Jim Glynn, Restless Seeker, Part 2

 

Ed. note, This “Jim Glynn Part 2,” was accidentally posted a few days ago, even though obviously unfinished. I discovered that belately, after being out of town. Thanks for the generous “likes,” but here is the finished post. 

It was gratifying, but no great surprise, that many people responded to my last Culture Currents posting, with a vast array of comments and stories and appreciation of the late Jim Glynn. I now realize I can’t leave this subject at that. I need to add more to this man’s story and legacy, in my small way. Thus, this follow-up blog post.

What dawned on me today was about what Jim signified and how he functioned in our lives, meaning those who knew and were truly touched by him. In retrospect, it seems that for me, and I suspect a number of our other people, that this extraordinary Irishman may have been his own sort of “guru.” I believe he came to his wisdom the hard way, as perhaps most wisdom arrives, through the extraordinary trials, suffering and indignities that his paraplegia visited upon him over the course of most of his adult life.

I never really thought of him that way when he was alive, and I realize the “guru” notion may prompt a few eye rolls, but I doubt much among those who knew the man. Thinking back, I always felt somewhat blessed by his presence, and inspired, and perhaps, if I was lucky, even enlightened a bit by the restless seeker in him, in all its manifestations, towards what I recently called “enlightened serenity.”

This got me to thinking about a book I own and cherish, written by perhaps the most brilliant teacher I have ever had: Professor Ihab Hassan, an acclaimed literary critic, whom I had the privilege to study with in a graduate English lit seminar at UW-Milwaukee in the mid-1980s. And the notion of Jim’s seeking, or his quest in life — quiet as it may have seemed — led me back to Hassan’s superb book Selves at Risk: Patterns of Quest in Contemporary American Letters.

I also thought part of Hassan’s rather poetic rigor (no oxymoron with him) and perspective came from being an Egyptian, emigrated to America at age 20, then specializing in American literature (His 1961 book Radical Innocence: The Contemporary American Novel, made his name in the literary world). Jim responded to the culture and wisdoms of the East, and Egypt is perhaps the most mystical (as in Eastern, more than Arabic) of Middle Eastern cultures.

In his introduction, Hassan characterizes “the seeker” he is trying to illuminate in his book, and, the more I recall Jim and his spirit, the more I feel that he was something of the kind of seeker Hassan contemplates and investigates in his book. I will quote from it:

“The seeker, as I hope to show, has many faces. But he is not characterless or faceless. He is certainly self-reliant, tolerant of risk. He is mobile. He seeks a meaning, even if danger must attend his pursuit; he intuits that individuals need and consume meanings far more than products. And he suspects that the sacred…camouflages itself in that pursuit…he disdains vicarious jeopardy, pseudo-risks, packaged by prurient media or proffered by amusement parks. He knows unreal America. He knows, therefore that in venturous quests he may recover reality, constitute significance, maintain his vigor, all in those privileged moments of being when life vouchsafes its most secret rewards (my italics). Is this not the whole sense of Emersonian experience?” 1

This photo illustrates how Jim Glynn could transform risk into reward with quick, deft wit and charm. I believe he had double-parked in Chicago’s Loop with some friends and, sure enough, the cops pulled up. Jim swiftly disarmed them (not literally) and, before we knew it, he’d “borrowed” their squad car for this crazy scene! Jim’s in the car at right, in his psychedelic shirt, wearing a Chicago cop’s hat, with our bemused friend Mitch (Mitar) Covic, to Jim’s left. The woman below was Jim’s current girlfriend (name escapes me) and the two to the far left were Jim’s friends who I didn’t really know. Photo by Kevin Lynch

Hassan’s characterization of an American archetype (especially that which I italicize), seems to fit Jim Glynn perfectly. As my first post indicated, he was amazingly mobile, despite his paraplegia and, man, did he seek meaning more than products (musical recordings aside), even despite danger.

His questing was largely manifest culturally, beyond good friends and acquaintances (“brothers and “sisters”) through his long-time radio show’s expansively “out there” musical variety: Not simply esoteric, but capable of gracefully bringing back in the general listener by integrating popular, or at least vernacular music, of many sorts. Few disk jockeys I’ve heard did this as well. Not even the great Milwaukee DJ Ron Cuzner, to compare another jazz-oriented programmer, who really “limited” himself to jazz. WMSE today still does have some arguably comparable like “Tom Wanderer” or Paul Cebar, and to a degree “Dr. Sushi,” for those with strong jazz tastes. WUWM’s Bob Reitman remains great, but with largely a ’60s-’70s throwback show.

Clearly Jim’s questing, and ability, to swim across mile-wide and unpredictable Elkhart Lake with arms, signifies that quest. This swim was beyond my ability, by contrast to a few more-capable swimmer/amigos, like Harvey Taylor, Tom Truel, Heiko Eggers, and perhaps Tim Reichart, at a genuine level of physical danger and risk. Truel admits he needed professional scuba fins to “pull this off” with Jim, and just barely.

Truel’s generous and detailed e-mail response to me, a remembrance/tribute of it’s own, underscores what I’m driving at here.

Time, as Tom notes, was a profoundly relative term in Jim’s seemingly timeless quest” Tom writes:.

“I call it ‘Jimmy Glynn Time’. You might get together with Jim for a swim day and to truly enjoy it, one needed to clear the calendar for the day. ‘We will leave at 10AM from my house.’, would become 11 or 11:30. Time was never wasted. Many preparations. Plenty of yuks (eg. see photo above) and endless chat of music, great women and sacred herb. Not a boring delay to say the least, as long as one made no plans for the day and if you knew what you were getting into — no plans were made. With Jim –‘The Journey Was The Adventure’.”
(I’ll add that Jim wasn’t above transgression. I know that he drove his car many times under the influence of herb. Illegal yes, but, as with most comparative aspects of herb consumption, I consider that considerably less dangerous than drunken driving.)
Then, Truel adds fancifully: “(Jim, the DJ, is getting ready to play Dylan’s “Time Out Of Mind” in its entirety, one of his favorites, to set the mood and leave a clue in regard to shadow elements as well.)”

So I’m trying to work my way out of the “shadow elements” before they recede too far into the mists of time:

Another even more dramatic example of Jim’s seeking, regardless of danger, may have led directly to the accident that disabled him. I’m going to speculate here a bit, as Jim never told me the full details of the accident in any self-dramatizing or aggrandizing way. But consider the very fact that he was driving a Jeep (still infamously unsafe vehicles in the 1960s) through the Alps on a trip from Germany to France. Perhaps it was a personal trip but more likely military duty which, as a soldier, he would probably have volunteered for — given the risk and isolated, extended nature of it.

There was GI Jim Glynn, in the process attaining the sort of ultimate natural high he would strive to later simulate, or somewhat achieve, through exploratory creative music, simpatico friendship and marijuana. And then, in a sudden fated instant, he was tumbling, but also flying, through the air, in the mountains. This recalls a great Herman Melville notion of “a Catskill eagle in some souls” 2 or, less exaltedly, Townes Van Zandt’s simpler image of “to live’s to fly, both low and high,” in his masterful song, “To Live’s to Fly.”

The last two-part chapter of Jim Glynn’s life-mission, finally was to leave Milwaukee — the city where many people loved him to varying degrees and to which he’d given so much — and embark on a late-life quest, by himself. He said he felt this city had grown stale for him. To the shock of many friends, he moved to Portland, Oregon, while a paraplegic in his early 60s.

It all soon fell apart. A “friend” who helped Jim move in, then ripped off a couple of boxes of “personal papers,” Jim said, which really had little value except to Jim himself.

He did some radio shows for the local Portland community station and the NPR outlet. Then one day he fell, probably on a rainy Portland street, and broke his leg, and found himself laid up with a large cast for quite a while.

Then he was diagnosed with bladder cancer, possibly the result of his constant need for a catheter, and being out there without a girlfriend/caretaker his hygiene likely suffered. .To say the least, Jim never really found his mojo in Portland.

Another person who addressed his quest was writer Doug Hissom, in his excellent 2004 Shepherd Express feature on Jim when he returned home. Hissom opens simply and directly, “Jim Glynn has come home to die.” He’d found the Portland jazz scene amazingly similar to Milwaukee,  “I found that jazz has a precarious toehold these days. To my horror. The extensive music scene (in Portland) Is aimed at people under 25.”

Yet, amid loneliness in the Northwest, his painful seeking earned wisdom and serenity. “I suddenly found myself a man without a country. I just realized one day, that yeah, it’s time to come back for my people. Where my roots are. It’s just time to come back to Milwaukee.

“They say you can’t come home again and some of that is right. But my rhythm’s gotten back. I’ve got back into a natural rhythm

“It’s the Zen feeling and Zen quality in Milwaukee where you can move at what I thought was a slow pace before, but now it’s about right.” Hissom writes that Jim was going to try to get back on the radio and spend some time in the clubs. “It’s like a whole world opened up to me when I came back,” Jim continued.

Then he told Hissom the same thing he said to me. “I really don’t know how much time I have. They say I’m really sick, but I don’t act sick. They told me today it’s a short time, maybe. But I’ve no idea.”

Hissom’s article ran in the Shepherd Express September 30-October 6, 2004 edition. Now, please note the photograph of Jim (at the top) from his memorial brochure. The photo was taken October 2, and there he is, with his rhythm back, paradiddling his conga drum, at a jam in a club.

On October 18, Jim took his restless quest for enlightened serenity out, to the greatest unknown of all.

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  1. Ihab Hassan, Selves at Risk: Patterns of Quest in Contemporary American Letters, University of Wisconsin Press, 1990, 13
  2. ““There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he forever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than the other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.” — Herman Melville, Chapter 96, “The Try-Works,” Moby-Dick.

 

 

The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts finds its “Auteur”

New JGCA executive director Kai Simone on the center’s legendary stage, inherited from the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. Photos by Kevin Lynch

A new critical biography of the brilliant film director Alfred Hitchcock inevitably examines how he became the first American embodiment of an auteur. 1 The term, originally coined and used by French director-critics, refers to the artist who controls her work’s vision and process, in a group artistic endeavor.

In a significant change, the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts may have found it’s auteur, Kai Simone. The organization’s mission statement strives for “community…strengthened by creativity.” As the Riverwest Artists Association, the center was a dedicated but collective endeavor. Yet one board member characterized board meetings as sometimes “painful” and, despite the center’s considerable accomplishments, president Mark Lawson commented, perhaps only half-jokingly, ”We really didn’t know what we were doing.”

The RAA is visual arts-oriented, but the JGCA is about diversity in the arts and audience.

JGCA Executive Director Kai Simone (left) will bring diverse experience to the venue’s dedicated board of directors, which includes (standing beside Simone) president Mark Lawson and artist Bennie Higgins. 

That’s where Simone, the first-ever executive director, steps in. “I have a very special relationship to jazz,” said the former Chicagoan with an abundance of connections to that city’s rich jazz community, as did the founder of center’s nominal inspiration, the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, Chuck LaPaglia. Strong allies of Simone include Heather Ireland Robinson, ED of The Jazz Institute of Chicago, and Emmy Award-winning trumpeter Orbert Davis, artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. A source of inspiration is Ralph Bass, an influential R&B and jazz producer at Chicago’s legendary Chess Records. Such factors should help sustain the jazz/creative music tradition JGCA has provided The Second City’s “second city,” if you will.

The center took a step forward a few years ago with the hiring of Program Manager Amy Schmutte, who leads the successful O.W.L. program, an arts presentations and activities program geared to senior members of the Riverwest community. And as gallery director, Schmutte has dramatically boosted the center’s sales of artwork, especially online sales during the financially tenuous period of the COVID pandemic.

Simone will develop from that success, and look far further afield.

“I also want to build on the legacy of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, develop more educational and historical programs, and scholarships.”  Simone’s eyes are firmly fixed on the future — and the venue’s distinctive checkerboard stage. She feels the center needs much more outreach to youth culture, a specialty of hers.

The center showed that potential with a monthly performance series geared to hip-hop culture which — before the pandemic — developed a strong youth following almost on its own self-directed momentum.

Simone is an experienced theater director and herein the auteur analogy strengthens. In an interview, this truly seemed a woman of embracing vision, but also fully capable of handling practical operations of a multi-arts center. “I love mentoring, leading, and teaching.” she says. She’s also a performer, a writer, and a singer-songwriter. She founded the arts-ed Skai Academy, an MPS affiliate until the pandemic led to system fund cuts. That circumstance helped lead her to the center’s new opportunity.

For all her educational bona-fides, Simone values ultimately allowing students liberty to think “outside the box.” She relates how she once hid herself inside a cardboard box onstage before an unsuspecting young audience and, when she finally burst out, she had them “hooked.” Such engaging ingenuity should help strengthen the JGCA. Simone also envisions doing more with the WXRW radio programming already benefitting the center, as well as “virtual reality presentations, even animated films.” 2

She also thinks she can combine the center’s non-profit status with indirect profiting strategies, through partnerships, with MPS and Arts @ Large, among other organizations. “We own the building, so rent helps. So, it’s a business approach. I like problem-solving and talking to people about visions and passions. I want to take it to another level.” Regarding diverse community outreach and audience-building, Milwaukee has, besides African-Americans and Latinx, “a huge Hmong community, as well as Japanese, Burmese, and Ghanaian,” said Simone, whose daughter is half-Ghanaian. “I want to think globally and act locally.”

________

This article was originally published in slightly shorter form in the Neighborhoods section of The Shepherd Express https://shepherdexpress.com/neighborhoods/riverwest/jazz-gallery-center-for-the-arts-finds-its-auteur/

1 The critical biography is The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense, by Edward White, published in March 2021.

2. Saturdays at 10 a.m., JGCA board member Elizabeth Vogt hosts WXRW 104.1 FM Riverwest Radio’s weekly Artful Lives, an interview and arts profile program, on behalf of the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts. It’s a low-power station, but all programs are available to stream in the station’s archives.

Restlessly seeking enlightened serenity, Jim Glynn carried his gift to humanity far and wide

Jim Glynn served as best man for my second wedding to Beth Bartoszek, in Madison Wisconsin, at the Unitarian Meeting House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo by wedding photograper. All other photos by Kevin Lynch 

Without the power of his legs, Jim Glynn often seemed to soar through life on wings of passion, love, charisma, and a gift for serenity. He was perhaps the most extraordinary man I’ve ever known to call a friend.

I’m honoring him on the anniversary of his death, October 18, 2004. Coincidentally, I myself became disabled that same year, but in my upper limbs, with a severe neuropathy that continues today.

So, it wasn’t until the year he died that I could perhaps begin to fully relate to the challenges that he overcame with rare and inspiring grace. But it’s always different when you are no longer ambulatory. Jim never simply fell back on the use of a wheelchair, as he regularly used crutches for decades, bolstered by the strong athletic upper body that he kept in superb shape as a swimmer and arm-powered cyclist. “He was a marathon swimmer,” said Harvey Taylor, the poet and singer-songwriter with a truly amphibious relationship with Jim. They swam in the Racine quarry together hundreds of times. “He was a magnificent athlete.”

I too swam with Jim in that quarry, which he seemed to especially value for the serenity that its glasslike water surface signified. 1 And yet he often also swam across Elkhart Lake, which can get feisty and treacherous.

Jim gets ready to take a swim in the Racine quarry, a favorite refuge of his.

Harvey may have been Jim’s best friend, but I held him as dearly a friend as any person I’ve ever known. He was the best man at my second wedding. Jim and I bonded over our love of music, with tastes that were similarly wide-ranging. I met him when I was working as album buyer at Radio Doctor’s “Soul Shop” at Third and North Avenue, in Milwaukee, back in the mid-1970s. 2

Only the hippest white music lovers frequented the soul shop, in the “downtown” of Milwaukee’s inner city. Jim knew and loved jazz — our greatest shared passion —  as a connoisseur, but without pretension. He also craved classical music, from baroque to contemporary, and had a supremely selective taste for the best of all American vernacular musics, as well as emerging world musics.

An avid fan of many musics, including avant-garde Jazz, Jim Glynn (left) joins a reception at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for the renowned jazz pianist Cecil Taylor (center in sport jacket) along with Cecil’s longtime friend and collaborator Ken Miller, with hand around Taylor.

And despite his apparent physical limits, Jim often seemed capable of morphing into multiples of himself. He showed up at most every notable music event in town. After attending maybe three events in one evening, he’d say, “Well, we did it all, tonight.”

What did I learn from him? One thing is this. More than I, he also gravitated to the sort of musically unadorned kinds of music that emerge from Eastern classical music partly because, perhaps once he became paraplegic, he became a hand drummer like the great Indian tabla players. I’m talking about so-called New Age or what mutual musician friend Mitar Covic called “bliss music.” The harmonic simplicity of “New Age” can be traced somewhat to the modal music of John Coltrane, as well as Eastern classical music. But I felt the new music often insipidly exploited those modalities without their profundities and passion, at best turning potential beauty into prettiness.

Now perhaps I can see more Jim’s perspective, throughout his decades of disabled suffering. He always strove for healing, replenishing and enlightened serenity in life, and that included artistic vibrations. Amid contemporary life’s onslaught of stresses and ugliness, his search for musical beauty and rhythmic vitality, which some of the NA musicians achieve, is something I can still learn and benefit from. It ties in to Zen disciplines and meditational practices, the latter which I have partaken off since college, but with no consistency.

Jim may be imparting a tidbit of wisdom to girlfriend Yovanka Dajkovic in this scene (top photo) from Holy Hill in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine. In the lower photo, the two of them wave picturesquely from below the great cathedral’s tall steeples.

Jim might have been a “guru” of sorts, though I never realized that at the time. But the man’s rare,  aura, his alluring friendliness frequently suggested a tacit invitation to most anyone into his life, to do what he often did with his best friends: Hang, talk, listen and do little jam sessions with a few hand drums and some of his flute playing thrown in. The meditative quality of a Jim Glynn hang-out was often generously enhanced with marijuana. Yet, in later years, he bemoaned the diminishing experience that blended music, camaraderie and marijuana had provided. “I really miss the transcendent experience of a great high,” he said, something that, for whatever reasons, changing times stole from him. Perhaps we had less sense of discovery and revelation after hearing so much music, as well as the oft-discussed damaged idealism and and fading visions of our generation.

The last photo I took of Jim, (playing drums, at far right) at a farewell party for him before he moved from Milwaukee to Portland, Oregon. The other players include (L-R) percussionist Tony Finlayson, pianist Steve Tilton, and harmonica player Steve Cohen (of the blues band Leroy Airmaster). .

But the fact that he could attain such transcendent moments long after he lost the use of his legs speaks volumes for the man’s spiritual capacities. That’s something that people seemed to intuitively sense from him, as he was one of the most effortlessly charismatic people I’ve ever known. It’s as if he made something of his seated posture, implicitly inviting many a stranger into an imaginary crib.  So he befriended people time and again, and quickly called them “brother” or “sister,” often before he really even knew their name.

A good-looking Irishman with a low, naturally-seductive voice, an easy smile and a sly wit, Jim was something of a ladies man. Any number of women over the years eagerly befriended and romanced him, while activating their caretaking instinct. Perhaps his best and most loyal woman friend was Pat Graue, who ended up honoring his wish that his ashes be strewn in Sedona, Arizona — with its mysteriously looming rock formations, like permanent sentinels of ghosts — which he considered the most Nirvana-like place in America.

The other end of Nirvana on earth was the hellish day, during the Vietnam War, when his Army jeep swerved in the French Alps, to avoid a blocking car. Flung from the vehicle, Jim fell hundreds of feet, but somehow survived, though this leg functions did not.

For me, he is now a quietly great figure who built up a strong and loyal following of listeners on his mind-expandingly eclectic music programs on WUWM and WMSE radio. And this greatness he wore with the grace of a bird’s wing. The quote of Harvey Taylor above is from Amy Rabideau Silvers’ superb obituary on Jim in The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel upon his death. Reading it again, I’m amazed at the humility of the man, despite all that he added up to, which seems now the essence of cool.  Some of the most remarkable aspects of his life detailed in Silvers obituary were revelations to me, even though I thought I knew Jim intimately for over three decades.

For example, while in the service he worked in Army intelligence, including the Cold War’s most famous espionage event. He tracked U-2 spy plane flights by pilot Francis Gary Powers, including the one in which Powers was shot down and captured by the Soviet Union in 1960.

And despite our shared love of jazz, he never told me that long ago, as a fully functioning drummer before his accident, he had played with Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, and the Everly Brothers when they would visit Wisconsin.

On that October day in 2004, my mother called to tell me Jim was dying. I was living in Madison and jumped on a Badger Bus to meet my folks (also great friends of Jim’s) at the Milwaukee bus station. When I got there, they told me he was gone. Harvey had been there with him. I melted into tears.

Jim bequeathed his huge CD collection to me. I couldn’t practically accept it, as my own collection was nearly as big already. But the gesture deeply moved me. After being cherry-picked by me and a couple friends and WMSE disk jockeys, the recordings were donated to that radio station by his sister .

Something of a philosopher, Jim also helped counsel paraplegic veterans in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Washington D.C. in how to “take a fall and get back up” as his brother Steve Glynn explained to Silvers. That included, “you can still have an active sex life.”

I’m sure he delivered that assurance with an offhanded air akin to Paul Newman’s title character in “Cool Hand Luke,” with “that old Luke smile.” Like Luke, Jim Glynn lived in a sort of prison, but he could break away from that trap with the same kind of uncanny ease.

_____

1 Our Racine Quarry swimming inspired a poem I wrote in about 1985. I would never had such an experience of nature, and nature interrupted, but for my friendship with Jim Glynn.

2. Jim actually knew two of my six sisters before he met me. He became a great Lynch family friend — my parents were big jazz and classical music fans — and attended a number of our family’s Thanksgiving meals. In the photo below, he’s seen with his girlfriend Pat Graue in the foreground. (Pictured, L-R, Norm Lynch, Nancy Aldrich, Erik Aldrich, The Turkey of Honor, Lauren Aldrich, Jim Glynn, Pat Graue, and Anne Lynch).

(Pat Graue now goes by the name Zoe Daniels)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tedeschi-Trucks Band turn Clapton’s “Anyday” into pure timelessness

BRIDGEVIEW, ILLINOIS – JULY 28: Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi perform at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007 to benefit the Crossroads Centre in Antigua July 28, 2007 in Bridgeview, Illinois (Photo by Lyle A. Waisman/FilmMagic)

Throwback Thursday:

I’ve been a big Tedeschi-Trucks Band fan since before their break-out album, Revelator, and I came across a video of a performance which may have been what originally turned up my radar on them, very high.

Here they perform Eric Clapton’s song “Anyday” from the iconic Derek and the Dominos Layla album. Susan Tedeschi, then a sparkling and blazingly soulful redhead, shares lead vocals with the band’s lead and back-up singer and songwriter Mike Mattison. The searing guitar solos are, of course, by Susan’s musical and life mate, Derek Trucks

The performance is from Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007. I first saw this from the video concert of that festival and, playing it cranked up, this was a powerhouse. There is something incredibly infectious about the band’s performance and that’s heartily evident when you see Clapton himself, on side stage, singing along with gusto to one of the lines. A few moments later. you see the festival’s emcee, comedian Bill Murray, who appears pretty knocked out by the music.

I think you might be too, and if you’re familiar with this, I hope it’s as enjoyable of a revisit as it was from me today.

“You believe in me, like I believe in you-hooooo!”

Regarding the self-caricature as my latest blog cover image

I explained the genesis and story of this drawing in a recent blog but I decided to make it my current blog header image because the Facebook posting of it was well-received. Plus, it may be the only depiction of me as a writer in action, aside from the shot of me interviewing singer Asha Puthli, from a few years later (below).

The drawing caricatures me in the 1980s when I was writing for The Milwaukee Journal (and freelancing for Down Beat, the occasion of the photo with Asha) but looking for a full-time newspaper staff position, thus I created this drawing as a catchy job-pitch stationary header.

As I remain an arts & entertainment writer, the 1980s images remain apt, if graced — more than baggaged — I hope, by time.

What’s happening? The dazzling new/old Bradley Symphony Center

This is what’s happening with downtown culture right now. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra unveiled its long-anticipated new home the Bradley Symphony Center. The venue, dripping with sumptuous art deco adornments, has morphed like a grand monarch butterfly, from the 1920s Warner Theater, perhaps the grandest of the city’s “movie palaces.”

My article in The Shepherd Express, actually scooped my old employer, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which published a story today, but I’m a bit slow posting mine on my blog.

Here it is, along with a few additional photos all taken by Ann K. Peterson, including the ones in the Shep Ex article, credited incorrectly to me:

https://shepherdexpress.com/culture/ae-feature/bradley-symphony-center-gives-mso-a-gorgeous-new-home/

A huge Tiffany-style lamp illuminates the Bradley concert hall

Elaboratelow-releifonamentationcharacterizestherenoatedorchetrahall

Elaborate ornamentation characterizes the renovated orchestra hall (above and below).

Bucolic murals enliven the hall’s walls.

Nick Gravenites and “My Labors”: The Bloomfield files Vol. 3*

My Labors & More lies in sorry obscurity, blues singer-songwriter Nick Gravenites’ one shot at a major-label recording in 1969. It’s slightly quixotic, but in the best senses, in the blues of senses. The blues court obscurity like an old drinking buddy, even as they howl at the moon and tilt at windmills.

On the opening song, “Killing my Love,” the band marches smartly out of the box, as guitarist Michael Bloomfield blisters a solo that shows that few, if any others of the period, could inject so much passion into guitar strings. And back then, there was plenty of competition.

This album brims with absolutely vintage Bloomfield throughout. Yet, about half of this album is also on the Live at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West 1969 album by Michael Bloomfield with Nick Gravenites and Friends, including Taj Mahal (pictured below). So, if you own that album, you might consider the duplication.

But I own both, and I’m happy to have My Labors regardless, for more than the single ultimate reason, a 13-minute-plus story-jam called “Wintry Countryside,” unique to this album, a stunning piece that any fan of Bloomfield (and Gravenites) should own. It opens with a superb blues piano solo by Butterfield Blues Band keyboardist Mark Naftalin, which sets the rarely-evoked wintry mood, which Bloomfield sustains with a gleaming solo in the snow.  “Just try living alone in a heart cold as stone, just thinking about the one who kept you alone,” Gravenites moans, telling a tale of spiritual devastation in the coldest of seasons. Bloomfield’s second solo proves he stood virtually atop the guitar game in 1969, with jaw-dropping fire you just can’t miss.

“Blues on the West Side” is the hidden prize. The album lists it at 6 minutes and 40 seconds. But, in fact, My Labors gives you the full 15 minute-plus slow blues that also highlights the Live at Fillmore West album. It’s one of Gravenites’ most soulful vocals, and again you get sizzling prime-rib Bloomfield, here revealing his mastery of contrasting moods.

Two such long pieces are rare on albums, showing the potency of a live performance, especially at a time when musicians were unafraid of stretching out and experimenting with basic forms. (Live at Fillmore West has a second long tune (10:35) “One More Mile to Go” featuring Taj Mahal singing).

By contrast, “Gypsy Good Time” is a marvelous groove of simpatico feeling between the singer and the guitarist, whose comping struts and sails until his solo, which carves up the changes with nifty zeal. This approximates the short-lived Electric Flag with R&B style horns backing up the band. Gravenites may not be everyone’s idea of a great singer, but his well-honed baritone can probe a variety of expressive effects. For example, on “Moon Tune,” he leans back for falsetto howling at the moon, while Bloomfield messes with his own style, getting his “sweet blues” tone plenty dirty, almost Hendrixian, as the annotator asserts.

As a writer, another reason I relish this album is the delightfully defiant cover drawing, a la the great Robert Crumb, which depicts Gravenites the writer raising a greatly magnified fist in the air above his writing papers, a rare explicit celebration of the songwriter’s craft on a music album.

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  • I have written about Michael Bloomfield in past years on this blog, but this “Vol. 3” designation references the two previous pieces recently posted. One on Bloomfield was inspired by a photo from the iconic album Super Session, and a second examined Greil Marcus’s book on the Dylan song “Like a Rolling Stone,” on which Bloomfield historically played.

A new Shepherd Express column highlights The High-Five Studio in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood

 

This is the debut of a new monthly column I’ll be writing for The Shepherd Express as the correspondent covering the Riverwest neighborhood, as the newspaper increases its localized coverage. This column spotlights an exciting, world-class recording studio tucked away in the neighborhood, High-Five Studio. I hope you enjoy this.

https://shepherdexpress.com/neighborhoods/riverwest/riverwests-hi-five-named-one-of-the-hottest-new-studios-w/.

What about Bob’s “Like a Rolling Stone”? Let Greil Marcus answer, as only he can

 

In their strange ways, dreams often surge, straining aloft, then soar, as if the elements have conspired in transcendent harmony. Of course, the same dreams more often than not hit tough crosscurrents or facing gusts that render the journey near endless and, by morning, nigh impossible.

Pardon my slightly self-conscious ruminations, which allude to my own relative capabilities as a writer. And I offer the typical dream scenario as a humble homage to a man who gazes down from a lofty stratosphere upon most other writers of his sort.

Greil Marcus remains one of the truly stupendous talents in music writing. He is well known for several extraordinary works including Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music; The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan and the Basement Tapes; and the truly epic work of cultural history, A New Literary History of America, a collaborative work that he co-edited. Another marvelous book Marcus co-edited, with the superb historian Sean Wilentz, is the Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad which includes a CD collection of ballads.. 

More recently he took on Dylan again with an extraordinary hyper-close reading that is equally expansive — a book length delving into Dylan’s perhaps generation-defining, or challenging, work “Like a Rolling Stone.” The song’s title endows the book, which is subtitled Bob Dylan at the Crossroads.1  The song is seared into my generation’s collective consciousness. Countless among us must face the crossroads with no  direction home, and endure the howling wind ravaging our souls, blasting grit in our teeth, hoisting our boot heels in the clamor of chaos.

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All the while Marcus rides the rolling beast like a master equestrian. His subtitle is cannily framed as Bob Dylan arriving at the mythical crossroads that Robert Johnson met the devil at and sold his soul for his transcendent musical talent, something one can almost imagine Dylan doing as well. The crossroads is real, as he persuasively tells it, nothing less than Highway 61 (as immortalized in his 1965 “Rolling Stone” album Highway 61 Revisited) and Highway 49, in Clarksdale, in the Mississippi Delta.

Photo of Three Blues Crossroads, Hwys 61 and 49. Photo by Carolyn Earle.

I must abject myself, as I often write in the same critical idiom and on similar subjects as Marcus. But his words will do the walking here, and glisten in the glory of the light they project, bejeweled with their innate fire.

It’s worth taking a few deep breaths to try taking in his description of “Like a Rolling Stone” as whole as we can, to feel the weight of his depths and embrace it with our straining mind muscles a bit. It’s also worth pausing to savor and ponder.

So now I stand back, and dictate:

“With “Like a Rolling Stone” too, it’s six minutes – six minutes to break the limits of what could go on the radio, of what kind of story the radio could tell…is the beginning and the end of what the record is about and what it is for. When the record is over, when it disappears into the clamor of its own fade to silence…you feel as if you have traversed the whole of a country that is neither strange nor foreign, because it is self-evidently your own – even if, in the first three minutes, the journey only went as far as your own city limits. The pace is about to pick up.

When “like a Rolling Stone” smashes into its third verse everything is changed. The mystery tramp who appeared out of nowhere at the end of the second verse has left his cousins all over this one. Everyone has a strange name, everyone is a riddle, there is nobody you recognize, but everybody seems to know who you are. ” You –” Dylan shouts, riding over the hump of the second chorus and into the third verse; the increase in vehemence caused by something so tiny as the adding of a syllable of frustration to the already accusing “you” is proof of how much pressure has built up. The sound Bloomfield makes is like Daisy’s voice – “the sound of money” – and like Gatsby Bloomfield is reaching for it, but as soon as it is in the air he steps back from it, counting off the beat as if he is just James Gatz, counting his pennies.

Bob Dylan and guitarist Michael Bloomfield at the sessions for “Like a Rolling Stone.” Courtesy WBUR

He is banging the gong of the rhythm as if he is hypnotized by it, each glorious note bending back toward the one before it. As the band seemed to play more slowly as if recognizing the story in the song for the first time – a congress of delegates drawn from all over the land, all speaking at once and all giving a version of the same speech – the singer moves faster, as if he knows what’s coming and has to stop it. He reaches the last line of the verse, holds the last word as long as he can hold his breath, and then as the song tips into the third chorus everything shatters.

The intensity of the first words out of Dylan’s mouth make it seem as if a pause has preceded them, as if he has gathered up every bit of energy in his being and concentrated on a single spot, it is as if you can hear him draw that breath. “How does it feel” doesn’t come out of his mouth; each word explodes in it. And here you understand what Dylan meant when he said, in 1966, speaking of the pages of noise he’d scribbled, “I had never thought of it as a song, until one day I was at the piano, and on the paper it was singing, ‘how does it feel?'” Dylan may sing the verses; the chorus sings him.

With this moment every element in the song doubles in size. It doubles in weight. There is twice as much song as there was before. An avenger the first time, “how does it feel” takes them over here, the second time the line sounds Dylan is despairing, bereft and sorrowful, but by now, moments after he himself has blown the song to pieces, the song has gotten away from him. Kooper’s simple, straight, elegant lines are breaking up, shooting out in all directions, as if Dylan’s first “how does it feel” was the song’s Big Bang and Kooper is determined to catch every fragment of the song as it flies away.

As the chorus begins to climb a mountain that wasn’t in the chorus before, Kooper finds himself in the year before, in the middle of Allan Price’s organ solo in the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” a record that to this day has lost none of its grime and none of its grandeur. Price’s solo was frenzied, its tones thick and dark; it was a deep dive into a whirlpool Price himself had made, and Kooper is playing from inside the vortex, each line rushing up and out, nailing the flag of the song to its mast. 1

Nothing could follow this. In the fourth verse, everyone’s timing is gone. The “Ah” that that swung the first line of the third verse is here a long “Ahhhhh,” that flattens its own first-line. Bobby Gregg, whose drum patterns in the first verse had given the song shape before the musicians found the shape within the song, fumbles as if he has accidentally kicked over his kit. Everyone is fighting to get the song back – and it’s the words that rescue it, that for the first time take the song away from its sound. The words are slogans, but they are  arresting, and if “when you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose” sounds like something you might read on a Greenwich Village sampler, a bohemian version of “Home Sweet Home,” “you’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal” is not obvious, it is confusing.

Confused – and justified, exultant, free from history with a world to win – is exactly where the song means to leave you. There is the last chorus, like the last verse spinning off of its axis, and then Dylan’s dive for his harmonica, and then a crazy-quilt of high notes that light out for the territory the song itself has opened up.”

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Marcus leaves us (for now) with a closing image alluding to perhaps the most apt of the great American myth-odysseys for this song, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which follows Dylan’s artistic voice much more closely than does Fitzgerald’s romantic Gatsby or the almost Titanic might of Melville’s grapple with the white whale.

Still we feel somewhat breathless for having rode his words through the churning bile of “Rolling Stone.”

Where do we go from here? Forty years down the road, no one can say for sure, except perhaps the mystery tramp, who’s not selling any alibis. So you’re on your own, the road does seem to go on forever, if it hasn’t for as long as you can remember, since the fateful day in 1966 when you heard the song for the first time, and everything changed.

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1 Here Marcus makes two powerful references, in quick succession, building his momentum. However I take issue with one. Kooper’s descending organ riff throughout is majestic and he rides the song’s drive and passion, but he never becomes the unsuspecting protagonist, as does Price in his “House” solo, a man hell-bound for the depravity and fleeting ecstasy of a bordello. But but I concur with the writer’s deft allusion to the closing scene of Melville’s Moby-Dick, (explained shortly in the ensuing text) and the strange, seemingly impossible sight of harpoonist Tashtego nailing a banner to the mast as his hammering hand succumbs to the roiling waves engulfing the entire ship. Certainly the accumulating power of “Rolling Stone” swims in the same turbulent ocean, by now.

 

A self-portrait of a journalistic hustler

 

Throwback Thursday. Here’s a caricature I did of myself for the letterhead of job pitches to newspapers, back when I was trying to land a full-time gig in journalism, ca. 1988 or so. I was at the Milwaukee Journal at the time, but had poor prospects for a full-time staff job, suffering from local-boyism.

It helped me to get interviews from The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Chicago Tribune and The Bakersfield Californian, among others, but I don’t think it carried much weight when I finally landed a job at The Capital Times in Madison.

The most interesting interview was at The Bakersfield Californian. They flew me all the way out there on their dime, and then they asked for an audition for concert reviewing. So I went out to a local club with one of the newspapers staff writers who would do the review they would publish. The gig was reviewing Steve Earle in a small nightclub. Steve Earle today is one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our time but then he was known mainly for his powerhouse debut album Guitar Town.

I had seen him live already at a side stage at Summerfest, so I was surprised he was playing this small of a venue. But the music business is a funny creature, and he may have been enduring one of his down periods, where he is struggling with drugs. But he was powerful, raw. honest, and brilliant. We were sitting about 10 feet away from him as he performed solo.
After the gig I went to the newsroom and wrote my review. The interview would take place the next morning. However before the interview I called home to my wife, Kathy Naab, and she was distraught almost the moment she answered. I did not realize she was not up to moving so far away from home, and that’s what had her in tears. This, of course, deflated me quite a bit. When I got to the interview, I was back on my heels, and far from gung ho. So I sort of hit a weak grounder to shortstop, and that was the end of my shot at a California newspaper.

I think I would’ve had a good chance with The Philadelphia Inquirer as the editor seemed impressed by my clips, which included a special section project called “Just Jazz” that was tied to a festival called the Milwaukee Jazz Experience, and I was the lead writer in the educational package that was used extensively in Milwaukee Public schools. The package was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

But the editor pointed out that the Inquirer already had an accomplished jazz writer, Francis Davis, who was becoming one of the nation’s preeminent jazz critics and authors. Today, among other things he conducts the NPR jazz critics poll, which I participate in annually.

So it was no go in Philly. But I loved getting to the city of brotherly love.

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p.s if you’d like to see the cartoon in closer detail, just click on the image of it I posted on Facebook, here: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10224050291158679&set=a.1139687025967&notif_id=1633056900055644&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic&ref=notif.