Friday, December 26, 2008


I cannot wait to write this blog. I have been given a gift! How many times has it happened that one is given the thread to tie all the loose ends of one's life together and see how it all fits? That, in a nutshell is what I have been given. Last night a fabulous 90 minute show aired on Sundance Channel. It was titled "Who Gets To Say It's Art". It was a show primarily about Henry Geltzahler, the curator for The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, who in 1969 mounted a show at the Met called "New York Painting 1940-1970". As it told about Henry Geltzahler's career as a curator and art critic/historian, it told the story of how American artists of the post war era struggled to find an identity through abstract expressionism by way of Jackson Pollack and William DeKooning, into the new order of pop art of Jasper Johns, Roy Liechtenstein, Larry Rivers, and Andy Warhol. What a story! It connected the post war art underground to the beatniks of mid-century intellectualism, and on to the 60's pop art culture from which sprang Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, hippies, and the end of art in the punk rock world of anarchy. What it has to do with me, is that I was an art student at precisely this time, from 1960-1964, the stretch point of an incredible phase in the history of the current culture. While I could draw fairly well, I couldn't fathom how one could make a living from hanging paintings in a gallery for sale when no one gave a rats ass about art or what value anything had in a suburban society that cared only about gadgets, cars, and electrical appliances. In short, a culture devoid of culture. It was a discouraging predicament. As I withdrew from the conveyor belt of university life to pursue a life of vagabond hedonism, I embraced drinking and drug use partly because it was an accepted behavior among the artist community. All at once, habits of dubious merit became the dominant feature in my life. Of course, I will admit that there are other substantial reasons that might explain the whys of my substance abuse, but let's leave that one for another blog. For now, this one fits the story. With the outward appearance of an artist, but lacking the working end of it, I bounced through a series of events that landed me at the doorstep of rock and roll. I joined a rock and roll band as an extension of art, a different format of an emerging cultural expression that propelled the individual into the center of the painting as the artist and the subject of the painting. I might call it an existential slight of hand; posing both the painter and the painting simultaneously. Ah, but I feel like a poseur even saying it. Even so, that is how I saw it. The band that I had the good fortune of joining was the MC5, as you might know. While we figured into the political upheaval of the late 60's, it was not the launching point of the band. As young ruffians and provocateurs of the day, we were interested in enlightening our audiences to the possibilities beyond the mundane suburban drift that everyone was annoyed with. It all fit so well at the time, and unlike art it was accessed by millions. But that is a longer story and gets too complicated for todays purposes.

What I wish to say here is that having made the connection with how art seeped its way into pop culture, and consequently into the way the decades have played out in terms of my life, I have gained the tools to pull it back together at the point where it makes sense to me personally. I now know what I want to do. I see the work of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky as the bridges between the older European forms that moved painting from the breakthroughs of Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso into the new order of spiritual introspection that leads to the door of those New York painters.

This is but one thread in a great story of art. Many threads exist in a fabric that runs through our time, through all time. It's funny, the older I get, the more curious I am about how everything is woven together in our history, the history of all mankind. Being a part of it is such a happy thing. We are blessed to have this world as our canvas. We can create whatever we like to decorate it and express our joy at being here. If this is a new years resolution of sorts, then I will say that I resolve to create as much art as I can in the coming year. I will try to find my connection to this world through art, it's what I was meant to do.

One more thing: While I'm thinking of it, I wish to thank Steven Streight, one of followers of this blog, who has so generously and thoughtfully put the Music Is Revolution badge up on his blog. You can link to Steven's blog instantly by clicking on his icon at the top of this page. Thank you Steven, and thank you for your comments and views. We have a great deal in common, I can see that. I wish you all the very best in all your efforts. Right on, my brother, and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Sure Sign Of Spring!

I looked out my window today and saw a curious sight. Across the street in the play area of the Christian school a flock of about 20 to 30 birds were flittering about in the grass, landing, taking off again, doing what birds do in their bird world. The snow had melted away from the week long coverage, and a wet ground was finally visible. I looked at what appeared to be an orange color on the fronts of these small creatures with some dismay. Wow, these guys are robin red breasts! What in the world are they doing here in Eugene, Oregon? It was always my belief that robins migrated to warmer climates in the winter and returned to the buds of Michigan springtime. Here in Eugene, and now, a day before the Winter Solstice, a small group of Robins are playing outside my window in my yard. How can this be? Not able to answer that question, I could only feel the tugging of my memory of living in Detroit and being alerted by the annual prevailing robins that spring was just around the corner. How can that be? We have only just begun to stiffen to the winds and rain, and in the recent week, a formidable snow storm that paralyzed the area for several days. I thought of my brethren in Detroit, remembering now the harshest winters that seemed to last for eternity, plodding against slush and bulk snow through all manner of inconvenient weather. The dark skies and bitter cold air, stinging fingertips and frostbitten ears, going to necessary appointments through the massive traffic chaos that somehow Detroiters take for granted as territorial characteristics. Another winter, another half year of trudging through Hell. So what, a Detroiter might say, it's something we all have in common.
This past week or two, the nation has been exposed to the people of Detroit in desperate need at the feet of our nation's administrators. They are begging for assistance in a crises for survival. They show footage of ordinary people installing parts and systems into assemblies of vehicles. They imply that these ordinary people are somehow aiding in the corrupt practices of their employers to defraud other people by making inferior automobiles. But my heart goes out to these ordinary people who await to first robins of spring to relieve them from their five months of torment called the Michigan winter. And now, in addition to winter, the harshest of realities, that they will no longer have an income. My dad was a Ford Motor Company employee. He worked there for 40 years, and supported his family while his employer made and developed the styles that made our country proud. There were ridiculous creations during periods of dubious inspiration it's true. Yet, beyond the many head shaking designs and outlandish power quests, a fierce national pride came with the territory. Across the planet, people in every country admired American initiative and style. The American automobile, scoffed at by some, ridiculed by many, but the absolute all-out apple of everyones eye when it comes to the individual statement. It is what is symbolic of what our nation is all about, the uniqueness of the individual.
Let us be objective when judging our fellow individuals. The people who assemble Detroit's products are trained to perform a specific task. It is tedious and repetitive. It requires focus and attention, and it requires an appreciation for doing correct application in a multiple task process that culminates in a worthy product. I don't by any stretch of my imagination deem what these people create as inferior. It is what it is, and for the most part, it has created a national identity for this country, not to mention the building of tanks and aircraft that got us through the second world war. Let's give some points to our brethren in Detroit who have endured decades of suffering from drug culture and urban decay that has left the city in a dilapidated state. On a visit a couple of years ago, I was reminded of how the people of Detroit possess a quality of soulfulness that makes them some of the warmest, down to earth people one can ever meet. There is a charm about Detroit that is so remarkable that one is amazed that such humility can exist in such an environment. They are part of our people, people, important part.

I don't have an opinion about the bailout. The problem that caused this consequence is much bigger than Detroit or the auto industry. I do know that many people are in desperate shape. I do know that more people than those who live and work in Detroit are facing unimaginable alternatives. As a nation we must take care of our family. And all honest, hardworking people deserve a robin or two to remind them that spring is just around the corner.

Friday, December 12, 2008


So, todays subject is art. What qualifies something as art? Well, I'm not sure. Do you recognize art at first glance? Is it immediately a different breed from say, craft or design, or even scribbling? Does art always make a universal statement about the world, people, philosophy, god? An exhibit at Wayne State University (my alma mater) some many years ago titled "Anything Is Art", seemed to qualify art as anything one cared to examine. Thereby assuming that the entire universe as well as everything in it, was art, if you chose to see it as such. Ironically, the MC5 was represented in the exhibit as something quaintly significant in this regard. The primitive 8mm film by Leni Sinclair, showing a collage of footage of the band during performances, and with an accompanying soundtrack of the song "Kick Out The Jams", also the title of the film, was screened to the gallery as a performance, and received with an exhilarating ovation. So then, does that qualify it as art? Is the art the band, the film, the event, or the event in which it is being seen? Hell if I know. Maybe the real question is how to recognize art from sham. I'm sure that both art and sham come very close to overlapping into each others territory from time to time. That by being accepted, anything has an equal chance of prevailing.

I have been trying these last months to reinvent my career as an artist. My paintings are oil portraits of some of my friends from the music profession who bring a sense of "Christ-ness" to the stage. As if Christ were the ultimate performer, inspiring all sorts of ecstasy, revelation, horror, and predicament to all. That in any other time and place, might well put them on trial and be executed for their audacity, for their power to influence, for their lack of restraint, for being emboldened, for creating disorder, for being a danger to society, for their beauty. I paint their likenesses because I like their faces. As the artist, I decide how to represent them as I see them. So, in that way, what I do is my art. How to distinguish that from 22,000 other paintings on eBay that claim to be art, I do not know. For me, it is all a learning process. I don't suppose that it ever becomes a routine mechanical method. There is always something there that you didn't see the first time through. But each attempt to define your vision is a step closer to reaching the goal of being what you see. Maybe it's not a whole lot different from music.

Monday, December 01, 2008


This is from my buddies at NYC Punk Rock. Thanks - this is awesome.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Weekend Is Here

Two straight days of Thanksgiving dinners, first with family and friends on Thursday, and then again on Friday with some new friends here in Eugene at their home. We be feeling good, and very welcome here in our new ‘hood.

It was great to see Pixie pay a visit to the blog and read how she passed Hep C, and, in addition, learn how she met her husband, who is getting through his own treatment. Power to those who hang through tough times. Here is a link to their group blog:

Yesterday was the birthday of my favorite composer and musician, Jean Baptiste Lully, born November 28, 1632. Monsieur Lully is regarded as the father of French opera, and indeed, as the master of French Baroque music. The musical guiding light of the court of Louie XIV, although originally an Italian by birth, he adopted French lifestyle and became a French citizen, changing his name from Giovanni Battista Lulli, to the French form, Jean Baptiste Lully. I cannot describe in words the immensity and power of his music. It is beyond limits for passion, grace and pure tonal complexity. For me, it is the absolute zenith of musical perfection. I can't get enough.
It is disturbing that the state of our popular music has turned into a grid of superficial blandness.
Jean Baptiste Lully was 376 years old yesterday. His music is largely unknown to most people, mainly because he is associated with a time of extravagance and excess, the monarchy and pre-revolutionary France. French culture deemed that such respect for the former days was unwarranted. Fiercely proud of it's revolution, the French people have voluntarily suppressed the attention to it's own that other national cultures have embraced, such as that given to Bach and Handel, Vivaldi and Purcell, Telemann and Albinoni. Recently though, a more relaxed atmosphere has replaced the prejudicial one that had been in force. Lully has taken on the spotlight as the all important master that he was, and is, for this grandest of music.

My affair with rock and roll is over. As a teenager, there was nothing to compare with the excitement I felt from hearing Johnny Cash on the radio, Otis Williams and The Charms, Franky Lymon and The Teenagers, Dale Hawkins, and countless other discoveries that occurred every day while I searched the dial for the sound of inspiration. Still, the timeless music of other ages grabs my heart and mind. I'm proud to have been a part of a great band. It doesn't really matter that MC5 wasn't a commercial success. What matters is how I feel about what I accomplished and where I am today. For that I am eternally thankful.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Last night my son and I were scanning the guide for something to watch on TV, when we happened on "The Temptations", a biographical drama about the Motown singing group The Temptations. We watch it for a few minutes and I asked him if he would rather see what else was on, to which he replied, "I want to watch this". So we settled in to watch the whole story. My son is 13 years old, a huge fan of Lil' Wayne, and pretty much all rap type music. He watches all those shows on MTV about hip-hop culture and anything revolving around pimping, rappers, and street cult. So, when the "Temps" story came on, I thought it would be too old school for him to get into. I was wrong. After a half hour or so, I went to bed. He stayed up, and not only did he watch the whole thing through, in the morning he told me how all the members died, what happened to them in their career, and who were his favorite "Temps".
I recalled that back in 1971 or so, Toward the end of our career, my band, The MC5, was playing a gig in Detroit at a place called The Latin Quarter. It was a show club down in the inner city of Detroit, that in the past was host to classy entertainment acts more in the vein of cabaret and regular show business performers. Rock and roll, the MC5 and "underground" music was a rarity in a place like this, but oooh how the times were changing. So, there we were loading our gear into a van on the street out front of The Latin Quarter, when a bronze colored Cadillac pulls over to the curb and a fellow jumps out of the car. As he approaches me in the darkness, I can see he is rather well dressed and has a familiar face. "Hey brother, I'm in a bit of a jam. Could you possibly hit me with a twenty or something, I need to get high and I'm flat broke? I'm David Ruffin and I would be so grateful to you." I was in a small state of shock at hearing that, but I dug into my pocket without hesitation and handed him a twenty dollar bill. He shook my hand and turned and walked away back to his car, and drove off down the street. I turned to Wayne and said "damn, that was David Ruffin!" I recognized him. As a matter of fact, The Latin Quarter was quite close to "Hitsville U.S.A.", the famous recording studio of the Motown Sound on West Grand Boulevard.
This morning as we discussed the "Temps", Gabby, my son, mentioned something about Otis, the founder of the Temptations. It brought back another memory. "I remember Otis quite well," I told Gabby. He was Otis Williams. When I was 13 years old myself, I bought my first rock and roll record. It was a song called "That's your mistake" by Otis Williams and the Charms. Otis Williams and the Charms were my favorite group and my very first record, and I still have it! I told Gabby that later today we would go get the record and clean it up and give it a listen on the old turntable.
What does it all mean? For now, it means that me and my 13 year old son can share something I never would have though was possible. That in two and a half minutes of recorded song we can vanquish 52 years of time. I can focus on a time when I was his age and draw that moment into the present. For a brief few moments his world will be channeled into my past, but have some meaning for his today. Beyond sentimentality, the importance of music is that we share our inspirations.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Greetings folks. How times have changed and so has this blog. I have decided to reveal some fresh word sculpture to the web of Our Lady Svengirly. Do feel free to drop me a note of comment if you are so inclined. I always enjoy getting a response, be it affirming or perhaps utter disgust. No problem, heh heh. Well, I'll try to remain calm and peaceful. Much has gone down the gulch since I logged in with an update. I'll get us up to speed soon, but I guess for now, I want to start by saying everything is cool, or cooler, and with our new saviour President-Elect Obama appointed to lead us out of Purgatory and on to the promised land. I do feel a sense of happiness and hope in my being for a change, no pun intended. Actually, I can't wait for the current president's removal, as in toxic waste, so we can revive the sense of oneness we once carried as our banner. At last the population came through -- came through and did the right thing by confirming that we have suffered disgrace much too long to be subjected to the ignorant policies of those who seek to repress free expression. Everywhere in the coverage of the election I saw the faces of youth, not only young, but those youthful in spirit, gleaming with joy, an outpouring of relief, and even many tears of jubilation, in the coming of real intelligent decision.
The result of the election has also opened my eyes to a number of things I had taken much for granted. Seeing such a breakthrough as happened November 4th, I realized how racism is an across-the-board enemy of truth. The world has some big changing to do, and I think we are ready for it at last. So, we put our hope in our new leader. I see him as "up for the task". He is all we got right now, and it has to be right now, not later.
Finally, while we feel euphoria and celebration, keep in mind that the task ahead is not Barack Obama's alone. Everyone must do their part to get our house in order. The world could be a sane place if we'd just do what we know in our hearts is right. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and experiences with you. Come on everybody, let the good times roll.