Archive for the ‘Arts/Literature’ Category

White Squirrel Fest #6

September 10th, 2016

The JP Music Fest is a tot by Boston standard, but really they’ve pulled off six annual versions now.

We enjoyed a few hours there. As a note, the hipster quotient was low today. For example, I only counted two Trilby hats.

Here follow a few snaps of groups we heard in a few hours. I recommend following the links and listening to each. You can also catch a track from each at the JPMusicFest site.

The festival is this time each year, runs with continuous music from noon to 7, offers a wide variety, and is free.

Merrie Amsterburg plays a wide variety of instruments, including allegedly a washing machine. She was on the electric mandolin in JP. merrie3
amechoes2 America Echoes reminds audiences they are identical twins, Laura and Nina Ganci.
The America Echoes women do R&B and folk, electric and acoustic. amechoes6
boxofbirds1 Box of Birds is a folk rock quartet. Steph Durwin leads the vocals.
Guitarist Charlie Gargano of Box of Birds sang too. boxofbirds4
louder1 Louder Than Milk is a very local fun and funny country-like band.
Louder Than Milk has a drummer vocalist too, Jay Page (h.t. to Bridget Murphy). louderthanmilk



jpflute



On the way to the festival, we had a mini-concert from a wee flutist trying to get the ducks and her brother to listen.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

All Lowell All Day Folk Festival

July 31st, 2016

You don’t have to wait until the last weekend in July to go to Lowell, MA. Lots of art, restaurants and music are worth the trip the rest of the year. Yet, here we’re big on the annual Lowell Folk Festival. We’ve only missed two of its 30 years, when we were far away.

By the bye, Seattle has an older one (45 years) with more performers. It runs Memorial Day weekend.

We’ve never left the LFF without a new favorite musician/group. Oh to tip the scales, I note that they’ve kept this free. They gently ask for donations as volunteers wander, swapping Mardi Gras necklaces for whatever you chip in (and you don’t have to flash).

Fado (fate in Portuguese) is the mainstay of the country’s music. Many songs are of heartbreak, loss and jealousy. They do mix them up with some fun. Ana Laíns was extremely expressive in voice, body and face. LFFfado7
LFF16ceili1 Of course Irish music…Old Bay Ceili Band played that. Let’s call this the trad Irish mirrored sunglasses.
The several century old Peking Opera, replete with much percussion, garish costumes and battles was by the Qi Shu Fang troupe. I honestly am not sure I would be a regular but no one could say the style is boring. LFFpeking3
LFFjason2 Jason D. Williams, who may or may not be Jerry Lee Lewis’ son, more than plays piano. He uses his fingers, fists, feet, butt and like that. High energy does not being to describe his boogie woogie. I doubt a keyboard could survive more than two of his shows.
Deacon John is in his seventies, but sings and moves like he’s 22. Powerful jump blues. LFFdeacon
LFFlurrie1 Lurrie Bell, Chicago bluesman and son of one, delivered strong and pounding blues.
Gibson Brothers bluegrass band included driving base by Mike Barber and demon mando by Jesse Brock. The leads actually are brothers Leigh and Eric, only 11 months apart. LFFgibson2
LFFmacmaster1





Bad nighttime lighting and the fast movements of Cape Breton fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and hubby Donnell Leahy limited shots of them. They wowed on the violins and she claimed the Irish step dance routine she through in she hadn’t done in almost 30 years.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr. There are many more snaps there.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Family Clipboards and Whistles

February 6th, 2016

Clipboards and lanyards with Acme Thunderer whistles were family tools for me. My true role model was Granddad, William Benjamin Michael, who worked on the B&O Railroad for 48 years until they forced him to retire. I had full train trappings, replete with cap and overalls and he let me drive a wood-burning engine around the yard. I never became a toot-toot engineer.

In a boomer lifestyle though, lifeguarding and water-safety instruction was a family biz. My mother ran Red Cross chapters in West Virginia, Virginia and New Jersey. She had been on her way to becoming a nurse when she married, was a Gray Lady in Japan when we were part of the Occupation Army there and came to her post-divorce career with many duties. Those included teaching home nursing, first aid, emergency first aid (bang, post-atomic-bomb stuff), and the range of swimming and lifeguard c0urses.

[By the bye, I took and taught those emergency first-aid courses too. I’m fine with having learned to delivery babies and less pleased with knowing how to treat radiation poisoning.]

Mom Wanda taught me to swim first in the South Branch of the Potomac by Romney, West Virginia. There were also pools, where I saw her in action —teaching, managing other instructors and generally being group mother.

As far as I recall, my sister and I never thought about it. Somehow organically, we also became lifeguards and water-safety instructors (WSIs). I also taught first aid and coached summer swim teams where I guarded. Back in the sensible days, my summer earnings from guarding, teaching and coaching paid for most of my college costs. The rest came from academic and athletic scholarships.

Thinking back, I remember Wanda with clipboards and whistles. Those became part of my life too, all and every summer. From beginner through senior life saver, my chargers were under my watch and subject to attendance checks and fill-in-the-boxes accomplishments. I would only guess how many class forms I completed, likely a thousand or two over many summers. Each form was on a clipboard, as much a part of the WSI uniform as a swimsuit.

Wanda also had a lanyard and whistle of dubious utility.

thudererWhen I became a lifeguard for summers and in college, the nasty-sounding Thunderer (pic from the Acme site [no coyotes]) became essential. Particularly when keeping a pool safe when it was rife with other teens, authority was in the whistle.

I was not the beloved laissez-faire lifeguard. No dunking on my watch. I’d throw people (almost always boys) out for running after being warned, diving when others were below, and again holding someone under water. Fortunately, I was large enough and athletic enough to pull it off. Plus, most young swimmers depended on me to pass their swimming courses.

My mother was often in a Red Cross uniform. Other times, I remember her in a bathing suit with a WSI path (I may still have one of mine), and always with the whistle and clipboard.

Those were badges of office in my family.

By the bye, none of my three sons had the slightest interest in being a team swimmer much less lifeguard or instructor.

Today in my house, I have numerous leftover clipboards. I put them to use daily though. When most of us turn on the TV, I either read a book or engage in my preferred evening activity, cryptic puzzles. My favorites are from the Financial Times.

My wife says the British puzzles are impossible and illogical, but they are my recreation and pleasure. They also work best with a clipboard.

 

 

Stony Brook, You’re It!

January 3rd, 2016

I’ve run various shots here and on Flickr (like this one) of Stony Brook Reservation in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood. More than the cat-tails and red-tail hawks, the humanoid contemporary wall art — a.k.a. tagging — typifies this end of the massive park.thompson

It’s worth an urban archeology expedition to see the graffiti in what was the Thompson Center. Opened in 1977 as a recreational facility for the physically disabled, it was largely neglected and finally closed in 2002. There’s talk now of turning into a dog-exercise joint. Certainly canine folk are eager for pooping and panting places. They are likely to goose the dozing mayor and city council to get their dog park.

ThompsonisisMeanwhile, the taggers are relentless. Each time I visit, there is new graffiti. The sprayers must have been singularly active Channukah to Christmas to New Years, there were perhaps a dozen paint cans and lids discarded in the main area. The accompanying pic does not show the dominant purple and lavender spray this time.

Strikingly though, the art is egocentric and devoid of political content. Today I was surprised to see the anti-ISIS sentiment. We can be reasonably sure those foreign terrorists are not aware of the statement and would not be concerned were they to become aware. However, I’ll watch for more commentary on my next trip.

Unflinching POW tale worth the angst

September 5th, 2015

MCPJreadNothing like being slugged in the mouth by your dad…unless it’s always quaking in his presence because he was volatile and your any word or action might make him roar or threaten you. Nothing is good enough or right.

The relentless tone and theme of Cathy Madison’s memoir The War Came Home With Him both fascinates and exhausts. Of course, Amazon has it and it’s well worth reading, so long as you know what you’re committing to do, think and feel.

As a disclaimer, the author and I were wee childhood buddies, as in nursery/kindergarten time. Our mothers kept regular contact until their deaths. She and I reacquainted casually in the past few years. The pic above from right to left has mutual friend Jackie, my sister Pat, Cathy and I reading. We were at the Arden Apartments (see chapter 2) where her mother awaited word on Korean POW Doc Boysen.

Note too that my father also fought in both Korea and WWII France and Germany. As nearly all such soldiers who saw a lot of action, he didn’t talk about it, much less glorify war. That was for desk jockeys to do.

This memoir is a hard read, but not because of length (only 239 smallish pages) or turgidity (she’s a real journalist). Rather, she sporadically describes from her memory and mostly from her father’s written recollections horrors of several types. In fact, the book alternates its 26 short chapters. One recounts the vicissitudes of Army family life and then the literal and figurative tortures of being a POW, and the next speaks to the title in her memories.

The primary subject, Alexander Boyson, MD, known both as Doc and Pete, was beyond prickly. In Vietnam and later parlance, he had PTSD and has clearly changed personality for the worse during three years of Korean and Chinese imprisonment. As the eldest of three children and by the text the most sensitive, Cathy got the intermittent physical punishment and regular verbal abuse. Rather than responding to the martinet with disdain and hate, she seems to have gone the cowering and trepidation route, the survival mode.

As a writer, I was very impressed by the elegant interweaving of the two parallel memoirs. The time periods are not contemporary, but the interplay works superbly. Her own tales, while they can be jarring, act as breathing space for the reconstructed vignettes of the prison camps, forced marches, prisoner disorders, and deaths.

I suspect many readers will think of Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini. While the latter book and movie do not deal with war tragedy and horror, the harsh and overly precise dad character comes to mind.

I found some parallels and coincidences with Cathy’s story. Fortunately, I did not have a verbally and physically abusive home life. My parents divorced when my father returned from Korea to the rest of us in Japan  He quickly remarried and became a deadbeat dad, refusing to pay child support as he was assigned to Germany and had two sons by his second wife. Yet, my mother (who would have been 91 today) supported my sister and me as exec in a series of Red Cross chapters. That meant we moved every couple of years, as Cathy did in the military. Amusingly enough, she also spent time at Fort Sill, where my parents married, my sister and were born, my parents divorced, and my mother and grandfather had to retrieve us via a military court when my father and stepmother announced they’d ignore my mother’s full custodial rights and take us to Europe.

A current meme has been that we boomers are evil, sucking the financial blood from the American body. Yet, many or even most of us didn’t have cushy lives.

Cathy certainly didn’t. She grew up not fully protected by her mother, under the control of a neurotic, very smart surgeon dad. Here again I got the better of it with a single mom, where being from that period piece clicché broken home also meant I didn’t get beaten or shamed. Having two parents isn’t necessarily the ideal.

Even if I didn’t know Cathy, I’d recommend the memoir. I won’t delve here into the images of POWs’ bootless feet leaving blood and skin on forced marches over ice nor Doc’s sudden outbursts that were both irrational and cruel. Just be warned that some, no many, chapters carry harsh jolts.

For those who want the long view be aware that when you finish The War Came Home With Him Cathy comes to terms with a mother who smoked too much, drank too much and shielded her daughter inadequately, and with her often insecure self, and even with her understandably traumatized father. She does not deeply analyze her mother or herself, rather provides reportage and lets the reader do that.

In addition to her memories, her father’s writings, and a few interviews, she also includes some research on the aftermath of POWs and collaboration. As a whole, a war queerly called a UN police action, comes into focus through the experiences of Doc and his fellow POWs. If war is hell, prison camps were a whole deeper level.

Cathy’s memoir is a short, intense trip, well worth it.

The book is at once detailed and yet leaves out much. Her two brothers are very minor characters until the end of her parents’ lives; we don’t learn whether Doc’s abuse extended to them or to her mother and to what extent if so. We don’t know whether she turned to her mother to protect her and if so whether Cathy held her guilty for not doing so. We don’t read about her marriage, which she writes that her husband left. Was he in any real way like her father or did her relationship with Doc color and poison the union? We have to wonder whether the Doc who could record his memories and thoughts of the Korean year so fully analyzed his own treatment of his daughter and others.

In my many moves, I got to know numerous families under the command of an ex-military dad, and in a few cases a dad and a mom. I knew quite a few others who had abusive fathers who were neither POWs or even ex-military. Getting slugged in the face and beaten with belts and such was part of their lives. It wasn’t part of mine, for which I am grateful, and more so after reading Cathy’s memoir.

 

 

 

 

Wee Beests to Boston

August 28th, 2015

After a very unsatisfying and crowded first go at the Strandbeests last weekend, we had a much closer, leisurely and just better time when the small versions arrived in downtown Boston today.

They brought the same pair of relatively tiny TinkerToy-style, wind-in-sail driven models as at Crane Beach. I write tiny because the videos and promo material for Theo Jansen’s fantastical constructions show titanic versions. Sure it makes perfect sense that they would not try to lug and reassemble the biggies everywhere. Just as sure, it’s disappointing to see 7-foot tall models rather than major-motion-picture-scale ones.

Nonetheless, I grew up on construction toys and bought more elaborate ones for my sons, ostensibly for my sons that is. What follows are some shots from City Hall Plaza this afternoon. Geeks and nerds only need look.

 

Don’t let the legs and feet fool you. They are under the Strandbeest to stabilize it. These are sail, wind-driven toys. Beest1
beest7 Dutiful intern types do quick assembly on Jansen’s critters, then pull them to a starting area and wait for a good breeze.
beest4 beest3
beest6 When top and side sails fill up and get some oomph, the beest takes off, the feet and legs churn, and it seems to be walking even running.
The legs and feet really do rise and fall as the beest races along. The illusion is of locomotion beest2
beest5 The worker bees are ever at the ready to do quick repairs (frequently needed) and if necessary to pull the beests back for another run and another wait for a breeze.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

God’s TinkerToys

August 22nd, 2015

Five of us from Boston, Brookline and Worcester joined several thousand at Crane Beach in Ipswich today to jostle each other for glimpses of the Strandbeest. The plastic framed, wind-powered walking thingummy from Dutchman Theo Jansen was hard to get close to and difficult to see. You’ll have many more chances, some to observe the bigger, badder versions.

Rain or shine, wind or not, one or more will be at the Peabody Essex Museum from 9/19 through 1/3/16. On Friday, August 28th, they’ll be at Boston City Hall Plaza from 11AM-1PM and the Kennedy Greenway from 4:30-7PM.

If you look at the stills and vids at the Strnndbeest and museum sites, you’d expect titanic critters of major motion picture proportions. The pair of them that hit the beach today were more scaled-down traveling models…maybe 7 or so feet tall, plus some wind-catching sails.

strandsoloWhile you might expect something like Imperial AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars, these were more in the super-sized TinkerToy or Erector Set models. They are still way cool, just not either as big or animated as fantasy would have it.

Boomers, particularly boys from that era of gender-specified playthings, should feel very comfortable with Jansen’s updated models.

We concurred that real beast in the Strandbeest show at Crane’s today was the crowd. Either Saturday mornings on the North Shore are slow or the PR efforts worked. The roads to the beach crawled, the lots were full, and the beach was jammed.

strandincrowdEveryone seemed to feel entitled to an intimate experience with Strandbeest(s). The poor yellow-shirted volunteers really did try to get folk to stand back. The concepts seemed to be not to hurt the moving sculptures, to stay out of the way of the art, and to let people see the damned things.

People weren’t having any of it. There were several loud women telling off quiet men and women, saying they’d been there for over two hours and were not about to let anyone sit down in front of them. That was just rude and they knew it. So there.

As a couple of hours passed though, everyone interested kind of got a view. A few had parents or friend hoist them on their shoulders. Many wormed their way close enough to see the action. Others held out hope that the promise of the Strandbeest waddling down the beach would bring one or both of them within sight.

strandsailThe yellow shirts first walked the frames down the beach to a clear area for repeated promenades. The crew would attach, then unfurl the gauzy sails. The wind from the ocean would then propel a Standbeest a couple of hundred feet. Then the crew would walk it back to the starting point to repeat.

The large crowd never got rowdy and stayed pretty calm. Again, everyone got to see something, even if the script for Strandbeests lumbering along the beach repeatedly really didn’t happen.

These very large toys are clearly well designed and even better constructed. They stood up to hours of being lugged and led and reassembled. They did in fact walk on the beach, largely under wind power on their plastic stumps.

We decided we’ll have to visit them next week in downtown Boston. I rather doubt they can count on the ocean breeze as they did today. We’re curious to see these in various environments.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Very close sounds in the Village

August 7th, 2015

denhert2Without question, my favorite intimate NYC music venue is the 55 Bar. My Boston drinking buds and I visit when we go to the City. While it humbly advertises itself as a Prohibition Era dive bar, it really is a wee place that features jazz in the broadest sense, one where you can sit within touching distance of the musicians.

This Wednesday, the three of us went for KJ Denhert with guest, her long-term singing bud, Vicki Genfan. They have been singing together for decades since college (one at Ithaca and the other down the hill at Cornell. They both sing and play, with KJ specializing on vocals and Vicki on guitar. Each will occasionally guest on the other’s gig. They like each other and it shows in the music.

As always, we arrived 10 minutes before showtime and trotted to the barstools next to the band and johns. The early sets at the 55 don’t have a cover, just a two-drink minimum per very long set. Out stools were literally right there.

Genfan2Pix notes: Click a pic for a larger view. These are Creative Commons, so use ’em if you want; just credit Michael Ball once. I won’t apologize for the grain and such. The light inside the 55 is Dis as befits the underworld. The bulbs are in fact red, so these are even color corrected a bit. I won’t use flash when I’m close to musicians. I have some upbringing.

Back to the 55, if you go look carefully for the 55 street number to its down-the-stairs entry. It’s, if you pardon, cheek to jowl with the famous Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher. It seats maybe 60 at deuces and quads, with another 20 or so at the bar. There are no bad seats, you are all close to the music.

KJ likes to scramble her style(s). She sometimes is urban folk, but does real jazz licks and her own blues. She performed mostly originals for us, with beyond Genfan on some, the combo’s drums, guitar and bass guitar.

She and Genfan performed together on an off. Sometimes KJ sat next to me while her friend went solo. Again, they like each other.

To Vicki, I’d never heard or seen her signature style. After the break, she came over and I asked her if there was Denhert4a name for that spanking the frets just above the guitar body. She turns her guitar into more of a percussion instrument…think piano. It’s a hell of a lot more powerful than beating the body for a thump or 20. She creates a combination of rhythm and melody with the flourishes.

She was impish though. She could have told me that she’d named the style. I found that out by clicking around to read about her. She calls it slap-tap. Good stuff.

As every other time we’d gone to the 55, the music was superb, particularly because we were a few feet from it. I guess it also helps that it is such a small room that they don’t have to blast the audio to the point of making your ears bleed. (Don’t you hate that?)

This is kind of like the Lowell Folk Festival. I have some CDs to buy. I also chatted with both of the lead singers. Is it true that memories are free?

You should go out to their sites or YouTube or Amazon and listen. You’re allowed to buy their music even if you didn’t sit next to them.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

 

Elves working on JP Porchfest

February 8th, 2015

111 bands this year for the JP Porchfest…plus:

  • theater performances
  • storytelling stage
  • dance stage(s)
  • circus acts

We were in the group who fought the rages of winter to fill the hall at the First Baptist to view the wee documentary of the first version last year. The website and FB page have details already on the second annual one, on the sked for Saturday, July 11th from noon to 6PM.

Band signups start in mid-March. The organizers have been churning along for months though. Watch the sites for ways to volunteer and announcements of the musical/potable/comestible fundraisers.

At today’s show, you missed free seltzer, popcorn and Hersey’s kisses…plus a lengthy performance by Jamaica Plain Honk.

jph3 jph5
jph4 jph2
jph1

 

May I See Icy Maze?

January 3rd, 2015

They’re trying hard to get the name Innovation District to stick to South Boston at Fort Point Channel and the new convention center.  A ploy to lure folk in the windy, wintery times includes the Lawn on D.

To less boosterism types that is really a medium-sized park in the desolate space on D Street behind the Westin. Otherwise, unless you work there, you’d avoid the spot.

This weekend (through Sunday, January 4th, there are things. Several moving sculptures, a couple of food trucks, an outside bar with wine and beer, some tables, and (ta da) a maze of ice blocks.

Honestly, the maze is scaled for 2 to 5 year olds. Its walls are under five feet tall, so adults peer over. Little ones love it. Certainly you’d have to be as dumb as a household pet to get lost in this one.

However, they got artsy with it. numerous colored LEDs add contrast and color. Prints of National Geographic photog Paul Nicklen are the real humor — pix of polar bears on ice in blocks of ice. Subtler art is in colored and carved ice blocks.

It’s not a must see, but if you are in South Boston…

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

 

If you’re the right size, the ice maze works just fine. SBmaze1
SBmaze5 Many LEDs liven up the blocks.
Paul Nicklen’s snow and ice wildlife images are (har har) embedded in actual ice. SBmaze2
SBmaze6 A lot of detail went into the carving and coloring.
Adults can peer over the maze, keep track of their kids, and admire the construction. SBmaze4
SBmaze Don’t expect to read in the local tabloid about families getting lost in the maze.