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Sunday, May 30, 2021

Finally Climbing Out

Being in a movie theater yesterday for the first time since March 2020 brought into sharp focus how weird the last fifteen months have been. What recent signs have you detected hinting we may finally be climbing out of our collective hole, at least here in the U.S.? And for the remainder of 2021, what are you looking forward to doing that Covid stole from you in 2020?

* I'm eagerly anticipating upcoming face-to-face book club discussions as well as resuming meeting with a writers group I've belonged to since 2015.

* I really missed the fifth re-union with our Road Scholar travelling companions in 2020 and look forward to spending time with those fourteen later-in-life soulmates in Acadia National Park this October.

* Not spending time after February of last year with the activist group I joined soon after the 2016 election left a huge gap in my life. I'm thrilled that group is now done with ZOOM, beginning next month.


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Despite our original plan to be on the road for over a month, 2021's Southern State Swing finished ahead of schedule. However, except for the Alabama coast and driving east to Savannah, we got to most of our planned destination spots. 

Aside from deciding to skip the southernmost portion of the trip, our abbreviated time away was further impacted because - other than our five glorious days in Great Smoky Mountains National Park - we spent less time than planned at most of the other stops on our itinerary. Those truncated stops in turn affected the timing for ad hoc visits to some folks in the Carolinas and Virginia heading home. We've already decided a trip to Savannah - perhaps combined with a rendezvous with some of the Southern family & friends missed this time - is in our future.  

What will you remember most about your last vacation? I've already shared a few highlights with you here earlier in May. Indulge me as I now share a lowlight. At all costs, avoid Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. If Pigeon Forge is somewhere you yearn to re-visit, be sure to post a comment here to ensure you and I are never travel partners. Passing through that tacky tourist travesty, I sincerely expected to hear Neil Young warble Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. OMG.    

           

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Still Searching

If you're a reader, you might be aware of the controversy that engulfed author Jeanine Cummins not long after her 2019 novel American Dirt became a bestseller. As the cultural appropriation brouhaha swirled around Cummins, for reasons I don't clearly recall, I skipped reading her book, though the early reviews and significant buzz about it had initially intrigued me. My reading life continued apace as Cummins suffered withering attacks about "speaking for" a group she cannot claim as her own - un-documented immigrants.  

Though I hadn't given much thought to cultural appropriation since the Cummins fracas, the subject and her book both roared back to life recently. Unknown to me when we started our trip, what resided on my wife's phone, a compelling companion during our driving vacation through the South when looking for a break from music? That's right, American Dirt. And here's the rub: I still have no clear idea where I land on the cultural appropriation continuum. (I do know this: Cummins is a talented storyteller and her book is a near-perfect one to listen to while driving - linear plot, not too many characters, strong narrative line.

On one hand, I'm thrilled cultural critics are raising this issue, especially since oppressed people have often been rendered voiceless by oppressors. But I can think of many examples from my own life when I might never have learned about an injustice had it not been for authors, musicians, or filmmakers who tried using their privileged voices to tell a story needing to be told. I can think of just as many instances when I might have never known of an important talent because my world was narrow. And many well-meaning people around me - educators, family, friends - also unaware of the unheard, didn't bring those talents to my attention. But then, some well known artist championed the previously unheard, in the process helping me to be exposed to those "others". 

I'm not convinced the public castigation Jeanine Cummins endured was fair or just. Does that matter? Isn't it better for questions and challenges to be posed even when there are no clear answers? Where is the line about who has the "right" to speak for or on behalf of whom? I can't pretend to know. Can you? 

 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Reprise: Roaring Twenties Through Rockin' Eighties

Aside from the obvious - i.e. not being to able to freely socialize with family & friends, especially in large groups - what have you missed most during fifteen months of Covid-related isolation? 

Although I didn't realize it until recently contacted to resume in August, teaching music classes tops my list. And as much as being asked to resume juiced me, I was more thrilled to learn the requested class was one I'd taught once back in 2014, meaning development time will be minimal. Such a deal!

In case any local reader is interested in attending this reprise, below is the description for the class I'll be teaching at Brookdale Community College on August 24-26. I look forward to interacting with new folks (especially anyone who reads my blog that I haven't yet met ), re-connecting with former students, and sharing musical communion with anyone who attends. 


Roaring Twenties Through the Rockin' Eighties: The Timeless Appeal of Great Songs: Take a six-hour journey through seven decades of great songs with professional musician and educator Pat Barton. Using lecture, live performance, and recorded music we'll stroll Tin Pan Alley and climb the stairs of the Brill Building at the dawn of the rock n' roll era. The British invasion, explosions in Motown, and the artistry of singer-songwriters all seed the musical soil, helping a stunning hybrid emerge as the 80s unfold. Carried through each era is one unchanging truth - a great song is timeless.


Monday, May 17, 2021

National Memorial For Peace And Justice

https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/memorial

Although I anticipated being unsettled doing so, from the moment I learned of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, visiting it has been a priority for me. If visiting the Memorial in person is not possible, I encourage you: Visit the website above in the spirit of bearing witness. 

Walking through this sacred place, my mind raced as quickly as my feelings shifted. How does a "well-educated" American get to be seventy-one without knowing more of this shameful history? What will I do differently knowing more? How will I maintain my composure asking questions of the employees? I moved from being soul-sick to angry to raw.  

Nothing can adequately prepare someone for what they will learn at the Memorial. I implore you - take a few moments and learn as much as you can handle.  

     

Friday, May 14, 2021

Alabama Gratitude

Soon after graduating high school in 1967, I set one of my first life goals - visiting every state in the U.S. Given I'd been to only the two states most proximate to my own over my first seventeen years, making it to forty-seven more felt daunting at the time, but not insurmountable. 

At 10:45 a.m. yesterday, I crossed the Mississippi state line - #49 - into Alabama - #50. Though I'd often fantasized something memorable might occur as I reached a goal held for over half a century, the moment passed much the same as others. Unremarkable landscape, a song of no particular significance playing on satellite radio, no unexpected weather event suddenly materializing. 

No seed of inspiration blossomed as I crossed that state line and also crossed off a goal from my life list. But shortly after, I began considering the good fortune of my seventy-one years. A satisfying and varied work life, passions that have sustained me, the financial wherewithal to undertake a road trip like this. And most significantly, a wife who continues to indulge her goal-crazy husband even when a goal pre-dates the partnership. When did you last stop to consider your good fortune? And what tops your list? 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

An Appeal To Music Junkies & Word Freaks

How many new words would you guess have entered your vocabulary via music? 

Because I became a music junkie and word freak at about the same young age, I suspect my list could be longer than many folks. That aside, please share with me a few words that might have escaped your notice if you hadn't been exposed to them via music. Yes, of course, I'll go first but this is invariably more fun when some of you join in. Three of my favorites, listed alphabetically:

crepuscule: twilight. Got this gem from Thelonious Monk's composition Crepuscule With Nellie. 

hejira: journey to escape a hostile situation. The title of my favorite Joni Mitchell album. Joni chose to spell this word - one frequently tied to the Muslim faith - with a "j" vs. the more commonly used "g". 

proselytize: convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion or belief to another: Al Kooper used this frequently misspelled word in I Can't Quit Her, one of his songs that appeared on the first Blood, Sweat, and Tears album - Child Is Father to the Man. Quick quiz for music junkies only: Who replaced Kooper as the main lead singer in BST on their second album? No fair using Google.  

OK, your turn. I know some of you have at least a few of these up your sleeve.   

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Waving My Geek Flag In The National Parks

Each visit to a National Park that is new to my wife and me unleashes my inner-geography geek. As we enter each parking lot, I scan license plates. How many different states will be represented?  And no matter how hard I resist doing so, a list begins forming. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of the list or the geek making it. But I have learned to accept my list-making impulses, embrace the geek, and make blog lemonade from these lemons. So ..

1. There were five cars in the first parking lot we entered in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Monday May 3. How many different states were represented? (Answers located at the end of this post; try not to look there first. How close were your guesses?)

2. Before we left that first parking lot approximately thirty minutes later, how many unique license plates were captured on my geeky list? 

3. Before we left the park for the day on May 3, how many unique license plates were on the same list? 

4. Before we left the park for good on Friday May 7, how many unique license plates were now on that same list?

5. What state license plate represented the vehicle that had traveled the farthest to visit GSMNP?  

I've now visited about half the National Parks. Except Hawaii - spotted only once, in Rocky Mountain National Park a few years back -  I'm beyond surprise anymore vis a vis what license plates I'll spot. Americans travel great distances to experience these treasures, as well they should. Which one is your favorite? Which is next on your list? Which have you returned to more than once? Next up for my wife and me is Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, new to both of us. If the Internet cooperates, there could be a dispatch from there. If you promise to guess the answers to #1-5 above before peeking below, I'll promise to not repeat the license plate schtick in that dispatch. I can't promise I won't be making a list, however.   


1.) = Five; 2.) = Thirteen; 3.) = Thirty-One; 4.) = Thirty-Four (full list available upon request; as if); 5.) = California


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Marking The Fourth Decade

So far, this newest series of mine - matching my post number with the year that starts each of my eight decades - has prompted several of you to join the fun. Today's post is #1979; that year marked the start of my fourth decade. What highlight(s) from your life - or, if you weren't yet born, what historical milestone - stands out for you from the year 1979?

* 1979 was the first year of my post-college life when I didn't support myself as a musician. In late 1978 - after years of ill-trained misuse - the top end of my singing voice gave out, never to fully return.

* On the positive side of the ledger, 1979 was the first full year my wife and I spent together. The smile greeting me every morning since April 1978 has now sustained me for over forty-three years.

Since kicking off this limited-run series, I've relished hearing pieces of your life stories; I hope more of you will consider joining in. Faithful readers: Why not forward the link for this post to someone you think might enjoy participating? If that person comments, maybe you'll get a piece of their life story you might otherwise not learn. How cool would that be? 

Monday, May 3, 2021

Foregone

The road leading me to Foregone - the newest novel by Russell Banks - was paved by film adaptations of two of his earlier books - The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction. Though both films were at times difficult to watch, the elemental stories in each were delivered with no sentimentality; not a single false note in either script. As the credits rolled for The Sweet Hereafter, I noted the source material, then did the same after seeing Affliction a few months later in 1997. Unfortunately, Russell Banks then languished on my list of "to read" authors for years until a member of my posse suggested Foregone to me a few weeks back.

Based on two films I've seen adapted from his work and the single novel I've now finished, I'm guessing Russell Banks is probably not real good at small talk. Foregone tackles big themes - regret, betrayal, and abandonment - with an unflinching glare. Such are the gifts of this author that the unlikable, unsympathetic protagonist nearing the end of his life riveted and repulsed me in equal measure. And given the extraordinary conclusion of this book, I doubt I will ever forget Leonard Fife.   

If I've read a stronger finish to a novel in the last twenty years, I don't remember what that novel is. As excellent as the first 245 pages are - shimmering prose, inventive architecture, stunning and hard-earned insights - the final 60 pages of Foregone are transformative. When you get to Fade Out, you might be holding your breath. Read this jewel and tell me if that is not the case.