Discovering Ecuador’s color, bounty and majesty in August of 2014


Oh, what I would’ve given to have stood this close to the volcano Cotopaxi, as did my sister-in-law Kris Verdin.

The hydrologist — with the US Geological Survey in Boulder, Colorado — took a wedding anniversary trip to Ecuador with her husband Jim last summer. I was so struck by her photographs that I invited her to be a guest photography blogger for Culture Currents.

The shot above, of a shepherd with her flock in a field, beneath the great volcano Cotopaxi, has been my computer desktop screensaver for the last several months. As I’m a sucker for landscapes and cityscapes, I love the undulating even sensual form and depth-of-field in these marvelous views.

The shepherd with the mountain has four vistas — in the extreme foreground you have the richly textured wild grain. As as the view recedes you see the shepherd and her sheep, and then some of the sinuous landscape and the gracefully descending skyline from left to right. And then, finally cloud-hooded Cotopaxi looms in the distance.
The mountain’s legend so captivated 19th-century American landscape painter Frederick Church that he traveled to Ecuador to see and paint the fiery peak. I saw his astonishing canvas in an exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2004. Standing before the large image, I felt a slight vertigo, from the viewer’s precipitous vantage point — above a yawning abyss leading to a waterfall in the middle ground and the impossibly tranquil lake above, not far from the volcano. One imagines Church’s lungs filling with the acrid smoke billowing from the volcano. But Church stood there en plain aire and captured it’s fulminating glory (see the painting reproduction below and my review of the exhibit in footnotes.)
Verdin’s photo image is far cooler, distant and pastoral, and the quiet volcano hovers like a great, gray ghost guarding the shepherd’s flock.
For me, that photo should be a prizewinner for the multiple viewpoints and history it encompasses. I suspect Kris’s knowledge and awareness as a hydrologist attuned her to some of the landscapes you see.

Notice the sumptuous natural beauties of this land, as well as the ways the local architecture configures with the landscape.

The native inhabitants appear colorful, friendly and rich with family tradition. The final photo is of Kris herself, taken by Jim Verdin. Here are Kris’s comments on some of her photographs.

“The cathedral is the Basílica del Voto Nacional or ‘basilica of the national vow.’  The gargoyles are on the outside of that building.  The beautiful woman with the colorful dress had just been performing inside the building and I caught her outside while changing.”
“The people in the street scene were photographed from the train.  They came down to wave to the train passing through.  You can see stacks of sugar cane in the back… others were pressing the cane into juice and selling it.  I think there is another photo of a woman pressing cane juice (see below).”
sugar.Hey, Watermelon Man! to quote Herbie Hancock.
 To quote Herbie Hancock, “Heyyy, watermelon man!” This you tube of Herbie playing his Latin groove hit tune might be a soundtrack for this photo essay. Click on it then click back to this blog. Hear the title phrase in the opening line the horns call out, over the cobblestone-street rhythm: 
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Quito, Ecuador.
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Hats for all these residents in Ecuador, in August? This must be in a high mountainous altitude.

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Kris ecuador

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Verdin writes: “This picture (above) is of the Rio Bamba.  We rode from Guayaquil to Quito, from the coast, through the lowlands, into the mountains. Here’s the brochure with the itinerary:
“How’s your spanish 😉 ?
“The first day of the trip we rode through lowlands with cocoa plantations.  The pictures at the beginning of my album give you an idea of what that part of the country was like.  It seemed much more depressed than the other, higher elevation, parts of the country.  It just may have been the landscape that made it seem less prosperous.  Once we got into the mountains, people seemed to be living off the land more.  We would be riding through wilderness and I would spot someone herding their animals on rugged mountainsides at pretty high elevations.”

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These Ecuador families came down to wave to the train carrying Americans Kris and Jim Verdin. Kris also saw women pressing juice from the sugar cane stacked in the back ground.

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A striking view of Basílica del Voto Nacional or ‘basilica of the national vow,’ which lords over Ecuador’s capital city of Quito. “The vista with the basilica in the back is of Quito, taken from a restaurant that had great views of the city,” Verdin commented.

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A detail of armadillo gargoyles on the façade of Basilica Del Voto Nacional. The armored, ant-eating mammals, indigenous to the Americas, still live in the wilds of South America.

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Kris photographed this beautiful young native woman with her stunning garb exiting the basilica, after she performed at a service or celebration in the church.

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Kris Verdin (foreground), making friends with a llama, took all the photographs reproduced above. This photo is by Jim Verdin.


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“Cotopaxi,” Frederick Church, oil on canvas, 1862 (I recommend zooming onto this image to get a better sense of this huge painting. Notice details such as the birds flying in the lower right corner and, in the lower right, a native with a llama, which seems to  peer at the birds far across the abyss.)  

Review of art show including Frederick Church’s epic painting of Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador:

part 2 of review jpg.:scan0390

part 3:scan0419

Trumpeter Jamie Breiwick “dreams” of Thelonious Monk’s music

Jamie B

Trumpeter, bandleader and Monkophile Jamie Breiwick will lead Dreamland in a concert of Thelonious Monk music at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts at 8 PM Friday, January 23.

Dreamland will perform at 8 p.m. January 23 in The Dawes Studio Theater of the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, 19805 W. Capitol Dr., Brookfield. For information and to purchase tickets, call 262-781-9520 or visit

Was it all just a dream? Mystery still shrouds “Dreamland,” but Racine trumpeter Jamie Breiwick is convinced it’s a Thelonious Monk composition, though its provenance remains hazy. Monk is a closely-examined jazz composer, by musicians, writers and scholars. In his exhaustive 2009 biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Robin DG Kelley calls the tune “a bit of a mystery,” as an “old-fashioned ballad that sounds as though it could’ve been written in the 1920s. Monk never copyrighted it, rarely performed it, and only recorded it once…he never spoke about it or explained whether it was just an old song or his old composition.” 1


Thelonious Monk, early in his career, when he composed many of his most fascinating and enduring compositions. Courtesy

Unsatisfied with the recording, Monk refused to release it. Monk’s 1971 live solo piano version is listed as “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland,” a 1904 song by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Wilson, which doesn’t resemble what Monk plays. “Perhaps it is a sketch for a song he never quite finished,” Kelley speculates. 2

The intrigue led to immersive investigation by Breiwick, one of the Milwaukee area’s most intelligent, gifted and resourceful musicians. The trumpeter’s Dreamland group — pianist Mark Davis, bassist John Price, and drummer Devin Drobka — plays mostly Monk, and hopes to make a live recording later, at Milwaukee’s intimate Jazz Estate.

“I realized there is something deeper to Monk and I had to study him further,” said Breiwick.  “Dreamland” is uncharacteristic Monk. Not that the pianist — deemed a radical and atypical bebopper in his early years — was incapable of reaching into the past or romance. His most famous composition, “’Round Midnight,” broods deeply in romantic loss. His playing draws on stride piano, an anachronism to boppers.

“Almost any musician who has depth in their playing has investigated Monk,” asserts Breiwick, also a talented educator. He teaches at Maple Dale School and UW-Milwaukee, and was a semi-finalist for the first-ever Grammy Music Educator Award in 2013. He also co-founded Milwaukee Jazz Vision, which advances and promotes jazz and creative music. Among, those directly fueling Breiwick’s Monk obsession were drummer Drobka, who deftly executes Monk’s hole-in-the staircase rhythms; former Milwaukee pianist Barry Velleman, and former Monk sideman Steve Lacy.

Breiwick also gigs regularly at the Mason Street Grill with Mark Davis, who studied with pianist Barry Harris, who lived with Monk toward the end of the reclusive musician’s life.

“Then, I found in the bowels of the Internet, 20 pages deep into Google, a discussion in which someone said they saw Paul Motian play it at The Village Vanguard,” Breiwick relates. “The chart just said ‘Dreamland.’ Then it said ‘Monk played this.’” Motian recorded “Dreamland” with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano on the album I Have the Room Above Her.

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Paul Motian recorded one of the few known covers of “Dreamland” on this album.

“I was drawn to (Monk’s music) because of how it made me play,” Breiwick says. “It takes you out of your comfort zone in dealing with the harmonies. But the tunes are timeless and modern. I can’t imagine what people thought about them back in the ‘40s.”

Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy understood them, by the 1950s. Breiwick also delved into Steve Lacy: Conversations, a book of interviews with the musician who — after learning, performing, and recording with Monk — dedicated much of his career to the man’s music, starting by making the first recording of it by anyone besides Monk, the album 1959 Reflections.

A crucial recording for trumpeter Breiwick was Lacy’s 1962 album Evidence with trumpeter Don Cherry and the marvelously musical drummer Billy Higgins. Breiwick feels that Cherry had as good a grip on Monk’s slippery rhythmic and harmonic turns as any brass player. This is partly because Cherry, who came to fame with Ornette Coleman, is amongst the freest of jazz trumpeters, so he’s not hidebound by the fast, linear bop conventions that Monk’s sly, mad-scientist structures tend to undermine.

Like Cherry, Breiwick’s thinking and improvising in Monk’s music works more off of motives — or melody fragments — rather than the chord changes, he says.

But conceptually many of his cues come from Lacy, one of the most interesting and allusive thinkers in jazz, who often collaborated with poets and painters.



 Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy made this recording with Monk, and became one of the most probing investigators and interpreters of the man’s sometimes mysterious music. 

In a sense, a typical Monk composition seems dreamlike. It consistently takes odd, seemingly illogical turns, and often uses shadows of silence. Yet it invariably coheres, and sometimes haunts the listener, as a captivating — if strange and often humorous – tale of rhythmic, melodic and harmonic intrigue.  One tune is called “Misterioso.” Another,  “Evidence,” with more silence than notes, sounds like a zombie skeleton, slowly gaining speed. Though reflective-sounding, “Dreamland” obliquely fits the Monk scenario.

When Breiwick refers to “any musician of depth,” I think he has foremost in his mind saxophonist Steve Lacy, whose incisive, spatial horn approach to Monk he is studying intensively.
Lacy was a student of jazz, of the arts, of philosophy and most especially of Monk’s music. During a short stint with Monk in 1960 he became a functional acolyte, and used a ring-bound notebook which he filled up with Monk’s wise, sometimes pragmatic and sometimes enigmatic utterances.
Departed Pianist Barry Velleman, the best Monk interpreter I’ve ever heard among Milwaukee musicians, not only influenced Breiwick but gave him a copy of Lacy’s Monk gleanings, which are now widespread on the Internet. (see Lacy’s hand-written page below).

Before even joining Monk, Lacy recorded two challenging Monk pieces on his own album The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy. He followed that with the all-Monk album Reflections: Steve Lacy plays Thelonious Monk In 1958. That album includes Mal Waldron on piano, whose sensibility and mentality hewed as close to Monk’s flinty sort of rhythmic cubism as any of that generation of pianists. 3

Evidently, Reflections impressed Monk enough that he hired Lacy, who had previously played with the extremely challenging and liberating avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor. Taylor once took his entire band, including Lacy, to see Monk group perform, according to Monk biographer Kelley.

By the time Lacy went in to the studio to record Reflections, “he had learned about 30 monk tunes and listened to Monk records hundreds of times.'”

Lacy continued investigating, playing and knowing Monk’s music in so many ways, throughout his career including several striking recordings with a piano-less quartet with the great trombonist Roswell Rudd, notably School Days, which Breiwick has discovered and examined.

Lacy seemed to pursue a studied inference, suggesting that you can never fully master the music, just get closer to it, to approach Monk’s almost Buddah-like presence as part of your body, hands and spirit. Lacy also intensively studied the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, and the philosophic process of the Tao, which is “an active and holistic conception of Nature, rather than a static, atomistic one.” 5 The Tao or “The Way” is circular in its formal sense, best signified by the frequently reproduced symbol, called Taijitu:


As Lacy said to interviewer in April 1965: “I’m a big one for words. I’ve read a lot, especially by and about artists. So I have a head full of notions, and that isn’t always good, you know. The instinctive silent life is beautiful too. It has advantages that the other doesn’t.”

Interviewer : Is this Monk’s life?

It’s funny that you should say that, because I was thinking about Monk, although he’s more articulate to himself than most people realize. He doesn’t feel it’s necessary to verbalize, and he’s right. If you got him at the right time, you’d get a lot of meaningful words with a lot of silence around them. You’d have to leave the silence around them, or you would spoil the proportions.” 6

So Lacy understood that the pursuit it is both a formal study, and an intuitive one. Breiwick, who listens to a wide range of creative and popular music, seems to understand that balance as well.

In fact, Lacy’s pan-cultural study, at one point, turned on Monk himself.
During a big-band rehearsal of Monk’s music, Lacy once informed him “that he was listening to ‘Eskimo music … the wildest African shit you’ve ever heard, Chinese music… even the music of porpoises.”
Monk then explained to the group, “They say if you can ever make a tape of a porpoise and played it back, down slow enough, it is the same as the human voice. They are so close to the human species. Because they had the same box here (pointing to his throat).”

Monk then continued to expound about how porpoises have the rare sonar ability “to sense everything around them,” biographer Kelley writes. 7

One of Monk’s koan-like utterances was “always know,” a play on words which you can read as “all ways know.” That notion opens one’s mind up to new angles and, it would seem, all the spaces and silences between them.

In his under-appreciated 1997 biography of Monk, Laurent de Wilde wrote:
“Monk is everywhere at the same time. His mastery of time is such that he seems to be emancipated from it. And the silence that he uses with such finesse is not really the suspension of time, as it is for that other master of understatement, Ahmad Jamal, nor the supreme and minimal form of elegance it is for Basie. On the contrary, it is a necessity which dazzles the ear. No, the silence is only a portion of his total music, all the more striking because it is unique. It is a creative tool, sort of audible and quantifiable phenomenon which is assigned a much rarer riskier enterprise: that of inventing time.”

Is Monk’s saying “all ways know” merely the kernel of a bud of circular reasoning, or something else, that reason knows not of? Like the Tao? Or the sonar mind of porpoises?

Or did he set out to reinvent time? Just maybe, Dreamland will reveal some answers. Welcome to the waking dreams of Thelonious Monk and Jamie Breiwick.

lacy monk notes

Steve Lacy’s written notes documenting Monk’s advice, courtesy Jamie Breiwick and

jamie abstract


Photos of trumpeter Jamie Breiwick (top and bottom) by Bryan Mir, courtesy of the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts.

Image of The Tao or Taijitu courtesy

1 Robin D. G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Free Press, 2009, 243

2 Ibid. 515

3. Lacy’s first Monk album, Reflections, is now available on a two-fer CD titled The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy, coupled with Lacy’s third album as a leader, on Solar Records. Among other Lacy recordings that investigated Monk are: Evidence with Don Cherry on Fantasy/New Jazz; School Days, with Roswell Rudd on Emanem; Monk’s Dream, a  2000 quartet recording with Rudd; Only Monk and More Monk, all on Soul Note; and We See: Thelonious Monk Songbook on HatOLOGY; and a live 1962 duet album I Remember Thelonious on Nel Jazz, with Mal Waldron (who’s stuck with a bad piano).

4. Kelley, 291

5. In 2004, Lacy’s group recorded a two-CD “free jazz” interpretation of The Tao called The Way, on HatOLOGY.

6..Jason Weiss, ed., Steve Lacy: Conversations, Duke University Press, 2006, 30

7. Kelley, xvi

8. Laurent de Wilde, Monk, translated by Jonathan Dickinson, Marlowe & Company, 1997, 212

A shorter version of this article was published in Shepherd Express at

Titian’s “Christ (the Humanist) and the Adulteress”


Titian, Christ and the Adulteress, 1508-10. courtesy Milwaukee art Museum

My good friend Ann had me pegged as a pure modernist partly for my obvious interest in
abstract art, which she saw in much of my own artwork done largely during my
undergraduate years.

But my art interests, as with music, range far, and I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum’s
recently closed Of Heaven and Earth: 500 years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums1 with great anticipation. Well more than a
handful of paintings impressed me, but notably Sandro Botticelli’s The Annunciation, Cavaliere d’Arpino’s Archangel Michael and the Rebel
Angels, Salvator Rosa’s magnificent paired historical landscapes
St. John Baptist revealing Christ to the Disciples and St. John the Baptist
Baptizing Christ in the Jordan, Carlo Dolci’s Salome, Antonio Mancini’s The
Sulky Boy, and Vincenzo Camuccini’s Death of Julius Caesar, each showing the artist’s depth of involvement in his art, wholly compelling as a historical and cultural story.


Botticelli, The Annunciation, oil, 1490-95. Courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum 

However, one painting utterly captivated me, above all.
And it has prompted more contemplation than any single work of art I’ve seen in quite some time: “Christ and the Adulteress” (c. 1508-10) by Titian (Tiziano
It possesses great intellectual challenge for what it depicts and great
humanity and beautiful mystery, for how it depicts.

The show appears to have been curiously undervalued by Midwestern critics, from what I’ve read. I imagine resistance from the show’s extensive Christian subject matter especially in a time of such religious and secular polarization. Or perhaps the desire was for more contemporary and “relevant” art. One reviewer even commented that
the extraordinary painting by Titian provided little more than a
showcase of fine fabric.

First of all, it’s hard for me to imagine this great artist taking on such a subject as this painting without striving for all the power, human
drama and beauty he could muster.

Titian’s work does radiate an array of warm and cool textural splendor. But those
qualities reflect Titian’s sense of truth in beauty, or beauty as truth.
As a composition, this brims with eccentric form, in the figures’ situation and
interaction, and in how the shading and shadows create uncertainty and even muffled

Christ is seemingly seated, perhaps almost on the ground and he reaches out from a dark
corner to grab the arm of the Pharisee who has apprehended the woman.The official had
tried to trap Christ into refusing to support Mosaic law and demanded that the woman be
stoned to death.
We know the story for the pointed eloquence of Christ’s challenge:
‘Let he who hath not sinned, cast the first stone.”
This crucial moment helped seal Christ’s human fate. Yet, he exhibits, among other
things, an enlightened feminist perspective because we know that an adulterous man in
Jerusalem at the time hardly would be treated so.

I see Christ as one of the great humanists of his race, of history.
Frankly part of my motivation for writing this is also disappointment in my
having invoked Christ in a couple of recent blogs which received no responses, even given
their political subject matter — the notorious recent police killings of unarmed
black men, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recent “voice from God” telling him he must run for president.
I fear that too many of both my close and casual humanist friends — secular humanists
more precisely — resisted the contextualizing of socio-political matters
that invoked such a religious figure as Christ.

But I believe, as I think Titian does in this painting, that Christ was as great a human as
modern history provides, regardless of whether he was “the son of God.” A trope perhaps, but true nonetheless.
More to the point, he exemplified a human engaged in his time and society, the political zealot, the determined dissenter.
That’s the man I see in this painting, even though Titian cannily cloaked him in the
sublime shadow he still deserves.

For me, this was the single highlight of my art-viewing year. And this painting is such a stunning experience because of how it radiates in
human breath its beauty and verity. “Let he who hath not sinned cast the first

One of the clearest pronouncements the man ever made also provides pause for
anyone reflecting on judgment of others. It is not, however, saying “cast no judgment
when it is due.” Christ pulled the woman aside and told her to “go and sin no more.”
He judged her a sinner, but forgave her and administered the most fundamental of

Another intrigue: This foreshadows Christ’s relationship with Mary of Magdalene, whom the
gospels characterize as a harlot, thus doubling up on his evident mercy towards
unholy women, which certainly could have been partially carnal attraction, on his part.
Mary Magdalene is the archetypal human sinner in Christ’s personal life and she’s so
overcome with gratitude for his mercy and love that she returns it, following him to his
crucifixion and grieving there with his mother.
Of course, pop culture’s most recent “bible,” The Da Vinci Code, bases its story on the
premise that Christ not only married Magdalene but survived the crucifixion and
raised a family. The evidence for this still appears quite dubious.

But who’s to say today? He may have given his life for Mary as much as for all. He was a man and I think most heterosexual men need a woman to inspire them, to make them better, as women like to think. The delicious irony is that a sinful woman could inspire such a holy man.

That partly explains the inspired moment in Titian’s telling of this painting’s story. The
adultress has no idea that this mysterious, kind and political man might spare her execution, as the painter shows us in her abject, despairing face and hands. Her true
judge determines she has suffered human-administered penance enough, unlike those
responsible for the Great Recession, who received “absolution but no penance”, as
Charles Pierce wrote in a January Esquire article about Barack Obama and America today.

Finally, as I’ve alluded to, the depiction of Christ himself is a masterpiece of deft
understated evocation. His arm is oak-branch firm, as if reaching out
from heavy undergrowth — to stop the Pharisee in his tracks, a sort of force of
human nature. Also the entwining extension and contortion of Christ’s body adds up to a
superbly paradoxical configuration, a way of balancing composition that is filled with
grace and yet forthright and assertive. His head is magnificently shadowed and he
remains a man of abiding mystery. The painting’s asymmetry and peek-a-boo handling
of space are quite modernist.

Most of all, I see Christ the road preacher as a great humanist. If the painting has the
hint of romance, it speaks to a question that Leon Wieseltier addressed in
his essay in the January 18 book review of The New York Times titled “Among the
Disrupted.” He began by commenting on how “the greatest
thugs in the history of the culture industry have destroyed our bookstores and
record stores” and refers of course to “all the miracles of electronic dissemination,” and
how “writers hover between decent poverty and an indecent one; they are expected to render the fruits of their labors for little and even for nothing.” And “all the technological
miracles somehow do not suffice for compensation, either the fiscal or the
spiritual kind.” Weiseltier bemoans, in a cool, almost Olympian manner, the
quantification of quality, among other problems that the digital revolution has
But his greater subject the looming fate of humans. He asserts that, “For a start,
humanism is not the antithesis of religion,” something Pope Francis is now superbly
Defying much rusty dogma, the current Pope is doing a pretty damn good impersonation of Christ, as any Pope should strive to. And he does it with the unlikely humility that
Christ exhibited.

And Wieseltier’s closing speaks superbly to this question of humanism which articulates
itself as romance, in the subtext of Christ and Mary Magdalene, or in his ready grace-
giving to the adulteress.

“Is all this — is humanism — sentimental?
But sentimentality is not always a counterfeit emotion. Sometimes sentimental is
warranted by reality. The persistence of humanism through the centuries, in the face a
formidable intellectual and social obstacles, has been owed to the truth of its
representations of our complexly beating hearts, and to the guidance that it has
offered, and its variegated and conflicting versions, for a soulful, sensitive existence.
There is nothing soft about the quest for a significant life. And a complacent humanist
is a humanist who was not read his books closely, since they teach disquiet and
“In a society rife with theories and practices that flatten and shrink and chill
the human subject, the humanist is the dissenter.”

And in Titian’s wondrous painting, Christ the great humanist dwells in subversive shadows, an authentic dissenter against hidebound, oppressive morality.
As he was throughout his public life, which Reza Aslan makes abundantly clear in his
provocative book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus Christ of Nazareth which I
recently referenced a couple of times, apparently to the dismay of some silent humanists. Aslan is not alone: an unacknowledged prototype for his book is Jesus the Heretic: Freedom
in Bondage in a Religious World by Douglas Lockhart. That book offers a more in-depth
reading of traditional Christian teachings but identifies Christ’s as a man who told the
most uncomfortable religious and political truths of his time.
The Romans crucified him as a heretic. In his time, this disrupted man disrupted right


1.  I regret not having seen and written about this show earlier. But it will run from February 6 to May 3 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California, under a somewhat more secular title: Botticelli, Titian and Beyond: Italian Masterpieces from the Glasgow Museums.

The show catalog is available at the Milwaukee Art Museum


Aaron Rodgers is finally getting a little more subtle with his comedy



Okay you doubting culture vultures, I post this post to prove that Aaron Rodgers knows how to play the comedian, even right in the middle of a big game. But he doesn’t have to do it with buffoonish, look-at-me displays of himself (though some TD dances are pretty cool, I’ll admit).

Of course, we know he’s gotten plenty of shit back about his (“Hey Rod-gers, discount double check!!”) champion belt move.


However his “pump up” commercial with “Hans and Franz” is one of the funniest ones on TV right now, ya!:


A-Rod “pumping up” for Hanz and Franz with his “puny arms.” Courtesy article. wn. com

Nevertheless, he’s now much more subtle, the sign of a deft comedian.

The first video, from Sunday’s divisional-round win against the Dallas Cowboys, shows Aaron Rodgers’ unsurpassed coolness, even in the middle of a huge, tough game — so he can have fun. Earlier in the season, he slyly mimicked Bears’ QB Jay Cutler puffing a cigarette while lining up for the hike, because cameras have caught Cutler smoking cigs on the sideline during a game. (Caution: Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your starting position.)

Here, Rodgers pretends to change the play call at the line by shouting out “New York Bozo! New York Bozo!” I’m sure he’s aware that TV mikes now pick up all of these line-of-scrimmage QB check-offs. So he’s being entertaining — he knows he’s got a few seconds to play around with. I laughed out loud when he did it. Of course, the Cowboys didn’t know he’s not changing the play — the true functional beauty of his goofy inspiration.
Afterwards, Rogers said that “obviously (the phrase) didn’t mean anything at all.” He’d be a slick bluffer in a poker game. Actually, you’ll notice Eddie Lacy and John Kuhn switch to new positions when Rodgers says it, so he may be bluffing the public, to not tip off a real signal, methinks.
Sportswriter Jason will be has the best interpretation so far: New York bozo is cravenly political New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was Dallas cowboy owner Jerry Jones’ big-faux good luck charm, up in his luxury box. “New Jersey bozo” was too obvious so Rogers slipped into the ether of incantation. Plus logically New Jersey and New York are the most symbiotic states in America. So to put it in African terms, Christie’s “juju,” turned into a big pile of juju bees, and just added another inch to his rotund waistline. The Cowboys sort of lost the game by an inch when Dez Bryant bobbled the ball. We all know it’s a game of inches.
Chris Christie in red, Jones is the sandwich meat.
The second video shows Rogers’ actual football artistry at its peak. While rolling to his left on his injured left leg — he rifles a stunningly pinpoint pass between the converging hands of two Cowboy defenders — to Richard Rodgers for the game-winning touchdown. The play kills me every time. (On these highlights, scroll down to “A. Rodgers threads the needle to R. Rodgers.”)
I doubt he could’ve zipped that pass in there without all of the “pumping up” he did with Hans and Franz. We know about all the tough, strong Germans in Wisconsin, especially in Brewtown.
To me, that pass is comparable to Sam Shields’ amazing recovery interception — after being “beaten” — of Tony Romo last year against the Cowboys, which you might recall.
Thanks to my friend Eric Shumacher-Rasmussen for FB posting the video of A-Rod’s “New York bozo” routine.  That lucky bozo was at the game yesterday with, in due time, about 1 million other people.

Up there in the wind, listen for Johnny Cash — his voice, courage and vision


Edward Curtis’s remarkably humane portrait of a young Mohave woman named Mosa helped inspire financier J.P. Morgan to underwrite the photographer’s documentation of the plight of Native Americans at the turn of the 20th century. Johnny Cash did similar cultural work in the latter part of the century. Courtesy Museum of Wisconsin Art.

Once the hunters and their tribes and families roamed and thrived through the plains and deep woods of America. Then the white man came, and eventually, after many bloody physical and political battles, would come what Johnny Cash called “bitter tears.”

I gained a graphic sense of this in 2013 when I saw, at the Museum of Wisconsin Art In West Bend, the stunning and heroic work of the great photographer Edward S. Curtis. He documented the demise of America’s native culture from a governmental genocide that led to a tribe reservation system largely segregated from American society.

The powerfully transporting exhibit revealed indigenous peoples all across America still hanging on to their natural habitat and way of life, before it was destroyed and partitioned out by the white man.
Below is a portrait Curtis took of a warrior named Bear’s Belly or Arikara, wearing a bearskin that served perhaps as camouflage in battle with cowboys and soldiers. Then, in 1908 he re-enacted the Ceremony of the Bear Medicine Fraternity, for Curtis’s camera.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Bear’s Belly — Arikara” by Edward L. Curtis, Courtesy Museum of Wisconsin Art.

The Curtis photo exhibit prompted me to read Timothy Egan’s fascinating biography of Curtis, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher. His life story provided great insights into Curtis’s accomplishment and what our Native Americans endured, lost — and sustained as a society and culture — despite all odds. 1

cash tribute

In 2014, I read Robert Hilburn’s powerful and probing biography Johnny Cash: The Life. It told of how Cash became the first major popular music artist of the era to address the ongoing plight of Native Americans, in his pioneering 1964 concept album, Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian. It was partly inspired by Cash meeting songwriter Peter LaFarge, a man with mixed Native American blood, who was writing “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and other compelling songs. Hayes was the Native American who was among the Marines who hoisted the iconic American flag at Iwo Jima in World War II. Then, after a celebratory return home, Hayes died in tragic circumstances. Ira_Hayes_WW2_Flag Native American Marine Ira Hayes is on the far left in Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph of the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima, near the end of World War II. Courtesy

The album’s cutting-edge emerged almost immediately in the lack of promotion from Columbia Records whom Cash termed “gutless.” In his biography, Robert Hilburn captures Cash’s own bitterness: “They found a lot of resentment from country DJs over the subject matter; they feared their conservative listeners would tune out, so they buried the record, and Columbia just rolled over.” 2.

In a way, Cash was my generation’s Edward S. Curtis, telling the truth in songs with their own images.

Since his death in 2003, many roots musicians have extolled Cash’s vision and artistic power notably in the live album and DVD,. We Walk the Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash, a high-spirited, poignant and sometimes magical live concert evocation of the man’s legacy , which was my choice for No. 2 roots music album of the year in 2012, both on this blog and on 3.

Then last summer, 50 years after the original release, came the deeply moving tribute album, Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited, on Sony Legacy. That label has belatedly redeemed the reticence of Columbia Records when the original album essentially disappeared at its birth, like a small Indian burial mound, standing alone and windswept in a remote prairie. wounded Knee cash b wJohnny Cash (upper) touring the site of the 1890 massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee with survivors, in December of 1969.  And Cash (lower) near the time that he recorded “Bitter Tears.” Courtesy (respectively) of and

As it happened, this year I experienced, especially in an October road trip to San Francisco and the world-class SF Jazz Center, a focus on the pan-cultural vitality of America’s original art form, jazz. So I didn’t write about Look to the Wind, in any detail. But I heard its solemn power and stirring pertinence, and chose it as my number seven roots music album of the year, without comment.

So I’m grateful that my former colleague at The Capital Times, John Nichols, and The Nation’s Washington correspondent, assessed the album as succinctly as anyone could in his recent “2014 Progressive Honor Roll” in the January 12/19 issue of The Nation. Here’s what Nichols wrote:

Most Valuable CD:  Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited

There’s an argument to be made that Johnny Cash sang the most adventurous protest songs of the 1960s. Exhibit A: his 1964 concept album Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian. Cash was a top-of-the-charts singer, but radio wouldn’t play it. So he bought a full-page ad in Billboard, decrying a “gutless” music industry for refusing to consider the plight of Native Americans and linking it to broader questions raised by civil-rights campaigners and a then very small antiwar movement. Yes, he declared, his songs were “strong medicine…. So is Rochester, Harlem, Birmingham and Vietnam.” That strong medicine would influence a new generation of singers who jumped at the chance to reintroduce Cash’s Bitter Tears to America. Steve Earle captures the spirit of the project’s demand for a rethinking of history when he sings, “I will tell you, buster, that I ain’t a fan of Custer….” Bill Miller, who heard the original album as a kid growing up on the Stockbridge-Munsee-Mohican reservation in Wisconsin, offers a brilliant take on the project’s title track (written by the late Peter La Farge). And Kris Kristofferson, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings capture the passion of one of the greatest protest songs ever written, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.” Fine music. Fine politics.

bill miller

Native American flutist Bill Miller, Courtesy

Miller, a guitarist and master of the Native American flute, underscores Nichols praise: “It has a deeper respect for Native Americans than any other project I’ve been involved in,” he says in the album’s promotional video (below).

Sony contacted Miller and he left his mother’s deathbed in Shawano, Wisconsin to do this project. “We are people with gifts and blessings and we can still bless this world, something that history and Hollywood has overlooked,” he says.

A tour of artists involved in recording the album is in the works, Miller says.

“It’s meant to happen,” he says.



Singer-songwriter-author Steve Earle (upper photo) and singer-songwriter Gillian Welch (lower) are among an all-star group of musicians who reinterpret Johnny Cash’s 1964 “Bitter Tears” album as “Look Again to the Wind.” The lineup also includes Mohican flutist Bill Miller, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Norman Blake, and Carolina Chocolate Drops’ lead singer Rhiannon Giddens and others. 


Edward S. Curtis preserved America’s Vanishing Race for Posterity, art exhibit review:

Johnny Cash: The Life, by Robert Hilburn, Little, Brown and Company, 2013, 265. See book review:

3. We Walk the Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash, album/DVD review: 4. Here is John Nichols’ complete article on his “2014 progressive honor roll::

Scott Walker hears from God, or thinks his job creation makes him really special



Cartoon courtesy blog.seattle.pi.come

I noticed Scott Walker has hired consultant for his presidential run. But he says his real presidential consultant is a guy named God.

“I feel that there’s a reason God put me in a spot to do the things that we’ve done and take on the challenges we’ve done,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Sounds like the same godly voices in his head another wrongheaded governor heard when he decided it was time to play president. Of course, George W. Bush did have a college degree, unlike Scott Walker. Maybe God conferred an honorary college degree on Walker in one of his whisperings. And seeing as Walker has apparently “done” lots of “challenges” without facing them, we can look forward to more delicate Bush-like turns of phrase, or is it turns of mind?

Or considering how good he was as a “job creator” Wisconsin, maybe Scott does think he is God.

Before he starts waltzing around the country with visions of the White House dancing in his head, maybe Walker should hire some unemployed or underpaid Wisconsin folks to build a big scaffolding, and then hire an artist (or 20, or 200!) to paint a ceiling fresco of him, like the image above.

My point is partly that I have the greatest respect for anybody who works hard on a job and does it honestly, especially people who work with their hands.

We know the guy named Jesus Christ thought God spoke to him, too, and Christ was just a carpenter, without a college degree. And even without a high school degree, Christ was a lot more eloquent about things that mattered, or about the challenges he honestly faced.

He didn’t need a consultant. He died on the cross.

Who would you vote for — Christ or Scott Walker — for president, or for governor?

Also, with all the good news about hiring and job creation around the country, it’s worth noting that in December average employees wages rate went down by five cents.

Companies are hiring young people and people desperate for a job. Qualified baby boomers are retiring or often on the outside looking in, at their old jobs.

In fact, December also represented a big drop-off in job creation.

It might sound like the spirit of Scrooge isn’t dead. But Scrooge was a small business man. And small businesses do need to survive amid increasingly global competition. Who’s really responsible? And who’s ready to answer to the ghost of conscience who haunts them?

We still need a lot of work from people willing to be accountable — among employers, corporate heads, government bureaucrats and politicians — to make his economy fair for both workers and employers.

Unfortunately those underlying statistics show that private-sector workers have very little bargaining power. Scott Walker did plenty to damage bargaining power in Wisconsin for workers.

Give me a candidate who cares about everyone who’s trying to keep their head above really cold water, even if the economy is getting better. Plus, that big-picture growth — and its struggles — has happened under the current president.

What is Walker’s big picture? Is it the mock-Michelangelo one above?