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 “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.

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.

 

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]).

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.

Epistle to Dippy: A Slideshow inspired by (and sort of about) Donovan

Epistle to Dippy: A Slideshow inspired by (and sort of about) Donovan

I was just rewatching the Sunshine Superman DVD about Donvan’s life last weekend, and found it fascinating–among the many things I had forgotten about him was all the time he spent with the Beatles in India, becoming part of the group that surrounded Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I had been wanting to make a slideshow about “Epistle to Dippy,” a song I really liked when I was about ten (I may not have been too sure what an epistle was, but I knew I liked the song), but couldn’t quite decide what approach to take to this rather oblique song. Suddenly the young monk meditating amid misty mountains made perfect sense, and I basically treated the “you” the song addresses as in fact Donovan himself as he is introduced to these new, “all kinds of windows,” perspectives on life. I have read, by the way, that the song was actually written to a friend who had joined the military. That may well be true (although its certainly isn’t obvious), the interpretation I offer here (which is really is intended to be evocative rather than prescriptive), I don’t pretend to any genuine knowledge of what Donovan really “meant” by the song. It’s still a great song, whatever you think of therse video, although of course I hope you enjoy both.

Quick note: this is actually an alternative take I found on YouTube rather than the single version. Although done in a much more baroque style than the hit single, it has a wonderful swirling energy that I like as much as the more popular version.