Friday, April 30, 2010

The King of Jazz

A couple days ago I mentioned digging out a Paul Whiteman record after reading Elijah Wald's book How the Beatles Destroyed Rock and Roll. Since I imagine many of you have possibly not ever heard Whiteman's Orchestra, I found a tune to share from YouTube. This features jazz icon Bix Beiderbecke on cornet, from 1928 (the oldest piece of music I've ever featured!):

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

Here you see a ratehr pensive-looking Thomas Banning. But who, I wonder, belongs to that elbow perched on his left shoulder? Put your guesses in the comments section.

Last week I wondered where the shot of Sara and Maria was taken, and Lil Sis knew (and cut off other guesses by providing definitive proof) that it was Vidlers 5 & 10 in East Aurora, NY. Congratulations Lizzie, and I applaud your research skills-- but please try not to cut off other guesses that may come in. I like to see lots of participants in the quiz-- which should be taken as encouragement for you all to get in your guesses this week!

European Trip 25

As promised yesterday, here are some photos from inside the museum of antiquities (that wasn't it's actual name, but I forgot what that was). These were taken by Ben, who is more interested in the ancients than me.

Seems to me this was part of a crypt, but I'm not sure if I remember that correctly.

There were a lot of statues like this one, though without the small figure peering out from behind the folds of the ladies robes (at least that's what stands out to me).

This was one of my favorites, from a special exhibit of busts of the Roman Brutus, who evidently enjoyed some kind of cult of popularity in the years following his role in the assassination of Caesar.

These last two shots are actually from another museum we visited right after looking at the artifacts of classical times. The Art Institute had a really strong Georg Grosz show, but we couldn't take piuctures in the galleries. Above you see a part of the lobby/cafe which was decorated with posters from past shows.

And here's a look at the mezzanine, which gives you an idea of the modernist design of the whole building, which serves as a school as well as a gallery. Since I tend to prefer the modern stuff, this was one of the "art" highlights of the trip for me.

More Friday Family Blogging

Two of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet-- my Dad and my cousin Greg. I just heard that Greg is having some health problems, and I'm sure everyone checking in here joins me in wishing him a full and speedy recovery.

Friday Family Blogging

Three of my siblings-- Theresa, Nick and Sally-- cooling their heels at the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. I wonder where Pilgrim was when I took this shot?

Friday Philosophy

Not surprisingly, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) had an idea or two about the nature of comedy, including this one:

"Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity
of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery
is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious
examination is false wit."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Classic Garage Rock

Everybody loves ? & the Mysterians, right? Or at least, everyone loves "96 Tears," right? If you doubt the accuracy of those statements, just hit "play" below and you will quickly realize how true they are:

European Trip 24

Sunday morning in Berlin... the race was still going on when we left the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, and as we walked along the street to our next destination, we saw the so-called "Twisted Worms" sculpture on Kurfurstendamm.

This is where we were headed: to see the facade of the old train station that was destroyed during World War II bombing. Nowadays, it fronts a soccer field.

Here's a detail of the remaining structure. You can see that the head of the statue in the lower right was blasted off. It's somewhat surprising that there aren't more old remnants like this one around the city, but most of the places that were bombed were cleaned up long ago.

Ben and I split off from the group at this point and headed back to check out some of the museums we'd passed a day or two earlier. This statue was in front of the museum housing ancient artifacts from Greece and Rome (pictures from inside will be posted tomorrow). That's the Berliner Dom in the background, and the tower at Alexanderplatz beyond that.

This museum was the site of Hitler's exhibit on decadent art, mounted back in the 1930s to demonstrate how modernism had corroded European culture. The show was a big success, but probably more for putting so many masterpieces on display in one place, and not so much because the visitors bought into Hitler's nonsense.

Here's Benny taking a brief rest before we headed back up the street to the Brandenburg Gate (we also stopped to shop at a flea market along the way, but I don't seem to have any pictures of that-- asleep at the switch for once).

The Last Book I Read

I have to admit, the title of Elijah Wald's book certainly grabbed my attention even though he comes up short on proving its assertion. I'm guessing that he doesn't even really believe that the Beatles "destroyed" rock and roll, but the hyperbole notwithstanding, he does demonstrate how their ascendancy in the 1960s corresponded with some significant developments in the creation, distribution and evaluation of popular music. But setting that aside for a moment, the real value in this book is the broad survey it offers on artists and styles through the first half of the twentieth century. Wald seems especially keen to rescue from oblivion the so called sweet bands who dominated the dance music market after World War I and remained prominent through the fifties, beginning with Paul Whiteman and Ted Lewis and running through Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk. These were orchestra leaders whose success and fame grew from their commitment to serving the needs of the dancers they played for in hotel ballrooms and at proms. The musicians who made their living that way could, as the occasion demanded, jazz things up, but they understood that their bread and butter was maintaining a solid, consistent beat for fox trotters and waltzers. Wald is right to recognize the prominence of these groups (as I know from dissertation research that led me to read virtually every issue of Down Beat and Metronome from back in the thirties), but doesn't quite convince that their longevity equated to artistic greatness. Actually, it's unfair to lay that criticism on him, since his primary goal really isn't to assert as much for those bands; rather, he wants readers to understand the musical environment in which such accomplishments occurred. In other words, he argues that true creative forces like Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman were dependent, both economically and artistically, on the health of an industry that was more multi-faceted than we often choose to remember. To build that argument, Wald spends time describing the relationship between live performance and records, jukeboxes and radio, and the effects of broader factors like the Depression or World War II that shaped the music business. It's a fairly comprehensive and very readable overview, and the omissions are few enough not to really affect his thesis. But that solid foundation, taking up fully three quarters of the book, makes it virtually impossible to back up the title, since the Beatles fit neatly into the evolutionary process Wald took such pains to describe. Or, to put it another way: the only way he can prove the Beatles destroyed rock and roll is to define that genre so narrowly that it discredits everything he writes about how jazz, swing, country and blues were endlessly evolving styles over several generations of development. So, chalk up the title to marketing, and enjoy the rest of the story Wald unfolds-- if only for recovering the reputations of so many forgotten performers. I know that it made me want to listen to a Paul Whiteman record for the first time in about twenty years, and I'm glad that I did.

Quote of the Day

Somehow I doubt that Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) lacked the erudition necessary to avoid falling into the trap implied by this comment:

"I do not say a proverb is amiss when aptly
and reasonably applied, but to be forever
discharging them, right or wrong, hit or miss,
renders conversation insipid and vulgar."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Video of the Day

Television was arguably the greatest band of the New York City rock renaissance of the mid- 1970s. Led by guitarist Tom Verlaine, they made a couple of albums then broke up. But then, about 15 years later, they surprisingly re-grouped and recorded an lp of new material. This is my favorite song from that reunion, and if it doesn't quite match their mid-seventies peak, it's pretty darn close:

European Trip 23

Today's photos were taken by Ben, my nephew and traveling companion last month. These are shots he took at the Kaiser Wilhelm Church I featured yesterday, and since he had an eye for some different details or angles than me, I thought they were worth sharing.

The interior did have some of the details intact, as in the mural above.

Maybe Ben will provide some commentary on these shots via the comments section-- what do you say Ben? I'm wondering if the shot below was taken in the new belfry adjacent to the bombed out church, because I don't remember seeing it myself.

The Last Movie I Saw

I tend to think that much of the mistrust of government so evident in our society has its roots in the Nixon years, and in fact that we've never shaken the cynicism created by the revelations surrounding Watergate and its related abuses. If anything, that feeling is stronger after seeing The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, a new documentary directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. Even though the Nixon administration itself was not directly implicated in the series of lies that made the Pentagon Papers so explosive, the heavy-handed tactics employed by Nixon to smear Ellsberg and his supporters offer compelling proof of the Tricky one's habitual perfidy. But that's not really the main point of the of the film, which I think legitimately paints Ellsberg as an American hero. There's a strong strain of anti-authoritarianism in American culture, but as often as not as individuals and even collectively we tend to identify with power and even rationalize its assumed prerogatives. I don't know if this was ever more evident than in the 1950s through the early stages of the Vietnam conflict when the consensus seemed to be that our might made us right. The danger in that line of thinking should be self-evident, but at the time we refused to acknowledge how such hubris was blinding us to the dangerous implications of our actions (not just for the people of Vietnam and our troops in the field, but for our collective national psyche). Daniel Ellsberg was one of those who tried to shake us out of those delusions, and even offered us proof of their depth, but for his trouble was harassed and persecuted by the system he was still trying to serve. There's a pretty powerful message in that story, and the filmmakers do a good job of spelling it out-- I just hope enough people see the film and take Ellsberg's example to heart, though I'm not terribly optimistic that will happen.

Wednesday's Quotation

Today we have a well-turned observation courtesy of the legendary Scottish historian and novelist Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832):

"One hour of life, crowded to the full
with glorious action, and filled with noble
risks, is worth whole years of those mean
observances of paltry decorum, in which
men steal through existence, like sluggish
waters through a marsh, without either
honor or observation."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Classic Parody

I really miss SCTV, but luckily it's not too hard to find clips of those old shows from the eighties. Here's one of their great game show parodies, with Eugene Levy once again portraying the exasperated host:

European Trip 22

Today's photos were taken at Kaiser Wilhelm's Memorial Church on Kurfurstendamm in West Berlin. As you can see, the Church is little more than a shell of its former self, the result of Allied bombing in World War II.

You can see from this closer view that the exterior is mostly a hollow shell at this point.

What's incredible is that so much of the detail in the facade remains intact...

... as does at least this section of the ceiling inside.

Here's another view of the spire from inside, and again you can tell that much of the original structure is gone (can you imagine going up those curving stairs without so much as a railing?).

Right next to the remnants of the church is a newer, modern structure that was built as an alternative to restoring the older building. It's kind of impressive too, but in a different way. Side by side the two make a striking pair.

This Week's Top Five

Art Vandalay was back on the program (Dr. John's Record Shelf) for the first time in recent weeks, and contributes a dead-on impression in this week's Top Five-- but you have to listen to hear who it was:

Today's Quote

Today's words of wisdom come from the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864):

"Happiness is as a butterfly which, when
pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but
which if you will sit down quietly, may
alight upon you."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Classic Creedence

This is one of my two or three favorite CCR tunes. It takes me back to the period when I first discovered pop radio back back around 1970. Good times...

European Trip 21

I'm finally up to day three of our visit to Berlin (with Dresden and Prague still to come). Sunday morning was spent at the Museum of the city of Berlin, followed by a walk along the route of the Berlin half-marathon.

A number of streets were closed off for the race, including Kurfurstendamm, where we were. While early on the runners were going by in twos and threes, soon enough the boulevard was packed.

It had rained the night before, so the streets were wet and glistening in the morning sun, which created an interesting effect with the shadows of the runners.

In fact, the crowds on the street watching the race reminded me exactly of a spring morning in Manhattan with some big street event unfolding. It didn't take much imagination to feel like I was walking down Fifth Avenue back in 1983.

It was fun seeing the runners, but al-in-all, I'd rather ride a bike myself.

Battle of the Bands Update

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Round Four of the Battle of the Bands on Dr. John's Record Shelf kicked off last night, and we now have two of our final four contenders. Creedence Clearwater Revival (seeded no. 1) survived a challenge from Jefferson Airplane (3) to nail down the Northwest Bracket crown, while the Crickets (5) dispatched the last remaining true longshot in the Rock'n'Roll Trio (11) to capture the Midwest bracket.

The Crickets

"Rave On" by the Crickets' was a unanimous choice over "Oh Baby Babe" by the Trio; Creedence prevailed with "Lookin' Out My Back Door" in a split decision over the Airplane's "Volunteers." Our guest judge this week, joining Art Vandalay and myself was friend of the program Evan Wantland. Next week, the Velvet Underground (1) take on the Lovin' Spoonful (2) for the Northeast championship, while the Byrds (1) will face the Doors (3) in the Southwest. When all is said and done, we'll know which was the greatest American rock band between 1954 and 1974.

Political Comment

Last Saturday I attended the 4th Annual Student Research Symposium at the University of Montana Western. Among the presentations was an analysis of the privatizing of military operations in many parts of the world, wherein private companies like the former Blackwater are hired to provide various support and personnel services to governments who can't or won't depend on their citizens to fulfill those duties. These companies operate to make money, and in some instances even hire themselves out to both sides in a particular conflict. As you may know, the United States has considerable contracts with these outfits too, and the value of those contracts no doubt increases the longer we remain engaged in military operations both at home and overseas.

It was after hearing that presentation that I saw the story about Bill Maher's comments on the Tea Bag Party, specifically that group's resistance to address defense spending as part of their call to cut back federal spending. I think I've mentioned here before that I'm not a big fan of Maher's, but he's definitely on to something here. The credibility of anyone critiquing government spending has to include an evaluation of their position on defense, which is the single largest category of federal spending and always seems to get a pass despite numerous reports of waste and inefficiency (how many millions went missing in Iraq?), not to mention the exorbitant contracts doled out to companies like Blackwater (or whatever they're currently calling themselves after rebranding to dodge the fallout from their abuses) whose business model depends on generating profits from such deals (which isn't true of the actual military which I suspect most Americans believe are the beneficiary of governmental defense spending). This is of course not to question the importance of providing for the national defense, but to take it off the table as a point of the budget/tax discussion suggests to me that the real agenda is not to reduce spending, but rather to attack programs that are unpopular for other reasons (not least, because they provide some necessary competition to private, profit-seeking entities). So bravo to Maher for pointing this out.

Philosophical Monday

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) was a long-serving member of the US Supreme Court, and also a noted writer and thinker. Here is a short selection from his essay "Natural Law" from 1918:

"If we think of our existence not as that of a little
god outside, but as that of a ganglion within, we
have the infinite behind us. It gives us our only
but our adequate significance. A grain of sand has
the same, but what competent person supposes
that he understands a grain of sand? That is as
much beyond our grasp as man. If our imagination
is strong enough to accept the vision of ourselves as
parts inseverable from the rest, and to extend our
final interest beyond the boundary of our skins, it
justifies the sacrifice even of our lives for ends
outside of ourselves. The motive, to be sure, is the
common wants and ideals that we find in man."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cool Music

Does anybody remember the Cranberries? The Irish group made a couple of fine albums, then seemed to disappear (at least I lost track of them). Here's one of the songs that hit for them:

European Trip 20

One last set of shots from our Saturday night in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, starting with the marquee of a theater presenting... well, you can see what the featured act is. I guess color is easy to translate into other cultures.

Here you see the front of the largest casino in Berlin. It didn't really resemble the gaudy hotels in Vegas, but I guess they would be just as happy to accept one's cash. Certainly neither the limousine nor carriage parked out front would turn heads outside Caesar's Palace either.

this sculpture stood in a pool of water that was quite large, but only a few inches deep. Much like the architecture, the public sculptures in the city alternate between classical styles and ultra-modern.

The closest thing I have to a self-portrait from the trip-- that's my reflection in what I think was a bank window, reflecting the street behind me as well. I should see if I can PhotoShop this into a slightly clearer version.

Sunday Funnies

Today we celebrate one of the true classic of the comics medium, V.T. Hamlin's Alley Oop, created in 1934. Oop was a caveman, who early on had adventures in the prehistoric land of Moo, often having run-ins with King Guzzle and pursuing the love of beautiful Princess Oola.

Then, in 1939, the strip took a dramatic turn when Oop and Oola were magically (well, actually, scientifically) transplanted to the present by virtue of a time machine constructed by J. Oscar Boom. From that point forward, Oop's adventures took him around the world and throughout history.

It's a great concept, and I'm pretty sure the strip continues today (though Hamlin long ago passed it on to other hands). It never appeared in the Buffalo papers of my youth, but I've enjoyed reading a few collections that have appeared over the years. It's a worthy throwback to the great adventure strips of the thirties, adding a humorous touch to the kind of heavier melodrama of Terry & the Pirates or Flash Gordon.

A Quotation for Sunday

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was one of the best known American photographers of the twentieth century, specializing in images of nature. Here's something he said that reflects well on the artisitic impulse:

"Millions of men have lived to fight, build
palaces and boundaries, shape destinies
and societies; but the compelling force of
all times has been the force of originality
and creation profoundly affecting the
roots of human spirit."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Video of the Day

Here's something from the Mutton Birds, a great band from New Zealand:

European Trip 19

A few more shots from an evening in the Potsdamer Platz, starting with another view of the overhead whachamacallit. I was mostly just happy with how well my camera was capturing the array of lights.

Here's a shot of the giant (well, actually it may be life-size for all I know) Lego giraffe, with Molly, Jackie and Ben posing underneath.

As I've mentioned before, much of Berlin's architecture is fairly new, since so much of the city was destroyed in World War II. Potsdamer Platz used to be a rather Victorian looking, ritzy residential neighborhood (according to photos we saw later at a museum). Here, you see the remnants of the facade of an old building that remained following the bombing, but which has now been encased in glass at the base of a newer building. I can't think of anywhere else I've ever been where you'd see something like that-- not the combination of old and new, but the blatant way the old is emphasized.

I have to say, this was one of the coolest subway stations I've ever seen.

Another striking building was this variation on the flatiron effect. What was really interesting is that the place really does come to a sharp point, as you can tell if you follow the line to the very top.

Our visit corresponded with Easter Week, and these giant eggs in a shopping mall indicate that Berliners were also awaiting the Easter Bunny. I trust they were not disappointed.