Monday, December 22, 2014

The King's Speech Revisited

Just finished watching The King's Speech again. What a contrast between this film and the myriad superhero flicks that have run amok through theaters in recent years.

I wrote about the film in 2010 when it first came out, more or less citing the significance of the story it was based on.  A few additional features of the film caught my attention this time around.

The film centers on two main characters; "Bertie" (Colin Firth), the Prince of York who ultimately assumes the throne when his brother abdicates, and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), the speech therapist who ultimately helps Bertie find his voice.

SPOILER ALERT

The Prince of York has a speech impediment that shames him and the film begins with his giving a speech, quite badly. It ends with his first radio speech to the nation as king in an effort to inform his people of the impending war.

One of my favorite pieces of classical music is the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. It broils with tension and has been used effectively in the climactic scene of this film. It was served up with equal power in Immortal Beloved during a scene in which Gary Oldman as Beethoven has his carriage stuck in the mud while on the way to an important tryst. There are few pieces of music that so effectively convey anguish.

But King George prevails, and he delivers his lines with authority.

The second thing that struck me was the parallel to my new children's book A RemarkableTale from the Land of Podd. Just as England was on the threshold of war, so also the king in my story is in trouble, with enemy troops on his country's border. He needs a hero to save the land, but everyone he asks to help is more aware of his or her shortcomings and refuses. The king in my story also has an issue to overcome. Instead of a speech impediment, he doesn't like his feet. Either way, the important thing is to take action.

We all have shortcomings that we're often painfully aware of. This should not disqualify us from doing our part when called upon.

"and even though he didn't like his own feet..."
Read more about The King's Speech.
A Remarkable Tale is available online here.

Live courageously. The world needs your voice.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Culting of Brands, Dylan and Modern Celebritydom

About ten years ago Douglas Atkin, a New York ad man , wrote a book titled The Culting of Brands. It was a marketing book showing the similarity between great business brands and cults. The notion is initially creepy as when we think cult we think of Jonestown and the downside of drinking the Kool-Aid.

Atkin created a profile of the kinds of people who join cults, and then demonstrated how these characteristics are precisely what draw people to strong brands.

His profile of people who join cults goes like this:
1. Feel different from the world around them, alienated
2. Open to or searching for a more compatible environment
3. Looking to feel a sense of security and safety in a place where being different is perceived as a virtue.
4. Presents opportunity for self-actualization within the new, like-minded group.

Atkin’s premise is that some companies appeal to people with this profile, which thus creates extremely loyal customers. Harley-Davidson is one example. Apple/MacIntosh is another. NFL football teams like the Green Bay Packers have likewise become brands.

Over the years I have thought a lot about how modern celebritydom is a form of brand building. In our modern celebrity culture people themselves become brands. The term "brand" originates with the branding of livestock, as in an identifying mark seared on cattle with a hot iron. The term has come to mean "a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name." It's a strange notion to think of celebs as products, but in a sense this is precisely what they have become.

Chuck Norris comes to mind here. He's a symbol. Yes, the guy is a real person but we only encounter the image that has been crafted, which may be altogether different from the man. Or it may not be, I wouldn't know. What we see is the branded product, not the person.

I have never combined this idea (celebrities as brands) with the notion of cults before, so this blog entry is an off-the-cuff exploration of that idea.

David Kinney's The Dylanologists was the first book that I know of to make an in-depth study of the various kinds of Dylan's fans. I'm not sure if there's ever been a similar book written about any other modern celeb's fans and followers. Much has been written about the paparazzi who mediate fandom to the wider public, but I know of no such book about Brad Pitt's, Madonna's or the Rolling Stones' fans.

Let's break it down based on Atkin's proposition. Do Dylan fans share a sense of alienation from the world around them? It's possible there's something in this. I was experiencing a measure of existential angst as a youth when Dylan's music first caught me. That's just anecdotal. That's also just the nature of youth, isn't it? Do MacIntosh fanatics share a sense of alienation? It's a stretch, though I did know a few die-hard Mac users who saw Big Blue as the enemy and mainstream computer companies as the herd to be avoided. Carrying this to Dylan diehards like Glenn Hertzler, who has attended 100 Dylan concerts or more, most are probably self-aware enough to know they are different from the mainstream. Does this give them a sense of alienation? I doubt it.

As for Atkin's second point... Does being around other Dylan fans make one feel they are in a more comfortable, compatible environment? Again, the cult comparison feels extreme because I don't think the Dylan fans I know are incompatible with other interests and groups, but it's true we enjoy being around people who share our interest in all things Dylan. This would seem to apply to people whose share an interest in avant garde art, Latin American literature or travelling abroad.

Are we looking to feel a sense of security and safety in a place where being different is perceived as a virtue? I don't know. I can see how cults wear a badge that says "being different" is a virtue. When I carry this notion over to Harley-Davidson owners, who spend gobs of money customizing their bikes and attire to make a statement about their identity, it's possible this can have a cult-like flavor to outsiders.

Maybe it's all part of humankind's search for meaning. We like the feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. But is this really why people become fans of brands, and in this instance celebrity brands? When I listen to the stories others tell, including David Kinney's and my own, Dylan's music resonated with us and initially it had nothing to do with a larger body of followers whom we discovered only later, though it's true that later we did indeed become aware of our not being alone with our passions.

The last point regarding self-actualization, hmmm. Google says self-actualization is "the realization or fulfillment of one's talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone." It is the peak of Maslov's hierarchy of needs. Is this really the driving force in our untiring interest in Dylan's music and other accomplishments? I have a hard time connecting all those dots.

According to about education, Maslov defined self-actualization this way: "What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization... It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming."

Is this what keeps us coming back to the well?

I vaguely remember an article thirty or forty years ago predicting that there would be a future religion around Bob Dylan. This is exactly the kind of thing Dylan found repugnant. Being head of any movement was not his thing. He was not aiming to be anyone's spokesperson. But despite these disclaimers his career has been one of continuous crafting and re-configuring of the brand he's become. And there is something akin to religious fervor taking place with each new release of archived recordings and new discoveries regarding every facet of this man's creative output.

I s'pose this is enough for today. The Browns game is on and those fans really are a cult. No matter how much they/we suffer, seems like we can't escape.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Each day is a gift. Unwrap it and celebrate.

EdNote: Dylan photo submitted by Jose Enrique of Spain.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating and Other Cervantes Quotes Worth Prolonged Pondering

Don Quixote de la Mancha
“The proof of the pudding is the eating.”
 ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

There's nothing quite like a quote with pith. What I find amazing is how many of the maxims we use today come from two sources, William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes.

In earlier times (two decades ago) every serious writer owned a handful of companions: Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, Roget's Thesaurus or Rodale's Synonym Finder, and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, along with a good dictionary. Today, writer's still keep a copy of The Elements of Style close by, whereas the rest is accomplished with a Google search, which is how today's collection of quotes were assembled.

Shakespeare and Cervantes were contemporaries. One lived in England and the other in Spain. Both were poets and playwrights. The latter's most significant work, Don Quixote, is frequently cited as the first modern European novel. It's influence has extended globally and through the centuries.

My first exposure to the story of Don Quixote was through the 1972 Broadway musical The Man of La Mancha. (I saw a local troop reproduce it at the Morristown Theater.) It made such an impact, young idealist that I was, that years later I purchased Dale Wasserman's book and a CD of the soundtrack which I'd listened to so frequently I probably knew every song by heart. Eventually I borrowed from the library an audio book of the original source for this inspired work, Cervantes' magnum opus.

Among the many sayings that have been extracted from his work, this is a good starting point: “A proverb is a short sentence based on long experience.”

What follows is a small selection of such proverbs Cervantes left for posterity. They are best enjoyed while reading slowly so that the flavor may be savored.

“Honesty's the best policy.”

“All sorrows are less with bread. ”

“He who sings scares away his woes.”

“Thou hast seen nothing yet.”

“There were no embraces, because where there is great love there is often little display of it.”

“Time ripens all things; no man is born wise.”

“Facts are the enemy of truth.”

“Hunger is the best sauce in the world.”

“Those who will play with cats must expect to be scratched.”

“The pen is the tongue of the mind.”

“Virtue is persecuted by the wicked more than it is loved by the good.”

“Drink moderately, for drunkenness neither keeps a secret, nor observes a promise.”

“What man can pretend to know the riddle of a woman's mind?”

“Make it thy business to know thyself, which is the most difficult lesson in the world”

“In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.”

“The wounds received in battle bestow honor, they do not take it away...”

“Diligence is the mother of good fortune.”

“Until death it is all life”

“One who loses wealth loses much. One who loses a friend loses more. But one who loses courage loses all.”

“Many go out for wool, and come home shorn themselves.”

“Good painters imitate nature, but bad ones spew it up.”

"Can we ever have too much of a good thing?"

"To give the devil his due."

"Plain as the nose on a man's face."

"Why do you lead me a wild-goose chase?"

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

"All is not gold that glisters."

* * * *
If you like these, here are some sources where you can find more.

Meantime... make the most of your day. '"It's good to live and learn."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dylan's Concert For One

If you're a regular follower of the Never Ending Tour, then this is old news... but it was fun to find that last month in Philadelphia Dylan assembled his team to do a concert for one. It seems our man Bob is determined to continuously confound. Who would have thunk he'd do a Super Bowl commercial? We've known he was an artist but who expected a sculpture show? A radio hour, books of his paintings, and other surprises seem to pop up in unexpected ways.

That's what makes sites like ExpectingRain.com so much fun to visit. The contributors are committed to sharing the never ending story.

For the concert in Philadelphia on the afternoon of November 23 only one ticket got sold. There were plenty of seats, but a very thin audience. That lucky patron was a Swedish fan, Fredrik Wikingsson who has a television show there... in Sweden, not Philadelphia.

Here's a video about the event, Experiment Ensam, contributed by Egil Mosbron.

Or if you prefer the music alone, here's another source.... now being shared by popular demand. Yes, he's still the king of cool.

The set list that afternoon went like this:

1. Heartbeat (song by Buddy Holly)
2. Blueberry Hill (song by Fats Domino)
3. You're Too Late (song by Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams)
4. Key To The Highway (song by Charles Segar)

Historical classics and tributes, and none of his own songs. Maybe this is in part prelude to his own upcoming album in which he does Frank Sinatra covers, though this Forbes story claims that Dylan is not really doing covers, but rather is "lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day."

I began checking out the lyrics to these songs and found something else they have in common. Or thought I had. Fats Domino's classic begins, "I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill." It's just a line nearly everyone is familiar with.  The Buddy Holly tune Dylan began with also had the word "thrill" in it.  "I know that new love thrills me..." he sang.

This got me thinking I'd found something. So I checked out the lyrics to You're Too Late.

If I had someone that's true
It would thrill me through and through

There, it's another thrill. When I finally scanned Key to the Highway, my investigation broke down and I realized I'd been overthinking it.

Anyways, the concert must have been a thrill, even in its brevity.

Keep on truckin'.

Dylan the Elder Statesman painting by ennyman.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

DAI Membership Exhibition Announced

Detail of piece by Adam Swanson,  a local painter. 
One of my favorite art events each year is the Duluth Art Institute Annual Membership Exhibition which holds its opening celebration sometime in January. Nearly half the members of the DAI hold artist memberships and are thus invited to contribute something for the show. The show is exciting because it features new work by area artists, that is, work that has been created in the past year.

The opening reception this year will take place January 22 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Union Depot (506 West Michigan St) and is free and open to the public. During the reception, everyone in attendance is invited to cast a vote on a write-in ballot for a favorite work. The ballots are counted that evening and a People’s Choice award is announced at the end of the night.

“We like to think of the Annual Membership Exhibition as a ‘show-and-tell’ for the past year in the arts,” said DAI Interim Director, Dana Mattice. “It is a great way to check in and see new work by familiar faces, as well as to discover new artists. The exhibit is really representative of the Twin Ports visual arts scene and is one of our most popular shows.”

Last year there were nearly 200 pieces on display. Those who can't attend this year's opening are encouraged to visit the Depot's Great Hall during a lunch break or weekend afternoon through February 15 to soak it in.

Official sponsor of this year's event is U.S. Bank.

In addition to the Membership opening on January 22, the DAI will also celebrate the opening of Emerging Photographers: UMD Photography Students, on view January 22—March 31, 2015 (sponsored by True North Color Lab). George Morrison: Drawing at the Horizon is on view through February 8, 2015 (sponsored by the Depot Foundation and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation); and the 60th Arrowhead Regional Biennial is on view through February 15, 2015 (sponsored by North Shore Bank of Commerce).

* * * *
Speaking of calls for art, here's a reminder of the Vestiges call for art and stories from PROOF Magazine.

Of Note: Tonight Teague Alexy will be featured at the Third Thursday open mic at Beaners Central from 7-9. I believe he will be reading from his new book, How Lefty Stepanovich Turned Water into Wine. These Third Thursday open mic nights have become a fun event, interspersed with trivia and prizes.

While on the topic of books, my new book A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd is not yet in book stores, but can be found locally at  Beaners in Duluth and The Red Mug in Superior, as well as Goin' Postal on Tower Avenue.  And if you're not in the neighborhood, you can find it online here at Amazon.com.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On the Ground Floor: My Steppenwolf Life by Margie Marcus

1990 groundbreaking at the new theater. 
There's a saying that every person has a story. Over the course of a lifetime I've observed that some people have many stories. One of these people is Margie Marcus, whom I met earlier this year via the internet when she was on a quest to find Tony Scaduto. Scaduto had played an instrumental role in her efforts to meet a man who changed her life, Bob Dylan. That was quite a story.

As we corresponded, she began sharing more stories with me, stories about Ralph Gleason, Lenny Bruce, Joseph Heller, Studs Terkel and others whose lives intersected her own in various forms as a result of her mid-life "awakening." Ultimately this led to her sharing with me her Steppenwolf experience.

It's a story I've wanted to share not because it involves celebrities we're all familiar with. Rather, because she exemplifies what it means to roll up your sleeves and make a difference.

The Steppenwolf Theater is now world-famous and recognized as an important piece of the influential Chicago theater scene. But it wasn't always so.

Margie's passion for the fledgling theater group propelled her to not just buy tickets to see the performances but also impelled her to step forward to ask, "How can I help?" She ultimately became a member of the board, making sacrifices to do what she could to help the Steppenwolf grow.

Here's the link to a rewarding and lively read--> On the Ground Floor: My Steppenwolf Life.

Margie sharing a light moment with Albert Finney at unveiling of new theater.

Photo, Top Right: 1990 Groundbreaking for the new theatre at 1650 N. Halsted. Jeff Perry, co-founder and daughter Zoe in front with shovel. Back: Randy Arney, Tom Irwin, Laurie Metcalf, Terry Kinney and Fran Guinan.