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.
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.
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” 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.
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.
“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).
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.
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.
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.
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
Kneeling by and speaking up
He reaches out and I take a
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)