Monday, July 31, 2017

Depression-Era Duluth Delineated In New Dylan-Themed Musical

Did anyone notice how many references to Shakespeare there were when Bob Dylan won his Nobel Prize for Literature? In addition to both being prolific, it wouldn't be a stretch to have a film about Shakespeare end up with the title He's Not There, since some scholars have questioned the Bard's existence. (I'm Not There explores the various aspects of the enigmatic Dylan's life.)

This weekend I learned that 20 songs from the Dylan catalog have been incorporated into a new musical with its setting being Depression-era Duluth, which coincides with the decade leading up to Dylan's real-life birth. The play, titled Girl from the North Country, is fascinating from a variety of angles. Less than ten days ago I wrote about Woody Guthrie's influence on Dylan, especially in regard to the theme of being a voice for the disenfranchised, the down-and-outers fighting for survival in a hard world. When I read the descriptions of characters thrown together for Girl from the North Country, it's a similar cast of characters.

Michael Billington's review of the play last week described the setting as "a run-down guesthouse where everyone is staring into a bleak future." He goes on to outline the characters:  "Nick, the owner, has to deal with crushing debt, a wife with dementia, a layabout son, and he is trying to marry off an adopted, pregnant, black daughter to an elderly shoe salesman. His guests include a ruined family, a fugitive boxer, a blackmailing preacher-cum-Bible salesman and Nick’s lover, who is awaiting a legacy that fails to mature. Yet for all their failures they still manage, gloriously, to sing."

Dylan's songs and music have been incorporated into Hollywood films so frequently that since 2000 there's probably been at least one a month woven into a film there. Just as Shakespeare is inseparable from theater, Dylan seems to have become equally inseparable from the theatrical arts, whether in celluloid or here on the big stage.

It's unlikely that I'll make it to the Old Vic where Girl from the North Country is playing in London, so I will secretly hope that either Hollywood will translate it to film, or the Duluth Playhouse will take a stab at producing this show. Duluth has the talent to pull it off. (They did Hair a couple years ago.)

Read the full account here: Girl from the North Country review -- Dylan's songs are Depression-era dynamite.

* * * *

The Old Vic is proud to present the World Premiere of Girl From the North Country, an electrifying new work from esteemed playwright Conor McPherson along with classic songs from Bob Dylan.

Duluth, Minnesota in the midst of the Great Depression.

A family adrift, their future on a knife edge. Lost and lonely people drifting through rooms of their guesthouse. But Nick Laine thinks he’s seen a way out…

* * * *
Not all the reviewers rave, but the idea of it is certainly intriguing, especially if you live in Duluth and just happen to be a fan of Dylan's music.

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Visit with Danny Fox: 2-Time Winner of the Hibbing Dylan Fest Singer/Songwriter Contest

Danny Fox at Sir Ben's.
"You gotta hear this kid," I was told. "He's got Dylan down," meaning he'd captured the inflections, the attitude, and the other trademarks of Dylan's style, blues harp hung around the neck, even the patter between songs. So I went to hear what the buzz was about and sure enough that winner of the 2008 Dylan Days Singer/Songwriter Contest did indeed reflect the persona of the Nobel Prize-winning troubadour when the Bard was in his youth.

Since that time, Danny Fox has made several trips to the Northland, most recently in early July, performing a few songs live on KUMD and putting on a show for local Dylan Fest fans and friends at Sir Ben's. A few years ago even the Chicago Tribune gave one of his visits some ink.

Now in his mid-twenties, Fox is a seasoned performer. Like many musicians his creative energies have also found other outlets. Dany Fox has taken up painting. Emulating Bob? Could be.

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

Danny Fox: My Bob Dylan story... When I was ten years old, My father and his brother, my Uncle Jim, would get together every Sunday at my uncle's house to watch the football game. My brother and I had NO interest in this whatsoever, so we would wander off and draw, play with toys, and partake in all the food that comes with football games. Uncle Jim had several towers of albums. I liked flipping through them to admire the album art. I randomly flipped to Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume One. I had never heard of Bob Dylan, never listened to any of his music, etc. I just liked the dark blue cover with a man's silhouette surrounded by a halo of light and hair. I asked if I could borrow it. On the way home, I put it in my CD player. I don't think I got passed the first track, "Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35." I played it over and over and over and over. I was hooked. Musical heroin.

EN: You've won the Dylan Days singer/songwriter contest twice. How many times did you try and what was your plan the first time?

On the stage in Armory... a Dylan Days rarity.
DF: I heard about the Zimmy's songwriter contest in Hibbing in 2007. I was a junior in high school at the time. Dad and I were going to go, but it was already full. Instead, we had to wait until the summer of 2008. So we went and I was amazed. That's a whole other story, though. So I sang "Mr. Tambourine Man" and my original, "(May Be) The Truth About Love." I had no plan. Just sung what I was comfortable with. Lo and behold, I won! Seventeen-year-old me was ecstatic! And for the next two years of winning, I just came back and gave it my all again. Go in with no expectations. Sing from your heart, with passion. Let Dylan bleed right out of you.

EN: How long have you been painting? What led you in this creative direction?

DF: I have been painting for just about a year. Although art, mainly pencil drawing, I have been doing for over twenty years. Not being able to go to college has sort of stagnated my creativity. I've always admired the old masters and their oil paintings ever since I could remember. So, about a year ago, I just decided, DO IT. On a whim, I picked up some oils and, in the paraphrased words of Dylan, never looked back. I highly suspect this will develop into exploring more artistic mediums and that greatly excites me.

As a follow-up to that, I hope my art propels me into infinite possibilities. I'm currently working on a third album. In that respect, I hope to keep making music, designing album covers, making illuminated Bibles, and maybe dabbling in some sculpture or found object art. I don't quite have a plan. I'm at the mercy of where the art wants to take me and that's a-okay.

EN: How many times have you seen Dylan perform? What was your favorite memory?

DF: I have seen Dylan approximately eight or nine times, my first being Halloween of 2004 when I was 14 years old and my latest in June of 2016.

My favourite concert memory was in the mid 2000s where I saw him at a baseball stadium in Alexian Field. Our "seats" were general admission. We arrived incredibly early and ended up standing about five feet from the stage, ten feet from the man himself. During one of the songs, Dylan and I made eye contact. For a good solid ten seconds. I was crying uncontrollably. He sort of gave me a crooked grin. It felt like I was being rebaptized, that the torch was being passed on. Intimate, magical, and profoundly beautiful.

EN: Do you have a favorite album? Favorite song?

DF: My favorite Dylan album, hands down, is Desire. As for a favorite song, you're better off asking me to count every grain of sand on all the world's beaches! But I've always had an affinity for "Changing of the Guards," "Series of Dreams," and all of his early, early folk circa 1961-1963.

EN: What was the moment when you realized that Dylan wasn't just another performer like other performers?

DF: My most memorable instance where Dylan solidified himself as a god for me was when I was around eleven or twelve years old. I was riding in the back of my family's car on our way to the Countyline Orchard in Indiana to pick apples. I had "Masters of War" playing on my CD player. It froze me to the bone. The marrow curdled into a thick soup of astounding fright. This man spoke of grit and grime, of reality and triumph. I knew he was otherworldly and modern simultaneously. What can you say about Dylan that hasn't been said before, yet describes him perfectly? You can't really say anything. He's rough and soft, old and young, mysterious and perfect. The Shakespeare of my lifetime and in countless eons to come.

* * * *
EdNote: For the record, Desire is one of my own fave Dylan records. Thanks, Danny, for sharing your music this summer and your paintings here.

* * * *
Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Two Big North Star Events, One Special Weekend -- The Carlton Room and the Summer of Love, Baby

There was a lot of synchronicity in the air last night where Pippi Ardennia with Glenn Swanson and Friends christened the new Carlton Room at the Big O. You could feel it and breathe it, taste it and see it. The Oldenburg House is officially opening its doors and windows to ring in a new chapter in this historic and fabled B&B on the edge of Paradise. Though tonight is the official Carlton Room Grand Opening, Glenn and Emily Swanson opened their hearts with a special evening of good vibes and music as a way of thanking everyone who helped make it possible... as in the electrician and the plumber, the painters and landscapers, the floor finishers and a few other select special people.

The newly refinished Carlton Room includes a stage perfectly sized to intimately showcase Pippi Ardennia and a jazz band extraordinaire. Having heard Pippi and friends here a couple years ago, it was impossible to not think we were in the presence of a modern Ella Fitzgerald as she exuded her own blend of love and soul.

Pippi and Billy: Still at the top of their game.
So tonight is the Grand Opening for a series of monthly dinner concerts with three course meals, complimentary beverages -- including "A Rose for Emily" Cocktail, 17-7 Pale Ale or Lemonade -- and an inimitable top-drawer accompaniment. That Rose for Emily Cocktail is not only an amusing tip of the hat to Glenn's wife Emily, but also to the Nobel Prize-winning author who penned this famous short story.

Tonight's Carlton Room dinner show is full, but upcoming dates for those who desire a most memorable experience can contact the Oldenburg House. Upcoming shows are slated for August 19 & 20 and September 29 & 30.

Now here's the uncanny part where the synchronicity began to kick in. Billy Peterson, for those who don't know, is the son of a Minneapolis jazz great Willard Peterson. His son is also a phenomenal musician (keyboards.) Kevin Odegard, a guitar player who co-wrote with Andy Gill the book A Simple Twist of Fate about the making of Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks (BOTT) album, introduces Billy into the story with this sentence: "A little way across town, Billy Peterson, Minneapolis' most talented and prolific bass player, was gigging six nights a week with the jazz group Natural Life at The Longhorn in the Lumber Exchange Building at Fourth and Hennepin."

Dave King with Dan Hansen
Billy Peterson, the bass player on BOTT, has played with some of the best in the business, continues to record with the likes of good friend Steven Tyler. As we talked he mentioned that the drummer that he performs with in Minneapolis is Dave King, who just happens to be the fave musician/artist in the world of my friend Dan Hansen who is an artist who did a digital art piece of Dave King.

For more Twilight Zone elements on all this, one of the songs Pippi sang was Stand By Me, the title of Dan's favorite Hollywood film, or at least a fave at one time and deeply meaningful to him. She did it in a form of sing-along style, so natch I was singing along.

Now while all this was going on, other members of those BOTT recording sessions that Kevin Odegard wrote about are performing this tonight at 6:00 p.m. in St. Louis Park for a free Summer of Love Concert in the Park on behalf of Guitars for Vets. The lineup includes Odegard, Peter Ostroushko, and a cast of some of the Twin Cities' best at the Wolfe Park Ampitheater, 3700 Monterrey Drive. It's a Magic Marc Production saluting the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love.

What I especially like is the tag line: Healing the Planet One Song at a Time. If you're anywhere near the Twin Cities tonight, make your way to this Free love-gift of music to any and all.

* * * *
One of the highlights of last night in Carlton was Glenn and Emily's tribute to Helen Swanson, whom everyone knows as Mama. A kind, cheerful, generous presence year-round. Everyone who comes to Oldenburg House has been gently touched by the sweet savor she brings to the atmosphere here.

The evening opened with Glenn and Emily jointly reading an Official Proclamation regarding the renovation, acknowledging the past (The Oldenburg House was built in 1894), foreshadowing the future, and thanking one by one all the partners and purveyors who participated in this new chapter in the Big O's multi-storied history.

Looking for a special place to get away? Place the Oldenburg House on your short list.

* * * *
Meantime, let the music move your soul.  And have a great weekend. Yeah.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Flashback Friday: Palindromes, Weird Al and His Subterranean Homesick Wordplay

Words are endlessly fascinating. Word puzzles abound in all languages, and ours is no exception. Word play assumes many forms from crossword puzzles and word jumbles to anagrams. As kids we loved search word puzzles where you have to find all the words in a grid of letters, and who among us has not played the word game Hang Man?

I once wrote a story composed of as many homonyms as possible called How Eye One The Wore, which was published i
n Games magazine years ago. That was fun, incorrectly placing more than 150 homonyms into a 500 word short story.

But my theme this morning is palindromes. According to Wikipedia, "A palindrome is a word, phrase, number or other sequence of units that can be read the same way in either direction." Here are some examples to illustrate.


The fun part is seeing the elaborate lengths to which sentences can be constructed. As a general rule it is O.K. to adjust punctuation to make sentences work like actual sentences.

Here are some examples of phrases, though I assure you the lists seem endless.

A man, a plan, a canal - Panama!
"Am I mad, eh?" Giselle sighed, "Am I, Ma?"
A nut for a jar of tuna.
Dad: "Alas, a salad ad!"
Delia failed.
Del saw a sled.
Dennis sinned.
Dennis and Edna sinned.
Detach cat, Ed.

Well, you get the picture. Palindromes can be fun. There are quite a few websites with palindromes online, but here's one you might especially like.

Here are a couple examples which the Palindrome Police have indicated are not really acceptable, though you'll have to admit they are clever. (source: Rinkworks)

Retteb, si flahd noces eht tub, but the second half is better.

Doctor Reubenstein was shocked and dismayed when he answered the ringing telephone, only to hear a strange, metallic, alien voice say, "Yasec iovn eilacilla temeg! Nartsa raehoty lnoenoh pelet gnig, nirehtde rewsnaehn ehw. Deya! Msid! Dnadek cohssaw nietsne buerro, tcod?"

But my real objective here was simply to share a Weird Al video from YouTube. When my kids were growing up, this is the one show I loved to watch that they watched on Saturday mornings. Weird Al Yankovich seems to be endlessly creative, and his spoofs on MTV style videos are not to be missed. We had a couple Weird Al CDs in the house and, well, he's just plain witty.

So without further ado, here's a video of Weird Al performing Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues, which appeared in the 1967 D. A. Pennebaker film Don't Look Back. Except he does the whole thing in palindromes. He even sets up the background the same, with Allen Ginsburg or a Ginsburg-like character. Turn down the volume if you are in an office.

And, for comparison purposes, here's the original below:

Have a fun day making word play.
Net forever. Often!

Originally published 2009

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Visit with Robert Lillegard: Creating Content That Connects in Our Digital Age

Big shout out to Molly Solberg for the caliber of speakers she's brought to our monthly Social Media Breakfast Twin Ports. July's topic: Creating Good Content. July's speaker: Robert Lilegard, freelance writer, entrepreneur and founder of Be Our Guest, a results-driven PR firm.

Not only did Lillegard talk about how to create content, he demonstrated by his presentation that he could efficiently deliver shovels-full of practical info to help anyone who was seriously listening and taking notes. Practical, purposeful and efficient being the operative words here. Clearly he has walked the walk, and wasn't afraid to generously show us the ropes. What he really showed is that he knew his stuff.

What impressed me is his non-nonsense approach to content marketing. Seriousness does not mean the absence of fun, however. When you read his prose you find it to be lively, engaging, full of wit, and truly fun. No wonder editors like what he brings to the table.

EN: When did you first take an interest in writing?

Robert Lillegard: When I was six years old I wrote my first story. In it a boy finds out his brother is the devil and has to kill him. Interestingly, my brother Michael is five years younger than I am.

EN: How did you come to focus on food writing?

Delicious dish at Duluth Grill is also a work of art.
RL: There is less hate mail than with political op-eds. Although frankly there is also hate mail with food writing. I think if aliens encountered the Internet they would conclude it was a tool designed for turning ignorance into hatred.

EN: How many businesses do you have your hand in? And where did the entrepreneurial call come from?

RL: I have two now, a bakery and a marketing firm. Entrepreneurship was a pretty logical step because my first boss had the philosophy: "if I can't do a job while drinking wine and watching Law and Order, I'm not doing that job." This meant I'd only hear from her if I screwed something up really badly. By the time I officially started my own business I had essentially been supervising myself for years.

EN: Can I assume the alligator story was a publicity move? Where did that idea originate and how did it play out?

RL: Obviously you, too, are under the pay of Big Alligator or you wouldn't be questioning this. Mayors Larson and Ness have stayed silent on the issue but ask Jim Richardson and he will tell you about the rash of alligator attacks. The truth is out there on Perfect Duluth Day!

EN: Tell us about Be Our Guest PR? How did this come about and what is the nature of your business? 

RL: You know how some restaurants and hotels seem to always get covered on the news and in the newspaper, but yours seems to get overlooked? A lot of those have people behind the scenes talking the newspaper into covering them. I'll be that person for you.

EN: Over the past decade social media has emerged as an essential tool for business marketing, but it's still evolving. What are some essential rules or guidelines that businesses need to be aware of when "invading" social spaces for marketing purposes?

Social Media Breakfast at WITC
RL: You have to just accept that Facebook is a paid service now and if you don't pay Facebook you'll be limiting your reach. Your time is worth something too so don't waste it playing the "but it should be free" game.

EN: What is the best writing advice you ever received? 

RL: The persistent get published.

EN: And finally, do you have a boilerplate 3-4 sentence bio I can open with?

RL: Isn't this awful? I am going to insist that you as the writer research this part from what's freely available on the Internet :) I've been written about before; you'll find something.

Robert started his career as a national food and travel writer for magazines like New York Times, Outside Magazine, Cooking Light, Midwest Living, and (surprisingly) Latina. Among other familiar topics and clients, he wrote and published The Duluth Grill Cookbook, which led to a sequel. In addition to his writing about restaurants, he also knows about the hospitality business. Along with his brother he co-owns Duluth’s Best Bread. (EdNote: The names say it all.)

* * * *
Learn more about Lillegard and his work at

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Lizzard's In Duluth

Did a little walk-through last week. Snapped a few photos. Next time you're passing by, stop in and say hello. There's plenty to see.

Looks like Terry Millikan is here.
A Wendy Rouse exhibition is slated for fall I believe.
Bob Pokorney has some work on view here.
Brent Kusterman's world.
11 West Superior Street

Art in all mediums. Don't just peer in the window. Step inside and look around.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Free Range Film Festival's 2017 Playlist Announced

There will be no whales saved in Wrenshall this weekend. There will be no terrifying accidents on a giant roller coaster that shoots people through the air. There will be no ocean expeditions, nor crash landings by Martian explorers (we hope). Rather, there will be laughs and sighs and other surprises, because the 2017 Free Range Film Festival (FRFF) is back.

If you've never been the the Free Range Film Barn, then you might want to go just because of the nostalgic sense of going back in time that it gives. (I think here of Uncle Harry and Aunt Isabel's spread in West Virginia. They had a bull and we were told not to get too near. That's no bull.)

The Free Range Film Festival has developed something of a cult-like following since it began in 2003 in that Wrenshall barn. The FRFF will be screening 35 films from around the world this year. The event provides a forum for filmmakers, film lovers, as well as barn enthusiasts and country living aficionados.

“That overused phrase ‘there is something for everyone’ really does apply here” says organizer Annie Dugan. “We screen short films, documentaries, animated films, and fiction. I think we try and strike a balance between work that is going to capture as well as challenge our audiences. I think there is something about watching movies in a big old barn that give people permission to relax and try something new. If they don’t like something, they can look up at the rafters and daydream. Its just such a beautiful space.”

EdNote: It really is a cool space.

This year’s lineup features local treasures along with nationally recognized films. In fact, “Hello Stranger” was featured on the Tonight Show after it was secured for the festival. The diversity in directors and subject matter is also noteworthy this year. Dugan states that “One of the cool things that we realized after we programmed the festival is that almost half of the directors are women, something you don’t usually see in filmmaking.”

Free Range Film Festival
909 County Road 4, Wrenshall, MN 55797
To get there, head South out of Carlton and take County 1 when you get to the fork.
That will bring you to an intersection with County Road 4. Make a right and you can't miss it.
If you get lost, call 218-310-4703

Friday, July 28th 7pm – 11pm
Saturday, July 29th, 2pm – 5:30pm and 7pm – 11pm

For more information contact Anne Dugan

* * * *

Cat ownership can be difficult. Directed by Britt Raes.
Cat ownership can be beautiful. Directed by Beth Peloff.
Trump stumped scientists… until now. Directed by John Akre.
The Minneapolis Gateway District according to the girl in the walls. Directed by John Akre.
Hi stranger. It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. Directed by Kirsten Lepore.
Computer ownership can be dangerous. Directed by Ben Meinhardt.
Artist Adam Turman is also a gentleman cyclist. Directed by Greg Carlson
All of our presidents are cement heads. Directed by Adam Roffman.
We are all normal in some way. Directed by Joris Debeij.
***** BREAK with music ****

Balcony with a View
The exotic bird industry in heartbreaking stop-motion. Directed by Evan DeRushie.
FRY DAY (16m)
An adolescent girl comes of age thanks to Polaroid photography and the execution of Ted Bundy. Directed by Laura Moss.
Imagine growing up gay in the Soviet Union with limited television options. Directed by Wes Hurley.
TOUGH (5m)
Some cultural misunderstanding can only be understood with maturity. Directed by Jennifer Zheng.
The 2016 election takes a turn for the worse at a London pub. Directed by Ryan Scafuro.
REFUGE (20m)
Captivating interviews with refugees arriving in Greece. Directed by Matthew Firpo.
Auditions for a conditioner TV spot get wonky. Directed by Shane Bream.
An intimate look at desert fauna. Directed by Kelsey Juddo.
GUT HACK (13m)
This guy eats poop to feel better. Directed by Laura Heberton.
This is difficult to watch because it involves animation of severed tongues. But it is worth it. Directed by Kate Raney & Jeremy Bessoff.
Snails are surprisingly fascinating creatures, and pretty too. Directed by Alexandra Gaulupeau
These guys think climate change is real! Directed by Jacob Rosdail.
*MANLIFE (94m)
The secret to a healthy life? Eat raw vegetables, abolish income tax, and go to airshows. Directed by Ryan Sarnowski.
What did you get Bloop for her birthday? Directed by Julian Glander.
Edgar Allen Poe says “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” Directed by Jonathan Thunder.
Stacy Elaine Dacheux travels back to the future to explore abstraction. Directed by Matthew Quezada.
AMEN (10m)
Adam is 11 and he is a messenger from God. Directed by Marie-Helene Viens and Philippe Lupien.
A couple rescues a chicken from an Orthodox Jewish ceremony in Brooklyn. Directed by Duncan Skiles.
Two carefree young girls laugh in the face of danger. Directed by Michele Meek.
A young girl alone in the wilderness finds some analog technology. Directed by Emily McNeill
Michelangelo’s David does not feel inadequate. Directed by Sara Joe Wolansky.
Two friends find the holy grail of movie memorabilia in the unlikeliest of places. Directed by Adam Roffman.
A whale hunter becomes what he hunts. Directed by Jimmy Cho.
There are certain moments in our lives where we make memories for life. Directed by Katori Hall.
*** BREAK with music by Portrait of a Drowned Man ***

Stars, hide your fires; let not light see my black and deep desires. Nor any truck. Directed by Francois Jaros.
Two estranged sisters are forced to repair their feral relationship. Directed by Dean Peterson.

Meantime, life outside goes on all around you. Get into it.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Is That Really What You Want? How Do You Know? Thoughts from The Century of Self.

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.
Ecclesiastes 1:18

A couple weeks ago I saw a question on Quora that intrigued me. Someone asked, "What is the hardest truth?" Several thoughts came to mind, one of them being the awareness of how chained we are by habit, genetic disposition, the formative influence of our upbringing, our tastes, our temperaments… and that to change our selves is exceedingly hard and far more difficult than we imagine.

The irony is that we believe we're free agents. It certainly feels like we're free. I can order anything on this menu that I want, right? I can watch any movie I want. Or read any book I want.

In 2002 the BBC broadcast a four-part documentary called The Century of Self. It's an eye-opening look at recent history from a new angle, from "behind the curtain" as it were.

When we think of influential people in our lives, I doubt that very many of us think of Sigmund Freud. Most people (I have no evidence and am only guessing here) associate Freud with the idea of a patient lying on a couch talking to a psychologist taking notes, or with what seem like strange notions of repressed sexuality, Oedipal complexes and the like. The Century of Self addresses another way in which Freud influenced us, through techniques of mass manipulation developed and implemented by his nephew Edward Bernays, the founder of modern Public Relations (a term which itself is a euphemism for propaganda.)

"By satisfying the masses' inner selfish desires one made them happy, and thus docile." Bernays, this program claims, was central in the development of "the all-consuming self which has come to dominate our world today."

Why are there so many hoarders among us these days? How is it that there are so many storage facilities in existence today, a whole industry that sprang up to store excess stuff, stuff that people don't use or need or know what to do with because they have so much other stuff?

* * * *
The series has four parts. They were:
"Happiness Machines"
"The Engineering of Consent" 
"There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads; He Must Be Destroyed" 
"Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering"

A description of Part 1 includes this paragraph:
Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticizing the motorcar. His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.

The BBC PR for this documentary describes the program this way:
To many in politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly, the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?

* * * *
There's much more that can be said here, but it's time to start my day. If you have time, the programs are enlightening. You can also read a synopsis here on Wikipedia.

Meantime, life outside goes on all around you. Think about it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Scott Marshall's Book About Bob Dylan, the Gospel and the Great American Songbook: What a Long, Strange Journey It's Been

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen,. Would you please welcome Columbia recording artist... Bob Dylan."

Glory, glory, glory, somebody touched me
Glory, glory, glory, somebody touched me
Glory, glory, glory, somebody touched me
Must've been the hand of the Lord.

* * * * 

This is a review of Scott Marshall's 2017 book, Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life, which I finished last weekend, just before my interview with the author. This is not Marshall's first book, nor is it his first foray into the the theme of Dylan's religious convictions. Unlike his first, Restless Pilgrim, this is an in-depth survey of all that Dylan has written, that Dylan himself has said, his actions related to spiritual matters (his son's bar mitzvah, his visits to the Wailing Wall, etc.), and what others have written about Dylan's spiritual impulses, as well as some "man in the street" types of inquiries about perceptions as to where Dylan is at.

Marshall has stated that he spent 12 or 13 years consciously working on the book, sifting through everything Dylan has ever written or said in order to collect the flecks of gold dust that could be re-assembled in this volume. The author acknowledges his own bias up front (he is a Christian and a Dylan fan) but for the most part strives to let the evidence he's accumulated speak for itself.

* * * *

Last weekend, while listening to the radio program Beale Street Caravan, the theme of Pentecostal revivalism was brought up as one of the streams that flowed into the blues. The narrator of the show asserted that when we listen to Motown or the music from the streets of Memphis, there's this whole gospel Pentecostal influence that can't be ignored. Anyone who's been to Bourbon Street in New Orleans knows that one of their theme songs is "When the Saints Go Marching In."

What was the appeal of Gospel music? It's chief appeal was a message of hope, a feeling that we've not been abandoned, a message finding its strongest resonance amongst those who were indeed most likely to feel abandoned and without hope, the down-and-outers, the end-of-the-liners, the betrayed, forgotten and lost.

While Wikipedia's account of Pentecostalism is fairly extensive, the first paragraph does a fairly good job of summarizing the core of this movement.

Pentecostalism or Classical Pentecostalism is a renewal movement within Protestant Christianity that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The term Pentecostal is derived from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For Christians, this event commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the second chapter of the Book of Acts.*

* * * * 

When I was in college I had an art instructor named Frank Holmes. He was a sensational artist who painted interiors in the classical impressionist/realist tradition. A couple years later I learned that Frank had gone to New York and had a loft where he was now painting. I inquired as to how he was doing and what he was working on. I was told that he was painting a piano, but to paint it profoundly he had to engage it profoundly, meaning he felt he had to learn to play it. He had gone a year on this piano engagement without doing a painting. He may have been doing drawings and sketches, I do not know, and this story was relayed to me second hand, but it was my understanding that he was somehow internalizing the piano first. 

This memory popped into my head as I was listening to Beale Street Caravan last weekend, when they discussed the influences of Gospel music on the Blues. If Bob Dylan's life mission had been to internalize and absorb the Great American Songbook, it would have been impossible to do this without becoming immersed to some extent in the music of its Gospel traditions. 

The Bluegrass stream is thoroughly awash in Gospel, the Carter Family being one of its chief conduits. The music of them thar hills is a blend of both sacred and secular themes, shining a light on the high road while acknowledging the brokenness and muck of life's other side.

Like Frank Holmes's efforts to understand a piano before painting it, the best way to really understand the emotional charge Gospel music gives might be to get "set afire" by the Gospel. What I mean here is that getting totally immersed in the Gospel seems to be the most authentic way to translate the Bible through the unique internal method that is Dylan.

* * * *

1979, San Francisco (photo courtesy Bill Pagel)
Marshall's book is an overview of all the periods in Dylan's life, extracting quotes from interviews as well as lyrics analysis. Many of the stories are familiar, such as Dylan's question to Noel Paul Stookey, "Do you ever read the Bible?" when the latter was visiting Dylan's Woodstock home in 1967. Nor is Marshall the first to note the more than 60 Biblical references and allusions in Dylan's John Wesley Harding. Marshall, on the other hand, may be the first to sift the sand of Dylan's life this thoroughly, from the beginning till the most current times.

The critics were harsh when Dylan released Christmas in the Heart, outdoing one another with their creative salvos, so much so that one failed to notice the positive remarks  that were made. Marshall doesn't miss these and highlights them for his readers.

One of my favorite lines in Mark Sutton's "I'm a Bigger Dylan Fan Than You" is the one where he sings, "I became a Jew and then a Christian, and then again became a Jew." On the surface, this is a common interpretation of Dylan's temporary three year embrace of Christianity. What Marshall attempts to demonstrate is that, although no one knows except Dylan himself, there is ample evidence to support the belief that he never renounced his Christian faith of the late 1970s, early 80s.

The word that may best describe Dylan on these matters is syncretism, which defines as "the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion." Indeed, this is what Marshall states near the book's culmination. Dylan has been known to still attend synagogue on Jewish holy days.

Though the songs from his Saved album, for the most part, were only temporarily showcased on his playlist from 1979-1981, Dylan continued to sing "In the Garden" and "Solid Rock" up into the 21st century. He's performed "Gotta Serve Somebody" from his Slow Train Coming more than 400 times, right up to 2011. The song was Dylan's first Grammy, but would that be the only reason he opened so many concerts with this one?

* * * *

Marshall has marshaled an impressive list of endorsements, including Gary Cherone of Extreme and Van Halen, Noel Paul Stookey, Grammy-Nominated producer Jeffrey Gaskill, a columnist at The Nation Randall Balmer, Alice Cooper and the President Jimmy Carter. If this is a subject that interests you, you'll probably enjoy it, too.

Meantime, life outside goes on all around you. Engage it.

*Wikipedia entry on Pentecostalism.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Like His Hero Woody Guthrie, Dylan Spoke the Language of the Disenfranchised

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?
--"It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"

In the Old Testament story of David, there came a time when the young giant-slayer's reputation and honor was such that he became a threat to King Saul, who was a symbol of the established order. (See I Samuel 17-19.) After slaying Goliath David became part of the king's household, as armor bearer and poet/musician. Eventually Saul put him in command of a small army. David's achievements were heroic and greatly celebrated by the masses, public adulation that tormented Saul to the point that David's life was endangered, and ultimately David had to flee.

The young poet/musician took refuge in the wilderness, hiding in caves and moving about the surrounding hills. As word got around (even without social media or news corporations the buzz travelled fast) it is written that "everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him." (I Samuel 22:2 KJV) The New Century translation of this verse states, "Everyone who was in trouble, or who owed money, or who was unsatisfied gathered around David, and he became their leader."

What comes to mind when I think of Dylan's early songs is how they resonated with the disenfranchised. In fact, Dylan used to cite this story of David while introducing his song "When the Ship Comes In." Longtime Dylan fans are familiar with the early live recording where he stated, "Nowadays there are crueler Goliaths who do crueler and crueler things, but one day they're going to be slain, too." It's a familiar story and a metaphor that captured something of Dylan's appeal in the Sixties.

Where did this attitude and sensibility come from?

It's well-known that young Bob Dylan identified with the folk roots of his hero Woody Guthrie. Guthrie's story goes like this:

"At the age of just 14, Guthrie and his siblings were left to fend for themselves while their father worked in Texas to repay his debts. As a teenager, Guthrie turned to busking in the streets for food or money, honing his skills as a musician while developing the keen social conscience that would later be so integral to his legendary music.

"Guthrie left his family in 1935 to join the thousands of "Okies" who were migrating West in search of work. Like many other "Dust Bowl refugees," Guthrie spent his time hitchhiking, riding freight trains, and when he could, quite literally singing for his supper.

"In 1937, Guthrie arrived in California, where he landed a job with partner Maxine "Lefty Lou" Crissman as a radio performer of traditional folk music on KFVD in Los Angeles. The duo soon garnered a loyal following from the disenfranchised "Okies" living in migrant camps across California and it wasn't long before Guthrie's populist sentiments found their way into his songs."*

Four times in the 1940s American author John Steinbeck was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature before achieving it in 1962 "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception." His novel The Grapes of Wrath poignantly tells the story of the disenfranchised for whom Woody Guthrie labored.

This mix of ingredients along with lessons learned growing up on the Iron Range permeated Dylan's early sensibilities. I think here of Hollis Brown, who "lived on the outside of town."

Even though a majority of the Boomer generation grew up in suburbia, which was supposed to be "the good life," many of the youth of that time felt an emptiness and confusion about the times they inhabited.

Early on Dylan keyed in to this generational angst in songs like "Hard Rain" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'," at a time with others were singing "He's So Fine" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." His music performed a role similar to the icebreakers on the great Northern Lake that was hugged by the port city where he was born. Carrying a torch that had been lit by his hero Woody Guthrie, his songs lit many other torches and in a few years we had "For What It's Worth" (Buffalo Springfield), "Ball of Confusion" (The Temptations), "Eve of Destruction" (Barry Maguire),  "Fortunate Son" (CCR) and more. By the early 1970s everyone was wondering "What's Goin' On?"

* * * *
Longtime fans and followers of Dylan's music and performances have commented to me that they're seeing a resurgence of interest in Dylan by growing numbers of young people attending his concerts in recent years. Some have wondered if it's simply a response to his "celebrity status," especially now having won the Nobel Prize. But there are others who have suggested that it's not that at all, rather that having grown up in homes where their parents listened to Dylan, they've now themselves begun to understand what he was singing about, and the lyrics are beginning to connect.

After a lifetime of hearing about the massive growth of our national debt, there's an unreality about it all for most Boomers. But there's no unreality for our young people about the high cost of health care, dental care, housing, taxes and even death (for those left behind) And then there's all that unpaid college debt, while being perpetually reminded that you're never too young to start saving for retirement.

The themes in It's Alright, Ma are as relevant to today's young people as when they were penned more than 50 years ago.

So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing

And so it goes.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Flashback Friday: The Red Scorpion, Revisited

I don't know if all writers feel this way, but I know that many do. The process of creation is energizing and exceedingly rewarding. On the other hand the process of marketing what we've done afterwards is much less so, and at times even odious. Here's a quote I saw the other day about this conflict: "I feel like the wretched employee of my former self. My former self being the happily engaged novelist who now send me, a kind of brush salesman, out on the road to hawk this book. He got all the fun writing it. I'm the poor sap who has to go sell it."

Funny thing is, I've had a career in marketing and actually relish the whole game of planning and executing marketing campaigns, and all the problem solving that accompanies it. So it's a strange thing to see this other self pushed out the door to "make something happen."

Last night I produced an intro to a new story, made progress on a couple other articles, and added a new page on my Many Faces art blog, no doubt all of it a form of procrastination from doing this, attempting to draw attention to my YA novel that's been an eBook since 2011. The idea of it, here, is to give five or so chapters and see if I can get a couple new readers hooked.  

In this opening section of the book I try to capture a wee bit of my own feelings upon visiting Cuernavaca, on the south face of the mountain that serves as a pedestal for Mexico City. This was the setting for Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano as well as the John Huston film based on that book.  

The Red Scorpion
A Haunted House Story with a Supernatural Twist

Based on the Private Journal of Dr. William Comstock, Ph.D
Late 1940s


He woke abruptly, jostled to alertness by the screech of brakes and final recoil as the bus jerked to a stop. He was surprised to find that he had managed to fall asleep at all. The crowded bus included peasants with chickens, crying babies and a crush of people from all stations in life.

Dr. Comstock, glancing out the window, was dismayed to find the bus had not yet reached its destination. It was picking up more passengers, even though the aisle was now full. Several villagers squeezed up onto the steps, some hung out through the doors which had been left open. The bus lurched forward, gears grinding.

A small boy eating a mango placed a sticky hand on the rail in front of Comstock’s knee. Comstock smiled at the boy, but the boy turned his face away. Comstock was a stranger and a foreigner. The boy had been trained not to trust him.

Once more the bus screeched to a stop. This time he could see they had arrived. It was the last leg of his journey, descending to Cuernavaca from the high altitudes of Mexico City. He was eager to begin his work.

Dr. Comstock, a professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, had come to Mexico to locate the final resting place of Quetzlcoatl, the plumed serpent of Aztec legend. This was Comstock’s second research expedition in Mexico. He intended to develop contacts that would enable him to obtain funding for a longer trip the following year. Being Christmas break back home at the University, he could think of nothing better than being in Cuernavaca. While arctic winds chilled the Minnesota countryside, flowers remained perpetually in bloom here in the land of Eternal Spring. Red and coral bougainvillea, lavender jacaranda, flaming poinciana, and golden geraniums splashed the air with color and fragrance. The floral tapestry delighted his eyes in every direction that he looked.

His wife Adele had wanted to join him, but he balked at the idea. Her presence would interfere with his work, he said. He promised she would accompany him on next year’s trip if they could find caretakers to run the Eagle’s Nest, the bed and breakfast they owned and operated.

Comstock had an angular face with deep set eyes and thick, dark eyebrows. He wore his hair cropped short. He felt he looked too British to pass for Mexican, though occasionally it worked out that way because he tanned easily and well.

Exhausted from the journey and relieved to have arrived at all, he carried his baggage the two blocks from the bus station to the hotel.


Comstock sat at an outdoor cafe adjacent to the main plaza, El Zocalo, sipping a large concoction of jugo de tamarindo, a sweet thick juice squeezed from the brown, beanlike fruit of the tamarind tree. His third day in Mexico, he had become increasingly aware of the passage of time. He spent his first two days in leisurely excursions about the city, consumed with a curiosity similar to a boy turning over fallen logs in the woods seeking salamanders and snakes. Now he was becoming anxious about how to achieve his objective. The days would pass quickly. He berated himself for having already wasted two.

A small band of peasant musicians playing an assortment of primitive flutes, whistles and drums had gathered in the street in front of the cafe. A group of children began marching around in circles making whimsical movements, whimpering and bouncing like puppies overeager to see their masters. Another group of boys was working the tables selling Chiclets to the tourists.

Comstock recalled how the incessant begging had disturbed him during his first trip south of the border. By the time he left he had grown weary of the burros, mongrel dogs, roosters, strange smells, gritty eyeballs and clashing colors that seemed to throw themselves at him from every side. He was tempted to think that first trip had been a mistake and a preposterous waste of time.

Afterwards, however, Comstock missed Mexico immensely. He knew intuitively that one day he would return. He only needed an excuse. He found it in the legend of Quetzlcoatl, the plumed serpent.

According to native mythology Quetzlcoatl, also known as Yoalli ehecatl, was the third son of the Lord of Fire and Time. He was given to bring hope and light to the Nahuatl people in the same way his three brothers were given to three other peoples. When he betrayed his father, he was to be banished forever.

Comstock’s intent on this journey had been to find contacts who would be useful guides to the actual places where Quetzlcoatl was born, grew up, lived and died, even though legends said that the god/man simply “went away” and never died at all.


He was eighteen years old. Though his chest had yet to fill out Chuchui had reached his full stature, little more than 5 feet 6 inches tall like the other men of his tribe. He had light brown skin and the typical Aztec face with a prominent, hooked nose and dark brown almond-shaped eyes. His coarse, black hair had been cut with a fringe over the forehead. He allowed his hair to grow a bit longer in the back and on market days he tied it in a small pigtail with a piece of red twine.

Long before the crimson sun had burned the haze off the moist hills encircling his home, he had begun the trek to the marketplace in Cuernavaca, to sell the strips of beef jerky, leather goods and black pottery that were the commerce of his village.

Though but a youth, he'd seen much and thought much about what his life was about. He was not like his peers. An experience six years earlier had awakened in him a keen interest to embrace more of life than was offered in this remote village. The following summer, despite his father’s disapproval, he taught himself to read Spanish, even though it was not his native tongue.

“To be a Nahuatl is to be noble. We do not need the words of foreigners,” his father said on one occasion. On other occasions his father reminded him that he had a “call” on his life. “You belong to the Colos. You are too young to understand what this means. One day you will know that there is no higher calling.”

Chuchui took care to hide his books, but continued to read and to study the ideas outside his village.

When he was sixteen two men came to his village who called themselves communistas. They brought pieces of paper with words on them. No one could read the words on the paper except Chuchui and he read aloud the statements on the papers to the village elders. His father and the village leaders cursed the communistas, but Chuchui wondered at their ideas.

“A fool does not see the same tree that a wise man sees,” his father told him.

For years his mother grieved because she sensed that one day he would leave their village. The day Chuchui read these pamphlets from the communistas she knew that she had already lost her son.


From childhood Chuchui had been accustomed to hard physical work. Walking great distances to the marketplace, following the men and womenfolk and carrying a share of the goods as well, Chuchui had learned responsibility.

Chuchui’s father was a very proud man. He took great care to be deliberate in all his actions and always tried to move gracefully. His gestures when speaking were likewise grand and dignified. Chuchui observed all of this, and came to understand that for his father there was no greater achievement than to be a Nahuatl.

One day, Chuchui became ill and began to weaken. He tried to conceal his illness, but as the party of Indians padded down the hillside toward the city, the perspiration spread over him and his eyes began to glaze. When he could walk no further he squatted to rest. “What is it?” his sister Lanti asked.

Chuchui stared ahead as the small party of merchants continued away from them.

“You’re hot!” Lanti said abruptly, having placed her hand on his forehead. “How long have you been --”

Chuchui cut her off. “I will go to the market. It is not my place to be weak.” He stood uneasily, and they continued on toward the city.

When they reached the outskirts of Cuernavaca he stooped once more. “You go. I will follow soon,” he said to his sister.

Lanti had always been kind to him, but she was simple. He had no brother and there seemed no one with whom he could share his confused and burdensome thoughts. At times he wondered whether it were he or the gods who were blind. Nahuatl life was like the gouge a heel makes in the sand which is so soon washed away by the rain, leaving no mark. Twenty years or eighty, what matters when the mark is gone?

* * * * *

The marketplace was teeming with activity behind Cortez’s Palace. Dr. Comstock looked like a conquistador on the prow of a ship as he stood atop a thick wall there, feet planted the width of his shoulders, watching the orderly chaos. The large triangular scene resembled a flea market of sorts, but without the tables. The variety of goods exceeded comprehension -- food, clothing, poultry, medicinal herbs, eyeglasses, jewelry, pottery, trinkets, antiques, piňatas, crafts, toys, leather goods, shoes -- a little bit of everything, useful and otherwise. He glanced down at a rooster tied by one leg to a wooden crate. Normally it would have amused him, but today it depressed him. In some way he felt a little like that rooster who at first appeared to be free, but was bound.

Comstock watched the peasants set up their little booths and spaces for selling or trading wares. He was attracted to the dignity and cleanliness of the Nahuatl villagers in their distinctively simple white outfits. But his thoughts were elsewhere.

On his first trip to Mexico he had visited Taxco, and several of the other places where Quetzlcoatl had supposedly lived and ministered. Comstock had gone to the place where Quetzlcoatl had been baptized. He had even managed to locate a place where Quetzlcoatl had reputedly performed a miracle. But where was he last seen? Where had he died? Comstock could not get away from this question, nor could he find anyone who knew its answer.

Comstock turned away from the marketplace, pondered his next move. He walked north and turned left toward the main square. By the time he reached the Zocalo he was feeling very depressed. He didn’t have a plan. He’d thought he could just wing it, and was now fully conscious of his folly.

At that very moment, as he was feeling his lowest, a peasant Indian fell unconscious at his feet. “Borracho,” someone chuckled from behind him. (Borracho is the Spanish word for drunkard.)

The so-called borracho was dressed in the native whites of the Nahuatl. Comstock looked about, his expression an appeal for help, but the passersby avoided making eye contact. Comstock knelt and rolled the man over to make sure he was breathing. The native looked to be no more than a youth and had badly skinned the bridge of his nose. The native’s face was unpleasant to look at, moist with sweat, made filthy by dirt and grime from the street and the oozing blood from his scraped nose.

Comstock looked about once more but no one even seemed to be paying much attention. There were benches nearby where seated tourists were watching a scene in the park. A group of mariachis was gathering. An old man with a trumpet had now joined them.

Comstock called to a vendor from the nearby gazebo and asked for a glass of ice water, which the vendor remarkably brought right over. Comstock rubbed the native peasant’s nose with an ice chip and shook him gently. His head fell limp to this side and that, until the professor threw the glass of water directly into his face. The youth coughed once, then opened his eyes, sputtering words the American could not understand.

“Are you all right?” Comstock said.

Chuchui looked at him attentively, but cautiously, without making reply.

Comstock helped Chuchui to his feet. “Thank you,” Chuchui said in almost perfect English, whereupon he turned, walked briskly away and disappeared in through the door of a hacienda.

Comstock, looking confused, turned round in a complete circle, then sat down. Suddenly, he leaped to his feet and followed the young Nahuatl inside, but Chuchui was nowhere to be found.

“Have you seen the native,” Comstock asked one and then another hotel employee, but no one had an inkling what he was talking about.

That evening, while walking along the pasado that leads back to the park, Comstock saw him again. He recognized the skinned nose, the flat looking face. Comstock ran up to him and said hello. Chuchui frowned and turned away. “Where are you from?” Comstock asked, following him. Chuchui did not answer and Comstock kept on his tail. “What is your name?” Chuchui turned and squared off, facing the persistent American. “I no speak English.”

It was apparent Comstock had misjudged him. Chuchui’s “Thank you” earlier in the day had thrown him off. It was something he learned to say when doing business with Americans in the course of his work.

Undaunted, Comstock began to address him in Spanish. “Donde vas,” Comstock said, which means, “Where are you going?”

Chuchui shook his head, tried to speak but no words came. Suddenly his voice broke and he began to cry. This was not something Comstock had expected. Chuchui placed his palm on Comstock’s arm while his eyes scanned the square, darting here and there, as if he were afraid of something.

Comstock sensed the youth’s uneasiness. “I am from the United States. I am called William. How are you called?”

“I am Chuchui,” the youth said, nodding his head slightly as he said it. “We must talk now.”


The American could see that the native, eager to talk, was also frightened. “Let’s go back to my hotel. Are you comfortable with that?”

Chuchui nodded and the two made their way back to the Posada Arcadia where Comstock had a room.

Once alone together, the native spoke with purposefulness. Comstock learned that Chuchui was not drunk, as passersby imagined, but had had a fever. He had been dizzy and ill for about a week. Strangely, the fever left him the moment he was awakened.

“Why are you in Mexico?” Chuchui asked the American.

“I teach at a university. I am here on a research project.”

There was a long pause. They were like card players. Chuchui held a card Comstock needed, but Comstock was unaware of it. At the same time, Chuchui hoped that Comstock held a card that he needed. Both were reluctant to show their hands.

“Do you believe in Fate, Mr. William.”

“William. Call me William.”

“All day I have pondered how it is that I came to fall into your hands. When the fever left me I was... confused. Today I have caused trouble to my family. I did not return to the marketplace. I have been walking and thinking. All day I have wondered.” He stopped.

“Go on,” Comstock said. There was something fragile about the boy standing here in this room, yet a disturbing depth and toughness as well. Comstock could not shake the impression that beneath the surface of this encounter there was some kind of treasure, something of value to be discovered, that the encounter may have been Providential.

“Do you know who I am?” Chuchui asked.

“You have told me. You are called Chuchui. You live here in Mexico. Your family trades in the marketplace.”

“Yes, but do you know who I am?”

“I am not sure what you mean.”

“At least you are honest. I am the last living male in a clan called the Colos. Have you never heard of the Colos?”

Comstock slowly shook his head.

“Of course not. How could you? You teach at a university and have so much knowledge, but do not know things that our people have known forever.” As he spoke his eyes glistened and his voice gained strength.

“And what is it you know, truly?” Comstock asked pointedly.

Chuchui avoided the question. “How much money do you have with you?”

Chuchui stood in the middle of the room facing Comstock who had seated himself on a corner of the bed. Alone in this room he suddenly feared becoming the victim of a robbery or an assault. Without changing his expression, Comstock sized up the native to determine if he could overpower him in a tussle.

“You have money?” Chuchui asked. “If I give you something valuable, you must give me something in return.”

“I have money,” Comstock said reluctantly.

“You must not be afraid of me. I am the one who should fear.”

Comstock sensed the truth in the youth’s words.

“Do you want to tell me about the Colos?”

“The scorpions?” Chuchui laughed as if he had made a clever joke. The name of his clan was the Colos, which means scorpions in Nahuatl.

Comstock didn’t get it.

Chuchui asked why Comstock had come to Mexico and the American said he was doing research on the life and death of Quetzlcoatl.

“Such a strange notion,” Chuchui jeered. “And what have you learned?”

“I believe there was a man who once lived among the Aztecs, who called himself Quetzlcoatl,” Comstock said. “I cannot believe he was a son of the gods, but I do believe there was once someone powerful, someone who lived in these parts who went by that name, or was given that name.”

“Go on,” Chuchui urged.

“He was called the Feathered Serpent, perhaps because he wore feathers and garments of snakeskin or something like that. In some legends he is called Our Young Prince. In most legends he betrayed his father somehow and was banished from his homeland. It was supposed that he never died, and promised one day to return to liberate his people from the power of death.”

“Interesting stories,” Chuchui said. “Do you believe all these things?”

“No. No, I do not believe these stories. I believe there was someone very important, and the evidence of it is deep in the culture here. I am confident that if one knew where to look they would find evidence that he has passed on.” Comstock unbuttoned the topmost button of his plaid shirt.

Chuchui stared at him without blinking. “You have heard many things and studied well. Do you recall hearing of a place called Mictlan?”

“Certainly,” Comstock said. “Mictlan is the place of the dead. Or at least one of the places people went when they died, according to the Aztecs. Warriors went to the sun, and some went to the rain god’s mountain.”

“Quetzlcoatl went to Mictlan,” Chuchui said matter-of-factly.

“Then it’s true, he’s dead.”

“I did not say he is dead. I only tell you that he went to Mictlan.” Comstock attempted to speak, but the youth waved his hand. “Silence!” Then he told how all the legends about Quetzlcoatl were a cloud of mists designed to frustrate outsiders from learning the truth. Chuchui said that only a small handful of Nahuatl know the real truth, that a single clan has been entrusted with the secret truth regarding the bones of Quetzlcoatl. This clan, his clan Chuchui says, is called the Colos, which means Scorpions.

Chuchui shared how many of the places came to be named as they were. For example, the suffix “tlan” means “place near an abundance of.” Acatlan, therefore, means “place near an abundance of reeds,” because the word for reed is “aca”. Mazatlan means “place near an abundance of deer.” Chuchui’s village was called Colotlan, “place near an abundance of scorpions.”

The professor leaned forward, interrupted again. “You mean the Nahuatl deliberately tell lies about Quetzlcoatl to confuse historians, to hide the truth?”

“It is not the Nahuatl who tell lies. It is one clan of Nahua peoples. My clan, the Colos. We lie to preserve the truth. It is our mission.”

Comstock stood and began to pace. Of this moment he later wrote in his journal, “No wonder it is so difficult to know what is true and what is pure fabrication with these people.”

“Why have you come to tell me all this?” Comstock asked casually, taking great pains to restrain his excitement over these things. Questions were zinging through his head like bottle rockets the little boys had been firing in the street the night before.

“I am taking a great risk, you must understand.” Chuchui narrowed his eyes so that they became slits. Explaining it seemed impossible to him. It was the wrong question, because the answer was too complicated. Whether today, next month or next year, one day he would leave his people. Perhaps Comstock was not the one who would help him, but he refused to let the moment pass without making some attempt to try. If Comstock could not help him, perhaps the next American might.

He once read that each man who longs for a thing with all his heart obtains the thing he longs for by sheer force of desire. Is this how the gods answer our prayers, he wondered, by putting longings in our hearts and granting their fulfillment?

Their encounter had been a strange one. He had been delirious, fell unconscious in the street. Upon waking, he saw this face directly before him, this foreign face. It was not difficult for him to believe that fate had had a hand. As a consequence, he acted on this conviction. It was an intuitive leap.

“Tomorrow I will bring you to the place of the dead,” the youth stated simply. “I will meet you in Tepoztlán. From there we will go to see the scorpions.”

“What do you mean, see the scorpions?”

“I cannot say more than this. When you come, you will see and experience imatini.”

“What is.... imatini?” Comstock asked. The game was beginning to annoy him.

“It is our word for knowing. I can tell you stories, but they mean nothing. For the Nahuatl what matters only is imatini; first hand knowledge.” Chuchui spoke as if he had just shared a sacred truth.

“How will I find you?” Comstock asked.

Chuchui turned. While opening the door to leave he said, “I will be waiting at the monastery.” The door closed with a clack. Comstock scratched at his chin, then slowly unbuttoned his shirt, loosened his belt and began preparing for bed.

* * * *

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Open your eyes!

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