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"
Here's Lizzie sitting on the arm of the couch in our living room at 74 Penarrow Drive. What I'd like to know is, who was sitting next to her on this particular occasion (before I cropped the person out of the picture)? Put your guesses in the comments section.
Last week, I asked who was portrayed in a highly processed photo. I could not obscure the identity enough to fool Helen's mom, however, so Theresa is the winner. Good luck to all this week!
Boy I really wanted to like the new movie Drive. Descriptions I'd read ahead of time made me think it might be a cool genre exercise like those Walter Hill used to make in the seventies and eighties (like the similarly named The Driver) Alas, Nicolas Winding Refn is no Walter Hill, and certainly no Quentin Tarantino (a name that came up in several reviews of the film). There is some good stuff in the movie-- notably the acting by Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and especially Albert Brooks. Refn does exhibit some style in his direction (I particularly appreciated his ability to slow things down and avoid the kind of quick cutting that is way too ubiquitous in contemporary thrillers). But unfortunately, the good parts don't seem to be in the service of much of anything worthwhile. If there was some kind of payoff for the viewer who sits through this thing, I completely missed it. I guess the point might be that even a criminal can be a decent person, capable of compassion. But I'm not sure that the movie really comes down on the side of that conclusion, since I found it impossible to believe that the main character was ever acting out of anything but selfishness, often pursued in poorly thought out actions. Unlike Columbiana, which was so stupid that you could just give in and go along for the ride, Drive gives every indication that Refn has something more serious on his mind. But in the end, I'm at a loss to say what that might be, leaving me to think Drive is just as empty as that other movie.
This is as neat a summary of the "philosophy" of photography as I've yet found. It comes from the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004):
"To take photographs means to recognize - simultaneously and within a fraction of a second - both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one's head, one's eye and one's heart on the same axis."
I need a little cheering up this evening (as the Braves completed an epic collapse and fell out of the playoffs)-- so I'm listening to the Clovers. And you know what... it makes me feel a little better. Here's one of their great tunes:
Just outside of Missoula is a small state park called Council Grove. It marks the spot where a treaty between the American settlers and local Indian tribes was signed back in the mid-nineteenth century. I visited last weekend looking for photo ops, and these four pictures represent the best of the shots I took. The river is Clark's Fork.
I was using a new fixed focal length lens that I recently purchased, and I'm pretty pleased with its performance, with regard to color and crispness.
It was a bit early in the year to catch the leaves changing, though you can kind of tell they are on the verge. Hopefully I'll get a chance to get oput again when the colors are really spectacular.
I like this observation by the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007):
"A first grader should understand that his or her culture isn't a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society. Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It's also a source of hope. It means we don't have to continue this way if we don't like it."
I am a huge fan of Buddy Holly's work, and I have to admit that I approached the recent compilation of contemporary covers of his songs with a bit of trepidation. Although I like many of the artists selected to interpret his songs, it was easy to imagine either slavish (and hence unnecessary) imitations or brutal deconstructions. There's a little bit of each, but mostly I enjoyed the record straight through-- perhaps a tribute to the quality of the source material. After the first couple of listens, this is my favorite, from the wonderful Patti Smith (who I could've predicted would offer up a highlight):
Terri is the kind of movie that makes you believe it is still possible to tell a story on a human scale in a fictional film, without relying on exaggeration, special effects or star power to grab and hold an audience. Director Azazel Jacobs' establishes a tone that rings true from the first frame, and never wavers in presenting a story of a generally goodhearted kid who is working out how to cope with the largely unfortunate circumstances that he has little control over at home or at school. A loner at the beginning of the story, he discovers that there may be something to gain from developing some friendships, though his efforts in that regard are somewhat tentative at first, and not always successful as it becomes clear that even other goodhearted people can let you down. But at the end, one is left with the impression that Terri has recognized that he has at least some control over what comes next, and that certainly had me leaving the theater in an upbeat mood. It's really strange to me that this kind of film is so rare today, by which I mean I don't get why they don't appeal to large audiences-- or more to the point, why aren't they given the kind of distribution that makes them available to a mass audience. You certainly see elements of this kind of story in more big budget affairs (I'm thinking, for example, of The Blind Side). But in those cases, the manipulation of the audience is so calculated and blatant, while a movie like Terri comes off as totally unpretentious and real. It's like in the former case, the goal is to elicit a cathartic "awww" from the audience at the end; while in the latter case, the goal is to promote empathy for real people, who are recognizable in (if not literally represented by) the characters in the story. I'm not really opposed to the concept of catharsis, but there's a huge difference between feeling like a good person because you went to a movie, and seeing a movie that makes you want to be a better person. I guess those two responses don't have to be mutually exclusive, but given that there were only two people in the theater when I saw Terri, I'm guessing producers see a lot more commercial promise in focusing on the much easier goal of producing that "awww," which is really too bad for all of us.
Back in the pre-World War II era, cartoonists often had an entire page to fill in the Sunday color sections. In addition tot he featured strip, they often added a topper-- a shorter strip with another group of characters to provide a little variety on the page. H.H. Knerr, the primary artist on The Katzenjammer Kids for almost thirty years created Dinglehoofer Und His Dog to top the Kids. If you're familiar with the former, you'll recognize some consistencies between the two. Anyway, here are a few examples of what weekly readers got from Herr Dinglehoofer back in the late thirties.
I have no idea what the video in this clip has to do with the song, so my recommendation to you is to ignore it and just focus on the music, which is a classic from the early seventies, performed by the Chi-Lites:
Consider this something of a sequel to Toonerville Thursday, as I've found another example of a cartoon made from that classic comic strip to post here. This episode (I gather there were only a handful of these made) features the Skipper and the Powerful Katrinka (who keeps coming to the rescue). I'm not sure these animated adventures exactly capture the "soul" of the print version, but they are pretty entertaining in their own right:
Vancougar-- surprise surprise-- hail from Vancouver, and make some really good pop-rock. I think "Philadelphia" is my favorite song on the album Canadian Tuxedo, but the rest is pretty good too. Enjoy:
When I first started at my current job, there was a small coffee shop on campus that I would frequent for lunch (and other events like films and poetry readings). It was a friendly, comfortable spot, just one building over from my office, and I generally ordered a cup of soup, which were generally quite good. Due to some campus construction, the operation was eventually moved to another building a bit further away. It's not a huge campus, so I'm not talking miles, but it was slightly less convenient and so my visits became a bit more sporadic, though I continued to enjoy the soup. At some point, a new little snack shop opened in the student union that was even closer than the old coffee shop, and so that became a regular stop. They too offered soup, and usually had two or three choices, which made it an especially attractive option, though on occasion I would still stroll the extra steps to the other place-- it was nice to have such choices, and that meant I could be picky in what I had for lunch. But then the proprietors of the coffee shop complained to the campus administration about unfair competition, and the soup vanished from the snack shop. I have to admit, I took this a little personally and fell out of the habit of going to either spot for lunch. Every now and then, I would have a meeting with someone in the coffee shop, and the soup was still pretty good, but I mostly brown-bagged or skipped lunch altogether. All of which is a lengthy prelude to mentioning that I had lunch at the coffee shop yesterday for the first time in probably two years, and I had the soup: cream of broccoli. It was fine (though it could've been hotter), but nothing to cause me to adjust my habits and make it a regular stop once again. I don't really blame the owners for looking out for their own interests, but I wish I still had all those choices, and it doesn't appear likely that things will go back to the way I liked them best.
That Niccola Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a pretty sharp cookie, and not just on the topic of politics (for which he is best known). Here's a comment he made on the subject of history:
"Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results."
I was trying to think of something to post that would especially appeal to my sister (and birthday girl) Liz. I'm pretty sure she's a Neil Diamond fan, so I hope she (and the rest of you too) like this one:
This is a very famous picture within our family, because it proved prescient in that my sister Elizabeth grew up to be a very fine artist. Lizzie, I hope you have a great day and, as always, I can't wait to see what you're working on now!
Stephen Malkmus is one of those musical figures who will probably never get out of the shadow of his first band (Pavement). But his solo career (actually with his group the Jicks) certainly demonstrates that he remains every bit the creative and interesting artist he was in the old days. Here's some evidence: the first track off his new album Mirror Traffic:
Here's an example of Tommy James' music (see previous post), one of the great pop-psychedelic songs of the late sixties: "Crystal Blue Persuasion" (though the performance looks like its from at least ten years later):
One of my areas of research, going back to my grad school days, has been the popular music industry in America. One of the things that became evident very early on is just how shady that business was for most of its history. That's not to say that everyone in the industry was tainted, and some were unfairly maligned (disc jockeys, for one example), but you didn't have to look very hard to find extremely unethical if not criminal behavior behind the scenes of the hit-making machinery. Tommy James puts that topic front and center in his book Me, the Mob, and the Music. The framework for the story is essentially his own rise to success and fame in the sixties as the front man for the Shondells, who enjoyed a long string of hits that began with "Hanky Panky" and extended through the late sixties and early seventies. That's the framework, but the persistent theme is how much of that success was orchestrated by the actions of Morris Levy, a notorious mobster who ran Roulette Records (among other enterprises) and used his underworld reputation to pretty much get what he wanted from artists, distributors, broadcasters, and anyone else who might contribute to getting his releases to the top of the charts. It's a gripping story, and James comes off as both a talented artist and an honest reporter about the advantages (and disadvantages) that came along with being employed by Levy. Although tensions inevitably arose from the relationship, it's clear he retains a lot of affection for his "mentor" though eventually the two were estranged as Levy's activities caught up to him and he ended up in jail. The book ultimately is more successful as a music story than a true crime story, mainly because James' perspective on Levy does not come from being in the latter's inner circle. But that's certainly enough to make it a worthwhile read, maybe especially if you've ever danced to "Mony Mony" at a wedding reception or sang along to "Crimson and Clover" on the radio-- which may never have happened without the hidden hand of organized crime.
This quote comes from the prominent American sociologist David Reisman (1909-2002), probably best known for his book The Lonely Crowd.
"The idea that men are created free and equal is both true and misleading: men are created different; they lose their social freedom and their individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other."
I could listen to Jimmie Dale Gilmore sing all night long, and this is one of my favorites by him. It;s a tune written by Butch Hancock, in a live version apparently recorded on video just in the last year or so. Enjoy:
Whitney Darrow Jr. was one of the classic New Yorker cartoonists, whose work appeared in that mag and elsewhere for almost half a century beginning in the 1930s. These few examples give you an idea of his style and humor; and though they may have first appeared in print decades ago, I think they remain fresh and funny today. If you can't read the captions, just click on the images for enlargements.
Here's something to consider from the American writer and critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990):
"Virtue is not a chemical product, as [Hippolyte] Taine once described it: it is a historic product, like language and literature; and this means that if we cease to care about it, cease to cultivate it, cease to transmit its funded values, a large part of it will become meaningless, like a dead language to which we have lost the key."
This is one of those songs that has a hook that just digs in under your skin and doesn't let go. The Cash Brothers are out of southern Ontario and I sure hope they've got some more records coming out soon, because their older stuff (like this) just makes me want to hear more:
This is really cool: a Gerald McBoing Boing cartoon in which the little fellow provides sound effects (and more) for radio programs. I love the mix of super sleek modern design (circa 1953) mixed with a story that seems totally old-fashioned today. Enjoy:
I posted a video from the late lamented Sleater Kinney a few days ago, and just today I found out that two members of that group have been reunited in a band called Wild Flag. I immediately ordered their album (which came out this week), and found this video to share from an appearance they made last Spring at the SxSW Conference in Austin. Check it out:
In the uncropped version of the above photo, Ben is holding Natalie back to keep her from chasing someone. My question to you is, who was she trying to chase? Put your guesses in the comments section.
Last week, I asked for the identities of the five kids sitting around a table in a slightly obscured photo. The effort to hide those identities proved for naught, as Catie nailed the lineup on the first guess (after Mom deferred). They were Brian, Sally, Jeff, John, and Kathy. Let's see if we can't get a few more participants this week!
These are some random photos that I took a few years ago in Milan and Venice. For one reason or another, each seemed to be a bit more striking once I converted them to black and white. The first is a newsstand in St. Mark's Plaza in Venice.
The ornate floor seen above is found in what was described to us as the world's oldest shopping mall in Milan. Of course, we heard the same thing about a complex of buildings in Rome, but at least in this case, the place was still open for business.
It was a rainy day in Venice (actually Milan too) while we were there, and I kind of liked the way these umbrellas appeared looking out through the grated screen onto St. Mark's Plaza.
A somewhat typical scene of a singing gondolier, entertaining both his customers on the boat and the folks walking alongside the canal.
This one makes me wonder what the young woman is looking at, especially since everyone else on the promendae is heading off in the opposite direction.
I enjoy taking pictures in the rain-- more to the pointy, I enjoy the results of pictures taken in the rain. Actually taking them can be a bit of a hassle.