The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, Washington, DC. Courtesy The Travel Channel
E-mail from Louisa-Loveridge Gallas on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 17, 2021:
I’m sending on a link to this famous Vietnam speech by MLK I go back to on MLK day, so pivotal in his career. Stunning that he was assassinated a year to the day after. And so brave as he found that he angered and disappointed a number of activists and allies for his stance against the war who felt he should stick to civil rights in the approach and focus he had been taking.
Also I’d like think out loud with you. In a very different way and historical context, I just want to add I am beginning to experience that Biden is being attacked at times, in ways I find irresponsible, for speaking out eloquently and clearly for the moral high road of history in his Georgia speech. I refer not only by Republicans but to comments by prominent Democrats like David Axelrod, Obama’s consultant, on CNN; NYT commentators like Maureen Dowd, and even top legislators like Nancy Pelosi. To name a few. Cheap shots, reaching for a way to insult on minor points, calling out strong opinions disagreed with as unbridled ‘rhetoric’ to name a few.
Of course reasonable, fact-based analysis has to go forward. May everyone be generous and informed as we precede with our critiques even in informal conversation. I know I’m not alone in witnessing that these are perilous times where a compassionate approach to each other and in the political realm is at risk in the zeitgeist of the need to one up, demean too easily and thoughtlessly These are such times of anxiety that inflame disagreements and difference; or enhance compassion fatigue.
I certainly don’t count myself out. I’ve been writing some pretty snarky op Ed comments. And make an occasional fevered phone call, as I did to Axelrod’s office. My fur can rise along with a hiss if a friend or relative isn’t on the same page with my take on all the complexities we are living within. I fail. I’m working on myself. I welcome any thoughts you may have to help me along and no pressure to respond, of course, as so many influences and responsibilities call upon us.
How I love your caring, your awareness, your intelligence, your passion, and activist voice. And your brave, insightful analogue between Rev. King and President Biden.
Holy moly (forgive my dated boomer utterance), we all need some empathy and psychological guidance and salve, these days. Perhaps, take some deep, slow breaths, dear friend. Take a long walk beside the empowering tide of our Great Lake, or deep into the woods. Listen to the “conference of the birds,” the way they sing to, and advise, each other. Of danger, yes. They live stressed lives, as vulnerable creatures. And yet, they sing.
If only we could truly fly. Yet we can, in our mind, and drag our lagging, embittered, mudbound spirit aloft, which brings to mind a magnificent HermanMelville quote, from the last paragraph of Moby-Dick, Chapter 96 “The Try-Works”
Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.
Only slightly less poetic is Robert F. Kennedy‘s speech in Indianapolis, after annoucing the assassination of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the day after the tragic event. This video is a part of the speech but very worthy. Robert Kennedy is one of my heroes, more so than JFK.
I read the speech (2 pages) during a troubled, virtually sleepless last night, in Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy, edited and introduced by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy. 1 This is a priceless paperback, to me.
Kennedy quotes his favorite poet Aeschylus, from memory: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Kennedy continues: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be whites or they be black.”
I ponder and treasure those thoughts, and rededicate myself to living up to them, to the degree I am able.
(BTW, Bobby Kennedy also had a wit comparable to brother Jack, with fine comic timing — hear his Ball State U speech, following this one on youtube.)
Then there’s those who would score “cheap political points” against President Biden, as you protest, Louisa — be they leftist, liberal, centrist, never-Trumpers or far-right Trumpsters.
Biden has only been any office one year, and has laid out perhaps the most ambitious vision and agenda since Lyndon Johnson‘s The Great Society. Yes, he needs to show — and effect — more fight and passion, but he’s getting there, I think. DINO Sens. Manchin and Sinema still sit on the fence like a couple of owls, saying “Who me?” as the 60-vote filibuster looms like the Sword of Damocles, over vastly important social initiatives that are very popular with Americans.
Meanwhile, the Republicans are slithering around from state to state, contriving new voter suppression laws. We need a federal oversight law on voting rights, especially to protect the rights and access of people of color and other disenfrachised citizens.
I am, for the moment, disheartened by all the clamoring special-interest factions of the Democratic Party, each of whom has profoundly legitimate concerns, perhaps most presently voting rights, and a woman’s right to determine her own body. But also the looming apocalypse of climate change… and more, of course.
But a lot of things can happen between now and November’s mid-term elections.
Dear Louisa, as Rev. King says, concluding the sacred but tough-minded speech you quote (echoing Frederick Douglass‘s famous thoughts about “struggle”):
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. The choice is ours. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
I believe many tears, sweat and, yes, blood, will commingle with that mighty stream. We are psychically stained by John Kennedy’s blood, from 1963, and by Robert Kennedy’s and Martin’s blood, in 1968, and so many since.
No more, I pray and cry. May America’s profusion of inward-pointed guns desist!
But justice is a hardy soul, I believe. She can swim like a sleek yet powerful fish, or trudge, like a woman or man, long distances, in protest and dissent, which many politicans hear, if loud and pointed enough.
Robert Kennedy quotes Algerian-French author-philosopher Albert Camus as much as anyone in this Make Gentle the Life of This World collection. Camus, I believe, was then addressing the people of Germany, under the Third Reich.
Yet how his words ring on today — when Fascist demagogury and governments sprout weedlike over Mother Earth and here at home — like a great thunderous bell, clanged by mythical Quasimodo in Camus’s Paris, or his very real fellow ringer in Philadelphia, so that the big-shouldered Liberty Bill cracked. 2
“This is what separated us from you; we made demands. You were satisfied to serve the power of your nation and we dreamed of giving ours her truth.”
Ringing for truth, justice and love,
* Louisa Loveridge-Gallas is an acclaimed poet, body-mind counseler, op-Ed writer, music lover, and activist. She’s working on a new chapbook of socially-motivated poems, and on a “jazz novel,” set in Madison, Wisonsin. She’s a former long-time resident of Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, and now resides in Michigan.
Louisa Loveridge-Gallas. Courtesy Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets
1 Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy, edited and introduced by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, 1998, Broadway Books, 42-43
2 The crack ocurred on the Philadelphia bell’s very first test ring in 1752, shipped from a French foundry (those French!), and it was clearly a flawed casting — like the great nation it signifies.
To me, now, the crack now resembles King’s waters of justice rolling down, the mighy stream.
Chicago Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar and his Rivers of Sound Orchestra, pictured above, produced my choice for jazz album of the year. Photo by Tom Beetz.
Yes, but what were the best of the year, and what does all that add up to?
Here’s one man’s opinion.*
I participated in the 14th Annual International Critics Poll of El Intruso, the Spanish publication dedicated to jazz, experimental and creative music. I have included the results of the NPR critics poll here in recent years. But for a change of perspective, it’s interesting to see what critics from all around the world come up with, as the best of the year (see entire international poll link at bottom).
Special mention: The documentary film Summer of Soul, directed by The Roots drummer Questlove, captures the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which reportedly drew 300,000, but got little fanfare, elsewhere. This provided the best new film soundtrack. Nina Simone, B.B. King, the 5th Dimension, the Staple Singers, and more. Here’s info on it https://pitchfork.com/news/summer-of-soul-soundtrack-release-announced/
The international poll does not ask for top 10 album lists, I will list my choices of best albums of the year for the NPR poll:
Best Jazz Albums for 2021 NPR Critics Poll
1. Amir ElSaffar Rivers of Sound Orchestra – The Other Side (Out Note) This was the surprise of the year. I didn’t expect ElSaffar do a big band and a very unconventional pan-cultural creature. But this is actually their second recording and a rare symbiosis emerges, beautifully conceived and executed. Yet one must set aside preconceptions of what a jazz orchestra should sound like. He’s a Chicagoan but has deeply investigated his Iranian roots and allowed the bitonal modalities to flourish like an exotic garden.
2. Charles Lloydandthe Marvels – Tone Poem (Blue Note) Tenor sax guru Lloyd and his stylistically elastic quintet, with simpatico guitar innovator Bill Frisell, lays his ineffable touch on Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Leonard Cohen and Gabor Zsabo, a concoction enfolded with a few worthy originals.
3.. Anthony Braxton – 2 Comp (Zim) 2017 (firehouse) _- One of the true geniuses and intrepid and prolific visionaries of the music called jazz or Black music (or what Braxton calls “Language Music” or “Holistic Modeling Musics”) surfaces again with a stimulating 12 hours of original music packed into a single Blue-Ray disc. Rediscover Braxton’s uncannily self-generated world of music, or take the plunge — into this transformative experience of creative possibility.
4. Johannes Wallmann – Elegy for Undiscovered Species (Shifting Paradigm) — Another masterful statement from the Madison-based pianist-composer, who shows how deftly he extends his compositional and conceptual palette to a chamber string orchestra. He spotlights two brilliant soloists for his jazz quintet with strings — Dayna Stevens, a limpidly inventive saxophonist whose plangent tone and superb phrasing almost mystically invoke Stan Getz. He also plays luminous EWI (electronic wind instrument). And trumpeter Ingrid Jensen has developed a deeply personal lyrical voice on her horn. Wallmann’s taut yet supple string writing remains always integral to the force of his expressive purpose, even in the surging romanticism of “Longing.” This elegy stirs the imagination (what species?) while deeply commenting on our global environmental malaise.
5. Lionel Loueke – Close your Eyes (Sounderscore) Wow, what a brilliant guitarist he’s become, extending the modern, harmonically weighty tradition from Wes Montgomery. He has dazzling rhythmic acumen and plays with tension like a master basketball dribbler. This was his first full-album statement “in the tradition” as the compulsive original Braxton once did, and almost all his takes are meaty and revelatory. He got a bit too clever by crunching the closer, Trane’s “Naima,” which lost the tune’s arching, iridescent lyricism.
6. Marcin Wasilewski Trio — en Attendant — (ECM) With this sad news this year of Chick Corea’s passing, and of Keith Jarrett’s apparently disabling stroke, Marcin Wasilewski joins the conversation as a darkhorse for “greatest living (and active) jazz pianist, or perhaps “best jazz piano trio.” Here’s my review of this recording:
7. Frank Kimbrough – Ancestors (Sunnyside) Another great recent loss among jazz pianists, Kimbrough enhanced the Maria Schneider’s Orchestra expansively harmonic sound paintings, and really stepped out in recent years with his profoundly delicious Monk’s Dreams box set, and a few marvelous recordings including this one, gracefully asserting his place as successor to his artistic ancestors.
GREAT NEW VIBES SECTION:
8. Simon Moullier Trio – Countdown ((Fresh Sound New Talent) A virtuoso vibraphonist new to me dazzled in this deftly imaginative romp through a brilliant selection of modern standards (from Monk and Mingus to Kern and Porter, etc.). His monster chops stay pretty on course to compositional expression and illumination rather than detouring into mere showiness.
9. Joel Ross – Who Are You? (Blue Note) A vibrant (pun intended) quintet session led by vibraphonist Joel Ross, and certainly the best album of largely original music by a vibist I’ve heard in a number of years. It’s modern, straight-ahead jazz which shows how elastic the modern mainstream of the music form can get.
(See also honorable mention album “Marimba Maverick” by Mike Neumeyer,)
10.. Noah Haidu – Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett (Sunnyside) An eloquent and moving tribute to Jarrett, One of the most esteemed and influential pianists of his generation, and in light of the stroke which may have permanently ended Jarrett’s performing and recording career. Pianist Haidu has the chops, sensitivity and gravitas to pull this tribute off.
Honorable Mention: Miguel Zenon — Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Bandcamp), Stephanie Niles – I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag – The White Flag (Sunnyside)? Roberto Magris & Eric Hochberg – Shuffling Ivories (JMood), Jamie Breiwick The Jewel (Live at the Dead Poet) (Ropeadope), Silent Room (Enzo Carniel and Filipo Vignato) – Aria (Menace), Craig Taborn – Shadow Plays (ECM), Mike Neumeyer – Marimba Maverick (Voirimba), Marc Cary — Life Lessons (Sessionheads United) Craig Taborn – Shadow Plays (ECM)
Best Historical Albums
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle (Impulse)
Bill Evans — Behind the Dikes (Elemental)
Roy Brooks — Understanding (Reel to Real)
Best Latin Jazz Album
Miguel Zenon and Luis Perdomo – El arte Del Bolero
Best Jazz Vocal Album
Mary LaRose — Out Here (Little i Music)
Best Debut Album
Kazemde George – I Insist (Greenleaf)
Kevernacular’s ballot for El Intruso – 14th Annual International Critics Poll ballot for 2021 (see link to the poll below)
musician of the year – Miguel Zenon, Amir ElSaffar
newcomer musician – Kazemde George (saxophone)
group of the year – Charles Lloyd & The Marvels, Emile Parisien Sextet
newcomer group – Silent Room (Enzo Carniel/Filippo Vignato duo)
album of the year — Amir ElSaffar Rivers of Sound Orchestra – The Other Side (Out Note); Charles Lloyd and the Marvels — Tone Poem, Emile Parisien — Louise (ACT); Lionel Loueke — Close Your Eyes (Sounderscore)
composer – Amir ElSaffar, Anthony Braxton, Johannes Wallmann
drums – Brian Blade, Joe Chambers, Nasheet Waits
acoustic bass – Buster Williams, Christian McBride, Reuben Rogers
electric bass – Steve Swallow
guitar – Lionel Loueke, Mary Halvorsen, Miles Ozaki
piano – Chick Corea, Vijay Iyer, Marcin Wasilewski
keyboard/synthesizer/organ – Lonnie Smith
tenor saxophone – Charles Lloyd, Chris Potter, Joe Lovano
alto saxophone – Miguel Zenon, Jim Snidero, Kenny Garrett
The 270th Anniversary Year of the publishing of Moby-Dick has just passed. But it’s never too late to take the deep dive. Here’s how to truly embrace the New Year. Let our august “Law and Order” thespian Sam Waterston offer us up Chapter 1, “Loomings,” of The Great American Novel (or epic prose poem, or whatever it is), with its epic opening line, “Call me Ishmael.” For the first time, I believe, the annual marathon reading of Melville’s masterwork, presented by The New Bedford Whaling Museum, is now a video. You can follow along at your own speed and pleasure.
Crusty Sam is a fine, resonant reader, as if recalling the greatest story of his restless youth. There’s also rhythmic pace afoot. After Waterson’s eloquently-paced pauses, Chapter 2 reader, Gail Fortes, picks up the pace with alacrity. Among the other readers is Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey; Ashley Bendicksen, Miss Rhode Island for America Strong 20221; a handful of Massachusetts state senators; and, eccentrically, a member of the Flat Earth Society!
Orson Welles as Father Mapple reading the story of Jonah and the whale in John Huston’s 1957 film adaptation of “Moby-Dick,” Courtesy Alchetron
I’ll say no more, except to urge you give Ishmael’s splendid opening meditation on the sea, your ears, and you may feel a bit of Atlantic brine wisp across your face. Among the cool stuff, and polar degrees of high and low-mindedness, there’s a lecture by noted Melville scholar Christopher Benfry and a Moby-Dick trivia quiz, plus a reader roster and a timetable for each chapter (averaging around a half hour, a piece, though some chapters are quite brief).
Jake Blues ( Dan Aykroyd) and Elwood Blues (John Belushi) with their now-iconic Bluesmobile in thew promotional poster the movie “The Blues Brothers.” Courtesy hourz.com
History rewind to early 1980:
I was driving east on Milwaukee I-94, heading home after my slightly nerve-wracking part-time job as a school bus driver (a job to augment free-lancing for The Milwaukee Journal). It was always stressful, yet gratifying, having other people’s precious children in your hands, to deliver them safely to school, or home (even the obligatory brat-distraction every few rides).
My nose had just rid itself of the funky Red Star Yeast smell ever-permeating the 16th street overpass (back then). So, as I now enjoyed the sunny afternoon and approaching lakefront, I noticed a car, with smoke billowing from its hood, speeding down the still-under-construction Lakefront Freeway,which had gone so long uncompleted, it was dubbed “the freeway to nowhere.” Another car followed in hot pursuit.
My God, I thought instantly, two cars headed for the end of the unfinished freeway segment which leads to pure, thin air, high above the lakefront !
In the next moment, I noticed a mobile film camera unit following the cars. Crazy, man!
Then I recalled the news that director John Landis had brought the production company, for his forthcoming big-budget comedy The Blues Brothers, up to Milwaukee from Chicago, where all of the film is ostensibly set, and shot. However, for a climactic chase scene, Landis needed an elevated freeway that ended in pure nothingness, and Milwaukee had it.
Having by chance seen this bit of filming in person, I looked forward to the movie, starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, which turned out to be one of the zaniest and most brilliant car-chase comedies since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Plus, it was a hip sort of roots musical, with one of the greatest arrays of musical talent ever performing in a scripted film.
And now, The Blues Brothers has received one of the ultimate formal recognitions, having been inducted into the 2021 National Film Registry of the Library of Congress (I didn’t know about this until my sister Sheila Lynch emailed me yesterday with the news.).
There’s no question it’s a great comedy (at times over the top, of car after crashing car) worthy of the registry, and absolutely bursting with stirring blues, soul and gospel music by such legendary onscreen performers, including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Chaka Kahn, and the Blues Brothers’ (Belushi and Aykroyd) own rhythm section, comprising the great studio musicians best known collectively as the MGs, as in Booker T and the MGs. The movie’s soundtrack is a classic of that those genres of recorded music.
Here’s a video clip from Aretha’s knock-out performance of “Think” in the film, where she plays an under-appreciated, overworked waitress at a cafe the boys stop at for lunch.
The bros also commiserate with one of the mightiest of soul brothers, Ray Charles (That’s what I said!). Courtesy IMDb
Jake and Elwood Blues do a rave-up with, among others, legendary R&B guitarist Steve Cropper (white long-sleeve shirt, in background) Courtesy https://oneroomwithaview.wordpress.com 1
And it’s got a very redeeming storyline (with a script co-written by Akyroyd and Landis) in which paroled convict Jake and his blood brother Elwood, set out on “a mission from God” to save from foreclosure the Roman Catholic orphanage in which they were raised. To do so, they must reunite their R&B band and organize a performance to earn $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill. Along the way, they are targeted by a homicidal “mystery woman”, Neo-Nazis, and a country and western band— all while being relentlessly pursued by the police.
During the high-speed chase from a battalion of cop cars, on Wacker Drive with its numerous buttress I-beams under the Chicago “L,” with the Bluesmobile surging up to 120 mph (according to their speedometer), the brothers still find a moment of cultural acknowledgement.
“Up ahead is the Honorable Richard G. Daley Plaza,” driver Jake announces.
“Isn’t that Picasso there?” Elwood asks (referencing Picasso’s untitled monumental sculpture, known as “Chicago Picasso”) .
The brothers journey actually begins the night before — or in the wee hours of the morning (the film’s timeline isn’t exactly bulletproof) somewhere in Northern Illinois, where Jake and Elwood begin their quest to transport the money they’ve raised to save their childhood orphanage to Chicago City Hall in their decommissioned cop car with the famous line: “There’s 106 miles to Chicago. We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
When I saw the film in the movie theater, I enjoyed it immensely and near the end, came the final freeway chase scene between The Blues Brothers and another even more nefarious foe, Neo-Nazis, led by the comic actor Henry Gibson. Then, in an editing flash, I recognized the Milwaukee interchange and skyline, as the chase’s backdrop.
In this stunt scene from “The Blues Brothers,” the Bluesmobile flies over another car in a scene, I believe, from the segment filmed in in Milwaukee. Courtesy Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock.
Sure enough, they’d used that segment in the film. Then, in one scene of the chase I noticed, in the background, a small white car following slowly behind, off to the right. I squinted, blinked my eyes, and then exclaimed right in the theater, “That’s my car!”
Several annoyed moviegoers turned to glare at me. But sure enough, it was me driving my white AMC Hornet with its bent-up front bumper (from an accident shortly after I bought it from Big Bills used car lot on Center and Fond du Lac Avenue). I’d never dreamed my car would be in a scene.
So, The Hornet and I had become “local color” in The Blues Brothers, even if only mainly white, with some rust highlights and a crooked chrome bumper.
In this clip (below) from that final scene, my Hornet is clearly visible for several seconds at the 1:20 mark, puttering along on the other side of traffic cones, as the Blues Brothers’ stolen cop car continues its epic flight scene from the Neo-Nazis.
The scene, by the way, has a priceless throwaway line – from one Nazi to the other – that seems like an oblique homage to Joe E. Brown’s classic closing line from another great comedy, Some Like it Hot.
If you freeze the frame at 1:24, and look closely, you might even make out my smashed-in front bumper (with the chrome bumper pushed up above the white body frame on the left side, as the photo of my car below shows)
The Blues Brothers vehicle, the so-called Bluesmobile, is seen in the movie poster photo at top with Jake and Elwood. The stolen cop car, a souped-up 1974 Dodge Monaco sedan, was chosen as one of the most iconic cars in movie history by GQ magazine. 2
So, in my small world, my little old AMC Hornet has become just a wee bit iconic, I daresay. The jalopy was a 3-speed stick shift on the column, and fun to drive. Here’s a photo of my “famous”‘ rust-bucket shortly before I traded it in for another used car, which would have another historic story attached to it, a tale for another time.
Kevin with his (iconic? or I comic?) AMC Hornet on the day he traded it in for a little red tin can called a Ford Fiesta.
1 This is actually a shot of the Blues Brothers performing on Saturday Night Live, the “brothers” genesis as well-known co-comedians. Most of the performance stills of the band from the movie are from the other side of a chain-link fence and poorly discernible. The fence was erected because the band was playing a warm-up gig in a country music bar, with a really tough crowd, before their successful big fundraising concert.
2 GQ commented, “The Bluesmobile makes the (most iconic movie cars) list not just because it was a cool car driven by cool dudes doing cool stunts, but because of the chaos left in its wake. The cars were so battered by all the stunts and crashes that there was a 24-hour body shop on set. By the end of the filming, 103 cars had been trashed, a record for any film, right up until a total of 104 was reached… by the sequel, Blues Brothers 2000.”
Culture Currents Holiday Greetings for 2022! First, a miscellany of memories of 2021, photo-essay style, of this blog’s year, and of friends, especially some dearly departed ones (Don’t worry, there’s a musical New Year’s pay-off below).
Your blogger refurbishes an old sculpture of his titled, “Tricycle Nightmare.” Photo by John Klett
CC’s Kevernacular out for some CC-style skiing, shot from Lincoln Park’s highest point, the windswept tee box of Hole No. 6.
Who can forget The Milwaukee Bucks making history by defeating the Miami Heat, the New Jersey Nets and the Phoenix Suns, to win their first NBA championship…in half a century? The crazed crowds at Fiserv’s Forum’s Deer District (above) played their part in the fever that stoked the team.
Don’t forget, in 2020 the Bucks also began a brief strike that led all of professional sports in bringing attention to police violence against unarmed black people and systemic racism in America.
Successful businessman, publisher and business-success author Jack Covert, who passed in 2021, once had a slightly more unseemly identity, as owner of Dirty Jack’s Record Rack, a small mecca for Milwaukee music fans in the 1960s and ’70s.
An NPR “American Masters” poll this fall posed the question “What work of art changed your life?” I could not answer with a simple response. One such transforming event was the exhibit of the late Arshile Gorky’s brilliant blend of surrealism and abstract expressionism, at the Guggenheim Museum, in the early 1980s. Above is Gorky’s “The Plow and the Song” from 1946.
Another life-changing work for me was seeing Picasso’s “Guernica,” though I never saw the whole painting, an odd circumstance described in my NRP poll post, regarding the epic anti-Fascist work(s).
The ultimate life-changing work for me — my first encounter with Melville’s “Moby-Dick” obtaining a copy of the 1930 edition, sumptuously illustrated with woodcuts by Rockwell Kent, including this magnificent rendition of the great white whale.
I also honored a great friend, musician, and culture vulture, Jim Glynn (at right) on the anniversary of his death. Jim also served as the best man at my wedding in 1997 (above).
Some of my happiest reporting of the year was interviewing Kai Simone (above), the first-ever executive director of Milwaukee’s Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts. She signifies a fresh new direction, while extending the tradition of the venue’s namesake, The Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, whose heyday in the 1980s contributed greatly to the city’s community and culture.
Speaking of the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, my favorite single piece of art this year was in an exibit there. Jessica Schubkegel’s evocative and eloquent sculpture “Chrysallis” (above). made of medical textbook paper and wire, graced a group exhibit, ReBegin: New Works for New Beginnings, in response to the COVID epidemic.
Perhaps my most personally meaningful trip was a visit to Two Rivers, Wisconsin (above), on the shore of Lake Michigan, which included a fine nature-preserve walk and visiting the field where my father, Norm Lynch (with the ball, below) quarterbacked a great high school football team (three straight seasons undefeated) in the 1940s .
That Washington High football field in Two Rivers remains (below), but is now the domain of geese, who keep it well-fertilized with au natural “yard-markers.”
As COVID threats eased, for a while, Kevin and Ann finally dined out, at Tenuta’s Restaurant, in Bay View, a glorious meal gifted by Ann’s colleagues.
Another fine 2021 memory was of my old friend, composer/jazz pianist Frank Stemper (above), here receiving applause in Austria, where his new work, Symphony No. 4 “Protest,” was premiered. While in Europe, Frank and his spouse Nancy visited Omaha Beach, site of the D-Day landing of allied troops who turned the tide of WWII (below).
“Enter” by Marvin Hill
Two linoleum-cut prints (above) by the late artist Marvin Hill, whom I memorialized in 2021 on the anniversary of his passing in 2003.
OK, so much for that little montage of 2021 moments for Kevernacular.
Your reasonably dedicated and unreasonably beleaguered blogger wants to pause at this late point in the day (into evening) to wish all of my Culture Currents readers from 2021, and times fore and aft, a very happy new year (!). If some of the year’s blogs “spoke to you” in any way, it goes to bolster my notion that, indeed, Vernaculars Speak!
I am deeply grateful for your interest in this sometimes waywardly-searching blog. Today I’ve been struggling to meet a deadline for The 14th annual International Critics Poll for El Intruso, a Spanish publication for people interested in creative and experimental music. That’s involved plenty of H-Hour auditioning of review CDs that I purchase or receive.
Believe me, it’s been very pleasurable labor, discovering, savoring — and having my mind slightly bent at times by — the new music that comes my way, as a veterans music and arts journalist.
Throat-clearing aside (no, I don’t have COVID!) I can think of no better way of musically wishing you all a happy new year by sharing two brief but delicious videos by one of my favorite Milwaukee musicians of 2021. I’m talking about vibraphonist and marimba player Mike Neumeyer.
He is one of the most irrepressibly vibrant (please pardon the pun, which simply popped out in my comparative state of mental fatigue) musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (at a free-jazz workshop he led at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, in 2020, shortly before the pandemic struck), and of sharing time with, although ever since it’s been all virtual.
At least we humblyenjoyed ourselves on New Year’s Eve with a bottle of sparkling Proscutto rose, and some scrumptious curry and Nam Khao (deep-fried rice ball, cured pork sausages, peanuts, scallions, cilantro, shredded coconut) from Riverwest’s Sticky Rice Thai Carry Out, on Locust and Weil Streets. Yep, the foodie details are making me hungry too, so I better get to the felicitous point here. 1
I have extolled the talents and spirit of Mike Neumeyer several times this year in this blog (which are obtainable in a simple search with his name at the top of the Culture Currents page, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed).
So I don’t have much energy for further glowing, or even moderately striking, praise for vibist Neumeyer, although I will point out that his positive energy is a great antidote to the stresses and strains of another year of enduring COVID, and much of the madness and travesty that passes for politics in America today. Mike is not above clowning it up a bit but, Lord knows, we need every scrap of comic relief we can get these days.
So, skipping further ado, I will simply direct you to his two versions of “Auld Lang Syne,” One version is short and sweet. The other, also brief, allows for a few grace notes of reflection and perhaps even resolution, for the listener.
Thanks again Mike, for a great year of music and memories And keep up the (ahem)
good vibes. Two (maybe three) increasingly horrid “vibes” puns, and I’m out!
“Auld Lang Syne” played by Mike Neumeyer:
And now, to extend the holiday celebrate a tad more, sample a slightly slower draft of the grand old song, with a little aftertaste of the old year, now bygone forever, save memories:
Surprise! As an extra treat, especially for all you boys and girls who’ve been not too naughty this year, let’s rewind to the spirit of December 25th, and Mike’s rendering of one of the most timeless holiday songs ever born.
1 We also watched a wonderful film on video on New Year’s Eve. It’s the multi-Academy award-nominated The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, and written and directed by Florian Zeller. If you haven’t seen it, The Father is uncannily disarming and disorienting in evoking, for the viewer, the point of view of a family patriarch – played with dazzling power and poignance by Hopkins – whose mental powers and pride are rapidly dissembling amid Alzheimer’s.
In watching it, you might begin to doubt either the movie or yourself, but by the end, in reflection, it all makes brilliant sense, in the saddest and most moving of ways. The full-movie video follows immediately with insightful comments from the principals.