Thursday, January 29, 2015

It Is Time To Get Tired (A Poem)

On this day in history....
~William McKinley was born in 1846. He would become the first U.S. president to ride in an automobile.
~Stanley Kubrick's Cold War farce Dr. Strangelove (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) was released.
~The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe, was published.
~Five years ago today I wrote a blog entry about making lists.

Many years ago Susie and I bought a wonderful addition to our home, a book titled The Book of the Sandman and the Alphabet of Sleep. We got it because we loved the artwork of its illustrator, Rien Poortvliet. If you have young ones or grandchildren, this is a really special book.

Sleep is one of those things that is precious to us. And on occasion it eludes us. We all have our techniques to acquire the rest we covet. But when counting sheep and all else fails... then what? Here is a poem that sprang to mind one recent evening.


It’s Time To Get Tired 

Why is it that our bodies wake at the same precise moment
our alarms have instructed and trained us to.
Even when we travel two time zones West, the inner alarm
kicks us awake in our regular time-zoned moment, unfooled by geography.

Yet when night falls, too often we’re wired.
Our batteries refuse to discharge their strength.
Why does my body not understand? It’s time to get tired.

O Sleep, where art thou my lost friend?

I walk like a ghost through the rooms of my house
hoping to catch a glimpse of you
hiding behind a curtain, or a chair.
But you’re not there, or here, or there. Or there.

I leave the house in the deep of night, longing for your embrace.
Come back, Friend. Why did I ever take you for granted?

The hours glide by and I wait for you like a Lover.
I long to lose myself in you.

Our relationship is impossible. When I hear you approach,
when I sense you drawing near my heart races,
but when I make the slightest move in your direction you flee.
Why do you continually break my heart?

I track you like a bloodhound, with longing, driven by your scent.
Why must you continuously remain on the run?
Come home to me. I’m pleading now. Quit breaking my heart.

There are no more sheep to count. They’ve been scattered by wolves.
There are no more logs to saw. My imagination has been deforested.

e.n. 2015

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When all else fails, try a book.  :-)


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Things I've learned while covering the Twin Ports arts scene these past few years

Just under three years ago Bob Boone, publisher of the Reader, asked if I wouldn't mind writing a column pertaining to the arts. I was already writing about the local arts scene and interviewing artists here at Ennyman's Territory, so it wasn't going to be much of a deviation from many of my routines.

Near the end of 2014 I decided to hang up my spurs, or whatever it is that writers hang up when they move on. Nevertheless, I still desired to write a summing up of things I learned through this experience, which I may still attempt sometime. Here are a few notes I scribbled as I reflected on this matter.

* * * *

1. There is no single source that will keep you informed regarding everything that is happening in the Twin Ports arts scene. The Trib used to have a section called The Wave on Thursdays (and sometimes Fridays) which is now under a new name but serves the same function of identifying some of what is happening. The Reader lists galleries and has a calendar, but that is limited as well. The Transistor also fills a few holes.

2. What happened to the original mission of the Twin Ports Arts Align? This is a much longer discussion than I have time to explore here, but it's worth pursuing sometime. The Twin Ports Arts Align Facebook page is also a good place to learn some of what is happening here.

3. Duluth Grille's Tom Hanson not only does all he can to support sustainability and use local sources for the food he serves, he’s also a supporter of the local arts community. There are an increasing number of venues that will share the work of local artists on their walls, but Hanson goes further. He purchases the work of local artists and helps service the economic well-being of the arts community.

4. There are a lot of creative people here. Many are quietly active in ways you don't really notice. Some exceptional artists who would do well in many other places, but have chosen to live here. The natural beauty of our region is one of the reasons I believe many artists are here.

5. The schools -- UWS and UMD -- have been very influential. Once you start paying attention you begin to see the influence of certain professors with regard to the style of their former students' work.

6. There is more happening than most people are aware of. Once you do become aware of it you start to feel like something "big" is happening. But then, what is big? What do we really expect. For sure, something good is happening. We have a vibrant arts community.

7. Most artists do something else for a living. They will keep being creative because it is a passion, whether it becomes financially viable or not.

8. There seems a need for people on both sides of the bridge to cross it more often.

7. Tourist art and wall art for nursing homes is valuable. There are all kinds of reasons to paint, and it does not have to be "to become a famous artist." It can be simply to make a wall more interesting, comforting, etc.

8. Seems like there's an unusually vibrant poetry scene here. Is this something that is happening everywhere?

9. The Ballet, Symphony and Playhouse get more press because they have staff that write press releases.

10. I see reviews of plays, but can't recall ever having seen a review of an art show. (Someone will send me a link and make me eat my words on that, I suppose.)

11. Confirmed what I believe about creativity being an innate part of being human, but some people lack experience with regard to using art materials etc. which is why we need to keep art in the schools.

12. The Tweed Museum and Duluth Art Institute offer opportunities to see a lot of really wonderful work. I believe both resources are great for the community, and underutilized. Spread the word!

13. There is substantially more talent here than most people realize.

14. There are more venues where artists can show their work than you can shake a stick at. It's a very long list and there are probably many more I'm not aware of. And many that just emerged in the past three years.

* * * *

Call for Artists
Nora Fie, manager of children's and yong adult services at the Superior Public Library, is reminding artists that this year’s Love your Local Artist will be on Friday, February 13th from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Please let Nora know as soon as possible if you plan to participate.

As a fund raiser for the library, they now charge $20.00 for a table/display space or you can donate a piece of your work to their Silent Auction. This is an event where you can sell your work, so please have contact information available. Donations and/or the $20.00 are due by Friday, February the 6th. For more information send email to fien@superior.nwls.lib.wi.us

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Local Art Seen: DAI Member Show 2015


Raven Speaks, by Sabdi Pillsury Gredzens
To my great disappointment I was unable to attend the 2015 Members Show opening reception at the Duluth Art Institute. As expected the opening this past Thursday was attended with exceptional enthusiasm. Though I couldn't be present myself (I was in Los Angeles) I received word that all was well in the Northland. Upon my return this weekend I was able to visit the As expected, the members show demonstrated once again that the Twin Ports continues to be vibrant and alive with creative energy. Many of the names a familiar, and many new. The show is worth seeing in person, whether during a lunch hour, evening or weekend.

Here's some of the work I saw this weekend upon my return from the West Coast. I was not disappointed.

Sarah Brokke's distinctive Vessel
The Messenger by Marlene Miller
Note the detail in Miller's piece.
Aaron Kloss gave us Golden Autumn Sunbeams
Note the energy in Ken Marunowsi's Charlie Parr
January Sunrise by Cynthia Tope
The Mute by the inimitable Fatih Benzer
Detail of Benzer's striking piece.
Lost in a Foreign Geography by Adam Swanson
The few pieces here in this blog entry barely touch the surface of all there is to see in this year's Member Show. There are five pieces by the Sell family alone. Though many familiar names can be found, there were likewise surprises, such as Robin Washington's No Cause for Alarm. As anticipated, it's another good crop of aesthetic nutrition. And when you stop to take it in, don't forget to slip upstairs to enjoy the Emerging Photographers exhibit as well. 

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

Sunday, January 25, 2015

He Not Busy Being Born Is Busy Dying

Jorge Luis Borges is surely one of the most imaginative and influential writers of the 20th century, despite the absence of a Nobel Prize for Literature, of which he was surely worthy. I've collected and read all his fiction, and was pleasantly surprised to recently discover a book of conversations with with this Argentine master. These conversations, titled simply Jorge Luis Borges: Conversations, took place between 1964 and 1984, have been a thrill to read.

In some ways, I find parallels between Borges and Bob Dylan, both in the manner of their creative output and in the way they tend to respond in interviews. I have a friend who commented on the Dylan interview in the current AARP magazine saying, "This was very unusual. I don’t know why, but I got the feeling reading the whole thing that it just doesn’t sound like Dylan. I’ve never heard him expound on things like he did here. I’ve never heard him so directly answer a lot of questions and even the language just didn’t sound like him. I really enjoyed reading all of it… it’s just so different than anything I’ve ever read before when he was interviewed." It surprised her. The Washington Post said the same thing. And how does he normally sound? Frequently -- or should I say usually -- like Borges: enigmatic.

Another shared quality between Borges and Dylan is their total immersion in their craft. As one reviewer of the book notes at Amazon.com, "He lived in Literature and Literature lived in him." Likewise, Dylan's career has been rooted in music, and especially American roots music. It so lives in him that it has streamed from him in the most unexpected ways, not the least of which is his current album Shadows in the Night, scheduled for release February 3.

* * * *

The anthology of interviews with Borges features more than a dozen conversations that cover all phases of his life and work. I downloaded it to my Kindle in November and have been enjoying it during my occasional travels these past couple months (Vegas, Savannah, L.A.). This past week I found the following passage, at the end of a discussion about death, worth pondering.

Barnstone: The mystics speak of death-in-life as an experience outside time. How do you perceive it?
Borges: I think that one is dying all the time. Every time we are not feeling something, discovering something, when we are merely repeating something mechanically. At that moment you are dead. Life may come at any moment also. If you take a single day, therein you find many deaths, I suppose, and many births also. But I try not to be dead. I try to be curious concerning things, and now I am receiving experiences all the time, and those experiences will be changed into poems, into short stories, into fables. I am receiving them all the time, though I know that many of the things I do and things I say are mechanical, that is to say they belong to death rather than life. 

The Dylan line "He not busy being born is busy dying" involuntarily came to mind as I read this. Can we train ourselves to notice when we're dying? To notice when we're just mechanically going through the motions? In our work, in our relationships, and even in our play we can find ourselves failing to really live.

It's time to start paying attention. My recommendation: open your eyes... and choose life.

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For more about Borges, visit my page Borges, Revisited.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Existential Hero/Anti-Hero Cool Hand Luke

“You made me like I am…. When does it end? What do you got in mind for me? What do I do now?” ~Luke Jackson

For a variety of reasons, existentialism became one of the prevailing philosophies of mid-Twentieth century. It is a philosophical view with fuzzy edges, as writers as varied as Kierkegaard, Sartre and Camus bring differing perspectives to the equation. Nevertheless, at its core there are several common defining features: a sense of personal alienation, that our life situation is absurd, and the sense of calling to live authentically.

One definition refers to modern man's situation as "a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world."

Merriam-Webster offers this definition: "A chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad."

When Cool Hand Luke was released in 1967, Existentialism was a prevailing wind on college campuses and in popular culture. Hence, the film demonstrates, without preaching, the fundamental essence of this worldview.

SPOILER ALERT

Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) is a combination existential hero/anti-hero and Christ-figure in this film. As the opening credits roll we see a drunken Luke cutting the tops off of parking meters in the middle of the night, not to rob them but simply out of his sense of boredom, or for whatever meaningless reason. The rest of the film is about his time in prison. Luke has one quest here, to escape this meaningless existence. I see the overall film as a metaphor for Sartre's No Exit or Camus's The Stranger.

Like all good stories the film is a sequence of scenes which serve to define Luke's character for the viewer. His "never give up" attitude is demonstrated early in his fight with Dragline (George Kennedy). And though his "achievements" win the admiration of his bunkmates or "co-workers" in this hard labor camp, he is non-plussed about all of it, as A. Hardt points out in this 2011 forum discussion:

Through my multiple viewings of Cool Hand Luke, my analysis of the message of the film has switched back and forth between an existentialist one, and one of determinism. The existentialist references are the most common within the film; Luke is constantly discrediting the meaning in his actions. After Captain lists Luke’s significant war achievements, Luke responds by saying, “I was just passing time.” Also, when Dragline consults Luke about the 50 eggs in an hour bet, Luke says about the extremely difficult task, “Yeah well, it would be something to do.” From these and other examples, it seems that Luke has come to believe that his life is inherently meaningless, and in order to create meaning, he must give himself seemingly impossible tasks to complete to the amazement of those watching. When the chain gang is ordered to pave an entire road in one day, Luke recognizes the meaninglessness of this menial task, and by doing so he is able to accept it and even make the task into a game for the other workers, thereby achieving a sort of satisfaction.

Final showdown at the film's end.
In my recent watching of Cool Hand Luke I noted once more that in addition to being something of an existential hero/anti-hero, it's very clear that Luke is also something of a Christ-figure. In one of the reviews at imdb.com the writer points out that director Stuart Rosenberg consciously viewed the character of Luke in this manner, hence the deliberate use of Christian imagery in the film, most strikingly after the egg-eating scene where Luke is lying on the table, hands outstretched. The other prisoners have left his side, amplifying with a slightly long lingering shot the sense of Christ's abandonment at the Cross.

Though at first he was just another prisoner, his escapades serve to help give meaning and hope to his fellow prisoners, even if they seemingly mean nothing to him. In the end, like Jesus, he is abandoned by God (Matthew 27:46) and betrayed by a friend.

Peering through the existential lens we note that Luke is a non-conformist who is authentically himself. He is not like the others who, though discontent, accept their boundaries, their circumstances. Luke is a man of action, not resignation. Tragically his aspiration is impossible to achieve yet he pursues it till the end, hence his final despair.

There are plenty of great moments in this film. If you haven't seen it in a while, it may be time to re-visit this memorable classic.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ten Minutes with Scott Marshall, Author of the Insightful Dylan Volume Restless Pilgrim

Yesterday I wrote about Scott Marshall's book Restless Pilgrim to help lay the groundwork for this interview with the author himself.

EN: How long have you been writing?
Scott Marshall Well, while growing up in school I tended to gravitate toward writing instead of, say, the biology lab. When college was on the horizon, my late granddad (on my dad’s side) wanted to pay for an aptitude test for me. The powers that be at the testing foundation concluded writing and teaching would come natural. Years later, I thought I had backed into both a teaching career of sorts and getting a book published, but the aptitude test whispered “I told you so.” As for writing, I can’t say I’ve been consistent (although teaching for the last 12 years serves as a convenient excuse for not having written more, I know better.)

EN: And how did you get your start?
SM: Pretty much through Mick & Laurie McCuistion of the now-defunct Dylan magazine On the Tracks. They published interviews I conducted for my book, as well as an article or two (Have no idea where they’re at now; I’d love to write them a thank you letter for all their support). And then there were all those hard-core Dylan guys in England at The Bridge, Isis, and Judas!—Mike Wyvill, John Wraith, Derek Barker, and Andrew Muir, respectively. They also granted me the opportunity to have some interviews and articles make the rounds.

EN:  Who have been your influences as a writer?
SM: Haven’t consciously followed anyone’s style, and I view myself more as an aspiring writer. My strengths lie in digging up Lord-knows-what and landing some great interviews. As for enjoying certain writers, I’ll say the late Neil Postman and Christopher Hitchens are hard to beat. And Stanley Crouch captivated me after watching a 3-hour interview he did for BookTV (on C-SPAN 2). I have most of Crouch’s books, but find myself reaching for the dictionary rather regularly and haven’t been faithful to the finish line. Lastly, for all the vitriol reserved for Fox News Channel (either full-out vitriol or blind praise, it seems), there’s this guy Eric Burns who used to host their show Fox News Watch; he’s written a number of solid and fascinating books. A great journalist and writer.

1986, Dylan with Grateful Dead (photo: Ebert Roberts)
EN: How did you come to take an interest in the music and career of Bob Dylan?
SM: In my hometown of Gainesville, Florida, an old buddy Alec Lauriault was playing one of his mom’s records (incidentally, Gainesville’s home to Tom Petty; he was at Gainesville High about 16 years before we went there). I was 19 at the time—this would’ve been 1986—and it happened to be Dylan’s first greatest hits compilation that I heard. I was truly taken aback, struck by the words I was hearing, how they were coming across, the bite, the wit, the mystery. I remember one writer, it might’ve been Michael Gray, who said he envied anyone who was just getting their feet wet with Dylan’s musical canon. It’s hard to argue with that sentiment. So, anyway, soon all of Dylan’s official albums were residing in my barn loft apartment in north Florida. (Some bootlegs, too, but not too many.) By the mid to late-1990s, I was on the prowl for Dylan books and Dylan fanzines. If magazines or newspapers had Dylan content, I was interested. A print obsession emerged.

EN: Your book seems to fill a gap in the catalog of Dylan biographies. Are there other authors who have written about Dylan from this angle?
SM: Don’t know if I filled a gap, but it sure felt like it at the time. Stephen Pickering (Chofetz Chaim Ben-Avraham) was there first, with a number of books on Dylan in the early to mid-1970s (“there first” in the sense of writing about Dylan’s religious or spiritual leanings). This guy is as persistent as the day is long, and is in the deep end of some kind of pool that not too many people are swimming in. Although Pickering has little to no regard for Dylan authors like Bert Cartwright, Don Williams, Ronnie Keohane, and Jenny Ledeen, these were the folks who, in their own ways, mainly self-published on Dylan’s seemingly fated obsession with the Almighty. And since my book was published in 2002, there have been quite a few folks who’ve thrown their hats in the ring, including Christopher Ricks; Michael Gilmour; Stephen Webb; Steven Heine; Seth Rogovoy; and A.T. Bradford. Last I heard, Ron Rosenbaum was working on a Dylan book (looking forward to that one). By the late 1990s, if there was a shortage of Dylan books that contended with the man’s metaphysical meanderings, there is no shortage now.

EN: In your introduction you write, “Whether Dylan likes it or not—and he clearly does not—he is a prophet for our time.” In what way or ways has Dylan been a “prophet for our time?”
SM: My co-author Marcia Ford actually wrote that (She wrote the introduction.). Since it was my book, I should take responsibility for it…but, over 12 years on, I’m just going to say I wouldn’t write that. That line might seem true to some, but I’d be interested in how one defines “prophet.” I have no doubts that Dylan has a deep respect for the biblical prophets, from the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament. His written words, his singing voice, and even his interview voice have echoed the ideas, words, and tone of those prophets. It’s been quoted a lot, but one of Bob Dylan’s most revealing moments took place in the Midwest, in the winter of 1980, smack dab in the middle of the Gospel Tours. A 38-year-old Dylan said this to a crowd in Omaha, Nebraska: “Years ago they used to say I was a prophet. I’d say, ‘No, I’m not a prophet.’ They’d say, ‘Yes, you are a prophet.’ ‘No, it’s not me.’ They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say, ‘Jesus is the answer.’ [And now] they say, ‘Bob Dylan? He’s no prophet.’ They just can’t handle that.” I think that quote right there, besides being fertile ground for some kind of Ph.D, sums up the whole Dylan prophet thing.

EN: What were the biggest surprises you found in your research for this book?
SM: How willing folks were to talk. Even some people who you would think would be off limits because of their relationship with Dylan (or the fact that I was a nobody with no publisher at the time). Also, Dylan’s movements and attitudes during the so-called Gospel period. He was hanging out with his fellow Jews, the vast majority of who did not subscribe to the notion of Jesus as God, Messiah—the Alpha and the Omega. There was, though, the late singer Keith Green, a fellow Jew who Dylan hung out with for a bit; he too was sold out for Jesus (Dylan played harmonica on a 1980 Green album.) Additionally, Dylan might have banned his publicist Paul Wasserman from coming backstage for being an “infidel,” but he didn’t fire him (“He’s the best in the business,” Dylan said.). Larry “Ratso” Sloman was invited by Dylan to climb on the Gospel tour bus for some shows in the Midwest (Sloman may well have been at that Omaha, Nebraska gig when Dylan delivered his rap
about the “prophet” label.) Of course, Jerry Wexler, who didn’t shy away from proclaiming himself a “Jewish atheist,” produced both Slow Train Coming and Saved.
And in 1981, while Dylan was still singing songs from these albums he invited his boyhood friend Larry Kegan on a tour (Dylan played sax and Kegan covered Chuck Berry!) So, during the research I discovered it’s not really true that Dylan was this foaming-at-the-mouth, intolerant character who was abandoning his Jewish roots. He was connecting those roots to Jesus at the end of the line, which is simply unacceptable to the vast majority of Jewish circles. I’d be willing to bet the price he paid was substantial. God only knows the fallout from very close family members and friends, but, in the words of Ron Wood, he “wasn’t to be tampered with” in this season. If you were a Dylan fan between 1979 and 1981, Jew or Gentile, he definitely was singing and speaking in very personal terms.

EN: What kind of feedback have you received since publishing Restless Pilgrim?
SM: Had a handful of complete strangers contact me to share how much they appreciated the book. That was nice. I can think of a few reviewers that were not thrilled, including a Christian magazine, a Dylan fanzine, and an amazon.com review. My favorite negative review, though, occurred in person at a book signing at a Barnes & Noble in Greenville, South Carolina. I was approached (accosted?) by a student at Bob Jones University (a fundamentalist Bible college right there in Greenville) who took umbrage with the book. As I recall, he had not read it, but who can be bothered by such details? I would pay now for a transcript of our exchange. Even though I don’t recall the details, I know he was clearly disturbed by me and/or the idea of the book. I can’t avoid the temptation of thinking it had something to do with rock & roll and the Evil One. However, my favorite moment, by far, took place at a book signing at a Books-A-Million in Anderson, South Carolina. A white kid and a black kid, probably in their early teens, arrived via skateboards. They gazed at the poster next to me that announced the book signing. They then looked at me, and simply asked if I’d sign their skateboards. I’m confident they did not know who Bob Dylan was (and they certainly had never heard of me). It was hilarious and humbling. Why? Because there was one book signing in Athens, Georgia, where the only folks who bothered to show up were my wife (she came with me) and my cousin who lived in Athens at the time.

EN: What role did your co-author play? Editor, researcher, collaborator?
SM: Besides writing the introduction to the book, she basically served as an editor. My manuscript was mammoth and detail-oriented to a fault, much more ready for a Dylan fanzine crowd than it was for a mass audience. She helped in the pruning process to make it more mass-friendly. It was a painful process as she reminded me that I needed to choose the best line or paragraph from any one interviewee (in terms of employing quotations) since we had the space limitations of a relatively slim paperback. It was brutal because of the 75 or so people I interviewed, only about half made it into the book. No one was quoted at length. With that said, in the very beginning she let the publisher know that what she had encountered with my manuscript was something unique. That helped green light the project because she had experience in the book business; magazines, and newspapers. To sum up, I did all the research, all the interviews, and the original manuscript between early 1999 and spring 2002; she came in at the end, in the last few months, and performed some heavy-duty editing.

* * * *
To purchase, there are a limited number of copies available here at Amazon.com