About Kevin Lynch

Kevernacular (Kevin Lynch) is a veteran, award-winning arts journalist, educator and visual artist. He is the author of "Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy." He won The Milwaukee Press Club’s 2017 gold award for “Best Critical Review of the Arts” for the Culture Currents blog “Adolph Rosenblatt: A Great Eye, Gifted Hands, and a Huge Heart," an art retrospective exhibit at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee. He also won the gold award for the 2013 Culture Currents review, "Edward Curtis Preserved America’s Vanishing Race for Posterity.” Lynch was a long-time staff arts writer for The Capital Times in Madison and The Milwaukee Journal, where he was lead writer of a Pulitzer-nominated Newspapers in Education project called “That’s Jazz,” which was used in Milwaukee Public Schools and The Milwaukee Jazz Experience. Among other publications, he’s written for Down Beat, No Depression Quarterly of Roots Music, and NoDepression.com, The Village Voice, The Chicago Tribune, New Art Examiner, Rain Taxi, American Record Guide, CODA (The Canadian jazz magazine), Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine, Graven Images: A Journal of Culture, Law and the Sacred; The Shepherd Express, OnMilwaukee.com. Lynch has taught cultural journalism, English rhetoric and composition (while earning half of the credits for a PhD. in American Literature), and film studies. He’s been a music program host for WLUM-FM and WMSE-FM in Milwaukee. Lynch is working on a novel, "Melville’s Trace or, The Jackal." He’s also a visual artist and studied jazz piano and theory at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. He lives in Milwaukee.

W. B. Yeats’ famous poem “The Second Coming” foreshadows our perilous times with ominous urgency

A mock-up page from an introductory booklet to a reissue of the 1964 book “Nothing Personal,” a collaboration between photographer Richard Avedon and writer James Baldwin. Avedon evidently wrote down the W.B. Yeats quote as being important to the book’s thematics.  Courtesy Richard Avedon Foundation and Taschen Books.

Funny how swiftly dark clouds, even from decades ago, can ambush a celebration.

My sunny Sunday birthday on July 1 ended with a walk in the park, and very real rainmakers eliciting a thundering downpour and sweeping winds amid a tornado warning. The storm broke my gal pal Ann Peterson’s umbrella. Earlier, she’d given me a luminous gift that soon engulfed me in the ominous vision of perhaps the most famous poem of W.B. Yeats, arguably the greatest poet of the 20th century. The gift was a reissue of the 1964 book collaboration between photographer Richard Avedon and writer James Baldwin, titled Nothing Personal. Therein I soon encountered a familiar quote from Yeats’ “The Second Coming” (see image at top), handwritten by Avedon on a publisher’s mock-up page, for the original edition. 

Avedon’s mock-up photo comes from the new edition’s accompanying booklet, which includes an introductory essay by Hilton Als, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner for criticism, and previously unpublished photos by Avedon.

Let me contextualize the line (bold-faced below) from “The Second Coming,” one of the most-referenced passages in modern poetry:

…Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

This whole momentous passage calls out to our times with shuddering power, even if Yeats, like many visionary and prescient writers, wrote it long ago, in 1921.

“The Second Coming” closes with another famous passage, which warns of a revelatory vision that the most religious among us would’ve never hoped for – at least back then. Rather than Christ finally returning to redeem the wayward, wicked world, Yeats detects a monstrous creature, “a shape with lion body and the head of a man, / A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, / Is moving its slow thighs… And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”

Irish poet W.B. Yeats in 1923, two years after he published “The Second Coming”,” and shortly after he won the Nobel Prize for literature, after six years of nominations. Courtesy The New York Times

The passage has resonated variously over the ensuing centuries. In the Irish poet’s time, civilization struggled to piece the world order back together after The Great War, an unprecedented world catastrophe, a complex failing of humanity. Yet now, many have commented on the “chaos” of today’s international affairs, especially as exacerbated by Brexit and Trumpism, which has threatened not only international relations but the very democracy our nation was founded on, and functions under.

And that “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem, a hybrid of a lion and a man, now seems to evoke the visage of Donald Trump, with his huge, pseudo-golden orange mane and face, and his roaring Twitter posts and campaign-style speeches, always speaking strictly to this cowardly lion’s pride – his narcissism and his avid base – never as a leader of all America. A deep segment of his strangely faithful base is a strain of ostensible Bethlehem-worshippers, white Evangelical Christians. This literary comparison may risk lending a dark grandiosity to Trump’s often-fumbling, crude, instinctive behavior and very risky “policy.” Yes, Trump’s easy to frame as an unintentionally self-styled running joke.

Courtesy youtube.com (This Is NOT a Richard Avedon photo)

But the grim reaper may laugh deepest, and last. He has again, most recently in the massacre of five journalists in their newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland. My blood still runs cold. I’ve spent most of my professional career in similar newsrooms. The rough beast, of course, has many guises, beyond Trump, and must be fed. More real dangers and tragedies loom, as momentous as Yeats’ poem suggests.

Have we had any single greater threat to world order, natural alliances and the nation’s democracy, since World War II? All the worse, it seems, for coming from within our nation. This circles us back to the urgency of Yeats’ gloomy assertion about his fellow contemporaries. Accordingly, I want to focus especially on the quote: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

That’s the sentence that Richard Avedon wrote down in his Nothing Personal mockup for his publisher, partly I suspect, because the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement had only begun gaining steam in 1963 or 1964, or thereabouts, when he actually scribbled down the words. 1

Cut to our times: Consider the whole dynamic of, first, Brexit and then the 2016 presidential election, and perhaps of even liberalism-versus-neo-liberalism-versus-conservatism-versus-inchoate angry, emotional populism. That complex scenario has played out over the last several decades, and brought us to our perilous position.
I’ve seen at least one interpreter some years ago read Yeats’ “the best ” as being people of intellect and reason, and “the worst” being those who respond mainly with emotion.

Can we now flesh that out to a “passionate intensity” driven by pain, frustration or fear – and worse, a certain percentage of people afflicted with misogyny, racism and xenophobia?

As for “the best” lacking all conviction, some pundits and writers have observed that certain recently-disavowed or disenchanted Republicans – like strategist Steve Schmidt or political TV host Michelle Wallace – have proven among the most passionate protesters of Pres. Trump’s obscenities, compulsive hypocrisy, and often-willy-nilly executive orders, and eloquent defenders of basic American values in a democracy at dire risk. Schmidt almost invariably also provides pointed historical perspective when he speaks.

Perhaps, as Republicans, they know how to be passionate when they really need to be, and rational and pragmatic when that’s needed. Plus, I suspect they know the most consistently effective political strategy combines those seemingly polar qualities.
I don’t really know the politics of pundit Malcolm Nance, because he’s a well-guarded professional intelligence person. But the author of The Plot to Hack America has proven one of the most urgent, truly knowledgeable and lucid voices regarding the well-documented Russian undermining of our political system in 2016, and of democratic systems in Europe, and for seeing the big, ominous picture behind all that.

What we have lacked is passionate conviction among a certain spectrum of liberals, Democrats and Independents, who may see what is going wrong. A certain segment of Independents, by nature (not the Bernie Sanders-type of independent), may tend to  equivocation. However, times demand that they take a strong stand, speak out, and act, for the sake of their imperiled country.

But a too-broad swath of liberals, Democrats and would-be Dems have, I think, been most lacking in recent times. Not that we don’t have a substantial, pulsing core of active people in that swath, especially swelling among millennials. But there are reasons why the Democrats bear some responsibility for why Republicans control all three branches of federal government, and too many state governments, even though they are by far the minority party in terms of popular affiliation and apparent support.

And yet the Dems/liberals too often spend excess energy squabbling amongst themselves and, when facing the real opposition, acting all-too-civilly, playing mainly within the rules, in between the lines. Muting potential conviction, passion, and the sharpest, toughest strategy. In football terms, Republicans usually control the line of scrimmage, often illegally or unethically – the key to winning the game. Liberal Mister Nice Guy tactics have to change now, starting with the encroaching Supreme Court vacancy, and beyond.

(Ironically, among down-in-the-dirt Trump’s most gag-inducing platitudes of praise is, “He was very nice to me,” part of the cognitive dissonance of his bizarre personality.)

Meanwhile, Republicans constantly shift the goalposts, cheat the system (as in Mitch McConnell’s hijacking of Pres. Obama’s selection for the Supreme Court), and follow in meek or overt lock-step with Trump, who lies incessantly to obscure truth and reality and further rile his base, and pervert our institutions and democracy.

This situation brings to mind yet another line from Yeats’ great poem, “The falcon cannot hear the falconer.” In our context, there is a disconnect between “the falconer” – individuals who care but flirt with cynicism, or feel helpless, or disenfranchised – and “the falcon,” signifying any supra-individual powers that could fly exponentially. But such power takes wing only with one’s willful action, or articulation of conviction, or strategy. As Yeats scholar Richard Ellman has commented, “Essentially the falcon’s loss of contact implies man’s separation from every ideal of himself (or herself) that has enabled him to control his life…” 2 

Read the entire Yeats poem here:“The Second Coming” by W. B. Yeats 

Contact your Congessperson by e-mail or phone, for starters. Use social media’s networking power constructively. Attend a public meeting on an important issue as it plays locally. Join a protest march, or a neighborhood organization. Such connections can form a curving arc that strives for the precision of the falcon’s flight, part of a greater collective power. Showing up is half the battle, as Woody Allen said. Showing up and voting on election day  is a must.

And something is really happening. “The best” are gaining conviction and passionate intensity, especially with women and more minorities becoming engaged in politics and running for office, and other aspects of the so-called “blue wave.” Yet, that term has gained so much attention that people might subconsciously start “riding” it – and imagining “the wave” will carry them to the proverbial promised land – without contributing to its momentum. Think of “the wave” in a sports event – it’s fun, and looks cool and powerful, but when the human ripples subside, everyone ends up on their butts again.

Because the Democratic “coalition” is so diverse, it’s more diffuse than the GOP, and difficult to marshall all its potential forces. Factions too easily divert into pet issues, worthy as they may be, or into a premature self-satisfaction, or tempered anxiety, which leads to creeping passivism.

“Nothing Personal” was a project of creative activism between Jewish photographer Richard Avedon and African-American novelist and essayist James Baldwin. Race relations and civil rights were primary subjects of the book. In this Avedon photo from the new edition of the 1964 book, the photographer merged the two men’s identities by creating a half-mask of Baldwin (who was unavailable at the time) beside Avedon’s own face. Courtesy the Richard Avedon Foundation and Taschen Books.

But do not forget the “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem. The town, of course, signifies the birthplace of the greatest modern prophet, the wise and holy man whose teachings and sacrifice are too-often forgotten or perverted by modern Christians. I am convinced that Yeats would’ve agreed with another common phrase these days, that “democracy is not a spectator sport.” I hope I don’t sound self-righteous. Believe me, I don’t think I’ve done enough to make a difference for the sake of our democracy. You do what you can, then try to do a little more.

And those who are in the crucial game, which will lead to these pivotal 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential, need to exercise smarts as much as passion. So, too-simplistic protest rhetoric such as “Abolish ICE,” seems unwise, and plays into the Trump playbook about “radical Dems” not caring about national security and happy to allow anyone across the border, as false as that narrative may be. Trump clearly has turned his incessant lies and false narratives into a rumbling P.R. strategy, undercutting progressive continuity, baiting the press and feeding his rabid base. Where does this end?

We need a strong, intelligent and compassionate border security agency. But we also need something far better than the intolerably cruel and half-assed “zero tolerance” southern border immigration policy of the Trump administration.

Ultimately, we need the most engaged citizenry possible, the most voters possible, to represent the truest political will of “We the people.” We also need oversight and safeguarding of our election system, so that it is not corrupted or perverted by any nefarious forces, either foreign or domestic.

These sorts of human failing are not new. Yeats’ poem also describes “twenty centuries of stony sleep,” since the actual birth of Christ, a perhaps too-sweeping indictment of humanity, but here we allow him some poetic license. 3
Nevertheless, today there is absolutely no excuse for another four months, much less another week or day, of stony sleep.

_______

1. My discursion into poetics will not do any justice here to Avedon’s and James Baldwin’s powerful, vivid media-meld in the re-issued Nothing Personal. I’ve seen all the photos but haven’t read Baldwin’s text yet. His text should reveal some of his own parallel or explicit implications of Yeats’ poem. Baldwin and Avedon, who knew each other since high school, seemed extremely simpatico artists – thus the unusual collaboration. (New edition cover below, courtesy Los Angeles Times and Taschen Books) 

2. Richard Ellman, The Identity of Yeats, Oxford University Press, 1964, 259

3. William Butler Yeats, All quotes from the poem “The Second Coming,” from The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, A New Edition, Collier Books, 1989, 187.

 

The inner landscapes of Terrence Coffman

“Gail’s Garden 10”, oil, 72-by-84 inches

Terrence Coffman: A Compendium of Paintings, through July 7 at:

Tory Folliard Gallery
233 N. Milwaukee St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(Map)

Gallery Hours:
Tues-Friday 11-5
Saturday 11-4

What color is Zen? Wisconsin painter Terrence Coffman seems to know. He ostensibly treads in abstract expressionism’s historical modernism. By contrast, the state’s most notable art tradition stems from the great Midwest regionalists, including Wisconsin’s adopted son, John Steuart Curry.  Accordingly, most of the state’s dominant art trends have interfaced with the state’s abundant natural resources, including the architectural giant Frank Lloyd Wright.

In that sense, Coffman fits in, in a sidelong way. He even denies doing abstractions. His paintings, on display at Tory Folliard Gallery through July 7, represent “landscapes of my inner being, my attempt to move into a greater reality … I’m a conduit of sorts. I don’t stand before a subject to copy it. I breathe it in, consume it and let it flow through me on to canvas.”

That sounds grandiose but he’s striving for, and far beyond, the indigenous terrain, saying he draws from Zen disciplines of China and India. The result: painterly evocations of the highest order.

Coffman, who served as president of the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design for 20 years, meditatively “breathes in” aspects of intensely atmospheric landscapes, or townscapes of Jefferson, WI, his residence. The exhalation effect resembles California color-field abstractionist Richard Diebenkorn who, like Coffman, employed landscape-derived subject series and, atypical to New York abstract expressionists, often in pastels. Coffman has a similarly stunning gift for conjuring beauty that sometimes disappeared in the brawny abstract-expressionist process.

Coffman does embrace that movement’s grand tradition of large-scale paintings. And yet, the eye-drowning 72-by-84 inch “Gail’s Garden 10” is something of an extreme “close-up.” It recalls ab-ex pioneer Arshile Gorky’s approach of literally diving his face and nose into a garden, to blur his focus but intensify his sensory experience. So we see here two giant rose-like stems and blossoms, and the canvas divides into three large horizontal segments akin to layers of earth, yet they’re all sun-lit in pastel tones. Horizontal streaks effect a weird suspended feeling. Along with such perceptual sleight-of-hand, you also detect small graphite scribbles, suggesting germinating seeds.

“A Long Way Home #4” oil, 40 by 20 inches.

These slight effects help distinguish Coffman from typical abstract expressionism. He also does very small-scale paintings, demanding fine techniques. So even his biggest canvases reveal miniscule spatters of paint, like a Jackson Pollock “mini-me” standing between his legs. But he’s nobody’s knock-off. Coffman also wields storytelling emotional power, in his two “A Long Way from Home” variations. In Number 4 (above), white clouds chill the spirit; the terrain seems like psychic mazes that might circle him back where he started, a classic nightmare.

____________

This review was originally published in The Shepherd ExpressSE Coffman review

Los Lobos on the Southern border back in their day, and today

 

Los Lobos performing in Indianapolis on the 2016 “Wheels of Soul” tour, as the opening act for the Tedeschi Trucks Band. (L-R: Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez, David Hidalgo, and Steve Berlin) at this concert, the two groups also jammed together for several songs. Photo by Kevin Lynch

“And right now, Mexico’s economy is doing so well,” (Steve Berlin) adds. “If you look more than an inch deep, the so-called immigration problem is that many Mexican workers are going back to Mexico, because they can get better work there than they can here. The economic problem is nothing like what Donald Trump is presenting.”

Like a burning spear cutting through the thick informational gaslight of the present, this quote, from the longtime Los Lobos multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin, kept nagging at me, as I followed the contrivances and hypocrisies of the Trump administration’s border family separation policy.

Yes, there’s a very serious mess largely manufactured by the Trump administration, which needs to give due process to refugees requesting asylum and to re-unite separated children with their parents and properly and fairly deal with unaccompanied young illegal border-crossers.

And yes, many of these refugees come from Central America. But the big perceived problem  — the motivation for the fabled Trump border wall — initially had to do with Mexicans crossing the border, as then-candidate Trump framed it originally.

So I am reposting this article as an instructive cultural offering, especially to those who think that Latinos from south of the border have very little to offer, and are only here to take away jobs from white people.

Especially if you have at least some appreciation of excellent rock music with Latin rhythms, soul and great storytelling, then I hope you read this story, which is a look at a great music group, centered on their superb last album Band of Gold. The article was commissioned as a cover story for the online publication NoDepression.com. Thus, it is fairly in-depth, but I think it’s a good read and I hope you get something out of it. It includes original interviews with Steve Berlin — the band’s only gringo — and with the group’s primary songwriter-guitarist, Louie Perez.

Especially check out the immigration story of Perez and his lifelong friend David Hidalgo, the band’s lead guitarist and lead singer. I hope it helps clarify some misperceptions and illuminates the value of immigrants and refugees who want to come to America for a better life and have something to offer, as most immigrants to America always have. These have something special, in song and story. Thanks for your time. — KL

Los Lobos: The powerful and beautiful social comment of “Gates of Gold”

Chip Duncan and Mohammed Amin: Two generations of extraordinary African documentary photojournalists

 

Metharie Slum – Nairobi, Kenya

Chip Duncan “True Colour”

Click! The eye of the camera sees like a stealthy cat – the truth of abject starvation, misery, and resilient energy, and even the embodiment of blooming intelligence. The camera eye travels very well, bringing the earth’s far-flung corners into focus – something very evident in Inspiring Change: The Photography of Chip Duncan and Mohamed Amin at the Charles Allis Art Museum, through October 21.

Milwaukee-based photographer and videographer Chip Duncan – author of documentaries for NPR, HBO and Discovery, among other media outlets – has prowled 40 largely Third World countries exposing poverty and famine. Almost incongruously, his often-lovely images stand sharp but painterly in hue. Laden with vivid form, contrasting textures, and saturating color, his subjects radiate anguish, ardor and myriad beauty of humanity. He’s a pro’s pro cameraman.

Duncan’s great inspiration is fellow exhibitor, the late Mohamed Amin, a true profile in courage. The Kenyan’s largely black-and-white work lends gravitas and vitality to Duncan’s, by juxtaposition and association. Amin documented Ethiopia’s devastating 1984 famine, and he’s credited for spurring hunger-relief movements – Live Aid concerts, Band Aid and USA for Africa.

This photo of an elderly man, taken by Mohammed Amin during the Ethiopian famine, helped bring international attention and aid to the African crisis.

While covering Kenyan pro-democracy unrest, Amin endured 28 days of torture from the oppressive government.

In 1991, during the Ethiopian Civil War, he lost his left arm at the elbow in an ammunition dump explosion. He remained disabled professionally until a prosthetic arm helped him to handle cameras again. In 1996, hijackers took over an Ethiopian airlines flight, with Amin aboard. He attempted to rally passengers and confront the hijackers. But the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean and he died at age 53.

Amin wasn’t ignored at the time, but his work still merits further exposure — his journalism, artistry and the dramatic and small human truths it preserved.

”No news cameraman in recent history has had a greater impact than Mohamed Amin,” said Tony Hall, chief executive for British Broadcasting Corporation news, said at the time of Amin’s death. ”His pictures from Ethiopia 12 years ago moved the world.”

Former President George H. W. Bush said, ”Many millions are alive today because Mohamed Amin risked his life time and time again.’ 1

Mohammed Amin “Fishing.”

Three brief, recommended video films complement the photos – one of Duncan introducing his work, another of Amin documenting famine, and a third, of Amin’s son Salim, narrating his father’s powerful story. In the second video, we see a young boy’s fly-infested face and a child’s starved corpse. Yet Amin never exploits suffering for excessive effect, even when capturing beauty. In “Fishing,” shimmering clouds and the sinking sun silhouette two emaciated anglers standing precariously in a slender boat, hoping to spear some food.

Kabul, Afghanistan

Chip Duncan “Empowerment.”

In one of Duncan’s photos (“True Colour,” at top), a seemingly homeless man lies asleep below a ramshackle house festooned with kaleidoscopic graffiti, with a duck nearby, wondering about him. Duncan’s images seem more hopeful overall, exemplified by “Empowerment” – a young Afghani girl, bathed in a Vermeer-like glow, chews on a pencil, poised to write, and enable her nation.

__________

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/1996/11/26/world/mohamed-amin-53-camera-eye-during-the-famine-in-ethiopia.html

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

It’s not too late to experience one of the biggest jazz festivals in Wisconsin history

Broken Shadows, a new concept supergroup with (L-R) Reid Anderson, Tim Berne, Dave King and Chris Speed, will be a highlight of events surrounding the Isthmus Jazz Festival in Madison. The quartet plays on June 16th (details below) . Courtesy SF JAZZ Center

The 2018 Isthmus Jazz Festival in Madison is well underway but it has reimagined and reinvented itself into one of the largest jazz festival events in Wisconsin history. In collaboration with the Madison Jazz Consortium, the fest has done this by reclaiming and redistributing its resources into a vast, community-oriented event that also seems unique in the state’s history.

So even if you’re only a not-too-long-drive away, it’s promising to be a remarkably rich cultural experience.
The event has expanded to ten days, having begun on June 1 and running officially through this Sunday.

Plus, several major events extend beyond the official festival, further into June but adding up to an extraordinarily rich extension of the festival’s ambitious parameters.

The Isthmus Festival has both more free and richly diverse events, and more ticketed events than in the past. Among the notable events already passed are the Emerson Hunton Quintet with Greg Ward and Russ Johnson along with the former city poet laureate Fabu’s publication celebration for her book about Mary Lou Williams; the brilliant multi-instrumentalist and conceptualist Hanah Jon Taylor’s commissioned new work “Songs for the Emerging Man;” The New Breed Jam’s “Wayne Shorter Night;” and the ingenious Chicago flamenco jazz guitarist Goran Ivanovic.

AND TODAY, FRIDAY, the unique and popular Strollin’ State Street neighborhood series continues into the evening with events at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, on the UW-Madison campus mall, and Fair Trade Coffee, Nick’s Restaurant and Parthenon Gyros, all on State Street.

Among today’s most appealing events is The PLUGGED IN & SCRAP METAL HORNS at BEHIND THE BEAT JAZZ SERIES.  Madison’s newest eleven-piece band covers 60 years of jazz, R&B, and horn-rock.  Their repertoire includes Santana to St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Dusty Springfield, Ray LaMontagne, Chicago, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats 5-7pm. Friday. It’s free admission at  UW Memorial Union Terrace, 800 Langdon St.

Isthmus Festival Saturday events continue thusly:

And then, a number of notable and compelling events extend through the month, although not part of the official four-day event.
Among the events to mark on your calendar are:

June 17:  BROKEN SHADOWS at ARTS + LITERATURE LABORATORY.  Broken Shadows, a new project (named for an Ornette Coleman album) features four world-class musicians hailing from the urban northern half of America. Tim Berne (sax), Chris Speed (clarinet/sax), Reid Anderson (bass) and Dave King (drums) have banded together to reinterpret the timeless sounds of great men from the rural South and heartland of the country: Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill, Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden. The group symbolically and culturally strives to bridge an historic divide that remains deep in America, between the South and North. 8pm. ALL, Arts + Literature Laboratory, 2021 Winnebago.  Tickets $20 advance; $25 at the door.

Another highlight should be:

Paal Nissen-Love’s Large Unit. Courtesy downtown music.net 

June 23:  PAAL NILSSEN-LOVE’S LARGE UNIT at WILMAR CENTER.  Presented

byArts + Literature Laboratory, Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit debuted at the Molde Jazz festival July 2013 and has since toured Norway and played festivals all over Europe.  Consisting of mostly younger Norwegian musicians, Large Unit manifests as “an intense powerhouse force on stage, but also veers into more subtle and textural passages.”  953 Jenifer St., 8pm. Tickets $20 advance; $25 at the door.

Also consider a band that reflects Madison growing tradition of Afro-Latin-oriented jazz:

6/24:  GOLPE TIERRA at ALLEN CENTENNIAL GARDEN.  The irresistible acoustic groove of Golpe Tierra will kick off the 2nd Summer Sunday concert series at ACG.  Nick Moran, Juan Tomas Martinez, Tony Barba, and Richard Hildner comprise this guerrilla-style ensemble, employing the traditional Afro-Peruvian guitar-bass-cajón set-up. The group embarks on a musical journey throughout Latin-America, encompassing blues, jazz, and shades of soul. Allen Centennial Garden, 620 Babcock Dr., 5pm.  Free admission & nearby parking.  Bring a chair for comfort.

But these are only selected highlights. For a complete schedule of this remarkable event visit: Isthmus Jazz Festival 2018

________________

A poignant but pointed memorial for a deadly Memorial Day in Riverwest

This small memorial was attached to a tree in Riverwest Milwaukee’s Kern Park, after a fatal shooting on Memorial Day. Photo by Kevin Lynch

 

I’ll get to the city’s latest national exposure for its most recent police brutality and no, it doesn’t have to do with Sterling Brown. But first, this blog strives to take a larger perspective on things like brutality in the big city. I would note a sad and tragic counterpoint to such nastiness, provided by a person who posted a trenchant memorial to a man fatally shot Monday during Memorial Day picnicking in Kern Park in Riverwest, the neighborhood where I live, and a few blocks away from where I type this post.

I truly do love the hip, diverse and gracefully lived-in Riverwest neighborhood, and have celebrated it on this blog. I have resided here for the majority of my adult years in Milwaukee. But I do not want to idealize the neighborhood, rather underscore that Riverwest is part of the real world.
This homicide, which remains an open case with no perpetrator yet caught, occurred in a park that I enjoy and partake of. I frequently go to Kern Park to take its walkways down to  scenic, meandering Milwaukee River pathways. I also sometimes enjoy shooting buckets at the basketball courts faintly visible a ways beyond the “memorial tree” (depicted at top).

Witnesses say they saw the victim, Juan Bernal, on the basketball courts –- when they heard gunfire at around 2 p.m. Monday, Memorial Day.

“Everybody disappeared from the basketball court. He came running across the park and that’s when he fell on the street,” said Janelle Bentson, a witness told Fox 6 news.

An officer and police dog investigate a fatal shooting near the basketball courts in Kern Park in Riverwest. Photo Courtesy Fox 6

Along with flowers, the anonymous memorializer attached – to a tree near where Bernal fell – a small piece of wood, dated “5/28/18” and bearing the handwritten comment: “Don’t worry about the cops killing us, we’re doing a good job.”

The sign appears to address the issue of so-called “black-on-black” violence, part of the larger urban social fabric in America that’s badly torn, and abused and exploited by the institutional racism of Wisconsin’s judicial and prison system. Statistics show that people of color are arrested, sentenced and imprisoned in this state at rates that far exceed the national norm.

Here’s a story that includes comments from the family of 21-year-old Juan Bernal, described as “a poet, a rapper, a teacher and a mentor,”: family speaks out

This haunting photo of the late Juan Bernal was posted on his Facebook page on May 30th, two days after his death. Courtesy Lance Allen

And this photo of Bernal is courtesy of Milwaukee musician Jay Anderson. Thanks Jay, for this beautiful image.

As a Wisconsin and Riverwest resident, my heart aches that the Kern Park incident provided another sort of memorial that expands the sober implications of the holiday, like a steady trickle of blood, that never seems to end.

****

Is it too early to judge what prompted this police brutality in the video below? the Milwaukee Black Panther spokesman addresses the issue succinctly. The video does not show the black youth’s alleged attack on a police officer. You do see him punched twice by Wauwatosa police, and arrested.

“Call my mama, bro! Call my mama, bro!” the youth repeatedly calls out while on the ground and handcuffed behind his back. It hardly seems like the behavior of a person feeling guilty of something. The youth – who allegedly helped cause a disturbance at Mayfair Mall – was released a short time later. After internal investigation by the Wauwatosa police department, no officers involved in the mid-May incident were disciplined.

Unfortunately the disturbing incident again visited national television attention upon Milwaukee this morning on AM Joy on MSNBC.

“There are 18,000 police departments and no national standards for policing in America,” commented Paul Butler, a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, also a former prosecutor and the author of Chokehold: Policing Black Men. “As President Obama says, many young men come into the job with a warrior mentality, rather than a guardian mentality.”

“And the president sanctions excessive force,” host Joy Reid noted, after showing a video clip of President Trump commenting on the issue.

Maya Wiley, Vice President for Social Justice at The New School, added that there are many good police officers who know how to handle such situations, “and feel that this is wrong policing, and we should be thankful for them. But they’re often silenced within the department, and made to feel afraid of speaking out about it. Police officers too often escalate a situation that leads to such excessive force, instead of talking it through calmly.”

And this blogger has posted a number of times previously here and on Facebook, decrying the problem of police brutality, particularly on unarmed black man, which evidently happened here yet again.

Given that this is a culture blog I would remind readers of Blood is at the Doorstep, one of the finest and most moving films I’ve seen in the last few years, which brilliantly and beautifully documents the tragic case of Dontre Hamilton’s death, by a hail of police bullets in downtown Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park. 1

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

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1 At another level of police-race relations, it’s heartening that Starbucks Corporation closed down its hundreds of stores recently for a day of racial-bias sensitivity training after Starbucks employees called the police simply because to black men were in Starbucks coffee shop waiting for a friend. The two men were arrested, prompting outcry nationally and a realization of a problem amongst Starbucks leaders.

 

 

Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer-winning play “Buried Child” rises again at just the right time

The strange perceptual disconnect between Vince (Shane Kenyon, left) and his troubled father Tilden (Mark L Montgomery, far right) charges “Buried Child” with contemporary resonance. Vince’s girlfriend Shelly (Arti Ishak, center) and his grandfather Dodge (Larry Yando, background) look on perplexed, for very different reasons. Courtesy The Chicago Sun-Times

Buried Child by Sam Shepard, Writers Theatre, Glenco, IL, running through June 17.

Glencoe, IL  – A buried child haunts our times, a ghost that rose in uncanny and shocking ways Friday at Writers Theatre in this northern Chicago suburb. As it played out, Sam Shepard’s reputation-forging play Buried Child had perhaps more stunning resonance than it did in 2001, when the Milwaukee Repertory Theater staged it. Even if you saw it back then, it’s worth revisiting, especially now. It’s a weirdly deft admixture of psycho-drama, quirky horror, dark comedy and culture clash. And it closely peels back the mythology of the heartland. Is that notion rotting away, or only in need of air and sunlight? 

Like fearless spiritual homesteaders in dire times, Writers Theatre demonstrated why it has become one of the Chicago area’s premier live theater venues, and it’s only an hour and 15 minute drive from Milwaukee.

What specifically might make such a drive worthwhile? The relevance factor is a hefty reason though it’s far from the only thing. The play felt like an extraordinarily revealing look into the forsaken rural regions of what we might think of as Trump’s America, even if suburban whites actually turned the Electoral College in Trump’s favor. Astute observers now oter that the skewed-to-the-very-rich economics of the 2017 Republican tax cut will deepen the divide drastically further. And with this family’s lack of crops for years, economics is a huge part of the divide in this play as well, echoing Trump’s betrayal of his working-class base, like a sort of narcissistic, weirdly-overfed grim reaper.

This play, which received a Pulitzer Prize in 1979, presages today’s daunting cavern between urban and rural America in both stark and mysterious terms. Even though it premiered in San Francisco’s Magic Theater the year before, and even if Shepard played drums for an East Side New York psychedelic-folk band The Holy Modal Rounders, his play carries only a flashes of baby boomer-type anti-establishment sentiment.  Rather, it exemplifies Shepard’s originality and one-step-removed rural sensitivity, and serves as a living, breathing tribute to the playwright and actor, who died last summer of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) at 73.

Playwright and actor Sam Shepard, who died last summer, exudes a Samuel Beckett-like demeanor in this portrait from 2016. Courtesy The New York Times

Rather than ideology, Shepard once said he found inspiration from a newspaper story about an accidentally exhumed body of a child in a backyard. That became the withering backbone of his play about a mid-eastern Illinois family as diseased as the black, stylized trees on the set appear to be. He charged it partly with his own experience of growing up with a heavy-drinking, mentally-troubled father.

So the play opens with a family patriarch named Dodge staring numbly at a television, hacking convulsively, puffing cigarettes, popping pills, and sneaking shots of whiskey from a fifth stashed underneath the sofa cushion. The first 15 minutes of the play strangely transpire with Dodge enduring his wife Halie’s blathering from an upstairs bedroom. The disjunct symbolism hangs portentously as Dodge clearly subsists in a sort of purgatory, and he’s a pretty good bet for perdition, at any time.

The physical and spiritual disintegration of rural Illinois family patriarch Dodge (Larry Yando) in “Buried Child” is evident in these two sequences from Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer prize-winning play. Courtesy The Writers Theater (top) and The Chicago Reader (above)

Then, today’s miles-deep cultural cleavage between the urban and rural arises when Dodge’s grandson Vince, now a city-dweller, arrives in a surprise visit with his new girlfriend Shelly, after six years absence from family contact.
And yet somehow, he’s become a rank stranger to his kinfolk. Dodge, by turns addled and spitefully pointed, might understandably not recognize Vince. But then, who walks in with an armful of messily-harvested carrots but Vince’s own father Tilden, even more sadly troubled than Dodge, for possessing a conscience. The middle-aged son has fled back home after floundering in New Mexico – and can’t recognize his own son.
This odd perceptual gap lies ripe for interpretation, but today it seems reflective of two very different Americas that seem to perpetually talk past each other and – given this play’s hidden, underlying subject – it evokes the somber saying, “We hardly knew ya.”

The harvested crops also carry peculiar weight. Tilden had previously hauled in an overflowing armful of corn, to the disbelief of both Dodge and Halie, who insist that their back lot hasn’t spawned corn for 30 years. In a stunning scene that closes the first act, Tilden delicately covers his father, now asleep on the sofa, with all the corn husks  he’d just shucked. It’s a  burial of sorts, slightly ghoulish and goldenbut also richly resonant in its visual and organic presence.

Bradley (Timothy Edward Kane), one of family patriarch Dodge’s sons, comes home to discover his sleeping father buried in freshly-shucked corn husks, in Writers Theatre production of “Buried Child.” Courtesy Theater Mania

The urban couple’s arrival signal’s Shepard’s early feminist instincts, as Shelly stakes her ground and identity, and earns grudging respect from the country folk. “She’s a pistol, isn’t she?” Dodge exclaims. Shelly also stands as the fulcrum of relative sanity in the goings-on, especially after her boyfriend comes home raging drunk, seeming just as much of a lost cause as the other family’s males.

Mother Halie (Shannon Cochran) is a case, in her own way, cloaking the family’s secret in bourgeois normalcy, while ever on the edge. She’s also carrying on a barely-concealed affair with a local priest who, despite his counseling background, is utterly lost at sea amid this family’s swirling currents of craziness.

As for the source of the madness, that could be a complexity of factors, but perhaps the deepest of all lies somewhere out in the back, as mysteriously present as the sudden crop harvest. Old man Dodge carries his burden like a shipwrecked Ahab floating back to the surface, with no purpose left, only spite, bile, and self-made doom. Larry Yando manages to reveal some bleakly comical aspects to this character’s roughly-carved visage.

Indeed, the play seems hell-bent on sweeping, in slow-motion, down into an engulfing whirlpool. Then comes the ending, where Shepard brilliantly cuts in several different directions, lending the play a weird suspension, and his finest lines of the script. We hear Vince, in a nightmarish recollection of his intended flight thwarted by ghosts; and then Halie up in her oddly elevated bedroom again, exclaiming, suddenly entranced by the sun-blessed crops she sees for the first time. Her unpretentious aria entwines gritty lyricism and blind pathos:

Dodge? Is that you Dodge? Tilden was right about the corn…It’s all hidden. It’s all unseen. you just gotta wait till it pops up out of the ground. Tiny little shoot. Tiny little white shoot. All hairy and fragile. Strong though. Strong enough to break the earth even. It’s a miracle, Dodge. I’ve never seen a crop like this in my whole life.
Maybe it’s the sun. Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s the sun.

Her clipped, building phrases, reflecting Shepard’s drummer’s rhythmic sense –and his skill with chilling metaphoric analogies – carries potential redemption of the heartland myth. And yet, the long, grim shadow looming over this family will crisscross Halie, and her revelation.

____________

For tickets and other information on WT’s Buried Child, visit: Buried Child

 

 

 

 

The ravages of a still-mysterious fire upon historic Trinity Lutheran Church

Photo of fire fighters battling the Trinity Lutheran Church fire. Courtesy Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Great Gothic shoulders and luminous stained-glass had stood majestically in downtown Milwaukee since 1878. That’s when the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church rose to add its towering profile to Milwaukee’s skyline. At the time, it was surely one of the tallest structures in the city, at 254 feet, perhaps the tallest.

Preceding the 1895 City Hall, The Pabst Building has been claimed by Wikipedia as Milwaukee’s tallest building. But the Pabst, built in 1895, was only 235 feet, and demolished in 1981. Apparently those who determine such things don’t count church spires. City Hall became Milwaukee’s tallest building until completion of the First Wisconsin Center in 1973.

And yet, in one fateful recent day, a fire gutted the grand Lutheran structure, stripped down a spire. The cause of the horrendous blaze remains a matter of question, though heating equipment of the construction crew had initially been blamed.

Another troubling aspect is the report that the construction company working on renovations of the structure — long on the National Registry for Historic Places — did not have a city permit, at the time of the fire.

That story remains to be completely told, but I wanted to convey the actual physical loss of this beautiful church though — in seeing the devastation myself — I could sense some of the spiritual loss of a displaced congregation, from a church which won’t be usable for the foreseeable future, if ever again.

I had coincidentally photographed the church a couple months ago, for a blog about The March for Our Lives event. I simply added the photos as a kind of postscript, because I was so struck by the beauty and structural perseverance of the old church.
So, yesterday in drizzling rain, I went down to see and photograph the charred remains from the fire. Whether the church is salvageable remains in doubt.

The sight of it startled me, moved me to the verge of tears. Nothing remains of the roof but black skeletal rib bones. The south steeple melted down to virtually nothing. And the conflagration consumed much of the interior, previously adorned with sumptuous amounts of wood, including a stately pulpit.

There’s hopeful news though. It is possible all is not lost after the Tuesday fire, an architect told WISN 12 News.

”While the roof burned, the load-bearing walls appear intact,” according to Milwaukee Area Technical College architecture technology instructor Daniel Inyang. That means the church could be rebuilt from the remaining structure, rather than demolish the 140-year-old building.

‘Looking at it initially, since most of the masonry and structural walls are intact, yes, it could be (rebuilt),’ Inyang said. (He) stressed a structural engineer “will have to check the integrity of the walls to be certain.” The fire caused an estimated $17 million in damage.

Donations toward rebuilding the church are being accepted at this site (select “Trinity MKE fund”): SW Wisconsin Lutheran Church Missouri Synod site .

I offer also a few of my photos from March, to remind readers of the church when it remained intact, to measure the loss of this tragic event (Apologies for the rain-spattered lense on a few of the shots below) 

The full profile of Trinity Lutheran Church is now horribly ravaged by fire.

I just came across this stunning photo of the fire-damaged Trinity church, with the sun burning through the broken stain-glass windows in the facade. Courtesy DeSisti ?

The Trinity church in March.

Note (between the two photos above) the total disappearance of the south spire (visible here at the roof intersection of the nave and the north transept), aside from the terrible roof damage.

On the roof, the fire consumed everything but the charred backbone of Trinity.

A view of the damage to the south steeple and the roof and south transept of Trinity Lutheran Church.

These deformed, charred shards are all that remains of Trinity’s south steeple.

Here and above are views of the burnt-out interior of the church through damaged stained-glass windows.

The damage to windows on Trinity’s facade shows how intense fire can actually melt away stained glass.

Trinity’s relatively new church office, connected to the church with a glass-enclosed walkway, was apparently undamaged, and provides functional hope for the church’s future.

Gold-plated candle lighters and snufters, salvaged from the fire, stand in the locked church office lobby for a time when they can do their lighting duty again.

Milwaukee’s historic past — the corner of the Trinity Church, situated on 9th Street and Highland, and present — the new Bucks arena in the background. 

Caitlin Canty and enchanting Three Brothers Farm radiate myriad shades of romance

 

Singer-songwriter Caitlin Canty and pedal steel player and guitarist Eric Heywood perform beside the still-strong sunlight of early evening and below the “field halo” at Three Brothers Farm, outside of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. 

 As I haven’t done justice to Eric Heywood’s artful moans and whorls on the pedal steel, I relate that a man approached me after Ms. Canty’s performance, having heard I write a blog, and told me the pedal steel player created “3-D musical romanticism.”

The romance of Three Brothers Farm radiated even before the early Saturday evening sun flooded into the rustic barn that serves as a concert space. Chicken and sheep wandered around in their spacious areas. For that matter, romance, such as it is, involves the feathered creatures. The hens have virtually free roam of a pasture, with room for mating privacy with roosters and other well being, which helps produce the quality eggs the farm sells, at its events and in area grocery stores. 1

And by concert time, the sun had burned off the rain from the early morning, and overcast clouds had fled. But sunlight couldn’t chase away the rue of my gal pal, Ann Peterson, who was unable to come to what she describes as “the most romantic place I can think of” for a concert. She was babysitting for her very first grandchild, so I took in the show with my friend Steve Hackbarth, an assistant professor of English at Milwaukee Lutheran College, who lives nearby in Oconomowoc. Besides being a Medieval and Renaissance literature scholar, Steve is an acute appreciator of well-crafted song storytelling lyrics and vernacular-music style which, among its various roots, can be traceable to Medieval plainsong.

A cantor like Caitlin knows how to craft a story, whether in the artful form of a song or a confessional anecdote, clearly inspired by this very special place.

Three Brothers helped facilitated her musical relationship with The Punch Brothers, which includes mandolinist and singer Chris Thile, now the host of the beloved NPR radio program A Prairie Home CompanionThe Punch Brothers were performing at Milwaukee’s Summerfest a few years back, when they got wind of her playing not too far away at Three Brothers, near Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Punch Brother Noam Pickelny found time to come to see her and sat in with her at the enchanted venue.

If he or the Punch Brothers fell under a Three Brothers spell, it has continued and enhanced Canty’s evocative artistic endeavors on her latest album Motel Bouquet. One thing led to the next and Pickelny ended up playing lead guitars and banjo, co-writing several of the songs with Canty, and producing the album. Two fellow Punch Brothers also assist on the album: Paul Kowert plays upright bass and, on two tracks, Gabe Witcher plays fiddle.   

She did share some anecdotes about her life on the road that enhanced the romantic atmosphere. This all unfolded with her wide, beaming Julia Roberts-like smile, which also graces her unassuming, self-deprecating humor. She loved the idea of playing while sunlight could still enhance the atmosphere. Then she related, “Somebody said to me, “you are so pale.’ And I said ‘Well, I lived the life of a vampire, also I’m Irish.”

 These were reasons why this was her favorite place to play, perhaps a romantic exaggeration.

“But I normally play in small, dark clubs that smell like year-old beer on the floor,” she explained, as a gentle breeze, sunlight and rustic aromas filled the barn. She also marveled at what she calls the “field halo,” a large, ingenious circular construction of grain grasses bedecked in festive lights, which hovers over the space in front of the stage. (see photo at top). It felt almost like the golden ghost of a hoary, prehistoric buffalo that might’ve once wandered wild in these parts. Meanwhile, the farm’s pet dog wandered eagerly among the seated guests, sniffing for droppings of the delicious stone oven-fired pizza they sell at concerts. But her primary offering was Motel Bouquet, and this felt like an ideal setting to share the complex aspects of romance entailed in the album’s songs.

A view of the farm fields is as clear as a view of the stage at Three Brothers Farm

“Motel Bouquet” cover courtesy americansongwriter. com. All other photos by Kevin Lynch

Which brings us to the music. Her performance consisted primarily of material from Motel Bouquet, which trafficks in plenty of romance but in no simple or facile terms. The cover image conveys the transitory nature of life on the road for a touring musician, and such a person’s romantic prospects. A photograph of a bouquet of vased roses appears to sit on the table of a moving bus or a train, an unsteady situation in itself. At Three Brothers, a similar bouquet of short-lived roses sat right before her microphone, as Canty performed (see photo below).

With the extremely able backdrop of Eric Heywood’s pedal steel guitar, she meandered through the album, almost inverting the song order in a sort of shuffle sequence, like rose petals blown backwards, falling into a trail of memories. The album’s penultimate song, the country twanger “Basil Gone to Blossom,” a metaphor for short-lived romance, came early. And the album opener, “Take Me for a Ride,” closed her concert’s set list.

Her voice is effectively expressive – especially with the sort of swallow-a-word emotional quaver, and the wistful, high-pitched sigh in a phrase: “You-hoo-hoo take me for a ride,” – that disarms the listener, while arming her against further deceit.

Otherwise, her voice has regular-girl qualities and its straightforwardness helps to frame her lyrics without distraction. As a Vermontian, she says she writes from a “cold weather perspective.” Her north country girl’s sensibility arose quickly in “Time Rolls By” which alludes obliquely to Joni Mitchell’s classic “River”: “Time rolls by, another day washes away/with my heartbeat counting the/ time rolling by slowly/ like a frozen river winding to sea.”
She rightly claims the centerpiece of the album is a remarkably spare, almost existential questioning song, “Who.” She had considered it for the album’s title, although she jokingly noted that it would have implied the question mark: ‘Caitlin Canty Who?”  Here, her voice seems engulfed in a cloud of uncertainty, hanging low like a haunting.

You took the salt from my lips

you took the love from my fingertips

you took the red from my mouth

you put the light out

 

Who put the moon in your cry

Who put the wind in your sigh

Who put the sun in your eyes

Who

Then, with Heywood’s steel pealing in the dark, she picked up the tempo, hardened the edge and toughened the hide on “I’m Onto You.” The vamping Lucinda Williams-like lament also references one of that songwriter’s famous images: You pull up the driveway in the following night/ familiar crunching gravel underneath your tires/ wonder why no one bothered to leave on a light/ fumble with your keys blindly step inside/ feel the cold air rush from an empty room.”  

Perhaps this pregnantly hollow scene left Canty fleeing to Motel Bouquet. But this night the troubadour had found a high, embracing barn roof, blessed with long shafts of sunlight, beneath a room full affectionate and engaged listeners. And to the degree such songwriting may be confessional, we can only give thanks she’s finally found a room in a home with a fiddler who can pluck her strings, and stay right beside the fire in her heart.

Several notable singer-songwriters lingered in the crowd, including Peter Mulvey and Hayward Williams, who came up to sing harmony with Canty on a cover of Neil Young’s “She Rides a Harley Davidson,” a perfect love ode for a Milwaukee-area crowd. 

Totally struck by a night that was so “sparkly and beautiful,” Canty changed her final encore to a waltz. The sauntering 3/4 time of “Tennessee Waltz” allowed sparkle into the tempo and the sadness, as she firmed up her tough romantic’s bonafides. The seminal country refrain provided fuel aplenty to roll on down the road, to a blinking-light in the fog, and a low-slung place in the dark, for her to lay her head.  

I left for home with a copy of Motel Bouquet, enchanted memories, and a dozen of the farm’s pasture-raised eggs.

_________

1 I wrote about Tree Brothers Farm as a concert venue in an illustrated survey feature of upper Midwest roots music venues in the “Heartland” issue, of ” No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music, which included quotes from Caitlin Canty. The article and journal are only available in print form. The coffee-table quality book can be ordered here:

Heartland – Spring 2017

 

Milwaukee’s 140-year-old Trinity Lutheran Church before the fire

I was especially disheartened by the news of the terrible fire that ravaged Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church in downtown Milwaukee recently. While walking back to my car after participating in the March for our Lives event on March 24, I passed the church and its beauty and deeply aging majesty captivated me. The cream city brick is especially evident as an ornamental offset to the darker brick, lending the structure a distinctly Milwaukee character.

Trinity’s current location, known as Terrace Garden, was constructed in 1878, and designed by Fredrick Velguth in Victorian Gothic style.  All interior woodwork was hand carved from Wisconsin Oak and Ash.  The pulpit, also in wood, “is a creation of Gothic art.” One fears the fate of  these virtually irreplaceable wood aspects (see last photo below of the interior).

When I took the group of photos below,  I was heartened to see renovations ongoing for  the sanctuary, as well as other apparent improvements. So I empathize with actual congregation members when the news broke recently. I see no symbolism in the accident. I only hope and pray this congregation is not compromising the moral and humane ideals of Jesus Christ, like all to many nominally Christian evangelical churches and leaders in the current climate of purely transactional, divisive, anti-immigrant politics that President Trump has fostered. Trinity is self-described as a “conservative, caring” congregation. It’s important to note that immigrants from Pomerania, Germany founded the church in 1847.

The neighboring community has responded accordingly. Church officials are looking for a more permanent temporary location but this Sunday, May 20, the faithful “will worship together at 10:00AM  on the campus of the Milwaukee Area Technical College in the C Auditorium.”

Several friends have asked me what the source of the fire was. Initial reports said that heating equipment near the construction areas triggered the blaze, but the cause is still under investigation. The TMJ4 report linked here includes the troubling news that the contractors did not have the proper permit for the roof construction underway when I walked by. Their online report includes video of the consuming fire:

WTMJ video and report on church fire

I hope my photos provided some lasting memory of the 140-year-old beauty of the church shortly before the fire. It’s worthy of rebuilding and preservation.

 

Interiors of Trinity Lutheran Church in Milwaukee. Photos courtesy milwaukeetrinity. org. All photos of church exterior by Kevin Lynch