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Posts Tagged ‘Willie Nelson’

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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Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game

— September Song, Kurt Weill/ Maxwell Anderson

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Ah, the beginning of September. As the songs says, the days grow short and the weather turns the leaves to flame. There’s a refreshing coolness in the air and the busy rhythm of summer eases away and in comes a slower, more relaxed cadence. Recognizing this dwindling of days brings a retrospective air to things, one that makes you realize that you can’t waste moments or wait for them to come to you. I always felt that I was in the September of life and now, being truly there in terms of years, I believe I was right.

Maybe that’s why this song has appealed to me for so many years now. It’s a song I play here every year at the beginning of this month and one that I often find myself humming without thought to myself. It is a gorgeous blend of melody and lyric that communicates on multiple levels.

I’ve played many versions over the years, including some absolutely beautiful versions from Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. I have never played the original version from actor Walter Huston in the 1938 Broadway production of Knickerbocker Holiday or a great instrumental version from Chet Baker. I’ll get to them at some point. My favorite is this one from Willie Nelson which seems to have the perfect blend of weariness and age in his voice to transmit the feeling of the song. At least, the feeling that I get from it.

The painting above is a favorite of mine from 2011 called Dissolve. It’s included in my show Icons & Exiles hanging until September 20 at the Octagon Gallery in Westfield, NY. This piece is what I would call a September painting.

Have a good day and, hopefully, a good September.

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We have become a nation of expediency.

Virtue, benevolence, and doing what is right has been set aside in favor of choosing to do what is easiest in the short term, even if that very thing is known to be harmful in the long run.

Theft. Corruption. Lying. Intolerance. Ignorance. Injustice. Inequality. Cruelty. Selfishness.

I think most of us agree that all of these things are bad. Except when it serves our expediency.

We are normalizing these things, accepting them because they somehow address some short term concerns. But once accepted, these things are hard to shake off. They become part of who we are, become identifying markers by which we are known to the rest of the world.

We are soon– if not already– going to be widely known for our cruelty, our selfishness, our injustice and intolerance. We soon shall be seen as a nation of corruption, where our promises no longer hold any weight and we are not to be trusted. Soon to be known as the nation that ignores facts and science. A nation that turns it back on the suffering of our neighbors and mistreats those who seek our help.

And all this lost for mere expedience. We have known what is right through the years and have generally moved forward with the promise of a more perfect union, as our Constitution describes it, as a goal.

But we stand at the crossroads now. We can either move straight ahead as a nation of virtues or continue on our current detour that is leading us to corruption, ignorance and intolerance. That path may look rosy now but the final destination may very well break our souls.

The current ruling party has become the party of expedience. They are displaying that they only care for what is right for them for the next election cycle. Every day, they normalize behavior that chips away at our national identity and show that they are willing to sacrifice all virtue for their own selfish, short term purposes.

We still have an opportunity to get back on that higher road on which we once traveled but only if we all band together and demand a return to virtues like truth, equality and justice. Like education, the rule of law, benevolence and righteousness.

But it will take a mighty effort. No expedience here, folks. No excuses. You can’t take a pass this time unless you are willing to admit your complicity when the whole thing burns down. And if history teaches anything, that is the where the current road leads.

So, just vote. And like Willie says: Vote ’em Out.

 

 

 

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Woke up late this morning, at least by my standards. I bolted awake directly coming out one of those weird dreams that seem like something out of a dystopian novel like 1984 or Brave New World.

Or taken from any recent newspaper.

I wanted to go back to sleep just to try again, maybe come out this sleep with something better. Second times a charm, you know.

But I couldn’t so I headed over to the studio for my morning rituals. But that feeling from my dreams lingered, like a foreboding prophetic omen that is always at the edge of my thoughts and my vision.

I have a floater in my right eye that sometimes, when I am looking straight ahead, will dart across the far right periphery of my field of vision. It’s been there a while now but I often still finding myself jerking my head reflexively to see what is there. Of course, there is never anything there yet its continued presence gives me an unsettling feeling as though something could be there when I look the next time.

Uncomfortable dream or terrible omen? I’m rooting for uncomfortable dream but who knows what our subconscious is up to these days.  So much of the info, the indicators, the patterns it selects to process from the outside world enter without our knowledge.

It all reminds me of the image at the top, a painting from back in 1996 or thereabouts. I can’t locate a slide of this piece but came across an old photocopy yesterday and was really taken with it. It’s called Strange Victory II designed as a kind of companion to Strange Victory which was an early painting that I showed here and was based on a favorite poem of mine with that title from Sara Teasdale.

There is a lot that I like in this painting– the subtlety of the colors, the textures and the contrast of the figure and the tree against the backdrop. It is so simply constructed but has a fullness that is often elusive to me as an artist.

I think it’s a great companion piece for this week’s Sunday Morning Music. This week I chose Don’t Give Up, the Peter Gabriel song from back in the 1980’s. This version is from Willie Nelson accompanied by Sinead O’Connor, from his 1996 album, Across the Borderline. I think it’s a first rate cover of the song and I can envision the image of this painting when I listen to it.

Take a listen and have good day and better dreams.

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Another Sunday morning and I am ready for a little music. I was looking at some of the Nocturne paintings of James McNeill Whistler that I so much admire, like the one shown above from  1877, and thought I’d use that as the theme for this week’s music.

There are a lot of songs that use night as a theme but I settled on the classic Night Life written by Willie Nelson back in the late 1950’s. It has been covered by a lot of folks over the years, some good and some not so much. But  for me  while Willie’s version remains the truest and best of the bunch, I am partial to this performance by the great Marvin Gaye. He inserts his own special feeling into the song and the night life he creates is indeed his life. Good stuff.

Give a listen. Enjoy. Have a great day…

 

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GC Myers- Septemebr SongIt’s hard to believe that September is upon us already.  September always has a contemplative feel, a pause after the hustle and bustle of the summer months before making the transformation into the cooler, grayer months.  The leaves begin to turn.  The days get shorter. The air takes on a cool hardness that is a keen reminder of the coming coldness of the winter.

One of my favorite songs is the classic tune from Kurt Weill, September Song.  It’s been recorded by literally hundreds of artists through the years from many genres, from Jimmy Durante to James Brown to Lou Reed.  Willie Nelson does a rendition that is very delicate, maintaining the tenuous nature of the tune.  Just a lovely version.  I’ve included it at the bottom.

The image here is a new piece, a 6″ by 10″ painting on paper that I am calling September Song.  It is part of a group that will be accompanying me for the trip to the Principle Gallery on September 13th, when I will be giving a gallery talk there.  More info on that later. This painting has a wistful feel, as though the tiny figure is pausing on the path to reflect on where he has been, what he has seen and done.  The sun above and the churning rays of light emanating from it represent the inevitability of time, of change.   I wasn’t sure what to title this painting but when I realized that we were into September, the tune immediately came to mind and the narrative of the scene filled out for me.

Now, I am going to give a listen to Willie as he sings September Song:

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This is the image I was searching for the other day when I was distracted by the portrait of Willie Nelson.  This is a scene from the very early 20th century at the railroad station in Forestport, NY, in the lower part of the Adirondacks.  It’s where my great-grandfather had his logging operations back then and maintained a home as well as a couple of other businesses.

As I’ve read about that area and that time I am struck by the contrast between then and now.  If you drive through the Adirondacks you encounter town after small town, all sleepy little affairs with hardly anyone around except for the seasonal tourists.  Forestport is one of those towns.  But back in the day, Forestport was a buzzing, vibrant town.  It had numerous mills, processing the trees coming from the Adirondack wilderness to supply the lumber to build the growing cities of the northeast.  There were huge numbers of loggers going into the forests every day — my gr-grandfather had 250 lumberjacks working for him at one time.  There were canal workers that transported the lumber with mules and horses down the Black River Canal to the Erie Canal.  There were boat-builders there who built the barges that traveled the canals and carriage builders to make wagons to haul logs and people.  These workers spawned a whole support network that created cheese factories, breweries, retail stores, restaurants and taverns, all employing numbers of other workers.

Everything was local, nearly everything produced nearby.  Ironically, the very canal and later highway system that allowed the town to ship out the resources that allowed it to grow were the beginning of the end, as new products from outside the local area were now easily shipped in on these transportation portals.  Products became more regional then national and most of the products consumed were no longer local in any sense of the word.

As the forests depleted from the voracious cutting, there were fewer and fewer loggers.  Fewer and fewer mills.  The canal was replaced by the railroad at first then the highway so the canal workers and boatbuilders became obsolete.  The newly popular car and truck replaced the local carriage builders.  And with the loss of these workers came the end of the need for the businesses that supplied and supported them.  The cheese factories closed.  The stores and restaurants were boarded up.  Slowly, the town dwindled until all that remained was sleepy little burgh that wouldn’t be recognizable to the residents from that time.

I’m not saying this time or that time was better or that it’s a crying shame that this place no longer is the same.  Things change.  For many reasons.  There are thousands of places like Forestport throughout the northeast and spreading through the midwest of this country, towns that are like little dying planets whose heyday has passed.

The interesting thing for me is that bustling, life-filled world is barely remembered, only existing in a few photos and a few writings.  Makes me wonder how what we view now as the centerpoints of our lives will change and if, a century from now, this time will exist only in memories and images that may be of little interest to the citizens of that time.

Of course, Ted Williams, Walt Disney and I will be there to remind the people then of this time, after they revive us from our cryogenically induced naps.

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