Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Song of the Week (or Lifetime): Pete Seeger

I am well acquainted with the circle of life, but when I heard that Pete Seeger died, my first thought was, how can that be? He was one of those that you just knew was going to live forever. 

Like many of my generation I was introduced to Seeger's work from listening to the oldies stations from the back seat of my parent's car or playing around with their record collections. He wrote the Byrd's tune, "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "If I Had a Hammer," popularized by Peter, Paul and Mary and many elementary school music teachers. 

His life and music is hard to summarize because in many ways it is so much bigger than any amount of words, because in many more ways he was American Music.  He not only led the revival of folk music, but tirelessly worked for it's survival. Seeger rambled around the country in boxcars with Woody Guthrie.  He championed the banjo, his instrument of choice, and even invented his own, the Long Neck or Seeger Banjo. During the McCarthy witch hunts, Seeger was blacklisted, but kept singing his songs.  He sang the songs of the people among the people, faithfully leading sing-a-longs, believing that people joining their voices together is a mighty powerful thing. He protested hate, injustice, corruption and he supported and lifted up the oppressed, and gave hope to the hopeless.

And around that famous banjo of his,  he wrote: THIS MACHINE SURROUNDS HATE AND FORCES IT TO SURRENDER.

I bet there is one heck of a hootenanny (a word popularized by Seeger) going on up in the heavens right about now. 

Words of wisdom from the man himself:

"If you sing for children, you can't really say there's no hope."

“Participation - that's what's gonna save the human race.” 

“Once upon a time, wasn’t singing a part of everyday life as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in this world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes, or walking long journeys. Can we begin to make our lives once more all of a piece? Finding the right songs and singing them over and over is a way to start. And when one person taps out a beat, while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.” 

 “Well, normally I’m against big things. I think the world is going to be saved by millions of small things. Too many things can go wrong when they get big.”

“I call them all love songs. . . They tell of love of man and woman, and parents and children, love of country, freedom, beauty, mankind, the world, love of searching for truth and other unknowns. But, of course, love alone is not enough.”

We all go to different churches or no churches, we have different favorite foods, different ways of making love, different ways of doing all sorts of things, but there we’re all singing together. Gives you hope.”

“A good song reminds us what we’re fighting for.”

Monday, January 27, 2014

Uncle Walt Rides Again!

Have you seen the new commercials playing on our magic boxes featuring the words of Uncle Walt? My heart skips a beat every time they come on. I have heard people say that while Whitman may have been something in his day, he has since become some sort of the mediocre safe cliche poetry sort, and to be  used in commercials, I mean, whatever, sellout.  Oh, these silly folk that think that everything has to be new and shiny and edgy to mean anything. And c'mon hipsters, he did have one of the best beards in literature:
Engraving of Walt Whitman by George C Cox. Image: Bettmann/Corbis
Walt Whitman will always be something.  Always.  And so will the words he life behind, whether you find them on dog eared paperback pages or on a touch screen. Think of them, and most of poetry, as little cheat sheets to all of life's hardest questions. 

The voice over in the commercial is not only Whitman's poem, O Me! O Life! from Leaves of Grass, but it is also a scene from the movie, Dead Poet's Society. Add that to fact that there is a now a peanut butter that already has the chocolate chips mixed in, and I do believe that the world now revolves around me.*

*Dead's Poet's Society is one of my favorite movies, in fact ,I am quite obnixious about it. If you don't like it, sorry, I don't think we can be friends. I have also been know to dump a handful of chocolate chips into a jar of peanut butter and call it dinner. I am a complicated soul, or at least tell myself that as I eat peanut butter out of jar. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Song of the Week: The Raconteurs

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to, everyday, do one thing that I have been putting off. Usually I focus on small things like finally returning that Netflix movie I've had since May (oops), making that eye doctor appointment, or cleaning out my bag. Other days, my one thing has been a little more involved like updating my resume, sending networking emails, or finishing a blog post that has been in the draft folder forever. Sometimes on even the small stuff I need a push to get them done, hence the putting them off in the first place. So to stop the itch to keep putting them off,  I have a "get it done" song, "Five on the Five" by The Raconteurs, to give me that little push. It's the perfect combination of rock n'roll and power pop that not only keeps me focused but can also spark some pretty shameless dancing around the room, which can totally count as cardio for the day. Being productive is fun!

Bonus: you can watch a pretty awesome live version of this song here

Monday, January 20, 2014

A New Year

A year ago today, I pulled into the driveway of the homestead within the great state of Missouri, with my back to my former east coast life. I have second guessed that decision every single day since. I blame myself for over romanticizing the idea of giving up the big city life to live among cows and piles of mason jars. After an incredibility hard 2012, I wanted a change, I thought I needed a change to save my soul and whatnot, and honestly, I took the easiest change I could think of, or at least I thought so. But in all truth, I gave up everything, everything, as I crossed all those rivers and roads to return to the heartland. And now, I have spent an entire year being held accountable for running away from something, rather than running toward something.  A {relatively} clean slate isn't always as freeing and OMGfufilling as advertised. Rebuilding a life with really no plans or blueprints or direction is harder than putting together an Ikea bookshelf.  In an email to a friend a little while ago I mentioned that 2013 is the year that will only be spoken about with hushed voices in dark corners. I wish I could say that I have learned some valuable life lessons these last 365 days, but in this moment, I can't. I hope someday I can, with all that hindsight 20/20 stuff.  There is nothing I can do now to reclaim the days of 2013, all I can do is shake off the dust and keeping walking these new days of 2014. 

One of the most comforting things that my dad would tell me was "You can start again tomorrow," this was usually after a long dramatic monologue, by yours truly, about how I ruined my life, with this choice or that deed, much like the above paragraph. My dad isn't here to tell me those comforting words anymore, but I am. I am still here, and here I am telling myself that I can start again. 

My Missouri: Bits and Pieces

A well overdue tour of some sites from the Show Me State:

Ginger Sue's, Liberty, MO
I'm a firm believer that everyone should have a favorite breakfast place. There seems to be nothing more hometown that gathering together with the locals for pancakes. This summer I discovered Ginger Sue's off the historic town square in Liberty, MO and with my first bite of peanut butter and banana pancakes, it became my breakfast place. This bruncheonette is only opened for daily breakfast and lunch services (6:30am-2:30pm), and if you go on a Saturday morning, prepare for a little bit of a wait, there is usually a line out the door and down the street. But it is worth the wait. Once you get into the historic brick building you are embraced by the chatter of small town life and the aroma of breakfast done right. And one last tip: order the breakfast potatoes, and if you are a carnivore, order the bacon. Both are dusted and coated in this rosemary herby glaze that seals the deal, the favorite breakfast deal.

Downtown Liberty

Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, Kansas City, MO
One of my favorite places in all of Kansas City is the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum. It is a world class museum (and free!) with amazing pieces from renowned artists as well as historical artifacts from bygone empires and civilizations. It is also a very manageable museum; it's big, but not too big.  You can spend quality time enjoying each gallery without being overwhelmed, all in an afternoon. My biggest tip for this museum is to do it chronologically; start in the Ancient Egyptian room and move through each era until the modern, which are some of my favorite galleries. By going chronologically, you get a great appreciation of how art change through all the ages. And don't forget to tour the outdoor sculpture garden, the huge shuttlecocks are some of KC's must recognizable landmarks. And since you are only a few minutes from The Plaza district, after visiting the museum, be sure to stop by Natasha's Mulberry & Mott pastry shop  for some French macarons (the spicy chocolate is my favorite) and if it is the weekend, some delightfully perfect chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat). 

Marceline, MO
For Thanksgiving, my family stayed in a log cabin outside of Marceline, MO, this cabin to exact:

It was a nice escape, very Henry David Thoreau-ish. A little cabin in the woods by a little lake, no television, spotty internet, but a pile of books and plenty of quiet and sorely needed conversations and nature walks. We also explored the little town of Marceline, known in the tour books as the boyhood of Walt Disney. I was very pleased to note that the town is not a tourist trap. There is an almost glaring lack of Disney commercialism in Marceline. I didn't see any Mickey Mouse souvenirs or princess t-shirts. I know that this probably has a lot to do with the Disney Company's death grip on all trademarks and copyrights on anything Disney, but I like to think that is also has to do what the keeping  the charm of the town and the respect of Disney as a man and not just a tourist attraction.  The Walt Disney Hometown Museum is only opened April through October, but the old Disney farm is opened all year around.

Top right: The Dreaming Tree on the Disney Farm where little Walt would daydream and draw, bottom left and right: Disney modeled Main Street at Disneyland after Marceline's Main Street, hence why Marceline's Main Street is also now called Main Street USA.

Near by Marceline is the Locust Creek Covered Bridge state historical site. The bridge was built in 1868 and once housed the nation's first transcontinental road, Route 8. It is one of the those old rickety bridge that you half expect Ichabad Crane and the headless horseman to coming riding out of, well you would think that if you have theatrics (and Disney) on the brain. 

Inside the bridge
My schedule has gotten a little more full since I started (finally) working full time again in December, but I hope to still have time for little road trips and getaways to help me appreciate my (for now) home state. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Do This! The American Folk Revival

Hey guys and dolls, I've curated (that's a buzz word in the land o'blogs, right?) a little collection for you about the American Folk Revival.  Modern pop culture will have you believe that merely dancing a banjo back and forth across a stage makes something, anything, folk. Uh, no. To know where and what we are, we must know where we came from. The American Folk Revival that started swirling around in the 1940's and peaked in the 1960's influenced so much of the music that has been made since, so it is worth be obsessed with every now and then.  At the heart and soul of folk music, new and old, is survival. Not only in terms of songs about our daily breath and bread, but also the survival of the songs themselves.  A lot of the traditional folk songs were old songs handed down from one generation to another, and with each new passing, something was added to the song; maybe it was adding new instruments, or a new arrangement. Each song was new again, but under that newness was the echos of all the other voices that had ever sang or played it before.  And even when folk musicians started to write more their own original songs, there was still this feeling of here is my song of survival, here is my story of survival, pass it down, and let it survive. And so the writing of the folk story, which is really the story of all of us, keeps getting passed down as we all write and add our own chapter. That's going to be some book.  So let me pass on to you, some of the things that I've been digging lately: 

Read This: The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir by Dave Van Ronk
 Dave Van Ronk is considered one of the founding fathers of the folk revival in New York in the 1960's, and for good reason, he was literally in the middle of it all. This book is a primer of so many wonderful things, not the least of all, music and the politics, heavy on both.  Several times while reading the book, I had to set it down after only reading a page or two because there was just so much information that I had to take a minute to absorb it all. Van Ronk was a jazz musician, a blues musician, a folk musician, and even had his own jug band, so his story is how all the music that he made and surround himself with and all the dirt and beauty that was that time in history, got mixed and weaved together into some fantastic beast. And maybe above all the history and music lessons, what I took away from this memoir was that art, or whatever makes your soul ache, is worth struggling for. Van Ronk is/was highly respected and extremely talented, but he never made it Bob Dylan big. Making music his life, meant that there were starving days, and days wandering the streets looking for work as his debts grew, and all the practicing, and as much rejection as there was success, but  to quote the very end of this little memoir of his: I wanted to be a musician, and I am a musician, and that's what it is all about.

 And as a little post script: The Cohen Brothers were heavily inspired by the life and times of Dave Van Ronk, for their newest movie, Inside Llewyn Davis. Oh, Cohen Brothers, we like you.

Listen to This: Bob Dylan's Greenwich Village
After you have read The Mayor of MacDougal Street, you can listen to the whole cast of characters on this ridiculous 2 disc set.  I am almost positive that everyone that Van Ronk mentioned in his book is on these discs, except, well, Bob Dylan, who by the way, Van Ronk refered to as Bobby.  I guess the title is a tad misleading. Bob Dylan or any of his songs aren't on the album, it is more of a soundtrack to the making of Bob Dylan. It is filled with all the performers that not only walked the same streets as Dylan, but also built those streets way before Dylan showed up, musically speaking. Folk music, like almost every other piece of American music is tied to jazz and the blues. So, yes, this album starts with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and ends with Peter, Paul and Mary singing "If I Have a Hammer," but in between you have Odetta, and Big Joe Williams singing the blues so deep that I swear I can feel it in my toes. It also features Jack Kerouac singing. Yes, singing. With a hushed and strained voice he sings a little song called (wait for it) On the Road, as he puts it, straight from mind to voice with no hand intervening.

Watch This: Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest & Hootenanny
Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest was a television program that ran from 1965-1966 and featured Pete Seeger and guests. I am pretty sure that every television set in American should have exploded with all this musical firepower. Well, not every television. The original airing of the show reached a very limited audience, mainly those with UHF antennas, due to how and where it was produced. But those were the bygone days. These days, there are many clips and full episodes of the show on YouTube, including my favorites featuring Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee:

Hootenanny was another television variety show that ran from 1963-1964, showcasing folk performers as well as comedy acts such as Woody Allen and Bill Cosby. I have read articles ridiculing the show, which ran on ABC, for trying to mainstream the folk explosion. And I get that. Mass appeal does sometimes mean dilution, because you are just have to please too many people.  But still, by exposing music to more people, chances are you will find that one kid, who needed that one song more than anything,  that would of never heard it if the music just stayed local. There really isn't a whole lot of clips from the show online, but I did find a "Best of Hootenanny" DVD set at my local public library, which as been pretty fun watching the last couple days and has given me a very reasonable excuse to shout" It's Hootenanny time!"

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Song of the Week: Josh Record

Let's bring back every one's favorite Tuesday thingamajig:  Song of the Week!

It seems like I have had a lot of conversations lately about the calamity of instant technology. Sure, I get it, the machines are wining, alert John Connor. But having the world in the palm of your hand does come with some saving grace. And in my life, music is forever a saving grace.  And now with all these magical devices we attach to ourselves, I feel I have an wider, deeper musical connection to this world and all the stories and voices that wander it, because I carry them with me wherever we go. Technology has cracked the earth a little bit more open, allowing us to hear more of the songs of our fellow wanders. And with all this collective singing and listening and clapping and stomping of feet comes all of us sharing the burdens of our own stories, making them a whole lot easier to bear.  With a couple clicks or taps, I have the whole world to listen to, when has that ever happened in the history of dirt and bone and water?

 And there are plenty of moments where I need the whole world, moments late at night where my mind and sleep are once again raging a battle against one another, little moments when I have to go sit in my car during work time breaks to question my life decisions, little moments where boredom seems to be the only word ever created, or little moments where I don't know how to express my happiness and joy in any other form then sharing a song. In other words, music fills the little moments where I need something beautiful. And beautiful can be such a complex term. It can be sad and happy and strong and vulnerable and calm and disheveled all at the same time.  And that is why when you find the perfect beautiful song there is a feeling of wholeness, it like everything all together at once.

Bones by Josh Record is a perfectly beautiful song.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

December Reads

December reads . . . a week late and slightly random.

I had originally planned on reading biographies in December, but it didn't exactly work out that way. I usually pick a theme at the end of the previous month, look for recommendations and do a bit of research on my local library catalog and book blogs. In November I ordered, from the library, a bunch of books and none of them came in until the middle of the December, by then I was already involved with other books, my oh my, I have such loose and fickle relationships with books. So my December reads didn't follow a theme, unless you call wild crazy random, a theme. Let's do that.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
First, no, I have not seen the movie. Second, I loved the concept of this book. The entire book is made up of  interviews from people from different countries regarding the world wide zombie outbreak. It is a quick read and not made to be too entirely deep, plus, uh, zombies.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This one is a leftover from my YA reading month. This is the type of book that I wish I had when I was teenager. It is a realistic book about two teens falling in love, which is the plot of 98% of teen fiction. I think what has made this book so popular is that it more relateable to not only teens that may have been underrepresented in literature, but also  just the awkwardness of being a teenager. The title characters, Eleanor and Park,  aren't brooding vampires, they don't have superpowers or super fierce arching skills saving the world.  They are an overweight red head from an abusive family and an Asian kid growing up in Nebraska in the 1980's. And the boy Park makes Eleanor mixed tapes. This would of made my little 16 year old heart would swoon, hells bells, my heart would still swoon if I guy would make me a mixed tape. True story: years and years ago I made a guy I liked a mixed tape. We would talk about music a lot, so I made him a tape of songs that I  thought he would like. And since this was back in the dark ages, this meant sitting on the floor in front of the tape recording hit play, record, stop, play record, a lot. He, however, thought I gave him the tape just to listen to, so he . .  . gave it back me after he listened to it. Uhh, that it what I meant it be . . like . . .all along. What. {{run away, run away}}.

But anyway. Eleanor & Park has received a lot of attention, not only because it is a heart wrenching story, but also because it has landed on the dread "banned books" list. Book Riot has a wonderful article, way better than I could ever put it, about why teens need books like this. Included in the article is a quote from the the author of book that I love and agreed with whole heartily:
   "When people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they're saying that rising above your    situation isn't possible. That growing up in an ugly situation, your story isn't even fit for good people's ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful. "

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
I usually am not a fan and don't even bother with books from bloggers. They are usually just cash cows, taking advantage of momentary popularity, and filled with repetitive material that is on their blogs anyways. However, a big, big, BIG exception is Humans of New York. I am a huge fan of Stanton's blog where he documents people and their stories found in the streets of New York City. This book, and the blog is not only a love letter to one of the most fascinating cities in the entire world, but also the human story. Everyone has a story, and that story is worthing telling.  I will admit, seeing pictures of wildly different beautiful people made me miss living in a big city and inherit melting and mixing of cultures and lifestyles.

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
During the last couple of years of WWII a super secret facility was built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee to aid in the development of the nuclear bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. Like much of the war time workforce with the men off fighting across the seas,  this atomic workforce was made up of young women, who had absolutely no idea of what they were working on other than it was aiding in the war effort, you know loose lips sink ships and all. Turns out they were enriching uranium to aid in making the bomb. THE bomb.   This fascinating book follows the lives of a handful of women with varying roles in the complex spanning from janitors to nurses to scientists who came to work at Oak Ridge.  There is a lot of science talk in the book, which as a daughter of a scientist I loved, but at times it did slow the reading down a bit, it's not like you can really make nuclear science fluffy. Overall it was a super interesting book that shines another light on the role that woman had in the war effort.

And a couple of cookbooks:

Sweetie-licious Pies: Eat Pie, Love Life by Linda Hundt
My new favorite pie cookbook. Written by Lind Hundt, 16 time national pie-baking champion and the owner of Sweetie-licious Bakery Cafe in Michigan, and filled with recipes named after family members.  It definitely has gone from the-- borrow from the library list-to buy for my personal collection list. Look out Pie Day 2014, I am getting ready for you! Also, man, I love pie.

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Because of a long story that I still don't really understand, a couple of years ago I received the British edition of Ottolenghi's book Plenty way before the American version was even out (so very hipster of me) and loved, loved, loved it. I don't eat a whole lot of meat, so a beautiful and well conceived vegetarian book is a God send in the kitchen and keeps me from giving up and eating chips and salsa for dinner. Knowing my love of Middle Eastern food and of Ottolenghi's cookbooks, my sister gave me Jerusalem (which isn't vegetarian) for Christmas and I have already tried a couple of recipes; the Parsley & Barley Salad (similar to tabbouleh) caused serious happiness to the taste buds.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Words: Wisdom : Happy New Year!

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

..I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you'll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Thank you all for being patient with the blog, especially these last couple weeks as it gathered dust in the old blogosphere.  Here's to the possibilities and opportunities and adventures and mistakes that await us all in 2014! --Gentlewoman Kate