If you asked her, Kathy Naab could write a book: A life remembered




Kathleen A. Naab (June 22, 1953-September 20, 1999) Photo by Kevin Lynch

Blogger’s note: This is the most personal blog (and perhaps the longest) I have written to date, but there is a reason. Yes, Kathy Naab was my first spouse, and she died tragically in 1999, after our marriage ended. And there’s certainly personal perspective, but I post this on her birthday because her story is little-known: She was a cultural person and a significant contributor to Milwaukee’s culture as an entertainment columnist and movie expert. She was also a fairly remarkable person. (Posted June 22 at 8:53 p.m. CST)

I could write a preface on how we met/ so the world could never forget…Then the world discovers as my book ends/ how to make two lovers of friends. — Lorenz Hart, from “I Could Write a Book.”

The moment I first saw the woman who would become my wife was peculiar– the opening salvo of a tiny turf war. I had walked away from the desk that The Milwaukee Journal features editor Don Dornbrook had just assigned me, as a now-regular freelance contributor to his department.

In retrospect, the moment is a measure of the respect that this woman never achieved at The  Journal, even as a full-time staffer: Kathy can share her desk with a freelancer, no problemo.

A decade later, leaving the paper would precipitate her decline.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I was standing a few few feet away from  the desk, and I heard a sound and turned around to see a bespectacled young woman with her palms slapping down several times on the desk. She eyed me with a trace of quirk, almost like a chimp vying for attention. I soon learned it was turf instinct.

“Um, this is my desk,” she said, in her throaty voice, almost swallowing the words. Something in that voice disarmed me.

“Oh, your desk?” is an approximation of my ringing retort. “Oh, excuse me. There must be a mistake or…” We negotiated a bit of shared space and time, exchanging each other’s schedule information.

Actually, I wasn’t really attracted to her right away. At the time, she was quite thin, 5’6” and maybe 97 pounds, with large glasses that accentuated the leanness of her face. In fact, she had the high cheekbones of a beauty, something it took me a while to really notice, partly because of her dazzlingly big peepers.

But her clothes downplayed her looks, almost always a virtual uniform of somewhat baggy brown pants and penny loafers topped by a red-and-brown plaid blouse . She would often sit at her computer terminal with her legs folded over yoga-style. She clacked away at a secretarial speed.

Still, my initial response was shyness perhaps because I was a rookie Journal freelancer and this was actually a pretty woman with a lively and tart sense of humor. And she was a journalist. She started to grow on me, and was very helpful, showing me the ropes of paper, and negotiating the ins-and-outs of the computer system. And she was a font of quick information on many matters entertaining.

I finally got around to asking her out to dinner and a flick because this woman was a movie aficionado. But all I remember is the very end, when I was about to leave her house. I followed her to the door and she turned around and I sort of had her cornered. I decided to move in, for our first kiss. I closed my eyes and planted a fat, wet one — almost on the doorway screen. Surely a demure fly waited on other side for my hungry lips. The question is, who was hungrier, the insect or the guy?

Almost staggering, I opened my eyes.

No Kathy.

I peered down. There she was, sitting at my feet, on her haunches, her green eyes peeking back at me. Our first kiss had suddenly devolved into a guerrilla-warfare tactical blunder.

“Uh, sorry.  Ah dunno, it’s been a while, y’ know,” she said.

“Gee, what made ya do that?” I blurted. But she was too embarrassed to come up with the response I’d have preferred, like “Oh, you really made me weak in the knees.” She slowly stood up and I awkwardly found my labial target.


Life with Kathy was, among other things,  a movie-trivia game par excellence. She was a feature writer, copy editor and wrote a popular entertainment question and answer column for the Journal feature section called You Asked.


Kathy Naab doing some early entertainment “research” that foreshadowed her years as a columnist for The Milwaukee Journal features section. 

In retrospect, the simple selflessness of the column title, a step removed from a servant response, reflected what I would come to understand as her confoundingly low self-esteem. I felt the actual journalist doing the column called for a more clever moniker, which she was fully capable of.

And yet, I would come to understand her critical sensibility was strong, largely influenced by Pauline Kael,  the storied New Yorker film critic who was one of the first to come to terms with addressing middle-to-lowbrow movies that had redeeming value as popular culture. Kathy had well-thumbed copies of all of Kael’s severalvolumes of collected reviews and features centered over our shared desk, along with a small raft of books on entertainment and especially film, such as Halliwell’s Film Guide, Roger Ebert’s very first review collections, and David Thomson’s erudite and often arguable Biographical Dictionary of Film.


Kate Naab (right) was intellectually curious yet unpretentious.

This was all pre-Internet, of course. That’s a big part of why her column was so successful. People still relied on print journalists for information and she provided knowledgeable, bright and witty responses.

Although she appreciated some highbrow music and liked jazz well enough, she loved cultural slumming, with an acute sense of camp. One of her favorite refrains was “It was so bad it was good.”


A punky adolescent Kathy giving a “beach bully” a raspberry.

So she really was fun and easy on the eyes. When she doffed her specs, her deftly made-up orbs and auburn hair – often a stylistic experiment — coalesced with her fine-boned features.

And over the next few years she started to put on a few pounds which was nothing but good on her. I’d like to think her comparative health had to do with the growing happiness of our relationship, but I don’t know.

Most the time, she was perky and sweet, leavened with several shades of snark. Yet she could fall into funks as if she were physically imploding, and sequester herself in her bedroom room for several days, recalls former roommate Annette Gelhar. And she could always out-drink me, like a Frank Lloyd Wright waterfall cascading into the kitchen. At the time, I knew virtually nothing about clinical depression, or alcoholism. In fact, in the 1980s medicine still had a paltry grip on what turned out to be a bipolar condition.

So the ups and downs gradually began to get me in a slo-mo tizzy. We decided to take a break from dating.  I met a stylish, artsy older woman, a painter, and started seeing her.

When Kathy found out, she took a nosedive. A friend of hers finally informed me some weeks later, and we had a talk and ended up getting back together. I think this is when she started putting on a bit of weight. She turned into a fairly alluring woman because she had that almost comical, irreverent personality and keen, pomposity-piercing intelligence.

I never realized she had spent six months in the hospital for anorexia, in her adolescence. She’d always kept that from me. Her younger sister Kris Verdin shared that fact with me recently. The obsessiveness of anorexia may have been an early manifestation of bipolar tendencies, Kris and I both now suspect. Kathy herself said she had “mother issues,” but who’s to say how that played out.


I felt my affection growing for the once-geeky chimp girl I’d first met. I’ll fast forward through the marriage and some good times, for efficiency. But I’ll say we made a great match —  when was she feeling good. We virtually never argued, either.

One delightful trip out east involved me doing an interview in Brooklyn with jazz pianist Cecil Taylor for a Down Beat profile. We also visited Franklin Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, and Bruce Springsteen’s Asbury Park, went upstate New York and hit Cooperstown, the Baseball Hall of Fame, taking our turns in the batting cage with a mechanical pitcher.

A madcap parking-detour trip through what seemed like Milwaukee’s near south side had gotten us to the Brewers’ pennant-winning game in 1982. And then, dashing down to grab a hunk of the dirt from under walk-off game-winner Cecil Cooper’s masterful batting stance felt like a Hall of Fame thrill we shared with Kate’s West Bend high-school pal Ann Rosso.

Also on the New York trip, like countless others, we went to the top of ill-fated twin towers of the World Trade Center. The picture of her up there touches on a token of the paradox of her self-esteem. She was a hearty down-hill skiier. Also, notice the wonderful family photo of her (below) as an adolescent with her three siblings, Bryan, Kris and Steve. She’s momentarily the only one brave enough to peek over the edge of the Olympic-height ski jump they’re clambering on during the summertime.



Kathy atop the World Trade Center in 1986. Photo by Kevin Lynch

In 1989 I finally got a full-time job at The Capital Times in Madison. Kathy was struggling mightily with her un-diagnosed bipolar condition and her drinking. It was tough enough for us to have waited this long for some financial security. We had postponed beginning a family and she was grappling with the idea of moving to Madison.

“Kathy always had a hard time with change,” her sister Kris says. We agreed I would move by myself to start my job as an arts reporter, and she managed to make it six months later.

But those six months entrapped her like the web of a black widow spider. She lost her job, I think due to absenteeism from increased drinking and depression. That isolated her in the Milwaukee flat I’d left her in. I slowly came to realize that her life had grown unmanageable, to use the AA euphemism.


Our “new-and-improved” life was too much of a step for her to take. That’s how much this illness and alcohol can screw up a person’s perspective. At the time, bipolar manic depression still seemed poorly understood even by medical pros and, frankly, very few of the medical people whom I encountered did her much good.

One day I walked into the hallway leading to the bedroom and she emerged very drunk. She retched on the white runner rug. Then she staggered to the kitchen and pulled out a sharp knife and waved it groggily over her left wrist.

I grabbed the knife and quickly got her to a fairly new nearby Madison mental health facility. The main thing they did was give her shock treatments. The facility didn’t last long. And to my own shock, that crude and ugly technique would also be the last strategy tried on her repeatedly before her death ten years later, courtesy of the world-acclaimed Mayo Clinic. To me, the medical system has the most tenuous grip on many mental health issues, certainly bipolar condition exacerbated by alcoholism.

After another sad suicidal gesture in Madison, her father Henry and I took her to the Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital, where she lived, in and out of rehab, for over a year, while I lived and worked in Madison.

I realize I may see a different Kathy in the mists of memory. She never really got with the AA program. She’d work at it, eventually relapse, rehab and, I’m told, struggled with “honesty” as a recovery program issue. Our joint credit card account began bulging with cigarette, medication and “spirits” charges. One friend says she treated me poorly — and she did at times, but I might have neglected her in those too-many months apart, even though therapists and Al-Anon counselled me, for my health, to “detach from my co-dependency.” During the short time she lived in Madison, I had begun facilitating her “jonesing” for alcohol, which I hated doing.

But today, oddly enough I don’t remember much of that as painful, even though it really started to feel crazy for me. The walls sometimes began to close in, at odd angles, with her unpredictability. Kathy was often high maintenance, but not in the sense of a demanding shrew. For as much as she may have asked of me unintentionally, I remember her plaintively asking more often, “D’ya still like me?” even well into the marriage.

She never turned her insecurities into petty domestic tyranny. In the only video of her I know of, we are hosting Easter dinner and as she prepares an excellent dinner. She repeatedly asks me to set a smaller card table for the overflow of people and I — too busy entertaining my family — repeatedly fail to respond. She never gets irritated, as perhaps she should have. She’s having too much fun hosting, and she charms the camera man, my slightly lecherous brother-in-law, without even trying. She had a sort of mania for life, which could be infectious, but which also knocked her down to the mat, time and again.


Kathy, the hostess with the mostest, at least cooking accoutrements.

That see-saw played cruelly with our relationship, especially in those fraught nine months or so we spent together in Madison.


On the last phone call I had with her a few months before her death, Kathy told me of a harrowing experience at the Mayo Clinic and their shock “therapy.” My brain is so fried that all I can do is read mystery stories,” she moaned.

She had been an English major and she wrote a thesis paper on the ultra-literate Henry James. And she was a seasoned and gifted journalist and writer, with a bright and sassy wit to her style. Kathy Naab aspired to be a movie critic and was a true movie expert, which manifested itself in her deeply knowing and researched “You Asked” column. She scorned nationally syndicated entertainment columnist Jay Bobbin for his consistently easy entertainment Q and As.

Having absorbed the writing of Pauline Kael, she found an intellectual role model in the sometimes acerbic and eccentrically brilliant New Yorker critic.They both shared a general disdain for pomposity and an appreciation of both high art’s Jamesian nuances and its snootiness, and that a lot of “trashy” movies can contain their own peculiar redemption, for your apparent time wasted on them.

Kate’s catchphrase “It was so bad it was good” was in a sense, a kind of hip-pocket  aesthetic motto. A person who studied James and appreciated Miles Davis easily rode the ski lift from low to high culture without getting stuck in snobbery. She also loved the big-hearted and cornball sentiment of many musicals, reflecting her experience as a piano accompanist for her high school stage productions. She relished sitting down at a piano and, in her creaky singing voice, plunking out her favorite song, Rogers and Hart’s “I Could Write a Book.” This was Kathy in her element. 1


Kathy with her grandmother Eunice Klumb, part of a musical family. Photo by Kevin Lynch

But she only got one chance to actually review a movie at The Milwaukee Journal in all those years as a full-time staffer who knew as much about movies, if not more, than anyone actually reviewing them. The movie was Ishtar, the 1987 Warren Beatty-Dustin Hoffman revival of the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby buddy movie trope. Most critics sneered at it, but Kathy drew appreciation with a sharp critical aim, like a full-quivered archer. She called it a cinematically rich but over-budgeted screwball comedy-adventure, commenting, “Der Bingle isn’t rising from his grave but he may be spinning in it – and chuckling.” She deftly calls out the established female director for under-serving her female characters: “Setups for some Hope-Crosby-style sparring over (Isabella) Adjani’s affection start to simmer. But writer-director (Elaine) May is merely blowing bubbles. In the end, the talented Adjani has served little more progress than a prop. (Carol Kane and Tess Harper, talented actresses as well, are employed similarly and exit swiftly opening scenes in New York.).”

Kathy also ambushes any politically-correct complaints about Arab characterizations: “Ishtar is foremost a character comedy, next a cloak-and-dagger spoof. But it takes side roads into political satire and culture-clash humor, and they’re wittily, tastefully and incisively done. The Arabs aren’t the boobs; rather Hawk and Lyle (Hoffman and Beatty) are after they don Valentino-style chic garb to elude the CIA operatives.”

But judge for yourself. Here’s Kate’s entire Ishtar review in a newspaper PDF, with a jump to page 4B:http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19870515&id=PV0aAAAAIBAJ&sjid=iioEAAAAIBAJ&pg=2066,6481152

“What a talent!” is how Kathy was succinctly remembered by Jackie Loohauis-Bennett, another very gifted entertainment and feature writer for The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel  who died too young herself.* Kate’s talent was pigeonholed and clearly underused at The Journal.  That situation never did much for her self-esteem, which I’m sure now is a big part of what fed into her cliff plunges into darkness.

Jackie recalled the whole Entertainment Department fell into a quiet hush when I telephoned Kathy’s friend, entertainment writer Tina Maples, with the news of her death on September 20, 1999.

“She was an amazing, blazing intellect, and hilarious, too,” recalls Maples.


Kathy could “blow bubbles” with her nephew Danny, but not like writer-director Elaine May in “Ishtar.” (see above)

I’ll admit that I didn’t have enough understanding of what was going on with her then. In her fateful six months in Milwaukee, after I had started my job in Madison, her drink of choice had become champagne. I suspect she felt it was the one booze with an upper, that gave her a boost to her happily “higher self.”

kathy8Kathy in her bedroom (shortly before I got a job in Madison in 1989) with Irving Penn’s famous portrait of Woody Allen disguised as Charlie Chaplin’s “little tramp.” Photo by Kevin Lynch

When we divorced it was her choice, but it felt painfully like all for the best. I didn’t realize what this would lead to, for her.


At some point, she had fallen for another Milwaukee Psych patient, a smooth-talking but disbarred pediatric neurologist, also with a drinking problem, from what I’ve heard. Finally, she went AWOL with her new lover. When she called to tell me she was in Green Bay with the guy, the news affected me in a surprising way. Oddly, I didn’t get angry or upset. Instead, I felt overwhelmingly dumbfounded.

I went speechless, as if catatonic, for the next few days. It may have been a byproduct of the loss-of-speech-faculties that I occasionally suffer as a symptom of epilepsy. I improbably ended up briefly in Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital — with my still-AWOL wife at the same time, a very bizarre circumstance. When she got back from her romp with the ex-doc, Kathy came to my room and said, “Kevin, I never wanted to hurt you.”

Lame as that sounds, I truly believed her. I could say nothing in response at that time. In retrospect, it seemed a perfect summation of the relationship gulf we’d arrived at. That’s something else the sickness had created, like the devil doing his dirty work, day after day after day, for God knows how long.

Kathy eventually rented a farm house outside of Elroy, Wisconsin with her boyfriend. A few years later, on a fall colors driving trip to Minneapolis, I stopped and visited her. She seemed somewhat happy then. Living out in the country, with a motley menagerie of cats and dogs she’d adopted, was something she always dreamed of.


Young Kathy Naab holds Keetzer the kat, in the backyard of her family home on Western Avenue in West Bend. 

But as AA preaches, alcoholics isolating together is often deadly, especially for the most vulnerable of the two.

After she moved there, her older brother Steve, who lives in Lodi, says he entertained thoughts of going to Elroy and “kidnapping her.” On my visit, I stayed there overnight. Her housemate Craig happened to be gone, probably back in rehab. He called, but she didn’t tell him I was there. When she went to bed, we had a moment that recalls for me the end of the classic screwball comedy The Awful Truth, with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. It’s about a divorced couple who one night end up sleeping in the same cabin together, in different rooms. Like Cary, I had a long pregnant pause at the doorway of her bedroom, as she lay in bed and we bid each other good night. Then she gave me a long look. I’ll bet she thought of The Awful Truth, but perhaps any number of other things.

It did not end, as the movie ends, happily ever after. Had I more courage, had I known… That visit was the last time I saw her. In September of 1999, she died of an apparent drug/alcohol overdose in that same farmhouse, alone. Not long before, she had said to her mother May over the phone, “I’m 47 years old, mom, who would want me?”

What was she was thinking that last dark night of the soul?

“September, November, and these few precious days…”

Her father Henry, distraught at her wake, said simply, “What happened?”

She taught me things of value, including the idea that “it’s so bad its good” isn’t a critical cop-out. It’s a mental spade for digging up the good in even flawed cultural attempts (how many are perfect?), even though I still reflexively suspect many big commercial successes.

But most especially she taught me this: Kathy loved me first, I think, but never forced herself on me. We were “dating pals” until one day I realized what I had, right in front of me. She knew how to “make two lovers of friends.”

Lover and friend. She’ll always be both, in the part of my heart with the small crack in it.


*Award winning Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writer Jackie Loohauis-Bennett died tragically at age 62, from heart failure after coronary surgery in July, 2013.

1 Maybe Kathy was onto something with musicals. There’s a new book out called Dangerous Rhythm: Why Musicals Matter. Partly they matter for their universality, because they easily traverse virtually all story genres, they “contain multitudes,” as a Whitmanesque reviewer recently wrote. Maybe Kathy also felt her exuberant “I could write a book” highs in their delirious production numbers, and her lows in their often-sappy depths. And yet the great musicals accomplish so much. For example, aside from their at-times- transcendent music, the glorious My Fair Lady arguably did more to raise consciousness about class differences, bias and challenges than any other film. And West Side Story brought us deeply into the gang world, then virtually invisible, that would become a pervasive part of contemporary subculture, profoundly impacting mainstream culture. In tackling issues of race, few productions or films ever did so with more indelible style, insight and soul than Porgy and Bess and Showboat.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Henry Naab, courtesy of Steve Naab. 

Special thanks to Steve Naab and to Kris Naab Verdin.



Under Richard Thompson’s spell: From tragic loss to boyish wisdom


Richard Thompson sizzled on acoustic guitar on “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” Courtesy willard’swormholes.com 

The Pabst Theatre crowd leapt to its feet and roared, and you knew he was coming back. Not only that, 65-year-old Richard Thompson suddenly scurried back out to his guitar, like a kid pouncing on a Christmas present.

I’m standing the conventional concert review on its head because, as excellent as Thompson was from start to finish, the surprising end was so remarkable and telling. Thompson proceeded to play a seven-song encore with little prompting, including Otis Blackwell’s rollicking “Daddy Rolling Stone,” and Dylan and the Band’s “This Wheel’s on Fire.” It’s often said that Thompson feeds off of live audiences, and it helped that he was the event’s focal point, unlike his last time in town, when he opened for Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. This was his audience. With all the bobbing gray heads in the audience, maybe he was helping keep us young.

But his boyish playfulness is fascinating to contemplate in that this man began the first major phase of his career drenched in tragedy, which seemed to inform the dark vision that persists to this day and adds edge, and incalculable depth, to his music, given Thompson’s songwriting talent and penetrating guitar playing.

I refer to the cataclysmic car accident in May of 1969 that shattered Fairport Convention, the seminal folk-rock band of which he was a charter member. A van accident killed the group’s drummer Martin Lamble and Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn, a gifted clothes designer, and injured two other band members. Yet, almost miraculously the group sorted through their shambles and psychic damage to produce,  over the next five months, their nonpareil album, Liege and Lief.

They found a way to transmute their musical priorities, to produce haunted originals and a melding of ancient folk songs and contemporary rock. Yet, as with many traumas during formative periods, this one deeply colored this artist’s work. The same seems true of the breakup of his artistically rewarding marriage to Linda Thompson, which produced the masterful Shoot Out the Lights, after Richard left Fairport Convention.

What ensued was one of the most auspicious and consistent careers by a solo artist in modern times. Thompson was always a virtuoso on the guitar and he only grew as a instrumentalist and as a singer and songwriter, as his life experience did. Virtually every album was a novella of raw yet exquisitely crafted observation, rendered in a singing voice nakedly impassioned in its bracing Celtic tones and yelps of anguish, directly releasing the depths of masculine pain, wit, tenderness and irony.

The quality, power and beauty of his song craft would inspire, in 1994, one of the first of the now-fashionable songwriter tribute albums Beat the Retreat: Songs of Richard Thompson, which featured renderings of his work by R.E.M., David Byrne, Bob Mould, Bonnie Raitt, X, Los Lobos, Shawn Colvin & Loudon Wainwright III, Graham Parker, The Five Blind Boys of Alabama and other American and British Isles artists.

Thompson is blessed, or cursed, with an acute and scholarly sense of history, which prompted him to once produce a deeply researched tour and and album presenting, improbably but impressively, 1000 Years of Popular Music.

But for such a songwriter, society is inseparable from music, and an especially memorable life was “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven.” At the Pabst, he displayed razor-sharp political instincts in prefacing the song about a bitter WWII veteran by rhetorically asking: “Are veterans in this country treated like they are in ours, always losing out on their benefits and all?” Perhaps he was unaware of the recent firing of the head of the VA due to pervasive problems in veterans’ treatment and neglect. But his certainty of the song’s timeliness was spot on: “Al Bowlly’s in heaven/and I’m in limbo now.”

Sensing himself in time’s passage, Thompson has never rested on his laurels, and after nearly 40 post-Fairport albums, he’s produced one of his finest in his latest, Electric, the backbone of his repertoire in this tour.

He began the concert with the album’s opener “Stuck on the Treadmill,” which deftly ranges across oppressive work conditions to the threat of automation and the uncertainty of standing up for worker’s rights. It could be the anthem for today’s working-class or the slip-sliding white-collar middle class. He fairly spit out the lyrics: The money goes out/the bills come in/Round and  round we go again/ I come close, but I never win./ Stuck on the treadmill./ Another day of punching steel/ Till my arms too numb to feel/ like a hamster on a wheel/ stuck on a treadmill! The lyric leads to: Strike’s coming, troubles brewing/whole town going to rack and ruin/Next year, what’ll I be doing?/Stuck on the treadmill.

The song resounded like a hammered anvil in working-class Milwaukee and collective bargaining-deprived Wisconsin.

Although many of his songs veer toward the Yeatsian sense of casting a cold eye on life, Thompson, like Yeats, sustains a tough compassion and sense of morality and justice. This was never clearer than on, “Good Things Happen to Bad People”: You stared me down without blinking/that’s when I really started thinking/you must’ve been running around/because you were smiling/Good things happen to bad people/but only– but only– for a while.

Yet Thompson can never be reduced to being merely a brilliant versifier. He knows the power of a lyric ultimately lies in its relation to its music. And he can extend emotional power and even a story’s tone and logic into his superb guitar playing.


Courtesy undergroundbee.com

As with many of his concerts, he let his guitar do serious talking on You Can’t Win, where his sense of outrage and irony sustained profoundly into a deep and wide-ranging solo that brought a standing ovation. This video helped me relive the number, (his solo begins at the five-minute mark): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLypHd3hJdU

He’s less blues-based and falls just shy of Eric Clapton’s peak intensity, yet Thompson. nevertheless sustains power and invention with a flintier guitar tone, an engaging formal logic, and more musical resources — from a slightly outrageous, sometimes sardonic array of dissonant, bent-string chordal shards, to octave leaps, to a melodic sensibility infused with curling Celtic folk melody and harmonic motion, especially the strutting Scottish bagpipe march rhythm, injected into electric guitar.

He possesses a marvelous sense of tension release: From a white-noise roar climax he unfurled a majestic line curling back and lashing itself. I’ve listened to his solo on the above video a handful of times and hear something fresh each time. And his “You Can’t Win” solo at the Pabst was longer, and perhaps better.

During the encore, his finger-style chops positively sizzled on acoustic guitar, especially in his self-accompaniment to his classic motorcycle saga, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”

This trio drives with the propulsive thump of drummer Michael Jerome, who used the whole kit as a sequence of prodding retorts. He fairly thrashes his drums but never laboriously like many rock drummers, rather with a deft, encompassing sense of contrast and accent. This elevates the rhythmic discourse, allowing Thompson’s guitar to up the ante without seeming showy, but riding the tidal crest, underpinned by bassist Taras Prodaniuk, who resembles a youthful David Letterman. If only Dave could’ve jammed with Paul Schafer like this, he might’ve lasted another decade on The Late Show — or had a heart attack years ago.



Richard Thompson’s Electric Trio includes longtime drummer Michael Jerome (above) and bassist Taras Prodaniuk (lower) Photos courtesy gapersblock.com

It’s understandable how the bandleader chose Jerome as a longtime percussion mate, who can be heard and seen as early as 2001 on Richard Thompson Live in Austin Texas (from the invaluable Austin City Limits concert video series). Jerome’s style strongly resembles that of Dave Mattacks, the crucial drummer with Fairport Convention. *

I wrote the above description of Jerome’s drumming and then encountered Rob Young’s excellent characterization of Mattacks. Compare Young’s description: “In his hands, the beats fall with a heaviness that seems to gouge at the earth itself, fleet footed enough to avoid getting bogged down…The funky plod of Mattack’s drumming proves the ideal foil for the mushy instrumental palette of English electric folk, propelling its accordions, fiddles, abrasive guitars and astringent harmonies forward without denying their bulk and grit.” 1

In his current Electric Trio, Thompson feeds off that loamy boil of rhythms and seems to funnel the accordions, fiddles, abrasive guitars and astringent harmonies into his guitar and music.

May he continue to feed himself and his audiences on the most elemental, and complex, of musical experiences, until “the spell is broken.”


* As historian Rob Young has suggested, Fairport was the closest British equivalent to The Band, in terms of its role in drawing from a deep wellspring of folk vernacular sources and synthesizing it into a resonantly hoary musical language and sensibility. Though they sounded very different, both bands helped demarcate post-psychedelic roots music.

For my part, being a huge fan of The Band, I recall playing Fairport’s Liege and Lief as much as I played The Band’s eponymous second album. Both are astonishingly fascinating cultural artifacts and innovations, aside from the supreme quality of the music.)

1 Rob Young, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, Faber and Faber, 2011,





The last of the great 19th-century whaling ships takes another journey, into living history

0613_charles-morgan(1)A tugboat pulls the Charles W. Morgan out to sea for a rare historical informational festival tour about whaling along the eastern seaboard.

We stepped aboard the Charles W. Morgan, and its safely moored equilibrium belied the mighty battles with oceanic waves and sperm whales that it endured in nearly 40 voyages during the mid-1800s, part of the industry that slaughtered giant sea mammals and provided whale-tapped lamplight oil for the world, including Melville’s desk, as he wrote Moby-Dick in 1850-51.

My first instinct when onboard was to look up, to the masthead lookout spot where sailors men took turns peering across the horizon for telltale signs:  a fluked tail, or a misty spout of water or a black hump or, in the case of Ahab’s ship The Pequod, a white hump, “one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air,” as Melville describes Moby Dick.

melville II-another graveyard, mystic, arrowhead - 331

The masthead is the lookout perch on The Morgan where sailors searched the sea for whales. Photo by Katrin Talbot

The Morgan is the only extant ship from the great whaling era, so I was there at its dock in Mystic, Connecticut, doing research for my novel on Herman Melville, along with my collaborator, photographer Katrin Talbot, and her daughter Ariana Karp (also the daughter of Parry Karp, cellist of the Pro Arte Quartet).

As a former mountain climber, my longtime attraction to heights compelled me to gaze skyward, whereas Katrin quickly began exploring the deck and the guts of the ship with her camera, as well as peering straight down over the ship’s side into the sea, not unlike Ahab does in a famous scene shortly before the great three-day chase of Moby Dick, when he gazes into the water at his profoundly conflicted reflection and also sees that of his enigmatic, covert and faintly satanic hired harpoonist, Fedallah.

What Katrin discovered in the water, however, was more ghostly than satanic, a jellyfish pulsing by, in its elegantly spasmodic manner. She caught a couple of shots of this spectral miracle of the sea.

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A spectral jellyfish swam past the Charles W. Morgan whaler during our visit to the ship. Photos by Katrin Talbot

Now I fancifully wonder, was the creature Ahab reincarnated, gravitating to the only vessel in the American coast that resembles The Pequod, his ship, rammed and sunk by the furious White Whale? Has Ahab Inherited “The Whiteness of the Whale” or is the jellyfish the Asian harpooner Fedallah, who is actually the one caught against Moby Dick’s white hide in a tangle of ropes?

In John Houston’s 1957 film version of Moby-Dick, Ahab has the dramatic honor of taking his last ride on Moby’s hide. But in the book, Melville dispatches the self-dramatizing captain with one existential swoop of a harpoon line, and he disappears forever into the sea, until when?

But our recalled trip is now newsworthy in that, after years of simply being a moored museum version of itself, the ship has unfurled its sails and embarked upon the Atlantic once again, in a journey along the eastern seaboard. This is the closest that contemporary culture can come to experiencing and understanding the glory, heroism and horror of mid-19th century American whaling (as documented in “Moby-Dick.”)

According to a recent NPR “Here and Now” report, after five painstaking years of restoration, the ship is ready for another voyage, “not to hunt whales, but to save them.” The ship will stop at various ports for historical presentations to explicate the story of 19th century whaling and to promote understanding of the value of preserving whales, which are still hunted by several countries. Here’s the radio feature:http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/06/13/whaling-ship-morgan

The complex of events will include a life-size inflated replica of a Sperm Whale, and has also generated a documentary film, premiered in May on PBS, on the history of the Charles W Morgan. Here’s a peek at a trailer for the film:http://www.mysticseaport.org/event/film-premiere-of-the-charles-w-morgan/

The Morgan had a complex and often-torturous “37 voyages around the world where this lucky ship survived freeze-ups in the Arctic, attacks by hostile natives, fire aboard ship,” and various other situations, “each of which had the potential to end the vessel’s life,” as recounted on the website of the Mystic Seaport Museum of America and the Sea. 1

The ship is still armed with the rack of harpoons for its killing work.

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The Morgan’s rack of harpoons appeared to have been well used in the mid-1850s heyday of whaling. Photo by Katrin Talbot 

and with the try-works, the two vast kettles, in which the whale blubber was melted down for oil.

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The try-works of the Charles W Morgan, the place where sailors melted giant slabs of whale blubber into oil. Note the two large wooden hangers that held the whale carcass in place while it was stripped of blubber. Top photo by Kevin Lynch, lower photo by Katrin Talbot.

In Moby-Dick, Melville vividly recounts the scene of sailors doing their dirty business with the try-works:

“With huge pronged polls they pitched hissing masses of blubber into the scalding pot, or stirred up the fires beneath, till the snaky flames darted, curling, out of the doors to catch them by the feet. The smoke rolled away in sullen heaps. To every pitch of the ship there was a pitch of the boiling oil, which seemed all eagerness to leap into their faces… Their tawny features, now all begrimed with smoke and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting barbaric brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in the capricious emblazonings of the works.

“As they narrated to each other their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like the flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the harpooners wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully clamped the white bone in her mouth, and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul.” 2

We can be thankful that Thomas Edison invented the electric lightbulb, which effectively brought the peak whaling era to an end. But The Morgan, the one last whaler from that century, serves as a reminder of the institutionalized rationalizations that, at constant risk to underpaid sailors, methodically killed an estimated 236,000 of the largest and most magnificent of creatures on earth.  3



2 Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or The Whale, 150th Anniversary Edition, Penguin, 2001, 463


A clean, well-lighted place: A river runs through Wisconsin’s roots music mecca


Cafe Carpe has been a labor of love, and a family endeavor for co-owners Kitty Welch and Bill Camplin (center) and their offspring, Savannah Camplin (left) and Satchel Paige Welch (top). 

This is an updated version of an article originally published in July, 2010 in YourNews.com, Madison WI edition.

FORT ATKINSON – If the carp ain’t bitin’ folk here just start writin’ – and singin’ and pickin’. Actually locals have caught white bass lately in the Rock River, beside the café named for the infamous scavenger that slouches toward river bottoms. Does the Café Carpe, a rootsy music mecca, befit its homely name?

The music club-restaurant sometime scrounges financially but it basks in the harmonious rays of its self-generated musical sunlight. Truth is, the Carpe’s lovingly tended riverside rain garden, situated just below a screened-in porch, symbolizes the place as well as anything – with its dense growth of eccentric vegetation and a corner configured with small boulders and logs where co-owner Bill Camplin stirs up campfire sing-alongs and the spirit of big sky country.

The gifted singer-songwriter and his partner Kitty Welch began to feed the region’s cultural wellspring when they bought this house on the Rock in 1985. At the time, the tides were rising for roots music and they’ve rode ‘em ever since, through hell and high water. The Carpe still holds steady for hard-scrabble blues bashers and song hawkers who trudge the dusty highways of America’s great, broad hobbled back.

With its weather-beaten wooden sign hanging over the door, the Carpe lies all too easily beneath the suspicion of many locals and regionals. They often can’t sense the level of intensity, ingenuity and engagement radiating from the cozy corner stage in a rigorously enclosed listening space behind the restaurant-bar.


Cafe Carpe on Main Street in Fort Atkinson

Each Thursday through Saturday, an array of local, regional and traveling storytellers and musicians grace this clean, well-lighted place – a Heartland beacon where the hearty literary spirit of American vernacular music burns.

Hemingway is easy enough to imagine at the bar, gradually being stirred by the Carpe’s rough-hewn majesty as a safe haven for musical wordsmiths.

No doubt, the geographic heart of Wisconsin’s roots music voice breathes from the backroom of the sunlit cafe on 18 S. Water Street, a half a block off Main.


Many stripes of musical verifiers here signify a new sort of American Renaissance afoot. No towering Melvilles or Whitmans perhaps, but something else, far more multitudinous, like myriad new hybrids of wildflower appearing along highways and meadows — fresh affirmation of Melville’s fearless confiding: “Believe me friends, that Shakespeares are this day being born on the banks of the Ohio.”

He wrote that in his famous American identity-marking essay Hawthorne and his Mosses, in July 1850. One hundred and sixty summers later, on the mossy banks of the Rock, you’ll find bards brandishing guitars mandolins and sharply drawn metaphors – and a few being born, in effect.

The Carpe has spawned, in its peculiar ways, some superb singer-songwriters: nurturing homebody Camplin, Milwaukeean Peter Mulvey and Jeffrey Foucault who grew up in Fort – and one year “home-schooled” Camplin’s son Satchel — for beer flow at the Carpe. Mulvey and Foucault have forged impressive touring and recording careers, and an even younger breed of “baby carpes”: Hayward Williams, Josh Harty, Blake Thomas and Satchel Paige Welch. Foucault will play the Carpe on June 20 (2014).

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Cafe Carpe was artistically formative for singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault, who performs here with his singer-songwriter wife Kris Delmhorst in a club in Pennsylvania. Courtesy www.pollstar.com

Once America’s great writers spun vast fields of poetic grass or poured Vesuvius craters of ink into great sea novels. Today they just as often let dazzling lines fly from their lips like hungry fish leaping for a firefly and emerging with a whale of an inspiration – a curious illusion possibly effected by the refraction of river water and the Carpe’s hearty port wines.

Their profile slowly rises. The place maintains a vibrant website www.cafecarpe.net, with a performance schedule chock full of artist bios by the relentlessly witty Camplin. Accordingly, his own live performances invariably blend tangential drollery; uncanny, falsetto-haunted crooning and impeccable taste in roots songs, especially his Dylan.

A recent Camplin performance ranged from his poignant character sketch Old Man, Where Are You Sleeping Tonight?  to Townes Van Zandt’s dusty, picaresque Pancho and Lefty, where he called up the two young set openers, Harty and Thomas, for a lovely three-part harmony, a scene typifying the Carpe’s nurturing artistic camaraderie.

The joint also draws diners nightly for trademark homemade pizza and jambalaya. There’s social lubrication available and sometimes a lonely local barfly nursing a tragedy in the bottom of a beer.


Cafe Carpe co-owner Bill Camplin is almost as handy in the kitchen as he is on the bandstand. 

Reality check: some nights the performers slightly outnumber the listeners. This partly reflects a decades-old cultural assumption  – despite Bob Dylan’s long preeminence as America’s greatest living poet – that “folk music” is a sentimental strain of button-down kitsch, a la the Kingston Trio. Consider Gene Santoro’s chapter on “the folk revival” in his excellent 2004 book Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, Rock and Country Music. He describes how blues folk rabble-rouser Dave Van Ronk deconstructed Santoro’s musical expectations of folk when he first heard him in a Greenwich Village club in the 60s.

“Two things I knew even as I was alternately squirming and transfixed through Van Ronk’s show: he was a hellacious guitar picker, a real – and therefore in pop and folk circles rare musician and he was the only white guy I ‘d ever heard whose singing showed that he truly understood Louis Armstrong and Muddy Waters,” wrote Santoro. “When he roared he felt like a hurricane blast shaking that little club.”

Most serious folk musicians have actually strove for Van Ronk’s standard ever since, and many white folksters reveal understanding, in their bones, of the great black fathers of american roots music. Dylan as much as anyone. Today’s folk artists seem to be real musicians for their purposes, while working to raise the bar with good ol’ American competitiveness which nice, pinko communal values still can’t obliterate.

As Armstrong once said: “All music is folk music. Horses don’t sing.”

Camplin has an interesting philosophical perspective on Café Carpe, which he calls a “failure” after 24 years of drawing a deep array of singer-songwriters touring which probably wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t opened the joint when the roots movement first gained traction. Yet he rues the fact he can’t dependably fill the 70-seat music space for traveling performers to make it worth the trip.

Still, they built it and they did come, and that’s where he admits laboriously fitful success.

“There oughta be several places like this in Madison and five in Milwaukee,” Camplin asserts. There’s no comparable venue in Wisconsin, though Milwaukee’s Shank Hall and Linneman’s Inn and Madison’s High Noon Saloon and Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse all add roots musics but none with the frequency, or focused quality experience of listening sequestered from the bar or plying waiters.

Chicago’s fabled Old Town of Folk Music also lends the music but not the intimacy. This remains part of the challenge of this movement, the paucity of small club owners willing to consistently commit to non-commercial, largely acoustic music. But Camplin’s “No Depression” philosophy copes with disappointment serviceably for now.

“I’m enough of a Republican to think that music shouldn’t depend on grants,” he says wrly.

Interpret his political colors from his new unrecorded song “The Fat Cats (are takin it easy),” part of Camplin’s forthcoming album Understory, a rollicking ditty which has had crowds buzzing of late. He’s a small businessman-artist with a big voice and artistic integrity. He expects a standard of excellence and commitment from artists.

“I think more musicians should try to build rapport with audiences rather than doing one-night stands,” he says. “The old jazz players knew how to do that.”

Cultural time may be on Camplin’s side, to see renovated small-town venues like the Stoughton Opera House, which a few years ago developed a full season of largely roots-style performance events that has given Madison’s Overture Center a run for its money. The names Stoughton has hosted recently positively glitter: Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, The Del McCoury Band, Iris Dement, Richard Thompson, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, The Cowboy Junkies, Rickie Lee Jones, John Sebastian, Leo Kottke, Dan Tyminski, the Smothers Brothers and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Gillian Welch plays at Stoughton on July 3 (2014) in a sold-out show.

The fabulously refurbished opera house has whizzed past Overture and the Wisconsin Union Theater as the hippest fancy night out in South-central Wisconsin. The revered Stanley and Tyminski – who dubbed actor George Clooney’s singing on the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Though Thou? were central to the success of that Coen Brothers’ movie, which singlehandedly sparked the bluegrass revival in 2000. Frankly, roots music lovers never had it so good.

This all bodes well for Fort Atkinson’s nobly bottom-feeding river cafe, but not if people simply opt for chandelier shows and neglect the roadhouses that begat each of those big names. Camplin and Welch have persevered with alt-business savvy. Camplin himself is almost as skilled in the Carpe’s kitchen and spent all of a recent Saturday garbed in a white chef’s frock, as he sliced fixings for a scrumptious (I attest) jambalaya and dragged huge, smoking-hot pans of chow out of the ovens.

Veggie chopping is dicey work for a guitarist, he admits. A few Camplin fingertips may have nestled in among the jambalaya ham bits over the years, he half-jokes. The restaurant also has a stable of able cooks, including Welch, and the couple has succeeded well enough to extensively remodel their home above the venue, and add the faintly funky luxuries of a riverfront patio and rain garden.

Their son Satchel Paige Welch, embodies the new breed of musical bard. His name, from the legendary black baseball hurler, bespeaks Camplin’s passion for the American pastime, particularly its dusky heroes like Henry Aaron, who’ll always be a Milwaukee Brave in these parts.

Maybe Paige will be the next Shakespeare born on the banks of an American river. Okay, he was two when his parents moved to Fort Atkinson but Rock River life and culture runs in Satchel’s currents.

He’s patiently cultivating his muse and craft, writing a perfect guitar riff for a Foucault refrain, adding his vocals, bass and production skills to his father’s latest CD and building on the promise of his debut CD at age 18.

This thoughtful, slightly angst-ridden young man bridles at those who persist in asking why he’s still at home, what he’s up to. (He’s since moved to Nashville and is music producing, including his dad’s upcoming CD) His situation mirrors others of a generation that, in hard economic times, has begun investigating older forms by making the past their own, like his friend Alex Ramsey of the excellent alt-country folk band The Pines, who also lives at home biding his talent. Ramsey’s father Bo added quietly dazzling resonator guitar to Foucault’s Ghost Repeater CD.

These are also children of better-know entities like the 30-year-old public television phenomenon Austin City Limits, the mushrooming annual South by Southwest music conference, also in Austin, Texas, a profusion of roots music festivals nationwide and the Americana Music Association.

Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch, Norah Jones, Justin Townes Earle, Hayes Carll, Josh Ritter, Tift Merritt, Diana Jones and recent Oscar-winner Ryan Bingham are a few of the big young talents on the roots scene. Such young talent represents the fresh warm crust of a deep dish pie of performing talent many years in the baking, and brimming with the mature fruit of previous Carpe performers, including Peter and Lou Berryman, Greg Brown, Rory Block, Ronny Cox (a singer songwriter best known as a film actor (Deliverance, Bound for Glory), Cliff Eberhardt, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Sleepy LaBeef, Country Joe McDonald, Geoff Muldaur, Utah Phillips, Jim Post, John Renbourn, Dave Van Ronk, Claudia Schmidt, John Stewart, Eric Taylor, Tony Trischka, Dar Williams, Robin and Linda Williams, among others. The Carpe has also hosted a reading by legendary author Ursula K. LeGuin and a political stump speech by legendary songwriter Carole King.

But don’t sons and daughters typically reject parent’s values and aesthetics? In fact, a whole generation of musical artists is asserting identity on their own roots-related terms, shaping new styles from re-thatched sprigs of the past. Such identity factors may account for more than any rekindling of the idealism their parents professed to change the world with, Paige says.

As he puts it: “I’m trying to globalize.” Then you hear his own generational idealism, sans transformative notions: “Why speak to one culture when you can speak to all cultures? If I’ve developed my style or voice right, it’s really important that I communicate with an 80-year-old as much as I do to an 18-year-old.” He slightly brings to mind the ambitiously the real, old Satchel Paige, who made America love him on his own terms, mythical or not.

In The Roots of Romanticism, philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote that the profoundly influential Germanic Romantic movement, which championed folk music and dance, asserted that culture involves “an infinite striving forward on the part of reality.” Folk art communicated the growth of human groups for which “organic, botanical and other biological metaphors were more suitable” than “chemical and mathematical metaphors of 17th century French popularizers of science.”

“Truth is like a pearl,” Foucault sings in the song City Flower. Increasingly creative young Americans like Satchel Paige, following his namesake, aim for the outside corner of destiny, mixing pearls with their knuckleballs.


Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by Kevin Lynch

  1. Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, Rock and Country Music. Gene Santoro, Oxford University Press 1994 p 104
  2. The Roots of Romanticism Isaiah Berlin, Princeton University Press, 1999, p 101
  3. Ibid pp. 59-61.

Critic Gary Giddins scurries up the masthead of The Pequod. What do you think of Moby-Dick?


“Moby-Dick or, The Whale” By Herman Melville. Published in 1851. Image courtesy of lukepearson.com 1

On the other hand, I have to say, I don’t think anyone owes Amazon or any of these websites any favors for unleashing amateur critics. Some idiot will write, Moby-Dick is a bore. I hate Moby-Dick.” Who cares about these people?  — Gary Giddins

I know that out-of-context quote is a little edgy, but I like the handle Gary Giddins has on things, the handle that brandishes that edge. The prize-winning critic, 2 best-known for his masterful jazz criticism, has also authored a Bing Crosby bio and nifty book on the history of film, Warning Shadows: Home Alone with Classic Cinema, from “the first moving pictures and peep shows” to today’s online streaming. He made the comments in a 2010 interview with JerryJazzMusician. 3


The distinguished American critic Gary Giddins

It’s a great comment on the state of mass media today in relation to criticism at a time when the notion of “everybody’s a critic” is more facile and, perhaps unfortunately, truer than it ever has been.

I’m all for hearing everybody’s critical opinion, but I agree with sports talk-show host Jim Rome, who says to radio show callers, “Have a Take.” Same thing should go for the Internet — whether an Amazon customer review, Facebook, a blog or especially Twitter.

In other words, use your brain cells as best as you can before you make your opinion public. That ain’t so unreasonable to ask. And believe me, I have to ask it of myself every time I post a blog, and I do try to do the same for Facebook.

Now, I know a couple of people who found Moby-Dick somewhat of a bore in not-so-many-words and they’re people I still care about. But I doubt they would be “idiotic” enough to post that opinion on the web.

Such opinions will never deter me from saying Moby-Dick is the greatest book I’ve ever read, and surely The Great American Novel.

I’m also struck by the way the Moby-Dick example arose seemingly spontaneously, in the Giddins interview, when they weren’t even discussing literature. So it’s a wonderful way of suggesting Moby-Dick is a litmus test for cultural literacy. Or, in Giddins’ terms, anyone we ought to care about, at least they’re critical opinion.

OK, I also know plenty of smart and fairly literate people who haven’t read Moby-Dick yet.

Another friend of mine called the experience of reading it “brutal.” But I really think he somewhat forced himself to read it, for his own probably admirable reasons, rather than out of the pure, unadulterated desire to read it.

Try that, like I did. Moby-Dick is best off being embraced as a reading experience.

My point of view is reflected in a very literate but honest friend of mine (who is also a jazz musician and a likely Giddins reader), who once admitted to me, “I didn’t get all the way through Moby-Dick. I feel like I’m not fully an American.”

I felt I finally began to know and understand America when I read Moby-Dick. From that day, I mark myself as having fully become an American. I also became somewhat of an “Americanist,” If I wasn’t one already, because the nation and its culture became intensely more fascinating to me. The so-called “American Renaissance” gradually began to mean to me that this nation’s literature sort of grew up in the 1850s, ironically and not un-coincidentally, shortly before the nation was about to come to cataclysmic terms with its greatest original sin, slavery.

I think reading Melville’s book is as much of an honor and a privilege as voting, though reading the book is a more memorable, challenging, transporting, exciting and enjoyable experience.

Although I’m asserting a “critical” opinion, my ultimate purpose is to be inviting about this, especially in the virtual-dialog ideal of a blog, where comments are always welcome, indeed encouraged.

Do you have a take on Moby-Dick? Your thoughts need not be long, just reasonably well-considered. And don’t worry, you can say “Nope, don’t like it.” But say why you don’t.

So friends, what do you think of Moby-Dick?


1. The artistic rendering, by Luke Pearson appears to be a linoleum cut and it caught my eye as a stylish, fresh visual representation of the book, and as a nice artistic allusion to the style of Rockwell Kent, whose famous series of woodblock cut prints first charged my imagination about the book and became the definitive illustrated edition of the Melville’s masterpiece in its 1930 Random House edition.

My only caveat with Pearson’s fine design is a slightly pedantic one. It’s in easy mistake to make (and the blog that quoted Giddins made the same mistake), The name of Melville’s book is Moby-Dick with a hyphen between the two names.

However, when Moby Dick the whale is referred to in the text, it is without the hyphen, some odd compromise that occurred in publishing the book. But any reference to, or  rendering of, the book title should include the hyphen.

2. Giddins’ honors include a National Book Critics Circle Award for Visions of Jazz: The First Century, and an unprecedented six Deems Taylor Awards for music book authorship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Peabody Award in broadcasting, among others.

3. http://www.jerryjazzmusician.com/2010/06/giddins-jazz-warning-shadows/