Rev. ML King on the importance, the struggle and the power of community

Britannica.com

Many Facebook birthday greetings, which almost made me feel unworthy,  led me to this short speech of Rev. Martin Luther King’s labeled “Beloved Community.”

It’s far more tough-minded than that title might suggest. He speaks plenty to our painful but transforming times.

“Rise up! And know when you struggle for justice you do not struggle alone…”

So thanks to my friends, but do give the Reverend a few minutes of your time, our time:

Let’s commission or buy more historic statues of Civil War or civil rights heroes. Good ones! Great ones!

One of the more complex and fraught cultural issues arising these days is the removal of (largely) Confederate statues. Some are being toppled and at least partly destroyed. I’m all for the long-overdue change in culture, in response to our urgent times. This need is no better addressed than in this recent Op-Ed by poet and author Caroline Randall Williams in The New York Times, powerfully underscored in a dark symbolism, dwelling in the statues’ heroic posturings. Here (via Daily Kos) is a link: NYT Op-Ed on Confederate statues

The Times headline defiantly declared “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument.”

Williams continued with the startling lead:

 I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South.

She went on to explain:

I am a black, Southern woman, and of my immediate white male ancestors, all of them were rapists…

Poet and author Caroline Randall Williams wrote a scathing commentary recently on the dark underbelly of Confederate statues for The New York Times. Courtesy Nashville Scene.

Amen to that. However, I’m also in the camp of those who think Confederate statues should be moved to museums, and submitted to proper historical contextualization and commentary. And partly given my undergrad degree was in art, with a concentration on sculpture, I have a bias towards preserving public art of historical significance, the good, bad and sometimes even the ugly..

The issue reached a razor’s edge that bled into the absurd recently in Madison, Wisconsin, where I lived and worked for nearly 20 years, as an arts reporter for The Capital Times. So I was greatly saddened see that Wisconsin’s “foreword” statue, long situated on the Capitol Square, was knocked over, and thrown in Lake Mendota. And that the statue of renowned abolitionist and union soldier Hans Christian Heg – a Norwegian immigrant who knew the meaning of being an other, and who died fighting to end slavery – was knocked down and dragged down the street. These were acts of little more than self-righteous ignorance, or worse, perhaps racist subversion.

Several of my friends suspect this was the handiwork of a Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists infiltrating the Madison George Floyd civil rights protests. As one friend shrewdly observed, the guilty party scrawled the phrase “BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL” at the top of the deposed Heg sculpture’s base (see below). Here’s the thing. That phrase hasn’t been used by most African-Americans since the 1960s. It suggests this was a bogus and culturally lame attempt to place the blame on Black Lives Matter.

Base of the statue of abolitionist Hans Christian Heg in Madison, after the statue was torn down recently. Photo by Allison Garfield. Courtesy Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

On a related issue, I cannot agree with student activists who call for the removal of the beloved statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln, at the top of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus. The bronze sculpture mirrors the grand marble sculpture of our 16th president seated in The Lincoln Memorial.

The controversy has to do with what we now call white supremacist comments that Lincoln made before the Civil War during the famous debates with Stephen Douglas. Yes, they are troubling, but history shows that Lincoln redeemed himself through his actions many times over, and indeed was a martyr for the cause of ending slavery. He  inspired Juneteenth Day with his Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves.

Such a leader should be judged by his actions, and such formal proclamations that carry great political weight, rather than by his worst comments, which reveal his racial biases (which we all have, to some degree). Remember too, it was the 1850s, upon which we can misapply our social standards begat by time. We know Lincoln realized that even he struggled at times to stay aligned with the better angels of his nature. And that he always considered slavery immoral and worth destroying with all the Union’s might.

As for what to do about politically historical statues in general, I prefer to think more constructively. If we replace Confederate statues, what should we commission or construct in their stead?

The issue of how to replace them was addressed creatively by six artists in a 2018 New York Times article, when the controversy over a Robert E. Lee statue arose in connection to the infamous Charlottesville clash of civil rights and white supremacists: The New York Times, Aug. 10, 2018, “Monuments for a New Era.”

 

But Madison and other cities could follow the example of Milwaukee, which last December purchased a bronze sculpture by the acclaimed black sculptor Radcliffe Bailey depicting W.E.B. DuBois, the great black writer, thinker, sociologist and civil rights activist. 1 The sculpture, titled “Pensive,” depicts DuBois seated in the same posture as Auguste Rodin’s celebrated “The Thinker,” and even mimics the early modernist Rodin’s rough-hewn modeling. The work was purchased as a gift to the city by Sue and Mark Irgens, and mounted this spring in its new location outside of the new BMO Tower, 790 N. Water St.

Radcliffe Bailey, Pensive, 2013, part of Sculpture Milwaukee 2019. © Radcliffe Bailey, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki for Sculpture Milwaukee

Milwaukee first experienced the quiet but indeed pensive power of the bronze figure in the 2019 MKE Sculpture exhibit mounted along Wisconsin Avenue. For me, it was the outstanding work in the exhibit, artistically and culturally, and I spotlit it in a blog posting, here:

Bronze sculpture of W.E.B. DuBois is highlight of Sculpture Milwaukee

The work’s conceptual lineage is deep, as Rodin’s original “The Thinker” depicted poet Dante Aligieri’s figure, drawing from the poet’s The Divine Comedy, and conceived as a figure contemplating Rodin’s massive tableaux sculpture, The Gates of Hell commissioned in 1880. The symbolic significance of the tableaux is not lost on our times, nor on DuBois’s, when he boldly stirred American consciousness on matters of race in the early 20th century, directly defying Jim Crow.

But the first of Rodin’s familiar monumental bronze castings of “The Thinker,” as a stand-alone sculpture, did not appear until 1904.

Works such as Bailey’s, completely in 2013, ought to be the standard we strive for in public art, especially on fraught matters as race relations or the Civil War. I would love to see Madison commission or purchase a monument to, say, the epic ex-slave biographer and leader Frederick Douglass, or the heroic Underground Railroad operator Harriet Tubman, or modern civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. Or even a work commemorating the death of Emmett Till, which sparked the modern civil rights movement, sensitive as such a rendering might be.

We are in a time of extraordinary social upheaval and transformation, which may feel to too transitory for doubters of social progress. Still, I can think of few better ways we can celebrate such progress and permanently inspire its furtherance, than with bronze public sculptures that embody our history’s embattled nobility and, we pray, our future redemption in freedom and equality for all.

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1 News of the sculpture’s purchase, gifting and re-installation, as reported by Bobby Tanzilo of OnMilwaukee.com: https://onmilwaukee.com/ent/articles/irgens-pensive.html

Here’s the proper streaming and purchase source for Dontre Hamilton documentary “The Blood is at the Doorstep”

In response to my recent blog linked to my Shepherd Express comment on a recent Milwaukee-area protest march against police brutality, streamingmoviesright.com informed me that they held streaming and sales rights for the film The Blood is at the Doorstep. It is not properly free on YouTube as I had indicated. The film is available here: Blood is at the Doorstep

The film by Erik Ljung compellingly and often beautifully documents the quest of Dontre Hamilton’s family in pursuing justice for his unlawful killing at the hands of a Milwaukee police officer, in April of 2014 in downtown Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park.

In a positive review, Hollywood Reporter describes the film, when it played at the SXSW Film Festival in 2017:

“The policeman who killed Milwaukee resident Dontre Hamilton in April 2014, in a public park in the middle of the day, shot him 14 times. He wasn’t the first cop to approach Hamilton as he dozed in the downtown park — others had been there and seen that he was doing nothing wrong. Why an employee at a nearby Starbucks saw the need to call the police about him, and not once but twice, is one of the sorriest aspects in the horrific chain of events that robbed Hamilton’s family of their son and brother. The 31-year-old black man was schizophrenic and, except for the baton that he reportedly grabbed from the officer, unarmed.”

:”Blood” has won numerous awards from film festivals. It also has earned a 100 per cent Tomatometer rating from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, which has not determined its own critical consensus yet. I don’t believe the film has had widespread theatrical release. All reviews I’ve seen online have been quite positive, including my own review here:

Milwaukee film brilliantly embraces the family of Dontre Hamilton – a search for justice

The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York has conducted a Q and A session (below) with the film director and Hamilton family members, including his mother and brother Nate Hamilton, who is pictured below and in my blog’s current theme photo (in the red jersey), talking with Milwaukee Police Chief, Alberto Morales, Here’s the photo by Jonathan Klett, one of the most recent manifestation’s of the family’s ongoing fight for justice for Dontre’s killing:

Dontre Hamilton’s brother Nate (in red jersey) talks with MPD chief during a recent protest against police bruality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. Photo by Jonathan Klett 

Here is the Lincoln Center Q&A with the Hamilton family about Dontre and the film:

 

“I can breathe” means I can write, about love in a time of angry protest

A protest march, including the author, against police brutality moves through Whitefish Bay Saturday. Photo for Shepherd Express by Tea Krulos

On Sunday morning, I wrote a commentary piece on the police brutality protest march I had participated in the day before.  The march had special meaning to me because it’s the first one of the current marches I know of that penetrated Shorewood, the nearby suburb where I grew up from my adolescence, and on into Whitefish Bay, engulfing the main thoroughfares of both municipalities.

What struck me first was the fact that I, in fact, could breathe — at the first protest march I’d partook of since the coronavirus, considering I’m quite at risk in my 60s and suffer from asthma. I thought the phrase  “I can breathe,” mirroring George Floyd’s, might be a headline phrase when I decided to submit it to the Shepherd Express, which accepted and published it yesterday in their online edition 1

Express editor David Luhrssen decided that a theme within the piece was a more striking headline, and I think he was right (I combine both ideas in my headline here). After seeing a protester wearing a red cap with the phrase, “Make America love again,” I pondered whether John Lennon’s famous notion about the power of love had potency and potential in our current crisis. I only wish I had added some lines from his great song “All You Need is Love.” So I will quote some rather profound lyrics from the song as I lead you to a link to my Shepherd Express commentary:

There is nothing you can make that can’t be made.

No one you can save that can’t be saved.

Nothing you can do but you can learn

how to be you in time.

It’s easy…

( my italics)

Perhaps it’s not always easy. But Lennon’s simple rhetorical assertion leads to the idea off applying love to the problem, perhaps learning to love in a Christ-like manner. Lennon’s notion that we can learn, through activism, how to be who we really are (or “praying with our legs” as Frederick Douglass put it) rather than through passive being or existence, is what strikes me.

The link to my Shepherd Express commentary on the protest

And thanks for reading, and for trying to be who you really are.

In addition, here are the two sides of the protest sign I made and used for the March including my satirical drawing of Donald Trump:

I didn’t arrange the book titles shown beside the sign, but their titles serendipitously resonate with ideas explicit or implicit in my Shepherd Express article. The small book at top is a portion of the Bible illustrated by Marc Chagall. 

This backside of the sign at top, from a previous march protesting police violence as supported by Trump, received plenty of comments during the march. Photos by Kevin Lynch.

Activism is also crucially about dialog as well as dissent. I’m also sharing images below, by Jonathan Klett, of Milwaukee Police Chief Alberto Morales. Here he’s talking, at a Veteran’s Park protest Sunday, with Nate Hamilton (in red jersey), the brother of Dontre Hamilton, who was killed by a MPD officer at Red Arrow Park a few years ago — the subject of the acclaimed documentary Blood is on the Doorstep. I allude to Morales’ defiant comments and to the film’s title in my SE article. I was also troubled by the fact that Morales lowered his mask to speak face-to-face with Hamilton. Is this a version of Donald Trump’s macho posturing about not wearing a mask during the COVID crisis?

Nate Hamilton (left, in red jersey) speaks with MPD chief Alberto Morales. Photo by Jonathan Klett.

Here is a brief video by Jonathan Klett of MPD Chief Morales being dissed away from the Veteran’s Park protest:

Morales leaving protest

I highly recommend Blood is at the Doorstep, about Hamilton’s death and his family’s effort towards justice, now available for streaming or purchase. I reviewed it in this blog:

Milwaukee film brilliantly embraces the family of Dontre Hamilton – a search for justice

Thanks to Klett for this link to the film:

https://streamingmoviesright.com/us/movie/the-blood-is-at-the-doorstep/

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1 The ceasing of the Shepherd Express print edition has forced the permanent lay-off of much SE staff, including my friends John Schneider and Rip Tenor (a.k.a. Art Kumbalek), a sad turn of events.

 

John Kennedy embraced Martin Luther King’s vision in his Civil Rights Act Speech. Our nation cries out now, for such leadership.

President John F. Kennedy delivering his Civil Right Act speech in 1963. Courtesy The Atlantic.

On Tuesday iconic conservative journalist George Will called for the ouster of Donald Trump in a Washington Post opinion piece. That’s extraordinary in itself.

“There’s a downward spiral (in Trump’s behavior) and no one should take pleasure in this,” Will said in a TV interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber. Will continued: “In 2016, the people chose the person they liked the least (Not really, the Electoral College did that. “The people” chose Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. It drives me crazy that Will, like many commentators, glosses over the real will of “We the People.”  Far too little discussion of abolishing the EC, or revising our electoral system.).

“Now, ninety per cent of the Republican Party approves of Trump’s conduct. It’s never been more united in its history. It’s united around somebody unfit to lead. You need to give a thorough rejection of the party in the election, which should cause them to pause and reflect.”

Bow-tied George is too mild-toned for me. But what’s also extraordinary is this renowned conservative is almost echoing what sounds to many like a radical idea, a column I posted on Facebook a few days ago from The New Republic calling for: End the GOP

Well, I’ve been reflecting since I heard Bob Dylan’s supremely wise and powerful 17-minute ballad about John Kennedy’s assassination, “Murder Most Foul.” Culture  As a folk-rock singer-songwriter who has managed to win the Nobel Prize for literature, Dylan exemplifies the “common” in our culture as also uncommon, the realm of expression and art this blog strives to engage. There’s good reason why the song has become Dylan’s first-ever number one Billboard single in his storied career. Here is my blog review of, with recorded links to, “Murder” and Dylan’s follow-up song “I Contain Multitudes,” from a new album:

The pandemic’s hidden blessing: The first album of original Dylan songs in eight years

But another TV commentator last night, who’s name I missed, reminded me of Kennedy’s brilliant speech in enacting the Civil Rights Act in 1963, the credit for which should go largely to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists.

Joe Biden says today, “the nation is crying out for leadership.” At this point we hope it will be him in November, with an inspired choice of a woman for his running mate. But Biden he has plenty of work to do, and perhaps he should start by revisiting Kennedy’s speech and King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which significantly inspired the president that day. My God, look how far we have fallen recently despite the apparent progress made since 1963. Backsliding, thy name is America or, more correctly, her leadership.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Courtesy trussvilletribune.com

The president’s address also resembled King’s ‘Letter’ in rejecting the idea that blacks should have to wait for equality, and here’s where Kennedy rings in thunderous harmony with the sentiments of the throngs now gorging American city streets and many other international cities (see below), protesting the murder of George Lloyd, and far too many other black people, by police.

” ‘Who among us,’ Kennedy demanded, ‘would then be content with counsels of patience and delay?’ He mimicked King’s critique of ‘appalling silence’: “Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence.’ The president even picked up the mass meeting chant — ‘Now is the time!’ said Kennedy, “Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise.”

Here is the complete article from the June, 2013 Atlantic.

The Atlantic on Kennedy

It may seem like idle speculation to wonder what might’ve happened to America had not Kennedy fallen to “murder most foul,” as would King, and another supremely promising young leader, Kennedy’s brother, Bobby. Certainly successor Lyndon Johnson was a skilled legislator who did plenty to enable civil rights, but he was hardly the inspirational leader that any of those men were. Would we have endured the disgraced Nixon era had Johnson chosen not to run again in 1968? How sharply would history’s arc of justice have bent to realization? I’ll leave the rhetorical questions there.
But we need now to reach deep down as a nation, and inspire our leaders, surely they need to inspire us. That seems to be happening right now, but we must keep the fires  for justice burning, albeit in a civil and non-violent manner, as King and Kennedy envisioned.

Urgently needed changes today include “the outlawing of police choke holds, with a national standard of definition, and banning of military-style assault weapons for police,” says Mark Claxon, an ex-New York Police detective and police oversight expert.

In ostensibly progressive Minneapolis, where George Floyd died, 44 people were rendered unconscious in the last five years by city police choke holds. And, of those victimized, 60% were black suspects, even though blacks comprise only 4% of the city population. 

“We also need independent committees to judge police brutality outcomes,” Claxton told Melber.

Finally, video images can inspire too, even astonish. We may be at a pivotal moment in our history:

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Dylan’s new song “I Contain Mutitudes,” too

Bob Dylan (right) proves in his latest song “I Contain Multitudes,” he has much more affinity with iconic American poet Walt Whitman than a stylish way with broad-brimmed hats. Salon.com

 

Because with the distractions of online content, even those most interested in worthy subjects often feel compelled to pick and choose, even in the midde of a reading. So because Dylan’s first new song in eight years, “Murder Most Foul,” has gained extraordinary attention, I decided to give my review of his follow-up song “I Contain Multitudes,” its own forum, a separate blog review. Both songs are included in his new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways.

I discovered, upon examining it that it is well worth one’s time, especially in relation to the JFK song and more contemporary issues. I hope you find it of interest as well. The lyrics are included at the bottom.

Review: Bob Dylan “I Contain Multitudes.”

The epic 17-minute ballad evoking the assassination of John Kennedy and its after-effects to the present, was a well-aimed arrow to the heart of many things evil, without and within.

Russell Crowe as Robin Hood, the mythical but real-life fighter for the underdog. Digital Spy

Released online in mid-March, the song probes into the mysteries of the most presidential and persistent conspiracy theory of modern times.

` The assassination may feel like too long an arc of history for some, especially those not old enough to have experienced the event. But does the arc bend toward justice? That question still troubles many who see the truth lying in Cuba with Fidel Castro, Kennedy’s most immediate mortal political and military foe.

And consider, in the COVID-19 crisis, Las Vegas – the American city arguably most dependent on service industry –– has reportedly not been this deserted since the JFK assassination.

An arc of significance perhaps can be drawn from “Murder” back to “Chimes of Freedom,” a similar type of chanting song, if far more full-throated, with a rise-and-fall wave-like melody. It’s been called Dylan’s “Sermon on the Mount.”

“The assassination was in some ways the culmination of many of the political themes about which Dylan had been singing,” wrote Tom Piazza in 2011, discussing Dylan’s extraordinary 1964 Newport performance, in Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America. He references the climactic performance of “Chimes of Freedom” documented in Murray Lerner’s film The Other Side of the Mirror. 1 

Here’s is that extraordinary moment in recent music history:

Piazza wrote that the assassination “signaled a split in the American psyche; a shifting power to a younger, vital generation had been aborted. Kennedy was replaced in office by the dour, older Lyndon Johnson. Then with the new year, came the Beatles, an explosion of fun and irony and sex from foreign shores, just the thing to help a traumatized public forget its trauma for a while.” Dylan acknowledges the Beatles’ 1964 importance in “Murder.” And now we’re amidst a similar trauma where America’s young strive to take the political lead.

Historian Sean Wilentz writes that in 1964 Dylan had already been experimenting in beat-style free verse (a form pioneered in the 19th century by Walt Whitman, the song’s conceptual inspiration, who made famous the grandiloquent idea of “I contain multitudes”)

Not long after (Dylan) met (Alan) Ginsburg, he poured out a poem about the day of Kennedy’s murder which concluded:

The colors of Friday were dull/ as cathedral bells were gently burnin’/ striking for the gentle/ striking for the kind/ striking for the crippled one/ striking for the blind

Pulled together, the lines would form part of what Dylan called the “chain of flashing images” that soon went into ‘Chimes of Freedom.’ ” 3

In the song’s story, a couple ducks inside a doorway to escape and witness a thunderstorm, and much more. The lyric alludes to the church bells tolling on the Friday of Kennedy’s burial procession.

The analogy to an updated Sherwood Forest folk hero comes to mind in a muted yet strangely pointed manner with the most startling lines embedded in “I Contain Multitudes”:

I carry four pistols and two large knives/ I’m a man of contradiction, I’m a man of many moods/ I contain multitudes.

The first impression of the new song is of egocentric boasting, and grandiosity, and the stuff about weapons might disturb the much of the multitudes he proclaims who consider him possibly our supreme living songwriting poet.

But they also should know by now that Dylan never conceded to our idealized versions of him. Nevertheless, let’s think of the songwriter’s weapon as lovable rogue Robin Hood’s flashing cutlass, then as now, catching the sun and twirling, a la Douglas Fairbanks (or Russell Crowe), if that archetypal fighter-for-the-poor were a man of consciousness as much as action, a reflection of what chimes out when the blade clashes.

We might be dealing with what literary critic Harold Bloom calls “the Daemon,” the secular or “daemonic” genius of the American self. But have we had our fill of presumed American exceptionalism? Many on the left would argue hubris and selfishness have let capitalism run rampant, forging the great schism of inequality that America agonizes under.

I’d hardly argue against that point. But Dylan is not really playing a direct political hand here, though he is posturing as a democratic hero, a la Whitman.

As a folk hero, Dylan easily carries the “street-legal” cred. (Speaking of Street-Legal, that 1978 album’s “Senor [Tales of Yankee Power]” is another example of how slyly and deftly Dylan has maintained his role as spokesman for the American conscience through the years, despite his own disclaimers.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvkosdmNlqo

But in “Multitudes” Dylan essentially declares his somewhat radical cultural role by singing:

I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones/
And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones
I go right to the edge, I go right to the end

Um, picturing wispy Dylan as macho, whip-snapping Indiana Jones bends my imagination into a bundle. Maybe he’s more akin to Holocaust diarist Anne Frank. But let’s look at what that risk-taking is couched in. The next line:

I go right where all things lost are made good again

Now imagine, for a moment, if Anne Frank might’ve survived to write about the Kennedy assassination. She would’ve been 34 (the same age as my late father, a great Kennedy fan, who was born about a month after Frank, in 1929). If she could still believe that people are essentially good in the face of The Nazis about to destroy almost everyone in her family and six million more, surely she could nurse a flame of hope as America’s Camelot seemed to burn to the ground.

Holocaust victim and German diarist Anne Frank  Courtesy history.com

Yet, here, the flip side of Dylan’s idealistic Jewish woman is the joker face of Mick Jagger, perhaps singing both “Sympathy for the Devil” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” And such a card hand contains a risky bet on America in 2020. Why can’t we mirror our political poles as neatly as that year does numerically? Why can’t we focus on common goals, a common good with something closer to 20-20 vision? Right now, we’re all in this deadly situation together, but politically cross-eyed.

Part of the implicit challenge: Must we have sympathy for whomever we the perceive as the devil? And yet realize that we may not get what “We the People” want, yet again?

If that’s not motivation enough to come together, what is? As usual Elizabeth Warren speaks to our fundamental principles as plainly as anyone: Today, The American) dream runs into a very hard reality that this is now a world that works better and better for a smaller and smaller number of people. 

So our moment may feel as fraught as Anne Frank’s, facing the clomping of SS boots on the stairs. Or as heart-broken as Walt Whitman’s, as he embraced and nursed dying Civil War soldiers, going “right to the edge, right to the end” along the battlefield of America’s most tragic historic crisis.

Dylan clearly has a sense of his importance, as few of us can, but a person can only see so much of himself amid the often-glaring sheen of ego, the mixed messages of praise and hagiography, showered on him like upon few other pop artists of our time.

The more we reflect on Dylan’s lyrics in question, the more his ostensible egotism falls away. 4 It might be a snake’s skin, but to know Dylan’s history is to know the often-elliptical ways he honors history, especially through music and literature.

Yet also through visual art, as he reminds us here (“I paint landscapes, and I paint nudes”). He’s been an amateur painter at least since he did the gawky, art brut cover for The Band’s debut album Music from Big Pink. in 1968, that seemed to charm us and the depicted elephant with the musicians’ vibrations.

In this sense, his artistic claim may seem self-mocking. It recalls the surprising humility of the late John Updike, one of our proudest and most vivid prose stylists. Updike, a mildly-talented cartoonist for the Harvard Lampoon while attending that school, admitted:

“Drawing can feel perfect the way that prose never does, and a poem rarely. Language is intrinsically approximate, since words mean different things to different people.”

And yet Dylan, like Updike knows he is a better wordsmith than an artist. Updike claimed he gave up on striving for vivid prose imagery in mid-career.

But Dylan can’t give up because, for him, his songs are his best arrow and lance, for how he faces the zeitgeist, whereas his painting is more an escape from it. In the new song, he utters the title phrase the first time with a gruff sigh, as if the multitudes are a burden.

“I Contain Multitudes” is musically modest, hardly even  comparing to the somber, elegiac instrumentation of “Murder Most Foul.” His vocal delivery is oddly poignant and tender. The new song’s first image is pointedly aware of fleeting life: Today and tomorrow, and yesterday, too/ The flowers are dyin’ like all things do

So it feels like is an admission of his artistic limits, and even his compulsive triviality amid his would-be encompassing heroism: I fuss with my hair/ and I fight blood feuds/ I contain multitudes.

And yet, “(I) got a telltale heart, like Mr. Poe.” The man in Poe’s famous story is a killer, and Dylan is even willing to go there, even if metaphorically, to abase himself before us and perhaps his God. He admits he might even betray you (“Judas” they cried when he went electric.)

Yet finally, in a brilliantly simple twist of fate and tone, he seems to snidely defy our Grim Reaping pandemic in one breath, while declaring, in the next, each endeared person tattooed on his soul.

Get lost, madame, get up off my knee
Keep your mouth away from me
I’ll keep the path open, the path in my mind
I’ll see to it that there’s no love left behind

That feels like a commitment whether he survives or not, given that he’s 78, and still seemingly frail, even as he has trucked on his “endless tour” in compromised health since his horrible motorcycle accident decades ago.

So, the artists and writers he names here echo the assassination ballad’s healing litany of songs and songwriters, for people who may remain wounded more than they realize – contributing to today’s traumas. Are they merely scars for the countless from 1963, and 1968, when murder most fouled JFK’s brother Bobby and Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr., two of the greatest leaders of the Civil Rights movement?

In the end, Dylan turns from sentiment back to art. The quintessential rootsy, folk-rock musician/disc jockey even embraces art music.

Otherwise, how could he honestly contain multitudes?

I play Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s preludes.
I contain multitudes.

These are reasons why we still value Dylan, among such golden incomparables as Whitman and King. Despite the oral or written word’s approximate nature, they can all count on their best storytelling to last. He shows us how poetry can be a foot soldier for truth, its rhythmic mysteries abiding in the wind.

As music historian Ted Gioia comments, on oral traditions going at least back to early Maori tribes in New Zealand: ”Long after visual memories fade, the aural memories of a heard (or sung) tale remain…storytelling shapes our brains in ways that even powerful images, like home movies or family portraits, cannot match. Fieldwork in surviving hunter-gatherer societies tell us that storytelling skills are among the most prized talents in those communities.” 6

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1 Tom Piazza, Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America, Harper Perennial, 2011, 122 (Piazza’s title, though an old blues trope, seems to allude to the “Chimes of Freedom” thunderstorm scene, and his subtitle foreshadows our current situation.)
2 “Chimes of Freedom” has been memorably covered many times, including by The Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Jefferson Starship and Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour. I was reminded of the song’s power and importance when Madison historian-journalist-radio show host Stuart Levitan recited the entire lyrics onstage at a Madison jazz festival not long ago. Similarly, jazz pianist Lynne Arriale just released a new album titled Chimes of Freedom with a condensed vocal version of the song as its centerpiece. Review of that: mArriale, Chimes

  1. Sean Wilentz, Bob Dylan in America,Doubleday,  2010, 69
  2. Piazza, in Devil Sent the Rain, addresses the dichotomy of artistic ego by quoting Melville’s poem about art: “ ‘Humility – yet pride and scorn/ Instinct and study; love and hate/ Audacity – reverence. These must mate…‘ in order to ‘wrestle with the angel.‘ “, Devil, 130
  3. John Updike, “Lost Art,” from The Best American Essays 1998, Cynthia Ozick, Houghton Mifflin,  1998, 244-45
  4. Ted Gioia, Music: A Subversive History, Basic Books, 2019, 79

 

 

 

 

Lyrics to “I Contain Multitudes” c Bob Dylan

 

Today and tomorrow, and yesterday, too
The flowers are dyin’ like all things do
Follow me close, I’m going to Balian Bali
I’ll lose my mind if you don’t come with me
I fuss with my hair, and I fight blood feuds
I contain multitudes

Got a tell-tale heart, like Mr. Poe
Got skeletons in the walls of people you know
I’ll drink to the truth and the things we said
I’ll drink to the man that shares your bed
I paint landscapes, and I paint nudes
I contain multitudes

Red Cadillac and a black moustache
Rings on my fingers that sparkle and flash
Tell me, what’s next? What shall we do?
Half my soul, baby, belongs to you
I relic and I frolic with all the young dudes
I contain multitudes

I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones
And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones
I go right to the edge, I go right to the end
I go right where all things lost are made good again
I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
I have no apologies to make
Everything’s flowing all at the same time
I live on the boulevard of crime
I drive fast cars, and I eat fast foods
I contain multitudes

Pink petal-pushers, red blue jeans
All the pretty maids, and all the old queens
All the old queens from all my past lives
I carry four pistols and two large knives
I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods
I contain multitudes

You greedy old wolf, I’ll show you my heart
But not all of it, only the hateful part
I’ll sell you down the river, I’ll put a price on your head
What more can I tell you? I sleep with life and death in the same bed
Get lost, madame, get up off my knee
Keep your mouth away from me
I’ll keep the path open, the path in my mind
I’ll see to it that there’s no love left behind
I’ll play Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s preludes
I contain multitudes

 

Considering Dylan chose these two songs to release and that they encompass nearly half an hour of the album it’s reasonable to conclude that they are representative of the album’s material and viewpoint:
However, a couple more songs from Rough and Rowdy Ways are now available, here:

 

 

 

The pandemic’s hidden blessing: The first album of original Dylan songs in eight years

A digital evocation of the assassin’s view of his victim, President John F. Kennedy. 

 

Could the scourge of the coronavirus pandemic hold a hidden blessing?

Bob Dylan has arisen again. How about the first album or original Dylan material in eight years, titled Rough and Rowdy Ways? The album will be released June 19 but is available for preorder at Dylan’s website:

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Album’s perspective will be poetically oblique yet insightful at times, but also gripping, graphic and direct, and powerfully evocative. That’s the evidence on the first two songs Dylan has released as singles. The first of these “Murder Most Foul,” has received plenty of attention and recently it the number one spot on Billboard singles chart, the first for Dylan who has claimed a couple of number two is in the past, including “Like a Rolling Stone.”

“Murder” revisits John F. Kennedy assassination, including putting us right in the doomed presideny’s seat in the car next his wife Jackie, in the moments before and while he is murdered in Dallas on November 22, 1963. But the song, a somber ballad fold across nearly 17 minutes, also takes inspired stroll through cultural moments and figures. germaine to then and now.

Despite his frequent protests that he’s not the “spokesman for a generation,” such a visionary voice can’t contain himself for too log He’s the spokesman for an era, a 2016 Nobel Prize winner in literature who started in the humblest of cultural realms and has ascended to his self-made mountaintop.

.Here is an in depth Culture Currents review of “Murder”:

Dylan offers an evocative, expansive ballad for JFK: “Murder Most Foul”

Several weeks after releasing “murder,” in March, Dylan followed up with “I contain multitudes,” another song that is markedly capacious in declaring his legitimacy as a commentator on important matters. Here is what culture currents previously unpublished review of that song.

And then, a few weeks later, Dylan struck again, with a shorter, complementary song titled “I Contain Multitudes.” He had drawn a lance across the bow of American consciousness with his extraordinary “Murder Most Foul” with the flair of a poetic Robin Hood.

Review: Bob Dylan “I Contain Multitudes.”

The epic 17-minute ballad evoking the assassination of John Kennedy and its after-effects to the present, was a well-aimed arrow to the heart of many things evil, without and within.

Russell Crowe as Robin Hood, the mythical but real-life fighter for the underdog. Digital Spy

Released online in mid-March, the song probes into the mysteries of the most presidential and persistent conspiracy theory of modern times.

` The assassination may feel like too long an arc of history for some, especially those not old enough to have experienced the event. But does the arc bend toward justice? That question still troubles many who see the truth lying in Cuba with Fidel Castro, Kennedy’s most immediate mortal political and military foe.

And consider, in the COVID-19 crisis, Las Vegas – the American city arguably most dependent on service industry –– has reportedly not been this deserted since the JFK assassination.

An arc of significance perhaps can be drawn from “Murder” back to “Chimes of Freedom,” a similar type of chanting song, if far more full-throated, with a rise-and-fall wave-like melody. It’s been called Dylan’s “Sermon on the Mount.”

“The assassination was in some ways the culmination of many of the political themes about which Dylan had been singing,” wrote Tom Piazza in 2011, discussing Dylan’s extraordinary 1964 Newport performance, in Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America. He references the climactic performance of “Chimes of Freedom” documented in Murray Lerner’s film The Other Side of the Mirror. 1 

Here’s is that extraordinary moment in recent music history:

Piazza wrote that the assassination “signaled a split in the American psyche; a shifting power to a younger, vital generation had been aborted. Kennedy was replaced in office by the dour, older Lyndon Johnson. Then with the new year, came the Beatles, an explosion of fun and irony and sex from foreign shores, just the thing to help a traumatized public forget its trauma for a while.” Dylan acknowledges the Beatles’ 1964 importance in “Murder.” And now we’re amidst a similar trauma where America’s young strive to take the political lead.

Historian Sean Wilentz writes that in 1964 Dylan had already been experimenting in beat-style free verse (a form pioneered in the 19th century by Walt Whitman, the song’s conceptual inspiration, who made famous the grandiloquent idea of “I contain multitudes”)

Not long after (Dylan) met (Alan) Ginsburg, he poured out a poem about the day of Kennedy’s murder which concluded:

The colors of Friday were dull/ as cathedral bells were gently burnin’/ striking for the gentle/ striking for the kind/ striking for the crippled one/ striking for the blind

Pulled together, the lines would form part of what Dylan called the “chain of flashing images” that soon went into ‘Chimes of Freedom.’ ” 3

In the song’s story, a couple ducks inside a doorway to escape and witness a thunderstorm, and much more. The lyric alludes to the church bells tolling on the Friday of Kennedy’s burial procession.

The analogy to an updated Sherwood Forest folk hero comes to mind in a muted yet strangely pointed manner with the most startling lines embedded in “I Contain Multitudes”:

I carry four pistols and two large knives/ I’m a man of contradiction, I’m a man of many moods/ I contain multitudes.

The first impression of the new song is of egocentric boasting, and grandiosity, and the stuff about weapons might disturb the much of the multitudes he proclaims who consider him possibly our supreme living songwriting poet.

But they also should know by now that Dylan never conceded to our idealized versions of him. Nevertheless, let’s think of the songwriter’s weapon as lovable rogue Robin Hood’s flashing cutlass, then as now, catching the sun and twirling, a la Douglas Fairbanks (or Russell Crowe), if that archetypal fighter-for-the-poor were a man of consciousness as much as action, a reflection of what chimes out when the blade clashes.

We might be dealing with what literary critic Harold Bloom calls “the Daemon,” the secular or “daemonic” genius of the American self. But have we had our fill of presumed American exceptionalism? Many on the left would argue hubris and selfishness have let capitalism run rampant, forging the great schism of inequality that America agonizes under.

I’d hardly argue against that point. But Dylan is not really playing a direct political hand here, though he is posturing as a democratic hero, a la Whitman.

As a folk hero, Dylan easily carries the “street-legal” cred. (Speaking of Street-Legal, that 1978 album’s “Senor [Tales of Yankee Power]” is another example of how slyly and deftly Dylan has maintained his role as spokesman for the American conscience through the years, despite his own disclaimers.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvkosdmNlqo

But in “Multitudes” Dylan essentially declares his somewhat radical cultural role by singing:

I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones/
And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones
I go right to the edge, I go right to the end

Um, picturing wispy Dylan as macho, whip-snapping Indiana Jones bends my imagination into a bundle. Maybe he’s more akin to Holocaust diarist Anne Frank. But let’s look at what that risk-taking is couched in. The next line:

I go right where all things lost are made good again

Now imagine, for a moment, if Anne Frank might’ve survived to write about the Kennedy assassination. She would’ve been 34 (the same age as my late father, a great Kennedy fan, who was born about a month after Frank, in 1929). If she could still believe that people are essentially good in the face of The Nazis about to destroy almost everyone in her family and six million more, surely she could nurse a flame of hope as America’s Camelot seemed to burn to the ground.

Holocaust victim and German diarist Anne Frank  Courtesy history.com

Yet, here, the flip side of Dylan’s idealistic Jewish woman is the joker face of Mick Jagger, perhaps singing both “Sympathy for the Devil” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” And such a card hand contains a risky bet on America in 2020. Why can’t we mirror our political poles as neatly as that year does numerically? Why can’t we focus on common goals, a common good with something closer to 20-20 vision? Right now, we’re all in this deadly situation together, but politically cross-eyed.

Part of the implicit challenge: Must we have sympathy for whomever we the perceive as the devil? And yet realize that we may not get what “We the People” want, yet again?

If that’s not motivation enough to come together, what is? As usual Elizabeth Warren speaks to our fundamental principles as plainly as anyone: Today, The American) dream runs into a very hard reality that this is now a world that works better and better for a smaller and smaller number of people. 

So our moment may feel as fraught as Anne Frank’s, facing the clomping of SS boots on the stairs. Or as heart-broken as Walt Whitman’s, as he embraced and nursed dying Civil War soldiers, going “right to the edge, right to the end” along the battlefield of America’s most tragic historic crisis.

Dylan clearly has a sense of his importance, as few of us can, but a person can only see so much of himself amid the often-glaring sheen of ego, the mixed messages of praise and hagiography, showered on him like upon few other pop artists of our time.

The more we reflect on Dylan’s lyrics in question, the more his ostensible egotism falls away. 4 It might be a snake’s skin, but to know Dylan’s history is to know the often-elliptical ways he honors history, especially through music and literature.

Yet also through visual art, as he reminds us here (“I paint landscapes, and I paint nudes”). He’s been an amateur painter at least since he did the gawky, art brut cover for The Band’s debut album Music from Big Pink. in 1968, that seemed to charm us and the depicted elephant with the musicians’ vibrations.

In this sense, his artistic claim may seem self-mocking. It recalls the surprising humility of the late John Updike, one of our proudest and most vivid prose stylists. Updike, a mildly-talented cartoonist for the Harvard Lampoon while attending that school, admitted:

“Drawing can feel perfect the way that prose never does, and a poem rarely. Language is intrinsically approximate, since words mean different things to different people.”

And yet Dylan, like Updike knows he is a better wordsmith than an artist. Updike claimed he gave up on striving for vivid prose imagery in mid-career.

But Dylan can’t give up because, for him, his songs are his best arrow and lance, for how he faces the zeitgeist, whereas his painting is more an escape from it. In the new song, he utters the title phrase the first time with a gruff sigh, as if the multitudes are a burden.

“I Contain Multitudes” is musically modest, hardly even  comparing to the somber, elegiac instrumentation of “Murder Most Foul.” His vocal delivery is oddly poignant and tender. The new song’s first image is pointedly aware of fleeting life: Today and tomorrow, and yesterday, too/ The flowers are dyin’ like all things do

So it feels like is an admission of his artistic limits, and even his compulsive triviality amid his would-be encompassing heroism: I fuss with my hair/ and I fight blood feuds/ I contain multitudes.

And yet, “(I) got a telltale heart, like Mr. Poe.” The man in Poe’s famous story is a killer, and Dylan is even willing to go there, even if metaphorically, to abase himself before us and perhaps his God. He admits he might even betray you (“Judas” they cried when he went electric.)

Yet finally, in a brilliantly simple twist of fate and tone, he seems to snidely defy our Grim Reaping pandemic in one breath, while declaring, in the next, each endeared person tattooed on his soul.

Get lost, madame, get up off my knee
Keep your mouth away from me
I’ll keep the path open, the path in my mind
I’ll see to it that there’s no love left behind

That feels like a commitment whether he survives or not, given that he’s 78, and still seemingly frail, even as he has trucked on his “endless tour” in compromised health since his horrible motorcycle accident decades ago.

So, the artists and writers he names here echo the assassination ballad’s healing litany of songs and songwriters, for people who may remain wounded more than they realize – contributing to today’s traumas. Are they merely scars for the countless from 1963, and 1968, when murder most fouled JFK’s brother Bobby and Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr., two of the greatest leaders of the Civil Rights movement?

In the end, Dylan turns from sentiment back to art. The quintessential rootsy, folk-rock musician/disc jockey even embraces art music.

Otherwise, how could he honestly contain multitudes?

I play Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s preludes.
I contain multitudes.

These are reasons why we still value Dylan, among such golden incomparables as Whitman and King. Despite the oral or written word’s approximate nature, they can all count on their best storytelling to last. He shows us how poetry can be a foot soldier for truth, its rhythmic mysteries abiding in the wind.

As music historian Ted Gioia comments, on oral traditions going at least back to early Maori tribes in New Zealand: ”Long after visual memories fade, the aural memories of a heard (or sung) tale remain…storytelling shapes our brains in ways that even powerful images, like home movies or family portraits, cannot match. Fieldwork in surviving hunter-gatherer societies tell us that storytelling skills are among the most prized talents in those communities.” 6

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1 Tom Piazza, Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America, Harper Perennial, 2011, 122 (Piazza’s title, though an old blues trope, seems to allude to the “Chimes of Freedom” thunderstorm scene, and his subtitle foreshadows our current situation.)
2 “Chimes of Freedom” has been memorably covered many times, including by The Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Jefferson Starship and Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour. I was reminded of the song’s power and importance when Madison historian-journalist-radio show host Stuart Levitan recited the entire lyrics onstage at a Madison jazz festival not long ago. Similarly, jazz pianist Lynne Arriale just released a new album titled Chimes of Freedom with a condensed vocal version of the song as its centerpiece. Review of that: mArriale, Chimes

  1. Sean Wilentz, Bob Dylan in America,Doubleday,  2010, 69
  2. Piazza, in Devil Sent the Rain, addresses the dichotomy of artistic ego by quoting Melville’s poem about art: “ ‘Humility – yet pride and scorn/ Instinct and study; love and hate/ Audacity – reverence. These must mate…‘ in order to ‘wrestle with the angel.‘ “, Devil, 130
  3. John Updike, “Lost Art,” from The Best American Essays 1998, Cynthia Ozick, Houghton Mifflin,  1998, 244-45
  4. Ted Gioia, Music: A Subversive History, Basic Books, 2019, 79

 

 

 

 

Lyrics to “I Contain Multitudes” c Bob Dylan

 

Today and tomorrow, and yesterday, too
The flowers are dyin’ like all things do
Follow me close, I’m going to Balian Bali
I’ll lose my mind if you don’t come with me
I fuss with my hair, and I fight blood feuds
I contain multitudes

Got a tell-tale heart, like Mr. Poe
Got skeletons in the walls of people you know
I’ll drink to the truth and the things we said
I’ll drink to the man that shares your bed
I paint landscapes, and I paint nudes
I contain multitudes

Red Cadillac and a black moustache
Rings on my fingers that sparkle and flash
Tell me, what’s next? What shall we do?
Half my soul, baby, belongs to you
I relic and I frolic with all the young dudes
I contain multitudes

I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones
And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones
I go right to the edge, I go right to the end
I go right where all things lost are made good again
I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
I have no apologies to make
Everything’s flowing all at the same time
I live on the boulevard of crime
I drive fast cars, and I eat fast foods
I contain multitudes

Pink petal-pushers, red blue jeans
All the pretty maids, and all the old queens
All the old queens from all my past lives
I carry four pistols and two large knives
I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods
I contain multitudes

You greedy old wolf, I’ll show you my heart
But not all of it, only the hateful part
I’ll sell you down the river, I’ll put a price on your head
What more can I tell you? I sleep with life and death in the same bed
Get lost, madame, get up off my knee
Keep your mouth away from me
I’ll keep the path open, the path in my mind
I’ll see to it that there’s no love left behind
I’ll play Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s preludes
I contain multitudes

 

Considering Dylan chose these two songs to release and that they encompass nearly half an hour of the album it’s reasonable to conclude that they are representative of the album’s material and viewpoint:
However, a couple more songs from Rough and Rowdy Ways are now available, here:

 

 

 

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” rings its rhymes for COVID-19 today

Courtesy The Atlantic

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” here including contemporary illustrations of the poem

As things stand, no part of the world reflects our current unsteady and dangerous situation more than the vast, rolling inexorable expanses of the sea. Atlantic writer James Parker makes that argument in recommending for right now in 2020 Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s immortal poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Though published in 1798, the verse demonstrates, especially in the seas incessantly transporting waves, how what goes around comes. And with the arrival the coronavirus, Coleridge’s poem has returned to speak to us, here in the voices of variety talented and notable reciters: actors Jeremy Irons, Willem Dafoe and Tilda Swinton; novelist Hillary Mantel; poet Simon Armitahe; and singers Marianne Faithfull and Iggy Pop, and others. Each reading is illustrated by a notable recent visual artist

A scene from “The Ancient Mariner.” Courtesy 4umi.com

Now is the the time when not only any symbolic traveler but all members of the world, feel a bit lost at sea, thus the poems universality for the moment. It also powerfully addresses weaknesses and failings of the protagonist in facing the dilemma, in the symbolic form of the fateful shooting of the albatross.

COLERIDGE: ANCIENT MARINER.
The mariner shoots the albatross. Wood engraving after Gustave Doré (1832-1883) for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, 1798.

Courtesy Tiffany Francis-Baker

And the poem certainly befits the sea-ike motif implicit in this blog, Culture Currents (Vernaculars Speak). This vernacular is ancient, but rich and powerful and resonant. Give these recorded samples a try and see if you don’t agree. There’s also a link (in the article’s fourth paragraph) to “Ancient Mariner” Big Read, the full composite perfomance by the array gifted participants. Here’s Parker’s piece:

Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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Mike Neumeyer’s vibes may transport you

Review: Mike Neumeyer — Cloud Nine (Voirimba)

For all its musical riches, America remains sadly unrepresented by one of the most distinctive instruments of all, the vibraphone. No instrument lives more vibrantly (sorry) in the realm of its own overtones and harmonics. The most recent stars of the vibes, Gary Burton and Bobby Hutcherson, have long since passed their prominence. So gratitude is in order for Milwaukee vibraphonist Neumeyer’s latest album. It’s solo, so the weight and focus is on his instrument. We soon discover the solo vibes’ ability to bloom, ripple and radiate in a way unmatched by any other instrument. This resonating presence informs all the tunes here, mostly short pieces that understand the ethereal nature of this voice.

For example, the melody of “Ethereal Vibe” forms by each struck note following the wide, peacock-like tail of previously played ones. Neumeyer uses four mallets, so full chords ring richly, translucent yet layered. Yet other times, as on the title tune, he’s down to two mallets, which allows the notes to breathe more.

If this is a meant as a jazz recording, the pieces are surprisingly short, with little improv development. However, the tune “A Vibe of Innocence” has an enchanting melody that flutters around your ear like a flirtatious butterfly, and Neumeyer stretches out just enough on this.

He also employs an electronically-produced, scrim-like backdrop of textural sonority to offset the gleaming purity of the vibes sound. His mastery of sonic effect is all the more impressive considering it’s a live concert recording.

Mike Neumeyer experimenting with a mallet-less, piano-like attack on marimba. 

Still, at some point, all the bright vibrations might feel a bit much, given he’s solo here. I’d love to hear Neumeyer with an offsetting sonic instrument like saxophone, though piano can work, too, as the Modern Jazz Quartet proved for decades.

For a more contrasting vibes style, search out recordings or YouTubes of the under-appreciated Walt Dickerson, with a more muted sound and linear playing, a two-mallet player of a different sort of virtuosity and concept.

But for right now, Cloud Nine may transport you to a special stratosphere of heavenly sonority.

Mike Neumeyer gives a presentation on marimba to a youthful audience in a Spring Green Library. Photos courtesy mikeneumeyer.com

For more on Neumeyer, who’s also a master of the marimba, and to obtain his  recordings, visit his website:

Home

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This review was originally published in a shorter form in The Shepherd Express here 

 

 

Quarantined brass players reach for the heavens and (excuse me) kiss the sky!

I sent out a group e-mail to friends today, Easter Sunday, about how I was trying to cope with the social distancing and cleanliness in these trying and tragic times.

The more this day has progressed, the more blessed I feel, even cooped up at home, because several friends responded beautifully to my perhaps-oversharing email.*

One message, linked below, literally shouted out to me from my good old friend, the superb Milwaukee jazz trumpeter Kaye Berigan. Kaye leads a quartet that has played for a number of years at Ally’s Bistro on the far northwest side of Milwaukee, with a great bunch of musicians, Jack Carr on drums, Steve Lewandowski on guitar and George Welland on bass (pictured above). Do go see them when this madness subsides.

To be clear, his message wasn’t self-serving, as Kaye is not among these brass players in the YouTube video.

But in my morning email I had mentioned a curiosity occurring as I wrote the message. As I am manually disabled, I try to use voice dictation as best and often as I can. Today in the email, as I referred to the Coronavirus crisis, something striking and almost mysterious, happened.
I repeated the word “crisis” several times (the system usually corrects itself) but each time I clearly articulated “crisis” something else, um, arose. The name “Christ.” This was no joke.

I also struggled for a while at home, today. But since eating a late lunch, I’ve received my friends responses and it feels like shafts of light streaming down through full-chested cumulus clouds. And I’m hearing these inspired brass musicians, making brilliant use of their quarantine. If any instruments shout, it is brass ones, and here gorgeously.

I know in many quarters these days it’s not hip to use words like “blessing,” or to invoke or find solace in the meaning of Easter. But this is simply what has happened to me in the last couple hours. Life is far from easy for me now, as it is for many people everywhere. So we ought to be bleeding empathy for each other. I wish our leaders empathized pro-actively, much more, though some are doing very well for us.

And yet…I have sometimes described myself fashionably as “spiritual but not religious.” But that rings a bit false to me. I take pleasure and sometimes a slight sense of wonder in odd occurrences that feel like signifiers –like that slightly mysterious voice dictation this morning.

I’d also been watching a fine Sunday morning film noir movie, Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt on Turner Classic Movies. Odd fare for the holiday? Yet suddenly that title radiates, newly signifying.

No matter what you believe, or don’t, you gotta get your spiritual power from somewhere. So check out this brass fanfare. And maybe let me know how you feel.

(I’m at kelynchmi@gmail.com. My blog response is not working)

As for Kaye Berigan, he simply wrote, “Regards, Kaye.”

Thanks, my friend.

 

 

ps. Here’s another sort of “inspiration,” more down to earth. The message writer calls it “The Ultimate Pleasure Jail” : Guitarist Jack Grassel told me how he and his spouse, singer Jill Jensen, are actually making the most of our very tough virus situation. He let me quote him at length:

“Hi Kev,  It’s weird times.  Ayna?   Jill and I were talking about this whole thing before we went to sleep last night.  This situation reminds me of my time at a catholic high school my parents sent me to.  Occasionally we would go on “retreats” and live in silence for a few days.  I did that a few times at a monastery after I grew up, just to get away from the noise of everything.  I would not talk to or see anyone for a week.  I’d play and listen to music, read books and exercise in my little room.

That’s what I’m doing now. This virus thing causes all of us to go on a retreat.  I actually like it.  No cars, trucks or motorcycles are making noise going by our house.  We are getting food delivered through INSTACART.  We order on line and it comes to our house.  I don’t have to go to a supermarket and hear MUZAK which usually takes hours to get that out of my head.  I’m having fun playing music FOR ME, not for money (although I miss the money), not for an audience (who is talking and playing with their phones) not for a club owner (who puts background music on during our breaks which isn’t jazz and louder than we were playing).
I just played exactly what I wanted to play for 2 hours and then listened to Steve Swallow’s CD REAL BOOK.  Jill made pancakes for breakfast and we listened to old jazz vocal records.
I still have the same full tank of gas in my car from the last week in December.   I’ll probably go for a walk with Jill later and watch a movie on TCM tonight.  This really isn’t so bad.  I call my friends and talk on the phone for a long time or have conversations such as this on the internet.  This is like being in the ultimate pleasure JAIL.   It’s nice as always to hear from you.  Please be careful. You are important to me.
Jack”
After Jack and I commiserated a bit about the TCM movie channel, he responded:
“Yeah,  We watched Paper Moon last night, before that What’s Up Doc? with Barbara Streisand, before that Treasure of Sierra Madre with Humphery Bogart, before that Robin Hood with Basil Rathbone while eating lots of ice cream and popcorn on the couch or on the floor.  We were real bums yesterday.  Great fun.
It was a TCM 4 movies day and Robert Osbourne lives.  It’s great being grown up.  We can do whatever we want do to  Ha Ha.”
Album cover courtesy Jack Grassel and Jill Jensen/amazon.com

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  • thanks Jack and Louisa Loveridge-Gallas!