Tuesday, January 24, 2017

One Too Many Mornings and Other Local Dylan-Related Items of Note

When it comes to all things Dylan, there's always more going on than there's time to write about it. Here are a few items of note that relate to Dylan and Duluth, in no particular order of importance.

1. WWDD bracelets are now available here in all the usual spaces where Dylan souvenirs are sold. As you walk down Bob Dylan Way from the Depot to the Armory, it will remind you to ask yourself, "What Would Dylan Do?" Proceeds from the sale of WWDD bracelets will go toward events surrounding Duluth Dylan Fest.*

Gaelynn Lea (L) with Alan Sparhwak, The Murder of Crows
2. One of the highlights of last year's Duluth Dylan Fest for me personally was the celebration of Bob Dylan's birthday at his former home on the Central Hillside, followed later by the Duluth Does Dylan CD release party at The Rex. This is a truly great CD featuring local bands that do Dylan covers. When I wrote my review of the CD last June, I noted many stellar features of the various renditions of the selected songs. One of these songs was One Too Many Mornings, recorded and performed by The Murder of Crows (Alan Sparhawk and Gaelynn Lea.) At the time I was impressed by the wholly different variation or spin they put on the song, totally unlike the original. My admiration for Alan Sparhawk climbed another notch for his innovations (I assumed that Alan designed the chord structures and new design of the song.)

Then, this past week, a video of Dylan performing One Too Many Mornings live during the Rolling Thunder Revue came across my path. And guess what? It was Dylan himself who had produced the new chord structure, tempo and design of the song. I copied the link to the YouTube page where I discovered it but today find that it has since been removed. (It must have been a bootleg.)

Dylan's continuous variations and reconfigurations of his songs have long endeared him to his fans. Let me add kudos to Alan and Gaelynn for choosing this rendition sharing it on this CD. To hear Gaelynn Lea become Scarlet Rivera and Alan squeezing emotional juice into the lyrics is quite satisfying, and worthy of accolades.

3. An finally, hey man, it's that time of year again. As we slide toward the end of January we call to mind Buddy Holly's Dance Party Tour that passed this way in 1959. This Saturday everyone is invited to put their dancing shoes on and celebrate the Winter Dance Party with us, 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at the Sacred Heart Music Center. Proceeds go toward the Armory renovation and restoration project that has been ongoing for many years, with some noteworthy progress being made this past year. Will we see you there?

*EdNote: I just made all that up. But while we're talking about Duluth Dylan Fest,
  the dates and tentative schedule for the Seventh Annual DDF can be found here. Mark your calendars. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia

Since first discovering Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami I have been continually stirred by so may of the exhibitions. Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia looks like another fascinating show that I will wish I could attend. Maybe when I retire I'll have the luxury of being a travelling art critic.. but for now, I will be content to share a few images here on my blog.

The opening reception will be this coming Saturday, January 28, 4 - 7 p.m.. More than 70 pieces will be on display in an area that encompasses 4,000 sq. ft. of the Frost Museum's real estate.

Miami's Frost is the second stop on a two-year national tour. Praise for the show has been effusive, “These women have re-drawn the boundaries of Aboriginal art and are re-defining the vision of contemporary art,” says Dr. Jordana Pomeroy, Director of the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU. “With subject matter ranging from faraway celestial bodies to the tiniest of flowers on the native bush plum, they assert the wisdom of revered matriarchs and grapple with the most fundamental questions of existence.”

Painting and making art is a not really new pursuit in the Aboriginal culture of Australia's Outback. Selling and showing art in this manner is totally new.

Perhaps it is the freshness of the work that inspires such hyperbole among those who have seen the work. “When I first saw this work it felt like I had been struck by lightning,” says Dennis Scholl who with wife Debra is a Miami-based collector and philanthropist.

You can tell from the artists' names that they are neither Scandinavian, Italian, British or German: Nonggirrnga Marawili, Wintjiya Napaltjarri, Yukultji Napangati, Angelina Pwerle, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu and her sister, among others. The work is as original as the names.

Despite their origins, the Aboriginal peoples are not oblivious to the broader community of humankind. “These artists are globally alert and connected to our modern world,” says Henry Skerritt, curator of the exhibition. “There has never been a more urgent need for contemporary artists to imagine our shared predicament as the diverse occupants of the same planet."

Though it appears to be promoted as a women's movement, I would guess that this cultural exposure will do much to foster an increased understanding of what it means to be human on this third rock from the sun.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Shooting Star: Bookend on Dylan's Monumental Oh Mercy

For the past two to three months it's been my intention to write a post about the song "Shooting Star" that closes out Bob Dylan's stellar 1989 comeback album* Oh Mercy. I purchased the vinyl of Oh Mercy almost as soon as it was released. With the exception of the two fast-tempo songs in the early tracks of side one ("Everything's Broken" and "Political World") the album is quite laid back, reflective and laconic.

Daniel Lanois, who would later produce Dylan's Grammy award-winning Time Out Of Mind, produced the album Oh Mercy.

The song "Shooting Star" is a fitting final track for the album. From 1990 to August 2013, he's performed it 126 times live in concert.

What intrigued me about the song, and why I keep returning to it in my mind, was this notion that the song seems to be about someone specific. For some reason I believed it was about his first wife Sara Lownds. It opens, "Saw a shooting star tonight and I thought of you // You were trying to break into another world // A world I never knew // I always kind of wondered // If you ever made it through // Seen a shooting star tonight // And I thought of you.

The song conveys such a gentle tenderness. From the first time I heard it there's a specificity about the word "you" here, and I desired to know, a song about someone special it seemed, a song about someone moving into a new realm, a different world from where his own life path was taking him.

It's funny how one can get an idea into one's head and never find a way to shake it. This idea of the song being about Sara came about because I thought someone, a friend, had said as much when the album first came out. It was the last song on the album, and so was another song for Sara who was also featured in a final track on another album, Desire.

I laid on a dune, I looked at the sky // When the children were babies and played on the beach...

Bob married Sara Lownds in late 1965 during one of the epic periods of his career. She was purportedly the inspiration for many songs including "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit". Much of his Blood on the Tracks album circa 1974-75 has been cited as a response to the emotions stirred as his marriage was falling apart, ultimately leading to a divorce that finalized in 1977.

The thing is, my assumptions were wrong. (Not the first time, either.)

In recent years, as I've become involved with the Duluth Dylan Fest and people more likely in the know about these things, I had a chance to ask a few of them, "Is this song about Sara?" "No," I am told, "it is not about Sara."

Perhaps I got the notion into my head because the middle section of the song speaks of God and temptation and the sermon on the mount and I'd linked this to the coming life transition Dylan underwent ten years earlier that resulted in the trio of albums in his Gospel period, beginning with Slow Train Coming. There were fragments of memories rattling around in the cobwebs of my mind that associated these allusions to the Vineyard and Keith Green and other miscellany... all of it mistaken.

Here's the Wikipedia synopsis of the song:

The album closes with "Shooting Star", a wistful ballad of remembrance with possible allusions[citation needed] to the loss of Dylan's Christian faith. Dylan appears to address Christ: "Seen a shooting star tonight and I thought of me/If I was still the same/If I ever became what you wanted me to be". The next line, "Did I ever miss the mark or overstep the line that only you could see" makes an apparent reference to Joseph Addison Alexander's poem "There is a line by us unseen/That crosses every path/The hidden boundary between/God's patience and His wrath.". The words occasionally evoke some portentous imagery ("the last fire truck from hell goes rollin' by"), but it ends the album on a soft, romantic note.

Now for those familiar with this album in a more intimate way (like I, you have listened to it a hundred times) I think you might find the following an interesting exercise. When you play the song in your head and reach the bridge ("Listen to the engine, listen to the bell...) and you go through this and reach "The last radio is playing" -- do not proceed with the last verse. Rather, splice in a verse from "Ring Them Bells." Any verse will do. Look how synthesized these two songs are.

Ring them bells Saint Peter where the four winds blow 
Ring them bells with an iron hand 
So the people will know 
Oh it's rush hour now 
On the wheel and the plow 
And the sun is going down upon the sacred cow

Notice how well these two songs shuffle together. Has anyone else ever done this? You're playing a song in your head and suddenly you jump-cut to a different song. These two songs work that way.

* * * *
Dylan has a way of making everything so personal. Each of us who has experienced the painful loss of a loved one can relate to a song like this. The shooting star is a trigger. Upon seeing the shooting star flung across the night sky he impulsively "thought of you." Or rather, of her, whomever it might be.

But his thoughts turn inward next.

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me
If I was still the same
If I ever became what you wanted me to be
Did I miss the mark or overstep the line
That only you could see?
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me

It always felt like he was talking to a person here. There's been a lot of water under this bridge. But then, someone recently suggested he is talking to God. In the Judeo-Christian view, God is a person. We have been made in God's image as persons. So it is a possible interpretation. "If I ever became what you wanted me to be." It's a question that is searching, probing, vulnerable.

Listen to the engine, listen to the bell
As the last fire truck from hell
Goes rolling by
All good people are praying
It’s the last temptation, the last account
The last time you might hear the sermon on the mount
The last radio is playing

The images here speak about the end of something. This stanza makes one freeze, for he compares this ending with the end of all time, of life  and the world as we know it.

Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away
Tomorrow will be
Another day
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away

Copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music

This verse, though, seems to bring it all back to earth. Someone near now seems to be gone.

The song is evocative and sentimental without being sappy, ambiguous without being abstract. It's pure Dylan, and a perfect close to what many feel to have been a perfect album, Oh Mercy. They don't get much better than this.

*The word "comeback" is something of a misnomer, since every time he produces a great album there are critics who make it seem he'd lost his way in the period before. The result is a whole career of comebacks.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Epic Truths of Beowulf -- the Hollywood Version

At the very opening the beautiful queen fills the sacred Royal Dragon Horn with mead to bring to her king. The Dragon Horn as yet has no meaning but will reappear several times, including the story's final scene. What is quickly established is this: we have a debauched king encouraging celebration. His exploits have evidently preceded him. "He offered us protection when monsters roamed the land..." they sing. He had promised his people a glorious hall, and delivered on this promise. But the sounds of celebration echo into the distant darkness where a creature weeps blood, a creature whose identity we as yet know not.

Seven minutes into the film and the monster Grendel bursts upon the scene. Screaming, a horror of horrors, ripping limbs from torsos, flinging men across the hall, biting off men's heads, drooling slime, a contorted beast with an anguished heart.

Hrothgar the king calls for the monster to fight him, not destroy his people. But Grendel cannot. He returns to his cave, to his mother, where he is confronted, and comforted.

Hrothgar then declares that half the gold of his kingdom will be given to the man who slays this monster. Unferth suggests that in addition to sacrificing goats and sheep to their current gods that they also pray to the new Roman God Christ Jesus. (This story takes place in Denmark, 507 A.D..)

Hrothgar rejects appealing to any of the gods. "The gods will do nothing for us that we will not do for ourselves. What we need is a hero."

And so, the foundation is laid for Beowulf to appear. And appear he does. "They say you have a monster here. They say your lands are cursed... I am Beowulf. I'm here to kill your monster."

The soldier sent to confront him puts it plainly enough. "I thought there were no more heroes foolish enough to come up here and die for our gold."

Beowulf makes the epic declaration. "If we die it will be for glory, not for gold."

* * * *

Idealists are many, too. As the fair queen notes: "There are many brave men who have come to taste my Lord's mead, and many who have sworn to rid his hall of our nightmare. But in the morning, there was nothing left of any of them but blood to be cleaned from the floor, and the benches and the walls."

Beowulf is not deterred. "I will kill your monster."

* * * *

Hrothgar presents Beowulf with the Royal Dragon Horn, and explains that the ruby on the Dragon Horn represents the spot on the throat where your dagger must plunge. "It's the only way you can kill a dragon."

Each symbol introduced has its meaning disclosed later, producing a latticework of understanding.

In addition to the king's gold, whoever destroys Grendel will also obtain the king's beautiful queen... "forever and ever and ever."

* * * *

Hideous. Monstrous. But Beowulf, in the horrifying battle, becomes ripper, shredder, slasher, and upon discovering Grendel's weakness tears off an arm from the monster.

In the aftermath the king, in his bedchamber, expresses his desire to produce an heir. But the queen resists, citing his having lain with the mother of the beast.

We understand fully now how this horrorshow came to be. "The sins of the father..."

* * * *

Grendel, the damaged son, returns to his mother, awakening her grief. Giving birth to her revenge.

* * * *

The fascination here is the making visual and vibrant these mythical images, this classic tale of heroism, of valor and failure. The tale is classic, and Hollywood's skills have reached a point where the film can make vivid what was previously only possible via imagination.

Beowulf is seduced by means of his vanity. "Your story will live on after everything here now is dust."

Ah yes, the appeal to make a name for oneself, a legacy, is indeed appealing.

* * * *

Beowulf lies about his achievement, declaring that he planted his sword into Grendel's mother's chest. In reality the only planting that occurred was his own seed. But it is essential to keep up appearances. Beowulf must be believable as a hero. The monster's head was delivered. What further evidence was required.

Lie follows lie, and the sheep in eagerness accept it in order to placate their fears. All is well, the sun will come out tomorrow.

The only doubter is Hrothgar. "Did you kill her?" he asks privately.

And so, Hrothgar makes exclamation that upon his death all that he possesses, including his queen, shall become Beowulf's. And moment's later he plunges from a balcony to his own death.

Denial of the obvious continues as the queen explains, "He must have fallen."

* * * *


Beowulf in its essence is a classic morality tale. As a horror story it captures the imagination, became bigger than life like the monsters in the story. In the end, though, the lesson is straight out of the scriptures: "A man reaps what he sows." Frankenstein meets Howard's End. Sooner or later your past comes back to haunt you.

At one point, as they watch their soldiers engaged in battle, Beowulf says, "We men are the monsters now. The time of heroes is dead, Wiglaf."

* * * *

I personally found the graphic novel treatment utterly enthralling. They paid a boatload of money to make a CGI film with a boatload of stars and grossed a little over half back that first year. Why the less than stellar ratings? First, because like many, if not most, of Hollywood's translations of story to film, it becomes an entirely different story. Those who are knowledgeable about such things feel betrayed.

Reviews by those unfamiliar with the original tale scored much higher. Those who teach the story know well that this film account is a total bastardization. As one IMDB.com reviewer wrote:

Please people, READ THE BOOK! The only thing this movie had in common with Beowulf were the names of the characters. Say no to bastard children, naked mommies of monsters, and lips that do not match up with the dialog. The only thing I got out of this was true/false test material for my British Literature students who think they can get away with watching the movie instead of reading our text.

If learning about the original story is important to you, I recommend obtaining a good translation (like the Bible there are easier and harder translations to read) and reading the book, as this professor suggests. If you don't really mind not getting the facts right, enjoy the film. It's dramatic, bigger than life and has much to be commended for.

Much more can be said, like who wrote it, who directed it and who was in it, but you can get all that at IMDB. I enjoyed it... enough to watch it twice and write about it. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Mirror Of Our Acts Reveals Who We Are

"...leaning over the mirror of our acts, our souls will recognize what we are."
--Andre Gide, Journals

For nearly all of us mirrors play a role in our morning rituals. Whether for shaving or make-up, fixing one's hair or straightening one's tie, the mirror is a useful tool, presenting to our eyes a true reflection of what is there so we can fix it as we primp and preen.

On other occasions, a reassuring glance in the mirror before a job interview or an important date gives us confidence that at least the external things are taken care of -- our hair isn't mussed, collar turned right, no food crumbs on our chin.

At the end of the day there's another mirror which is equally valuable to us, and perhaps even more so once we practice using it. We can call it the mirror of our acts. As we quiet ourselves and reflect on the day, we discover that our actions reveal our souls as surely as the bathroom mirror reveals our faces.

The mirror of our acts reveals us as we truly are, giving a more precise picture of ourselves than we may wish to see. For it reveals not only our strengths, but also our limitations; it shows not only our inward beauty, but also the defects that mar that beauty. When I look back on my day, standing honestly before this mirror of my soul, what do I truly see reflected there? Thoughtfulness and sensitivity? Selfishness? Duplicity and deceit? Laziness? Industriousness? Courage? Courtesy? Foolish pride? Pettiness? The character defects we see need not discourage us. Recognizing one's shortcomings is the essential first step to the cure.

Taking time for reflection is an essential facet of personal growth, as important to our souls as diet and exercise are for our bodies. Whether it be at day's end, the middle of the night or early dawn, it can be a most useful tool to help us grow to our full stature as human beings.

* * * *
The above originally appeared in my unpublished 1993 devotional Nightfall: A Time To Reflect at the End of the Day. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing excerpts from my newest book, Writing Exercises: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else.

It's my conviction that being able to write well is an essential skill in your career toolkit. Writing Exercises is more than a collection of writing prompts to help students learn various tricks and techniques to improve their writing, it also presents a methodology, a new way of teaching writing in order to get better results.

Meantime, guess what? It's Friday. Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Insights from the Marshmellow Experiment

"Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things... I am tempted to think there are no little things." ~ Barton Sutter

The other day I stumbled on an article about a Stanford research project that attempted to correlate a single aspect of human behavior as an indicator for future success or failure. The series of studies conducted by professor Walter Mischel came to be known as The Marshmellow Experiment.

The experiment was essentially about deferred gratification as a predictor of future achievement. James Clear describes the setup like this.

The experiment began by bringing each child into a private room, sitting them down in a chair, and placing a marshmallow on the table in front of them.

At this point, the researcher offered a deal to the child.

The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow.

The researcher would leave for 15 minutes and then return. The team filmed the kids fidgeting, staring, and frequently succumbing.

What makes the experiment famous is that these children were then checked in on for the next 40 years. Mr. Clear summarizes the results:

The children who were willing to delay gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures.

* * * *

Take a minute to reflect on the ramifications of this experiment. And then consider this.

Can delayed gratification be taught? If the answer is yes, then success can be taught. Or at least the odds of achieving more successful life outcomes for our children can be favorably influenced.

When I was growing up in the Fifties our elementary school had some kind of arrangement in which we could deposit money in a bank account. Beginning in second grade my father gave me a dime for every A I received on my report card. The dimes were deposited in the bank. I also began to receive an allowance of a quarter a week.

What I learn with that allowance was powerful. We had a candy store a few blocks away, and if I wanted to I could ride my bike there and buy candy. My dad also brought my brother and I to the Lawson's Milk Store fairly frequently and they had a magazine rack there that was fun to peruse. Once a month the new Mad magazine came out and my quarter would be used for that. On the other hand, if I saved my quarter and waited till I had fifty cents, I could then buy a Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. And if I skipped candy altogether and somehow saved four quarters, I could buy a model Revell battleship to assemble to put on a shelf in my room.

Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.

Is this a behavior that parents can teach? Or were those children wired for failure as a result of genetic dispositions?

In psych 101 students learn that even pigeons can be taught to do a surprising number of things by means of incentives, including playing a primitive form of ping pong, by means of stimulus-reward arrangements. On the other hand, how many times have you seen parents in a grocery story line attempting to restrain a screaming four or five year old brat who wants a candy bar, and instead of making this a teachable moment, they reward the child's ranting. "I want it now!"

What about now, as adults? Is it too late for us if we've been poorly wired as kids? There's plenty of evidence to support a belief that inner change is not only possible but in most cases desirable. Here's that article on The Marshmellow Experiment.

Once we're set in our ways change is not easy. It begins with awareness. To quote the Little Engine That Could, it begins with an affirmation: "I think I can." If we persist, we will succeed. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Dr. Martin Luther King Day Community Breakfast

Through the eyes of a child...
(MLK Day Placemats)

A Visit with Duluth Author and Pilot Eric "Shmo" Chandler (Part 2)


Reminder: Tomorrow, Thursday evening, Eric will be the featured reader at Beaners' Third Thursday Open Mic event. (It is actually called Spoken Word Open Mic, but I'm reminding local blog readers that the Open Mic occurs every Third Thurz.)

Speaking of readers, the Reader's Best of the Northland Party is also tomorrow evening. The event begins at 5:30 at the Depot Railroad Museum.

EN: It's apparent that you are a goal-setter. You accomplished plenty in 2016. What are you aiming to accomplish as a writer in 2017?

Eric Chandler: First off, Tina Wussow invited me to do a reading at Beaner’s Central on January 19th, so my goal is to not screw that up. First time I’ve been invited to do something like that, so I’m excited.

I’m going to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Feb 2017 in Washington, DC. I’ve never been to this national writing conference before. Randy Brown invited me to read some of my military-themed poetry as part of a panel at the conference. Randy Brown (AKA “Charlie Sherpa,” author of the Red Bull Rising blog based in Iowa) is a mil-poet and came up with a program for the AWP called “Citizen-Soldier-Poet: Using Poetry to Bridge the Civil-Military Gap.” There’s a lot of discussion about the widening gulf between civilians and military in this country. I personally view that gap as a threat and see my military writing and poetry as a way to correct it.

I’m about halfway through a draft of a memoir. It involves how my family was affected by 9/11. I plan to finish the first draft this calendar year and edit it.

I’m developing a workshop for military-themed writing to be held in Duluth in late spring/early summer of 2018. I view it as my way to help writers (either military or civilians) who want to tell stories about service in uniform. Part of my personal desire to help bridge the civil-military gap.

I also have an expanded version of my Outside Duluth e-book in the hands of a publisher. They’re considering it for publication in print. I plan to get that manuscript into the hands of several other publishers to see who bites.

I do a lot of writing for Northern Wilds Magazine out of Grand Marais. Shawn Perich is the editor and we have a good back-and-forth arrangement with ideas. I’ve got three pieces with him in the upcoming February issue: one about skis, another about the Duluth lighthouses that were added to the National Register of Historic Places, and a third about my first date with my wife when we hiked to a Buddhist temple in the mountains of Korea. I plan to write a lot of different stuff for Northern Wilds this year. Now that I look back on this list of goals, I feel scared. Thanks a lot.

EN: Of what does your writing discipline consist of?

Chandler family, hitting the trails again.
EC: Lack of discipline is a better way of putting it. I’m an airline pilot, so I have a lot of dead time on the road. When I land somewhere, I get to the hotel for the layover, I go running, I get a meal, and then I open my laptop and try to make forward progress. Technology and the internet are really something. The desktop computer I use at home has exactly the same setup as the laptop I use on the road. I use Dropbox to store my working drafts electronically. That way, whether I’m home or on the road, I can open up a project and get to work.

When I’m at home, it’s harder to sit in isolation and peck away. If it’s a school day, I make progress between the time the kids go to school and lunch with my wife. After that, it’s time for some exercise and then the kids come home or go to practice and the dog needs a walk and supper happens and all hell breaks loose. Those few quiet morning hours are the only chance for writing. If it’s a weekend day at home, I don’t even bother to try to write. Too much going on. That’s when we try to do things as a family. I guess I’m generating fuel for writing on those days. I write about those adventures later when I can.

EN: You say you intended to go to Colorado at one point. How did you end up in Duluth?

EC: I left the active duty Air Force in 1998 and my wife left the Air Force in May 2001. We were living in South Ogden, Utah on 9/11. Before that day, we planned to go to Colorado where I planned to be an instructor at my airline’s training center in Denver. My wife planned to go to culinary school in Boulder.

After 9/11, I figured I’d get laid off from my job flying the 737 based in San Francisco. I looked for a job in the Air National Guard. We were Mr. and Mrs. Civilian and I needed to find work. I called my good friend in Duluth and asked if he needed a crusty fighter pilot who hadn’t flown the F-16 in three years. The 148th Fighter Wing hired me and took in my family. They saved our bacon and I’m very grateful. It was like a slow-motion car crash, but I eventually got laid off from my airline from 2003-2006. By the time I got laid off I was already flying the F-16 again in the MN Air National Guard in Duluth. It was a blessing to have a flying job when so many airline pilots didn’t. Even more of a blessing when I got laid off again, thanks to the recession, from 2009-2013.

EN: As for Fate, this IS a great region for people into Outdoors so do you feel at home here?

EC: I’ve never been happier anywhere. My wife was an Air Force brat and went into the service herself. I was a Forest Service brat, if there is such a thing, and also moved around a lot growing up. I went around the world in the service, too. Between the two of us, we’ve lived in Utah, Alaska, Korea, New Hampshire, California, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. Duluth, Minnesota is the best place we’ve ever lived. And now, it’s the place that we’ve both lived for longer than any other place in our lives.

When we first got here, it was a big deal when we saw someone we knew when we were out running errands. We’d come home all excited and tell each other. Before, when we were only in one place for three years at a time, we never got to know a town well enough to feel at home. Plus, many of the places we lived were giant cities. We never saw anybody we knew out on the town. Now, it’s remarkable if we go out and don’t see anybody we know. Not seeing friends is the exception. We’re in our 5th decade on earth and this may seem like a small thing, but to us, it’s a new and wonderful experience.

You can learn more about Eric Chandler at his blog, Shmotown.
His eBook, Down In It, is available here. You'll find his Outside Duluth on this page.

* * * *
To all you readers who are writers: Write on.  To all who are reading this and are not writers, thanks for being here. And have a great day. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Visit with Duluth Author and Pilot Eric "Shmo" Chandler (Part 1)

The Northland has long been famous for its natural beauty, and followers of this blog by conclude that we are also rich in the arts as well. We seem to attract more than our share of artists, writers, poets, and photographers. The One River Many Stories project last year brought a whole batch of storytellers and artsy folk together around a single theme... unsurprisingly related to our region's natural beauty.

Writing, though, is typically a solitary occupation. Whether slugging it out on an old Underwood or a MacBook Pro, or scribbling longhand on lined paper, writers are generally soloists. They do, however, benefit from sharing their work with others and getting feedback. Hence, no community of worth is without its writers groups.

Here in the Twin Ports we have the Lake Superior Writers. As with every other kind of interest, the writers also have a social media component now,  Facebook community. It was here that I came across a posting by Eric Chandler that peaked my interest. Upon further investigation of his Shmotown blog I took an interest in what he's doing, impressed at the documentation of his journey as a writer here, his goals, his failings, his spirit... and his passion for the craft. On top of all that he's a pilot and a poet as well.

Many Northland writers hibernate in the winter, and the long winters can be quite enabling for us. Shmo, on the other hand, is also passionate about the winter outdoors opportunities here, embracing cross-country skiing as voraciously as his love of the written word.

This is part one of an interview. We met for the first time a couple weeks back. He said he likes to write in a manner that is natural, "the way you tell a story in a bar." He has two short books -- Down In It and Outside Duluth -- and is working on a third.

EN: How did you come to take an interest in writing?

Eric Chandler: I wrote a little cartoon book when I was a kid about a superhero I invented. My parents were entertained and showed encouragement. That’s it in a nutshell: People showed me encouragement at different points in my life when I wrote.

In the fifth grade, I wrote a dramatic nonfiction account of how I cut off the tip of the middle finger on my right hand. I stuck it in a door hinge and managed to get several pages out of that for a school writing project.

In the 8th grade, my English teacher, Mr. Dave Foley was a marathon runner who also wrote for running and skiing magazines. I skied my first cross-country ski race that year with my dad. My teacher said I should write about it. When I did, he helped me publish it in a magazine called Michigan Skier. It was the first thing I ever got published.

I wrote in a journal off and on throughout my life. In my 20’s, I started writing a letter and shoving it in with my Christmas cards. People thought it was funny. Encouragement.

I wrote a story in 2002 about training for cross-country skiing and submitted it to a writing contest at Skinnyski.com. I won and they sent me a handheld GPS unit, worth quite a bit of money. This was shortly after we moved to Duluth in 2002. A little later I wrote my first piece for a magazine (Silent Sports Magazine). They sent me a check. Financial encouragement. I wrote my first published fiction in 2009 and my first published poetry in 2013.

Small positive boosts got me into this game. So, all the people who encouraged me only have themselves to blame.

EN:  How did you become a pilot?

EC: I liked building model airplanes as a kid. I watched Baa Baa Black Sheep on the TV starring Robert Conrad. My dad took me to Oshkosh to see the airshow when I was young. I still remember the P-38 Lightning that flew overhead. I was good at math in high school, so I thought building airplanes would be fun. I looked around for schools where I could get an Aeronautical Engineering degree. I ended up at the US Air Force Academy. While there, at the end of the Reagan era, I learned they needed pilots so much, they waived the need for perfect eyes. This allowed me to go to Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) after I graduated in 1989. I got my pilot wings in the US Air Force in 1990. So I flew airplanes instead of building them. A year or two earlier or later, and my eyes would’ve prevented me from going to UPT. Life turns on small events.

EN: Your first two books are Down In It and Outside Duluth. They are quite short but capture your third interest. Care to elaborate how the outdoors became a passion of yours?

EC: My parents raised my sister and I to lead active lives outdoors. It’s probably the greatest gift they gave me, other than a stable home. My dad worked for the US Forest Service and my mom was a dietician. It was a nice way to grow up living with people trained in the outdoors and how to lead a healthy life. I ran and cross-country skied with my family. I skied as soon as I could walk where I was born in northern New Hampshire. My dad and I hiked all 48 “Four Thousand Footers” in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We backpacked and camped outside. I hunted for ruffed grouse and deer with my dad. I raced the mile in track in the spring, cross-country running in the fall, and cross-country skiing in the winter. I was the NH state high school champion in cross-country skiing in 1985 and helped my team win the state championship that year also.

My dad’s job in the Forest Service took us all around the country to small towns with ready access to the outdoors. I lived in six different places before I was 18: three places in NH, one in MN, and two in MI. I was just up the road in Two Harbors for a couple years in the 70’s during that Minnesota stretch. I got to see a lot of the outside world growing up. Endurance sports also helped me explore the world between my ears.

Now, as I age, I return to the same activities like a salmon to the river where it emerged. I find great comfort continuing to do the things outside I learned to do as a kid: hike, run, ski, and bike. I do the Birkie and Grandma’s Marathon most years. Almost because I have to, like a compulsion. Kind of like writing.

* * * *
In addition to being a member of Lake Superior Writers, Eric also an active member of the Outdoors Writers Association of America and the Military Writers Guild. He is slated to be the featured speaker this week at Beaners' Spoken Word Open Mic from 7 - 9 p.m. Thursday, January 19.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Only A Pawn In Their Game -- Dylan's Contributions to the Civil Rights Movement Still Speak Today

"'Only A Pawn In Their Game' is one of Dylan's truly great songs, and what puts it over the top... is its unmatched tone." 
~ John Hinchey, Like A Complete Unknown

I recently heard an interview with Joan Baez in which she spoke candidly about her initial disappointment when Bob stopped writing protest songs and went electric. It wasn't till later than it dawned on her that he had not abandoned the movement and left them with nothing. Rather, he left this great catalog of songs that could be carried on for years to come. This was his gift to the movement. And what is astonishing is how so many of these songs -- songs like "Hard Rain" and "Blowin' in the Wind" -- continue to remain relevant today.

In August 1963 leaders of the Civil Rights Movement organized a march on Washington. The purpose of the march was gain passage of meaningful legislation with regard to civil rights.
The issues of the day included the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a major public-works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2 an hour minimum wage; and self-government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority.*

A quarter million people showed up at the gathering, about a quarter of them white. Among the speakers and performers there were numerous notables including Marian Anderson; Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; Mahalia Jackson; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and Josh White. Charlton Heston—representing a contingent of artists, including Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Diahann Carroll, Ossie Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Paul Newman, and Sidney Poitier—read a speech by James Baldwin.*

"Only a Pawn in their Game" is the opening cut on side two of The Times They Are A-Changin' vinyl. It's a powerful indictment of an America that still fails to live up to its dream. Though the album had been released at the beginning of 1964 the song itself was performed at the Civil Rights rally/march on August 28, 1963.

Dylan had performed Only A Pawn three other times before this performance here, the first time at Silas Magee's Farm in Greenwood, MS on July 6 and then eleven days later at the home of Dave Whitaker in Minneapolis. The third time was at the Newport Folk Festival in late July.

It was on this day in 1963 that Dr. Martin Luther King gave one of the most powerful and memorable speeches in American history culminating in the words, "And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.'"

Here, then, are the lyrics for Only A Pawn. The song's power comes from the directness of its language. For years the metaphor of pawns initially escaped me. I understood that pawns are the lowest value on a chess board, and I always got that. The pawns are moved here and there by the hand that moves them. What I'd not considered was how in the game of chess the pieces are black and white. Chess is a strategy game involving white pieces and black pieces.

Dylan's roots at this time: the classic folk tradition. His aim: to wear the mantle of Woody Guthrie for a new generation, drawing attention to the outcast, the forgotten, the downtrodden, the misfit, the alienated and disenfranchised. When Dylan was recording The Times They Are A-Changin' songs like Surfin' USA (Beach Boys) and He's So Fine (Chiffons) were topping the charts.  How different this harsh realism.

Only A Pawn In Their Game

A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers' blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man's brain
But he can't be blamed
He's only a pawn in their game.

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
"You got more than blacks, don't complain
You're better than them, you been born with white skin" they explain
And the Negro's name
Is used it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man's used in the hands of them all like a tool
He's taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
'Bout the shape that he's in
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks
And the hoof beats pound in his brain
And he's taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide 'neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain't got no name
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

The day Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He'll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.

Recorded June 1963
Copyright Bob Dylan

* Source: Infoplease -- Civil Rights March on Washington, All about the March on Washington, August 28, 1963 by Shmuel Ross (EdNote: This article is worth reading in its entirety)

**If the song doesn't make you weep, then you may need to listen to it again. Here's another live version. I agree with the comment "as soon as he begins strumming that guitar every hair on my arms raises and the goosebumps are just like WOOOSH!"

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Del and Dylan: Fewer Than Six Degrees of Separation


Del Shannon, 1965
Where to begin, where to begin . . . let’s start on the weekend of April 17-18, 1964 in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the spring of my freshman year in college. Among the performers we had booked for what was then known as the Freshman Jubilee Weekend were two men whose names will be forever linked, however remotely, in music history. Saturday night was a big dance featuring 30-year old Del Shannon whose 1961 chart-topping hit “Runaway” has been covered over the years by such luminaries as Elvis, John Mayall, The Beach Boys, The Traveling Wilburys, and Bonnie Raitt who performed it at Shannon’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

Dylan in NYC, 1962*
The Friday night show was a much quieter affair, a performance by Bob Dylan, then just 23 years old but shaking the foundations of the music world having already released three albums and played Carnegie Hall. It had been rumored all week that another young folk singer named Joan Baez would make a surprise appearance as the two had been inviting each other to do guest spots at concerts. Sure enough, after intermission, out she came dressed all in white and looking quite distinct from the scruffy denim-and-leather troubadour by her side. The show took place at a local high school, and we were transfixed by this Midwestern hick, the raven-haired beauty with whom he shared the stage, and their still relatively new sound, a sound that in retrospect was nothing less than the leading edge of a mighty (and now well-documented) shift in popular music. Nevertheless, we were clear that Shannon was the “featured” performer that weekend.

Three years earlier, both artists were just getting started in New York City. On January 21 at the Bell Sound Studios, Shannon, his keyboard player Max Crook who was using his own invention, a precursor to the synthesizer he called the Musitron, and session musicians including legendary guitarist Al Caiola spent just three hours laying down tracks for “Runaway.” The song was released on the Bigtop label, and in less than two months, “Runaway” had reached #1 on the Billboard charts and was selling 80,000 copies a day.

Bob Dylan arrived in New York City on January 24 having thumbed his way east from Minneapolis. Crashing in fellow folkies’ living rooms, visiting Woody Guthrie whose songs he was singing in Greenwich Village coffee houses, and telling tall tales of his early days as a roustabout out West, Dylan wasted no time getting himself up to, on, and off the music history launching pad in record time.

Tracking music careers often presents a dizzying array of sidemen, cities, and circumstances. It’s tough to keep it all straight, especially when the careers are as lengthy and meandering as Shannon’s and Dylan’s were (and still are in Dylan’s case). Throw in misunderstandings, disappointments, false starts, and the usual issues surrounding the plethora of business deals and promotional decisions that must be made for songs to become hits, hits to become albums, and albums to become popular and it’s easy for casual observers to lose track ofall but the most well-publicized of details. The two decades that flew by between that April weekend in 1964 and the last six years before Del Shannon, suffering from depression and disappointment, took his own life were filled with ups and downs for both men, musically as well as personally. But their careers nearly intersected once more during the two years, 1988-1990, when Dylan was a member of the Traveling Wilburys.

Shannon had collaborated with Tom Petty in 1978 and ten years later was working with Petty and fellow Wilbury member Jeff Lynne on an album called Rock On! When Roy Orbison, also a Wilbury, died of heart failure in 1988 just after their first album was released, it was rumored that Shannon might take his place in the group for their second album. It was not meant to be apparently, and on February 8, 1990, Shannon committed suicide. To honor him, Lynne and Petty completed production on Rock On! and released it posthumously.

Shannon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Two bold markers honoring him stand tall and easily accessible in Michigan, the artist’s home state. One is in Battle Creek where Shannon wrote “Runaway,” and the other in his home town of Coopersville, halfway between Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan.

* * * *
Phil Fitzpatrick is an author and poet who last year presented Home Is Where The Start Is: North Country Echoes in Bob Dylan's Life and Music. If able, Mr. Fitzpatrick will make the presentation again at the 2017 Duluth Dylan Fest. 

*Photo courtesy the William Pagel collection; Photo credit: Ted Russell

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Out of Africa: Interview with Artist Steven Boyyi

Wednesday I received an email soaked with excitement from Kelly McFaul-Solem at CPL Imaging. She said there was an artist there that I should meet, a young man from Uganda whose work was fresh and fascinating. I should come over "right now" she said. I couldn't, however. I had meetings and deadlines. I asked if Friday lunch hour could work out. It did, and it was worth the wait.

Founded by Jeff Frey, CPL Imaging is the premiere resource for artists seeking to reproduce their paintings, drawing and other images. Using high end scanners and giclee printing techniques, Frey and company continue to serve the art community here in the Upper Midwest by maintaining the highest standards. On top of everything else, they are just plain good people and it did not surprise me to find Steven Boyyi's work spread across the lobby table when I arrived.

Steven Boyyi's story is worthy of a much longer treatment than I can give you here, but you will quickly discover the impetus for Kelly's enthusiasm.

(L to ) Tim Turk, Dan King and Steven Boyyi. Mr. Turk helped Steven through
the process of acquiring a temporary visa.

Boyyi was accompanied by Tim Turk, a retired nurse who is affiliated with Duluth Bible Church. For four years Mr. Turk has been involved with a mission organization that trains pastors in Nairobi, Kenya, teaching English and tutoring students who speak Bantu and Bimba. Another member of the church met Steven Boyyi during an art exhibit in Kenya, and through a series of efforts helped bring him to the U.S. on a temporary visa.

Besides their shared faith, another common denominator between Mr. Turk and the artist: both lost their parents at an early age.

His work features an innate sense of design.
Steven Boyyi does not know when he was born. He was raised in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. There were no papers when he was brought to the children's home for 30 boys as an infant. "The home was run by big bosses from Ireland and another care taker from Uganda. I was told I was nine months old (when brought there) and stayed there till 17 years." At age 17 the orphanage closed and the boys were forced to live on the streets. Like anyone in desperate straits, he used resourcefulness to survive, making a hammock out of material akin to discarded flour sacks and hanging it from branches in a tree for a bed. He laughs when he describes the first soaking rainfall.

He had goals, though. Taking inspiration from the Bible, he held some of the verses in his heart, such as these words of Jesus, "Do not let your heart be troubled..."

In addition to being artistically inclined, Boyyi was a skilled soccer player. The kids stayed near the university because they had access to the food that was being discarded. One day his skills were observed and he was invited to attend the school on a soccer scholarship. During this time he began to nurture a goal... to get his name out there as an artist that he might develop a source of income by which he could help the thousands of children living on the streets of Kampala.

"I learned the technique of ironing on ginger cloth in the children's home," he says. "A man used to come to teach our big brothers in the home and I was seeing what they did, so I tried it many times and it was not coming out as a good paint, but as I did more and more then I come out with what I have now." What he has now are colorful images with a fresh spirit.

He began making art when he was 13. At 16 he made his first cards which he made an effort to sell to people.

"My traditional name is Makubuya," he explains. "It's not a common name but it belongs to a clan in Uganda called FFUBE clan. I don't know most of the meaning... I (will) know all that when I grow up."

A singular feature of his work is the manner in which he uses pieces of candy wrappers for the colors in his drawings. (Above right) "I started using candy papers when I was 20 years, when the home closed I had few water color prints to use and I had to find a way of making the same thing. So I started with a big paper and glued on the book first and it was nice but big, so I broke it into a smaller pieces, then cut into the small. People found me at the university drawing and said that (I was making) really unique art. I carried on with it and started going to people selling one by one. People liked it but didn't buy. As I went on it got better and still better, till now."

This is how his approach has evolved with time: "I tear a paper around and then I cut in the middle. I glue it, then draw around it to make the Africa life we live in most of my Africa. I base the pictures on my life and the lives of most of the African children who grow up on street and have talents which can be helped to become better people in the world."

Both his spirit and earnestness are contagious. Everyone who meets him seems to take an interest in his art as well as his ambition to help other children who grew up like he.

* * * *
To see more of Steven Boyyi's paintings and drawings, visit this page at Jeff Frey Photography.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Background Music and the Soundtrack Phenomenon

"The problem with reality is that there’s no background music, so you don’t know whether you’re experiencing a comedy, suspense or a tragedy." ~ Unknown

I don't know about you, but a lot of times when I'm walking or driving in my car, or doing whatever, there is music playing in my heart, or head or wherever those tunes are coming from. Often it is upbeat and it makes me feel upbeat. Other times it puts a rhythm in my step.

But wouldn't it be funny if the soundtrack were on the outside? You walk into a room and the mood changes because the music is David Grusin's theme from Tootsie. Following you wherever you go.

Or what if the music changed from cheerful to ominous while you were heading up the stairs to your office, but you did not know it... You're still humming a happy tune, but the soundtrack has shifted to discordant, edgy.

Actually, music tracks are a strange notion sometimes. It is funny how we have learned to just accept them in movies, though even the best music can't save a bad film. An even stranger thing for me, however, is the laugh track on television sitcoms.

Wouldn't that be funny if when you said "Good morning!" to the clerk at the checkout counter a laugh track started playing?

It's interesting how we take things for granted as if what we are experiencing has always been this way. When it comes to things Internet, it's a relatively short history, so if you wish to go back and time it's not that difficult to get there. Here is a link to a story in the tech section of the Telegraph about how 20 popular websites looked when they first launched.

We've come a long ways, baby.