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Another Valentine’s Day. We often think of it as a day to express your fondness for the one you love. But at its heart, there is an element of yearning and loneliness in the day.

To give someone a Valentine as a kid– or maybe even when you’re a little older–is to make a plea for their attention and affection. It is an admission of need and vulnerability that is very human, as is the need to know that you are indeed loved by another.

This song, These Arms of Mine , is from Otis Redding. For me, Otis can do no wrong and nobody better expresses the yearning that I am talking about here than Otis.

Have a good day. And if you love someone, let them know every day, not just on this day.

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Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery. The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order to eventually become that path himself.

Henry Miller, Reflections on Writing

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This is one of my favorite passages from an essay in the Henry Miller book, The Wisdom of the Heart. I think you can easily insert any creative endeavor in place of the word writer and still be correct. The idea that the path of art concerns itself with acquiring a total view of the universe rings like absolute truth to my ears.

It’s a good thing to keep in mind on those days when you question the path you’re on and can’t recognize your purpose. Knowing that you are your own path somehow eases that anxiety.

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Paul Nash, Messenger

I am no longer an artist interested and curious, I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls.

Paul Nash

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You most likely don’t know the name of British artist Paul Nash. I wasn’t familiar with the name until just recently.

He lived from 1889 until 1946 and was a force in bringing Modernism to British painting. But perhaps he is best known for his scenes of war, primarily from WW I. They have a surreal otherworldly quality that creates a sense of disturbing unease.

As they should.

Nash knew the horror of war firsthand, fighting in the British trenches of the Great War. His quote at the top is a powerful indictment of homeland politicians, chicken hawks and war profiteers who go on and on, seemingly unaffected as others die for their words and deeds and bottom lines.

The sentiment still rings true today.

There was a tremendous amount of paintings of the time that depicted the terrible reality of the first World War. It was the first modern war that used technology that was designed to kill the enemy in mass and it left a psychic scar that still hasn’t healed to this day. Nash’s work was among the best of this work.

The painting at the top is The Menin Road. It’s a powerful image that is large in scale, as you can see in the photo at the bottom.

5.1.5

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I was looking for a song for this morning that might relate to Valentine’s Day since it is only a few days away. I wanted something that wasn’t too schmaltzy or too on the nose. And something that you might not have heard before.

I went through all of my favorites first and, while there were plenty of choices there, most of them were a little too well known. Then, as I was listening to another artist on YouTube– Louis Jordan rocking out on Caldonia— I noticed a song on the side, in the suggested-for-you videos that line right column of the screen.

Instantly, I knew this was the right one.

It’s  Ella Fitzgerald doing a horned up version of the classic Sunshine of Your Love from the 1960’s band Cream, which featured Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker.

What more can you ask for? You get the undisputed Queen of Jazz rocking out a love song from the seminal rock power trio of the 1960’s and nailing it hard. You can’t do much better than Ella.

Happy Valentine’s Day right in your face.

It makes me smile. Hope you like it as well and that you have a good Sunday.

 

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Along with the photo of the drum major that was featured in yesterday’s blog, I also came across another Alfred Eisenstadt photo. Shown above, it is of one of my painting heroes, Thomas Hart Benton, standing in front of a self-portrait. It’s a face that definitely belongs in one of his paintings. It reminded me of the post I’ve included below from a few years back that contains a video about the making of one of his famed murals. If you have ten or eleven minutes and are interested in the painstaking efforts that went into the making of this masterpiece, give it a look. 

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Thomas_Hart_Benton_-_Achelous_and_Hercules_-_SmithsonianBack in June, I wrote about going to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum to see the painting shown above,  Achelous and Hercules, a wondrous mural from the great American painter Thomas Hart Benton.  It was commissioned to hang in a now-defunct Kansas City department store in 1947 and after the store closed in 1984 this masterpiece was given to the Smithsonian.

The photo of this mural doesn’t do it justice. Its size and scale, 5′ high and 22′ on a wide wooden panel that Benton painted in egg tempera, is lost in fitting its image on a small screen.  Take my word, it’s imposing and grand, a piece I could stand in front of for hours, losing myself in the rhythms and colors.

That being said, I came across a video taken from an old film that shows the incredibly elaborate process that Benton used in the making of this mural, which took about eight months.  It is fascinating and unusual to see a known masterpiece all the way through the process and coming together in all its stages.  It makes me appreciate this painting even more.

Here is that video.  It’s about 11 minutes long and worth the time spent.

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This morning I was shuffling through some stuff and came across the great photo shown above. It’s a photo the great photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt took in 1950 of a University of Michigan drum major leading a group of kids across the campus lawn.

It has a wonderful effect in that it never fails to make me smile broadly. The joy in those kids mimicking the drum major is palpable.

Now, that’s a parade.

Which brings me to the news that broke last night that a certain person in Washington has given his directive to the Pentagon that they plan for a huge military parade with columns of marching soldiers, tanks and all sorts of armaments flowing down Pennsylvania Avenue in the District of Columbia.

At first blush, you might think that sounds great. Why not?

But when you consider the history and symbolism of such parades, you begin to ask, “Why?”

Military parades are not part of our national identity and have happened infrequently, the exceptions being at the ends of those wars when we have had citizen troops returning.

When you think of such parades, images of those in the Soviet Union, China and North Korea come to mind. These were conceived as shows of strength from these countries but were, in fact, signs of weakness and insecurity. The need for bravado and the flexing of military muscles is meant not so much to impress the outside world. Were we in the US really filled with fear at the sight of tanks and troops marching in Red Square?

No, these parades are designed from a stance of weakness and are meant to instill unquestioning, fervent nationalism as well as to stifle dissent within their own countries by showing the absolute might of those in power.

And this proposed parade falls into that same category, in my opinion.

These shows of strength not who we are and are not necessary. They show our weakness in a pitiful need to conspicuously show the military strength that everyone in the world knows we have. When we spend more than all of the other major powers in the world combined, they know.

Not to mention the cost, most likely in the range of a hundred or so million dollars. At a time when we are adding a trillion dollars to the national debt this year, wouldn’t there be better places to direct those funds? Maybe in helping those many, many soldiers suffering with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder?

I doubt those folks will be marching in these parades.

And all to appease the vanity of a weak and needy leader who kowtows to despots and dictators while constantly attacking his own government, a fool who believes that we are somehow constitutionally bound to stand and applaud for him.

Nobody can tell me when to stand and when to clap.

This ability to defy acts of authoritarianism might be the right that makes me feel truly American. Not some ridiculous military extravaganza.

Give me a drum major and a bunch of kids any day. Now, that’s a parade.

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Forgot to mention yesterday that it was the anniversary of the Day the Music Died as Don MacLean called it in his 1971 mega-hit American Pie. It was early in the morning on February 3, 1959 that the small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson to their next show in North Dakota crashed into an Iowa cornfield, killing all three.

Holly and Valens were key players in the transition from the early days of rock and roll to the next generation that was marked by the rise of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, both bands that very heavily influenced in their early work by the music of Buddy Holly. Think of modern rock/pop music being a genealogy chart, a family tree with Buddy Holly as a parent and his offspring and their children and so on all branching out in front of him. Most likely, he is a direct musical ancestor of many artists you listen to today, even though they may not even recognize it themselves because each subsequent generation adds lines of influence from which they synthesize their own music.

Just like Buddy Holly was the result of country music, folk blues and early rock and roll, each generation is a distinctly unique blend.

So, 59 years ago it was a huge loss when that plane crashed outside Clear Lake, Iowa. I have to admit that I sometimes overlook Buddy Holly, shifting him into a hidden file in my mind, until I am reminded by something, such as yesterday’s anniversary just how unique an artist he was and how much I enjoyed his music. I’ve spent much of this morning revisiting his discography, listening to songs that had a huge impact on so many other artists: That’ll Be the Day, Not Fade Away, Maybe Baby, Peggy Sue, Well..All Right, Oh Boy and many others. Just plain good stuff.

Here’s a favorite of mine, Rave On. Have a great Sunday.

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