Friday, February 12, 2010

Townes van Zandt, "Rake"

Townes van Zandt (1944-1997) had a voice and a lyric pen I'll always miss. The clip above (courtesy of lapislazuli42) was, according to its caption, made at a "private concert" at a Holiday Inn in Houston, in 1988. I think this must have been done late at night, following a gig, or perhaps after a long day's travel. His voice sounds a little weary, but that fits the song perfectly.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The splendor that was steam: Nickel Plate and Pere Marquette Berkshires in action.

To get the full effect of this video, double click twice to bring it to full screen size, and crank up the volume.

Because I was born on the leading edge of the baby boom, I was able to witness what train buffs, among whom I count myself, call the "transition period", during which steam still supplied a significant portion of motive power on railroads. My childhood memories include Union Pacific's enormous Big Boy and Challenger articulated locomotives pulling seemingly endless blocks of bright yellow-orange refrigerator cars over Sherman Hill in Wyoming, streamlined steamers on high-speed passenger runs on British Railways, and the Pennsylvania Railroad's formidable array of steam power on both freight and passenger trains that thundered past my mother's home town, Tyrone, Pennsylvania.

So I was delighted to find this short (ten minutes) video of two locomotives from the last years of steam (both built in the late '40s or early '50s) that have been preserved in working order, pulling a train of restored transition era freight cars, running on the tracks of the Great Lakes Central Railroad across the flat farmland of central Michigan. Both are of the "Berkshire", or 2-8-4, type, with two (one on each side) forward small "pilot" wheels; eight large, powered driving wheels; and four small trailing wheels under the large firebox. They are of virtually identical design, having been built for railroads under common ownership, that followed parallel routes. The Nickel Plate, officially the New York, Chicago & St. Louis (it got its nickname because it was a high-speed route with top quality trackage, built entirely for cash), followed the southern shore of Lake Erie from Buffalo across Ohio to Chicago. The Pere Marquette, named for a French priest and explorer, followed the most direct route from Buffalo to Detroit, across southern Ontario to the north of Lake Erie. Today, these roads are under different ownership. Nickel Plate is part of Norfolk Southern, one of the two great surviving rail systems in the eastern U.S., while Pere Marquette is part of its rival, CSX.

This video is by Lerro Productions and JoMiFu. Thanks to silverprint2002 of NYC Maritime for the link.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The song of the hour.

The great Satchmo, who would have loved tonight's Super Bowl result.

Update: Someone commented on this post, in Chinese. Using Babel Fish, I got the following translation:
The human must cherish hoped that only then the live joy, the day only will then cross substantially, meaningful, will have the vitality, will have the confidence.
Seems on point to me.

Lower Manhattan architectural contrasts, redux.

In my almost daily walks across the Brooklyn Bridge and back I've found time to admire the examples of various architectural styles represented among the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan (see this earlier post). In the photo above, taken from the Bridge, the American International Building casts its shadow on One Chase Manhattan Plaza. American International, designed by the architectural firm Clinton & Russell, Holton & George, was completed in 1932 for the petroleum and utilities conglomerate Cities Service, and was later sold to the now-distressed insurance giant AIG. It is a fine example of the art deco skyscraper style that came to dominate the New York City skyline (other well known examples being the Chrysler, Empire State, and General Electric buildings in midtown Manhattan) during the 1920s and 30s. There are some very good photos of details of the building here.

One Chase was designed by Gordon Bunshaft of the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Bunshaft and SOM were influential in making the international style of architecture dominant in post World War Two New York office building design. One Chase was completed in 1961 to serve as the headquarters of Chase Manhattan Bank, now merged into JPMorgan Chase. When I first settled in New York in the early 1970s, the law firm with which I was associated had its offices in One Chase. From a distance, the building has a light, almost lace-like appearance. I found, however, when I first approached it, that the huge load-bearing exterior columns on the north and south facades give it a massive, almost forbidding aspect.

Other buildings prominent in this photo are 60 Wall Street, the building with a truncated pyramidal roof immediately to the left of the American International Building, and 180 Maiden Lane, the building sheathed in green-tinted glass immediately to the left of 60 Wall. These buildings, both completed in the 1980s, exemplify very different architectural styles. 60 Wall is in the style sometimes called "postmodern", which reacted to the austerity of the international style by incorporating decorative elements evocative of neoclassicism or art deco. 80 Maiden Lane is in what could be said to be a direct offshoot of the international style, in which the rectangular box form was forsaken in favor of structures with walls meeting at acute or obtuse angles, and beveled edges, giving the impression, as one commentator put it years ago, of buildings produced by machine tools.