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.

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.

Dead Skunk: An Unofficial Slideshow based on a Loudon Wainwright III song

Dead Skunk: An Unofficial Slideshow based on a Loudon Wainwright III song

This is actually a slideshow I made in response to a comment I got on my “Unofficial:Loudon Wainwright III” Facebook page. John Burns mentioned that he had just been talking about “Dead Skunk” a couple of days before. I responded that people really seemed to like the slideshows I’ve done that feature animals prominently (“Me and My Friend the Cat” has gotten almost twice as many views as my second most popular slideshow), and that I thought he had just given me an idea for my next one. This is the result. It features lots of animals–mostly dead ones (it’s basically a funny, peppy song about roadkill). The audio by the way, is from a YouTube video of Loudon performing on Rockpalast, a German TV show (I think this is from 1984). This is why the end is so abrupt (the clip just ends there), and I tried to fill it out a bit with a couple of appropriate sound effects from iMovie. I also included some of Loudon’s introduction, partly for historical interest, and partly because it allowed me to insert a little bit of political satire. I apologize if you are offended by it, although I suspect that there is not all that much overlap between passionate Loudon Wainwright III fans and passionate fans of the current administration, so I don’t expect it to be a huge problem.

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).

Pancho and Lefty: A Slideshow Inspired and Accompanied by a Townes Van Zandt Song, as sung by Emmylou Harris

Pancho and Lefty: A Slideshow Inspired and Accompanied by a Townes Van Zandt Song, as sung by Emmylou Harris

Cross-posted at The Daily Kos. I just did this Wednesday night. Emmylou Harris’s version of “Pancho and Lefty” was probably the first Townes’ song I ever heard, so I include it here, although I use a live version from the Old Grey Whistle Test rather than than the one on her Luxury Liner album. I guess the song’s narrative is very vaguely inspired by the story of Pancho Villa (according to Townes, anyway, apparently Pancho did have a companion whose name meant “lefty” in Spanish, although he only found that out after he wrote the song). Still, if you are looking for a historically accurate account of the Mexican bandit-revolutionary, you’re looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place; instead, the song is just a brilliant mediation on loyalty and loss, the choices we make and their consequences. I would argue it is Protest Music, although of an amazingly subtle kind; in any event it is still an terrific song, and I love Emmylou’s interpretation.

For no especially good reason, here is a lovely version of Emmylou Harris singing one of her own songs, “A River for Him,” from her Bluebird album. As with so many of her self-penned turns, some of it feels autobiographical, while some the some of the other lines (“I’m a stranger to  the strange land I’m in / Where all is forgotten / But nothing’s forgiven”)  are written at such a high level that they basically seem timeless. This not my slideshow, by the way, but was created by catman916, whose YouTube channel this is from:

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 Freshmen: A Slideshow about Pain, Triumph, Loss, and Lots of Suffering, Awful People

The Freshmen: A Slideshow about Pain, Triumph, Loss, and Lots of Suffering, Awful People

Previously posted on The Daily Kos. I really had not intended for this slideshow to be quite so bleak. Once I came up with the idea of using The Verve’s Pipe’s “The Freshmen,” a powerfully moving song apparently written about the suicide of lead singer Brian Vander Ark’s girlfriend, as a way of addressing the political and emotional fallout from the election, it to some degree took on a life of its own, almost in spite of my conscious intentions. Frankly, it’s probably the bleakest thing I’ve done since “UKnowYourReichs,” a slideshow about Holocaust denial set to Kurt Cobain’s last song, a song which (to me anyway) seemed to look forward fairly obviously to his own suicide about a month after Nirvana recorded it. That slideshow was in part inspired by Night Will Fall, Andre Singer’s 2014 documentary about the liberation of the Concentration Camps at the end of WWII. Although I was by no means completely unfamiliar with the material, the film made a deep impression on me when I first saw it about three months ago, so deep that the documentary seemed more like a prophecy of things to come than a a record of events safely compartmentalized in the past.

Like Bitter Salt, this slideshow began as an attempt to find common ground in the shared experience of pain, with idea of moving beyond it to mutual cooperation if not necessarily shared understanding.  Tea partiers and progressives may listen to different media outlets, have different circles of friends, have completely different concepts of the historical and  philosophical bases for American society, and radically opposed concepts for what goals we hope America might become; nevertheless, as human beings we all suffer, and all those other diametrically divergent attitudes are—at least in part—our attempts to deal with our individual experience of pain, trauma, and isolation. Even our “fearless leader” (apologies to fans of Rocky and Bullwinkle, but I just can’t bring myself to say Hair Furor’s actual title), strikes me as a deeply damaged human being, a damage at least in part the product of his family life, education, experiences, as well as of his own bad choices and their often destructive consequences.

Certainly one of the ideas behind The Verve Pipe song is that we make bad choices, often self-destructive or destructive of those around us,  because we don’t necessarily have the wisdom or the life experience to make good choices. To make explicit an implicit conceit of the song, at some point we are all “freshmen,” doing ignorant and even stupid things in stupid ways because we don’t know any better, and because we are too wrapped up in our own pain to acknowledge that of others, at least until it is too late. The repeated and increasingly unconvincing refrain, “I can’t be held responsible,” paradoxically communicates the deep and overwhelming sense of responsibility the singer feels, as well as his understandable and all-too-common desire to blame the other party (after all, like an abused spouse, she’s responsible too because “She fell in love in the first place”).

I am certain that in compiling this slideshow I was playing with the not wholly accurate media portrayal of the Tea Party movement and the “average” Trump voter as—to some extent—political neophytes easily manipulated by a corporate media and political demagogues who cynically exploited these people’s pain for their own ends, ends that were often destructive of the very people that they purported to represent and to help, as well as targeting a host of relatively powerless “others” who could be identified by their darker skin, problematic citizenship, differing sexual orientation, or divergent religious and philosophical beliefs, all of whom merited by their very existence at the very least exclusion and—if Tea Partiers were truly being honest about it—their systematic destruction.

Certainly one thing that struck me in gathering the photos for this slideshow is how fervent the devotion of many Trump supporters were to their leader. While it is difficult if not impossible to truly divine what people are thinking from their facial expressions and body language, with a remarkable number, it looks an awful (and I do mean awful) lot like love, which itself raises questions about how such a beneficent emotion could have such toxic results? I suspect, as the opening  slides try to suggest, such tensions are deeply embedded in our human nature, and are certainly evident in the dark (and largely officially suppressed) side of American history. Similarly, I chose the last verse and chorus of the Ben Folds Five “Brick” (a song about the songwriter’s trip to an abortion clinic with his high school girlfriend over Christmas break), because it is one of the saddest songs I think I have ever heard, perfectly expressing the isolation, grief, and overwhelming pain caused by the experience which (to tie it back to The Verve Pipe song) the couple in question were simply not emotionally ready for, being “freshmen” in their own way. Although it isn’t directly stated in the song, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the relationship didn’t survive the trauma of that fateful day over the Christmas holidays.

The two brief film clips—only the second time I’ve tried to include them in a slide show (the first was (“UKnowYourReichs”)—also seem even more significant than they did when I first thought to include them. The first portrays the suicide of a gay German Jew, Albrecht Stein, the lover of the tortured hero of Before the Fall, while the second—from the 2008 horror movie Quarantine—shows the professional woman lead character Angela (a TV reporter) being dragged off into the terrifying darkness by rabid, zombie-like people who really don’t seem much like people at all anymore. The images of the two falling or being pulled into nothingness are both similar, horrifying, and haunting. The point about the dangers of being in a marginal group are almost too obvious to belabor, although one has the sense that being part of the powerful “in” group—whether being a Nazi or an uninfected male—offers no more than a brief reprieve in our collective, ever-accelerating plunge into the abyss.

It seems silly to say I hope you like slideshow, which takes two songs about deeply individual feelings of guilt and transform them into a means of exploring our collective guilt (at least I’ve given you fair warning about what’s coming), but I hope you are moved by it, and that some of that emotional rearrangement might result in positive action.

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.