Monday, November 30, 2009

Judgment Day

SHORT STORY MONDAY

“And God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night.” —Gen 1:16

Judgment Day

The old man sat on the sand facing the sea, facing the setting sun, refreshed by the cool breeze sweeping away the heat of the day. White sand beach, the man in solitary silence watching; the brilliant crimson sun silently returning his gaze.

Had he lost track of the days? It would be tonight, would it not? The forty years had run their course. Soon he would be delivered from his burden, his secret knowledge. Release! He knew what it meant.

The sun fell toward the horizon faster now. Caribbean sunset. How strange it seemed, knowing he was seeing it for the last time. He’d often wondered what this day would feel like, his last day. Forty years ago it seemed that infinity had been extended before him. If anything, in those days time had been stretched unbearably. But with finality’s nearness the days have sped all too swift, like the sinking sun’s last moments as it plunges almost instantly to the horizon’s rim.

The preparations had been made. Now, all he could do was wait.

He saw a cluster of birds gathering near the water’s edge a small distance up the beach from him, but he saw no young stranger, like the young man he had once been. And he wondered if he had mixed up the days. This must certainly be the night.

He was not afraid of dying. He knew he would die swiftly. And he knew he had fulfilled his destiny. What point to go on living without a purpose? He had been born for this, and his death was part of it. He understood. It had been ordained, and he was not afraid of that for which he’d been predestined.

But he began to be concerned. Was this not the night? He’d made the preparations. Where was his successor?

Though his white hair was long and unkempt he had taken care to trim his beard the morning before. It amused him to do so and he smiled when he saw himself in the mirror, the first time he’d smiled in a long time, and he had not smiled since. His face returned quickly to its customary expressionlessness.

Seated in the sand he wore a white guayabara, a pair of loose-fitting, wheat colored shorts and the leather sandals he’d worn for nearly the whole of his life’s sojourn, sandals that only recently began to show signs of wear. His hands, woven together, rested upon his knees. The moment the sun struck the sea he loosed his right hand to feel for the handle of a silver dagger which remained sheathed at his side.

The old man knew; this was the night. But where was the one who was to come? Where is he who must appear? Summer solstice, hottest and longest of the hot, long days. This was the proscribed day, of transaction and transfiguration — his high holy day.

His name was Israel. For forty years he had been Israel. At one time his name was Bruce Lowenstein. But on this day forty years previous, he had received the Word and, with it, he had taken a new name.

“I see you’ve come,” the old man said to him then, when he was Bruce and that other old man was Israel.

“Yes,” said Bruce. “I have come.”

“We must make haste, for tomorrow holds the hour of my death and before that time you’ve much to learn,” said the old man. They were standing on a beach not unlike this beach. The old man was not smiling and Bruce knew he was speaking the truth. “You are ready?”

“I am,” Bruce said.

“Sit with me then. Isn’t it a beautiful sunset?”

Bruce said nothing and for a long time the two men sat side by side in the sand and watched the sun as it was swallowed up by the sea. Finally the old man put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “God has a plan. You are part of God’s plan. As I have been, so you shall be. It’s all part of God’s plan.” The old man stared ahead into the diminishing light as he spoke.


“Then he [Aaron] is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats — one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.” ~Leviticus 16:7-10


The following teachings were passed on to the young Bruce Lowenstein before the old man, Israel, baptized him with a new name and showed him, gave him, The Word.

TO BE CONTINUED?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas in the Heart

As promised earlier this week, here's my take on Bob Dylan’s new CD, and first Christmas album.

Unless you are a die-hard Dylan fan, I do not recommend buying it. But if you have a friend who’s a die-hard who just had to have it (like me, I suppose) then see if he’ll let you wheedle it away for a once-through.

This is not your typical Christmas fare. First, Dylan’s voice has become a raspy caricature of itself. But it is especially jarring when accompanied by the sticky-sweet strains of male and female backup vocalists. As a result, the discordant sounds at times are almost grating.

Like much that Dylan has said or done, there is a measure of ambiguity present. Is this supposed to be a serious Christmas album or is he just funnin’ us? When asked about this he said, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”

A couple bright spots on the CD are worth noting. I like the opening number “Here Comes Santa Claus” which I just discovered was co-written by Gene Autrey. But my favorite cut on the album, which is worth the whole thing for me, is “Must Be Santa.” It’s done polka style, which brings numerous personal echoes for me. My wife’s father played an accordion as did her brother, with memories that bring a smile. The Northland here is polka country, Dylan’s original roots, Duluth being home to more accordion players than you can shake a stick at. The Duluth Accordionaires, founded in 1949 by John Copiskey, must have tried to teach everyone and their mothers, sisters and brothers to play because to this day I still run into people here and there who took accordion classes downtown way back when.

My accordion memories don’t end here in the Northland. On our first trip to Ol’ Mexico we came out of a café in Monterrey late one eve only to be greeted by two street musicians, one on guitar, the other on the diatonic accordion featured in what is called “Musica Nortena”…our own favorite style of music South o’ the border. We tipped them, of course.

So when David Hidalgo sets the tone with a jalepeno-hot squeezebox riff on “Must Be Santa”, I’m in the game. Dylan’s having fun, the band is having fun, and you’ll have fun, too, if you get a chance to hear it.

The reviewer in Christianity Today gave it 2 stars (out of five) and Rolling Stone gave it 3. Chris Richards of the Washington Post called it awesome. (Was that tongue in cheek, Chris?) I also saw at least one reviewer give it a zero, so… do beware.

We already own Christmas CDs by Elvis and The Jackson Five, so why not Bob?


EDNOTE: The Dylan quote in paragraph four is ennyman fiction

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Five Minutes With Crayon Artist Jeffrey Robert

It probably began in the mid-nineties. I was in a small West End restaurant called 21st Street Delight. Upon entering the side door I turned and saw a very moving painting of an elderly Native American. The eyes seemed so compelling, revealing so much. I don't always do this, but I had to ask who did it, and the waitress said the artist had a studio upstairs and he did it with Crayola crayons. This blew me away, so I had to go up and meet the guy.

I scarfed down my lunch and went upstairs. He was in, so I introduced myself. As it turns out, he had two sons and one of them also happened to be an artist who worked in crayons, Jeffrey Robert.

I immediately contacted Jeffrey and asked if I could see some of his own work. The young girl here (upper left) was the first piece he sent me. What a beautiful, beautiful painting. As someone who knows, re-creating such delicate beauty in any medium is a challenging task. And I was grateful that he permitted me to showcase the piece in The Virtual Gallery on my website at that time.

Since then, Jeffrey has moved back to the Hawaii of his youth, continuing to create work of great beauty and sensitivity. The colors are rich because of the spectrum Crayola has so grenerously provided. Who among us growing up didn't thrive on that range of colors Crayola offered in their 64-crayon green and yellow box? I know I did. And I also know I never produced anything like these.

FIVE MINUTES WITH JEFFREY ROBERT

Ennyman: Can you share some of the feedback you get when people find out that you do all your “paintings” primarily with Crayola crayons?

JR: When viewing my crayon art, the first reaction is one of confusion and then disbelief. Afterwards a feeling of excitement that a new fine art genre has been created with an art medium that they are so familiar with. This is why I have said that if crayons had been available to the old masters they would have considered them to be a high tech palette in a box.

Enny: I still remember being floored by that first image I saw of the young girl. When did you first begin to recognize that you had natural artistic abilities?

JR: When I was 12 years old, growing up in Hawaii I naturally wanted my own surfboard. I was already considered by my school peers to be a good artist so with that built in “credibility” I used cans of spray paint that were lying around the house and created surfing pictures on t-shirts, selling them to the kids at school for $2.50 each. I earned enough money through my natural artistic abilities to buy my very first surfboard!

Enny: How much of what you do is natural ability and how much is training? Can anyone learn to do what you do?

JR: I’d say 50% natural ability and 50% training; I believe that training goes right along with natural ability. They can learn my techniques but past that they have to develop their own style in order to be unique.

Enny: Do you have a favorite artist or artists who inspire you?

JR: Maxfield Parrish

Enny: What direction do you see your work going in the next few years?

JR: I see a continuation of building on my signature brand Crayon Collectibles which distinguish my artwork from all others.

Enny: What is your process for making decisions regarding color, subject matter, etc.?

JR: I start with a vision of the completed work, then as the process of creating evolves, my creative insight leads me to adjust the color, texture and depth variations.

Enny: What trends do you see occurring in the contemporary art scene that will affect you and in what ways?

JR: Because of the cluttered and complex lifestyles of today‘s high tech world, the trends that I see are in everyday people looking for simple expressions that relate to them emotionally to trigger a feeling or thought of tranquility, beauty and peace.

Enny: Thank you for your time and your insights.

To see more works by Jeffrey Robert,
visit these two wonderful websites:
Click images to enlarge.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Famous Trials

A few years ago I had a business trip that took me to Dayton, Tennessee. Dayton is one of those countless little communities seated in the spaces between the Appalachian hills. Each has a main street, a library, and in this case even a Wal-Mart. If you want something more than beer at the local restaurant, you bring your own bottle. And since there is no liquor store in Dayton, you pick up that bottle at Wal-Mart. Yes, it is a little different.

Dayton, like the countless other specks scattered through the region, is a place most of us would never have heard of except that it became home of a sensationally public event, the Scopes Monkey Trial. The famous "monkey trial" focused the heat generating spotlight of the media on this rather nondescript town. The high profile lawyers facing off there, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, represented not clients but ideologies which had come to a head in the early part of the 20th century.

I mention these things because of a DVD I'd borrowed from the library this week about another famous trial, Michael Jackson's 2005 child molestation trial. The DVD, titled Michael Jackson: The Untold Story of Neverland, is essentially a documentary incorporating footage taken by Larry Nimmer, a filmmaker who had worked for the Jackson defense team. Nimmer had access to nearly every nook and cranny. In the event that the jury was unable to visit Neverland, his filming of the place would be used for showing Jackson's world. As it turns out, the films were indeed needed, and now that bizarre private estate is being shared with the world. What a strange life.

There have been many famous trials in history. Douglas O. Linder has assembled details about many of these on a website titled Famous Trials. If you're not shopping this morning and wish for a bit of diversion because your newspaper is thinner than it used to be, this guy has put together a whole boatload of details and analysis on some key moments in human history. Here's a partial list of the trials you can read about:

Socrates 399 B.C.
Gaius Verres 70 B.C.
Jesus 30
Thomas More 1535
Galileo 1633
Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692
John Brown
Oscar Wilde
Scopes Monkey Trial
Alger Hiss
Rosenberg Trial
Lenny Bruce
Chicago Seven
Charles Manson
Patty Hearst
Leonard Peltier
John Hinckley
Falwell vs. Larry Flynt
O. J. Simpson

I doubt the Michael Jackson trial is really significant enough for this list, and probably a few others there may be questionable, but the aim of a trial is a verdict. And the verdict is usually important because there is something at stake.

When all is said and done, our most important trial might be the one we're going through now: the daily trial of our own personal characters.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Black Friday Goes Online

Last year a Minneapolis friend of mine went to his first Black Friday a.m. shopping experience. It was not planned, but both he and his wife were lying awake at four in the morning and wondering....

"Sounds like you're awake, too," she said.

"Yes I am. Wish I felt more tired."

"Well, since we're both awake, why don't we go shopping?"

And just like that, Bob was standing in front of a store with doors which were about to be opened in two minutes. A mob was pressed tight against the glass all eager and waiting. But what he noticed behind him was a small cluster of women in a huddle, planning their own strategy, a flying wedge. Yes, the old football pattern, only the aim was not a touchdown, just a smashing entrance. He'd never seen anything like it.

Sure enough, as the doors opened these young women made a brutal plunge into the mob, jarring, shoving, crashing and crushing. At least they weren't carrying guns.

For what it's worth, if you're really into finding Black Friday deals, and you're not thrilled about putting your life at risk to get them, there are an increasing number of places online where you can choose to shop from the luxury of your armchair, if you have a laptop and wireless Internet, or from your home office.

Personally, I don't get it. I suppose it gives journalists and bloggers something to write about.

The front page of today's paper lists the "best deals" of tomorrow including a $999 46" Samsung LCD HDTV and $197 HP Laptop with Celeron processor at Best Buy and $7 fleece jackets at Wal-Mart. Hey look, it's a $39 Polaroid V130 Camcorder at Target!

If you do decide to venture forth, perhaps Teddy Roosevelt's wisdom applies here... "Talk softly, and carry a big stick."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Born In Time

If anyone asks, the answer is "Yes." We did go ahead and purchase the recently released and much maligned Dylan Christmas CD, Christmas In The Heart. I'll review it after we listen to it this weekend. For now, I'm still not done extracting the full measure of last year's Tell Tale Signs, and this morning I wanted to share another great tune, Born In Time.

A lot of people don't realize what a great album this is, opening last year at #6 on the Billboard 200. It was Dylan's 17th album to open on the Top Ten. Edna Gunderson, writing about the album for USA TODAY last year, described it like this:

The two-CD, 27-song set, out Oct. 7, contains previously unreleased studio recordings, demos, alternate takes, live tracks and rarities spanning 1989 to 2006, a rich period that generated the lauded Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, Modern Times and Oh Mercy... Listeners will discover a wealth of fresh material and multiple versions of songs with altered lyrics, moods and styles.

"When Most of the Time came out on Oh Mercy, I thought it was such an achingly beautiful love song," says Steve Berkowitz, senior vice president of A&R at Columbia/Legacy. "Now it's here as a folk version and something that sounds like Dylan with Brian Eno and The Edge. To hear the way the songs and lyrics develop is fascinating. Dylan comes across as a folk singer, a blues musician and a jazz artist."


This song, too, Born In Time, is "achingly beautiful." You can probably find it online somewhere, but why not just get the whole enchilada? Tell Tale Signs is a thoroughly rich and wonderful experience that I'm still absorbing again and again.
The line "when we were made of dreams" evokes for me that moment in Vanilla Sky when Sofia tells David, "I'll see you in another life... when we are both cats." Many of the lyrics are ambiguous and obscure, yet they touch real places in the soul. Like a Fellini film, every passing moment is another opportunity to grasp meanings and lose them again. Open your eyes.

Born In Time
by Bob Dylan

In the lonely night
In the stardust of a pale blue light
I think of you in black and white
When we were made of dreams.

I walk along through the shaking street,
Listening to my heart beat
In the record breaking heat
When we were born in time.

Bridge 1:
Just when I thought you were gone you came back
Just when I was ready to receive you;
You were smooth, you were rough
You were more than enough,
Oh babe, why did I ever leave you? Or grieve you?

On the rising curve
Where the ways of nature will test every nerve,
I took you close and got what I deserve
When we were born in time.

Bridge #2:
Just when I knew
Who to thank, you went blank
Just when the firelight
Was gleaming

You were snow, you were rain
You were striped, you were plain
Oh babe, could it be that you were scheming?
Or was I dreaming?

In the hills of mystery,
In the foggy web of destiny,
You’re still so deep inside of me
Where we were born in time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Extracts

I'm not the ultimate gadget guy. For example, I still don't have a Blackberry. But I did get my first Bluetooth headset a couple weeks again and have had a cell phone for some time, though I was hardly a ground breaker in that category either.

One gadget, however, that I've gotten a lot of use out of through the years is an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder (DVR). It's a small handheld device that slips into your jacket pocket which you can whip out to "take notes" while driving. If in a meeting and the boss says something really important, or clever, you can capture it for later review. I've used it to capture ideas when I don't have a notepad handy.

I'm currently on my third generation of these things. The first was good, but had a limited number of folders. The second had eight hours of recording space and lots of folders. My current one is almost as good as it gets for me. I can do lengthy interviews, even attach it to my phone for recording conversations, and then plug it into my computer via the USB port to download the WAV files for emailing or future transcribing.

While cleaning up some of the contents of my Flash drive I found the following unedited list of notes which I'd compiled in a Word document. Many of these are random notes from audio books and lectures I was listening to while commuting. A few seem to be "notes to myself." #17 is a tongue-in-cheek ditty I wrote for a radio commercial for Susie's Bison Doggie-Treat Chews. A number of others are starter thoughts for future blog entries. Taken together, I thought the list would make a stimulating read. If you don't think so, then follow the advice in #6.

NOTES TO MYSELF

1. Wiznecki the GB Packer
2. Type Potpourri story quotes
3. Bring FLIP Camera to Vegas
4. Organize files on laptop
5. Blog topic: young bull, Death in the Afternoon, good and bad bulls
6. If I ever cease to be interesting, feel free to hit the Ignore button
7. Blog Topic: More useless statistics
8. Teddy R changed name of Executive Mansion to White House
9. Start a file called Numbers for statistical purposes
10. William Jennings Bryan “Cross of Gold” speech
11. Learn more about Will Rogers
12. Einstein was a pacifist who became a non-pacifist because of Hitler
13. Nanjing Massacre: Japanese soldiers would have contests to see who could kill the most Chinese civilians in a day.
14. In China, the number one cause of death amongst women 18 to 24 is suicide
15. Because females are being aborted in order to get sons, an unintended consequence of the One Child law in China is that the country will be short 30 million brides by the year 2020
16. Richest man in Asia has 168 cars.... avg. income in India $500 a year
17. I’ve got the Bison Doggy-Treat Blues
I’d like to try some of them Doggy Treat Chews
I don’t see no reason for you to refuse
C’mon and Buy Some, cause you got nothin’ to lose
Bison, Doggy Treat Chews
18. Sell raffle Tickets and give free drawing
19. A million square miles of land was added to U.S. as result of Mexican War.
20. e-Marketing Insights from the Best Brains on the Bleeding Edge
21. Most dangerous jobs in America #1: Crack Dealer #2: Logging
re: crack dealers... 1 in 4 killed who serve four years on job
22. Fear of being shunned causes people to avoid honesty; takes courage to speak honestly
23. “A hard day’s work never really killed anyone, but why risk it?” ~Ronald Reagan
24. The great virtue of capitalism is that it decentralizes power and minimizes coercion. One nation’s gain does not necessitate another nation’s loss, and it doesn’t discriminate; it is open to anyone.
25. Blog Entry: The Man by Irving Wallace
26. Hot Cars Run Cooler With AMSOIL
27. In Muslim culture hypocrisy is not as serious of a vice as here because it is better to uphold ideals we fail to live up to than to just give up and say “anything goes.”
28. Blog Entry: Great Gatsby and Lady Chatterley’s Lover both have as a theme the difference between good adultery and bad adultery.... A noble adultery and ignoble....
29. Blog Exploration: Do the strong stay strong forever or do they weaken over time (eg. Buddenbrooks)
30. Blog Exploration: What if our brain lost its sort function

In the meantime, have a great, great day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Brush Off

SHORT STORY MONDAY

"A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen."
~Edward de Bono

The Brush Off

Ted Parker enjoyed his childhood in Upstate New York where his father taught mathematics at Cornell University in Ithaca. Because his father's roots were Kentucky, they regularly visited his kin in Louisville and Lexington. Ted's growing up years were filled with fond memories of playing "on the way to grandma's house" and other assorted games to pass the time during the somewhat long drive.

He had a cousin whom he became especially close to named Kurt. One summer it worked out that Ted could stay with his cousin for six weeks, which was a real treat. He was fourteen, the age when boys have begun to really notice the fairer sex.

Across the road from Kurt's was a really cute girl named Joy Jones. Joy had become well aware of the impact she made on boys and (fortunately not all girls get this way) was quite impressed with herself. Because she had grown up across the street from Kurt, she did not have a high opinion of him. When he was younger he had been the kind who teased girls he liked, and she had been the object of this attention for longer than she cared for. Kurt saw her as prissy and she saw Kurt as a big jerk. Ted might be a nice kid, even somewhat cute himself with those freckles and that big grin, but he was with Kurt must be a jerk as well to hang out with someone like that.

Against this background the incident occurred. Joy was sitting on her porch catching some sun in a pair of shorts and a tank top. Kurt and Ted had just finished lunch and came out to sit on Kurt's front steps. It was not planned, but after seating themselves the boys looked up and saw that joy was directly across from them on her own front steps. They stared. She ignored them and proceeded to work on her nails. They continued to stare. It was as if she were three feet away. Ted had never once talked with her in his life, mainly because she'd learned to avoid Kurt, who was not really a bad kid but went through that stage many boys go through.

Kurt said, "How ya doing?" and it was strange because there was a road between them, but the distance was gone.

Joy finished what she was doing with her nails and looked up. Her right had went up to her left shoulder and made a flicking motion as if sweeping cooking crumbs off a countertop. She stood up and walked in the house.

"She's so stuck up," Kurt said.

"What was that all about?" Ted asked, repeating the gesture on his own shoulder.

"She was giving us the brush off. Let's go down to the park and see who's at the pool."

Years later, while Ted (now 55) was in the board room at Donovan Electric where he was VP of Sales, he noticed a few flakes of dandruff on the shoulder of his dark suit. He flicked them off and as he did so thought of that encounter with Joy in Louisville. There was something basic and Pavlovian in this memory connection to the gesture because this reaction had been going on for nearly twenty years.

When Ted reached his sixties he became aware that his forgetfulness was more serious than he'd realized. To his dismay, he was experiencing the early onset of Alzheimer's. For a while it was hard for his family, especially his wife Gloria. And as time went on, the sun began to set on Ted's fond memories of recent achievements.

As the shadows crept slowly over his past, the only memories left were from his youth. He had forgotten his children, his wife, his vocation. But he remembered going to Kentucky, marching around the house with Kurt, and playing silly games.

Near the end he became pretty much incommunicative and no one knew what was left there in the recesses of his memories. The nurses, though, routinely got a kick out of the way he'd say, "Joy Jones" every time they brushed something off his shoulder. So this became a ritual they all seemed to relish. They would brush his shoulder and he would automatically say, “Joy Jones.”

It bothered Gloria though. She knew that Ted had been somewhat of a roustabout, but she also thought she’d heard about everyone who really mattered from those early years before she became his sun, moon and stars. She wasn’t devastated by it, but while laying awake a few nights, she wondered… Joy Jones?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jason Wussow: The Adventure Continues

For the past ten years Beaners Central has been a hot spot on the Duluth cultural scene. The atmosphere was laid back, the decor artsy, the wireless Internet access free and the staff always there for you. On those occasions I dropped in it seemed to have captured the flavor of Sixties Bohemian.

Over the years it seems like many good causes have done their fund raisers there. And I was aware that on Wednesday evening they had an open mic night for musicians who did three song sets. And that a lot of small groups and a few bigger names have performed there.

Last week I had lunch with Jason Wussow, owner/founder of Beaners, and I discovered the real reason this place is so successful. Jason is just a really nice guy.

My aim in meeting Jason had nothing to do with Beaners. In fact, I only just discovered the connection. I's become interested in a project called Cooking On The Car. Last winter, Jason Wussow and Dan Dresser decided to thumb their noses at winter through doing something a buit unusual. Driving to the Southwest to get away to warmer weather is not that unusual. Driving to Taos, New Mexico, and cooking all of your meals on the manifold of a 1989 Toyota Camry is unusual. Making a documentary about the experience even moreso.

It was fifteen below when they left. Their first meal that day was a venison quiche. Other meals included cooked pheasant, mahi mahi, Hungarian stew and more. If you missed in on the big screen, you can purchase the DVD here.

Wussow, 33, is exceedingly likable for some reason. He owns a business and the building that houses it, and the recording studio, yet comes across as so laid back about it all. I asked how he promoted Beaners and made it so successful. "Mostly word of mouth," he said. "and email lists. But the music acts do a lot of their own PR." A number of name bands have graced the stage here, including Mason Jennings before he became a national name.

In Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner is instructed to "Build it and they will come." For Wussow there is just enough magic there to keep us coming.

Beaners also hosts art shows, and currently there is a show by Nancy Miller that is quite exquisite featuring mixed media mosaic-like works. I myself signed up for a stint in July, tentatively themed The Many Faces of Ennyman.

Dresser and Wussow had been looking forward to heading back on the road for a second round of Cooking On The Car when an unanticipated, but fortuitous, event occured. Independent film making team 4 Track Films has taken an interest in the project. With backing from the Zeppa Foundation, Jason Page and Carrie Boberg will carry the Wussow/Dresser experience to a new level. That's the plan anyways. For sure their work is part of a significant movement in the decentralization of Hollywood power. The sequel is now scheduled for January.

This Friday night there's a kickoff party at Beaners and I believe there will be food available that has been prepared on the engine of a car. Yummm. Eight o'clock. Be there or be square.



ABOUT Jason Wussow
From Jason’s MySpace page:
I’ve been playing music for a while now. I started playing guitar when I was 5. I played in my 1st bar when I was 15 and haven’t looked back. In high school I started out in Metal bands and moved into Alt Rock. Finally I found ska music. Desmond Decker, The Skatalites, Hepcat, and all the rest. The gateway band for me was Skank and Pickle. Any ways, I started a ska band called Fluxskapacitor. This is where I got my 1st real taste of touring. We toured hundreds of shows over the course of many years and many horn players. In 1998 when everyone quit except for Matt Norby and myself we both decided to pull the plug. That’s when I opened Beaner’s (www.beanerscentral.com). It sounded like a good idea to stop touring and run a club, but that idea lasted about 6 months. I started going crazy doing sound for band after band and not being on the road myself. After 2 years I started a ska fusion band called No Room To Pogo. This band lasted for about 4 years and had a great line up including Sara Softich (www.yeltzi.com www.myspace.com/sarasoftich ). As all bands seem to do, Pogo ran it’s course. I made a nice transition into Sara’s band. The guitarist left at the right time. Currently I am touring with Yeltzi supporting our newest album "Snow in August" a twisted, gypsy bluegrass ode to cold and winter Snow has fallen in few places before Labor Day. Yeltzi comes from one of them. Snow in August is our debut album as Yeltzi featuring Sara Softich and myself. It's our first recording to fully capture the twisted, gypsy bluegrass sound that's evolved from years of combining their individual styles on stages through the country. When I'm not on tour or working at Beaner's, I like to record bands live and in the studio below the club. We have started a sweet studio called Sub Central Records.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Turtle Revisited

"Art... makes life possible." ~Joseph Beuys

In January I chanced upon the work of a young Twin Ports artist who goes by the name of Turtle. I shared some of her paintings with readers of this blog at that time.

A couple weeks ago I was told about the exciting work on display this month at The Venue, where I'd had my opening in July. Early last week I slid over during lunch hour and was happily surprised, again. There's just so much creativity in the world! And the first artist featured at the top of the stairs is Turtle, who's new work is as exciting as the first set of paintings I saw at The Red Mug last winter.

Ennyman: When did you first discover you had an aptitude for art?
Turtle: I strongly believe artists are always artist from the beginning. What matters most in an artists life are those who encourage and provide proper direction. However, nothing will prevent an artist to be him or herself eventually. For me, it began pretty early. As a small person, perhaps around ten or so, I was given a paint-by-numbers with a mother bear and her cub walking through the woods. I spent every night lying on the floor painting until it was perfect. I remember the way it felt to disappear into the painting. I also remember making changes to the colors they numbered if I didn't feel it was appropriate for the image. It's pretty hilarious to think how much that experience illuminated my true personality. I still, to this day, host an "against-the-grain" perspective on life.

E: Was there a person in your life who recognized this talent/skill and encouraged it? (mother, teacher, grandmother, etc.) In what way did they influence your art / life direction?
T: Honestly, I have an entire list of people who are responsible for where I am as an artist today, whether they were a negative or positive influence didn't much matter. My Mother and Father both supported my creativity, as they too are artists. When I was twelve my mother bought me acrylic paint (which I still use) and aloud me to paint on the walls inside my closet. When it can time to move, she decided to give me canvas so I would never have to paint over my work again.

My father was a nonconventional artist who primarily worked with furniture. He taught me how to create something beautiful using only aerosol paints and plastic containers. When I turned thirteen he gave me an airbrush and an amazing watercolor set that I continue to use in some of my best work today.

In second grade I had an art teacher that said I had no talent and should put my energy into something else. I was not okay with her opinion and made it my mission to prove her wrong.
I must say, the greatest influence, perhaps the most significant anyway, was my older brother Dan. He is six years older and very, very cool. He was, and still is, the greatest artist I have ever known. As a little girl, and even now, I admired everything he did and wanted with all my heart, to be just like him.

I could continue for paragraphs about all the people such as, art teachers, friends, and even strangers that have both inspired and encouraged me to stick it out. Being an artist isn't easy but everyone and everything in life nurtures this unexplained but inherent need to live life visually.

E: What is it that makes your work unique?
T: Regionally speaking, the uniqueness is all in the subject matter and how I use color. I rarely depict things as they "really" are, but rather, how they feel. I am not too sure that I would consider my work unique from a more global perspective, as there are an entire host of artists with similar styles and motivations. Perhaps the only real difference is that my images are accumulative, based on combinations of experiences original only to me.

E: What is your current situation with regard to life/work/school? Are you working at a job and doing art at night, or are you still in school?
T: Currently, I am a full-time student with three jobs a wonder dog named Charlie. Miraculously I find time between my major commitments to create art. To help manage my creativity I donated my TV which has opened up an unexpected amount of time for painting, sculpting and what ever else I feel like doing.

E: If you weren't making art, what would you be doing?
T: As in, if I weren't an artist? I couldn't even begin to imagine. I suppose I would be doing what other people do, whatever that might be.

E: Much of your art seems to evoke connections on an emotional level. To what extent do you consider the viewer of your work when ini the creative mode?
T: I never do. I tried to once, the painting didn't work out so I won't do it again. I feel it's best to let yourself do what ever you need to without considering much. I have faith in my sub-conscience. My life is like many other lives and what ever I feel I need to express is relatable to someone. "When in the creative mode" is an interesting phrase, I am in full honesty, always in creative mode.

E: Thank you for your work and for sharing here today.

Click on images to enlarge. The show at the Venue will be on display through the end of November.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Formative Experience

“Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things… I am tempted to think there are no little things.” ~Bruce Barton

I read once that Francis Ford Coppola had an illness when he was a teen that kept him in his bedroom for a year. To keep himself from going crazy at what he couldn’t do, he used to create puppets or characters and stage plays in his room. No doubt this staging and directing on a small scale contributed to his achievements in Hollywood, not the least of which was Apocalypse Now.

On a smaller scale I had a bout with pneumonia in seventh grade which contributed in no small way to making me who I am. There were five weeks left in seventh grade when I learned that I had pneumonia and that I would have to stay home and rest. Frankly, I did not feel ill, so I did not have a strong incentive to stay housebound. Because I was continually in the woods behind our house or doing things in the yard, the doctor explained that it appeared the only way to keep me inactive, short of shackles, was to hospitalize me.

After five days in the Somerset Hospital I was released back to the custody of my parents, whereupon I was constantly reminded that if I did not rest and stay in the house I would be back in the hospital.

Evidently my parents recognized that I needed something to keep me busy, and they bought me a paint-by-numbers set. The set had two paintings of a pair of Springer spaniels, along with all the appropriate paraphernalia to make them. A card table was set up in the family room and I allowed myself to become mesmerized by what was involved in creating these paintings, which ultimately hung on the wall of that room for several years.

You may scoff at paint-by-numbers art, but the whole procedure is quite instructive. First off, you come to understand that what you see up close and from a suitable distance is different. You learn attention to detail, and you learn patience. If nothing else, you learn how to control a brush, how paint adheres to a surface, how appearances are deceiving, and maybe how long it takes to get bored with an activity that is tedious and time consuming. Some people may not have the patience though, frankly, the process of putting paint on a surface still fascinates me and I can’t imagine ever getting bored with it.

After my bout with pneumonia I did not immediately become an artist. Baseball was my passion at that time. But later in high school, feeling introspective and somewhat alienated, I returned to my art, inspired by album covers and the works of Hieronymus Bosch. In college I pursued an art major and this, combined with my habit of writing about anything and everything I was associated with, led to a career in advertising. It only follows that my blog would be representative of these same twin passions, writing and art. The B&W image at the top is that first paint by numbers picture from the weeks I rested and recovered from my pneumonia. (The original, of course, was in color.)

What was one of your unexpected formative experiences that contributed to who you are today?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Eight Things You Might Not Know About Korea

Yesterday President Obama was in Korea as part of his eight day tour of Asia. One of his goals has been a trade agreement to stave off a trade war with this economic powerhouse. The trip itself is an acknowledgement of the rising economic influence of Asia.

Eight Things You Might Not Know About Korea

1. My father, who served in the army after the conclusion of World War II, was stationed for a time in Korea.

2. Korea was divided into North and South Korea in 1948 as a consequence of the Cold War. The Soviet Union occupied the north, the south being occupied by the Allies. The dividing line is the 38th parallel.

3. While South Korea prospered, North Korea languished economically, experiencing a famine so severe that 2.5 to 3 million people starved to death from 1995-98.

4. The population of Korea, if united again, would be approximately 73 million people. Currently there are about 23 million in North Korea, 50 million in South.

5. The official language of Korea is.... Korean. The written script which Koreans use today was invented in the 15th century.

6. The primary religions in Korea have historically been Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and Korean Shamanism. Due to Westernization, Christianity is also widely practiced in South Korea, more than 29% claiming this religious persuasion. (Possibly the world's largest Christian church -- in members, not building size -- was located in Seoul.) Religion is repressed in North Korea.

7. Korea is one of the Four Asian Tigers. The term "Asian Tigers" refers to the highly developed economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, all four of which have a highly educated and skilled workforce. In addition, all four were at one time or another under Chinese rule.

8. Korea is the world's largest ship builder and the fourth largest auto maker.


EDNOTE: Most of the paintings and illustrations on my blog are available for sale. If you see something here that makes you say, "I gotta have it," be sure to let me know and we can negotiate a price. Feel free to click on images to enlarge. This piece is 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas paper.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not Dark Yet

One of the things that put Dylan on the map in the Sixties was his straight up "tell it like it is" posture that pulled no punches. While the Beach Boys sang about surfing, he was singing, "You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend, when I was down you just stood there grinning" and "a hard rain's gonna fall" and in Masters of War, "even Jesus would never forgive what you do." These songs and others like them were harsh, delivered with both edge and insight. And for some people, this is the Dylan they look for, hoping he will re-emerge.

As any Dylan fan is aware, the deeply self-reflective Dylan has also been present for the duration of a career and the song "Not Dark Yet", from his late nineties Time Out Of Mind album, emerges from the shadows of this kind of deep soul searching.

The song is a lamentation, much like the prophet Jeremiah's Lamentations.

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of his wrath.

2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;

3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.

5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.

6 He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.


"Not Dark Yet" is about the alienation and despair caused by living in a troubled world. In another place on this album Dylan states, "I've seen too much." There are many in this world with sensitive souls who can identify with that feeling that one's soul has turned into steel as a result of this broken world's harsh realities. Scars, pain, always a fly in the ointment... this is life. "Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear," Dylan relates.

Not Dark Yet

Shadows are fallin' and I've been here all day
It's too hot to sleep and time is runnin' away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I've still got the scars that the sun didn't heal
There's not even room enough to be anywhere
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writin' what was in her mind
I just don't see why I should even care
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

Well, I've been to London and I been to gay Paris
I've followed the river and I got to the sea
I've been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain't lookin' for nothin' in anyone's eyes
Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

I was born here and I'll die here against my will
I know it looks like I'm movin' but I'm standin' still
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don't even hear the murmur of a prayer
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

What's interesting is that Dylan included this song as part of his playlist in a set of 2002 Stockholm concerts which were explicitly Gospel oriented, opening with Solid Rock and including the hymn Rock of Ages, among others.

The last line of each verse speaks of an endpoint to this world's sorrows, this world full of lies. "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." As he has elsewhere sung, "Everything's broken" but it is not so forever. Life is a burden, but we have a basis for hope. As the prophets of old stated and re-stated:

"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail."

(Lamentations 3:21-22)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Amelia Story Not Over Yet

My review of Amelia, the new film starring Hillary Swank, Richard Gere and Ewan MacGregor, brought yet more Earhart disappearance stories to my attention. On Sunday I mentioned Tod Swindell's research regarding her disappearance being an orchestrated hoax to get her out of the public eye.

Yesterday, a friend asked if I heard about the notebooks of a young girl who heard Earhart's last transmissions while listening to the radio during those fateful hours. Later a co-worker told me of a group that is seeking to bring home DNA evidence to support the theory that she had landed on an island somewhere else in the Pacific.

As it turns out, both of the above stories are part of the same project. The TIGHAR Project has a website that is compiling proofs that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan actually survived after landing on or near Gardner Island, somewhere quite a ways from where they were supposed to come down. TIGHAR is an acronym for The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, organized and managed by The Institute for Aviation History.

The website makes its case that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan landed on or near Gardner Island and died there. The notebooks of the girl who heard transmissions from Earhart after the crash are also reproduced on this site. Likewise many other details, answers to frequently asked questions, etc.

If Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan really did survive the crash, and eventually died on this island, this group believes that a thorough search will eventually uncover remains that can be tested for DNA. Supposedly there is a compelling body of supporting evidence already gathered but it is inconclusive. One purpose of the site, therefore, is to raise money to return next summer and find that irrefutable evidence that answers once and for all the questions as regards what really happened.

To some extent the site is a sales pitch because you, too, can be part of next summer's historic exploratory expedition, the group's ninth. For $50,000 you'll have an opportunity to visit the remote South Seas island of Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati, formerly Gardner Island. This is one way they hope to fund the research.

The TIGHAR organization has done a commendable job of compiling in one place a large body of information on two of history's most famous missing persons. This page, for example, presents a detailed analysis of many of the factual errors in the Hollywood film now airing. But then again, that's entertainment.

Personally I find it fascinating when people have a passion for something that is so all consuming, whether to prove Amelia did not die, or to verify how she did. At the end of the day one might do well to ask, "What is my own consuming passion?"

Just sowing a seed. Water it and let it grow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Silk Pajamas

SHORT STORY MONDAY

This morning's story was written by my daughter Christina when she was eleven. We were home schooling our children at this point in their lives and I had the privilege of being their writing teacher. My theory of teaching was that if they enjoyed writing, you would have material to edit and by this means their writing would improve.

In addition to learning how to spell and construct sentences, we also worked on techniques for making articles, essays or stories more interesting to the reader. Writing is not for us alone. We write into a context, for the purposes of connection or communication. Christina learned her lessons well, which I believe helped contribute to her academic successes... and this story here today, unedited.

Silk Pajamas
An Original Story by Christina Newman

In the summer of 1999, I was going into 7th grade. It was an awkward year for me because I was only 11. I had skipped a grade, which made me younger than everyone in my class. I was too young for youth group, but too old for other groups. That made it hard for me to make friends.

I only had 2 friends, Jordan who was a trouble maker, and Haily who was my best friend ever. Jordan and I got along perfect.We were exact opposites, but mom says opposites attract. I'm the quiet type, I never get in trouble, get good grades, and come from a family that never has much extra money to spend.

Jordan is a loud obnoxious trouble maker who comes from a wealthy family that gives her everything that a kid could want. She does strange things, like when she walked out of the house with long beautiful brown hair, and came back with an extremely short blonde haircut, and her ears pierced. It kind of shocked me, but never really affected our friendship. Another time she painted the walls of her room black. It made me feel so uneasy. I never accepted her invitations until her mom repainted her walls white again.

We are almost as close as Haily and I are, now. We (me and Haily) have always been close, but never quite as close as we have been since Haily's 12th birthday. Haily's biggest (and only) problem is that she's jealous. Very jealous. Especially of my silk pajamas.

First I was given one pair as a gift from my grandparents, then I got another one from my mom. After that, she got mad every time I wore them. At first I wore them just to annoy her, but I soon found out that I wasn't annoying her- I was making her furious. After a while her birthday came, and I decided to buy her a pair. I bought a matching pair for myself with my own money that I had saved up. It was a sleepover, so I brought my p.j.s too.

I walked in her house and handed her the package, wrapped in blue (her favorite color) paper with daisies (her favorite flower) all over it.

"Let me help you unpack." Haily said.

"OK," I returned uncertainly. When she saw my pajamas I could tell she was mad. Even though she didn't say anything, I could see the revenge taking place in her mind. I could always see right through Haily's sweet faces covering up the anger she felt.

***

Two hours later we went upstairs to get dressed for bed. Then we were to open presents. I walked upstairs, and as soon as I opened my the door, I saw it. My pajamas were ripped in shreds. Haily walked in behind me.

"Oh no!" she said. "It must have been Whiskers. You know how cats are. I guess you'll have to borrow a pair of mine. Just be careful not to rip them or get them dirty."

I knew it wasn't the cat, but I kept quiet. Tears came to my eyes, not because of my pajamas, but because Haily had done it on Purpose. Haily had cut my pajamas on purpose! How could anyone do that?! It was so cruel.

There were 5 girls altogether -- me, Haily, Karli, Summer and Breezy, or BreeAnna. "Open mine first!" every one squealed. I'm sure it was on purpose that she opened mine last.

"Who's is This one?" she asked rudely.

"Mine," I squeaked.

"Oh. You." She picked up the package reluctantly, and slowly as if opening presents was the most boring thing in the world, took off the paper. As soon as she saw its contents, tears sprung into her eyes and she burst into tears. She hugged me tight and whispered into my ear, "I'm so sorry. I love you. I was so jealous.... I didn't know....."

I nodded and hugged her back. Tears still pouring out of her eyes, she handed me the package.
"Here. I ruined yours, you can keep mine." She smiled sadly.

I smiled back. "Thank you," I whispered. "Thank you."

Note: The two images on this page were created by Susie, Down Home Creations

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Amelia Flies Again

My wife and I went to see Amelia the other night, the feature film introducing big screen audiences to the Amelia Earhart story, starring Hillary Swank and Richard Gere. For modern audiences who do are not familiar with her life, it is a great introduction and will undoubtedly encourage young women to keep pushing the boundaries of whatever region their souls wish to fly.

The film does an admirable job of showing how Earhart became a media darling, not only performing amazing feats but also writing about it as well. She became interested in flying through an airshow which she saw while young, and her first transatlantic flight put her in the spotlight, even though she was not piloting the plane that first time. Eventually, she proved her mettle and made the solo transatlantic trip which sealed her place in history.

Casting Swank as Earhart was no doubt in large part due to her looks. That is, her features make her a passably accurate representation of the pioneer pilot. Due to her celebrity there are plenty of photos of the real Ms. Earhart to be found. Richard Gere as GP (George P. Putnam) was probably O.K., though I felt there were a few too many closeup shots early in the film with that winsome Gere “look” that seems his signature… the characteristic smooth, charming smile.

As a celebrity Earhart did what many celebs succumb to, making product endorsements as a means to obtaining cash to do what they really want to do. Hence she promoted Beech-Nut Gum, Crayola crayons and other such things. She also gained an entrance to high society through her achievements.

The story is told in a flashback style as we see the scenes of her life -- romances, adventures, awards -- being recalled while she pursues her ultimate dream of flying solo around the world. To accomplish this ultimate achievement required a very risky re-fueling on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The film does an admirable job of re-creating the kind of tension everyone involved must have felt when she failed to find the island and contact was lost forever.

Is this really how the story ended?
In point of fact, there were a number of conspiracy theory ideas spawned by Amelia Earhart's disappearance. Because of the ambiguity over the details of her disappearance (they never found the wreckage) the door was left ajar for people to suspect that the official story was not the end of the story. As recent as 2007 The Wall Street Journal reported that as many as "thirty different theories" have tried to explain what really happened to Amelia Earhart when she disappeared.

A year ago I interviewed a man who believes that this version of the story is a myth and wrote about it in a blog entry titled Did She Really Disappear? Tod Swindell claims that Amelia, possibly wearied of celebritydom and her own lack of a private life, chose to regain control of her future by arranging her disappearance and taking on a new identity. Indeed, the event ultimately succeeded in removing her from the public eye.

The website, http://www.irene-amelia.com/index.html, offers its own surprising answer to this mystery. Over the past several years Swindell has been attempting to produce a documentary on the discoveries. The project, Beyond 37, has assembled an impressive amount of forensic evidence to support the notion being proposed... that Amelia lived out her days under an assumed identity, after carefully orchestrating her departure from the life she once lived.

To be honest, it's difficult for me to imagine that a disappearing act of this magnitude could be successfully executed. Not only did Amelia disappear, but also the plane and her navigator Fred Noonan. To pull off a stunt like this would require secrecy on a grand scale, a conspiracy that stretches credibility. Nevertheless, you will undoubtedly find Swindell's arguments compelling and a worthwhile read. And, who knows, there may still be a "rest of the story."

What do you think?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

When Falls the Coliseum

A short while ago, while writing about the journals of Andre Gide, I mentioned that many critics considered Gide one of the three great luminaries of 20th century literature, the other two being James Joyce and, today's focus, Thomas Mann. These writers may have fallen out of the pop limelight, but their works continue to speak to those who revisit them.

Mann's Death in Venice has always been on my short list of favorite novellas, so it was with great pleasure that I stumbled upon a very cool blog the other day titled When Falls the Coliseum, subtitled a journal of American culture [or lack thereof] in which Christopher Guerin recommends this magnificent volume.

A blog name like that is magnetic in and of itself, and the May 11 entry reinforced my premonitions about the site. "Now read this! Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice". Guerin, in this review makes a case for Death in Venice being possibly "the finest novella of the 20th century" and in the opening paragraph he lays out his case.

Here's an excerpt from the review, beginning with paragraph two.

Within the first few pages, you know you’re reading something special. Gustave von Aschenbach is a famous author, well into middle age, whose nerves are beginning to fray from overwork. On an afternoon walk near a cemetery in Munich, he encounters a stranger.

(Aschenbach) was brought back to reality by the sight of a man standing in the portico, above the two apocalyptic beasts that guarded the staircase, and something not quite usual in this man’s appearance gave his thoughts a fresh turn . . . . He was of medium height, thin, beardless, and strikingly snub-nosed; he belonged to the red-haired type and possessed its milky, freckled skin . . . and the broad, straight-brimmed hat he had on made him look distinctly exotic . . . . In his right hand, slantwise to the ground, he held an iron-shod stick, and braced himself against its crook, with his legs crossed. His chin was up. So that the Adam’s apple looked very bald in the lean neck rising from the loose shirt: and he stood there sharply peering up into space out of colourless, red-lashed eyes, while two pronounced perpendicular furrows showed on his forehead in curious contrast to his little turned-up nose . . . . the man had a bold and domineering, even a ruthless, air, and his lips completed the picture by seeming to curl back, either by reason of some deformity or else because he grimaced, being blinded by the sun in his face; they laid bare the long, white, glistening teeth to the gums.

Leaving his gaze a bit too long on the face of the stranger — an apparition of Death, or the Devil? — Aschenbach receives a hostile gaze in return. He blinks first and walks away, feeling strangely “a widening of inward barriers, a kind of vaulting unrest, a youthfully ardent thirst for distant scenes,” and this singular moment inspires Aschenbach soon to take a vacation to the perennially romantic city of Venice.

From the moment of his arrival there, he encounters images to warn him of what is to come — an old man, made up to look younger, trying pathetically to fit in with a group of young men, and another red-haired stranger, an unlicensed gondolier, who would steer him astray.

Toward the end of this review there is a summing up.

Death in Venice is as perfect as a lovely, sad and disturbing dream, with multiple layers of meaning that cause it to resonate in the mind long after you’ve finished reading it — a book to read and reread with ever-increasing reward.

I not only recommend the full text of Geurin's review, I strongly encourage you to find a copy of the book itself, new or used, and to relish it.

I'll also be adding When Falls the Coliseum to my favorites links later today. The site's name is drawn from a poem by Lord Byron.

“While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall;
And when Rome falls—the world.”


Like Byron's pithy observation, Guerin seems to have established himself at a vantage point from which to make keen observations on our current scene, and the scenery is not entirely pretty.

A little over a dozen years ago I assembled a list of some favorite novella length stories by a handful of favorite authors. If you're looking for a good read, and not inclined to something at ponderous as War and Peace, here's that list from a page of my favorite things. Feel free to comment or add to my list. And have a great day.

Favorite Novellas
1. The Tenth Man, by Graham Greene
2. Of Mice and Men, by Steinbeck
3. Barabbas, by Par Lagerkvist
4. Theseus, by Andre Gide
5. A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean
6. Isabelle, by Andre Gide
7. Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow
8. Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann
9. The Sybil, by Par Lagerkvist
10. The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
11. Mr. Majestyk, by Elmore Leonard
12. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Hard Part

"The writer of any first person work must decide two obvious questions: what to put in and what to leave out." ~Annie Dillard

Someone asked how I come up with something new to write about every day. Frankly, that is not the challenge. The real challenge is how to eliminate topics because there are so many competing for this space at any given time. It's like a rural man who arrives in the big city without a plan. He's not sure which direction to go because so many avenues beckon. If the city is New York, any direction will yield an adventure.

[This paragraph is deleted.]

[This paragraph was delicious, but it is deleted, too.]

[This paragraph felt like it was not going where I wanted it to, so it is deleted as well.]

Evidently my thesis is not accurate across the board. Some avenues really are dead ends.

Ernest Hemingway, one of the great writers of the twentieth century, once remarked that "if I had more time it would have been shorter." In other words, he likewise left a lot of material on the cutting room floor. That's what artists do. They explore, try things, and when it works it is often magical. When it doesn't you realize it's got to go.

It might be that some people so love whatever they create it can't be touched lest it be marred. Editors hate working with these kinds of writers who treat every word as if it had been delivered by divine inspiration.

This morning when I sought out the context for the Hemingway quote cited above, I discovered an interesting blog devoted to this writer who made such an impact on the literary scene. One page features the top 5 quotes misattributed to Hemingway. This quote of his has also been attributed to T.S. Elliot, Voltaire, Mark Twain and even Blaise Pascal. Hmmm.

As regards brevity, Lincoln's Gettysburg address was delivered in three minutes, yet it has been remembered for more than a century and a half. Think about it. And... have a great day.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Devil May Care

The James Bond character has become an iconic part of Western culture. Invented by writer Ian Fleming in the heat of the Cold War, Bond was the quintessential British spy, fighting evil wherever it is found, using state-of-the-art gadgets created by the best technical minds in the service of good, doing it all with a flash and style that women swoon over and men strive to emulate. At least in the books his women swoon.

In those Cold War days there was a lot of fear, and readers of the Bond books could take comfort in knowing our side was doing what it could to save the world. These were the days of Spy vs. Spy comics in Mad magazine, and of fallout shelters in basements.

More than once over the years I've heard a speaker at a writers conference reference Ian Fleming as an example of how to make fiction come to life. Attention to detail is key.

My father, an avid reader, was himself a fan of the Bond series. Fleming was already internationally famous when John F. Kennedy stated that From Russia With Love was on the short list of his favorite books, which naturally put Fleming firmly on the map in this country.
When I was about fourteen my mom saw that I was reading From Russia With Love and she said, "Oh Eddie, you're not reading that, are you?" Around page 20 there was a scene with a tall blond Russian fellow, the arch-villain pathological killer, getting a back rub while lying naked beside a pool. She'd put the book down at that point and never picked it up. I, on the other, could not put the book down, but agreed to let her make an appeal to my dad who assented that the books were not salacious and I was "old enough."

Bond did bed his women, but Fleming spent more time building tension in his stories than getting male readers to drool to distraction.

I bring all this up because another Bond novel was released last year on the 100th anniversary of Fleming's birthday. This book, Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, is a very good read. I've not looked at a Bond book since high school (and I read every one of them that dad had available -- Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker, Dr. No, For Your Eyes Only, The Spy Who Loved Me, etc.) Faulks doesn't tinker with the style or create new characters. This is James Bond, and M and Miss Moneypenny, and those really evil, wholly dedicated bad guys.

A few critics call Faulks' book a joke because it is simply a parody of what a Bond book would be. But to some extent you could say the same about Fleming's later Bond books, and certainly many of the films were, well, knock-offs made for the fun of it. If you keep this perspective, Devil May Care is a fun read.

While talking spy stuff, I will put in a plug here for the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. Spies and spying are as old as the days of Moses, actually. Remember when Israel, wandering in the wilderness for forty years, sent twelve spies into Canaan to check out the situation there? The Revolutionary War had its share of spy business, as did the Civil War, and every conflict since. If you have kids, and enough time, be sure to add the International Spy Museum to your list of things to see and do in D.C. on your next visit.

NOTE: I created the image at the top of the page by placing my pallet face down on a large sheet of paper at the end of a painting session. As I looked at the result it seemed to me that there was a figure of oo7 crouched forward in the upper left quadrant of the picture. Can you see him? The piece is titled Spy vs. Spy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Broadway Costs So Much

Musicals are not only big box office draws, they are also big spectacles to assemble and fund. And the recession has made a decidedly noticeable impact so that a number of popular award-winning shows have had to shutter their doors, including Spamalot and Hairspray.

I remember when my brother and his wife went to see Yul Brynner in his second last Broadway performance of The King and I. When all was said and done, it cost a pretty penny, but those second row seats (or was it front row?) were worth every dime they said. $120 a seat if I recall correctly.

A recent article in The Economists outlines the costs associated with putting on these productions, and frankly I was somewhat floored. Shrek: The Musical, currently running, purportedly cost investors 20 million to stage. The revived West Side Story cost 14 million. A resurrected Hair was put together for under six million, but you don’t have to do too much math to understand why those Broadway ticket prices were so hefty.

I used to think, too, that the actors and actresses liked Broadway as a place to hone their skills, and interact with audiences, but guess what? I think they like the paychecks just as much.

Here are ticket prices for a few of today's current shows.

West Side Story $45 – $120 Yes, Leonard Bernstein's musical re-telling of old Bill's Romeo & Juliet is back.

Mary Poppins $30 – $120 Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee in Edwardian London; the umbrella is still magical.

Memphis $40 – $125 Chad Kimball and Monego Glover. A black singer and white radio DJ come together in 1950’s Memphis.

Mama Mia $60 – $120 Critics give it a 3.1, audiences a 4.6 Four good seats: $486

A Steady Rain $85 – $128.50 Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman star as Chicago police officers struggling to reconcile a tragic event. Craig, most noted for his admirably presented James Bond, is performing in his first Broadway show for a limited time only. A first class evening for four will cost you just under $600, not including dinner or parking.

Actually, production costs might explain why a lot of Vegas shows have such steep ticket prices for a ninety minute or two hour event. When magician Steve Weyrick a number of years ago opened at the Sahara I heard that the casino spent 25 million dollars just to build the elaborate set where he performed. Sadly, the night I saw him there were only 30 or so in the audience. Not a strong ROI for the Sahara.

If you really want to see a Broadway musical, I'm hearing pretty good reviews from people who've seen Jersey Boys. Unlike some of what's playing now, this one is being sold out week after week, 101.2% last week and 4.8 out of 5 stars by audiences, despite what the critics say. The cheap seats start at $95, so you might want to go for broke and get the $125 seats if you can. And no, it is not about my brothers and I, though we did enjoy being Jersey boys while growing up.

Ever seen the lights on Broadway? What did you think? Now you know what they mean when they say, "It's showtime!"