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"
Taken at Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park. Lil Sis (and perhaps silent others) wondered how I got this effect after posting some examples the other day. They are double exposures of the same subject, but with one in focus and one out of focus. It's necessary to employ manual focusing to do this, and helps a lot if you use a tripod. I hope if anyone else tries it, they'll share the results.
Is there any wonder why I appreciate the following quote from the German scientist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)?
"Food probably has a very great influence on the condition of men. Wine
exercises a more visible influence, food does it more slowly but perhaps
just as surely. Who knows if a well-prepared soup was not responsible
for the pneumatic pump or a poor one for a war?"
I've been experimenting with my camera recently and have come up with a technique that leads to some interesting, "dream-like" effects. These three examples, which illustrate the technique are all unretouched or edited-- what you see is what I shot. I doubt that I'm the first to discover this process, but feeling just a little self-satisfied that I figured it out on my own.
These three photos were taken, respectively, in Chestnut Ridge Park, Niagara Falls (looking out over Terrapin Point, where Nick Wallenda started his recent walk), and Audubon Woods. I'm inclined to think (especially based on these examples) that natural light is the better condition for this effect. Comments?
Boy, I'd sure like to believe this is true. It's from the novel Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin:
"All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought
together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the
perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness
continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a
way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that
will be, but something that is."
I remember when I was a kid, my mom would occasionally make stuffed peppers-- green peppers hollowed out and filled with a ground beef and rice mix and baked in tomato sauce. I don't remember liking it very much, but I was a picky eater (and went through a long phase where I didn't like anything with tomato sauce on it-- spaghetti, meatloaf, whatever). So when I saw, for the first time ever, a menu that included Stuffed Pepper Soup, my impulse was to reject it immediately. But noting that there were no other options, and committed to the idea of trying anything that wasn't seafood-based, I took the plunge. The first spoonful tasted oh so familiar and I realized that the flavor (if not the texture) was exactly the same as in those stuffed peppers my mother made, and it was really good. I chalk this up to the maturing of my taste buds over time. But it does make me wonder why I never outgrew my aversion to fish?
Explorers of the Nile by Tim Jeal is my kind of summer reading. It's an richly detailed recounting of the exploits of Richard Burton, John Speke, David Livingstone, Henry Stanley and a number of other Victorian-era adventurers who sought to find and investigate the source of the Nile River in Africa. What comes across especially well is how competitive and envious these famous men were of one another, and the often absurd lengths they would go to discredit one another's theories as they competed for support from the British government, the Royal Geographic Society, and even the African monarchs and Arab traders with whom they inevitably came into contact (surprisingly, to me, Stanley is the one who comes off as the least obnoxious, though Livingstone is close). Jeal also does a good job of crediting the loyal African guides and porters who were a huge factor in the success of failure of the various explorations. Perhaps most impressive is the final chapter where Jeal analyses the long-term effects of their efforts, and speculates on how contemporary affairs in equatorial Africa evolved (for both good and bad) from the imperial consequences of those explorations. That analysis even includes some reasonable alternative scenarios (based on the author's speculation regarding potentially different outcomes at various key points in the nineteenth century) that on balance do not suggest things could've been noticeably better in the region today had they occurred. In the end, it's impossible to escape the conclusion that the slave trade (which is an integral part of the explorers' story in several meaningful ways) was the primary cause of most of the ills suffered on the African continent even down to the present day, even as Jeal notes that many millions of African communities have enjoyed a more-or-less steady history of security and prosperity even despite that legacy. I'd love to see a sequel to this book that looks at similar adventures and their consequences in Western Africa.
As a place where music "happened" Laurel Canyon really doesn't have the same cultural cache of Detroit or Memphis or even Cleveland. But Michael Walker does a good job of demonstrating how the vibe of the Canyon (which provides a somewhat bucolic, woodsy link between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley) was a major factor in shaping Los Angeles rock from the Byrds to the Eagles, and involving the likes of such disparate figures as the Monkees, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, and loads of others. It's a compelling story with lots of colorful personalities, including not just musicians, but other artists, fans and even psychopaths (some of the Manson murders occurred in the Canyon). I think the value in Walker's book is more in defining a mythology of the Canyon lifestyle than in really proving there's some kind of unified Laurel Canyon "sound" (which, it's important to note, the author never asserts anyway), which on close inspection would prove true in those other cities as well. But it's a very entertaining read, and, after driving through the Canyon a few times myself (because I'd heard so much about it), I now have some understanding of what made it so special at least for awhile.
When is Black Bean Chili actually Black Bean Chili? I had a bowl of something called that on a menu a few days back, and while it was actually pretty good, it sure tasted (and looked) more like a soup than a chili. That is, it was beans and peppers and onions in a fairly liquidy brown broth rather than a thicker chili-style sauce. I'm sure the distinction is based more on the ingredients than the consistency of the stuff, but while there were definitely big chunks of green pepper in the mix, I did not detect any actual chili peppers (or for that matter, chili flavor). I guess it really doesn't matter, but if I'm going to keep writing up these encounters, I have to have something to comment on, right?
For many years beginning some time in the mid-seventies, I was a regular reader of the Village Voice, largely because of the weekly movie reviews they included by Andrew Sarris. There were also a number of good music writers, like Robert Christgau and Lester Bangs, as well as Geoffrey Stokes on media and Nat Hentoff on human rights, but the main draw for me was Sarris. It was clear in his writing that he was a fan first, and a critic second (not that he ever shortchanged the reader on thoughtful analysis-- it's just that you had a sense that what made him passionate about movies in the first place was the visceral kick they provided, with the intellectual stuff a savory bonus). When I discovered his indispensable book The American Cinema, it became my film bible and I still keep it within reach of my favorite TV-watching chair so that I can reread his comments on the director of every good (or even not-so-good) old movie I catch on Turner Classics. Eventually Sarris moved on the the New York Observer, where I read his columns on-line, and up until a year or so ago, he was still contributing pieces to Film Comment. Unfortunately, I just saw that he passed away today, so his by-line won't be appearing anywhere anymore (you can read the NY Times obituary here). Maybe, if we're lucky, a nice anthology of his work (long overdue) will appear in the near future.
From this morning's soccer game out behind the soccer field, here's our mini-Mia-Hamm... otherwise known as Helen. Actually, I'm thinking the nickname I used on the day she was born is becoming even more relevant: "Helen Wheels."
Believe it or not, Ben is engaged in a serious art project here. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have a photo of the finished product. If you look close, you can make out his Mom in the shadows to his right (your left).
Good point by one of the few politicians of my lifetime who never lost my respect, Mario Cuomo:
"We must get the American public to look past the glitter, beyond the
showmanship, to the reality, the hard substance of things. And we'll do
it not so much with speeches that will bring people to their feet as
with speeches that bring people to their senses."
I got to see my niece Helen play in a a soccer game last Saturday, and it turns out she's a budding superstar. She has great instincts, plays excellent defense, and was probably the fastest player on the field.
I'm really looking forward to seeing her play a few more times this summer (and for many years to come, I hope). She has officially replaced Didier Drogba as my favorite soccer player!
My niece Natalie graduated from High School last night, and was the prettiest girl there (no small feat-- as she went to an all-girl school). This was partly due to the lovely dress made for her by her Aunt Theresa. Way to go Natalie, and now on to college!
Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a pretty sharp lady who wrote about various social issues in England and the U.S. during her lifetime. Here's a good example of how she looked at things:
"Laws and customs may be creative of vice; and should be therefore
perpetually under process of observation and correction: but laws and
customs cannot be creative of virtue: they may encourage and help to
preserve it; but they cannot originate it."
I got the chance to watch Helen play some soccer this past week, and she's really good! She has great instincts-- not only on offense, but getting back to play great defense too. She also seemed to be the fastest player on the field both times I saw her play, which certainly helps. I'm looking forward to seeing her in some more games this summer, so there will likely be more pictures as well.
A nice insight from the mind of architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959):
"A free America, democratic in the sense that our forefathers intended it
to be, means just this: individual freedom for all, rich or poor, or
else this system of government we call democracy is only an expedient to
enslave man to the machine and make him like it."