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NEWS - Fall/Winter 2007
Adam Miller
Katie Laur
"Plainsong"
Music for 18 (Cornfed) Musicians
The Rooster's Wife
Marion Grant
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (and Women too)
Good Ol' Girls and Bob
Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation
Friends in Iraq
The Matthew Show
Sparkle like Sprague
They Don't Talk Like This Any More
Maybe It's The Weather Or Something Like That...
Mark Wilson Lives!!!
Walter Bennett's VIETRI
Farewell Daisy Thorp
River Rats


"Maybe it's the weather or something like that..."

I don't know what it is but I have been listening to alot of Bob Dylan lately. His reputation seems to have entered the Mount Olympus phase. For me it was watching segments of Murray Lerner's film
The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, recently on PBS. Lerner's take is pure concert footage. What really riveted me was Bob doing "Love Minus Zero" at an afternoon workshop. Lerner stays on a close-up of Dylan's face as he sings and it's a straight ahead pure and guileless performance, with the added beauty of the wind ruffling the leaves of a tree in the background. When you get to watch something like this, it's obvious that most everything else is dross. Change the song writing station and catch just about anything else that's come after it and you'll see that Dylan was and is the veritable swan among geese, no doubt about it. Lerner's film also visits Dylan plugging in with his band at the famous mainstage appearance. (Catch Bob warming up at the sound check on the the Hammond C-1 -- not bad!) I can dig the Band and all that but still what really gets me in this film and Pennebaker's Don't Look Back is just Dylan with his harp and guitar doing these riveting solo versions of "Hey Mr. Tambourine Man," "Who Killed Davy Moore?," "Only a Pawn In Their Game," "Visions of Johanna" and "Desolation Row", etc. etc.

In a related vein, the other day I was musing about my lost youth or something and happened to recall that wonderful song "Daddy You Been On My Mind", particularly Judy Collins' 5th album version, which I first heard when I was 17. It totally knocked me out -- song and performance. Collins' voice was always so maternal and vulnerable. Danny Kalb, of Blues Project fame, is playing second guitar to Judy (who was no slouch on the 6-string either!) To my 17 year old ears it was the best and most beautiful tandem acoustic guitar playing and chording I could ever have imagined. Sure, it wasn't slick and digitally tuned and executed with contemporary Prussian (thank you Stephen) precision, but it sure hit home at the time. The gorgeous minor seventh II chord at the head of the tune is the linchpin. Bill Lee (Spike's dad) is playing the bass. Kalb was great, plus the fact that in those days he had killer hair and sideburns which probably unduly impressed a snotty little NC teenybopper like me. And what a great first line of a song: "Maybe it's the color of the sun cut flat uncovering the crossroads I'm standing at. Maybe it's the weather or something like that, but Daddy you been on my mind." I love how BD invokes nature. It's the force behind his songs. There always seems to be lightning flashing and thunder rolling and cold wind and snow and rain and sun. I guess when you grow up in northern Minnesota you get to know the elements pretty intimately. I think this song must be from the same time period that Dylan wrote "Tomorrow Is A Long Time". Both of these songs have an emotional gentleness and sensitivity that are extraordinary for him.

Cut to a spring evening a year later and I am standing at the end of my driveway under a pine tree, waiting in the moonlight for my best friend from high school to give me a lift. Though it was still the early spring of my life, it was probably already the early summer of the 60's. Blonde on Blonde had just come out and when I jumped in the front seat that first single -- "I Want You" -- was playing on the radio! It hit me like a bolt from music heaven -- the garish jangling midway beat, the trippy tortured vocal delivery, the mysterious ambivalent lyrics, and Bob's chattering harp and that rinky little electric organ riff dancing off in the background -- pure smoking, glittering rock, Dylan style. It could never have happened before and it would never come again. That's what was so mindblowing about his music, it didn't recreate anything, it didn't deconstruct anything - it was new and it was pure and it was alive! HALLELUIA!!


Dok Webb, a friend from East Tennessee, tells me about a new book by Edward G. Lengel: To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 , concerning the bloodiest battle in American history: the epic fight for the Meuse-Argonne in World War I.

"Reminds me of your song," Dok says, referring to "Argonne Wood".


The Rooster's Wife

Jim and Bill and Joe and I recently played at a new venue in Aberdeen, NC. It's Janet Kenworthy's houseconcert series called The Rooster's Wife. (Sounds like a Chaucer tale!) Janet and her husband Jake live in a large turn of the century (19th/20th) Queen Anne style house. They have a wonderful octagonal sized parlor (a 'great room' the old folks called them) and with folding chairs and some scrunching in, they can get up to 90+ folks in to hear a concert. The series is well advertised and publicised on the web. They do shows about once a month. (Pierce Pettis is there February 23rd.) Janet and Jake are an amazing couple. Janet is a milliner (Blue Street Designs) and Jake is a former steeplechase jockey who now drives locomotives for CSX railroads -- but words don't do them justice. This place is highly recommended -- for listening to and playing music!

I must say "the Rooster's Wife" lives up to its name. When I got there for the sound check, Janet was out in the back tending to a domestic emergency. Some stray neighborhood dogs had broken in her chicken coup and killed half her flock of hens. So she was cleaning that mess up, administering some poultry triage, and then preparing for the evening concert, feeding us and doing everything else in between. A chicken massacre is the kind of unplanned event that could sabotage any hostess' even temper, but Jake had just come in from an all-night freight run, and with his help (and her mother Priscilla's) she seemed to get everything under control for a lovely eve. Janet seems like the kind of gal who knows one thing above all: life goes on!


'Music for 18 (Cornfed) Musicians'

My favorite new recording is Steve Reich's 'Music for 18 Musicians' performed by the New Music Ensemble of the Grand Valley State University. I don't know how I missed Reich's masterwork when it premiered in l976. (I think my head must have been under a toadstool.) But for my money this is the best head music going. Its flowing metamorphosing phrases and rhythmns are aural equivalents of the subtle light and color shifts in the sky at a gorgeous sunset. It's also a great tribute to the noble Minor Seventh, which has been so maligned by musical jocks (and you KNOW who you are!) 'Music for 18 Musicians' is refreshingly unmelodramatic and "subject-less"; in fact the lack of subject seems to be the subject.

The New Music Ensemble of the Grand Valley State University, located in Allendale, Michigan, is led by Bill Ryan (pictured in front in photo) and features Evelyn Aguirre-Araya, Craig Avery, Laura Boehler, Ashlee Busch, Lee Copenhaver, Mary Crossman, Mandy Duncan, Nicole Frazee, Sarah Henry, Meghan Hoop, Alexander Kollias, Emily Kramer, Collette Mabingani, Mark Martin, Jeff Northman, Mitch Ronk, Dale Schriemer, Greg Secor, Tyler Smith, Nicholas Usadel, Stacey Van Vossen, Jennifer Versluis, Jim Walsh, Doug Ward, and Amanda Woodruff.

There is a nice profile of the Grand Valley NME and their recording and performance of Reich's piece at a dawn concert at the Winter Garden in NYC on NPR Weekend Edition


Katie Wins A Big One

My good friend and eternal Cincinattian Katie Laur has been awarded a 2008 Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award for Performing Arts, from the Ohio Arts Council Board. Katie will be honored at a special celebration during the Cityfolk Festival, July 3 to July 5, 2008, in Dayton.

This will be the sixth year for these awards which are being presented to threee outstanding individuals that have made significant contributions to the traditional arts in Ohio. The Ohio Arts Council Board partners with Cityfolk and the Ohio Folk Arts Network to host the 2008 awardes to recognize and celebrate their achievements.
By the way, Katie is the long-time co-host for "Music from the Hills of Home" on WNKU.


Farewell Daisy Thorp

Farewell, dear Daisy Thorp, who departed Sat., Dec. 29th. article in News and Observer. There is also a guestbook there which you can sign if you want to share thoughts and memories about this sweet and inspiring woman. Daisy once gave me a xerox of the following poem. It first appeared in the New Yorker in April 2003:

"Extended Care"
by Michael Ryan

I'm not ready to write my last poems
paeans to the glory of sunporch and duck pond
and inner peace that comes to me at last
when, out of terror, I begin to pray incessantly
and love all my neighbors as I love myself,
including the unknown one who steals my crackers
and the former state senator who sings
"God Bless America" for every meal and snack time.
I'll have to be ninety plus, maybe over a hundred,
nine-tenths blind and needing a fresh diaper,
before my blinding fear of losing and not-getting
lifts like the huge purple curtain at the Metropolitan Opera
to reveal the extraordinary blessings of an ordinary day.
Maybe my hearing will also be so far gone
that I finally understand the voices in my head
debating whether or not I deserve to live,
when in fact I'll realize I'm living O.K. right now,
although I may still believe life could be better
if someone installed a lock on my snack box
and gave that state senator a laryngectomy.
How lovely (I'll think) every person I've known.
Even the egocentric shitheels had a kind of charm,
and the ones who lied purposely to cause me damage
maybe they had kids they loved or parents they took care of.
They surely did nothing worse than the worst things I did.
Everyone will appear to me as a scarred soul
struggling with the same sort of torments and disappointments,
as death rises like a dinosaur out of the duck pond
and lumbers dripping toward me on the sunporch
where I glow with the modest good I did with my life,
grateful this gorgeous world will be here for others when I am gone.


Mark Wilson Lives!!!

My very good and long-time friend Mark Wilson LIVES!!! After years of tracking him down, aided and abetted by the very able sleuth work of "MLP", the elusive Mr. Wilson was finally located, back in his native city of Raleigh. He flourishes these days in the Triangle, with a dandy new real estate business and website. Check it out:
www.findmydreamhome.com -- and hear Mark's story:. (pictured at right with his wheels>>)

I've known Mark since l990. He founded and was the producing artistic director of the Blowing Rock Stage Company for many years. He produced (lovingly) two of my shows, RADIO GALS and OIL CITY SYMPHONY, and generously HIRED me to be in several other of his shows over the years.


Walter Bennett's "Vietri"

I recently helped entertain at a Christmas party given by Walter and Betsy Bennett, of Chapel Hill. Walter refers to himself as "recovering trial lawyer, judge, and law professor". He's also a very nice guy. I think I should want him on the bench of any court room I had occasion to enter.

These days Walter is turning his talents to writing and one of his stories has been posted on the website of the American Academy of Psychotherapists. The story is called
"Vietri", and it's pretty dang funny.


"Plainsong" and the Hartmans

Tess Hartman wrote me about her dad, Michael Hartman and his new role in "Plainsong" being present now at the Denver Center Theatre Company. A stage adaptation of Kent Haruf's novel about life in the fictional eastern Colorado town of Holt, Plainsong also features Jeremiah Miller (pictured left with Tiffany Ellen Solano, photo by Terry Shapiro) with whom I worked several years ago in Wilder. Plainsong has gotten some very good notices. Unusual is the idea of two crusty old bachelors (one of whom is played by Tess's dad) being the heart and soul of the story and the little town. DENVER POST review


Adam Miller

Adam Miller is an autoharpist and folksinger based in Oregon. The SAN FRANCISCO folkNik calls Adam's autoharp playing "superb and imaginative" and BLUEGRASS BREAKDOWN magazine says that Adam has "a perfect cowboy out-on-the-range voice. Adam has also recorded Tommy Thompson's song "Twisted Laurel" on his The Orphan Train and Other Reminiscences cd. Adam is one heck of a travellin' man, and averages about 300 shows a year -- something I greatly admire.

Recently I got a postcard from Adam while he was touring through Texas. He'd been listening to "Broadway Showtime" on XM Satellite Radio when he heard my song "Dear Mister Gershwin". XM played it right after Kern and Hammerstein's "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine." Kinda made my week!

FMI: Adam Miller. (photo by Royce Glover)


Marion Grant

My good friend painter Marion Grant has got a new exhibit at the RL Fine Arts Gallery, 39 W.19th Street, NYC. The exhibition runs from 17 January through 3rd February.

The painting at the right is entitled Eclipse at Benares. For a larger version and more information click on the pic.


READING AS A PLEASANT DEVIATION: A GUIDED TOUR OF JOHN WATERS LIBRARY . Great and very very funny article by the man himself! --from "THE WELL DRESSED BIBLIOPHILE".


Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (and Women too)

In my continuing obsession with American film noir, two names and faces which keep cropping up are director
Jules Dassin, and actor Richard Widmark. Both of these men are still alive -- and I say "give them the roses while they live!"

Dassin is 96 and Widmark is 93. I recently re-watched Dassin's NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950) which starred Widmark and the ever-gorgeous Gene Tierney (photo at right by George Hurrell,) along with two excellent British actors: Francis L. Sullivan, and Googie Withers (who is always fascinating -- and still very much alive too.) NIGHT AND THE CITY is also notable for including a legendary cameo by wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko. Zybyszko's performance is one of the most riveting moments in the film. (He had never acted before and was coached on the spot by Dassin and fellow actor/wrestler Mike Mazurki.)

Of course, Richard Widmark is a very wonderful actor. His NIGHT AND THE CITY character, Harry Fabian, is considered by most to be his best role, plus the fact that we get to see him in his striped zoot suit and two toned Oxfords scampering down the steps and through the back alleys of London like a demented Fred Astaire. (And another thing -- if "they" ever had made a film about Frank Sinatra's life, Richard Widmark is the only actor who could have played it.) I've enjoyed this talented Minnesotan in many movies of the period -- one of the only periods -- from about 1941 through about 1956, including PANIC IN THE STREETS, THE STREET WITH NO NAME, and PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET. He's also made movies that don't have "street" in the title, such as KISS OF DEATH, YELLOW SKY, and one of my personal favorites ROAD HOUSE, in which Widmark is cast as the typical psycho he grew so tired of playing. Also in ROAD HOUSE we get Ida Lupino, in hot pants, smacking the crap out of Cornell Wilde. She's a chanteuse in a bowling alley, and has a wonderful turn singing a moody and husky voiced version of "One for My Baby and One More For The Road," while her Chesterfield burns holes in the top of an electric piano. Come to think of it, Celeste Holm appears in ROAD HOUSE too, and she is another actor of that time who is still with us.

Jules Dassin is a fascinating man. After seeing his name all these years I'd assumed he is French, but he is actually an American, born and raised in Middletown, Connecticut! Dassin began as an actor in the WPA Federal Theatre project in New York. He went on to direct on Broadway and then made the move to Hollywood, becoming a protege of Darryl Zanuck. At the height of his early success he was 'named' by fellow directors Edward Dmytryk and Elia Kazan, during the Hollywood blacklist of the McCarthy era.

Zanuck, who was one of the few Hollywood producers who didn't support the blacklist, encouraged and helped Dassin 'escape' to London to make NIGHT AND THE CITY, which was released in two versions, the American and the British. Based on a novel by Gerald Kersh, NIGHT AND THE CITY is representative of the socially-conscious, semi-documentary style of cinema realism which was emerging at the time. The city of London is used by Dassin and the screenwriters as a kind of overarching character, in a lurid night time underworld of carnival and crime.

The movie was initially panned by all the major American and Brit media critics with the exception of VARIETY. Shunned by Hollywood, Dassin remained in Europe for years. He was denied a passport, and virtually sank into poverty before scraping together enough support to make RIFIFI, (1955) which set the standard for suspenseful "heist" movies. His later successes included NEVER ON SUNDAY (1960) which starred his second wife Melina Mercouri.

The excellent Criterion Collection DVD re-issue of NIGHT AND THE CITY, and another Dassin classic THIEVES' HIGHWAY (1947) includes rich commentary by Glenn Erickson and Richard Schickel, and candid interviews with Dassin, who comes across, not surprisingly, as a fascinating story-teller, and a wise and deeply perceptive man.

THIEVES' HIGHWAY is another awfully wonderful noir film, taken from a novel by A.I. ('Buzz') Bezzerides, and starring Richard Conte and Lee J. Cobb. Also featured is the fabulous Italian actress Valentina Cortese, who is still with us too! Cortese is marvelous in this movie - she strides the marketplace of San Francisco in a trench coat, holding up her purse in front of her as if it were a Geiger counter. With her sly grins and urchin curls she's like a cross between Audrey Hepburne and Bob Dylan (circa Blonde on Blonde!) In the Criterion interview, Dassin confesses to having fallen in love with Cortese during the filming of THIEVES' HIGHWAY.

"I always fall in love with women who have trouble with their English," he says, smiling sadly and sweetly.


They Don't Talk Like This Anymore

BARBARA STANWYCK: Aren't there any more comfortable men in this world? Now they're all little and nervous like sparrows or big and worried like sick bears. Men!
ROBERT RYAN: Women!
STANWYCK: If I ever loved a man again, I could bear anything. He could have my teeth for watch fobs.
RYAN: What do you think of me?
STANWYCK: You impress me as a man who needs a new suit of clothes or a new love affair. But he doesn't know which.
RYAN: Well, you can't make me feel any smaller. I happen to be pre-shrunk.

from CLASH BY NIGHT, 1952, RKO Pictures, directed by Fritz Lang, screenplay by Clifford Odets


Good Ol' Girls

I've been doing some transcribing for the score of the musical GOOD OL' GIRLS. The book is by
Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, and features the music (arranged by Joe Newberry and Julie Oliver) of songwriters Matraca Berg and Marshall Chapman. The songs are really great and really growing on me. I am also reading Marshall Chapman's autobiography GOODBYE LITTLE ROCK AND ROLLER, for a little background. We opened up for Marshall once way back in the late '70's. All I remember is a very tall blond girl wearing pants and prowling around the stage with an electric guitar.

"Good Ol' Girls" is being produced next spring by the Cape Fear Regional Theatre.

For more show information.


Robert Goulet crossed the swelling tide this past week. The TIMES ran the photo at right of Goulet and his then wife Carol Lawrence in l964. The picture has nothing to do with Good Ol' Girls, although I met Carol Lawrence once and she seemed to be a very good ol' gal indeed. I really like this picture - it's so "Camelot". Dig the grinning PanAm pilot in the background. Could anyone ever look like this except in America in the early 1960's?

The MATTHEW Show

I did a show in October at the Keppel Auditorium on the Catawba College campus in Salisbury, NC. My friend
Matthew Weaver asked me to do the show with him last year, and we got together over the summer and worked up some tunes. Matthew knows a million songs! He is also an awesome piano player, multi-instrumentalist and singer. Matthew is originally from Pennsylvania. His grandmother Mary was a professional piano player and she and her siblings were part of a popular regional band called Tommy Schaeffer and the Blue Mountain Ramblers.

Matthew invited the Salisbury cast of the SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN shows to do a big segment of the program. The concert was produced by the Rowan County Concert Association. The way I understand it is that their usual season is symphony orchestras and jazz groups and oldies pop groups, etc. This was the first "roots" or bluegrass gospel based show they had put on. The results were quite successful. Matthew just about sold out Keppel, a huge 1500+ seat auditorium. Alot of the folks who came weren't the usual series subscribers and concert goers. There were NASCAR people there, plus a group of Catholic nuns, and a contingent from Pigeon Forge, TN, including Dolly Parton's personal cook, who was celebrating her 75th birthday (the cook's, not Dolly's...)


Friends in Iraq

I've been communicating with two soldiers in Iraq that I have met through music. I put some background about one soldier, Tim Kranz (pictured at right), on these pages last spring ("HE TOOK HIS ELECTRIC GUITAR TO IRAQ"). Tim was an actor in a production of
SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN HOMECOMING with which I was involved. Tim was redeployed a few weeks ago, and he is posting blogs "back home" on his MySpace site: Tim Kranz. I'm communicating also with an Army Lieutenant who is a jazz trombonist/banjo player and piper! He says he may be sharing some of his thoughts and I will try to convince him to let me post them on this site if he feels like it. I believe many of us "over here" are eager for thoughts and feelings from the real people in the midst of that conflict.

Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation

I've been enjoying listening to Eddie Muller's very excellent "yak traks" which accompany some of the Fox Film Noir series DVD reissues.

Eddie is a brilliant noir specialist and filmologist. He is also the head of the
Film Noir Foundation. I can't get enough of this stuff! These elegant, moody black and white masterpieces of style seem to be the perfect antedote for the cultural climate we are living in at the moment. Eddie is eloquent on noir and the world and the people who created it. Check out Eddie's website. He even looks like a noir hero.

If you've been in a book store recently you will recognize his TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL, which he co-wrote with Tab. He is also the author of "DARK CITY - the Lost World of Noir".

Eddie, who describes himself as a "cultural archaeologist" goes into great detail to amplify his film commentary with "real-life" support. For instance, when he did the Fox DVD commentary for Otto Preminger's 1945 FALLEN ANGEL, he enlisted Dana Andrew's daughter Susan to be there and so we get to hear her feelings and thoughts on her dad and his work.

Here's some good news too. You can become an official "gunsel" when you contribute up to $50 to the Film Noir Foundation. Can anybody say "Elisha Cook, Jr."???


Sparkle like Sprague

Sprague is a physician's assistant. He works with brain tumor patients at the Duke Medical Center. It has got to be an awesomely difficult profession in the midst of awesomely difficult situations.

I think Sprague has found a way to compensate for some of the more stressful aspects of that environment by wearing alot of colorful and fun clothing to work. One day he said he walked into a staff meeting and his fellow workers applauded at the way he had gotten himself up. That kind of thing tends to impart a little cheer and humor.

So, for Halloween, the staff came to work dressed up like Sprague. A group photo at the right captured that moment. That's Sprague with the big pink tie that says "Kiss Me" and the very excellent pink boots.


River Rats

Bobby Moody gave me this photograph that he'd taken in l995 during the Cape Fear Regional Theatre production of Woody Guthrie's AMERICAN SONG. That's me playing the guitar and sitting on the crate. (l-r behind is Sandol Astrausky, Jon Parsons, and Lynn Davis.)

I've worn overalls and flannel shirts in practically every other show I've ever been cast in. It's the river rat look; a lot of "stage musicians" seem to get put in these togs. Goes along with the acoustic roots music thing I guess. I'm not complaining, merely observing. Overalls can cover a variety of faults.


Yesterday's Papers:
Summer 2007
Spring 2007
Winter 2006/07
Fall 2006
Summer 2006
Spring 2006
Fall Winter 2005
Spring Summer 2005
Fall/Winter 2004/05
Summer 2004
Winter/Spring 2004