Bid bon voyage to the good ship Denis Sullivan. Will she ever return to her birthplace, Milwaukee?

Our September 2016 departure from the Denis Sullivan’s dock, outside Discovery World on the Lake Michigan shore of Milwaukee. All photos by Kevin Lynch

We can absorb history in many ways, but it’s usually in a second-hand or secondary source way, like reading a book, or watching a documentary. Historically-attuned scholars and artists can surely illuminate the past with immeasurable brilliance and depth. The work of documentary-filmmaker supreme Ken Burns comes to mind, as do historians like Eric Foner, John Meacham, Shelby Foote, David S. Reynolds, Joseph Ellis, Sean Wilentz, David McCullough and others.

Yet for years, Milwaukee has been blessed with something even more vivid and experientially historical than those gifted people’s best efforts, even when they are talking as guest pundits on TV. I’m talking about a mainline to history as real as stepping aboard a tall sailing ship transporting you to the glory days of such vessels in the mid-1800s, the era of Moby-Dick, Two Years Before the Mast, and Typhoon. 1

In September of 2016, I was fortunate enough to take that step, off the Milwaukee harbor onto the city’s majestic flagship schooner S/V Denis Sullivan, for a Lake Michigan tour, which helped inspire this blog. It was motivated to do research for my novel about Herman Melville. I had visited an actual docked whaleship from the era, The Charles W. Morgan, in Mystic, Connecticut.

But I’d never actually sailed on a tall mast ship from that era, even if this one was a hybrid replica, built by volunteer Milwaukeeans – the world’s only re-creation of a 19th-century three-masted Great Lakes schooner. She was the flagship of both the state of Wisconsin and of the United Nations Environment Programme . .

And here you begin to get an inkling of our state’s loss, when the ship stripped of it’s tall masts — departed on October 8 for Boston, and it’s ultimate destination, St. Croix, now sold to a company in the Virgin Islands – as reported superbly by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Reporter Chelsey Lewis, in the in-depth article linked to below.

Noted Milwaukee folksinger David HB Drake, a vocal opponent of the sale, had a suggestion, as he posted on his Facebook page: “OMG– The Denis Sullivan has been sold to Boston.

This for me is like the Braves being sold to Atlanta…unthinkable!
There was no warning or opportunity given to the very people who built her and volunteered these 30 years to keep her afloat in Milwaukee. Had there been, perhaps a citizens groups could have bought her and kept her here or at least formed a partnership with the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc to keep her in Wisconsin.”

However, that museum is currently in the midst of its own campaign to raise $1.5 million to put the USS Cobia, its World War II submarine, in dry dock, Lewis reports. The Manitowoc museum considered possibly serving as a home port for the ship, but not the home port.

Other organizations, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “were considering partnering with Discovery World to use the ship for programming around the newly designated Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary, but they, too, could not take primary ownership of the boat.”

Lewis reported on a former crewmember, Michael Gaithier, who expressed bitterness:

The boat was treated like an unwanted stepchild … it was neglected and not taken care of in the way that most tall ships with most healthy organizations behind them in this country have been taken care of

Back in September 2016, sail boats breeze by the port side rigging of the Denis Sullivan with the Milwaukee skyline in the background.

For my part, as an appreciative memory, I’ll convey some of our experience on the schooner. In September of 2016, there we were, riding the waves with the huge sails billowing to and fro, as the wind took us.

Ann Peterson in the deck of the schooner Denis Sullivan in September of 2016.

The historical schooner cruise was a birthday gift to me from my companion, Ann Peterson. And it was the palpable, wind-in-your-face, and even intoxicatingly moving experience I’d hoped for, even it proved too much for the steadiness of Ann, who started out gamely, as the picture above shows. Yet as the good ship dipped and swayed in the slightly feisty waters just beyond the Milwaukee harbor breakwaters, she grew a little green in the gills, and her chipper smile faded.

That’s part of the physical reality of being on open waters on such a vessel, but there’s so much more. You begin to get a sense of how a person can release oneself from the  confining and aggravating patterns of workaday and quotidian problems and pitfalls, and from the looming shadows of psychological malaise that life’s tensions and burdens can impose.

This sort of voyage lacks the tony creature-comforts and luxuries of an expensive cruise. Rather it does transport you back to a much heartier distant time, when brave people traveled and worked much closer to the elements of water, sun and wind. In reflection, one may draw from this elemental immediacy some sense of the holistic importance of water, covering the vast majority of the globe, and the ecosystems it sustains on water and land.

These are things that a writer like Melville, despite (and because of) being a whaler in his early adulthood, proved quite aware of, for a man of his time. His masterpiece novel  reveals that he had profound regard and respect for the whale and its place in “the watery part of the world,” as narrator Ishmael pointedly calls it, in his very first reference to the oceans, in “Loomings,” Chapter 1 of Moby-Dick. Or consider his gloriously attuned description of a great herd of nursing female whales in Chapter 87, “The Grand Armada.”  Such are some the educational aspects this vessel can pursue, though I’ve never taken an educational cruise on it, per se.

How resonant is the ship’s presence culturally? Well, for one example, renowned folk singer Pete Seeger recorded a song called “The Schooner Denis Sullivan” in 2001. 2

Here, Seeger sings his story-telling song a cappella:

Our 2016 cruise also allowed us to soak up the skyline of our modestly handsome city’s downtown, in ever-shifting contours, especially as the urban silhouette cuts itself against the increasing brilliance, then the warming glow of the setting sun in the West. (see photo sequence below). Looking upward, the towering, majestic sails overhead elicited a sort of poetry of rhythmic motion – sweeping, rippling, billowing and whispering.

The Milwaukee skyline from port side of the Denis Sullivan.

Back on the deck, one of the crew members pulled out a fiddle, as did one of the guests and the pair parlayed out a lively Irish-style reel. (Blog story with link to Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article continued, below photo sequence)

A crew member of the Denis Sullivan pulls out his fiddle to engage in a couple of Irish-style reels with a fiddle-playing passenger (not pictured).

 

Denis Sullivan Captain Carlos Canario at the schooner’s helm (gripping the steering wheel behind him) along Lake Michigan during our tour on the ship in 2016. Canario was the Relief Captain for Senior Captain Tiffany Krihwan, who has now departed and is now based in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the historically famous whaling town. t

In the tradition of Impressionist painters, see three views (above and below) of Milwaukee’s harbor and Hoan Bridge from the schooner Denis Sullivan, as the sun sets in the West.

An example of the sort of strange phenomenon one can experience out in the incalculable and evocative atmospheres of a Great Lake was this photo I took, from the Denis Sullivan. The ghostly spherical presence or optical effect hovers above the top of Summerfest’s Marcus Amphitheatre. I fancifully dub it “Sphere of sea god.”

***

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Reporter Chelsey Lewis admirably functions as a nautical and cultural historian in her comprehensive report on Milwaukee’s recent loss of the Denis Sullivan in the newspaper’s Sunday Life section. She provides an in-depth sounding, a voyage into the good ship’s past, present and future:

https://www.jsonline.com/story/travel/wisconsin/2022/10/27/how-milwaukee-built-and-lost-wisconsins-flagship-the-denis-sullivan/8198403001/.

The seeming tragedy is the story Ms. Lewis tells of the decision to sell, reportedly precipitated by the pandemic and the apparent failure to hire a new captain and first mate, after longtime ship Captain Tiffany Krihwan and her first mate were forced to leave by economic circumstances. Those included the shutting down of the ship for well over a year, along with Discovery World, to which it belonged. The reasons for the Denis Sullivan to be sold to another operation, World Ocean School, in, St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, remain questionable, especially given that there was a potential buyer in Chicago who would’ve kept the ship based in Milwaukee. The Chicago outfit, Tall Ship Windy, was prepared to make an offer close to the market value, about $1 million, Lewis reports.

By contrast, it is also troubling that Discovery World’s representatives refused to divulge the actual price of the ship’s sale. However, the successful sale should also underscore how distinguished and rare the Milwaukee-built schooner is for historical value, among other things, and the cultural loss Milwaukee is incurring. The sale rationale came down to a decision as to what is “best for the boat,” including maintaining one of its primary purposes as an educational entity. Why such a function could not continue to be maintained in Milwaukee remains unclear, aside from financial woes the operation is still apparently recovering from, post-pandemic.

The schooner’s powerful presence had also helped attract cultural events to its Discovery World dock, such as the evening concert by the popular Milwaukee jazz group VIVO, which was going on when we returned to dock in 2016.

Saxophonist-flutist Warren Wiegratz performs with VIVO, in a dockside concert going on as the Denis Sullivan, in background, moored after our September 2016 voyage on the 19th-century style schooner.

But read the Journal-Sentinel article to judge for yourself on the whole story of the city’s loss of the ship.

Lewis’s story does finally latch on strong rays of hope. The World Ocean School purchased the Milwaukee ship to replace it’s own flagship, which is now docked up for a few years for refurbishing. There’s a possibility they could be open to selling the Denis Sullivan back to Milwaukee when their own ship is ready to sail again. It is after all, a Great Lakes-style schooner. Still, one must consider such circumstances could change as drastically as the ever-roaming tides of the oceans and those Great Lakes, in all their magnificent and mystifying vagaries.

This two-sequence photo of Madison photographer Katrin Talbot (taken a few years before my trip on the ship) in collaborative research work for this writer’s Melville’s novel, shows some of the scale of the schooner Denis Sullivan. Retrospectively, Katrin seems to bid the ship farewell.

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1 In the afore-mentioned titles, authors Herman Melville (Moby-Dick), Richard Henry Dana Jr. (Two Years Before the Mast), and Joseph Conrad (Typhoon) gave us first-hand accounts, or concocted creative ships of transport themselves, in often-poetic prose. These were all based on their actual nautical experiences.

The mid-1800s were haunted by captains courageous and crazed, mighty sea creatures, countless sailors and whalers (drowned and survived), “widow’s walk” wives, and others who directly engaged in, or experienced, the drama and danger of 19th-century sea commerce, romance, and warfare (see Melville’s White-Jacket and Billy Budd, both set on warships).

2. Denis Sullivan Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_Sullivan_(schooner))

 

 

The Atlantic’s own editor-in-chief explains why it is my favorite magazine

The cover of the print edition of the November 2022 The Atlantic. Courtesy The Atlantic

Not long ago, I said to a friend who, like most people today, does most of his reading online, that The Atlantic is the last magazine I would still subscribe to, if all others fell to the wayside by choice or circumstance.

I don’t normally tout publications per se in this blog, but The Atlantic has been my favorite for quite a long time, and now it’s editor has written a piece in the November issue that helps to explain why it is worthy of being a person’s favorite.

Much of this has to do with the publication’s storied history, having been born as an abolitionist magazine shortly before the Civil War. But current editor Jeffrey Goldberg opens his piece called “The American Idea” with an 1861 letter from Julia Ward Howe, expressing her melancholy and insecurities to the editor at the time. The editor, James T. Fields, was wise enough not to touch the copy of the poem she submitted with her letter. He gave it a title and published “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” on the first page of the February 1862 edition. “(Howe received, in return, a $5 freelance fee and immortality.)”, Goldberg adds drolly.

He goes on to point out that The Atlantic, in its 166th year of continuous publication, also published for the first time, “Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and the first chapters of W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, and Rachel Carson’s meditations on the oceans, and Einstein’s denunciation of atomic weapons, and so on, ad infinitum.”

Further, The Atlantic‘s founding mission statement (reproduced in Goldberg’s article) was signed by various luminaries including Ralph Waldo Emerson, who appeared in the first issue; Oliver Wendell Holmes, who came up with The Atlantic‘s name; Nathaniel Hawthorne, who would become the magazine’s Civil War correspondent; Herman Melville (Moby-Dick), and Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), America’s most popular author at the time.

Goldberg’s only expressed regret about that time is that, given that Moby-Dick is his favorite American novel, that  Melville never found a way to contribute. That would be my sentiment exactly regarding Melville, who ended up publishing short pieces for Harpers, another long-time American magazine.

I have many reasons why the current magazine is my favorite, partly for it’s intelligence, it’s allegiance to no group, party or clique, and its cultural and political range. “We always try very hard to be interesting. That is a prerequisite,” Goldberg explains.

They succeed, too, which is why, even though some stories are long “thumbsuckers,” they almost invariably hold my interest and, if I don’t finish them, it’s my failing.

Here is Goldberg’s introductory article in the latest issue in full: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/11/165th-anniversary-atlantic-magazine-founding/671523/

p.s. As for your blogger, I submitted an article once — about Wisconsin guitar innovator Les Paul, Bob Dylan and Michael Bloomfield — to The Atlantic and, though chagrined, I was honored to receive a personalized, hand-written “no thank you” note from an editor from the magazine. The article was eventually published in NoDepression.com. Here’s the note. which I valued enough to frame.

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Guitarist Andrew Trim reaches for the moon on “Retroreflector”

Album cover courtesy bandcamp.com

Review: Andrew Trim Retroreflector (Float Free)

Andrew Trim will perform at an album release event, at 7 p.m. July 27, Anodyne Coffee Roasters, 224 West Bruce Street, Milwaukee, WI 53204. 

With his somewhat curious album title, Retroreflector, one wonders what guitarist Andrew Trim is reflecting on retrospectively. The slyly infectious groove his quartet lays down on the title tune leads you Pied Piper-like behind textural footsteps sketched out with deftly articulated power chords.

To me, this backwards-glancing album title lands upon Hendrix, as in “slight return,” a la “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” the coda to his masterpiece Electric Ladyland. Yet Trim is not leaning too heavily on the Hendrix mystique; rather he’s beginning to carve out his own space inhabited by both pugnacious power chording and poetry.

Speaking of poetry, the second tune, “Swirl,” evoked for me one of my favorite poems, Herman Melville’s “Shiloh,” a politically-pointed reflection on a graveyard of perpetually sleeping Civil War soldiers. Trim endows his more ambiguous subject matter with a certain grace, even if that poem was never specifically associated. A tentative melancholy is buoyed by lyrical wonder. “Shiloh” the poem almost sneaks up on its tragedy with the tender attentiveness: skimming lightly, wheeling still/ the swallows fly low/space over the field and clouded days, the force field of Shiloh –/ over the field were April rain/ Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain…” Melville deftly evokes the men on death’s doorstep. Trim’s theme seems to melt in the air as it picks out atmospheric spots, as if circling bird paths. Then guest guitarist Dave Miller injects a rough counterpoint, evoking the dire conflict contained in each stolen life six feet under – “… Through the pause of night/ that followed the Sunday fight/ around the church of Shiloh –/ the church so lone, the log-built one, / that echoed to many a parting groan…” The poem quickly inserts a painfully poignant statement about the politics of the war between brethren.

I hope other listeners find enough in Trim’s artistry to pursue this, if not other poetic or artistic analogues. This veteran Milwaukee guitarist as developed into one of the most original instrumental voices in Milwaukee, one deeply infused with a latter-day, anti-sainthood of psychedelia.

Guitarist-composer Andrew Trim. Courtesy bandcamp.com

And throughout, I detect a wide range of possible other influences, perhaps most striking Bill Frisell’s haunted pastoral jazz style, on “Lullabye.” The limpid, arcane melody sounds like a question sung out loud, in pure sound. On “Eclipse Plans” I sense some of Jeff Beck’s exquisitely executed guitar distortion. Elsewhere, consider Pat Metheny’s bright-beaming electronica or, by contrast, the driven Black-rock of the guitar-led trio Harriet Tubman. Such associations reflect the impressive range of Trim’s sonic vocabulary.

Also, in ensemble, Retroreflector is sustained superbly by Trim’s bandmates: Dan Pierson on keyboards and synthesizers, Barry Paul Clark on bass, and Nick Lang on drums.

Ultimately Trim’s exploratory work, for its tough harmonic brio, also reaches for his own brand of beauty, that which dwells in the deep cavern between raw, unmined sound and sunlit silhouettes.

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This review was originally published in slightly shorter form, in The Shepherd Express, here: https://shepherdexpress.com/music/album-reviews/retroreflector-by-andrew-trim/

Andrew Trim recently posted a meme on Facebook (below) which aptly characterizes his venture on Retroreflector: “Reach for the moon: A door opens into a smaller room.”

I suspect something extraordinary, perhaps even sacred, may dwell in that enclosure. Such are the revelations of committed creativity.Image

The wonders and wiles of animals running wild in the artist’s imagination

Nova Czarnecki, “Return to Me, ” oil painting,  $4500

Heretofore, I’ve refrained from reviewing an art show that I am participating in. However, I’ll simply announce, with a bit of comment, this is the last week to see Feather, Fur, Scale and Tail at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 926 E. Center St. Milwaukee. The show runs through Saturday, June 18. This delightful celebration and exploration of animals is ingenious, diverse, colorful and textural, and rich in symbolism and beauty. Yet it is not without acknowledging the darkness that shadows the animal world from within, and from without, the perpetual threat of humans. 

It includes one of a series of pastel and ink drawings I have made, inspired by Herman Melville’s epic novel Moby-Dick. The one on exhibit depicts a scene in the first of the novel’s three climactic chapters, “The Chase-The First Day.” The image is titled “Ishmael Intuits the End from the Crows Nest.” The book’s narrator Ishmael is visible in the far background, at the top of the ship, as the whaling boat with Captain Ahab and Ishmael’s friend, first harpoonist Queequeg, approach The White Whale in the foreground. 

Kevin Lynch, “Ishmael Intuits the End from the Crow’s Nest.” pastel and ink. Not for Sale 

But the show is filled with excellent work: from the lovely gestural simplicity of a blackbird sitting on a branch in Carol Rode-Curley’s watercolor-like pastel, “Resting Raven,” to John-Mark Klapperich’s complex visual jokes — wall assemblages of metal objects transformed into animals. Among the most vivid actual encounters with an animal is “Sweet Pea,” Mary Lee Agnew’s photo capturing the ever-elusive fox, with ears so large you imagine him a winged mythical creature, caught for a fleeting moment, amid wind-blown leaps of prairie grass. (All pictured below)

More myth (as in artful truth-telling) seems to reside in, for me, a true highlight — Nova Czarnecki’s large (48” x 60”) oil painting “Return to Me” (at top). This seems a  (self?) portrait of an earth mother dwelling in watery depths and attracting creatures from the air, the land and the very currents wherein she sits with a mystical regality.

Most works are for sale, and are visible online. or in the gallery. Here’s a link to the online viewing, with gallery hours and information: https://jazzgallerycenterforarts.org/gallery-exhibits/2022/5/14/feather-fur-scale-and-tail

Carol Rode-Curley, “Resting Raven,” pastel, $300

John-Mark Klapperich, “Patina Sprockets,” assemblage sculpture, Not for Sale

Mary Lee Agnew, “Sweet Pea,” photography, $150

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Kevernacular will exhibit a “Moby-Dick”-themed pastel at a new art exhibit at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, opening reception Saturday 5 to 7 p.m.

“Thar she blows!” the cry comes from high up in the crow’s nest. “Thar she blows, a hump like a snow hill! It is Moby Dick!”

Feminizing all whales is part of the romance of the high seas. This she is really a he, the great White Whale who’s hunted monomaniacally by Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s profoundly precient and symbolically pregnant masterpiece, Moby-Dick or, The Whale.

Those who’ve read this blog over the years may be aware of the precipitous esteem I hold for this extraordinary book. It has inspired me to write a novel about its author, somewhat forestalled by a myriad of circumstances, but forthcoming in due time.
This is a book that an artist of some repute whom I know aptly characterized as “the first postmodern novel” — published in 1851! It might also be the most critically commented-upon work of fiction in modern history, and the most widely referenced in popular culture, certainly among books that are not often actually read.

It has also inspired the visual artist in me.

So I’ve undertaken a series of pastel drawings with Moby Dick as my motif. And one of the perhaps more successful of these will soon be on display in an art exhibit at the Jazz Gallery Center for the arts.
The exhibit is announced in this poster, though one correction the opening reception’s time has een changed to 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday:

The exhibit will include Linocut Print | Sculpture | Comic-Book Illustration | Photography | Assemblage Box-Making | Encaustic | Pastels | Screen Print | Painting | Digital Drawing 

This event has brought me to the realization I should have a digital copy of this pastel professionally made. My apologies for the poorly depicted image at top. But you get the idea from my hand-held photo. I hope it strikes your fancy or interest enough to visit the opening or ensuing gallery days of this promising show.

Here’s an image of another artwork in the show, a block print by Jay Arpin.

Thank you,

Kevernacular (Kevin Lynch)

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

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

Full speech text:  King speech

***

 

Dear Louisa,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camus wrote:

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

Ringing for truth, justice and love,

Kevin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Auld Lang Syne” played by Mike Neumeyer:

 

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

 

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

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

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

Here’s the trailer:

 

 

 

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

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

Moby-Dick prints by Rockwell Kent

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

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

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

A Smart Dude Reads Moby-Dick: Episode 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Courtesy amazon.com

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

This is the colorized cover of the Kindle edition of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” as illustrated by Rockwell Kent for the 1930 edition, but with the author’s name added. (see below) 
Well, I gotta right to sing the blues, Or to sing praises, like a fool, to the earthly heavens where art might come from. And if it is the blues, it’s the kind that inspires you rather than keeps your head just above water.
You see, my song sort of went on and on (by Facebook comment standards), spilling over the 12-bar blues form like water in a sinking ship. But the editors at PBS American Masters Facebook page didn’t jettison any of my load of responses to the provocative question: What single work of art changed your life?
They’ve received 247 responses and counting. Here’s my response. I couldn’t quite help myself. I have even expanded on it here, with a bit more text and imagery.
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As a long-time generalist arts journalist, I’ve encountered so much extraordinary art in all its forms. How to pick one? I might say seeing Picasso’s “Guernica,” but it was an oddly truncated experience, as the Metropolitan Museum of Art closed before I could see all of it. I’d literally been stopped in my tracks on the staircase for long minutes because the center of Guernica filled the doorway view at the top. Then the doors closed, as the museum was closing for the day. I didn’t have time to return before flying back home. The great work moved to Spain a short time later, in 1981. So, I live with a reproduction of it, and that oddly but profoundly unfulfilled experience. 1
Imagine seeing, through a doorway, the middle of this astonishing political mural by Picasso, being stopped in your tracks by it on a museum staircase — and then the gallery doors closing on you at 5 p.m. That’s my sadly truncated but unforgettable experience of seeing the mighty “Guernica.” Courtesy Magazine Artsper
“Guernica,” of course was named for the Spanish town bombed in 1937 by Nazi planes, complicit with Fascist dictator Franco  — the first act of modern war terrorism on a civilian population of nascent World War II.
***
And then, seeing Arshile Gorky’s often-gorgeous metamorphosis from surrealism to abstract-expressionism — closely reflecting my own artistic sensibilities — at the Guggenheim Museum of Art is another life-changing moment.
The plow and the song - Digital Remastered Edition Painting by Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky’s 1946 painting “The Plow and the Song,” (above) lyrically transmutes his memories of homeland Armenia to the modernist present. The memories were rooted in his long, desperate childhood escape, by foot, with his sister Vartoosh and mother, from the Armenian holocaust conducted by the Ottoman Empire. Their mother, Sushan der Marderosian pictured below — in this wrenchingly poignant Gorky painting from about 1926, with the artist at the age of their exodus — died of starvation in 1918. (Courtesy pixels.)
Pleased with my Milwaukee Journal review of the Guggenheim show, Gorky’s nephew Karlen Mooradian contacted me. I was fortunate enough to obtain an in-person interview with him and Gorky’s sister Vartoosh Adoian Mooradian (Gorky’s original name was Vosdanig Adoian) in Chicago, but I was never able to publish anything from the interview. I did glean great insight from Mooradian’s 1980 book The Many Worlds of Arshile Gorky, about his artist uncle, who committed suicide in 1948. He profoundly influenced many abstract expressionists, none more than Willem de Kooning. 2
The Artist and His Mother, 1926 - 1936 - Arshile Gorky - WikiArt.org
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Then, music vibrates on and on in my life, where the single transforming moment could be the Butterfield Blues Band’s ground-breaking East-West album, or first hearing John Coltrane’s achingly eloquent and exalting A Love Supreme suite, or his searing Live at Birdland, and imaging being there, in that fire.
John Coltrane “Live at Birdland.” Courtesy deep groove mono
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Or, by contrast to such earnest passion, the lacerating sneer of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” which helped pinpoint the existential waywardness of the freedom my generation declared from bourgeois convention and responsibility. Or, by another contrast, Dylan’s affirmatively flashing “Chimes of Freedom,” poetry aflame in music
Or, hearing Beethoven or Mahler in fearless, heaving performances, in Milwaukee and Madison. Grammy-winning conductor John DeMain especially unlocked much of Mahler’s glorious might with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, in a full Mahler symphonic cycle in the 1990s and 2000s.
In theater, a darkly, full-chested staging of Macbeth at American Platers Theater, and a thunderbolt-raging King Lear at UW-Milwaukee. So, yes, the commonality here seems an appetite for grand gestures, of many sorts.
***
That’s why I finally must land on the experience of reading Moby-Dick for the first time (as some readers of this blog might’ve guessed). I was already in my ‘40s and, knowing its reputation and having seen Huston’s movie version, I remained unprepared for how inexorably the book swept me away, even though many readers understandably turn back to the shore. And yet, there’s so much you’d miss. Even the cetology I gobbled up like so much krill going down a cavernous throat.
Yet the haunting had begun several decades earlier when I found a copy of the 1930 Random House edition which brought the book to widespread readership.
My plastic-covered copy of the 1930 Random House edition of Moby-Dick, what I still believe is the definitive version of an illustrated edition of the book, with art by Rockwell Kent. Photo by Kevin Lynch
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The visual artist in me responded to this powerfully. I knew then, my day of reckoning with the book loomed somewhere in the future. There have been many illustrated editions of this book since, and some are steeped in their own fiery inspiration. But none so eloquently captures the spirit of the book as it manifest itself in the Depression era, as does that 1930 edition.
Rockwell Kent, in his way, approaches Melville’s genius in his 228 woodblock prints. The black and white Deco-influenced imagery is proto-noir, capturing the sense of lost-at-sea and impending doom and, in deft knife strokes, the essence of characters lurking inside their ravaged, or mortally infected, souls. 3
Infected by what? The blood-lust fervor of Ahab, akin to a demagogue manufacturing an enemy, in the whale that took his leg. The expansively stentorian Ahab, recalling Lear, captivates the whole crew in his questing rage — except for first mate Starbuck and, to a degree, Ishmael, who remains somewhat remote, and “aloft.”
Alas, Random House jumped on their perceived marketing coup with the new edition so strongly that they failed to put Melville’s name anywhere on the cover, only including “Illustrated by Rockwell Kent” on the spine. It was yet another of countless insults to the great and long-forsaken writer, right at the emergence of his genius to broader acceptance. The current Kindle version (at top), at least, corrects that “oversight” with the original cover (colorized though it is).
Captain Ahab — Rockwell Kent – Biblioklept
Here’s a brooding but burning portrait of Captain Ahab, by Rockwell Kent. 
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So, back to Melville’s text:
The extraordinarily antiphonal voices of Ishmael and Ahab echoed through my head and psyche, across the oceanic expanses of poetic writing, gritty details, and surprising humor, which might make some virtually sea-sick, but hang onto the horizon as the crow’s nest sways!
It was indeed postmodern in 1851, in how Melville strangely constructed it, and summed up his own creation as well as anyone: “It is the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships’ cables and hawsers. A Polar wind blows through it, and birds of prey hover over it.”
“Thar she blows!” from “Moby Dick,” 1930, illustrated by Kent. Courtesy “History of Art: Masterpieces of World Literature: Herman Melville.”
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Yet it persists, remaining afloat as a metaphor and allegory for America, in the tall, creaking bones of The Pequod, manned by people from many races. And what else did it all mean? Defying fate? Or God? Or nature? Or Nature? Hubris as delusion, or the destiny of grace embraced, one storyteller’s backward glance into timelessness?
Rockwell Kent Ishmael Going Abroad Giclee Art Print | Etsy
Here, Pequod first harpoonist Queequeg, who deeply befriends Ishmael early in the novel, remains vigilant for the White Whale, even while down in the forecastle where the crew bunks. Illustration by Kent. Courtesy Etsy.
From childhood, oceanic depths had always scared me. In time, Melville’s mounting whorl of words, and his own extraordinary life story, compelled me to begin writing a novel about its author.
These days, people critique the book’s scarcity of women characters. Yet, as Sascha Morrell comments. “On the other hand, the novel makes numerous appeals to the maternal forces of nature. It also breaks down gender norms and boundaries, from Ishmael’s surrender to Queequeg’s ‘bridegroom clasp,’ to Ahab’s boasting of his ‘queenly personality’ to the ambiguous mingling of ‘milk and sperm’ in the infamously erotic chapter ‘A Squeeze of the Hand.’”
Another she doesn’t mention is one of my favorite chapters, the stunning awe of gigantic maternal nursing in “The Grand Armada.” For that matter, tell (the late) Elizabeth Hardwick, author of a brilliantly concise and empathetic Melville biography, how much it lacks for a human female presence. Or Laurie Robertson-Lorant, author of a comprehensive Melville biography. Or Elizabeth Schultz, the doyenne of visual art about “The Great American Novel.”
Moby Dick breaches like a god reaching for the stars, (or to “kiss the sky,” as Jimi Hendrix would exult in the 1960s). in this image by Kent from 1930.
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On the other hand, one could quote any number of astute observers on the book’s magnificence: Hardwick, F. O. Matthiessen, Harold Bloom, Leslie Fiedler, Alfred Kazin, and Lewis Mumford all come to mind, worth looking up. Most recently, I revisited D.H. Lawrence on Moby-Dick and he says: “A wonderful, wonderful voyage. And a beauty that is so surpassing only because of the author’s awful flounderings in mystical waters. He wanted to get metaphysically deep. And he got deeper than metaphysics. It is a surpassingly beautiful book, with an awful meaning, and bad jolts.” Read his essay in Studies in Classic American Literature for more. 4
So, living on the Heartland edge of a Great Lake, I remain haunted by this and more, by Saint Elmo’s Fire and the diabolical blood ritual, by Pip seeing God’s foot on the treadle of the loom, by the Catskill Eagle emerging from the woe that is madness, by Ahab’s burning obsession, by the massive will and long, mysterious memory – is it consciousness? — of the white whale and, of course, by Queequeg’s coffin, a miraculous, sacred offering from a brotherly friend, somehow rising, just free of the hellish vortex.
“Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf…”
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1 Picasso was adamant that Guernica remain at the Met until Spain re-established a democratic republic. It would not be until 1981, after both the artist’s and Franco’s deaths, that Spanish negotiators were finally able to bring the mural home.
2 Mooradian’s The Many Worlds of Arshile Gorky includes 70 illustrations, a Q& A interview with Willem DeKooning about Gorky, as well as interviews with Alexander Calder, Lee Krasner Pollock, Malcolm Cowley, Reuben Nakian, Barnett Newman, Peter Blume, Meyer Schapiro, Saul Steinberg and other important figures in modern art and criticism.
3 The edition of Moby-Dick with Kent’s illustrations remains in print. I recommend the version with an introduction by Elizabeth Hardwick, published by The Modern Library, in paperback 2000.
4. Studies in Classic American Literature, DH Lawrence, Penguin, 1923, 1977, 159

Jim Glynn, Restless Seeker, Part 2

 

Ed. note, This “Jim Glynn Part 2,” was accidentally posted a few days ago, even though obviously unfinished. I discovered that belately, after being out of town. Thanks for the generous “likes,” but here is the finished post. 

It was gratifying, but no great surprise, that many people responded to my last Culture Currents posting, with a vast array of comments and stories and appreciation of the late Jim Glynn. I now realize I can’t leave this subject at that. I need to add more to this man’s story and legacy, in my small way. Thus, this follow-up blog post.

What dawned on me today was about what Jim signified and how he functioned in our lives, meaning those who knew and were truly touched by him. In retrospect, it seems that for me, and I suspect a number of our other people, that this extraordinary Irishman may have been his own sort of “guru.” I believe he came to his wisdom the hard way, as perhaps most wisdom arrives, through the extraordinary trials, suffering and indignities that his paraplegia visited upon him over the course of most of his adult life.

I never really thought of him that way when he was alive, and I realize the “guru” notion may prompt a few eye rolls, but I doubt much among those who knew the man. Thinking back, I always felt somewhat blessed by his presence, and inspired, and perhaps, if I was lucky, even enlightened a bit by the restless seeker in him, in all its manifestations, towards what I recently called “enlightened serenity.”

This got me to thinking about a book I own and cherish, written by perhaps the most brilliant teacher I have ever had: Professor Ihab Hassan, an acclaimed literary critic, whom I had the privilege to study with in a graduate English lit seminar at UW-Milwaukee in the mid-1980s. And the notion of Jim’s seeking, or his quest in life — quiet as it may have seemed — led me back to Hassan’s superb book Selves at Risk: Patterns of Quest in Contemporary American Letters.

I also thought part of Hassan’s rather poetic rigor (no oxymoron with him) and perspective came from being an Egyptian, emigrated to America at age 20, then specializing in American literature (His 1961 book Radical Innocence: The Contemporary American Novel, made his name in the literary world). Jim responded to the culture and wisdoms of the East, and Egypt is perhaps the most mystical (as in Eastern, more than Arabic) of Middle Eastern cultures.

In his introduction, Hassan characterizes “the seeker” he is trying to illuminate in his book, and, the more I recall Jim and his spirit, the more I feel that he was something of the kind of seeker Hassan contemplates and investigates in his book. I will quote from it:

“The seeker, as I hope to show, has many faces. But he is not characterless or faceless. He is certainly self-reliant, tolerant of risk. He is mobile. He seeks a meaning, even if danger must attend his pursuit; he intuits that individuals need and consume meanings far more than products. And he suspects that the sacred…camouflages itself in that pursuit…he disdains vicarious jeopardy, pseudo-risks, packaged by prurient media or proffered by amusement parks. He knows unreal America. He knows, therefore that in venturous quests he may recover reality, constitute significance, maintain his vigor, all in those privileged moments of being when life vouchsafes its most secret rewards (my italics). Is this not the whole sense of Emersonian experience?” 1

This photo illustrates how Jim Glynn could transform risk into reward with quick, deft wit and charm. I believe he had double-parked in Chicago’s Loop with some friends and, sure enough, the cops pulled up. Jim swiftly disarmed them (not literally) and, before we knew it, he’d “borrowed” their squad car for this crazy scene! Jim’s in the car at right, in his psychedelic shirt, wearing a Chicago cop’s hat, with our bemused friend Mitch (Mitar) Covic, to Jim’s left. The woman below was Jim’s current girlfriend (name escapes me) and the two to the far left were Jim’s friends who I didn’t really know. Photo by Kevin Lynch

Hassan’s characterization of an American archetype (especially that which I italicize), seems to fit Jim Glynn perfectly. As my first post indicated, he was amazingly mobile, despite his paraplegia and, man, did he seek meaning more than products (musical recordings aside), even despite danger.

His questing was largely manifest culturally, beyond good friends and acquaintances (“brothers and “sisters”) through his long-time radio show’s expansively “out there” musical variety: Not simply esoteric, but capable of gracefully bringing back in the general listener by integrating popular, or at least vernacular music, of many sorts. Few disk jockeys I’ve heard did this as well. Not even the great Milwaukee DJ Ron Cuzner, to compare another jazz-oriented programmer, who really “limited” himself to jazz. WMSE today still does have some arguably comparable like “Tom Wanderer” or Paul Cebar, and to a degree “Dr. Sushi,” for those with strong jazz tastes. WUWM’s Bob Reitman remains great, but with largely a ’60s-’70s throwback show.

Clearly Jim’s questing, and ability, to swim across mile-wide and unpredictable Elkhart Lake with arms, signifies that quest. This swim was beyond my ability, by contrast to a few more-capable swimmer/amigos, like Harvey Taylor, Tom Truel, Heiko Eggers, and perhaps Tim Reichart, at a genuine level of physical danger and risk. Truel admits he needed professional scuba fins to “pull this off” with Jim, and just barely.

Truel’s generous and detailed e-mail response to me, a remembrance/tribute of it’s own, underscores what I’m driving at here.

Time, as Tom notes, was a profoundly relative term in Jim’s seemingly timeless quest” Tom writes:.

“I call it ‘Jimmy Glynn Time’. You might get together with Jim for a swim day and to truly enjoy it, one needed to clear the calendar for the day. ‘We will leave at 10AM from my house.’, would become 11 or 11:30. Time was never wasted. Many preparations. Plenty of yuks (eg. see photo above) and endless chat of music, great women and sacred herb. Not a boring delay to say the least, as long as one made no plans for the day and if you knew what you were getting into — no plans were made. With Jim –‘The Journey Was The Adventure’.”
(I’ll add that Jim wasn’t above transgression. I know that he drove his car many times under the influence of herb. Illegal yes, but, as with most comparative aspects of herb consumption, I consider that far less dangerous than drunken driving. Also, in his early radio years at WUWM, Jim would invite friends to the studio during his late night show, and everyone would partake of the “sacred herb,” whether toking or “indirectly,” amid the celestial cloud-offering to the bodiless goddess Mary Jane, suffusing the studio on high.)
Then, Tom Truel recalls: “(Jim, the DJ, is getting ready to play Dylan’s “Time Out Of Mind” in its entirety, one of his favorites, to set the mood and leave a clue in regard to shadow elements as well.)”

So I’m trying to work my way out of the “shadow elements” before they recede too far into the mists of time, or transcendence?

Another even more dramatic example of Jim’s seeking, regardless of danger, may have led directly to the accident that disabled him. I’m going to speculate here a bit, as Jim never told me the full details of the accident in any self-dramatizing or aggrandizing way. But consider the very fact that he was driving a Jeep (still infamously unsafe vehicles in the 1960s) through the Alps on a trip from Germany to France. Perhaps it was a personal trip but more likely military duty which, as a soldier, he would probably have volunteered for — given the risk and isolated, extended nature of it.

There was GI Jim Glynn, in the process attaining the sort of ultimate natural high he would strive to later simulate, or somewhat achieve, through exploratory creative music, simpatico friendship and marijuana. And then, in a sudden fated instant, he was tumbling, but also flying, through the air, in the mountains. This recalls a great Herman Melville notion of “a Catskill eagle in some souls” 3

Or, less exaltedly, Townes Van Zandt’s simpler image of “to live’s to fly, both low and high,” in his masterful song, “To Live’s to Fly.”

The last two-part chapter of Jim Glynn’s life-mission, finally was to leave Milwaukee — the city where many people loved him to varying degrees and to which he’d given so much — and embark on a late-life quest, by himself. He said he felt this city had grown stale for him. To the shock of many friends, he moved to Portland, Oregon, while a paraplegic in his early 60s.

It all soon fell apart. A “friend” who helped Jim move in, then ripped off a couple of boxes of “personal papers,” Jim said, which really had little value except to Jim himself.

He did some radio shows for the local Portland community station and the NPR outlet. Then one day he fell, probably on a rainy Portland street, and broke his leg, and found himself laid up with a large cast for quite a while.

Then he was diagnosed with bladder cancer, possibly the result of his constant need for a catheter, and being out there without a girlfriend/caretaker his hygiene likely suffered. .To say the least, Jim never really found his mojo in Portland.

Another person who addressed his quest was writer Doug Hissom, in his excellent 2004 Shepherd Express feature on Jim when he returned home. Hissom opens simply and directly, “Jim Glynn has come home to die.” He’d found the Portland jazz scene amazingly similar to Milwaukee,  “I found that jazz has a precarious toehold these days. To my horror. The extensive music scene (in Portland) Is aimed at people under 25.”

Yet, amid loneliness in the Northwest, his painful seeking earned wisdom and serenity. “I suddenly found myself a man without a country. I just realized one day, that yeah, it’s time to come back for my people. Where my roots are. It’s just time to come back to Milwaukee.

“They say you can’t come home again and some of that is right. But my rhythm’s gotten back. I’ve got back into a natural rhythm

“It’s the Zen feeling and Zen quality in Milwaukee where you can move at what I thought was a slow pace before, but now it’s about right.” Hissom writes that Jim was going to try to get back on the radio and spend some time in the clubs. “It’s like a whole world opened up to me when I came back,” Jim continued.

Then he told Hissom the same thing he said to me. “I really don’t know how much time I have. They say I’m really sick, but I don’t act sick. They told me today it’s a short time, maybe. But I’ve no idea.”

Hissom’s article ran in the Shepherd Express September 30-October 6, 2004 edition. Now, please note the photograph of Jim (at the top) from his memorial brochure. The photo was taken October 2, and there he is, with his rhythm back, paradiddling his conga drum, at a jam in a club.

On October 18, Jim took his restless quest for enlightened serenity out, to the greatest unknown of all.

_____________

  1. Ihab Hassan, Selves at Risk: Patterns of Quest in Contemporary American Letters, University of Wisconsin Press, 1990, 13
  2. ““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 forever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than the other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.” — Herman Melville, Chapter 96, “The Try-Works,” Moby-Dick.