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A clammy Saturday morning and my mind seems a bit foggy and tired. I’ve sat here for awhile now and I don’t feel like writing a damn thing. Don’t want to talk about anything. Don’t want to gripe about the goings on in the world or hear any more news this morning. Don’t want to talk about my work or myself, that’s for sure.

Just want to let my mind wander a bit.

Or not. Maybe just stare at the wall.

Or play some mindless scales on the guitar.

Anyway, here’s an old favorite of mine from  Howlin’ Wind, the 1976 debut album from Graham Parker. Great album. This song is Don’t Ask Me Questions and has been a constant refrain in my head since that time whenever I come across those days where I am tired and don’t want to be bothered by questions and chit chat.

Let’s just say that it has received a lot of airtime in my head over those many years.

I am pairing it with a new piece at the top that’s part of my upcoming show at the West End Gallery. Hey, I may not want to talk but a guy still has to eat. It’s called Play For Light, something I am hoping to accomplish this morning.

Wishing you all a good day.

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I want to be, all of a sudden
Every wave and undertow
I want to float
Everywhere I go

Lisa Hannigan, Undertow

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I debated yesterday over playing the song I eventually chose, Push the Sky Away from Nick Cave, or a song from Lisa Hannigan, Undertow. It was a tough choice. Hannigan’s Undertow features some beautifully delicate vocals that have a haunting quality.

Both songs actually have that haunting quality and both stayed with me all day while I worked.

So, since I am still very busy with prep work for the West End Gallery show, I thought I’d play Undertow this morning, as a kind of Sunday Morning Music addenda.

The painting at the top, In a Warm Breeze, is from the West End show. It has a nautical theme which I guess links it in a way to the song. But it also has a calm and quiet way about it while still having a layer of passion, of desire, in its undercurrent.

As its undertow, I guess. Whatever the case, it’s a piece that I like very much, one that gives me a sense of peacefulness that I really appreciate these days.

Give a listen to Lisa Hannigan and her Undertow, recorded in May at the National Gallery of Ireland. Have a good and hopefully calm day.

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And if your friends think that you should do it different
And if they think that you should do it the same
You’ve got it, just keep on pushing and, keep on pushing and
Push the sky away

—Nick Cave, Push the Sky Away

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I don’t have the energy or will to say much this morning. I just want to get back to work, prepping my show, From a Distance, for the West End Gallery that I will deliver later this week in advance of the show’s opening on Friday, July 17. The show is coming together well and I find myself more and more pleased as each piece is completed with its framing.

Much like my recent Principle Gallery show, this wasn’t an easy show for me. There was a lot of frustration and high levels of anxiety, both from my reaction to these times and to some other things taking place in my world. Lots of distractions and aggravations pulled at my attention and disrupted any semblance of rhythm I could find.

Just getting to work was work in itself.

But you just keep at it. Keep pushing. Turn it around and use the frustration as fuel.

Push the sky away, as the song says.

One of the new pieces from this show is at the top, one called Far Away Eyes. This was one of the pieces that helped me fight through the barriers that were there for this show. It was a struggle in itself to complete and there were times when I wanted to trash it. But I kept at it, kept believing that it held something for me.

And it did. As I worked, it began to fall into a rhythm that spoke to me and when it felt done, it felt right. The effort seemed insignificant at that point, a small price to get to where it was.

Just keep pushing the sky away, much as it appears the sun is doing to the sky in the painting.

Here’s a performance from this past December from Nick Cave at the Sydney Opera House. He’s singing his song, Push the Sky Away. It’s worth a listen.

Have a good Sunday.

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I am not feeling celebratory on this Fourth of July.  I have strong feelings about the ideals of this nation and the recent events here challenge my belief that those ideals can prevail or even merely hold on. There is just a bit too much irony in today celebrating our independence from what we viewed as the grip of cruel tyranny in 1776. We are weakening our country when we accept cruelty and selfishness as an aspect of our governance and national character. And make no mistake about what I am saying, selfish cruelty is weakness and we are witness to that currently. Here’s a post from several years back that I run every now and then on this day, speaking to our better ideals. Enjoy your 4th.

Jasper Johns “Flag”

Another Fourth of July.

Parades. Picnics. Fireworks. Red, white and blue. That’s the shorthand version of this day. The actual meaning of this day is much harder to capture, probably more so for Americans than for those from other countries who view us from a distance. I think we sometimes lose sight of the idea and ideal of America in our day to day struggle to maintain our own lives. But even that struggle is symptomatic of the basis of our nation, reminding us that anything worth preserving requires work and maintenance.

For me, America is not a static ideal, a credo written in granite that will always be there. It is vaporous and always changing, like a dense fog. But it is an inviting fog, one that is warm on the skin and invites you in with hazy promises of possibility.

And maybe that is all America ever was and will be– the promise of possibility.

Maybe it is the sheer potential of a better and safer life, the possibility of remaking one’s self, that defines our ideal America. We are at our best when we are open and inviting, offering our opportunity and empathy to all.

And we are a long way from our ideal when we close our doors and try to capture the vapor that is America all for ourselves. It is not ours to hold– we are simply caretakers of an ideal, one that brought most of our ancestors here.

Maybe this doesn’t make any sense. Since it is such a hazy thing, this amorphous fog that is our ideal, we all see it in different ways. This is just how I see it.

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I have ran this post several times over the years. Even the preface at the top was written in the past. I was going to change things up this year for the 4th and run Frederick Douglass’ famed Fourth of July speech given to a group in Rochester back in 1852. It strongly points out the hypocrisy celebrating a day of independence when one takes an honest look at this country’s past, especially at that time when slavery and the brutal assault on the sovereignty of the Native Americans was in full stride. It is an angry rebuke of the unequal nature of the American ideal. But in it, Douglass still maintained hope for the future, hope that the potential that this nation offered to some would one day come to be available for all people.

168 years later and we’re still struggling with that.

Here’s a song from Robert Earl Keen that kind of captures the atmosphere of this day, at least for me, in recent times. Even the cover for the album that the song came from, with parked cars ablaze at a picnic, fits these times. This song, Fourth of July, it’s not what you might expect. Not a flag waving, good timey kind of tune. It’s about the end of a relationship, about the real life problems and tensions that exist on a day while others celebrate. It’s a good tune so give a listen and have a good day.

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Painting and art cannot be taught. You can save time if someone tells you to put blue and yellow together to make green, but the essence of painting is a self-disciplined activity that you have to learn by yourself.

–Romare Bearden

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I came across the quote above from a painter, Romare Bearden, whose work I have admired for some time. It’s something I have known for a long time, the thing that makes this a difficult profession in which to succeed.

You can be taught certain aspects of an art form but there’s no way of learning how to make use of your own perception of things or how to make visual representations of their own feelings and emotions. Or how you react to the world. That is all internal and personally distinct.

What works for me may not work for you.

I always urge young people to try a life in art but there is no way that I can tell if they have what it takes to make a life as an artist. There are few metrics for determining one’s ability to take rejection, to allow their emotions to run free, to persevere, to sense the innate rhythms of the world or so many of the other intangibles it takes to be an artist.

But, even so, it is always worth trying.

Actually, while I believe this and could go on for some time discussing this, this was just a way to get to a short blurb that ran here a few years back.about Mr. Bearden which also acts as an introduction to a favorite song of mine. I am busy, much like when I first wrote this short entry.

Here it is:

Don’t have much of a chance this morning to write a proper post. Busy in a good way. But I came across this image above from the late painter Romare Bearden who lived from 1911 until 1988. I was going to say African-American painter as it does in most of his biographies but that kind of bugged me in the same way that bios often point out that an artist is a woman. Seems like they are creating a distinction and putting them into a sub-category for no reason at all, especially when the person in question is creating great work.

So I am just calling Mr. Bearden a painter.

And a fine one at that, one whose work always jumps into my eyes. Just plain good stuff.

Anyway this image has been sticking in my mind for about a week now and I thought it would be a great companion to some music for this Sunday Music by the one and only B.B. King. Especially since the central figure in the painting looks a little like B.B. King. I somehow have only played one song by him in all these years on this blog and it is definitely time to correct that oversight.

I came across his Live at the Regal album as a teenager and it just destroyed me. It was a live performance from the Regal Theater in Chicago from 1964 and it is one of the great live recorded performances ever put down on vinyl, regardless of genre. It just reels and rocks and is filled with classic after classic tunes from B.B., Lucille–the only guitar whose name you probably know– and a band that kicks it big time. As with Romare Bearden’s painting, it’s just plain good stuff.

Take a listen to the great Sweet Little Angel and have yourself a good–no, a great– Sunday.

 

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Let’s go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let’s go fly a kite!

–Let’s Go Fly a Kite, Richard and Robert Sherman

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I thought it might be time start showing some work from my upcoming solo show, From a Distance, that opens July 15 at the West End Gallery in Corning. There are definitely different takes on a variety of themes in this show so deciding which piece should kick off the process was tough. But given the many current events– or should I say disasters?– taking place in this country, I thought the painting here at the top would be a gentle starter.

The idea of flying a kite seems so much more preferable than going into the closet and screaming into the darkness.

The title of this piece is Let’s Go Fly a Kite, borrowed, of course, from the song of that name from the 1964 Walt Disney film, Mary Poppins. It’s a wonderful song that aptly captures the idea of putting aside your problems and releasing yourself to soar with your kite high above and far removed from worldly problems. I hope that is what one gets from this piece, whose image is sized at 10″ by 16″ and framed and matted at 16″ by 22″.

I never saw Mary Poppins as a kid nor did I read the books. I came to both in middle age, actually. But even so, the magic of both remained intact.  a few years back I came across a large single volume that contained all of author  P.L. TraversMary Poppins books and decided that it might be worth reading. I am glad I did. It was funny and touching and engaging on many levels. Just a great read. Made me regret not being interested in them as a kid.

I thought I would share the song here but decided to not show the one from the film. Instead, I am taking the version from another Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks. This film, starring Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, is the story of how Disney wooed the crusty Travers who was dead set against him making her book into a movie. She steadfastly opposed every and any change to her baby and thought the idea of a Disney musical treatment of her story was beyond the pale.

This version comes at a point in the Saving Mr. Banks film where she is near making a decision to withhold the filming rights from Disney. She is called into the work studio of the Sherman Brothers, the legendary songwriting team that wrote  many of the best known Disney tunes along with scores of other songs for other artists. Up to this point, Travers has been disdainful of their work that they have previously presented her for the film and in a final attempt to sway her, they perform the song Let’s Go Fly a Kite for her.

It’s a lovely turning point in the film and a nice version of the song as well. So, for a while at least, put aside thoughts of pandemics, of racial divides, of a treasonous and derelict president and all the other horrors that come as part and parcel of the current apocalypse, and think about the giddy thrill of watching your kite take to the air.

Soar with it for a bit. Or a little longer, if need be.

 

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“Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.”

–Wendell Berry

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Man, I want to rage this morning.

It would certainly be easy to do so. We are going through multiple serious crises right now in this country and the ship of state which would normally lead and assist us through this is being steered by a creature whose attitude towards his duty is self-serving and neglectful, at its best, and traitorous, at its worst.

Maybe even treasonous, given yesterday’s revelations.

But I don’t want to go that route. Like the poet Wendell Berry’s words above, this president*** willingly lives his life in the realms of rats and roaches. Today, let’s focus on the flip side of that coin, the human side that lives under the laws of justice and mercy.

Where most of us are privileged to live.

Let’s have some hope that truth will overcome the many falsehoods and lies. That intelligence will prevail over stupidity and science over ignorance. Let’s hope that a sense of community and good will shall sweep away the hateful and selfish behaviors exhibited so often these days.

Let’s just keep a little hope alive and remember these days when they finally come to an end so that perhaps we can avoid them in the future.

That’s asking a lot, I know. For this Sunday morning music here’s a classic song from the great American songbook. It was written by Stephen Foster (who has local connections to this area) in 1854 at a time when America was going through equally hard times in those years leading up to the Civil War. This is Hard Times Come No More as performed by Mavis Staples. It’s such a great tune that there is a multitude of  wonderful versions out there but I just felt like Mavis’ version fit the moment for me.

Give a listen. Keep your head up and have a good Sunday.

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Hard Times Come No More

Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears
While we all sup sorrow with the poor
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears
Oh Hard times come again no more

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door
Oh hard times come again no more

While we seek mirth and beauty and music bright and gay
There are frail forms fainting at the door
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door
Oh hard times come again no more

Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave
Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more

— Stephen Foster

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“Inner City Blue”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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Wake up everybody no more sleepin’ in bed
No more backward thinkin’ time for thinkin’ ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be

–Wake Up Everybody, 1975, written by McFadden & Whitehead

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Another quickie this morning. As much as I love to spout off, I much prefer spending my time in front of a piece of work and there’s some work that is calling out to me for attention even as I write this.

Thought I’d pair the painting above, Inner City Blue, a favorite of mine from my current Social Distancing show at the Principle Gallery, with a song from back in the day that has a message that resonates to this very moment. From 1975, it’s a prime slice of vintage Philly soul, Wake Up Everybody, from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with Teddy Pendergrass on vocals. Great, great song.

It feels like we have been on the cusp of meaningful and sweeping change for a long time but there has always been a violent reaction that keeps us from achieving it. And the closer we get to real change, the more violent and desperate the reaction from those who cling to a fading past. I think the last four years are evidence of that. Hatred and ignorance never rests. This song is a reminder that if we want to overcome it, we must keep up the pressure, keep thinking forward and keep our eye on the prize– a better and more just future for everybody, not just the few.

No time to rest now, no more sleepin’ in bed. Wake up everybody.

Have a good day.

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Fe fe fi fi fo fo fum
I smell smoke in the auditorium

Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown
He’s a clown, that Charlie Brown
He’s gonna get caught; just you wait and see
(Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?)

–Charlie Brown, The Coasters, composed by Leiber and Stoller

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Busy today so I am going to make this short and sweet. As much as I would like to rub salt into the wounds of the president*** and his pitiful gaggle of attendees at the much ballyhooed Festival of Victimization and Racist Pride ( that would look good on a t-shirt, wouldn’t it?) that took place in Tulsa over the weekend, I am going to refrain.

Thought I would instead simply share a song. It’s an oldie from way back in 1959 from the joyful Coasters that just felt right this morning. With apologies to Charles Schulz, here’s Charlie Brown.

Have a good day!

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Well, it’s another Father’s Day. The picture here on the right is my dad, on the right, and his late friend, Jesse Gardner, leaning on a sharp blue Impala when they both worked at my uncle’s used car lot in the early 60’s. The three– my uncle, Jesse and dad– went on to have long careers at the sheriff’s department. Jesse, by the way, was the father of my friend and painter Tom Gardner and the grandfather and namesake of Jesse Gardner who now owns and operates the West End Gallery. Small world, eh?

Father’s Day feels somewhat bittersweet this year, given the the quarantine still in effect at the nursing facility where my dad resides and the fact that will most likely be his last Father’s Day. Between the progression of the dementia which has wreaked havoc on his awareness  and the skin cancer which has metastasized while ravaging the rest of his body, he is now nearing the end of his journey. Upon consultation with the doctors and staff, we have decided to forego further intrusions and procedures on him. They will simply try to keep him comfortable in his final time here and we will probably be able to see him one more time as he nears the end.

It was not a decision I wanted to make and it has weighed on my mind in recent days. Nobody wants to have to decide on the fate of your parents. You always hope for a painless, graceful exit for those you love. Unfortunately, the wheel of fortune doesn’t always fall in your favor so you deal with what is at hand and hope that with it some small bit of grace comes your way.

So, on what will likely be his final Father’s Day, I’ll be thinking of my dad. I will try to think about the better aspects of what I know and remember of him, trying to not focus on his flaws and imperfections, which were many. As it is with most of us.

Please don’t send any sympathies. They aren’t necessary. We all are fated to have to endure certain parts of life and that’s just how it is. All part of the bargain.

For this Sunday morning music I am choosing an old Hank Snow song, I Don’t Hurt Anymore. I don’t know if I ever did but I can hear my dad singing long to this in the car when I was a kid, tightening his voice to make it sound like the Singing Ranger. And now, hopefully the title applies.

Have a good day.

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