Sunday, August 18, 2019

Simon Dinnerstein's Fulbright Triptych at the McMullen Art Museum, Boston College, September 8 through December 8, 2019.

Simon Dinnerstein painted The Fulbright Triptych (above) over a period of several years during and after living in Kassel, Germany on a Fulbright fellowship, studying print making. It is leaving its permanent home at the Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University on loan to the McMullen Art Museum at Boston College, where it will be from September 8 through December 8. The McMullen Museum website says the Triptych will be on view starting Monday, September 9, but Mr. Dinnerstein's email says it will be open on Sunday, September 8 from noon until 5:00, and that he will give a talk about the painting at 3:00.

As the Museum's press release, linked above, points out, the Triptych
was produced in an era of postwar art [the early 1970s] when minimalism, video art, and and installation dominated the New York scene. At the time, figuration, and even painting itself were out of fashion. 
Mr. Dinnerstein's email gives a link to "Triptychs and Temporality." an article, from the Journal of the National Academy of Art and Design, by Larry Silver, Farquhar Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Silver discusses the references to historical artistic styles and artists that appear in the Triptych, with illustrations that focus on details of the painting.
I had the pleasure of meeting Simon Dinnerstein twice. The first time was after he gave a talk about the Triptych at the Brooklyn Historical Society. The second was when, at the suggestion of my friend Louise Crawford, I visited his home and studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and took the photo shown above. The story of that visit, along with those of mine with six other artists over a two day span, is here.

If you're wondering what became of the baby held in her mother's lap in the left side panel of the Triptych, watch the video above.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

What We Did on Our Holidays - Part 1

I've been on a Fairport Convention kick lately, so I decided to purloin the title of their second album for two pieces on what Martha and I did on our two short holidays ("vacations" in American) this summer.

For our first, we once again enjoyed the hospitality of our friends John and Susan Proctor in their spacious house in the town of Orleans, just past the "elbow" of the Cape Cod peninsula. Their house is a comfortable walk from Skaket Beach (photo above), which is on the bay side of the peninsula.
On our first day, at John's and Susan's suggestion, we visited the French Cable Station Museum. The history behind it is that in 1879, tired of having to route all their transatlantic cable traffic through London, the French laid their own cable from near Brest, on the Brittany peninsula, to St. Pierre, a small island to the south of Newfoundland that is part of Metropolitan France, and extended it from there to Cape Cod. It landed in the town of North Eastham, but because the location there was remote and difficult to access in winter, in 1891 the cable was extended on land to Orleans, just to the south, and the Cable Station (photo above) was built there. No doubt the French were pleased to have it terminate in a place with a French name. 

In 1898, a new cable was laid directly from Brest to Orleans. During World War I General Pershing, commander of American forces in France, used it to communicate with the Army Department in Washington, and in 1927 it brought news of Charles Lindbergh's safe arrival in Paris. During the German occupation of France in World War II, U.S. authorities closed the station for security reasons. It was re-opened in 1952 and remained in operation until 1959.
Because of the constrained size of the cable, it was not capable of transmitting keyed Morse Code dashes and dots it the same way telegraph lines could. Instead, it transmitted variances in voltage, with low voltage representing a dot and high a dash. The equipment an operator would use to translate the voltage variations into conventional Morse Code for forwarding inland is shown above.

As we were leaving the Museum, I noticed that next door was the Addison Art Gallery. I suggested that we go in for a look, and the others readily agreed. I'm glad I did. The Gallery was presenting After Hopper, a series of events commemorating Edward Hopper, who spent many summers and did many paintings on the Cape. As the Gallery's website puts it: " 'After Hopper' celebrates the artists of today who continue to pursue Hopper's path in their own unique ways." Some, like John Murphy are faithful to Hopper's fairly strict representational style. Some, like Marc Kundmann's "Stella in the Morning",  pay homage to Hopper's works; in this case Hopper's "Morning Sun." Others, like Catherine Hess, have a more impressionistic style.
On summer saturdays there's a flea market at Wellfleet's still active drive-in cinema. I bought a copy of George Johnson's Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order, which I may read someday, and John Patrick Diggins's The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority, which I will read, because it bears upon things on my mind now.
Coming back from one of my daily walks to Skaket Beach, I passed this typical Cape Cod house with an atypical floral display.
On our arrival back in New York City, we were greeted by this sign.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

I remember where I was ...

... when Neil Armstrong took "one small step... ." At 10:30 P.M. EDT on July 20, 1969 I was at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, Pennsylvania, prone on the ground next to an M-60 machine gun, with my poncho draped over me as it was raining steadily. I was there with other members of my ROTC summer training platoon, waiting to ambush an "enemy" convoy that never showed up. It was near the end of a field exercise that lasted several days and was the capstone of our training. We may have known of the launch of Apollo 11 before we boarded the helicopters that took us to the training area, but we didn't know of the successful moon landing until we returned to our barracks, and our radios.
There were other events I missed during my time at IGMR.  Jimi Hendrix played "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock. On my way back to Tampa, I stopped to visit a friend in Richmond. She said something about Chappaquiddick, and I said, "Chappa who?"

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

Erratum: when I first wrote this, I put the date of the moon landing as 1979 instead of '69. My bad, and I've corrected it.

Moon landing photo: CCO Public Domain.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Remembering Sandy Denny

Alexandra Elene MacLean Denny, known to the world of devotees of British folk and folk rock, of which I'm part, as Sandy Denny, died on April 21, 1978 at the age of 31, following a fall down a flight of stairs. I got this news by radio while driving across the George Washington Bridge on my morning commute from my home in Greenwich Village to my job in suburban Rockland County. I got a lump in my throat, but managed to keep my eyes on the road.

I first heard Sandy Denny's voice coming from the dorm room of my law school classmate John Lovett in the spring of 1970. I was walking past his partly open door when I heard something sounding stately, like Anglican chant, with a lovely female lead and male harmony vocals. I knocked and asked John what he was playing. "Fairport Convention," he said.

The song I heard coming from John's room was "Percy's Song," an obscure Bob Dylan piece I didn't know. It was from Fairport's third album, Unhalfbricking. I didn't buy a Fairport album until after I graduated and moved to New York. The first one I got was Liege & Lief.

"Tam Lin" is a typical example (in my opinion a particularly good one) of the songs on Liege & Lief, which represent Fairport's turn, under Sandy's influence, to folk rock arrangements of traditional English and Scottish ballads, or new songs reflecting those influences.

After Liege & Lief, Sandy left Fairport and joined her future husband, Australian born singer and songwriter Trevor Lucas, in a group called Fotheringay, named for the castle in which Mary Queen of Scots spent her last days and was executed. The group had one, in my opinion excellent, eponymous album.

The album included "Peace in the End," an optimistic song about the then (1970) apparently insoluble "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Fotheringay broke up after one year, as Sandy decided to pursue a solo career. In 1971 she released a critically acclaimed album, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens.

 That same year, at the behest of Robert Plant, she sang with Led Zeppelin on "The Battle of Evermore."

After Sandy left Fairport, it continued as an all male band.  Their first album in that guise had the title Full House, which I thought a bit cheeky, although I liked the album nevertheless. In November of 1974 I went to my first Fairport concert, at Carnegie Hall. When the band took the stage I was surprised to see Sandy taking her seat at a grand piano. A man sitting not far from me called out, "Welcome back!" She answered with a chirpy "Thenk you!"

They proceeded to give a riveting performance that included some old favorites from Liege & Lief and earlier albums, but also new material, including the searing antiwar ballad "John the Gun."

In 1975 Fairport released Rising for the Moon, with a stirring title track that showcased Sandy's voice beautifully. Its opening lines -- the lyrics are by Sandy -- tell of the life of a traveling musician:
I travel over the sea,
And ride the rolling sky,
For that's the way it is,
That is my fortune,
There are many ears to please,
Many people's love to try,
And every day's begun,
Rising for the moon.
Also in 1975 Sandy and Trevor Lucas, who were married in 1973, left Fairport. They had a daughter. Their marriage lasted until Sandy's death in 1978.

Yesterday I saw this Chicago Tribune piece by Greg Kot about Sandy, and how her influence lives in the work of groups like Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, and the Decembrists. Kot focuses on the first song of hers to gain wide attention.

That song was "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" It was made popular by Judy Collins who, as Kot notes, was a shrewd judge of talent, a year or so before Sandy recorded it with Fairport. Sandy's version is in the audio clip above.

I disagree with Kot in one respect. He calls Fairport's first and eponymous album, made before Sandy joined the group, "unremarkable." Its sales may have been disappointing , but I think it's a fine bit of artistry. It was the second Fairport album I acquired, and I was struck immediately by their rendition of the driving rocker "Time Will Show the Wiser". I was also captivated by their rendition of Joni Mitchell's "I Don't Know Where I Stand," featuring the voice of their first woman vocalist, Judy Dyble (unfortunately, no clip of this is available). She has -- she is still singing and recording -- a strong but sweet voice. It was perhaps stronger -- more Grace Slick than Joni Mitchell, although I think she covered Mitchell brilliantly -- than the guys in the group wanted for their turn towards more folk influenced material.

A version of Fairport Convention still exists; they most recently released an album in 2015, and may be the longest surviving major rock band save the Rolling Stones and the Who. Sandy Denny was an essential element in their success.

Sandy Denny photo: John Lyons, 1972

Monday, May 27, 2019

Farewell, Bill Buckner, who made my day in 1986.

In October of 1986 I was at home watching my Mets play the Red Sox in game six of the World Series. The Sox led the series 3-2, and this game had gone into the tenth inning, with the Sox holding a 5-3 lead and three outs left to secure their first Series victory since 1918. Ignoring Yogi Berra's advice - "It ain't over till it's over" - I left my apartment and headed for a bar where I knew my friend Bill, a Springfield, Massachusetts native and thus a cradle Red Sox fan, would be, so as to congratulate him. On my way to the bar, I heard a loud crowd noise coming from an open window, which I now know signalled the Mets' having scored two runs to tie the game. When I got to the bar, I looked in through its large front window and saw everyone jumping up and down and cheering, except for Bill, who stood stock still with his face ashen. When I got in, I went to Bill and said, "What happened?" He gestured at the TV just as it showed a replay of a ground ball skittering between the legs of a Sox player.

That player was Bill Buckner, the Sox first baseman. His error allowed the Mets to score the go-ahead run, and to tie the Series. They then won game seven, gaining their second Series title following their victory over the Orioles in 1969.

Bill Buckner died today at 69, a victim of Lewy Body Dementia. Although Buckner had a solid career that touched parts of four decades, included a National League batting title, and an All Star appearance, his fate was to be remembered for his one error watched by millions.

The grounder he misplayed was hit by Mookie Wilson, who became a close friend of Buckner's after they retired. It's unfair, as Mookie and so many others have said, for Buckner to be remembered for one error during a long and praiseworthy career. Still, it's ironic that, were it not for that error, he wold now be remembered only by older and obsessive fans of the Red Sox, Cubs, and other teams for whom he played during his long time in the Majors.

Bill Buckner photo: Craig Johnson from San Diego, CA, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

Monday, May 13, 2019

Farewell, first crush!

Well, first celebrity crush. Sometime in my earlier, polymorphously perverse years, there was a redhead named Irene from whom I, in my first of many displays of male emotional fuckwittage (to borrow a term from Bridget Jones), surreptitiously pocketed and took home a toy airplane, on the belief that a girl had no business owning such a thing. After my father spotted it and couldn't recall buying it, I surreptitiously returned it.

When I was seven, my father took me to the local cinema (we were living in England at the time) to see Calamity Jane, starring Doris Day in the title role (photo) and Howard Keel as her love interest, Wild Bill Hickok. From the opening scene, I knew I was in love:

To me, at age seven, there seemed something compellingly attractive about a woman who could do guy things but still be very much a woman.

Later in life, when my love interests became more complicated, there were times when I couldn't listen to "Secret Love," also from Calamity Jane, without my eyes misting over:

So, rest in peace, Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff from Cincinnati. You meant a lot to me, and to millions of others, both men and women. You also meant a lot to animals, whose welfare you championed. An admirable person in all respects.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mets win opener. Is this a bad sign?

It's not an entirely facetious question. My wife, a Red Sox fan, is convinced that the better her team does early, the worse their season is likely to be. Lately, the Mets seem to have followed a similar pattern. This happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Mets' triumphal 1969 season, in which they lost their season opener to the Montreal Expos 11-10. Today they beat the Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, 2-0.  The game pitted two of MLB's best pitchers -- Jacob deGrom of the Mets and Max Scherzer of the Nats, against each other. The Mets managed to tag Scherzer for a run in the first, and deGrom was untouched until turning it over to the bullpen, which held fast while the Mets got a second run off Scherzer.

It's a most satisfying result. As a Mets fan, though, I know not to get my hopes too high too soon.

Monday, January 21, 2019

"The Drum Major Instinct"

Two months before he was murdered, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon on "The Drum Major Instinct." He began with the text in Mark 10:35-41, in which James and John asked Jesus if they will be given the right to sit at his right and left hands in glory. Instead of rebuking them, Jesus said this honor was not his to give, and concluded
[W]hosoever will be great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
Dr. King then observed,
[W]e must understand that we have some of the same James and John qualities. And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.
He then illustrated ways that instinct affects us badly: through competitive consumerism that leads us to live beyond our means; by bragging, name-dropping, and spreading pernicious gossip; by anti-social behavior meant to attract attention; and by a "snobbish exclusivism," including racial prejudice, which, he ruefully observed, is found in some churches.

Like Jesus, Dr. King did not condemn this "drum major instinct." Instead, he said, it should be re-directed in a positive way:
And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.
At the conclusion of the sermon, he said:
Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.
Just before these final words, he quoted from the lyrics of "Then My Living Will Not Be In Vain," sung here by Patti LaBelle: Ms. LaBelle sang this as a tribute to Oseola McCarty, a washerwoman who, following a life of hard work and thrift, was able to leave a bequest of $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi.

You can read the full text of Dr. King's sermon here and hear a recording here.

Dr. King photo: File photo-Public Domain.