Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Old Trees, Old Buildings and the Carnegie Library

When I attended Ohio University in the early 70's I became quite fond of hiking the hills across the Hocking River and watching sunsets while facing back toward the campus. On one occasion I recall having my attention drawn to a loud creaking and groaning sound just off the trail. I went to investigate and discovered it to be coming from a large, old tree.

As I drew near I saw that it was partially hollowed out, was rotting and would likely be the next tree to fall here in this region of forest. I suspected that there were some kind of critters making their home in this old tree, maybe squirrels or something larger. It certainly lent itself to this kind of occupation. Eventually the groaning, however, would become a loud crash leaving the remains to rot on the forest floor.

This memory came to mind this week as I thought about the number of old buildings in our community that people have been striving to preserve. Unlike the old tree, the buildings don't really groan too loudly. And unlike the tree, as they age they can be restored and preserved for generations to come. And as the large oak stands proudly in the midst of a generation of younger trees, so the old buildings model an architectural heritage from an earlier time, marking a continuity with our pasts.

Out here in the Midwest this past it not really very far away, at least when compared to structures in Europe that have stood for centuries and even a millenium. Every one of these buildings has a story. It's fabulous what has been done with the old City Hall by the owners of Tycoons in downtown Duluth. Though ambitious, the restoration of the Norshor Theater is a worthy cause. I think also of the Duluth Armory and applaud the efforts of the Armory Arts and Music Center (AAMC) for their efforts to preserve this valuable structure that has provided so much inspiration to previous generations.

On the Superior side of the bridge there has been some wonderful restoration and preservation of historic buildings, too numerous to list here, and I want to draw attention to one in particular, the old Carnegie Library. I love the new Superior library and until recently was utterly unaware that Superior, like Duluth, was blessed with a beautiful library built by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation back in the day. Of the 63 Carnegie Libraries built in Wisconsin, Superior not only had the oldest, it also had the last,. There were two Carnegie Libraries in town.

In 1991 the main library moved to its new location on Tower Avenue a block from Belknap and the city voted to have the old building dismantled, but historically minded "friends of the library" intervened with a restraining order.

Two weeks ago I was notified of a plan to purchase the building, if "investors" could be raised. Wes Kruse of the Superior Community Theater, who is spearheading the effort, sent me the following:

To Those Who Would Like To Buy Space In The Superior Carnegie Art Center:
There are five other spaces in the Old Superior Library, now called “Superior Carnegie Art Center” available for sale. Superior Community Theater would like to buy the Old Superior Library and have five other groups or individuals buy 1/6 of the building to put in art studios, dance studios, art galleries, martial arts studios, and recording studios. These are not live-in studios or condos, but working studios of creation.

Each unit can fix up their space any way they wish. The cost of fixing and electricity for each unit is up to each group to find funding to fix up their own unit. All six groups will help pay for the roof and the plumbing, but each unit will pay for their own remodeling and fix up. Each unit will be wired separately so you can put in the electricity you need and all heat in the building will be electric heat per unit. Each unit will pay for their own lights and heat, but water and sewage will be paid for by the Superior Community Theater.

To get in on this great deal, each available space will cost $4,000 down and $16,833 to be financed as you see fit and however you can arrange to pay off the remaining amount to whatever bank or funding organization you can go through.

If you are interested in looking at the units and the space, please contact Wes Kruse at 218-393-0148 or e-mail me at klpstudios at gmail.com 

It's a beautiful building and a great touchstone for local history. Do we have too many buildings and too few dollars? Consultants who did a city assessment last year asked the community to think big, think beyond the boundaries of "how" and ask what could be done if the resources were not a limitation. Wes is attempting to do this. Maybe you share the vision. Or if you're in another part of the world you hear the ghosts of a former glory calling out from the windows of a building near you.

Is it time to give back to the buildings that gave us so much?

Pictues of the Carnegie Library (above) and the Armory

Monday, July 29, 2013

Game Change Reveals Much About Today's Political Landscape

Theodore White's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of a President 1960 was a groundbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the drama that is called a U.S. presidential election. The scope of White's book extended from the beginning of the primaries to Nixon's concession call to JFK and the aftermath of the election. White's approach and the fair-handed treatment made it possible for him to have enough access and cred to follow up with sequels in 1964 and 1968, all of them well-written and dramatic, even when you know the outcome of the races.

So it is with the HBO made-for-television drama Game Change. Though we know the outcome it is a compelling film and a worthy use of your time some evening.

The story begins with John McCain (Ed Harris) being given the lowdown on how far he is behind Barack Obama in the polls. McCain is getting his shot at the presidency but he really has no chance if the polls are half right. He needs to find a running mate who will help him in two critical areas: to win the enthusiasm of the conservative right wing of the party and improve his standing with women voters. Though McCain wants Joe Lieberman for reasons he believes valuable for the country, the pollsters explain that the game would be over before it started. McCain gives in, and our story begins.

Problem: How find a running mate who is a woman and a conservative and vet her in five days? Though this would even be tough assignment for superman, it falls to campaign strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) to make it happen.

Vetting a candidate is one of those things that takes time to do properly. The primaries may be tiresome and tedious at times, but the process does result in some weeding. Skeletons in the closet can't be hid forever. With so much at stake the selection of a good running mate, who is an asset and not a liability, is a must.

The national media can be ruthless. When George McGovern selected Thomas Eagleton as a running mate, the media tore him to shreds for having seen a psychologist for "counselling" and thus implying he would be too unstable to assume responsibilities in the Oval Office during the Cold War. Now it was Sarah Palin's turn. 

The scope of this film extends from the selection of Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) as John McCain's running mate through to the 2008 concession speech. McCain knew from the getgo that this was a "Hail Mary" play, but his determination to win pushed him to make the call. Unfortunately, the vetting is delegated and the two teams that worked with her each assumed the other had dug into her foreign policy credentials. Turns out, she didn't even know many of the basics of International Affairs 101.

What was it I liked about this film? First, I felt it treated John McCain and Sarah Palin with respect. It would have been very easy to create a much more brutal film. Instead, the screenwriters showed us the challenges of contemporary political reality when it comes to selecting or being a candidate. Second, though Palin was over her head in our laser-intense national spotlight, she often performed magnificently and had a charisma made for our times. Third, the casting and acting was exceptional.

Theodore White's book showed in detail how the televised debates between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy changed the momentum in that campaign. Though the title of this film is Game Change, the real game changer this past half century has been broadcast media. Ronald Reagan was a master of the game as was Bill Clinton. Obama and Sarah Palin had this in common: both had limited experience but each had the ability to project something as performers. They had star power.

Let's not forget one more game changer. With social media and YouTube, unless you're on your game at all times your worst moments will go viral and never stop biting you. It's a harsh reality of today's political scene.

Ultimately, the centrist McCain may have been the ablest candidate, but in our brave new world we want rock stars. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Edges, Boundaries and Dylan's My Back Pages

Crimson flames tied through my ears 
Rollin' high and mighty traps 
Pounced with fire on flaming roads 
Using ideas as my maps
“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I 
Proud ’neath heated brow 
Ah, but I was so much older then 
I’m younger than that now 
~Bob Dylan, My Back Pages

A word I've been thinking a lot about lately and that I want to key in on here is edges. We use it a lot, but in a variety of ways. The edge of the table, the edge of a knife. It's often used to describe where people are at as in "She's on the edge" or "He's over the edge." In that context the edge is a dangerous or risky place to be, hence we're warmed when young to stay away from it as in the old Negro spiritual "Children, Keep in the Middle of the Road."

At one time people believed the world was flat and thus one could fear, when going off to sea, that they might encounter the edge of the world. The sea was a dangerous place not only bedeviled by sea monsters and storms, it had an edge from which there was no return.

In "My Back Pages" Dylan sets up two personas, the overly exuberant, self-confident attitude of youth, and the older, more seasoned veteran of life. The irony here is that the youth thinks he knows everything, but the older man has become younger by recognizing life is not an easily navigated channel, and thus in aging he becomes less all-knowing and more open, softened and teachable.

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
“Rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Now here's some further irony. The older wiser man knows life is not black and white, but the young person knows it, too. "Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull." And there's a bit of remarkableness in this statement which shows that both of them know something, but in different ways. The parrot may know the lines of a poem but not really understand what he's saying.

In our day and age we've become almost flippant about wisdom. For example, enlightenment is not getting the correct answer to "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" When we're young we might know the answers but know nothing about living the answers, if there are answers. The goal is not to ace a test, it is to understand what the purpose of the test was and why we had to face it in the first place.

Another word for edges is boundaries. The edge of my property borders a cow pasture, a road, a neighbor and a swamp. Internally we have boundaries, too. Some of these are fixed moral boundaries. Others are regions of ourselves that collide with one another because they are polarities. We have conflicting belief systems. For example, a desire to be transparent, and a desire to protect ourselves. Or a desire to stand up and speak out versus a feeling of insecurity about drawing attention to oneself. And then there is the dichotomy between risk-taking and safety that beguiles us in both relationships and careers. Life is the process of working it all out, making it work.  

John Hinchey, in his book about the poetry of Bob Dylan's songs, had pretty harsh words for "My Back Pages", calling it "one of the only two songs on the album [Another Side of Bob Dylan] to fall flat" and worse, "a song for which Dylan and most of his fans retain an unfortunate fondness." On the following page Hinchey calls it "perhaps the most extravagantly self-indulgent song Dylan has ever gotten away with." 

But I liked it then and like it still. Here are the closing stanzas:

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand 
At the mongrel dogs who teach 
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy 
In the instant that I preach 
My pathway led by confusion boats 
Mutiny from stern to bow 
Ah, but I was so much older then 
I’m younger than that now

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats 
Too noble to neglect 
Deceived me into thinking 
I had something to protect 
Good and bad, I define these terms 
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow 
Ah, but I was so much older then 
I’m younger than that now 

Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music

There really aren't any edges between adolescence and maturity, not any clean ones anyways. Yet we know from experience how differently we viewed the world at that time, and the special challenges that time of life harbored. The strange thing is that this song is as applicable today, nearly fifty years later for baby boomers in their years of declension as well. It takes a lot of growing up to stay young, to remain teachable, to remain open to new ideas, to re-examine one's own edges and boundaries, and to face uncertain futures with unshielded eyes.

Let's keep pressing on.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Authenticity: Who Are You, Really?

“How slow and slow and slow it goes to mend the tear the always shows…” ~Neil Young

I woke this morning with a theory about the people who write books about Bob Dylan. Upon waking I riffed through the bibliography sections of Robert Shelton's No Direction Home (current bedtime reading) and Lee Marshall's book that I finished last week. One of the titles that caught my attention in Marshall's bibliography was a book by David Boyle titled Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life. It brought to mind book concept I once outlined 15 years ago titled Boomer, Do You Know Who You Are?

My book for the baby boom generation was intended to be an antidote to some of the maladies friends of mine and I had noticed in our peers (and ourselves): a feeling of superficiality and fakiness, of having to play games; creeping deadness... lack of enthusiasm for life, work, etc.; aimlessness, lack of direction; weakness, helplessness to change situations, powerlessness; aware that we are not changing the world, our lack of social impact.

In response to these I'd hoped to strike a chord and re-affirm the ideals our generation once professed way back when: Authenticiy, Passion (Motivation, Enthusiasm), Purposefulness, Personal Power, Social Consciousness.

Boyle's book focuses only on the first of these, in a comprehensive manner that dissects everything. What's amusing to me is the opening line of the book's overview at Amazon.com:

"David Boyle guides us through the next big thing in Western living -- the determined rejection of the fake, the virtual, the spun and the mass-produced, in the search for authenticity."  

To call "Authenticity" the "next big thing" is to have forgotten what the Sixties was all about. Young people were realizing that their perceptions about how things are was being crafted. Have we come full circle?

As far as being authentic ourselves -- authentic to who we really are -- it's not as easy as it appears. Two decades ago I participated in a Meyers-Briggs personality workshop at a company where I formerly worked and learned a lot about how differently we are wired in many fundamental ways. As anyone who knows me knows, I am an extrovert, but in one exercise where I was to solve a problem with four other extroverts I became more introverted. Being thus out of sync with myself made me uncomfortable. What it also showed me is that who we are is often determined by context.

Since who and what we are seems to be in flux and is to some extent defined by our relationships, this may be why our lives sometimes feel like a quest to find relationships that bring out the best in us. Not every relationship or set of circumstances does this.

If we step back to the big picture, there's a historical context, a genealogical context and a global context worth noting... and then there's DNA and the imago dei. That's a whole 'nuther story.

I'm still looking forward to reading Boyle's book.

Friday, July 26, 2013

When the Ships Come In

They're here. There's big buzz over the tall ships that arrived yesterday to the delight of thousands. According to the Trib there were people finding their gawking spots as early as 8:00 a.m. for the orchestrated 2:00 p.m. parade into Duluth Harbor. It must have been a sight, but if you missed it here's a photo gallery.

Ships have figured prominently in the history of the world, both in exploration and transportation. Unless our roots are native, most of us arrived in America by means of ships, some in better circumstances than others (sadly).

I can't say that I fully understand the fascination with these ships. Part of it has to be nostalgic, something on the order of Civil War re-enactments. The word nostalgia conveys a certain kind of homesickness. It's a romantic wistfulness for a bygone past that can never be again. But when you think about all those trips across the Atlantic in which food was insufficient, where disease took it toll on the passengers and many were dropped into the sea, well, I can't say it's a past I'm homesick for.

It's surmised that the first sailing vessels were crafted around 10,000 B.C.  The Egyptians got into the ship-building mode around 3,000 B.C. and a quick review of the Wikipedia site on ships outlines the various places ships appear to have been used throughout history.

The game changer in sailing history was the development of advanced navigational tools during the Renaissance era. Even before that, however, people like Leif Erikson and his Vikings knew how to get around. In fact, today's Tall Ships aren't the first to make a splash in our waters. 86 summers ago the Leif Erikson replica boat was photographed entering our canal to glide beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge.

Since we're celebrating the grandeur of ships today, there's a very early Dylan song that can be used to mark the occasion. This song originally appeared on his third album, The Times They Are A-Changin'.

When the Ship Comes In

Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin’
Like the stillness in the wind
’Fore the hurricane begins
The hour when the ship comes in

Oh the seas will split
And the ship will hit
And the sands on the shoreline will be shaking
Then the tide will sound
And the wind will pound
And the morning will be breaking

Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls they’ll be smiling
And the rocks on the sand
Will proudly stand
The hour that the ship comes in

And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they’re spoken
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean

A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck
The hour that the ship comes in

Then the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a-touchin’
And the ship’s wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin’

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in

Then they’ll raise their hands
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered
And like Pharoah’s tribe
They’ll be drownded in the tide
And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered

Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music

Are you still waiting for your ship to come in? Have a great weekend and enjoy the views.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Let's Take a Look at the Numbers

A miscellaneous collection of random numerical facts for the 206th day of the 2013.

667 ~Number of tornadoes in U.S. this year so far, as of July 23… Fewest since 2004.

31.2 ~Number of iPhones Apple sold in the last quarter (in millions).

14.6 ~Number of iPads sold in the same period (in millions).

45,734 ~Number of people named John Smith in U.S.

178,710 ~Number of people in the United States with the first name of Leon.

67 ~Number of people in the United States with the name Leon Newman.*

316,300,286 ~Number of people in United States, July 2013.

2.1 ~Fertility rate of American women.

37 ~Number of years till we reach a U.S. population of 400 million (current guesstimate).

9 ~Number of symphonies Ludwig van Beethoven wrote.

41-45 ~Number of symphonies Mozart wrote, depending on which were his own or incorrectly attributed to him.

35 ~Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s age when he died.

56 ~The age at which Beethoven finished his life.

97 ~The age at which Great Grandpa Newman passed away.

0 ~The number of symphonies Great Grandpa Newman wrote.

47 ~The numeral between 46 and 48, the 15th prime number.

151 ~The total number of home runs hit by the National League in 1903.

158 ~Total number of home runs hit by the 1927 New York Yankees.

264 ~Total number of home runs hit by 1997 Seattle Mariners, current MLB team record for home runs hit in a single season.

150 ~Number of psalms in the Book of Psalms.

3500 ~Number of distinct species of mosquitoes.

0 ~Number of people in Minnesota who are fond of mosquitoes.

10,800 ~Temperature at the earth’s core, Fahrenheit.

27 ~The age at which Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain left this mortal, material realm.

½ ~The number of times Dr. Francis Schaeffer smiled during his ten-hour film series “How Should We Then Live?”

9 ~The number of Tall Ships that are slated to be strutting their stuff in Duluth Harbor this weekend.


*Source: http://howmanyofme.com

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Slow Train Coming

"The album was a shocker that made page one news widely, for Dylan's conversion, and its musical expression, caught nearly everyone by total surprise." ~Robert Shelton, No Direction Home

From my earliest days I've been fascinated by trains. When I went away to college my dorm room was in the corner of Ohio University's Scott Quad, the closest corner to the railroad line that ran through campus. The engineer was gracious enough not to blow the horn but it was still louder than thunder and the first several days caused us to sit bolt upright at 2 a.m. when the lumbering behemoth rolled by.

Trains figured prominently in more than just one of my paintings as a young art student. Perhaps it's their orderly bridled power that astonishes us. Perhaps its the massiveness of their force that conveys a sense of inevitability as they approach.  

For Dylan, the slow train became another vehicle for conveying new stories that he'd become passionate about.

Robert Shelton subtitles his chapter on Dylan's Gospel period "Busy Being Born Again." He opens the chapter with a pair of Bible verses from Psalm 40:

2 He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.

Slow Train Coming was a powerful album on many fronts. Its boldness, it's production values (the album was taped in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Becket with help from Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits along with others.), and its passion all demonstrated a serious new Dylan had emerged. Except he was now talking about Jesus. Many fans and critics didn't know how to deal with it.

The very first cut on the album lays out the message: Gotta Serve Somebody, a song which he opened many concerts with and has performed live 414 times through 2011.

Dylan follows with more explicitness in the beautiful lament, Precious Angel:

Now there’s spiritual warfare and flesh and blood breaking down
Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief and there ain’t no neutral ground
The enemy is subtle, how be it we are so deceived
When the truth’s in our hearts and we still don’t believe?

The third song is a love song to Jesus "I Believe In You."

It's a Dylan many people never expected. But then again, he's left clues all through his many previous albums indicating he had a spiritual side, a questioning and questing side. Street Legal contains a heart-rending song about a man facing an uncertain end titled Señor, which in Spanish means Lord. The final verse, uttered by a man stripped and on his knees, states:

Señor, señor, let’s disconnect these cables
Overturn these tables
This place don’t make sense to me no more
Can you tell me what we’re waiting for, señor?

The fourth groove is Slow Train. Rhymes with Hard Rain, and like Hard Rain it's an unflinching portrayal of how things are in this world we live in.

Slow Train

Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
Can't help but wonder what's happening to my companions
Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it'll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they're gonna have to abandon ?
There's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

I had a woman down in Alabama
She was a backwoods girl, but she sure was realistic
She said, Boy, without a doubt, have to quit your mess and straighten out
You could die down here, be just another accident statistic
There's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

All that foreign oil controlling American soil
Look around you, it's just bound to make you embarrassed
Sheiks walking around like kings, wearing fancy jewels and nose rings
Deciding America's future from Amsterdam and to Paris
And there's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

Man's ego is inflated, his laws are outdated, they don't apply no more
You can't rely no more to be standing around waiting
In the home of the brave, Jefferson turning over in his grave
Fools glorifying themselves, trying to manipulate Satan
And there's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters
Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition
But the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency
All non-believers and men stealers talking in the name of religion
And there's slow, there's slow train coming up around the bend.

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting
Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it
They say loose your inhibitions, follow your own ambitions
They talk about a life of brotherly love, show me someone who knows how to live it
There's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

Well, my baby went to Illinois with some bad-talking boy she could destroy
A real suicide case, but there was nothing I could do to stop it
I don't care about economy, I don't care about astronomy
But it's sure do bother me to see my loved ones turning into puppets
There's slow, slow train coming up around the bend. 

Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

Dylan played this song in concert 127 times between late 1987 and September 1987.

EdNote: Robert Shelton was the New York Times journalist whose review of a Bob Dylan performance in 1961 is credited with putting the young Dylan "on the map."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Something's Burning

Fire is one of those things that can be endlessly fascinating, and equally frightening when out of control. We all know what it is, but might be hard-pressed to define it, so here are the first two definitions from dictionary.com:
1. a state, process, or instance of combustion in which fuel or other material is ignited and combined with oxygen, giving off light, heat, and flame.
2. a burning mass of material, as on a hearth or in a furnace.

When I woke this morning I was thinking about how frequently the word fire was used or came up as a metaphor in rock 'n roll. Here's a short list off the top of my head.

"Goodness gracious, great ball o' fire!" ~Jerry Lee Lewis

"I'm just a hunk, a hunk of burning love." ~Elvis

"She's cool like ice, like fire." ~Dylan

Earth, Wind and Fire

"Let me stand next to your fire." ~Hendrix

"Fire... I'll take you to burn." ~Arthur Brown

"Come on, baby, light my fire." ~The Doors

"Don't you play with me or you'll play with fire." ~Rolling Stones

"We didn't start the fire..." ~Billy Joel

"Something's burning, and I think it's love." ~Kenny Rogers

"I've seen fire and I've seen rain..." ~James Taylor

* * *
The Greek's left us a tale about how fire came to mankind, the story of Prometheus. In Greek mythology Prometheus is credited with creating man from clay. (My son used to make people from clay, too, when he was young.)  As he watched these people whom he created he observed that they suffered during the winter time while the gods all sat around being content in the warmth of their environment.

Prometheus asked Zeus to provide fire for the people but Zeus demurred stating that fire might make people strong and wise like the gods. In addition, fire is dangerous. Someday people might sings songs about it and work themselves into an uncontrolled frenzy.

Prometheus chose to act on behalf of the people and defied Zeus, an action that made him memorable to us but caused him great sorrow. One day he stole fire from Zeus' lightning and snuck it off to the humans that he cared about. Though there is much more to this tale the scene we remember most is the payback Prometheus received for defying Zeus. Prometheus was chained to a rock and each day an eagle (symbol of Zeus) would fly down and tear out his liver. This horrible thing never killed him, however, as the liver would regenerate and he would have to look forward to the same thing happening the next day once more, and the day after ad infinitum.

Fire did ultimately prove to be useful for the people of our world. But it's also done some damage. Homes have been destroyed. Lives have been taken. Fire has caused much destruction.

The story of Zeus and Prometheus seems like a generational thing. "Parents just don't understand." Sometimes parents are wise to be cautious. Fire can be a powerful force. On a cold mid-winter's night, though, I wouldn't want to be without it. When it's raging out of control, however, it can be a pretty scary thing.

Does fire frighten you or comfort you? Respect its power.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Local Art Seen: Northern Prints Gallery

Revolution by Amy Sands
A couple years back I became aware of the Northern Prints Gallery and made an attempt visit on an evening when our family went to dine at Burrito Union across the street. The gallery was closed and for some reason it receded from my mind. Earlier this month, however, the little gallery on Duluth's East Hillside was brought to mind by the printmakers exhibition at the North Shore Bank of Commerce downtown.Cecilia Lieder, gallery director of the Northern Prints Gallery went out of her way to introduce to this impressive body of work.

The show at the bank will only be displayed through August 2, but if you miss it you can see some great artwork by printmakers any week of the year if you head over to the gallery. It's easy to find, just up the hill from the local Farmers Market and across from the Burrito Union.

The current show at Northern Prints is called Expanding Horizons: The UnMiniature Show. Like the work I saw at the bank, it's a collection of art in a variety of styles and print media.

If you are unfamiliar with the processes artists use to create original prints, the gallery has a nice little handout produced by the Northern Printmakers Alliance to assist you in understanding the various methods as well as the way materials are selected.

The green layer of a Leider woodcut.
What's immediately apparent when I review the information here is that printmaking is a profession and a fine art. The Print Council of America has gone to great lengths to legitimize print making as art. You can tell that a lot of thought and discussion has gone into formalizing the criteria for what qualifies as a certified edition of original prints. The informative brochure also outlines why printmakers choose the materials they use, why acid-free paper with high rag content is usually selected (to preserve its value) and the differences between relief printing, intaglio, lithography, screen printing and monopriints.

Many of the artists in this current exhibition will be familiar to followers of the local arts scene -- David Moreira, Tom Rauschenfels -- but there are others who have contributed to this exhibit with contributions from other parts of the country, all of it wonderful. The 53 pieces in this Expanding Horizons show fill most of the rooms on the first floor but also follow the staircase up to the first landing. One room, adjacent to the gallery space in this vintage 1891 home, is Cecilia Leider's studio and where she also stores her ornate woodcuts.

The net effect of this visit was to make me want to see more.

Gallery hours are from 1-6 p.m. Friday thru Sunday and by special appointment. If you've never been, I encourage you here to check it out. It's a nice little morsel of enchantment and wonderfulness.

The finished piece, printed.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Rumors Were True: Another Dylan Set Is Here

"I have heard the rumors all over town..." 
~ Bob Dylan, Tell Me It Isn't True

In 1970 Bob Dylan released two albums. One was the forgettable Self Portrait and the second one of my personal favorites, New Morning. Forty-three years later Columbia Records is releasing 35 outtakes, rarities and unreleased recordings from this period in The Bootleg Series, Volume 10, Another Self Portrait.

I remember well the unfavorable reviews and almost apoplectic reactions to Self Portrait when it was first released. I also remember Dylan fans (my friends and I) making excuses for this album. I don't know what's true and what is not, but when the subject came up it would be said, "He's only doing this because of pressure from the record contract." We excused it because he was trying to be done with the record company and it was their fault not his. You know how fans are. Their heroes can do no wrong.

So it's interesting that Another Self Portrait will be re-visiting a portion of this forgotten terrain.

Rolling Stone said "Blechh"
Part of the problem for many was that the album was heavy with covers of songs by others. Dylan singing The Boxer? Folsum Prison Blues? Blue Moon? But then, frankly I liked the way he interpreted them even if they were not his own lyrics. I can still hear Mr Bojangles in my head the way Bobby did it, not the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band version. (Sorry, y'all.)

In fact, it may be that the critics were wrong. Maybe it's a better album than some people thought, but it was different than what was expected. That would not have been the first time Dylan did something different than what others expected him to do. And it certainly wasn't the last.

When New Morning was released later that year I liked it immediately. The sound was clean, the songs fresh. I responded to the undertones of spiritual quest as well as the Dylanesque playful ambiguity in some of the tunes, especially Went to See the Gypsy, which we speculated on whether or not it was a song about Elvis. Fifteen years later I picked up a vinyl for three bucks at The Hungry Eye in St. Paul and still enjoy its grooves.

So about the time the Never Ending Tour passed through Duluth the word was out that a tenth bootleg series set was about to happen. Not a one has let me down so far.

So, now the big question? Help me out here. Do I need to obtain another copy of the original Self Portrait to accompany the Bootleg Series Volume 10 that I pre-ordered the other day from BobDylan.com? Another Self Portrait is scheduled for release August 27th. It includes outtakes from Nashville Skyline as well as New Morning. Decisions, decisions. You can probably guess what I'm thinking.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Make the most of it and have a great weekend.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Magnificent Desolation

Everyone remembers the name of the first man who walked on the moon. Many remember the second, but it is a smaller number. And most of us recall the first words that Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the moon, said when he stepped down onto the lunar surface that first time. "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

But who remembers Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin's first words?

Buzz Aldrin was an unusual man for an astronaut. He in the third group of astronauts. (The story of the first seven was documented in Rom Wolfe's The Right Stuff.) Buzz was the first astronaut with a doctoral degree. The others nicknamed him Dr. Rendezvous because his doctoral thesis at M.I.T. had been on Manned Orbital Rendezvous."

He was unusual for another reason as well. He had a poet's heart. Though driven to be the best in everything he did (in part due to an overbearing father) and though a member of the first mission to the moon and the first moon landing -- the culmination point of all his childhood dreams -- it later left him depressed to have not been selected to walk first on the moon. He felt he'd let his father down, had failed.

But even this wasn't the hardest part of Aldrin's moon experience. In his book Return To Earth Aldrin, records the emotions that overwhelmed him in that first moonwalk. The human soul within him was bursting in response to the astonishing beauty that surrounded him and his own overshadowed and forgotten words were these: “Beautiful view. Magnificent sight out here. Magnificent desolation.’ 

But Aldrin's desire to respond to this stark and awesome new world was squelched by the pressures of the mission. NASA had given these astronauts eight hours of experiments to set up and other responsibilities, with only four hours to accomplish them in. There was no time here for engagement of the scenery. He wanted to stop time, stand in astonishment and embrace the moment, take it in. But they were on a mission. They had moon rocks to collect.

Afterwards, when the astronauts returned to earth, the world gave them a heroes' welcome as NASA proceeded to send them on a new mission. As ambassadors for the space program, traveling around the world, they were forced to be cheerful, obedient trained monkeys. People have different temperaments and not everyone is comfortable with these kinds of social responsibilities. The pressures ultimately broke thisman who had been privileged to experience the fulfillment of his life's dreams, this historically significant event. In the end Aldrin had a nervous breakdown, brought on by a deep depression, alcoholism and his unresolved inner conflicts.

It's an amazing story with lessons for us all.

* * *

REMINDER: Tonight at Tycoon's in Downtown Duluth Ryan Frane, Adam Booker and Glenn Swanson will be performing from 8 - 10 p.m. Frane is a jazz piano instructor at UMD when Booker teaches bass. Jazz and blues drummer Swanson has performed from coast to coast with some of the jazz world's biggest names. It should be a good show.

Make the most of your weekend, and listen to the music.

Photo by Ed Newman

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Brownsville Girl and the Old Gringo

For a time in the 90's I went through a Latin American authors phase that include Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes. Fuentes, a Mexican novelist, essayist and playwright, achieved international recognition for his work. I'd lived in Mexico a year and enjoyed stories that took place there, especially those that would give new insights into how the country came to be what it was. Michener's Mexico falls into this category. And Fuentes' The Old Gringo is especially so.

The setting is a hacienda in Northern Mexico during the revolution of 1910-20. If "Occupy Wall Street" is about revolting against the one-percenters, in Mexico the hacienda system was the real we/they world. Picture plantations with the haves being the one-percenters who could do as they pleased, the rest being indentured servants with no rights.

Into this setting bring a naive young American woman who has been hired to come south to teach the landowner's children English. Also bring a an cynical old writer whose reaching the end of his trail. Add to this mix the revolutionaries who have taken over the compound... and what happens next?

The novel was insightful, providing an understanding as to why Mexico became a socialist country and why the revolution occurred. Like other epic novels this was a vehicle for addressing many larger issues, and human issues about meaning and life that Hollywood films can seldom penetrate effectively because it is a different medium. That is why reading novels can never be replaced by just watching movies, as the film hints at things written words can explore in depth.

The film got weak reviews, but I would suggest this is because without the book as a foundation its superficial telling of the story had no pedestal to stand on. In the film Jane Fonda is the schoolteacher who has been transplanted in Mexico. Gregory Peck is the Old Gringo.  

All this (above) is preface to a brief look at Dylan's Brownsville Girl which first appeared on his Knocked Out Loaded album and was later selected for his Greatest Hits, Volume 3.

Well, there was this movie I seen one time
About a man riding ’cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck
He was shot down by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself
The townspeople wanted to crush that kid down and string him up by the neck

Gregory Peck has had a rich career on the silver screen. Dylan is not the only person to draw attention to Peck in his writing. Elmore Leonard on more than one occasion has characters that reference Peck's role as a gunfighter, especially the scene where the kid comes in with guns drawn and Johnny Ringo (Peck) has to cool the hothead down by stating coldly that he has a gun pointed at the kid's belly. It's only his hand under the table, but the kid backs off. Great scene, the kind that makes for great movies.

The next verse deftly sums up the point of bringing this story to us in song.

Well, the marshal, now he beat that kid to a bloody pulp
As the dying gunfighter lay in the sun and gasped for his last breath 
“Turn him loose, let him go, let him say he outdrew me fair and square
I want him to feel what it’s like to every moment face his death”

Like many of Dylan's songs they start broader in scope and then narrow down to focus on personal relationships or experiences. In this case it his relationship with a Brownsville girl. Brownsville is a border town on the Rio Grande, the eastern part of an area called "the valley."

Lee Marshall, in his book Bob Dylan: The Never Ending Star, spends three pages dissecting this song, noting how Dylan inserts himself into the story of Johnny Ringo, a gunfighter wrestling the the burden of fame.

Something about that movie though, 
well I just can’t get it out of my head 
But I can’t remember why I was in it 
or what part I was supposed to play...

What's going on here?  You have to ask because as the story movies along, Dylan is still identifying with Gregory Peck, but now it's in a different film, one about the last days of Ambrose Bierce, the Old Gringo. Things in upheaval, and Dylan slinging off very personal observations in that veiled way he does, lines that speak with ambiguity yet seem specific. Lines like,

You know, it’s funny how things never turn out the way you had ’em planned

and

Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections 
than people who are most content 
 
Dylan's fascination for Peck is evident ("I'll see him in anything,") and Marshall's exploration of the song focuses on Dylan's role reversal, becoming a "fan" of another "star." He also states most directly that there is "no way this song cannot be about Dylan."

Hence, I invite you -- against the backdrop above -- to revisit the lyrics and hope you'll take away another shard of insight that you hadn't had before the next time you give this song a good listening to.

Meantime, life goes on all around you.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Poetry Night at Adeline's

Seems like every time I turn around I am finding more gatherings of poets, publicly sharing their transparent hearts and bountiful literary observations, both vivid and translucent, comic and serious. Here are some notes about the first four poets who read from their work ten days ago at Adeline’s Salon on the East Hillside of Duluth.

Chairs had been arranged in a semi-circle facing the mirror in the back left of the salon and a fairly healthy crowd had arrived by the time I slipped in shortly after eight. The mirror there is interesting because one's first impression is that there is a back room and perhaps the speakers will step out from the other room to read, as if coming out of the mirror. Having been to Adeline's before I am always surprised how this "effect" always fools me at first. There is something magical about mirrors.

Amy Groshek read first. Groshek brought along a new chap book called Shin Deep, which has a sepia-toned photo of work boots on the cover. She hails from rural Wisconsin and the poetry in her collection is rooted in this experience, some if it -- like Paying the Bills -- capturing the pain she and her family experienced upon having to leave the land. The poem is essentially the story of cow number 49's attempts to resist being led to the slaughterhouse, breaking away while her father held on to its tail. The insight that emerges has references to the ancient Greeks and tragedy.

Groshek opened with The Revolutionary, an unexpected "autobiographical" sketch of Christ the healer whom Pilate held up to the crowd in the end for a verdict. "...and they shouted to kill me." A poignant, tight summation. Other poems had titles like "Parochial" and a humorous piece called "Usage." A piece she read about her grandmother who died of Alzheimers, called "How It's Done," touched me for its relevance to my own life.

Hannah Adams of southwest Wisconsin read next. As introduction she noted how she left home, westward bound, and ultimately ended up in Maui. Her mother's illness brought her back to the Midwest. She began with a piece called "Herstory Lesson," reciting with professional form. "American history is not my own... I have homes and countries...I spread my DNA over my future."

She shared a love poem "For Adrian" and another piece called "The Secret." But I especially liked the setup for he poem "Occupation" in which the shifting dreams of her life emerge than permutate into other other futures. "At four years old I wanted to grow up to become an alien.... I am so young compared to the sequoias and still learning how to grow," she recited without text. "Today I am already living the life of the wise woman I hope to become."

Three of the four featured poets were younger women. Ellie Schoenfeld is a veteran poet from Duluth who is respected for her dedication to the craft. She opened with a piece titled "Patriot."  "I pledge allegiance to all the soil of the world..." Her work takes common images and extracts uncommon ideas from them. Her poems bore titles like "Summer Stasis" and "Blueberries" and a fun piece called "Paparazzi of the Mind." Another poem called "Owl" was written the year the Boreal owls were here. Her wry piece "Some Things I Have Observed About Jesus" is a pointed reminder of divide between political Christian conservatism and the carpenter of Nazareth.

The final poet of this quartet was Kat M who read from her new chapbook titled Something Is Happening to the Archtypes, a collection of prose poems. At first I thought she said the booklet was titled Something Is Happening to the Architects, so fortunately I have a copy of the book and was able to get at least this much right. (The idea of something happening to the architects does, upon further reflection, seem to intrigue me as a theme.)

Each of the poems is written with relationship to place, so the first piece, titled "How To Dance Like No One Is Watching," begins with the tag Los Angeles. Kat's writing is deliberately dense, and the prose format seems to emphasize this. At times the poems strike me as literary equivalents of Salvador Dali's surrealistic paintings, with disturbing images presented with such precision and technical skill that there is a beauty in the horror. The poems appear to have stakes in the ground in each of the places she's be, Pittsburgh, Traverse City, Duluth, Provo and New York City. Titles like "Detaching the Retina from Behind" and "Chronicles of Insomnia: If You Can, Build It Now" take you places you didn't expect to go. This night she shared, "I'm nobody's Orpheus," and got away with it.

After a pause there was an open stage for the other poets gathered, many of them familiar faces in this circle. The night gave proof once again of a serious literary world in place here in the North Country and a lot of youth really getting immersed in it. Write on!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Spotlight on AJ Atwater, Artist on the Move

Today we are on day 15 of AJ Atwater's Project 30/30. It seemed, therefore, a good day to share the interview I had recently with this energetic artist. Atwater has been showing her work for two decades here in Duluth and the region. Currently she lives in New York City in the spring and fall where she has been studying under Ronnie Landfield.

In addition to painting she is also a poet, with works published in a number of literary reviews. She's fun to talk to, but you will also find it entertaining to stop by Perry Framing on the 200 block of East Superior Street  here in Duluth between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. (during your lunch hour) to watch her work. There will be a showing of her Project 30/30 works from 5-7 p.m. at the Zeitgeist on July 31.

EN: What prompted you to begin your New York painting?

How much is that painting in the window?
AJA: I am drawn to the scope and scale of New York. My family has ties through business. I heard so many tales of New York, so it has always been a fascination. When I got there myself I knew I could sink into that place and I could thrive there. Its energy, scale and scope are what keep drawing me back. Each neighborhood has a different kind of energy and you can experience it very fast.

Galleries on the Lower East side are growing. It’s great to see the Lower East Side start to jump with galleries. I’m attracted to that force. It’s the art capital of the world as well as the publishing capital of the world. There are 300+ galleries in Chelsea alone. It’s alive with energy, hipsters kicking butt….

EN: So what have you been doing in New York?

AJA: What I’m doing is studying at the Art Students League under Ronnie Landfield.

EN: How did you connect there?

AJA: I saw a YouTube video of Landfield and knew immediately I wanted to study under him. He’s a lyrical abstract landscape painter. He was invited by the Whitney to show his work there when he was just 20. It’s fascinating to be working in the same place and same studio.

Landfield has a good presence. He’s modest… not on the international stage, but exactly what I love to work with. He has a good demeanor and his art is really thought out.

EN: You seem quite passionate about your work. What’s your driver?

AJA: There’s not an option. I’m a painter, an artist, that’s what I do.

Painting is just part of the gig. I think now that I’m devoting my life full time to art and writing, that’s when it started to happen because my life is not divided by the necessities of a day job. You have to live, breathe, sleep art. If you are not, you will not make it as an artist.

Yes, family and friends come first but art is the center and creates a momentum, which is a bi-product of working hard. If you don’t work hard, the bi-product is evasive. The main thing is making your art. If you do that the other follows. That’s why I am building on the energy for my show for Project 30/30. For thirty days during the month of July I am painting live at Perry Framing from 11 to 2.

EN: Why 30 when July has 31 days?

AJA: 30 canvases for 30 days, all 30” x 30”… with an opening on the 31st at Perry Framing… a showing at the end of the 30 days.

EN: Ah! I get it. What do you like about the NY School?

AJA: De Kooning, Motherwell… Rauschenburg a little later… He was diverse, and he really did not worry. Rothko, his work amazes me. Grace Hardigan… her work is phenomenal. Helen Frankenthaler, another woman, Motherwell’s wife. Lee Krasner, was married to Pollock… It’s harder to find women from the NY school of abstract expressionism.

EN: How did you make the leap from job to career painter.

AJA: I always had both and devoted a great deal of time to both. I bought art supplies for UMD stores, created my painting and writing while working full time. I came a point where I wanted to do the painting and writing full time and made the move.

EN: Do you worry about insurance?

AJA: I don’t worry about any of that. I have a well laid-out plan. You have a plan set forth and you put it into action.

You have to be a visionary. You have to have a vision about what you want to do and how to get there. I visualized what I wanted to do and moved toward that. It takes tenacity. It takes hard work, and it takes loving what you’re doing… passion.

Even if it didn’t become a successful endeavor, I would do it. Obstacles are good because you figure out how to get under them, around them or over them and when you get to the other side the strength you gain from the experience is amazing.

It’s more than just painting. It’s a philosophy, it’s your whole life….

# # #

See more of AJ Atwater's work at ajatwater.com.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Local Art Seen: Friday Night's Art Crawl

There is art to be seen at the MN Wine Exchange.
The weather was perfect and the art displayed fabulous. The "Second Friday" art openings made goin' to town worthwhile. And did I already say the weather was perfect?

Washington Gallery
Carla Hamilton
My evening started at Washington Gallery where Carla Hamilton's Euphoric Recall was displayed. Hamilton, who is back in Duluth after eighteen years in Germany, is producing work in a range of styles in a variety of media including wax, enamel, tempera and water color, acrylic, paper and newspaper fragments.  We spoke briefly about the work and she explained that she is working on a liberation of sorts, because a school can produce a fixed set of rules that constrain you from within.

A mixed media expression by Carla Hamilton.
As I returned to making art in recent years I, too, had to find who I was by breaking the rules I had at one time made for myself (or had imposed on me.) "What is art?" is a big question with no set answer, but it's a quest each of us wrestles with. The gallery is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-5 p.m. if you are able to swing by. Hamilton's work will be on the walls through the end of the month.

It was interesting how the work was presented. The pieces were individually numbered in a discreet manner that provided minimal distract from the art. If I'd taken my time I would have looked at the work while reading their titles, some of which you may find shocking. Others were fun, like "Jacked Up Raggedy Ann", "Burn Barrel" and "Jelly Bean." The work is very reasonable priced and my only regret is that I did not take more time with some of the individual pieces.

Dunner Mann
One piece that I especially liked turned out to be by her son Emanuel Hamilton Eisele. Titled Dunner Mann, it is a painting on glass with the outline of man scraped clean away. Paul Klee came to mind, and maybe Modigliani's long necked women.

Minnesota Wine Exchange
This was a totally unexpected experience. I'd parked down on Superior Street across from Lizzard's Gallery and planned to walk up the hill instead of down. On my way to Double Dutch, where Jay Whitcomb's work is being displayed, I noticed this place I'd not seen before. Upon entering I noticed that there was art on the wall and I struck up a conversation with the proprietors Debbie Fellman and Brent Johanson. As it turns out they have a wonderful space with a fabulous art showroom upstairs. I'm not sure how long the current work will be up but the works of two local notables -- Philip C. Jones and the late John Peyton -- can be appreciated there for now.

Considering the quality of the work, and the wine, I was surprised no one was here on this Friday evening when so much was happening next door and around the corner. Over at the Double Dutch it was a packed house. You couldn't move in the compact space upstairs and the gallery/store space below was full as well. Jay Whitcomb's drawings and images continue to be striking and complicated. The work explores personal spaces that at times appears ghoulishly extracted from the underworld.

PRØVE Collective
Eric Horn and his mechanical hand.
There was much to see Friday evening at the PRØVE, something for everyone, all of it quite exciting beginning with Ryuta Nakajima's fascinating pictures featuring cuttlefish camouflage and related themes. Nakajima is both an artist and associate professor at UMD. The presentation was excellent, the imagery something that stopped you fast in a snappy sort of way.

I noticed, too, that the Crunchy Bunch was performing to the left side of the entrance as opposed to the right. A giant mechanical hand by steampunk artisan Eric Horn served to direct the crowd as it entered. At first you just presumed it was some form of gate or method of directing traffic until you turned and saw what it was. Assembling the big hand must have been no small feat.

A serious looking cat, Ian Welshons
The next section of wall displayed new work by Ian Welshons of Stillwater. I had high expectations after seeing his colorful, off-the-grid work in a group show here last fall. I was not disappointed and have been much impressed by his style and wit as an artist. Currently he is illustrating a story of mine which called A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd, which we had running as a slide show in near the hors d'oeurves.

Adam Swanson's work continues to be serious fun, much of it containing motifs he has returned to before like penguins and bicycles. A wonderful painting titled "I Will Write A Sequel" shows a short-haired woman releasing and receiving a pair of birds. Because of his interest in endangered species I am guessing the larger bird is a peregrine falcon. Swanson's paintings have rightfully been receiving a lot of attention. He's just returned froman artist residency in Växjö, Sweden funded in part by a patchwork of grants and miscellaneous connections.

There were works by another artist who was not present and whose name I failed to capture. But I loved his or her Elephant in the Room... something we all tend to dance around at times.

Words are always insufficient when it comes to talking about art. If we could say it with words would we need to make the pieces themselves? The image enters the eye and seeps into places words themselves can never reach. That's why I make the recommendation that you maintain a habit of noticing the art that is all about you here in the North Country.

Three more images from Friday night art crawl:
Elephant in the Room
I Will Write A Sequel
Detail from one of Carla Hamilton's faces.