Category Archives: Arts: Music

Cheer Up, Fer Pity Sake!

Reading this morning’s comments from my Facebook friends, you’d think the election was a landslide win for the other guy: so much gloom, doom, depression & lament.

To which I feel obliged to reply sternly:

Friends — GET A GRIP.

Sure, I didn’t get everything I wanted from the election results; not even close.

But there was one thing, one BIG goal that was reached — or is about to be.

What’s that? It’s summed up in a poster that was attached to a podium from which Obama preached us the word a week or so ago; and some other places before that.

It’s this:  Behind all the hoopla and hype, we’ve been in a dead-serious battle that goes way beyond politics. What  battle? (See below.)

“Keep your eyes on the prize, and hold on!”

I first saw such a motto in the office of Dr. King, in 1964 when I signed up as a rookie civil rights worker. I was then secular-minded and anti-religious, but I soon figured out that Dr. King and his crew, with all their shortcomings, were dead-serious about it.

And before too long, I realized that they were also dead-right. There is such a thing as “the soul of the nation” (but don’t go all metaphysical and ask me to define it).  And that soul was and is poisoned and imperiled by racism (and poverty and war and other evils Dr. King preached about).

But they believed it could be saved, or redeemed. And they knew something else that took me a long time to get: that “saving” this soul wasn’t a one-and-done thing. America had been saved before, and would likely need to be saved again.

Like now, for instance.

Sam Cooke

I  wasn’t sure what they were talking about, though soon, in the unforgettable song:“A Change Is Gonna Come,” by Sam Cooke, I started  to get the beginning of a clue.  White readers, listen to it; and if you still don’t get it, listen again.

“Soul” music, brought it home with more potency than any philosophy book I’d tried to read in college. With that and the movement, I ended up a peacenik Quaker. (Your mileage may vary.)

Dr. King and the crew are almost all gone now. And their “battle,” while it won some big skirmishes, was far from a total success. In fact, we’ve just come through another big round of the struggle. And it isn’t over.

So when this motto reappeared last spring, I resonated to it at once: there was more than an election underway in the USA in 2020, and one candidate knew it. Despite not being a great orator, he closed in on the essence.

And speaking of closing in, that’s  what’s happening this morning. Like the headline says, the soul candidate is closing in. He could even cross the electoral college finish line today. (Or tomorrow.)

T: WHAT?!?!?! J: I said, “Time to go, Dude.”

Which also means, that the door is closing on the other guy, the Nemesis who has trashed so much, and corrupted so much.

Mr T, have you met my idol, Letitia James? Her middle initials are A. G. NY, and I hear she is A. eager to meet YOU, and B. she gives great lessons in gnashing of teeth.

Oh yeah, there will be plenty of desperate bombast and last-ditch bullsh*t before he’s escorted out of the oval office and off the grounds into 14th Street’s “outer darkness,” where much “much weeping and gnashing of teeth” awaits. I confess, that aftermath will be fun to watch.

But before that, when his rival crosses the finish line, maybe today, I don’t want to hear any more moaning and groaning. Take a break, and give yourself some credit.

For at least fifteen minutes.

In fact, if you can read the signs of the times with even a little insight, that will be a time to celebrate. Do something that pleases and nourishes you.

I know I’m going to.

Hmmm. Celebrate. How will I do it?

If I was a drinker, I’d get drunk.

If I was a doper, I’d get stoned.

If there wasn’t a pandemic, maybe I’d party.

But as I’m old and boring, not to mention sleep-deprived after the longest freekin Tuesday of my nearly 80 years, I’m more likely to take a nap.

But mind you, it will be a VICTORY nap. One from which I can expect to wake up and find that the Orange menace is still on the way out.

Or if I get really wild and crazy, I might even write a poem. A VICTORY poem.

In fact, I feel one coming on right now. So stand back, and stand by:

To 270: A Concise Ode on the Rescue of the Soul of the Nation

Battered,
tattered,
nearly shattered.

But it’s still here,
While the Superspreader’s
Scattered.

And THAT my friends
Is what really mattered.

 

Thank, you, thank you.

Have a great day.

 

Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

The work of bringing down Calhoun took all one night and most of the next day.

So– the City of Charleston South Carolina wasted no time. After the City Council voted unanimously on June 23, 2020 to take down its landmark monument to John C. Calhoun, a crew swung into action, starting at near midnight.

It was no small task to pluck the figure from its 100-foot pedestal. It took the workers until late the next day to bring  Calhoun floating back down to earth, and ship him off to a future of obscurity.

I was as pleased as anyone to see Calhoun disappear, at  least from that exalted place of honor; but I hope he lives on as a shameful memory, for a sadder-but-wiser nation that let him look down on all since 1896, as what one historian called “the Marx of the master class.” Continue reading Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

Doug Gwyn: Theologian and — Quaker Theological Folksinger ? Yes! (UPDATED)

Doug Gwyn has been a frequent contributor to Quaker Theology. Our readers have known him as a theological historian, who has written in depth about early Friends, as well as recent American Quakers.

Of the books, I’d pick as his masterwork, Personality and Place (our review is here), which he calls a theological history of Pendle hill, the Pennsylvania study center and Quaker cultural crossroads. It’s that and much more: a probing reexamination of the liberal Quakerism for which Pendle Hill was for so long the unofficial headwater and seedbed. You can find it here.

But behind this diligently productive scholar-thinker persona, Doug has long been leading another life, as “The Brothers Doug,” a singer/songwriter, producing and performing, as way opened, dozens of original songs. Many (but not all) have Quaker topics, and many of those have an amusing, satirical, and occasionally trenchant edge. Most, either explicitly or implicitly, reflect Doug’s lifelong theological concerns.

This expansive musical oeuvre has been largely shared with very small audiences; Doug has never excelled at self-promotion. He’s retired now (and of course has a jaunty tune, “Baby, I’m Retired” to show for it).
[UPDATE:  Big Hat Tip to Hank Fay, who passed along the news that Doug’s 2008 double album Chronicles of Babylon, a compilation of 31 songs, including those from his early cassette, Songs of Faith & Frenzy, with its memorably clever cover (below), is in fact available on Google Play. In Chronicles are some of his sharpest Quaker satires, such as “Pendle  Hill Revisited,”  “A Process In the Wind,” and “Making Quakers from Scratch.” He’s also unafraid to aim at his own vanity, in “Hair Envy,” which laments the erosion of his own coiffure (“Why Do I Love Your Hair? Because . . . It’s There.”) Alongside these,  are others which carry serious, if unconventionally expressed Christian religious messages.]

Continue reading Doug Gwyn: Theologian and — Quaker Theological Folksinger ? Yes! (UPDATED)

The Dixie Chicks Are Back, and the Head Gaslighter is in their sights

Puts a lump in my throat.

The Dixie Chicks were among the most unexpected,  unlikely and unforgettable heroes of the bloody GWB/Iraq years. Their documentary movie of that ordeal, “Shut  Up & Sing” (this clip can help you see why it’s worth the $3.99 to stream it) still makes me cry; I showed it to my tween-age granddaughter then, so she could see these icons and role models, whether she sings or not.

The granddaughter is a mom now, with daughters of her own, and all of a sudden this is one of her times to remember that history.

If you’re new to the background, The Chicks had a gig in London in March 2003, a few days prior the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At one point, lead singer Natalie Maines said, as an aside to an enthusiastic crowd,  “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas.”

The British crowd cheered. But the militantly pro-war pillars of the U.S. country music industry reacted with rage,  boycotts, cancellations, and Maines even got death threats.

Their record-breaking career suddenly seemed over;  but in fact it wasn’t.  They rose to their unplanned occasion and by 2006, the bravado of the warhawks over Iraq was showing its underlying rot, and the Chicks were winning everything in sight with their comeback, “Not Ready to Make Nice”. 

In the end, they out-sassed, outclassed and went on to totally outlast the b*stards.

Yeah, the guys who thought they had ruined the Chicks’ career, only pushed Natalie  Maine, Emily  Robison and Martie Maguire to reinvent it as an immortal high point of American entertainment (while watching their own “Shock & Awe” bravado crumble into ignominy).

Now the Chicks are BACK, just in the nick of time, with a smash new song, their first in 14 years, “Gaslighter (Denier)” which is an instant classic, “Help-Us-Get-Through-Isolation” & Be-Movin’-On-From-MAGA-Madness & Misogyny Melody:
Gaslighter, Denier–
Doing anything to get your ass farther . . .

Gaslighter, Big timer–
Repeating all of the mistakes of your father

Gaslighter, Big Liar . . .
And you know you lie the best when you lie to you . . .

There are layers here. At the most superficial, it’s about partners who cheat and lie continuously. But in the video, there is a flashing cavalcade of authoritarian, even fascist imagery, with parallels in the lyrics that call out “Big Liar, lie lie lie  lie lie –“ from which a deeper, more public dimension practically shouts.

I think  Gaslighter (Denier) could up alongside “Not Ready to Make Nice,” the towering “Goodbye Earl”, and bring the sound of resilience and resistance to every day of this long, otherwise desolate season. Give it a listen.
 

Shooting the Dead: a Hitman Reviewer fills Leonard Cohen full of [Pencil] lead

Maybe William Logan has been waiting to unlimber his literary AR-15 on the corpus of Leonard Cohen for a long time. It sure seems like it; and now his moment has come:

“When a poet dies,” Logan writes in his New York Times review, “his publishers often hurry into print whatever scraps lie stuffed in his desk drawers or overflow his wastebasket. This is the book business at its darkest and most human, but many balance sheets have been balanced by a posthumous work or two.

Death is the moment when all eyes are upon the poet for the last time; beyond, for most harmless drudges, lies the abyss. Leonard Cohen, who died two years ago, wore many a fedora — poet, novelist, songwriter, a singer of sorts — but only the last trade, which he took up reluctantly, made him a star.

Cohen was never taken very seriously as a poet. He wasn’t much of a singer, either; but the gravelly renderings of his lyrics gradually attracted a mass audience that seemed more like a cult. . . .

Such songs now form the hoarse, moaning soundtrack to countless movies and television episodes. When a Cohen song rises from some awkward silence it’s a good bet the director has run out of ideas. The religiose sentimentality and painful growl, like a halibut with strep throat, have patched a lot of plot holes. He’ll give an emulsified version of everything the scriptwriter left unsaid.”

Continue reading Shooting the Dead: a Hitman Reviewer fills Leonard Cohen full of [Pencil] lead

Dog Days Tale: Honesty Is the Best Policy – Mostly

An Almost Entirely True Story . . .

My brother Mike picked up the ringing phone: Nonantum Times,” he said, listened a moment, then handed me the receiver.

I put my hand over it and raised an eyebrow at Mike. “Ted Epstein,” he whispered.

Ted Epstein was a lawyer in downtown Boston. He was also a board member for the Nonantum Times. It was a new low-budget suburban weekly newspaper; I was the founding editor. That is to say, he was one of my bosses.

Nonantum-Map

“Ted!” I said into the phone. “Got any good news for me?”

There was an awkward pause on the other end. Then, ”l’m afraid not, Chuck,” he said.

“Oh no,” I said, “don’t tell me our first big investigative scoop isn’t gonna happen.”

Continue reading Dog Days Tale: Honesty Is the Best Policy – Mostly

The Art of Fearlessness! Many Events Planned – Including on May 27 at Spring Friends Meeting NC

Saturday May 27 at Spring Friends Meeting in Snow Camp NC (Details below).

It’s a “campaign” of Quaker events linked by a common theme, under the umbrella of the Fellowship of Quakers In the Arts:

Here are some visuals from local “fearlessness” events . . .

Kalamazoo, Michigan was on it . . .

Continue reading The Art of Fearlessness! Many Events Planned – Including on May 27 at Spring Friends Meeting NC

George Gershwin: Rhapsody In –Cultural Appropriation?

George Gershwin: Rhapsody In –Cultural Appropriation?

September 26, 2020 was George Gershwin’s 123nd birthday (1898-1937). And I’m an unabashed fan. This despite the fact that a key part of his artistic achievement has also made his work controversial for some.

Yes, I’m talking about one of this era’s hot buzzwords, “cultural appropriation.”

gershwin-piano

This phrase came along after Gershwin left us (way too soon, dead of a brain tumor before age forty); but the charge was around even when he was alive and composing.

Yet from all I gather, Gershwin would not have denied it. Indeed, he was proud of mixing various streams of American musical cultures in his work, even gloried in it.

Continue reading George Gershwin: Rhapsody In –Cultural Appropriation?