30 May 2012

Exit, Phase Two: Refocus

RIP Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson
(3 March 1923 – 29 My 2012)


Doc Watson was a tradition bearer and a national treasure. Within his sightless body was stored the histories, stories, cultural values, attitudes, and belief systems of numerous generations of Americans who made their way in and out of the area around Deep Gap, North Carolina. He was the seed tree in a productive orchard whose roots grew the deepest and whose branches bore the sweetest fruit. He learned from the best (Clarence Ashley, Gaither Carlton, Uncle Dave Macon, Mississippi John Hurt) and transferred his knowledge to teach some of the best (Clarence White, Ricky Skaggs).

In 1997 Doc Watson won the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States Government, and was presented to him by President Bill Clinton. Other recipients of this lofty award have included Al Pacino, Andrew Wyeth, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aaron Copland. In 1988 Doc Watson received a more humble but no less important National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Alongside Doc Watson were other not so well-known tradition bearers as Kepka Belton, a Czech-American egg painter; Amber Densmore, a New England quilter/needleworker; Willa Mae Ford Smith, a gospel singer from St. Louis; and Michael Flatley an Irish-American stepdancer.

Like Doc Watson these people represent masters of their craft, interpreters and innovators of their chosen art form. Equally, the tradition bearer serves to connect links between the craft and the communities from which they emerge. These masters act to preserve certain traditions as custodians but through performance they also transmit and solidify the life of the expressive craft. They are key participants in the complex web of any culture's past, present, and history and with the passing of Doc Watson our country just lost something essential.


22 May 2012

Exit, Phase Two: Stop and Hear the Roses

Lately the routine runs something like this: Collapse in bed as early as possible. Read Elmer Kelton's not fantastic but enjoyable The Time it Never Rained for as long as I can keep my eyes open. Pass out. Wake up a few hours later with thoughts racing through my head like, I need to take the car in for an oil change; I need to change our address at the post office but, wait, I don't have a forwarding address yet; the lawnmower will have to be cleaned before anyone buys it; there is a lot of stuff in the pool house to throw away. Eventually my mind settles again and I fall asleep only to wake up an hour before the alarm with similar thoughts.

This phase is decidedly unfun. Life is consumed by often mundane, tedious, and tiresome chores. Possessions become burdens, dead weight that no longer can be ignored or stored in a closet for some future purpose. All those things you thought to save because they held some sort of meaning now seem like junk. Nothing is sacred, nothing feels meaningful. Time to cut those young roots off at the source. Maybe they will take hold somewhere else, maybe not.

There is no way around it, Phase Two sucks. Plus, this phase holds the potential to be the most destructive and detrimental to the human spirit and all the relationships that surround the self. In the middle of this it's important to break from the routine. It's not easy but unless you do you will go insane with anger, confusion, frustration, and exhaustion.

Force yourself to use your senses. The ability to hear is an excellent first step toward reminding the self that there is still a self to pay attention to. Three songs have recently made their way into my life and though it's only May they are all three early contenders for the prestigious Summer Song of the Year award.

Funky, big beat jazz from 1972. The bass riff will stay with you long after the drums have stopped.

More funky, big beat jazz. This time from 1973 Senegal. This amazing song was also recently re-released on the compilation Spiritual Jazz: Esoteric, Modal + Deep Jazz from the Underground 1968-77, where I first heard it.

Not often is Gil Scott-Heron's music labeled "beautiful" so I'll go ahead and do it here: this song is beautiful. It doesn't have the summer evening kind of beats as the first two tracks; this is more an early Saturday morning tune when the air is still cool. From Gil Scott-Heron's 1971 album, Pieces of a Man.

All of these have been on heavy rotation through cars, headphones, computers, and kick-ass vintage tube amps. They’ve helped. It's the little things that make life big.


03 May 2012

The Good Life, Or: What I Will Miss Least About Switzerland

And here is a summary of today's European headlines for Thursday, 03 May 2012:

On a nationally televised debate, France's top playboy and part-time president Nicolas Sarkozy exchanged insults and accusations with Socialist opponent Fran├žois Hollande. Monsieur Hollande accused Sarkozy of "ruining the French economy." "Whatever happens, whatever happens, you are pleased with yourself. The French are less happy but you are (pleased)," Hollande said. To that Sarkozy responded, "It's a lie! It's a lie!"(Source)

The German airline Lufthansa is set to cut 3,500 jobs worldwide as it posted a loss of 379 million euros for the last year.(Source) This news follows in the wake of reporting that Germany's unemployment rate rose to a level of 6.8% after months of steady decline.(Source)

In Spain the country fell into a second recession as its unemployment rate continues to hover at an astounding 24.4%. Protesters have gathered on the streets in an attempt to take back some 500,000 homes lost from repossessions and evictions.(Source)

We'll be back after the commercial break.

Italians prepare for their first protest vote since Prime Minister Mario Monti replaced playboy and part-time president Silvio Berlusconi. It seems Italians are not only frustrated by the austerity measures placed on them by a leader they did not vote for but also by the corrupt nature of Italian politics in general.(Source)

Apparently Greece is still a country and they are set to have some of their own elections that will surely effect the state of affairs within the Eurozone. Most Greeks, however, are undecided about who they will vote for. Suspicion, mistrust, and anger rule the streets of Athens.(Source)

Finally, in Switzerland, parliamentarians are engaged in a heated debate over whether or not to allow 24-hour gas stations the ability to sell food between the hours of 1:00 and 4:00 in the morning.(Source) Nice work if you can get it.

Those are some of the top stories from Europe. Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow. Take it away, Billie...