World War III is here and it’s not with North Korea or Russia or any human enemy…

This is a digital projection but major coastal cities will be vulnerable to major floods if climate change continues apace and unchecked, says Bill McKibben. courtesy neatorama.com

Right now, World War III rages across the globe. And while the US President whistles through the battlefield like a world-class fool, even all those nations who agreed to the Paris Accord aren’t doing enough. That’s the dire warning of Bill McKibben’s deeply knowledgeable and far-reaching jeremiad from 2016 which grows more urgent and relevant each passing week, literally.

“Enemy forces have seized huge swaths of territory; with each passing week, another 22,000 square miles of Arctic ice disappears. ” he writes. “Experts dispatched to the battlefield in July saw little cause for hope, especially since this siege is one of the oldest fronts in the war. ‘In 30 years, the area has shrunk approximately by half,” said a scientist who examined the onslaught. “There doesn’t seem anything able to stop this.’”

McKibben notes that the gargantuan enemy isn’t angry at us, or otherwise emotionally or psychologically motivated, which can lead to mistakes, like Hitler’s many in WWII, or would likely happen to Kim Jong Un, if the North Korean dictator tries to use a nuclear weapon.

Rather, McKibbon notes, the enemy is indifferent, just as Nature was in Moby-Dick, our greatest American parable, among other things. Except Nature is now on a tsunami roll, far more destructive than it ever was in the mid-1800s, when Melville published his book.

The natural environment of Arctic wildlife disappears at a catastrophic rate week after week. The implications for the earth and civilization are staggering. Courtesy Huffington Post.com

Worse, North America’s corporate and governmental technological efforts are going in the wrong direction, as the massive oil spill of the new Keystone pipeline in North Dakota recently showed. One the eve of the decision to grant final approval to build the pipeline, it’s almost as if Nature – in the form of 210,000 gallons of gushing crude oil – sent a very pointed, and sprawling, message. Here’s a New York Times report on the spill:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/17/us/keystone-pipeline-transcanada-leak.html

McKibben has been our greatest scholar, writer and activist on environmental crisis for a long time and remains at the peak of his powers. 1 He was one of Bernie Sanders’ primary civilian expert consultants for his presidential race, when Sanders accurately declared climate change was the greatest threat to the world.

“World War III” is McKibben’s term, but he says we can still win the war but only if we mobilize in the way that is comparable, to an exponential degree, to our belatedly successful technological manufacturing response in the face of Nazi Germany virtual swallowing up all of Europe. Except now, most major nations will need to do the same.

Back home, even coal miners and their champions need to read this article and understand that the change necessary will only benefit coal miners, in terms of financial security and personal safety. The only constant in life is change, the truth we must all face up to once again.Now that the season of catastrophic weather –- hurricanes and hellish wildfires of unprecedented magnitude – we need to marshall our forces with clean, renewable energy production, which will also create thousands of new jobs. Even if there is a seasonal ebb and flow, natural catastrophes will only worsen if we don’t do something ambitious – aimed at the big, harrowing picture, at the long, serious, precipitous haul.

Wildfire photo courtesy images2.naharnet.com

Please don’t judge the war by my introductory words. But take Bill McKibben very seriously because he knows more about this than virtually anyone. McKibben is not an environmental extremist; he is an environmental realist  And he writes a very compelling story, full of historical and scientific perspective.

And this war is not a metaphor. It’s as real as Hurricane Harvey. As real as death. It’s a very readable article, but a long one, only because we need some substance to get to the truth of a global war.

Here is McKibben’s story: A World at War

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  1. Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of the climate group 350.org.

Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer venture deep into darkness past and coming

Sister singer-songwriters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer have recorded their first duo album, mostly brilliantly realized covers. Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff

Album cover courtesy rollingstone.com

Album Review

Shelby Lynne/Allison Moorer Not Dark Yet (Silver Cross)

The lateness of this first, yet seemingly natural, collaboration of sister singer-songwriters carries old, heavy freight. Both witnessed their father kill their mother, then himself, in the backwoods of Alabama. Decades past, finally realized, Not Dark Yet reveals both as artists mature enough to transmute tragedy into a deep array of poignant expression. The album cover does depict three figures wholly shrouded in shadow, a teenager and an adolescent frolicking while a third person plays guitar.

Lynne is a fairly straight country artist and younger sister Allison (the ex-spouse of Steve Earle) is decidedly alt-country. And yet, they avoid the sentimental pitfalls common to country autobiographical song with a brilliant array of covers of other singer-songwriters, save one song by Lynne. The title song, one of Dylan’s best late period creations, clearly encounters trauma’s impact: “Feels like my soul has turned into steel/I’ve still got the scars the sun didn’t heal.” Yet it has graceful depth, an offhanded philosophic recognition of darkness’s inevitability in life. Here and elsewhere, their voices’ blood-matched closeness plumbs their souls and touches the listener.

Their oblique approach to their parental loss dwells in their rendering of  Townes Van Zandt’s chilling “Lungs,” uttered from the strangely-elevated viewpoint of a person dying of lung cancer: “Jesus was an only son and love his only concept/strangers cry in foreign tongues and dirty up the doorstep.”

Or perhaps they’re searching for their martyred mother in Jessi Coulter’s “I’m Looking for Blue Eyes.” Here their vocal harmonies are soul-straining but wrenchingly radiant, entwining each other like tendrils of a crown of thorns. Or hear the yearning of Jason Isbell’s “The Color of a Cloudy Day”: “I can never find you in my dreams,” an obsessively repeated refrain. Nirvana’s “Lithium” activates a chemistry that seems to reach into the sisters’ shared historical essence. A forlorn, layered spirituality dwells in this album, an acceptance of the larger mysteries.

And yet, such fathomless beauty and tenderness carries through their lovely, life-worn voices that one feels them, not merely as orphans, but as women artists who have lived, lost and learned. This is among the year’s most indelible roots music albums.

And it’s an activist statement: They list the contact information for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence  beneath the inside-cover song titles and credits.

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A shorter version of this review was first published in The Shepherd Express

Melville speaks across generations of American veterans

The sky hangs shrouded in greys today, and the ground increasingly blanketed with fallen, dying leaves, even as flashes of fading autumn glory continue to cling to trees above.

That all seems very appropriate for Veterans Day today. I hung out my 13-star American flag, signifying America’s founding colonies.
And my soul feels heavy today, but not overcome. I offer this post humbly to honor all veterans, living and dead. But I am personally prompted by two veterans who have passed away, and not in the romantically heroic manner of a battlefield death.

The first was my late cousin John Zeh, who served as a gunner on a helicopter in the Vietnam War. John survived the war, but upon returning back home after his service the Agent Orange poisoning his body began to take its toll, and he died. It was the byproduct of rampant napalm spraying of Vietnam by the U.S. during the war, ultimately an insidious sort of “friendly fire.”

Sadly John Zeh is not listed among those late veterans names etched in the beautifully magnificent and understated Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, an oversight in my opinion. John was a great guy, a good husband and father, and a funny fellow, and is still deeply missed.

*

In 1971, my late cousin John Zeh sits in the middle foreground, after his return from Vietnam War service. He wore a wig due to baldness incurred by chemotherapy for Agent Orange, the Vietnam War-era affliction which ultimately killed him. This happy occasion also includes (from left) John’s brother Bill Zeh, my sister Anne, myself, my sister Betty, John’s wife Karin Zeh and their child Teri, and my sister Sheila. 

The second departed veteran was a very close friend of mine, Jim Glynn who died in October of 2004 of bladder cancer, which I am convinced arose from his need to use catheters for all the post-war years he lived vibrantly as a paraplegic disabled veteran. Jim is well-known in the Milwaukee music community for his popular, long-time eclectic jazz radio program on WMSE, also as a flutist-percussionist, and a grade-A culture vulture who consistently, despite his disability, directly supported and attended countless arts events in our community.

Disabled veteran Jim Glynn, right, served as the best man for my wedding in October 1997..

Jim also served during the Vietnam War although he was stationed in Europe. One day he was riding in a Jeep which lost control. He was thrown from the vehicle and the catastrophic injury to his legs left him paralyzed, unable to walk ever again, without crutches.
I recently had the pleasure to selected some CDs from his magnificent music collection, which he bequeathed to me, but his sister Shannon has kept it stored for some years and we agreed to allow it to be offered among certain friends and disc jockeys. It was a joy to see his collection again. The collection reportedly will be digitally filed and made available online by WMSE. Roaming through the boxes of CDs was a sweet experience that also reached in and pressed on my heart like a great elegy.

I have done radio music programs in the past and I hope to do a music program after I finished my novel about Herman Melville. I look forward to the opportunity to play some of the music from the Jim Glynn collection.

Speaking of Melville, I offer, on this Veterans Day, one of his wonderful poems “Shiloh: A Requiem” from his book of Civil War poems, Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War, from 1866. It’s an alternative viewpoint to the brilliant and overwhelming immersion of Ken Burns’ recent documemtary TV series The Vietnam War. I also offer this because I think the poem resonates to America today, even though Melville wrote it shortly after the Civil War, and with that great conflict as his subject. Yet the poem reaches far beyond its time, because America today is stricken with great internal conflicts, mired in the same subjects the Civil War was fought over — the profound American stain of racism, and the desire to “preserve the Union” as President Lincoln put it.

Today we suffer from deep schisms over race, that lacerate the nation’s soul, and from the way the current presidential administration seems, for so many, like an increasing threat to our sacred American democracy and way of life, as exemplified by our national motto E pluribus unum: From many, one.

Melville’s complex attitudes toward war were far less optimistic and patriotic than Walt Whitman’s better-known Civil War poems, “Drum-Taps” from Leaves of Grass.

In addressing Melville’s point of view, I turn to the great poetry critic-scholar Helen Vendler from “Melville and the Lyric of History,” one of the supplemental essays in the Prometheus Books edition of Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War.

Vendler’s quote here references a couple of other poems in Battle Pieces which I invite you to investigate but her interpretive points apply aptly to Shiloh: A Requiem:

“Melville can never focus on one aspect, is never content to be single-minded: the costs borne by the brave men drowned in the Tecumseh must haunt the close of Melville’s victory narrative, just as the college colonel, in the brilliant poem of that name, cannot forget, as he leads his exhausted but victorious regimen home, the unspeakable truth that came to him in battle.

“And just as “The March into Virginia” began not with epic narrative but with reflection, enclosed not with narrative but with the tragic knowledge gained both by those who perished in those who lived to fight another day, so “The Battle for the Bay” begins in wisdom, continues with narrative, and ends in the tragedy that must qualify every deeply-felt battle song, even one of victory.” 1

Shiloh is not a poem about victory, it commemorates fallen veterans on both sides of the war. This reflects, to me, the most generous and courageous of spirits as a poetic observer, even if it was too challenging and equivocal for much of Melville’s readership then, and it remains, at times, challenging for contemporary readers. But Battle-Pieces is immensely worthwhile and enjoyable, one of the still-underappreciated masterworks of perhaps the greatest of American creative writers.

Shiloh: A Requiem (April, 1862)

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
      The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
      The forest-field of Shiloh—
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
      Around the church of Shiloh—
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
            And natural prayer
      Of dying foemen mingled there—
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
      Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
      But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
      And all is hushed at Shiloh.
Finally, as a Veterans Day postscript, I offer you an opportunity for a bit of activism, specifically this petition for a cause to benefit severely disabled veterans.
Peace,
Kevin Lynch
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Online Melville text courtesy The Poetry Foundation.
 1. Helen Vendler, “Melville and the Lyric of History,” supplemental essays to Herman Melville’s Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War,  Prometheus Books, 2001, 260-261.

Pianist Richard Goode time-travels and “recomposes,” for his moment and ours

 

Richard Goode in recital. Photo courtesy Karsten Moran, New York Times.

MADISON – The winds of time may ruffle pianist Richard Goode’s whitening hair, and he now sports spectacles to eye the score while playing. But nothing has diminished his fluency, and his ability to “recompose” music, as he once explained as an ideal, in an interview I did with him a few decades ago.

That means, rather than slavish adherence to the written notes, he finds a way to go beyond mere recitation and even interpretation. He convincingly seems to play music that emits from his whole being and perhaps his own creative soul, though it was born in the mind of a great composer.

He opened his recital at Wisconsin Union Theater with four Prelude and Fugues from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, exercises in stylistic range and digital dexterity, from the F sharp minor’s elegant pacing that finally bloomed in counterpoint, to the resplendent harmonies and dancing gait of the G major. The pieces continued in a bubbling brook of counterpoint, the left hand prodding the right into sheer effervescence, even with a slight flub amid the dazzle. Goode’s playing built to a robust lilt, a full-chested articulation, a master grappling with a musical god.

But what impressed even more was how he reinvented Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata Op. 1, from 1908; giving the youthful work of the Second Viennese School composer maturity and depth I have not heard on recordings of this. The sonata is carved in a far rougher marble than Bach, with plenty of raw, wide-open veins. Berg was beginning to explore the implications of 12-tone technique, but Goode revealed this as still-romantic in its roots, amid sweeping lines and with a segment of counterpoint that alludes to Bach, an ingeniously apt program pairing. Goode gave the Berg voluminous grace that didn’t deny its grit. Halfway through the 10-minute sonata came a passage nearly tender, but which grew into a firmly-laced fortissimo, flinty yet majestic. He made this tough music breathe and, yes, sing.

Sometimes literally. Goode has always performed with an extremely animated face, especially with an utterly pliant mouth and lips and at times in the recital one could hear him humming softly along with his dancing fingers.

This all brought special resonance to the concert’s centerpiece, Beethoven’s Sonata o. 28 in a minor, Opus 101. He opened it more forcefully than his cherished recording of the work, without the perhaps-precious tiptoe-over-the lily-ponds effect. But now the pianist gave the opening melody a stronger arc of line, and elegant dance of hands that befit the acerbic chords that ensued, which nevertheless melt into a harmonic azure.

Richard Goode  Photo credit: Steve Riskind

The second movement’s march unfurled smartly, left hand crossing over right, then the left rising above the keyboard to pause, then both loping and strutting. This was not without some misterioso in the bass, which foreshadowed the adagio.  This somber interlude is brief but just enough, with Goode’s exquisitely held-breath pauses, yet a lovely undercurrent kept the tempo aflame. And at one point, his craggy brow and imploring lips brought to mind an aging Charles Laughton revisiting the pathos of his greatest screen role, as love-lorn Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, eloquently pouring his heart out to the cathedral gargoyles.

And yet Beethoven, with his own bedevilments, breaks free of his emotional quicksand, as did Goode. The finale slyly alludes to the march with songful Germanic hubris – the piece unfurls in swarms and stitches, the structural and improvisational aspects melding all of a piece, devil may dare and so does Beethoven.

After all this meat and potatoes, the post-intermission program of all-Chopin seemed a buffet of desserts, yet hardly without its strains of depth and glory. First, Goode book-ended four spritely mazurkas with a nocturne and the Ballade No. 3 in a flat major, Op. 47. That B Major Nocturne lent a smokiness to the underlying melodic sweetness and, among the mazurkas was the C major, spring-like and flirting with summer with the sound of rough-housing young rascals (lending rue to one’s rainy November mood). By contrast, the D-flat major mazurka is more probing and graced with the scrim of chiaroscuro, yet solidly grounded in the dance pulse.

These pieces set up the sumptuous Ballade, which is surprisingly acerbic, yet the melody shines among the composer’s most fetching, like a single determined flower breaking through earth, bolstered by its stout chromatic heart. Then this beauty is circled completely with arpeggios, and many aspects of the tempo and theme fragment and reassemble, a work of surprising power and radiance, which summoned its own ovation from the audience.

Then, another Nocturne, in C sharp minor, felt like a man soaking up the night, letting darkness infuse himself; he walks around, a shadow, a living mystery but somehow doesn’t deny his palpable existence.

It all ended with a Barcarolle in F-sharp major, with one of Chopin’s most beguiling, almost innocent melodies, yet the pungent key lent it heft and tart radiance.

For all this, Goode deserved an encore, and he chose a theme variation by British Renaissance-era composer William Byrd, written for one Lady Neville. It was a watery creation with swiftly coursing lines and glimmering light, but it also had some gallant flourishes, giving the lady honor, as in her subject’s most artful, sweeping bow (dripping wet?). She was finally charmed with a fugue passage that sounded born of a folksy English air, and she surely was satisfied.

Centuries came and went, to and fro, and Richard Goode remains the most sure-handed of time-traveling guides.