Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Magnolia Salon Winding Down for the Summer with a Send Off Party

Next week the Magnolia Salon is celebrating the end of its first season with a Send Off Party that will feature the Myers Wilkins World Beat Drummers - a much loved group of Duluth 5th and 6th graders who play in the West African Tradition.

The party will include yummy Oldenburgers and picnic food. It will be a chance to visit with the Salon presenters of their first season and meet some of the presenters for the Fall 2018-Spring 2019 Magnolia Salon season.

Please register in advance to give an accurate head count at: www.oacc.us/programs/magnolia-salon Donations for food, beverages and entertainment are suggested.
The Fall season for Magnolia Salon will begin again on Thursday, September 6th at 6:00PM

THIS THURSDAY'S FEATURED PRESENTER WILL BE Gordon Marino, author of The Existentialist’s Survival Guide: How to Live Authentically in an Inauthentic Age. Professor Marino will read from his new book and discuss it with Steve Ostovich, Chair of the Philosophy Department at the College of St. Scholastica. Marino examines the existential perspective that sees our psychological ups and downs as offering enduring lessons about living a life of integrity and can help us discern an inner spark that can inspire spiritual development and personal transformation. Marino is a professor of philosophy and director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College, boxing corespondent for The Wall Street Journal and frequent writer for the New York Times. The author will autograph books provided for sale by Zenith Bookstore.
Food and beverages available from Magnolia Cafe.

Thursday Evenings 6-9 p.m.
9/6 Adam Herman, author and musician
9/13 Kris Nelson, artist - chairs
9/20 Sarah Seidelmann, author and shaman
9/27 Arna Rennan, Scandinavian roots music
10/4 Ryan Bauers - living your creative life
10/11 Pat McCoy and County Extension nutritionist on One Veg/One Community and Healing Kitchen (invited, not yet confirmed)
10/18 Joe Klander and Kinderchomper (invited, not yet confirmed)
10/25 Blacklist brewing Oldenburg beer (invited, not yet confirmed)
11/1 Hari Shankar,Nidha Bhagsu and Marcus Wise (invited, not yet confirmed)
11/8 Cynthia Lapp and Inner Light Mandalas (invited, not yet confirmed)

* * * *
For details about other events and activities at Oldenburg House,
including Cookin' at the O', visit oacc.us

Oldenburg House is located at 604 Chestnut Avenue - Carlton, MN 55718

Local Art Seen: Chromascope at the Prøve

Rotten Light by Dane Pedersen. Photography.
Last Friday evening I visited the Prøve Gallery for the opening reception of Chromascope, a show featuring 13 local and regional artists. The call for art restricted artists in their color selection to essentially the basic color wheel.

An unusual feature of the show was the manner in which it was laid out. Rather than having the works displayed sequentially about the gallery, the curators mounted the 19 pieces in a holistic, relational manner as if a collaborative installation. The aim is to create a greater visual resonance amongst the pieces within the white cube of the space. Furniture by Loll Designs had been installed to encourage viewers to sit facing the exhibit in order to more or less relax, contemplate the whole.

Kirsten Aune's large Textile On Cotton provided a focal starting point.
dispersing color in all directions.
Here is a listing of the featured artists: Ray Allard, Kirsten Aune, Billy Flynn, Susanna Gaunt, Linda Glisson, Margie Helstrom, Isaac James, Tom Moriarty, Lance Mountain, Philip Noyed, Dane Pedersen, Sue Rauschenfels and Pat Sharrow. The show will run through July 7.

Isaac Watamaniuk's Blue 65. Acrylic on canvas.

CE-5 by Lance Mountain. Latex on canvas.

Turquoise Light Wave by Phillip Noyed.
Lambda photographic print, Acrylic, LED
Totem Poles and Birch Trees, Sue Rauschenfels.
Mixed media.
The weather Friday was tumultuous. For hours that morning and afternoon the rain fell in buckets. Many had a foreboding that Grandma's Marathon might even be cancelled for the first time. But then, the sky opened and the sun shone in. Driving into town from the South one could see that the William Irving 5K run went off well, people returning to their cars or hotels, standing at intersections in clusters with runners in running gear accompanied by friends who came to cheer them on. Parties followed. The weather and the race may have contributed to the thin turnout at the opening. I couldn't help but recall to mind the many Prøve openings in which there were so many present one could hardly navigate the room.

"Chromascope" has been made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage funds. Support from Prøve Gallery is also possible through the private donations by Prøve Gallery Members and Collective.

Prøve Gallery is an contemporary and experimental art gallery in downtown Duluth.
Margie Helstrom provides a sense of scale for the work. Her piece, above
and over her left shoulder: Silly Rabbit, Trix Are For Kids. Acrylic on canvas.
BAM, by Kirsten Aune.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Eight Minutes with Howard Shapiro, Author ot the Graphic Novel Queen of Kenosha

This past week I received a review copy of Howard Shapiro's Queen of Kenosha, a soon-to-be released graphic novel about a young woman from the midwest who moves to New York City in an effort to make it as a rock star. Inasmuch as the story takes place in 1963, Dylan resonance is clearly apparent. This, however, is but the backdrop against which a much larger story takes place.

Though I've been aware of the graphic novel form for some time, I only started reading a few this past year or so, primarily because our Duluth Public Library has a shelf of them. The storyline for Queen of Kenosha runs like this: "A coming of age tale, this is the first installment of the Thin Thinline Trilogy, the fiercely independent Nina Overstreet has an axe to grind. A talented singer-songwriter slogging her way through the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk music scene of 1963, the Queen of Kenosha, Wisconsin, realizes that standing on the cusp of stardom gets her little respect and barely a cup of coffee in New York City. A chance encounter...."

Author Howard Shapiro lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife and two sons. Shapiro is a Controller for the Pittsburgh-based Visual Effects firm, Animal Inc. He has also written four children’s books, The Stereotypical Freaks being his debut Graphic Novel. His 2008 book, Hockey Player for Life, has been the #1 downloaded children’s hockey e-book on Amazon’s Kindle chart since its arrival as an e-book in November of 2011.

EN: What was your motivation in writing this book? 

Howard Shapiro: When I did my first graphic novel, The Stereotypical Freaks the protagonist was inspired by an 18-year-old kid (John Challis) from my area who was in a battle with liver cancer which, sadly, he succumbed to. But in his last year his bravery and message of hope and living every day to the fullest was incredibly moving and inspiring and I wanted to honor his memory by basing the Jacoby character on him. When I did The Hockey Saint next, I wrote it during the Jerry Sandusky trial here in Pennsylvania and I was struck with how sports and teams in this area had caused people to lose all perspective on right and wrong. So, the book detailed how out of control sports culture and the idea of celebrity had overtaken us. Now, with “Queen of Kenosha” I wanted to explore the idea of what it means to be a true, and also, safe American citizen. Does that mean that the ends justify the means to keep us safe or do we always hold sacred the ideals that the nation was founded on? Is "my country right or wrong" just a saying? The story takes place in 1963 but the questions that the characters discuss and argue about in the story are just as prevalent today and those questions were my motivation in writing “Queen of Kenosha.”

EN: And why this particular form of storytelling rather than a straight novel? 

HS: Excellent question! I find it best to write in a quasi-script form and graphic novels lend themselves to this incredibly well. I more or less sketch out the story, visually, in my head and then put together a synopsis from the scenes I envision. I then work with my editor, Christina Hickey, to flesh out the story.

Opening panel establishing time and place.
EN:  In your acknowledgments you tip your hat to a whole team of people who made this book possible. Was Erica Chan the illustrator or did she head up a team of illustrators? 

HS: Yes, Erica was the sole illustrator for the book. She did an amazing illustration job and was a wonderful creative partner throughout the process. She also did the coloring, some illustrators prefer that someone else do the color work but Erica did double duty, doing both the illustration and color work.

EN: Is this your first book together? 

HS: Yes and I hope that Erica will illustrate and color the sequels as well!!

EN: How long does it take complete a project like this? It’s clearly a lot of work. 

HS: The total was about a year and a half for the book which is a total of 176 pages. To give folks an idea, a good week will mean that we got three pages completed. That will help give you an idea how long it takes to complete a 150+ pages graphic novel! Add in the time to have it lettered and printed and your looking at a close to two year process.

EN: What is the mission of Animal Media Group? 

HS: Animal Media Group is looking for stories that can, hopefully, be turned into a TV series or a film. The company only publishes four to five books a year and they take a lot of time and put a lot of effort into the design and production of their books.

EN: The way you open each chapter with a picture of a record with song titles is clever. Can you elaborate on where this idea originated and how you use this device? 

HS: I started with the recommended listening songs at the beginning of each chapter when I did “The Stereotypical Freaks” mainly because that book was about rock music and how a shared love of music can unite people. It was a pretty natural thing, I thought, to list the songs that were inspiring me to write each chapter or the songs listed were the songs that the guys in the band were playing in that particular chapter. I got such a good response to that listing at the front of each chapter that each subsequent book has had a similar list of songs.

EN: When will Queen of Kenosha be available for purchase? 

HS: Thanks, it releases on October 9, 2018

EN: And when will the second and third books of the trilogy be completed? 

HS: Hopefully In October 2020 and we’ll wrap things up in October 2022.

EN: Though the book is fiction, it begs the question: were there Nazi cells working within the U.S. in the early Sixties?

HS: Well, not in the 60’s but before World War 2 there were cells in Los Angeles which we allude to in the book. I found this out from a great book that came out last year titled “Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews and Their Spies Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America” by Steven J. Ross. And during the war there were Nazis sent to get into America thru Canada and into upstate New York and that plot was called the “Operation Pastorious.”

EN:  It’s actually an interesting concept to have a rock star also being a spy. Numerous authors have been spies or secret agents (Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, etc.) It would not raise many questions to have a performer do undercover work. Do you think this actually happens?

HS: Great question, but no I don’t think it happens. Interestingly though, another influence or inspiration for the book was the “Confessions of A Dangerous Mind” book and movie. The book was a memoir by Chuck Barris who was a Game Show producer starting in the 60’s. He created and produced “The Newlywed Game”, “The Dating Game” and then created and hosted “The Gong Show” which I watched religiously back in the late 70’s. In the book he claimed to be a CIA spy and when the CIA shot that down Barris later said that the book was how he imagined his life would have been had he worked for the CIA.

EN: Howard, thanks for your time as well as these insights on your new book.

Related Links
The Hockey Saint
Pittsburgh's Coolest Offices: Animal Inc.
Animal Studio

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Matt Oman's Species of Art

Unconventional means someone who doesn't follow conventions. Matt Oman's garage is not a garage at all. It's an art gallery. I've known people who can't use their garages because they're so full of clutter. I have not known any who turned their garage into a gallery. (I do know a few who have converted their garage into an art studio though.)

Friday I went to visit Matt Moan and see what's new in his spaces. (His home is itself an art gallery as well.) The images here on this page are from his garage.

Something I've always enjoyed in his art is the unexpected. One of his pieces has this message on it: I have been abducted by aliens. Now how do I tell my parents and who knows what else I have to do.

How do you top that? The compositions vary. Some are catchy and all intriguing. Most are compositions in the range of 9"x 12" or slightly larger. His pieces show a fascinations with symmetry, sensuality, global themes, color themes -- once again primarily highlighting red blue green and yellow -- dimensions, and unusual juxtapositions,

Recurring patterns and themes include Lincoln,  and faces that appear contemplative, thoughtful, concerned, and not necessarily cheerful.

There is a piece that has these readings on it: the nature of earth, There are 7 billion, greed, necessity, Johnson, how will you deal with it, economic growth, unemployment, inflation, the balance of trade, etc. There is the famous Japanese wave and four tiny maps of Korea in flux during its war years. May 1950, is half red half green. September 1950 is almost totally over run by red. November 1950, the green is now moved up almost totally taking the peninsula. July 1953 we see North Korea and South Korea divided again.

Another piece has a hand written, “I am the United States of America” and then "I am mutated."

Baseball is another recurring theme. Sports. Nature.

I was also invited to take a tour of the house again. His dog Species passed away this spring, which was exceedingly painful. The dog food company sent him a small painting of a white Labrador retriever like his own companion, in an expression of supreme knowing. Matt called the loss of Species his "worst day ever."

I look on his bookshelf and see all great books such as these: The Jungle, Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, the complete short stories of Mark Twain, Light in August, Team of Rivals, Black Elk Speaks, and the book I hold in my hand, David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest. There is Demian by Hermann Hesse, another book that influenced me when I was young, The Idiot by Dostoevsky, The Diary of Anne Frank, A Farewell To Arms, Coal, Elie Wiesel's Night, a book on Huey Long, a book by Steinbeck, A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike, The Age of Analysis and 1984.

The whole effect of being here is to make me want to try new endeavors that I’ve not tried before, to experiment. On one of the doors there is large piece of paper filled with names written in different colors on it. What names would I write if I were to just hand-write a long list of names in different colors? I’m just not sure what I would find off the top of my head but it would be an interesting experiment, a means of self discovery, a way of seeing possible new relationships within my own subconscious self.

Here was another interesting statement on a downstairs wall: “Michelangelo, arguably the greatest painter and sculptor of our time, came to believe architecture is the highest form of art proper.”

In short, the visit was stimulating. Much like the discharge of an incoming stream stirs up the sediment on the bottom of a pond, so my own thoughts were stirred anew.

Related Links
Matt Oman's Series of Art
Duluth Man's Home Is His Canvas
The Memory Palace

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Quote Nearly Guaranteed to Surprise You and Make You Think

I've been doing some housecleaning the last few days. By housecleaning, I mean organizing the files on my Mac, as well as some of the content on my blog. It was while doing the latter that I came across the following quote last night:

"The world is too big for us, too much is going on, too many crimes, too much violence and excitement. Try as you will, you get behind in the race in spite of yourself. It's a constant strain to keep pace... and still, you lose ground. Science empties its discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment. The political world is news seen rapidly, you're out of breath trying to keep pace with who's in and who's out. Everything is high pressure. Human nature can't endure much more."

Can you believe it? That was published 135 years ago on this day in the Atlantic Journal, June 16, 1883. I hear Twilight Zone music.

* * * *
When I first started blogging it was out of a desire to learn what blogging was. There were very few rules so it was like feeling my way along in the dark. A lot of those early blog posts began with . excerpts from my 30 years of journalling. Usually I would copy the journal segment and then expound on it, but on a few occasions I simply shared something from my journal as I did on June 22. This was my shortest ever blog post.

Observation from William E. Simon's A Time For Truth. He compares freedom to air. It's something you take for granted until you're without it. 
Sept 4, 1985

* * * *
Today is Grandma's Marathon here in the Northland. For the moment it appears that the storms our weather folk predicted are being graciously held at bay, most likely due to the Lake Effect which makes nearly all weather here unpredictable.

The Marathon easily triggers images of runners, and when I think of runners this verse from Ecclesiastes often comes to mind: "I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all." --Eccles. 9:11

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Embrace it.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Flashback Friday: Remembering Private Ryan

They say the book of Job is the oldest book in the Bible. Whatever your take on this piece of literature, whether divinely inspired or one man's remarkable effort to make sense of the universe, this book about the sufferings of Job is an incredible achievement.

The first chapter sets it up. Picture a theater with a lower stage and an upper stage. Job, his family and friends live in the lower stage. Theater goers see that God resides in the upper stage, but Job is unaware of what is going on there, a transaction between God and Satan. 

The story moves to the lower stage and we see Job smitten, but he remains faithful to God.

The next scene is back at the upper stage and we see Satan asking for permission to cause yet more suffering. Satan says, in essence, to God, "Job loves you because everything is going his way. God, you turn off the faucet of blessing and you will see Job turn his back on you because the core of this man is like all men. People are fair weather friends. People are basically selfish."

Once again even greater tragedy and suffering befall this man, with the result that he is destitute, covered with sores, sitting on a dung heap. All this occurs at the very beginning of this remarkable story. In literary lingo it would be called the setup.

There is a sense in which Steven Spielberg's potent war drama Saving Private Ryan becomes art by becoming metaphorical in the arc of its storyline. My poem Private Ryan will have no meaning without seeing the film or having a basic understanding of the story, so I will attempt to briefly summarize.


The context for the film is D-Day, the Normandy beachhead, and its aftermath. Tom Hanks is Captain John Miller, a soldier who leads his platoon into the bloodbath chaos that is war. Rated R for "intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence" is an understatement. One difference between the realistically graphic landing and real life is that in twenty minutes the film version of the Normandy landing was completed. 

Meanwhile back in Washington another scene is taking place. It is learned that a mother with four sons in the service has lost three of her boys. The fourth is somewhere in France. After the beachhead has been secured, and long before the war is over, Capt. John H. Miller is handed a new mission. He must find Private James Francis Ryan and bring him home. Like the story of Job, this is the setup. The rest of the film is about the challenges of completing the mission.

It's a costly mission, and in the end Capt. Miller is forced to sacrifice his life to save the young private. He knew what he had to do, and he did it, but he also wanted Private Ryan to understand the importance of his actions. His last words to Pvt. James F. Ryan were these: "Earn this."
Private Ryan

He understood the burden for
He carried it all his life.
A man had died to save him,
And for what?
He was nothing but a man.

One day he returned to France
To thank the man who died;
He wept, wept deep and deeper still,
His family by his side.
“Did I live a life that was worthy
Of what you did for me?”

As the wind swept through the gravestones,
No voice was ever heard;
The universe was silent…
It never said a word
And the bones where Ryan knelt that day
Were silent ‘neath the sod.

But Ryan knew what happened
On the day his life was spared.
A man had given his life for him
And he knew to make it count
He’d have to sacrifice his own,
Give back the same amount.

July 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Mark Joseph Talks About His Latest Book: Rock Gets Religion

His book, published in 2017, is titled Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil's Music. It's actually Mark Joseph's third volume of anecdotes and insights related to the relationship between rock music and musicians of faith.

A speaker at one of the writers conferences I attended in the 1980's described how all the major New York publishing houses had a wing devoted to Christian publishing. With the upheavals of the Sixties, a "Jesus Movement" followed in its wake, along with a return to the kind of fundamentalism that the publishing houses didn't understand. The Charismatic movement was similarly a strange animal to these publishers who weren't sure how to produce books that connected with this surging demographic. They lost money on many new product intros and most washed their hands of it all as numerous new Christian publishing houses sprang up, along with Christian book stores. This same process must have been happening in the music scene as a new genre emerged called Christian Contemporary Music.

Mark Joseph's newest book is about Christian artists who have crossed back over from the CCM pasture into the all-encompassing mainstream. Many of these artists never identified with the CCM subculture. Others, like Amy Grant, were successful in the CCM world but moved into the mainstream and had some success there as well. Separatists can quote Bible verse to support their view: "Love not the world..." The other side of the coin is Jesus's admonition to be "in the world but not of it."

In reading about the life of St. Augustine I learned that his first brush with a Bible turned him off. He was given a very poor translation of the Scriptures and felt it could hardly be God's word if it were so badly written. He was a lover of Greek philosophers and the writings of Cicero were among the most beautiful words in literature. Ten years later he did indeed encounter a good translation of the sacred texts when his life was bottoming out. He became receptive.

Augustine, however, never stopped appreciating the writings of Greek scholars. When criticized for this, he pointed out how the Israelites when they left Egypt brought gold with them. Augustine justified this love of classic literature by declaring that the gold of Egypt was still gold.

When it comes to rock and rap and other genres, some of the issues become controversial. Is it a compromise of one's religion, or the fulfilling of urgent need to affirm faith in the midst of the culture as opposed to standing on a pillar in the desert, a la 4th Century pillar saints. Mark Joseph delves into all of it in this volume.

EN: What was your purpose in writing this book?

Mark Joseph: I like to tell stories, whether through films, music or books and this is a great story that I've been telling in different formats for a quarter of a century and for the most part it's one that has slipped under the radar of popular culture. It began with a piece I did for Billboard Magazine back in 1994. When I was just getting started I realized the parallels between what was happening in Christian rock and what was then called the Negro Baseball Leagues and how in both cases the story was more complicated than it appeared to be--it wasn't as simple as black hats and white hats. I realized that it wasn't just racists who wanted to keep blacks out of major league baseball, it was also those who ran the leagues that were for blacks only--they had a vested interest in keeping the races separate. And the same was true in music. While many Evangelicals claimed they were being kept out of mainstream music, and there was some truth to that, there were also leaders of Christian music who were actively working to keep the music industries separate because that's how they made a living.

EN: In the 60’s and 70’s there appeared Christian publishers, Christian music (CCM), Christian television, Christian movies… Often of quite uneven quality. How did this “Christian” subculture develop?

MJ: It's a frame of mind that many Christians fall into--a kind of 'if I can't get my way on everything I'll take my marbles and go home" attitude. Life is about give and take and working together and sometimes you don't get everything you want and you have to keep at it, not run away. There has been cases of more secular people trying to block religious expression in popular culture, I document it in the book, but the answer isn't to run and create a safe harbor but to stay put and negotiate those differences. The LGBT community has done a great job in this area and Christians would do well to emulate their success. They don't escape and create gay subcultures in media, they work hard to be a presence in the mainstream. In my view, attaching the term "Christian'" as an adjective to describe various art forms is a huge mistake. First, it's not theologically accurate since Christian is a noun not an adjective and no thing can be Christian. But it's also a huge turnoff to those who aren't already devout. It makes art feel like it's not for them. American popular culture should be a place for everybody to share their ideas without being segregated into this or that camp by religion or political views.

EN: You produced the soundtrack for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Based on your own experience and observations, what are the special challenges that Christian actors, producers, screenwriters face in Hollywood?

MJ: The challenge that Christians in Hollywood must face and succeed at is working hard to not just preach to the choir but also to ensure that their art simultaneously reaches those who don't agree with them as well and this can be done. Narnia is a great example--a good part of the audience believed as C.S. Lewis did that Aslan as a stand-in for Jesus Christ. Others just enjoyed the story of a kind-hearted lion--and both groups enjoyed the show. That's something to shoot for. It's ok and important to tell religious stories or films that faith is present in--but it has to be done in a way that still allows the story to make sense to those who don't believe. Christians should always try to remember their own frame of mind back when they didn't believe and never forget to tell stories that can reach the people they used to be, in addition to the people they've become.

EN: Music has played such a major role in shaping our culture. What’s interesting is how many musicians of whom we’re all familiar with have been influenced directly or indirectly at one time or another by The Vineyard Church and its offspring. (eg. Bob Dylan, Mumford & Sons). Who are some others that come to mind? And how was it that the Vineyard was so successful in this regard?

MJ: The Vineyard has had a massive impact in this area--it and Calvary Chapel are largely responsible for much of this. Lifehouse is another band that grew out of the Vineyard. These were two churches that took music seriously and didn't look down on musicians but celebrated them. If more churches emulated that attitude, we'd see another explosion of talent in the next two decades.

EN: Alice Cooper’s foreword is very direct and thought provoking. How did that come about?

MJ: Alice and his wife Sheryl have been friends and always supportive of the things I've been doing. We talk often when they're on the road. In many ways he has lived out the premise of the book that runs counter to the popular narrative that religious people have to flee public life. I've always maintained that if you're good, people will put up with your views even if they think they're archaic or quaint. That's Alice. He believes. And who better to listen to than a guy who knows and has experienced the dark side and the bright side? I had originally just asked him for a one line endorsement. But when the publisher sent me the cover I just thought it was such an Alice looking cover that I asked him to do the foreword instead. And he did. Our culture needs more Alice Coopers who are winsome, excellent at their craft, unflinching in their beliefs, but still fun to be around.

Related Links
The Rock & Roll Rebellion: Why People of Faith Abandoned Rock Music and Why They're Coming Back (1999)
Faith, God and Rock & Roll: How People of Faith Are Transforming American Popular Music (2003)
Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil's Music (2017)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Like Dylan, Artist Daniel Botkin Reconfigures American Classics

Dylan Crossing His Delaware (Detail A)
One of the speakers at this year's Duluth Dylan Fest was Harvard Classics professor Richard Thomas, author of Why Bob Dylan Matters. One of the features of his lecture, extensively expanded upon in his book, was the concept of intertextuality as a response to the accusations of plagiarism in Dylan's work. According to Wikipedia, "Intertextuality is the shaping of a text's meaning by another text. It is the interconnection between similar or related works of literature that reflect and influence an audience's interpretation of the text. Intertextual figures include: allusion, quotation, calque, plagiarism, translation, pastiche and parody. Intertextuality is a literary device that creates an 'interrelationship between texts' and generates related understanding in separate works."

North Country Gothic
Intertextuality has to do with texts, so I don't know what the word would be to describe artists who draw upon the works of other artists. A number of years ago the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art hosted a exhibition of painters whose paintings were influenced by Picasso. Each room would have a Picasso painting with two or three paintings by others that were echoes of what Picasso had done. I specifically recall one piece by Jasper Johns in this show.

All this is by way of introduction to the four paintings Daniel Botkin contributed to this year's Duluth Dylan Fest art show. What follows are his artist statement and descriptions of the four pieces he shared with us in late May.

Bob Dylan borrowed elements of American folk music and wove those elements together to create brand new songs. Following Dylan's method, I have borrowed pieces of popular American folk art and used those compositions to create brand new paintings that blend Dylan and Americana.
-Daniel Botkin

Dylan Crossing His Delaware, full painting
When the Ship Comes In: Dylan Crossing His Delaware
Dylan crossing over from all-acoustic to electric. "Another Side" was his last all-acoustic album. "Bringing It All Back Home," his transitional album, was acoustic on one side and electric on the other. It was followed by "Highway 61 Revisited," his first all-electric album. Some fans considered him a traitor for going electric, one of them famously yelling "Judas!" at a concert. That fellow is in the lower left corner of my painting.
Oil on canvas, $778.

Forever Young
Patterned after Norman Rockwell's Triple Self Portrait. The small pictures on the easel are from Dylan's early career and his childhood home in Duluth.
Oil on canvas $678.

Bobby's World: Stuck Inside of Duluth and Hibbing With the Freight Train Blues Again
Patterned after Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World. The yellow house is the Dylan home in Duluth and the blue house is the Dylan home in Hibbing. The title of my painting is a tweaking of Wyeth's title, followed by a blending of two Dylan song titles, "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" and "Freight Train Blues."
Oil on canvas, $578

North Country Gothic
Patterned after Grant Wood's American Gothic. Young Bob Dylan with Echo Helstrom, his high school sweetheart, with the Dylan home in the background. Echo died in January 2018, just about a month before this painting was completed as a tribute to her for being the inspiration for Dylan's song "Girl From the North Country."
Oil on canvas, $578

Dylan Crossing His Delaware (Detail B)
Dylan Crossing His Delaware (Detail C)
Related Lnks
Until death it is all life. Embrace it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Two Powerful Songs in Response to the Cold-Blooded Murder of Medgar Evers

On this day in history civil rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated. Born July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi he became, in 1954, the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi. As such, he organized voter-registration efforts and economic boycotts, and investigated crimes perpetrated against blacks. For these "subversive" activities he was assassinated outside his Mississippi home 55 years ago today. It took more than three decades to send his killer to prison. Such were the machinations of Mississippi justice.

Evers served in World War II from 1943 to '45 and returned, like many other African Americans of his generation, to see the Jim Crow South with new eyes. He graduated college on the G.I. Bill and soon became involved with civil rights work. In 1954 he came field secretary for the NAACP, travelling extensively throughout the state, a witness to the widespread injustices that were a way of life there. For context, 1954 was the year of the landmark legislation Brown v. Board of Education, 1955 the death of Emmett Till.

After years of organizing and standing up to the powers that be, "Evers's efforts made him a target for those who opposed racial equality and desegregation. He and his family were subjected to numerous threats and violent actions, including a firebombing of his house in May 1963, shortly before his assassination."(1)

* * * *
August 28, less than two months later, proved to be one of the most memorable days in our history as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march on Washington for jobs and freedom, galvanizing the civil rights movement with his epic "I Have A Dream" speech, which reverberates to this day.  A young Bob Dylan was one of many singers who had been invited to perform at the event.(2) Even though he'd just released his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, with a number of suitable songs for the occasion ("Blowin' in the Wind" and "Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" come to mind) he sang three songs from his next album, including "Only A Pawn In Their Game" which he'd written in response to the shooting of Medgar Evers.

It's not possible for me to hear this song without being moved, and for decades I felt it to be the most powerful response ever written in response to Evers' assassination. Eventually, thanks to the Internet, I discovered Nina Simone's response to this and everything taking place in Mississippi at that time, a song which -- for reasons self-evident -- would not have been aired on the radio stations most of us listened to while growing up in the Sixties. It's called "Mississippi Goddam."(3)

The chorus, which also opens the song, goes like this:
Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi goddam

Lyrics like these reflect the burden of being black in the Deep South at that time:

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day's gonna be my last
Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time

I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer
Don't tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I've been there so I know
They keep on saying 'Go slow!'

It's a painful song, but its despairing tone reflects a strange beauty that I find incredibly moving. 

Like Dylan's "Only A Pawn" it's the manner in which the song is sung that goes right through you. Let's mark the day by remembering. 

(1) Medgar Evers life at Biography
(2) Music of the March on Washington
(3) Full lyrics, Mississippi Goddam

Monday, June 11, 2018

Items of Note: Two Calls for Art Plus the Free Range Film Festival

Zeitgeist Seek Artists for Public Art
The Zeitgeist is looking for contributions from local artists to decorate a new Parklet that will be installed next year. They are seeking to display up to 18 submissions from artists of all levels, beginners to veterans. The concept you submit will be a draft, not finished pieces. They will select artists and then give plywood to all those selected for completing their ideas. Drafts can be submitted on paper in person at the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe: 222 East Superior Street, or can be scanned and emailed to sarahlueck@zeitgeistarts.com.  For more information visit the Zeitgeist Arts Parklet Arts page.

City Pages Call for Comix Artists
City Pages in the Twin Cities is looking for talented artists to submit work for their annual City Pages Comix Issue. This year's theme: Summer Jobs. Cartoonists must submit work that flows as true sequential art that tells a full story while adhering to our designated image dimensions, but there are no restrictions on the number of panels or how you use them. Guidelines and full details HERE.

Free Range Film Festival

The harvest is in for the Free Range Film Festival and 29 films have been deemed chemical free and fresh for viewing. 2018 marks the 15th year for the Festival. A cult favorite since it started screening films in 2003, the festival provides a forum for filmmakers, film lovers, as well as barn enthusiasts and country living aficionados. With an earlier date for the barn screenings, festival organizers are eager to share the schedule with consumers.

This year’s crop of films includes a documentary about semi-aquatic beaverlike rodents with giant orange teeth that live in Louisiana, a virtual reality music video from the duo “Maple & Beach”, the story of local artist hero Chris Monroe’s last window exhibition for Treehouse Records, and a lot of movies that include exclamation points in the title.

“I’m particularly excited about our Saturday afternoon block of programming this year” says one of the festival organizers Annie Dugan. “We have a ton of filmmakers who will be in attendance that afternoon with great opportunity for Q&A and discussion. Plus, this is the first year that our Saturday afternoon screenings are completely rated G!”. Dugan continues that even if the films might not suit a particular audience, “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.”

The diversity in directors and subject matter is also of note in the 2018 schedule. Dugan points out that “One of the things we continue to be proud of in our programming is that over half of the directors are female, something you don’t usually see on the festival circuit”.

For a full schedule and more information on the Free Range Film festival: The harvest is in for the Free Range Film Festival and 29 films have been deemed chemical free and fresh for viewing. 2018 marks the 15th year for the Festival. A cult favorite since it started screening films in 2003, the festival provides a forum for filmmakers, film lovers, as well as barn enthusiasts and country living aficionados. With an earlier date for the barn screenings, festival organizers are eager to share the schedule with consumers.

For a full schedule and more information on the Free Range Film festival, visit www.freerangefilm.com

* * * * 
Special Message from Ennyman
It's never too early to introduce your kids to the arts.
My parents enrolled me in a ten-week program here at the
Cleveland Institute of Art when I was five. It changed my life.
Cleveland Institute of Art
It's Never Too Late to Start Making Art
You can find all kinds of art classes here in the Twin Ports, from Zentangle Designs with Esther Piszczek to all the assorted activities at The Duluth Art Institute, Pineapple Arts and Art on the Rocks, just to name a few. Learn something new. Expand your horizons. Creativity is in your DNA. Wake up your Inner You.

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

17 Thoughts In Response to Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit

1967 Detroit riots. Photo Credit: Public Domain/http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
It's an axiom of great photographers to focus the lens on a micro view that serves as a mirror of the big picture. For example, a closeup of a mother weeping over her shrapnel-damaged infant son as a means of showing the side effects of carpet bombing and the meaning of that impersonal euphemism, "collateral damage."

This, it would seem, is what Katheryn Bigelow was attempting to do in her 2017 focus on what occurred at the Algiers Motel in the movie Detroit, a purportedly fact-based film set against the backdrop of the Detroit riots of 1967.

My initial title for this review was going to be Detroit Starts Fine But Veers Into Horror for Horror's Sake.

My blog response was initially going to read... Recommended: Read the Reviews and Skip the Film. Or maybe, Recommended: Don't watch this if you're depressed.

I would have skipped it altogether (a public response) but then found myself dwelling on certain aspects of the story and decided to make a list of thoughts about the film, partly in an effort to purge myself of some things that were stirred by watching it.

1. "the city routinely declined to promote black patrolmen, and the police had a reputation for exhibiting 'crude racism' and ignoring the needs of the black community. The police were perceived as unwilling to enforce the law and slow to respond in black communities, and police harassment of African Americans was the norm. Subsequently, African Americans... tended to strongly distrust the police. There had also been several incidents of brutality committed by the police... which worsened the tension between the police and the city's African American citizens."

The above paragraph is taken from a Wikipedia entry not about Detroit, but about riots in a section of Cleveland in the mid-Sixties. It could have been Chicago, L.A., Newark, Louisville, Kanas City, Baltimore or a multitude of other places, including Detroit.

2. The incident at the Algiers Motel in Detroit served not as a microcosm of the problems in Detroit, but of a pervasive issue throughout the nation.

Newark riots. Photo Credit: Tabitha C. Wang, Public Domain
3. My family living in New Jersey at this time. After the Newark riots, a neighbor of mine stated that there were cops in Newark who welcomed the riots. It gave them an opportunity "to shoot a n***** and get away with it." His uncle, a cop, had said this. Being an impressionable teen it depressed me to hear this.

4. Will Poulter played one of the most evil characters I've ever seen in film, but this character was not really a character. Compare Poulter to Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men. Bardem was scary bad, but interesting. Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood was another evil man, but we saw a fully developed character, a human being with motivations, albeit bent.

5. Speaking of motivations, none of the characters appeared to be really developed. The five Motown singers were given a few minutes to let us know they were young folks with dreams. Characters have motivations. Characters must each have a quest, something they want. We only got that from one person in the film, a singer who had talent and a dream.

6. To quote from one of the reviewers, the film became "an over-indulgent orgy of violence" that failed to address the historical context in which the riots arose.

7. There are a lot of films that deal with tension, violence and the like, but the best films give the viewer some relief, places to catch one's breath. Maybe that is the point that Ms. Bigelow was making. "If you think an hour or two of unrelenting torture is bad, well imagine how these kids felt after eight hours of this, and worse." O.K., but I didn't sign up for that. And whatever happened to the maxim, "Less is more"?

There are dozens of films that effectively deal with injustice without putting this whole horror directly in your face. Even Tarantino's violence is interspersed with comic relief.

8. The deeper, long-term causes of the riots barely appear in the film. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "The deeper causes of the riot were high levels of frustration, resentment, and anger that had been created among African Americans by unemployment and underemployment, persistent and extreme poverty, racism and racial segregation, police brutality, and lack of economic and educational opportunities."

9. The crazy guy who fired the fake gun and initiated this whole crazy sequence events was killed right at the start. Why didn't anyone explain what happened? I dunno.

10. O.K., maybe I do sort of understand this. One time, in my hippie youth, I was beaten up by a couple tough guys from outside the neighborhood. The police talked to the assailants first and afterwards hassled me in such a way that I, like the victimized young people in the film, kept my mouth shut. I could tell the police had no interest in my side of the story. I suppose it is possible the young people were too terrified to speak and believed any attempt to say anything would be considered insolence. Power can be intimidating.

11. Getting back to Will Poulter... How do actors feel after playing a role like that? I mean. at the end of each day, where is your head at?

12. In some communities, like Duluth, there have been improvements. Here is an example involving an artist, Carla Hamilton, who was profiled, singled out and interrogated improperly. Her response was to go to Chief Tuskan and turn this into a learning moment for the police by having them hear how they mishandled the situation. The follow up was an art exhibition at the Duluth Art Institute the following winter.

This would not have happened 50 years ago. The dialogue with Chief Tuscan led to a broader dialogue, ultimately with the community.

13. Improvement does not mean that race issues have disappeared. There is much work yet to be done.

14. The animated re-telling of the story of how blacks migrated North for jobs in the rust belt and the "white flight" that occurred in the inner cities after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that permitted blacks to leave the ghettos, this was well done and got my hopes up for the film. Handled with a light touch, yet informative. The scenes that followed raised more questions than they answered.

15. There are many ways to tell a story. I can imagine that many people watching on DVDs quit watching before it reaches any kind of conclusion. I think here of 12 Angry Men, which deals with an injustice without hanging it in front of your face.

16. One reviewer at imdb.com  wrote, "Too bad the writing didn't create a more coherent picture of the time period. Statistics of unemployment, arrests of African Americans, a rising black prison population, would have helped create the setting in which the riots occurred." Well, that is the kind of material you can bring to the fore in a documentary.

17. The next comment from the reviews falls into the same category, info that could be better shared in a documentary. "The film fails to show how the riots were a watershed moment in the history of Detroit, how everything afterward became worse economically for the city and where that left the city today. Near the end of the film, Detroit goes from civil rights drama to procedural drama and completely loses its way. Certainly, presenting what happened to the three white officers charged with murder was worthwhile, but that could have been done in a paragraph as an epilogue."

* * * *

The history of race in America is depressing to think about, but it cannot be ignored.

Related Links
imdb.com User Reviews
DAI Exhibit Targets Tensions, Solutions

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Make a difference.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Roger McGuinn On Skiing with Dylan and Faith in God

Page 20, Radix Magazine, May/June 1981
If you get the mashup eNewsletter The Dylan Daily then you probably saw the lead story this past week about Roger McGuinn skiing with Bob Dylan. I will be the second to admit that I wouldn't have pictured Dylan as a skier (the author of this No Depression article admitted it first) but it was fun reading that Roger McGuinn had been here on a winter holiday in the North Country. Evidently he found Bob's swiftness on the slopes more memorable than than how chilly the weather may have been.

The click-baity opening quickly yields to some fresh insights about McGuinn's roots, the numerous bands he was in before soaring with The Byrds. I'd forgotten that Roger McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker was backed by the now-famous Wrecking Crew--and not his band--when The Byrds recorded Mr. Tambourine Man.

After summarizing McGuinn's career, the author quotes him modestly acknowledging, “I’m not really a great songwriter or great at anything, but I am very blessed that I’ve been able to make a living all these years.”

"I am very blessed," he said. It's an interesting turn of phrase, which leads me to the 1981 Radix magazine interview with Danny Smith that zeroes in on McGuinn's conversion to Christianity.

The Radix piece leads off with the newly released McGuinn and ex-Byrd Chris Hillmam album, produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett at Muscle Shoals. Dylan historians recognize this pair of names as the guys who produced Slow Train Coming and the controversial Saved.(1) They were also responsible for noteworthy sessions with Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cher and other familiar names.

At this point in his career (1981) McGuinn had 12 Byrds albums under his belt along with five solo albums and three records with Hillman and Gene Clark. He had additional Dylan connections with his music. "Chestnut Mare" was a song he recorded in Dylan's four-hour Renaldo & Clara. He also provided accompaniment in "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid."

The second half of the article covers McGuinn's spiritual journey. Few of us remember, if we ever knew, that Roger McGuinn was originally Jim McGuinn as a banjo-picker and part of the Greenwich Village scene. His mystical explorations led him into an Indonesian religion called Subud. To change his name he had to get approval from the "home office" in Indonesia, and his new name "Roger" was approved.

McGuinn says that for several years he was in a personal search for God that led him into Eastern religions, but that these did not make him feel close to God. The first Christians whom he met were pushy and off-putting. Later he met other Christians who were not doing the "hard sell" kind of faith sharing, which led into a lot of interesting discussions. After a couple months, and after a traumatic experience, McGuinn turned to God. "The Holy Spirit brought me to a realization of my need for God and the provision in Jesus," he said as he described his encounter and faith breakthrough. "It was then that I committed my life to him.

Smith's discussion with McGuinn included the conversions of Dylan and Noel Paul Stookey, and the pressure that some Christians put on celebrities to "fall into line" and allow themselves to be exploited for Jesus. McGuinn says he stayed away from the "Christian circuit" and took flak for it. But he's not deviated from what he considers primary in his life: "following the Lord."

"Previously, career, money, and success were the targets. But now it's the Lord who comes first. I don't have the desperate urgency to be successful. I fell fulfilled and satisfied, and that's a great thing."

Skiing with Bob Dylan
Secrets Behind Bob Dylan's Muscle Shoals Albums

(1) Last week I was looking at a forum discussion in which participants were sharing what they considered Dylan's worst albums. Saved topped some lists, which said as much about the list makers as the quality of the album. For what it was, an authentic Gospel expression, it is considered by some to be among his best.