Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's A Halloween Miracle

Our power came back on tonight after 2 very dark, very cold days, well cold for October.  We celebrated the only way we know how around these parts; we cranked up the oven and made Star Wars sugar cookies.

Thank you oh Great Pumpkin. 
And maybe we also saved all the good chocolate for ourselves. Sorry trick or treaters, we needed it more. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Songs of the Week: Hurricane Playlist

In case you haven't heard, the east coast of the United States is experiencing a little hurricane action. I'm typing this as fast as I can on Monday night, as the winds howl outside and the rain pounds the windows. I fully expect my power to go out at any moment, but before I am left in the dark, here is a little stormy playlist:

Shelter From the Storm--Bob Dylan

Midnight on the Stormy Deep-- Bill Monroe

Blinding Sheets of Rain--Old 97's

Lightning Storm--Flogging Molly

Who'll Stop the Rain--Creedence Clearwater Revival

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Stay Safe Y'all

I've got bottled water, a day off work, a pile of books to read, and enough cold medicine pumping through my veins to hopefully sleep through Sandy AND Godzilla.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Oh, the Horror!

Now here is something that never comes up during a first date:

I love classic horror and sci-fi movies. 

By classic, I mean silent films from the 1920-1930s, or monster/alien invasion movies of the 1950s-1960 that by law must include a dance scene or a road chase, no matter the monster or plot line. Modern day gore filled horror shows I have not time, patient or desire for. Spine tingling? Yes. Gross out? No.

Since Halloween is next week, and this isn't a first date (or is it? Suddenly I'm feeling awkward), let's talk about silent films. I know that it is pretty cinema snobish to have an adoration for silent films, but there were some amazing things being done when this whole moving image medium was new. For one thing, the acting was different. Because there was no spoken dialogue, actors had to act from the tip of the fingers to the point of the feet. I also feel they acted more with their eyes and face and expressions, sometimes to the point of being over exaggerated, but that just adds to the charm. And since I am specific talking about horror movies, silent films by nature, I believe, have more organic suspense to them. 

As an interesting point of introduction, many of the first silent films came out of Germany. During the early part of the 20th century, Germany had a government sponsored film studio called UFA.  During the silent years, it was really easy to distribute films internationally because all you had to do was switch out title cards.  UFA had a monopoly in Germany, and were able to get their films distributed and were well funded by the government.  Germany also had a bit of an artistic renaissance during this time which was reflected in the films.  Since they had a monopoly they also had access to the best talent in the country.  The studio overextended itself financially and then the N.azis took over and basically turned it into a propaganda wing.  A lot of German directors and writers fled to Hollywood and made a huge contribution to the American film industry (Fritz Lang, Murnau, Billy Wilder etc.). That fine history lesson is via my film school educated sister, she is way quicker than google, and can also recommend movies and tell you how to make homemade chicken stock at the same time.  

Metropolis (1927, German).

 This isn't so much horror as it sci-fi, and it is sci-fantastic, so much so that it almost bankrupted the UFA. Let's go through the science fiction checklist: futuristic dystopian society? Check. Creepy robot? Check. A chosen one/prophet? Check. Crazy inventor? Check. And a  for a touch of horror, out of control mob scene?  Check. From that list you know there is a lot going on this film, so first let's set the scene: in future, society has been divided into two classes, the (literal) upper class lives in high towers and reaps the benefits of modern technology. And this modern technology is run by the (literal) lower class that lives underground, working to keep the huge machines of society running. Remember this is Germany in the 1920s. But then love (please pronounce 'love' like a deep voiced late night disc jockey on the radio who spins tunes for long distance lovers) enters into our story.  Freder, a privilege boy of the upper class falls in love with Maria who is not only a member of the lower class but also a kind of prophet, who get kidnapped by the crazy inventor. And then it get weird. The creepy robot, or Maschinenmensch if you are wearing your fancy pants is made to look like Maria, but is an evil Maria,  and a mob scene, a flood, and SAVE THE CHILDREN,  a fight scene, and a very symbolic ending uniting the two classes. And fade to black. The special effects are pretty unreal for the time period that the film was shot, this is definitely a case of film is art.  And fun fact: C-3PO, or his design, from Stars Wars was largely modeled after the Maschinenmensch, although a male version. 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, German). 

Brilliant, brilliant film. It is also one of the first films to employ a twist ending. Most of the film is told in flashback which begins with a trip to a carnival (red flag! red flag!). At the carnival our friends Francis, Alan and Jane witness a side show from Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist (sleepwalker) friend, Cesare, who can predict the future (red flag! red flag!). Cesare is creepy and lives in the cabinet (which came first, I don't know.) Someone (I'm looking at you, Alan) had to be all silly and ask when they are going to die (never, ever, ask this), which, (dramatic music) is foretold to be the next day. AND IT HAPPENS. There is an investigation and then omg the surprise twist, which I don't want to give away, and I know that you guys are just going to to google it anyway, but an insane asylum is involved, and also I can think of a couple other films that have stolen this twist ending, but this was the first one, it's the hipster of twist endings. 

Nosferatu, or Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. (1922, German)

  The best vampire/Dracula film ever made. Full stop. Period. The end. This was an unauthorized adaption of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The studio couldn't obtain the rights to the novel, so they just changed the names of the characters, because no one would ever notice. The story is pretty faithful and similar to every Dracula movie you have ever watched in your life. But Count Orlok (not Dracula, wink, wink), played by Max Schreck is the perfect amount of horrifying and creepy. He is not sparkly, we don't have to worry about his feelings. He actually doesn't even care about "making" more vampires. He just wants your blood, and your life.  Straight forward vampire.  And I think that because it is a silent film, the suspense is so much more heart pounding, there is a lot creeping along dark hallways and slowly opening doors, coffins, and stuff. This is also the first movie where a vampire's demise is caused by sunlight. The whole sunlight thing is not mentioned in Bram Stoker's novel, 'cause you guys, Nosferatu is a totally different story, said the directors so they wouldn't get sued.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925, American, yay we made movies back then too!). 

I will be honest, I haven't seen the Broadway production of Phantom. I know that upon hearing this, many of my friends may  rethink our friendship. I have actually never made it through any other production of Phantom, I just love this silent version of Gaston Leroux's novel so much. I'm actually watching it as I type this right now . Christine, I have come for you . . . . Lon Cheney, Sr. is magnificent as Erik (the phantom)  even when he is in shadow, even when he is masked, and then his true self is reveled and EEK! And yes, Erik is the phantom's real name via Leroux, I didn't just randomly name him, but I do usually say, "Oh that Erik," a lot during the film, which may take away a tad from his scary facade.  Cheney, a very talented movie make up artist and actor, did all his own make up as the phantom, which he based off descriptions in the book. In the book and in this film version, the phantom is deformed from birth, not from an acid attack or fire.  There were reports of the audience members fainting and screaming at first sight of the phantom. (You can see images of his phantom here).

I feel the story is pretty well known, so I don't feel I have to go into it, but in the end, it is just another love story. A tragic love story. A tragic love story with an angry mob with torches at end.  And c'mon let's be honest, love can be quite horrifying.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn Sunset

I know that this might be the calm before the storm, ie Hurricane Sandy, ie Frankenstorm, ie my power is probably going to be out all of next week, but tonight's sunset was delightful. 

 Carpet of leaves

Teleporting (ala Star Trek) leaves

Goodnight Moon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Song of the Week: Shovels and Rope

Have you ever had a song hit you so hard with it's pure power and joy that you tumble backwards and are left in the dust completely speechless, and when you finally regain your words, the only thing worth saying is, "Play it again."


Well, you are about to.

Behold, "Gasoline" by Shovels & Rope:

Play it again.
Play it again.
Play it again.

A documentary featuring the Shovels and Rope duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst is currently in production and slated for release next year. The film, The Ballad of Shovels and Rope, follows the band in their quest to release their album, "O'Be Joyful (which is out and available).  Independent musicians are wild and earnest creatures, and I love seeing how their music comes to be and gets to my ears. 

A little clip about the doc:

You can find out more information about the documentary and the band on their facebook page.

They are currently touring the US, and will be stopping in my old stomping grounds of Columbia, MO, which gives me a little glimmer of hope that bands will be adding more and more non-KC/STL  Missouri tour stops in time for my victorious return to rural living. They are also playing in KC and STL. Uh hem. You should go see them. Full tour details here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sometimes I Bake

One of the side effects of catching canning fever is piles of jars; jars that every speck and drop of blueberry basil and strawberry balsamic jams have been scraped out. I am trying to transition all my food storage (every day Tupperware food storage, not end of the world food storage. I have come to terns with the fact that during the apocalypse, I'll be the person huddled in some dark corner eating Cheez-Its crumbs out the box. ) into glass containers instead of plastic, but except for spices I have a hard storing anything into the smaller jars. So I do what I always do when I am in a jam (so witty, I am); I make pie. Or cake.

I have been using half pint jars to make single serving deserts, or breakfasts. I firmly believe that one of the trade offs for having to pay bills as an adult is that you are allowed to eat pie for breakfast. 'Cause you're grown up.  Half pints seem to the be the perfect size, you get enough of the sweet stuff and the satisfaction of scrapping the jar clean. They are also super portable and make a fine gift. 

Red Velvet Cake
I actually made these little cakes for a going away party I hosted for some of my favorite people. And at the end of the night, I just screwed on the lids for all the leftover cakes and handed them to people on their way out. I got rid of the dangerously tempting cake, and the jars. High fives all around! I used this recipe and directions.  I want to emphasize something mentioned in the recipe: do not, under any circumstances, use store bought canned cream cheese frosting on red velvet cake. Yuck. Respect the cake.

No Bake Sweet Potato Cheesecake
I've been a little slow getting into  Fall baking/cooking this year. But these little darlings. Holy Bovine. I used this recipe, and split the crust and filling between four of these squat half pint jars. I swear there were four of them, one wandered off the road and into the my mouth, and didn't make it to the photo shoot. 

Lazy Strawberry Crisp
Once upon a time I found a can of strawberry pie filling in the cupboard. I admit it, i usually turn my nose up to canned pie filling, I mean really, I have to have some type of standards. So I have no idea why it there, but one night, after I long blur of day at work, I needed something pie-ish, but had no desire to roll out a crust, no desire to chop up fruit, that I didn't have. So I poured some pie filling into this delightful  and so much bigger than half pint, Weck jar (thanks M!) made a n easy crumble topping (flour, brown sugar, a handful of oats, and some cold butter), popped it into the oven, until golden brown. I win.

Safety First: if you want to try baking in glass jars, make sure you use jars/glass that has been made and treated to handle high heat, like canning jars or Pyrex, not empty spaghetti sauce jars. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Song Lyric of the Week

Wanting change but loving her just as she lies.

And with that one line, I take back what I said about this album not being soul shaking enough.

"For Those Below," is a bonus track on the deluxe edition of the "Babel." And if you think it sounds a little different from their other songs, it is because Winston Marshall, the banjo player, is singing lead vocals. 

Local Travels: Congressional Cemetery

Every October it seems I get invited on a tour of the Congressional Cemetery. I have been to this fine resting place several times, but I always jump at a chance to go to this DC hidden gem. Plus, I love tours, tour guides and at times, pretending that I am also a tour guide, whether I know what I am taking about or not.

So gather around my little virtual tour group, try to stay together, save your questions until the end, and let's walk.
First, the Congressional Cemetery is not on federal land, is not managed by Congress and is not an official national cemetery, so the "congressional," is more of a nickname the stuck because some members of congress are buried there, than any official original title.  In fact, it really isn't even on Capitol Hill, it is about 2 miles off the Hill, down by the Anacostia River.

The original city plans for Washington DC did not include any public cemeteries. In the 18th century, most burial plots were either in church lots or on private family land. There were also objections stemming from experiences in other colonial cites were graveyards were becoming nuisances, overcrowded, unsanitary, and a little unkempt and unsightly. But as Washington grew into a real city where people actually lived and therefore died, instead of just merely the seat of the federal government, the need for public burying grounds soon became apparent. Congressional Cemetery started out as the burying ground for Christ Church, Washington Parish,  the land bought by an association of members of the parish, to serve not only the congregation, but also the local residents. The cemetery is, in fact, still owned by the church, although the immediate management of the cemetery is now administrated by the Association for the Preservation of Historical Congressional Cemetery.
The cemetery opened in 1807, and that same year it got it's first congressional resident, Uriah Tracy, senator from Connecticut, who passed away on July 19, 1807. Remember this was 1807, long before embalming was a common practice, so the idea of transporting the body back to the home state was not a reasonable option. So started of the tradition of burying members of Congress who died while in office in the Christ Church, or the now called Congressional Cemetery. This tradition held true for about 50 years until after the Civil War, where the official national cemetery system was set up and embalming, medical and transportation options made it easier for the deceased to return home. I stress the word, official, because prior to this time, the Congressional Cemetery was actually known as the first National Cemetery, becoming the final resting place for not only government leaders but also members of the military including those who died in the War of 1812.
Oh, no, I see some of our tour group wandering off because of all these long blocks of text, OK, let's talk about some of my favorite residents.

There are many familiar names and fancy monuments in the yard, but my favorite marker, by far, is this rather plain looking one:
Belva Ann Lockwood (1830-1917)
 Seriously, stop what you are doing and go read about this amazing woman, or I guess I will just tell you. In the 1870s,  she became one of the first woman lawyers in the United States. Although she was allowed to attend law school she had to petition the President of the United States  in order to obtain her diploma. She stood before many judges that told her that women did not have right  or mental capacity to practice law (among other things). She fought for women's rights, including equal pay for government employees (still fighting!). As a married woman she could not, under the law, try cases/stand before the Supreme Court, so in 1874 she wrote her own anti-discrimination bill and lobbied Congress for 5 years. In 1879, it was signed by President Hayes, and that same year, Lockwood became the first woman to be sworn in as a member of the US Supreme Court Bar, and in 1880 she became the first woman lawyer to try a case before the Supreme Court.  She also ran for President of the United States in 1884, although she couldn't legally vote for herself (woman didn't get the right to vote until 1920 ). She continued to fight for women's rights and as the world inched closer to World War I, she was a strong advocate for world peace. She died in 1917, about 3 years before the 19th Amendment was passed.

Mathew Brady (1822-1896)
 If you have seen any of the gritty and heart breaking photographs of the US Civil War, chances are they are the work of Mathew Brady. He was a photojournalist even before there was just a thing. His images made war real. Sadly, the chemicals he used to develop his film left him blind and unable to work in his later years and he lost everything; his studio, many of glass negatives were sold cheaply for the glass, not for the images (and thus destroyed), and he died penniless. He is actually buried on his wife's family plot in the cemetery. He was originally given a very small grave marker that had an incorrect death date. Several years ago a Civil War society gave him a proper and corrected headstone.

Arsenal Disaster Monument (1864)
During the Civil War, the Washington Arsenal routinely hired teenager girls, mostly Irish immigrants, to pack the explosives because their hands were small and could really pack and handle some of the smaller cartridges. In 1864, there was a huge (and accidental) explosion at the arsenal killing 20 of these young girls. Many of the victims were on the only member of their families in this country, and so 16 of them were buried in this mass grave. President Lincoln himself led the funeral procession and attended all the graveside ceremonies.

Little Marion Kahlert (1894-1904)
I don't really have a story about little Marion, but she is a prime example of the ongoing preservation work in the cemetery. If you are familiar with the DC area, all I have to say is that this cemetery is in SE, and you understand. The southeast area of the District hasn't always been the best part of town. There is a current movement to revitalize this area, but for many, many, many years the cemetery, like the rest of the area, fell into to terrible disrepair and vandalism ran rampant. Because of funding from the National Trust, funding from the dog walkers who pay a fee to walk their dogs through the cemetery and other community events, this historical gem has come alive again. The cemetery is now able to not only handle the landscaping upkeep, but also repair damaged and deteriorating grave markers. Little Marion had been broken off at her knees, but just last week her repairs were complete, and she is upright and whole again.
Grave waiting for repair 

The Public Vault
Before funeral homes existed or at least were popular, bodies were held in the Public Vault before burial. Many famous Washingtonians spent a little of their after life in this little room including presidents John Quincy Adams (who is buried in Quincy, MA), William Henry Harrison (who is buried in North Bend, OH) and Zachary Taylor (who is buried in Louisville, KY ). The saddest story of the Public Vault has to do with Dolly Madison who was housed here for 2 years, 2 years! while funds were being raised for a funeral and burial. After her husband, President James Madison, died, Dolly basically fell into financial ruin. The upkeep of  the large Montpelier estate was too much and she had to sell it and live off family and friends up in DC until her death. Her son from her first marriage (NOT to James), was a scoundrel at best, and kept spending and gambling the money that was being raised for a proper funeral and burial for his mother. But Dolly, even in death, prevailed and is now buried next to her beloved James at the restored Montpelier in central Virginia.
The Public Vault from the outside
The Public Vault from the Inside

J.Edgar Hoover (1895-1972)
Hoover is buried at the cemetery not because he was the director of the FBI, but because he was a local boy, growing up near the cemetery. The FBI, however did supply the fence around his grave along with the bench. New recruits to the bureau still come to the cemetery to see "The Director."

John Philip Sousa (854-1932)
Like Hoover, John Philip Sousa is buried in the Congressional Cemetery because his was a local boy. He is known for not only for his patriotic marches, but also making the Marine Corp Band what it is today, in all it's glory and fame. Every year on Sousa's birthday, the Marine band comes marching into the cemetery and performs for their "Director."
Sousa's grave this year

A picture from a visit in 2010

Mary Hall
Mary Hall is not buried under the angel statue in this picture, that's her mother. Mary is buried under the  rather thoughtful looking woman next to the angel. The reason why Mary, who designed and paid for this plot herself, didn't give herself an angel is because she was the owner of one of the classiest bordellos in DC in the 1800s. The reason why I included this stop on our little tour is because I get a kick out of the "welcome," sign in the back of the  plot. She was so welcoming in life, why wouldn't she be welcoming in death?

And this ends our tours. Please tip your guide. With pie.  

There are many, many more stories of the residents of the Congressional Cemetery.  DC, like most towns, certainly has had its cast of characters. So next time you are in DC, and have already seen all the museums, and all the monuments and eaten at all the food trucks, I encourage you to venture off the beaten track and visit the cemetery.

The stories from today's post come from our wonderful tour guides from the Association for the Preservation of Historical Congressional Cemetery, and from articles from their website

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Words: Wisdom

I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty.

I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Song of the Week: The Felice Brothers

There are a lot of obvious things that I love about this song, “Her Eyes Dart Round,” by the Felice Brothers; the accordion, the harmonica, the Dylan-esque strain in the vocals. But there is also something deeper.  There are a lot of folk bands these days with this current mainstream folk revival. There are a lot banjos walking across the stage. And after a while, a lot of them start to all blend together. But when a band like the Felice Brothers comes along with their beautiful simple songs layered in truth and honesty, you take notice. And then you hit the repeat button 457 times. The “goodness” of a song sometimes can’t be explained with words, since that would strip it of its musical parts. But the ears and maybe a little bit of the heart can tell the difference between a one hit wonder and truth.

My musical romantic mind likes to picture folks bands as the wandering scribes and poets and prophets of our time. So maybe when this folk thing dies down and is shadowed by whatever the next big shiny new music thing will be,  these folksters  will return to the mountain tops and street corners from whence they came or keep moving down the line, bound for glory. (Yep, still on a Guthrie high). But their stories, which are our stories too, after all we, by definition, are the folk, will still remain, waiting to be retold, on the record player, iPod and occasional sing along by a campfire.
"Her Eyes Dart Round" can be found on the Felice Brothers’ album, God Bless You Amigo, and can be purchased on their website. This album is well worth the five dollars and the incredible story behind the making of the album (read here) involves freak hurricanes, old fiddle tunes and rare skin disorders.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sounds: This Land Is Your Land – A Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration Concert @ The Kennedy Center

So. This happened over weekend:
This Land Is Your Land – A Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration Concert at the Kennedy Center.

The night, start to finish, was pretty heart stirring.

The evening started out with a true to the word, hootenanny at the Millennium Stage out in the hallway. People brought their guitars (and maaaybe a tambourine. What.) and we all played and sang along to some of Woody’s best known tunes. The jam session was led by fantastic musicians, Tom Paxton, Noel Paul Stookey, Tim O’Brien, and Mark Schatz.  Woody Guthrie’s music is all about community; loving, helping, fighting for, those around you, and so being in the midst of all kinds of voices and people and instruments, all contributing to the music, added a whole new element to the music.  You can watch the performance on the Kennedy Center website.

Following the sing along was the main program held in the Concert Hall. Any day, night, or time in between  that begins with the fellas from Old Crow Medicine Show walking on the stage and ends with Rambling Jack Elliott, singing anything, anything! is destined to be something great, even with slight technical difficulties.

There were about 16 different combinations of musicians that came on and off that stage sharing stories and songs of the great Mr. Guthrie.  Ketch, from Old Crow  very accurately said, “We are all playing in one band tonight; Woody’s band.” We, the lucky audience, heard not only beloved favorites, but also “new” songs. Woody left behind a vast archive of unpublished lyrics. To help keep her father’s music, passion and causes alive, Nora Guthrie works with artists of all genres to put some of these previously “lost” lyrics to music.

Performers included*:
Jacksone Browne
Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal
Judy Collins
Ry Cooder and Dan Gellert
Ani DiFranco
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (singing The 1913 Massacre, which brought a majority of the audience to tears)
Jimmy LaFave
Del McCoury Band
John Mellencamp
Tom Morello
Old Crow Medicine Show
Sweet Honey in the Rock
Tony Trischka
Rob Wasserman
Lucindia Williams

*The actor Jeff Daniels read passages (quotes from Woody) between songs.
Arlo Guthrie was scheduled to also appear, but sadly his wife Jackie passed away. Nora Guthrie and other family members were in attendance.

To further break this down, I counted:
21 guitars
6 banjos
4 harmonicas
3 fiddles
3 mandolins
3 upright basses 
2 accordions
2 drums kits
I grand piano
And one tambourine.

But all these fun little lists cannot even break the surface of the power of the music. Many people when they think of Woody Guthrie think of “This Land Is Your Land,” a little song that we all learned in elementary school, probably for a dazzling school assembly.  But his songs, he wrote over 3,000 song lyrics, had, still have, so much gravity to them, so much power that can fuel the fires of change and goodness in this country. That maybe sound big and flowery, but Woody was never afraid to write and sing about the hard things in life, the wrongs of this country, because he loved it so. He wrote of the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, because he loved them. He knew that love is the most revolutionary word ever spoken.  I think that is why his music is still popular with artists and people old and young alike, and haunting appropriate for our day and age. We are still fighting those same social battles, we are still struggling with survival, we still need songs about the things that matter.

I think that is why the finale, with every single one of those musicians, and every single member of the sold out concert hall singing “This Land Is Your Land,” almost brought me to tears. This land is truly a place for all us, no matter how similar or different we are.

And I have to say, I loved the audience. My newest tip when going to concerts by myself is to find and make friends with the people who are  mostly  like to tell me stories about when they saw The Grateful Dead and/or The Rolling Stones  in the 1960’s.  I guess that is a very PC way to say that I love hanging out with older people at concerts. And at a Woody Guthrie show, this was not hard to do. The fine people I was sitting with were probably older than my mom (I am horrible with guessing ages), but could rival any Justin B.ieber fans with their excitement. It was adorable and inspiring all at the same time.  While chatting before the show, they mentioned to me that this music made them remember when they were revolutionary.  I loved that. I could tell that this music changed them and their lives.  I hope to be still be hooting and hollering at shows (even classy shows at the Kennedy Center), when my hair has turned white.

I have written and rewritten this little show review over and over again and still feel I haven't quite found  the right words to adequate salute arguable one the finest American song writers, so I will leave you with some of his own words:

“This is our country here as far as you can see. No matter which way you walk or no matter what spot of it you stand on, you will hear whole gangs of travelers and settlers arguing about her. What she is, how she come to be, what you are suppose to do here.
And you will hear some argue at you that she is so beautiful you are supposed to spend your life just feeling her pretty parts, sucking in her sweetest breezes and tasting her fairest odors, looking  at her brightest colored scenes.
And I would say that gang has the wrong notion.
And there are some bunches that tell you she is all ugly and all dirty, that there is nothing good about her, nothing clean, that she is all slums, shacks, rot, filth, stink and bad odors, loud words of bitter flavors.
Well, this herd is big, and I heard them often, and I heard them loud, but I come to think that they too was just wrong as the first outfit.
When you have crossed her as may times as I have you will see as many ugly things about her as pretty things. I looked in a million of her faces and eyes, and I told myself there was a look on that face that was good, if I could see it there—in back of all the shades and shadows of fear and doubt, and ignorance, and tangles of debts and worries. I guess it is these things that make our country look all lopsided, lopped over onto the good and easy side or over onto the bad and the hard side.
I seen the pretty and I seen the ugly. And it because I knew the pretty part that I wanted to change the ugly part. And because I hated the dirty part that I knew how to feel the love for the cleaner part.
                                                              ---Woody Guthrie

To find out more about Woody Guthrie, his music, his foundations or his archives visit:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Local Travels: Skyline Drive/Shenandoah National Park

Oh Shenandoah, I will never grow tired of you.

I'm just going to go ahead and declare it in black and white: the Shenandoah Valley is my favorite place in Virginia. This weekend I made the annual drive along Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park to see the Autumn colors in all their glory. 

 In my eyes, the two trees in the center form a heart. Shenandoah must love me too.

 Dear Blue Ridge, you are pretty. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

You're A Genius All The Time

Back to writers/books that have influenced and inspired me

I don't know when or why or how I first picked up On the Road* by Jack Kerouac. It was probably to fill in a blank in a pop culture reference. I may not remember the particulars, but I remember the power. It was not so much the story line, as it was the words. That is why I will never see a film adaptation of any of Kerouac's works. A film could never capture all the words and the cadence of those words that leave you almost out of breath. It is often said that he lived on the edge of crazy and craft, and I do tend to like my writers a little crazy. Crazy has the potential to be something new and different and true. Crazy words are the ones that come tumbling out of your mind and mouth even when you try to keep them inside. Crazy words demand to be spoken and written and listened.  Kerouac's words are fast and plenty, you can turn page after page, after page and not hit an ending period. And these words are alive and beautiful, they sing and dance and shout out at you right from the page.

And reading Kerouac gives me the itch to write fiction. And also the desire to bang away feverishly on an old clunky typewriter with no correction type or spellcheck, but all that is for another time and place. Fiction, or  writing fiction, scares me a little bit;  fiction can be way more personal than non-fiction. For in fictionally created worlds and made up characters there is a lot of truth, and a lot of the a lot of truth seeps in and out when you don't expect it to.  In my college creative writing classes I would often write about things and people that were seemingly so different from me and my life. I would get a lot  of "why would you write about that," comments. But those characters that seemed so different from me, really weren't. I could slip in emotions and dialogue and a few crazy words that I couldn't say in my carefully crafted real life. 

 This last week I bought a shiny new spiral notebook, I always write fiction pen to the paper first. But that notebook is sitting on my desk, still shiny and new and unblemished. There a  little bit of nervousness, a little bit of vulnerable fear, a little bit of not knowing what that pen is going to write, what words and stories are going to come out of me. And a whole lot of, just keep it together until the end of the year. But sometimes words and stories don't wait and don't follow schedules. 

During moments of writer's block, whether caused by fear or blankness of mind,  I have turned to  Jack Keruac's Belief & Technique For Modern Prose:

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time

15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You're a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

*On the Road is Kerouac's most famous book, and no matter where I live there is a always a copy on my bookshelf. Other favorites are Big Sur and Desolation Angels. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Song of the Week: The Local Strangers

Hand claps. Tambourine. 
Do you really need any more introduction to a great new song?

Today, The Local Strangers, from Seattle Washington, are releasing the first single, “Mr. Blackberry”, from their  forthcoming first full length album, Left For Better.
You can and should download and stream this song for free on the band’s bandcamp site.

Known for their powerhouse vocals (I mean, did you hear Aubrey Zoli’s voice? Mercy.) that can front both folksy melodies and rock and rolling anthems, The Local Strangers  are finally receiving the nationwide attention that their talent and charm so deserve.

Left For Better will be digitally released on November 5 (more info here), followed by a tour that includes the East Coast and little old Washington DC!  I will be (hopefully) eating copious amount of gelato in Italy, when the Local Strangers play a House Concert here in the Capitol City on November 18, but all in town should go, East Coast represent!  I first fell in love with live music from roaming to and fro house shows during college, and still believe that nothing really beats the intimacy of smaller shows.  More details on the tour can be found on their Facebook page.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sounds: Virgin Mobile FreeFest 2012 @Merriweather Post Pavilion

This past Saturday was the Virgin Mobile FreeFest at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. This annual concert is put on by British billionaire Richard Branson (who was at the concert, I spotted him twice) via his Virgin Mobile business and Virgin United, the philanthropic arm of his empire. A majority of the tickets to the concert were free and another group of tickets could be bought with proceeds going to the Virgin Mobile RE*Generation House, a homeless youth shelter here in Washington DC, that was actually built with donations from last year's concert.

Successfully attending a music festival is all about strategy and endurance. I try to tell myself that I can/should only attend one festival/day long concert a year, because I am old and tickets to these hootenannies aren't cheap. But I always break this rule. There is always that one headliner that gets me, that one band that only tours on the festival circuit. This year, as soon as the saw the two words, Jack White, I knew I would be getting my old bones to the show. (I very willingly purchased a ticket, during  my punk rock days I meet a lot of amazing kids who happen to be homeless, and have no problem donating towards such a worthy cause.)

Festivals tend to have very eclectic line ups to draw the most people possible, usually thousands. And with bands performing on more than one stage at the same time, there is no way that you can see and enjoy every band, so you need to make choices. I usually determine what bands I NEED to see and which bands it would just be nice to see, and when the official schedule is released, usually a few days before the festival,  I can plan my day from there.

90% of the bands I wanted to see at this festival happened to be playing the same stage, so I parked myself there most of the day. This was my first time attending this particular festival, so I don't know if they do this every year, but after each band they cleared the standing area, "the pit" by the stage. So if you wanted to be up front at the stage, you could only do this once, for one band, since there was always a large group of people waiting in line to get in the up close rotation.  I decided to just take a seat in the seated section (second row, center!) and found myself in the midst of a group of music lovers and fans and genuinely nice people, people there 100% for the music and not so much the scene, or to be seen, etc.  It was honestly, one of the best crowds I have been part of in a while. I did however, learn not to get involved in the White Stripes vs Black Keys debate. Don't do it. Trust me. 

Lately, a debate about taking pictures at concerts has emerged. I don't do it (take pictures) professionally, just selfishly. I have mentioned before that concerts and live music shows are where I feel I am  my most authentic self. I feel peace and calm and strong and just, well, at home. The more things in my life change and feel a little off balance, the more I seek out live music. For those few hours (or all day!), I  can feel that I am exactly where I am suppose to be at that moment in time and space. So when I take pictures at shows, it really is just to hold on to those little moments.  But I also know that when I am at a show, I am there for the music, not  to just take pictures, so I do limit myself. I never, ever, use a flash.  I never take pictures when the musician/band is playing my favorite song because I am probably singing with my eyes closed. And when I want to clap and wave my hands in the air like I just don't care, the camera just gets in the way. 

The pictures I look yesterday are not magazine layout quality, but I love them all the same in their out of focus, from a distance (I couldn't bring Clive), blurry beauty, for it's really about the moments that they will remind me of, tomorrow and years from now. 
I always like to get a "before" picture of the stage before a show.

 Trampled by Turtles
If you are keeping track, yes, this is the third time I have seen this fine band from Minnesota this year. They should really start having punch cards, because I would be on my way towards a free sandwich by now. They released a new album this year, thus promoting that record has led them to tour the country, including the DC/VA/MD area a lot, so if I had to defend seeing them  three times in one year, there you go.  And oh, they're good too.
The below picture is actually my favorite one from their set. Technically it's off, the fiddler is blurry, the microphone stand is blocking the banjo player, but it's really all about the guitar player turning towards his band mates. The chemistry between these 5 fellows is a huge part of why the band and their music just works.

 Ben Folds Five
I remember laying on the floor in my bedroom in high school waiting and hoping that the radio would play the song, "Underground," so I could tape it on my classy radio/tape player combo. Ben Folds Five played, "Underground," on Saturday and it was everything I wanted it to be.

 Alabama Shakes
If you aren't hip to Alabama Shakes, what are you waiting for, get in the canoe! I love their album, Boys & Girls, easily one of my most played this year, but seeing them live, brought it all to a whole new level.  The soul, man, the soul of their music, how do they even do it?  You must, must, must,  see them live. Brittany, the singer, will become your new hero. Promise.
 In the above picture take special notice of the keys player there on your left. Also notice the huge space between him and the rest of the band. This means he won't be in any more of the pictures. But he's still there. 

 Bona fide. 
ZZ Top
I had no point of reference for ZZ Top. I know them via pop culture and their beards and such, but honestly before last night I couldn't name you a single song of theirs. And maybe I still can't, but they sure were entertaining. There was a lot going on through. Behind them they had screens not only showing them playing live, but also clips of their music videos, and some sort of the story line about a girl that I felt was unresolved. At the end of the set, I really kinda wanted to know, so what happened to girl?

 Jack White
First, I have to mention Jack White's roadies, the guys that set up the stage. All of them were is suits. We are talking, ties, suspenders, jackets and hats. Setting up and sounding checking in fedoras. That is worth a mention.
You know that moment right before the band comes out where the air is just so heavy with anticipation that you think your heart is going to burst, but you will be OK as along as the band would just come stage? And then they come on stage and strike that first note and you feel that the world just exploded and it was beautiful. Yeah, so that happened.
Blurry on purpose. It's like mood lighting.

Jack White and the Peacocks (all female backing band) were on fire.  My mind exploded, my face melted, my socks were knocked off, and every other cliche ever known to man. Easily one of the best live performances I have witnessed before my little eyes. I've been trying to explain the show to people today and all I end up saying is, "It was just so good. Just so good."

He is just so big of a star, I was wondering how Jack would interact with the audience. I had pictured him in the Bob Dylan camp. Don't get me wrong, I love Bob Dylan, but Mr. Dylan does not talk to the audience, he comes on, he plays his songs, and then leaves, and well, he's Bob Dylan. But Jack White did interact, he talked a little here and there, but not too much, and smiled when the audience sang along. I am pretty sure angels get their wings when Jack White smiles. 

I got pretty obsessed with the all the lines that the lights made. 

After leaving the stage,"casual" Jack, sans jacket, came back for a couple additional songs, including a version of "Seven Nation Army" that is still blissfully echoing in my  head.
This is what I am talking about when I say capturing "moments." His guitar slung behind his back, the hands on the belt, just singing, like that is only thing in the world to do.
And he plays piano too. Even you don't like his  music, which I don't even want to understand people who don't, you have to appreciate his musical talent. I don't like to throw around terms like "musical genius," because who really can define such things. But since this is my little blog, I am defining Jack White as a musical genius.

Just so good.