Tuesday, December 31, 2013

3 Weird Things You Probably Never Knew About Bob Dylan, Plus 3 Highlights of 2013

Disclaimer: Anyone who has been on the Internet for any length of time has seen those weird banner ads using the word "weird" in them. I have always thought them bizarre, but evidently they must work because advertisers continue to use them and since it is all being measured (clickthroughs, conversions, etc.) you know they wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't getting results. So... for the fun of it, I decided to use the word here in the title of my last blog entry of 2013. Weird, huh?

Here are three weird things you probably never knew about Bob Dylan.

1. When she was in school in Hibbing a girl who later grew up to become the mother-in-law of a friend of mine dated young Robert Zimmerman. (I do not have permission to say more than that, so don't ask.)

2. Several years ago I was at Frankie's Tavern on Tower Avenue, Superior and the young fellow next to me overheard some of us talking about Dylan. He said his father beat up young Robert Zimmerman once when they were in school together. (He lamented that he has always been ashamed of this.)

3. When you re-arrange the letters of Robert Zimmerman, it spells ARMOR BRIM MET ZEN, which is the secret password for an underground sect in Sri Lanka. And when you re-arrange Bob Dylan it spells both BLAND BOY and BAD NOBLY, revealing the two aspects of his dichotomous alter ego.

* * *

On a more serious note, here are my three personal Dylan highlights of 2013.

#3: Most of us have been aware of Dylan the painter. Bob Dylan the sculptor was a new revelation in 2013. In November, Dylan's Mood Swings show opened at the Halcyon Gallery in London.

#2: Bootleg Series Vol. 10, Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) was released in August. I can't remember an album I have played this frequently since... well since Dylan's last album. OK, maybe Together Through Life... If you have a choice between the two CD set and the three CD set, and haven't already bought Another Self Portrait, then get the triple set with the Isle of Wight concert. Very special evening captured live, and memorably historic.

#1: Dylan returns to Bayfront Park in Duluth.
Bob Dylan's Never Ending Tour continued to rumble along in 2013. For the third time it rolled through Duluth, the second time in Bayfront Park.

Honorable Mention: It created quite a stir when word leaked that Dylan was under consideration for a Nobel Prize for Literature.

What new direction do you think Dylan will take us in 2014?

Happy New Year!  

Monday, December 30, 2013

Spotlighton Becky Buchanan, Artist with a Generous Attitude

I’m not sure when I first saw her work but I recall vividly when I first recognized her skills during a live painting event at Bev’s Jook Joint after an art show at Goin’ Postal in Superior. She's a keen observer with a good hand.

EN: When did you realize that you wanted to make art?

Becky Buchanan: I don't think I ever actually made a conscious decision to make art, it's just something I've always done. My mom really deserves the credit on this one. From the time I was able to pick up a crayon I was drawing on everything I could. My mom was constantly encouraging me to draw her pictures and had incredible patience for my young 'artistic visions'. I remember being about 5 or 6 and feeling very proud of myself and the progress of my masterpiece of a zoo scene stretching across the entire hallway wall. When my mom walked in and saw what I was up to, she said,"Wow, Becky that's beautiful. Let’s go get you some big sheets of paper so you can draw on those next time and I can put it on the fridge for everyone to enjoy." All through school my mom pushed me to do more, got me involved in art shows and competitions and has always been my biggest supporter. She taught me that not everyone has the same talents, and that I can use mine to bring something beautiful or meaningful into other peoples’ lives. I guess that's how I find my own meaning in it.

EN: How did you develop your drawing skills and why?

BB: I haven't had any formal training other than the basic art classes everyone has to take at school, but I had some amazing teachers who pushed me. Mrs. K was one of my high school teachers who really opened my eyes and pushed me in directions I would have never tried on my own. I remember when she made me do a non-representational piece and I actually thought it was going to kill me. I actually ended up selling it last summer. I guess you just never know what you have inside you until you give it a fair chance. Like most artists I'm never totally satisfied with anything I do, and that just makes me work harder. I do a lot of exploring and experimenting with different medium, trying to get a desired effect. Discovering new techniques is always exciting, for me it’s mostly trial and error. It's a challenge having an idea or seeing something and then having to figure out how I'll be able create it. Getting to know other artists in the last year and understanding their work has been really inspiring. You have to get out as see new things to expand your own vision, you can't learn anything with your eyes shut all the time.

EN: You claim to have some unconventional ideas about art or being an artist. Can you elaborate on that?

BB: I'm kind of a traditionalist. When I think of artists, I think of the great masters of the past like Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Van Gogh. Their work has been an inspiration to people all around the world for hundreds of years. Every time I look at their work I’m struck with the same awe at their abilities, truly amazing. These are the artists who have inspired me to want to create work that will inspire others. I believe that artists have the talent and ability to move people and give them something that they don't get elsewhere. I don't think art is meant to be used as just something for personal gain, but instead as something that can enrich and inspire the lives of others.

EN: What have been your most gratifying pieces that you have produced?

BB: Some of the most gratifying pieces I've done are the ones I can see mean something really special to the person who receives them. I did a couple pieces of the local landscape for a friend of mine who moved to New York; it gives her a little piece of home. One oil painting I did ended up getting published in Guitar World magazine, which was a great surprise for me, since I was
n't the one who sent it in. For the last show I didn't do any real serious pieces, but instead decided to have fun with it and painted a couple surprise watercolor portraits of friends based on photos of them back in the 1970's. Those got a few good laughs and really meant something special. That's a gratifying feeling.

EN: Where do you see yourself in five years as regards your "art career"?

BB: I don't think I can call it a career, but [making] art is definitely something I will always be chasing. I just want to continue to develop my technique and keep making things that people will enjoy. The biggest step for me would be to overcome my feelings of showing my work publicly and begin working on getting it seen more. If I ever take the time to figure out the technicalities of my camera I'd love to start taking more photos. I got it initially so that I could take pictures to work from, but that doesn't work unless you know how to use it.

There's always a time battle going on, I think it's like that with everyone. School consumes much of my time, but I have great supporters in my life that push me, and once I start painting it takes a while to get it out of my system to take a break again. I'm hoping that after I graduate, my job will enable me to afford to be not so much of a starving artist and more just an artist.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sly Stallone the Painter and Other Celebrity Art

"Mask" by Jonathan Winters
The Sylvester Stallone story I remember most was one I heard on Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story about two decades ago. Essentially it was the story of a dock worker who labored all day and wrote Hollywood screenplays at night. After having written ten movie scripts, all rejected, he decided to create a character whose singular attribute was that he never gave up. This eleventh screenplay, of course, ended up as the first of many Rocky films and a career in Hollywood.

What I liked about the story was that Stallone had a day job but made sacrifices to be a writer by night as if to say, "Follow your passion. You never know where it will lead."

To my surprise, Stallone has had another passion this past half century. He wanted to be an artist. In fact, he has been painting an making art all through his career in Hollywood. In fact, if you happen to be in Russia during the next two weeks, you may want to visit The Russian Museum to see his current show there.

I stumbled upon the Stallone-as-Artist connection by means of website called Pop Life Art that featured the artist connections of celebrities. What sent me on my quest was Bob Dylan's Drawn Blank Series which was released this year. Years ago I'd already interviewed Jonathan Winters and Kurt Vonnegut as artists. I knew that John Lennon liked to draw and Ron Wood of the Stones was a painter. Who else were we familiar with who had a secret life as an artist?

Lorrie Davis, host of the Pop Life Art website has assembled an impressive list that includes links to numerous household names including Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Grace Slick, Leonard Nimoy, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Johnny Depp, Viggo Mortenson, Edward Kennedy and more.

The current show of Bob Dylan's sculptures -- Mood Swings at the Halcyon in London -- received mixed reviews from art critics. The suggestion was that a great performer can't be a great artist, that his fame should not interfere with the evaluation of his art.

This raises issues that would be worth discussing at greater length sometime. What makes art significant? How does one artist receive critical acclaim to the extent that his work is worth millions, whereas another's works only sell for ten thousand?

Jonathan Winters said that a woman was once critical of his $25,000 price tag on one of his paintings. "How can that painting be worth $25,000?" He replied, "Because it has my signature on it. If it said 'Red Skelton' it would be worth $40,000."

Is it fame that gives artists' work value? A Jackson Pollock original is worth millions. An identical canvas by an unknown student would be hard-pressed to find a wall to hang it on.

Is it the approval of critics that makes a work important? The endorsements of certain critics are what have made many artists famous. This "fame" increases their value. And when they get really famous, if they can do this within their lifetimes like Warhol and Dali, then they can also be celebrities.

What do you think?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Artist Interviews: Best of 2013 (Part 2)

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” ~E.B. White

Seen at the Tweed
As we close out the year its a tradition to take one more backward nod as if to bid farewell before turning to face forward again into what lies ahead. The year 2013 provided the local community with numerous new arts venues and showcased many new artists as well as new works by the veterans. Though we were disappointed to lose the Ochre Ghost and Double Dutch, and recently received word that Canal Park's Blue Lake Gallery is closing in February, there is plenty new emerging and much to look forward to in the year ahead.

Last night I posted links to artist interviews from January to June. Here is another list of interviews from the second half of 2013.

Painter and plein air artist Lee Englund

Author/artist Ellen Sandbeck talks about her Buddha-a-Day project.

Print maker and arts advocate Celia Lieder 

Artist and Limbo Gallery curator Eris Vafias

Special guest curator for Tweed's Blood Memoirs show, Amber-Dawn Bear Robe 

Local artist Kat Senn, Part I and Part II.

Eris Vafias talks about Artist Kamikaze V

Artist/photographer Scott Dovey from Florida's west coast.

Newly transplanted to the Northland, Santiago painter Rodrigo Bello 

Playing an essential role in the local arts scene Crystal Pelkey 

Portugal's Margarida Sardinha discusses her latest achievement, London Memory multi+city

The energetic Dusty Keliin 

Talking photography with John Heino and the vision behind Zenith City Lines

Scott Murphy's return to the DAI with Broken Threads, Lost Causes.

A very good talk with the Tweed Museum's Bill Shipley

Bottom line: It's been another good year for art in the Twin Ports.

Reminder: Be sure to make a selection for the Duluth Art Institute Member Show coming up. Dates to submit work run from January 2-10. Mark January 23 for the opening reception, always a highlight of the new year. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Artist Interviews: Best of 2013 (Part 1)

From the magical world of Wendy Rouse.
I had the privilege of meeting a lot of exceedingly creative and interesting people again this year. People are endlessly fascinating, and artists especially so. Here is a list of the artists I interviewed in 2013 from January to June, most from our region but some from abroad. All of them with something to say worth sharing.

When asked if I have a favorite contemporary artist, by answer will probably always be the same: whoever's work I have most recently looked at. There are so many talented, innovative people doing such remarkable work today. It's a privilege to be associated with them.

Plein aire painter and charcoal artist Ken Marunowski

Painter Michael Soltis of Vancouver

Fiber artist and Superior arts advocate Erika Mock 

Illustrator Emily Wendlund

Multi-media artist Jacob Swanson

Vivid colorist Alison Price

Photographer/arts advocate Andrew Perfetti

Innovator and roller dame Laura Gapske

The dedicated, creative Ryan LaMahieu

Steampunk story teller Eric Horn

Painter Sarah Brokke 

The inventive Bridgett Riversmith 

Heroic painter and more, Anne Labovitz 

Renaissance-inspired painter Wendy Rouse 

Florida pastel-artist Maria Podrero

AJ Atwater and Project 30/30

Thank you for sharing yourselves here at Ennyman's Territory.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Things I Learned about Jimmy Brown from Reading Terry Pluto’s Things I’ve Learned from Watching the Browns

In case you don’t know, I’m a Browns fan. Cleveland Browns. NFL Football. I don’t always wear it on my sleeve, but it’s always there like a genetic disposition. I was born in Cleveland in 1952 and my earliest memories were formed during the glory years of the Cleveland Indians and the Browns. Even though I moved away in my twelfth year and have spent the rest of my years elsewhere, the Browns have never moved far from my heart. Browns fans everywhere know this feeling.

Back in those days the sports page each week would print the rosters from both teams so you could learn the numbers of all the players and follow them during the game. Bill Glass, Vince Costello, Lou “The Toe” Groza, Gary Collins, Leroy Kelly, Frank Ryan and our hero of heroes, Jimmy Brown.

From nearly the beginning the Browns training camp was at Hiram College, which just happened to be where my parents met as students and eventually married upon my dad’s early graduation. This may have contributed to our Browns fandom, though proximity to Cleveland gave the primary impetus. It also gives one a bit of Browns cred to be able to say “My dad once watched the Steelers play the Browns from the Dawg Pound.” (It wasn't really the Dawg Pound yet, though. They were the cheap bleacher seats in the end zone where the beer turned fans into rowdies.)

In the fall of 1963, my last full year in Ohio, I opened a pack of football cards and got a Jimmy Brown card. It was as if the gods had smiled. Life was good. And then the unthinkable happened. Some of the packs of football cards we acquired had been stolen. My younger brother was caught red-faced and red-handed, and a police car paid our home a visit. Somehow the punishment seemed excessive because Ronnie had been the thief, but all of our football cards were to be burned, including mine. As the cards were being dropped onto the flaming charcoals I found myself holding Jimmy Brown and could not bring myself to do this dastardly thing. I ran to the garage and slid the card in between the cinder blocks that formed its foundation. I would never see the card again, but knew it would be preserved from the fire. (Several decades later I visited my childhood home and that garage, along with its treasure, had been demolished.)

Terry Pluto is one of the great sportswriters of all time in my estimation. He’s certainly a most respected journalist in Cleveland where he has remained a faithful advocate for high ideals and all things good there.

If you are a Browns fan and do not already have Pluto’s Things I’ve Learned from Watching the Browns, then you're missing something special. Every chapter is a treasure, beginning with “Being a Browns fan is completely irrational. But you already know that.” Ten pages later the story every Browns fan needs to read is about the Fumble. Pluto demonstrates unequivocally that “The Fumble didn’t cost the Browns a chance to go to the Super Bowl.” Every Browns fan knows which fumble we're talking about here.

So now let’s talk about Jimmy Brown, the greatest running back of all time. Chapter 9. The Browns almost didn’t draft Jim Brown. How Jim Brown became a Brown is a story in itself. If the Hall of Fame Browns quarterback Otto Graham hadn’t retired when he did, the Browns would have continued to be a great team. In his last three seasons as QB the Browns only lost six games. But the year after he retired the Browns were so weakened that it became their only losing season in their first 28 years as a pro franchise. The upside was a chance to get a high draft pick in the first round.

Coach Paul Brown (another great chapter in this book is dedicated to this “greatest Browns Brown”) was eager to nab a quarterback to replace Graham, but the three he had his eye on were snatched before he could get his mitts on them. Upshot was this Son of Hercules, this Superman of an athlete who became a Browns legend.

Man on the move, Jim Brown.
Most of us who watched Jimmy Brown as fans knew how powerful he was, and we also knew the psychological game he played with opposing players. After every run he got up slow. You’d think he had exhausted his strength, or was hurt in some way as he lumbered back to the huddle. Then he would explode again into the line, dragging opponents downfield, sometimes carrying them on his back. We knew, too, how he never made a show when he scored a touchdown, as if to say, “Been here before. Will be here again. All in a day’s work.” Brown’s greatness was unquestioned and to this day no runner has ever averaged more yards per game over an entire career than Jimmy Brown. In fact, he is the only player to average more than 100 yards per game (104.3) lifetime.

Terry Pluto gives Browns fans an overview of the star's college achievements and amazing high school stats as well. Brown earned 13 high school letters in five sports. His senior year he averaged 38 points per game in basketball. He set new records in track. He averaged 14.9 yards per carry in football. Seems like having Brown on the team would have been an unfair advantage for any school.

Once with the Browns Jim Brown not only played every game, he never missed practice. One year he played an entire season with a broken wrist. He was tough, not just physically but mentally as well. Said Brown, “If you were a marked man like I was back then, you had to be tough. You had to take the pain.”

In Brown’s autobiography Out of Bounds, he shared how opposing defenders would sometimes take gravel or dirt and fling it in his eyes to blind him after they tackled him. Pluto tells how when tacklers got their hand inside his facemask, he would bite their fingers. These images of the game aren’t always visible from the stands.

There's plenty more to tell, but that's it for now. The rest of what I learned is there in the book. And much, much more.

Thank you, Terry Pluto, for yet another gift for Browns fans everywhere.

The team I remember best was the best. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

O Come, Emmanuel

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Dove and the Rainbow

"How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?" ~Bob Dylan

Much has been written about Dylan's "Gospel Period" of 1979-81, but his utilization of Biblical concepts, language and imagery weaves throughout his 50+ years of songwriting.

His second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan opens with one of his most widely translated songs, Blowin' In The Wind, a song about timeless issues related to justice, and the longing for reconciliation and peace. The second line of the song is rooted in this passage from Genesis 8, which takes places after the great flood.

8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

The dove had been sent forth but could find no place of rest... no home. He returned to the ark. But the next time it returned with an olive branch, which to this day has remained a symbol of peace. The next time this dove did not return. It had found another resting place.

In the sixth song on Freewheelin' Dylan borrows yet another image from this Genesis account.

"I met a young girl and she gave me a rainbow."

This line from "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" is the only line in the song that speaks of hope. Every other line, about the things our narrator saw and heard, contains images of pain, sorrow, grief, hardship. "I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'... I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken.... I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children..." And in the midst of this he meets a young girl (innocence) who gives him a rainbow.

It's an image rooted in that familiar post-flood passage of Genesis 9.

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So this is my Christmas wish for you: May your heart, like the dove, find a safe resting place to call home and may every rainbow you see bring renewal and hope.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Warhol Revisited

It doesn’t matter what the critics think, keep making more art. ~ Andy Warhol

The bon vivant
making naked remembrance
of a background shooting,
film and history intermixed
with oceans of grief
in an eerie replay of his childhood.

“The scars look pretty in a funny way.”

But wow, the narrative rises to meet
horror and reality in a crazy mixed media scheme
involving blood and fantasies, dream and tissue,
as if God had given a second chance.

But what does it all mean, this porous existence
expressed in a tired vision of decay?
And so it was, we reeled with the aftershocks
of the Sixties.

Up to his sleeves in sleaze.

Amid the portraits and lavish commissions
he buried himself in fortunes
and an expanding influence pressing outward
in all directions.

Indifferent portraits of Mao, Jackie, Marilyn,

the ubiquitous soup cans,
diffused with phenomenal intensity.
Portraits in a wired weird washout of wicked wildness,
inundated with ample iconography to create a sense
of mad genius pervading all.

A Charles Dickens of the pop art scene,
immersed, devoured, ever pouring out the work,
ever provocative, forever progressing, energetic,
splashing the world with tacky wonder.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dylan and Fifty Years of Change (Six Songs About Transitions)

When Dylan released his third studio album The Times They Are A-Changin’ in January 1964, it profoundly captured the times it emerged into. JFK had been shot down two months previous and a new generation, the largest in American history, was awaking to a world gone wrong. The title summarized the social upheaval that so characterized the Sixties.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Over the past half century, change has been the one constant of our times. Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that so many songs from our times deal with change, including these six from Dylan himself.

In Dylan’s fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, his tender song "Ramona" similarly addresses this theme in its culmination. It begins with a man comforting a woman broken by something that has died. Words cannot express anything sufficiently meaningful. What’s needed is a shoulder to cry on.

I’d forever talk to you
But soon my words
They would turn into a meaningless ring
For deep in my heart
I know there is no help I can bring
Everything passes
Everything changes
Just do what you think you should do
And someday maybe
Who knows, baby
I’ll come and be cryin’ to you

* * *

In one of its Dylan retrospectives Rolling Stone listed the five Dylan songs with the most inscrutable meanings, and one of these was "Changing of the Guard." The song has always been and continues to remain among my favorites, both for its surreal story-telling style and the lyric avalanche of poetic perplexity. And yet, one thing comes through loud and clear. There’s a change coming on.

"Like Desolation Row" and "All Along the Watchtower," meanings require special attention and we will return to this significant Street Legal opener in a future entry. Here’s the stanza from which the song’s title is extracted.

Gentlemen, he said
I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes
I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards

Of special interest to me here is the period in which the song was written. It’s the latter half of the seventies, the last album preceding his embrace of Christianity, a change with significant reverberations. Other songs on the album likewise foreshadowed this event, most transparently Seňor. Blood on the Tracks, Desire and Street Legal form a trilogy of sorts. The subsequent trilogy -- Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love -- came as the result of a change many never saw coming, Dylan’s conversion to Christianity.

Gonna change my way of thinking
Make myself a different set of rules
Gonna change my way of thinking
Make myself a different set of rules
Gonna put my good foot forward
And stop being influenced by fools

In recent years two new songs featuring change have been created, both conveying what appear to be personal matters of the heart. The first is "I Feel a Change Coming On," and it feels as opaque and obscure as anything he’s ever written. Except the clear message that there’s a change coming.

The other has been his opening tune for most of the AmericanaramA Tour in 2013. It’s been performed in concert 525 times since 2000. It’s not only a commentary on the times, it’s Dylan’s response to these times.

I’ve been walking forty miles of bad road
If the Bible is right, the world will explode
I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can

That’s an interesting line. It’s been said that the prodigal son was running from God, but many of us know well this feeling, too… trying to get away from our own selves.

Some things are too hot to touch
The human mind can only stand so much
You can’t win with a losing hand

We play the cards we’re dealt, that’s the best we can do. Dylan’s card sharking has produced a lifetime of increased fame and influence. To what electrical box do all these lines and breakers connect? The rock bottom reality may be this summing up:

People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Emptiness and Fullness

Three poems by Charlene Groves.

I was sorting through folders this morning and came across this poem I had set aside to share sometime. I found the imagery gripping. From the first line, it proceeds through a series of images, each outdoing the previous in attempting to convey this psychological condition that is a hallmark of our lives at times: emptiness. We've probably all experienced it, the futility of everything, the sense of isolation.

The author of these poems was born blind. An avid reader and writer she became skilled at capturing in words those ephemeral emotions and making this distinct, giving definition to the undefined.

The latter two poems come from a different space in time. They read like Psalms, simple and effective. Thank you, Charlene, for sharing your soul with us in these words.

Emptiness

Emptiness is rain beating a tin can.
It's having words leap forth with quick and ready flame,
While the important things go unsaid.
It's standing on a street corner somewhere,
Waiting for someone who never comes.
Emptiness is not found in being alone.
It's being lonely.
It's your thoughts growing old with rejection.
It's people not understanding when you need them most.
It's hate and indifference.
It's always being just a little short of your goal.
But mostly it's people passing each other,
Not even trying any more to be together.


Last night when I was afraid

Last night when I was afraid,
You were there, holding my hand.
I examined a thought,
trying to piece it into my life.
But it didn't fit, and nothing could make it,
because it wasn't me.
I reached out to You, frantic, trembling.
And You touched me, Your warmth staying
until the fear spent itself,
and I sank into peace.


To Whom It May Concern

I cried to whosoever would hear, and the Lord heard me.
I cried I am hungry, and the Lord fed me.
I cried I am weak, and the Lord strengthened me.
I cried I am thirsty, and the Lord gave me water.
I cried I am tired, and the Lord gave me rest.
I cried I am empty, and the Lord filled me.
I cried I am lost, and He found me.
I cried I am lonely, and he gave me His presence.
I cried I am torn, and He held me.
I cried I am in torment, and He gave me peace.
I cried Lord I have done wrong, and He forgave me.
I cried Lord I am dying, and He gave me life.

C.F. Groves

Friday, December 20, 2013

For Whom The Bell Tolls

I was re-introduced to Hemingway in the late '70s through his first collection of short stories titled In Our Time and stunned by the power of Hemingway's prose. Though I'd never worn glasses, the stories there were like being a grandma who gets hit in the face with a fist, glasses flying across the room from the impact. I read the book continuously two and a half times through. The description of the doctor in The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife is so loaded with tension, yet achieved with sleight of hand, never once saying the guy was mad or outraged, or any such thing... it is nothing short of miraculous how he accomplishes so much with such simple prose.

I'd read Old Man and the Sea in high school, which is likely out of favor now due to his overbearing machisimo and politically incorrect attitudes. It is, however, a good read. The story did make an impression.

The first Hemingway novel that followed my return to classic literature during this period in my life was For Whom the Bell Tolls. Its setting is the Spanish Civil War. The hero's quest turns out to be a futile mission. The characters are vividly drawn, and tragic. Can one man make a difference? Robert Jordan believes he can.

The real tragedy of the Spanish Civil War was the pillaging of a section of European real estate in order to try out new war technologies. Franco fascists were not armed with Mussolini's planes for nothing. Hitler and friends watched with avid interest as the peoples were subjugated. Technology, not ideology, proved the winning variable in this situation.

In the novel, idealism and realism collide. Pablo, the local leader of a small guerilla band of anti-fascists, represents one shade of realism. Pilar, his wife, epitomizes another. Robert Jordan, the American teacher who has joined the war effort, is the idealist.

What really happened in Spain has still not fully been understood. The events of that time were significant, though soon lost in the shadows and mists of the world war that follow. Orwell lost his faith in communist socialism as a result of things he saw. Others were appalled by fascism's jackboot horrors. Picasso was, inspired by the destruction of a town called Guernica, to paint his famous statement decrying the brutality of this kind of "total war," which the U.S. continued to carry out in Viet Nam.

What follows here is an excerpt from one of Michael Mazza's reviews at amazon.com. I find reading reviews to be a mentally stimulating exercise. Movie reviews at imdb.com and the Amazon reviews are frequently cogent, insightful offerings from people who are thinking at least a little beneath the surface of things.

"Hemingway offers a grim and graphic look at the brutality of 20th century warfare. War is not glamorized or sanitized, and atrocities are described in unflinching detail. The characters explore the ethics of killing in war. As the story progresses, Hemingway skillfully peels back the layers of Jordan and other characters to reveal their psychological wounds. But the book is not all about pain and violence. In the midst of war Hemingway finds the joy and beauty that keep his characters going. He also incorporates storytelling as a powerful motif in the book; his characters share stories with each other, recall missing untold stories, or resist a story too hard to bear. In Hemingway's world storytelling is as essential a human activity as eating, fighting, and lovemaking."

Yesterday I referenced an article about Ezra Pound's influence on James Joyce, one of the most influential writers of the last century. Ernest Hemingway was another protege of Pound. According to the blog Hemingway's Paris, From Pound, Hemingway learned "to distrust adjectives" and received valuable guidance in how to compress his words into precise images. Many years later, Hemingway called Pound "a sort of saint" and said he was "the man I liked and trusted the most as critic."With a recommendation from Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford let Hemingway edit his fledgling literary magazine: The Transatlantic Review. In recommending Hemingway to Ford, Pound said "...He's an experienced journalist. He writes very good verse and he's the finest prose stylist in the world."

This "style" of stripping out adverbs and adjectives became known as Hemingway's contribution to modern literature. Yet it had origins in Pound.

That Pound was an important figure in literature is undeniable. His role in history became tragic. In a 1943 letter Hemingway stated that Pound was "obviously crazy."

I'm reminded of Nietzsche years of madness after a breakdown in Northern Italy. I'm reminded of Hemingway's paranoia later in life and ultimate suicide. I'm reminded of a line from Dylan: "I've been hit too hard, seen too much..."

Perhaps genius is a burden and we should be grateful that most of us are mere mortals.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot May Have Been Fighting About in Dylan's Desolation Row

"Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain's tower..." ~Bob Dylan, Desolation Row

What were Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting about in the captain's tower? In order to understand this, it will be helpful to give a brief introduction to Ezra Pound, a major twentieth century poet who came to a disturbing end.

The trigger event for this introduction to Pound was a story earlier this week in The Daily Beast titled The Letter That Changed the Course of Modern Fiction. The article cites the power of serendipity to change literary history, citing a  letter from Ezra Pound to the undiscovered, unrecognized James Joyce. Joyce had been unable to find a publisher for his short story collection known today as Dubliners. The article goes on to show how Pound, through serialization, helped gain an audience for Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and ultimately laid the groundwork for the reverberations set in motion by Joyce's Ulysses.

The high praise for Pound doesn't end with James Joyce, however. Ted Gioia writes:

“Ezra was the most generous writer I have ever known,” Hemingway later remarked. “He helped poets, painters, sculptors and prose writers that he believed in and he would help anyone whether he believed in them or not if they were in trouble.” By Hemingway’s estimate, Pound devoted only around one-fifth of his time on his own writing, focusing the rest of his energy on advancing the careers of others.

So what were Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting about then? The Beast gives no hints regarding the rest of the story. Wikipedia offers a more complete picture.

Ezra Pound was an American who had gone overseas and played a central role in literary circles in London and Paris. His influence brought numerous significant writers to the attention of a wider public including Hemingway himself, Robert Frost, Joyce and T.S. Eliot. Wikipedia cites Hemingway as stating, "He defends [his friends] when they are attacked, he gets them into magazines and out of jail. ... He writes articles about them. He introduces them to wealthy women. He gets publishers to take their books. He sits up all night with them when they claim to be dying ... he advances them hospital expenses and dissuades them from suicide'.

At this point, Pound appears to be a truly heroic character. What came next significantly stained his reputation.

World War I, the Great War as it was called, not only scarred the countrysides of Europe, it left open wounds in the souls of men. Pound was one of these so wounded. It is normal to ask "why" questions when something so momentous and disruptive happens, and Pound was no exception. The conclusion he came to was that international capitalism was the root cause of this horror. Having lost faith in England, he moved to Italy where he embraced Fascism and threw his support behind Mussolini and Hitler.

During World War II he wrote and recorded radio broadcasts against England and the Allies, possibly hundreds of ten minute pro-Axis propaganda pieces. When the war came to a close, Pound was arrested, turned over to authorities to be tried for treason. At one point he purportedly compared Hitler to Saint Joan of Arc and stated that Mussolini was simply "an imperfect character who lost his head."

Pound was placed in a six by six cell in the U.S. Army Disciplinary Training Center where, according to Wikipedia, he was placed in one of the camp's "death cells", a series of six-by-six-foot outdoor steel cages lit up all night by floodlights. He was left for three weeks in isolation in the heat, denied exercise, eyes inflamed by dust, no bed, no belt, no shoelaces, and no communication with the guards, except for the chaplain. After two and a half weeks he began to break down under the strain. Richard Sieburth writes that he recorded it in Canto 80, where Odysseus is saved from drowning by Leucothea: "hast'ou swum in a sea of air strip / through an aeon of nothingness, / when the raft broke and the waters went over me."

Now check out this last segment preceding the summing up in Dylan's Desolation Row. Every aspect of it is about waters. Neptune, god of the sea, the doomed Titanic, symbol of man's glory, calypso, mermaids, and the Odyssey form the frame containing this conflict between Pound and Eliot.

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

The arc of Eliot's life began in a fashion similar to Pound's for he, too, was an American who went abroad. Like Pound he was a social critic and major poet. A keen observer of the times, Eliot had been a protege of Bertrand Russell, the brilliant mathematician, activist and notorious atheist. But in seeing the futility of Russell's line of thinking, he turned to another path and became a Christian.

This world is broken, no matter which system one adopts, Eliot's decision seems to say. Dylan repeats this message over and over through the years. How we respond to this reality -- the Fall in Biblical terms, the opening of Pandora's Box in mythological terms -- is part of what defines us. Eliot went on to win a Nobel Prize. Pound  avoided prison for treason by being declared insane.

Dylan himself avoided being called the leader of a movement, a spokesperson for a generation, or an answer for everyone. He sensed such posturing is a setup for a fall. This did not stop him from asking questions, or raising them and asking them of his listeners.

Ultimately the question still stands: Which side are you on?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Talkin' Neil and Bob with Bill Maxwell of Cowboy Angel Blue

Earlier this fall I heard some people from the Duluth Dylan Days team talking with unrestrained enthusiasm about a group that was playing in Superior called Cowboy Angel Blue. I was out of town that weekend, and as luck would have it, the following month I was again out of town on other business. This past week I was reminded that John Bushey, host of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited, and some others would be heading to VIP Pizza on Tower Avenue in Superior to hear Cowboy Angel Blue as they were back in town. This time, I had the good fortune of checking in and checking them out. I was not disappointed.

Bill Maxwell under the lights.
Their first set began with I Walk the Line and included a whole lot of Neil Young and Dylan favorites including Old Man, You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Ramona, Heart of Gold, Forever Young and Buckets of Rain among others. At which point I stopped my note taking and just enjoyed the music.

James Paavala, who has been a cement finisher much of his career, now makes music for a living. Bill Maxwell, originally from Fargo, is an attorney by day in Virginia, MN.

Ennyman: How long has Cowboy Angel Blue been performing together? And tell us a little about the band.
Bill Maxwell: James Paavala and and I have been playing together since late fall 2003--a bar owner in Virginia asked if her two favorite guitar players/singers could play together one night. It went well with no rehearsal--we knew a lot of the songs we both did and started playing jobs as they came up. We didn't start calling ourselves Cowboy Angel Blue until about a year or two later--I was playing benefits and church services with another group called Bill Maxwell and Friends (not my idea for the name). I wanted a way to distinguish the two groups which has not been entirely successful to this day.

James has a unique lead/rhythm style that sounds very full and lively and I believe fits well with what we do. About 7 years ago, John Ely joined us on steel guitar and plays with us when the money is there for a 3 piece. John is a world class steel guitarist (toured with Asleep at the Wheel for over 8 years) who is very versatile on the steel--can play it as a bass/rhythm instrument as well as a solo instrument.

EN: Where does the name Cowboy Angel Blue come from?
Bill Max: I first came in contact with the name Cowboy Angel Blue from Dylan's book "Tarantula" which I believe is the title of a chapter in that book. Later I became aware of a bootleg album of his called "Cowboy Angel Blues." Something about those words together caught my fancy and I had it in my head that if I ever had the right group I would like it to be called Cowboy Angel Blue. (I remember discussions at some point in my life regarding the phonoaesthetics of the words "cellar door" and it seems Cowboy Angel Blue had some hold over me for a similar reason.

EN: Why the fascination with sharing Neil Young and Bob Dylan songs?
Bill Max: I think the fascination with Neil Young and Bob Dylan comes from the songs both these artists have created. They evoke in us performing them -- and to the right audience listening -- a shared experience, thought or emotion that affirms what we consider to be important as being human.

EN: You must get asked this a lot: what is your favorite Dylan album?
Bill Max: My favorite Dylan album is "Blood on the Tracks"- and in general I like his songs about relationships and dealing with or observing inevitable change in life--be it love, art, politics, or religion.

James Paavala (left) does some nice work on the blues harp as well.
EN: Dylan songs that most significantly speak to you personally would include...
Bill Max: The songs of Dylan that speak to me as I write this are You're a Big Girl Now, My Back Pages, Tangled Up in Blue, Tomorrow is a Long Time, Desolation Row (MTV unplugged version), Shelter from Storm, Sweetheart Like You, I and I, It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, All Along Watchtower, Idiot Wind, Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.

EN: When’s your next gig in the Twin Ports? 
Bill Max: Upcoming dates around Duluth are...
December 27--Beaners w/John Ely and Bill Bulinksi on bass/guitar (birthday party for Lisa Radosovich Craig) 7-10pm
December 28--Players, 8-12pm
VIP Pizza-Superior: January 24, February 14, March 14, April 11, and May 9; 8-11pm

EdNote: Mark your calendars and check 'em out. 

Margarida Sardinha Wins Cinematic Vision Award from the London Film Awards

Portuguese artist/director Margarida Sardinha won the Cinematic Vision Award this week for her film London Memory multi+city. Her 2011 film HyperLightness ad absurdum won the laurels of Best Experimental Film at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, Great Lakes Film Festival, Creative Arts Film Festival & Bridge Fest (Vancouver) and Best Spiritual & Religious Film at the Directors Circle Film Festival as well as honors, awards and recognition at more than 20 addition film festivals worldwide. This is the first of many awards and accolades she will undoubtedly receive for this, her third film.

The London Film Awards recognizes and awards the work of independent film's best and brightest contemporary filmmakers and screenwriters from more than 70 countries. The juried competition places an emphasis on exclusivity, recognizing and awarding only the most finely produced films and screenplays with honors. The Grand Prize Winners of each official competition category receive the coveted Gold Lion Award as commemoration of their achievements. The London Film Awards also offers various Special Achievement Awards for standout productions.

London Memory multi+city is a 25-minute optical illusion experimental film relating the Bergsonian idea of memory with that of duality in a contrapunctum of movement, colour, text and sound. Memory thus appears as a mirror of the mind being the reminiscence of time and space reflected. The holistic transcendental synthesis of a pure past over ten years lived in London by Margarida Sardinha renders itself in a stream of consciousness through the works of those Londoners who influenced her, such as Howard Hodgkin, Virginia Woolf, John Latham, Anish Kapoor, Sri Aurobindo, William Blake (to name a few) as a geometric-sonic abstract continuum.

London Memory multi+city has been selected and is currently under consideration for awards in a number of other film festivals including KO & DIGITAL, Barcelona, Spain; Bideodromo, Bilbao, Spain; Paradise Remade, Hastings, UK; Kolkata Shorts International Film Festival, Kolkata, India; Moab International Film Festival, Moab USA IFFEST Document.Art., Bucharest/Romania; Festival International de Fenaco, Cusco, Peru; and Simultan Festival – 'Popular Unknown', Timisoara, Romania, among others.

Other winners at the London Film Awards included Grand Jury Prize winner Tula: The Revolt by Netherlands director Jeroen Leinders, Special Jury Prize winner The Human Horses by Italian direcors Rosario Simanella and Marco Landini, and Best Feature Film winner The Goodbye by Alvaro Diaz Lorenzo of Spain.

The full list of 2013 London Film Awards winners can be found here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Talking Art with the Tweed's Bill Shipley

 Beginning the first Tuesday of October the Tweed Museum initiated a new program called Tweevenings in which guest speakers would discuss works from the Tweed collection and help the public gain a greater sense of art appreciation. Bill Shipley, who spent his career in the midst of the burgeoning New York arts scene from 1974 into the 21st century, was the presenter that first Tweed evening, discussing a sculptural aluminum relief by abstract artist Charles Biederman called “Redwing #29.” This was my first encounter with Mr. Shipley, and I’ve already concluded he is both a rich resource and welcome addition to our arts community.

EN: You had a friend who had a studio at a place where Hans Hoffman once had his studio. What was it like for a young Midwestern art student to be living in the heart of the New York art scene?

BS: When I think of moving from the Midwest to New York I remembered visiting the city many times before moving there. Once you live there however it is a very different place and you find that your neighborhood is a little like a small town within the scale of Manhattan. It was like that in the East Village and on Sullivan Street where I first lived. My next door neighbor was Marcia Tucker but I didn't know who she was until later when the New Museum got going. I had friends who worked for her in the early days.

St. Mark's Church in the Bowery was a vital part of the art and literary scene in those days. My apartment was almost across the street from it and when it burned badly we all mourned the loss. It was rebuilt but never quite the same after. And the neighborhood changed as New York University took over more blocks. Always though the artists led the way for the development and gentrification of the surrounding blocks and I would say that the biggest changes that I witnessed in the New York art world came from artists and galleries who were pioneers in SoHo and Lower Broadway and later in Chelsea.

EN: You had the privilege of being in the center of the New York art scene right after the Pop Art revolution had shattered all the rules. In what ways did the art world change over the thirty years you were there?

BS: In the 1970's and 1980's I could visit every single gallery in New York at least once in the art season. I would go to SoHo on Friday afternoons and then Madison Avenue and 57th street galleries on Saturdays. When I left the city in 2000 it would have been an impossible task. By then Chelsea alone had over 300 or more galleries. I also saw the development of what I call museum level galleries like Gagosian and Pace. Many dealers could open a gallery to represent small niches in the art market and find it profitable. Galleries devoted to just one part of the history of photography are a good example of this.

In Minneapolis, especially in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District and the Northrup King Seed Building, similar things are happening now. In April I had my first show in a commercial gallery there at Carbon Chroma Gallery. Right now Steve Sugarman at Gallery 13 at 811 LaSalle in downtown Minneapolis has a few of my recent paintings. They are acrylic works on an abstract landscape theme - horizons and sky ideas mostly inspired by Lake Superior's variable atmosphere.

The Tweed Museum of Art is my second "home" so to speak as I continue to give tours of the museum collection. I have also taught classes on art history and the history of the Tweed Collection for University seniors at UMD. I hope that the students I meet now remember me as a mentor and fellow artist in the same way that I was helped by Myron Stout and Jack Tworkov and Judith Rothschild when I was starting out. The artists from Provincetown continue to inspire me now – from some forty years ago. Many other artists from that time I did not know personally but their presence nonetheless kept me going and kept me working and re-working my pictures. I can now look back on what I was living for and for what I still see ahead of me.

EN: Why is it important for us to support the arts as a community? 

BS: It is troubling that a question like that should even be asked in our society. A civilization and a country is defined by its laws and its art. No way to get around it. For a long time I have thought that art history should be part of a school's core curriculum -- from primary school age onward. What is really awful is that too often a school cuts art and music and theatre and dance and writing and poetry completely, or relegates it to an after-school program. No excuse for that.

Art was as central to the life of the students at the private school where I taught in New York as it is to New York City itself. As educators we make a big mistake in not realizing how crucial art is to a child's development at every age. The emphasis lately on testing and math and science is very short-sighted to say the least. The "will" to make something, to build something, to paint something or write something is at the heart and soul of every one of us. We can decide to support it or not but the consequences in both situations are real and tangible, for better or worse.

EN: Your time in New York overlapped Basquiat's rise to significance and sudden end. You mentioned crossing paths with Warhol on more than a few occasions. What's your take on Basquiat?

BS: I was not a part of Andy Warhol's inner circle but I knew people who were. At a lavish party in the downtown loft of the artist Arman and his wife Corice I noticed two large portraits of Mr. Arman and his wife painted by Warhol. My last sighting of Warhol just before his death was at a soda fountain coffee shop place just off Astor Place. As I walked by I saw him sitting by himself at a table by the window eating a large ice cream sundae. As for Basquiat (who was later mentored by Warhol) I always think of the importance of having children in museums at early ages because Basquiat literally grew up inside the Brooklyn Museum. But very talented young artists often fall into traps they cannot get out of and it takes their life way too early.

EN: Thank you, Bill. And it's good to hear that you're still very active in your studio. Keep it going.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Local Art Seen: Have You Been Buying Local This Year?

Ceramic bowls and plates make great practical gifts.
The weekends leading up to Christmas are often the most complained about shopping days of the year. The stores get taken over by roving mobs of shoppers, parking lots are jammed and the lines long. This Norman Rockwell picture pretty much captures the spirit.

But guess what? There are plenty of alternatives to this madness. One of them is to not procrastinate. Start your Christmas shopping in June. Another is to do what my grandmother did... She started her knitting projects in January, making hats and sweaters and afghans for her numerous grandchildren. A third, this one being the theme for today, is to look for all those special gatherings of artists who have wares that might can fill the bill... or the stocking.

Zentangle-inspired Art Cards by Esther Piszczek
In a culture of mass production, doesn't it seem weird to get gifts that are "in" and make you feel "unique just like everybody else"? Now I don't begrudge getting gifts from big box retailers per se, but there's something to be said about receiving those fascinating kinds of things being produced by local craftspeople, artists, jewlers, and glass blowers.

Kenspeckle Letterpress
Here are some things I saw this past two weekends. I'm sure your community has similar places where creative expression flourishes. Ceramic mugs and bowls make wonderful gifts because they can be appreciated and used for a lifetime. The Northland has more ceramic artists than one can count, it seems, and each has his or her special style. The photo at the top of the page is from Karin Kraemer's cheerful studio in Superior's historic Board of Trade at the corner of Broadway & Hammond.

The whole building was open this weekend, meaning that all the artists who have studios there also had their doors open including painter Terry Millikan, fabric artist Erika Mock and the Mud Sisters, who also have a great variety of practical ceramic arts.

North Shore-O-Poly
Last weekend I came across the inventive Brian Minor's game North Shore-O-Poly. It's a Northland rendition of the classic board game featuring the streets and business of Atlantic City, except in this case the places are all those familiar sights and spaces on our North Shore, from Split Rock Lighthouse to the Gunflint Trail. The project seems to be a family affair, as is any good game.

Speaking of games, Esther Piszczek -- who has applied her drawings to T-shirts, calendars and gift cards -- has now produced several decks of playing cards which are, like, way cool.

Yesterday I found out that Marian Lasky and Rick Allen -- The Kenspeckle Letterpress team -- have been residing on the second floor of the DeWitt Seitz Building in Canal Park. I'd been doing occasional walk-throughs of Sivi's Art Gallery nearby to see their stuff, and now realize I need to take time to get down here to Canal Park's other spaces more often.


Another interesting space in the DeWitt Seitz Building is Mary Reichart's fiber arts space called Otlak on the 4th floor. Reichart, who works with felt, learned some of her techniques by observing locals during a stay in Kyrgyzstan.

Other things you'll find include cookies, candies, jellies and jams, all made locally and with love. Really. And of course there's the wall art that I'm so frequently writing about. You can appreciate it for five minutes in a gallery, or for the rest of your life in your living room. I'm not making that up.

Bottom line: Have you been buying local this year? Start collecting. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Oxford Town, Oxford Town

"How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see?"

We often hear people talk about the 50's as the "good old days." In reality, the very things that were wrong in the 50's are what led to the upheavals of the 60's, no issue moreso than American racism.

The conflicts over race long preceded the Freedom Riders who put their lives on the line to draw awareness to this special problem of the Deep South. Poet/journalist Carl Sandburg shone a light on this issue when he wrote about the Chicago race riots of 1919 in which 38 people were tragically killed as a result of an incident that occurred on the segregated beachfront of Lake Michigan.

In a preface to the 1969 re-release of this volume Ralph McGill identifies WWI as one of the events that increased awareness of the racial divide. Black soldiers who put their lives on the line for America and freedom returned to the States as second class citizens.

World War II revived this same set of feelings for American blacks who served overseas only to return home to maltreatment and blatant injustice. The difference this second time around was the advent of television, by which means the rest of the country was made aware of the consequences of Jim Crow laws being enforced in the former Confederacy. Television not only made people aware of these problems, it also became a means for showing determined blacks the methods of non-violent resistance.

Dylan's song Oxford Town was written in October 1962 in response to a call for songs by Broadside magazine seeking songs about James Meredith and his attempt to attend Ole Miss, which was his constitutional right. The governor did everything in his power to prevent Meredith from entering the school as a student. Meredith refused to back down and put his life on the line in an effort to get the Kennedy's to respond to what was happening in the South.

Simultaneously the Kennedys were dealing with the Cuban missile crisis. Racial tensions and global tensions put tremendous pressure on JFK and Bobby who did everything in their power to keep the conflicts from escalating. The calls for action in Oxford were coming hard from Mississippi on the one hand and the calls for action from the Pentagon were being pressed from the other.

Oxford was a problem they both wanted to go away, but when riots broke out they ultimately took action and (according to Wikipedia, citing Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.) called in 500 U.S. Marshals to take control, who were supported by the 70th Army Engineer Combat Battalion from Ft Campbell, Kentucky. They created a tent camp and kitchen for the US Marshals. To bolster law enforcement, President John F. Kennedy sent in U.S. Army troops from the 2nd Infantry Division from Ft. Benning, GA under the command of Maj. Gen Charles Billingslea and military police from the 503rd Military Police Battalion, and called in troops from the Mississippi Army National Guard.

It was during this time that Bobby Kennedy, while looking at a map asked first how far those Russian missiles could go, and followed up with, "Do you think one of those missiles could hit Oxford?"

It was against this backdrop that the young Dylan also penned A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall, which appeared in 1963 on The Freelwheelin' Bob Dylan, his second album, and first to be all original material. Freewheeling is comprised of many songs that are now considered classics, opening with Blowin' in the Wind, followed by Girl from the North Country and Masters of War. Hard Rain is so dense that he purportedly stated that every line could be a song of its own. It's impossible for me not to hear the line "I saw a white man walking a black dog" as his indictment of America's unique form of racism.

It seems strange to many of us who lived up north to think blacks had been playing professional baseball for more than a decade, and my football hero Jimmy Brown had been playing for the Browns more than five years at this point. Growing up in white suburbia most of us in the north were oblivious to the realities of segregation. In this, and many other songs of that period, Dylan drew attention to that which we were failing to see.

Oxford Town

Oxford Town, Oxford Town
Ev’rybody’s got their heads bowed down
The sun don’t shine above the ground
Ain’t a-goin’ down to Oxford Town

He went down to Oxford Town
Guns and clubs followed him down
All because his face was brown
Better get away from Oxford Town

Oxford Town around the bend
He come in to the door, he couldn’t get in
All because of the color of his skin
What do you think about that, my frien’?

Me and my gal, my gal’s son
We got met with a tear gas bomb
I don’t even know why we come
Goin’ back where we come from

Oxford Town in the afternoon
Ev’rybody singin’ a sorrowful tune
Two men died ’neath the Mississippi moon
Somebody better investigate soon

Oxford Town, Oxford Town
Ev’rybody’s got their heads bowed down
The sun don’t shine above the ground
Ain’t a-goin’ down to Oxford Town

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