THE BEST OF 2013: Five Books

◆ by Carrie Newcomer

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry Rachel Joyce

Recently retired, Harold Frye receives a letter from a friend he has not seen for 20 years.  Instead of mailing his response he decides to walk many hundred miles across the English countryside to deliver it in person. This is a lovely little story about a physical journey, but also a journey toward forgiveness and redemption.

The Sweet By and By Todd Johnson

This tender book is narrated through the voices of four very different women. It is a beautiful exploration of memory, aging and the power of a small kindness. It was refreshing to read a story that explores what we lose and what we embrace as we age.

Flight Behavior Barbara Kingsolver

Set in the hills of Appalachia, Kingsolver again has created a window into community, family and the natural world. I absolutely loved the character of Dellarobia, a young woman confined in so many ways and learning how to fly. Kingsolver seamlessly presents social and environmental issues within the context of a very powerful human story.

Breakfast with Buddah Roland Merullo

This book is a delightful twist on the “road buddy” story.  The main character begins a journey back to the midwestern home of his childhood.  Unexpectedly he ends up traveling with a Buddhist monk, encouraging a new perspective on the American landscape.

The Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar Cheryl Strayed

A collection of letters that were originally part of an advice column called “Dear Sugar.” The letters and Strayed’s responses are tender and edgy, human, wise and funny, all at the same time.  It will make you laugh and sigh and think, “Yes, life is like that isn’t it.”

[Carrie Newcomer (pictured at the top of this post) is a singer-songwriter who will be releasing her new album and a book of essays and poems, both entitled A Permeable Life, in the spring of 2014.]

The Ryder ◆ January 2013

THE BEST OF 2013: Music

We feel confident in declaring 2013 one of the top ten years in new music in this century. Our reviewers list their favorite albums of the year.

by Jason Fickel

Robbie Fulks Gone Away Backward

A breathtaking set of songs from one of our greatest songwriters. This album is what all the other little Americana-country albums want to be when they grow up.

Daft Punk Get Lucky

We didn’t know it and couldn’t know it in the 1970’s, but disco became our New Folk Music. The New Dylan: Nile Rodgers.

Alex Chilton Electricity by Candlelight/NYC 2/13/97

Chilton

The power-pop/soul genius at his Ardent peak plays an acoustic set of covers when the power itself goes out at the Knitting Factory. He brings it all (Gershwin, Cash, Baker, Monroe, Wilson, Harpo) and then just gives it away like it was nothing.

Allen Toussaint Songbook (Deluxe Edition)

Another NYC live set, this one has the composer playing highlights from his own wonderful catalog, including Southern Nights and Holy Cow — a Chilton favorite. If there’s someone more central to the music of this nation than Toussaint, I’d like to know who it is.

Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Boy Arnold, Mark Hummel, James Harman & Sugar Ray Norcia Remembering Little Walter

Today’s harmonica masters celebrate the Earl Scruggs of the humble harp. Walter could swing it like nobody and these guys have fun keeping it going.

[Jason Fickel is a singer-songwriter-guitarist and performs frequently with vocalist Ginger Curry as Jason & Ginger.]

by Cathi Norton

James Cotton Cotton Mouth Man

A celebration of James Cotton, a heavy harmonica and blues influence on generations of players.  Many artists guest on this disc (Buddy Guy, Greg Allman, Keb Mo, Ruthie Foster, Delbert McClinton, etc.) to honor Cotton’s pervasive influence over his long career as a blues man. Top of the line stuff.

Trampled Under Foot Badlands

Trampled Under Foot

Trampled Under Foot is great at respectfully working traditional blues into something of their own.  Each member plays like blazes, song-writes like champs, and lead vocalist Danielle Schnebellen’s vocals are by turns scorching and sweet. She and brothers Nick and Kris Schnebellen make up a full power trio that rocks-, funks-, and blues-it, soaring all the way.

Toronzo Cannon John The Conquer Root

Toronzo bursts out of the cannon (pun intended) with high-octane performance mojo. Describing himself as “a bus driver that plays guitar,” he quickly proves that an understatement. A love of Jimi Hendrix and respect for blues has not been lost on avid audiences. He’s lately been setting the blues world on fire with expressive vocals, great originals, blistering guitar work and fun-loving showmanship.

Cash Box Kings Black Toppin’

Post-war blues aficionados from Chicago spread out — mixing in Delta and Louisiana “swamp” blues and even rockabilly with their trademark jump tunes. It’s great to hear a younger set of Chicago players hit the blues groove as solidly as these boys do.

Sugaray Rayford Dangerous

Native Texan Sugaray Rayford is a big man with a big voice who reminds me a lot of Howlin’ Wolf without the growl. Backed by great L.A. session players, Rayford’s voice is the real deal as he moves through blues with soul deep conviction and easy confidence. Glad we can add another soulful singer to the blues world.

[Cathi Norton is the Blues Genre Director at WFHB 91.3/98.1 FM radio.  She reviews most of the blues CDs for the station and also works as a disc jockey for the “Blue Monday” show.]

by Michael McDowell (Top of the World)

Leyla McCalla Vari-Colored Sings

Fine Haitian folk songs meet the poetry of Langston Hughes on Leyla McCalla’s debut; if that’s not enough, she also plucks and strums the cello. You might have seen McCalla, who usually tours with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, on her own at the inimitable Lotus World Music & Arts Festival of 2013.

Ballake Sissoko At Peace

Accompanied by French cellist Vincent Segal, Sissoko, a kora virtuoso, weaves melodies rare and exquisite on At Peace, a dream dedicated to his troubled homeland, Mali.

Various Artists The Ladies at Joe Gibbs

Beverley, Hortense, Marcia and more — the ladies are here, singing sweet roots reggae over sultry rhythms that rock slow. Legendary producer Joe Gibbs gave the world some of the best music to come out of Jamaica in the seventies, and this album contains some of his finest work.

Yasmine Hamdan Ya Nass

Hamdan

Yasmine Hamdan founded what may have been the first indie/electro outfit to appear in the Middle East, Soapkills. Though she now lives in Paris, Hamdan began her career in Beirut, and this is the roundabout tale of Ya Nass, a unique blend of popular and traditional Lebanese music and contemporary indie sounds. And it sounds nice, too.

Roberto Fonseca Yo

Roberto Fonseca took Ruben Gonzalez’s place in the Buena Vista Social Club. He has toured with Omara Portuondo (also of the Club), and is widely regarded as one of the most gifted to pianists to emerge from Cuba in decades. This adventurous album melds contemporary jazz, African influences, and the rhythms of Cuba, and is absolutely an item to add to your collection.

[Michael McDowell is the World Music Director at WFHB.]

by Markus Lowe (Electronic)

Kaleidoscope Jukebox Infinite Reflection

Indiana native producer Clint Carty takes you on a global-electronic fused journey. Plenty of smooth and soulful chilled beats, old swing reworks, sitar-laced rhythms and warm horn drenched space funk.

Letherette

Wolverhampton duo brings you trappy and trippy dance music that bubbles with fun. Brilliant synth glitch arrangements and atmospheres take in many moods from the introspective to the upbeat.

Alunageorge Body Music

Long awaited debut album from duo Aluna Francis and George Reid. Slippery and seductive sounds that breathe 90s pop/R&B flavor with modern electro groove and styling.

Boards of Canada Tomorrow’s Harvest

Scottish duo surprise return offers their most dark and visceral sound to-date with rich textures and deep layers that unfold like a haunting film score transmitted from a distant galaxy.

Daft Punk Random Access Memories

Daft Punk

Triumphant return of French robot rock pioneers, ditching the computers and crafting an astonishing blend of their signature robotic sound with vintage disco dance rhythms and smooth instrumentation.

[Marcus Lowe is the WFHB Electronic Music Genre Director.]

by David Smith (Metal)

Abyssal Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius

Abyssal have created a terrifying monster of an album. Their superb musicianship creates an atmosphere that is unimaginably dense, absorbing, and perfectly claustrophobic.

Aosoth IV: An Arrow in Heart

This black metal masterpiece is full of menacing riffs that are at once rhythmic and cerebral. Aosoth balance their understated, avant-garde tendencies with focused brutality.

Church of Misery Thy Kingdom Scum

The thick, fuzzed-out, groove-laden guitars and massive beats lay the perfect foundation for this Japanese doom quartet to explore the darkest realms of the human psyche.

Gorguts Colored Sands

Gorguts

With their first release since 2001, Gorguts exceeds all expectations. They have taken their trademark dissonance and meticulous composition to new heights in this deep and dizzying collection.

Nails Abandon All Life

An absolutely crushing, perfectly-engineered amalgam of hardcore and metal, these short bursts of intelligent aggression and fury pummel the listener into a state of blissful submission.

[David J. Smith is metal genre director and host of “Sedimentary, Igneous, and Metalmorphic” every Friday night on WFHB.]

by Jamie Gans (Acoustic Roots, Bluegrass, and Celtic)

The Paul McKenna Band Elements

Upon my last visit to Scotland, I was asked by a native Highlander, “Where ye frome, lad?” “Indiana”, I told him. “ “Ach aye, well I guess, someone’s gaw’ta be from thaya”, he jokingly responded.  Hailing from Glasgow, The Paul McKenna Band is currently recognized as one of the top Celtic groups.  They’ve cranked out one of their most inspired albums yet, Elements, which includes their heartfelt rendition of Farewell To Indiana about a Scotsman’s return to the Scottish Highlands from living a few years in the lowlands of Hoosierland.

Liz Carroll On the Offbeat

Chicago-Irish musician Liz Carroll recently came to Bloomington to perform at The Buskirk Chumley Theatre for the 2013 Lotus Festival, treating us to her dazzling, virtuosic fiddling. Her new album, On the Offbeat, is adorned by some of the best players in their field including the internationally acclaimed Scottish harpist, Catriona McKay and Belfast guitarist, Sean O’Graham. Liz raises us to the next dimension of her musicianship on both her on and off beat.

Ruth Moody These Wilder Things

Moody

From indie rock to indie roots, Canadian vocalist Ruth Moody of The Wailin’ Jennys takes us on a sleigh ride of her new original material. This thoroughly enchanting album is tastefully seasoned with some of the finest instrumentalists and vocalists from both sides of the border and Atlantic including Jerry Douglas, Aoife Donovan and Irish piper, Michael McGoldrick.  Ruth’s golden voice swings us into only the best of moods on These Wilder Things.

Ron Block Walking Song

As the guitarist of Alison Krauss & Union Station, Ron Block demonstrates his prowess not just as an instrumentalist featuring a few toe-tappin’ tunes, but most remarkably as a singer and melody maker on his new solo recording, Walking Song. Ron composed the music, but he collaborated with poet Rebecca Reynolds, who wrote the lyrics to this collection of mesmerizing originals that are guaranteed to melt your heart.

Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby Cluck Ol’ Hen (Live)

If you say you are on the fence about bluegrass music I can tell you that you will soon be off it dancing in your own imaginary meadow of bluegrass to Skaggs and Hornsby’s new live album, Cluck Ol’ Hen. Ricky Skaggs and his band of high talent, Kentucky Thunder, will dazzle you. But the real power ingredient that will make you roll off the fence with joy is Bruce Hornsby’s inspirational piano playing (and singing). Makes you wonder why the piano isn’t a regular in every bluegrass band.

[Jamie Gans is both a self-employed musician and a radio programmer for WFHB’s “The Celtic Road” and “Rural Routes” shows.]

by Robert Meitus

Charles Bradley Victim of Love

Charles Bradley

Before you listen to Charles Bradley, watch the documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America, and you will be sure to fall in love with this 65-year-old former James Brown tribute singer.  He was discovered by Daptone Records and has taken the world by storm, including Bloomington, now a regular stop on his tours. 100% joy and love listening to CB. Even better to see him live.

Milk Carton Kids The Ash & Clay

It’s not unusual for me to learn about something very cool mid to late in the game. This duo is what you might get if you mixed the DNA of Simon & Garfunkel with that of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings. Great songs, great vocals, great guitar work.

Bela Fleck & Nashville Symphony The Imposter

Buy this album to hear what you missed when the Nashville Symphony cancelled its performance with Fleck at the IU Auditorium last fall. It was a great concert nonetheless, with Abagail Washburn saving the day. But the album is also very compelling if you are open to a banjo concerto.

Bear’s Den Agape

I discovered these guys opening for Mumford & Sons this summer and have fallen in love with their simple melodic folk/rock sound. Reminiscent of Sufjan Steven’s Michigan era at times.

Olafur Arnalds For Now I Am Winter

A very quite, beautiful album of mostly instrumental strings and loops.  Also, Icelandic and highly creative, but much mellower than Sigur Ros.

[Robert Meitus is an entertainment lawyer. He purposefully excludes his clients’ albums from this list (e.g., great new releases from Joshua Bell, Cage the Elephant, Foxygen, and others).]

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

THE BEST OF 2013: TV

 

Meth Dealers and Time Traveling Aliens ◆ by Dan Melnick

 

Thanks to the ubiquity of the DVR and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, many like to say that we live in the golden age of television. Whole seasons are only a click away with next to no commercial interruption and a year’s worth of episodes being delivered at once. Sometimes it feels like waiting week to week for the next installment is a thing of the past. With networks like HBO and Showtime raising the bar, cable has had no choice but to follow suit and offer a similar level of excellence to its programming in an effort to compete. Years ago, everyone talked about HBO, but it’s AMC, a staple of basic cable packages that had the best show on TV in 2013. There may be internal wars going on between basic and premium channels; the internet and cable providers, but one thing is certain, we the consumers are reaping the benefits. And oh, the bounty is plentiful. It’s been a great year of television.

Justified

Season four was a way of reinventing itself. The show has had its ups and downs, but the season four finale proved that it was worth the wait.

House of Cards

 

[Photo of Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood at top of this post.]

 

The best example of the new TV model. It may have had a rocky first couple of episodes, but having all of season one available from the start greatly helped this show get off the ground.

 

Happy Endings

Sadly, 2013 saw the cancellation of this sprightly comedy that was so much more than a Friends rip-off. It could have gone on for its own ten seasons if only it was seen for the gem that it was.

Archer

 

"Archer"

The current season was more dialogue heavy than spy thriller, but it proves that good writing is good writing. It may be a cartoon, but many a show could take characterization lessons from Archer by watching a few episodes.

The Big Bang Theory

 

"Big Bang Theory"

Now that the creators have embraced situational humor over cheap shots at nerd culture, TBBT continues to expand, attracting viewers like stray electrons making it one of the most watched shows on television.

Parks and Recreation

It may have started as a clone of The Office, but it’s become so much more since then. PaR continues to grow in terms of scope and in characters in new and wonderful ways. There’s no tighter cast on TV.

Game of Thrones

 

"Game of Thrones"

Each season gets better than the one before. The source material only provides so much as it’s the striking visuals and impeccable casting choices that keeps this show fresh. Political intrigue is so much more interesting when knights and dragons are involved.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary

A perfect retcon, reboot and revitalization, this love letter to Doctor Who fans had three Doctors on screen at the same time — one of them, John Hurt! — what more could Whovians have asked for? Thank you, Steven Moffat.

Sons of Anarchy

Another example that bad guys have more fun, the boys of SoA have never been better. Utter destruction is always one step away and no character is safe. Each episode is like racing down the freeway on the back of a motorcycle without a helmet. It’s OK to scream while you hold on.

Breaking Bad

 

"Breaking Bad"

A perfect end to a perfect show. The five-season arc from mild mannered chemistry teacher to drug kingpin was completed with a painter’s grace. We’re sad to see you go, Mr. White, but it was one heck of a ride!

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

THE BEST OF 2013: The Year In Television

The Most Cutting Edge Series of 2013 ◆ by Robert Singer

 

Television in 2013 has shown us that it’s evolving at a rapid pace both technologically and conceptually. Where Hollywood seems to be stuck in a creative rut with every other film release being an adaptation or a remake, television is proving to be the breeding ground for uniquely original visual storytelling. Fueling this creative renaissance in television is the understanding by today’s showrunners that the serial nature of television lends itself perfectly to delving deeper into the development of characters and experimentation with form in ways that few films these days can. The following list is the best that TV had to offer in 2013.

Arrested Development ● Netflix

"Arrested Development"

The return of a cult classic started off rocky but ended up worth it by season’s end. While this fourth season of Arrested Development was its weakest, it proved that it is still smarter and funnier than the majority of comedies on television today.

Doctor Who ● BBC

"Doctor Who"

The classic British sci-fi import celebrated its 50th Anniversary this year with a bang and shattered ratings for BBC America. This season had its ups and downs but the Anniversary Special and Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor made up for the season’s flaws. The popularity of Doctor Who keeps rising not just in Britain but also around the whole world.

Legend of Korra ● Nickelodeon

The sequel series to Avatar: The Last Air Bender came of age this season as we saw the series tackle questions of spirituality, political persecution, and the connections between good and evil. The animation has skyrocketed from its already top-notch quality to create some of the most striking visuals on TV this year, especially when paired with the show’s exquisite music. This is definitely not just a show for kids.

Fringe ● Fox

The best hard science fiction series on television ended its five-season run with a suspenseful, thrilling, and heartbreaking fight for our Fringe agents against a dystopic future. This show needed a shot of energy after its mediocre season four and it got one with this game-changing final season. It is outrageous that John Noble has never been properly recognized at the Emmys for his brilliant performance as Dr. Walter Bishop.

Mad Men ● AMC

"Mad Men"

Just when you think that Mad Men might be losing steam with its characters devolving back into old habits, Matthew Weiner and company throw a whole bucket of wrenches into the gears, forcing every character to have to deal with a myriad of status quo-altering changes. Don’s evolution (or degeneration depending on how you look at it) provided many entertaining shocks this season.

Downton Abbey ● BBC/PBS

Really Julian Fellowes? Really?! Killing not one but two major and beloved characters? Ugh! I’ll never forgive you. Ever. But seriously, can January hurry up and get here already? We need more intrigue and melodrama of the highest order. Fine Fellowes, you have me for one more season and then that’s it! I mean it! (Let’s be honest this show is too addictive.)

Orange Is the New Black ● Netflix

"OITNB"

Netflix has a gem in this show that feels like OZ meets Weeds, making for one of the best surprises of the year in TV. Orange Is the New Black began as a send up of white privilege but eventually evolved into an absurdist dark dramedy about the necessity and power of human connections, especially when we are at our most desperate.

Orphan Black ● BBC

 

[Photo of Tatiana Maslaney at top of this post.]

 

The sleeper hit of the year is this British-Canadian sci-fi drama about a young woman who discovers she is a clone when one of them commits suicide right before her eyes at train station. Tatiana Maslaney deserves every major television-acting award for her portrayal of six, yes six, different characters (the clones) that all have their own unique personalities, idiosyncrasies, and body language. If Orphan Black is any indication, Maslaney is an actress to watch in the years to come.

Game of Thrones ● HBO

Dragons. Giants. Undead. Murder. Betrayal. Torture. Honor. Weddings. Just a few words that could be used to describe the latest season of the HBO series based on the George R.R. Martin Song of Ice and Fire books. The first two seasons saw change come to the Seven Kingdoms and the Free Cities across the Narrow Sea, but this season showed how change begins to truly affect the show’s ever expanding cast of characters. No one felt the change more than the victims at the Red Wedding, the most shocking and horrifying plot twist in the history of television.

Breaking Bad ● AMC

TV’s best drama the last five years finally ended in 2013 with one of the strongest, most satisfying final seasons ever broadcast. The conclusion to the saga of Walter White’s evolution from glum schoolteacher to cold-blooded drug lord was everything a fan could have hoped for: intense, shocking, bloody, funny, and, much like Walter, precise. We’ll never look at Stevia the same way again.

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

THE BEST OF 2013: Ten (Plus) Sound Bites

◆ by Kevin Howley

 

On August 21, Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. In a press statement Manning said, “If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.” Manning’s sober assessment of his life and times was one of the more moving sound bites of 2013: a year marked by dramatic revelations of NSA spying, a divisive and costly government shutdown, and all manner of gaffes, blunders, and apologies uttered by politicians, pontiffs, and other media personalities.

10. But the difference with Green Eggs and Ham is when Americans tried it, they discovered they did not like green eggs and ham and they did not like ObamaCare either. They did not like ObamaCare in a box, with a fox, in a house, or with a mouse.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz [pictured at the top of this post] channels Dr. Seuss during his “sort of” filibuster of the Affordable Healthcare Act, September 24.

9. Women go to the doctor much more often than men! Maybe they’re smarter or maybe they’re hypochondriacs. They live longer. Who knows?

FOX News “analyst” John Stossel offers his expert opinion on women’s healthcare, October 31.

8. Sure, he could turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community within the next week, without delay. But he isn’t about to.

When asked what Bashar Hafez al-Assad could do to avoid US military strikes, Secretary of State John Kerry stumbles toward a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis, September 9.

7. Words are important. I understand that, and will choose mine with great care going forward. Behavior like this undermines hard-fought rights that I vigorously support.

Baldwin

Serial offender Alec Baldwin makes amends with GLADD for homophobic remarks the actor hurled at a member of the paparazzi, November 15.

6. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

President Obama explains “American Exceptionalism” during a nationally televised speech on the prospects of US military intervention in Syria, September 10.

5. I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what’s happening and goes, ‘This is something that’s not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.’

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden explaining his decision to leak classified documents detailing the scale and scope of US surveillance programs, June 9.

4. If I knew, I would tell you.

House Speaker John Boehner, when asked when the government shutdown might end, during an appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, October 6.

3. I would never do that. I’m happily married. I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.

Toronto “crack mayor” Rob Ford defending himself. Again. This time for allegations he propositioned a female staffer to perform oral sex, November 14.

2. If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?

Picture 3

Humility becomes Pope Francis in comments regarding the Catholic Church’s
position on homosexuality, July 29.

1. I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now.

Armstrong

Cyclist Lance Armstrong reveals a gift for understatement during his
“worldwide exclusive” interview with Oprah Winfrey, January 20.

Honorable Mention

Now people expect me to come out and twerk with my tongue out all the time. I’ll probably never do that shit again.

Miley Cyrus has second thoughts on her headline groping grabbing performance at the Video Music Awards, September 24.

In Memoriam

If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care for human beings.

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013.

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

The Dark Genius Of William S. Burroughs

◆ by Laura Ivins-Hulley

[The Burroughs Century, a five-day festival at Indiana University and in local venues, will take place February 5-9, celebrating what would have been Burroughs 100th birthday and featuring  events devoted to the author’s written and visual artworks, his life, and his legacy. There will be a film series, art and literature exhibits as well as a display of Burroughs’ shotgun paintings, speakers and panels, musical performances, and more.] Though slight of build, William S. Burroughs was no gentle soul. His life and writings are marked by a certain violence. Not the violence of those literary adventurers — though Burroughs certainly had adventures — who went to war and ran with bulls and reveled in masculinity, but a violence nonetheless. Fascinated with guns and possessing a morbid streak from an early age, Burroughs’ life had many close calls and a few formative tragedies, something reflected in the form and content of his novels.

A member of the Beat generation of writers, Burroughs’ impact on 20th century art and literature is far reaching. He helped inspire cyberpunk literature, and such musicians as Roger Waters and Kurt Cobain have cited him as a primary influence. In 1992, while in his late-70s, Burroughs collaborated with Kurt Cobain to create an album called The ‘Priest,’ They Called Him, a mixture of Burroughs spoken-word art and Cobain’s music. In 1989, he appeared an aging addict in Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, and in 1991, David Cronenberg adapted Burroughs most well-known novel, Naked Lunch, for the big screen.

Notwithstanding his longstanding influence as a counterculture figure, William Burroughs was born to rather innocuous circumstances, on February 9, 1914. His grandfather invented an adding machine for banking, and a century ago, one would associate the Burroughs name with the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, which remained a key computing company well into the 20th century. His parents were well-to-do inhabitants of St. Louis, and the young Burroughs grew up with a maid and a nanny.

Burroughs

Burroughs never quite fit into the respectable life of the bourgeoisie, which many of his classmates and neighbors inevitably noticed. He looked, they thought, “like a sheep-killing dog” or “a walking corpse” and one of his schoolmates considered him “a character” of “the wrong kind.” Fooling around with a chemistry set at the age of 14, the young Burroughs nearly blew off his hand. He received morphine for the surgery and spent six weeks in the hospital, but luckily did not lose the limb. This would be his first close call, and the trauma coincided with his first experience with morphine, a drug that would come to dominate his life three decades later.

Around this same time, Burroughs discovered a memoir, You Can’t Win, by a cultural outsider with the pen name Jack Black. Black was a high school dropout, an addict, and a crook; he was just the sort of hero Burroughs didn’t know he was looking for. The book contained colorful characters like “Salt Chunk Mary,” who dealt in stolen goods, and detailed a world of criminality that was foreign to the adolescent Burroughs. You Can’t Win remained a touchstone for the author into adulthood, and after several years of living his own outsider lifestyle, Burroughs modeled his confessional first-published novel, Junkie, after Black’s memoir.

Despite this early inspiration and a few interesting pieces written in his youth, Burroughs did not become a “writer” until almost 40. And moreover, he was older than his Beat generation comrades, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. By the time the trio met, Burroughs had traveled through Europe, explored a never-realized career in psychoanalysis, and plunged himself into an ill-fated affair with a hustler named Jack Anderson, a relationship that ended with Burroughs cutting off the tip of his finger in a bitter, Van Gogh-ian gesture. When he met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in 1944, he was 29, Kerouac nearly 22, and Ginsberg 17. Well-educated and with a self-possessed demeanor, Burroughs quickly became a mentor to these two young writers, though it had been several years since Burroughs had written anything himself.

Later that year, though, Burroughs did pick up the pen again, but the circumstance that led to him writing represents one of the formative tragedies in his life. In August 1944, two good friends of his got into a drunken argument by the Hudson River, and one (a man by the name of Lucien Carr) stabbed the other to death. Carr immediately sought out Burroughs, who told him, “Get a good lawyer,” and “make a case for self-defense.” Carr then went to see Kerouac, who helped him get rid of the dead man’s glasses and the murder weapon. After Carr turned himself in, the police arrested Burroughs and Kerouac, though both were promptly bailed out, Burroughs by his parents and Kerouac by his girlfriend. The murder shook up the three friends, and they each attempted to write about the event, with Burroughs and Kerouac collaborating on a novel they never managed to publish in their lifetimes.

Burroughs, Carr, & Ginsberg

Burroughs (l), Lucien Carr (c) & Allen Ginsberg

Still, though Burroughs was doing some writing, he was not yet “a writer.” He had to undergo more hard living and an almost overwhelming tragedy before he would earnestly begin his writing career.

Enter Joan Vollmer.

Like Burroughs, Vollmer hailed from a well-to-do family, but rejected following her parents into a bourgeois life. She was intelligent, attractive, and sexually free, and although Burroughs had long expressed a sexual preference for men, the pair developed a personal intimacy that led them to become common-law spouses. Their relationship continued between poles of intimacy and frustration. A friend once commented on their telepathic connection, and their devotion to each other — as they traveled from New York to Texas to Mexico, on some scheme or escaping failed schemes — was clear. Still, Burroughs maintained more sexual interest in men than in his wife, and both were addicts. Burroughs alternated between opiates and alcohol, while Vollmer preferred Benzedrine and later turned to tequila while in Mexico. Vollmer was often left frustrated, but the pair did manage to conceive a child, William S. Burroughs III.

While living in Mexico, Vollmer’s health deteriorated, and their relationship grew volatile. However, no one could guess how things would actually end. During a night of heavy drinking with some friends, Burroughs joked, “I guess it’s about time for our William Tell act.” Unbelievably to the others in the group, Vollmer put a glass on her head, laughing somewhat as she did it, and then Burroughs took aim at the glass and shot. The glass fell, unharmed. The shot through Vollmer’s head was fatal.

Through some shady legal wrangling, Vollmer’s death was ruled an accident, and Burroughs ultimately spent only 13 days in jail. The event, however, haunted him throughout his life, forcing him to write as a means to chase sanity. “I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death,” he once claimed. “So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have no choice except to write my way out.” Burroughs son and Vollmer’s daughter from a previous relationship went to live with grandparents, and Burroughs began a series of adventures in South America, hunting for a drug called yage which had purported mystical properties.

Burroughs Burro

In 1953, a dime-back press published Burroughs novel, Junkie, the cover marketing it as a pulp confessional. The book proved a relative success — selling over 100,000 copies — but Burroughs was still in South America looking for yage and seemed not to care. Like his childhood inspiration, You Can’t Win, Junkie plunges into an underworld of drugs and criminality and was culled from many of Burroughs’ own life experiences. Written in a matter-of-fact style, the novel contains explicit descriptions of drug use and the culture of addiction, but moments of philosophical candor pervade the text. It is not simply a dime-back confessional, but a vivid meditation on the meanings of addiction.

Returning to New York from South America, Burroughs attempted to kindle a relationship with Ginsberg, but his friend rebuffed his advances. So, rejected and tormented, Burroughs path eventually led him to Tangier, Morocco, where he continued his junk habit and wrote the bulk of his most famous novel, Naked Lunch.

The years spent in northern Morocco proved a dark, lonely period in Burroughs’ life. He had difficulty in getting over his affection for Ginsberg, his addiction intensified, and his physical appearance assumed a ghostly character. He wrote compulsively, but could not manage to organize his many pages of script, and though his friend had rejected him, letters to Ginsberg served as a lifeline during this period.

In 1955, at the age of 41, Burroughs had hit an emotional wall. Alienated from his friends both geographically and emotionally, he lived a hollow cycle of need sated briefly by needles. Later, he would remark, “I suddenly realized I was not doing anything. I was dying.” At this point he made a decision. He was determined to quit junk.

Of course, Burroughs had made this decision before, quite unsuccessfully. Somehow, though, now it worked. With renewed vigor, Burroughs returned to his writing, experiencing a level of productivity that was completely new to him. Soon, Kerouac, Ginsberg and Ginsberg’s boyfriend, Peter Orlovsky, traveled to Tangier to visit Burroughs, marking an end to that tormented chapter of Burroughs’ life. Ginsberg and another mutual friend spent a few months helping Burroughs edit Naked Lunch, and the novel was published in 1959.

Violent, relentless, and lacking any coherent linearity, Naked Lunch was a revelation. As with Junkie, the author drew from his own life while writing, but it cannot be characterized as autobiographical. The story moves promiscuously through different times and settings, with mysterious agents and explicit sex and, of course, frank descriptions of drug use. The purposefully obscene content prompted multiple bannings of the book, as well as an obscenity trial in Boston. Considering Naked Lunch a great literary accomplishment, Norman Mailer testified in Boston on the novel’s behalf. At one point he told the court, “There is a sense in Naked Lunch of the destruction of soul, which is more intense than any I have encountered in any other modern novel.” Mailer’s observation assumes an additional air of truth when we think about Burroughs tormented existence through much of Naked Lunch’s writing.

In Naked Lunch, we can see Burroughs marrying violence of content to violence of form, but it was not until he discovered the “cut-up” method that this impulse was fully realized. A form of verbal collage, the cut-up method involves literally slicing up pages of text with a pair of scissors, and rearranging those pieces to create unexpected juxtapositions. Not everyone in the literary community appreciated such a method (Samuel Beckett once referred to it as “plumbing”), but through it Burroughs produced a fascinating set of novels called The Nova Trilogy.

The three editions of The Nova Trilogy — The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express — contain pieces drawn from multiple sources. Readers familiar with Naked Lunch will recognize its presence in the trilogy, and it also contains scraps from Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The novels possess a similarly explicit content as Burroughs’ previous works, but the cut-up method leads to text that is more fragmented and yet more rhythmic than Naked Lunch. Phrases recur like a refrain in poetry, but it is not always clear how they relate to the scenes surrounding them. Partially inspired by surrealist methods for creating art, the novels lead readers to explore their own associations, making it impossible to pin down definitive meanings for the disjointed imagery.

Burroughs

Though Burroughs’ career as a writer began later than his peers, his influence is wide-reaching. Ultimately, despite being several years older than both Kerouac and Ginsberg, he outlived them both, dying at the age of 83 four months after Ginsberg. Now, in the 21st century, Burroughs continues to be a touchstone for a new generation of writers and artists who seek to push the limits of language and adventurous living.

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

Wiiliam S. Burroughs At The Bluebird

◆ by C.K.

 

[On March 19, 1981 William S. Burroughs gave a reading at the Bluebird, accompanied musically by Bloomington’s legendary Dancing Cigarettes. The following is an excerpt from C.K.’s journal.]

 

Thursday saw my last day of class, and the long-awaited William Burroughs/John Giorno gig at the Bluebird. I could scarcely wait. Michael C. declined to go at the last moment, so I went with Melanie and my brother Jim, who was recording the show for posterity by agreement with the Cigs.

John Giorno of “Dial-A-Poet” came on first and read (or shouted) four or five poems which were very aggressive and anti-woman, yet amusing. (“Making love to you is like making love to someone on the subway!”) After a long and dramatic pause, Burroughs came forward led by a young preppie-looking asshole said by the Cigs to be his secretary. Burroughs was shorter than I had expected, and skeletal, and frail, yet he read his selections with a vengeance which everyone loved. He sneered and snarled and hung over each word like a hooded viper in a way wonderful to behold. I was sitting with Melanie and Bill Weaver and the Cigs and a few other artsy friends right before the stage by the steps, and had a view of him which could not be equaled anywhere else in the house.

Burroughs finished all too soon, and accepted the crowd’s roars of applause, deigned to give a short encore of a piece about the origin of the universe (our universe is a drop of grease which a giant billions of years ago shook from his fingers, the grease not having quite hit the floor yet) and departed amidst tumultuous acclaim. There came an intermission while Burroughs sat down and signed autographs on copies of Armies of the Red Night and the Cigarettes set up their equipment. I talked to Jim, who had been recording in the same corner with Burroughs and Giorno all night. He was not much impressed with either of the two poets’ readings as such, but was impressed with their repute. He said with evident pride that he had shared a joint with Burroughs, and Giorno had had a pleasant conversation with him and tried to pick him up. I was amused to see that Jimmy was having such fun.

The Cigs began and I danced. I lasted through two sets, yet I had little encouragement from any of the Cig devotees except Bill Weaver. Melanie split early, Laurie didn’t have the money to attend tonight, and Margot went home feeling ill after Burroughs ended. It was discouraging. My screams and shouts lacked enthusiasm or wit. I danced almost all the songs but did not cross over the border. Bill praised my efforts and made it all worthwhile.

[Feature image: The Dancing Cigarettes.]

 

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

FILM: 12 Years a Slave (2013) For Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927)

◆ by Brandon Walsh

 

12 Years a Slave has received near-universal acclaim and in the coming weeks is a good bet to win several Best Picture™ awards. The story of Solomon Northrop, a freeman kidnapped and sold into slavery, is not only the best visual representation of the horror of American slavery, but helps Hollywood look past its own sordid history of racial representation. One ledger in this history is Harry Pollard’s 1927 film adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one of Hollywood’s most famous, and troublesome, depictions of slavery.

Both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and 12 Years a Slave are close Hollywood adaptations from period works, told with A-list actors, addressing slavery with epic stories of African-Americans enslaved on plantations with abusive owners. But this is where the similarities end. Although they may be cut from the same cloth of history, the two films apply very different stains.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was given a big Hollywood treatment ($1.8 million, one of the highest budgets for a film at the time). Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852, overshadowing Solomon Northrop’s 1853 autobiography, becoming one of the best-selling books of all time. Between 1903 and 1927, at least 10 silent film adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were produced, culminating in the famous 1927 adaptation.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin opens to a scene of a vibrant Georgian plantation scored by “Swanee River,” immediately eliciting nostalgic imagery of the lavish American South. Slave children dance around the hero of the film, Eliza, a mixed-race maid entered into slavery. The film was progressive for its time in casting James B. Lowe, a black man, as Uncle Tom, however all other slave characters are portrayed by white actors in blackface. Eliza’s portrayal by a white actress assumes that 1920s moviegoers could only empathize with slavery when white characters were in bondage. Uncle Tom himself is given less than 10 minutes of screen time, the film paying more attention to large action scenes, laden with stigmatic black characters. While the story itself largely faithful to Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery story, Hollywood’s habit of exploitation is equally present.

From "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

Little Eva and Topsey in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

12 Years a Slave is an unflinching view of slavery, devoting its screen time to accurately depicting the labor, politics, and violence of slavery, documenting the machinery of society and using Northrop as its spectator. British director Steve McQueen, fresh off his provocative films Hunger and Shame, which deal respectively with political and psychological imprisonment. McQueen continues his sustained, metonymic visual style, which translates well to Northrop’s story. Though making more use of dialogue than his other films, uninterrupted images carry the film’s emotional weight. In one torturous shot, Northrup is left to tiptoe for his life in the mud as he is left halfway-hung on a lynching tree. This shot is a far cry from the “gentle rule typical of the south” mentioned in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and illustrates why 12 Years A Slave is the better film — it stings.

Where Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a harrowing adventure film designed to entertain, it is almost impossible to relax during 12 Years a Slave, a subversion of Hollywood entertainment. The whipping of Uncle Tom and other travesties are merely hinted at in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Northrop’s story is unsentimental. Skin is flayed, children are torn from their mothers, drunkards are patriarchs, and survival is granted by blind chance. Pollard uses slavery as a backdrop for popular Hollywood conventions: love defying the odds, the thrill of the chase, a child’s innocence. Throughout Hollywood’s history, films have too often used social issues as a frame for Hollywood narrative without historical consciousness, making 12 Years a Slave all the more important today.

Hollywood congratulates itself when given the opportunity in the best picture category, to the point that the subject matter can be a stronger consideration of a film’s worth than aesthetic/cultural value of the film. (Look no further than Crash, or even last year’s best picture winner Argo, where the hero who saved the day was Hollywood.) Awards are a way of writing history, and what else is history but a rewriting of history? If McQueen’s film is selected as best picture, it won’t be in the most comfortable company, but its inclusion, as well as the attention to Northrop’s story, is nonetheless overdue. If Uncle Tom’s Cabin showed audiences that social issues can be brought into popular entertainment, 12 Years a Slave shows a modern audience that history can be rewritten the right way, packaged in a piece of unsettling entertainment. It’s a film that wants to remind us, in every image, “Never forget this crime against humanity.”

[Brandon Walsh is an undergraduate senior studying and producing films at Indiana University. Caption for Featured Image: The opening shot to Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight).]

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

DANCE: Hot Times On A Hard Floor

by ◆ Paul Sturm

 

As a kid, I had square dance class every other Friday in my grade school gym  It was part of our requisite phys ed regimen. Not ballroom or ballet, modern or tap, mind you; not Lindy Hop swing dances for jitterbugs (which I only saw in movies); not sassy “jazz” dance moves, which hadn’t yet migrated from Broadway to rural vernacular. We were years away from rock bands’ dominion over school dances. Our media piped the likes of Mitch Miller and Lawrence Welk, and the American folk music revival was in full voice — and no one really danced to Burl Ives, The Kingston Trio, or Joan Baez.

So square dancing, and occasional contra dancing, was what we had to know to be socially adept in our ‘50s/‘60s farm-&-coal belt heartland. At church socials and barn dances, in schools and public gatherings, if people danced to music – and people love dancing to music – square dancing was it.  (It’s still the official state dance in 21 states and the official state folk dance in 3 more.) In some communities, they peppered their square and contra dancing with the hard-soled rhythmic stomp of flatfooting and clogging. More visceral than tap, clogging gave every reluctant pre-teen Terpsichorean a much-welcomed invitation to make noise with their feet. Add fruit punch and white cake, and what’s not to love?

What I didn’t then know was that square dancing, contra dancing, clogging — all of these “American” dance forms derive from European dance styles that extend back centuries.  And what I couldn’t then predict was that I’d end up living in a bodacious hub for traditional American dance: our humble burg of Bloomington.

In 1972, IU folklore student, Dillon Bustin, and a cohort of likeminded B-town twenty-somethings began a weekly gathering to revive traditional American old-time music and dance, becoming known as the Bloomington Old-Time Music and Dance Group — an informal army of old-timey enthusiasts who gather weekly to this day.

[For those who want to learn more about this grand Bloomington tradition, John Bealle has written an affectionate history entitled Old Time Music and Dance: Community and Folk Revival, published by IU Press.]

One of the more significant outgrowths of BOTMDG was the formation of Shuffle Creek Dancers, a cadre of five dancers whose skill and dedication to traditional dance moved into a professional caliber and aspiration. Shuffle Creek Dancers became Rhythm In Shoes, which continues as a professional trad-dance ensemble, now located in Dayton, Ohio. Even though the dance company, and many of its members, came and went, a few local souls have kept percussive dance alive in Bloomington — most significantly, Tamara Loewenthal.

Loewenthal was one of the founding members of Shuffle Creek Dancers, back in 1980. Today, she is half of the performing duo Fiddle ‘n’ Feet, with her partner, Jamie Gans, on fiddle. She is an Indiana Arts For Learning Artist as well as an Arts Learning Artist for Ohio and Kentucky). She teaches percussive dance classes, and she is a multi-year Indiana Arts Commission (IAC) Individual Artist Grant recipient. In addition to performing and teaching traditional dance, Loewenthal calls square and contra dances for the Bloomington Old-Time Music and Dance Group and for Bloomington Contra Dance. (She called a great afternoon of square dance at Lotus in the Park during Lotus Festival 2012.)

The weekend of January 23-25 will be chock-full of BOTMDG, On Thursday, the 23rd, Loewenthal is presenting her Seventh Annual Percussive Dance Extravaganza at the Ivy Tech Waldron Center.  This year, with the support of IAC funding, she’s also offering a series of master class workshops on clogging and old time music on Friday and Saturday. (See the lineup of events below). She’ll call a public square dance on Saturday night in the Harmony School gym.

I asked Loewenthal how rehearsals are going for her upcoming Dance Extravaganza. “The process has been going really well. With the IAC grant, we started the rehearsal process earlier, and the body of work has grown;  the concert this year allows the presentation of my accumulated body of work which includes several new pieces. I choreographed everything that we’ll perform.  Even when I began dancing, I was choreographing. I love figuring out the dancers’ directions, how to ‘get there.’ What’s the pathway? How are we going to move in the space? I like seeing shapes, like those old Busby Berkeley movies where the camera pans over the dance scene and you see these great, kaleidoscopic shapes and patterns, and you wonder where everything will go next. I’m inspired by that effect in creating my dances.”

Many know Loewenthal as a solitary dancer/clogger. She and Gans often perform at the Farmer’s Market and elsewhere, and she has danced on stage with several Lotus World Music and Arts Festival performers over the years. But it’s in the ensemble dances she features in her annual concert that Loewenthal’s choreographic talents shine. Whether for duo, trio, quartet, or larger forces, she keeps her dancers moving, and she moves them across the floor with inventive interplay and geometric design.

Loewenthal also maintains variety in her annual Dance Extravaganza concerts by presenting much more than clogging. Each year, the concert incorporates a range of traditional dance styles, and this year’s extravaganza is no exception.

“The largest portion of what we’ll be doing is in the clogging and flatfooting tradition. It’s very conducive to the old time style of music I feature in our concert. We add a little bit of hand clapping, some body percussion, and a little bit of tap on some dances. Clogging is very much about the downbeat and keeping everything steady, while tapping has a lot of syncopation and is often about pushing the beat.

“We’re also doing some French Canadian stepdance, which is different than English clogging. It’s a very ‘up’ style because the French doublé rhythm is more upbeat. You shuffle more with double-toe movements rather than the heel-toe of clogging. So you dance more on your toes, with a lot of precision, and your arms are more at your side.

“But clogging is my favorite style of dance because I feel so clearly how it connects to the music. In terms of dance, for me, I loved the music first, and then I social danced to it through square dance, and when I realized you could make rhythms to this music, that’s when I got excited about dance.  I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Traditional American dance forms aren’t readily taught anymore, so it requires a special commitment to master the many dance styles in Loewenthal’s repertoire. “In 1981, I began going to dance camps around the country where people could go and learn more about traditional dance styles.  I went to several of those dance camps, and that’s where I learned about and studied all these different dance styles.”

Loewenthal has studied with many great step dancers including Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, Brenda Bufalino, Benoit Bourque, Pierre Chartrand, Mandy Sayer, and John Timm. She’s won awards for her clogging, including a blue ribbon at the Mount Airy (NC) Fiddler’s Convention, and in 1999 she received a prestigious Arts Council of Indianapolis Creative Renewal Fellowship to study with masters in the French Canadian stepdance field.

In many ways, and to many people, Loewenthal is the irrepressible engine for Bloomington’s clogging revival of the last decade. Between classes, concerts, Farmer’s Market performances, school programs and more, she keeps this tradition alive in our town and in the Midwest. I asked her how she stepped into that role.

“By around 2000, Rhythm In Shoes had already moved to Dayton, and several of the dancers had left Bloomington to pursue other career opportunities, and there just wasn’t any percussive dance presence in town anymore. So I began teaching classes in 1998, 1999; and as my students wanted an outlet for more of this kind of dance, I wrote an Indiana Arts Commission grant in 2007 for a concert. It got provisionally funded, so the first Percussive Dance Extravaganza concert was in January, 2008.

“I think there are two reasons why it’s difficult to sustain a performing dance troupe. Learning to dance a rhythm in an accurate way is difficult, and keeping the stamina and fitness to continue practicing this kind of dance performance is difficult. So when I was interested in starting up a group again, I started with lessons because that was an easier way to attract and engage people. As dancers realized that one class a week was enough to only learn one dance over several months, we were able to add more classes and more rehearsals. Everyone lets me know how much they want to do, and I build my percussive dance concerts around how the dancers want to participate. It’s such a joyful, shared art form that people love doing it, and viewing it.”

This growing posse of traditional dance practitioners has allowed Loewenthal to plan more performances, with more frequency. She’s coined these dancers her “Foot Squad” and she and Gans did a couple Fiddle ‘n’ Feet concerts last year where the duo was expanded with Foot Squad dancers.

Led by Loewenthal, the “Foot Squad” company for the Percussive Dance Extravaganza will feature dancers Annie Bartlett Stowers, Suzannah Edgar, Mary Beth Roska, Cliff Emery, Allana Radecki, and Katie Zukof, as well as students from Loewenthal’s percussive dance classes.

Given her love for old time music, Loewenthal gives each Extravaganza concert an added blast of artistic excellence by recruiting all-star old-timey musicians from Indiana and beyond. This year’s Extravaganza Old Time Band includes Jamie Gans and Brad Leftwich on fiddles, Sam Bartlett on banjo and mandolin, Robert Widlowski on bass, and special guest John Schwab on guitar. Additional musicians will include Eric Schedler on piano and accordion, Zach Moon on Irish flute and whistle, and Marielle Abell on vocals. Hudsucker Posse members Paula Chambers and Clara Kallner also will perform.

Following the Thursday concert, and as a big-hearted invitation for Bloomingtonians to “embrace all things old-time,” Loewenthal has organized the first ever Extravaganza Weekend with a series of classes and events all held at Harmony School, 909 E. 2nd Street.  All events have paid admission; contact Loewenthal for pricing and registration info online or at 812-219-1890.

Friday, January 24, features an old-time guitar workshop with John Schwab (7-9pm).

Saturday, January 25, events include:

  • Clogging master class with Tamara Loewenthal (2-4pm)
  • Old-time guitar workshop with John Schwab (2-4pm)
  • Irish fiddle workshop with Jamie Gans (2-3pm)
  • Old-time fiddle workshop with Brad Leftwich (3-4pm)
  • Old-time banjo workshop with Sam Bartlett (3-4pm)
  • Square Dance in the Harmony School gym, 8pm.  (The Extravaganza Old Time Band pulls out all the stops for a square dance called by Extravaganza Weekend artistic director, Tamara Loewenthal.  No experience — and no partner — necessary!  Just bring your most comfortable dancing shoes.)

For newbies and the uninitiated, the Seventh Annual Percussive Dance Extravaganza will offer a memorable evening of exceptional old time music and traditional rhythmic footwork – including English clogging, flatfooting, tap, French Canadian stepdance, and a longsword dance – conceived and choreographed by Tamara Loewenthal, and performed by Loewenthal and her Foot Squad dancers.

According to Loewenthal, “I think anyone who comes to the concert will experience an incredible amount of joy and beauty, not only in the complexity of the dance but also in the wonderful, dynamic interplay of dancers and live musicians.  The exactness of everything commands attention.  It’s very exciting and filled with joy.  The Extravaganza is an expression of the vital old-time dance and music scene in Bloomington, and a celebration of the joy of making beautiful and powerful rhythms with our feet.”

Tamara Loewenthal’s Seventh Annual Percussive Dance Extravaganza is Thursday, January 23 at 7:30pm in the Ivy Tech Waldron Center auditorium, 122 S. Walnut St.  Admission is $15 in advance, $18 day of show; tickets are available at Bloomingfoods or from Loewenthal online or 812-219-1890.  The concert always sells out, so I recommend getting tickets in advance.

The Ryder ◆ January 2014

Ed Bernstein’s Avenging Angels

◆ by Sarah Burns

 

[Editor’s Note: Almost Illuminated: Edward Bernstein is a retrospective exhibition of work created during Professor Bernstein’s tenure at Indiana University from 1991—2013. The exhibition will be on display in the IU Grunwald Gallery from January 17 through February 14. On January 17, The Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts will host a Gallery Talk at 5:30; reception follows.]

 

Ed Bernstein’s visual universe is not for the faint of heart. It is a place of barely contained elemental energy, where flames consume, waters engulf, earthquakes shatter, and avenging angels hover in the air. In this world, frail boats drift through dark seas, fragile chandeliers shed feeble light into the shadows that deepen around them, and buildings await imminent destruction by fire or flood. This is a universe where forces both natural and supernatural make mockery of whatever humans have wrought in the name of power, culture, civilization, religion, beauty.

Yet however grave the danger and however imminent the disaster, Bernstein never relinquishes the hope of some ultimate redemption: for every raging fire or wrathful tempest, there is also light struggling through the darkness. To express such large themes— both timeless and deeply romantic—Bernstein uses and re-uses an array of seemingly simple yet richly connotative visual metaphors closely bound up in our own domestic and imaginative lives: the burning house, the storm-tossed boat, the beacon of hope, the guardian angel.

GuardAngBerns

Guardian Angel, 2008

Ed Bernstein is a native New Yorker who has hardly lived in New York. He was born in NYC and grew up in Long Island until he left for college first in Ohio where he got a degree in Political Science from Miami University and then to Rhode Island School of Design for a BFA in painting.

He left Rhode Island in late 1967 for Rome and then Paris to work with SW Hayter at Atelier 17 and where he met Wendy, his wife now of 44 years. He returned briefly to New York in late ’68 to teach art in the South Bronx ghetto as alternative service to Vietnam and then back to Rhode Island 1969 to do the same in inner city Providence.

Ed and Wendy arrived in Bloomington first in 1970; Ed studied with Rudy Pozzatti and Marvin Lowe for his MFA in Printmaking. In 1973 Ed got his first teaching job at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville where their daughter Sacha was born but soon left for Oxford, England where Ed became Head of Printmaking at the Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford.

From 1978 when they returned to the US, the Bernsteins moved many times across the US including Berkeley as well as back to Oxford for his many temporary and various gigs until finally returning to Bloomington in 1991 as Associate Professor in printmaking in the Hope School of Art. Bernstein just retired in August as Professor of Art and Head of Printmaking.

Over the course of his career, Bernstein has cycled through successive themes and variations on those potent—and often portentous— symbols. In the 1991 Escape Hatch and Stormy Voyage and other works of that time, we see an iconic house form, of the sort that very young children so often draw, the peaked roof and centered door promising security, warmth, family, refuge from the world outside. But Bernstein’s houses promise no such thing. They are skeletons, stripped to studs and joists. Dense plumes of smoke and licks of fire stream upward through the bare rafters. Standing precariously on circular mirrored platforms atop teetering conical towers, these houses remind us of spinning tops, cyclones, or whirlpools. At their bases and all around seethe restless waters, surging, heaving, undulating, powerful enough to suck the whole jerry-rigged structure down beneath the waves. If this happens, the flames will be doused. But the house is doomed to destruction either way.

EscHatBerns

Escape Hatch, 1991

It is not symbolism alone that conveys the drama and emotion we feel in these images. Those properties also are communicated through chiaroscuro effects and violent gestural animation. In Stormy Voyage, for example, everything is intensely dark save the flames, which, by contrast, deliver the blinding visual shock of a lightning flash. In the flames and—even more—in the roiling waves, our eyes “feel” the artist’s hand, activating the surface with a riot of marks that coil, surge, dash, flare, and bristle. Light, shade, and drawing combine to create effects of sheer chaotic, boundless motion. It is almost as if we are given a glimpse of untamable forces lurking beneath the ordered and ostensibly well-regulated façade that civilization has built to contain them. Indeed, the rectilinear geometry of the house and the perfect symmetry of its conical base stand as emblems of human-engineered order and measure. But in the Voyage series, geometrical order seems powerless to withstand the primal energy of nature and entropy: the epic of making and unmaking unfolds before our eyes. Permanence is only a dream, turmoil the reality.

Some prints, though, revel in the sheer joy of light. Constellation VII (2004) is another close-up view, a dazzling tangle of looped bead chains, dangling prisms, swooping arms, and crystalline candle cups, every element sparkling in tints of icy blue. In Mutations (2006), the peachy tones and extreme close-up accomplish what the title suggests: the chandelier has morphed into an alien life form—part plant, part animal—with bulbous growths on its legs and a glowing, translucent heart. In Illuminata (2012), we zoom out a vast distance to see an infinity of chandeliers and candle flames. Duplicated many times over, they become a spangled galaxy of stars shimmering against a velvety dark ground—or, perhaps, fireflies dancing in the dark on a summer night.

Light and the metaphors it generates are intrinsic to our existence. Light gives life. When we learn the truth, we say we have seen the light; we are enlightened. To be enchanted is to be bedazzled. That special person lights up our life. We hold candlelight vigils in memory of those who have died. Our ancestors relied on the light of their campfires to keep the wild beasts at bay. And almost without exception, our religions use light as a metaphor for the unknowable. Rich in connotation, these images invite us to reflect, ruminate, and remember.

Bernstein’s chandeliers dangle in space; his angels swoop through it. The artist first conceived of moving his printmaking into three dimensions in conjunction with a group show at the airport in Richmond, Virginia, where some sixty-five artists were invited to design a three-dimensional paper airplane on the theme of “No Danger.” What better than an angel to symbolize the transcendence (rather than the inconvenience, fear, and discomfort) of flying? Printed on fabric, Bernstein’s Guardian Angel (2008) joined the many other flying objects—identified and otherwise—watching over passengers coming and going. But this was no sentimentalized, smiling angel with white wings, a long robe, and a halo, but, rather, one straight out of the biblical imagination, a six-winged seraph, wondrous and (despite the theme of the show) more than a little terrifying. With its vividly colored wings inset with eyes, its projectile body and baleful stare, it is a genuinely supernatural being, celestial, inhuman, a hybrid of bird, butterfly, and spirit, a creature from a vision or a dream. Its siblings—Nemesis (2010) and the Avenging Angel (2008)—are equally formidable and even forbidding, one in somber shades of purple and violet, the other azure blue, trailing a long stinger. One can easily imagine vengeance and doom riding on those wings.

The three-dimensional figure of Icarus (2009) is structurally similar to the angels but of a different stripe. More like a giant moth than a seraph, Icarus is a creature of the earth whose dream of flying symbolizes his hubris and spells his downfall. The paired prints, Icarus Ascending (2010) and Icarus Ascended (2011) elaborate on what the three-dimensional Icarus more subtly suggests. To symbolize Icarus and his doomed attempt to soar, Bernstein marries a pair of bird wings with one of Leonardo’s impossible flying machines. In the first scene, Icarus has flapped his way out of a hellish pit (courtesy of Breughel the Elder) where the fallen rebel angels, hideous monsters, battle their heavenly adversaries. But in Icarus Ascended, the wings now bear the imprint of Breughel’s hell and the figure of the Archangel Michael beating down the monsters with his sword. Rather than rise into the firmament, Icarus seems to have plunged into an infernal night to become one with the demons he (like so many of us) tried so hard to escape. But at least for a few inspired moments, he tasted freedom. Was it worth the price? It is up to us to decide.

Bernstein’s latest work is decidedly more down to earth. These recent prints and constructions came out of the artist’s two extended visits to the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. These pieces graphically symbolize the extreme divisions of class and power endemic to modern Brazil. Inhotim (2011) represents a lush grove of palm trees in the eponymous park outside Belo Horizonte and mostly frequented by the middle and upper classes. The mesh of red chain link fence that screens the entire surface conveys meaning in an elegant visual shorthand that needs no further translation. Chain link is also the armature for the far more intricate 2013 Tapecaria (Tapestry). Resembling a quilt at a distance, close up it resolves into an interwoven grid of diamonds, some printed with smiling faces and ramshackle dwellings from the slums, the rest with images of Inhotim’s inaccessible palms. This dizzying visual kaleidoscope is at once a heartbreaking landscape of inequality, an acerbic commentary on social justice, and a tribute to the citizens of the favelas, who despite hardship and discrimination have created a vibrant culture.

As these latest works show, Ed Bernstein continues to invent, evolve, and engage with enduring social, ethical, and political issues, as he has throughout a long and productive career. He continues to experiment, too: for all his meticulous craftsmanship and command of traditional printmaking techniques, he strives to push beyond those boundaries, incorporating novel technologies with the old to produce ever new expressive forms. Like the best artists, he embraces change. The great Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai styled himself “The Old Man Mad about Art” and dreamed of the work he would create at age eighty, ninety, one hundred, one hundred and thirty, forty, and beyond. Ed Bernstein is an artist in that identical mold. Like Hokusai, he will keep going, always looking ahead, following his star.

[Sarah Burns is the Ruth N. Halls Professor Emerita in the Department of the History of Art at IU. The featured image is Imminent Departure, 1995.]

The Ryder ● January 2014

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