Posts Tagged ‘Ken Burns’

“And Dusk Dissolves”– At the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA

“I love to watch the fine mist of the night come on,
The windows and the stars illumined, one by one,
The rivers of dark smoke pour upward lazily,
And the moon rise and turn them silver. I shall see
The springs, the summers, and the autumns slowly pass;
And when old Winter puts his blank face to the glass,
I shall close all my shutters, pull the curtains tight,
And build me stately palaces by candlelight.”

Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal

I was looking at the image of this painting, And Dusk Dissolves, this morning while a song was playing and the two pieces meshed together so well. The song was Ashokan Farewell, a song written and performed by Jay Ungar, one that most widely known as the theme for The Civil War series from documentarian Ken Burns, for which it was written. It was written in 1981 but feels so authentic that most folks believe it is actually a Civil War era song.

It certainly has a strong atmosphere of its own. And I think that’s why it meshed so well with this painting which is my depiction of a deep moment of dusk. Dusk is an interesting and one of the more emotional points in any day. Symbolically, it marks the end of the workday and becomes a time to pause and reflect on the work done for that day. There is satisfaction in its accomplishments and a bit of sadness in its failures and missed opportunities. As I said, it is a time of pause and reflection as opposed to the dawn which is more forward looking, based on the potentials of the coming day.  

And night itself is a time for one to put the prior day behind them and to rest and perhaps plan for the next. Or to simply imagine a new future well beyond the next day or the day after that. To, as Baudelaire put it, build me stately palaces by candlelight.

But here I am in the dusk’s early light. The night has passed and my plans for stately palaces have faded in that first light as I focus on more pressing matters for this day. But for a moment, I can put off the day once more and look at this image while hearing those mournful tones of Ashokan Farewell again.

Take a look and give a listen for yourself. Have a good day.

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Over the last couple of weeks, I watched the documentary series, Country Music, from documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. As is the case with most of Burns’ work, it is extremely well done and deeply researched. I can’t say I learned a lot of new info from it but it was fun to again see many of the old films from the early legends.

Every documentary takes a position and holds its own perspective on its subject in telling its story. This one certainly did and I imagine a lot of fans of the current country music scene, which to my ear is more akin to the pop/rock music of the 1970’s and 80’s, were disappointed that Burns didn’t focus on their contemporary heroes. But Burns showed the continuum of country music, which carries that expression of authenticity that marked country music in its truest earlier form, moving into the genre we today call Americana. As a fan of that raw expressive quality found in the real traditional country music of years ago, I was glad to see this observation from Burns.

One of the lessons I learned from this series is that if a majority of people in the country music industry tell you to not do something, you must really be on to something big. Two of the primary artists they focused on, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, both fell into this category. I’ve talked about my affection for Cash many times here, including his amazing late in life work that was the result of working with Rick Rubin, a rap/hard rock producer who encouraged Cash to be true to his authentic self in these late recordings. Cash’s family and many in the country music field warned him not to work with Rubin but Cash went ahead and made several successful, both commercially and artistically, albums. I believe they are as close to real art as you will find in country music and they remain an incredible final testament to his life.

A great songwriter with an unusual vocal delivery, Willie Nelson was always a poor fit with the country music industry in Nashville. In the 50’s and 60’s, he tried to conform but it just never came out right. He was the perfect round peg in square hole world. He wrote a number of songs that became hits for others but he himself released a series of mediocre, standard country albums that did not sell well or open any eyes anywhere.

So he retreated to Texas and just began to be Willie, recording and performing in a completely natural manner without any thought as to how he should look or sound compared to others. His work from that time on had that authentic feel that’s the defining quality of real country music.

I’ve been a fan since The Red Headed Stranger, sparse concept album that, with its cinematic feel, tells the story of a cowboy who kills his wife and her lover then goes on the run in a search for redemption. It came out in 1975 and there wasn’t anything that was like it in any way. His songwriting and choice of material was pitch perfect and he harnessed that unusual voice in a way that perfectly captured feeling and emotion of the songs.

Since that time he has continued to make great music, even now in his mid 80’s. He’s worked with a wide variety of artists from many different genres of music and has released a number of great albums including one of my favorites, Teatro, from 1998.

This is really just a long excuse for me to play one of my faves from that album, Darkness On the Face of the Earth. Oh, what the heck, let me throw in Can I Sleep In Your Arms from The Red Headed Stranger. I can just shut up now and, if you like, you can give a listen. If you get a chance, take a look at Ken Burns’ documentary on the PBS site. Have a great day.

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Vintage Baseball Photos 1800'sFor me,  Punxsutawney Phil is not the ultimate predictor that winter is coming to an end.  No, it is those first reports from Florida and Arizona that baseball’s Spring Training is beginning that does it for me.  The baseball is in the air  once more and I feel so much better when I am immersed in the rhythms of baseball.

And there is such a rhythm.  With its 162 games played over its six month season, it is present in some form on a daily basis for those who follow the game.  Each day brings something new that adds to the game’s long history, to its poetry and legend, to its voluminous statistics, to its never-ending debates over the superiority of teams, players and eras.  For someone like me who is a huge fan of the game’s folklore and history, nothing could be better.

Speaking of folklore, the photo at the top is perhaps the oldest image of the game, taken sometime before 1870.  It sold a few years ago on eBay for  $3800.  It shows a group of schoolboys at the Bluff School in Claremont, New Hampshire.  It was used in  Ken BurnsBaseball documentary and was taken by the early photographic studio of French & Sawyer which operated in Keene, NH.   Their partnership dissolved in 1870 so the photo was taken before that time.  It could be as early as the late 1850’s,  pre-Civil War.  The interesting thing is that there is action in the photo, a rarity for any photos of the era.  It also shows the players in positions that closely resemble today’s game which adds to that feeling of connection through time that is a part of the game.

The painting below is an early painting of the game.  I don’t know who painted it or when and can’t find anything about it.  It was listed on a folk art site and is no longer there so details on it are sketchy.  I think it’s a fun piece and reminds me that baseball is coming soon and winter is coming to an end.

The Pigs Baseball Club Ca 1890 21 x 30

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Self Portrait-- Jon Sarkin

I was sent a link by a friend in response to yesterday’s post that really sparked some thought early this morning as I read it.  It was a story about author Amy Nutt’s book, Shadows Bright as Glass, which concerns itself with the story of Jon Sarkin.

  Sarkin had been a chiropractor until a day in 1988 when he experienced a stroke which transformed his life in a way.  He began to paint voraciously,  trying to express somehow the new self he suddenly identified in the aftermath of the damage done to his brain by the stroke.  He knew that he was somehow changed, could sense that there were parts of his mind that had transformed him into what he felt was a completely different person.  Painting allowed him a vocabulary to express the new sensations he was experiencing.

It made me think about my own accident years ago and the transformation that has taken place in the time since.  I often think of my life before that time as almost another life in another person’s mind, even though I still feel the continuum of my existence.  I am the same but different.   I can’t put my finger on it exactly but  know that  it has been the seed for much of my work over the years, a seeking and expressing of true identity. 
In the Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, which I’ve been viewing this week in the studio, someone described Babe Ruth after his death as the most natural, unaffected person he had ever met.   He was what he was.  This made me think of this same concept of identity.  How many of us are perceived as what  we really are?  Does anyone ever really know anyone’s true and central self?  I wondered how many of us live in lives that are counter to our inner identities, constantly struggling in our minds, perhaps on a very subconscious level, with maintaining an outer face that we sense is not our true self?  It seems to me that this conflict in ourselves would be the source of much unhappiness in this world.  I know it was for me.
I don’t know if there are answers to be found.  Yet.  We still seem to be in the earliest stages of knowing how the brain and  the mind connect and  interact but given the acceleration of  discovery and technology over the past few decades, we may know more soon.  For now, we are who we are.  Or at least, who we appear to be.

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Babe RuthI recently picked up a book titled Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles Conlon.  It is, as it says, a book of photos of baseball players from the first part of the 20th century.  The photos are all black and white and give the players a grim, rough edge.  Not that they needed the help.

From the time I was a kid I was always interested in baseball from the turn of the century.  I read all sorts of books on my heroes and we had an old souvenir-like program from the 40’s that had many of these same photos with short stories and stats of many of these players.  I spent hours and hours looking at these faces and names until they took on a talisman-like quality in my mind.  Guys like Nap LaJoie, Rabbit Maranville, Wee Willie  Keeler, Cy Young and on and on.  In reality, many of these guys probably wouldn’t shine in today’s game but in my mind they were magic.Ty Cobb

Of course, there was a hierarchy.  Shown above, the Bambino, Babe Ruth, was the king.  An actual Sultan of Swat accompanied by his prince, the steady Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig.  Then there was the nasty tempered Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach, shown here in one of the most famous of baseball photos of its time.  Renowned for sharpening his spikes and using them on waiting fielders as he stole numerous bases, Cobb was always bitter over Ruth’s dominance of the spotlight.

These players always really stuck out in my mind because of the images and stories I encountered as a kid.  They were brawny and raw looking.  They drank hard.  They fought.  They had a hardened mythic look in their gray wool uniforms.  They didn’t look like the players of my youth.  In the 70’s baseball started to be played in awful multi-purpose stadiums with hard artificial turf surfaces, vast cold edifices that sapped all of the organic quality from the game.  The uniforms were evolving as well.  The 70’s brought these stretchy polyester space suits that only added to the artificial feel of the stadiums.  I always think of Willie Stargell, a large first baseman for the Pirates with a big personality who would’ve fit in well with my old-timers) in this god-awful form-fitting spacesuit.  He looked ridiculous.

Walter Johnson The Big TrainIt was easy at that time to drift away from the game that had provided so much magic when I was young.  I stayed away for almost twenty years, barely checking the races or stats.  I have a huge hole in my knowledge of the game from the 80’s and early 90’s.  The return of smaller stadiums built to fit baseball saw a rebirth but it was the Yankees that brought me back.  I had grown up despising the Yanks ( the voice of their announcer Phil Rizzuto was like fingernails on a chalkboard to me) but this team in the 90’s was a throwback.  They had grit.  They fought. They made plays that became mythic.  They made me feel like I was 9 years old again, reading the wonderful hyperbole of the old sportswriters as they made mighty pronouncements about the exploits of the Bambino.  Baseball was magic again.

So leafing through this book rekindled many memories.  With that I leave you with a short piece of film that simply shows the great Big Train,  Walter Johnson, throwing. I saw a part of this on Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary series on the game and was mesmerized by his extraordinarily long arms and the whipping action his arms.  There is a kind of poetic beauty in the motion.

Maybe that’s the poetry of baseball that people talk of…

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