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"
I spent a couple of hours at Nevada City this past weekend, snapping pictures. The town is a living history museum, "populated" by various characters drawn from the town's nineteenth century heyday. In that sense, it's a bit more developed than a lot of the other ghost towns around Montana, and a pleasant place to pass a little time. It was an especially nice day when I was there, with nice light for pictures.
Most of the buildings have been modestly maintained, and some fitted with something like the original trappings relevant to their use (like the tools and wheels outside the smith's shop below).
Compared to the version of the old west towns one is likely to encounter in the movies, Nevada City is both more compact (individual buildings) and more spread out (for the most part, the buildings are kind of scattered instead of butting up against each other). This may reflect a version of the community that evolved after its initial boom days (it sits near Alder Creek, site of one of the biggest gold strikes in the 1860s). The stories told by the docents also paints a picture much less romantic than the versions common in popular culture.
Let's go way back for some words of wisdom from the renowned Greek philosopher Socrates (469 BC- 399 BC):
"The shortest and surest way to live with honour in the world, is to be in reality what we would appear to be; and if we observe, we shall find, that all human virtues increase and strengthen themselves by the practice of them."
This is one of my favorite Beatles tunes, and not one you hear very often on the radio (an album cut from Rubber Soul, my favorite Beatles album). It's also one of the better George Harrison compositions, showing that he had come into his own long before "Something." Enjoy:
I'll go pretty much anywhere if it will provide an opportunity to take interesting photographs. so when my pal Rick mentioned visiting the Eden Corn Festival, I grabbed the camera. Here are some of the shots I took there, in glorious black and white.
I like fairs and festivals because of the people and the lights and the action, and although the Corn Fest is much smaller than the Erie County Fair, there was plenty going on (though it was nice to catch a quiet moment, like below).
It seems like the food is an even bigger attraction than the rides in Eden-- I guess that makes sense given that it's a celebration of the harvest.
The Beaverhead County Fair is this weekend, so I'll have another chance to take some pictures. I hope it's as interesting as the ones I visited back east.
Here's something to ponder from the pen of Lewis H. Lapham, longtime editor of Harper's magazine:
“Money is like fire, an element as little troubled by moralizing as earth, air and water. Men can employ it as a tool or they can dance around it as if it were the incarnation of a god. Money votes socialist or monarchist, finds a profit in pornography or translations from the Bible, commissions Rembrandt and underwrites the technology of Auschwitz. It acquires its meaning from the uses to which it is put.”
I'm a big fan of James Hunter's contemporary soul sound. But what makes this a special treat is the neat animation by Steven Erdman which recalls the work of the key modernist cartoonist and animator Gene Deitch, whose work graced the pages of Record Changer magazine back in the forties and fifties (and whose son Kim is one of the great underground cartoonists from the sixties forward). So this is that rare combination of great music and great visuals, very nicely combined for your listening and viewing pleasure:
On one of my last nights back east, I went to the Erie County Fair with Sally, Tom, Natalie and Ben, mainly to take pictures. Here are a few that I particularly liked. The first is a line of show horses getting ready to compete.
The other three are a bit more experimental. I like the silhouette effect I got with the couples on the swing above.
Likewise, although this one was unintentionally blurry, it kind of conveys the color and movement of the crowd along the midway.
This last one is a double exposure, which turned out particularly well as far as melding the multiple images of the midway into a coherent whole. Maybe I'll post some more shots from the fair in the next few days.
I like this passage from the novel A Death in the Family by one of my favorite writers, James Agee (1909-1955):
"And no matter what, there's not one thing in this world *or* the next that we can do or hope or guess at or wish or pray that can change it or help it one iota. Because whatever is, is. That's all. And all there is now is to be ready for it, strong enough for it, whatever it may be. That's all. That's all that matters. It's all that matters because it's all that's possible."
Here are four examples of the classic Krazy Kat strip from August and September of 1922. I think it's safe to say that George Herriman's creation is one of the two or three greatest strips ever, just based on pure creativity. There's certainly never been anything else remotely like it over the years I've been studying the medium.
I thought this second one might have some resonance for anyone reading this and dealing with the effects (direct or indirect) of Irene back east.
Here's a bit of a mind-bender, from the pen of the writer Gertrude Stein (1874-1946):
"The minute you or anybody else knows what you are you are not it, you are what you or anybody else knows you are and as everything in living is made up of finding out what you are it is extraordinarily difficult really not to know what you are and yet to be that thing."
I just read that the Left Banke is reforming to tour and possibly record for the first time in well over forty years. They were kind of a one-hit wonder (well, two hits actually, this and "Pretty Ballerina") which would hardly indicate a large patient following eagerly awaiting their return. But that one main hit sure was a good one. Here it is:
Just about everybody should recognize Theresa, and you can probably tell from the decor that this was taken around Christmastime at Sara's house. So the question is, who was sitting next to Theresa before I cropped this image (to her left, your right)? Put your guesses in the comments section.
Last week, I asked you to identify a baby's face, and (as I should have expected) Mom knew it was Sally. Here's the full original picture:
When I was in Lake Placid a few weeks ago, I had a chance to watch some youngsters practicing ski jumps off a water slide at the Olympic ski hill. It was pretty incredible watching them sail through the air, doing all kinds of tricks in flight, then landing in a deep pool of water.
I guess in a view years, some of these youngsters may be competing in the next Winter Games. Unfortunately I didn't note any of the names, so I'll never know for sure.
This last shot is of another variety of flier-- a dog competing in the leaping contest at the Erie County Fair. They two were jumping into water, to retrieve toys tossed by their masters. This guy jumped the farthest among those I saw.
Continuing on a theme developed in the previous post (below), here's a shot of Brian and Sally playing in Gramma's backyard (different Gramma than the one mentioned in the last post). Not to embarrass any of the subjects, but I thought it worth noting this scene predates the previous one by more than fifty years! Hard to believe...
Here's one of the better contemporary rock and roll bands out there: the Len Price 3. This song goes back a few years, but it's pretty representative of their more recent work (which is worth looking for):
Here's one of those classic rock and roll songs that actually had already been a hit two generations earlier, and would eventually hit a couple of more times over the next couple of decades. But this version by the Flamingos is my favorite. Check it out:
Wasn't it Albert Einstein who said it was insanity to do the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results? By that definition I must be insane because I keep ordering the soup at Great Harvest in Butte expecting it to be good. In my defense, it's always a different variety of soup, but even so their track record is terrible. The real irony is that they aren't very adventurous with their selections. It's always something straightforward like vegetable beef, chicken noodle, or in the most recent case, cream of tomato. You'd think such standards would be hard to mess up, but they somehow always manage. The tomato soup was very acidic in flavor, and was only palatable once I'd dumped in a bunch of croutons. It's mystifying to me as to why they can't get the soup right because their sandwiches are always really good (I had a BLT yesterday). That's enough to keep me coming back at least somewhat regularly, which means I'll likely take another stab at the soup too. I guess there are worse forms of insanity.
The Vaselines are one of those bands that got little attention when they were first active (at least in this country), but gained some notoriety when Kurt Cobain credited them as an influence. Now, years later, they've reformed to make new music, which is good for all of us. Here's one of their earlier tunes, but check out the new stuff too:
I had the opportunity to catch a number of minor league baseball games this summer, and always took my camera along. Here are some shots that I think turned out pretty good.
I wish I had taken notes so I could identify the players in these pictures. My goal was to learn how to capture the action with some detail, and I'm getting better at that.
I was lucky to have good seats at just about every game (in Buffalo, Burlington, VT, and Erie, PA), giving me decent angles. Although these are all from the first base side, I did occasionally sit on the third base side too, and will try to get some of those up here as well.
There were a lot of near misses too, because I didn't have the settings right at the moment of action. I was so disappointed after rightly aiming at the shortstop as he made a diving catch, only to discover that I hadn't boosted the ISO enough to register more than a white blur.
Here's another set of photos I took a couple weeks ago at the Pennsic Wars, starting with a standard bearer no doubt there to rally the troops as they head off to battle.
Here's a much less martial setting of several merchants and musicians relaxing outside one of the vendors' tents.
A highlight of the visit was the performance by this magician, entertaining folks in the merchants area with classic cup and ball tricks.
There was so little light at the Baronial party where this musician performed that I couldn't get an ideal picture, but this conveys something of the atmosphere of the evening. Maybe Theresa or Dan can remind me of the name of his group, who I understand are longtime favorites of the SCA community.
These are two of the party-goers from that same evening. Again, it could be a bit sharper, but I like how it captures the general mood of the event-- easy-going revelry under torchlight.
This guy was getting ready for the rapier battle which ended up being a bit of a bust, at least for spectators. At least this guy was ready for some action.
I've actually seen Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life twice already, and it's one of those rare cases where I liked it much more on second viewing. That's largely because it's a somewhat overwhelming experience the first time around, as Malick purposely defies the normal conventions of plot and narrative that dominate popular storytelling (whether in films or otherwise), and I'm way out of practice in viewing such work (I'd call it experimental, but I don't think that Malick is experimenting-- he's just hewing to his particular vision). On first viewing, there were several passages that just knocked me out, but it was a struggle to see how it all fit together. On second viewing I had a greater sense of cohesion, and picked up some of the more subtle points that made it a much more enriching experience. Malick must be the only American filmmaker working today in something close to the mainstream (at least in terms of the wide distribution of his films) who can be rightly characterized as a visual poet, whose work leans more toward the allegorical than the literal, and whose ideas are mostly conveyed through his images (in fact there is virtually no dialogue and only impressionistic narration in The Tree of Life). It's a film that demands, and commands, attention, but it's hard to imagine that the average moviegoer is prepared to engage in the kind of interactive relationship with a movie that Malick is assuming here. That's more a result of "lowest common denominator" thinking amongst producers than any inherent lack of intelligence in the audience-- just how often are they challenged by what they see on the screen?-- but it's also unlikely that there will be a loud clamor for more films like this forthcoming. Since Malick has only made five films in almost forty years, one hopes that at least some other artists might be inspired to work in the same vein, but I won't be holding my breath.
Let's start with a couple more shots of the performers. The woman above did a dance with her fingernail extensions on fire (they were really long extensions).
This guy was kind of the leader (or at least spokesman) for the troupe of musicians, dancers, and jugglers. He kind of had a comic Robin Hood persona.
These next four photos were taken at the battle on my second day in the camp. Above are some knights getting ready. I'm not sure they are actually knights, but they looked the part to me.
Two large armies gathered on either side of a big field (I'd guess about the size of four football fields arranged two by two). At the signal, they raced across the open territory to clash in the center (a portion of which is seen above).
From my vantage point, it was hard to get more than a mass of bodies pushing at one another, but you can see a bit of individual combat in the pictures above and below (more pictures tomorrow).