Saturday, October 1, 2016

Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A Music History Lesson

Earlier this week I received an unexpected surprise. A friend had sent me a copy of the book Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats. I don't recall what my plans were for the evening Tuesday because once I began reading I was unable to put it down till it was complete.

The book is a synopsis of a current exhibit that has been on display in Nashville since the spring of 2015, running thru the end of this year. It's a tribute to the studio musicians of Nashville and a story about their influence, in large part as a result of the catalyst role of Bob Dylan, though you might say the key ingredient was Charlie McCoy.... or was it Bob Johnston. Hmmm. When you step back and consider the alignment of the stars, including the mutual admiration of Johnny Cash and Dylan, it really seems like the magic was serendipitous.

This book -- or rather, the exhibit -- tells the story of how the Nashville music scene blossomed in the late Sixties and early Seventies as a result of a few key trigger events. One of these was the decision by Bob Dylan to record Blonde on Blonde in Nashville.

The exhibit opens with a brief biographical section on Dylan’s career prior to his 1966 arrival in Nashville and on the events that drew him to Music City. To record his album Highway 61 Revisited, in 1965, Dylan was in New York working with producer Bob Johnston, a former Nashville resident. Johnston often had hired multi-instrumentalist Charlie McCoy to lead sessions in Nashville. At Johnston’s invitation, McCoy visited one of Dylan’s New York sessions and was asked to play guitar on “Desolation Row.”

McCoy impressed Dylan with his musicianship, and Johnston urged Dylan to record in Nashville, where there were many other skilled musicians. Dylan took Johnston’s advice; he came to Nashville in February 1966 to make the recordings that would become Blonde on Blonde. The album is considered one of the great achievements of Dylan’s career and a benchmark of American popular music.*

Whether you're a Dylan fan, Johnny Cash fan or a country music fan, the book is full of enough anecdotes and stories that you're bound to learn a few things you didn't already know. For me, the big "Aha" was the question I'd always wondered about as to why Dylan abandoned the recording of Blonde On Blonde in New York and headed to Nashville in the first place. Fans all know how he was trying to get that "thin, wild mercury sound" as legends recall it. But why couldn't he find it with his backing band The Hawks who did the world tour with him? Why did he leave most of his troop behind?

Well, the answer isn't blowing in the wind. It's right here in this book.

The Hawks, a.k.a. The Band, were performers first and foremost. You can read Levon Helm's This Wheel's On Fire to get the incredible story of how these guys developed their stage style, riling audiences and blistering paint wherever they assembled. But they were not a studio band. Studio work is a whole different animal. They were skilled at reading audiences, responding to the room, and that's not what studio work is all about.

Dylan recognized this, and his brief experience with Charlie McCoy gave him an inkling that there might be some alternative means of getting the tracks on his head transferred to acetate. Producer Bob Johnston became the conduit and, as they say, the rest is history.

Dylan recorded three albums in Nashville. In addition to Blonde On Blonde, he also cut John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline there, albums completely against the current of what was then happening in the pop scene. Even though acid rock and heavy metal were transforming the culture elsewhere, serious musicians were paying attention to what Dylan was doing. The Nashville Cats exhibit not only showcases the musicians who made up this respected circle, but is also a virtual who's who of stars who made a trek to Nashville. Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Michael Nesmith, Leon Russell, Eric Andersen, Joan Baez, and Johnny Winter are just a few of the names that passed this way. Even three of the Beatles recorded albums here. After the breakup George Harrison made a call with the result being his famous triple album All Things Must Pass. Ringo came next and then Paul.

The exhibit runs through the end of this year, so you still have a few months left to drop in at the Country Music Hall of Fame and take it in. If this isn't in the cards for you, you can still order this rich collection of stories from behind the scenes and get your heart warmed.

Much more could be said (e.g. Johnny Cash won a Grammy for his liner notes on Nashville Skyline), but you can read it yourself if you get the book. Or you can bookmark the website.*

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MEANTIME, here in the Northland we're celebrating the 25th Anniversary of John Bushey's KUMD program Highway 61 Revisited. This special event, to be held on October 15 at The Rex in Fitger's, will not only have a great evening of music, there will also be some rare Dylan-themed memorabilia sold in a silent auction fund-raiser (to cover expenses of the night and see money for the 2017 Duluth Dylan Fest.) One very special item of note: Bob himself personally signed a copy of his Highway 61 Revisited album and sent it this past week for the occasion. (Count your pesos! It might end up yours.)

Magic Marc Percansky, the inimitable Paul Metsa (Wall of Power Radio Hour) and others will be part of the evening, which will include music from The Freewheelers and Cowboy Angel Blue. (i.e. lots of Dylan music!)

Tickets are cheap. I hope we'll see you there. (Link to Tickets.)

* Read more: Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Nod to One of the Great Ones: Arnold Palmer R.I.P.

"Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated." ~Arnold Palmer  

This past weekend we lost one of the great ones. Arnold Palmer was a gentleman and a golfer. I spent the week trying to determine how to acknowledge his passing in a blog post, and decided to simply share a few Arnold Palmer quotes.

When Palmer was in his prime (1958-1964) he won seven major titles including four Masters, one U.S. Open and two British Opens. For the duration of his career he had a following known as "Arnie's Army" and with 62 PGA Tour victories was one of the winningest pro golfers of all time. (He actually won 93 tournaments worldwide.) But it was his probably his modesty and charisma that made him so beloved.

My dad was a big Arnold Palmer fan, following him up close at a few tournaments as part of his "Army." Anecdotally, it's interesting to note that before Palmer turned pro in 1954 he was selling paint in Cleveland, Ohio. My dad at that time was a chemist for a paint company in Cleveland.

My brother Ron and his wife joined Dad to see Palmer play on the Senior Tour once when they were near Allentown, a memorable occasion. It's probably comparable to saying you saw Mickey Mantle in baseball, or Jimmy Brown in football.

Here's a handful of Arnold Palmer quotes to mark the occasion. Palmer was 87 when he left us last Sunday evening.

"What other people may find in poetry, I find in the flight of a good drive.”

“Concentration comes out of a combination of confidence and hunger."

"Success in this game depends less on strength of body than strength of mind and character."

"The more I practice, the luckier I get."

"You must play boldly to win."

“Putting is a fascinating, aggravating, wonderful, terrible and almost incomprehensible part of the game of golf.”

“When I was in college, I thought about becoming an attorney. But I wasn't smart enough; I hate being cooped up indoors; and I'm too nice a guy.”

About Palmer another of the great ones who was his peer and arch-rival Jack Nicklaus once said, "Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself."

Check out this New York Times slide show to learn more about this inspiring golfer.

Shortly after Palmer's ashes were spread at his Latrobe, PA country club, a beautiful rainbow appeared.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Quick Peek at What's New with AmyLee

My first interview with the young French painter AmyLee took place in 2008 as she was just beginning her career. I encountered her colorful paintings by means of social media and shared what she was doing here. This past week I reached out to see where her colorful images had propelled her and find she has continued to produce plenty of work in her distinctive style. Here's a snapshot of what's new with AmyLee, eight years down the road.

EN: What attracted you to working in acrylics?

AmyLee: I work quite fast and my technique has to work out as fast as me as well. Acrylic is perfect in that case!

EN: When did you begin making a living as a painter?

AmyLee: I’m a professional visual artist since 2008. You can visit my website

EN: How do you decide what you will paint next? Where do your ideas come from?

AmyLee: Ideas come from everywhere: at my studio, in the street, in a book, in a magazine, on TV, on computer…

EN: What is the Paris art scene like in 2016? 

AmyLee: I live near London now. I have more opportunities with UK galleries. You can find the official list of my Galleries at

EN: What new things have you learned in the past few years?

AmyLee: To build its own art business is a hard path and passion is the best cheerleader ever!

EN: Have you ever shown your work in the U.S.?

AmyLee: Yes, four years ago in group art show with Robert Lange Studios in Charleston, SC 29401

EN: Any advice for young artists trying to get an art career started?

AmyLee: Don’t be afraid of working and working again, and still working hard on your inspiration and creation but also on the web communication which is a tool very important nowadays.

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Amylee shared this video teaser about her new website:

And a little something more to close....

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Local Art Seen: Checking In with Twin Ports Painter Brent Kustermann

Brent Kustermann's current show at the Duluth Art Institute is titled From the Basement. His paintings defy easy definition. He works in a variety of mediums that include found objects in addition to paints and pigment on canvas. Kustermann considers it to be the duty of an artist to bring a unique perspective to the world, a process “never fully mastered.” I became aware of his paintings through a number of exhibition in 2014.

EN: You state that the duty of the artist is to bring a unique perspective to the world one lives in. What is your "unique perspective"?

Brent Kustermann: I feel that the world of art is positioned within the individual. For me, it is highly personalized and internalized. It is a deeply subconscious endeavor relying on intuition as a guide to produce the picture. Within the realm of art the individual is increasingly demystifying their own mythology only for a deeper wonder toward creation. The evolution of thought and integration of the psyche allow for the perpetual discovery of self and creation while attempting to thwart the ego. This is what makes my art unique.

EN: What prompted you to pursue a career as an artist?

BK: Art has always been a large part of my life. I have often questioned whether or not I chose to be a painter or if it chose me. There have been attempts to put aside the notion of painting throughout my life and this has proved futile. The desire to make paintings becomes a nagging necessity and the only way to quell that desire is to give into it fully and get into the studio and work. With regard to making art a career it seemed evident that I really could not have hundreds of paintings lying around the house. In the past few years if have also taken myself and my work more serious. I have decided to focus on bigger venues to exhibit including quality galleries, art institutes, and the like.

EN: Tell us about your process of making paintings and how do you know when a piece is finshed?

BK: The process of creating paintings for me involves a fairly abstract idea that I mull over for awhile. Sometimes I will sketch and continue to let the ideas take some form that I can attack. For example, in ‘Lung/Lago’, I was thinking about the great lake we live next to and I was thinking of how we as a human race take these things for granted. That moved onto the idea of fish and how they are being fed our pollutants. That moved into the idea about the US Army dumping those mystery barrels into the lake. So, before I digress too much, I will have a bunch of semi¬abstract ideas and then start working and reworking sometimes covering a composition completely looking for the feeling and aesthetic quality that will satisfy those abstract ideas. And, I am not looking for ready made ‘pretty’ pictures. I am attempting to capture the essence of the abstract and the painting is complete when it decides to be complete.

EN: Who have been your biggest influences?

BK: My influences are many. The German Expressionist and Viennese Actionist have a heavy emotion that I truly appreciate for its raw and emotional force. The Abstract Expressionist have a heavy influence on me. The ability to really let the power of self¬expression loose is what is so seductive about that school along with a desire to obtain the sublime. And then there is Picasso’s ability to create massive movements and then just as easily leave them behind for the next.

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From the Basement will be on display at the DAI through November 6 in the galleries on the 4th floor of the Depot.

TONIGHT there will be an artist talk at 5:30 featuring the three artists currently on display -- Brent Kustermann, Adam McAuley and David Asher Everett. The talk will begin at 5:30 p.m.

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Brief Visit with Sculptor David Asher Everett

David Asher Everett is one of three artists currently exhibiting at the Duluth Art Institute. The title of his show is Rust and Flow and can bee seen in the John Steffl Gallery from now till November 6. You can also hear him talk about his work tomorrow evening at 5:30 p.m. as part of an artist talk featuring he and the two other currently exhibiting artists, Brent Kustermann and Adam McCauley.

I met David Everett through our mutual involvement with Duluth Dylan Fest. Everett produced the manhole covers that were placed on Bob Dylan Way on Dylan's 70th birthday five years ago. It's interesting that Dylan himself is recycling scrap to produce metal sculpture art these days.

Here are some insights about David Everett and his work.

EN: How did you come to take an interest in sculpture in general and casting in various metals specifically?

David A. Everett: I became a sculptor by accident, I actually focused on photography and drawing as an undergrad. Drawing and photography remain foundations for my sculptural work. I actually have a large photography piece in progress, and look forward exhibiting it somewhere in the near future.

EN: Sculpture involves a lot more process than drawing. Can you describe how you made the Trash Fish pieces currently on display?

DAE: My attraction to metal casting is probably due to my love of process. I was a science nerd in high school, especially loving labs. Photography (black and white) came naturally, as it is actually produced in a lab and you go through all of these steps and make a lot of decisions along the way to get a finished product, after all the camera/environmental/light work. This being said, the digital process kind of ruined it for me...... too easy and immediate. Of course, less toxic chemicals is a good thing. Metal casting is much the same as old fashioned photography, you start with an idea, make a prototype, figure out how to mold it, how to vent it, how to get the metal to fill it, acquire and manipulate materials. Its a great exercise in physics. My favorite part of the process is the physical nature of casting, swinging a hammer, breaking up old radiators, fuel coke, etc... and the camaraderie of getting together for a week or two with like minded folks, helping each other to carry out our visions.

EN: Most if not all of your work is created from recycled materials. Where do you find these raw materials?

DAE: The Trash Fish are an ongoing project of mine. It begins with collecting actual garbage from Lake Superior and its tributaries. Sadly, I pick up a lot more trash than I actually use. I then manipulate (cut, bend) and arrange the trash on boards to forms resembling aquatic creatures. I fasten the creatures to the board with staples and screws. After that, I build a box around them with a release agent such as talc, powdered graphite or silicon. Into the box I pour fine sand with a salt based resin and catalyst, ramming it to get all the fine details. When the sand/resin mixture is cured, I flip the box, pull out the trash, and if its really thick, I'll use clay to desired thickness and ram the other side in the same fashion. This makes a sand mold between 100 and 500 pounds in which to pour the iron. If I'm able to do just one side, I can just pour the iron directly in, two sided molds require sprews and vents drilled and arranged in such a manner as to let the ~2500 degree iron to travel through and fill completely. I also sort the trash appropriately to recycle as much as possible. We get our iron from old radiators out of buildings, mainly. If any plumbers out there have any to get rid of.... we can always use 'em. We manually break them up with sledge hammers to chunks about the size of tortilla chips.

EN: What inspired you to study at the U of Birmingham and what did you take away from that experience?

DAE: I attended university in England initially through the study abroad programme at UMD, for a year and returned to Birmingham (and spent a lot of time on the Cornish coast, as well) at intervals less than three months at a time (due to visa restrictions) and finances allowed after completing my BFA. Having grown up in Duluth, I didn't appreciate it until living away for some time. Birmingham was my escape at age 19, at the time I thought I'd be a failure in life if I ended up in Duluth as an adult. Through my time in the UK, cultural experiences and travels more afar, I came to appreciate Duluth. That being said, I still get "itchy feet" and need time away a couple times a year.

EN: How much of your work is at the Franconia Sculpture Park? How did this art park get birthed and how did you get involved?

DAE: Franconia was birthed from the hard work and vision of some great artists just over twenty years ago, namely John Hock, who still runs the show. I became involved there when I was one of the iron artists in 2007. I don't currently have any work on display at Franconia. I had a piece there for a couple years (2007-2009) in the rotating iron artist area. I have plans for a large piece at Franconia, and hope to get my proposal accepted. Stay tuned on that. I usually do an iron pour or two every year at Franconia, but usually I just arrive with a small mold and my share of broken iron to help with the actual pour, which takes four to ten hours. I spend most of my time at a pour on the ladle or the top of the furnace charging fuel and iron, and keeping an eye on and communicating with the person in charge of the furnace on what she unable to see.

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The Duluth Art Institute is a gift to this community. Take advantage of your next trip to the library by walking across the street to see what's on display on the fourth floor of the Depot.

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

A New Thought About Time -- Rolling the Past, Present and Future Into One

I had a new thought this weekend. It flowed out of a quote that went something like this: "The future is the past unfrozen."

As I reflected on this notion, however, I couldn't help but think about the behavior of water in its different states. I liked the idea that our past was frozen, and I thought about how water freezes below a specific temperature. But once it is unfrozen it can also be altered yet again when you boil it or heat it above 212 degrees F. It becomes an invisible gas at that point.

It's interesting that time therefore has three phases: past, present and future. Likewise water has three phases: solid, liquid and gas.

What we see when we apply this notion to time is that all of time is a unity, but it is experienced in different forms. Try as we might, we can't alter the past. Our achievements and mistakes leave a permanent record. They are frozen in time. Our present, on the other hand, is fluid. This fluid present is where we live and experience life. The future is invisible. It is so unformed it cannot be seen, like unpolluted air.

If the whole of time is one unit, then this would explain how God can be described as being the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and be both simultaneously. Some people see a fatalism inherent in God knowing the end from the beginning, but the paradox is this: the present is ever fluid until it is past. Because the present is fluid, anything is possible. It's up to us to decide "what next." Our decisions today will determine what will be frozen in time tomorrow.

* * * *
Is it true that what will be will be? What will be is up to us. Is the future inevitable? Yes, but only after it has been frozen in the past.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Catching Up with Artist Carla Hamilton

This month Carla Hamilton's work has been on display at The Red Mug in Superior. Her next show will be at the Duluth Art Institute in February. It seemed like a good time to catch up and see what else is happening in her world.

Sunday afternoon we met for a bit at Beaners in West Duluth. She began with a re-cap of her summer. "I was in Detroit this summer and fell in love with Detroit. There was art everywhere. We did AirBnB.... Madison, Ann Arbor, Detroit and the U.P. ... It was beautiful everywhere," she said, describing some of what she experienced including some spectacular murals. From here I got a preview of her upcoming DAI show.

"My next show is at the DAI in February, a collection of episodes that started when I was profiled last spring by the Duluth police," Hamilton explained. "I got stopped for 'walking while black' on Superior Street. This show reflects my feelings about what happened."

The aim of this show is not to bash the police, she said. "My goal of this show is not to bash the police. My goal is to create uncomfortable conversations and create dialogue. We can't change things if we don't talk about it." True dialogue, however, makes us uncomfortable.

What I found especially intriguing is that Carla did not just accept what happened. She took action to make this into a learning opportunity for the police. "I have since had mediation and good open dialogue. I felt heard. Most of the police involved were open to critique."

Two of the piece that are currently on display at her Red Mug exhibition reflect the new direction she is taking with her art. Carla Hamilton had been living in the Washing Studios initially when she returned to the U.S. from Germany, but now lives in a house in the East Hillside area. "I have a house now but don't have the space (for making art). I'm working in my garage." When I ask what she's currently working on, she replies, "I currently have some old maps. I'm doing a lot of prep and organizing things. I have 600 slides from one source and am using these for ideas. I don't know what I'm going to do yet but am letting them percolate.

"Making frames and stretching canvas... Getting bloody knuckles." Laughs, shows me her hands.

Her theme at this time is, Hate Equals Fear, Fear Equals Hate.

"You don't have to do anything wrong to get arrested," she said. "I get stereotyped all the time."

"How are you addressing this in your art?" I ask.

"I'm hoping to create a dialogue. Maybe it will offend you or maybe not, but I'm going to put it on the table."

She's hoping to throw a little humor into it, which will "hopefully make it easier to approach or discuss it. Topics included prohibition, opioids, the stereotypes we have with each other. These assumptions we have... disadvantaged or successful.... assumptions about people that are all wrong."

"How did living in Germany change how you see America?" I ask.

"That's a loaded question. It made me see that a lot of Americans live in a bubble," Hamilton replied. "A lot of Americans feel really self-righteous and entitled."

Her upcoming show came about like this. "I approached Annie Dugan when the Gorilla Girls were here. I had a piece in the Great Hall and we talked... and I wrote a small proposal and now we're here."

The racism she has experienced is not readily observed. "I grew up in Wrenshall and we had to be friends or you didn't have friends. The racism here resulted in getting beat up... I would get spit on with parents around. Even as bad as I was treated it was nothing compared to what I saw with Native Americans and how they were treated." Can we fix it?

"We can start to. You can be yourself and work on yourself and hopefully that will work out. I try to model it for my son, and am willing to say, 'That was wrong.' It's hard to be hated." She followed this with stories told about being typecast, about stereotyping... "Everyone wants to put you in a drawer. I don't like being defined this way."

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I, for one, am looking forward to Carla Hamilton's upcoming show at the Duluth Art Institute. If you are here in the Twin Ports, Carla's work current work is on display at Red Mug in Superior. I would encourage you to take a lunch there sometime this week and enjoy the great salads, sandwiches, wraps and soups. Special thanks to Suzanne for her support of the arts.

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