The classic Bigfoot image is from a 1967 film by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, at Bluff Creek in Northern California (see video below). The Bigfoot might be fake, but the scarred and battered film stock is the real deal, real enough perhaps to inspire a few new Hipstamatic filters. The movie Elf is a Christmas classic from 2003, starring Will Ferrell as the feral elf, Buddy, seen here in Central Park in homage to Patterson’s Bigfoot. And the alleged and unverified photo of the late great J.D. Salinger was snapped by Paul Adao in 1988. Another Adao photo illustrates a wonderful New York Magazine story by publisher Roger Lathbury from 2010, Betraying Salinger. I scored the publishing coup of the decade: his final book. And then I blew it.
Henry Ford’s most famous quote is often used to bolster the argument that innovation cannot be focus-grouped:
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
It is certainly a wonderful quote. But unfortunately, there’s no evidence that Henry Ford actually uttered those famous words. Patrick Vlaskovits, in a great Harvard Business Review blog post — Henry Ford, Innovation, and That “Faster Horse” Quote — does the due diligence to track down the source of this quote and determine its veracity, which he was unable to do. He also offers a brilliant lesson for innovators and entrepreneurs in finding the right balance between not allowing yourself to be dictated to by the potentially unthinking masses, and ignoring your customers completely. Vlaskovits explicitly advocates “continually testing your vision against reality,” something Mr. Ford failed to do.
In honor of our local team, the San Francisco Giants, and their amazing run to 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series victories, I’ve put together an extensive list of Giants team nicknames, player nicknames and slang, past and present.
Kurt Schwitters (1887 – 1948) was a German artist who “worked in several genres and media, including Dada, Constructivism, Surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography and what came to be known as installation art. He is most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures.”
Schwitters fled Nazi Germany in January, 1937. He went first to Norway and finally to England, where he remained in exile until his death in 1948. His collage work often included found fragments of commercially printed text, and his move from Germany to England precipitated a corresponding shift to English language found text in his collages, as seen in Cottage, from 1946, above.
There was a great Terry Gross interview with Regina Spektor on Fresh Air recently (On Growing Up A ‘Soviet Kid’). During the broadcast, Terry played Spektor’s recording of the song, “The Prayer of François Villon (Molitva),” by the Russian poet and singer-songwriter Bulat Okudzhava. The song appears on the Deluxe Edition of Spektor’s new album, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats.
Jed Birmingham wrote a great article a couple years ago, Black Mountain Review: Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker, about William S. Burroughs and his appearance in The Black Mountain Review in the late 1950s. The Review was the art and literary journal of Black Mountain College, the experimental liberal arts college that existed in North Carolina from 1933–1957.
“The Answer” is a poem by the great poet Robert Creeley. Here is an audio clip of Creeley reading the poem in New York on October 24, 1966. Audio courtesy of PennSound, a treasure trove of poetry audio clips by hundreds of poets, including many more by Creeley.
The recent New Yorker science fiction issue, their first ever, included a great essay by Anthony Burgess from 1973, The Clockwork Condition. Burgess discusses his most famous book, A Clockwork Orange, and the “very close film interpretation” by Stanley Kubrick. Most interesting is Burgess’ description of the origin of the title, as well as the various lexicographical connotations of the antihero’s name, Alex:
Chances are by now that you’ve heard of Christian Marclay’s brilliant work of art, The Clock (2010). Though less likely that you have actually seen it (I haven’t as yet). As described by Wikipedia, the piece “is in effect a clock, but it is made of a 24-hour montage of thousands of time-related scenes from movies and some TV shows, meticulously edited to be shown in ‘real time’: each scene contains an indication of time (for instance, a timepiece, or a piece of dialogue) that is synchronized to show the actual time.”
Our lives are inundated with images. Arranging and re-arranging them is often how we tell stories, convey meaning, or throw wrenches into the works of literal interpretation. Advertising creates image juxtapositions to communicate the messages of commerce: “you want this,” or “buy now.”
The folk song collective unsconscious
Neil Young’s album, Americana features Neil Young and Crazy Horse cover versions of 11 classic Americana folk songs that many of us grew up singing: Oh Susannah, Clementine, Tom Dula, Gallows Pole, Get A Job, Travel On, High Flyin’ Bird, Jesus’ Chariot, This Land Is Your Land, Wayfarin’ Stranger, and God Save The Queen. Or, I should say, we grew up singing the sanitized versions of many of these songs, which are considerably richer and darker in their original lyrics, as Young sings them.
You might wonder why an album of Americana includes “God Save The Queen,” the national anthem of the country whose yoke the United States threw off over 200 years ago. Well, for one thing, “Americana” as an idea or regional identifier includes all of North America, not just the U.S., and as a Canadian Young grew up singing “God Save the Queen” every day in school. In the U.S., of course, our national anthem is “The Star Spangled Banner,” but prior to 1931 the national anthem of the United States was “My Country Tis of Thee,” sung to the tune of, you guessed it, “God Save The Queen.”
K’naan, born Keinan Abdi Warsame in 1978, is an amazingly talented Somali-Canadian poet, rapper, singer, songwriter and instrumentalist based in Toronto after surviving a harrowing upbringing in war-torn Somalia. He recorded the song above, a cover version of Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side,” for a compilation album that came out earlier this year, Chimes Of Freedom: The Songs Of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years Of Amnesty International. K’naan’s version of the song, with substantially new lyrics, is fantastic, with his own desperate wartime childhood history woven into it. I’ve included the lyrics, below, side-by-side with Dylan’s original lyrics, and a stunning early Dylan recording of the song below. Enjoy.
|With God On Our Side (K’naan / Bob Dylan)||With God On Our Side (Bob Dylan)|
|It’s a movie and the whole world is viewing it
And the popcorn is dreams torn, but we’re always chewing it
The set design is by God but the costumes’ by the devil
And the screenplay is adapted from a book that’s embezzled
This is where I grew up
Oh my name it ain’t nothing; my age it means less
I was young; I grew. I could tie my shoe
Childhood came up for the kiss, but its lips was painted with mist
Now the Somali-American
I had an undying wish to keep from dying
The left was fighting the right
So now as I’m leaving
|Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.
Oh the history books tell it
Oh the Spanish-American
Oh the First World War, boys
When the Second World War
I’ve learned to hate Russians
But now we got weapons
In a many dark hour
So now as I’m leavin’
And for comparison, and because Mr. Dylan was just awarded the Medal of Freedom this week by President Obama, and because it’s such a great song, here’s a great live bootleg version of Dylan performing With God On Our Side from 1963:
As a Forgotten Nomenclature aside, the name shown on the video above, Elston Gunnn, was an early alias for Robert Zimmerman, before he changed it to Bob Dylan. Here’s the story told by Bobby Vee about the time that a young man named Elston Gunnn briefly joined his backing band, The Shadows:
“He [Dylan] was in the Fargo/Moorhead area. He was working as a busboy at a place called the Red Apple Cafe. We didn’t know that at the time. Bill [Velline] was in a record shop in Fargo, Sam’s Record Land, and this guy came up to him and introduced himself as Elston Gunnn–with three n’s, G-U-N-N-N.
“He said he heard we were looking for a piano player, which we were, and he said that he had just gotten off the road with Conway Twitty. Bill was blown away. ‘Man, how good can this be? This was as good as it gets!’ And went over to the radio station with him, over to KGFO, and there was this piano in the studio and auditioned him on the piano. He came back and he said, ‘He played pretty good in the key of C.’ We didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s all he could play in, was the key of C. I-IV-V in the key of C.
“So we hired him to come out. And he was a neat guy. He was friendly. I remember his dark, curly hair. We bought him a shirt to match ours and paid him 15 bucks a night, which was about what we were making. Went to pick him up for the show, and he didn’t have a piano. There weren’t a lot of piano players in our area anyway–there were mostly guitar players–but they had the little Wurlitzer pianos, and we just assumed he had a piano. He didn’t, of course. We took him to the gig anyway, and there was a piano there. It was terribly out of tune. He sat and he played that, and when he got lost he would come up and do background parts and do Gene Vincent handclaps. It was a trip!
“It was ill-fated. I mean, it wasn’t gonna work. He didn’t have any money, and we didn’t have any money. The story is that I fired him, but that certainly wasn’t the case. If we could have put it together somehow, we sure would have. We wished we could have put it together. He left and went on to Minneapolis and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. A couple of years later I was in New York in Greenwich Village. I was walking down the street. There was a record store there, and there was an album in the front window. And it said, ‘Bob Dylan.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Looks a lot like Elston Gunnn!’
“I probably plugged into him on the second or third album, and the stuff was really unusual. It was so far removed from what I was doing. Not long after that, I started listening to his stuff and really became a big fan.”
(Source: The Bob Dylan Who’s Who)
Now it’s clear that if Bobby Vee had had God on his side, Elston Gunnn may have made his career as a member of The Shadows. Oh well, you can’t always get what you want….
As I noted in a previous post (In praise of the artist John McLaughlin), the California artist John McLaughlin (1898-1976) is one of my favorite artists. McLaughlin’s favorite artist was a 15th century Japanese monk-painter named Sesshu Toyo. Here his the Kyoto National Museum blurb about the Sesshu painting shown above:
This masterpiece depicts a bird’s-eye-view of the famous sandbar in Tango province, one of the Three Famous Scenic Spots in Japan. It can be dated by the coexistence in the painting of the two-storied Chionji temple pagoda, which was built in 1501, and the buildings of Nariaiji temple, which burned down in 1507. It is remarkable to think that the artist, who was well into his eighties at the time, climbed to such heights to paint the scene! The painting’s combination of soft, wet ink tones, precise brushwork and sublime composition represent the acme of Sesshu Toyo’s (1420-1506) art.
This painting can be considered the masterpiece of an artist who went to China to study painting from life and the art of the Song and Yuan Dynasties and sought the unity of Zen and art throughout his life.
John McLaughlin lived in Japan for three years in the 1930s, and after that opened a Boston gallery that sold Japanese prints. “During World War II, he used his fluency in Japanese to do Marine Corps intelligence work in China, Burma and India,” wrote art critic Christopher Knight in his article about McLaughlin, Open your eyes to John McLaughlin. Here is an excerpt from that article, where Knight discuses the influence of Eastern art and thought on McLaughlin’s work:
For McLaughlin, though, the void was fundamentally different. His is a visionary envelope, an open space of expansive thought, creative energy or the spirit. It’s a void that represents the highest aspiration within Japanese aesthetics rather than Western tradition.
McLaughlin had deep admiration for traditional Japanese and Chinese painting. He was inspired by it as much as by Mondrian or Kazimir Malevich, the spiritual Russian Suprematist. In fact, Sesshu Toyo, the 15th century Japanese monk-painter, was his favorite artist.
Eastern painters were aware of Western perspective, but they rejected it. Instead, they designed paintings to draw a viewer into a profound visual excursion through time and space. McLaughlin did too. The modern Western tools of color and shape in geometric abstraction fuse with the Chinese manner of monochrome painting. Solid merges with space, line with shape.
McLaughlin’s easel paintings, never more than 4 or 5 feet on a side, also dispense with the public scale of a mural, which New York School painters demanded. His paintings are instead designed for intimacy — for the one-on-one experience of contemplative interaction that describes, say, a single Japanese scroll hanging in a tokonoma alcove. The modest size maneuvers a viewer into an optimal place a few feet away, from which to cogitate in splendid isolation.
“I want to communicate only to the extent that the painting will serve to induce or intensify the viewer’s natural desire for contemplation,” the artist once said, “without the benefit of a guiding principle.”
See also: In praise of the artist John McLaughlin
This intense, early landscape painting by New Zealand artist Colin McCahon compliments my previous post about McCahon’s later text paintings. McCahon divides the space in this painting according to at least three different conceptual models: spiritually, based on the Biblical six days of creation; phenomenologically, based on his snapshot visual observations of the New Zealand countryside as he traveled it by bicycle; and pictorially, puncturing the painting’s surface with the spaces of six different landscape views.
Below are several different commentaries that each shed light on this remarkable painting straddling the conceptual border lands between representation and abstraction, symbol and sensation, theology and phenomenology, memory and perception.
Monotonous Cumulative Grandeur, Like Bach
“This painting I never explain but am often asked to. To me it explains itself. It was, I suppose, reconciling gains and losses, stating differences, hills and horizons. Simple. A bit of blood shed in the middle.” Colin McCahon is an outstanding figure in New Zealand art of the twentieth century. He was a great painter and a profound thinker as well as a teacher, critic and curator for ten years at this Gallery. In the 1940s the hills of Nelson and Canterbury were a familiar environment for McCahon, travelling to and from fruit-picking work. The fragmentary landscapes suggest glimpses flashing past the window of a bus or train, essentially similar, yet with varying moods. In response to a comment that New Zealand’s hills were monotonous, McCahon replied, “Monotonous yes, but with a cumulative grandeur, like Bach.” The “six days” in the title echoes the Old Testament six days of creation, before the arrival of humanity. McCahon extracts an austere beauty from these low hills, and at the centre of the painting he places water and the “bit of blood” spilt – symbols of grace and redemption. A beautiful, contemplative work, and one of the outstanding achievements of his early career, this is an example of McCahon’s intense exploration of landscape as metaphor for the human condition, for the journey of life.
Sacrifice and Redemption
In the Christchurch years (1948-52) McCahon continued with the mixture of biblical narratives and landscape paintings he had practised in Nelson. Six days in Nelson and Canterbury (1950) is one of the best-known works of this period, nominally a landscape painting but with religious connotations deriving from the Genesis-reference of its title, while the streak of blood-red at the centre of the image alludes to sacrifice and redemption.
Source: McCahon 1953-60: Before Titirangi.
Painting Too is Work
That McCahon’s career has long eluded the regard of the international art world comes as no real surprise. Apart from a bare few months spent in trips to Australia and the United States, he lived out his entire life and career in New Zealand. Born in 1919, he both endured and exploited his country’s geographical isolation, which persisted over much of his life (he died in 1987). Not that McCahon did a great deal to aid his own cause–though one doubts that he would have recognized international self-promotion as a cause worthy of his commitment. When he traveled to the United States in 1958, an ideal moment to assess the great decade of New York School abstraction, he did so in his capacity as deputy director of the Auckland City Art Gallery, rarely revealing, in scores of visits to museums, galleries, and studios across the continent, that he was himself an artist. Indeed, despite a fierce sense of vocation and prodigious productivity as a painter, printmaker, and set designer, he had difficulty imagining his art as a professional proposition until late in his life. On resigning his last paid, full-time employment–at age fifty-one–in order to devote himself only to painting, he wrote, “I am only now, and slowly, becoming able to paint in the mornings. After a lifetime of working–farming, factories, gardening, teaching, the years at the Auckland City Art Gallery–I find it hard to paint in the world’s usual work-time. It can be difficult to accept that painting too is work.”
The life story encapsulated in that remark sums up a saga of genuine hardship and punishing resistance to his ideas. It’s a time-honored avant-garde script, but McCahon lived it: When he painted Six days in Nelson and Canterbury, 1950, he had just journeyed several hundred miles on a bicycle looking for seasonal work in the fields; his first job at the Auckland City Art Gallery was as a janitor. The irony of his experience lay in his resolute pursuit of an unprivate painter’s idiom that could communicate in society as widely and immediately as possible. Any aesthetic nicety that stood in the way of this goal he sacrificed as an impediment and distraction.
Source: Spreading the word: Colin McCahon.
Neko Case sings Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me” on Austin City Limits. This is absolutely incredible, one of my favorite performances and songs ever. Seemingly simple, but incredibly powerful.
I’ve been a big fan of Neko Case for years, and she’s a fantastic songwriter. But something about this song, maybe the combination of the restrained explosion of Case’s voice with the great Harry Nilsson’s words, just slays me. Incredible. I could–and have–listen to it over and over and over.
Don’t Forget Me
In the winter time, keep your feet warm
But keep your clothes on and don’t forget me
Keep your memories
But keep your powder dry, too
In the summer, by the poolside
While the fireflies are all around you
I’ll miss you when I’m lonely
I’ll miss the alimony, too
Don’t forget me, don’t forget me
Make it easy on me just for a little while
You know I think about you
Let me know you think about me, too
And when we’re older and full of cancer
It doesn’t matter now, come on get happy
‘Cause nothing lasts forever
But I will always love you
Don’t forget me, please don’t forget me
Make it easy on me just for a little while
You know I think about you
Let me know you think about me, too
Harry Nilsson’s original version of Don’t Forget Me is pretty great, of course, but Neko Case manages to top the great master himself, which is no small feat.