Steve Lansky’s New Art Show

Steve Lansky is a writer and artist who lives in Clifton. If you’re been a part of the writing scene around town, you’ve attended readings where he performed, including excerpts from his novella A Black Bird Fell Out of the Sky, which was published in 2017. Steve’s new art show, Art Like Water, is currently on display at  Ruth’s Parkside Cafe in Northside. The show features 14 ink reproductions from his book Life is a Fountain, which was published by Dos Madres Press. Other works on display include large color abstract expressionist canvases, small shadow boxes with fine-line sketches, and a few other figurative pieces.  Steve has traveled to 18 countries since 2000, and his sketches include fountains from Lisboa, Habana Vieja, Firenze, Querétaro, and Clifton with additional scenes from Northern California, Ontario, Guyana, and Croatia.  Recently Steve and I drove to Ruth’s in order to see his art and discuss the inspiration behind it.

Steve’s art begins at Harvard in 1975, where he took basic drawing.  Independent work completed without a class or direct mentor also counted toward the degree requirements.  In 1979, after a period of experimentation, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and effectively discarded into a series of institutions for four years during which he painted, sculpted, and wrote. “My art flowed like water,” Steve wrote in his artist’s statement for Art Like Water, “finding spaces to fill my life with serenity, resolve, and commitment starting in a locked room at The Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati.”

Steve’s work also owes something to Roy Sebern, dubbed The Secretary of the Interior by Ken Kesey for painting the Magic Bus. Also,  Ann Newburger Pappenheimer provided expressive art therapy, an open door to talk, and encouragement in Cincinnati.  Arthur Schneider, a Detroit artist, also contibuted.  Leigh Alfred Waltz, Phil (Po) Roberto, and Jeff Siereveld also helped him learn computer graphics, which were essential to this show.

Steve’s show continues through May 4. Come check it out, and if you see something you like, buy it! Here are some photos we took during our visit to Ruth’s.

The Over the Coffee Guy

Although nearly half a century has passed since this happened, I clearly remember looking out a top-floor classroom window of Perkins Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa early one afternoon. Usually the make-shift lunchtime football field emptied as soon as the bell rang, but on this day there was an ambulance on the field. “What happened?” “Someone broke his leg.” “Who was it?” No one knew, but obviously this was a younger kid, as the epic football battles my classmates and I experienced had by then become a thing of the past.

At that point I had no idea who the boy was who broke his leg, but eventually I met him. That happened later that school year, after a teacher introduced the newest member of our class, who, it turns out, had just skipped a grade. The rumor going around school was that, while recuperating from his broken leg, Chris Kaul engaged in a sort of warp-speed tutorial project that force-fed him a year’s worth of knowledge. Soon I discovered, though, that the leap ahead was already in the works and people were waiting for the right time to give it the okay. Hearing the true narrative taught me this valuable lesson: when life throws roadblocks at you, sometimes a broken bone or two helps expedite the process.

Perkins Elementary was an excellent school that instilled a love for learning at the same time that it allowed for fun and frivolity. I won’t say I never got in trouble, but usually my classmates and I were able to balance learning with our desire to get a laugh. Where the new guy with straight red hair and bangs fit into the scheme of things was hard to say. We always had the same classmates and our roster rarely changed, and this was the first time someone leaped ahead a year, and we were the smart class. If a genius was going to outshine the rest of us, well, that could be a problem.

My reservations were soon resolved, however. The shift in perspective occurred after I saw our new classmate sitting in a corner and throwing spitballs into a trash can. What he’d done to irk the teacher I didn’t know, but I now knew this guy could be trusted. We quickly became friends, and he quickly became part of a larger group of friends I had since early grade school. Chris Kaul and I played violin in the Perkins Elementary School Orchestra conducted by Glenna Greutzmacher, who also became our sixth-grade homeroom teacher. During that year, we often began our school days by toying around with percussion instruments and autoharps before homeroom, and we ended our days in an English class taught by Mrs. Gallagher. Every Friday closed with story time, which started with a blank page and dead silence. Many of us applied ourselves passionately to this assignment, which involved not only writing but, after time was called, reading our words to the class.

By this time I was no stranger to competition, the life-or-death battles on the lunchtime football fields leading to fist fights whenever my team lost, as I was convinced, once the bell rang and the final score set in, that the other side had cheated—but that was nothing compared to the intensity experienced during story time. Probably that was more of a guy thing, as there were maybe a half dozen sixth-grade boys vying for chief laugh-getter, and on Friday afternoon you never knew who was going to bomb or hit it out of the park. Sometimes Chris Kaul prevailed; sometimes Dana Reddick, another transplant who turned out, after a quiet first month, to be as crazy as the rest of us won all the imaginary awards; and sometimes top honors went to Chuck Franklin, whose surrealistic scrambled narratives made William Burroughs seem like a mundane and all-too-linear realist.

In this competition we were all hit and miss, which meant you never knew who would win the comedy war. Sometimes, when I stood in front of Mrs. Gallagher’s desk and faced the class, I struggled to get a single laugh. I didn’t know what I did wrong when I did wrong or what I did right when I did right. And the next Friday, no explaining it, the class would roar, and I’d think, heck, this is easy, but it wasn’t, not the next week anyway, or maybe that week was, but there was always the next week, when, after I composed what I considered the Great Comic Masterpiece of the 20th Century…nobody laughed.

There came a point late in the year, though, when I hit my stride. What changed I couldn’t say; it’s not like I had a formula. I do recall, however, altering the lyrics to some songs we sang in music class, including “Have You Seen the Ghost of John?” Somehow, I remember, I rewrote these lyrics—“Wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?”—to comic effect. Not sure how I changed it.

In second grade I became sports-obsessed after seeing Johnny Unitas lead the Baltimore Colts to a come-from-behind victory where, until the last few minutes, his team seemed destined to lose. (I was to see many such Colts games in upcoming years.) I had never watched a football game before that, but it plunged me not only into football but sports of all sorts. In the morning I would snag the Des Moines Register off the porch and plunge into the sports section, a ritual that included lots of stats and name memorization, to the point where, when I attended the Drake Relays one year, the two-mile relay team for Oregon wondered how all that info got crammed into my head. (I assumed that in my age group such knowledge was universal.) With time I began wandering around to other sections of the newspaper, so I knew about the column entitled Over the Coffee before I met Chris Kaul, which I point out because it was written by his father, Donald Kaul. Like most grade-schoolers, I associated coffee (and alcohol and cigarettes, and EZ-listening music) with the taste-bud deterioration that seeped into people as they grew into adulthood. Over the Coffee seemed like a conversation between adults, and I assumed that grown-ups welcomed those moments when, mentally at least, the kids left the room. But I didn’t read it much; it might have helped if Donald Kaul had written about sports, but he didn’t care much about that, other than Iowa’s rich tradition of 6-on-6 girls’ basketball, which he wrote about with such a keen appreciation that you wondered why he didn’t become a full-time sport writer.

Des Moines wasn’t a place where famous people lived or grew up or moved, so I thought it was cool that a bit of a celebrity lived a few blocks away from me and that, on a regular basis, I visited his house. Anything but an anonymous, behind-the-scenes journalist, Donald Kaul was, in the public eye, a comedian whose eccentricities inspired cartoon figures by Pulitzer Prize winner Frank Miller. One of Miller’s Kaul drawings depicts the writer wearing the same aviator helmet Snoopy wore, ankle-length plaid slacks, and pointed shoes. Even though no eyeballs appear behind his glasses he delivered a deadpan stare. “I don’t want to be standing here for this portrait,” his stance and his face seem to say. “Please get it over with.” Another Miller caricature depicts a domestically-challenged Kaul sitting in a room where water drips from the ceiling and cracks line the wall. His hands clasped together as he bends forward anxiously in a chair with a goofy flower pattern, Kaul imagines a proud, confident version of himself in full Safari garb, decidedly more comfortable deep in the jungle than in the discomfort of his own home.

Photographs of Donald Kaul from that period include a picture where he’s wearing a less-than-snug Detroit Tigers baseball cap on his head and horn-rimmed glasses and has a cigar hanging out of the side of his mouth. In this photo he’s holding a baseball mitt so close to the camera that the mitt looks like it was made for a giant. Among other things, his deadpan stare make you question if, in spite of the appropriate memorabilia, the man in the picture was really much of a baseball fan.

That imagery underscored the fact that Donald Kaul was a public figure, a full-fledged persona, and a grown-up class clown—so it’s interesting that, in the presence of Donald Kaul, I never experienced a stream of one-liners. At home he seemed more like an aloof intellectual who could easily have been mistaken for a literary novelist or a museum curator. He spoke so softly that his voice was almost muffled, and while I witnessed brief flashes of wit, they were so subtle that it would have taken several minutes to process his subtle asides deeply enough to work up a laugh.

Every time I walked inside the Kaul house it registered how different it was from the other houses I entered in Des Moines. While shag carpet was all the rage at that time, the Kaul household was filled with oriental rugs. In the living room there was a life-sized white plaster sculpture of a man sitting on a chair with his legs crossed. The paintings on the wall including several female nudes, all of whom looked, to my eyes, too wide and round to register as prurient, but the fact that they seemed centuries old led me to wonder if…well, I didn’t know what to think. The den contained built-in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full of hardbacks and a black leather daybed that even this dumb little Des Moines schoolkid associated with neurotic patients spilling the beans to cartoon psychiatrists.

For Des Moines the inside of the house looked different, and the conversations were also different. One of the first times I walked in the door Mr. Kaul and one of his daughters were practicing and discussing British accents, and that was the first time this grade schooler witnessed such a conversation. That same night Mr. Kaul shared his belief that missing the beginning of a movie ruined the film. I had never heard that opinion before, and to me it sounded quite suspect, as I already knew that the first hour of most films was something you endured in order to get the part where the shooting, explosions, or fast-paced zaniness took place. I failed to share my wisdom, though, as Mr. Kaul was an adult, which meant he was already set in his ways.

More evidence the Kauls were different: the family vehicle was an old Checker Cab. They were the only family I knew who owned one, and while I wondered what that was all about, I enjoyed the fact that, on a rare occasion, on that rare occasion when their car drove down a street where I was walking I knew exactly who it was.

You might think that, while visiting a house where the father was known for his sense of humor, children might get some wiggle room when it came to discipline, but on more than one occasion Mr. Kaul lashed out at his son and his son’s friend with the type of anger that came so naturally to Midwestern fathers. On one such occasion I was staying overnight, and the reprimand occurred early enough in the evening that I expected to be on pins and needles until I fell asleep, but the tone quickly shifted. Shortly after the reprimand Donald Kaul received a visit from a posse of young men and women who were out on the town that evening and were clearly in high spirits. These friends who spontaneously decided to drop were full of energy and frivolity, and there was something touching about a group of friends who dropped by because…well, just because. Mr. Kaul enjoyed the spontaneous funnery, but even then he remained soft spoken, slowly rubbing his mustache while delivering sly witticisms to his friends. The visit was brief—twenty minutes, maybe—but long after the group left I wondered about the kind of lives those people led who seemed so different from the other adults I knew in Des Moines.

I didn’t talk a lot to Donald Kaul, which meant that in that respect he was like most of my other friends’ fathers. With Chris and I both competing for class clown honors, though, I am happy to report that one thing I said actually made Donald Kaul laugh. (Not that I was there to witness it, but still.) One day I shared this joke with Chris: “If Raquel Welch married Eddie Flatt, she’d be Raquel Flatt. Impossible!” The next day Chris told me his dad cracked up when he heard that. I explained that the joke came out of a comic strip for Laugh-In and I had no idea who Eddie Flatt was, but Chris was nice enough to keep that to himself.

When I visited the Kaul household, Chris and I played Nerf basketball and listened to records, and our playlist included Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. I, Who’s Next, and Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story. Once, in the bedroom of his older sister, we stumbled upon a copy of Woodstock, which for us had achieved mythical status due to the reports that had filtered down to us from people we knew who had actually heard it. Finally, after all that waiting, we got to hear Hendrix play “The Star Spangled Banner.” We cranked that as loud as we could while bombs bursted in air. When Country Joe screamed “Give me an F!”—a religious experience, or so we’d been told—we responded by dropping to our knees on the oriental rugs and flailing our arms, as we were convinced that something that outrageous deserved the utmost reverence.

We also did some wandering. When the 1970 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Tournament came to Des Moines, we snagged the first two tickets and, until less-committed fans arrived, had Drake Stadium to ourselves. On Saturday afternoons we caught some double features at the Varsity Theater, where the hippies who always showed up in big numbers whenever the Marx Brothers played and had big, shit-eating grins on their faces as they waited in line at the concession stand. On some Saturdays we’d walk down to a head shop called Elysian Fields with a sign in the front window that said “Yes, We’re Closed” on one side and “Sorry, We’re Open” on the other. Inside the dark store Afghan dogs lounged behind the counter and incense filled the air. While reverb-drenched blues records with deep bass played at loud volume, we’d kill an hour or two flipping through records and staring at huge posters that covered every inch of wall space.

We also took a trip or two downtown. There may have been a movie that sent us there, but if so, I forget what it was. I do remember seeing a billboard announcing that only one newspaper had earned more Pulitzer Prizes than The Des Moines Register; for this the sign congratulated The New York Times. On that same block we entered a building where journalists were clacking away on their typewriters and Donald Kaul was talking to a colleague. The image of that room was still fresh in my head when, at the beginning of college, I decided to major in journalism. I ended up becoming more of a literary type, but as sometimes happens in the serendipitous world of liberal arts majors, life bounced me around so many times that I ended up doing what I set out to do (I’m now a magazine editor). I too bang on a keyboard, although I do it at home and the keys don’t have the same rich timbre as a steel type hammer banging against a carriage.

Memory is fickle. What it wants to retain it does, and everything else is lost. Sometimes monumental occasions get zapped while something that left no impression on you at the time locks in permanently. One of my casual memories has to do with bicycles, which to me, the proud owner of a Huffy stingray, were prime targets for abuse (it’s a good thing I didn’t own a horse). The Kaul family had a different philosophy about bikes. They rode multi-geared bicycles that were several strata above the finest Schwinn and actually took care of them. Donald Kaul had the most expensive model, and it was purchased, I’m sure, after careful research. So he was flummoxed when he discovered, during a bike ride, that his wife, who owned a cheaper bike and rode behind him most of the time, went zipping past him whenever they coasted. When I heard that story I pictured the couple enjoying a leisurely bike ride on a quiet road out in the country. Donald Kaul died on July 22, 2018. Although his spirit left this planet, I still picture him on that country road, where, as so often happens in his columns, he finds humor in his frustration.

I said some stupid things when I was young, and unfortunately I remember them. For example, I told Chris Kaul his father had an easy job. For this I got rebuked, and I deserved it. Along with being a strong prose stylist and possessing a sharp wit, Donald Kaul was wise enough not to pander to his audience. He wasn’t trying to shake up Des Moines, but at the same time he assumed that the person drinking coffee while reading the paper in the morning could handle subject matter that was, at times, pretty highbrow. Imagine a current columnist writing about Allen Ginsberg, Alexander Calder, or Mies van der Rohe today—you can just see the editor telling the writer to dumb it down. Politically Donald Kaul held nothing back even though he knew some readers would be offended by his liberal views. Nor did he engage in nonstop flattery of his fellow Iowans. Yes, some natives were offended by his columns on girls’ basketball, but they overlooked the fact that those articles were highly educational. Consider, for example, this question on a multiple choice test Donald Kaul devoted to the subject:

When a coach is see with his team gathered around him during a timeout:

1—He is telling his players how to break a zone-press.

         2—He is telling his players how to install a zone-press.

         3—He is telling his players, “The round thing here is what we call a basketball.

With seventh grade came a new school. On my first day at Franklin Junior High an English teacher called out Chris Kaul’s name, but Chris Kaul wasn’t there, as he’d chosen to attend a more racially integrated school in Des Moines. The Kaul family moved to Washington, DC in 1972, which was the same year my family moved to Storm Lake, Iowa, where we lived across the street from a park that was on a lake. While sitting on our front lawn that day, the Wilson family saw bicyclists from the first RAGBRAI wrap things up for the day, and that was the first time I’d seen anyone in the Kaul family since they moved to DC.

After a year in Storm Lake our family moved to Ohio, but we still returned to Iowa a couple times a year. Once, while driving back to Ohio, I saw an old Checker Cab traveling in the same direction as our station wagon. That’s odd, I thought, I haven’t seen an old Checker Cab since the Kauls lived in Des Moines—and guess who was inside it? At first the Kauls stared at me like I was crazy (why’s that dimwit waving at us?), but someone finally figured out who I was. That was the last time I saw anyone in the Kaul family. The fact that our paths crossed was a neat coincidence at the same time that it was frustrating. There was no place to pull over, and all we could do was wave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Ron Esposito CD Is Called Triad

ron-esposito-album-cover-for-triad
Ron Esposito is a musician who plays a very old instrument. Singing bowls go back at least as far as the tenth century, and they continue to be used in monasteries and meditation centers.

And there’s another place once can hear them nowadays: on television.

That’s right, as Esposito’s singing bowl recordings have been played on Hawaii 5-0, Nashville, Touch, Common Law, and Ray Donovan. And you can also hear Ron’s music on John Diliberto’s Echoes.

Ron has just released a new CD called Triad, and while singing bowls are an essential element of the record, they interact with other instruments, including cello, native flute, electric guitar, acoustic bass, voices, and various forms of percussion. The result is a colorful blend of sounds and musical styles.

At times various instruments come together and create a full soundscape, and at other times the performances pare down to one or two instruments. And on some tracks Ron reads from spiritual texts, including Tao Te Ching, with minimal musical accompaniment.

This is music that can be used for meditation, but even non-meditators like myself will find that listening to Triad helps bring the mind into focus and clear out some of the cobwebs.

Lately here I’ve managed to cobble together a decent stereo system, and when I threw Triad in my CD player I was very impressed by the warm, full sound of the recording—that and the high level of musicianship. Ron’s been active in the music scene around Cincinnati for a long time, and when it’s come to assembling an A-team list of musicians, he doesn’t mess around. Names include guitar Brandon Scott Coleman and cellist Michael G. Ronstadt, both of whom are seasoned players both as leaders and sidemen.

You can hear clips from, and purchase, Triad on the following link:

http://ronesposito.com/music.asp

And you can also purchase the CD locally at Shake-It Records and Everybody’s Records.

Here’s a video of Ron in action:

Vote For Josephine!

josephine-photo-for-blog

Josephine is the daughter of some friends of mine who live in Northside and have some Clifton roots. Josephine is 21 months old, and after her mother posted a comment on Facebook encouraging people to vote for Josephine as the cutest kid in the Gerber Photo Search contest I thought, now that’s something I can get behind! And we should all get behind it, as I went through all the photos and discovered, quite objectively, that Josephine indeed WAS the cutest kid in the contest, no doubt about it. So help my friends out and vote for Josephine!

Here’s the link with her face and number already chosen:

https://gerber.promo.eprize.com/photosearch2016/gallery?entry_id=238352

The procedure is basically self-explanatory, except to save time you want to have Josephine’s number handy, which is 238352. Here are the steps (you probably won’t need all this, but in case you do):

  • Click where it says Login to Vote
  • Sign in using your email, then click Next
  • Click Go to Gallery
  • Where it says Baby’s First Name Or ID, type Josephine’s number, which is 238352. Doing so will bring up the photo of Josephine.

After you do that, a window will pop up that will include the words Vote Now; click that and you’re done…except that you can vote once a day until November 25, so bookmark the page in order to keep voting for Josephine. Thanks for helping; here’s hoping she wins!

Dylan Wins A Prize

dylan-ginsbert-mcclurejpg

Word got out today that Robert Zimmerman won a big award, and everyone was talking about it both in cyberspace and real space, and along with the wows and the explanation points there were those who questioned the decision either because they thought Dylan was less than iconic or because lyric writers winning literary awards may have broken some kind of rule. The latter argument hearkens back of course to the belief that poetry is poetry and lyrics are lyrics and the never the twain shall meet.

This happens to be one of those subjects on which I agree with everyone. Lyrics can never aspire to poetry? Sure. There are times when lyrics are so sharp, so focused, so chiseled that calling them anything other than poetry is pure sacrilege? I can live with that as well. In other words, call me with any opinion on the matter and I’ll concur without even trying.

That said, I’m as aware as anyone of all the train wrecks created when people search for some sort of alchemy between poetry and music, whereas lyrics + music is so often a magic combination. So what goes awry when folks try to take the words of a great poet and turn that into music? Why does it so often come across as stiff, forced, unnatural, and self-consciously Artistic, plus—maybe this goes without saying—the music is seldom good. There are exceptions—Steve Swallows Home, with Sheila Jordan singing the words of Robert Creeley, for instance, is enchanting—and the singular Kip Hanrahan, who writes words and (unlike, say, Pete Brown or Pete Sinfield) helps guide them into music even though he rarely plays an instrument on his albums and also seldom sings, has made some great albums. Definitely there are times when I listen to Kip Hanrahan records when the world of poetry and the world of lyrics don’t seem too far apart.

dylan-hurricane

So what does this have to do with Zimmy? Well, a lot, maybe, but expect a long, circuitous route before I try to piece anything together. I first want to address my history with Bob Dylan. Although he’s as front page as a rock star can be these days, when I was growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, you rarely heard him on Top 40 radio, and on underground radio—the only other place you could hear rock and roll—they didn’t play anyone more than anyone else, which is to say, the next band was as likely to be Ultimate Spinach as Dylan or the Stones or the Liverpool Four.

So he wasn’t “in the air” as much as much as you might have thought he was—I mean I’m sure he was if you were in a university or just a little older than I was, but sixth and seventh graders during this pre-Internet era had to work a bit just to hear the guy. You knew he was big and mythical and that he cast a spell on folks not many years before, but by 1970 the folk music of the early 60s seemed a bit ancient, as so many new things had come in so solid since then. The first opportunity I had to sit down and assess the value of Bob Dylan came when a friend bought Greatest Hits Volume 1 and the two of us gave it some serious listens. Although there was nothing on the album that I disliked, I wasn’t smitten. Not all, but some of the songs seemed to already exist in that Classic Rock museum where I’ve never felt very comfortable. Some Neil Young songs (“Heart of Gold” and “Old Man” in particular) hit me like that; actually, a lot of songs hit me like that. And it would have been tough for “Blowing in the Wind” to bowl me over, as anything you know in advance is Majorly Important can be a tough sell.

Oddly, the next Dylan I spent time with was the two-LP volume 2 of the “hits,” but even though that covered some less familiar territory and cast a wider stylistic net, not much of it rocked my world. Even now songs high in the Bob Dylan cannon—“Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” “It Ain’t Me, Babe, “When I Paint My Masterpiece”—while undeniably classic, were not, and still are not, my daily bread when it comes to Dylan. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was more my style, as were “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Tombstone Blues” (and why, I ask, weren’t those last two on either of the first two greatest hits collections?), and that’s not because those songs had a bluesy feel. It had more to do with the words and the way he sang them.

dylan-homesick

Gradually I became more versed in Dylan, and bought some of his albums, and warmed to this and warmed not to that. But I still wasn’t in that deep—not until the day I brought Blonde on Blonde home from a record store. Even there, I didn’t flock right away to the more familiar songs from that album, like, say, “Just Like a Woman.” For those who by now consider me cra-cra, all I have to say is, I had to get to Dylan in my own way, and get there I did. “Visions of Johanna” I loved, and Side C became, and still is, my favorite Dylan side, although by now three or four or five sides have come to tie it. On Side C he’s all kinds of earthy visionary along with being a wordsmith so on top of his game that he gets positively loosey-goosey about it and still hits bullseyes—in fact, he’s at the top of his game:

     The judge he holds a grudge

     He’s going to call on you

     But he’s badly built and he walks on stilts

     You better watch out he don’t fall on you

And elsewhere:

     The six white horses that you did promise

     Were finally delivered down to the penitentiary

Clever, huh? Well, he ain’t done:

     To live outside the law you must be honest

     I know you always say that you agree

Those are zingers, just great, great lyrics, and Dylan’s delivery—suddenly I loved the guy. Still, though, I continued to approach him from less obvious places. I would grow to love every note of Blood on the Tracks, but when it came out I merely liked it…or what I heard of it, anyway. “Tangled Up in Blue” I didn’t hear until later, which is too bad because even dumb me plunged headfirst into that on a first listen, and it’s the kind of opening track that announces quite boldly that you gotta hear the whole damn album. Desire I connected with more quickly. I liked every song on it, liked the incantational vocals, the harmonies, the sound of the drums, the violin, everything. I liked the words and I liked how he delivered them. Sometimes he’d hard-stress consecutive syllables:

     We’re gonna put his ass in stir

     We’re gonna pin that triple murder on him

     He ain’t no Gentleman Jim

And sometimes he’d rush a few syllables before hammering home the rest of the line:

  • In Patterson that’s just the way things are
  • If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street
  • Unless you want to draw the heat

Although the words don’t fly out as fast, “Joey” shares some of Hurricane’s grittiness and what Allen Ginsberg describes, in his wonderful liner notes to the album, as “tough iron metal talk rhymes.”

That’s where I came in with Dylan, those songs, those albums, that style of lyric writing, that style of singing. Since then my appreciation of different facets of his music grew infinitely, but I need go no further than the lyrics I just quoted to address the connection between Dylan and poetry (remember that?). Those lyrics aren’t poetry. Those lyrics are lyrics. But there is so much poetry flowing through them, with whiffs of Rimbaud and the Beats (and old blues lyrics) running through the lines, and while this ain’t no influence, these lines from Robert Lowell seem not too many streets down from “Hurricane” and “Joey”:

     He tried to convert Bioff and Brown,

     the Hollywood pimps, to his diet.

     Hairy, muscular, suburban,

     wearing chocolate double-breasted suits,

     they blew their tops and beat him black and blue.

To come back to the Beat element in Dylan—you forget that he has in him; in fact, he absorbed it so deeply so early that it could spill out at any time, as it did on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Hurricane” and even as late as “Tweedle Dee and Tweedledum”…and in lots of other places too. When I think of the energy the Beatniks brought to wordifying (Michael McClure and Ginsberg perhaps more than any, although Kerouac got there in prose), I feel that energy and even a Beat cadence in the way Dylan delivers some of his lyrics.

Jack Kerouac on the football field

It’s in his narrative, too. Listening to “Tangled Up in Blue,” it’s easy to imagine one of Sal Paradise’s buddies who was left out of the final draft of On the Road but had a story of his own that was somehow shared by all the everyones who wandered outside the social net during a time when it closed mighty tight. Beat energy and Beat rapid-fire flashcard word delivery and Beat tough iron metal talk—they were in him as much as Woody Guthrie was in him. So if lyrics and poetry are, in the final analysis, oil and water, I’ll still say that at times Bobby D is as close to Beat poetry as On the Road was to Beat poetry, and On the Road was Beat poetry. In early Tom Waits the connection to the Beat tradition is much more overt, but it also feels a step removed from the source. (It’s also great—that is not a criticism.) With Dylan, well, he might just as well have been hanging with Sal and Carlo and Dean. I bet he knew some friends of theirs.

As people discuss Dylan winning the Nobel Peace Prize, much will be made of the meaning of his lyrics and their historical importance and how he got America to question itself. Along with the meaning of his words, though, we should also credit him for how he used them. Words are amazing things—in fact, they can be downright exhilarating, with incredible energy. Dylan proved that a thousand times. So go ahead, throw any award you want at  him. He done this world some good.

University of Cincinnati Alumni Facebook Page

December Commencement

 

A total of 6,351 people graduated from the University of Cincinnati in the spring of 2016. That’s a lot of people, and when you consider that was just one year, you realize that you could fill a city with all the people who have graduated from UC.

Given those numbers, you would assume that a Facebook page existed for UC Alumni. We have a Facebook page for everything else, right? But when Cheryl Beardslee searched for one a couple years ago, she discovered it didn’t exist.

So she created one. This was in July 2014, and since then it’s been a valuable tool for UC alumni to connect with each other. I caught wind of this Facebook page indirectly, as Cheryl and I are FB friends, and one day she posted, on her personal FB page, an invitation for other people to join the group.

This is exactly the kind of thing Gaslight Property would support, as it’s pro-Cincinnati and pro-Clifton and pro-UC, so I asked Cheryl what inspired her to create the page.

“One goal is to help people make connections whether they’re able to find long lost college friends or find out that friends they have also went to UC,” she said. “I wanted to create a forum for people to support or even mentor fellow Bearcats.”

“I’m hoping it will give members a way to keep some connection to the place and time in their lives that was their UC experience. People post UC news, UC alumni, or sporting events and general Clifton events.”

On a personal level, Cheryl added, “I grew up as an Army brat. Being forced to leave behind every friend, classmate, school and neighborhood over and over again made me wish to strengthen the bonds between people that were forcibly torn from me as a child.”

This is a great idea, and the numbers will swell as people find out about this Facebook page. So sign up, UC alumni, and also tell your friends. The page seems especially timely with UC’s stature as a university continuing to grow, especially y in recent years, and its contribution to the city becoming more apparent. Here’s a link to the page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/579448055506556/?__mref=message_bubble

Big Fun (or “How I Evaded Security at Drake Stadium and Made Some Cool Friends”)

Whatever works, right?
Dick Fosbury defying gravity.

Watching the Olympics opening ceremony Friday night sparked memories for me of growing up in Des Moines. For track and field enthusiasts the Summer Olympics is the A#1 event for such activities. I was obsessed by all things sports-connected anyway, but having the Drake Relays in Des Moines (and the 48th Annual NCAA Track & Field Tournament, which I went to with Chris Kaul, son of Donald Kaul, who wrote the Over the Coffee column for The Des Moines Register) plunged me in deeper. Heck, I even paid attention to shot putters and javelin and discus throwers, knew their stats and everything (to me they were cool because they seemed so ancient Greece), and as for everyone else, including the runners and the long jumpers and high jumpers, they were like rock stars.

Watching the Drake Relays (and the NCAA Tournament) wasn’t a matter of just sitting down and seeing other people get all athletic. In fact, I always got plenty of exercise every time I attended. After waiting for the exact moment when security looked the other way, I’d make a quick dash for the infield, where I’d wander from athlete to athlete asking for autographs (and just chatting it up with them). I always got kicked out of the infield, but I always came sneaking back. Although I got plenty of signatures when I sat in the stands, there were those athletes who never seemed to circle the track like everyone else. One of those was Jim Ryun, a Kansas runner who along with holding the world record in the mile was exciting to watch, seeming way too far back to challenge until that amazing kick that occurred during the last lap. I ran right up to him and asked for his autograph—and he told me to find him later. He seemed very inside himself and intense, like the qualifying race he would run later that day was running through his head. I never did get an autograph from him (my brother did, though, the year before), but I did meet Dick Fosbury, and he signed my autograph book. In fact, he signed two years in a row, and if memory serves the second year he looked a lot different, with long, wavy hair.

Jack Bacheler…is my guess.

The better-known athletes I asked to sign my autograph book more than once, and no one seemed troubled by that request. I got repeats of Mel Gray and Jack Bacheler and Frank Shorter and Marvin and Curtis Mills as well as Rick Wanamaker, a Drake athlete who placed second in the high jump one year (behind Dick Fosbury), won some decathlon awards, and, like the rest of his teammates, fought hard when, during the NCAA Basketball Tournament quarter finals, Drake lost 85–82 to UCLA, who went on to smoke Purdue. Drake fans will always remember when Wanamaker blocked a shot by Lew Alcindor. I watched that in the basement of our house on 45th Street, and the message that block sent to our team and their team and the fans was, “We’re in this for real.” We almost won it.

I would talk endlessly with the athletes, and I think they enjoyed the company of such a huge fan who rattled off an endless list of stats. (The Big Peach contributed much to my early education.) Once I asked the two-mile relay team for Oregon if I could have their baton. Their counter-offer, which I considered a worthy compromise, was to have me sign the baton, which was pretty cool because they were going to use that baton for the final round of the relay. Well, they came in first, and since then I have always taken partial credit for that victory.

Frank Shorter?

Of all the years that I went to the track and field tournaments—I started in fourth grade, and our family moved to Storm Lake at the start of eighth—the peak experience had to be meeting Curtis and Marvin Mills, runners #3 and 4 for the Texas A&M 880-yard relay team. Texas A&M was on a tear at that time, and the general consensus was that some sort of major record might be broken that weekend. When it came time for the 880, I sat right where Marvin Mills was going to hand the baton to Curtis Mills. They broke the world record that day, and the next day there was a photo in the Des Moines Register where Marvin handed the baton to Curtis while I was standing behind them with my mouth wide open.

Curtis Mills after the Texas A&M 880-relay team broke the world record. That’s me down at the bottom, with my autograph book; I only asked him to sign it four or five times.

Watching Texas A&M break a world record, seeing the ancient Greeks toss their javelins, signing a baton…those are good memories. And so was seeing Dick Fosbury do the high jump. You really had to pay attention to what was going on to know when a high jumper was getting ready to take his turn, especially when you had someone like Dick Fosbury, who skipped several rounds before approaching the bar. But it was worth all figuring out when Fosbury would go in the air. Nobody jumped like he did. At that time one else turned around completely and somehow got his head then neck then back then legs then knees over that bar by a fraction of a fraction of an inch like he did (and once his knees were over all he had to was straighten his legs). By sixth grade I loved slapstick comedy, and what he did reminded me of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin; it didn’t seem like he should be able to go that high, somehow defying gravity momentarily like pole vaulters did or like Bob Beamon did in Mexico—and like his teammate, Fosbury he won gold there.

I liked the Fosbury Flop so much that I decided to see if I could master it. There was a carpet store down by Place’s where someone told me you could get carpet and (more importantly) foam rubber in the dumpster. How many times I drove my red Huffy stingray down to that dumpster I can’t say, but eventually I got enough to create a mat where somehow all that foam rubber got squeezed into a (well, there I’m drawing a blank). After that, all I had to do was balance a bamboo pole that under normal circumstances was part of the fishing world and start jumping. I tried my best, but I never came anywhere close to defying gravity. I had to try, though.

Mel Gray, I believe.

I lost all my autographs, and I had hundreds. I even had Bob Beamon’s autograph, not because we met but because I got to know one of his teammates, who ended up mailing me Beamon’s autograph. Bob Beamon was the long jumper who, after getting off to a bad start, made a jump at the 1968 Olympics that was positively epic. His autograph was a small scrap of paper torn off a larger sheet—perfect. But I lost it and all the other autographs and the photo of me watching Marvin Mills pass the baton to his brother Curtis. While it would be nice to have that memorabilia, the most important thing about my autograph hunting was that it gave me an excuse to talk to so many athletes, some famous record holders and some (many, actually) not. It was all Big Fun.

R.I.P. Patrick David

Patrick DavidClifton’s heart was broken this week when Patrick David, a long-term Gaslight Property employee, passed away unexpectedly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his widow and son. His niece, Melinda Watson, spoke for everyone who knew Patrick when she said, “He was happiest when he was helping other people. I can’t even emphasize how happy he was to do it; he dropped everything to help other people.

“He was an on-the-go person,” Melinda added, “and he didn’t stop until the job was done.

“Not only was he a hard worker and generous, he had a silly sense of humor. Patrick has a lasting effect on everybody he came in contact with.

“I don’t have a single bad memory of him.”

Patrick left behind a widow and a 16-year-old son, and his widow is ill and unable to work. Funeral arrangements have already been made, but help is needed to pay for everything.

“We want to give him a proper burial because he helped everybody along the way,” Melinda said. “We’re trying to reach out to as many people as we can.”

To this end, a GoFundMe account was created. In order to help, click THIS LINK. People have been contributing different amounts, but more money is needed. Any contribution will be appreciated for this kind and thoughtful man who died much too young. We’ll get there!

New Nelson Slater News

nelson slater collage 001

It’s been awhile since we caught up with Nelson Slater; in fact, if memory serves, our last blog entry dates back to the release of his Steam-Age Time-Giant album. Turns out Nelson has another LP in the works, this project involving extensive collaboration with Tom Derwent, who’s worked with Nelson for a long time now. Nelson, who’s had more band names than Kiss has had farewell tours, has christened his present ensemble Andylouisian Dogs, and the release-in-progress is Unknown and Unsung. I’ve heard a rough mix of the recording, and I sent a CD of it to David Hintz, whose DC Rock Live is a much-read blog that does a great job of covering the wide range of music that hits Washington, DC. Dave was impressed with the record, and you can read his thoughts about it here.

Other new Nelson Slater news dates back to 1977 and a live performance by Alex Chilton. One year after the release of Nelson’s Wild Angel—an album that Lou Reed produced and played on—Alex Chilton recorded a live cover of one of the songs on that LP. It wasn’t until this year that an album came out of that performance. Live at the Ocean Club ’77 is a 2-LP vinyl release on Norton Records. It’s a great-sounding record cut straight from the master tapes. The final song on the record was Nelson’s “Dominating Force” from Wild Angel. It’s great to see this affirmation of Nelson’s songwriting talent surface now, after existing in a bubble all these years. Great song, great performance:

Natural Disasters

Keith Jarrett Mourning Star

One day a friend of mine was playing a record by Keith Jarrett called The Mourning of a Star. While the LP was playing I flipped the cover over to the back side, where I encountered a poem by a writer who I didn’t recognize. This was truly one of those times where a poem reached out and grabs you (or, as Bob Dylan put it, “Every one of those words rang true/And glowed like burning coal”). Although it was a long time before I saw that poem again, the memory of reading it the first time remained vivid, and when someone mentioned it to me ten or fifteen years later, I immediately knew what he was talking about.

It turns out the person who brought it up was the poet who wrote it.  Terry Stokes was a creative writing professor at the University of Cincinnati, and the two of us had been hanging together for months before I connected the dots between the writer and the poem. That happened when Terry was telling me about a poem that he published in Esquire. Soon thereafter Terry was contacted to find out if he would be willing to have his poem appear on an album cover by Keith Jarrett, and Terry gave his permission.

“I got fifty dollars from Esquire,” Terry explained, “and fifty dollars from Keith Jarrett. So I made a hundred bucks for my poem.

Not bad – and especially because so many more people would be able to read the poem due to the fact that it was on the back of an album cover by such a popular musician. 

By that point I had figured out that Terry and I had already bumped into each other long before I saw his poem on the Keith Jarrett album cover. At a Miami University writer’s conference where I also met Cameron Crowe and P.J. O’Rourke I had heard Terry give a reading and chatted with him at one of the parties that took place every night. 

Attending that conference convinced Terry to move to this party of the country. Englight professors John Weigel and Milton White had much to do with that – and happened to be the two teachers who had the deepest influence on me as a writer, artist, reader, teacher, whatever. 

After Terry retired from teaching, I heard less and less from him, and it’s been over ten years since we spoke. We became friends at a good time for both of us. During that period I was editing a offbeat literary magazine called Evil Dog that published lots of interesting writers from this area. In a small way the buzz was kind of on about that magazine, which – in part because I worked downtown at that time and made lots of downtown friends – seemed to connect with people who normally didn’t read literary magazines. Terri Ford, Aralee Strange, F. Keith Wahle, and Terry Stokes – those were some of the writers who helped make the magazine something special (and fun, too!).

The poem on the Keith Jarrett album cover was called “Natural Disasters.” That was also the name of the book where it appeared as the lead-off poem, and today I scanned it so others could read it. When I read “Natural Disasters” I think of all my friends who “wrestled with the lion.” Those seem to be the kind of folks I hang with, and Terry Stokes was one of them. As another year ends while a new one begins, it’s natural to take stock of things and look inward – and this poem by an old friend certainly inspires that.

Terry Stokes poem