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33 & 1/3: Morrison Hotel & ‘Isolation’

Introducing a new ARTSWIN column: 33 & 1/3 Do people still celebrate 50th birthdays with “over the hill” parties? That’s pretty bleak for a celebration, right? “Hey, you made it to 50, but too bad it’s all down hill and rubbish from

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Andrea Adams: Thisday and Thatday

I’ve seen the memes about the days of the week being irrelevant during the stay at home order, and that only Thisday and Thatday exist now. At first, I resisted the idea of complete anarchy of time. I tried to make sure my socks matched every work day and that I didn’t have too much wine at dinner before Friday.

I remember even putting on makeup for my first couple of Zoom calls. Oh, Past Andrea. So naive, so optimistic. Adorable. 

Today, on this Thisday, I am barefoot, and I have abandoned my makeshift desk in the kitchen to stay on my bed (it’s made at least) and work from the Chromebook. I do plan to have a couple of glasses of wine after dinner this evening, as I am attending a recreational Zoom event. I probably won’t even brush my hair for it. Structure and foundation have crumbled for me, someone who has realized lately how much she thrives on timelines and schedules. It was fun to throw routine to the wayside at first. I can wake up after 7:30 a.m.? I don’t need to shower until after lunch? I can eat a bowl of Doritos in bed at 10:30 a.m.? And don’t get me started on what “bedtime” means anymore. 

The novelty is wearing off. I can no longer use seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race as a clock (I reserve the right to reconsider this when I get to the All Stars seasons). Since time can’t be measured by work hours and weekends off anymore, it’s my mission to find a way to tally mark the days creatively. On Thisday, I draw cartoons of my breakfast and lunch chatting each other up. Thatdays are Crazy Makeup and Costume Days. Tomorrow is Latin Music Day (which may or may not also involve costumes). And Today is obviously Writing the Weekly Blog Day. The new normal is a different normal, and we might as well use these moments alone to make it weird and interesting. 

Andrea Adams is the Gallery Director at the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana.

Published April 20, 2020

33 & 1/3: ‘American Beauty’ & ‘New Speedway Boogie’

33 & 1/3 is a weekly column looking back at the albums and songs of 1970 to coincide with the Arts Council’s 50th anniversary. Community Director Zach Evans will write about one album (33) and one song (1/3) from 50 years ago.

Most musicians and bands don’t release two albums in the same year these days.

The industry is such that insiders say bands really shouldn’t put out full albums every year — the idea is to release singles and smaller releases more regularly to feed the content beast.

But in 1970, there were several acts who released two albums in a year. Black Sabbath released two of the most important albums in metal history in 1970 with “Black Sabbath” and “Paranoid” and Funkadelic released “Funkadelic” and “Free Your Mind .. and Your Ass Will Follow.”

Here’s a good list of other double releases in 1970 (I’m probably missing a few):
• Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Cosmo’s Factory” and “Pendulum”
• King Crimson – “The Wake of Poseidon” and “Lizard”
• Aretha Franklin – “This Girl’s in Love With You” and “Sprit in the Dark”
• Elton John – “Elton John” and “Tumbleweed Connection”

The most interesting double release in 1970 came from a band’s whose following and legacy is not largely connected to their studio releases: The Grateful Dead, which released “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty” four months apart in 1970.

Both albums are a rich chapter in the Dead history, because the pair were a pivot from the electric kool-aid psychedelic sounds in the 1960s to an Americana / roots style in 1970. The stylistic switch is even apparent on the album covers, warm browns, greens and sepia tones versus the bright palette “Aoxomoxoa,” their album before “Workingman’s Dead.”

That Path is For Your Steps Alone

American Beauty
The Grateful Dead
Nov. 1, 1970
Stand-out tracks: “Ripple,” “Brokedown Palace,” “Candyman”

As I said, The Grateful Dead aren’t really known for their studio albums. They have a prolific live career: 37,000 songs performed live, 2,300 concerts, 450 unique songs, 300 cities and 30 years of touring. That’s just for the original Grateful Dead lineup and doesn’t include the subsequent spin-offs featuring members of the band, like The Dead or Dead & Co.

But if you ask most songwriters, musicians, or music fans about the Dead, they’ll probably say they like “American Beauty.” That’s because it’s hard to not appreciate the blending of American folk and rock music, poetic lyrics and woven strings and harmonies — kind of like CSNY, but not.

The album is exquisite, it’s hard to argue that isn’t. But I usually take issue when people say “I really don’t like the Dead, but I did like ‘American Beauty.'” There are differences between the two — the live Dead and the American folk-style studio Dead. But I embrace both deeply. Can’t a guy like a 30 minute Scarlet>Fire jam and a well-crafted 4-minute folk song from the same band?

Onto the actual album. I love the song “Candyman,” because of its slow creepiness and an absolutely beautiful pedal steel guitar solo played through a rotating Leslie speaker by Jerry Garcia.

What makes “American Beauty” so eternal to me is the songwriting marriage of Jerry’s roots-y musical stylings and Robert Hunter’s brilliant lyrics.

Much like the relationship between Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Robert Hunter would write lyrics and Jerry would write the music.

Hunter was a true American poet, with an ability to tap into the cultural psyche and tell us about it. “American Beauty” wasn’t the first album featuring lyrics by Hunter, but to me it’s his finest showcase and the best song on the album is “Ripple.”

“If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?”

The song has lyrics that invokes both Western religion and Eastern poetic style. The third verse, of which Hunter said he was most proud to write, is filled with biblical imagery, with phrases like, “Reach out your hand if your cup be empty / If your cup is full may it be again” and — the favorite line he ever wrote — “Let it be known there is a fountain / That was not made by the hands of men.”

Then there’s the chorus, which is a 17-syllable haiku poem washed in mystery.

“Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow”

Combine that with major key melodies, David Grisman on mandolin, rich harmonies and a sing-a-long ending of la-di-das, and you have one hell of a song.

What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been

Bob Weir recently mentioned on the podcast “Broken Records” in a conversation with Rick Rubin he wished the band had done more work in the studio. I do too. I love the energy and vibe of a well-connected, breathing live performance, but the artistry and intention that comes out in albums is unmatchable.

Jerry has been dead for 25 years and Robert Hunter died last September. In 1970, Rolling Stone reviewer Andy Zwerling said “American Beauty” would be enjoyed for the next 20 years. Jerry has been dead for 25 years and Robert Hunter died last September, but the songs are still loved and played to hundreds of thousands of fans every year (well, not this year) by surviving members in the off-shoot Dead & Co. featuring John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge.

I think it’s deeply appreciated at 50 and will be talked about and listened to for its 100th anniversary.

I Spent a Little Time on the Mountain

New Speedway Boogie
Workingman’s Dead
The Grateful Dead
June 14, 1970

“New Speedway Boogie” will make me noodle dance every time. You know, that stereotypical Dead-head hippy dance? Yeah, that’s all 6’7″ of me when I hear this song live.

I love this song for its groove, for the memories I have with it and for the memories I was hoping to have with it in the future.

I was in a string band called the “Pocket City Pushers” in the early 2010s and “New Speedway Boogie” was one of the first covers we practiced.

I had just performed my first gig as a keyboardist with Calabash in Cincinnati just days before our region began locking down. We played several Dead songs that night. We didn’t perform “New Speedway” but with gigs lined up in the coming weeks and months, I’m sure we would have (if it were a gig they invited to me play).

One day soon, we’ll all be boogying — at least, I hope.

Zach Evans is the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana’s Community Director. When life returns to normal, you can find him performing around town with his band Corduroy OrbisonYou can reach him at [email protected].

Other 33 & 1/3 posts
Kristofferson & My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama
Morrison Hotel & Isolation

Published April 18, 2020.

Anne McKim: Sheltered in Place. Day 32.

First: I miss you. 

We walk for an hour every day. “Taking a walk” is different: it’s a casual, unthinking thing that describes weekend morning trips to the coffee shop and evening strolls. Walking, now – for our quarantined family – is a necessity. I wear a backpack, as if we were hiking, stocked with hand sanitizer and face masks. My children know the drill: Sunscreen, bathroom, shoes with laces (we learned the hard way that sandals, full bladders, and fair skin aren’t ideal for urban exploration).

You can cover a lot of ground in an hour, and living downtown, we have.  Mansions on First Street quickly became boring, and the Greenway is reserved (for us) as “biking only.” We prefer to walk the streets named after presidents, and through the industrial remains of Evansville’s urban core. 

Everything is blooming. 

My husband jokes (only to the children, who already have plenty of fodder for teasing me, but who else can he joke with these days?) that I can’t walk half a block without saying “Oh! Guys! Look at those azaleas [insert any flower/shrub/tree]!” Everything is blooming and lovely, and everyday we leave the house at noon and walk and walk, and see it all. 

We don’t track distance, only time. We MUST walk at least that hour, an arbitrary benchmark that I cling to. It’s too easy, in our collective current state, to feel simultaneously disconnected from the rest of the world and beholden to it. Alienated but also far too intimate. Walking through Evansville connects us to something. Anchors us to something. 

I miss you. I love you.

This is how I try to end all conversations these days. It comes more naturally with some friends than others. (One notoriously unsentimental but very dear friend may stop speaking to me if I don’t stop reminding her that she’s loved.) I miss you and I love you. Saying it connects us, anchors us to a life before sheltering in place, when I didn’t have to miss you, when love was expressed in person. 

Stay well, friends. Read, create, wash your hands and wear a mask. I miss you and I love you. 

Anne McKim is the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana.

Published April 15, 2020.

Andrea Adams: The art of curating a family

Last week, I opened up about finding moments of creation in small daily acts of art, and it got me thinking about how I view the curation and hanging of exhibits as making my own larger art piece out of many. Arranging 40 unique works of art and making sure nothing is lost or too loud is a task that I certainly ask Anne and Zach to help with every single time. The best moment in hanging a show is when the chaos turns into something cohesive and starts telling a story. It’s a magic that artists are familiar with, I’m sure.

There’s this cat who has been coming around since we’ve been home all the time. She was timid about approaching too close at first, but now (since I started feeding her), she literally will climb the window screen to try to get into my bedroom, presumably to get petted. It’s pretty annoying, but only because I know that I will eventually let her in and then I will have a cat. She’s claimed me as her family and there’s really nothing I can do about it. Did she have a family who was loving her before she started hanging out here? If I start ignoring her, will she go back to them? Will I feel a pang in my heart if I do?

Catherine the Cat

We don’t get to choose what family we start with, but we are certainly at liberty to create or add to one as we learn and love throughout a lifetime. Friends and lovers and coworkers. Ancestors and old high school buddies and artists we admire from afar. Long lost brothers. Pretty calico kitties who sleep on our patio. All these precious and necessary chaotic pieces make a whole and teach us what it means to individualize. It’s a curation project we should never finish because the story we are telling is on-going. When things start making sense, that’s the magic of creating something cohesive.

I feel lucky to be chosen by Catherine the Cat to help her feel safe and loved. I guess her needing me makes me feel that way, too.

Dang it, I have a cat now, don’t I?

Andrea Adams is the Gallery Director for the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana.

Published April 13, 2020

33 & 1/3: Kristofferson & ‘My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama’

33 & 1/3 is a weekly column looking back at the albums and songs of 1970 to coincide with the Arts Council’s 50th anniversary. Community Director Zach Evans will write about one album (33) and one song (1/3) from 50 years ago.

The artist world lost a prolific creator and storyteller this week. John Prine’s legacy remains in his brilliant, irreverent songs, but also in the songwriters he helped and those he inspired through his career.

It seemed fitting this week to choose an album with a close connection to Prine — Kris Kristofferson’s 1970 debut album, “Kristofferson.”

Kristofferson is credited with discovering Prine. Billboard has a great Q&A with Prine in which he talks about how Kristofferson got his guitar in the door and got him a record deal. Of course, helping a fellow songwriter land a gig wasn’t unfamiliar to Kristofferson, who was discovered by June Carter and Johnny Cash when he was a janitor at Columbia Recording Studios.

Kristofferson is one of my favorite songwriters. Plus, I’m probably five years from looking like him when he played Whistler in “Blade.”

Me in five years, probably.

Just the year before Kristofferson set up Prine for a record contract, Kristofferson released his first album.

“If it sounds country, man, that’s what it is — a country song”

Kristofferson
Kris Kristofferson
Released April 1970
Stand-out tracks: Me and Bobby McGee, Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, Blame it on the Stones

“Kristofferson” is full of the wit, honesty, gruff and counter radio country style that made Kristofferson synonymous with outlaw country through the rest of his career — songs about being stoned and drunk, songs with contempt for the police, songs empathizing with long-haired hippy folk and songs of despair.

The album begins with “Blame it on the Stones,” which is rolling with irony and pointing out society’s constant ability to find a music scapegoat for the moral degradation of society, like Judas Priest in the 80s, gangsta rap and Marilyn Manson in the 90s, Eminem in the early 2000s, and Corduroy Orbison in the late 2010s and early 2020s. “Mister Marvin Middle Class is really in a stew / Wond’rin’ what the younger generation’s coming to / And the taste of his martini doesn’t please his bitter tongue / Blame it on the Rolling Stones,” Kristofferson sings on the first verse.

The everlasting standout, of course, is “Me and Bobby McGee,” a song engrained in the American experience that was popularized by the barn burner of version that Janis Joplin recorded. Kristofferson and Joplin were lovers around the time “Kristofferson” was released in the spring of 1970. She finished recording the song three days before she died of a heroin overdose in October 1970. He first heard her version a few days after she died and then he spent the rest of the day walking around Los Angeles crying.

The brilliance of the song is Kristofferson’s complete comfortability with brevity. He could use a nine word line like a novelist uses 50 or a director uses 120 minutes. If John Prine was the Mark Twain of songwriting, then Kris Kristofferson is the Ernest Hemingway — it’s not flowery or verbose writing, it’s direct and spare.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

I think this line — which, by the way, this line is one of the greatest in popular music — is often taken to only mean the way to be free is to be without material or romantic ties. But really the song sets up the duality of freedom, freedom as a two-sided knife. You’re free, but you’re empty and lonely. You can see that in the lament later in the song (also another brilliant line), “I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday / Holdin’ Bobby’s body next to mine.” Sometimes that for which we yearn is not as great as what we have, something sometimes not realized until you’re free with nothing.

That shoe leather poetic style shines through on my favorite song on the album, also its closing track, the autobiographical “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”

Kristofferson explains the song in an interview: “I was living in a condemned apartment and had lost my family, and Sunday was a day when the bars were closed, and, uh … it was not a day to be alone.”

Descriptive lyrics take us through his divine punishment (you know, when you’re hungover on a Sunday), with a chorus of hopelessness, and then he hits you with this beautiful simile of a church bell: “Then I headed back for home / And somewhere far away / A lonely bell was ringing / And it echoed thru the canyon / Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.”

I had the pleasure of seeing Kristofferson perform solo on May 11, 2017 at the Warner Theatre in Washington D.C. I was there for a few days ahead of a three-week long journey to Pakistan, and I decided I wanted to see some live music. I was lucky to find a front-row seat ticket on Stubhub for about the same price as face value.

It’s one of my most memorable concert experiences, but not because he was so explosive or magnetic, or that the performances of songs I loved were that outstanding. It was because of the despondency, and damn, sometimes pity, I felt while watching him on stage for those 90 or so minutes.

He was 80 years old at the time and performing solo. The problem with performing solo is, as Johnny Cash said before his Viper Room show ahead of 90s solo revival, “You can’t blame the drummer for screwing up.”

It was rough. He lost his finger-picking dexterity with his age, which meant his timing and accuracy was off, and his voice was knotted and showing his eight decades of living. He seemed weak and feeble at times.

I felt sorrow watching it, as if I was watching my grandfather on his death bed. But reflecting on the moment three years later while writing this, I realize Kristofferson did as he has done his entire life and musical career. He put himself out there, vulnerable and exposed, with the scars of time and the broke down body of man who’d been through some shit. From his poetic contempt on his debut 1970 album to the stage of the Warner Theatre in Washington D.C. It was the unapologetic truth, and that’s what Kris Kristofferson embodies.

“My guitar wants to kill your mama / My guitar wants to burn your dad”

My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama
Off of “Weasels Ripped My Flesh”
By The Mothers of Invention
Released Aug. 10, 1970

And now for something completely different.

As a guitarist/artist /absurdist myself, I’m a big Zappa fan. The song “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” is my favorite tune off “Weasels Ripped My Flesh,” again, probably because every guitar player who’s heard that song title loves it automatically. “Weasels” is a basically a collection of leftover songs from The Mothers of Invention, Zappa’s breakout band, so there’s not a lot of great tunes on it, but what a fantastic album cover, right?

The Mothers were especially an avant-garde band, especially live with a lot of free from jazz movement, which is not for everyone, I know, but “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” is more grounded. Naturally the song features some great guitar solos that are worth hearing, including a buttery-smooth acoustic guitar solo and a closing fuzz guitar solo that really sounds like a parricidal guitar is on the loose.

Zach Evans is the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana’s Community Director. When life returns to normal, you can find him performing around town with his band Corduroy Orbison. You can reach him at [email protected].

Published April 10, 2020.

Anne McKim: Required reading

Anne and the “Paycheck Protection Program” monster

I’ve been in the trenches this week with the “Paycheck Protection Program,” as well as local grant applications, leaving very little time (or mental energy) for creativity. So, this week instead of sharing something I’ve written, here are a few things that I think you absolutely must read.

April is National Poetry Month, and while there are so, so, so many poems I love, it’s essential that you all read “Shoulders” by Naomi Shihab Nye immediately. Right now. Before you finish reading this post. I was so moved by this poem when I first encountered it a few years ago that I wrote it in sharpie on a scrap piece of foam core and mounted it in my children’s bedroom, so they would have to stare at it every night and, subsequently, memorize it. (It worked!) In a time of global crisis, “Shoulders” should be required reading.

Please also read ‘”Just’ Children” by Adam Zagajewski. If you have a little time, read about the poet, Adam Zagajewski, or order his brilliant book of essays, “A Defense of Ardor.” 

Finally, for several months I’ve been telling everyone to read “The Great Believers” by Rebecca Makkai. Jumping back and forth between Chicago in 1985 and present day Paris, the book changed my understanding of the AIDS crisis, and draws brilliant connections between the idea of losing a generation to war, to AIDS, or to terrorism. Reading about a pandemic during a pandemic might seem mildly masochistic, but I promise you won’t be able to put “The Great Believers” down. (Plus, there’s also an art mystery!)

Read and stay well, friends.  

Anne


Anne McKim is the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana.

Published: April 8, 2020