Category Archives: Arts: Music

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.

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So– the City of Charleston wasted no time. After the City Council voted unanimously this week 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, of 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?

Dog Days & Chicks: “Ain’t had a prayer since I don’t know when . . . .”

[Originally posted in August 2016]

Ain’t had a prayer since I don’t know when . . . .”

Imagine this scene (part of it really happened):

It’s August 6, and George W. Bush is at home in Houston, or maybe at the ranch. He’s finishing a watercolor, or (stay with me) reading a book, though certainly not that heavy new biography, “Bush,” by military/presidential historian Jean Edward Smith, which takes another big whack at his tattered reputation.

Maybe he’s even pondering the big presidential decision by Harry Truman made 71 years ago, because for many of the rest of us, August 6 is Hiroshima Day.

Whatever. Meanwhile across town, in a big Houston pavilion, more than 20,000 people are jammed and jamming, screaming their lungs out for — the Dixie Chicks, in a raucous, triumphant concert that sold out in minutes months ago. It’s the Chicks’ first appearance in Houston in fifteen years.

DCX-Dallas-cover

The same month, the Chicks broke the record at their gig in Dallas, where they started out 20 years ago. (Last time they played Dallas, though, more than ten years back, they needed bodyguards. Srsly.)

Okay — I really have no idea what GWB was doing that day. But the part about the Chicks is the truth.

Continue reading Dog Days & Chicks: “Ain’t had a prayer since I don’t know when . . . .”