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Archive for December, 2018

Before nodding off last night, I began watching the 1942 movie Casablanca for what might be the the nine hundred and fifty first time. It’s one of those films that is easy to jump in and out of because there is always something to relish at any given moment– a memorable scene, shot, line or piece of music. It is chock full of small pleasures that totally add to a greater whole.

Perhaps the greatest of these pleasures is the performance of Dooley Wilson who plays Sam, the star performer at Rick’s Cafe Americain. His musical performances light up the screen, most notably the song As Time Goes By which has taken on legendary status.

Watching and listening to it last night made me think about how it was a fitting song for the end of the year, a wistful looking back as the clock marches on.

The song was written in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld for a Broadway show, Everybody’s Welcome, that had a short run. It went on to have modest success as recording by a number of record labels and orchestras. Herman Hupfeld was a minor songwriter of the era who you wouldn’t think would be the composer of a song that would turn out to be one of the great classics of the American songbook. He wrote some popular songs of the time that have long faded into the dustbin of history. I’ve included one at the bottom just to give you a taste.

As Time Goes By almost didn’t make it into the movie. The musical director, Max Steiner, was opposed to its inclusion but was overruled by the movie’s producers. Then in post-production they considered dropping it but because star Ingrid Bergman had already cut her hair for another part, they couldn’t possibly reshoot the scenes that already contained the song. So, it remained and became one of the most memorable parts of a true classic.

I wonder how the the film would have felt without it.

So, for this New Year’s Eve day, here’s the original along with that other Herman Hupfeld classic, , When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on the Tuba. Have a good New Year’s eve.


 

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Mad Rush

End of year blah.

Too much of some and not nearly enough of others.

Gray light and the clock races to an endpoint in a mad rush.

Then the new year. Tick tock.

Thought this might be a good point to play Mad Rush from Philip Glass as the last choice for this year’s Sunday morning music selection.  It has an ethereal, almost cosmic feel that seems appropriate for the frantic race to the end of one year and the transition to the subdued and tenuous beginning of the next.

It’s a gorgeous piece which was written for the Dalai Lama‘s first North American address back in 1979. Written originally for organ– it was written on the organ at the Saint John the Divine Cathedral in NY– it was meant to be a open-ended piece that could be shortened or extended without the audience noticing to accommodate the vague timetable of the Dalai Lama’s scheduled appearance. It has been recognized over the years as an iconic piece of modern music. Glass performs it here in Montreal from 2015.

The image at the top is a painting of Glass by Chuck Close who has painted the composer several times including one done solely with fingerprints that I featured in a favorite blog entry that I’ve run a couple times. If you look closely, you can see how this painting is a great example of  Close’s unique style of pixelation.

Enjoy the last Sunday of this mad year. Have a great day.

 

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Where I used to strive for movement and restlessness I now attempt to sense and express the complete total calm of objects and the surrounding air.

Lyonel Feininger

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Earlier this year on this blog, I showed a few paintings from American painter Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956). Every time I come across one of his pieces I am struck by the harmony and calmness they present. That perception– and the seeking of it– of the quietude of object and place is something I understand. Or, at least, aspire to understand.

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I came across this post from back in 2011 that was about how empathy was in short supply back then. Things certainly haven’t changed. If anything, empathy is an even rarer bird to see these days. I wanted to replay this post for the story of my fellow co-worker from years ago who I see as my personal symbol for how the poorest among us need our assistance.

But I also wanted to play this Woody Guthrie song again with the hope that there is indeed a better world a-comin’ soon. Listening to it, I wish that we could have a do-over, could go back to points in our past before the powers-that-be had yet to learn how to manipulate and divide the less informed among us. The time of the union movement was a point where the working masses were a powerful voice in our political landscape, one that built a foundation that gave many an opportunity to move beyond the limitations set upon them by their place in society.

It’s power and success made it a target and in the decades since, corporate power has sought to divide and destroy. Destroying the idea of the union, the idea of one person watching out for the other, was the mission. Empathy became a thing that the common man began to believe was a thing he could not afford. 

It seems on may of these days that they have achieved their mission. But I like to believe there is still an opportunity, that empathy and selflessness can overcome greed and selfishness. I might be foolish to think that but I cannot accept that we have lost the ability to see ourselves in others.

From December of 2011:

Woody and His Weapon of Choice

A couple of things stuck out recently for me when following the mass media. On The Daily Show, comedy writer Merrill Markoe appeared this week and during her interview made the statement that there are now so many socially acceptable ways to exhibit a pathological lack of empathy. I knew this  already but it was so succinctly put that it stuck in my mind, especially when listening to the GOP presidential candidates such as Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich basically attack the poor in recent appearances, blaming the poor’s own lack of initiative for their condition.

I do not disagree that there are ways for some to dig out from the depths of poverty. But for some it is a pit that can’t be escaped. I often think of a man I worked with for a number of years at the Perkin’s Restaurant where I worked when I first started painting. He was a few years older than me which put him around forty years old at the time.

He worked as a dishwasher and busboy making around six dollars an hour. I can’t remember what the minimum wage was at the time since I was a waiter and was only paid $2.35 per hour. This fellow’s wife was ill with some sort of chronic disease and it was constant struggle to stay afloat without assistance for their medical bills. To me, he remains the face of the working poor.

Now this man had no escape routes in his life. He had little education and it was painfully obvious. His prospects for doing a lot better than his current position were slim, at best. The jobs that once might have paid more in the factories and plants of our area were gone and probably weren’t coming back anytime soon. He couldn’t leave. He didn’t know where to go and if he did, he couldn’t afford to move what little he did have. He made a few extra dollars helping a friend pick junk but he was unfortunately near the top of his potential. This was a man who worked hard and did the right things, all that he knew, but still found himself at the very bottom.

He deserves our empathy. He deserves a hand extended.

Instead he and many thousands, maybe many millions, like him are categorized as merely lazy slackers who suck on the public teat. The hubris displayed by these politicians and  their failure to see the singular humanity of these people makes me angry. They anxiously seek to protect the wealthiest among us whose fortunes have been made possible by the blood and sweat of people like this dishwasher, who have been both the primary workers and customers for their businesses. Yet do they feel a tinge of empathy for anyone other than the so-called job-creators?

I don’t think so. At least, it’s not something they dare to exhibit in public. And if they display any empathy, it is because they seek to use these folks as pawns to be played for their own political benefit.

Maybe I’m wrong in talking about such things here. Maybe I should stick with art. I don’t care. Too many of us have remained silent and on the sidelines or have started to buy into that Ayn Rand-ish tenet that selfishness is a virtue that these people spout at every turn, as though it somehow acts as justification for their amoral activity. Maybe someone will not like what I say here and suddenly find my work not to their liking.

So be it. I have to believe that people who find something in my work  also have high capacities for empathy towards others. Those are the people for whom I want to paint. People who believe there’s a better world a-coming, as Woody Guthrie sang in his song many years ago. When I see how forcefully he stood up for his beliefs and the rights of others, I am ashamed at how little I have done myself.  Here’s his song:

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Have yourself a Merry (and just a little bit weird and creepy) Victorian Christmas. Just goes to show how the nuances of any era can be lost.

But seriously, Merry Christmas to all.

Children attacking a large pudding on a Christmas card. Date: circa 1890s

Roasted Rat for Christmas

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Just going to take it easy today and share two of my favorite things. One is the instrumental version of Christmas Time is Here from Vince Guaraldi, which most of us know it from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Just a gorgeous piece of music that has, for me, a most calming effect. It’s one of those songs that immediately transports you in an emotional way to to place of warm memory

The other is the beautiful page from above from the Limbourg Brothers masterpiece, an illuminated manuscript called, Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, from the 15th century. This image depicting the month of December is a favorite of mine. The color and composition works much like the Vince Guaraldi piano piece for me, taking me instantly to a more tranquil inner landscape.

Take a look, a listen, and have a good and peaceful day.

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Socks

This time of year it seems like so many radio stations play nothing but Christmas music. It’s a constant rotation of the same old holiday standards, often remade by singers from every genre. Flipping the channels around I seem to bounce from one version of  Santa, Baby  or Jingle Bell Rock to another. And mixed in are some new holiday songs that are usually saccharine sentiments set to some pretty blah music.

It’s hard to get too excited about a month of this stuff.

But I saw there was an album of new holiday songs from retro rock and roller JD McPherson called Socks. The title intrigued me. I definitely had childhood memories of opening Christmas presents that revealed brand new pairs of pale yellow or blue socks from my grandmother or an aunt. It was hard as a selfish little kid to paste on a grateful smile.

So I listened to the song. Then the next. And the next, and on and on. What a great fun album! They were all very catchy, easily accessible tunes with sharp, humorous lyrics, well produced with not a trace of sappiness. Found myself singing along by the end of most of them thanks to their videos that run the lyrics.

Here are three from the JD McPherson album that jumped out at me. There are several others that are as much good fun that aren’t here, most notably Claus vs Claus and Hey Skinny Santa  with its R&B Big Band sound. If you feel like some holiday music that doesn’t necessarily feel like holiday music, give a listen. Hey, any fun we can wring out of these days is a good thing.

Have a great day.



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I was listening to some music early this morning and came across this song, one that I hadn’t heard in a number of years. Thought it might be a good one to share if only to show the painting that adorned the album cover from which it came.

The painting is from Pieter Bruegel the Elder from 1559. It is titled Netherlandish Proverbs and contains depictions of at least 112 proverbs or idioms used by the Dutch at the time. Some are still in use, such as “Banging your head against a brick wall” which you can see in the bottom left hand corner. Others have faded from usage, like”Having one’s roof tiled with tarts” which indicates that one is very wealthy.

If you go to the Wikipedia page for the painting there is a great list of the the proverbs along with the imagery for each. I am enjoying it as I work my way through the list. Even without the list, looking closely at a Bruegel painting is always a great pleasure.

The painting was used on the cover of the Seattle based Fleet Foxes‘ self-titled 2008 first album. The song is White Winter Hymnal which works well for this time of the season. The lyrics are actually kind of nonsensical but the song is lovely and the video is interesting. The song has also been covered by the acapella group Pentatonix.

So, take a look at the painting and hopefully you will enjoy the song and video. Have a good day.

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In a way Winter is the real Spring – the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.

Edna O’Brien

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Today is the Winter Solstice. It is the day in which the Earth, tilting on its axis as it makes its way around our sun, reaching its maximum tilt, giving us the shortest, darkest day of our year here in the northern hemisphere.

It is a day that fits well symbolically into our current state of affairs. At the moment, I am not sure that it will not spin right off it axis.

Here, the darkness of the day fits, as well. While unseasonably warm, it is exceedingly dark and rainy. Grim, really. Especially here in the woods where I have reverted from being a creature of ice into once again being a mud person.

Every move outside is a trek traveling through are what seems like endless trenches of mud. Even the trail through the grass that chipmunks have made through the years from a nearby rock pile to our bird feeders has turned into a muddy trench.

But despite the absolute criminal lunacy (this solstice does comes with a full moon, by the way) of what is taking place within the executive branch of our government, despite the grimy and endlessly gray muddiness surrounding me, despite the anxiety of an upcoming holiday, despite it all– I am comforted by the day.

Perhaps it is because, as the great Irish novelist Edna O’Brien says, it is the time when the inner things happen. For me, this has been the truth of my life for the past twenty years or so. I am comforted by knowing that once I get past the next week or two, I will be willingly locked in a creative cocoon. It is very much an internal period, one that has generally been a highly productive time for my work.

So, in the darkness of the solstice, I gird myself for what new horror today’s news cycle will reveal and for the distractions and responsibilities that comes with the holidays, prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.

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River

Didn’t really want to write anything today and was listening to some music this morning. This song came on so I checked to see if it had played  recently on the blog. After all, it does have a holiday theme, in a mournful sort of way. Found that it had been a number of years and liked the post that accompanied it so I decided to repost it along with the song. Have a good day.

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There are some pieces in my studio that will always be with me, some because they are very personal pieces, virtual parts of my memory. Others because they are somewhat lacking and I wouldn’t want them out in the world. Then there are some that stay simply because I want them here. The painting below is one of those. It hangs above the large windows at the front of my studio and probably will for some time to come.

It is painted on a piece of our old upright piano, the lid that opened on its top. It’s about 8″ tall by 62″ long. You might think that this painting is about the heavy clusters of Red Roofs but for me this is a piece about escape. That cool blue ribbon of water that cuts through this painting, shown only in snips, is freedom to me, a rushing current to carry me away from the noise and chaos of the gathered village. Or better yet, I could become the river and move easily and forever– hopefully– through the land, joined with the other waters of the world.

I find myself thinking a lot when I look at this piece, which I do most everyday as it is mounted above the large window in my studio. It gives me pause and makes me think about being quiet internally, stilling the spinning wheels.

But most of all, it makes me wish I was that river.

I call this piece Wish I Was a River, sort of after the Joni Mitchell song, River. However, her chorus goes “ I wish I had a river…”  Maybe I’m being greedy here but I want to be the river, just running through and in the winter, frozen over and seemingly still while continuing to flow below. If Joni wanted to skate away on my icy surface, that would be fine with me.

Here’s the song from Joni Mitchell.

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