unofficial Slideshow About Cassie Chadwick

Martha Wainwright performs “I Am a Diamond”: An Unofficial Slideshow About Cassie Chadwick

This is Martha’s performance of “I Am a Diamond,” a song by her late mother–Kate McGarrigle, and two aunts, Anna and Jane. This recording is actually from Sing Me the Songs that Say I Love You, which is a recording (available on CD and DVD) of a memorial concert for Kate. Her brother Rufus takes second lead, singing in a remarkably high register. The sisters apparently wrote the song for an intended musical about the life of Cassie Chadwick, which unfortunately was never produced. Originally born as Elizabeth Bigley in Eastwood, Ontario in 1857, she seems to have been involved in check fraud while still an adolescent and then followed her sister Alice down to Cleveland Ohilo in 1875. Here she  assumed the first of a series of alternate identities, as Madame Lydia Devere, a clairvoyant, which she seems to have financed with fraudulent bank loans. After a brief marriage to Dr. Wallace Springsteen in 1882 (he filed for divorce after being confronted with her bad debts), she set her self up as Madame Marie LaRose, another clairvoyant, meeting her next husband, John Scott, who she married in 1883, but only after getting him to sign a prenuptial agreement. She filed for divorce in 1887, citing adultery (seemingly her own).

Between 1889-93 she served four years in prison for forgery at the Toledo penitentiary, and then returned to Cleveland where, under the name of Mrs. Cassie Hoover, she set up a brothel on the west side of the city. At this place of business, she met her fourt husband, wealthy widower Dr. Leroy Chadwick, whose patients included many of the cities elite, some of whom had elaborate mansions on Euclid Avenue, also known as Cleveland’s “Millionare’s Row.”  After marrying him in 1897, she asked a lawyer friend of her husband to take her to the home of Andrew Carnegie (one of the richest men in America at the time) , where she apparently checked (or pretended to check) the credentials of her housekeeper. When she came back she “accidentally” dropped a paper, which the lawyer took up; he was rather taken aback to see that it was a promoisssary note for $2,000,000 with Andrew Carnegie’s signature. After swearing the lawyer to secrecy, she “revealed” she was Carnegie’s illegitimate child, who showered huge amounts of money on her. The lawyer gallantly arranged for a safety deposit box for this promissary note, which was apparently one of many.

As secrets will, this one leaked out and Ohio banks began to offer her their services, which she availed herself of, securing some $20,000,000 in loans over the next eight years. She correctly guessed that no one would ask Carnegie for fear of offending him, and the interest rates on the loans was so usorious that the bankeers were hesitant to admit to granting them. For eight years, Cassie enjoyed the high life, buying diamond necklaces, thirty closets of clothes, and a gold organ, earning the nickname of “Queen of Cleveland.”  Af the end of 1904 it all came crashing down when one of the bankers finally called a loan in; Dr. Chadwick filed for divorce and left for a European tour; and Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin was forced into bankruptcy. She was sentenced to fourteen years in prison and a substantial fine, but died after serving less than two years, in October 1907. (The above is basically and abreviated version of her Wikipedia page).  I hope the background is useful in making sense of the slideshow, if not necessarily of her character, although the McGarrigles’ lovely song offers an intriguing and sympathetic perspective upon it, further enhanced by Martha’s evocative vocals.

Lucy Wainwright Roche’s “Last Time”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Lucy Wainwright Roche’s “Last Time”: An Unofficial Slideshow

This is the first slideshow I have done for Lucy Wainwright Roche, Loudon’s daughter with his second wife Suzzy Roche. She is a memember of the Roche sisters, a talented folk trio, and she and Loudon obviously passed a selection of their musical gifts down to Lucy. Lucy has another studio album coming out in a few months, which I pre-ordered, and it got me listening again to her previous one from six years ago, There’s a Last Time for Everything. Her approach is completely different–almost opposite–to Rufus and Martha, who tend to do a kind of frontal assault on your emotions. Lucy tends to invite you to a comfortable, slightly nosalgic place and tends to win you over with her endearing sense of humor and remarkable warm tones. Anyway, this is a song called “Last Time” which I interpreted to be about the loss of the close childhood friendships. You could also probably interpret it as a song about the end of almost any close relationship, but I think my approach works reasonably well. Hope you like it.

Rufus Wainwright’s “Little Sister”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Rufus Wainwright’s “Little Sister”: An Unofficial Slideshow

“Little Sister” is Rufus in high classical mode, with very symmetrical violin figures. This makes sense, as I am fairly sure that the song is–at least in part–about the relationship between Wolfgang Mozart and his sister, Marie (aka “Nannerl”). She was actually four and a half years older than he was, and he first became interested in music watching his father Leopold tutor her. She too was a musical prodigy (esp. on the harpsichord), and she too toured the courts of Europe with her father and brother. Occasionally, she even seems to have gotten top billing. Unfortunately, she got older, was forbidden by her father to marry the relatively impoverished man she loved, and forced to marry a rich old guy. She also wrote music, which her brother praised, although virtually none of it has survived. There’s even a French movie about her (which I haven’t seen yet). I bring this up, simply because some of the song’s lines actually make much better sense if you see them as being about Wolfgang and Nannerl.

Of course, it is also about Rufus and Martha (although I couldn’t find any pictures of them sitting at the piano together). I was particularly struck by the “have no shame” line, a line that Martha herself seems to be recalling when she describes her growing up (I imagine it was pretty hard to compete with Rufus for people’s attention). Anyway, I wanted to put this up in part to announce my new Unofficial: Martha Wainwright page

In any event, I hope people enjoy the slideshow, and I’m looking forward to seeing Rufus again at Belly Up in Solana Beach on May 24th (my first chance to see Rufus perform in a club!).

Martha Wainwright’s “Traveller”: A Tribute to Her Mother, Kate Mcgarrigle

Martha Wainwright’s “Traveller”: A Tribute to Her Mother, Kate Mcgarrigle

This is essentially a Mother’s Day post, although I must admit that it is also a misinterpretation.  I discovered only yesterday (on a Stingray interview) that
“Traveller” (from 2016’s Goodnight City album) is a song Martha wrote in response to the death of Thomas Bartlett’s brother, Ezra, from cancer at the age of forty in 2014 (Thomas co-produced and played piano on Goodnight City). I’ll include the interview as the first comment. It certainly changed the way I looked at the song.  I had always thought “Traveller” was about her Mother, Kate Mcgarrigle, who died of cancer in 2009, and certainly many of the lyrics would seem to apply quite well to her tragically early passing.  So well, in fact, that I am going to put it up as it is (I made the video-slideshow a couple of weeks ago), while acknowledging that it is in fact built upon a false premise. To me it seems okay to do this simply because the song speaks so eloquently to anyone who has lost someone in an untimely manner, but especially to cancer (which the song mentions). Ultimately, it may not be the most appropriate Mother’s Day post, but it feels right, and seems a fitting tribute to both Ezra Bartlett and Kate..

Angel City’s “Ivory Stairs”: An Unofficial Tribute to the new Legacy Museum

Angel City’s “Ivory Stairs”: An Unofficial Tribute to the new Legacy Museum

This slideshow is really the product of two different recent occurences. The first was the murder of  21 year-old Ebony Groves, 23 year-old Akilah DaSilva, 29 year-old Taurean C. Sanderlin, and 20 year-old Joe R. Perez. None of them were criminals. All were promising young people of potential, all killed by a relatively young white male with an AR-15. More probably would have been killed had not James Shaw Jr. acted heroically and grabbed the assault rife’s barrell with his hand and wrestled it away from the murderer. In mind, at any rate, it connected with other painful events, such as the shooting of 22 year-old Stephon Clark in Sacramento for holding a cell phone, or the killing of Walter Scott (which–highly unusually–resulted in a conviction for the officer involved). The other event that prompted me to make this slideshow was the opening of The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Downtown Montgomery, Alabama, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also in Montgomery. While I can’t say I ever had any desire to visit Montgomery before, I sort of do now. For some reason, I respond even more deeply to works of art than pictures on the news (it was only after making this, in fact, that I finally donated to the fund James Shaw Jr. had set up for the victims of the Waffle House Tragedy (There’s a link in the post below this one, if you are interested). The music is from Australian hard rock band Angel City, a track from their minor classic 1980 album Dark Room. I realize that the song is almost certainly about the difficulties of making it as a rock band in the music business, but it fits the general theme of the cultural and institional difficulities darker skinned people often have achieving success in America.

Martha Wainwright’s Proserpina: An Earth Day Slideshow

Martha Wainwright’s Proserpina: An Earth Day Slideshow

This seemed like an appropriate video-slideshow for Earth Day weekend. Martha actually has a lovely official video for this song, although this one takes a rather different approach, pushing it back in the direction of the original myth as well as the consequences of upsetting Mother Earth. Prosperpine, you may remember, is the daughter of Hera and is stung by a serpent. She is carried off to the underworld by Pluto. Hera pleads with Jupiter to bring her daughter back, and he agrees, but only on the condition Prosperina hadn’t eaten anything in Hades She had, unfortunately for Hera, eaten six pomegrante seeds (hence the pomegrante in Rossetti’s famous painting). Eventually it is decided that Prosperina will spend six months with her mother in the upper world, whose happiness is reflected in the warmth, fertility, and abudance of Spring and Summer, while the six remaining months (Fall and Winter) will be spend with Pluto in Hades. tt was apparently the last song Kate McGarrigle (Martha and Rufus’ mother) wrote before she died in 2009, so I imaginine it is quite a personal song for Martha, tragically expressive of a mother’s love for a daughter she will soon be separated from. I’m actually quite pleased with the slideshow, although only a few of the photos are ones that I took. It’s also my third Martha Wainwright video, which is now starting to look like an actual fan page.

If you are interested in my Unofficial: Martha Wainwright page, you can find it at this link here

 

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“Sunshine”: An Unofficial BNL Slideshow

“Sunshine” is an intriguingly complex song from Barenaked Ladies new Fake Nudes album about how the things we love can actually be harmful to us. While it has an obvious application to drugs and alchohol, I wonder if it couldn’t be said to be true about a lot of aspects of modern consumer culture. and even about individual human personalities (not everybody, perhaps, but possibly more than you might at first think). The slideshow probably makes the song a bit more about global issues than it actually is, although the larger application just seemed so glaringly obvious I couldn’t stop myself. It seems sort of appropriate with Earth Day coming up this weekend. Anyway, I hope you like the song and it’s accompanying slideshow, both of which seem almost painfully true, at least to me, although certainly not to everyone.

Donovan’s “Appearances”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Donovan’s “Appearances”: An Unofficial Slideshow

This is basically a video/slideshow that is a product of my visit to Ushuaia prison/museum in Patagonia last January. The prison hasn’t actually been in use in several decades; in fact, it has been turned into a museum by Chilean authorities. The building was basically designed as a panopticon, with five prison blocks radiating out from a central point, the idea being that you could keep all the prisoners under close surveillance from a single point. One of the blocks (included in the slideshow) has basically been preserved in its original state, although the cells are of course empty. Another block has been turned into a kind of prison museum, with each cell having an installation recounting a different aspect of the prison’s history or prison life. Another has art installations related to prison life, while another is a maritime museum, and a final one is a museum displaying the work of local artists, work that often focused on the heritage of the local indigenous peoples. I was and am quite entranced by the idea of turning a place of punishment, control, and incarceration into one of aesthetic pleasure, self-expression, and artistic freedom. It suggests the potential for a change for the better in both places and people, although I doubt it will be catching on in a big way any time soon. Anyway, I set all this in the context of Donovan’s lovely song, “Appearances,” from his Cosmic Wheels album. At least in my interpretation the song invites us to look beyond superficial differences and obstacles and towards the creation of a better, more just, and more beautiful tomorrow. In any event, I hope you like it, or at least listen to Donovan’s lovely song.

 

Cross My Heart: A Slideshow About Phil Ochs

Cross My Heart: A Slideshow About Phil Ochs

Today is the fifty-second anniversary of Phil Ochs’ death, and I thought I would repost this, which I have previously posted on the “50 Phil Ochs Fans Can’t Be Wrong” Facebook Group.  This slideshow is more or less a capsule biography of Phil’s life, set to live recording (I think from Montreal) of him singing “Cross My Heart,” a song that encapsulates the contradictions in Phil’s life, contradictions that ultimately led him to take his own life, contradictions that ultimately reflect those that the America still faces. This is in some sense a calling card for a larger project, essentially a two man stage show designed for a small theater, in which one actor (who would need to be a talented high tenor as well as a better than competent guitar player) would play Phil, and the other would the playing various people in his life, starting with his college roommate Jim Glover, a brief appearance as Bob Dylan, Phil’s second manager Arthur Gorson, Phil’s third manager (and brother) Michael Ochs, and Yippee Jerry Rubin. In the second half he would need to be an FBI agent, a prosecutor, Phil’s friend Andy Wickham, and Phil’s protege Sammy Walker. About half would be Phil’s songs, and about half would be dialogue drawn from Phil published and unpublished writers and papers, biographies about him, and his FBI file. I realized from the start that there will be many legal hurdles and permissions to secure, but I have bought theatrical performance rights for a single production run to Marc Eliot’s Death of a Rebel: A Biography of Phil Ochs, which the script draws heavily upon and am currently negotiating for performance rights to about fourteen songs. I hope to be talking to a potential director this week, and at least least get some hints about the audition process as I will need two strong actors, one of whom will also have to be a gifted singer and guitar player, and the other comfortable with quick changes of fairly varied characters. I realize that I will lose money on the project, which I am trying to keep small scale (only about ten performances in a very small theater, probably in North Hollywood or Pasadena). Nevertheless, it feels like something I need to at least try to do, simply because Phil’s songs and story touched me so deeply (I did see him once, but I will save story that for another post).

Anyway, the real reason for this post is the video below, which I compiled last June, when I first conceived of this play project, drawing on internet photographs and a few which I scanned from Eliot’s and Schumacher‘s biographies of him. It seems an appropriate memorial on this aniversary of his passing.

Donovan’s “Hey Gyp”/”Diggin the Future”:  An Unofficial Slideshow Video

Donovan’s “Hey Gyp”/”Diggin the Future”: An Unofficial Slideshow Video

This is really a composite of two different songs (or really, two different versions of the same song). The first is “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)” from the Fairy Tale album (1965), while the second is “Diggin the Future” from the Ritual Groove album (2010). Although forty-five years apart, they are sort of the first and second half of the same song. The first song seems to be about turning away from materialism (which would seem to include relatively “hard” psychedelic drugs) towards the world of the spirit and personal connection; the second seems to be about turning away from destructive behaviors toward the earth (carbon emissions, burning the rainforests) and reorienting ourselves towards an attitude of love and stewardship towards the earth, that just might–in turn–both heal itself and love us back. While none of these ideas would seem to be terribly popular these days, perhaps they should be. Anyway, I made this slideshow (with a couple of video clips) in order to get these help get these ideas across, although I think they are also very much part of Donovan’s original songs. I hope you like the slideshow, and perhaps even the ideas. In any case, Donovan’s songs are pretty cool.

“I’m the Man Who Rode a Mule Around the World”: An Unofficial LW3 Slideshow

“I’m the Man Who Rode a Mule Around the World”: An Unofficial LW3 Slideshow

This is my third “High Wide and Handsome: The Chairlie Poole Project slideshow. This is actually a traditional song that Charlie Poole recorded. It apparently exists in many different versions, my impression is that Loudon took verses from different versions, with the first three of so coming from Charlie’s version. Thus Loudon’s version (written with producer Dick Connette) is kind of a composite of a long ago American classic of traditional music (aka “old-timey” music). It is a sort of a variation on a tall tale, unstuck in time and space, travelling widely through world history although always returning to America. It’s supposed to be humorous, and I’ve tried to highlight the humor in my slideshow (I’m actually kind of proud of the way the film overlays turned out). By the way “rushing the can,” means to go get liquor in a bucket or can–I looked it up. I would hesitate to speculate on the “meaning” of this song, but it sure is a lot of fun.  I hope you think so too.

“Up in NYC”: An Unofficial LW3 Slideshow about Charlie Poole

“Up in NYC”: An Unofficial LW3 Slideshow about Charlie Poole

This is the second slideshow I’ve done based on a song from High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2nd Story Sound Records 2009). Where the first, Acres of Diamonds, was a song in Charlie’s vein (actually written by the album’s producer, Dick Connette), this is a song about an episode in Charlie’s life written by Loudon Wainwright III and Dick Connette. As far as it goes, it is pretty accurate.  Charlie’s band–Charlie, Posey Rorer, and Clarence Foust (aka The North Carolina Ramblers)–did go up to New York City from Passaic for an audition with Frank Walker of Columbia records, who was so impressed they cut four sides that very afternoon of Monday, July 27th, 1925. They were paid $25 a man ($75 total), with “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues,” selling 102.000 copies, a siginificant hit for the time. As the song details, Poole was reluctant to return and record more for a label that had paid less than a hundred dollars for recordings that had netted the Columbia more than $40,000 in sales. What the song does not say is that he and the Ramblers did return in 1926 with a better deal and recorded another eighteen tracks for Frank Walker.  The band broke up in an argument over royalties in 1928, but Charlie continued recording successful records with other musicians until the Depression hit, dying before his time at the end of a thirteen week bender in 1931.  {Virtually all of the information above is from the fascinating introductory booklet that comes with the 2 CD set}.

For St. Patrick’s Day: Donovan’s “Colours” (yes, green is one of them)

For St. Patrick’s Day: Donovan’s “Colours” (yes, green is one of them)

Here’s a slideshow mixed with a few film clips that I finished shortly before my Germany trip. The audio is actually from a late sixties or early seventies special that Donovan and Nana Mouskouri did for Greek TV. While there are other versions, this one had a beautiful delicacy I couldn’t resist. You ‘ll notice the last verse is missing , but I tried to compensate with some photos. I showed this to Donovan in Bochum (along with “Epistle to Derroll”), and he seemed to like it. I realize I have consciously shifted the song’s meaning from romantic to ecological, but I am pretty sure Donovan is okay with it. Hope you are too. An Happy St. Patrick’s Day (or, as I think of it, a celebration of all things green).

“Acres of Diamonds”: An Unofficial LW3 Slideshow

“Acres of Diamonds”: An Unofficial LW3 Slideshow

I am embarrassed to admit that I just listened to High Wide and Handsome; The Charlie Poole Project (2009) last week. I was really blown away by Loudon’s artistry, and I really ought to be used to it by now. The deep love of many kinds of folk music, the high spirits, and the dead on performances really did make it into a kind of career monument for Loudon (he won a Grammy for it as Best Traditional Folk album in 2009). I have to admit, I went on sort of a High Wide and Handsome binge and did three slideshows. This was the first one, “Acres of Diamonds,” which stood out both for its bluegrass bounce and infectious optimism. The phrase was made famous by motivational speaker Earl Nightingale as well as being the title of a much covered gospel song, but this tune was actually written Dick Connette, who produced the album. The guy with the banjo who is NOT Loudon is Charlie Poole, the high living but short lived country star and sometime bootlegger, Charlie Poole. The other one, is–of course–Loudon, who also appears looking mighty pleased in the last photo. The Bakersfield sign has nothing to do with the song, other than it vaguesly resembles the curve of a rainbow and is my hometown, and the attractive looking couple  who appear near the start of the final third are actually my parents, although I am not sure if the photo is from before or after they moved to Bakerfield. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this old timey style tune about good times in hard times.

Donovan’s “Everlasting Sea”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Donovan’s “Everlasting Sea”: An Unofficial Slideshow

I did this about a month ago. Since I hope to be seeing Donovan Monday in Hamburg, this seems like a good time to post it here.

I had been thinking about making this video during my trip through the southern hemisphere. I had even filmed long stretches of the ocean with the intent to use it as the video portion. Yesterday, however, I ran into this time lapse video by Preston Becker on You Tube. Not only was the timing very close to the song, it was also much better and more sophisticated than anything I had filmed. He also gives explicit permission for others to use it in their projects, so I took him at his word (thank you Preston). All I really did was put this together, adding Donovan’s song and stills of Linda Lawrence and of Donovan and Linda as overlays on the video. While this is somewhat similar to what I did with “Turquoise” (a song I have since discovered was actually not inspired by Linda, but by Joan Baez), I think its different enough to justify its existence. The lovely song alone is probably enough to do that (it’s from Sutras), with its haunting Cello (?) line.

My “Song of the Sea” tour plans have slightly changed. I’m still planning to meet a friend from northern Germany in Hamburg on March 5th where we’ll see Donavan that night and then off to Brühl (near Cologne) where I’ll be meeting a cousin and his wife who lives in a nearby town. Then I’ll be running back to Bochum, where Donovan’s concert has been rescheduled on the 7th (he’s been stuck in Ireland because of the horrendous weather). Anyway, I hope everyone is doing well and that you enjoy this gorgeous meditation on love.

Warren Zevon’s “Mohammed’s Radio”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Warren Zevon’s “Mohammed’s Radio”: An Unofficial Slideshow

I don’t really tend to identify Warren with upbeat, optimistic, feel-good songs. Nevertheless, “Mohammed’s Radio” feels like it belongs in this category.  The optimism is largely in the infectious chorus, with the verses detailing the quiet desperation of most people’s lives. The chorus however, seems to celebrate the capacity of music to reach across borders and differances in race, culture, and religion, and into the heart and mind of the listener. It can be transformative, although it does seem to be less so these days than it used to be (and yes, I realize how old that makes me sound). At least in Warren’s song, Mohammed’s Radio would seem to be a rock and roll station rather than a religious one which seems appropriate, simply because it seems like music has a much better shot at bringing people together than formal religious doctrines. Not that I would say that it is an anti-religious song, but simply that its focus falls upon the power of music to create community, even a temporary one, which is perhaps the most we can ask for these days.

 

Donovan’s “Epistle to Derroll”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Donovan’s “Epistle to Derroll”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Derroll Adams was a noted American banjo player, folksinger, and songwriter. When Donovan was in St. Albans in 1964, he would go down to London to see Derroll Adams or Bert Jansch performing in clubs around London. Derroll’s expatriate home base was in Antwerp, in Belgium. For Donovan, he was “a direct link to the American Folk– Revivial–he had known Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.”  In Donovan’s autobiography, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, he goes opn to say,

I wanted to know Derroll, and when we met we liked each other fine. In fact we bacame friends. I learned so much from Derroll even though he played banjo and I guitar. I would sit cross-legged on hotel carpets or in the tiled bathrooms (for the echo) and watch the master. He played in a delicate ‘frailing’ fashion, brushing the strings very gently and singing soothingly in his low sonorous voice. He touched each string with such tenderness, then seemed to pause to marvel at the sound that his banjo produced. I fell into altered states, following the one note fading. I was being taught by a master, instructed with no instruction. Awakened to the knowledge with no awakening. Amazed by his own plucking of one string, he would stop, turn to me, and say, ‘Donny . . . will ya listen to that, isn’t it beautiful?’ And it was. (61)

Here is a brief clip (all I could find) of Donovan playing with the Master:

“Epistle to Derroll” is from Donovan’s A Gift from a Flower to a Garden album, where it is the final cut. A lovely song about “The Banjoman,” it is filled with oceanic and cosmic imagery, as we go from the world of the starfish, to the silica on the beach (from which mirrors can be made), to the stars in the heavens. The song becomes a very clever commentary on the responsibilities and vagueries of fame, while at the same time a deeply affectionate tribute to Derroll and the musical tradition, skill, and kind-graciousness he was so well known for. This is rather different that anything I’ve done before, but I’m rather pleased with it. I hope you are too.

Donovan’s “Turquoise”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Donovan’s “Turquoise”: An Unofficial Slideshow

This is Donovan in romantic folkie mode, with some nice Dylanesque harmonica, in a song from “Fairy Tale.” It’s a lovely love song with some faint echoes of “Catch the Wind.” With no real justification, I made the slideshow about two things: Donovan’s relationship and eventual marriage to Linda Lawrence, and the color of the title (always implied but never mentioned in the lyrics). I’m not totally sure what they have in common other than that they are both beautiful. But maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s the point. Hope you like it:

Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World”: An Unofficial Slideshow (I’m actually in this one)

Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World”: An Unofficial Slideshow (I’m actually in this one)

Well, I’m back from my trip and–like many people–I came back with photos and videos. Faced with the dilemma of what to do with them and feeling the need to put together another Rufus slideshow, I decided to make a virtue of necessity and expose my talents as a photographer and filmmaker to the world. I’ve long been interested in doing one on “Oh What a World” from his Want One album. I actually conceived it as my second Rufus slideshow, after “Tiergarten” last summer. I think I originally thought of it as a New York song because of the repeated references to The New York Times. Made about six months later, this slideshow emphasizes the “world” in the title, although the visuals are almost all from the western hemisphere. Anyway, I now see it more as a song about aging, generational change, and the hectic pace and surreal nature of modern life. There is a faint ecological message, but it’s pretty muted and pretty easy to miss.

Just a warning, Rufus does appear in the slideshow, but almost entirely in the third and last section. When you get to the second section, after the train clip, DON”T PANIC–that odd bearded guy is actually me (I doubt Rufus will ever let himself go to that degree). The video clips of animals, Antartica, and Chile are all mine, as are the photographs of Argentina, Antartica, and Chile. There are also a couple of photographs of Havana, and of the Bridge to Nowhere in the Guthrie Theatre, as well as Symphony Hall in Minneapolis where I saw Rufus last December.The parents in the second section are mine, and the baby is actually my sister (on the grounds that most Caucasian babies more or less look like Winston Churchill). The transportation clips are mostly purchased from Videohive. I actually like it, with the song’s swaying rhythms rather nicely complementing the animal movements and even making my unsteady camerawork look like it might be deliberate. Hope you enjoy.

Warren Zevon’s “Fistful of Rain”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Warren Zevon’s “Fistful of Rain”: An Unofficial Slideshow

I should warn people in advance that this is not a funny slideshow, or even a romantic one, but rather Warren as social critic or–as I like to think of it–prophet. Not that I would argue that he was chosen by God to deliver the Word, but rather that Warren seems to have had such a keen understanding of the human character and its failings (and possibly he specialized in the American character), that he was able to see what was coming long before it had fully manifested itself. Surely “Fistful of Rain” is a song about our long and frutiless struggle to hold onto, even freeze the past in a particular idealized moment. As Jay Gatz tragically discovered (let’s see who picks up on that allusion), you can’t recreate the past, which is colored by emotions and memories, and probably never happened exactly as we now think it did. The yearning for it, nevertheless, is terribly powerful, sometimes to the point of seemingly obliterating any rational thought. .Certainly, that’s one way to explain why we are here now . . . where we are. Because of what Warren saw happening then (and perhaps foresaw happening even more in the future), trying ever so hard to do something ever so impossible, like holding onto to a fistful of rain.

“Sunshine”: An Unofficial BNL Slideshow

“Sunshine”: An Unofficial BNL Slideshow

“Sunshine” is an intriguingly complex song from Barenaked Ladies new Fake Nudes album about how the things we love can actually be harmful to us.  While it has an obvious application to drugs and alchohol, I wonder if it couldn’t be said to be true about a lot of  aspects of modern consumer culture. and even about individual human personalities (not everybody, perhaps, but possibly more than you might at first think). The slideshow probably makes the song a bit more about global issues than it actually is, although the larger application just seemed so glaringly obvious I couldn’t stop myself. I’m visiting Antartica (as well as Argentina and Chile), and all the evidence I’ve seen so far (both here and in many other parts of the world) suggests that global warming is real, not that any of my non-scientific observations are likely convince anyone, especially when the observations made by real scientists continue to fall on deaf ears. I made the slideshow before I left, and the polar bear pictures are from the North Pole, not Antarctica, obviously. Anyway, I hope you like the song and its accompanying slideshow, both of which seem almost painfully true, at least to me, if not to you.

Donovan’s “The Music Maker” (An Unofficial Slideshow)

I thought I would start the new year off with this track, a mid-seventies celebration of the joys of live music in general, and music festivals in particular from his Cosmic Wheels album. This seems appropriate in that I am hoping to attend more live music next year, and possibly even perform it once or twice, in addition to singing in the local UU Fellowship choir. This isn’t as irrelevant as it might sound in that I have actually never seen Donovan in concert (I’ve really only gotten back into his music during the last sixth months), and I am planning a brief visit to northwest Germany with the express intention of going to see a couple of his “Song of the Sea” concerts he’ll be doing in the first half of March. With luck, I’ll actually get to meet him in Bochun on March 3rd (I’m hoping for a photo with him I can post on the lower left corner of my website–the big photo will stay the same). Then I’ll be meeting a Facebook friend (we’re both big Phil Ochs fans) for dinner and go together to his concert March 5th in Hamburg. It’s not an area I know well (I’ve been to Cologne and Frankfurt airport, but that’s about it). I am hoping to shoot a lot of photographs and bits of footage which I think I’ll probably be able to use for short films and slideshows. I also hope to film a couple of songs, if that is allowed (it seems to usually be OK in the States as long as you aren’t using a professional quality camera, but this is Germany, and I’m sure I’ll be on my best behavior, especially since I suspect the US’s reputation is not especially high right now). If I can and they turn out, I’ll post them here. I apologize for an introduction that is really about me than Donovan, but I think the song is a pretty self-explanatory celebration of live music.

Warren Zevon’s “Empty Handed Heart”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Warren Zevon’s “Empty Handed Heart”: An Unofficial Slideshow

While this is an odd way to begin a year, it feels appropriate for what could be described as a beginning. More a look back at the failures of the past than the successes of the future, “Empty Handed Heart” is a song from Warren Zwvon’s Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School album. A marvelously self-aware love song about those bad choices a lot of people make (sometimes even us). It seems to at least hold out the possibility of a second chance, even a happy ending, while acknowledging that those are pretty rare. As a few people will notice, I sort of made it with Warren’s and Crystal’s story in the back of my mind, which sort of allowed me to emphasize the happy ending aspect, albeit a somewhat qualified one. I still find it a remarkably moving song, partly because I suspect it’s right. I believe that is Linda Rondstadt singing second descant in the last part, sounding near the peak of her powers. Hope you like it.

Loudon Wainwright III’s “Wine with Dinner”: An Unofficial Holiday Slideshow

Loudon Wainwright III’s “Wine with Dinner”: An Unofficial Holiday Slideshow

“Wine with Dinner,” as the title implies, is a drinking song. Back when I first heard it about 1976, it strucks me as a pro-drinking song, a defiant love letter to grain alcohol in the face physical, social, and psychological bad consequences. I suspect I saw it that way, because that is the way I wanted to see it, I wanted to believe drinking-to-excess was simply a heroically masculine way of thumbing your nose at death, while counting on that old saw about God loving drunks and fools to keep me safe (I’m sure I figured I was a Daily Double).  How you interpreted the song really depended on whether you focused on the verses (which catalogue the negative consequences of alcohol abuse) or on the chorus (which focuses on how drunks are often quite lucky).  While the alcoholic speaker is fairly obviously kidding himself, his arguments are pretty convincing if you’re kidding yourself too.  Although it isn’t included as part of this slideshow, Loudon’s T-Shirt album, where the song first appeared, also includes a reprise of the song at the album’s conclusion that includes an additional verse that rejects other forms of pharmacological abuse in favor John Barleycorn and his relatives, so the let’s-just-keep-on-partying message does get a bit more emphasis in the original context (it was the seventies, after all).  I now see the song as more darkly satirical than celebratory, and that darkness is by and large refected in this slideshow (I don’t claim my interpretation is any way definitive, please make your own, if you so desire).

Rufus Wainwright’s “Natasha”: An Unofficial Slideshow

I had the idea for this one while flying back from Minneapolis. I had always liked the song “Natasha”; it just had a lovely simplicity, and the implied theme, about the difficulty of opening yourself up to intimacy, of making yourself vulnerable to another person, was certainly one to which I could relate. In some ways, it also seems to be about beauty, which is underscored by the haunting melody. Although ballet is never referred to in the song, it just seemed to fit both the song’s almost awestruck appreciation of beauty, while at the same time constituting a kind of beautiful gift for the song’s subject (and recipient). In some ways, this is similar to the slideshow/video I did for “Hallelujah” in that it combines live performance (from Live at the Fillmore), with slides and film clips. I also used several overlays, and I think they worked very well this time, almost magically falling into place. In any event, It is as if Rufus has given us a gift, and I’ve taken it and dressed it up, trying to highlight some of its beauties, even to in a small way visualize them. I hope you like it.

“In the Bleak Midwinter”: An Unofficial Slideshow

“In the Bleak Midwinter”: An Unofficial Slideshow

It may be that after “I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas,” I was feeling the need to balance out my Christmas karma, but mostly I was just poking around YouTube listening to various Rufus Wainwright tracks and I ran into this, which is actually from Renee Fleming’s 2014 album, Christmas in New York. The album is basically composed of duets between Renee and another artist, and “In the Bleak Midwinter” is the one song she does with Rufus. It’s also a lovely poem which I distantly remember from my school days, composed by Christina Rossetti of Goblin Market fame.  The sad and slightly stern woman who appears twice in the slideshow  is Christina (she’s the speaker, and I use those stills of her when she talks about “I”). While I’m not quite sure, I think the heart shaped key fob that appears near the end of the slideshow may actually be Ms. Rossetti’s. The music is by Gustav Holst, who some will remember as the composer of The Planets. I was trying to achieve a sombre but reverent mood, in keeping with the tone of the song, and I hope I have come close to achieving it, but obviously the final arbiter wil always be the audience.

Rufus Wainwright’s WW III: An Unofficial Slideshow

Rufus Wainwright’s WW III: An Unofficial Slideshow

This is a real change of pace, but it’s kind of an unusual song for Rufus, one that I suspect he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. Written with Guy Chambers, “WW III” was intended to be a pop song, although the subject of global apocalypse is an unusual choice for someone interested in pop success. It actually appears on the second disc of the deluxe edition of Rufus’ “Best of” album. Since I pretty much had all of Rufus’ major lp releases, I never really bothered to listen to “Best of” collection and–in fact–only heard this song for the first time a few weeks ago. I was immediately struck by its beautiful piano line and the remarkable criss-crossing, building harmonies of the conclusion. The subject was also arresting, in that Rufus doesn’t usually write songs with such an overt political meaning (“Going to a Town” would be the exception). Granted, there is a romantic layer, but the song comes across as about 70% geopolitical. In the YouTube comments to the original video, I can see some people found the lyrics rather awkward (e.g. “Don’t bore us / Get to the chorus”), but I actually see them as an astute expression of the limits audience’s can impose on pop stars; people who want catchy hooks, not bleak ruminations about coming disaster. It is, of course, very Rufus-like to express all of these complexities and contradictions in a pop song, and a breathtakingly beautiful one at that. Hope you like it.

Loudon Wainwright III’s “I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Loudon Wainwright III’s “I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Loudon has long had an affinity for holiday songs that take slightly unusual perspectives. Family dinners (“Tnanksgiving“), the 1st day of April (“April Fools Day Morn“), and of course throwing out the old christmas tree at year’s end (“Suddenly It’s Christmas“), I was seriously considering the latter song as a possible topic for a slideshow when I ran into this one, again (like “Brand New Dance“) from Loudon’s 2014 studio album, Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). It takes a rather different approach to the holiday, and is in fact the darkest Christmas song I can think of off hand (I suppose “Granda Got Run Over By a Reindeer” might be sort of in the same ballpark).  Rather unusually for Loudon, it seems to come close to taking a stand on a controversial social issue, albeit an ironic stand. Apparently, at least in the U.S., Christmas day is among the most violent of the year, although less so than New Year’s (the safest day, strangely, is January 5th, presumably everybody is either too pooped from assaulting people on New Year’s, or just too hung over to commit any more crimes). The murders directly referenced in the slideshow are the Lawson Family murders (Germantown, North Carolina, 1929), the Covina Massacre (2009), and, with the stills at the end largely being of people who had the misfortune to be murdered around Christmas (including JonBenet Ramsey, who actually did not die from a gunshot).  A number are from holdiay themed horror films (the Covina Massacre, which included a murderer in a Santa Suit and a home-made flame thrower, was for instance is referenced in the 2012 film, Silent Night, where a number of the stills come from). Most of the other photos are from advertisements or Christmas cards people have posted on the web, and are probably in no way intended the be ironic.  While I admit to a certain curiousity about what comments I’ll get (if any), it’s a curiousity tempered by sadness in that I have pretty good idea about what a number of them will probably be. But hey, it wouldn’t be a family holiday without a few death threats.

 

Slideshows about Cats and Babies: Things to be thankful for (sort of)

Slideshows about Cats and Babies: Things to be thankful for (sort of)

This one is pretty self-explanatory (it originally appeared on my Unofficial Joe Walsh Cat Video page).  It’s just one of those costs that comes from being a cat guardian, and it still seems like we humans are getting the better deal. The song is from Joe Walsh’s Analog Man album. Hope you enjoy. (and make sure your kitties know you are thankful for them this week).

While on the subject of adorable creatures who sometimes drive us crazy, here’s a charming song by The Wainwright Sisters (Martha and Lucy Wainwright Roche) that appears on their Watching the Dark album (the song was originally composed by Rosalie Sorrels). “Baby Rocking Medley” (aka “Hostile Baby Rocking Medley” and “Hostile Baby Rocking Song) is great fun, but you probably shouldn’t take it too seriously. Let’s face it, the original lullaby has some rather dark undertones (what’s that baby doing up in the tree anyway?) Hope you enjoy it.

Elbow’s “My Sad Captains” (live) and “The Night Will Always Win” (Unofficial Slideshow)

Elbow’s “My Sad Captains” (live) and “The Night Will Always Win” (Unofficial Slideshow)

Ever since I first saw and heard Elbow on an episode of Live from Abbey Road, I felt an immediate connection with the band. Not because we were from similar backgrounds or anything, because I recognized the beauty in what they were doing, and I’m pretty sure they recognized it too, although they were modest about it. They are a top ten band in the UK, filling stadiums and large halls, but tending to play small halls and large clubs in the U.S. Last week, I had the good fortune to see them first in a large club (The Observatory in Santa Ana) and then in a large hall (The Wiltern in Hollywood).  Here’s a nice version of “The Bones of You” from  their performance in Orange County Tuesday night.

And here’s a lovely version of “One Day Like This” from The Wiltern on Thursday:

Here’s the one Elbow slideshow I haven’t yet posted here, and its probably the least interesting in that it doesn’t really evolve or develop as much as it needs to.  Still it’s a lovely song from the band, taken from a sensitive performance of it in 2015 on YouTube. I don’t think it’s terrible, but coming after “Scattered Black and Whites,” which I really think of as my best slideshow to date, it was a bit of a let down.

Elbow’s “Newborn”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Elbow’s “Newborn”: An Unofficial Slideshow

As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of this band, although they aren’t especially well known in the U.S.  I believe I first became aware of them when they appeared on an episode of Live from Abbey Road. I was impressed enough to buy their new album at the time, The Seldom Seen Kid, and was even more impressed by their i-tusnes concert. After Build a Rocket Boys, I was a fan, and after seeing them in oncert at The Wiltern on The Takeoff and Landing of Everything tour, I became a devoted follower of this Manchester band.  Guy Garvey’s voice–rather like Rufus Wainwright’s although their voices aren’t that similar–just connects with me on some deep level.  Their arrangements are intriguing, varied, and not really like anbody else, while their lyrics are deeply evocative of  memories and emotions I had thought were private. I’ll be seeing them twice this week–once tonight in Santa Ana at The Observatory, and then on Thursday at The Wiltern. Their fans seem like genuinely nice and friendly people, an attitude the band seems to consciously foster by, for example, encouraging fans to post band-related material to their Facebook group..  This slideshow consciously recalls some of my other Elbow slideshows, including “Lost Worker Bee,” “Kindling (Fickle Flame),” “Scattered Black and Whites” (which frankly I consider my best slideshow to date), and “The Night Will Always Win.” The audio for Newborn is an extended version of the song from a Kendall Calling performance in 2015 (the song originally appeared on Asleep in the Back [2001]).

Donovan’s “Poorman’s Sunshine”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Donovan’s “Poorman’s Sunshine”: An Unofficial Slideshow

“Poorman’s Sunshine” is a track from Donovan’s Beat Cafe album (2004). A very intriguing album that revisits Donovan’s  early experiences with beat culture, this is a standout track, with some terrific upright bass playing and some simple yet fascinating lyrics, delivered with conviction by the Glaswegian bard. The slideshow was great fun to do, with the last section kind of deliberately recalling the Atlantis/1983 slideshow/video from a couple of months ago. Certainly part of the meaning of the song is that music can be a “poorman’s sunshine,” although I sort of expanded the meaning to suggest that sunshine–or happiness-exists wherever you find it, which is probably true for everyone, but it is probably more true for those living on the margins. Anyway, I hope you like it (I’m really quite proud of myself for this one), but even if you don’t, just close your eyes and groove on this fantastic, little-heard song.

Death Cab for Cutie’s “The Ice is Growing Thinner”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Death Cab for Cutie’s “The Ice is Growing Thinner”: An Unofficial Slideshow

This is my second DCC slideshow in a week, although I don’t really have plans for creating a page (although I suppose I could let one of my current ones life fallow for awhile, and work on DCC instead).  Like “Long Division,” this is another song from Narrow Stairs, which probably remains my favorite Death Cab album. I’m actually I’m a little surprised I am making this, just because I expected there to be an official video out by now that explored the song’s dual frame of reference. I remember when I first heard it that I admired the way it cleverly used romantic distress as a way of also commenting on ecology, particularly the issue of global warming. However, I seem to be the only person who noticed this, which makes me wonder if the lyrics’ ambiguity is simply a product of my over active imagination. It would certainly be comforting to think so. Perhaps global warming is simply a mass delusion on the part of climate scientists. Again, it would certainly be comforting to so. Unfortunately, things that give us comfort also have great potential to mislead us, all the more so because we want to believe them. Oh well, here’s the slideshow:

Sammy Walker’s “Catcher in the Rye”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Sammy Walker’s “Catcher in the Rye”: An Unofficial Slideshow

This was a byproduct of my Phil Ochs’ play project.  Sammy Walker is a Georgia born folksinger who knew Phil during his last year or so in New York. Phil helped the young singer with contacts, and produced his first album, Songs for Patty, singing background vocals on a couple of the tracks. With a voice poised somewhere between Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, Sammy probably suffered from sounding a bit too much like these near mythic figures. He is also an excellent songwriter in his own right, recording several albums in the late 1970s and 1980s, as well as one in 2008.  While it has a number of excellent songs,  his first album includes this standout track, which is I think vaguely based on Salinger’s book. I have to admit my own memories of A Catcher in the Rye are pretty sketchy; it was one of those youth classics that I didn’t get around to reading until I was really too old to appreciate it (as I remember, I found Holden a bit pretentious and annoying).  This slideshow makes a major motif out of the sea, although I frankly don’t remember that in the book at all, and I think I probably make a bit too much out of the reference to the shoreline in the song’s chorus.  That’s Sammy and Phil in the picture above, circa 1975. His music is worth checking out, by the way, if you’re interested in folk music with an occasionally topical edge.

Death Cab for Cutie’s “Long Division”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Death Cab for Cutie’s “Long Division”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Like The Divine Comedy’s “Gin-Soaked Boy,” Death Cab for Cutie’s  “Long Division” is a remarkable song that inspired a slide show I am not really sure what to do with. I don’t really want to start up another Facebook fan page (six is enough), although I think Benjamin Gibbard is a very good songwriter, and occasionally brilliant. “Long Division” takes probably the most unpromsing subject possible–the mathematical technique of the title (which I’m not even sure if they still teach)–and uses it as a metaphorical foundation for a probing song about romance and basic human needs and anxieties. After all, who wants to be a remainder of one? Hope someone enjoys it:

Elbow’s “Scattered Black and Whites”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Elbow’s “Scattered Black and Whites”: An Unofficial Slideshow

I always loved the piano on Elbow’s “Scattered Black and Whites.” As Guy Garvey says somewhere (I think it is in the i-tunes interview), the song has a fairly simple melody and a rather monotonic vocal line that the keyboards sort of dip and weave around to remarkable effect. I had originally conceived of this slideshow as being almost entirely about abstract art, but as I listened to and looked up the lyrics, I realized that it was basically a memory song, with the speaker going into a reverie caused by smelling his sister’s perfume. The “scattered black and whites” are actually old photographs, and the song is to some extent about the claims the past (as embodied in old photographs, but also childhood memories) makes on us, calling out to us that they once existed, and that we need to visit and revisit them once in awhile. It’s like a seven minute version of Proust, and kind of breathtaking in how successful it is. I chose this version from Manchester Cathedral simply because the song seems rooted in Manchester, where several of the band members grew up. It was a really interesting exercise for me (kind of like Kathleen), in that I tried to keep to a very limited palette, except for the modern performance pictures of the band. I’m actually quite proud of it, possibly even more than for “Kindling (Fickle Flame).”. Hope you like it.

Here are the lyrics, by the way, which aren’t always that easy to make out:

Been climbing trees, I’ve skinned my knees
My hands are black, the sun is going down
She scruffs my hair in the kitchen steam
She’s listening to the dream I weaved today
Crosswords through the bathroom door
While someone sings the theme-tune to the news
And my sister buzzes through the room leaving perfume in the air
And that’s what triggered this
I come back here from time to time
I shelter here some days
A high-back chair, he sits and stares
A thousand yards and whistles
Marching-band (Boom-ching)
Kneeling by and speaking up
He reaches out and I take a
Massive hand.
Disjointed tales
That flit between short trousers
And a full dress uniform
And he talks of people ten years gone
like I’ve known them all my life
Like scattered black ‘n’ whites. (Elbow)

 

Loudon Wainwright III’s “Brand New Dance”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Cross-posted at my Unoffical: Loudon Wainwright III fan page. This is fairly dark song and slideshow, although leavened by a good deal of humor and a blast of rock and roll energy Although Loudon has written rock songs before (“At Both Ends,” “Watch Me Rock, I’m Over Thirty”), they don’t tend to be his signature songs. This rockabilly number is from Loudon’s 2014 album, Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet). It works remarkably well, and fuses nicely with Loudon’s tongue-in-cheek celebration of the “joys” of aging. Hope you enjoy the slideshow, although–like the song–it does raise some serious points.

Two Barenaked Ladies Slideshows about Mental Illness

Two Barenaked Ladies Slideshows about Mental Illness

[Previously posted–in slightly different form–on my Unofficial: Barenaked Ladies Facebook fan page.]  I am a little hesitant about putting this up, partly because I am very aware that I have consciously skewed the more or less straightforward meaning of this absolutely breathtaking song. The vast majority of the time, I try to be true to what seems to be the songwriter’s intent, and I realize I am opening myself up to very justifiable criticism by creating a visual context that actually alters this meaning (I certainly have sometimes criticized movies for not being faithful to their source, although much less so these days than in the past). I have done this in other slideshows a few times (Warren Zevon’s “They Moved the Moon” and Loudon Wainwright III’s “Unhappy Anniversary” come to mind), but it’s really the exception rather than the rule. The other reason for my hesitancy really has to do with how I altered the meaning, essentially taking a love song (albeit one with some darkly evocative undercurrents) and making it into a song about mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. Although I do not have this particular mental problem myself (yeah, I have others), I have known people who do, with the illness often manifesting in the late teens or early twenties. I hope the slideshow expresses empathy, if not always tact, and an understanding of the kind of pain and suffering that often seems to be beyond the victim’s control. I am certain I decided to take this approach in part because of last week’s “A Different Sort of Solitude” slideshow, which meant doing a little research about Steven and why he left BNL. He has said, apparently, he suffers from this condition, although I don’t know if that is a self-diagnosis or one made by a medical professional. Given my past experience with people who were bipolar, I suddenly began to see his leaving the group, this song, and especially the relationship between Steven and Ed, in a new light, and this slideshow is the first of the results of that.

 

This is a pretty direct followup to “What a Good Boy.” In fact, it makes explicit the idea I only implied in the earlier one, which is that you could interpret the song as being about Ed and Steven’s relationship. Ed has apparently said that he wrote the song below at least in part with Steven’s departure in mind, so I don’t think I am really bringing any thing to the song that isn’t there. Frankly, back when I first heard the song, which I immediately liked, I actually thought it was written from a parent to a child–it’s only very recently that I came to realize that it could be construed to be about relationships within the group. In some ways, if “What a Good Boy” gives you an inside perspective on being bipolar, “You Run Away” gives you an outside perspective, the perspective of those having to deal with the bipolar person. Having heard BNL’s new song, “Canada Dry” (its been officially released on YouTube now) which will be on their next album, I realize that it is a subject that continues to be on Ed’s mind (it’s also a fantastic song). I realize this is a sensitive subject for some BNL fans, with some people blaming one or the other of the parties involved, but I actually mean what I say at the slideshow’s end. All the best to all.

Two Donovan Slideshows about Children’s Rhymes

Two Donovan Slideshows about Children’s Rhymes

I always loved Lewis Carroll’s books, and my family had a couple of beautiful illustrated versions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass back when I was growing up. By the time I got through with them, I’m afraid, they looked considerably worse for wear. “Jabberwocky” has also become somewhat famous as an example of Victorian nonsense verse, which is actually a whole minor genre. The poem remains a wonderful example of the form, with a coherent story of coming of boy’s coming of age by means of the slaying of a mysterious yet horrible monster. Every boy needs to be called a “beamish boy” at least once in their lives. This is from Donovan’s HMS Donovan album, which is largely nursery rhymes and children’s poems set to music. The simple guitar pattern and swirling organ arrangement establish an air of mystery, while Donovan’s rather solemn delivery suggests what an earnest business this is for our unnamed hero. Hope you like it (to some extent, this slideshow was an excuse for me to explore Victorian book illustration).

This is the second of two slideshows inspired and accompanied by Donovan’s versions of nursery rhymes and children’s poems from his 1971 HMS Donovan album. I always rather liked this bedtime poem, in part because it was about getting to one of my favorite places: sleep. Donovan does set it to a a lovely melody, and it actually achieves a surprising narrative drivel. You’ll notice a number of illustrations by Maxfield Parrish (very noted in the 1920s), as well as more recent illustrations from children’s books, which I have intercut with photographs of fishing and fish, trying to suggest both the world of art and the art of the world. Hope you like it.

Two Elbow Music Videos: “Kindling” and “My Sad Captains”

Two Elbow Music Videos: “Kindling” and “My Sad Captains”

Only the first of these is my slideshow, but I thought I would include the second as another wonderful example of a rather simple, low-cost but remarkably effective video, the kind this Manchester band often produces. (Cross posted at the Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour and Elbow FB group). Since this version of “Kindling” first appeared in my Facebook feed a couple of months ago (it originally appeared, without John Grant’s vocals) on their Little Fictions album last Spring), I’ve been entranced with it. The way it folds together memory, strong emotion, and its sudden, stunning rebirth are very affecting, while the restrained melody complements the way John and Guy’s voice interweave to absolutely stunning effect. Anyway, this is my fourth Elbow slideshow, my way of preparing myself for their shows next month at The Observatory and The Wiltern.  The video clips are from Shutterstock, and–yes–I paid for them. Hope you like it.

The second is the band’s offical video for “My Sad Captains,” from their Take Off and Landing of Everything album. It’s a lovely, poignant song, and the video really manages to encompass the song’s beautiful innocence, sadness, and acceptance, all in about four minutes. Other than the multiple cameras, it almost looks like a home movie, which actually contributes to its success, I think.

Warren Zevon: Two Slideshows

Warren Zevon: Two Slideshows

Here’s one I finished at the beginning of the month. I’ve always liked the Transverse City album, in part because of its distinctly experimental vibe. Warren was trying lots of new things, and they worked a lot of the time. Where the title track and “They Moved the Moon” seemed to push musical boundaries, “Nobody’s in Love This Year” pushes lyrical ones in the way it uses financial metaphors to describe love relationships or–more accurately–their collapse. It certainly captures one of the darker and more prevalent aspects of the Reagan years–one that is still with us–but it does so with Warren’s characteristic wit, lyrical grace, and melodic beauty. Hope you like it.

A reader of my “Unofficial: Warren Zevon” fan page suggested I do this song about Warren and the RR Hall of Fame. It seemed like a good idea, and I think the slideshow turned out OK. The web address at the end is to 2017 petition on change.otg to induct Warren. This petition has apparently just been closed, as the nominating ballots for 2017 have just come out, and again Warren isn’t on it. Another indifferent year in heaven, I guess. So it goes.

Elbow’s “Lost Worker Bee”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Elbow’s “Lost Worker Bee”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Here’s a slideshow I just did to “Lost Worker Bee.” I quite like the official video, which this in no way replaces, but I like how it turned out. It’s a bit more Elbow-focused, as well as a bit more bee-focused than the video, although I think it does a good job of suggesting the yearning and possible fulfillment that is at the song’s heart. While this could be seen as a followup to my “Build a Rocket Boys” and “Open Arms” slideshows of last summer. This is actually my way of my beginning to get ready for the band’s North American tour (I’ll see them twice next month!).

I thought I would post this, simply because it is a wonderful example of how you can do a lot with a little in a music video. It isn’t my video, but has gotten over five-and-a-half million views on YouTube. It helps to have a terrific song, of course, one that does a remarkable job of capturing that evanescent feeling of everything just falling into place.

 

Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Man Who Just Couldn’t Cry”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Man Who Just Couldn’t Cry”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Previously posted on my Unofficial Loudon Wainwright III FB page.

‘ve liked the “Man Who Couldn’t Cry” since I first heard it on Loudon”s Attempted Mustache album. I still have a fairly clear memory of him performing it at the Roxy in Los Angeles on the T-Shirt album tour. At one time, I knew how to play it on guitar and could even sing all the verses, which was an exceptional achievement for me at the time (I could play or sing, but not both at once). This is actually the version from Loudon’s 2008 Recovery album, which I recently purchased. I must say, I usually prefer Loudon’s live versions of songs, but I was deeply impressed by this, which really gains something from the drums and orchestration. I’m still not wholly sure what the song is about, exactly, but it seems to have something to do with karmic justice. I did go for a few cheap jokes, but by and large I think it remains true to spirit of the song, except perhaps the end where I find what may well be an unjustified optimism (perhaps playing with the idea of “Recovery”). It was just to bleak to leave humanity and its home in the song’s last line. 

U Know Your Reichs (Nirvana Cover)

U Know Your Reichs (Nirvana Cover)

Originally posted, in somewhat different form, on the The Daily Kos back in May, and on Facebook last Thursday. This seemed an appropriate followup to the last diary I posted, which also touches on the subject of Holocaust denial (actually, it’s better than this slideshow, so if you have to choose, you should watch the Eva Kor video below, which I had nothing to do with).

This is the first slideshow I made this year, probably around the end of April or the beginning of May. I’ve done about sixty since this one. I haven’t really pushed it, in part because I thought it really didn’t come across as well with the two versions of the songs I ended up having to use. Originally, it was set to the Nirvana’s “You Know Your Right” and Liza Minnelli’s “Heiraten” from Cabaret, but neither were available for use (often, you can use songs as long as you are willing to cede all monies generated from YouTube ads to the copyright holders–but sometimes this is forbidden). To replace the Liza Minnelli song, I have used Zarah Leander‘s “Adieu” (a Swedish singer who was a popular in Europe in the thirties). She was actually strongly anti-Nazi, and had a hit with “I skuggan av en stovel” (“In the shadow of the boot”) which was an anti-fascist song written by her husband.

If you noted the rather obvious pun in the title to this diary, you probably know where this is heading. Essentially, the slideshow was inspired by the confluence of two things: watching Andre Singer’s Night Will Fall, a powerful documentary incorporating many reels of long forgotten footage that British soldiers shot when they were liberating the concentration camps in the western part of Germany. As someone in the film says, the footage conveys the utter despair of people in the camps more powerfully than anything else I have seen (admittedly, I have not watched Shoah). Even the relatively inexperienced military cameramen who are interviewed—sixty years later—are still visibly traumatized by the experience of witnessing and recording such a spectacle.

Even more obviously, of course, the title refers to Nirvana’s last studio recording, “You Know You’re Right.” Recorded just a month before Kurt Cobain’s suicide by shotgun, I have always found it a powerful and memorable song, even if I didn’t always understand the lyrics. Recently, I have come to understand how perfectly Cobain’s song captured the thoughts and feelings of someone of verge of suicide. The guilt and shame, the overwhelming desire to escape (“I will crawl away from here”), to not hurt anyone else (“You won’t be afraid of fear”), an overpowering sense of inevitability (“I always knew it would come to this”), the utter mental agony (for a long time I thought he was saying, “Ay-ay-ay-ay”; what he is actually repeating is “Pai-ai-ai-ain”), along with rage (tinged by Cobain’s characteristic sarcasm) that invites everyone who ever called him a no talent loser to self-righteously pat themselves on the back at having gotten him so right (suicide also being an act characteristic of a “loser”), but also to pull back in sudden revulsion at their own self-congratulatory glee at another human being’s intolerable suffering. It’s so brilliant that it hurts, which could also be said of Singer’s film.

All apologies to Nirvana fans who may feel that my slideshow has fundamentally misinterpreted what was obviously a intensely personal song. I have taken the most intimate act imaginable—that of taking one’s own life—and re-contextualized it as a deeply impersonal one: genocide (for how could we do such terrible things to our fellow human beings if we truly saw them as people with their own hopes, dreams, loves, and fears?). I realize, of course, that it is always deeply personal to the victims of genocide, as well as to their family, relations, and friends. For copyright reasons, I have used a cover version of the song by Grubby Paws (the NC in the title means “Nirvana Cover”). It’s actually an excellent cover, but still not quite as powerful as the original version.

Donovan: Two Evocations of Place

Donovan: Two Evocations of Place

I sort of came back from Cuba with an embarressment of riches, but they are mostly performance clips of Rufus Wainwright (I got a good deal of practice filming, which I sorely needed), but they really belong on my Unofficial: Rufus Wainwright page rather than here, so I thought I would post these two Donovan slideshows from early September.

Looking at it now from the perspective of a few weeks,  I think this slideshow sort achieves what it set out to do. “The River Song” is a rather haunting, gentle, meditative song from the Hurdy Gurdy Man album, that showcases Donovan’s intriguing finger picking style (possibly learned Maybelle Carter of the Carter family). This audio recording, which I downloaded from YouTube, sounds as if it was recorded from a vinyl album in that you can hear the pops and hisses that indicate a much played vinyl record (for those of you who remember vinyl albums). Although I have a digital download (yes, I paid for it, and it’s really quite good), nevertheless I kind of like this version–it has a lived in feel (sort of like nature). I was going for a kind of Thoreauvian idyl, immersed in a sharply observed nature while at the same time suggesting an interior journey, sort of like Marvell’s “green thought in a green shade” from his poem “The Garden.” I actually did two edits of this: the one here and another one with a video excerpt from Ryan Larkin’s “Syrinx.” It’s actually still up on my YouTube page if you are curious (it says “Larkin edit” in the title), but ultimately I found the shift to Larkin’s animation a little jarring, which is just what you don’t want in a project like this.  “The River Song” video/slideshow was made with Final Cut Pro, by the way, which I’ve just started using (I think this was my second project with it). I’m still learning it, but that’s where all the fancy overlays come from.

This second slideshow is another evocation of place, this time urban, of Goodge Street in London. I’m pretty sure I’ve been there (and I’ve certainly been in the Tube station), but I don’t have any particularily sharp memories of it (there’s a lot to see in London). Oddly enough, in spite of the daytime focus of the title when I listen to the song I also hear foreshadowings of evening (e.g. the smearing of colors), and again it seems to be describing in it such a way that I wonder whether the light or darkness he describes is exterior to the poet/singer, or interior. Quite a number of the pictures are from Goodge street (I didn’t really try to achieve any unity of time, but a few people will notice Marianne Faithfull), although some evoke, I think, a more generalized London nighttime. Hope you enjoy it as much as people seem to have liked “The River Song.”

Pepper the Cat: An Unofficial Slideshow/Video Set to Joe Walsh’s Funk #49 and Funk #50

Pepper the Cat: An Unofficial Slideshow/Video Set to Joe Walsh’s Funk #49 and Funk #50

The idea for this slideshow dates back to Catcon near the begining of August. While there, in addition to getting my picture taken with Pudge, and taking lots of photos of cat stuff, I also went to a couple of talks. One of them, by Paul Koudounaris on “Cats of L.A.” included a good deal of information about Pepper the Cat, the first feline movie star who made over a 100 films (mostly shorts) for Mack Sennett studios in the teens and early twenties. She apparently appeared with some of the major stars of the day, including Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, and Mabel Normand, but many of the her early shorts have been lost. As near as I can tell, only a couple are available: The Little Hero, available in a Dutch version on YouTube, and Down on the Farm, a short film (43 minutes) from 1920 that is include on Volume 1 of the Mack SennetI Collection, available on Blue-Ray. I believe a couple more of her films are going to be on Volume 2 which, with a bit of added research, I hope will give me enough material for another short film about her, which I will probably again set to a Joe Walsh song. She was apparently discovered when she crawled out from under the floorboards during filming and the director–who perhaps knew star quality when he saw it–ordered them to keep rolling. Pepper had her screen test, and rest is (little known) cinema history. Although this slideshow has a couple of laughs (they are Mack Sennett comedies, after all), its main purpose is informational. However, the unbelievable guitar work by Joe and his band keep things popping (Funk #49 is from the Guitar Center Sessions; Funk #50 is from Analog Man).

Chelsea Hotel #2: An Unofficial Slideshow

Chelsea Hotel #2: An Unofficial Slideshow

Listening to Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2” was a kind of revelatory experience. While I had heard the song before, it suddenly seemed to have a remarkable emotional depth where all sort of insights lurked. Although I had heard it before a few times (mostly Cohen’s version, I think), I had not heard it with his introduction in which he explains how he came to write the song about what seems to have been a fairly brief encounter with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel in New York (uploaded by rhino49 in 2008). As Rufus’ live version also includes a brief introduction from Cohen in which he praises the yonger singer’s performance, it seemed obvious that what I needed to do was stitch Cohen’s introduction to the live audio of Rufus’ performance, with a few pictures of other celebrities who stayed there (yes, that is Joni Mitchell, and–in other photo–Rufus, although long after the events narrated in the song) while keeping the focus on Leonard and Janis. In some ways, although I didn’t plan it that way, this is a logical followup to the “Leftover Wine: Little Girl Blue” slideshow I did last week, while the joining of a revealing live introduction to a different version of the song being introduced echoes what I did earlier on “Bluebirds Fly.”  Anyway I promised something accessible and moving after last week’s “As an unperfect actor” (which has actually gotten a more positive response than I expected), so I hope this achieves that. I hope you think so too.

 

 

Seminole Bingo: An Unofficial Warren Zevon Slideshow

Seminole Bingo: An Unofficial Warren Zevon Slideshow

Although I didn’t realize it until I was actually putting it together day before yesterday, “Seminole Bingo” is kind of a natural counterpart to my “They Moved the Moon” slideshow. If the first is about the dispossession of Native Americans, the second could well be said to be about taking some of their own back from those who dispossessed them in the first place. I always felt a little uncomfortable about the first in that I realized I was quite probably radically recontextualizing the song in making it about the California genocide of Native Americans. The song could well describe any disorienting and dislocating experience, and may well have been highly personal, even autobiographical for Warren when he wrote it. What I did with it (which was not meant to be in any way prescriptive), was simply an attempt to use the song as a way of exploring my own feelings about what happened in California, and my surprise and horror at discovering it. “Seminole Bingo” is much more obviously a story song about a character who is not Warren, although the two may share some traits in common. I realize, of course, that the song is not about Michael Milliken (who did not gamble his fortune away in Florida) but–as the widely-acknowledged “junk bond  king”–his image was the logical one to use. I do find myself if wondering if there is a something deeper going in the song, as the title character in essence made his fortune by selling essentially worthless bonds at vastly inflated prices. So much of modern culture seems to be predicated upon building up little or nothing into a “something,” a commodity that can be sold at vastly inflated prices based on a vastly inflated (mis)perceptions of its value. Of course, the same thing could be said about these slideshows, although the only cost to you is time, and–of course–there are many things of value in the world (Warren’s songs, for instance), you just have to learn to look for them. Anyway, here it is, and I hope  you think it is worth your time.

 

Loudon Wainwright III’s The S*** Song: An unofficial slideshow

Loudon Wainwright III’s The S*** Song: An unofficial slideshow

This has been a rather humbling few days, although in sort of a good way. One of the benefits of making a fan page like my Unofficial: Loudon Wainwright III on Facebook is that you find out stuff you would not have otherwise known about through people’s comments. Thus, about three days ago I discovered Loudon had a book out (Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & a Few of My Other Favorite Things). I bought it and downloaded it on my Kindle app. The first chapter (all I have read) is very engaging, almost brutally honest, and rather funny (that’s kind of how Loudon works). Then event sounds like a conversation/book signing with maybe a couple of songs (I hope) at the Largo on Cahuenga. The admission comes with a copy of the book, so it looks like I’ll have a hard copy too, which presumably I can get signed. If I’m really lucky (I’m planning to bring a camera), I can get my photograph taken with Loudon, which will promptly replace the one I currently have with Rufus on my Unofficial Loudon Wainwright III facebook page (it will stay up, of course, on my Rufus page). While I’m not totally sure I’ll be able to go, he is also performing what I assume will be a largely musical set at McCabe’s guitar shop in Santa Monica on Saturday night (it’s sold out, so if anyone has a ticket they are willing to sell, message me). Sheesh, talk about an embarrassment of riches.

All of that has nothing really to do with the following slideshow, although if I stretch I suppose I could say it is another live version of one of Loudon’s songs, and I’ll be seeing him live so that’s a connection, I guess. I must admit, I’m rather partial to his live albums, partly because he is such an engaging performer, and I think partly because the “So Damn Happy” live album is when I got back into Loudon’s music after not really having listened to him for about two decades. Well, this is another song from “So Damn Happy” (so were “Much Better Bets” and “Men”), with the slightly off-putting title, “The S*** Song.” The whole song is really just a metaphor, of course, and I hope that the slideshow succeeds in highlighting those metaphoric implications without being too disgusting. Despite the title, it’s a very wise song and–while there is one moment he might seem to be mocking the disabled (and yes, I laugh every time I hear it), as with so many of Loudon’s songs, I think there is something much more subtle and even profound going on. WARNING: Includes profanity (if you haven’t figured that out).

 

The Divine Comedy’s “Gin Soaked Boy” and Robert Benchley

The Divine Comedy’s “Gin Soaked Boy” and Robert Benchley

It was apparently humorist Robert Benchley who said, “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.”  Certainly, Mr. Benchley was poking fun at the very human tendancy to divide things into often opposing dualities: men and women, parents and children, insiders and outsiders. It’s not exactly that the dualities are untrue, but they oversimplify a more complex and nuanced reality. Thus, “there are two types of vessels on the sea, submarines and targets,” ignores the fact that sometimes submarines are targets and that–if only because there are no submarines in the vicinity that day–the targets are just ships, still subject to the whims of  the weather, their captains, and the quality of their last overhaul–but not targets in any real sense.  Opposites in fact often imply and even include those things they are defined in opposition to. Thus “near” and “far” would be meaningless without the other term, as would be “normal” (that which is not abnormal) and “abnormal” (that which is not normal), or even darkness and light. You could define the first as either an abundance or light or a lack of darkness, and do the same (but in reverse) for its complementary term.

The Divine Comedy is a British pop band comprised of of Neil Hannon and–more or less–whoever he happens to be working with at the time. The band has thus has thus had a remarkably fluid lineup over the years, with songwriter, frontman, lead singer, and multi-instrumeltalist Hannon providing the group with a nucleus while expeimenting with a dizzying variety of tones and influences. As the band’s name implies they are an unusually literate band. In “Gin soaked boy” a song added to their “A Secret History . . . Best of the Divine Comedy” cd (actually how I became aware of them) attests; it is sort of pop song as modernist novel, comprehending the universe through a series of apparent polarities that aren’t really polarities as at all, but continuties, and suggesting that if we see them as such we can more truly be of the universe instead of merely in it.  I’ve been wanting to create a visual accompaniment to this song for awhile, and with Final Cut Pro I felt I finally had the tools to at least begin to do it justice. I hope you think so to, but you can also appreciatel the following slideshow as just a rather surreal, somewhat trippy journey (or, to put it more in the “Gin Soaked Boy”‘s idiom, the meaninglessness in the meaning). Hope you like it, or at least don’t dislike it too much.

 

 

Leftover Wine & Little Girl Blue: An Unofficial Tribute to Melanie and Janis Joplin

Leftover Wine & Little Girl Blue: An Unofficial Tribute to Melanie and Janis Joplin

I have a somewhat hazy yet clear memory of learning about Janis Joplin’s death over the evening news. I would have been thirteen at the time, and I feel sure I must have seen her perform on some television show or other. We watched This is Tom Jones fairly regurally (my Mom was a fan),  so it is quite possible I heard her sing “Little Girl Blue,” although I can’t say I remember it. Still, it was only after her death that I became familar with a broader range of her work. I was (and am) very impressed. I also remember reading Buried Alive, a postuhumous biography of Joplin by her publicist Myra Friedman, which successfully conveyed Joplin’s inner anguish.  When I started collecting records a few years later, I got all of her albums.

I was also aware of Melanie Safka (she performed as Melanie at the time), although mostly from her hit single “Brand New Key.” A few years later, when I was buying records, I got her Leftover Wine; Live at Carnegie Hall cd and was particularly impressed by the title songs. As with Joplin’s song, it seemed to convey a deep sadness along with a powerful emotional wallop. In the back of my mind, I found myself wondering if Melanie had written the song about Joplin after her death. This is not the case, as her Candles in the Rain album (which included the song) came out a about six months before Joplin’s death on October 4th, 1970. It is far more likely that Melanie wrote the song about her own struggles with fame and self-acceptance. Still, it strikes me as a very appropriate and powerful soundtrack to the slideshow I compiled about Joplin’s life.

I have included two video clips of Joplin performing. The first is an excerpt from her performance of “Summertime” in Frankfurt in 1969. I like it because it show a gracious spirit in action, making sure that the camera focuses on the guitarist while he is playing his lead. I also think the look on her face during the instrumental break is a thing of utter beauty, expressive of a kind of artistic transcendance that she unfortunately couldn’t maintain away from the stage.  The second clip is, of course, her performance of “Little Girl Blue” from This is Tom Jones. It has become fairly widely available, but it just seemed to be the perfect way to follow up and conclude the slideshow. I do not own the rights to any of these, and all monies generated by YouTube ads go to the copyright holders. This is fine with me, as this is intended to be a fan-tribute video, not a commercial one. Hope you enjoy it (you can always close your eyes and just listen, both artists are pretty amazing).

Texas Trilogy 2: Austin’s Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” Reimagined as Social Satire

Texas Trilogy 2: Austin’s Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” Reimagined as Social Satire

The Butthole Surfer’s “Pepper” was a song I liked virtually from the first time I heard it, although it always had a distinctly personal feel, naming people and places that the band was presumably directly acquainted with. The chorus always seemed to have statewide and perhaps even universal application in the way it called into question all of our flattering self-conceptions, because–as the song says–“you never know just how you’ll look through other people’s eyes.” Last month I realized that you could take the song’s verses and appy them to more statewide problems, from health, to deregulation and public safety, to gun deaths, to the environment, to oil, and to the Texas Railroad Commission (which “regulates” the oil industry with considerable help from heavily [in]vested interests). l’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived in Texas for several years will really “get” this slideshow, and even among those who have I have a feeling many will be offended by it, not because anything in the slideshow is false, but because one doesn’t talk about such things in Texas, at least not in public. If I was a “true” Texan I’m sure I would know this and act appropriately, but I’m not anymore and probably never was, at least not really.  So consider it a highly idiosyncratic take on the state from a highly eccentric Californian (and therefore to be dismissed). I don’t really expect to get a large number of views, but you never know and–after all–everything’s bigger in Texas.

Texas Trilogy 1: Dreidel in Texas

Texas Trilogy 1: Dreidel in Texas

This is a slightly re-edited and expanded version of a slideshow I did about five months ago, probably the second one I compiled this year (I did two in all of last year). I originally called it “Random Memories of East Texas,” in part because I wanted a deliberately flat title to balance the rather sensational subject matter, but also beacause I realized it was an attempt–however flawed–to come to terms with living in East Texas for twenty years.  It wasn’t a very good or even very accurate title, as most of the events it focused on didn’t even take place in East Texas, but in Dallas and Austin. Also, although they were someone’s Texas memories, they weren’t really my memories, since I didn’t start living in Texas until 1991, well after the tragic events depicted in the first two movements of the slideshow.  Also, I felt that James Bryd Jr.’s killing, which I was at least in Texas for (although over fifty miles away from Jasper), really didn’t get adequate treatment, in part because the song ended too soon for my purposes. In the re-edited, expanded, and re-titled version, I have extended the audio track with some sound effects, thus allowing me to insert another six or seven slides in the final section.

I’m not sure it has a message in the conventional sense, beyond the obvious point that Texas can be a dangerous place, in part because of its culture, and in part because it’s simply so big that some more or less random bad stuff is bound to happen. I always liked Don Maclean’s song “Dreidel,” and I have a fairly clear memory of him performing it on some daytime talk show about the time this album (his third) was released. I’m fairly sure it was a song (like the “The Pride Parade”) that he wrote to explore his own mental situation in the wake of the massive success of his American Pie album that had come out the year before. Nevertheless, I think most people have a tendancy to personalize the songs they like and listen to a lot, and I’m sure I tended to think of both songs as in some sense reflections on my own feelings on entering high school in Southern California in the early seventies. I don’t think that sense of identification ever fully left me, even when I stopped listening to Don Maclean (probably a mistake on my part, and doubtless one of many).  The immediate stimulus for this slideshow was probably watching “The Tower” on Netflix, a brilliant documentary looking at the Austin clocktower murders of 1966, an incident I really don’t remember (I would have been nine), although I remember my mother talking about it. Similarly, I was even younger when President Kennedy was assasinated, and I’m fairly sure I did not see it live (it seems unlikely it was even carried live on most national television stations, although it may well have been in the Dallas area). I do remember my mother hearing about it on the radio and talking with our next door neighbor, Mrs. Leddy, over the wall separating out two backyards from one another. I think they were crying, but I may be embellishing the memory (I would have just turned six a couple weeks before).

James Bryd Jr.s death was widely reported in Smith County where I was living at the time, and I am pretty sure many local people were aware that it made the national news, which tended to make the people I knew uncomfortable.  I even remember the joke making the rounds at the time (“What red and black and two miles long”–I think you can guess the answer, even if you haven’t heard it before). Humor is of course one way human beings tend to express and deal with discomfort, although it is also a way of expressing and reinforcing power relationships, often making sure that marginal groups stay marginalized. I suspect both were at work here, although I am sure some would disagree, especially as meanings of things like jokes tend to change according to time and context, so  that one particular performance may well convey different meanings, and even different listeners may take different meanings away, some perhaps quite different than the teller consciously intended. Anyway, here is the first of three slideshows about Texas (the other two are both quite different, and were made several months after the first version of this one).

Donovan’s “Lalena”: A unofficial slideshow about prostitutes

Donovan’s “Lalena”: A unofficial slideshow about prostitutes

[Cross-posted on my Donovan–Slideshows by passage2trth page] Donovan’s “Lalena” was a song I always admired without ever really thinking about it very much.  Certainly, the song’s most striking feature was Donovan’s rather lovely vibrato and its melancholy mood, a mood I realize I have always found attractive.  While of course I knew that it was about a girl with an unusual name who seemed rather sad, I never really thought about the implications of the lyrics until quite recently, when I was looking for a followup to “Universal Soldier.” Once I did pause to think about who the lyrics were describing, it seemed rather obvious she was a prostitute, getting up “when the sun goes to bed,” one whose “lot in life” makes the song’s narrator sad even as he refuses to blame her for her situation, presumably because it is beyond her control. While by no means the only song ever written about what is frequently characterized as the world’s oldest profession (cf. “Love for Sale, “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Roxanne,” among many others), it is sort of surprising that “Lalena” was an AM hit in the sixties reaching number #33 on the Hot 100 in Billboard.  Of course, so was The Animals version of “The House of the Rising Sun.” In fact, Donovan was apparently inspired to write the song by Lotte Lenya‘s character of Jenny (a streetwalker) in the 1931 film version of Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weil’s The Threepenny Opera. Donovan seems to have added an extra syllable to her surname in order to make the haunting chorus work musically, while the “lot in life” line is quite probably a gentle play the actress’s first name.

Having decided to make the slideshow into a mini-history of prostitution, and wanting to be true to the song in both being not too graphic and rather melancholy, I chose to use Final Cut Pro (only the second time I’ve done so, and I’m still learning how) to do a series of overlays, often drawn from impressionist, post-impressionist, and modernist art (with a few photographs) in order to convey the song’s–and the woman’s–sadness at her situation. It may be a bit too busy, but I think it generally works in the way it gets across a deep underlying melancholy that is central to the song’s appeal. The audio, by the way is not the single version, but a version Donovan performed for Italian public television in 1968.

Donovan’s “Universal Soldier”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Donovan’s “Universal Soldier”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Honestly, I barely remember hearing “Universal Soldier” while growing up in Bakersfield. The local AM radio station (“K-A-F-Y Bak-ers-feild”) played some of his other hits, like “Sunshine Superman” and “Jennifer Juniper,” but they probably felt this song was too controversial, or perhaps simply not pop enough.  Hearing it again “Universal Soldier” (authored by Buffy Sainte-Marie) seems more relevant than ever, although at the same time less likely than ever to effect any real change. That may be simply illusion, however, created by the nostalgia one so often feels for one’s youth. I have to admit, in creating this slideshow I wasn’t entirely sure what approach to take, especially as there are already a couple of pretty good slideshows that take their inspiration from it on YouTube.  Originally, I had thought of focusing on the victims of war, but then I got this idea which seemed more–to coin an adjective–Donovanesque.  I like to think he’d approve of it, if he ever sees it. In any event, I hope you approve, or at least listen.

Topsy: A Bob’s Burgers Tribute Slideshow (with a big excerpt)

Topsy: A Bob’s Burgers Tribute Slideshow (with a big excerpt)

This is going to be something of a change of pace, partly because I’m not really sure what to do with it (this is probably the only slideshow I’ll make devoted to Bob’s Burgers). It is my favorite episode, and I have to admit I made it mostly because I love the song “Electric Love,” but also because it is both funny and powerfully affecting. It certainly touches on themes I seem to repeatedly return to (the suffering of the innocent (while calling into question that innocence), the way in which history gets falsified in order to promote the interests of the rich and powerful, and–of course–flatulence.  It is basically built around a clip of the central scene of Tina (acting the part of Topsy the elephant) who is seemingly executed with the help of Teddy the local handyman and burger afficianado at the hands of her sister Louise.  What I tried to do is place the execution of the elephant in the context of the so-called “war of the currents” between alternating current and direct current, especially as personifed in Tesla (AC) and Edison (DC). It  was of course, a war that Edison won (at least in America), and in some sense his very public demonstration of the dangers of alternating current was a major victory in that propaganda war (thus causing Edison’s stock price to go up so that he died a very rich man, while his competitor died penniless). It is an American success story, while at the same time being the American failure story, one the dream, the other the nightmare that Topsy (who wasn’t exactly the innocent pachyderm that Louise makes her out to be) experienced long before Tesla did.   Hope you enjoy it. Bob’s Burgers, by the way, is a show I only gradually learned to love, but I do love it now.  I include the original credits, so everyone gets full credit for the stuff I didn’t do (and you get to the hear the chorus a few more times, which is probably the real reason I decided to include it).

Rufus Wainwright’s The Art Teacher: An Unofficial Slideshow

Rufus Wainwright’s The Art Teacher: An Unofficial Slideshow

There’s something strongly aesthetic in Rufus Wainwright’s appeal, one that goes beyond physical beauty. It’s there in his voice, his melodies, his considerable artistic ambitions and range of endeavor, even in his occasionally playful sense of fashion. I think that is one of the reasons why I chose this is as followup to the Bluebirds Fly  and Hallelujan slideshows. Certainly and underlying theme of that was the potential transcendance of art and even the artist in that he or she can continue creating minor (or even major) epiphanies in people’s lives long after they are gone. This one, sticking fairly closely to the song’s narrative, looks more at art’s role in our more personal, private lives, even in those parts of ourselves that we never reveal to anyone.  The main liberty it takes is the way it plays with subject and object, so that Rufus is sometimes the desiring subject (the young girl who narrates the song in memory), and at other times the desired object: The Art Teacher.  Hope you like it (the audio is Rufus’ performance on Tiny Desk Concert).

I was somewhat taken aback when my when–after watching the slideshow–my  psychologist suggested that it felt so personal because it was, and that the woman narrator’s memory of the art teacher paralleled my own with an important person in my life.  After a moment’s reflection, I realized he was right, so this one’s for Gordon, and Rufus, of course.

 

Hallelujah: An Edit of Rufus Wainwrigh’s version of Leonard Cohen’s song (with Choir! Choir! Choir!)

Hallelujah: An Edit of Rufus Wainwrigh’s version of Leonard Cohen’s song (with Choir! Choir! Choir!)

To some extent, this video/slideshow is a product on my anticipating getting to see Rufus (and possibly even meet him) at the Northern Stars event at the Ford Theatre in Los Angeles this Sunday. I actually had another slideshow ready to go, which I quite like, on “The Art Teacher,” but it is more or less set in New York. In other words, it was not Canadian enough. Bluebirds Fly, my last slideshow has gotten a good deal of positive response, and I suspect one of the keys to its success was its sense of place in that it is very much set in Montreal.

Certainly Rufus’ interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is one of his most successful and famous covers, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it until I ran into Choir! Choir Choir!’s version on YouTube (a highly successful video on just about every level, by the way). This 2016 performance was part of the Illuminato festival in Toronto, a festival which has been going on since 2007, and that Rufus has been involved in at least 3 or 4 times, according to the Luminato Wikipedia page. I have been to Toronto three or four times, but never for this festival, which I now would really like to attend, possibly in 2018. I quickly found some terrific images from the festival, and I had the idea of interweaving slideshows with the video (not exactly a mashup, but certainly a heavily edited version of the original). Thus the verses are mostly slideshows portraying details described in the song, often illustrated with evocative images from the festival, and sometimes with pictures of Rufus (who I sort of re-conceptualize as David), while the choruses are mostly from the original video (the most difficult part was getting the audio to synch properly). Almost half of this passage2truth edit is simply the Choir! Choir! Choir! performance with Rufus (which is pretty terrific), I keep the original end credits, and try to make clear that I am only responsible for the inserted slideshows and the edits (in other words, where film clips begin and end). I think it may have even more impact than the original, but I am probably too close to it to judge. In any event, I hope you like it or–if nothing else–it will inspire you to go see the original uncut (or at least not by me) video on YouTube (it’s got almost six million views). In a way I can’t quite explain (other than it being the Toronto-centric counterpart to the Montreal-centered slideshow from last week), it does seem like a natural extension of the feelings first explored in Bluebirds Fly.

Atlantis/1983: A Slideshow Inspired by Donovan and Jimi Hendrix

Atlantis/1983: A Slideshow Inspired by Donovan and Jimi Hendrix

This is kind of an extended sequel to my “Epistle to Dippy” diary and slideshow, and you’ll notice a few of the same photos (most obviously those of the Maharishi, Donovan, and The Beatles, but also of Donovan and Hendrix). My original thought was to make a slideshow that at least aspired to be a kind of pure aesthetic experience, a series of beautiful images set to Donovan’s incredibly catchy chorus and Hendrix’s brilliant guitar riffs, all framed by a rather vague Atlantis narrative (which I have never the taken that seriously, except as a kind of fable in Plato’s Timaeus). I think it ended up being rather more than that–almost the audio-visual equivalent of a metaphysical poem, although there are some fairly clear themes (the trascendence of art, the desire for escape from the horrors of the world, and of course transformation) running through it. The very conscious way it interweaves what we might call the oceanic and the cosmic is my attempt (I hope partly successful) to bring some very disparate things in relation to one another and at least point towards (although not really explain) some kind of ultimate meaning (I’m sort of playing with Boethian and neoPlatonic ideas, but not in any kind of rigorous way). However, if you just want to appreciate it as a kind of trippy music video, that’s okay too, and that really was pretty close to my original intention anyway.

The Donovan audio track is from what must be the introduction to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The track cuts out rather abruptly because a voice over comes in telling you who is going to be on the show that night (if you listen carefully, you can just hear the announcer say the beginning of Mort Sahl’s name, who obviously got top billing that night). Frankly, I like this version better than the original single, which I always thought was a bit overproduced. I find the simplicity and clarity of this version remarkably moving. I’m not sure if I have a good reason for using The Allman Brothers version of “1983,” other than that I really liked it (what it lacks in smoothness, it makes up for with a kind of crunchy power), and that I was a little leery of getting involved in the kind of copyright problems that have long plagued the legally entangled Hendrix estate (they may have been resolved now, I didn’t really continue pursuing it after stumbling upon The Allman’s version). A few people (not that I expect that many to see it), will notice I’m trying some new things here: Formal titles at the beginning and end, with introductory and concluding sound effects, and even scrolling credits, as well as two video excerpts, one oceanic and one cosmic (the first from an Oceanic Preservation Society video, the second from Yavar Abbas’s Journey to the Edge of the Universe [2007]).

Jim Dean of Indiana: A Slideshow inspired and accompanied by Phil Ochs’ song

Jim Dean of Indiana: A Slideshow inspired and accompanied by Phil Ochs’ song

“Jim Dean of Indiana” is not one of Phil Ochs’ better known songs, certainly not up there with “I Ain’t Marchin Anymore,” “Small Circle of Friends,” or even “When I’m Gone.” It is from his last album, the ironically titled Phil Ochs Greatest Hits, was never released as a single, and recieved little to no airplay.  I have to admit when I first heard the album back in the seventies, “Jim Dean” didn’t impress me nearly as much as Phil’s baroque mini-masterpieces, “No More Songs” and “Bach, Beethover, Mozart, & Me,” his country semi-parody, “Gas Station Women” (which I now see more as a homage to Faron Young), or the occasionally covered straightforward rock song, “My Kingdom for a Car.” Nevertheless, the song had deep meaning for Phil, for whom Dean had near mythical significance since first encountering him in late adolescence, seeing him in pictures like East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant as a larger-than-life figure at the local movie theater. As he was coming to the end of a brief but incredibly productive recording career, Phil seems to have consciously returned to his roots for inspiration, writing about  the time he was “A Boy in Ohio,” and the homage to Faron Young I refer to above.  Phil seems to have become increasingly drawn to his own homage to the Hollywood rebel-icon, apparently obssessively playing it on the piano at his sister’s house in Far Rockaway, New York in the last months before his suicide in April 1976.

Coming back to the song after not listening to it for a long time,  I find the song has a delicacy and simplicity that is quite moving. It certainly isn’t the type of song Phil was best known for–protest songs like “Another Age“–being instead a kind of understated excercise in empathy, and perhaps a plea for compassion for the lost and the lonely, a state that Phil was coming increasingly to identify with as he started a long slide into deep depression.  The song is not strictly accurate as an account of Dean’s life: he wasn’t physically abused by a farm hand, but more likely sexually abused by a local minister, and the song entirely ignores the many years Dean spent in Southern California before his mother’s death from uterine cancer in 1940 (it was at this time he joined his aunt Ortense and her husband Marcus Wilson in Indiana. Phil, in fact, was in a position to know some intimate details of Dean’s life, in that he often talked with Troubadour owner Doug Weston about the actor while living in Los Angeles. In fact, Weston had at least occasionally talked to Dean while working as a bartender in early 1950s Greenwich Village (Eliot, Death of a Rebel 156-57), although how intimate their conversations were, and how much of them Weston conveyed to to a fascinated Phil I don’t know. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting song, very briefly mentioning Dean’s movie career, largely because the song is less anchored to the actor’s person than the place he lived in from pre-adolescence until his mid-teens: the Wilson farm in Indiana. Thus we remain achored in Dean’s conscousness until he moves away, but then he is a figure  mostly seen from the perspecitive of Marcus and Ortense Wilson and–to a much lesser degree–the surrounding townspeople. The physical presence of the living Dean only enters the song once away from the farm, and that is when Marcus and Ortense drive to Los Angeles to “speak with him for half an hour,” before leaving for his rendevous with mortality. The song is not strictly chronological, and the slideshow is even more unstuck in time (Giant only came out after Dean died, but I believe the marquee photo is of the local cinema in Fairmount, Indiana), but I think it works. I hope you do too.

This is sort of the conclusion of what I am coming to think of an elegiac trilogy of slideshows, the first on Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, the second on Rufus Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle, and this one on Jim and Phil, who never met but who were both ‘boys in Midwest,’ to slightly paraphrase Phil’s song. This one’s for Shannon. And for James and Phil, of course.

Bluebirds Fly: A Slideshow Inspired by Rufus Wainwright and His Mom, Kate McGarrigle

Bluebirds Fly: A Slideshow Inspired by Rufus Wainwright and His Mom, Kate McGarrigle

I had really thought the next Rufus Wainwright song I would be trying to turn into a slideshow would be “What a World,” although I had also been toying with the idea of doing something with his version of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” More or less by accident, I ran into this version of “Zebulon” that includes a rather moving introduction about how he came to write the song after visiting his mother, noted folksinger Kate McGarrigle, in the hospital in Montreal and then walking back up over a hill overlooking the city to his home, reminiscing about earlier, happier times when the tune more or less blossomed before him in a sudden quickening of inspiration. I pretty much immediately realized I could use this to introduce his version of “Who Knows,” and–after a little more poking around–I stumbled upon this lovely version of Harold Arlen‘s “Over the Rainbow,” recorded at a 2009 Manchester concert, accompanied by his Mom on piano (she passed away from cancer in 2010). As my Mom is 94, pretty much wheelchair bound, and currently on hospice care, mortality has been on my mind a good deal of late, so this project became a means of working through and articulating some of my own feelings, although the photographs are largely of the Wainwrights or McGarrigles, Montreal, or nature scenes of one sort or another (the bridal shower invitation is actually for my Mom–I have been working on a slideshow for her and going through and scanning lots of old photographs from family albums, but that is the only photo directly associalted with me or my family). As a result, this slideshow, much more than most, feels strangely personal, and I feel strangely moved by it, in a way I can only describe as exqusite–an oddly aesthetic word with which to describe an emotional experience.

The slideshow (and the songs that accompany it) attempts to express loss, grief, transcience, and a kind of emotional acceptance, and ultimately it works–if it works at all–more through feeling than any kind of intellectual argument.  I am a little worried that Rufus (who I will actually be seeing in concert soon) may feel that I am intruding on an intensely private and personal matter that he would rather not have other people explore, however sympathetically. If so (assuming he becomes aware of it all), I will take it down as soon as possible. The audio of the introduction to “Zebulon” is from a 2010 performance sponsored by The Guardian newspaper in England, while the audio of the song itself is apparently its first public performance, in 2007 on FIP radio from Paris, France. “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” (by Sandy Denny, who I include with one photo of from her Fairport Convention days) is from Rufus’ performance at the 2015 Folk Awards. There are other versions on YouTube, but I thought this one had the best audio quality, and a beautifully shaded vocal rendering from Rufus. As I mention above, Harold Arlen‘s “Over the Rainbow” is from a 2009 performance, accompanied by his mother Kate on piano, from Manchester England, and again Rufus seems to get to the emotional heart of a great song. I hope you like the slideshow, despite its somber subject (I tried to include a couple of gentle laughs), and at any rate you can always just close your eyes and enjoy the music, which borders on sublime throughout, and even occasionally hovers just above where bluebirds fly.

 

 

 

Boulder to Birmingham: A Tribute to Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons

Boulder to Birmingham: A Tribute to Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons

This is a slideshow I did about a week ago, and have been kind of wondering what to do with as it has a kind of romanticism I don’t really think is characteristic of me. However, it also focuses on loss, grief, and moving past these emotions so that part certainly fits. I’ve liked Emmylou Harris ever since I saw her open for Joe Walsh back in the seventies at the Shrine auditorium. As it was basically a rock crowd there to hear “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Walk Away” (as was I), some people in the audience were rather rude to her, but she kept going like the true professional (and very classy lady) she was and is. After what she had been through, I doubt a few boos and some heckling even registered.

While I am by no means an expert on all things Emmylou Harris (I actually tend to avoid gossip columns or even celebrity biographies of artists while they are still alive–it can be disillusioning and for me–frankly–it’s always been the work that is important), it is widely acknowledged that this is a song about her reaction to the death of her former lover and mentor, Gram Parsons, who died of a morphine overdose in 1973, a few weeks before his twenty-seventh birthday.  He had already been a member of The Byrds, a founding member of highly influential (but never very commercially successful) The Flying Burrito Brothers, and had formed his own backup band who toured as Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels. It was with this last group, that his connection with Emmylou really developed, as she was a backup singer and sometime soloist with the band. They also apparently had a fairly intense romantic relationship, although I believe they had separated (I think at least in part over Gram’s drug use) by the time he died. Emmylou–in a way I deeply admire–turned her loss, grief, and ultimate belief in herself into this beautiful song (she actually is not a very prolific songwriter, but the ones she does write are almost always worth listening to), which has been covered by many other artists. The audio here by the way, is actually from the Starland Vocal Band, whose lead singer (Taffy Nivert) does a remarkable job of channeling Emmylou’s voice and spirit. While I like the version on her Pieces of the Sky debut album, I don’t think Warner Brothers really figured out how to capture the fullness and richness of her voice in the studio until her third album, Luxury Liner, which I believe was the first one I bought, and I think produced her first big mainstream success with her version of “Pancho and Lefty.” I seem to remember she even performed for Jimmy Carter at the White House. Of course, I then went out and bought her two earlier albums.  By the way, this is not an attempt to do a biography of their relationship, but more a kind of elegiac audio-visual poem inspired by the song that acknowledges the importance of their relationship to the song’s composition (I really love that quote in the penulimate photo–it’s quintessential Emmylou). Hope you like it.

Hurdy Gurdy Man: A Slideshow Inspired by a Donovan song

Hurdy Gurdy Man: A Slideshow Inspired by a Donovan song

This was an attempt to do a fairly straightforward fan video. While the expectation for a “hurdy gurdy man” to resolve the “crying of humanity” is probably naieve, it certainly is attractive. I also loved all the antique photos of street musicians I ran across, as well as some nice ones of Donovan. Hope you enjoy it.

The War on Drugs: a personal essay and a slideshow

The War on Drugs: a personal essay and a slideshow

To a large extent, this diary was inspired by a recent visit to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.  I am sure most visitors are gratified at the largely positive and almost worshipful treatment of their hero, the man who proclaimed “morning in America” and “compassionate conservatism.”  I have to admit I had the opposite reaction, in that the visit forced to me to remember and confront how much I truly loathed Reagan and much of what he came to be associated with. I didn’t think much of him as an actor, disliked him as governor, and found him fundamentally dishonest and actively harmful as president.  Although technically started by Nixon, one of the many movements Ronald and Nancy Reagan are given credit for promoting is what has come to be called the war on drugs.

While no doubt the problem is with me, I have never been able to summon up the kind of virulent contempt and passionate hatred for people who use, sometimes become addicted to, and even sell drugs for a profit.  This is despite the fact that I have been repeatedly told by my parents, teachers, countless TV shows,  movies, and even some popular music (e.g. Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done“) that unperscribed drugs were BAD, the people who used them WEAK, and those who sold them downright EVIL.  Speaking as an alcoholic who has used drugs in the past, as well as known other people who used them, I suspect I have a natural sympathy for the weak, a trait I do not tend to identify with being naturally joined to being either bad or evil.  On the contrary, I tend to see them as easily victimized by ruthless, powerful, and often rich people (three traits that are more often than not held up for admiration in America).  On a more personal level, the isolation, anxiety, shame, and pain of living in the modern world seemed to practically cry out in anguish for some sort of chemical response, although suicide was always a possible (and not wholly unattractive) option.  For me it was mostly alcohol (which I would still call my drug of choice, although I am currently not drinking one day at a time), but I certainly experimented with others, mostly depressants.

There has always been a fundamental hypocrisy in the approach to drugs in the United States.  As has been extensively documented, marijuana was largely criminalized as a way of keeping “those people”–mostly darker skinned–controlled and in line. If you were rich, doctors would gladly perscribe you whatever you wanted, and if you were white and had the proper (that is, conservative) outlook, you could happily abuse while heaping another sort of abuse on those who lacked your “connections.”  If caught, you rarely lost much by it and tended to be quickly forgiven (celebrity also plays a role here) as, for example, Rush Limbaugh was.  If it ended badly (e.g. Elvis), you became an object for sympathy and prayer, emotions and actions rarely extended towards those not in the proper sociocultural group.

Drugs profits were also easily justified by “higher” causes, such as fighting communisim (e.g. those tens of thousands of people murdered in central America) or radical Islam (e.g. once the Taliban were defeated and the Americans came in, opium production skyrocketed–somebody is getting rich–and I suspect it isn’t just people with Middle Eastern complexions).  The cocaine sold to finance the contras, for example, certainly ended up in the hands of inner city youth who–if they didn’t kill each other fighting over market share–could conveniently be used to supply the burgeoning prison industry, with the added “benefit” (in many states) of permenantly losing their “right” to vote.  It seems no accident that our current leader, both expands private for-profit prisons and cracks (note the pun) down on pot on the same day.

This slideshow is very much in line with some of my others on serious subjects, such as Slave to the (Algo)Rhythm, They Moved the Moon, and Guilt, but it reverses the pattern of some of my other extended audio-visual meditations on topics in that–unlike, say “Bitter Salt“–it goes from the geneneral and historical to the private and more personal. The first two songs–virtually unheard in the US (I think you can figure out why)–more or less embrace the idea of taking drugs. Spacemen 3‘s “Come Down Easy” (from their classic album Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To–surely one of the greatest album titles ever) is set against America’s dirty war in Central America and the generally unpunished or pardoned perpetrators, which in and of itself–if one truly tried to discover what was going on (almost no one did, and those few were either silenced or hounded to their graves).   This followed by Black Grape‘s hilarious parody of the Reagan’s drug war from their Stupid, Stupid Stupid album, “Get Higher.” Generally, the laughter keeps the tears at bay. Finally, Barenaked Ladies‘ “The War on Drugs” from their Everything to Everyone album explores the reasons why and the costs of taking drugs, both on the individual and those around them in a way that is both emotionally moving and–especially in the sudden, anticlimactic end–quietly devastating, musically replicating how society treats such “disposable” people.

I hope you find it worth your while.

Tecumseh Valley: A Slideshow about a Woman who called herself Caroline

Tecumseh Valley: A Slideshow about a Woman who called herself Caroline

Cross-posted (in slightly different form) at The Daily Kos and the Facebook group, “Townes Van Zandt–Best Songwriter Ever.”

I got so much positive response, to my “Pancho and Lefty” slideshow that I though I would put up this one, which I finished last week. This is another sequence of images inspired and accompanied by a Townes Van Zandt song, “Tecumseh Valley,” which–by the way–is a real place in Oklahoma (as is Spencer, also mentioned in the song). It’s kind of an alt-country narrative ballad, a little ragged around the edges, and I think I chose this live version of the song because of that very raggedness.  I was immediately drawn to it when I first heard the studio version on Townes’ Drama Falls Like Teardrops compilation. There is a beautiful music that Townes’ finds in the name (“Te-cum-seh”), and the simple poetry of the seasons, the dignity of labor, and in human passion that just sort of stunned me (a fairly normal reaction for me listening to his songs). It seems to mean even more to me now than when I first heard it, in that I realize that it is a song about someone we would essentially look at as a “disposable” person (and we’d call her much worse than that), beneath our notice except as someone to use and discard like a crumpled paper cup. The song (also recorded by Nanci Griffith and Steve Earle, among others) gives expression, dignity, and beauty to her hopes, harsh circumstances, struggles, and desires in a way that that I feel is too rarely seen, although doubtless some people will disagree. I hope you like the song at least, whatever you think of the slideshow I compiled (I basically set it in the depression and the dust bowl, although some of the photos are much more modern).

Me and My Friend the Cat: A Slideshow Inspired and Accompanied by a Loudon Wainwright III song

Me and My Friend the Cat: A Slideshow Inspired and Accompanied by a Loudon Wainwright III song

After having done three rather dark slideshows inspired by Loudon Wainwright III songs, “Dead Man,” “Men,” and “Unhappy Anniversary,” this celebration of human-feline relationships is a nice change of pace. The song, “Me and My Friend the Cat,” is from “Album II,” when Loudon was recording for Atlantic Records. I am not going for any deep meanings or political points, beyond the obvious “be nice to cats and they’ll be nice to you, and “don’t I have pretty cats?” (the blue Persian is my beloved Mitzy; the tabby with the striking green eyes is Melissa, and the one that looks like a Russian Blue is Moakey) While one could extend this message to human relationships to other species (or even other humans), the slideshow really makes no attempt to do so and I’d be surprised if anybody drew such a message from it. Anyway, I hope you like it, and find it fun.

 

A Slideshow about Guilt: Personal, Collective, and a River in Egypt

A Slideshow about Guilt: Personal, Collective, and a River in Egypt

Also posted yesterday at The Daily Kos. I had a rather disturbing conversation the other day with someone I very much respect, someone—in fact—who has probably done more to improve my outlook on myself and even the world than anyone I have met in a long time. I had just shown him two slideshows, They Moved the Moon (about the California genocide of American Indians), and The Freshmen, a slideshow that started out as an attempt to find a foundation for dialogue in the pain that every individual inevitably experiences, but ended up being more like a prophecy of mutual doom amounting to a kind of self-genocide that would hardly be acknowledged (if ever) until it was far too late. He seemed to be saying that the problem was not with the world, but with me; and if I could just figure out the roots of my attraction to subjects like injustice, inequality, unmerited suffering, and genocide then everything would be—if not exactly all right—at least I wouldn’t be very concerned and therefore a happier, better adjusted human being.

I recognize that there is a good deal of truth in his point of view, I probably would be a happier, more well-adjusted human being, although probably never “normal,” at least in the normal sense of the word. This slideshow is to some extent a product of that conversation a few days ago, and I realize that I, with characteristic perversity, have responded to his call for more tightly focused self-exploration of my anxieties and fears with the goal of eventually forging a more optimistic perspective on life by doing exactly the opposite. While I wouldn’t have really thought it was possible for me to go darker after The Freshmen (which at least started out as an attempt to empathize with people I didn’t like very much at all), I think I may have managed it, in part by Guilt’s wider focus, and in part by its direct attempt to address subjects which are usually either suppressed, denied, or belittled in America: the toxic effect of social expectations and stereotypes, the use of a religion as a justification for exploiting and destroying the marginal and powerless, the silencing and even murder of those who dare to tell us truths we don’t want to hear, and the deliberate suppression of many of the more unpleasant parts of our own history that do not conform to our self-flattering image of ourselves, to our incessantly repeated mantra that “America is the greatest country in world” (I suppose it may be true, depending on what you think “greatest” means).

All of these slideshows essentially grow out of a subject (here, guilt) and a song (here, three songs). Perhaps not surprisingly I chose Marianne Faithfull’s song “Guilt,” originally released on her brilliant Broken English album, although this version is from a live performance on a late-eighties television show. I chose it largely because I thought the drums, and the propulsive drive of the song, were a bit sharper and crisper than on the original. This section largely deals with private and personal feelings of guilt, but also introduces some larger issues explored in the second section. For this next section, I chose a version of Iggy & the Stooges “Dirt,” originally released on the 1970 Funhouse album, although this one is from a 2011 live performance in Detroit, which I chose largely because of the late Ron Asheton’s stunning atonal guitar work. Here I really move into questions of collective responsibility for the way the world is and don’t really come to any cheery conclusions. The final section, to a large extent inspired by Arctic Monkeys “This House is a Circus” from their Favorite Worst Nightmare album (2007). The “house” in question is, of course, The White House, with Hair Furor being the embodiment and inevitable conclusion of the escalating fear, hatred, selfishness, and victimization that are undoubtedly hard-wired into human nature, merely waiting for the proper circumstances (unfortunately now) to bring them to full, poisonous fruition.

I would certainly understand if you decided not to watch something that I freely admit is pretty depressing (in fact, kudos to you for having read this far).  I should warn you that there are a couple of curse words (it is Iggy, after all), and one of them is even written out, a young woman flips off the camera, and a few of the images are disturbing, although probably not as bad as something you could see any day on cable TV. Personally, I’d rate it a PG. I hope you do watch it, in part because I think it works as an aesthetic object, in part because I think it is emotionally powerful and moving, and finally because they are pretty terrific versions of some pretty terrific songs.

The Rainy Season: A Slideshow about the Weather

The Rainy Season: A Slideshow about the Weather

After working on “Slave to the (Algo)Rhythm” and “They Moved the Moon,” and purchasing a copy of Bob Drury’s and Tom Clavin’s The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend, I thought I needed a change of pace, which is to say, something to work on that was a bit more optimistic.  I haven’t even started the book yet, but it looks fascinating, enlightening, horrifying and–I have a feeling–probably profoundly depressing.  Being in a bit of a melancholy mood (not at all the same thing as depression) and thoroughly sick of the hot weather, I found myself drawn back to two Aztec Camera songs from probably my favorite album of theirs, Frestonia.  I had not realized until making this slideshow that the name comes from a street in Kensington (in London).  As I remember, they were Elvis Costello’s favorite band for a while back in the eighties, although they never really broke through here in the states (I believe their biggest hit in the U.S. was a cover of Van Halen’s “Jump”). These two songs, “Rainy Season” and “Imperfectly” are both to some degree about the weather, but of course that is really just a metaphor for expressing songwriter and singer Roddy Frame’s emotional and philosophical insights.  The point is, at least in part, that all of these things inevitably change and evolve, and that even deep sadness allows for the possibility of being transformed into something better. I managed to find a huge number of gorgeous images of the natural world, none of which I took, and a couple of which I had to pay for the rights to use them on the web.

I hope you enjoy them, if only from an aesthetic perspective, and they are lovely songs that I think have hardly been heard on this side of the Atlantic (or “the pond,” as my dissertation director used to say) and–if you listen to the lyrics, I think you’ll find that they have rather lovely lyrics to complement their lovely melodies.

They Moved the Moon: The California Genocide; a slideshow set to two Warren Zevon Songs

They Moved the Moon: The California Genocide; a slideshow set to two Warren Zevon Songs

Also posted, in slightly different form, about four days ago on The Daily Kos. This diary and the slideshow which accompanies it, were inspired by Meteor Blades’ diary of June 25th, “On the 141st Anniversary of Custer’s Well-Remembered Last Stand, why is California’s Genocide Forgotten?” As a native Californian, albeit of European ancestry, I was wondering how I could have missed this, although I was certainly aware of the controversy surrounding Father Junipero Serra’s sanctification, as well as more vaguely aware of the lynchings, riots, and institutional racism occasionally (as I then thought) practiced against Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Chinese-Americans, Japanese Americans, and African-Americans. I was not aware of how systematic, murderously successful, and popularly and legally prevalent it was. When Meteor Blades’ title asks how people could have forgotten it, I found myself asking how I could have forgotten it? The answer is, as I am sure is true for most white Californians, is that we never learned about it in the first place, and what scraps we did know were largely the product of a highly selective and—let’s face it—whitewashed popular culture (as I remember, there were a couple of episodes of Bonanza—and I think one of Gunsmoke—that dealt with racism against Chinese immigrants, and every two or three seasons one of the longer running westerns would have an episode that would at least obliquely address unfair treatment of Native Americans).

Not to rehearse Meteor Blades well-researched and far superior diary, he recounts the steady, popularly-supported decimation of California’s indigenous population:

There was one massacre after another after another after another, in each of which more California Indians were killed than were soldiers of Custer’s regiment in Montana. White Californians, the vast majority of them newcomers, had reduced the California Indian population to about 30,000 by 1873.

Even more appalling (although not so surprising, given that I had been living in East Texas for twenty years by this time, so I was perfectly aware not only that such things had happened in the past, but that they were still going on), were the ways in which the legal, judicial, electoral, and economic systems were manipulated so that Native Americans could be rendered powerless, exploited, stolen from, and murdered with impunity, with the public support of both politicians and many local newspapers. According to Benjamin Madley in the Los Angeles Times (quoted at greater and even more horrifying length in Meteor Blades’ diary),

California’s Legislature first convened in 1850, and one of its initial orders of business was banning all Indians from voting, barring those with “one-half of Indian blood” or more from giving evidence for or against whites in criminal cases, and denying Indians the right to serve as jurors. California legislators later banned Indians from serving as attorneys. In combination, these laws largely shut Indians out of participation in and protection by the state legal system. This amounted to a virtual grant of impunity to those who attacked them.

Institutionalized racism and oppression thus go back to the very roots of California statehood, by no means limited to Orange County or South Central, as sometimes seems to be case in media portrayals. Of course, racism, brutality, and forced conversions dated back to the very founding of the Spanish Mission system, but there were qualitative and quantitive differences once the Gold Rush started and California joined the United States as it hurtled towards civil war. As Iberian points out in his comment on Meteor Blades’ diary:

The Spanish system and missions where oppressive, abusive and murderous but they were not genocidal. There wasn’t any intent of eliminating the native population. After the gold rush and statehood the native populations were intentionally exterminated, and the mixed and Spanish/Mexican populations prosecuted, assaulted and dispossessed in many cases, other Hispanics that came also for the gold rush also assaulted and the anti-Chinese hysteria raging in pogroms. All of it not only sanctioned by local and state officials but at the request of the local government and even California Senators in DC. Ethnic cleansing in California has a horrible history the worse for the native populations, but extending to many other ethnic groups.

As I remember, when I studied the local Native American tribes of Kern County back in grammar school, they were presented quite sympathetically: I still remember watching short films showing how the local natives ground acorns and made meal, while men hunted deer and participated in fascinating sweat lodge ceremonies. I realize now, of course, how dangerously easy it is to romanticize a people who essentially no longer exist. Such appropriated but conveniently invisible peoples provide one’s existence with history, continuity, and a kind of Edenic past; while by their absence they make no claims upon you in the present. With this in mind, here is a slideshow set to Warren Zevon’s “They Moved the Moon” and “Join Me in L.A.” I had considered using his brilliant “Carmelita” in the second half, but I must admit I kind of like it this way. Although probably not as well known, “Join Me” has a kind of snarky energy, and permits an ending of hopeful defiance—if not of optimism—about the future (I also learned a bit about the Tongva and other tribes that inhabited the Los Angeles basin, so the song allowed me to focus the slideshow even more locally in its second half). I had already done a slideshow on Holocaust denial, and another on the persecution of marginal groups from the Middle Ages to the present, but I felt maybe it was time to explore something more uncomfortably close to home. Anyway, here it is—while the slideshow doesn’t begin to do justice to the magnitude of the event, it does do something. What that is, remains for you to decide:

Slave to the Algo(Rhythm): A Grace Jones inspired Slideshow on Math, Alienation, Inequality, and Oppression

Slave to the Algo(Rhythm): A Grace Jones inspired Slideshow on Math, Alienation, Inequality, and Oppression

Previously published (in slightly different form) on The Daily Kos. I had the rather unpleasant experience of being in prison lately. It wasn’t a surprise, in that it was a result of an arrest back in January that itself was the result of my own stupidity and despair. In essence, I turned myself into the court (as required) on Thursday morning at the end of June, went on the bus down to the County Jail around Thursday noon, and was in fact released by about one o’clock Friday afternoon. As the Torah I had brought to read was confiscated (I had been incorrectly told that you could bring a religious book—in fact you can’t bring anything from the outside at all without having it taken away at some point). Also taken (as I expected) were my self-phone, medication, a small amount of cash, and shoe laces, all of which were taken away at the local court where I was first processed, and then the rest of my clothes were exchanged for not totally unattractive prison blues and slippers when I arrived at County.  I never actually got assigned a bed, but—having identified myself as a member of a “special” population—was kept in a holding cell all night with other members of my “group.” Some seemed like nice people, some not so nice, and some simply disturbed; but the same could be said about the guards, deputies, and prison staff in more or less equal proportions.

Physically, the most unpleasant part was how cold it got, especially towards the end of the night, as it was impossible to get blankets or sheets, I suppose on the rationale that a prisoner’s death from hypothermia or exposure was easier to explain than suicide by bedsheet or blanket (although—if you were really determined to kill yourself and didn’t mind your corpse being partially unclothed—I’m pretty sure your prison-issued trousers would work just as well).  Psychologically, the worst part was the sense that you didn’t exist, as it quickly became apparent how practiced prison employees were at ignoring the inmates in this holding cell. You could actually see them turn to avert their eyes as they approached the long glass window that faced the prison corridor which basically everyone had to walk down in order to complete their processing and get assigned a bed and—I imagine—privileges like being able to get a book from the prison library.  When they reached the end of the long glass window, their heads would snap back, so they could see us (at most) out of the corner of their eye. Although decals on the windows told us in emphatic terms to contact the guards if someone tried to commit suicide, there seemed to be no way to do this, even if they were only a few feet away on the other side of the glass. Presumably, if you splashed enough blood on the windows, one of the more compassionate and observant guards would eventually notice. Please go below the fold for more, and a cool video I made.

My attorney had e-mailed me that I would be reporting for my 96 hour sentence with two days credit for time served. So I was surprised to discover on Thursday morning that the court had no record of my two days credit (my lawyer was not present) A number of people told me I might be released early, but it was unclear was who made the decision about early release, as it didn’t seem to be the bailiff or the judge I appeared before (it wasn’t really a hearing or a trial, just an appearance).  One of the sheriffs at the local jail explained that it was all based on how crowded the jail was and what category of prisoner you were. That’s when I understood: the decision would be made not be any human being, but by a computer that had been programed by human beings based on algorithms that they had designed at the behest of their employers. While I was certainly aware of algorithms, especially in terms of how they are used in Search Engines, the experience really brought home how much they have come to dominate virtually every aspect of modern life: not only search engines but the legal system, the financial sector, advertising, and even–increasingly—the arts.

As with firearms, there is nothing inherently bad about algorithms, but they can easily used for biased, unethical, or just plain evil purposes by human beings. As the old saying goes, numbers don’t lie, but people lie with numbers.  They inevitably reflect the biases and petty concerns of the people who design them and—too a much greater degree—the people who hire those programmers to design them. Anyway, I came up with the idea for this slideshow last Friday night around midnight, after I had gotten tired of playing find the shape in the stain (oh look, this one resembles a dinosaur; here’s one that looks like a turd, oh no, wait—I think it is . . . I think I’ll move further away). I actually had a copy of the eponymous Grace Jones album that “Slave to the Rhythm” was released on back in the eighties (a slightly different mix than the one I use for the slideshow), although I haven’t seen or listened to it in years.  By the way, I am not saying we should get rid of all algorithms, which is probably impossible as they are essentially hard wired into us, but merely that we should stop and think about what we are doing so that the algorithms we make will actually promote equity, fairness, and even connection to our fellow, suffering human brothers and sisters. It almost comes across as a joke when you state it like that, which is itself kind of sad. Anyway, here is the slideshow:

 Peace.
Sunshine Superman: A Relentlessly Optimistic Slideshow about Love

Sunshine Superman: A Relentlessly Optimistic Slideshow about Love

I basically made this in response to a challenge from my psychologist to try to make a wholly optimistic, even happy slideshow. If you look at the ones I’ve posted so far, although they may evolve from hurting to healing, none of them are exactly odes to joy. Frankly, I haven’t posted the really dark ones, although you can see most of them on my YouTube channel. This one, for example, looks at the Holocaust and Holocaust denial, while this one looks at notable killings in Texas. None of them offers much in the way of consolation or hope, but they both came out of a very dark place and time in my life, which was actually only several months ago. I still wonder if they aren’t more accurate evaluations of the human condition that this one, which was inspired partly by my boyhood love of Donovan, and in part by my psychologist’s challenge. While there is a lot I like about it, at times it does seem a little false and phony to me (kind of like what is called a “Hollywood” ending, which is so popular precisely because it does not reflect what people too often experience in their actual, empirical and subjective experience). Personally, I’ve always been tempermentally inclined to agree with Dorothy Parker:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.

Actually, I thought that the “To Build a Rocket Boys” slideshow did a better job of getting across the emotional complexity of experience while at the same time maintaining a generally optimistic thrust.

Certainly, I do not deny the possibility of happiness, even with other people, despite Sartre’s famous saying about them. It certainly exists, and some people are better at it than others, porbably mostly because of their natural predisposition, but also because external circumstances–often beyond their control–inevitably impact them. Anyway, I hope you like it, and that it makes you feel good about yourself, other people, or both; if nothing else, perhaps it will hold out the possibility that things might get better.

 

Build a Rocket Boys: An Optimistic Slideshow inspired by Elbow’s “Lippy Kids”

I’m pretty sure that my earliest career aspiration was to be an aeronautical engineer. In part, I knew that such a path–combining as it did mathematical skill, engineering, and practical application–would please my Dad, who I desperately wanted to please. It was pretty much a given that I would go to Caltech, as he had done to get his geology degree, and I have fond memories of attending parent/child days at the college, whose obvious intention was to get the sons (and, to a lesser degree, daughters) of alumni to come to the venerable Pasadena institution as what would now be called “legacy” students. I was actually quite attracted to the idea of going. One of my few books growing up that I actually owned was a History of Flight, and I was fascinated by stories of the Montgofliers, Otto Lilienthal, Edmund Langley, the Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtis, Eddie Rickenbacker, and Charles Lindbergh.  This was the sixties, and the romance of flight (e.g. “Catch Me if You Can”) and space travel were perhaps at their height. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a particularly skilled mathematician, my intuitive sense of space and ability to manipulate it were probably below average, and anything that required neatness, precision, a steady hand, and a keen eye (e.g. almost all scientific experiments) were pretty much beyond my sloppy, imprecise, clumsy, and near-sighted capabilities.

While I did eventually go to UCLA–a highly respected school on the west coast–there was little question that (in my father’s eyes at least) I was “settling” and taking the easy way out. Real scientists, those who did real work in the real world, whose work had fairly obvious real world consequences, went to Caltech; posers and liberal arts students went to UCLA.  In some sense that I still can’t quite explain, disappointing my father was worse than incurring his wrath, and it isn’t as if he would go on and on about what a failure I was. A look, a casual remark, or an occasional offhand gesture would be enough to convey the scope and magnitude of my inadequacy.

Nevertheless, I always kept my early interest in, even love of, flight and space travel. It was probably one of sources of my almost immediate attraction to the Elbow song, “Lippy Kids,” a song which seems to be about the intense friendships, almost arbitrary social rituals, and seemingly unlimited potential we still tend to identify with youth. To be honest, I don’t think the song is about building rockets in any literal way, but rather striving for and sometimes even achieving distant and lofty goals in whatever field of endeavor one might be drawn to. I had been kind of wanting to do a slideshow about this song (I love Elbow, by the way, and am really looking forward to seeing them again at The Wiltern this November), and two events last Tuesday sort of stimulated me to create this. The first was my psychologist suggesting that I might try making a slideshow that was wholly upbeat and optimistic as opposed to one that progressed from a bleak view of the world to a more positive one (e.g. “Bitter Salt,” and “Siren’s Song”). While this isn’t wholly optimistic, it comes close. Tuesday afternoon, I visited JPL on a tour, bringing my camera, and took lots of photos. This is actually the first slideshow I’ve done where some of the photography is actually my own, and I hope to develop that more in the future. The tour also brought back my early passions for flight and space travel, as well as the self-fulfillment (self-actualization?) that comes from doing something you love.  In that sense, it’s a kind of audio visual love letter to precocious, lippy kids everywhere. Hope you like it.

I am aware (as I hope is apparent in the slideshow) that it wasn’t just boys building rockets and studying science. With that in mind, this one is for Pam.

Kathleen: Another slideshow about mortality, this one inspired by a Townes Van Zandt song.

Kathleen: Another slideshow about mortality, this one inspired by a Townes Van Zandt song.

This is another one of Townes’ more oblique and allusive songs (cf. “Our Mother the Mountain”), and I certainly see how one could interpret in different ways–most obviously as about alcohol and/or drugs. As I am now looking at those as sort of a way of avoiding the anxiety caused by avoiding rather than confronting mortality, I of course place the song in the visual context of grief, loss, isolation, and death. As you might guess, I’ve been reading Irvin D. Yalom’s Existential Psychotherapy, and its explorations have unquestionably had an effect on me.  In some sense this is another slideshow about existential dread, and about some of the more dysfunctional ways we deal with pain. At the same time, Townes has created a beautiful, mysterious song about pain, loss, and how we flawed human beings deal with such things, and I hope that the images, timings and movements I have chosen for the slideshow do it justice.  I really believe that quote from Kathleen Raine above, by the way, and it also ends the slideshow.

Here’s a video that I just ran into last night for the first time (I didn’t even think Moby was still relevant–obviously, I just hadn’t been paying attention).  In some sense it explores some of the same issues–isolation, pain, grief, empathy, and how we deal we such things–but on a much more universal and apocalyptic level.

Dead Man (Trump ed.): A Slideshow about Mortality

Dead Man (Trump ed.): A Slideshow about Mortality

I was seven when I first became aware of my own mortality. I was looking at my hand, and I suddenly became aware of all the fine lines, virtually webs of wrinkles on my hand. All at once, getting older was not something to look forward too, a future in which I had ever greater control over myself and my environment, but instead one in which my body would deteriorate, wither, and die, and that it was a process that would occur regardless of my desires or best efforts, which might  (with some luck) temporarily put off but never avoid my inevitable extinction. It was as if my whole perspective on my existence pivoted around the focal point that was my hand, and nothing would ever be quite the same again.

What I am describing, of course, is the near universal experience (assuming you live long enough) of apprehending my own mortality, essentially my first encounter with existential dread.  I was immediately struck by Loudon Wainwright III’s song, “Dead Man,” which I first heard a few days ago, a song that seems to have been inspired by his father’s death and going through his father’s effects at some time after the funeral. As is so often the case with Loudon’s songs, I was immediately struck by a painful honesty, leavened with his characteristic humor, and an absolute willingness to apply his insights to his own life.

The slideshow began as an exploration of universal human experience, but I realized that one could apply it to Hair Furor, and that is what I do in this version (I get a certain schadenfreude from imagining his horror if he ever saw it, which I know perfectly well is extremely unlikely). The images I picked to illustrate the first two verses are intended to illustrate mortality’s universality, while the last verse focuses more on our current leader. However, the insights apply to all human beings, including myself, and I suspect I’ll be doing another version with photographs of myself in the final section. In any case, I hope you appreciate the song (the brilliant lead guitar work is courtesy of Richard Thompson) and aren’t offended by the slide show, which will probably make some people uncomfortable, more because of the issues it explores than any particularly graphic image.