Thursday, December 30, 2010

The London Eye

The Ferris Wheel made its debut at The Chicago World's Fair (or World's Columbian Exposition) in 1893. Since then it has been a mainstay of amusement parks and county fairs all over the world. One would think that the Ferris Wheel, named after its inventor, George Ferris, would be passe- certainly not an earth- shattering attraction or an economical revitalizer. I mean, hey- it just goes round and round, right? Like a vertical Merry- Go- Round, right?

George Ferris's Original Wheel, Chicago, 1893.

Well, yeah, but....

Let's not forget the power of the wheel. The original Ferris Wheel saved the Chicago Fair from bankruptcy, despite the fact that there were hundreds of incredible exhibits there, as well as an advanced architectural concept that still fascinates today.

Which brings us to 2010, on the eve of 2011, and the London Eye. The Eye is a modern- day Ferris Wheel, the creation of husband/ wife architectural team David Marks and Julia Barfield. Begun in 1999, it opened in 2000 as the Millennium Wheel, under the primary aegis of British Airways. Soon after it became known as the London Eye.

Situated on the Thames, the Eye has become the United Kingdom's biggest tourist attraction. It has changed the landscape of London, and is a major focal point for movies and TV shows. Thirty two air-conditioned (and presumably heated) capsules hold twenty- five people each. The Eye revolves slowly and apparently, doesn't stop as people get on on and off.

The capsule, which comfortably holds twenty-five
I don't know about you, but I find this amazing. In 2011, the number one attraction in Great Britain is a Ferris Wheel. Never mind the Tower of London or the changing of the guard or the Queen's Dollhouse or Abbey Road or whatever- let's go to the Ferris Wheel, which uses no new technology (unless you think air conditioning is new) and has been around since 1893.

So- how come there aren't more? One reason is that the Eye has not yet turned (get it?) a profit. Patience, Eye- watchers- it will!

Here in Washington, DC, we have a beautiful river, the Potomac. Some of the most famous sites of the city are on or near the river: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Smithsonian, not to mention Arlington Cemetary and the Pentagon.

There's a great park, Haines Point, right there, on the river! Perfect location for the DC Eye. The city is always whining about revenue- let's build an Eye! A sultry summer's evening, a stroll to the park and a ride on the DC Eye.

I can't wait.

Okay- I know it's DC, the home of nothing (except the government- so, close to nothing), the city well- known as the enemy of creativity, graciousness, beauty, etc. but this seems like a no- brainer, even for the morons who run this town. As long as we can keep the Dan Snyders and their ilk out, we could probably get it right within, oh- a good ten or so tries, including bankrupt construction companies, graft, greedy lawyers, corporate indifference, unpaid bills and shoddy construction.

Seriously- the Eye has it!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Xmas and Happy Holidays, Everyone

This drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci is in the National Portrait Gallery in London, England. Viewing it is always the highlight of my visits to Great Britain.

Monday, December 20, 2010

10,000 Page Views!

I guess that counts for something. Either one person has visited here 10,000 times (me probably), or some bunch of people have visited here over 10,000 times. Or some combination of the two.

Whatever the reason, there have been over 10,000 views of this blog, so... many, many thanks!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Pretty Good Norman

From 1940, courtesy of Golden Age Comic Book Stories:

O Captain, My Captain: Don Van Vliet, January 15th, 1941- December 17th, 2010

Is this the greatest cover of all time?

As far as being wholly original and completely unique, well, let's face it, it doesn't really happen all that often. Even the work of an artist as great as Robert Johnson exists as an amalgam of music that went before, and Picasso and George Bracque were neck and neck at one point.

As I've said many times in this very blog, I grew up in a turbulent era. The late 1960's were a time of destructive but sometimes awesome creativity. However, once researched, it becomes clear that one thing led to another. Muddy Waters led to Jimi Hendrix. Buddy Holly, et alia led to the Beatles. Woody Guthrie led to Bob Dylan. They're all clearly products in some way of their influences. Yes, I know it's a bit simplistic, but I think you get my point. Captain Beefheart listened to Robert Johnson and Charley Patton, Ornette Coleman, etc. Who didn't?

The question is, how the fuck did it take him there?

By the time I met him, during a tour to promote his signing to the Reprise label, he was pretty much fully formed. Gone was the natty blues dandy of Safe as Milk, his debut album on Buddah, that hinted at the future of the Captain with songs like Abba Zabba and Zig Zag Wanderer, as well as the wonderful cover of Robert Pete Williams' Grown So Ugly, with young Ry Cooder's very cool guitar. In that persona's place was the Trout Mask Man, complete with those clothes: the hat, the scarves.

I hate to use the phrase larger than life, but it's not inappropriate here.

Beefheart and Cooder were touring together (but not playing together- Cooder played solo) as part of their Reprise contracts, and my Ithaca band, Egret Brand, had been asked to open for them. In my recollection, it was a snowy, icy night, but my recollections of Ithaca in the early '70's are full of snowy, icy nights. We played our set and then hung out in the dressing room with the Magic Band. I remember Ry as being very aloof, but he may have been just shy, or consciously trying to distance himself from the travelling circus that was the Captain Beefheart entourage. At any rate, he was extremely self- protective, and separated himself completely from us and Beefheart.

The Captain was surrounded by literally all the freaks in the central New York area. Half of them looked like college students and the other half looked like members of the band, or would have if the actual Magic Band hadn't looked at least three times freakier. Mark Boston, who played bass under the name Rockette Morton, actually had a waxed mustache with Dali- like pointed tips. Drumbo (John French) wore an oversize trenchcoat and played a drum set made up of different sized conga drums, including the bass. There might have been a tropical motif on the bass drum head.

The Magic Band, during the Trout Mask sessions
Ed Marimba, fresh from the Mothers of Invention where he was Artie Tripp III with the green mustache, still had a green mustache. Beefheart renamed all his musicians, so in addition to the above, guitarists Jeff Cotton and Bill Harkleroad had become Zoot Horn Rollow and Antennae Jimmy Semens respectively.

As the band took the stage, the PA played a Rolling Stones song that the Captain immediately began to mock in his deep cement- truck voice.

Then they played. I remember they began with Abba Zabba (or did they?) What is indisputable is that it remains one of the musical highlights of my life. I was amazed that they could perform these ridiculously intricate songs with their seemingly random stops and starts and microscopic changes. I really had never heard anything like it.

And never would again.

Afterward I asked him if I could join his band, like a kid prepared to run away with the circus. He actually said, "What do you do?" I replied that I was the harmonica player/ singer in the opening band. He was pretty nice. "Oh yeah. You guys were good, but I already play harmonica and sing," he said. "So we can't use you."

The Captain and I parted ways that night. I became a musician and an artist, then a photographer and a husband and a dad and a musician again and a granddad. Captain Beefheart stopped playing music in the early 1980's and, as Don Van Vliet, devoted himself full- time to painting his incredible abstracts.

His work as a musician was done. Others, like John French, re-united the Magic Band, and still others, like Tom Waits, grew under his incredible influence.

There is no dearth of biographical information about Captain Beefheart on the interweb, so I don't feel compelled to go into, say,  the Frank Zappa relationship, or review the albums. But you should- it's a very cool story.

Let's just leave our protagonists in an underheated music venue called the North 40 on a snowy night in Ithaca, NY, circa 1970.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

At Last...

... A new addition to my long neglected photography blog, which can be found here.

My best intentions are to post pictures more regularly in 2011.

There I Go, There I Go

Goodbye, James Moody.

And thank you , King Pleasure.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jim Linderman Will Sell You This Print!

I wasn't going to do another blog today, but then I found this picture. Referred to as I'm With Dummy,  it's available here.

They're Dreaming of a White Xmas (in Indiana)

From the Shorpy site:

Kresge's Department Store, Lafayette, Indiana, 1947. In some ways, most notably Santa's uniform, wig and beard, this picture doesn't even look as if it were shot in America. Latvia, maybe.

I don't know much about Indiana, but they sure knew how to stuff a reindeer back in 1947.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ab-Norman Rockwell

Thanks to the wonderful If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats Blog for unearthing this photograph.
Al Kooper, Norman Rockwell and Mike Bloomfield
Here's the result of that meeting:

Too bad Norman didn't get to paint Al's pants.

Frank's Place: Dining at the Chez

It was no accident that actor/ producer Tim Reid showed up on last season's Treme. Portraying a sympathetic judge in two episodes, Reid brought back the humanity, however briefly, that he displayed in his short- lived sitcom (for lack of a better term) Frank's Place. The series, which ran from September of 1987 to March of 1988, depicted life in New Orleans, centered around a restaurant, the Chez,  and its staff and regulars.

I have several episodes on video that I taped much later when the series was re- run on BET, sandwiched between late- night party- line commercials. Last night I brought out a couple to see if the series was as good as I remembered. It wasn't. It was much better than I remembered.

Nowadays a series as intelligent, sensitive, evocative and well- written as Frank's Place would be on HBO or some other premium cable outlet. No laugh track, no studio audience, and each episode looks like a half- hour movie, with multiple camera set- ups and lingering close-ups, all shot in the single- camera method.

Instead of wondering why was this show cancelled (it was on CBS), I wonder how did this show ever get on the network to begin with.

From the evocative opening credit sequence of sepia- toned photos taken in New Orleans, with Louis Armstrong singing, "Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans)?" in the background, to the outstanding cast of regulars, particularly Francis E. Williams as the veteran waitress Miss Marie, and Robert Harper as the genial alcoholic attorney Bubba Weisberger, to the authenticity of every song that comes off that great jukebox, Frank's Place takes us to New Orleans as effectively as Treme does, but Tim Reid does it without leaving a Hollywood soundstage.

A canny mixture of out and out comedy and intense drama, it is unique in television history, which is why the producers of Treme honored the show with a Frank's Place night in New Orleans.  Two episodes were screened recently at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, with show creators Hugh Wilson and Tim Reid in attendance. Most of the audience had not seen it since 1988.

Everyone who was a fan has their favorite episodes, and I've had more than one barroom conversation in New Orleans recounting my favorites and re-living someone else's, much like the character Soapy who comes into the Chez and recounts the week's soap opera plots in exchange for free drinks.

They're all good, but some are really, really good. The two- parter that revolves around Cool Charles' slide into the drug trade is amazing with its ethereal ending, both episodes involving the Drivers are wonderful and a personal favorite is the one where the aging business tycoon thwarts the takeover of his company in New York without leaving the Chez.

There are no DVD sets forthcoming, because the music rights (including Armstrong's opening song) are too expensive. As far as I know, nothing has come of Reid's plan to replace the theme or the jukebox songs (how can you replace Guitar Slim singing "The Things I Used to Do"?) So I'm lucky I have my small collection of videos, and whenever I want, I can go to New Orleans, order a bowl of gumbo from Miss Marie and see my pals at the Chez.

David Garrett's Blog (I know who he really is!)

Let's welcome old friend David Garrett to the list of favorites. David is a wonderful writer, a sage and a visionary. I love what he has to say.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Birthday (Maybe) Sonny Boy Williamson II: 5 December 1912

Toward the end, in his custom- tailored suit
Amazingly, we blues fans probably have more information on the elusive and quasi- supernatural Robert Johnson than we do on his one- time running partner, Sonny Boy Williamson II. Not the fine Tennessee- born harmonica player/ singer John Lee Williamson, but the many- named harmonica player/ singer Rice Miller. Known in didactic circles as Sonny Boy Williamson II, he was probably named Alec Ford at birth, which, in typical blues fashion, may have taken place in 1899, 1908, or, according to scholar Dr. David Evans, 1912. Most sources agree on December 5th, but his gravesite has a date of March 11th.

Apparently, the least accurate source was Sonny Boy himself, who loved to play fast and loose with the facts.

He claimed to have made a recording with Robert Johnson playing electric guitar that never ever surfaced.

He claimed to have tried to warn Robert not to drink the poison liquor that fateful night on the Money Road outside of Greenwood. Johnson died weeks afterward of pneumonia as he tried to recover from the poisoning.

He claimed to have been the artist who recorded under the name Sonny Boy Williamson for RCA Bluebird. When that didn't work, he claimed that he had the name first and that the other Sonny Boy copied him.

While these last claims are definitely not correct, who is to say the others aren't? What connoisseur would not give anything for an acetate of Rice Miller and Robert Johnson?

His sly, sparse style of playing enabled him to record with artists as diverse as B. B. King, Eric Clapton, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, British jazzman Chris Barber (on a Duke Ellington song, no less) and the Animals. And on all these, he is the leader!

Not to say he wasn't a gifted accompanist. His playing on Elmore James' original of Dust My Broom is, well, perfect. His playing with Muddy Waters on the American Folk Blues recording is, well... interesting. Recordings behind Baby Boy Warren in Detroit, Tampa Red in Chicago and Memphis Slim in Paris are wonderful.

He was also one of the truly great blues songwriters. His lyrics reflect his "trickster monkey" sensibilities- his baby needs a hundred dollars but he only has ninety- nine, or if you cross your heart, you're not supposed to tell a lie, and if you say wrong or do wrong, then it's so long and even... goodbye. His woman can bring eyesight to the blind (and cure the dying. What a woman!) The car radio in his Pontiac picks up that great music from the north. All this punctuated by that remarkably distinctive harmonica and mellow singing.

With Robert Lockwood, Jr. at the KFFA Studios
Miller's story is the history of modern blues- from the plantations of the south in the early part of the century, to the Chess studios in Chicago in the 1960's, from KFFA in Arkansas to a Swedish radio station, from juke joints and street corners in Mississippi to private parties in Germany, he took it all in stride. He once claimed that he could be broke in a strange town at dawn and full of liquor and money by nightfall, as long as he had his harmonica.

Archival footage shows him leaving an airplane in Europe, loping (there's no other word for it) into the airport. Unlike Little Walter, he loved Europe and especially Great Britain, where he made several recordings that introduced him to white audiences around the world, most notably his live session with the Yardbirds, a young Eric Clapton holding down the guitar chores. While in London he had an incredible suit made by bespoke tailors on Saville Row: of his own design, it was made from two different colors of material. He wore it back to West Helena, where his old friends refused to believe he'd been anywhere like Europe.

That's when he came back, after the final European tour. He said, "We're like elephants, we have to come home to die." Levon Helm remembers him spitting blood into a coffee can during a jam session.

He died of a heart attack on May 25th, 1965. Fortunately, he was able to feast on his success prior to his death, unlike Robert Nighthawk, or Elmore James.

There's a story from his time in London: coming back from a gig with Paul Oliver at dawn, Sonny Boy asked to be let out at Picadilly Circus. Oliver's last glimpse of him that day was harlequin- suited Sonny Boy loping down Broad Street, blowing his harmonica, coattails flapping in the dawn breeze. The trickster god at leisure.

Glory Days, as Little Boy Blue

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Hard Life

Cathy Ponton King, a great local singer/ guitarist, sent me this link to an outstanding set of color photographs taken by the Farm Security project at the same time the famous black and white shots were made.

This photograph, in particular, seemed apropos of the blog lately. The caption is from the story found in the Denver Post.

Backstage at the "girlie" show at the state fair. Rutland, Vermont, September 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Prowling Nighthawk: Robert Nighthawk, 30 November 1906- 5 November 1967

"Nighthawk" is one of the great names: Washington, DC DJ Bob Terry used it in the '60's when he had the best radio show in the city. John Hammond used it for his band the Screaming Nighthawks, a fixture in NY's Greenwich Village in 1965 or so, and a band that briefly boasted young Jimi Hendrix, fresh from the 101st Airborne, on lead guitar prior to his journeying to Great Britain.

My friend Mark Wenner has called his fine band the Nighthawks for over forty years now, and they're still going strong, I'm pleased to report.

But really, when the rubber hits the road, when push comes to shove, when it's time to fish or cut bait, there is only one original Nighthawk. Robert Nighthawk (or Night Hawk), the prowling Nighthawk, the legendary blues guitarist from Louisiana, one of the greats of Chicago blues and also an amazingly inventive slide guitar player with a beautiful touch.

Tomorrow, November 30th would have been Nighthawk's hundred- and- first birthday. Born in 1909, he died of heart failure (don't we all?) on November 5th, 1967, too early for the inevitable fame that accompanied white crossover adulation.
Robert McCullum with his brother on harmonica

His real name was Robert Lee McCullum and although he began as a harmonica player, he was a "go-to" guitarist as early as 1937, playing under the name Robert Lee McCoy, and recording for RCA with the first Sonny Boy, John Lee Williamson. By 1950 he was calling himself Robert Nighthawk, named after a popular recording of his.

Nighthawk in the '40's
Thankfully he left behind a good amount of recordings, all of them excellent. A protogee of veteran guitarist Houston Stackhouse, Nighthawk took Stack's style a little further and honed some of the rougher edges. He also had his disciples, Earl Hooker in particular, who played slide in the Nighthawk manner, that is, standard tuning, and mostly in the key of E.

While slide players like Elmore James re-tuned the guitar to an open tuning, like D, for instance, or, as in Muddy's case, open G, Nighthawk tended to play in the regular EADGBE tuning, dampening strings as  needed and fretting chords with his free fingers, alternating with his elegant single note runs.

Robert with Houston Stackhouse and Peck Curtis behind his classic "King Biscuit Enterainers" bass drum
Combined with his rich singing and perfect time, Nighthawk's performances stand out from many of his contemporaries and some rank right up there with Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf.

Nighthawk's standard, Anna Lee, got recorded over and over and each version is a gem. His Maggie Campbell and Kansas City are must- haves for any aspiring blues musician. The recordings that he made with Big Walter Horton in 1964 for the Swedish aficionados, released under the name An Offer You Can't Refuse, are a virtual Chicago blues guitar textbook: clean, simple, unassuming and perfect.

You may want to check his recordings out here, but if I may, let me recommend a few for you.

1. Bricks in My Pillow (Delmark)- Nighthawk's singles on United and States- definitive!
2. Masters of Modern Blues (Testament) - Half Nighthawk, the other Houston Stackhouse. Not only do you get to compare both men, but Peck Curtis' drumming alone is worth the price of the recordings.
3. Live on Maxwell Street, 1964 (Bullseye)- amazing recordings done as part of a film documentery.
4. Bluebird Recordings 1937- 1938 (RCA) - the great early stuff with John Lee Williamson on harmonica and Big Joe Williams on guitar, not to mention virtuosic mandolin from Yank Rachell. Excellent sound.
5. The Original Sonny Boy Williamson, volume 1 (JSP?- not sure)- a very inexpensive 4- disc set of the Bluebird recordings that include a lot of great back- up from Nighthawk (as Robert Lee McCoy). Must have anyway because of Sonny Boy.
6. I Blueskvarter• Chicago, 1964, volume 1 (Jefferson, import) - this complilation has the speed- corrected, beautifully mastered Big Walter/ Nighthawk recordings. From the same session released earlier as An Offer You Can't Refuse.

All of the above are available on Amazon as well as Frank Scott's Roots and Rhythm site,  a wonderful resource for blues and roots music based in the San Francisco Bay area.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Congress of Freaks, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1924

Once a year, from approximately 1924 through 1935, photographer Edward J. Kelty took a kind of yearbook photograph of the Congress of Freaks associated with the combined Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

This was taken for the 1924 season.

It's from a book called Step Right Up, Barnes and Noble, publishers, available on the interweb here, at

The book is a collection of Kelty's circus photographs, a genuine labor of love that, while not quite possessing the genius of Bellocq's Storyville Portraits, comes pretty close.

One thing the Kelty book doesn't do is properly identify the cast of the pictures. There is a list, published in 1927 of the stars of the Freak show, so perhaps I can shed some light on a varied cast of wonderful- looking people. These id's are not based on visual recognition,  just from written lists.

Front row, from left to right:
Ajax, the sword- swallower; unk, unk, seated: Schlitze, the pinhead (and star of Tod Browning's Freaks); unk; one of the Carlson Sisters; Major Mite, the smallest man on earth; Tom Ton; Slats, skeleton sheik; the other Carlson Sister; Jeannie Tomaini; Mlle. Cleo, snake charmer; Twisto, the human knot; and an unidentified trio of sax playing sisters.

Back row, from left to right:unk; Cliko, the African bushman; either Eko or Iko, one of the ambassadors from Mars; Koo Koo, the bird girl (also featured in the movie, Freaks); Baron Paucci, midget; unk; Jim Tarver,  giant; the Dancing Doll family of midgets (Freaks); again, either Eko or Iko; unk; and Ho Jo, the bear boy.

I remember going to a circus back in 1954 or so with Peter D'Albert and Robyn Ferrien, and there was still a Freak tent, probably one of the last. Of course we weren't allowed inside. My main memory though is of the Shriners and their little motorcycles. Back then I really wanted one of those bikes.

Now I just want a fez.

Times change.

(New information! Thanks to Rebecca Stith, we now know that the woman next to the Carlson sister is Violetta, the living shop window bust; and that the man next to Mlle. Cleo is Martin Emmerling, known as Laurello. Also, according to this website, that is not Ho Jo, but Lionel the lion-faced boy. The giant might actually be Jack Earle. He is definitely not Jim Tarver. - Bret)

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Dream About My Youth

R. Crumb, from the Head Comix poster that hung in Eric Hall's dorm room, St. Albans School, Washington, DC, 1967 (until someone made him take it down.) The beginning of the '60's for me.

Sometimes you'll see something that just resonates inside your skull, something you feel like you've been seeing on the edge of your life forever, something that speaks to your strangest dreams and those childhood memories you can't make sense of, like the cartoon with the angels' pillowfight that ends with Tom and Jerry (not the cat and mouse, but the older ones, from the Van Beuren Company) crawling under the train track  in the snowstorm, or the "Wanna Be A Member?" sequence from a Betty Boop cartoon.

That's what these two panels mean to me. A dream about my youth! (How prophetic!) What be this? A strange inscription on my hand!

These two panels pretty much sum up my own strange trip through the 'sixties, and several subsequent years, I'd say until maybe 1974 or thereabouts. By the time I left Ithaca, NY, for the Rhode Island School of Design in 1973, the '60's were definitely winding down for all of us.

The casualties, the deaths of dear friends like Guy Dorsey, Ben Clopton, Wells Kelly and Steve Hubert were still in the future, but not by much. All four deaths were related to the times in which they lived and, of course, they died much too soon.

Wells Kelly
Way too easy to experience the bittersweet emotion of  nostalgic longing when a song like "Dancing in the Moonlight", the unofficial theme song of Ithaca hippiedom circa 1969- 1973 comes on the radio, and while it's not the original by Sherman Kelly, Wells' brother, recorded by Boffalongo, but the pleasant- enough King Harvest version, I can still think back about a time so far away that sometimes I'm not so sure I didn't dream the whole thing.

Is this what the strange inscription means? Is this the content of my youthful dreams? I don't know. I can never quite remember. I think I know, but then again....

This one's for all my pals, and you know who and where you are. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Different War, Different Uniform, Otherwise...

From the Shorpy Site: Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, DC, 1918:

Aside from a smoking ban, little else has changed.

A couple of years ago, one of the physicians at Walter Reed started bringing some of his recovering patients down to the Blues Jam I run at the Zoo Bar here in Washington, DC. Some of the men (they were all men) were missing an arm, some a leg, and some were missing one of each.

They were a very cool bunch, genuinely happy to still be alive, and they all enjoyed the music, especially when their doctor sat in.

The surgeon was transferred and hopefully those men all went home, back to their loved ones, and began dealing with the profound changes in their lives as a result of their injuries in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

I miss them.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Stuff of Dreams

From the film Hellzapoppin'.

That's Slim Gaillard on piano and guitar, Slam Stewart on bass, Rex Stewart on trumpet, Elmer Fane, clarinet, Jap Jones on trombone and C. C. Jonstone on those crazy drums.

Frankie Manning's great choreography features Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, with William Downes (uniform),  Frances "Mickey" Jones (maid), Norma Miller, Billy Ricker (chef's hat), Al Minns (white coat, black pants) and Willa Mae Ricker,  Ann Johnson (maid) and Frankie Mannin (overalls).

A dream-like moment from an otherwise undistinguished film.

A Video From My Hometown

Even though this may conform to numerous descriptions of the journey of the soul after death, it is actually a video I shot of the ride up 188 feet of pure escalator at the Dupont Circle North Metro stop.

This stop opened in January of 1977, but somehow the DC Metro still seems new and fascinating. Longtime L by L readers know I'm always on the lookout for signs of the future, and the DC Metro remains a constant reminder that the future can be realized.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Redskins

The other day I heard the Washington, DC, NFL Football franchise referred to as Dan Snyder's Redskins.

Not the Washington Redskins or the 'Skins, or any of the homegrown names the fans would bestow upon the team when Jack Kent Cooke owned it.

Dan Snyder's Redskins.

Okay, I realize that every sports franchise is owned by some billionaire or billionaires and that they are expected to earn a profit one way or another. And I also know that the players are paid ridiculous amounts of money to play, whether they have a "fighting dogs" mentality or enjoy molesting people like the guy who was married to Joey Heatherton. (Joey Heatherton is a woman's name, by the way.)

But it seems to me that the big magic trick here is to make the citizens of whatever town the team is from think that it's their team. Or, as in the case of the Cowboys, America's team. What a detestable appellation that is.

Here's the trick: a city, like Washington, DC, has a team it calls its own. It roots for that team through thick and thin. The city pulls together, rising and falling as one with each game, depending on victory or defeat. Doesn't matter though- the team unites the city demographics as nothing else can. Black and white have something to talk about. Rich and poor, male and female, Muslim and Jew- if they belong to the city, they are united in their love of their team.

When it is done masterfully, like the Saints in New Orleans, it can literally bring a city back from the very brink of disaster. It can revitalise a city or a whole state. It is, simply, one of the greatest magic tricks ever performed.

And it's performed every Sunday in the autumn and winter more or less flawlessly.

Except here in my hometown of Washington DC where it is performed so ineptly that the city can barely lay claim to its stupidly named football team, Dan Snyder's Redskins.

Here in Washington, the owner of the team sees fit to not even bother to perform the trick. He makes it as difficult as possible to attend home games if one's income falls below the million dollar mark. Tickets are in the hundreds- of- thousands- of- dollars range (well... close, I think) thereby preventing any riff- raff from witnessing his highly- paid players lose week after week.

How does he do it? That's easy- aside from an ability to make gobs of money in really unpleasant ways (he used to run a telemarketing company), he's a pathetic loser. He has no idea what he's doing or how to do it. He doesn't even know why he should do it. He is the Sammy Glick of football.

Thanks to Dan Snyder and his Redskins, my city has damn little to be proud of. We play host to a bunch a moronic politicians who are letting the country go to the dogs (and I know that's not fair to dogs), we have no representation in the federal government and little tax base here in the city. Institutions are drying up right and left.

Thank god for Ben's Chili Bowl. And Chuck Brown's Soul Searchers.

Culturally, we are a total washout, since there's virtually nowhere left in the city for artists to live and create, let alone show their art. We're overdeveloped, undermaintained, and  infra-structure starved.

Forget the Redskins, citizens of Washington! They don't belong to you- they're a billionaire's toy, played with human beings and named after one of the worst things you can call a Native American.

If you want to do something really wonderful that you can't do anywhere else, go to the National Gallery. It's free and you can see some of the greatest works of art in the history of humankind.

It's much better than paying $50,000 for a hot dog and watch some losers lose.

Remember this? Remember how great you felt? 
John Riggins of the Washington Redskins. What happened to that team?

Rick Griffin

 Rick Griffin died in a motorcycle accident in 1991. He was 47 years old. His work as a graphic artist, especially his San Francisco- based poster work for the Family Dog, the Avalon and the Fillmore concert venues, had set a standard in the music industry. He designed both Rolling Stone Magazine logos, and, along with Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelly and Victor Moscoso created the look of the psychedelia through his posters, comix and magazine work.

Unusual for the times, Rick was a born- again Christian who had lost an eye in a car accident in 1970, and credited God with his survival. He surfed, rode a Harley, and raised a family, all the while working on his visionary designs.

His early work was published in Surf Magazine, and his first major band poster was done for the Family Dog and featured the Charlatans, one of the earliest acts to emerge from the burgeoning San Francisco scene.

Possibly his most visible work was done for the Grateful Dead, a group that never sounded nearly as good as Rick's vision of them. In fact, few of the groups that Rick advertised have survived their posters. It doesn't really matter though- the art wasn't really about the groups: it was about the era.

The Charlatans' poster. Dan Hicks (second from left) was the group's drummer.

Mickey, Donald, and the eyeball cavort in a George Herriman- inspired landscape.

Check out "Johnny Hammond and his Screaming Nighthawks", with personnel that later became The Band.

A little tribute to Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood and Will Elder featuring Wood's Little Orphan Annie parody along side Elder's send- up of "Gasoline Alley". Rounding out the cast of cultural icons is the Quaker Oats Man transplanted like Ray Milland and Rosey Grier onto Popeye's body and Mr. Kool-Aid. Plus some of Griffin's fruit- label- influenced graphics.

Fearless Fosdick, Al Capp's "Dick Tracy" parody, and the Quaker Oats Man again.

What a show, except, of course, for pretentious- would- be- British- bluesman John Mayall.

A beautiful example of Rick's religious work, featuring his flawless painting technique.
Featuring Ben Gay trademark Peter Pain. Griffin must have been familiar with the Moody Blues' music.
A Griffin cover featuring the first Rolling Stone logo, designed by Rick