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"
This is not a picture I took, and I'm hoping someone can tell me where it was taken. Aunt Clare and Gramma on a bench in a park by a merry-go-round somewhere in the Seattle area-- could it be in the complex around the Space Needle?
Today's quote comes from the noted educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952):
"Discipline must come through liberty.... We do not consider an
individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially
silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual
annihilated, not disciplined."
I can't really explain why, but I am fascinated by accounts of New York City in the 1970s, especially if they focus on Greenwich Village and the arts world. Maybe it's because I discovered the Village Voice in the seventies and was enamored with their coverage of the local scene. In any case, I was looking forward to reading Patti Smith's memoir of that period, with an emphasis on her relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, since I first heard about the book a year or so ago. As it happens, when I went to the library to borrow it, they had the audio version, read by the author herself, so it became the soundtrack to my long drive back from Buffalo to Dillon, and I couldn't have had better accompaniment. Hearing Smith's prose delivered in her distinctive New Jersey voice, conveying genuine emotion prompted by the memory of her experiences, was a big plus. She describes her upbringing in New Jersey, family life and early work experience, but the book really starts to take off with her arrival in NYC in the late sixties, where she works a variety of minimum wage type jobs while trying to make her way as an artist and poet. Mapplethorpe becomes her partner, and their relationship ultimately transcends that of friends or lovers, with each fueling the other's creative impulses even as they move in different directions, she towards music and he towards photography. It's quite a sweet story, told without irony despite the impoverished seediness against which much of it it unfolds. Along the way, there are encounters with the likes of Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, and Harry Smith (compiler of the seminal Anthology of American Folk Music), not because they add celebrity color to the tale, but because each played a role in shaping the trajectory of Smith's and Mapplethorpe's careers. Patti Smith's prose is every bit as impassioned and engaging as her music, but even if you're not already a fan, there's a good chance this book (especially the audio version) will win you over with its style, grace, and compelling story.
This is one of the most notorious of copycat records from the sixties: Mouse & the Traps channeling their inner Bob Dylan with "Public Execution." This could have easily been mistaken for Dylan's followup to "Positively Fourth Street:"
One of my few regrets of this past summer is that I didn't get to go see The Bourne Legacy with Natalie, Ben and Tom on my last night in Buffalo (mainly because I hadn't packed yet). It is exactly the kind of movie that is enhanced by seeing it with a bunch of people, so that afterwards you can ooh and aah with each other over the shared thrills of the non-stop action. But even going to see it by myself, I had a good time. Like the earlier entries in the series, it's action packed and bounces around the globe with great set pieces against exotic (and some not so exotic) backgrounds. It doesn't really advance the theme of government duplicity that was the point of the previous three films; in fact the genuinely sympathetic performance by newcomer Edward Norton (as a national security bigwig) almost makes all the previous revelations about rogue CIA extremism seem both necessary and justifiable-- almost. But the real appeal of the film to me, was the whole Rosencrantz and Guildenstern concept, wherein the events of this film, focusing on agent Aaron Cross, occur simultaneously with those of the third in the series, which focused on Jason Bourne-- mostly in different places, but with some overlapping cast. No doubt a script by Tom Stoppard (let alone William Shakespeare) would have elevated this beyond mere action fare, but considering how dumb most such movies are these days, I'll take cleverness as a reasonable stand-in for genius. Oh yeah, and Rachel Weisz proves once again to be the smartest and sexiest actress to occasionally dabble in the action-thriller genre.
I'm not entirely sure if this is an optimistic or pessimistic observation by Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), but it's worth thinking about:
"The nature of man remains ever the same: in the ten thousandth year of
the World he will be born with passions, as he was born with passions in
the two thousandth, and ran through his course of follies to a late,
imperfect, useless wisdom."
There must be thousands of versions of this song on record, but you'd be hard-pressed to find as soulful a version as this, featuring the dual saxophones of Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins (sorry, I don't know who does the bass solo):
Diary entries have been absent for awhile here, not because I stopped eating soup, but because it's become virtually impossible for me to find a place serving something I haven't already written about. Fables Cafe used to be good for at least one new variety a week, but this summer they seemed to have gone to about five or six tried-and-true choices in rotation. They are mostly okay, but what's the point in writing about tomato basil for the third or fourth time? Likewise, at Athena's, every time I stopped in over the past three months they were serving split pea. I love their split pea soup, but how many times do you need to hear that? So I was looking forward to getting back to Steve's in Helena, since I'd only been there a handful of times, and always on Saturdays. It seemed a good bet that a mid-week visit might afford the opportunity to try something different. Well, I was half right in that assumption. The soup of the day yesterday was Potato Bacon. I've been a little surprised to see how common potato soups have become over the past couple of years (it's one of the staples at Fables now too), mostly in the form of "loaded" baked potato soup. Thankfully, Steve's avoided the temptation to go overboard. It's not that I dislike the loaded soup, but I suspect a big part of what makes it taste so good is the copious amounts of cheese in the mix. Nothing against cheese, but it's supposed to be potato soup, so I'd like to taste the potato (this is a common problem with broccoli soups too, by the way). So Steve's does it right-- no cheese, and really only a bit of bacon to enhance not overwhelm the creamy potato flavor. I was looking for something a bit more exotic, but I really can't complain when something so straightforward is done so well. It's starting to look like I'll have to start experimenting in my own kitchen if I want something truly out of the ordinary.
I like the distinction that poet Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) makes in this statement:
"Genius is a bend in the creek where bright water has gathered, and which
mirrors the trees, the sky and the banks. It just does that because it
is there and the scenery is there. Talent is a fine mirror with a silver
frame, with the name of the owner engraved on the back."
Lee Renaldo, late of Sonic Youth, recently put out a really fine solo album, and it's quite good. I shouldn't be surprised-- clearly he was an instrumental figure in shaping the sound of his old band (though not as well-known as comrades Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon). Anyway, here's a cut off that solo effort:
I finally caved to all the friends who said I needed to get Netflix, and signed up for the streaming version over the weekend. The first thing I watched was Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou, because I wanted to see how the process worked, and that was only fifteen minutes long. Following that I spent a couple of hours going through their various menus and compiling a queue of about 200 or so titles, ranging from several documentaries on African-American history (which I'm teaching as of next week) to a bunch of obscure films noir to some classic foreign stuff from the fifties and sixties to... well, you get the idea. I was slightly disappointed that some movies I've long dreamed of seeing were not available (Wim Wenders' early works, for example), but there were some in that category, including the first feature I watched: Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Two Girls, which came out almost fifteen years ago, but which I never saw playing in any theater nor in any video format I had access to. But there it was on Netflix, so I jumped at the chance to finally see it.
Forsyth is a Scottish director who made some of my favorite movies of the eighties, including Local Hero which is probably one of my top three or four all-time favorite movies. The only one of his films that I didn't think was very good was Being Human, which had snatches of Forsyth's signature charm, but ultimately was undermined (I think) by an all-too-common cloying Robin Williams performance (I remember thinking at the time that Williams' presence-- an uncommon big star in a Forsyth film-- may have led to greater studio interference than was evident in the director's earlier work). Then, Forsyth seemed to vanish. It's possible that Gregory's Two Girls (a sequel to his breakthrough film Gregory's Girl from 1980) was never even released in this country, and I only knew of it from a reference I stumbled across in the Internet Movie Database some years after it was made. Needless to say, I was excited to finally get a chance to see it.
The movie does not attain the heights of Forsyth's best work, but it is a much better swan song (if it proves to be his last film-- he's done no others since this one) than Being Human. As a sequel, I expected it to be a similar kind of offbeat romantic comedy like it's predecessor, but that's only a jumping off point. All of Forsyth's films, to one degree or another revolve around an almost playful conflict between realism and fantasy. Not the kind of fantasy one associates with unicorns or outer space or comic book super-heroics, but rather the kind that motivates almost all of us to imagine a life more simple, more enriching (however defined), or just better. Gregory represented that in his first appearance, when as a gawky high school student he developed a severe crush on the female star of the school's soccer team, a girl well out of his league which all of his mates recognized long before he did. In the later film, Gregory is now an only somewhat less gawky English teacher in the same high school, and has a crush on one his students (who also plays soccer), while he is pursued by one of his female colleagues. But the real heart of the film (into which his romantic fantasies are integrated) revolves around his being compelled to act on the lessons he tries to instill in his students to question authority and actively resist the blandishments of an exploitive consumer, corporatist society. It's a political dimension that Forsyth never really engaged before, and one can question if he successfully pulls it off here. For example, the "bad" guy in the story is really only bad in an abstract sense-- as a character interacting with others he seems mostly a pretty decent guy. It's hard to know if that is a consequence of Forsyth's basic humanity or a pointed comment on how insidiously the "machine" operates to win us over. But even acknowledging such shortcomings, this is an entertaining flick , especially if you're in tune with Forsyth's sensibility (I admit, not everyone is) and can appreciate the melancholy inevitability that even the most mild-mannered of fantasies can rarely be realized even when they seem to come true.
Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was an Austrian economist and phiosopher. Here's something he once said:
"As society is only possible if everyone, while living his own life, at
the same time helps others to live; if every individual is
simultaneously means and end; if each individual's well-being is
simultaneously the condition necessary to the well-being of others, it
is evident that the contrast between I and thou, means and end,
automatically is overcome."
Good to know that Ogden Nash's (1902-1971) work had a nicely thought out rationale behind it:
"Among other things I think humor is a shield, a weapon, a survival
kit.... So here we are several billion of us, crowded into our global
concentration camp for the duration. How are we to survive? Solemnity is
not the answer, any more than witless and irresponsible frivolity is. I
think our best chance lies in humor, which in this case means a wry
acceptance of our predicament. We don't have to like it but we can at
least recognize its ridiculous aspects, one of which is ourselves."
Danny Neaverth and Joey Reynolds were legendary Buffalo disc jockeys, playing the hits at the mighty KB. I guess they thought it looked easy to make a record, and went into the studio to concoct this little slice of musical heaven (or hell, as your tastes dictate):
I've driven through Sioux Falls South Dakota many times over the years, and even spent the night there a few times. But until this past week, I never took the time to go and look and the Falls that give the place its name.
There's quite an impressive park through which the Big Sioux River flows with the falls and rock formations taking on the appearance of a kind of mini Grand Canyon, which can be easily traversed by foot.
The buildings on the left are the remnants of a mill that was built in the 19880s, and which went bust within a couple of decades-- never receiving enough grain to make the endeavor worthwhile. But the ruins add a nice historical touch to the surroundings.
Possibly the coolest feature of the place is that you can walk out onto the rocks and right up to the water over almost the entire stretch of the Falls. I saw a lot of kids hopping from one dry spot to another, but couldn't quite time one to catch them in flight.
One last shot, this one looking north from the Falls. The tower in the background is part of the park (though I didn't go up). I'm glad I finally got a look at this spot, as hiking around and taking pictures made for a very pleasant evening.
Here's another of the million or so artists out there who deserve more attention and popularity than they seem to have, namely Chris Mills. Think about it-- is most of what you hear on contemporary pop radio really as good as this?
This past Monday I found myself at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington, Kentucky to visit the 20th Annual International Colored Pencil Exhibit. The exhibit included a very nice piece of work by my talented sister Liz, which you can see behind me in the shot below.
Liz's piece shared a wall with several other pictures with horses as the subject (and there were several others throughout the exhibit, which occupied six galleries spread over two floors of the Center).
I suspect the building was at one time a library, and it had an interesting central atrium, which you can see from these last two pictures.
If you find yourself in northern Kentucky before the end of the month, be sure to check out the show-- lots of good stuff on display (almost as good as Lizzie's!).
This is Fairport Convention in one of their earliest-- if not the earliest-- incarnations. Judy Dyble is the lead singer, who would later be replaced by Sandy Denny. The song was something of a hit for Richard & Mimi Farina, but this version is pretty distinctive in its own right.