Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Fighter (Film Review)

This weekend I finally had a chance to see The Fighter, a film that gained a lot of attention during Oscar season earlier this year. Within minutes I knew why: Christian Bale.


O.K., Hollywood must like making boxer films because they've produced their share. Six Rocky flicks, Cinderella Man, Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby, Ali... each with its own twist, and The Fighter is no different in this respect. Like the others, it's the story of an underdog going against all odds to reach the top, in this case Light Welterweight Champion of the World.

The film is based on a true story, which makes me want to pull my punches here a little because the family it's about is still around. I commend them for allowing this story to be told because The Fighter does not put this family in a very good light.

The story is about "Irish" Micky Ward who does succeed in achieving the crown. But it's also a story about Dicky Ecklund, his half brother who once stood toe-to-toe with Sugar Ray Leonard and believes he knocked Leonard down. Ecklund is a a completely tragic character. A crackhead living in a dream world, believing he really was a somebody and was going to make Micky a somebody.

Christian Bale is superb in the role, and so unlike the Batman he has played, or the magician. His hyper and gaunt appearance at the opening immediately laces you to your seat for this story. The next surprise is Amy Adams (as Charlene), who caught out attention in Junebug and whom we all fell in love with in her Enchanted innocence. We liked her in Julie and Julia, too. So what a surprise to find such a foul-mouthed Brooklyn barmaid here.

Throw Melissa Leo into the mix as the hysterical overprotective mom who in this story is so lacking in self-awareness.... and you have the main four characters, all at odds with one another as they spar to control Micky's destiny.

The movie has the feel of documentary and then within the film there is a real documentary being made throughout, of Dicky Ecklund's story. The whole time he believes it is a documentary about his own comeback as a fighter. But the real documentary is something much darker, a story about the effects of crack.

Bale deserved the Oscar nomination he received, but all the characters were pitch perfect. I suspect, however, that some of the language in this film will make it unsuitable for many, but it has "real life" written all over it. I was impressed.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Before You Go Under

My first surgery requiring anesthesia was back when I was twelve. I was having my tonsils removed and I remember lying on the gurney being rolled into a room, people in masks looking down at me as they slid a mask over my nose and mouth. "Count backwards slowly, from 100." 100, 99, 98, 97... I was out. Evidently ether works fast.

Next thing you know, I'm waking up in a room with others all waking and woozy. A nurse came in and asked if I would like some ice cream. Mmm, did it taste good. Then I threw it up.

Today's newspaper features part 2 of a story about doctors and malpractice, and it brought to mind many other articles I've read in the past about hospitals and infections, and a book I read last year about a doctor who was suspected of killing patients on purpose. That book was pretty scary, highlighting the difficulties in getting honest, reliable information about the doctors who are treating us.

If you tend to be a worrier, all this bad press about doctors and hospitals could have a detrimental effect on your peace of mind next time you need a surgical procedure. For this reason, anesthesiologist Benjamin Taimoorazy, M.D., has written a book titled Before You Go Under.

In a typical year more than 30 million Americans will go under for some kind of medical procedure. To my knowledge there aren't very many books that answer the questions people have with regard to these matters. How does a doctor know I am adequately "out" before he starts cutting me? What happens if I wake up while they still have me cut open and they are removing my intestines?

The book covers more than just the anesthesia questions. The manual is really a prep for surgery and even answers the question, "Why is the operating room always cold?"

Here's something I didn't know till I saw it in this book. Redheads have a potentially greater sensitivity to pain and may require a bit more anesthesia. Also, allergies and artificial implants may have a bearing on how the anesthesia procedures are conducted.

The writing is clear, straightforward and matter-of-fact, nothing fancy. This book is not investigative journalism, nor is it a very exciting read, though it is an easy read. And if you've got questions, Dr. T has answers.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Indy Turns 100

"In the end, its not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years." ~Abraham Lincoln

On Tuesday Bob Dylan turned 70 and there were celebrations all week across the Northland to mark the occasion. Today the Indianapolis 500 turns 100 and for some reason I just can't find that many people who care. Or at least who care half as much as I.

The Indy 500 used to be the greatest event in motor sports. When we were kids we all knew the names of the legendary drivers who made a mark there. Men like Parnelli Jones, Jimmy Clark, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, the Unsers... we invited the race into our homes and celebrated with the winners and bemoaning the fates of heroes who came up short.

For years it was an annual ritual to skip church and watch all the pre-race driver stories on through to Jim Nabors singing Back Home In Indiana and the historic, "Gentlemen, start your engines." (Which has in recent years been modified, naturally, to accommodate the women drivers in the field.)

The speed in today's 500 makes the inaugural race laughable. In that initial run, Ray Haroun gained immortality in his "Wasp" with an average speed of 74.6 miles per hour. Today's drivers scream through the 2.5 mile oval with average speeds in the 229 mile per hour range.

Another of my rituals has been to buy a USA Today in order to read the special section devoted to Indy. I bought a paper and there was no Indy insert this year. Maybe the newspaper simply sees it as "just another race?"

In honor of the great race, here's some Indy trivia gleaned from the March issue of Motor magazine.

~Total number of drivers to have raced the Indy 500 since inception: 732
~First female driver to qualify: Janet Guthrie
~Fastest female qualifier: Sarah Fisher, 229.439 mph in 2002
~First rear-view mirror: Ray Haroun
~First use of a Pace Car in racing: 1911
~First use of four-wheel hydraulic brakes: 1921
~Color warning lights first installed: 1935
~First mandatory use of helmets: 1935
~First mandatory use of rollover bars and fire-retardant driver suits: 1959
~First use of crash data recorders: 1993

The original race track was all brick, which is quite something to consider. Today there is still a strip of brick at the start-finish line as an acknowledgement of its history.

Hoping for another great race... Many great memories associated with Indy. And if you ever get the chance, assuming you were once a fan like me, be sure to check out their museum. Every car that ever won is stabled there, and accompanying memorabilia. You owe it to yourself to pay tribute.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ten Emerging Artists Put On a Show

Last night I dropped in on the one night show at the now-abandoned European Bakery space. The non-Dylan-themed event featured the works of Ten Emerging Artists, all young men with imaginations exploring new creative directions. It proved to be a fascinating environment for a show such as this.

Here are some of my photos from last night, and I saw quite a few other cameras capturing scenes from the event. Those who came to the show were an ecclectic mix of youth and age. The aspirations of youth were what they came to see.

There was much to engage those who came into the space. It may have been helpful for some to receive a brief summary of what each artist was striving to achieve. But then again, maybe this was an intentional ambiguity that permitted viewers to develop their own relationships with the work they engaged.

Leon Nyarecha, who hails from Kenya, produced a multimedia piece that creatively portrayed the other artists in this show. He is equally fascinated with film and will have a short movie in the upcoming film festival in June at the Zinema.

I'm certain many of these young men will be wrestling with issues of "what next" as they emerge into the larger world, and some will surprise us as Dylan surprised the world when he emerged as a folk artist half a century ago. The event last night provided a good sense of where some of these young artists are going.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Together Through Life

I woke about an hour early this morning. As I lay there my mind began planning the day as it often does. Call Mom at eight, as is my custom. Pick up paintings from Homegrown Art Festival at 2:30... visit an artist's studio at three... paint in my studio and listen to Highway 61 Revisited, a.k.a the Dylan Hour, on KUMD at five... make a decision about going to the Million Dollar Bash at Beaners later.

While thinking thus I drifted back to sleep. Then the alarm went off. Whoa! It's Friday!!!! Gotta go to work.

It's been one busy, jam-packed week, and we're not done yet. Tonight there will be a couple more art events and still more Dylan activities. The Open House at Maggie Flowers Interior Design is a three day French Fling based on the European flea market motif. I have a number of new paintings there (Thursday thru Saturday) and will be there myself from 5-7 p.m. Location is at the corner of 15th Avenue East and Superior Street here in Duluth. Visit www.maggieflowers.com for more information.

From there I will be running over to a one night only art show aptly titled Ten Emerging Artists at the former European Bakery, 109 West First Street, again in Duluth. Ten artists will be on display, or rather their work will be. I strongly encourage anyone who's out and about to drop in to see the art and photography of Adam Rosenthal, Alexander Hanson, Anthony Zappa, Brent Erickson, David Moreira, Justin Iverson, Leon Nyarecha, Rob K-Sm Nicolas Monson and Steven J Read.

To my dismay I will again miss the singer-songwriter competition at Hibbing Auditorium, perhaps the highlight event of Dylan Days there. But for Duluth-bound fans, the Brewhouse will be putting it all out there as Duluth Does Dylan to their hearts content.

If you're here from out of town and looking for something to do to kill time till tonight's activities, you might want to drive along our Skyline Drive and take in some of the views of the bay, the ore docks, bridges, ships and Lake Superior. Any time, day or night, Skyline Drive offers great vistas.

You also may want to drive past 519 Third Avenue East and take a peek at the house young Bob Zimmerman once lived in till he was age six and his family moved to Hibbing. The fellow who purchased this house ten years ago is himself a Dylan fan and has been renovating it as time goes by. He maintains one of the most comprehensive Dylan sites on the internet if you need to know anything and everything Dylan, from tour dates to links to stories in the news. This morning there are 24 of the latter. The web address is www.expectingrain.com

In the meantime, enjoy the sun and the moon and the music and your friends. And have a great Memorial Day weekend. Don't forget Sunday's Battle of the Jugbands.

Till the morrow....

Top right: Drawing based on cover of Dylan's Street Legal. I placed it here because it looks like a guy looking for something. This week a lot of people were looking for Dylan. He turned 70, a milestone for any of us, and being a human like the rest of us, he very likely blew out birthday candles like the rest of us. Where did it happen? You can find quite a few articles online this week asking that very question.

Below: Photo of one of my Dylan paintings, taken in my garage last year. After half a century of listening to Dylan music, you might say we've been Together Through Life.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dylan-Themed Art Opening at Ochre Ghost

Ochre Ghost Gallery in Duluth has become a special place. Last night the three hour opening from 6:00-9:00 p.m. brought an interesting mix of artists and Dylan fans, young and old. The slanting rays of brilliant sun pouring into the window added a special warmth to the event. With the show only running through June 1, you'll want to slide over there soon to see the collection of Dylan paintings and drawings, and especially to see Nancy Miller's Bust of Dylan, which must weigh half a ton and is mounted on railroad ties, a suitable pedestal for someone who began his career singing the "Freight Train Blues."

The Bust took five months to create, beginning with a steel structure upon which cement was molded. Atop this, the mosaic pieces were then affixed using adhesive followed by the grout work that gives the finished imaged clarity. In addition Miller produced a book showing the piece as it was conceived and brought into existence.

Countless friends of the various artists passed in and out (no one passed out, but they departed through the exit) and many new connections were made, as is often the case at art openings.

Tonight is the Dylan Train to Two Harbors, also known as the Blood on the Tracks Express in which five bands have been assembled to entertain riders along the North Shore Railroad, two going up and two more on the return. In Two Harbors itself, ticket holders will be treated to a show by Danny Fox and his Rolling Thunder Band. Danny, whom I believe hails from Chicago, has twice won the Singer-Songwriter competition at Dylan Days in Hibbing, a competition which draws talent from all over the world and will be again taking place Friday night here in the Northland at Hibbing Auditorium.

How much is that Dylan in the window?

Top Center: Jessica Liszewski, co-owner of Ochre Ghost, just before the opening.
Middle Right: Bust of Dylan by Nancy Miller.
Below: The artist, accompanied by her work, or vice versa.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Visions of Johanna

This week the Fitger's Brewhouse has brewed a special batch of beer for Duluth Dylan Fest called Blonde On Blonde, the name extracted from the title of what some critics say is Bob Dylan's greatest album. Now at Valentini's the other evening I was asked which one Dylan album was my favorite, a question that is impossible to answer. By what criteria?

Well, when it comes to favorites, whether books, films, music, restaurants, mountains or shorelines, you'd probably have to say your favorite is the one you return to most often. By that criteria I then made a list of my favorite Dylan songs from his catalog, and then a short list of albums, selecting one from each decade, still a daunting task.

Over the years I have listened to hours and hours of Desolation Row, Changing of the Guard and Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, three of the songs on that impossible list. As for albums, going backward from present to past, here's some of what I have most listened to... Together Through Life, Tell Tale Signs, Love and Theft, Oh Mercy, Shot of Love, Slow Train Coming, Street Legal, New Morning, Blood on the Tracks, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde, and The Times They Are A-Changin'.

I think one person at that table wanted me to give the nod to Blonde On Blonde (1966) as Dylan's greatest singular achievement, and there are critics who support that claim. Hard to say... though there was a lot of great material on that album which continued to cement Dylan's reputation as a major influence in the Sixties music scene.

Here are the lyrics to Visions of Johanna, the third cut on this album. Dylan has played this song 147 times in concert, most recently in 2010 at Mashantucket CT. The first time was in White Plains, NY, Feb 5, 1966.But it's not just the lyrics, it's the way Dylan recorded them that amplified their impact. Nevertheless, you can start here, then find a performance on YouTube.

Visions Of Johanna

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin' to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind

In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the “D” train
We can hear the night watchman click his flashlight
Ask himself if it’s him or them that’s really insane
Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place

Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall
How can I explain?
Oh, it’s so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wallflower freeze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze
I can’t find my knees”
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
Sayin’, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”
But like Louise always says
“Ya can’t look at much, can ya man?”
As she, herself, prepares for him
And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes
The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

Copyright © 1966 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1994 by Dwarf Music

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Manhole Covers Placed This Afternoon On Bob Dylan Way

The occasion: Bob Dylan's 70th birthday.
The event: Two new manhole covers placed on Bob Dylan Way featuring Dylan-themed art.

A small collection of friends, family and Dylan fans assembled to watch as two artist-designed manhole covers were installed, plus a few members of the media. Mayor Don Ness and David Ross, president/CEO of the Duluth Chamber, were also present for this unusual and ground-breaking event. Mayor Ness made a few remarks at each location.

The first manhole cover to be designed was at the intersection of Bob Dylan Way (Michigan Street at this point) and Fifth Avenue East. Designed by Laurel Sanders, the concept was derived from Dylan's song "Subterranean Homesick Blues." When I listened to her speak to the camera for our local TV news, she expressed that she's been a "huge Dylan fan" since 1963.

The second manhole cover was placed on the sidewalk in front of the Fitger's Brewery complex. Mayor Ness again made remarks and the designer of this second piece, Marc Zapchenk of Shoreview, was likewise photographed and interviewed. Zapchenk's design utilizes two guitars drawn like a yin and yang symbol with the inscription, "Bob Dylan Way, Duluth Minnesota."

While waiting for the first manhole cover to be installed I overheard the parents of one of the artists exclaim regarding Mayor Ness, "He looks like a kid." Yes, indeed, he is youthful in appearance, but far smarter and wiser than his appearances belie. On the several occasions we've spoken, including a short spell while waiting for the family and fans to arrive at the second location tonight, he's clearly demonstrated the astuteness that has made him successful in a city that tends to maul its elected officials. The respect he's achieved was earned the hard way.

Interestingly enough, Bob Dylan had to earn his respect the hard way as well. The folk scene and the New York scene were as complicated as any place where power is at stake. Folk musicians were expected to churn through the deep traditions of folk to create their play lists. According to John Hammond, young Bob Dylan chose an alternate path. He wrote his songs, at an amazingly fast clip. Folk music peers were both annoyed and impressed.

This afternoon I had an opportunity to mention to several people that when I came to Duluth the papers were aflame with arguments about selecting a road to name after Bob Dylan. This political scruff went on for near two decades until Mayor Ness championed the cause and put an end to the bickering. Duluth's most famous native son deserves the recognition.

After the manhole covers were put in their places we went inside to the Red Star Lounge to sing happy birthday to Bob (whom we believed was with us in spirit) and listen to Jim Hall (right) play a sparkling set of Dylan songs in tribute. Various musicians will continue to make music til midnight, but I slipped out early. We still have a busy week ahead and I just wanted to share here some of what's happening.

Tomorrow night, there is an art opening from 6-9 at Ochre Ghost Gallery featuring Dylan-inspired art... and once again, I plan to be there. Some of it is likely to be mine.

Standing Ovation for Bastiens at Guthrie-Dylan Dinner Concert

Last night, Valentini's Italian Restaurant on London Road hosted a benefit concert for the Armory Arts & Music Center. The four-course meal was accompanied by a five-course set of music by the talented tenor/musician Bill Bastien and his gifted wife Laurie on violin. Dressed like the folk heroes of American song that they were presenting, the Bastiens gave us their hearts, thereby capturing the overflowing hearts of the great songwriters of folk.

After a few introductory remarks by Susan Phillips, president of the Armory Arts & Music Center, and the Center's VP Mark Poirer, the Bastiens brought us into the terrain of folk history with some of the songs Woody Guthrie performed in his time, beginning with 900 Miles. The Woodie Guthrie set included the Golden Anniversary Waltz, Pastures of Plenty, Do Re Mi, and Old Joe Clark.

After a scrumptious salad was served, the first Dylan set commenced.

Bastien is more than a musician. I'd heard that he is a great storyteller as well, and as you know every song has a story. The stories were as rich as the heritage from which they birthed.

Bastien's treatment of many of the songs varied, and this first Dylan set included some haunting interpretations of simple, painful songs like 500 Miles, Don't Think Twice, Just Like a Woman, and I Shall be Released.

The main course was then served, along with a wonderfully smooth wine.

When the concert first announced as part of the festivities for Duluth's Dylan Fest, I failed to make the connection between Valentini's and the fund raiser. Raising money here to renovate the Armory only made sense when you look out and see that the Armory is just across the street. Usually I am better than that at connecting the dots.

The Armory is where Bod Dylan saw Buddy Holly's second to last concert before his life ended in an Iowa plane wreck two days later. Purportedly Holly looked directly into the eyes of the young Dylan and "passed the torch" so to speak. Something clicked and Bob Dylan's life purpose was established.

The Bastiens then gave us a set from Arlo Guthrie's Americana, beginning with City of New Orleans. Little Beggar Man, Man of Constant Sorrow, The Last Train and Coming Into Los Angeles followed. Bastien, who also teaches at St. Scholastica here, enriched each song with colorful tales like kite tails streaming in an open sky.

The second Dylan set followed immediately, allowing us to enjoy the Valentini's meat ravioli with sugo, roasted Italian vegentables and bonless slow-cooked chicken breast in Rosemary win sauce. Yummmm.

The selections were interesting, and some surprising. I Ain't Got No Home, O Sister, Highway 61 Revisited, and All Along the Watchtower made for a memorable set.

After dessert and coffee we were offered up chestnuts which included, Turn, Turn, Turn.... The Water Is Wide, Blowing in the Wind, Orange Blossom Special, and a singalong This Land Is Your Land. Standing ovation followed immediately. Wonderful way to kick off a week honoring Dylan, who turns 70 today, May 24.

Happy birthday, Bob, to you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blowin' In The Wind

Ed Hilliker turned me on to Dylan. He had the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan with him on the school bus and said I should listen to it. The opening cut is Blowin' In The Wind, made popular by Peter, Paul and Mary. I was not an immediate fan. At the time I was getting hepped on the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and other rockers of the time. My first 45 was All Day and All of the Night by The Kinks.

At that point Dylan was a folk singer, and part of the coffee house scene. In his autobiography Chronicle, Dylan details the attraction to folk music. It was issues music, but also had blues and gospel influences. He dug into its depths and found the soil rich with fertile material which his imagination could work with to produce many a good crop of future songs.

One of Dylan's heroes at the time was Woody Guthrie, a folk troubadour whom Dylan idolized. Dylan claims to have originally trekked to New York to see Guthrie when he learned that Guthrie was in Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Brooklyn, dying of Huntington's disease. Though Dylan had supposedly been writing songs throughout his childhood, his first recorded original song was Song to Woody, which comes right after Freight Train Blues on Dylan's first album, Bob Dylan, 1962.

So Dylan had caught something from Woody, and Blowin' In The Wind is one of many truly great songs from Freewheelin', his second album. It's elegant simplicity is like a sleight of hand card trick. There is so much here to mull on. The tune, too, gets into you like the harmonic wave of time passing through you. At its heart the song is about injustice, but it's written in a manner that is non-incendiary. It's as if a wise man from the mountain came down and spoke to us, striving to help us see that something is wrong, the world is broken. Who will hear?

That Dylan could craft such a strong song when he was just over twenty was no doubt impressive to some, and that he could carry through with a whole album of such force was especially impressive. To this day he continues to sing Masters of War and one of the most powerful songs of the century (in my opinion) A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall.

This week is Dylan Fest in Duluth. Tonight's Guthrie-Dylan Dinner Concert is sold out or I'd invite you to join us. It's a benefit for the Armory & Arts Music Center with four course Italian dinner, wine and the music of Woody Guthrie & Bob Dylan performed by Bill Bastien & Laurie Bastien.

Blowin' In The Wind

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Copyright © 1962 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1990 by Special Rider Music

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Three Angels

This week is Dylan Fest here in Duluth and Dylan Days in Hibbing. Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Dylan, will turn 70 on Tuesday. In addition to attending a few of the festivities I will also be posting a Dylan song on my blog each day this week, or rather, I write about a song each day and share it with you along with a various Dylan portraits I've created over the past few weeks and years.

Three Angels is a cut near the end of side two on Dylan's New Morning album released in October 1970, the fall I went off to college in Ohio. His eleventh studio album, it came on the heels of his Self Portrait album which many people considered a dud. Fans of his music excused the weaker material because, we told ourselves, he was simply fulfilling a record contract.

New Morning is a personal favorite with many very special tunes on it including the song which gave the album its title. The album has a clean sound in terms of production values. And like so many of his albums, numerous songs have been re-recorded by others artists, such as "If Not For You" (George Harrison) and "Sign On The Window" (Melanie).

Perhaps my favorite cut on the album over the years has been "Went To See The Gypsy." The chord progressions and light touch instrumental serve the song well because though it is told in an anecdotal style, the lyrics remain continuously vague. Even after many listenings one can still wonder, "What just happened?"

Dylan devotes a chapter of his autobiography to this album, or the events that were stirring in him at the time. The chapter begins, "I had just returned to Woodstock from the Midwest -- from my father's funeral" whereupon he found a letter from playwright Archibald MacLeish who wanted to collaborate with him on a project based on "The Devil and Daniel Webster" called Scratch.

The songs vary greatly in terms of style. Consider the contrast between the playful "Winterlude" and jazz/scat accentuated "If Dogs Run Free." And where does "Three Angels" fit into this conglomerate? Well, in my opinion it's right where it belongs. As John Gardner once wrote, "Detail is the lifeblood of fiction." And when it comes to detail, Dylan is the master storyteller.

Three Angels

Three angels up above the street
Each one playing a horn
Dressed in green robes with wings that stick out
They’ve been there since Christmas morn

The wildest cat from Montana passes by in a flash

Then a lady in a bright orange dress
One U-Haul trailer, a truck with no wheels

The Tenth Avenue bus going west
The dogs and pigeons fly up and they flutter around

A man with a badge skips by

Three fellas crawlin’ on their way back to work

Nobody stops to ask why

The bakery truck stops outside of that fence

Where the angels stand high on their poles

The driver peeks out, trying to find one face

In this concrete world full of souls

The angels play on their horns all day

The whole earth in progression seems to pass by

But does anyone hear the music they play

Does anyone even try?

Copyright © 1970 by Big Sky Music; renewed 1998 by Big Sky Music

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Cold War

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." ~H.G. Wells

I remember a statement by C.S. Lewis that said in effect that he did not read newspapers because the things that are really happening in the world won't be written about till six months from now. To some extent he is right, and often it is much later still than six months. Some truths only come to light after decades of being kept under wraps, and for this reason we do not always fully understand the very times we live in.

This week I just finished reading Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis' The Cold War, a fascinating read because so much of it formed a backdrop for all who grew up as part of the baby boom generation of which I have been a part. It was a strange kind of war. For the first time in history, two superpowers had weapons that they were afraid to use.

Gaddis has written a half dozen books on this topic beginning with his 1972 volume on the origins of the Cold War. It's a compelling read with inside stories about things I'd only half understood.

His coverage of the Sixties was especially captivating for me, as I think many of us are still trying to understand the experience we went through while coming of age in that tumultuous time. I remember when Nixon resumed bombing of Cambodia in the early Seventies when I was at Ohio U and the protests it generated. I specifically remember when Harry Reasoner came and spoke to a packed house in the M.I.A., an auditorium on the college green. He had to use veiled language to tell us there was much to be concerned about things going on in the then-current Nixon administration. It seemed like he had so much he wanted to say but could not.

Gaddis does say it. Two months after taking office, in his very first year, Nixon began the illegal bombing of Cambodia, a neutral country in Southeast Asia. But Nixon did not tell the truth about this activity. Instead, when the N.Y. Times stated that we were bombing a neutral country, he told the people it was not true. The Cambodians knew we were bombing. The North Vietnamese knew were were bombing. China and the Soviet Union knew we were bombing. But American citizens were being kept in the dark. Why?

The result was an ever widening credibility gap between the American people and their leaders.

The Cold War is not only about the American experience, and this is its greatest strength. We also meet each of the Soviet dictators with their strengths and flaws, from Stalin to Gorbachev. How the Berlin Wall came to be erected, how the Soviet Union maintained control of the Eastern Bloc, how Mao came to power and how China evolved to the power it is today, and how the Wall came down.... it's all discussed in a vivid manner that bring new gems to light.

There were many insights I had not heard before. How Nixon and Kissinger were able to open up trade relations with Mao's China was fascinating. Mao made an interesting comment that he liked (American) conservatives because even though he did not agree with them, they said what they meant, whereas our liberals said one thing and did another.

What was especially interesting is how the dictators of many smaller powers used the Cold War to their own advantage by playing one power off against the other. "Help me or I will join their side." In this manner many dictators were able to consolidate their power within a defined sphere.

The development of thermonuclear weapons brought the world into a pretty scary place. To think that mutual assured destruction could be a legitimate peace-keeping strategy seems almost insane, yet it worked. It's hard to say what our future holds since many of these weapons remain, but the rules have changed. Let's hope and pray that wisdom prevails.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Red Interactive: Call to Artists

"Red is..."

Red Interactive is seeking contributions in all media from all over the world for a virtual show which will also intersect with the three dimensional time-space continuum that is our history. The two month "show" will be assembled in a non-traditional, public space.

Red Interactive is an experimental art initiative conceived by John Heino and myself.

The physical component of Red Interactive aims to open in July or August of 2011 in Superior, Wisconsin (specific date and location TBA). At each of three events, red-themed art and found objects will be collaboratively arranged in a 3D composition within the physical space. Each event will also feature red-themed performances (music, dance, poetry, etc.). Parallel to the physical show, space and performances, Red Interactive will have a virtual space on Facebook and through a full array of online channels such as Twitter and blogs. Some elements will move back and forth between physical and virtual Red Interactive spaces. This is open architecture.

All artists are welcome and invited to participate as well as creative thinkers and people who simply enjoy art--particularly experimental projects. The only boundary is that this is a public arts project, so we ask that all physical and virtual contributions are appropriate for public display.

A lot of art has gone beyond the fringe of audience comprehension--elitist, arcane, inaccessible, inside jokes. One antidote to elitism is engagement--hence the "Interactive" in our Red Interactive project.

"Red" is a trigger and a theme. It could have been "blue" or "farm animals" or "show tunes for $100." The trigger/theme merely presents the first thread from which the ultimate tapestry is woven into fractals of infinity. Why red? Because it has such a rich array of connotations -- passion, danger, romance, intrigue and the like.

Will you join us?

Next Step
Three things you can do.... or rather, four.

First, follow us on Facebook. See what is happening, how it's evolving. Second, contribute. Whether you are from India or Spain, Colombia, Kenya or Turkey, share your Red and what red means to you. Third, share Red Interactive with your friends, and your friends' friends You can even download the QR Code above and email it to them. And finally, make suggestions so we can make transform this project into an ever living project that spreads across every boundary that separate human hearts. Let red fill the world with connections that touch us all and link us all.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Local Musicians and Artists Featured at Dylan Fest

Bob Dylan has a song on his Saved album titled "Are You Ready." In April, when the call went out that the new Ochre Ghost Art Gallery was looking for art featuring or inspired by Bob Dylan, I was ready. For some reason I have done at least fifteen or more Dylan portraits and quite a few other pieces triggered by songs like Desolation Row and Visions of Johanna. Eight of the portraits were subsequently accepted for the show at Ochre Ghost. Though I'm not sure how many will be on display, I do know it will be an interesting show, including the mosaic Bust of Dylan by Virginia's Nancy Miller, which is pretty darn cool.

This week's Wave in the Duluth News Tribune had a fun article this morning titled Tangled up in Dylan: Artists, writers and musicians celebrate inspirations of the Northland’s native son. The subhead reads, "A week’s worth of celebrations surrounding singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday are on tap in Duluth and Hibbing." And indeed, there will be a lot on tap here next week.

This is the first year in which Duluth has pulled out all the stops, I think. There has always been a lot of Dylan-themed music during the week of May 24th (Robert Zimmerman's birthday in 1941.) But for quite a few years the real Dylan Days took place in Hibbing, and if you've never been to Zimmy's there its a treat all Dylan fans owe to themselves.

When Christa Lawler, journalist for the Trib who covers the local arts scene here, asked me Tuesday evening what it is about Dylan that has inspired so many paintings, I mentioned his influence, his music, his songs, etc. But last night over dinner it dawned on me that there's another reason, too. He just has an interesting face.

I myself am looking forward to the Ochre Ghost opening just to see what else will be on display. It's not a large gallery space, but Ochre Ghost has been making a big impression. (Tip your hat to Jessica and Calvin.) The opening will be Wednesday the 25th, and it's just around the corner from the Zeitgeist Cafe and Zinema Theatre, which will be showing two Dylan films that night. The gallery is half-way up the avenue from Superior Street on the right hand side and I'm looking forward to seeing you there.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

15th Annual Battle of the Jugbands Coming Soon

It's that time of year. The end of May means a lot of things for a lot of people. Memorial Day weekend, Indianapolis 500, Dylan Days (Hibbing) and Dylan Fest (Duluth), and here in the Twin Ports it's the annual Battle of the Jugbands.

Hard to believe we're seeing the fifteenth year of The Battle. Presented by Coho Hand Cream for Men and Icehouse Studios, the Battle of the Jug Bands will be held once more at the Amazing Grace Cafe in Duluth's Canal Park from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. May 29. There will also be a Jug Band Preview Jam the night before from 7:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., so there will be plenty of music to enjoy.

The Battle was essentially the brain child of Elliot Silberman who seems to have two great passions in life, music and fishing. (He's also an artist.) Even though there is no experience required to be part of the jug band experience, Elliot probably has six decades of experience making music and is a talent musician in his own right. I would not be surprised to learn he formed his first music group before elementary school, talking his friends into playing spoons, bowls and bicycle spokes.

The invitation has gone out into the music community from Blind Willie inviting one and all to form a band to compete in the annual Battle Winner of the event will walk away with the travelling Yid-wegian Krumkake Iron, a greatly coveted prize here in the Northland. Your band will have its name engraved on this trophy, no doubt equivalent in value to having a Super Bowl ring in another well known competition.

Jugband music is essentially poor man's jazz. Instruments range from washtub bass, kazoos and spoons to saw, pots, pans and other kitchen utensils. Traditional instruments all join in accompaniment, including harmonicas, guitars, mandolin, fiddles and even an occasional clarinet or trombone. Oh yes, and of course there are the jugs.

So... spread the word. It's doesn't take much to form a band. Elliot will even furnish your band with wash tub bass, jug and washboard players. Each band will have twenty minutes to wow the crowd which assembles here like the mob that awaits Punxsutawney Phil to do his thing on groundhog day.

PHOTO Captions
Top, L to R: De Elliot Bros. in 2009 Christmas show at Amazing Grace
Left: Elliot in his Studio.
Right bottom: Elliot and Ted making some lovely sounds.

For more information visit Icehouse Studios at www.ElliotBrothers.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ten Minutes with the Young Creative Rob Kaiser-Schatzlein

This past week Ochre Ghost Gallery hosted a show called Black and White featuring the work of a number of young local photographers here in Duluth. One of the artists I met at the opening was Rob Kaiser-Schatzlein with whom I had an engaging conversation. A recent grad of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, his studies have included painting, drawing and printmaking.

The "Artist Statement" which accompanies his online gallery begins like this:

It is never just one thing; there is no answer. My work is a demonstration, the evidence of an intentional process. The subject of my artwork could pertain to anything, but this certainly does not mean it pertains to everything. Meaning is a bound infinity, like the hypothetical space between the number 1 and the number 2. Simply put: I’ll make the object, we’ll make the idea.

I was confident that were i to interview him, it would make for an interesting conversation. Here's how it unfolded.

Ed Newman: When did you first take an interest in art? Who were your early influences?
Rob K-S: I first got serious about art in the second semester of college. I took a painting class that taught me more about drawing in the first hour than I had in any other class or school. I also met my friend Jennie Lennick at that same time and she showed me what it meant to be serious about art. Anything previous to that was things that cumulatively prepared me for a more focused path and specific trajectory, but I don't really count that stuff.

EN: Who have been your biggest influences in recent years?
Rob K-S: I am generally influenced by the artist I have purposefully or accidentally ended up researching a lot. I think that once you have immersed yourself with enough information about something you can't help but love it, and then in turn be influenced by it. The way I see it, it's a little like intellectually Stockholm Syndrome. For example, I was never that into Willem de Kooning's work until I read his biography by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swanson. Now I love de Kooning, and often get caught up thinking about small sections of his life for days. Same thing goes for looking at work. I have looked at so much of Sigmar Polke's work in reproduction, museums, and online that I cannot help but fold it into my everyday life at this point.

When it comes to other people and more specifically artists, I am influenced by specific working practices. Daniel Coffeen runs a blog called The Empathic Umph that I really enjoy. He produces a ton of writing, and is often riffing on one idea over the course of many essays. His work ethic for something that has no financial or socially defined goals is impressive. I am always curious about what a certain person possesses inside of them to create lots of work.

EN: In what ways are art professors similar and dissimilar from other professors you've studied under?
Ron K-S: While the university has remained relatively unchanged since its inception, art professors have always been a little off. For the most part, they are a breed of people who craved some kind of freedom and somewhere along the way ended up teaching. Some love the job, and others clearly don't. But I am sure that happens in every college as well. Art seems to be one of the few fields where the research element of being a professor never required the professor to have the facilities of an institution. At least that is my opinion. Artists can practice at home sometimes, when Biologists rarely have that opportunity. I suppose in this way, all of the professors from other departments seem to have been destined for their jobs and it is a perfect fit for their more academic interests.

EN: You mention in your artist statement that you have an unbound curiosity about things. From whence does this curiosity arise, and where will it take you?
Rob K-S: What I hope is that that curiosity forces me to keep working for my whole life; not becoming boring and apathetic can hopefully be abated by curiosity. But I can't tell you where it comes from. I guess I should qualify this last statement by saying that I don't think it is a mystical force. I just don't find it too important for myself to figure out the mechanisms of curiosity, it's too metaphysical. Maybe a specific question about a specific thing that I have a specific curiosity in could be investigated. I only have experienced a form of obsessive curiosity multiple times in myself so I feel somewhat justified saying it exists in me.

EN: What's the meaning behind your series titled The Rules Keep Changing?
Rob K-S: I guess I just kept thinking that while I was making the work. It was applicable and I truly believe it. I do believe in rules, firmly so.
But I also believe that life requires us to engage with rules, so we can weed out the unfair ones and proliferate the productive ones. When I draw, I am constantly bumping up against my own self-imposed set of rules. I often don't even know why they exist. For instance, I always think "I have to center it" and if not that "It should be symmetrical" and if not that "it should have equal dimensions" and if not that "it should look clean and not dirty" and so on. What happened with that series was that every time I caught myself imposing a rule, I would augment it. I didn't want to destroy the rule or do the opposite of the rule, but instead change it so there would be a new rule. That kind of thinking is good for me because it demands an engagement with the work, but doesn't force me to do anything that will slow me down. I like working quickly and also want the rules to keep changing so I have to create new strategies all the time. This kind of engagement is fun!

There has been a misdirected debate in contemporary culture about who we are fighting and where this fight is supposed to happen. I think that this very ambiguous question is exactly the problem. The only concrete thing that we consistently and concretely relate to is ourselves, and thus begins to be the site for potential change. If you continue to change the rules about how your body works in the world, you can become many people with many different potential trajectories. This is an exciting thought for me.

EN: What is the role of art in our 21st century culture? Is there anyone today whose influence is such that in forty years their work will be worth the millions of dollars that Warhol and Picasso pieces obtain today from collectors?
Rob K-S: I think it is a pretty common sentiment that we need to start being good to our neighbors. Or at least the people who are both physically and metaphysically close to us. I believe these people are the ones I can actually make an impact on. And this doesn't mean they are the ones I am making the work for, just that they are more important to me or at least are of great consequence. I think that the world needs people who care, and on a basic level that is it. I want to be one of those people and hopefully demonstrate that in my community. I don't think people can learn much without seeing it play out or immediately experience it themselves. Which is not to say I'm into some kind of "Bring The War Home" Weather Underground thing. But I think any field has the potential to affect the world, Art just happens to be the one I like and can do the most efficiently. I don't think Art is very unique.

EN: Any other comments you want to make on the "art scene"?
Rob K-S: I don't feel like I know anything about an art scene primarily because I live in Duluth, Minnesota. I just feel that I don't ever want to become bitter and jaded about the whole thing as many hundreds of people have. I will do my best to avoid that, which I think means staying as self-involved as possible for as long as feasible.

You can see more of Rob's art and ideas at www.RobKS.com
Check out Rob's blog at this URL.