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?
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 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.”
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” 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”
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.
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.
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 McKim is the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana.
Published: April 8, 2020
It’s my turn, I guess.
Heh, maybe that’s what I should call this blog.
As an empath, it’s difficult to find my own voice sometimes, and having co-workers who have displayed such polar opposite tones in blogs this week, I’m left reeling in how to go about this. Anne’s first post was so full of genuineness of heart and simplicity, which is spot on how she curates all things in her life. And Zach, well, he’s a professional writer, and there’s no comparing to his super well-thought-out, methodical, intentional musings. I work with brilliant people and it’s hard to live up to sometimes.
So. I will try my best to find and share my own voice here. If you’ve met me, you might have picked up that vulnerability is my bag; my preferred brand of disarming everyone I meet, and a great way to neglect things that are truly bothersome and hidden in my psyche, yadda, yadda, ya…
I’m rambling now, probably another defense mechanism, and certainly a way to procrastinate writing something with substance.
I’ve been thinking about creativity for, you know, obvious reasons that relate to working for the Arts Council, but also because we are all home and the impulse to create comes more often when we have fewer distractions.
People often assume that I make art, but I don’t. I mean, I DO, but not in a fine art way. For me, art is the banana with peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon I’ve been making nearly every day since lockdown. And of course, the little drawings I do at night before bed, or the 3D metal models I work on to ease my anxiety. But I also think it’s the way I have decided to arrange the living room furniture and wall art, or my handwriting when I’m in a good mood. Or the songs I make up about grating cheese (to the tune of Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler, “I need to gra-ate! I need to grate cheese for this salad I ma-ade! It’s gonna be good and it’s gonna be right and I’m gonna eat this salad toda-ay”).
With the assumption that I’m an artist, I’m usually asked what media I use to create. Can I say bananas, thin sheet metal, end tables, and cheese graters? Maybe I can just say mixed media; that always fits better on a tag.
There’s a sense of ownership when we create, even if it’s small and we are the only ones who know it exists. Not just ownership of the art created, but in the sacredness and ritual of creation. The process itself is an act of art. My weird self-portraits are always in the same type of notebook, all timestamped in the same format, and kept neatly in a special place (mainly so no one will see them and judge me for how weird they are). Every part of it is important to the whole. Because, trust me, these drawings aren’t the greatest.
Our creations are pieces of ourselves we have allowed out. Even if we keep them in notebooks under our bed, they still managed to sneak beyond the confines of our souls, perhaps in hope that one day, someone might recognize them as bits they hide in their own shadows. They don’t need to be profound, but maybe interesting enough to get an old 80s song stuck in someone else’s head all day. With enough practice of letting the world see us in small ways, perhaps we can relate and connect deeper when we find out it’s not so scary to share our own voices.
Published April 4, 2020
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 here. Death’s specter lingers over you at all times. Enjoy your cake!”
It’s all in good fun, I know, but turning 50 doesn’t have to mean the turn towards the end of life. For the Arts Council, turning 50 this year is the beginning of a new era. Fifty years is quite the milestone, especially for this arts organization.
The Arts Council planned to celebrate its 50th anniversary all year. But, alas, its “over the hill” year of partying and celebrating the arts was impacted, like everything else, by COVID-19.
So, we converted our programming, outreach and art experiences to all digital. Part of that includes the Arts Council staff developing their own weekly columns/blogs/posts. With mine, I decided to keep with the 1970 theme.
Do you know how many good albums came out in 1970? The Beatles final album, the beginning of metal with Black Sabbath, The Grateful Dead’s dip into Americana — it’s absurd how many important, interesting albums came out that year. I wanted to write about all those albums to coincide with our anniversary.
So, I will write about one 1970 album and one song from another 1970 album every week. The column is called 33 & 1/3, a reference to the speed of an album rotating on a turntable. It’s also a George Harrison album. Think of it like the 33 is the album and that little extra 1/3 I will write about is the other song. I have albums and songs lined up from several genres and styles from artists like The Velvet Underground, Miles Davis, Kris Kristofferson, The Kinks, Aretha Franklin and more.
This week’s album is “Morrison Hotel” by The Doors and the single is “Isolation” by John Lennon.
“This is the strangest life I’ve ever know.”
I was obsessed with The Doors in high school. I read “No One Here Gets Out Alive” and “Riders on the Storm” twice over each. I poured over albums, watched the Oliver Stone movie with friends, read special guitar magazine features and learned how to play dozens of songs. The Doors aren’t my favorite band from that era anymore, but I still appreciate what they offer: psychedelic exploration, unique rhythms, bizarre organ, slinky guitar, jazzy sensibilities and mysterious lyrics (which might actually not mean anything). I’m not sure “Morrison Hotel” is even in my top 3 studio albums by The Doors, but it is the only Doors album that came out in 1970.
“The future’s uncertain and the end is always near.”
Albums aren’t always about the final product itself — the quality of the production or the songs. Sometimes the circumstances and motivation around the album are what make it fascinating. Sometimes it’s both, like Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” (see “High Fidelity” on Hulu). Great behind the scenes drama and brilliant songs.
In the case of “Morrison Hotel,” the circumstances of its creation were interesting. The record came right after Jim Morrison, and by proxy the rest of The Doors, were blacklisted after Morrison — allegedly — whipped little Jim out on stage in Miami in March 1969. Concerts were canceled. Money was lost. Then, after gaining some steam again in 1969, they released “The Soft Parade.” It features some of my favorite Doors songs (“The Soft Parade” and “Touch Me”), but the album overall doesn’t fit the normal Doors sonic aesthetic — the bright brassy sounds, dynamic string movements and densely packed arrangements just doesn’t really work. It fell flat with critics and fans, and they spent a lot of cash on it, which after being blacklisted from radio and concerts, isn’t a great position to be in.
So, enter “Morrison Hotel.” Shaking off bad PR, the band embraces the fundamental of rock: the blues.
Immediately, you’re introduced to this by the album’s opener “Roadhouse Blues,” with an angry blues guitar riff, jangly piano, blues harp, and barroom vocals. The song wasn’t even a single, but it’s one of the few remaining Doors songs on classic rock radio, and you’ve heard some bar band play it some time in your life, I guarantee it.
The album meanders a bit in terms of quality, and two of my favorite songs weren’t even recorded in the same year as the others (“Waiting for the Sun” in 1968 and “Indian Summer” in 1966), but the album is still fun and lively.
“Peace Frog” is a standout track. Evocative lyrics that straddle real world references (“Blood in the streets in the town of Chicago” as a reference to the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention) and autobiographical moments of Morrison’s life, like his 1967 arrest in New Haven, Connecticut and seeing a fatal car accident involving Native Americans when he was a child (“Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding / Ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind”). Robby Krieger’s wah wah guitar and groove keeps the song moving. I also love how it bleeds seamlessly into “Blue Sunday.”
I find joy in the small moments of albums. On “Morrison Hotel,” the small moment for me is in the song “Land Ho!” I love Morrison’s whimsy when he shouts “Laaaaand Ho!” It’s the little things, you know?
Check out Lester Bangs’ original write-up of the album in Rolling Stone. It’s not exactly a glowing review.
“The world is just a little town”
As I said before, 1970 was packed full of great music and great music moments, but it was also filled with heartbreak. 1970 saw the death of Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, and it was also the year The Beatles officially split up. The silver lining was the world was given at least one solo album from John, Paul, George and Ringo in 1970. That includes John Lennon’s debut solo album “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.”
In the age of social distancing, “Isolation” seemed like a fitting track to highlight off the album.
It’s a great show of what “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” offered: sparse arrangements centered around piano, simple drum rhythms and introspective lyrics. My favorite part of the song is around the 1’10” mark, when Lennon’s vocals double in the middle of a long, drawn out “isolation” and create that weird warbly vibrato effect.
It’s a great song for weird times. Check it out, then listen to the entire album and tell me what you thought about it.
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.
Published: April 2, 2020.
Zach Evans, the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana’s Director of Marketing and Community Projects, suggested that each staff member write a weekly blog post during this time of virtual programming and virtual connection. Great idea, and easy enough: This is a chance to share with Arts Council friends who we are, the art that excites us, or why we’re so committed to this organization.
My posts will be published on Tuesday mornings. At 10:30 p.m. on Monday night, and after several rewrites, here’s what I have so far:
As it turns out, writing blogs doesn’t come easily to me. (This is not good. No one wants to disappoint Zach.)
It’s been a long time — a very long time — since I last wrote for pleasure, which is, really, part of this project. Zach, Andrea Adams (our Gallery Director) and I aren’t just sharing our thoughts through these posts, we’re intentionally encouraging each other to flex our own dormant creative muscles — the muscles that we spend our professional (and often personal) time, energy, and resources celebrating in others. And, as I type it, that is why I love the Arts Council.
It’s incredibly hard to create, to communicate, to make something from nothing. It’s incredibly humbling to be as vulnerable as one is when sending a message out to the world. Every single day, the Arts Council displays work or provides a venue for performances by the people doing just that, Every. Single. Day.
So, in honor of all of the vulnerable and persistent and audacious artists that we work with, I’m doing something that I’ve never done before: sharing a piece of writing that I put myself into, that I care about. *takes deep breath* Here it goes:
My boy does not want your ladder.
No hard feelings- He doesn’t want mine.
Belayer in place,
My son freezes, hangs limp against the rock.
A wall, though, or a tree.
The garden shed.
Counter tops and bed frames and roofs of cars,
Vines and stop signs.
Perhaps a ladder – but only one left unattended.
This child manipulates gravity
to control bedtime and pizza toppings
and every moment
of standing and falling
Sinewy-young-boy-muscles propel him upward, ever upward,
We’re left to follow him
with eyes from below.
And now I’m off to begin the first of 12 to 15 rewrites of next week’s blog post. Fortunately I have plenty of time on my hands these days… 🙂
Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2020.