Letter (from a Milwaukee jail of my mind), to Louisa Loveridge-Gallas, on the state of our nation and her own psyche

The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, Washington, DC. Courtesy The Travel Channel
E-mail from Louisa-Loveridge Gallas on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 17, 2021:
Dear friends.
I’m sending on a link to this famous Vietnam speech by MLK I go back to on MLK day, so pivotal in his career. Stunning that he was assassinated a year to the day after. And so brave as he found that he angered and disappointed a number of activists and allies for his stance against the war who felt he should stick to civil rights in the approach and focus he had been taking.
Also I’d like think out loud with you. In a very different way and historical context, I just want to add I am beginning to experience that Biden is being attacked at times, in ways I find irresponsible, for speaking out eloquently and clearly for the moral high road of history in his Georgia speech. I refer not only by Republicans but to comments by prominent Democrats like David Axelrod, Obama’s consultant, on CNN; NYT commentators like Maureen Dowd, and even top legislators like Nancy Pelosi. To name a few. Cheap shots, reaching for a way to insult on minor points, calling out strong opinions disagreed with as unbridled ‘rhetoric’ to name a few.
Of course reasonable, fact-based analysis has to go forward. May everyone be generous and informed as we precede with our critiques even in informal conversation. I know I’m not alone in witnessing that these are perilous times where a compassionate approach to each other and in the political realm is at risk in the zeitgeist of the need to one up, demean too easily and thoughtlessly These are such times of anxiety that inflame disagreements and difference; or enhance compassion fatigue.
I certainly don’t count myself out. I’ve been writing some pretty snarky op Ed comments. And make an occasional fevered phone call, as I did to Axelrod’s office. My fur can rise along with a hiss if a friend or relative isn’t on the same page with my take on all the complexities we are living within. I fail. I’m working on myself. I welcome any thoughts you may have to help me along and no pressure to respond, of course, as so many influences and responsibilities call upon us.
So them’s my thoughts and a link to his speech.
Take care. Be safe.
Sincerely,
Louisa *

Full speech text:  King speech

***

 

Dear Louisa,

How I love your caring, your awareness, your intelligence, your passion, and activist voice. And your brave, insightful analogue between Rev. King and President Biden.
Holy moly (forgive my dated boomer utterance), we all need some empathy and psychological guidance and salve, these days. Perhaps, take some deep, slow breaths, dear friend. Take a long walk beside the empowering tide of our Great Lake, or deep into the woods. Listen to the “conference of the birds,” the way they sing to, and advise, each other. Of danger, yes. They live stressed lives, as vulnerable creatures. And yet, they sing.
If only we could truly fly. Yet we can, in our mind, and drag our lagging, embittered, mudbound spirit aloft, which brings to mind a magnificent Herman Melville quote, from the last paragraph of  Moby-Dick, Chapter 96 “The Try-Works”
Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. 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 for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.
flickr.com 
Only slightly less poetic is Robert F. Kennedy‘s speech in Indianapolis, after annoucing the assassination of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the day after the tragic event. This video is a part of the speech but very worthy. Robert Kennedy is one of my heroes, more so than JFK.
I read the speech (2 pages) during a troubled, virtually sleepless last night, in Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy, edited and introduced by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy. 1 This is a priceless paperback, to me.
Kennedy quotes his favorite poet Aeschylus, from memory: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Kennedy continues: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be whites or they be black.”
I ponder and treasure those thoughts, and rededicate myself to living up to them, to the degree I am able.
(BTW, Bobby Kennedy also had a wit comparable to brother Jack, with fine comic timing — hear his Ball State U speech, following this one on youtube.)
 

Then there’s those who would score “cheap political points” against President Biden, as you protest, Louisa — be they leftist, liberal, centrist, never-Trumpers or far-right Trumpsters.
Biden has only been any office one year, and has laid out perhaps the most ambitious vision and agenda since Lyndon Johnson‘s The Great Society. Yes, he needs to show — and effect — more fight and passion, but he’s getting there, I think. DINO Sens. Manchin and Sinema still sit on the fence like a couple of owls, saying “Who me?” as the 60-vote filibuster looms like the Sword of Damocles, over vastly important social initiatives that are very popular with Americans.
Meanwhile, the Republicans are slithering around from state to state, contriving new voter suppression laws. We need a federal oversight law on voting rights, especially to protect the rights and access of people of color and other disenfrachised citizens.
I am, for the moment, disheartened by all the clamoring special-interest factions of the Democratic Party, each of whom has profoundly legitimate concerns, perhaps most presently voting rights, and a woman’s right to determine her own body. But also the looming apocalypse of climate change… and more, of course.
But a lot of things can happen between now and November’s mid-term elections.

Dear Louisa, as Rev. King says, concluding the sacred but tough-minded speech you quote (echoing Frederick Douglass‘s famous thoughts about “struggle”):

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. The choice is ours. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I believe many tears, sweat and, yes, blood, will commingle with that mighty stream. We are psychically stained by John Kennedy’s blood, from 1963, and by Robert Kennedy’s and Martin’s blood, in 1968, and so many since.

No more, I pray and cry. May America’s profusion of inward-pointed guns desist!

But justice is a hardy soul, I believe. She can swim like a sleek yet powerful fish, or trudge, like a woman or man, long distances, in protest and dissent, which many politicans hear, if loud and pointed enough.

Robert Kennedy quotes Algerian-French author-philosopher Albert Camus as much as anyone in this Make Gentle the Life of This World collection. Camus, I believe, was then addressing the people of Germany, under the Third Reich.

Yet how his words ring on today — when Fascist demagogury and governments sprout weedlike over Mother Earth and here at home — like a great thunderous bell, clanged by mythical Quasimodo in Camus’s Paris, or his very real fellow ringer in Philadelphia, so that the big-shouldered Liberty Bill cracked. 2

Camus wrote:

“This is what separated us from you; we made demands. You were satisfied to serve the power of your nation and we dreamed of giving ours her truth.”

Ringing for truth, justice and love,

Kevin

_____
Louisa Loveridge-Gallas is an acclaimed poet, body-mind counseler, op-Ed writer, music lover, and activist. She’s working on a new chapbook of socially-motivated poems, and on a “jazz novel,” set in Madison, Wisonsin. She’s a former long-time resident of Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, and now resides in Michigan. 
Louisa Loveridge-Gallas. Courtesy Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets
1 Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy, edited and introduced by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, 1998, Broadway Books, 42-43
2 The crack ocurred on the Philadelphia bell’s very first test ring in 1752, shipped from a French foundry (those French!), and it was clearly a flawed casting — like the great nation it signifies.
To me, now, the crack now resembles King’s waters of justice rolling down, the mighy stream. 
.

Here’s the results of an International Critics Music Poll, with Kevernacular’s contribution

Yes but what was the best of the year, and what does all That add up?

Here’s one man opinion. Remember one thing I didn’t hear but one cut of Song for Billie Holiday by Wada Leo Smith, Vijay Iyer and Jack DeJohnnette, which I regret and surely a high top tenner.

I participated in the 144th Annual International Critics Poll of El Intruso, the Spanish publication dedicated to jazz, experimental and creative music. I have included the results of the NPR critics poll here in recent years. But For a change of perspective, it’s interesting to see what critics from all around the world come up with, as the best of the year.

Summer of Soul best new music recording. 

But before that, the international poll does not ask for top 10 album lists, I will list my choices of best albums of the year for the NPR poll:

Best Jazz Albums 2020 NPR Critics Poll

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1. Amir ElSaffar Rivers of Sound OrchestraThe Other Side (Out Note) This was the surprise of the year. I didn’t expect ElSaffar do a big band and a very unconventional pan-cultural creature. But this is actually their second recording and there’s a rare symbiosis developing. He’s a Chicagoan but has deeply investigated his Iranian roots and allowed the bitonal modalities to flourish like an exotic garden.

2. Charles Lloyd and the MarvelsTone Poem (Blue Note) Tenor sax guru Lloyd and his stylistically elastic quintAset, with simpatico guitar innovator Bill Frisell, lays his ineffable touch on Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Leonard Cohen and Gabor Zsabo, a concoction enfolded with a few worthy originals.

 

3. Emile ParisienLouise (ACT) This sextet w naseet waits  did a marvelous take on Joe Zawinul’s “Madagascar” and swinging and stretching the exotic theme itself, yes! But Pairsien writes his own strong melodies in varying moods, and has Trane-like chops on soprano sax, if not Trane’s passion. “Jungle Jig” was more swinging post-bop and melodic with plenty of complex counterpoint sounding like The Dave Holland Quintet!. Can’t praise much higher. And on another tune “Prayer for Peace,” employed minimalism in his own sweet way. He was part of another album that won over many critics this year.

4. Anthony Braxton2 Comp (Zim) 2017 (firehouse)

5. Johannes WallmannElegy for Undiscovered Species (Shifting Paradigm)

6. Lionel LouekeClose your Eyes (Sounderscore) Wow, what a brilliant guitarist extending the modern, harmonically weighty tradition from Wes Montgomery. He has a dazzling rhythmic acumen and plays with tension like a master basketball dribbler. This was his first full-album statement “in the tradition” as the compulsive original Braxton did, and alost all were revelatory. He got a bit too clever by crunching the closer, Trane’s “Naima,” which lost the tune’s arching, iridescent lyricism.

7. Marcin Wasilewski Trio — en Attendant — (ECM) With this sad news this year of Chick Corea’s passing, and of Keith Jarrett’s apparently disabling stroke, Marcin Wasilewski joins the conversation as a darkhorse for “greatest living (and active) jazz pianist, or perhaps “best jazz piano trio.” Here’s my review of this recording:

Is this the best? Marcin Wasilewski’s cutting-edge piano trio forges ahead

8. Frank Kimbrough –  Ancestors (Sunnyside) Another great recent loss among jazz pianists, Kimbrough enhanced the Maria Scheider’s Orchestra expansively harmonic sound paintings, and really stepped out in recent years with his profoundly delicious Monk’s Dreams box set, and a few marvelous recordings including this one, gracefully asserting his place as successor to his artistic ancestors.

9. Simon Moullier TrioCountdown ((Fresh Sound New Talent) A virtuoso vibraphonist new to me dazzled in this deftly imaginative romp through modern standards.

10. Warriors of the Wonderful Sound – Soundpath (Music of Muhal Richard Abrams) Ars Noah Workshop)

11. Joel Ross – Who Are You? (Blue Note)

12. Noah Haidu – Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett (Sunnyside)

Honorable Mention: Miguel Zenon — Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Bandcamp), Stephanie Niles – I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag – The White Flag (Sunnyside)?  Roberto Magris & Eric Hochberg – Shuffling Ivories (JMood), Jamie Breiwick The Jewel (Live at the Dead Poet) (Ropeadope), Silent Room (Enzo Carniel and Filipo Vignato) – Aria (Menace),Helen isWho face camp and lose when a heck is that Craig Taborn – Shadow Plays (ECM), Mike Neumeyer – Marimba Maverick (Voirimba), Marc Cary — Life Lessons (Sessionheads United)

Craig Taborn – Shadow Plays (ECM)

Here’sa a link to the El Intruso Internatioal Critics Poll:

Encuesta 2021 – Periodistas Internacionales

 

Louise strong theme

2 swinging zawinul’s Madagascar and stretching the exotic theme itself, yes!

6 another strong melancholy theme. But trane like chops on soprano but clean intonation.

8 /Jungle Jig more swinging post-bop. Melodic With plenty of complex counterpoint sounding like Dave Holland Quintet!!

9 Prayer 4 Peace Another fine theme with free playing around its repetition not the usyual blowing on cganes a big diff from mainstream jazz.!!!!!employs minimalisms power ever as the theme is slowly developed.

 

Jojo ornette-ish

 

Best Historical Albums

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle (Impulse)

Bill Evans — Behind the Dikes (Elemental)

Roy Brooks — Understanding (Reel to Real)

 

 

Best Latin Jazz Album

Miguel Zenon and Luis Perdomo – El arte Del Bolero

Best Debut Album

Kazemde George – I Insist (Greenleaf) ?

El Intruso – 14th Annual International Critics Poll ballot for 2021

Kevin Lynch, The Shepherd Express, Culture Currents (Vernaculars Speak), nodepression.com

________

musician of the year – Miguel Zenon, Amir ElSaffar

newcomer musician – Kazemde George (saxophone)

group of the year –  Charles Lloyd & The Marvels

newcomer group – Silent Room (Enzo Carniel/Filippo Vignato duo)

 

album of the year — Amir ElSaffar Rivers of Sound OrchestraThe Other Side (Out Note); Emile ParisienLouise (ACT); Lionel LouekeClose Your Eyes (Sounderscore)

composer – Amir ElSaffar, Anthony Braxton, Johannes Wallmann

drums – Brian Blade, Joe Chambers, Nasheet Waits

acoustic bass – Buster Williams, Christian McBride, Reuben Rogers

electric bass – Steve Swallow

guitar – Lionel Loueke, Mary Halvorsen, Miles Ozaki

piano – Chick Corea, Vijay Iyer, Marcin Wasilewski

keyboard/synthesizer/organ – Lonnie Smith

tenor saxophone – Charles Lloyd, Chris Potter, Joe Lovano

alto saxophone – Miguel Zenon, Jim Snidero, Kenny Garrett

baritone saxophone – Gary Smulyan

soprano saxophone – Emile Parisien, Isaiah Collier

trumpet/Cornet – Brian Lynch, Wadada Leo Smith, Dave Douglas

clarinet/bass clarinet – Anat Cohen

trombone – Gianluca Petrella, Filippo Vignato

flute – Nicole Mitchell

violin/Viola

cello – Hank Roberts

vibraphone – Simon Moullier, Joel Ross, Mike Neumeyer

electronics — Marc Cary

other instruments

female vocals – Cecile McLorin Salvant, Stephanie Niles, Mary LaRose

male vocals – Kurt Elling

label of the year — Sunnyside

 

Never dove into “Moby-Dick?” Or contemplate a revisit? The annual New Year’s marathon reading will quench the thirst

Courtesy berkshirehistory.org

The 270th Anniversary Year of the publishing of Moby-Dick has just passed. But it’s never too late to take the deep dive. Here’s how to truly embrace the New Year. Let our august “Law and Order” thespian Sam Waterston offer us up Chapter 1, “Loomings,” of The Great American Novel (or epic prose poem, or whatever it is), with its epic opening line, “Call me Ishmael.” For the first time, I believe, the annual marathon reading of Melville’s masterwork, presented by The New Bedford Whaling Museum, is now a video. You can follow along at your own speed and pleasure.

Crusty Sam is a fine, resonant reader, as if recalling the greatest story of his restless youth. There’s also rhythmic pace afoot. After Waterson’s eloquently-paced pauses,  Chapter 2 reader, Gail Fortes, picks up the pace with alacrity. Among the other readers is Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey; Ashley Bendicksen, Miss Rhode Island for America Strong 20221; a handful of Massachusetts state senators; and, eccentrically, a member of the Flat Earth Society!

Orson Welles as Father Mapple reading the story of Jonah and the whale in John Huston’s 1957 film adaptation of “Moby-Dick,” Courtesy Alchetron 

I’ll say no more, except to urge you give Ishmael’s splendid opening meditation on the sea, your ears, and you may feel a bit of Atlantic brine wisp across your face. Among the cool stuff, and polar degrees of high and low-mindedness, there’s a lecture by noted Melville scholar Christopher Benfry and a Moby-Dick trivia quiz, plus a reader roster and a timetable for each chapter (averaging around a half hour, a piece, though some chapters are quite brief).

“It is time to get to the sea!”

Moby-Dick Marathon 2022

 

 

 

With your blogger’s Hornet as “local color,” “The Blues Brothers” is named to the Library of Congress National Film Registry

Jake Blues ( Dan Aykroyd) and Elwood Blues (John Belushi) with their now-iconic Bluesmobile in thew promotional poster the movie “The Blues Brothers.” Courtesy hourz.com

History rewind to early 1980:

I was driving east on Milwaukee I-94, heading home after my slightly nerve-wracking part-time job as a school bus driver (a job to augment free-lancing for The Milwaukee Journal). It was always stressful, yet gratifying, having other people’s precious children in your hands, to deliver them safely to school, or home (even the obligatory brat-distraction every few rides).

My nose had just rid itself of the funky Red Star Yeast smell ever-permeating the 16th street overpass (back then). So, as I now enjoyed the sunny afternoon and approaching lakefront, I noticed a car, with smoke billowing from its hood, speeding down the still-under-construction Lakefront Freeway, which had gone so long uncompleted, it was dubbed “the freeway to nowhere.”  Another car followed in hot pursuit.

My God, I thought instantly, two cars headed for the end of the unfinished freeway segment which leads to pure, thin air, high above the lakefront !

In the next moment, I noticed a mobile film camera unit following the cars. Crazy, man!

Then I recalled the news that director John Landis had brought the production company, for his forthcoming big-budget comedy The Blues Brothers, up to Milwaukee from Chicago, where all of the film is ostensibly set, and shot. However, for a climactic chase scene, Landis needed an elevated freeway that ended in pure nothingness, and Milwaukee had it.

Having by chance seen this bit of filming in person, I looked forward to the movie, starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, which turned out to be one of the zaniest and most brilliant car-chase comedies since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Plus, it was a hip sort of roots musical, with one of the greatest arrays of musical talent ever performing in a scripted film.

And now, The Blues Brothers has received one of the ultimate formal recognitions, having been inducted into the 2021 National Film Registry of the Library of Congress (I didn’t know about this until my sister Sheila Lynch emailed me yesterday with the news.).

There’s no question it’s a great comedy (at times over the top, of car after crashing car) worthy of the registry, and absolutely bursting with stirring blues, soul and gospel music by such legendary onscreen performers, including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Chaka Kahn, and the Blues Brothers’ (Belushi and Aykroyd) own rhythm section, comprising the great studio musicians best known collectively as the MGs, as in Booker T and the MGs. The movie’s soundtrack is a classic of that those genres of recorded music.

Here’s a video clip from Aretha’s knock-out performance of “Think” in the film, where she plays an under-appreciated, overworked waitress at a cafe the boys stop at for lunch.

The bros also commiserate with one of the mightiest of soul brothers, Ray Charles (That’s what I said!). Courtesy IMDb

Jake and Elwood Blues do a rave-up with, among others, legendary R&B guitarist Steve Cropper (white long-sleeve shirt, in background) Courtesy https://oneroomwithaview.wordpress.com 1

And it’s got a very redeeming storyline (with a script co-written by Akyroyd and Landis)  in which paroled convict Jake and his blood brother Elwood, set out on “a mission from God” to save from foreclosure the Roman Catholic orphanage in which they were raised. To do so, they must reunite their R&B band and organize a performance to earn $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill. Along the way, they are targeted by a homicidal “mystery woman”, Neo-Nazis, and a country and western band— all while being relentlessly pursued by the police.

During the high-speed chase from a battalion of cop cars, on Wacker Drive with its numerous buttress I-beams under the Chicago “L,” with the Bluesmobile surging up to 120 mph (according to their speedometer), the brothers still find a moment of cultural acknowledgement.

“Up ahead is the Honorable Richard G. Daley Plaza,” driver Jake announces.

“Isn’t that Picasso there?” Elwood asks (referencing Picasso’s untitled monumental sculpture, known as “Chicago Picasso”) .

“Yep.”

Here’s the Library of Congress announcement of the 25 new films inducted for 2021: https://blogs.loc.gov/now-see-hear/2020/12/library-of-congresses-announced-25-new-films-for-the-national-film-registry/

The brothers journey actually begins the night before — or in the wee hours of the morning (the film’s timeline isn’t exactly bulletproof) somewhere in Northern Illinois, where Jake and Elwood begin their quest to transport the money they’ve raised to save their childhood orphanage to Chicago City Hall in their decommissioned cop car with the famous line: “There’s 106 miles to Chicago. We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

When I saw the film in the movie theater, I enjoyed it immensely and near the end, came the final freeway chase scene between The Blues Brothers and another even more nefarious foe, Neo-Nazis, led by the comic actor Henry Gibson. Then, in an editing flash, I recognized the Milwaukee interchange and skyline, as the chase’s backdrop.

In this stunt scene from “The Blues Brothers,” the Bluesmobile flies over another car in a scene, I believe, from the segment filmed in in Milwaukee. Courtesy Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock. 

Sure enough, they’d used that segment in the film. Then, in one scene of the chase I noticed, in the background, a small white car following slowly behind, off to the right. I squinted, blinked my eyes, and then exclaimed right in the theater, “That’s my car!”

Several annoyed moviegoers turned to glare at me. But sure enough, it was me driving my white AMC Hornet with its bent-up front bumper (from an accident shortly after I bought it from Big Bills used car lot on Center and Fond du Lac Avenue). I’d never dreamed my car would be in a scene.

So, The Hornet and I had become “local color” in The Blues Brothers, even if only mainly white, with some rust highlights and a crooked chrome bumper.

In this clip (below) from that final scene, my Hornet is clearly visible for several seconds at the 1:20 mark, puttering along on the other side of traffic cones, as the Blues Brothers’ stolen cop car continues its epic flight scene from the Neo-Nazis.

The scene, by the way, has a priceless throwaway line – from one Nazi to the other –  that seems like an oblique homage to Joe E. Brown’s classic closing line from another great comedy, Some Like it Hot.

 If you freeze the frame at 1:24, and look closely, you might even make out my smashed-in front bumper (with the chrome bumper pushed up above the white body frame on the left side, as the photo of my car below shows)

The Blues Brothers vehicle, the so-called Bluesmobile, is seen in the movie poster photo at top with Jake and Elwood. The stolen cop car, a souped-up 1974 Dodge Monaco sedan, was chosen as one of the most iconic cars in movie history by GQ magazine.  2

So, in my small world, my little old AMC Hornet has become just a wee bit iconic, I daresay. The jalopy was a 3-speed stick shift on the column, and fun to drive. Here’s a photo of my “famous”‘ rust-bucket shortly before I traded it in for another used car, which would have another historic story attached to it, a tale for another time.

Kevin with his (iconic? or I comic?) AMC Hornet on the day he traded it in for a little red tin can called a Ford Fiesta. 

_______

1 This is actually a shot of the Blues Brothers performing on Saturday Night Live, the “brothers” genesis as well-known co-comedians. Most of the performance stills of the band from the movie are from the other side of a chain-link fence and poorly discernible. The fence was erected because the band was playing a warm-up gig in a country music bar, with a really tough crowd, before their successful big fundraising concert.

2 GQ commented, “The Bluesmobile makes the (most iconic movie cars) list not just because it was a cool car driven by cool dudes doing cool stunts, but because of the chaos left in its wake. The cars were so battered by all the stunts and crashes that there was a 24-hour body shop on set. By the end of the filming, 103 cars had been trashed, a record for any film, right up until a total of 104 was reached… by the sequel, Blues Brothers 2000.”

 

 

Happy new year to all CC readers in 2021, with a huge assist from Mike Neumeyer, one of my favorite musicians of the year

Culture Currents Holiday Greetings for 2022! First, a miscellany of memories of 2021, photo-essay style, of this blog’s year, and of friends, especially some dearly departed ones (Don’t worry, there’s a musical New Year’s pay-off below).

Your blogger refurbishes an old sculpture of his titled, “Tricycle Nightmare.” Photo by John Klett

CC’s Kevernacular out for some CC-style skiing, shot from Lincoln Park’s highest point, the windswept tee box of Hole No. 6.

Who can forget The Milwaukee Bucks making history by defeating the Miami Heat, the New Jersey Nets and the Phoenix Suns, to win their first NBA championship…in half a century? The crazed crowds at Fiserv’s Forum’s Deer District (above) played their part in the fever that stoked the team. 

Don’t forget, in 2020 the Bucks also began a brief strike that led all of professional sports in bringing attention to police violence against unarmed black people and systemic racism in America.

Successful businessman, publisher and business-success author Jack Covert, who passed in 2021, once had a slightly more unseemly identity, as owner of Dirty Jack’s Record Rack, a small mecca for Milwaukee music fans in the 1960s and ’70s. 

An NPR “American Masters” poll this fall posed the question “What work of art changed your life?” I could not answer with a simple response. One such transforming event was the exhibit of the late Arshile Gorky’s brilliant blend of surrealism and abstract expressionism, at the Guggenheim Museum, in the early 1980s. Above is Gorky’s “The Plow and the Song” from 1946.

Another life-changing work for me was seeing Picasso’s “Guernica,” though I never saw the whole painting, an odd circumstance described in my NRP poll post, regarding the epic anti-Fascist work(s).

The ultimate life-changing work for me — my first encounter with Melville’s “Moby-Dick” obtaining a copy of the 1930 edition, sumptuously illustrated with woodcuts by Rockwell Kent, including this magnificent rendition of the great white whale. 

I also honored a great friend, musician, and culture vulture, Jim Glynn (at right) on the anniversary of his death. Jim also served as the best man at my wedding in 1997 (above).

Some of my happiest reporting of the year was interviewing Kai Simone (above), the first-ever executive director of Milwaukee’s Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts. She signifies a fresh new direction, while extending the tradition of the venue’s namesake, The Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, whose heyday in the 1980s contributed greatly to the city’s community and culture.

Speaking of the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, my favorite single piece of art this year was in an exibit there. Jessica Schubkegel’s evocative and eloquent sculpture “Chrysallis” (above). made of medical textbook paper and wire, graced a group exhibit, ReBegin: New Works for New Beginnings, in response to the COVID epidemic.

.

Perhaps my most personally meaningful trip was a visit to Two Rivers, Wisconsin (above), on the shore of Lake Michigan, which included a fine nature-preserve walk and visiting the field where my father, Norm Lynch (with the ball, below) quarterbacked a great high school football team (three straight seasons undefeated) in the 1940s .

That Washington High football field in Two Rivers remains (below), but is now the domain of geese, who keep it well-fertilized with au natural “yard-markers.”

 

As COVID threats eased, for a while, Kevin and Ann finally dined out, at Tenuta’s Restaurant, in Bay View, a glorious meal gifted by Ann’s colleagues.

 

Another fine 2021 memory was of my old friend, composer/jazz pianist Frank Stemper (above), here receiving applause in Austria, where his new work, Symphony No. 4 “Protest,” was premiered. While in Europe, Frank and his spouse Nancy visited Omaha Beach, site of the D-Day landing of allied troops who turned the tide of WWII (below).

 

“Enter” by Marvin Hill 

Two linoleum-cut prints (above) by the late artist Marvin Hill, whom I memorialized in 2021 on the anniversary of his passing in 2003.

***.

OK, so much for that little montage of 2021 moments for Kevernacular.

Your reasonably dedicated and unreasonably beleaguered blogger wants to pause at this late point in the day (into evening) to wish all of my Culture Currents readers from 2021, and times fore and aft, a very happy new year (!). If some of the year’s blogs “spoke to you” in any way, it goes to bolster my notion that, indeed, Vernaculars Speak!

I am deeply grateful for your interest in this sometimes waywardly-searching blog. Today I’ve been struggling to meet a deadline for The 14th annual International Critics Poll for El Intruso, a Spanish publication for people interested in creative and experimental music. That’s involved plenty of H-Hour auditioning of review CDs that I purchase or receive.

Believe me, it’s been very pleasurable labor, discovering, savoring — and having my mind slightly bent at times by — the new music that comes my way, as a veterans music and arts journalist.

Throat-clearing aside (no, I don’t have COVID!) I can think of no better way of musically wishing you all a happy new year by sharing two brief but delicious videos by one of my favorite Milwaukee musicians of 2021. I’m talking about vibraphonist and marimba player Mike Neumeyer.

He is one of the most irrepressibly vibrant (please pardon the pun, which simply popped out in my comparative state of mental fatigue) musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (at a free-jazz workshop he led at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, in 2020, shortly before the pandemic struck), and of sharing time with, although ever since it’s been all virtual.

At least we humbly enjoyed ourselves on New Year’s Eve with a bottle of sparkling Proscutto rose, and some scrumptious curry and Nam Khao (deep-fried rice ball, cured pork sausages, peanuts, scallions, cilantro, shredded coconut) from Riverwest’s Sticky Rice Thai Carry Out, on Locust and Weil Streets. Yep, the foodie details are making me hungry too, so I better get to the felicitous point here. 1

I have extolled the talents and spirit of Mike Neumeyer several times this year in this blog (which are obtainable in a simple search with his name at  the top of the Culture Currents page, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed).

So I don’t have much energy for further glowing, or even moderately striking, praise for vibist Neumeyer, although I will point out that his positive energy is a great antidote to the stresses and strains of another year of enduring COVID, and much of the madness and travesty that passes for politics in America today. Mike is not above clowning it up a bit but, Lord knows, we need every scrap of comic relief we can get these days.

So, skipping further ado, I will simply direct you to his two versions of “Auld Lang Syne,” One version is short and sweet. The other, also brief, allows for a few grace notes of reflection and perhaps even resolution, for the listener.

Thanks again Mike, for a great year of music and memories  And keep up the (ahem)

good vibes. Two (maybe three) increasingly horrid “vibes” puns, and I’m out!

“Auld Lang Syne” played by Mike Neumeyer:

 

And now, to extend the holiday celebrate a tad more, sample a slightly slower draft of the grand old song, with a little aftertaste of the old year, now bygone forever, save memories:

 

Surprise! As an extra treat, especially for all you boys and girls who’ve been not too naughty this year, let’s rewind to the spirit of December 25th, and Mike’s rendering of one of the most timeless holiday songs ever born.

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1 We also watched a wonderful film on video on New Year’s Eve. It’s the multi-Academy award-nominated The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, and written and directed by Florian Zeller. If you haven’t seen it, The Father is uncannily disarming and disorienting in evoking, for the viewer, the point of view of a family patriarch – played with dazzling power and poignance by Hopkins – whose mental powers and pride are rapidly dissembling amid Alzheimer’s.

In watching it, you might begin to doubt either the movie or yourself, but by the end, in reflection, it all makes brilliant sense, in the saddest and most moving of ways. The full-movie video follows immediately with insightful comments from the principals.

Here’s the trailer:

 

 

 

Artist Rockwell Kent followed Moby Dick to the ends of the earth

For me, this is Rockwell Kent’s most magnificent evocation of Moby Dick. We see him breaching in the night, an act of exultation which demonstrates his godlike presence in the sea, and his cosmic relationship to the heavens. This is hardly an evil whale.

Moby-Dick prints by Rockwell Kent

And then there were humans and leviathans, both pursuing light and the night. Where to? Why? Because Ahab is evil? Or is the white whale? Melville found horror in whiteness, but his profound and prescient chapter on the subject deflects nearly as much as it reflects.

For artist Rockwell Kent, deep in that same pursuit, the devil was in the details, the textures of truth. Enter here. You may begin to feel the night engulfing, and lacerating. Kent actually produced 280 noir-Deco woodcuts for the 1930 Random House edition of Moby-Dick, and so charged the era’s imagination that Melville’s behemoth tale, long homeless for a meaningful audience, became palatable, bite by bite. The 135 short chapters, such an orgy of wonder and mystery, found their brethren in images.

And the forsaken story finally found its audience, with the printmaker’s incalculable assist. I recently responded to an NPR survey about the single work of art that changed one’s life, and chose this book, and shared how Kent’s work primed me for the great American odyssey. But another recent blog, from which most of these images are borrowed, prompted me to flesh out Kent’s work more than before. That blog, A Smart Dude Reads Moby-Dick, is also recommended especially …for Moby-Dick doubters and procrastinators.

A Smart Dude Reads Moby-Dick: Episode 1

Begin with zealous artistry, probing atmosphere and characterization, and tale-spinning flourish, if I may offer something of the meaningfulness of these images. I invite you to soak them up and read the short comment texts included. You may be on your way to the sea’s beckoning horizon.

Some include full-page reproductions of Melville’s book, with text and illustration, for a counterpoint of mind and eye, from the ground-breaking 1930 edition (still available in a Modern Library a paperback edition). Kent was a knife-wielding poet of shadow and light, as you begin to see in the first image, from the chapter entitled “The Counterpane.” The counterpane (quilt) and arms dance amid their rest. In the text, notice how narrator Ishmael focuses on the visual effect of his experience. But in that moment? Where do dreams go to live, or die? Comedy lies waiting, as much as fate, but so much more!

Below, we see Ahab (who doesn’t appear in the book until Chapter 28) in two telling moments. First, he gazes defiantly into the sea light, infernal for him. We then should let Melville’s words introduce him, with the first page of “Sunset” (Chapter 37), our post’s first indication of the narrator’s sense of the power of atmosphere for his story, and for his subject. The second image below shows Ahab full-figure, master of his domain, if not of his wretchedly magnificent mind. Note the small hole in the deck carved out to steady his whalebone leg — Moby-Dick’s hellish handiwork, and the virtual spleen driving the tale.

Arguably the second most colorful character in Moby-Dick besides Ahab (if not Moby Dick himself) is the Polynesian first harpoonist Queequeg. Covered with tattoos, he’s a king in his native land; sells, and prays to, shrunken heads; and memorably befriends the narrator, a relationship that, in its way, begets the whole story, as the final chapter reveals. Here Melville introduces Queequeg in the chapter “Biographical.” The scene depicted may reference a later chapter, “The Monkey Rope” where he attempts a stunt-like action during whale-cutting with Ishmael, situated at the other end of the chain. He saves Ishmael’s life.

This print below exemplifies Kent’s mastery of what would become known as noir atmosphere, which would almost simultaneously begin being exploited by film-makers (see previous blog):

NPR American Masters question: What single work of art changed your life?

. The two crew members and the backdrop create a stunning mood and composition, with Kent brilliantly sculpting light and darkest shadow. Perhaps such a scene was inspired by Melville’s contemplation of “the darkness of blackness,” an inherent American condition, he believed, derived from the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the great writer to whom Melville dedicated his masterpiece.

The following three prints share a beautiful affinity and, thanks to a blog’s latitudes, I decided not to choose among them. Rather, I want to allow them together, along with the preceding print, to cast a long shadow of spiritual striving and unease, from Kent to you. Such stunning atmospherics might take him anywhere in his artistic quest. But he was working very much in Melville’s expansive and doomed milieu. Such strangeness, such black beauty. It was genius meeting genius.

Below, we get a taste of the deep learning pervading this epic. Here the mythological character Vishnoo alights upon a whale with seeming preternatural ease. Ishmael compares him heroically to Hercules, St. George, and Jonah, aptly it seems. Yet he’s not an immortal God, rather but one dueling with destiny.

For me, this below is one of Kent’s most breathtaking images. Is he taking artistic license with the scale between the whale and whaling boat? To a hardy crew at sea for many months, stretched to their human limits, having to live with the existential risk of the whale hunt, it may hardly seem an illusion.

And finally comes the long-awaited chase of the White Whale, now successfully transformed into a hated entity by the demagogic Ahab, hypnotizing his crew, all but first mate Starbuck. And then, “He raised a gull-like cry in the air, ‘Thar she blows! — Thar she blows! A hump like a snow-hill. It is Moby Dick!’ ” Here we see natural excitement foaming with the monomaniacal captain’s greed and vengeance.

 

Artist Rockwell Kent demonstrates above the spectacular power of Moby-Dick in this image. Kent’s work predates a number of brilliantly-realized illustrated editions of the book. But, for me, that edition has never been surpassed. For example, the image above I believe inspired the cover of a 2007 edition of the novel, a “Longman Critical Edition” (below). But that striking yet odd Longman image fails to show the source of the explosive disruption, the whale himself.

Courtesy amazon.com

However, as successful artistically and commercially as the Kent-illustrated volume was, it had one glaring flaw, readily evident on the cover (below). There’s no indication that Herman Melville is the author! Rockwell also designed the book cover, which might help explain how Melville’s name was overlooked. Marketing doubtlessly had the other hand in that decision. Random House likely figured they had a great coup with Kent’s illustrations. In the Art Deco 1920s, he may have been better-known than Melville himself. It was yet another of a long series of insults and betrayals — now posthumous — to a great American writer who struggled mightily for his art, and to support a large extended family. 1.

Moby Dick or the Whale" (1930) book by Herman Melville illustrated by Rockwell Kent. sold at auction on 1st February | Bidsquare

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  1. Picky pedantics might also object that the Random-House cover failed to hyphenate Moby-Dick which was Melville’s chosen title (subtitled “Or, The Whale”) for the book, even though the whale’s name in the book’s text has no hyphen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamie Breiwick matches creative wits with Tim Ipsen: Sparkling results

Milwaukee trumpeter-composer Jamie Breiwick is brimming with creative output of tidal proportions. His latest (unless something appears next week) is this often exquisitely crafted yet free-flowing work, with bassist Tim Ipsen.

Breiwick’s assured grasp of modern jazz tradition exploits this spare sonic palette with textural and expressive language via Don Cherry and Miles Davis. Yet his facility recalls the finest beboppers. It opens ambitiously with “Green Aesthetic,” a wistful yet questing theme that feels like, rather than from the head, playing from the ground up, with feet in the dirt, through the heart, to the horn. Ipsen’s bass resonates eloquently in restatement. “The Cilla Suite” seems to honor the sea through three episodic movements.

“All the Moons” beams with Breiwick’s innate lyricism evoking, for me, a Wisconsin fantasia, the cow jumps over “all the moons.” “Father Figure,” tonal and lovely, recalls Art Farmer’s luminous warmth. “Le Flume” translates aptly as “spectral random wave.” “Un Moment” encompasses three parts—free, spacious, and swinging, over Ipsen’s walking bass. “Rip Glass” ends it ingeniously with Breiwick on “water trumpet.” Burble-gurgle and quenched.

Artwork courtesy B-Side Records 

This album review was originally published in The Shepherd Express: https://shepherdexpress.com/music/album-reviews/duets-b-side-by-jamie-breiwick/

 

 

Trumpeter Jamie Breiwick’s hungry brain cooks up another musical feast


He’s the father of four young children, an educator and jazz musician, but Jamie Breiwick is one artist who didn’t let the Pandemic slow him down. He’s about to release his third album in recent months, and more is right around the bend. And yet, it’s not nearly as repetitive as it might seem, as all three albums have different instrumentation, personnel and varying styles.

The Jamie Breiwick Trio presents a trio of album release events in Milwaukee and Chicago, this weekend.

The events highlight the new album The Jewel, recorded live at The Dead Poet in New York, with drummer Matt Wilson and bassist John Tate, and available to purchase at the events.

The first event is in Milwaukee at Blu, at the scenic top of The Pfister Hotel, 424 E. State Street, on Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. The second Milwaukee performance will be at Saint Kate — The Arts Hotel, 139 E. Kilbourne Ave., at 7 p.m. Saturday. 

The third event is at The Hungry Brain, 2319 Belmont Avenue, at 9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19, in Chicago.

Breiwick also released, in recent months, albums with his jazz-hip-hop trio KASE and and Duets with bassist Tim Ipsen, and with more coming soon. Quite clearly, this artist is eating up musical real estate right now like a hungry-brained monster.

The trio at Blu will be bassist John Tate, who recorded the album, and drummer Devin Drobka, one of Breiwick’s most gifted and loyal collaborators. Leading Milwaukee drummer Dave Bayles will perform at Saint Kate.

The trio at Hungry Brain will be all three recording participants including bassist Tate and acclaimed drummer-bandleader Matt Wilson.

Trumpeter Jamie Breiwick has demonstrated great versatility with recent recordings with his hip-hop jazz ensemble KASE (pictured above), the album “Duets” with bassist  Tim Ipsen, and the new album “The Jewel,” a straight-ahead collection with acclaimed drummer Matt Wilson, focusing on compositions by many jazz greats.  Courtesy OnMilwaukee.com Above photo by Brian Mir

Wilson is a prolific recording artist as a leader, with his latest album, Honey And Salt (Music Inspired By The Poetry Of Carl Sandburg), receiving a myriad of accolades. As an accompanist he’s recorded with, among many others, Charlie Haden, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Lee Konitz, Hank Jones, Frank Kimbrough, Larry Goldings. Anat Cohen, and Paul Bley.

This blogger (Kevin Lynch) had the honor of writing the liner notes to the recording, so I know how good the music is (I’ve also heard Breiwick’s Duets album and the one with KASE.).

At this point, the album, on Ropeadope Records, will be available at the events as download cards. Physical CDs will be available at a later date.

Breiwick’s new album is distinguished by one of the most diverse and fascinating collections of compositions by modern jazz composers in recent memory, including Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Pharaoh Sanders, Sun Ra, Carla Bley, and longtime Milwaukee jazz star Buddy Montgomery. Breiwick added one original, the title tune, The Jewel. 

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Is this the best? Marcin Wasilewski’s cutting-edge piano trio forges ahead

Marcin Wasilewski Trio - En attendant - Amazon.com Music

This magnificent piano trio graced the Polish Center of Wisconsin in November 2008, an event etched in my memory as the last concert I attended with my parents, before they died. “That was the best live jazz I’ve heard in years,” said my father, a lifelong jazz buff. For good reason, as the trio, with intact personnel for 26 years, demonstrates on En attendant. My father’s favorable impression also spoke to the threesome’s range of appeal.

Marvin Hill toiled artfully through life, with visionary wit, and knowledge of darkness, on a path to the other side

Wendy and Marvin Hill. Courtesy Wendy Carroll Hill

He’s been gone since 2003, but Marvin Hill is hardly forgotten. My home brims with his wondrous and witty linoleum-block prints. And just as his memorial postcard (see below) was graced with his self-description as “a very lucky man,” I feel blessed as well, with his art and for having known him. I don’t know when exactly Marvin made that self-portrait, but I suspect it was near the end of his life. He seemed like the sort who appreciated his time on this planet, and knew that he had left a rich legacy, filled with hundreds of pathways into his imagination, each adventure returned as a sharply-honed visual story of wonder, humor and mystery.

He died on this day, December Second, in 2003, of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, at 51. His widow, Wendy Hill, who did most of the hand-coloring for his prints, sent out the above postcard in June of 2005, to announce a Marvin Hill booth at Art Fair On the Square. As if nothing had changed, except that angelic tribute to Marvin’s life, talent and spirit. .

He was a sweet, but droll man, with a vibrant creative fire. I once visited his rural studio, slightly pungent with the smell of printer’s ink, and it seemed alive with a slightly cock-eyed aura of artistic affirmation. His artwork was popular, yet idiosyncratic and personal, never pandering. He was always one of the most interesting artists at any art fair he exhibited at, and he was duly feted when chosen as The Featured Artist, for the 1999 Art Fair on the Square in Madison. He designed the official T-shirt for that year’s fair, which he autographed for me and I still have it. Hill exhibited widely at fairs and galleries, and won national awards for his work. 1

Though he once lived on the same street in Milwaukee I now live on, he and Wendy ended up in Johnson Creek, halfway between Madison and Milwaukee, and Madison seemed his strongest market.

I wrote an appreciation of him when he died, for The Capital Times in Madison, and I’ll share some of my thoughts from that time:
“Marvin Hill pulled you into his world with art that could be otherworldly, or as comfortable as a pair of old slippers. The pair you slip on after an especially vivid dream, or to sit down with the book that has you under its spell. Books and dreams were Marvin’s milieu.

Or he got you with his warm, twinkling smile, and his passion for art, stories and life –  in a dimension behind the door unlocked with ‘the key of imagination.’ His art was “The Twilight Zone” captured in a frame. Marvin lived the life of the mind, expanded, printed and hand colored.

His art could challenge you but it was hard to resist. He made inexpensive linoleum block prints, one of the most unpretentious of art forms. Yet Marvin took quantum leaps with this medium….

“Marvin’s style blended noir-ish German Expressionism with an utterly American sense of possibility. Space, time and gravity expanded and contracted. He sensed the chaos theory hidden just beneath the dusty surface of ordinary life.”

“‘He was fully formed intellectually when I met him when he was 21’, says Madison artist and cartoonist P.S. Mueller, who says he and Hill ‘starved together’ as street people in Carbondale, Illinois.

.” ‘But he never used drugs, ever. He always said, ‘I don’t use drugs, they interfere with my hallucinations.’ ” 2

That’s how funny and delightfully outre the guy could be.

Now, I will share some images of Marvin Hill art, with commentary.

He only made one print of my personal favorite among those I own (see his edition designation, “1/1” or “one of one” beside the title). This (and three Hill “artist’s proofs” I own — a test print marked “A/P” he sold inexpensively and may or may not have run an edition of) also confirmed to me a closeness in our aesthetic and literary sensibilities.  They were sort of personal favorites that he made for himself, yet still offered to for sale. So they the A/P’s too might be one-of-a-kind Marvin Hills.

My favorite among these is also the smallest single image I ever saw him produce. It is titled  “Fritz Lang walks His Dog” and I post an enlarged version for you to appreciate. Now, shrink it in your mind: The actual image is only 3/4 of an inch by 2 and 2/5th inches!

The enlargement allows you to see the image, but remember, enlarging also roughens its craftmanship. Hill wasn’t obsessive about razor-sharp technique, but his chops constantly served his quirky genius in perfect simpatico, perhaps like the great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, at times a bit scraggly, but that enhanced the art’s peculiar, funky beauty.

The squinty size of “Fritz Lang” is a “big” part of the piece’s brilliance. It’s like a secret portal into his imaginative world, and into how his conception and style manifested themselves. The idea of movie director Lang and his dog recalls an Alfred Hitchcock movie cameo, though this is more sly, as we see only only the projected shadows of Lang and his dog. It also carries an ominousness, as Lang’s most seminal film is M with Peter Lorre as a serial killer preying on children in Berlin in London. The 1931 film, part of the German Expressionist art movement, is pretty much the prototype for all film noir. 3.  Hitchcock arguably predates M with his 1926 fog-bound silent film The Lodger, about a London serial killer, both films likely inspired by Jack The Ripper’s legend.

But Peter Lorre’s creepy breakout performance, enhanced by his weird nasal-breathing speaking style and demonic laugh, helped give Lang’s “talkie” greater notoriety, for its shock value and aura of paranoia — and stylistically, with his more incisive cinematographic intersecting of light and shadow. Knowing all that, Marvin Hill uses his noir-ish wit to humanize the German director, while maintaining his mystique.

Another noir-ish Hill piece which was an “artist’s proof” shows how subtle his craft can be. It’s titled “Enter” (below).

“Enter,” Marvin Hill. Hand-colored linoleum block print (artist’s proof)

The figure entering the dark room is engulfed in a sort of ectoplasmic atmosphere, an effect unusual for knife-executed block-cut prints. It’s unclear whether the figure is the vulnerable one, entering the dark enclosure, or the threatening one, entrapping a frightened person hiding within. The psychological ambiguity intensifies its power. I have positioned it as as a sort of “welcome” for guests to my home, or now, to my office.

A brighter, rather comical Hill print nevertheless retains his surrealistic weirdness. Some have characterized it as “a bit goofy,” true enough, but it held a place of honor in my divorcee bachelor-flat kitchen for many years.

Marvin Hill, “Man Attacked by Green Beans,” hand-colored linoleum block print (artist’s proof). 

I love the animation of “Man Attacked by Green Beans,”  everything is flying askew (not unlike

Marvin could also celebrate serenity and domesticity, as in this elegantly framed (but still inexpensive) print, below, simply titled “e.”, as in the name of the sleeping feline in portrait.

Marvin Hill, “e.”, hand-colored linoleum block print.

Next, the Deco-styed print (below) takes us into Hill’s dream realm, and suggests his striving to connect or follow nature, to transcend the limits of gravity-bound humanity. It feels like a late-period Hill, though I think it may be the first of his I purchased, before Wendy began hand-coloring his images. His sense of time was elastic, reaching into the fates of futurity as well as backward, with symbolic ease, and wonder.

Marvin Hill, “Dream Suite # 3,” linoleum block print.

Photo of Kevin Lynch at Marvin Hill art booth at Art Fair on the Square, in Madison, by Beth Bartoszek Lynch. 

This photo (above) was taken in summer of 2005, at the first posthumous booth of Marvin Hill art at Art Fair on the Square, maintained by his widow, Wendy Carroll Hill. It shows some of his small work and some of the more ambitious work he achieved late in his life, like the stunning, large mandala-like three-dimensional print, to the right of your blogger, in this photo. The several evident circular images, to me, suggest Marvin’s expression of a holistic experience of the world, his coming to grips with where his journey beyond might take him, not into nothingness, really, but to part of a circle (reincarnation?) that will be unbroken, bye and bye, one can hope.

Yet another marvelous Hill image, which my ex-wife and I bought together, and which she now possesses, depicts a shaman in a small shack high in the mountains. It might allude to the end of his life, or beyond. His corporeal end, to any outside observer, and to Wendy, was impossibly sad. He he lost the use of his hands and arms — an artist still at the peak of his powers, which at times seemed visionary, in his humble way. There are more sad details I won’t get into here. I will recount some of Wendy’s narrative, from my 2003 Capital Times obit appreciation:

“He couldn’t take care of himself, he couldn’t walk, but he was still so positive. One day, he looked out the window and said, ‘It’s all good.’

“I said, ‘It’s all good? It sucks! ‘

” He said, ‘No, I want to know what’s going to happen, what’s on the other side.’ ” 4

Fortunately for Wendy, Hill’s work has steadily sold online in recent years, and a goodly but diminishing amount remains available online, including more ambitious works. 5 One uses the above bird-seeking “Dream Suite” image as one of multiple motifs, each dominated by a blackbird in the dazzling 3-D montage titled “Jack’s Message Dream Suite.”

Another, “Lao Tzu and Rene Descartes Engage in a Philosophical Battle,” articulates his self-expressed intellectual hunger and spiritual curiosity (image below).  It’s telling that Hill positions the ancient Chinese philosopher in the dominant dueling position. Descartes, riding a mechanical dragon, uses a book “shield” and wields a giant pointed circumference compass; while Lao, atop a “real” dragon, counters with a traditional saber and a walking stick. Mathematician, metaphysician, and philosopher Descartes is, of course, best known as the Western paragon of rationalist philosophy as a demarcation of reality. Though his historicity as a real person is debated, Lao is credited as the founder of Taoism and reputed author of the philosophical text Tao Te Ching.

By contrast to Western rationalism’s prioritizing the brain’s reasoning powers, Taoism embraces an inquiry into primary sources, the un-apprehended aspects, or vast realms of existence, that may help form our cosmos, our world and affect our lives. Accordingly Tao signifies “the source and ideal of all existence: it is unseen, but not transcendent, immensely powerful yet supremely humble, being the root of all things. People have desires and free will (and thus are able to alter their own nature). Many act ‘unnaturally’ upsetting the natural balance of the Tao. The Tao Te Ching intends to lead students to a ‘return’ to their natural state, in harmony with Tao.] Language and conventional wisdom are critically assessed. Taoism views them as inherently biased and artificial, widely using paradoxes to sharpen the point. ” 6

Marvin Hill, “Lao Tzu and Rene Descartes Engage in a Philosophical Battle.” Linoleum-cut block print. Courtesy www.marvinhill.com

Surveying Hill’s oeuvre, one senses his Taoistic leanings, an intense awareness of forces beyond the empirical. Another ambitious print, is even more surreal than “Man Attacked by Green Beans.” Titled “Nonattachment,” wherein gravity has evidently abandoned a man in his home, and he and his possessions all float freely. Is this evoking a strange scientific phenomenon, or an underlying truth of contingency regarding reason, and even ownership? Were Marvin’s humble and drug-free “hallucinations” also possibly insights? Given his ever-leavening humor, he was a serious reader, and a pan-cultural, pluralistic thinker, clearly interested in the dialectical (and in paradox), and beyond.

I think Marvin Hill’s equilibrium helped focus his insights. He seemed to know how far to go with his dreams. As D.H. Lawrence wrote: “The Holy Ghost (the winged soul within us) bid us never be too deadly in our earnestness, always to laugh in time, at ourselves and everything, Particularly our sublimities. Everything has its hour of ridicule – everything.”  6 Marvin could always laughed in time, like, say, pianist Victor Borge, a musical comedian with exquisite timing. A prime Hill illustration of perfect comic timing is the piece titled “Does Awakening Come All at Once?” The image is of a bespectacled man (le artiste?) getting a blueberry pie splat in the face. Or, there’s the tart irreverence of “Thoreau is Driven from the Garden by Unruly Nature,” the ironic title delivering plenty.

And then, the affliction arose and eroded him. Sorrow welled, though not Marvin’s, until his knife and wit lay still, for the last time, December 2, 2003.

Finally, another Hill “artist’s proof” (below) would become a posthumous gift from him to me (actually sent to me by Wendy, in gratitude for my patronage and coverage of Marvin) – a portrait of the great American poet Walt Whitman, clearly in the autumn of his life. Marvin knew just how to visually honor the mighty, innovative, and quintessentially American poet, also known for his massive capacity for compassion, as a dedicated Civil War nurse. Hill depicts Whitman’s head, well, as if upon a hill. Whitman here seems like granite, or one more great face, to be carved into Mount Rushmore, alongside other American giants, including his contemporary Abraham Lincoln, whom Whitman honored in magnificent verse, better than any other poet.

I didn’t consciously intend this, but “Walt Whitman” sits in my office, atop a bookshelf, the highest location of any artwork I own.

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1 Art Fair on the Square, held each Independence Day Weekend, is sponsored by The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and is one of the state’s most rigorously-juried outdoor art fairs, along with Milwaukee’s Lakefront Festival of the Arts.

2. Even given Mueller’s story about he and Hill as classic “starving artists,” Hill had earned an MFA in printmaking from Drake University.

3. Among other many great Fritz Lang (primarily) films noirs: include: “Metropolis (silent),” “You Only Live Once,” “Ministry of Fear,” “Scarlet Street,” “Clash By Night,” “The Big Heat,” “and “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.”

4. Here’s a scan of my 2003 newspaper appreciation of Marvin Hill. You might save or download it to a picture file to magnify and read it better.

5. The Marvin Hill website: http://www.marvinhill.com

6.. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laozi

7. D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, Penguin, 1923,1977, 79