I am a history professor who grew up in Western New York, but now find myself teaching in Western Montana. My primary areas of interest and research are in American cultural history, especially in relation to the intersection of popular culture and politics. This blog is primarily to help me keep in touch with my far-flung family and friends, and give me the chance to spout off a bit on whatever happens to be on my mind.
Dr. John's Record Shelf is my weekly radio program on KDWG, 90.9 FM broadcast from the University of Montana Western. My goal is to offer an eclectic mix of various styles, genres and eras, focusing primarily (but not exclusively) on music that you won't hear anywhere else on the dial (at least not in SW Montana). My co-host, Art Vandelay and I (with the assistance of station flunky Rico Muckman) also provide some additional bits to liven up the show, including Three People I Know (where I mention three people I know), The Cultural Corner (where we engage in lively banter on art, literature and poetry), Dr. John's Top Five (where we take a shot at ranking almost anything), and Record Shelf Theater (where we re-create a scene from some famous movie, play or TV show). If you find yourself in Dillon, tune us in; otherwise, below are some lists of songs that have been aired on recent shows:
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121104
Bill Fay, "This World"
Steve Goodman, "Turnpike Tom"
Ani DiFranco, "Which Side Are You On?"
Bruce Springsteen, "We Are Alive"
Decemberists, "Don't Carry It All"
Carole King, "Pleasant Valley Sunday"
Bruce Cockburn, "Wondering Where the Lions Are"
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Oh Susannah"
Bob Dylan, "Soon After Midnight"
Charms, "American Way"
Belle & Sebastian, "I Want the World to Stop"
Krayolas, "Find a Girl"
Beatles, "Tomorrow Never Knows"
Neko Case, "Things That Scare Me"
Avett Brothers, "Will You Return"
Craig Finn, "New Friend Jesus"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121028
Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues"
Golden Shoulders, "I Will Light You on Fire"
Spoon, "Finer Feelings"
Girls, "Just a Song"
Devandra Banhart, "Shabop Shalom"
Gaslight Anthem, "The '59 Sound"
Those Darlins, "Mystic Mind"
Son Seals, "I Can't Hold Out"
Johnny Ace, "Pledging My Love"
Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Dandelion"
Aimee Mann, "Borrowing Time"
Elliott Smith, "Between the Bars"
Carpenters, "It's Going to Take Some Time"
Hayes Carll, "Girl Downtown"
Fiery Furnaces, "Even in the Rain"
Billy Ward & the Dominoes, "Chicken Blues"
Anna Kramer & the Lost Cause, "You Think You Know Me"
Sophie Zelmani, "Most of the Time"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121021
Cabaret Voltaire, "No Escape"
Us3, "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)"
Hank Mobley, "The Break Through"
Rodriguez, "Sugar Man"
Mary Weiss, "My Heart is Beating"
Pete Shelley, "Think For Yourself"
Buddy Holly, "Take Your Time"
Raincoats, "No One's Little Girl"
Detroit Cobras, "Ya Ya Ya"
Public Image, LTD, "Public Image"
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, "Bad Reputation"
Love Is All, "Wishing Well"
Louie & the Lovers, "I KNow You Know"
Forty-Fives, "The Devil Beats His Wife"
John P. Strohm, "Better Than Nothing"
The Naysayer, "Currency"
Sir Douglas Quintet, "Who'll Be Next in Line"
The Seeds, "Mr. Farmer"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121014
TV on the Radio, "Second Song"
Can, "Oh Yeah"
White Stripes, "300 MPH Torrential Downpour Blues"
Mary Lou Lord, "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"
T-Bone Burnett, "The Murder Weapon"
New Bomb Turks, "Statue of Liberty"
Ramones, "Surfin' Bird"
Paris Sisters, "Dream Lover"
Lee Dorsey, "Ride Your Pony"
Michael Hurley, "Sweet Lucy"
Gary Numan, "Cars"
Neil Diamond, "Delirious Love"
Undertones, "We All Talked About You"
Shadows of Knight, "Shake"
Cub, "Magic 8 Ball"
Rilo Kiley, "The Frug"
Terry Allen, "Lubbock Woman"
Kinks, "Lincoln County"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121007
Corin Tucker Band, "Summer Jams"
Go-Betweens, "Too Much of One Thing"
Feelies, "Change Your Mind"
Billy Bragg & the Blokes, "Baby Faroukh"
Marcia Griffiths, "Don't Let Me Down"
Velvet Crush, "Hold Me Up"
Chris Mills, "Calling All Comrades"
Insect Trust, "Hoboken Saturday Night"
Broken West, "So It Goes"
REM, "Exhuming McCarthy"
Dire Straits, "Twisting By the Pool"
Tom Rush, "Urge for Going"
Paul Westerberg & Joan Jett, "Let's Do It"
Fred Astaire, "Cheek to Cheek"
The Who, "I Can See For Miles"
Liz Phair, "Uncle Alvarez"
Steve martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, "King Tut"
Something to think about from the noted novelist Upton Sinclair (1878-1968):
"Human beings suffer agonies, and their sad fates become legends; poets write verses about them and playwrights compose dramas, and the remembrance of past grief becomes a source of present pleasure - such is the strange alchemy of the spirit."
I always wondered why the Leroi Brothers never hit it big. They were around for a long time (may still be playing as far as I know), and had a great sound at once classic and modern. Here's their version of the Roy Head classic "Treat Her Right:"
I've got to stop believing critics when they label the latest Woody Allen movie as a return to form. It doesn't happen with every one of his releases, but every couple of years, that seems to be the theme, and it certainly has popped up in much of what I've read about Midnight in Paris. I've become convinced that Allen will never match (and certainly not top) his classic mid to late seventies films, and there's no reason why we should expect him to. Those efforts, epitomized by Annie Hall or Manhattan, depending on your individual perspective, were uniquely tied to their times at a moment when Allen was clearly in sync with the zeitgeist in a way that it's ridiculous to assume will ever happen again. That's not a bad thing, and it doesn't mean his more recent (and not so recent) work is no good: Allen can prove over and over again his ability to entertain without us ever mistaking his movies for something more. In a way, this is much like the records put out by Bob Dylan over the past forty years or so-- they will never match his mid-sixties output, no matter how good they are, because it's impossible to imagine the confluence of circumstances that led to his being recognized as the "voice of a generation." He's made some fine albums since that heyday, but despite certain stylistic signatures, much like Allen, he is too peripatetic an artist to lock in to maintaining critical renown. Midnight in Paris is a solid, but lightweight entertainment. It's pleasant enough to while away a couple hours, and fun if you get all the historical and artistic references and cameos. But given how regularly Allen pumps these things out, it's really kind of silly to expect more than that, and so in the future I'll just assume that it's wishful thinking on the part of reviewers who think Allen's latest can stand with his masterpieces. I will say that the shots of Paris in this one make me want to visit, but I'm not sure I'll remember much more about it a year from now when his next movie comes out.
I kind of wish there was an actual video to go along with this song, as I imagine it would be as much fun as the tune. Also, this group has one of the all-time great band names: the All Girl Summer Fun Band:
I'm not a big fan of asparagus. I'll eat it, but I've never bought or made it for myself, and would always opt for some other vegetable if I had a choice. The other day I could have opted for some beef noodle soup when I was out for dinner, but I decided to take a chance on something new and went instead for the cream of asparagus. I think I may have actually gritted my teeth and winced a little as I raised the first spoonful to my lips. But my adventurousness (if it can really be called that) was amply rewarded with an extremely tasty cup of soup. The asparagus flavor was somewhat muted in a very creamy broth with just a bit of bite. Given that this was a Greek restaurant, I should not have been surprised-- I can't recall ever having a disagreeable dish at a Greek restaurant. And I can't really express how gratifying it is to keep discovering new flavors of soup that I genuinely enjoy.
I always thought of this as a bit of a novelty tune, but what a novelty tune. I believe that Gary Numan enjoyed considerably more success in England, but this was his only real success on this side of "the pond," and it still sounds good to me:
Tom, Natalie, Andromeda and I went for a walk yesterday at Akron Falls Park. I'd never been there before and found it a really nice place for a hike (though kind of small). Here are a few pictures I took of the area.
The creek producing the Falls is called Murder Creek, a name which came from a legend about events that unfolded there back in the early 1800s.
I look forward to going back sometime for another stroll, as it was a very pretty park.
I came across a review of the first album by the Birdwatchers of America a couple years ago in The Big Takeover and was intrigued enough by what was written to search it out. It fully lived up to expectations, but I've never seen or heard anything else about the group until I stumbled on this clip at YouTube. I think it gives a good idea of their style; maybe you'll like it too:
These strips from 1952 are not as visually experimental as some of the Polly and Her Pals examples that I've posted before from the 1920s, but Cliff Sterrett still had great flair (and was pretty funny too).
I found this to be an interesting notion, from the artist Andy Warhol (1927-1987):
"I suppose I have a really loose interpretation of 'work,' because I think that just being alive is so much work at something you don't always want to do. The machinery is always going. Even when you sleep."
Here's a clip from Youtube featuring Blaze Foley singing the song he's probably best known for (this is the one covered by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard). At the conclusion of the song, you get a little patter that reveals a bit of his personality as well:
Last night I went to a screening at the Hallwalls Gallery of a documentary twelve years in the making called Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah. The event included a q&a with the director Kevin Triplett, and was followed by a one man concert by Gurf Morlix who was a friend of Foley's and who shared a number of funny stories not included in the film. Foley (that's him above) appeared to be kind of an outcast, often drunk and homeless, but with a soul that garnered many friends and which came across in the very pretty, touching, and often funny songs that he composed. The film does a great job of telling how his career was regularly upended by his idiosyncrasies and addictions, while also making it clear why he was so beloved by so many of those who took the time to get to know him. Morlix (that's him below) was one of those and his stories of a time when Foley basically lived on his couch were themselves highly entertaining, but with an edge of poignancy that Foley could never quite pull things together. The concert of Foley compositions was one revelation after another (the only one familiar to me was something covered by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard on an album I picked up back in the 80s). At this point, the movie can only be seen in these special screenings, as Triplett is still working on some copyright clearances, but if you get the chance, go see it; and if it iincludes a performance by Morlix, don't miss it-- this was just a great evening of entertaining music and stories, and even though Foley's story has a kind of tragic ending (he was murdered), you can't really come away from hearing his story without it leaving a smile on your face.
p.s.-- the reference to "duct tape" in the title is due to one of Foley's idiosyncrasies: he used such tape as a fashion accessory, apparently as a joke in response to the flashy garb adopted by so many mainstream country performers in the seventies and eighties. A fan made Morlix a coat completely out of duct tape for this tour, which he wore to perform one number last night (see picture); but only one number because as Morlix explained, "Duct tape doesn't breathe."
Here's a great old Daffy Duck cartoon in which he takes on the hapless Elmer Fudd. This is almost as much of a mismatch as when the latter has to contend with Bugs Bunny (though Elmer gets a little retribution in the end):
This weeks question: whose eyes (or more accurately, whose eyelids) are these? Put your guesses in the comments section, as usual.
Last week, I asked who for you to name two of the four folks cropped out a picture of Dad, and Mom got exactly two (Sara and Scott, the others were Catie and Thomas). Congratulations Mom, and how about a few more players this week?
I always liked Mel Gibson, right up to some of the off-screen comments around the time of Passion of the Christ seemed to launch him into full-bore craziness. Like a lot of people, I've found it difficult to separate his work from his increasingly obnoxious behavior, but I was willing to give his latest movie The Beaver the benefit of the doubt. The idea that a severely depressed man might need a surrogate to communicate with the rest of the world, even a puppet, seemed to have some promise as a dramatic premise, and up to a point, the movie is pretty good. But unfortunately, it ultimately goes over the top in execution, which I did not expect from director Jodie Foster (who I think of as more thoughtful than run-of-the-mill Hollywood types). Gibson is actually pretty good at building a sympathetic portrayal, and I found it easy to suspend my disbelief in relation to the whole Beaver as spokesman idea; I found it much more difficult to accept most of the components of the subplot revolving around the Gibson character's oldest son. When things take a badly telegraphed ugly turn at the climax, I lost any lingering sympathy for the story. It's weird, but even though I can't fault Gibson for the film's failure, it will be hard not to associate it with his ongoing career tailspin. I imagine few would accept him at this point in a more comedic role, but maybe that would've been a better choice at this point for rehabilitation. Oh well.
I got my hands on some pictures from my Mom's collection, including the above of Mom and friend (I'm sure I know the name of the dog, but can't for the life of me recall what it is). I suspect that's my headless grandfather in the background.
Something to think about from the mind of French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004):
"If you read philosophical texts of the tradition, you'll notice they almost never said 'I,' and didn't speak in the first person. From Aristotle to Heidegger, they try to consider their own lives as something marginal or accidental. What was essential was their teaching and their thinking. Biography is something empirical and outside, and is considered an accident that isn't necessarily or essentially linked to the philosophical activity or system."
Speaking as an uncle many times over, I like the idea of an "Uncle's Day"-- but I'm not so sure I accept the "good for nothing" qualifier. Then again, I've never been subjected to the evils of bathtub gin (or its equivalent).
I've extolled the virtues of Darker My Love previously on this site, and here I go again. They are definitely one of my favorite contemporary groups, and on a very short list of artists whose next work is eagerly anticipated. Here's a performance of a song off their excellent album Alive As You Are:
I recently figured out how to do double (and triple) exposures on my camera, and had some fun today collaborating with Nik and others to take some interesting "ghost" pictures. These would be much better if I'd used a tripod, but in some ways the shaky backgrounds add to the effect.
The kids got into the spirit of trying to come up with different ways to maximize the effect, including the shot below of the ghost slide.
This last shot is also a double exposure, but I tried something different here and I like the effect. Using manual focus, I took the picture of Emma, then took the lens completely out of focus for the second shot. That's what created the vaguely soft focus aspect of this picture. Needless to say, the experiments will continue!
One never knows from where or when a great cup of soup will emerge, but I really expect something by my brother-in-law to surpass anything I've had recently in a restaurant. But that's the case: a pot of red pepper soup concocted by Dan about a week ago surpassed everything else I had over the past few days, and that's not meant as a backhanded compliment-- his soup was really good. I won't run down all the competition, except to say that I had yet another very disappointing cup at Fables. Their Thai Carrot Ginger was overly sweet, like someone had dumped a barrel of honey into the mix (maybe this was a response to my criticism of the sour Sweet Pea soup a couple weeks ago? Is it possible I wield such power? It's a scary thought). Dan's soup struck a great balance between flavor and tang, and was a perfect creamy texture. I hope he makes it again sometime; I hope he can make it again sometime, as he strikes me as the sort of cook who kind of makes it up as he goes along. With even more relatives visiting from out west, maybe that'll be an excuse to make another batch. I've got my fingers crossed.
For many years John Sayles was at the top of a very short list of film writer/directors whose work I'd go see automatically without any need for additional information or reviews about the specific movie. If his name was on it, I'd see it (that's still true, but the way, though his last effort, Honeydripper, never got to a theater in Montana so I'll have to hunt it up on DVD). The main reason for this was because it was clear that he was interested in building stories around characters who were real, true-to-life people, and that quality was evident not just in his protagonists, but in virtually every person who popped up on screen. Even when he dabbled in science fiction (with Brother From Another Planet), he maintained that connection with reality and, to my mind, made a movie that was way better than something like E.T.Win Win was not made by John Sayles, but given that this is the third movie in a row* directed and written by Thomas McCarthy that exhibits that same commitment to dealing with small-scale reality (by which I mean, the drama comes from the kind of events and conflicts encountered by almost anyone in the course of day-to-day life) rather than big issues or heightened melodramatic circumstances, he's now joined Sayles on that aforementioned list. In Win Win the plot turns on the decision to place an elderly man in a nursing home, and the repercussions that has on his family and others. The performances are great all through the cast (also a Sayles trademark, by the way), especially Amy Ryan and Paul Giamatti, who keep things believable at every turn. McCarthy doesn't pen the kind of sprawling scripts that Sayles is noted for, with multiple layers of story unfolding concurrently in a kind of roundelay of intersecting lives, but aside from that I see McCarthy as the inheritor of Sayles' commitment to maintaining a scale and tone that values contemplation and insight over spectacle and escape. Here's hoping he keeps up the good work.
*The others are the equally fine The Station Agent and The Visitor.
This isn't about fathers or anything, it's just a song that I remember my dad telling me he liked (it was one of the few that was even remotely in the rock and roll vein). I like it too, and when I hear it, I think of Dad. So hear it is:
I spent the better part of this afternoon wandering around the Griffiss Sculpture park down in a place called Ashford Hollow. It's a big nature preserve whose trails have been decorated with numerous large pieces of sculpture, both realistic and abstract. The Rosieks and I had a really good time hiking around the grounds (despite the big hills), getting a little sun, a little exercise, and a lot of art.
A lot of the sculptures are interactive in the sense that you can touch them, bang on them (you know, to see if they're hollow), even climb on them. Some are really nicely integrated into the setting, like the series of "Bathers" you can make out on the far edges of the pond in the shot below.
There were a few pieces that offered some respite from the sun, as a lot of the work was set up out in these big open meadows (others, as seen above, were in the woods).
I would guess that the "Castle Tower" was the highlight of the exhibit, since you could actually go up to the top and survey the wide vistas of Cattaraugus County from that perch (I think that's what Natalie is doing below).
I didn't quite get up to the top, but I did get this nice shot of Sara under a tree sketching from a porthole in the side of the Tower:
All in all, a really nice day out in the countryside with the family (topped off, by the way, with hot dogs at Ol' Man Rivers!)
The Mutton Birds may be the finest band to come out of New Zealand (I frankly don't know enough about the scene there to say with absolute certainty). Here's a great song by them that goes back to the early nineties:
I spent most of my Saturday out in Mumford, NY, site of the Genesee Country Village. This is kind of like Colonial Williamsburg, except it commemorates an era a couple of generation later, and the more "frontier" kind of atmosphere found in upstate New York. There are several dozen buildings comprising the village, most of which are restored and open to the public. It's a great place to experience a little history.
I took over 400 pictures (I was actually shocked by the number myself), some of the sights, some of family I was visiting with, and some attempts at artsiness, given the unique setting and some of the lighting situations I found.
I'm a little surprised that I never made my way over there before-- it's just about an hour's drive from where I grew up. But though I've been hearing about the place for years, today was the first time I went there, and I had a great time wandering amongst the buildings, listening to the docents tell the stories of the various places and families who inhabited them, and enjoying the great weather.
We were there for over five hours, and except for some mildly sore feet from all the walking, I think I could have easily spent another couple of hours exploring the grounds. We did miss the nineteenth century rules baseball game (because we were way over on the other side of the village, but aside from that it was a perfect day. Thanks to Theresa, Dan, Nik, Helen, Emma, Natalie and Ben for helping make it such a good time-- I hope we can do it again some time!