DJ Spooky’s Re-birth of a Nation


By Joan Hawkins


In my field of Film Studies, Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915) is the quintessential bad object and perennial pedagogical headache. Based on a novel, The Clansmen: A Historical Romance (Thomas F. Dixon Jr, 1905), the film is explicitly racist. It lionizes the Ku Klux Klan and seemingly endorses, or possibly incites, violence against Black people, particularly Black men.  But it also represents an evolutionary leap forward in the history of cinema.  Not just a film where there are some interesting aesthetics, but a total game changer.

It was here that D. W. Griffith developed cross-cutting, developed and extended the use of the tracking shot, developed and extended the use of the close-up to heighten emotion and facilitate viewer identification with a character. While previous films like A Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter 1903) or Voyage to the Moon (Georges Méliès, 1902) had used action to create strong narrative lines, no previous film had attempted a complex, action-driven narrative on such an epic scale. Or had attempted such a sustained, emotionally-driven story.  Birth of a Nation juggles multiple plot strands over the course of almost three hours.  It crystallized the narrative and formal vocabulary that has dominated American cinema for the past 100 years. For film scholars, it is a film that remains impossible to teach and impossible not to. “The worst thing about Birth of a Nation,” the New Yorker wrote in 2013, “is how good it is.”


So why would a Black electronic and hip-hop musician like Paul Miller– aka DJ Spooky, aka That Subliminal Kid—make it a project to recut, remix, reimagine, and “scratch” the film? To  resurrect it yet again?  He’s always been interested in appropriation art, citing both Duchamps and Warhol as influences. And he started his career working in science fiction, a speculative genre that encourages social critique through the depiction of alternative worlds, alternative histories. So when Rebirth was commissioned in 2004, Spooky saw it as a way to tell the story of American racism from the subaltern’s perspective, and in so doing to literally force (through reorganization of the image) a different point of view. “Rebirth of a Nation is a mirror held up to society’s racial politics,” he said. “You see a lot of paradoxes.”

Why would a Black electronic and hip-hop musician recut, remix, reimagine and “scratch” D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation?     

Spooky’s commission came at a sensitive moment.  Following the 9/11 attacks, we were at war in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Islamophobia had become a thing, and what might be considered America’s primal racism—the net effect of a country founded on slavery and on the subjugation of indigenous peoples—seemed to be spreading outward in concentric circles. Writing about the Rebirth project in 2015, Spooky said: “In an era where NSA’S PRISM program and whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have shown us that perspective can truly alter global events, we need more than ever, to see the context that early cinema offers us from the viewpoint of showing us that, as my old friend Saul Williams liked to say: Another World Is Possible. A remix of a film as deeply important and problematic as The Birth of a Nation reminds us, in the era of Trayvon Martin and Ferguson, that many of these issues still linger with us at every level.”


American Story: Birth of a Nation

Birth of a Nation (1915) was released into a country that was racially complicated, to say the least.  Segregation was the law in the South and the practice in the North.  But the Northern migration had begun and in cities like Chicago, there was some opportunity for work and for home ownership.  Photos from the era show the emergence of a sophisticated, urbane Black professional middle class. A middle class that was increasingly impatient with the racist imagery prevalent in the white culture industry.  Starting around 1910, Chicago film companies like Lincoln Motion Picture Company and Ebony Pictures began producing race movies for an increasingly discriminating audience.  These were movies with all-Black casts and serious story lines, that were shown as “Midnight Rambles” (midnight until 2 a.m.) in segregated theaters. The films featured stories about Black professionals who were trying to get ahead.  Some were genre films like romances, comedies or cowboy movies. And to see these films outside their historic context, one would think all was right with the world.  But the films were aspirational. Outside the theaters and Black community organizations, it was dangerous to be African American.  Lynchings were common.  In 1900, 100 Black folk were lynched in the United States—and that only counts the number reported and chronicled. “Georgia trees bear a strange fruit,” Lady Day sang in 1939. But at the turn of the century, African Americans knew that Northern trees, too, had their own “blood on the leaves, blood at the root.”  And so when D. W. Griffith made an epic romance about the Klan in 1915, the Black community and their white friends were outraged.

“The response of the Black community to Birth of a Nation predates the film,” Toni Cade Bambara tells us.  “The work on which it had been based, Thomas Dixon’s The Clansmen, had first been a book, then it had been a play, then it had been a pageant.  And there had been a mobilization of Black clubswomen against Dixon and The Clansmen.”  And now, having fought against the book, the play, the pageant, these same women realized there was going to be a film. Not just any film, but one with 15 reels, 3 hours long, that had already been screened at the White House and declared a masterpiece by President Wilson.  It had a massive publicity campaign. “Within the neighborhoods,” Professor Bambara continues, “not only are we being bombarded with billboards and flyers with the usual inflammatory, humiliating images, but now we’re being barraged by this massive film.”

Across the country Black leaders and their white supporters organized, went to court and staged protests in an attempt to ban the movie.  The Boston Globe reported that Birth of a Nation caused “a near-riot” in Boston, as an alleged plot to destroy the film resulted in “wild scenes and 11 arrests.” As it turns out, the Black community had every reason to be alarmed.
The film’s release is credited as being one of the events that inspired the formation of the “second era” Ku Klux Klan at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in the same year.  And the Klan used the film as a recruiting tool.

The film follows two juxtaposed families: the Northern Stonemans and the Southern Camerons. There is something of a Romeo and Juliet motif as one of the Stoneman sons falls in love with Margaret Cameron, and the youngest Cameron son falls in love with Elsie Stoneman (Lillian Gish). And for awhile, it seems that the film will focus on whether lovers from opposing political sides can ever be together.


While that theme does remain a constant throughout the film, it is overshadowed by a postwar Reconstruction horror story.  After Abraham Lincoln is assassinated, Austin Stoneman and his fellow radical Republicans are determined to punish the South, employing harsh tactics that Griffith depicts as typical of the Reconstruction era.  It is in the Reconstruction half of the film that racist representations—present throughout the film– become positively dizzying. Stoneman has a psychopathic mulatto protégé, Silas Lynch.  When the two travel to South Carolina to observe Reconstruction in action, they see Black occupation soldiers parading in the streets and pushing white residents aside on the sidewalk.  During an election in which Lynch is elected lieutenant governor, whites are prevented from voting while Blacks are observed stuffing the ballot boxes.   Newly elected Black members of the South Carolina legislature take their shoes off in the House, put their feet up on the tables, drink hard liquor and feast on fried chicken during debates. The Legislature is shown passing laws requiring white civilians to salute Black soldiers and allowing mixed-race marriages.  When Flora Cameron goes off alone into the woods to fetch water, she is followed by Gus, a freedman.   He tells her he wants to marry her, and she is so frightened by his insistence that she jumps into a precipice and dies.  In the meantime the despicable Lynch has designs on Elsie Stoneman.  It is the Klan of course who ride to the rescue, saving Elsie, revenging Flora, and under the leadership of Ben Cameron, riding in a massive formation to liberate an entire town. The following Election Day, Blacks find mounted and armed Klansmen outside their homes and are intimidated into not voting. A move the film clearly endorses. Birth of a Nation concludes with white supremacy restored and with a double wedding as Margaret Cameron marries Phil Stoneman and Elsie Stoneman marries Ben Cameron, the leader of the Klan.

The film spawned the first sequel in film history, The Fall of a Nation (Thomas Dixon, 1916). Despite its success in the foreign market, that film was not successful among American audiences.  It is believed that it is now lost.

In 1918, John W. Noble, co-founder of Lincoln Motion Picture Company (one of the race movie companies mentioned earlier), attempted to challenge Griffith and Dixon by making the The Birth of a Race.  And in 1919, famed African-American director Oscar Micheaux released Within Our Gates, another powerful response from the African American community.  Most notably, he reversed a key scene of Griffith’s film by depicting a white man assaulting a Black woman.  And in 2004, DJ Spooky remixed the original film and reimagined it using the tools of electronic music and hip hop culture.


Another story: Détournement

Détournement (French for “turning away” or

“hijacking”) is the act of appropriating a cultural artifact (movie, ad, painting, poster, book) and changing it just enough so that the new meaning subverts its original intent.  First developed in the 1950s by the avant-garde Lettrist International, and later adapted by the Situationists, it is the basis for what we have come to call culture jamming.  But in its early phase, it was quite subtle.  So subtle that Guy Debord, the chief theorist of the French Situationists, wrote long essays describing exactly how to do it.  And in one of those essays, he outlined a possible détournement for Birth of a Nation (“Methods of Détournement,” Les  Lèvres Nues #8, 1956).


To cut through this absurd confusion of values, we can observe that

Birth of a Nation is one of the most important films in the history

of cinema because of its wealth of new contributions.  On the other

hand, it is a racist film and therefore absolutely does not merit being

shown in its present form.  But its total prohibition could be seen

as regrettable…It would be better to detourn it as a whole, without

necessarily even altering the montage, by adding a soundtrack…


This is more or less what DJ Spooky does in his Rebirth of a Nation.

Conceived as a reimagining of The Birth of a Nation, DJ Spooky’s Rebirth  is a controversial and culturally significant project that examines how “…exploitation and political corruption still haunt the world to this day, but in radically different forms.” Originally commissioned in 2004 by the Lincoln Center Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, Wiener Festwochen, and the Festival d’Automne à Paris, the project was Miller’s first large-scale multimedia performance piece, and has been performed around the world, from the Sydney Festival to the Herod Atticus Amphitheater, more than fifty times. The DVD version of Rebirth of a Nation was released by Anchor Bay Films/Starz Media in 2008. The project’s live musical score by DJ Spooky, originally recorded by Kronos Quartet, was made available for the first time on CD from Cantaloupe Records, in summer 2015.

For his remix, Spooky cut the film’s overall length by about half, to 100 minutes. Most of the cuts occur in The Civil War Section of the film, so that the Rebirth of a Nation edit spends nearly twice as much screen time on the Reconstruction (the second act of Griffith’s diptych) as it does on the Civil War.  This has the effect of stripping away much of the romance and the character development of Ben Cameron. What is left is the most offensive imagery and a Klan leader who has no sympathetic build-up.  What is left is what Spooky calls “the core myth from the binary opposition at the center of the human mind.”

Within that pared-down edit, Spooky does some very subtle montage, bringing Black characters who live in Griffith’s background to the foreground of the frame for example, and using a parallax shift, so that objects and people are viewed from a different direction than they were in Griffith’s original film.  This part of the edit is so subtle that viewers who have never seen the original, or who have not seen it for a long time, probably will not notice it at all.  More obvious, is the repetition of images, particularly the now-chilling image of Ben Carson in Klan regalia, seated on a rearing horse. Or the offensive images of Black people dancing and menacing white women. Like Les LeVeque, another found footage artist, Spooky uses reversal and mirroring within the frame, so that key characters are looking at reversed images of themselves, which is perhaps the most basic visual iteration for what racism is, projecting onto the Other some weirdly altered version of one’s own fear and obsessions. He also draws on the frame, sometimes using squiggles and doodles, sometimes strangely precise vector overlays. “The effect,” Eric Henderson notes in Slant, “is like drinking a can of orange juice concentrate gone sour. It’s so undiluted yet hews so close to the original template that one suspects it was created not as an addendum to the original film, but instead as a replacement.”

While Spooky plays with montage more than Guy Debord would have liked, he does reserve his main intervention—as Debord suggested—for the soundtrack.  Back in the day, silent film always had a musical accompaniment.  In large urban theaters, this could take the form of a lush orchestral score.  Certainly in places like Chicago or New York, one would imagine that a blockbuster like Birth of a Nation would have warranted the full orchestral treatment.  But even in small rural church halls or tent-screenings there would be something—an institutional piano, some dude with a saw—to help give the moving picture rhythm.  And in the cases of melodrama, music was used as an important emotional clue as well.  How do we know that freedman Gus’s marriage proposal is meant to be horrifying?  Well that off-key piano in the hall, with its Simon Legree over and undertones, tells us so.  Spooky’s score, “by contrast,” Margo Jefferson writes in the New York Times,   “deflects our responses, then alters them. A hip-hop drum beat pulses. (It sounds African and ur-ban American.) A wash of industrial sound is joined by bells and cymbals; a dissonant violin; blues fragments. These are the sounds of history and racial complexity that Griffith tried to suppress. ”

The 90 second introduction to the film score throws all the electronic music cards on the table, the mood futuristic yet ambiguous.  Less than a minute into the second track and you know this isn’t going to be a cheerful or particularly romantic work.  The nature of the music itself is evenly split between the string quartet and the laptop with the occasional harmonica marking a change in the wind.  Spooky wrote the music. The Kronos Quartet, a string group known for its forays into new music (Terry Riley, John Cage, Phillip Glass) and its diverse genres (Mexican folk, acid rock, movie scores) are the musicians here, and they are fully up to the task of working with and around the “deep sense of fragmentation” that Spooky says, “occurs in the mind of a DJ” who “crafts physical form around an idea.”

Spooky relies on the usual techniques of soundtrack work such as repetition and the revisitation of themes, but he doesn’t use them as crutches. The themes are sticky and haunting and the repetition amplifies the tension. “North Isn’t South” is a good case-in-point. While a synthesizer cycles through a minor key repetition of themes (an ostinato), in a variety of keys, the Kronos ensemble sustains their overhead notes indefinitely. With or without visuals, it’s a stunning piece of music.

Nailing the score to any particular genre is impossible.  Spooky is a sample-artist after all and here he samples everything. While “Gettysburg Requiem” borrows from modern classical, “The Most Dangerous Woman in America” sounds like it could be handed over to Massive Attack without anyone batting an eye. The strings and harmonica give off very faint signals of old-timey forms with enough production overcast to mask any recognizable origins. “Music is always a metaphor,” Spooky writes in Rhythm Science.  “It’s an open signifier, an invisible, utterly malleable material.  It’s not fixed…Rhythm science uses an endless recontextualizing as a core compositional strategy, and some of this generation’s most important artists continually remind us that there are innumerable ways to arrange the mix.”

Which sounds like musician-ese for what Hayden White has notoriously said about history, that there is no master narrative, no verifiable version of reality (Metahistory, 1973)  For White, history too is about the way you arrange the mix (your “facts” are my “rumors” so they don’t make it into my version of the story).  Like DJs, novelists and historians are, Spooky tells us, “griots, and whether their stories are conscious or unconscious, narratives are implicit in the sampling idea.  Every story leads to another story to another story to another story.”  And another story is precisely what Spooky tries to give us here.  When official history and artistic “masterworks” are contaminated with racist ideology, what you can do is cut-them-up, sample them, give them a different score. Remind us that history is just another form of storytelling, and if you want to know how inclusive it is, you need to look at who exactly is doing the mix.
















John Linnemeier (left) and Darryl Neher (dreadlocks)


By John Linnemeier


According to Howard Dean, to get a D in democracy, you have to vote.  That’s barely passing.  To get an A, you have to run for office.


Outside the American Legion hall, a couple of inches of two-day-old snow still lingered on the asphalt. Inside, the party faithful were polishing off the last of their desserts. Things were off to a great start!  I’d just delivered a ten-minute stem-winder to the monthly Democratic Party meeting and it had gone well. Initially glazed and polite, the eyes of listeners grew more attentive as I got into my rhythm.  I started to detect several heads in the audience nodding in agreement. After a nice round of applause I took my seat feeling pretty good.

I’ve just described my campaign’s high-water mark.

Shortly afterward they called me and several candidates for city commissioner up front to answer questions from the audience.  A sweet little old lady I’m very fond of asked me how I felt about all the new construction going on downtown.  I told her I thought it was a good thing. Students had to live somewhere and this got them out of the nabes where their houses looked unsightly and their monkeyshines irritated townies.  Besides, they were reviving our downtown, which, like most small Midwestern cities was in danger of becoming moribund. My only complaint was the ugliness of the architecture.  That pissed her off.

Someone wanted to know my thoughts concerning the hospital’s plan to move to the periphery of town.  I said I didn’t like it, but figured it was a done deal.  My glib candor wasn’t playing well.  The thought that maybe I didn’t have the makings of a politician flashed fleetingly across my neural synapses.

Much worse was coming.

I started to feel woozy but figured it wouldn’t look good if I asked for a chair… decided to suck it up.  I should mention here that I was born with the blood pressure of a reptile. I was once unfairly accused of not having a pulse. In some ways my torpid metabolism is a good thing (I’m less likely to die of a stroke or heart attack), but it also makes me vulnerable to occasional fainting spells.

I fell into the arms of Dave Rollo, the District 4 City Council Rep saving me from a full face plant and woke up flat on my back on a cold linoleum floor looking up into the faces of my concerned fellow Democrats.

Off to a poor start but not dead yet… I had a plan.

I’d entered the mayoral race more as a protest than as a serious candidate.  I didn’t think it should cost big bucks to run for local office and wanted to show that you could run a viable campaign on a shoestring.  What bothered me even more was that despite several incidents involving the theft of public funds no one was talking about corruption.

As I’d warmed to the challenge it gradually dawned on me that despite the fact that I was completely inexperienced, too old, totally unqualified and not sure that I wanted the job, I still had a shot.

I might have been the best mayor ever. Power naps and musician’s hours would be my M.O.

Bloomington is a small, mostly liberal city, demographically dominated by a large student population who rarely vote.  The only real contest is the primary.  Any Democrat who wins the primary is virtually assured of winning in the general election.  John Turnbull, the unopposed Republican candidate, though blessed with common sense and well-spoken in a folksy sort of way, never had a prayer of winning.

Both of my fellow Democratic primary candidates, John Hamilton and Darryl Neher were formidable opponents:

John was confidant, eloquent, well versed in the issues, and had a great head of hair…a Harvard grad and smart enough not to mention it.   He came with a terrific resume… a former top aide to Governor O’Bannon, he’d headed the Family and Social Services Administration and the Department of Environmental Management for the state. He’d founded a highly successful NGO.  There was lots of money behind him.  In my opinion, too much of it came from well-heeled pals back in DC.   One of his $1000 donors was a guy named Cantwell F. Muckenfuss III.  I couldn’t have made it up.

Darryl was quick witted and wizard smart too… a business professor beloved by his colleagues and a local TV celebrity.  With one of God’s greatest grins and what theater people refer to as “stage presence,” he could fill a room with good vibes just by walking in the door.  He’d done a solid job as a city councilman and been elected chairman by his fellow council members.  The sitting mayor, who had the strong support of our large, politically savvy LGBTQ community, had endorsed him.  Like Hamilton he’d heaped up a sizable war chest. The afternoon’s rental fee for the Buskirk-Chumley Theater where he announced his candidacy cost more than my entire campaign.

My only clear advantage was that I was undeniably better looking than either of my worthy opponents.  I figured that plus my superior strategy might just be enough to propel me into office.

Low voter turnout was crucial to the scheme.  Luckily it was an off-year election, which made a big turnout less likely.  The incumbent, Mark Kruzan, had chosen not to run for a third term.  That was good too.  But what really got my hopes up, was that my two fellow candidates seemed likely to split the “establishment” vote.  I could make a virtue of my meager funding by running on the slogan, “Powered by Volunteers Not Money.”  Then I planned to discharge my secret weapon…Marijuana Decriminalization!!!

I’d rally students and dissolute citizens to my cause. With the majority of the vote equally split between John and Darryl, I figured a few thousand votes would win it.  There had to be that many dopers in town.  Finally they’d have an issue important enough to wake up in time to cast their ballot before the polls closed.  As decent citizens looked on powerlessly, the votes of scofflaws would propel me into the corner office down at city hall.

Anyway, who knows, I might have been the best mayor ever.  I saw myself operating as a chairman of the board kind of administrator aloof from partisan bickering.  Power naps and musician’s hours would be my M.O.  Look at Ronald Reagan.  The guy couldn’t have made it as a clerk at 7-Eleven yet he steered the free world into a radically different channel. Unlike the Gipper though, instead of former lobbyists, right-wing hacks and yes men, I’d surround myself with capable energetic appointees… young people who shared my vision.  They’d be tactics, I’d be strategy.   Before work every morning I’d organize laughing yoga classes for anyone who wanted to participate.  We’d build on the city’s strengths, a hip, high-tech Eden of tolerance, art, and music.   We’d spay and neuter those pesky urban deer, convince the cops, firefighters, and EMTs to turn the sirens down a few notches, and set up tighter accounting procedures to eliminate fraud.

Ah, but it was not to be.


Editor’s note: this is the first in a three-part series. Next month:  Kissing Babies on the Campaign Trail

Beer, Bourbon & Beyond

Upland Brewery Crew: Top Left to Right Caleb Staton, Director of Sour Operations, Eli Trinkle, Cellarman, Pete Batule, VP of Operations; Bottom Left to Right, Adam Covey, Quality Assurance Manager, Nicholas Nehring, Assistant Brewer/Cellar, Cody Chestnut, Assistant Brewer/Cellar


By Pennfield Jensen

It was a woman who drove me to drink, and I never had the courtesy to thank her for it.

–W.C. Fields

Alcohol is a big deal in this country, and throughout the world. Hundreds of billions of dollars in play, innumerable lives enlivened, enriched, and, alas, also destroyed by “demon rum.”

The making and selling of alcohol can be a thrilling enterprise, but it is also a war zone. Not only do the major brands battle tirelessly over market share among themselves, especially as they seek to attract and capture the Millennial Market (all you LDA’s—Legal Drinking Age—out there between the ages of 21 and 32), there is a cultural war. Some call it the Craft Revolution. Others see it as the War On Craft. I have spent the last 13 years of my life deep in the trenches of this revolutionary war, having just a few months ago retired as Emeritus Executive Director of the American Craft Spirits Association. I began in San Francisco, but there have been many stops along the way including a stint at Upland Brewing Company assisting in its transition to new ownership, and as Executive Director of the Brewers Guild of Indiana.

I want to share some of what I have learned over the years and what I foresee coming down the pipe. I’m starting here under the beneficence of The Ryder with a three-part series: Beer, Bourbon and Beyond. For those who care, I’ve created a website of the same name (.com) to share in much greater detail what will be here just a scratch on the surface of what many believe to be the cradle of modern civilization: the creation and enjoyment in its many forms and guises of the ultimate frenemy, alcohol.

BEER, Part I

Beer is proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

                                                            —Benjamin Franklin

It is commonly said that “beer is food.”  The justification for this is yeast. Yeast, that elegant, sensitive, tiny single-celled creature that converts sugar water into carbon dioxide and … ta da … alcohol! These blessed little critters that have been recorded “singing” (when the fluid temperature is perfect), just as they have been recorded “screaming” (when the temp is too hot).[2]

Although fermentation has been around for untold millennia, that yeast was the cause of fermentation is a relatively recent discovery by Louis Pasteur in 1857 who was investigating why beet juice sometimes made alcohol and sometimes soured. [3]

Although most, if not all, of yeast’s secrets have now been revealed, the fermentation process is worth a closer look. Beer fermentation proposes a charming and rather prophetic metaphor: typically, the brewer dumps (pitches) yeast into a cozy vat of warm malted-barley sugar water (the wort). Yeast heaven! Nothing to do but eat, excrete, and make more yeast. Those excretions, as most everyone knows, are primarily carbon dioxide and alcohol. And therein lies the rub.  After a few days, the yeast produce so much alcohol that they pollute their heavenly habitat and either die or go into toxic shock. The process is called attenuation. At the point where the attenuation is complete, and the yeast are totally wrecked, victims of shock and awe, the merciful brewer lowers the temp to Oº C, (which puts all the living ones to sleep) and pours himself a sample pint of the consequence of that pollution: beer. Perhaps the Master Brewer similarly will show up and thank us for our work here with the planet…but on that score I have serious personal doubts.

But, hey, it’s all beer; it’s all good. Which brings up a monumental conundrum among aficionados: lagers vs. ales. Until very recently, lagers have reigned more or less uncontested upon the throne of beers. With the advent of craft brews, predominantly ales, that has begun to change…dramatically. There are now over 4,100 craft brewers in the United States. They make hundreds of different styles, and now generate almost 28% of all beer sales, and growing. The big guys are feeling the heat. Case in point: Constellation Brands’ billion-dollar acquisition of San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewery,  (Yep, one billion. Hard to fathom.)

Until very recently, lagers have reigned more or less uncontested upon the throne of beers. With the advent of craft brews, predominantly ales, that has begun to change.

Fundamentally, the difference between lagers and ales is the kind of yeast that’s used. Lager yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus) got started in the 1500’s somewhere in that part of greater Europe more or less around Pilsen, from whence hails pilsner. Ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) also called Baker’s Yeast has been around since the beginning of civilization, and a powerful argument holds that the desire for beer is what kick-started staying in one place to grow the grain necessary to make the beer that sped non-stop from Mesopotamia 7,000 years ago to Budweiser sponsoring the Super Bowl, i.e., civilization as we know it.

The other part of the distinction between lagers and ales is cold brewing vs. warm brewing—often referred to as “top fermenting” (ales) and “bottom fermenting” (lagers). But the top-bottom distinction is not as precise as the cold vs. warm one. Cold-brewed lagers (under 10° C) give us those EZ Drink’n crisp, clean and sometimes slightly skunky flavored beers, and the “light” beers that have virtually no discernable flavor whatsoever. Lagers also age longer and at far lower temperatures in the eponymous process called “lagering.” Ales (brewing between 15° – 25° C) ferment faster, and tend to be fruitier, with big hugs all around for maltiness, hoppyness, and depth of flavor and color. But here’s the mystery within the conundrum: S.pastorianus does not exist wild anywhere in Europe! It has only existed in the vaults of the European brewers and their minions, and has been thus secreted since the early 1500s. So, where did it come from?

Saccharomyces (sugar-eating yeasts) thrive on oak trees. In 2011 a team of scientists found a strain of S.pastorianus growing wild on oak trees in Patagonia. Who would have guessed? So, to paraphrase an expert, “How the hell did it get to Europe 600 years ago?” [How about the Spanish and Portugese conquistadores desperate for oak to repair their ships, or the barrels they used to carry home the booty from a plundered continent? All good vectors for the good Sr. Pastorianius being a stowaway. Any takers for that theoretical scenario?] No matter how it got there, get there it did, and the rest, as they say is history. And today those good Dutch, German, and Belgian lagers can be found all around the globe.

Ales have taken a different trajectory. Popularized in England as pale ale, or Bitter, then enhanced famously during the Raj by adding more preservative hops to create India Pale Ale, and now the flagship IPAs of so many modern craft brewers. Hops, ah yes.

The wort  (the barley malt sugar water) is the heart of every beer known to man. It is here where most of the bittering and flavoring elements that define a beer’s style and quality get introduced. The key bittering agents are hops, of which there are at least 32 varieties—many under duress thanks to climate change, especially in the Northwest where several of the more popular hop varieties are grown. And there is a metric for judging bitterness, IBUs (International Bittering Units), which most brewpubs proudly post, along with the ABV levels (alcohol by volume) for each style on tap. But the wort is where other flavorings are introduced as well: coriander, orange curaçao, chamomile—for wheat beer—and all sorts of crazy-ass things that irrepressible brewers like to toss in such as pumpkin, mulberries, raspberries, persimmons, and so on. Not to mention the classic Belgian “sour” beers with their ancient lineages that use wild yeast to make a beer then pack in fruit for a (secondary) barrel fermentation that can age for a year or more. When done right, sour blends with sweet to a fructuous delirium.

Barley, specifically malted barley, is the brewer’s grain of choice although other grains are also used, such as rye, or in the case of the popular wheat-based styles such as wit (white) or heffeweisen. In aggregate, the mixture of ground-up grains is called the mash. And the vat in which the mash is transformed into wort is called the mash tun.

A grain of barley looks a lot like a football that is rounded at one end. Basically, it’s a shell made of cellulose surrounding a cache of starch. The starch is a kind of battery, storing energy waiting for folks to come along and start using it. Those “folks” are enzymes, wormy-shaped proteins of enormous power. There’s a little packet of these at the tip of the kernel, along with a genetic package containing a barley embryo (the light bulb). When triggered by a pleasant shower of warm water, the enzymes wake up and start their work: slowly and carefully converting the starch in the kernel to sugar to feed the little green shoot that will grow and grow until it anchors itself in the earth and builds through the warm days into those amber waves of grain we sometimes sing about.

However, if, say, after three days, one halts this barley germination process by exposing our little sprout to high heat something new and exciting has happened: the barley kernel is now malted.  The Scots famed use of burning peat for this imbues the malt with a flavor that once tasted can never be forgotten, and bless, bless, bless them for that! (But all that is in Part 2.) When malted barley is ground and mixed with hot water, the enzymes—now freed from their measured constraints—convert the mash of crunched up starch to sugar water in a process that’s virtually instantaneous. The wort is drawn off and the spent grain (mash to mush) discarded. (Many brewers provide the spent grain to cattle and buffalo ranchers.) The wort is boiled—to sanitize it—and hops et al added to make a giant pot of malted barley tea that once cooled, will serve as the short-lived heaven for our yeast.

But I should not gloss over the significance of wort creation, for here is where the art of brewing meets the science of it. So far, my description of wort is similar to saying automobiles use internal combustion. But there are differences between my Kia Soul and a Mustang GTO, namely “muscle” and “performance.”

Yeasts vary widely in their ability to tolerate alcohol. “Muscle” yeasts produce higher than average ABVs, and as taste trends have red-shifted toward hoppyer, higher alcohol beers, such as Trappist-style tripels and Imperial IPAs, these yeast strains have become popular. However, to get the higher ABV, the brewer needs heavier worts, that is he needs more available sugar. Comparing the weight or specific gravity of a particular wort to the weight of plain water provides a metric differential between the two. At the conclusion of fermentation a second measurement is taken and the difference between the incoming wort and the outgoing beer determines how much of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, call it performance. What the yeast does not consume is called residual sugar.

The true artistry comes when the brewer can combine just the right amount of “heavy” wort with just the right amount of hops so that the yeast attenuate leaving the least amount of residual sugar behind. Call it “balance.” Achieving that fulcrum point of perfect balance among all the variables is the Holy Grail for most brewers, and is the main reason you should pay attention to the specialty and seasonal releases from our great local breweries. Some say perfection has been achieved: Dark Lord Imperial Stout from Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, but it is only released once a year, on Dark Lord Day. Some people wait in line all night to secure a few precious bottles (very limited release) at the brewery. If you’re up for it, this year Dark Lord Day is April 25th.

About now is when most of my audiences start glancing at their watches or longingly at the bar with its glinting bottles and beckoning taps, hoping for a pint. I don’t blame them, and that’s what I would like to do as well, join up and to take in the truly best part of the great process of brewing: drinking and savoring the combined artistry of brewer and brewed.

Adventures In Bourbon, Part II

It is notoriously difficult as it is to pinpoint how, where, and when “bourbon” began—its origins shrouded in myth, legend and outright malarkey.

It never ceases to amaze me that during all the years spent helping to build and then support the craft spirits industry, almost no one ever asked me which craft spirit was my favorite. Ninety times out of hundred, it was “What’s your favorite bourbon?” Still the same deal today. I have to ask myself ‘Why so, Joe?’ I can’t chalk all of it up to the fact that I live in Bloomington on the northern cusp of Appalachia. Albeit a majority of the corn used to make bourbon is grown in Indiana, and one of the largest distilleries, the largest when Sam Bronfman and Seagram’s ruled the spirits world, works its magic down the road as the less-than-lyrically named Midwest Grain Products (MGP) in Lawrenceburg. Nope, none of the above, although all certainly play a role.

Personally, I think bourbon fascinates because of its mystery—Why is it called bourbon? Where did it get started? Is it because of its seductive culture—Master Distillers, Thoroughbred Horses—and its unique way of flirting with every sensory pore in your body while never exhausting its ability to surprise and confound your expectations? All that, and bourbon is irrefutably America’s indigenous spirit. Indian corn, American white oak, and, if from Kentucky or Indiana, spring-fed water filtered through limestone laid down by the Tethys Sea 100 million years ago. It is a legacy that encourages an almost infinite variety of iterations while steadfastly defying even the worst travesties visited upon it. Fireball? Are you crazy?

Whiskey, including bourbon, is so inextricably intertwined with the birth and growth of the United States as to be virtually indistinguishable from it. You can pick almost any year or place to start, from the early use of whiskey—rye in the north, corn in the south—as a universal currency, to the storied introduction of alcohol taxation. My favorite point of embarkation is “The Whiskey Rebellion” of 1791. It was brought on by a new-fangled “excise” tax levied on spirits in order to pay down the debt created by the American Revolution. President George Washington leading federal troops ultimately quelled it. [WhiskeyRebellion.jpg  c. 1795, attributed to Frederick KemmelmeyerMetropolitan Museum of Art, P.D.] No matter that George, at the time, happened to be the largest manufacturer of whiskey in the United States, kind of a one-man Diageo. We can assume he paid his taxes.  George’s Mount Vernon estate and restored distillery on the majestic bluff overlooking the Potomac at Mount Vernon deserves a personal visit by every red-blooded American.



Nick’s owners Gregg “Rags” Rago and Susan Bright with a signature  bottle of their hand-selected 131-proof single-barrel bourbon from Four Roses


Although it took six years for the 175 hold-out bourbon distillers in Kentucky to be brought to ground, Thomas Jefferson came to their rescue by honoring a platform promise of his fledgling Republican Party to repeal that odious “whiskey” tax. This was in direct opposition to Alexander Hamilton and his pro-tax Federalists. And, just like that, our two-party system, mostly, of American politics was off to the races.

Enter bourbon. Actually, enter bourbon barrels. By 1800, Louisville, in-not-yet-a-state-Kentucky, is host to one of the fledgling nation’s biggest transportation pains-in-the-ass: the Falls of The Ohio. Every shipment heading downstream to New Orleans has to stop, unload, and portage around the beautiful jumble of fossil Devonian reef then reload below it. There’s a lot of traffic, a lot of money to be made, and the Clark family is there to make it.

Revolutionary War heroes, neighbors to Jefferson in Virginia, the Clarks re-settled in pre-state Kentucky. It was to his friend John Clark’s son William (and Meriwether Lewis) that Jefferson handed the task of exploring his 1804 Louisiana Purchase. Lewis and Clark set out from the Clark mansion in New Albany, Indiana, across the Ohio from Louisville, organized their team in St. Louis, and you don’t need Quentin Tarantino to tell you how the West was won.

Yes, there is a dark side to William Clark’s story. With his extensive knowledge of the First Nations tribes he encountered, William Clark rose to the exalted post of Superintendent of the Indian Nations in 1822. Although he did much to preserve their legacies, following Jefferson’s ideal of inclusion rather than extinction, he nevertheless adhered to and executed The Indian Removal Act. In what for me is the saddest chapter in American history, the Act was a major tool of Andrew Jackson’s—Old Hickory’s—policy of genocide. In addition to outright removal from their ancestral lands, think the Cherokee “Trail of Tears,” and handing out smallpox infected blankets, Clark oversaw the deliberate use of high-proof, un-aged whiskey to destabilize native American communities and eliminate all resistance to the wholesale acquisition of Indian lands.

Meanwhile, whiskey was common currency throughout the rest of the nation, and demand for it was high. Courtesy of the Falls, the barrels of corn whiskey trekked to the Ohio from the interior of Kentucky, vaguely defined as Bourbon County, could languish dockside for weeks. Traffic was heavy and delays could be lengthy. There was also the steamy voyage downriver to New Orleans, which afforded further delays before the whiskey reached its destination decanter. But when it did, the amber-hued, sweet yet potent spirit with its unmistakable notes of vanilla and oak stood wildly apart from its clear-liquid “white lightning” cousins. People liked it, and asked for it. But what was it? “Oh,” we can imagine some purveyor answering, “that thar’s Bourbon County Kentuck’ whiskey!” The geography blurred, but the name, with its echoes of French support for the revolutionaries, some of whom were its very distillers, stuck.

As notoriously difficult as it is to pinpoint how, where, and when “bourbon” began—its origins shrouded in myth, legend and outright malarkey—there is one mystery that remains core and to this day unresolved: Who was it that thought of charring the barrels?

All whiskey comes off the still, clear and sparkling. They call it “white dog.” You can buy un-aged “white” whiskey almost anywhere. The misnomered “moonshine” popularized by hillbilly reality shows and troglodyte duck hunters is similar, except for the fact that many ‘shiners use up to 50% sugar as well as corn to create “sugar shine” served up in iconic Mason jars. All moonshine is legally produced white whiskey, except for the stuff that isn’t. And if you come across illegally produced whiskey, do be careful; it’s against the law to buy it or sell it, and it can blow your liver out of the sky like a mallard hit by a double load of 12-gauge shot.

Age is a big deal with bourbon. Legally called “straight” after two years in the barrel, bourbon, or any whiskey for that matter, rarely becomes drinkable before four years. For most bourbons, five to eight years is an optimal range with six and seven year-old bourbons defining the sweet spot. Above seven years, the distiller runs the risk of diminishing returns. Not only does evaporation, euphemistically called the “angel’s share,” take its toll, harsher “oakey” qualities start to appear that can render a barrel undrinkable. True, distillers can “blend” barrels, but only from their own stocks in a process called marrying. For example, the re-born Willett family’s bourbon stores, now Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, have brought us some magic marriages such as Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek, not to mention Willett itself.

Bourbon, is so inextricably intertwined with the birth and growth of the United States as to be virtually indistinguishable from it.

As straightforward as barrel aging might seem, the reality is that distillers go to great pains to maximize the happy effects of the many burnt sugars and other flavors derived from charred oak. There are colossal slow-motion elevators to slowly rotate barrels through the various levels of the rick house to capture the “breathing” that a barrel experiences from the heat of summer through the cold of winter. Ten High, one of the early premium bourbons now in bottom-shelf ignominy, was so named for coming from barrels “ten high,” indicating a more dynamic aging, hence a better flavor. Any single barrel can have a marked difference from its siblings. Most distillers employ tasters, generally women who have naturally more sensitive taste buds, to match the selected barrels consistently to the flavor profile of a specific brand.

Brands drive the business, and brand protection has made many distillers loathe to reveal their recipes. Four Roses, for example, has five different yeasts that they have patented and which they use in combinations to create their specific bourbon expressions. A major exception is Maker’s Mark whose personnel proudly descant on their unique mash bill of 70% corn, 16% soft red winter wheat and 14% malted barley. The story goes that the recipe was derived by founder Rob Samuels, Sr. baking bread. The Samuel families 1950’s kitchen—all red-and-white gingham—is delightfully restored at Maker’s Mark. There is also a to-die-for Dale Chihuly blown glass ceiling installation at the distillery.

Bourbon’s popularity today belies its not-too-distant past as a moribund category. Skyrocketing demand world-wide has taken distillers by surprise. Knob Creek famously ran out of 7 year-old bourbon because seven years earlier no one at Beam had a clue regarding consumer demand seven years later. Changes and expansions are coming on hard and fast. Main Street in Louisville, home to over 83 pre-Prohibition distilleries, is rebounding with a plethora of re-fashioned distilleries and bourbon outposts. Buffalo Trace is available to retailers only on allocation, and don’t even think about getting your hands on a bottle of Pappy 23. It’s safe to say the situation is not going to change any time soon, and that’s the theme we’ll pick up in our next installment “And Beyond.”

As for the question, what’s my favorite bourbon? Easy Peezy: the one in my hand.


“The paradigm, shifting is.”

–from Conversations with the Yoda, 1989

“Craft” is dead. Long live craft. Oh sure, there are brewers and distillers throughout America who get up every morning, slip on their Carharts and rubber boots and set out on the soul-satisfying task of fabricating what we hope are unique and delicious hand-made creations.  But craft, as we once knew and loved it, is dead. It’s now gone mainstream. Perhaps this is inevitable, and maybe it’s not that bad.

Put another way, the Big Boys have all but conceded the field to the Small Guys. That means two things: One, what is local and regional will stay local and regional, and, Two, as brands achieve scale, the “Boys be wait’n.” Yep, the long-dreaded scourge of Very Large Players has arrived. And they bring with them a totally new approach. Rather than “crafty,” as witnessed by the erstwhile efforts of SAB-Miller’s “Blue Moon” or AB-INBEV’s equally noxious “Shock Top,” to trick consumers into buying factory beers they believe are “craft,” they have taken the path of outright acquisition. Forget Budweiser’s scandalously hypocritical slam against craft beer during the 2015 Super Bowl as they simultaneously gobbled up Washington State’s Elysian Brewery and Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewery. Consider instead Bud’s big Breckenridge buy or Constellation Brands’ (ever had Corona?) billion-dollar purchase of Ballast Point Brewing.

Where Bernie or I might see corporate hypocrisy at work, others perceive the ascendance of craft as an essential transition from a folk-traditional to a high-stakes business model. As with most established, entrenched businesses finding themselves disrupted, not everyone saw it coming, and many of those who did were ticked off about it. Case in point: Eight years ago I was asked to make a presentation on craft spirits to the board of NABCA, the national association representing the Control States—those states with exclusive rights to buy and sell hooch. Governor-appointed, and dependent on the major distributors for their buying instructions, the craft spirits phenomenon had these directors bamboozled. I was bombarded with questions: Were the products any good? How much should we buy? What are consumers buying? How can we warehouse all these different skus?

What did I know? At the time only a few craft spirits brands were making noise in the marketplace, and almost all of them, if you exclude Tito’s, were highly regional, mostly small distilleries with loyal local followers. At the happy-hour reception afterwards, I was, in company of the steering committee, whose president, Mark Brown of Buffalo Trace, had generously provided several BT brands for our delectation., I was doing my part, within the responsible parameters of such an event, not to show any disrespect to Mssrs Stagg and Van Winkle. Mark, ever the gentleman, by and large had good things to say about craft, but several senior management types from the other major industry giants cornered me with pointed comment: You [craft distillers] are a threat to our brands. All our brands started small, Mom and Pops like your guys. We don’t need the competition. Whew!

Fast forward three years to a chance encounter with one of those same senior management-global-VP-types, and I was greeted with a big smile a slap on the back, and a major change of tune. We love you guys; you’re doing all our R&D for us! As soon as a distiller achieves scale, we’ll buy ‘em.

OK, when did this major tipping point occur? It was August 19, 2013, in Austin at the very first “Spirits Summit” hosted by the respected trade publication Wine and Spirits Daily. Danny Brager of Nielsen Associates had walked the crowd—a veritable who’s who of the spirits business in America—through his power point deck, to his conclusion. The data were incontrovertible: Craft spirits had a growth curve equal to or even stronger than that of craft beer at an analogous period in its development, and the future presented “a long runway.” Translated, Nielsen’s analysis foresaw no major obstacles facing the growth of craft spirits. Here, at last, was proof-positive of what many knew intuitively was the case. You could hear checkbooks snapping open.

An endearing quality of “craft,” if you admire pluck and rebellion, is its inherent resistance to the mantra of “go big or go home.”

Three years later, at the March Conference of my own organization, the American Craft Spirits Association, Danny revisited the data. Nielsen’s view was not only unchanged, but strengthened. Driven by “Millennials” who value authenticity, integrity and identity, craft beer, craft distilling, craft mixology, virtually all things “craft” was proving to be unstoppable. Not a train to stand in front of.

An endearing quality of “craft,” if you admire pluck and rebellion, is its inherent resistance to the mantra of “go big or go home.” True, there are some mega acquisitions in process, but not everyone wants to sell out. Rather, they are buying in. My term for these hold-ins is “legacy owners.” Starlight Distillery, part of the Huber Orchard and Winery complex on the fertile mesa above New Albany, exemplifies this concept. Seven generations of Hubers have grown fruit, made award-winning wine and brandy from their own orchards and vineyards, and now distill bourbon using their own corn. Huber’s economic impact can be gauged by its position as the third-ranking tourist destination in Indiana, after the Colts and the Indy 500. The distillery is, as one might expect, a gleaming showcase of copper and glass.

Similarly, Bently Heritage, a $40-plus million reconfiguration of an historic grainery in Minden, Nevada, will feature an over-the-top distillery-and-tourist complex with state-of-the-art mechanics utilizing grain grown on the Bently family’s Carson Valley farm holdings. And these are just two out of the hundreds of show-time distilleries expanding around the country that will awe and inspire all who visit them.

So, one asks, do these mega-trends spell doom for locals? I dropped in on Bloomington’s own Cardinal Spirits to hear what they had to say. What co-owner Adam Quirk revealed about Cardinal strongly reflected the underlying ethos of “craft” itself: authenticity is the lodestar. “The biggest part of building our brand is honesty,” he noted. “That’s what craft means. A craftsman makes something with his or her own hands, and does honest work. We make everything from scratch. We ferment and distill on site, and do our best to make a great product. It’s a matter of great personal pride,” Quirk observes. “But if your spirits are not good, people aren’t gonna buy ‘em. Simple as that.” And the ultimate goal? “Five years from now we want to be a well-known Midwestern distillery. But there’s more,” he adds. “It is critical to our mission to provide meaningful employment for ourselves and our staff. That’s really why we’re here.”

# # #


I want to get drunk ‘till I’m off of my mind.

 –George Thorogood, “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer”

Alcohol can be fatal. Bingeing is a chronic phenomenon that is hugely popular among Millennials at major “party schools,” like IU. I’m no moralist, but I do side with Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing and Distilling who delivered the keynote at my first craft spirits conference in 2008. “Alcohol is not the problem,” he declared forcefully. “The problem is these kids never learned how to drink.”

I grew up in a somewhat Bohemian enclave of San Francisco. Alcohol, mostly wine, was enjoyed nightly at dinner by my parents, and throughout the year at nearly every occasion by everyone we knew. Think of the wedding scene in The Godfather and you can get a pretty good picture. I think it’s a shame that so many young adults enter the university sphere with little or no understanding of alcohol. Because, if you understand it, you will respect it.

This is a simplified version of what happens when you get drunk, but there will be a quiz later, so pay attention.

A pint of beer, a 5 oz glass of wine, or a 1 ¼ shot of vodka all contain roughly a half-ounce of pure alcohol each. Drinking six of these at one sitting, in any combination or order, is considered bingeing. Anyone with half-a-clue about what happens during the Dionysian debacle called Little Five, or has experienced any of B-town’s infamous Sports Bars late of a Friday or Saturday night knows six drinks to be a mere warm up. It takes roughly an hour for the liver to metabolize that half-an-ounce of pure ethanol. Do the math.

Your dear, dear liver first metabolizes the ethanol into acetaldehyde, a very toxic poison that the ancient enzymes that govern so much of our lives almost instantaneously convert to sugars that are converted to fat cells and stored by the liver. What doesn’t get metabolized collects in the bloodstream causing havoc.[1] Chug a pint beaker of 86° vodka and you’re either going to expel it as an offering to the ceramic gods, or you’re going to enter some form of inebriation bordering on toxic shock. Keep at it and you may find yourself waltzing with the Grim Reaper.

Drinking can and should be an enjoyable part of life. Drinking to get drunk is not. Getting drunk is stupid. Getting drunk with strangers is really, really stupid.

That’s it. Now, here’s the multiple-choice quiz:

I will Never Ever Drink Anything Alcoholic Ever!

I will endeavor to learn about the myriad styles and qualities of alcoholic       beverages, and respectfully enjoy them

I will dismiss this “quiz” as a pile of moralistic crap from a dumb-ass scold       and do whatever I want whenever I want to

Hey, it’s your life to live and to enjoy. Please do.


We know what is legally required to define bourbon, but how is it actually made? I asked an expert, “Bourbon” Dave Scheurich, the Distillery Manager for Woodford Reserve (ret.). Here’s Dave.

As you know, Bourbon whiskey requires at least 51% corn. Most distillers use #1 yellow corn that is first ground to a fine meal, mixed with water, and cooked at 212⁰ F for 30 minutes to totally liquefy the starches in the corn.  The mash temperature is gradually lowered and rye or wheat meal is added to the slurry. The barley malt is added when this big vat of starch reaches 154⁰ F.  The enzymes in the malt instantly convert the starch to sugar.

Although not required by law, most of us use a little backset stillage or “sour mash.” In the early years of making whiskey, distillers would make good batches and bad batches without knowing why.  In the mid-1850’s James Crow (and others) learned that if they put some spent mash back into the cooking process they got consistently good whiskey.  Since sour mash is very acidic, i.e., around 4.0 pH. Adding some into the cook deters the natural yeasts and molds in the air that surrounds us.

Wheat versus rye as the second grain in the mash bill is a matter of the distillers’ preference.  Some people enjoy a spicy, complex bourbon (high rye) while others like soft and sweet bourbon (wheated).  Maker’s Mark is a good example of a wheated bourbon.



What Makes Bourbon “Bourbon”

  1. Must be manufactured in the United States
  2. Must be at least 51% Corn. Other allowed grains are Rye, Malted Barley, and Wheat
  3. Cannot be distilled above 160 proof (80% alcohol).
  4. Must be aged in charred new American white oak barrels for at least two years
  5. Must be casked no higher than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol)
  6. Must be bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% alcohol)



“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

–1952 speech by Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., a young lawmaker from the U.S. state of Mississippi, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibition (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverages



We know what is legally required to define bourbon, but how is it actually made? I asked an expert, “Bourbon” Dave Scheurich, the Distillery Manager for Woodford Reserve (ret.). Here’s Dave.

As you know, Bourbon whiskey requires at least 51% corn. Most distillers use #1 yellow corn that is first ground to a fine meal, mixed with water, and cooked at 212⁰ F for 30 minutes to totally liquefy the starches in the corn.  The mash temperature is gradually lowered and rye or wheat meal is added to the slurry. The barley malt is added when this big vat of starch reaches 154⁰ F.  The enzymes in the malt instantly convert the starch to sugar.

Although not required by law, most of us use a little backset stillage or “sour mash.” In the early years of making whiskey, distillers would make good batches and bad batches without knowing why.  In the mid-1850’s James Crow (and others) learned that if they put some spent mash back into the cooking process they got consistently good whiskey.  Since sour mash is very acidic, i.e., around 4.0 pH. Adding some into the cook deters the natural yeasts and molds in the air that surrounds us.

Wheat versus rye as the second grain in the mash bill is a matter of the distillers’ preference.  Some people enjoy a spicy, complex bourbon (high rye) while others like soft and sweet bourbon (wheated).  Maker’s Mark is a good example of a wheated bourbon.



What Makes Bourbon “Bourbon”

  1. Must be manufactured in the United States
  2. Must be at least 51% Corn. Other allowed grains are Rye, Malted Barley, and Wheat
  3. Cannot be distilled above 160 proof (80% alcohol).
  4. Must be aged in charred new American white oak barrels for at least two years
  5. Must be casked no higher than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol)
  6. Must be bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% alcohol)



“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

–1952 speech by Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., a young lawmaker from the U.S. state of Mississippi, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibition (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverages



In an episode of the Sitcom “Cheers,” Cliff explains “the buffalo theory” to Norm.

Well, you see, Norm, it’s like this: A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.

In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Now, as we know, excessive intake of alcohol kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine.

And that, Norm, is why you always feel smarter after a few beers.









By John Linnemeier

He looked out of place.  Quiet and observant… appeared to be about thirty…neatly pressed khakis, simple black belt, oxford style blue shirt, spit-shined shoes, short dark hair with a razor-sharp part… a small black backpack settled squarely over both shoulders…pants fly, belt and buttons all lined up in what, back in Officers Candidate School, we used to call a “straight gig-line.”

He said he was a Navy veteran.  When I asked what had brought him there he was hesitant, noncommittal and seemed a bit nervous.  Maybe it’s come from a lifetime of traveling to dangerous places where smelling people out becomes a necessity, but I knew surely and instinctively:  this guy was spying on us.

It was the 4th of July, 2013, and I was furious.  Edward Snowden had just released the shocking news that the NSA was secretly and illegally collecting information on virtually everyone in America.  The NSA is an impenetrably clandestine organization with God-knows-what agenda.  Its director lied about the existence of the program to the Congressional committee tasked with overseeing it, while its agents spied on them as well.

With the exception of Washington, DC, Indianapolis has more space dedicated to war memorials than any other city in America. 

For over a hundred years, my extended family has met near Popcorn Valley to celebrate Independence Day.  Under ancient beech trees, we eat mutton from a sheep slaughtered for the occasion, cooked over an open pit.  My mother’s family, the Armstrongs, are mostly cattlemen…successful ones with big spreads of a thousand acres or more.  My son and I and just about all of the men in the family have served in the military.  Before we sit down to eat together, an elder leads us in the Pledge of Allegiance.  It’s not a formality.  We feel those words deeply.  It’s part of the glue that holds our family together.  If I’m in the country, I never miss it, but I couldn’t go that year.  All the high fallutin’ talk about the land of the free and the home of the brave would have rung hollow.  I decided to skip the picnic and drive up to Indianapolis to be part of a demonstration.

I parked in the multi-leveled underground lot adjacent to the Indiana Museum.  It was a short walk to a wooded park near the White River.  In a small stone shelter house surrounded by great dusty-leaved sycamore trees, forty or fifty of us gathered.  For half an hour or so, while the man in the blue shirt looked on impassively, several of us related our backgrounds and talked about why we were there.

I spoke about my service in Vietnam and how troubled I felt that our nation had become so cowardly that we were willing to forsake some of our most basic freedoms.   Others voiced their outrage as well.

Then we all trooped off as a group to The War Memorial, the hub of this “Circle City.”  It was only four or five blocks away, but I was 69 years old and had recently undergone surgery.  My gait was clump-footed and tentative.  My shoes slapped the pavement as I gazed up at the perfect blue sky, falling behind the pack on this gorgeous summer day.

With the exception of Washington, DC, Indianapolis has more space dedicated to war memorials than any other city in America.  Monument Circle is a brick-paved street that intersects Meridian and Market Streets in the precise geographic center of Indiana.  In its center sits the neo-classical, slightly preposterous looking Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a gigantic obelisk carved from the finest oolitic limestone, capped with a thirty-foot tall statue of “Lady Victory.”  The monument is only 15 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty and reportedly would cost half a billion dollars if it were built today.  Horses, cannons and determined Union army soldiers jut out in all directions near the base.  At its feet are pools and fountains.  Broad stone steps on both the north and south sides lead to mighty bronze doors and through them to a stairway that leads to an observation deck.  From there you can see almost to the suburban malls of the largest city in the nation not founded on navigable water.

A few blocks away on Pennsylvania Street, I’d worked with disabled veterans at the VA Regional Office for three years.  Upstairs in the huge cafeteria, a panoramic photo covering an entire side of the dining room shows the victorious troops returning from WWI marching down Meridian Street to the circle.  Every fifty feet along both sides of the route, perched on Corinthian columns and decked out like sylphs, slender young girls holding wicker baskets shower flowers on the returning doughboys back from the “war to end all wars.”  Flags are everywhere.  From the windows of the buildings above, shredded paper rains down on the returning heroes, back from the unspeakable horror of the trenches of Flanders Fields. Those young Hoosiers marching along so smartly must have felt like they were entering heaven.

All this patriotic corniness doesn’t offend me.  The idea of America as a beacon of liberty and humane values speaks to my very core.  An America where torture is condoned and spying on each other is justified is a betrayal of everything men and women like these fought and died for.  That’s why I was here today.


At Monument Circle, I was surprised to see another group with about a hundred additional demonstrators had beaten us there.  We were a motley-looking crew with many agendas.  At the top of the steps of the memorial overlooking the fountains a contingent of half a dozen “open carry” gun people waved their AR-15s menacingly.  The rest of us milled around, talking and checking out each other’s signs while enjoying the summer weather.  Several people dipped bare feet in the cool water of the fountain.  A few cars honked in support or opposition to the protest. The whole thing was pretty pathetic to tell the truth.

I had my iPhone with me, and on a whim I thought I’d take a short clandestine video of our young undercover man, now milling about aimlessly, looking slightly bored.  I suffer from a severe tremor so I asked a young lady standing nearby if she’d take the video for me.  Before I could stop her she walked straight up to within three feet of the guy and began filming.  He immediately realized what was going on.  Since I figured I was already busted, I impulsively walked up to him myself, threw an arm around his shoulder, and looked him straight in the eye.

Immediately, a young couple with long hair and tattoos rushed up and with feigned courtesy asked if they could take my photo with their Nikon.  When I firmly refused, all three of them abruptly scurried down the steps to a police car with blacked-out windows parked on the street directly in front of the protest and hopped in.  I spent the rest of my time at the demonstration making a point of not facing the squad car.

When things broke up, with my complaining old body supported by a walking stick, I headed off across the circle in the direction of my car.  The dark-windowed squad car ominously crept around the circle toward me.  Before it could get too near I turned my back to it.

Since the circle was one-way, they couldn’t stop or turn around, giving me just enough time to shuffle into a multi-storied parking garage with multiple exits.  Safe for the moment, I tried to gather my wits while checking anxiously for the squad car I assumed was cruising around somewhere outside.  A few moments later I slipped out a random exit and hobbled across an open field scanning the area.

From a block away we sighted each other.  I heard him hit the brakes hard. They were headed north on Capitol, but again on a one-way street.  He’d have to circle the block.  It gave me just enough time to scurry flat-footed across the field, up a side street and down an embankment to a crowded pedestrian walkway that skirted a narrow canal.  From there it was a short distance to the underground garage and my car.

My heart was pounding as I slipped behind the wheel.  My sweaty shirt stuck to the leather upholstery as I caught my breath.  I sat there in the cool darkness of that cave-like space gathering my thoughts.  Three years later I’m still gathering them.



This Rash Adventure: Ezra Pound at Wabash College

Aspiring poet Ezra Pound had a scandalous year of teaching at Wabash College. His experience marked his life and changed the course of modern literature.

by Douglas Wissing

[editor’s note: Douglas Wissing lives in Bloomington and is the author of ten books. His coverage of Indiana National Guard units in Afghanistan, Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban, attracted wide attention among U.S. policymakers.  The following is excerpted from Doug’s collection of essays, IN Writing: Uncovering the Unexpected Hoosier State, co-published in January by Indiana University Press and Indiana Historical Society. It originally appeared in “Traces,” (Fall, 2007). Doug will read from his new book on March 29th at 5:30 at Springhill Suites by Marriott, 501 North College Avenue. The reading is sponsored by the Bloom Magazine Book Club.]


The winter of 1908 began with storms howling across the Indiana prairie, burying Crawfordsville’s stately Wabash College under swales of snow. Not long after yet another blizzard in early February, a distraught 22-year-old professor of Romance languages (and aspiring poet) wrote an emotionally jangled letter about losing his job to his father back in Philadelphia:

“Dear Dad

Have had a bust up. But come out with enough to take me to Europe. Home Saturday or Sunday. Dont let mother get excited.


The Most Godforsakenest Area

By early September 1907, when the new Romance Languages professor, Ezra Pound sat down at a desk to register incoming freshman, Wabash College was almost seventy-five years old and quite sure of its ethos and values. Founded in 1832 when Crawfordsville had scarcely a hundred houses, the school was staunchly Calvinist in its rectitude, organized by Presbyterian home missionaries to educate young ministers “to furnish the destitute with the preaching of the gospel,” as the school’s first document read.

Wabash College grew into a stolid bastion of mid-nineteenth-century societal norms, educating young men in the established New England college methods. “The traditions of Wabash are, as you are aware, extremely conservative,” President George Stockton Burroughs wrote in his 1899 resignation letter, going on to cite the crisis the school faced: Enrollment had dropped to 165 men in his last year, the lowest since the Civil War. Things had changed in the dusk of the century: Men now attended high schools rather than the college’s “prep” school; burgeoning state universities offered looser entrance requirements, such as foregoing facility in Greek and Latin, as well as offering individualized curricula once the students arrived.

And, of course, there was the issue of coeducation. Beginning with Indiana University in 1868, the state schools had gone co-ed one by one. Even the last Midwestern citadels of exclusive male education, such as Beloit, Kenyon and Illinois College, began admitting women. As the new century dawned, Wabash was a lonely outpost of bachelors, resolutely facing a perilous future.

Ezra Pound cut a foppish figure on campus, a tall, attenuated redhead with his black velvet jacket, soft-collared shirts with flowing bowties, patent-leather pumps and socks in a jaw-dropping spectrum of purple, orange, lavender and green. A wide-brimmed panama hat, Malacca cane and pince-nez that Pound copied from poet W.B.Yeats completed a look that was a sharp departure from the faculty’s typical boiled and stiff dignity.

Pound was soon challenging other Wabash mores. At Pound’s first residence, a Gothic-styled house at 500 Meadow Avenue where he rented a room, he began a cavalier flirtation with the landlord’s sister-in-law, Mary Moore Shipman Young, a young widow who was visiting her sister’s home. Availing himself of access to the parlor, Pound began entertaining Mrs. Young—though he was skating on very thin ice: President Mackintosh, himself a widower in quest of a new wife, also had his eye on Mrs. Young. (Neither ever found favor with Mrs. Young—Pound chortled fifty years later that “old Mac” never got the “widdy.”) When students began visiting Pound’s room until the early hours, it was all too much for the landlord, who suggested in October that Pound find other accommodations.


Homesick For My Own Kind

Not long after young professor Pound moved into a south Washington Street rooming house. Located near the Big Four Station, the place was frequented by students and vaudevillians. Two or three times a week Pound hosted a “soirée,” which began after supper and lasted until the wee hours. There was smoking and more than a modicum of forbidden drinking. Harold Hawk, a student in Pound’s French class, recalled beer, “a little vino” and Curaçao, “when we were ‘flush.’” Pound read Blake, Donne and his own poetry, discoursing—often in colorful language—on art, religion and the perfidy of straitlaced attitudes. In an institution that upheld a strict view of theology, Pound told his listeners, “Religion I have defined as ‘Another of those numerous failures resulting from an attempt to popularize art.’”

Rumors began to circulate about Pound. Beyond the drinking and smoking and general rebellion, some said he frequented the “Goose Nibble” girls, who lived across the tracks in the so-named poor section of town and reputedly bestowed favors on Wabash bachelors; others murmured of inappropriate relations with his students.

Pound seemed nonplused by the rumors, flaunting bohemian mannerisms better suited to Paris’s Latin Quarter than Crawfordsville, Indiana. He wrote his friend Bertam Hessler he had “a crying need…for mere degenerate civilization as represented by cocktails, chartreuse and kissable girls.” Wont to top off his tea with tots of rum while visiting proper Crawfordsville ladies, Pound quickly hid his flask if a faculty wife passed nearly. “The natives would never approve my Continental appetite,” he told his friend, Viola Baylis.

Ezra Pound’s nonconforming ways were soon to cause him grief. He had made friends with a British woman who lived in his rooming house. She was a touring actress who presented a monocled and tuxedoed male impersonator act in vaudeville burlesque shows. She was stranded in Crawfordsville, as the burlesque audiences evidently failed to appreciate her “toff” act—too “subtle” for the Hoosiers, Pound sniffed. Pound generously shared his coffee and food with the young woman, an act of charity some found unseemly.

In mid-November, Pound wrote a flustered note to Bertram Hessler:

“Two stewdents found me sharing my meagre repast with the lady-gent impersonator in my privut apartments.

Keep it dark and find me a soft immoral place to light in when the she-faculty-wives git ahold of the jewcy morsel. Don’t write home to me folks. I can prove an alibi from 8 to 12 p.m. and am at present looking for rooms with a minister or some well established member of the facultate. For this house come all the traveling show folk and must hie me to a nunnery ere I disrupt the college. Already one delegation of about-to-flunks have awaited on the president erbout me orful langwidge and the number of cigarillos I consume.” Terming Indiana “the sixth circle of hell,” Pound told Hessler he expected the administration would discipline him for entertaining actresses.

Ezra Pound flaunted bohemian mannerisms better suited to Paris’s Latin Quarter than Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Fleeing the scene of the scandal, Pound failed to take to a nunnery, but came pretty close, renting a room across from the campus at 412 S. Grant Avenue, an upright two-story clapboard house owned by the Misses Ida and Belle Hall, two of Crawfordsville’s most reputable citizens. Tall, prim and properly cameo-ed, the Hall sisters were self-appointed moral guardians, confidants of President Mackintosh, and near de facto members of Wabash’s Board of Trustees. Pound was moving into the room previously occupied by Professor Henry Zwingli McLain, a beloved Greek teacher and confirmed bachelor, who devoted his life to classics and the college. The previous January “Dear Zwingli,” as he was known, had suffered a fatal hemorrhage while in his church pew—in the view of his admirers, a perfect end to a faultless life. Pound could not have found more respectable lodgings.

But the Hall sisters were in for a change from “dear Zwingli.” Pound was, at best, an informal housekeeper. Student John A. Bays recalled, “There were scattered on the floor, piled on chairs or on the bed or in the corners clothing, shoes, shirts, underwear, extra suits, hats, etc. No pictures on the walls, one chair, his bed and sometimes a wooden box. Single-burner stove often on the floor. Student written exercises, exam papers and the like were usually visible in the wastebasket or on the floor near the basket.”

Pound continued his soirées. Wabash grad Fred H. Rhodes recalled, “After the preliminary formalities, Pound seated himself on a chair, while his disciples and satellites disposed themselves gracefully, but somewhat uncomfortably, cross-legged on the floor, at the feet of the master. The leader then began a spirited but disconnected discourse on many topics leaping from subject to subject with the agility of a mountain goat.”


Orphan in the Storm

Ensconced in the Hall Sisters’ house, Ezra Pound made it through the fall term that ended December 20 without further problems. He spent the Christmas holidays in Crawfordsville. By the time the winter term opened on January 7, 1908, the weather began to shift, snowstorms and blizzards commencing on the tenth. With students back in town and the locals done with their holiday gatherings, Crawfordville’s three vaudeville theaters booked full bills through mid-month. For the month’s lead-off acts, The Majestic offered Alice B. Hamilton, Character Singing Commedienne, and Annette Link, Soubrette, switching to Maudie Minerva’s Novelty Act, and Emmett & McNeil, The Singing and Dancing Sisters, for the week of January 13-18. The Grand countered with Burk & Erline, Automobile Girls, while the Music Hall had the Latimore-Leigh Stock Company’s High Class Vaudeville. After Pound’s long, lonely holiday, the town was perking with vivacious outsiders.

Late one February night, during yet another blizzard, Pound walked down to the Big Four Station to mail a letter, the night train being the last post available. While trudging back, he encountered the vaudeville actress he befriended at his previous rooming house. She was again down on her luck, stranded in Crawfordsville after her burlesque show had gone bust. It was cold; she was frozen. Pound offered her shelter in the Hall sisters’ house, where the actress slept in his bed.

The next morning he had breakfast with the woman, and then left for his 8:00 class. And then things got interesting. As the college historians delicately recounted it in Wabash College: The First Hundred Years, “The ladies from whom he rented the rooms, the Misses Hall, went upstairs to make the bed and found in it the girl from burlesque. Their only experience with roomers was with Professor McLain. This confrontation bewildered them. They telephoned the President, and a trustee or two.”

Not surprisingly, the college authorities called Professor Pound on the carpet for his grave moral lapse. But the complicating factor was that Pound didn’t sleep with the actress—or even in the same room. He spent the night shivering in his office, with only a coat for a blanket. Afraid of attracting the night watchman, he didn’t even turn on the light to read. During what the college history termed, “a discussion at distinctly cross purposes,” Pound stood his ground with the administration. Several of his Crawfordsville friends attempted to intercede with President Mackintosh, repeating Pound’s “orphan in the storm” story. It bore fruit: Faced with what appeared to be a case of mistaken immorality (though yet another example of Pound’s extraordinarily immature judgment), the Wabash elders reversed their decision to fire him. But faced with a recalcitrant firebrand, (Pound reportedly told the Board “To Go to Hell,”), the administration just cashiered Ezra Pound out of the college.

Pound did OK: The College Treasurer’s Report noted:

Ezra Pound

Feb. 12: Amt. paid him, balance salary to February 29, 1908 (order G.L.M.) $200.

With Pound’s earlier two salary payments at the start of each trimester, he received a total of $447.50—approximately a full year’s salary for an instructor.  Ezra Pound had enough to begin his search for the artistic community of his dreams—“kindred e’en as I am,/ Flesh-shrouded bearing the secret.”


A Lunatic Asylum

His teaching career behind him, the somewhat crestfallen Ezra Pound climbed on board the eastbound train with little more than a few belongings, his Wabash College severance pay and a severely bruised ego. No one knew he was beginning a journey toward the pantheon of world literature—and an infamous life shadowed by his Indiana scandal.

Pound sailed to Europe in 1908. After a brief period in Venice, he moved to London in hopes of meeting his great literary hero, W.B. Yeats. Befriending Yeats, Pound was soon employed as the poet’s secretary. Fleeing WWI zeppelin attacks on London, Yeats and Pound rented the famous Stone Cottage in Sussex’s Ashdown Forest, where the two of them studied Japanese Noh plays, dabbled with the occult, and, over three winters, revolutionized poetry. It is said that literary Modernism began in the Stone Cottage.

Along with friends such as Yeats, James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound was a driving force in a number of Modernist movements, including Imagism and Vorticism, which introduced, among others, William Carlos Williams (Pound’s college roommate), Marianne Moore, Rabindranath Tagore and Robert Frost. To his undying credit, Pound edited T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, the first Modernist poem to capture a popular audience. In gratitude, Eliot dedicated the poem to Pound, as il miglior fabbro (the better craftsman).

In 1915 Pound published Cathay, a groundbreaking translation of ancient Chinese poets. Disdaining the strict meter and stanza of earlier translators, Pound cantered off into free verse translations, which still stand as some of the most poetic renderings of the classic texts. Pound eventually translated texts of ten different languages into English.

After WWI, Pound joined the Modernist avant-garde in Paris, where he hobnobbed with Joyce, Marcel Duchamp and Fernand Leger, while continuing to write his masterwork, The Cantos. Married to novelist Olivia Shakespear in 1914, Pound became involved with violinist Olga Rudge seven years later, forming a ménage `a trois that persisted to the end of his life.

In 1919 Pound began to compose concertos and operas, and, after moving to Italy in 1924, organized the Rapallo music festival, which revived the forgotten Vivaldi’s music. Pound made important contribution to literary criticism, championing the role of imagination in what he saw as a gray world of academic poetry.

It was also in Italy that Ezra Pound achieved his lasting infamy. Enamored with Mussolini’s fascism, Pound became a leading Axis propagandist, which climaxed with Pound’s arrest for treason in May 1945. After being incarcerated in an open cage in Pisa for 25 days, Pound suffered a nervous breakdown. His groundbreaking Pisan Cantos, written during his imprisonment about his own desolation amidst Europe’s ruin, won the Library of Congress’s first Bollingen Prize in 1949.

By then, Pound had been an inmate of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. for three years, after pleading insanity at his treason trial—theoretically sparing him the death sentence. St. Elizabeth’s proved to be a productive venue for Pound, writing three books while entertaining a string of visitors, from poets and academicians to the States’ Rights Democratic Party chairman, who conferred with Pound about preserving racial segregation.

Pound remained sequestered in the mental hospital until 1958, when he was released as “incurably insane, but not dangerous to others.” Emerging from St. Elizabeth’s, Pound famously decreed, “America is a lunatic asylum.”


History’s Vagaries

The rise of Ezra Pound’s star in the years following his dismissal left Wabash College with an awkward situation, the becoming emblematic of academic priggishness in certain intellectual circles that persists to this day. Pound biographer J.J. Wilhelm wrote, “To some people, the very name ‘Wabash College’ has become synonymous with provincial prudery.” The college history, published in 1932, attempted the best spin: The historians wrote of the school’s administrators, “But they were aware too, from the accumulated evidence of several months, of a gulf too wide to be bridged between two different philosophies. And they were content to use the occasion to make an arrangement about their contract that encouraged Mr. Pound to shake the dust of a small middle-western Presbyterian college forever from his feet and content to rejoice in his subsequent triumphs in poetry.”

After the Hall sisters’ house was demolished, Wabash preserved the gray and white paneled door to Ezra Pound’s room in the college archives, the record reading, “As a footnote to literary history, in February of 1908, Ezra Pound entertained one of the performers from a ‘stranded burlesque show, penniless and suffering from the cold.”’ But the vagary of history is equally cold: Not too many years ago a maintenance man, unfamiliar with the old door’s infamy, threw it out.

The Truth About Global Diversity

Fanfaraï performs at the 2015 Lotus Music Festival


By Paul Sturm

Free speech does not guarantee meaningful dialogue and conflict does not ensure thoughtful resolution.


It’s easy to be self-assured when you’re clueless. The less you know, the more confident you can be in the inherent primacy of your limited worldview. And so it is with our post-cognitive American penchant for imperious verbal delinquency; our affinity for mass-media stone-throwers of distressing vitriol whose thought-speech aligns with some detail from the canvas of our inherited personal beliefs.


Words Get in the Way

2015 has been a provocative year for issues of race, sex and gender in our American laws, crimes and psyche. Encircling the tragedies and the victories of the past year, coursing within the body politic of divergent social factions, has been an army of astute pundits and mental poundcakes weighing in with predictable narratives and laying claim to ever-shifting moral grounds.

Free speech does not guarantee meaningful dialogue, and conflict does not ensure thoughtful resolution or well-springs of empathy. Power dynamics and untempered emotions pollute social constructs that were created, in moments of utopian aspiration, to facilitate increased awareness of our greater humanness; intended to perhaps even usher us to a more enlightened understanding of our world.

So we muddle along, punching at our reflections, shouting at our shadows, measuring accomplishments and setbacks with the same alchemical abacus used to number angels on the head of a pin. Our efforts, proclaimations and deeds are recorded in language, expressed in words desperately insufficient to the task, reduced to absurd memes: freedom, values, equality, family, marriage, rights, opportunity, sex, belief, discrimination, diversity.

Too many meanings; too many syllables….

Clarity would be nice. Some truth would be comforting. Life isn’t so convenient; its tribulations aren’t so generous in offering ready solutions. But there is one idea, one social value that I’m drawn to for its certainty and omnipresence: diversity.

don’t mean ‘diversity’ in organizational terms….not in the well-meaning human resources policies of businesses and organizations that artificially gather people together so that one of every shoe size and astrological sign are invited into the enterprise and on the cruise. I’m interested in the natural and undeniable diversity of the world; a diversity far richer in breadth and depth, and far more elegant and complicated than any attempt at replication in miniature. I’m interested in our differences – as well as our similarities – because they are honest, accurate, and real.


Anything for You

People the world over and across the ages have established communities of commonness; associations with like-types that allow and encourage distinctions of ‘them’ from ‘us’ in any number of ways. When things are good and life seems idyllic, we simply chill in our separate hoods, hangin’ peacefully with our peeps-in-uniformity. But when things are not so rosy, all those differences make ready fodder for suspicion, fear, distrust, condescension, blame, conflict and worse. Collective separateness from others (never perceived as equal) fuels rancor and further division, turning hearts cold and minds intransigent as we dehumanize all disagree-ers. In a combative milieu, diversity serves to identify our sparring partners.

As much as anyone, I take occasional solace in sameness. We all have times when we look to ‘family’ for strength, support, consolation, insight, understanding, direction, pity, even entertainment. Whatever perspectives are spoken within our tribe we call ‘true’ because they are heard with frequency and consistency, born of common ideology. But ideas are too often and too easily contradicted and fiercely debated by those outside our tent, leading to conversational stalemate; or policy gridlock in the case of our legislators.

Words fail and beliefs polarize. Where exactly does ‘liberal’ end and ‘conservative’ begin? When is it definitively ‘global warming’ and not ‘just changes in the weather’? What determines one being right and another being wrong? The answer is increasingly: “when I (and my friends) say so.” Facts and proofs, however incontestable or alleged, are swift victims of opinion.

Not all of our discourse is framed in hostility. Our 21st Century “you-do-you-and-I’ll-do-me” creed seems tolerant of individual differences, or at least approving of coexistence. But at its heart is a dismissal of compromise, of finding common ground when we don’t see eye-to-eye. No need for self-sacrifice; no need for collaboration. Technological conveniences contribute to a paucity of face-to-face interaction, but our growing penchant for uniformity through isolation also reduces the odds for genuine interpersonal dialogue. Let alone the fact that honest conversation is just so difficult.

As we observe past efforts at conciliation we come away wanting. We are fatigued into cynicism. Everybody got together and tried to love one another; it didn’t work. We’re better off remaining authentically independent and headstrong in our self-expression, even if that means staying separate and keeping distanced from the dissimilar world. And anyway….integration is so passé; so you can go your own way.


Turn the Beat Around

A lot of ill will is advocated under the banner of free speech and individual expression: bullying and broken self-esteem; flags, symbols and icons of hate; appropriations of faith and nation to foment violence; utilitarian employment of physical and economic advantage to achieve supremacy. Despite my abhorrence of hatred and injustice, I’d rather acknowledge the existence and know the nature of peoples’ ideas and perspectives, even those diametrically opposed to my own, than feign ignorance. For better and for worse, our differences comprise an undeniable aspect of our humanness.

I can accept that intractable social discord may be part of the ethereal algorithm leading us to deeper understanding of ourselves; but so too is harmonious collaboration and consensus-based inspiration. While many hands make light work, many diverse hands make provocative work, and provocation is an effective catalyst for discovery. In our struggle for truth and certainty, few things reveal themselves as incontrovertible; few precepts are beyond disagreement and immune from spin. But diversity exists as obvious and inevitable; readily available and fairly ubiquitous. It’s part of our planetary DNA.

I’m the first to concede I have no empirical proof of diversity’s worth. Whatever proposition I espouse in favor of a diverse world, I know that premise is the ‘truthy’ assumption of my pro-diversity viewpoint. But if for no other reason than stark pragmatism, I suggest we embrace diversity for its innate abundance. Humankind is a fertile source for thought. Any progress we make toward incorporating and integrating that rich variance taps an essence and energy uniquely suited to helping us make sense of our most nagging problems, solve our grandest challenges, and pursue our boldest dreams. Our finer destiny ultimately lies in our harnessing all that we are, the world over.


Get On Your Feet

We’re fortunate to live in a town that fosters a variety of thoughts and social practices. Bloomington is bountiful in opportunities to engage with wide-ranging perspectives. In particular, the annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival is an extraordinary vehicle for experiencing cultures from around the world, in a setting that allows tremendous personal control over cultural selection, length of time, and the support-group context within which we share the moments. Inherent in the different musics are lyrics and pedagogies that signal important values, cross-cultural influences, political perspectives, social conditions, assumptions and aspirations of each performer and their cultural home. We only have to want the interaction and choose to act, sparked by the desire to experience, and maybe learn, something new and different.

That’s a choice I whole-heartedly make in the affirmative.




From Paris to Polynesia: Paul Gauguin

Despite his dependence on the Parisian art market and his active involvement in the artistic circles of the capital, Gauguin longed for a simpler environment where he could live free.


by Jennifer McComas

The celebrated French artist Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) left one of the most enduring legacies and fascinating bodies of work of any nineteenth-century artist. One of his final paintings, The Invocation of 1903, is currently on view at the IU Art Museum along with three prints by Gauguin from the museum’s permanent collection. A loan to the IU Art Museum from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., The Invocation offers the chance for Bloomington residents to consider a work that embodies Gauguin’s lifelong interests in stylistic experimentation, spirituality, and the “exotic.” And as a work that is inextricably linked to French colonialism, The Invocation also offers insight into Gauguin’s increasingly ambivalent attitude towards the colonial system at the end of his life.

Paul Gauguin was born in Paris in 1848, a year marked by revolutions across Europe. In the aftermath of the revolutions, Gauguin’s politically active parents sought refuge in Peru, his grandfather’s homeland, and Gauguin spent his first five years there. His early adulthood was also defined by travel. In 1865, at the age of 17, he joined the French merchant marines, sailing twice to Brazil. These events set the stage for the intense wanderlust and fascination with the exotic that characterized Gauguin’s life and art. Initially upon his return to civilian life in 1871, Gauguin attempted to settle into a bourgeois lifestyle, obtaining a position as a stockbroker in 1872 and marrying a Danish woman, Mette Gad, the following year. In 1873 he also took up painting as a hobby. By 1876, however, his work was accepted for exhibition at the Paris Salon and in 1878 he began collecting the work of the impressionists, with whom he exhibited four times.

The stock market crash of 1882 left Gauguin unemployed. At a crossroads, he took a risk on becoming a full-time artist. While this decision had detrimental effects on his family life—their decline in living standards led to a separation from his wife, who returned to Denmark with their children—it also marked the start of his most productive and artistically fertile years. The years 1886 to 1889 were defined by artistic experimentation and conceptual innovation, prompted by his travels to Pont-Aven in Brittany, to Arles in Provence, and further afield to Panama and Martinique.

At this time, working in a style that came to be known as “synthetism,” he began simplifying forms to their essential components and using pure colors in his work, applying pigment to canvas in large, flat planes separated by bold black lines. His imagery drew upon traditional Breton customs and Christian themes, and he portrayed his subjects in an enigmatic and dreamlike manner that was influenced by Symbolism. Symbolism, a French literary and artistic movement of the late nineteenth century, encouraged the rejection of realism, instead favoring dreamlike, intuitive, and spiritual imagery. The emphasis Symbolism placed on individual perception, interiority, and the spiritual world shaped Gauguin’s art for the rest of his life. So too did the rural, unindustrialized landscape and lifestyle he encountered in Brittany, where, partly to attract tourists, the local population had retained traditional dress and certain cultural practices. To Gauguin’s eyes, accustomed to the rapidly modernizing Parisian cityscape, Brittany appeared both “primitive” and culturally “authentic.”

Yet in 1890, having established himself as a leading Symbolist painter, Gauguin considered traveling further afield. Despite his dependence on the Parisian art market and his active involvement in the artistic circles of the capital, Gauguin longed for a simpler environment where he could finally live “free at last, with no money troubles,” allowing him to devote himself completely to his art. Inspired by his earlier travels in South America and the Caribbean and by Vincent van Gogh’s attempt to establish a “Studio of the South” in Arles, Gauguin now dreamed of setting up a “Studio of the Tropics.” Gauguin’s decision to move to Polynesia was likely inspired by popular travel literature, and confirmed by his visits to the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. Held to mark the centennial of the French Revolution, the exposition celebrated France’s artistic, scientific, and imperialist achievements of the past century. A colonial display within the exposition offered visitors the opportunity to visit pavilions devoted to the colonies, which by 1889 included such holdings as Algeria, Tunisia, Madagascar, Tonkin (Vietnam), Cambodia, and Java, as well as Tahiti and other islands in the South Pacific. The elaborately constructed colonial pavilions were akin to theatrical set pieces, offering visitors a pleasant illusion of colonial life that was part imperial propaganda and part romantic myth.

In the case of Tahiti, which became a French colony in 1880 and where Gauguin would move in 1891, a romantic mythology already predated the fair by more than a century. The perception of the island as an earthly paradise, whose people “breathe only rest and sensual pleasures,” had been established by the publication in 1771 of Voyage autour du monde (Voyage around the World) by the navigator Count Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, who visited Tahiti while circumnavigating the globe in 1767. Misunderstanding the welcome his crew had received in Tahiti—during which chiefs had offered young girls to the French sailors, likely in order to secure trading privileges with the foreigners or to capture supernatural powers they were perceived to hold—he named the island “New Cythera,” a reference to the island which, in ancient Greek mythology, was the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love.

The reports following Captain James Cook’s voyages only strengthened this European perception of Tahiti. In Gauguin’s own lifetime, the French naval officer and popular author Pierre Loti (1850–1923) also offered a romanticized and sensual picture of a paradisiacal Tahiti in his 1880 book Le Mariage de Loti. By situating Tahiti as a paradise, Bougainville and Loti merely shifted the concept of a classical Arcadia or long-lost golden age—long a trope of European art—to the South Pacific, thus aligning it with an intensifying European interest in all things “exotic.” This romantic image of Tahiti as a land of abundance, easy living, and friendly inhabitants was skillfully co-opted by the organizers of the 1889 colonial exposition, who sought to encourage French immigration to the Pacific colonies. While the fair’s attractive presentation of the colonies undoubtedly sparked Gauguin’s interest in Tahiti as a potential location for his “Studio of the Tropics,” so too did the island’s status as a French colony, which would facilitate his move abroad and help him maintain contact with the Parisian art world.

In March 1891, Gauguin requested funding from the Ministry of Public Education and Fine Arts to “study and ultimately paint the customs and landscapes of Tahiti,” a proposition that undoubtedly interested the colonial administrators, who approved his request. The following month, he sailed for Tahiti, where he stayed for two years before returning temporarily to France. The paintings Gauguin produced in Tahiti are among his most iconic; they blend the synthetist style he had developed in Brittany with Christian iconography, motifs he saw in Polynesian, Maori, and Javanese art, and a sense of the spirit world that pervaded traditional Tahitian culture. Upon Gauguin’s return to Paris in 1893 he busied himself with the production of Noa Noa, a book of woodcuts that accompanied an exhibition of his work at the Durand-Ruel Gallery, and were meant to explain his Tahitian imagery to a European audience. Although the exhibition was fairly successful, resulting in the sale of forty paintings, and although Gauguin had found Oceania less arcadian and more expensive than he had imagined, he returned to Tahiti in the summer of 1895. He would never return to Europe. Gauguin’s final years were marked by financial distress, legal problems, severe depression, and ill health, including a diagnosis of syphilis. He also found himself increasingly disenchanted with the French colonial society in Papeete, Tahiti’s capital, and the transformation of traditional Tahitian culture by westernization. Throughout the 1890s, he struggled to reconcile Tahiti’s colonial reality with the paradise constructed by Bougainville, Loti, and the displays of the 1889 colonial exposition, and ultimately determined to travel to a less developed and more remote part of Polynesia. He was prevented from doing so only by his precarious financial situation.

In 1901, the opportunity to resettle in the Marquesas Islands, some 750 miles northeast of Tahiti, presented itself when the Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard offered Gauguin a monthly stipend in exchange for regular shipments of paintings. While this financial stability provided Gauguin with the means to make the move to the Marquesas, the arrangement also placed certain artistic restrictions on him. Gauguin needed to produce pictures that Vollard would be able to sell to Parisian collectors. Therefore, as the art historian Elizabeth C. Childs has noted, Gauguin’s most marketable Marquesan paintings tended to be pastoral landscapes that avoided any indication of colonial strife or European intervention.

Yet, despite these peaceful images, and Gauguin’s own perception that the Marquesas would be more “unspoiled” than Tahiti, they had in fact been greatly affected by their annexation by the French in 1842. In particular, its people had been decimated by western diseases, including venereal disease and influenza. When Gauguin arrived on the island of Hiva Oa in mid-September 1901, the Marquesan population stood at about 3,500, whereas it has been estimated at approximately 80,000 in the late eighteenth century. Indeed, it was during his two years in the village of Atuona on Hiva Oa that he began to question both the colonial system and the Catholic Church’s influence in Polynesia. While he did not necessarily find the more “authentic” Oceanic culture he had sought, Gauguin nevertheless enjoyed a less marginalized social position than he had in Tahiti, and he was able to form closer friendships with Pacific Islanders during his stay in the Marquesas.

Perhaps due to the personal relationships he formed there, he even became embroiled in conflicts with the French colonial administrators due to his advocacy on behalf of the indigenous people. This is not to say that Gauguin’s growing awareness of indigenous rights and colonial exploitation had a significant impact on his art. His own aesthetic concerns, combined with his need to consider the Parisian market, dictated the subject and style of his paintings. Audiences in France expected to see in Gauguin’s paintings the idyllic vision of Polynesia that had been established by Bougainville, Loti, and the 1889 colonial exposition.

The Invocation appears to offer viewers this idyllic vision, yet a closer look reveals a hint of Gauguin’s newly ambivalent attitudes towards French colonialism. The focus of The Invocation’s composition is a nude female figure who stands before a verdant, mountainous landscape—the environs of Atuona—with her arms stretched skywards. She is surrounded by four female figures, two seated and two standing. Three are semi-nude, while the fourth—the only one who looks at the praying figure—is dressed in a style of loose-fitting garment introduced by European missionaries. A cross visible in the upper left of the composition signals the location of a Catholic church and cemetery.

The Invocation is painted in Gauguin’s unique style, featuring a matte surface with a regular pattern of vertical brushstrokes, which almost impressionistically evoke the lushness of the landscape. By contrast, the bodies of the figures in the composition are flatly painted and heavily outlined, in the stylized manner he had developed in Brittany. Motifs and iconography from Gauguin’s Tahitian oeuvre frequently recur in his later, Marquesan works, and The Invocation is a prime example. Most strikingly, the pose of the central praying figure recalls that of the most prominent figure—the centrally placed woman who reaches up to pick a piece of fruit—in the mural-sized painting Gauguin himself considered to be his masterpiece, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, an 1897-98 meditation on the cycle of life

While the precise meaning of Gauguin’s Polynesian paintings is often elusive, many address the topic of spirituality. Spirituality was, in fact, one of the most persistent themes in Gauguin’s oeuvre. Traditional Christian iconography, as well as the depiction of a more esoteric, visionary Christianity, appears in Gauguin’s work around the time of his introduction in the 1880s to the circle of Symbolist artists and writers around the poet Stephané Mallarmé, who himself became one of Gauguin’s staunchest supporters.

In Tahiti, Gauguin’s paintings presented a hybrid vision of Christian and Polynesian spirituality (or at least his own understanding of it). The Invocation, on the other hand, alludes to the clash between Christianity and traditional Polynesian religion, which was characterized by a complex pantheon of spirits, gods, and ancestors. The Christianization that accompanied colonialism became particularly troubling to Gauguin in the Marquesas, where European religion had been introduced more recently. While English missionaries had arrived in Tahiti in 1797, and Christianity had become widely established on the island by 1820, it was not until the 1850s that Catholic missionaries began to make a significant impact in the Marquesas. For the intended European viewer of The Invocation, knowing little about Polynesian culture and religion, the specific nature of the prayer is enigmatic—who or what is being invoked and why? Yet, the praying nude figure offers a clear contrast and perhaps an antidote to the restrictions Christian missionaries imposed on the Marquesans—as represented by the dress and headscarf worn by the woman in the background as well as the cross dominating the distant landscape.

Shortly after completing The Invocation, Gauguin died on the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa on May 9, 1903, at the age of fifty-four, and his body was laid to rest in the cemetery of the Catholic church seen in the painting’s background. Produced at the end of Gauguin’s life, The Invocation occupies a unique place in the artist’s oeuvre, representing the culmination of his lifelong artistic experimentation, innovation, and total dedication to his art. In analyzing Gauguin’s Polynesian oeuvre, scholars in recent decades have often turned a critical eye towards Gauguin’s complicity with the exploitative colonial system. Yet while The Invocation indeed offered early-twentieth-century French audiences the colonial fantasy of a tropical paradise that they expected and desired, it also offers insight into Gauguin’s increasingly ambivalent and complicated attitude towards colonialism.


Jennifer McComas, class of 1949, is the Curator of European and American Art at the

IU Art Museum


A conversation with Elizabeth Stephens, Annie Sprinkle and Kara Rooney

[editor’s note: Annie Sprinkle is an artist and a feminist adult film star with a PhD in human sexuality. She and her life partner and collaborator for 13 years, filmmaker Beth Stephens, came to Bloomington as guests of the Kinsey Institute for the fall show, “For Love or Money,” Kinsey. Some of Annie’s photographic artwork was included in the exhibition. Both Annie and Beth were featured guests at the Sex Salon and their film, Goodbye Gauley Mountain–An Ecosexual Love Story, was screened at IU.
“Our film is about the tragedy of mountain top removal mining,” Beth says, “and it is also a love story about the Appalachia Mountains and the people who live in them.” It has screened at international film festivals and major museums; it’s still making the festival rounds and soon it will be released for pay per view by the distributor, Kino Lorber. Sprinkle and Stephens are “so totally thrilled to show the film at IU.”Stephens’ family has worked in mining since the 1600’s beginning in Cornwall, England. Born in Montgomery, West Virginia, she says she was raised to marry into the coal business. Instead she moved to California, became an artist and professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, and married Annie. The two women produced, directed, and star in the film together.
Goodbye Gauley Mountain was three years in the making. This documentary introduces some surprising moments, such as a wedding to the Appalachian Mountains and the gals singing the state song to the police. Earth First Journal’s Russ McSpadden writes, “Without compare, this is the sexiest nature documentary and one of the most profound films to deal with the beauty and tragedy of the Appalachian Mountains in the age of King Coal.”

“Our goal,” say the filmmakers, “is to spread the word about serious environmental issues, and also to make the environmental movement a little more sexy, fun and diverse.”]


KARA: Lets start with one of your art projects. You two did a series of nineteen weddings as performance art in nine countries. How do you bring a very private or intimate experience such as a wedding ceremony and its associated connotations into the public sphere, and what was it like to share those encounters for the first time with an audience?

BETH: We started doing the weddings as a form of protest, because it pissed us off that we weren’t allowed to get legally married. Not that we wanted to. It just wasn’t fair.

ANNIE: We had both done a ton of work about sex, so we wanted to try being ‘radically traditional’ and explore ‘love’ in a non-Hallmarky way. Our weddings were big love fests, which were quite humorous and irreverent, of course.

BETH: We married the Earth and other nature entities; rocks, soil, the sea, the sky, a lake in Finland…. Our first wedding was at the Harmony Burlesque theater, which was a lap dancing place on Broadway just below Canal street.

ANNIE: We had about 120 people there. We started out small. We sent out invitations and asked for no material gifts but invited people to help co-create the weddings. We had a procession, then about 20 3-minute performances; then the vows, the rings, the kiss, recession, and a ‘reception’ with more performances. When we got to the part where the officiant says, “does anyone object to this marriage,” our friend Barbara Carrellas objected. She hates weddings and marriage. So every wedding there after always had a couple of people perform objections to the marriage. When we did the kiss at the first wedding, we activated a tesla coil.

BETH: We wanted to do our first wedding of the series in Manhattan, even though we were living in California at the time, because that’s where we met, and where we both started our art careers. It’s where a lot of our close friends and former lovers were. Annie did her first one-woman show at the Harmony Burlesque, so the theater had sentimental value. Plus, it was in 2003 and not that long after 9/11.

ANNIE: Our friend, artist Sheila Pepe, described that first wedding as, “Broadway meets Fluxus in a whorehouse.”

KARA: The first wedding took place relatively soon after 9/11. Was that a coincidence, or were these performances meant to act as group healing sessions in some regard?

ANNIE: When the war in Afghanistan broke out, we thought, “hell, we can get along, let’s just make a commitment to work things out if there’s conflict. If we as individuals can’t work things out, how do we expect countries to get along?” We felt the personal was political, and that we were going to set an example somehow. But it was also a call for love; it was about wanting to generate more love in the world. We definitely wanted to bring some love to Manhattan after 9/11.

BETH: There were three different impulses that came together to create the wedding performances. The first one was that Annie and I got hitched up in a domestic partner ceremony so that Annie could get some health insurance.. I had a job as a professor, with benefits, so it was like sharing health insurance. Then the war in Afghanistan broke out. We realized that the wedding ritual was a great platform for transmitting a message, a feeling, a performance, whatever. At our domestic partner ceremony the press was there and we spoke out against the war and we were on the news all over the USA. If you present something as a special ritual, people seem to pay more attention.

KARA: Would it be accurate then to say that these performances acted for each of you as a therapeutic vehicle, or was this curative element a byproduct of their production?

ANNIE: We have done seventeen of the big weddings and only three were about people, the rest were about marrying nature. So for me, I always wanted to feel more connected with nature. I grew up in LA, lived in Manhattan 22 years, then San Francisco… The ecosexual weddings definitely connected me with nature. We have a video that is ten minutes long that shows highlights from some of our weddings. You can watch it on this web page: at the bottom of the page.

BETH: That’s where we first became really involved in environmentalism. We thought if there were a way to heal the earth that incorporated the kinds of issues we are looking at, and if people are part of the earth (people are nature) – then we would like to heal that binary system that separates people from nature.

ANNIE: If you think about it, people really are made of water, minerals, even stardust! So if people are made of the stuff of the Earth, therefore they are Earth. So when we married the Earth, that shifted everything for us. We followed our muses and ended up exactly where we are supposed to be today: developing ecosex art, theory, practice and activism. We’re trying to make the environmental movement more sexy, fun, and diverse, and make it a place for queers, sex workers and weird performance artists to feel comfortable. Hey, we don’t all fit into the Sierra Club. We hope our film, Goodbye Gauley Mountain—An Ecosexual Love Story entices other people to love the earth more.

Beth: We started shooting our next film, which is about water issues in California. Working title is Water Makes Us Wet. There’s more info at

KARA: This question of who profits or who benefits has been at the heart of the feminist debate, especially around the sex industry, for quite some time. In opening the picture up, you’ve taken that binary way of looking at the system of exploitation versus empowerment, or oppression versus liberation, out of the equation. You’re moving the conversation beyond these poles, presenting something very different in that regard.

ANNIE: To a lot of Americans, sex is about what sex toys you have, what lingerie you wear, what porn you have. Some people think you can’t have great sex unless you have the right strap-on. As ecosexuals we want to send a post consumerist message. We’re even saying “Stop making and watching porn! Let’s bring back the live sex show! Porn watching is using up so much electricity.” To be honest, I still do love lingerie and strap-ons. But that’s not the be-all end-all. There’s a whole world out there!

KARA: Annie, what you were saying before about the sex industry and its commodified entrenchment, in many ways it can be argued that the technological models we utilize mirror our relationship and needs to art, that our contemporary comfort zones are now to a large degree located either behind or in front of the camera instead of face to face. In your opinion, how does the sensibility of this mediated interface effect the consumption of erotica, porn, art, and other spheres of aesthetic or sexual interest?

ANNIE: From a historical perspective, human sexuality changes and goes through phases and has popular and unpopular styles. I believe everyone is at the right place at the right time. With the Internet, we are definitely exploring and discovering really interesting new territory. Who is to judge what’s better or worse, having computers or not? Now I’ll contradict myself. I’d argue that its important to keep making porn, because is it’s kind of an historical record. If you look at porn from the 1800s or the 1920s, sex was different then. Even blow job techniques change. Each person is an erotic universe unto themselves. We all have more to learn, and we all have something to teach. That’s what is so great about sex as subject matter, its endless, and there’s more to discover and create.

KARA: So this mediated interface does not affect the way that you approach your work or the consumption and reception of it? Whether it’s face-to-face or encountered via the television screen or the computer monitor, it’s –

ANNIE: It’s definitely best to experience our work live, in a group, to actually come with us for a weekend ecosex workshop and camp out and participate and interact with nature.

BETH: But ecosex includes technology too. We do love our social networking interfaces.
There is something ecosexy about computers, and ecosexy about cities too.

KARA: Annie, can you speak to how your prior experiences in the sex industry and the way that technology might have been used in those settings is different or is similar to the way that it’s used in the art world now? Perhaps not in your performances per se, but in other performances that you’ve been a part of, or that you’ve been witness to.

ANNIE: I totally loved combination of having sex and at the same time, shooting a film. It’s a great combo. Sex and creativity are so linked, They are one and the same impulse. With sex, and with creativity, or technology, some days are better than others, some days you just don’t go very far. Sometimes you’re a lead balloon going nowhere, and sometimes you fly. In our last theater piece, Earthy; an Ecosex Bootcamp, we use technology, video, lighting, and computers, to give the impression we are out in nature! That’s crazy. After we did that show, we redid it, we got another director and took it outside and made An Ecosexual Walking Tour which we just performed in June and will do in Central Park on September 16th. Much nicer to do a show about nature outside,

KARA: In terms of the way that you’re engaging with nature, especially in regards to your more recent work, there seems to be an invocation of the goddess in the texts that you’re employing and your physical presentation of self —

ANNIE: If anything, we think of the Earth as transgendered, actually multigendered – we’re not so into “lesbian” either. The word and concept of “lesbian” and “goddess” seems old fashioned, sort of quaint and nostalgic.

BETH: We’re definitely going with more of a punk rock edge these days.

ANNIE: The idea of having making love only with people seems really limiting, when you can make love with a tree, a rock, the ocean… So even this idea of “heterosexual” or “lesbian” or even “bisexual” – bisexual? Why only two? It all seems very limiting compared to what we imagine, which is a transgendered ginormous Universe with, gazillions of erotic and sensual possibilities.

BETH: It’s not just transgender, it’s transgenital.

ANNIE: Yeah, its totally beyond genital sex! But it includes genital sex of course. We love genital sex too. All sex is really ecosex!

BETH: I think a lot of strategies and tactics towards different kinds of political liberation have been viewed as having a narrow horizon – the horizons have narrowed for certain things, and I think with ecosexuality we’re really opening up the spaces of hopefulness that something else could move in a different way because we’re politically very clear about what we’re trying to do. We’re really trying to shift this metaphor around the Earth from ‘Earth as mother’ to ‘Earth as lover,’ to get people to engage in a more mutual way of being in and thinking about the world. But we’re not punitive, you know? We’re not “you’re either with us, or against us”. You can still maintain your heterosexuality and be ecosexual, or gayness, or your bisexuality and be ecosexual – it’s not an exclusive sexuality. It’s also not an exclusive viewpoint of the world. We hope our kind of ecosex engenders more passion, empathy and intimacy with nature, but also a wider vision as opposed to a narrow, gathered vision.

KARA: You’re not requiring people to identify with one state of being in the world; you’re actively challenging those codified norms.

BETH: Yeah, it’s really a campaign of attraction; if you want to be part of it then hey,
everybody’s welcome, but if you don’t, that’s fine too, bye bye.

* Kara Rooney is an artist and critic based in New York, where she currently serves as the Managing Art Editor for The Brooklyn Rail.

Lotus Festival 2015: A Global Block-Party

 – by Paul Sturm & LuAnne Holladay


“You don’t know about me but I’ll bet you want to; Everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we’re 22.”  -Taylor Swift

Over the course of four fast-flying days (September 24-27), the 22nd annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival will fill our downtown streets and B-town hearts with fab musics from across the globe.
For the uninitiated, the annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival is an outrageously enjoyable music festival; one of our nation’s oldest and best-known world music gatherings. Artists from literally all over the world vie each year for a spot on the festival itinerary, so the talent is always impressive and performances are consistently inspiring.
This global shindig commingles a dizzying variety of world cultures presented through a broad range of sounds and musical styles. Lotus has booming party music, thoughtful chamber music, rowdy street bands, intimate solo and duo performers, emerging artists and experienced masters, acoustic groups and totally-wired amplified acts to enliven even the most aloof listener’s inner booty-shaker.

Festival performances are staged within a network of outdoor tents and indoor venues selected for their close-knit proximity. Which means that Lotus also delivers an exuberant, nomadic street scene with sidewalk food vendors, corner buskers, impromptu aesthetic experiences, and the perfect setting for endless social hookups and ‘BF’ hobnobbery.
Music is the main fare, but visual art and participatory activities abound for those who crave multiple ways to celebrate internationalism. Beginning August 28, the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Galleries will once again devote exhibit space to a Lotus-related exhibition of festival textiles (on view Aug.28-Sep.26, free & open to the public). Athena boutique (on Walnut) will host its usual hand-drum jam sessions in front of the shop.
On September 24, launching the 4-day festival is the annual Thursday night “Kick-Off Concert” at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, this year featuring Baltic Crossing and Sierra Maestra: two of the strongest ensembles in the Lotus-22 lineup. Admission is $15 advance, $20 day of show. Closing the festival on Sunday afternoon is the traditional “World Spirit Concert” at the BCT, featuring Maarja Nuut and Şirin Pancaroğlu, both making their Lotus premiere. Admission is the $5 Lotus pin (a cool keepsake!).

The Lotus Arts Village is moving from 6th Street to Kirkwood Avenue on the south side of the square (in front of Fountain Square Mall). The Village’s usual visual art displays and interactive play spaces will be accompanied by an assortment of food trucks providing delectable street munchies on Friday and Saturday. And fans of public revelry will delight in the return of a Lotus parade on Saturday night led by the members of Fanfaraï, giving our human caravan a lively North African flavor.
More free fun can be had at the annual “Lotus in the Park” family friendly fête on Saturday afternoon at Waldron/Hill/Buskirk Park (aka 3rd Street Park). Concerts, workshops and ‘make-it-&-take-it’ craft tents will be joined this year by four craft artists appearing as part of a partnership with Traditional Arts Indiana and its Indiana Bicentennial arts series. The artists – members of TAI’s Rotating Exhibit Network – provide demonstrations of their traditional craft alongside a free-standing 3×7-foot panel that features engaging photos and info describing the folklife practice. Also joining the Lotus Park action on Saturday will be Bloomington’s Ryan Academy of Irish Dance and a Filipino dance group from Indianapolis, both offering demonstrations.
Looking at the Friday-Saturday Artist Showcase nights, the ‘talent-nova’ will blow your mind and elevate your aesthetic ch’i. Ireland’s all-star Brock McGuire Band returns to provide that dash of Celtic music no Lo-fest would be complete without. The renowned Heritage Blues Orchestra will be in town for one night (Friday) in a set that will irrefutably affirm the power of the blues. On the opposite end of the size-spectrum, Korean duo Su:m will absolutely thrill those who love expressive chamber music performed on traditional acoustic instruments.

Lotus has booming party music, thoughtful chamber music, rowdy street bands, intimate solo and duo performers, emerging artists and experienced masters, acoustic groups and totally-wired amplified acts to enliven even the most aloof listener’s inner booty-shaker.

This year’s festival includes two performers who use electronics with spectacular musical results: Maarja Nuut and tUnE-yArDs demonstrate masterful digital looping technique, and tUnE-yArDs also offers a hefty dose of superb old-skool synth work. Where Maarja’s soundscapes are lushly harmonious, tUnE-yArDs’ loop-jams are lively and invigorating. If you seek unforgettably wonderful musical memories, these two acts are on the must-see list.
Lovers of rich polyphonic choral music will want to see Zedashe from the Republic of Georgia. Their close harmonies and pronounced vocal techniques are the stuff of sonic beauty. The emotional power of great singing also will resonate in many solo and ‘feature’ vocal performers: Bhi Bhiman, Ester Rada, Jessica Fichot, Karolina Cicha & Bart Pałyga, Lula Pena, Martha Redbone, and Nano Stern.
All in all, this year’s Lotus Festival includes 24 different musical acts, with only 6 returning bands; so it’s a perfect year to purchase a 2-night Festival Pass…there’s just that much brand new and superb musical talent to be heard and seen. And only a third of the performers are booked for single sets, which increases your odds of catching every artist by juggling performance venues and artist rosters across two nights of stone-cold sonic bliss.
Lotus Festival tickets for all admission-based events can be purchased in person at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater Box Office, by phone at 812-323-3020, or online at

Complete artist profiles follow:

Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa (Morocco, Senegal, France)
Moroccan Aziz Sahmaoui’s musical passions are rock, fusion, and Gnawa, the trance music of Northern Africa. His voice, swinging between the inflexions of bluesman, muezzin, and crooner, pulls the audience into his poetic universe where jubilation is the order of the day. With his talented squad of musicians – his ‘University of Gnawa’ – Aziz will funk your junk with hot tunes, rousing choruses, and an unstoppable beat to drive your feet. Pulsing Gnawan rhythms act as groundwork for inspiring musical improvisation by the high-flying instrumentalists of the University. As Aziz says: “The groove, you’ve either got it or you haven’t.” Ain’t that the truth!
Lotus premiere

Baltic Crossing (England, Finland, Denmark)
The soaring, joyous music of Baltic Crossing comes from the folk scenes of England and Scandinavia. This young quintet’s musical prowess and love of old dance traditions make for brilliant sets of jigs, polskas, waltzes, schottisches, and other tunes. Ian Stephenson (guitar) and Andy May (Northumbrian bagpipes & piano) hail from England; the Scandinavian side is represented by Danish musician Kristian Bugge (violin), and Esko Järvelä (violin) and Antti Järvelä (mandolin & double bass) from Finland. Baltic Crossing’s repertoire is mostly instrumental, often playful, and always tuneful. Fans of Frigg will recognize brothers Esko & Antti, and will find a lot to love in Baltic Crossing.
Lotus premiere

Bhi Bhiman (USA)
American singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman is known for his fine guitar playing, his clever and edgy lyrics, and a remarkable voice that has earned comparisons to such artists as Nina Simone and Bill Withers. His most recent album, Rhythm & Reason, explores the immigrant experience and the politics of race. The American-born son of Sri Lankan parents, he says that “My sense of place was, is, not limited to my county or my state or my country. It’s…an international feeling of community.” His stylish covers of classic songs make excellent companions to his original material, and Bhi is equally comfortable performing at Bonnaroo, Carnegie Hall, or on a Lotus stage.
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY

Brock McGuire Band (Ireland)
Last seen at Lotus in 2011, the Brock McGuire Band returns to town performing Irish music with passion and precision. Founding members Paul Brock (button accordion & melodeon) and Manus McGuire (fiddle) now live in County Clare, and both are award-winning masters of Irish traditional music. The band also includes Dublin-based Garry O’Meara on banjo, mandolin, & vocals, and Limerick-based composer and arranger Denis Carey on piano. Their repertoire emphasizes Irish music; but don’t be surprised if they toss in a few arrangements of American old-time, bluegrass, French-Canadian, and other Celtic tunes. Discover why the Irish American News calls them the Instrumental Band of the Decade.

Delhi 2 Dublin (Canada)
A Delhi 2 Dublin set is possibly the only place you’ll see a fiddle player rocking out with a kilt-wearing Korean, flanked by two Bhangra percussionists and a vocalist who looks like he would be at home in a Bollywood music video. The group began in 2006 as a one-off performance in a Vancouver club, and they’ve been at it ever since, throwing Bhangra, Celtic, dub, reggae, and electronica into a musical blender. Match that multiculti fearlessness with electrifying live performances and you have a perfect Lo-fab dance storm. They brought the funk, the sweat, and a hard-rocking tent scene at their solitary Lotus show back in 2012; this year, make D2D your last-call party stop on Friday and Saturday to find out why one reviewer called them “the United Nations of rock and roll.”

Ester Rada (Israel, Ethiopia)
Ester Rada was born in Israel to Ethiopian parents, and her cross-cultural sound builds on that dual heritage. Her band’s instrumentation and arrangements reflect Israeli music, the influence of Ethiopian jazz, strong rhythmic drive, and a multicultural sensibility. Listen to her powerful, confident vocals and solid grooves, and it’s also easy to trace Ester’s influences to divas of classic and contemporary soul and R&B: Aretha Franklin, Pattie LaBelle, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott. Members of the band come from Yemen, Poland, Morocco, Iraq, and Israel. Ester’s musical melting pot serves up a delicious stew of sonic delights.
Lotus premiere

Fanfaraï (France, Algeria, Morocco)
Fanfaraï fuses a cultural mix of 14 musicians for a colorful explosion of North African music. The Paris-based group grew in 2005 out of a smaller Algerian street band, adding musicians from France, Morocco, and India who share a passion for what they call “the traditions of festive wanderings.” Brassy horns and booming percussion blend with Arab, Berber, Afro-Cuban, and Latin influences to create big, bold street music. Fanfaraï draws on popular brass-band repertoire, salsa, jazz, and funk, as well as the heritage of Idbalen and Zernadjia – itinerant street musicians who have animated Algerian rituals and feasts since the turn of the 20th century. Fanfaraï’s music embodies an energetic, cheerful diversity – as lively and varied as the musicians themselves.
Lotus premiere

Heritage Blues Orchestra (USA)
The grit of low-down country and urban blues mixed with the bold brass of New Orleans; the hand-clapping fervor of gospel punctuated with fiery postmodern, jazz-infused horn arrangements; the haunting cries of work songs and pulsating drums that reach back to musical roots centuries old. You’ll journey across the Middle Passage, be driven down Highway 49 from Clarksdale to New Orleans, go from chain gangs and juke joints to orchestra pits, church pews, and even back porches. The celebrated Heritage Blues Orchestra’s music is a testament to the enduring power, possibilities, and boundless beauty of African-American music. “Heritage Blues Orchestra may be a blues version of what Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center cohorts regularly do—namely, apply historical research and practical experience to different traditional styles, and finally (and not easily) to create something that is at once new and timeless” (Wall Street Journal).
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY

Jaron Freeman-Fox & the Opposite of Everything (Canada)
Canadian violinist and composer Jaron Freeman-Fox straddles the shifting border between tradition and innovation. The name of his band – the Opposite of Everything – hints at what he likes to call the general lunacy and creative drive of his music. His musical roots are in Celtic and bluegrass fiddling, but Jaron’s further study of Indian classical music and jazz has helped to push his music further into genre-defying realms. He’s even collaborated with a troupe of Rajasthani nomads. You could call this restless energy and boisterous enthusiasm “The New Ruckus” (the title of a track on Jaron’s first CD), or you could just take it from the Ottawa International Jazz Festival folks, who dubbed Jaron “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin.”
Lotus premiere

Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project (Canada, USA)
Focusing on songs collected by legendary folklorist and field recording pioneer Alan Lomax, this ‘collaboratory’ led by Canadian banjo player Jayme Stone brings together some of North America’s most distinctive and creative roots musicians to revive, recycle, and re-imagine traditional music. The song list includes Bahamian sea chanties, African-American a cappella singing from the Georgia Sea Islands, ancient Appalachian ballads, fiddle tunes, and work songs collected from both well-known musicians and everyday folk: sea captains, cowhands, fishermen, prisoners, and homemakers. This was and is music of the people. Lomax Project album collaborators are many; those likely to be on hand for Lotus include Jayme on banjo, Grammy Award winner Tim O’Brien on fiddle, Margaret Glaspy on guitar, and Moira Smiley on accordion. The Lomax Project is this year’s Lotus Dickey Artist, honoring that late, great Indiana old-time musician and song writer.
Lotus premiere

Jessica Fichot (USA)
Los Angeles-based chanteuse, songwriter, and accordionist Jessica Fichot is a lot like her hometown of Paris: French at heart, but with a soul that’s truly international. Drawing from a French, Chinese, and American upbringing, her music fuses styles and languages, taking the listener on a journey out of the French chanson tradition and into the realms of gypsy jazz, 1940s Chinese swing, international folk, and her own imagination. Jessica visited Lotusland for the first time back in 2010; she returns to Bloomington with a new album sung in Mandarin: Dear Shanghai. Armed with accordion, toy piano, and multilingual vocals, Fichot has toured the world with her quartet of like-minded multi-culturalists. Préparer pour la béatitude musicale, dear Francophiles.

Kardemimmit (Finland)
The four young women of Kardemimmit sing and play the Finnish national instrument – the kantele. If you’re new to the kantele, think zither or dulcimer: the quartet has mastered both the 15-stringed and 38-stringed varieties. The distinctive sound of this plucked acoustic instrument and their delicate, tight vocal harmonies in a style of singing known as reki make Kardemimmit a standout contemporary Nordic ensemble. Maija Pokela, Jutta Rahmel, Anna Wegelius and Leeni Wegelius perform traditional Finnish songs as well as their own modern, original folk music – adding to a long and dynamic musical tradition. This quartet racked up an enthusiast following of B-town fans when they played Lotus two years ago; their live performances are simply divine.

Karolina Cicha & Bart Pałyga (Poland)
Karolina Cicha’s impassioned, compelling interpretations of the old songs of the Kresy (the Polish Eastern Borderlands) mix folk tradition, rock and pop, and performance art. Karolina sings in the languages of the Kresy: Polish, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Russian, Lithuanian, Tatar, Romani, Yiddish, and even Esperanto — and while her primary instrument is the accordion, she is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist. A student of Poland’s diverse cultural traditions, Karolina honed her art at the renowned Gardzienice Academy for Theatre Practices. With cellist and vocalist Bart Pałyga, Karolina brings a new boldness and energy to old songs of Poland’s multi-ethnic cultural landscape.
Lotus premiere

Lotus Dickey Song Workshop (USA)
Bloomington folk music maestro, Grey Larsen, will once again recruit a cadre of his pals to lead a workshop on the songs of Hoosier singer/songwriter Lotus Dickey (1911-1989). Lotus was a Hoosier treasure; his curious, humble, gentle spirit inspired everyone who knew him. The workshop is an occasion to celebrate Lotus Dickey’s contributions to the art and life of Indiana and to enjoy the power of voices united in song.

Lula Pena (Portugal)
Fado, the signature musical tradition of Portugal, is embodied in the voice and music of Lula Pena. Elements of Portuguese folk music, French chanson, Cape Verdean morna, and Brazilian bossa nova color Lula’s music, but its heart is in fado. Her deep, sensitive voice and spare guitar work communicate the feeling of powerful longing, or saudade, essential to the genre. Thoughtful, emotional, poetic, stark, mesmerizing: all apply to her unforgettable performances. Lula has rarely toured outside Portugal, and Lotus is proud to present her at this year’s festival.
Lotus premiere

Maarja Nuut (Estonia)
Lyrical, trippy, trancelike, transcendent: fiddler Maarja Nuut creates remarkable soundscapes from the traditional dance tunes, songs, and stories of her native Virumaa in Northern Estonia. Using electronics, she often builds from a single violin motif, deftly looping it and adding harmonic layers with voices and violin improvisations. An Estonian loopmaster in the Andrew Bird/Robert Fripp mode, Maarja spins inventive and beautiful sounds from simple musical origins. Her performances are unforgettable: deeply folkloric, yet thoroughly modern. Her premiere at Lotus is not to be missed.
Lotus premiere

Martha Redbone Roots Project (USA)
Martha Redbone is an Independent Music Award-winning musician of Cherokee, Choctaw, Shawnee, and African-American descent. Martha explores traditional and modern variations of folk, roots, blues, tribal, and soul music. She launched the Martha Redbone Roots Project in 2012 with release of The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake, a collection of 18th-century poems set to the music of Appalachia. Her latest project, Bone Hill, is an interdisciplinary theater work that brings to light the post-slavery history of people of color working the coal mines of Appalachia amid Jim Crow laws. The music is radically wide-ranging – from traditional Cherokee chants and lullabies to bluegrass, blues, gospel, jazz, rock and roll, R&B, and funk – all powered by her magnificent voice. In the words of collaborator Roberta Uno, “Martha’s music is ancestral, soul-shaking, and elevating.”
Lotus premiere

Nano Stern (Chile)
Chilean singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and musical activist Nano Stern serenades audiences with nothing but a guitar and his voice, bringing listeners to the edge of their seat – and to their feet – to move, laugh, weep, and revel in heartfelt songs of Chile. The grandson of Jewish refugees, Stern has created a sound that incorporates the mid-century folk reverberations of his homeland with rock attitude, classical craft, and jazz techniques. He explores the complexities of the personal and political, and finds new ways to play with Chile’s long-repressed roots music. It’s a mix that also captures the indigenous, African, and European elements that define Latin music. “It’s an enormous gift we received from the people of the past, from the tradition itself,” he says. “Yet…I think it should be open to all kinds of promiscuity, to every sound getting together with everything else. That’s when things get truly beautiful.”
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY

Sierra Maestra (Cuba)
Featuring many stars of Cuban music since the group’s formation in the late 1970s, Sierra Maestra was the first of the modern-era Cuban bands to play in the old-style son line-up: tres (3-string Cuban guitar), guitar, trumpet, percussion (bongo & güiro), and vocals. The arrangement reflects the song style’s golden age of the 1920s and ‘30s. Five of the original nine members remain in the band, which has pioneered the son revival for new generations. The band’s name is a tribute to the mountain range in eastern Cuba that is considered the birthplace of son. With our Cuban détente, and Carnival Cruise Lines announcing trips to Cuba, it’s a perfect year to bring la cultura cubana back to Bloomington via Sierra Maestra: the heartbeat of Cuban soul. Fun Lotus fact: Sierra Maestra was last in town for Lotus 1997, gracing the ‘stage’ of the old Indiana Theater before it was transformed into the Buskirk-Chumley. They’re in for a treat…and so are we.

Şirin Pancaroğlu (Turkey)
Her work in unearthing the historical Turco-Ottoman harp called the çeng has earned Şirin Pancaroğlu a unique place in Turkish music and folklore. While she is trained in classical music (with a Master’s degree from the IU Jacobs School of Music), her eclectic influences include Turkish traditional music, improvisation, electronic music, and tango. Şirin’s efforts to re-introduce the harp to wider audiences in her native Turkey led her to active concertizing and to founding the Association for the Art of the Harp. Once a symbol of mysticism among Turkish poets and writers, the çeng has reemerged in contemporary Turkish folk music, thanks largely to Şirin and her music-making.
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY

숨[suːm] (South Korea)
숨[suːm] was formed in 2007 by a pair of Korean musicians trained in traditional instruments. They had an ambitious goal: to start a new era of Korean folk music grounded in the experience of modern life. The band’s name (pronounced “soom”) means “breath.” They compose and perform original work on traditional instruments: Jiha Park plays the piri (bamboo oboe), saenghwang (24-pipe mouth organ), and yanggeum (dulcimer), while Jungmin Seo performs on both the 25-string and steel-string gayageum (zither). This is a rare opportunity to hear exceptional music of an instrumental discipline and tradition rife with gorgeous sounds.
Lotus premiere

Trio Brasileiro (Brazil)
This young trio’s stunning virtuosity is matched with a deep devotion to the language of music – specifically choro, a traditional Brazilian genre marked by intricate, lively rhythms, gorgeous melodies, and improvisation. Trio Brasileiro includes Dudu Maia, one of Brazil’s finest players of the bandolim (a kind of mandolin); the celebrated Douglas Lora on violão 7 cordes (7-string guitar); and the amazing percussionist, Alexandre Lora (brother of Douglas) who plays the pandeiro (a kind of tambourine). Trio Brasileiro is dedicated to performing the great traditional choro music of Brazil as well as their own compositions, which are modern reflections of that great traditional musical form. Their sets at Lotus 2012 were popular and packed; if you missed them then, catch them now.

tUnE-yArDs (USA)
tUnE-yArDs is fresh, avant-garde, experimental, groovy, poppy, funky — pick a word to describe Merrill Garbus’s band and a reviewer somewhere in the world has already used it. In addition to writing the music, Merrill (on lead vocals, percussion, ukulele, and a wide assortment of samplers & electronics) and her collaborator (and Bloomington native), Nate Brenner on bass & synthesizers, are joined by an ever-changing array of bandmates to create a post-modern sonic stew; “a lovably scrappy, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic that is distinctly their own” (SPIN). Named the top looping artist by BaebleMusic, tUnE-yArDs has a unique sound driven by a relentless hippy-shake groove that comes from Merrill’s love of percussive hooks, pop chords, and singsong melodies. One of the greatest bands I know, tUnE-yArDs is a must-see act.
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY

Zedashe (Republic of Georgia)
Zedashe’s repertoire is grounded in ancient polyphonic chants from Orthodox Christian liturgy as well as folk songs and dances from the Kiziqian and Svanetia regions of the Republic of Georgia. Field songs, love songs, historical ballads, war dances, ritual circle dances: these traditional pieces have been passed down through generations of musicians and song masters. The close vocal harmonies are often accompanied by the shunner (Svan lute), pander (Kiziq lute), chonguri (Gurian lute), doll (drum), chibonie (goat-skin bagpipes), and accordion. In the music and song of Zedashe, rich folk traditions that trace back to Pagan and early Christian periods come to life and revitalize the soul.
Lotus premiere



Cannes: High Hopes & High Heels

● by Filiz Çiçek

The train comes to a halt, the guards anxiously running back and forth. It is 7:30 in the morning. A man has thrown himself in front of the train outside of Marseille. “It is probably Mafia related,” says the man sitting next to me. At noon I ask if I can get off for a few minutes to get a cup of tea. “No Madame,” the guard says sternly. “If you step off of this train, we must stop everything and come searching for you.” I feel as if I am in a James Bond film. Until the Ministre de la Justice arrives to determine the cause of death, the train will not move and no one is allowed to get off. “Maybe it was about unrequited love,” the young woman from Strasbourg says. “After all, this is France.” We arrive in Cannes six hours late. I run straight to the Palais des Festivals to catch the opening press conference of the 65th Cannes Film Festival.

In many ways this year’s films show ordinary people crossing boundaries of good and evil, blurring the lines between black and white, dwelling instead in postmodern tints and shades of grey. Something you don’t see in today’s Hollywood or in American discourse, where everything is distilled in to two binaries — Republican versus Democrat, good versus evil, black versus white, pro-choice versus pro-life and so on.  The American impulse seems to want to simplify life. But life tends to be so much more complicated and that is reflected on the screen at Cannes.

The festival begins amidst criticism. “Don’t allow young women to think that they might one day have the gall to direct films and to go up the steps of the Palais except on the arms of a prince charming,” Fanny Cottençon/Virginie Despentes/Coline Serreau wrote in Le Monde. Several days into the festival, a group of French feminists in beards take to the steps in protest. And it is brought up at the opening press conference: jurist Andrea Arnold of Britain and jury president Nanni Moretti of Italy agree that since they make up half the world’s population, women should have a greater voice. But the general consensus of the jury is that Cannes is committed to quality artwork regardless of sex, gender, race, etc.

But that is the age-old conundrum: who decides what is good and what is quality? Historically, mostly male juries and critics who do not identify with “feminine” topics have been dismissive of women’s work. How genuine is it to say that race is not a factor when it is obvious that the festival tries to give voice to the underrepresented by favoring films from those communities and countries with directors who have been oppressed? If they are socially sensitive to race and ethnicities, then why not gender?

Being tall and beautiful can be painful, as I found out, if one is trying, or encouraged, or downright required to achieve through high heels. The festival is as much about a grand spectacle on high heels, as it about art and money. They seem to be essential components of the Cannes’ glamour. The red carpet is the pulse of the Festival, where glamour, magic and money all march together. Andrea puts it bluntly, “Red carpet is big business.” He is one of my flatmates who teaches at l’Université Paris-Sorbonne. He seems to know everyone at the Palais Des Festivals, and every restaurant in Cannes. He is here to do networking like many others at the Festival who are there to buy and sell films. A producer from New York gives the following three pieces of advice: “Don’t go to the parties you are not invited to. No means no. And wear good shoes, high heels if you are a female. The guards look at your shoes here — no heels, no red carpet.”

I decided to put her advice to the test. I attempt a red carpet premiere with my eco-warrior shoes made of recycled tires and other recycled materials. A female guard in a male tuxedo looks me up and down, stares at my shoes and says, “Very sorry, Madame. No more room.” So when I get an invitation to sit by South Korean director Im Sang-soo during the premiere of his film The Taste of Money, I compromise. I want to wear a Trashion dress to promote sustainable living. So I purchase half size bigger stilettoes that everyone seems to be wearing on the red carpet. Their heels are five inches tall, mine are four inches. Terrified of falling, as one French actress would later, it takes me a few minutes to find my balance. My small toes are already blistered, I take them off as soon as I make it to my seat in the theater. I conclude that it is the sedentary people who come up with such ideas.

The nomads, I think, got this one right. They hardly have any distinction between male and female attire. They have pastures to cross, goats to milk, weather to mind, they don’t have time for hyper-sexualized fashion. What use do they have for stilettoes? After everyone leaves the theater, I find one of the hosts and plead: “Please, Monsieur, don’t make me walk four blocks down through the barricades in these high heels, only to walk back to this same theater, for the next screening. My feet are hurting.”

“I am sorry madame but you must follow the rules.”

When I begin walking barefoot on the red carpet, he quickly finds me a short cut. As I approach the confused guard at the end of the gate, who is staring at my bare feet, I smile: “I want your shoes; let’s exchange.” He lets me pass.

Everything is carefully choreographed, to be consumed properly with precise etiquette, style and certain standard of quality. Fans stand on ladders in a designated area for a better view. Some have come all the way from Italy, Germany and Scandinavia just to glimpse the glamour. The journalists, photographers, the guards, the limousines, and the stars all have their designated sections and assigned roles. If you are a female, you need to be mindful of your smile, your lips and hips and legs and bosom — your body is simultaneously celebrated and commodified. Your role is to project magic and glamour. And to be projected upon, to be an outlet for desire, inspiration and hope.

Marilyn Monroe seems to be everywhere at Cannes. She can be seen from a distance on the side of a six-story building. She is part of the collective French imagination. She is “movie star” personified. I ask Andrea about his take on it. Why Marilyn? Why don’t the French identify with a French actress instead?

“They live on and get old,” he answers. “They don’t die young like she did.”  Nothing like a pretty, dead, young blond woman. In fact there are two female images in public spaces that one frequently encounters: Marilyn Monroe and Mother Mary. I ask a Frenchman at a restaurant about it. “She is so beautiful, a Goddess and died so young, you know.” Such sadness in his voice, it sounds like Marilyn died for Cinema. As if she were a martyr. Ste. Marilyn. She is Cinema herself, at least in Cannes.

Miriam, a French staff person from California at the American Pavilion further explains, “This year in particular the theme is Old Hollywood, because the hostess is Bérénice Bejo, the actress from The Artist.” Indeed Old Hollywood dominates the hallways; there is not a single photo of a European actor or actress to be seen.

Americans also dominate the competition portion of the festival. Wes Anderson and his cast open the festival with Moonrise Kingdom. Followed by John Hillcoat’s Lawless, Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Jeff Nichols’ Mud, and Lee Daniels’ The Paper Boy. Daniels and his cast yield one of the more interesting and intense press conferences. Asked about possible parallels between Matthew McConaughey’s gay character in the film and his own sexuality, Daniels grows sincere and passionate: “I know every character in this film,” Daniels says. “John Cusack’s character was based on my brother who went to jail. Nicole Kidman is my sister. We all have roles to play; we present to you one persona here at Cannes, and at home we have different ones.”

This sentiment is echoed by Fatih Akin who speaks briefly before his environmental documentary Polluting Paradise: “There are many worlds coming together here today. Each one of us is a different world you know, from different countries. Cannes, too, is a world in itself. We are here to see and hear one another.”

“This is my most personal film yet,” Akin adds. “I know directors say that after each film but this truly is.” He brought his father and the most of the Çamburnu village activists from the Black Sea coast of Turkey with him. In the end, his sentiments come across through the film and audience gives them a standing ovation. Some of the villagers are tearing up.

Akin then hosts the biggest party in Cannes. There are Turks, Kurds and Germans, British, Austrians, Greeks, Indians. Ewan McGregor and Joshua Jackson are joining in. Akin, who selects his soundtracks before writing his scripts, is deejaying. At 3:00 a.m. the French guards are still trying to get party-goers down from the tabletops where they are singing and dancing. Every aspect of the festival is so carefully planned and choreographed by the French that people seem to jump at a chance to chill out, relax and be themselves rather than perform Cannes 24/7.

The Americans play bingo and karaoke, interrupted with occasional film screenings and small parties. Only the Indian pavilion seems to be as joyful and lively. They offer free food, snacks and drinks, PR materials, interview set-ups. At the international village, only the Americans charge to get into their pavilion as well as for food and drinks.  This results is Americans going to the other pavilions, in particular the Turkish pavillion for their baklava and raki.

Turkish Kurds from Germany, some armed with films and some with anti-Turkish government sentiments also occupy the Turkish pavilion. I have long conversations with them about history, life and art. A couple of them suggest that I read certain political books written by political terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on which side you are on. I say that long ago I decided to make art rather than politics.

I have a surprising ally in Rezan Altinbas, a Kurdish director from Turkey. I have always been weary of making art a slave to a social agenda; there is a fine line between art and propaganda. Dickens, Bernard Shaw, Douglas Sirk, R.W. Fassbinder and Yilmaz Güney get away with it because they weave their socialism into a film format, not the other way around. Rezan agrees. His film Sessiz-Be Deng/Silent, is based on his childhood recollections of visiting his father in jail. His female character visits her husband in prison in Diyarbakir in 1984, a few years after the military coup d’état. On the back wall it is written: “Speak Turkish. Speak it a lot.” The couple struggles to communicate. They remain in anguish and in silence. As their hands clasp, our hearts clasp with them. Her tear drops down from her face, to his hands, and into our hearts. It is the human heart that is in the forefront, not guns and violence. Or slogans. Whether you are an Aboriginal in Australia, a Native American, an Uyghur in China or a Kurd in Turkey, what better way to say that speaking one’s mother tongue is a birthright?

Rezan goes on the win the Palm d’Or in the short film category. In his acceptance speech Rezan dedicates his award “to all the lonely and beautiful women of my country,” echoing Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s acceptance speech in 2008 when he received the Best Director award for Three Monkeys. Ceylan dedicated his award to his “lonely and beautiful country” which he “loves most passionately.” Most of Turkey interpreted those words as a comment on Orhan Pamuk’s political statement about the 1915 events involving the Ottoman Armenians. Most Turks believe that in 2006 Pamuk betrayed Turkey, his native country, in order to win the Nobel Prize for literature..

Art, party and politics all seem to run very high at the Turkish Pavilion. It is one of the busiest hubs at Cannes next to the Indians, who are trying to make a big impact this year at Cannes with Gangs of Wasseypur. It is a five-hour epic about a family feud in a place “that is not visible on Google maps,” according to its director Anurag Kashyap. “I am confident that my film has broken all cinematic conventions in India,” he tells me on the eve of the screening. “In Cannes I am a little nervous, but we will know soon enough how the world reacts!”

Ceylan may not be popular with Silent’s Kurdish actress from Turkey,but he seems to be the golden child here at Cannes. He won numerous awards over the years at Cannes. Back at the Turkish pavilion there is a party in his honor. As Turks and Kurds sing collectively in celebration, he stands back and looks in, quietly. He seems to be there and not there, like the character in his film Distant.

Ceylan is the subject of the Coen Brothers short film titled World Cinema. When an American cowboy, played by Josh Brolin, goes to a movie theater and sees Ceylan’s Climates on the marquee he asks, “What is that one about?”

“It is about lovers and estrangements and former lovers. Flawed people. Difficulty of love and so forth,” replies the box office attendant.

“People talk back in forth in Turkish?”


“Turkic? But you got them-those words up there to help follow the story along?”

“It is subtitled, yes.”

“Hmm…. Is there any nudity?”


“Is there livestock in any of them?”

“Maybe a rabbit in La Regle Du Jeu…”

The Cowboy ends up liking Climates quite a bit. “There is whole a lot of truth in it in my opinion,” he comments to the attendant; the point being that Americans need more art-house Cinemas and that Ceylan now symbolizes the master director. And he is awarded the Directors’ Choice Award “for excellence, courage and taking artistic risks.”

Emir Kustarica and Elia Suleiman play themselves in 7 Days in Havana. Prior to the film’s screening, Kustarica joins the “people on the left side of the world,” as he puts it, including Benicio Del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem, Gasper Noe, Juan Carlos Tabio, Elia Suleiman and Laurent Cantent. Their works speak for them, and they actually speak about their work. Kustarica’s is self-revealing and self-deprecating as he is drunk in Havana where he is to receive an award, constantly arguing on the phone with his wife halfway around the world in Serbia.

Elia Suleiman does not speak; rather, Fidel Castro does most of the talking. At the Yemeni Embassy, Suleiman is told that El Presidente will receive him after his speech. After a few hours of waiting, he decides to go to the zoo. When he returns toward the evening, Castro is still speaking on TV. As the day comes to an end, Castro looks up to the sky and says half jokingly: “There is still some daylight left; let us continue comrades.” Elia Suleiman’s face remains motionless, yet potent. He is Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin and Jimmy Stewart combined. He emanates kindness and human warmth. It is official. I am in love with Elia Suleiman!

At a master class the next day we learn how Philip Kaufman, director of The Right Stuff, transitioned from from a math teacher to a filmmaker in France with a hand held camera. His cinematic roots are all too European. A clip from his Unbearable Lightness of Being is presented as one of the most erotic scenes in cinema; Juliet Binoche’s character is forced to take erotic photos of a woman, whom she realizes right then is her husband’s lover. Kaufman responds with an anecdote; “Stanley Kubrick called me about that scene. I was quite excited: maybe he was going to share a great insight with me. Instead he asked where did I get that Pixar camera (Binoche is using in the scene)!”

On my last night at Cannes after the awards ceremony, Arthur, an aspiring film director from Paris, offers me an invitation to a private party where the jury and the winners will be in attendance. By then I am intellectually and artistically over-stimulated and physically exhausted. My head wants to find a pillow. But then again, I might actually see organic exchanges in a more intimate setting for a change, so I say yes to being his date.

Joshua Jackson and jurist Dina Kruger are first to arrive followed by Ewan McGregor. I notice a middle-aged woman staring at me. She looks familiar. As I approach her to say hi, I realize it is my camera that has been the focus of her attention. “No photos please.”

“Ok. No worries.”

She is Leila Hatami, one of the stars of The Separation from Iran who was there to present the Grand Prize. I did not recognize her without her head attire and I gather that she didn’t want me to photograph her without it. The official fashion law of Iran also applies when she is in Cannes.

As the night comes to an end, my heart is dancing with Fatih Akin punked Against the Wall, and my head is falling into a Pillow Book with Ewan McGregor. Time to write my own. I put my camera to rest. Arthur’s voice is following me to the sandy beach; “You are my perfect woman. I want to make life with you!” He’s known me only for one short week. I dip my feet into the Mediterranean, breathe in its midnight air. The End.

The Ryder ● 2012

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