Paul Kantner’s Brainchild: A Personal Appreciation of Jefferson Airplane

Life is change/How it differs from the rocks… – Paul Kantner, “Crown of Creation”

Paul Kantner, rock star (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The recent series of rock star deaths  in these first months of 2016 has had me, not unlike many Boomers, pondering how to feel about the passing of my era and its music. I took a stab at explaining how it felt after three major figures – David Bowie, Glen Frey, and Paul Kantner – passed away in quick succession and thought I’d reached a satisfactory, if not satisfying conclusion: rock and roll may not be here to stay.

Writing about those figures who played such an important role in my life was cathartic. Saying goodbye, however painful that process may be, is always a good way to achieve closure. It’s a mature, psychologically and emotionally, response to the sense of loss.

Which is psychobabble, of course. And to which Kantner might say, in his own inimitable fashion, that it “…doesn’t mean shit to a tree.”

We mostly connect to our famous heroes because we admire them, because we desire them, because we want to be them. But once in a while we connect to a writer, an artist, an actor, a musician, because we can sense we’re like them.

I’m a guy like Paul Kantner.  So sending some love to his brainchild Jefferson Airplane feels like a good way to say thanks to him for giving me so much. Continue reading

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Kristin Lavransdatter III: The Cross -To Strive, to Seek… not to Yield…

“So it’s futile to regret a good deed… for the good you have done cannot be taken back; even if all the mountains should fall, it would still stand.” – Sigrid Undset

Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross (image courtesy Goodreads)

The final volume of Sigrid Undset’s three part saga of medieval Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter, known by its individual title, The Cross, completes the story of its eponymous heroine and ends with her death during the bubonic plague pandemic of what Barbara Tuchman called “the calamitous 14th century.” Having lost her husband, Erland, her friend, brother-in-law, and secret admirer Simon Andresson, and four of her eight beloved sons already, one would expect that she is worn out by life’s heartbreak and suffering. But that is not the case. Kristin’s death comes as a result of her caring for the body of a plague victim after having saved the woman’s child from human sacrifice – an attempt by villagers near the convent where Kristin has become a nun to appease the evil spirit that they believe has brought the pestilence upon them.

Kristin remains to the end, then, Kristin: vibrant, tormented, beautiful, troubled, striving, frustrated.

But we’re ahead of ourselves. Continue reading

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Constance Fenimore Woolson: Miss Grief Misguided…

There’s no gentle way to put this: the best thing Constance Fenimore Woolson could have done for her writing career was keep the hell away from Henry James….

Women Artists, Women Exiles: Miss Grief and Other Stories by Constance Fenimore Woolson (image courtesy Barnes and Noble)

As I mentioned a few posts back in my essay on Constance Fenimore Woolson, I had ordered a copy of Miss Grief and Other Stories through a favorite used book vendor. The edition I bought is not the edition currently being widely reviewed and discussed. It is an equally reliable edition of Woolson’s stories published in the late 1980’s as part of a series called “Women Artists, Women Exiles” from Rutgers University Press.

Having now read Miss Woolson’s stories (though I read “Miss Grief” twice, having found a pdf – they have this thing called the Internet – of the story which I read for my earlier essay on her career and sad end), I can say with assurance that the current furor over her “rediscovery” is justified. She is a fine writer, and her work shows depth of understanding both of the characters and themes that she explores as well as of her personal literary heritage and of literary history.

Tradition and the individual talent I think some guy called it.

Continue reading

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Gibson Guitars – what are you thinking…?

What the hell, Gibson? Perhaps a short course in, oh, “How the Internet works” would not be a bad idea, perhaps…?

I have had a long love affair with Gibson guitars.

Gibson EB3 bass with slotted tuners (image courtesy Low End Bass Shop)

My first “good” guitar was a Gibson Melody Maker that I adored and sold, breaking my musician’s heart,  to a music store in Greensboro, NC. I needed the money for grad school. Real life sucks sometimes.

Years later I had to sell both my first “good” amp, a Gibson Lancer, and my best loved bass guitar, a Gibson EB3 with slot neck tuners (like the one pictured at right) to the musician and guitar dealer Sam Moss, in Winston-Salem, NC. Again, money woes forced my decision.

Sam (bless his heart and RIP) and I both cried.  Revisiting old woes is never a good idea, btw. To Sam’s credit, he later sold me a wonderful USA made Fender JP bass that I still own and a Fender bass amp (which I gave my son Josh) for much less than market value. Stars in his crown, if I get a vote. Support local music, ya’ll.

None of this is to the point, perhaps. I should get to the point, shouldn’t I? Ah, patience, children…. Continue reading

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H. E. Bates and the pleasures of fine writing…

H. E. Bates writes about war, romance and that delightful thing we know as English eccentricity with equal facility and with skill that makes one understand what is meant by the term “fine writing.”

H.E. Bates (image courtesy Wikimedia)

As I have made clear, I am a great fan of the writing of Somerset Maugham. He represents a school of English – and American – literature that daintily dances along the line dividing deliciously readable middle brow fiction of the sort I’ve written about here and here. Whether he’s detailing the muddle between high brow and middle brow literature or skewering a self-proclaimed “magic man,” Maugham delivers eminently readable, often profound observations on the human condition. He also inspired a number of younger writers to follow in his footsteps.

One of the best of these “sons of Maugham” is H.E. Bates. He is best known to the American audience, perhaps, because of Masterpiece Theater’s broadcasts of London Weekend Television’s adaptation of his novel Love for Lydia, an adaptation well known for helping launch the careers of actors such as Jeremy Irons and Peter Davison, among others.

I was fortunate enough to find a copy of New Directions Publishing’s re-issue of Bates’s A Month by the Lake and Other Stories recently at my favorite used book shop. As I hoped, it is a delight. Continue reading

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Cooper: Hilary Masters’ Meditation on Flying and Freedom…

What makes Cooper an engrossing read is Hilary Masters’ coupling of a meditation on marriage and love with a meditation on flying and freedom.

Sometimes Facebook actually offers something good.

Cooper by Hilary Masters (image courtesy Amazon)

That shocking statement comes as a result of having friends like Wufnik on FB. Wuf is one of those people whose tastes in reading are inevitably enviable. He posted a status bemoaning the fact that somehow he had missed the news of the death of the writer Hilary Masters, son of American poet Edgar Lee Masters (he of Spoon River Anthology fame), and a very fine writer on his own recognizance. I vaguely rememmbered having read a story or two by Masters somewhere in the misty past of my misspent life of reading and writing because I think these matters are important. So naturally since I have spent this year sort of messing about with my annual reading list, I immediately decided to add something from Masters to my stack.

Wufnik recommended two, three, maybe four titles. Cooper for whatever reasons grabbed my attention so it was off to my favorite used book clearing house site to seek out a copy. It came in a few days, and I was delighted to see I got a first edition hard copy. Sweet. I dove in and, despite a rather busy schedule these days with work, finished last Monday. Of course, I got sidetracked by a couple of issues (which you can read about here and here), so I’m just getting to writing an essay on this interesting work – well, right now. Continue reading

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Greatness and Greatness: Appreciating George Martin

“He enabled their ideas to pour forth, providing the electronic effects, the string quartets, the cor anglaise, the trumpets and piccolos, that helped the Beatles transcend the limitations of pop and create music of sublime originality. He allowed them to give expression to their genius, and provided a model for all pop music thereafter.” – Mick Brown, The Telegraph

George Martin working that magic…(image courtesy Rockcellar Magazine)

When the news began to filter out that Sir George Martin, pop music’s most legendary producer, Dutch uncle and studio wizard who helped The Beatles become – well, The Beatles – had died, tributes immediately began pouring in. Artists as diverse as Stevie Wonder, Noel Gallagher, and Jose Carreras expressed sorrow at Martin’s passing and heaped praise on him for his brilliant production work and his gentlemanly demeanor.

Martin’s body of work covered the range of music – classical, jazz, pop – and included comedy (one of the reasons he clicked with The Beatles is that he produced the records of comedy troupe The Goons, favorites of The Fabs whose surreal humor anticipates Monty Python). Martin was a talented musician himself who played piano and oboe at the classical musician level.

It was his demeanor, though, that set him apart from other record producers. He never tried to be hip or cool. He simply tried to help a brilliant pop band achieve its artistic vision. To be understated, he did okay.

Here’s one example straight from Sir Paul McCartney: Continue reading

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