Monday, November 30, 2015

Sound and Color

“Living ain't no fun
The constant dedication
Keeping the water and power on
There ain't no money left
Why can't I catch my breath?
I'm gonna work myself to death.”
         “Don’t Wanna Fight,” Alabama Shakes
above, Brittany Howard and Alabama Shakes

In “Reckless: My Life as a Pretender” Chrissie Hynde described her hometown of Akron, Ohio, in the 1960s as in decline, not unlike other Midwest industrial cities such as Gary.  Even the downtown jazz clubs that thrived during the 1950s were dying.  She wrote:
  With the interstate highway system, nobody passed through places like Akron anymore – they drove around them.  Akron was just one of tens of thousands of cities being subsumed into metroplexes, a sinister alchemy at work.  The creed was “every man for himself.”  Even verandas, the front porches where people used to gather to commune with neighbors, were replaced by backyard patios in the new prefab bungalows.  You drove your car right into the garage and entered the house without having to see anyone.  Everyone wanted to be lord of their own Ponderosa.
  My friends and I ran up and down the defunct platform, imagining what it must have been like to ride on a train back in the “olden days.”  Those times seemed so far away by the mid-sixties.  None of us had even been on a train.  Eventually, the disused station and platform disappeared altogether, and all the hotels closed.
In “My City Was Gone” Chrissie sings these lyrics with the Pretenders:
I went back to Ohio
But my city was gone
There was no train station
There was no downtown
South Howard had disappeared
All my favorite places
My city had been pulled down
Reduced to parking spaces
A, o, way to go Ohio

Hynde’s father Bob Roberts, an ex-marine, worked for Bell Telephone Company.  When Chrissie graduated from high school in 1969, she longed for somewhere more exciting.  One saving grace was that Hynde could tune in WMMS in Cleveland, one of the country’s first underground stations.  As she wrote, “We were all music experts.”  First stop was Kent State, where she witnessed National Guard troops on campus who killed four peaceful demonstrators.   A rebel with a taste for mind-altering pills, weed, booze, sex, bikers, and rock music, Chrissie eventually made her way to London after stops in Mexico and Canada.  Her mother Dot, who briefly worked as a model in New York City before settling down, told Chrissie that if she did things that were illegal or bad for her body, she didn’t want to know about them. Hynde waited until both Bud and Dot were dead before writing her candid autobiography.

In the “Jeopardy” category “Australian invasion” were five bands, AC/DC, INXS, Men at Work, Midnight Oil, and Little River Band.  I knew them all.  Men at Work introduced Americans to vegemite sandwiches (UGH!).  Midnight Oil protested land grabs from native Australians.  “Beds Are Burning” contains this verse:
The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back.

Linda Gugin and Kames St. Clair admitted that some in “Indiana’s 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State” were not widely known, including “Paul Emrick, a Purdue band director, who invented the forming of letters for marching bands; Zern Sharp, creator of the Dick and Jane texts that taught generations of first graders how to read; Vivian Carter, whose Vee-Jay Records introduced the music of the Beatles to America; and Robert Borkenstein, who invented the breathalyzer.”  While Vee-Jay sold millions of Beatles records in 1964 until Capitol stole the “Fab Four” away, more important is Carter’s label introducing America to doo wop groups like the Spaniels and Cadillacs, as well as gospel music (Staple Singers), blues (John Lee Hooker) and rock and roll (Dee Clark and Gene Chandler). 

Driving to Carmel, Indiana, for Thanksgiving with the Bayers, we revived an annual tradition dating back to the 1970s.  Mike and Janet’s daughter Kirsten and hubby Ed Petras hosted.  Ed’s sister Anne Dischner came from Pittsburgh with three daughters, and Kirsten’s sister Shannon arrived from Boston with baby Max.  Kirsten’s sons Nicholas and Dane passed out Harry Potter jellybeans like others did in the past.  I told Mike about how when visiting George Van Til in prison the steel door slammed behind me when I first entered the building.  At dinner Ed asked kids what they were thankful for; Nick answered, “The Mario Brothers.”  On the long table were two kinds each of stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, and muffins – plus turnips and ample amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, and string beans.  Competing with my cherry cobbler were several pies and burnt pecan torte, a Pittsburgh specialty.   I showed off my “Straight Outta Gary” shirt and promised Kirsten I’d try to find her one.  We played Uno and a Wii bowling tournament (Abby Dischner won), and Mike and I stayed up for the Bears’ surprise victory over the Packers.  Anne’s daughters were planning on visiting the downtown Indianapolis office of young adult writer John Green, who sometimes posts his whereabouts, which might give them a shot at running into him.  Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” (2006) and “Paper Towns” (2014) have been made into movies.
Caroline Disch: "We ended our John Greene journey at 100 Acre Woods" 
 Jimbo and Kirsten, photo by Ches Roberts
After a sumptuous breakfast at Mike and Janet’s in the Indy suburb of Fisher, we drove home through heavy rain and shopped for the 16 people expected for our Saturday Thanksgiving, featuring turkey, ham, pork roll, and fish for Becca, a vegetarian.  Phil arrived Friday afternoon, and Dave’s wife and kids moved in for the weekend.  I took James to bowling in the morning and chatted with Kerry Smith, who still bowls in the Wednesday Sheet and Tin League though his team threatened to leave when some of the new teams wanted to go to zero handicap.  A girl bowling against James’ team turned around before the ball was halfway down the alley and displayed no emotion other than apathy.  Blaring over a loud speaker were pop rap tunes, including Macklemore’s “Downtown,” and heavy metal numbers by Motley Crue, whose drummer Tommy Lee I briefly chatted with at O’Hare Airport.  Rumor is that Camelot Lanes will close at the end of the year, cause for mourning.

By 3 p.m. a dozen family members were on hand, as well as East Chicago Central grad Denzel Smith.  After dinner we played Werewolf, Wits and Wagers, and Texas Holdem.  Robert Blaszkiewicz, who dropped in with Carrie and Max, is almost finished a “Best of 2015” CD that will include songs by the Decembrists, Wilco, Titus Andronicus, and Alabama Shakes – whose hit “Hold On” was on an earlier compilation.  Both Alissa’s fiancé (Josh) and mom (Beth) asked what I wanted for Christmas.  I mentioned the Alabama Shakes CD “Sound and Color,” but both give such imaginative gifts (In Josh’s case, CDs) that I’d rather be surprised.

Toni gathered the grandchildren together in order to distribute art pieces from my mother’s apartment.  Midge had painted most of them, but one was by Albert Ernest “Beanie” Buckus (1906-1990), a Florida landscape artist who composed approximately 7,000 paintings and was mentor to a group of African Americans, most notably Alfred Hair and Harold Newton, who lived near Fort Pierce, Florida, and called themselves the Highwaymen and their style “outsider art.”  Before white-owned galleries showed their work, they set up shop in parking lots and even went door-to-door.  Good friends with Harlem Renaissance novelist Zora Neale Hurston, Beanie frequently let struggling artists crash for weeks at a time. At the movies he preferred the segregated balcony section, claiming the view was better from there.  His early works (like our watercolor) were more impressionistic, often done with a palette knife, than later, more refined pieces done mostly by brush.  Calling him the “Dean of Florida Landscape Painters,” art patron Deborah Pollack asserted: “No other twentieth-century artist captured the Florida light quite like Beanie Buckus.” Pollack wrote:
              As a child, Backus would repeatedly copy a picture of tall ships. He later studied at the Parsons School of Applied Art in New York from 1922-23 during the summer, but is considered by most to be a self-taught artist. He was first employed as a painter of theatrical signs, posters and displays during the Depression. He enlisted as an apprentice seaman after Pearl Harbor where he developed as an artist, sketching aboard the ship. Backus was happily married, but his wife, Patsy, died when she was just 29. After her death his drinking increased, but he was an extremely prolific painter throughout his life.

 "Spanish Bayonets on the Indian River" by A.E. "Beanie" Buckus (below)

Anne Balay passed through the Region after spending Thanksgiving with daughter Emma in St. Louis.  She still needs a permanent teaching position for next year and continues to lecture around the country.  In a just world IUN would rehire her to chair the Women’s Studies department.
Henry E. Simmons (above) and F.C. Richardson in 1969

Earl Jones is researching the establishment of a Black Studies program at IUN, one of the first in the nation.  In March of 1969 IUN’s Black Caucus presented a list of six demands to Chancellor John Buhner that included such a program as well as scholarships for Black students and a plan for recruiting Black students and faculty.  Caucus members held a rap-in and stood outside a classroom where the faculty voted to approve the demands on principle.  Botany professor F.C. Richardson was a leading advocate.  A resolution passed, and a program was launched in the Fall of 1969 with Professor Henry E. Simmons as director.  Earlier in the year the first such program debuted at San Francisco State.  By 1973 approximately 600 colleges had established Black Studies programs.

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