An Icon of Christmas

It’s still Christmas, so a merry season to all. This is a Russian Icon from Novgorod. Icons are symbolic, didactic, and beautiful. I love their primitive aspect, that they are often painted on wood(the wood of the cross) and I especially love the looks on the faces of the animals. Oh happy day!

There’s a site called reinkat put up by an iconographer which gives it’s meaning. And he says his explanation follows that of Leonid Ouspensky in a book called The Meaning of Icons, which a close friend of mine bought for me over 20 years ago. I have it before me and it’s finally on my read soon list. So thank you old friend.   Dec 28 2018.



Charlie Signorelli- Sing me back home

This is Bing Crosby singing, Sunday Monday or Always which my father sings below — (If you wish to listen to him first, as you must! scroll down. Then check out, Bing, Frank and the Mills Brothers.)

Wiki: “Sunday, Monday or Always” is a 1943 popular song with music by Jimmy Van Heusen and lyrics by Johnny Burke.

…The biggest hit version, recorded by Bing Crosby with the Ken Darby Singers on July 2, 1943[1] and appearing in his film Dixie, was made during a musician’s strike, and recorded with a vocal group background instead of an orchestra.[2] This recording was released by Decca Records as catalog number 18561. It first reached the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on August 19, 1943 and lasted 18 weeks on the chart, peaking at #1.”

It’s a boy gone off to war and longing to be home song. The sentiment of I’ll Never Smile Again, Till Then , and the Brits, We’ll Meet Again. Alas, my namesake Gasper never made it back…

And more to our point it’s the song my father sang to the family while serving in the Army in WW2. Various companies had trucks with mini recording studios going around allowing soldiers to make brief records to send back home to family and friends. My father, then stationed in Salem Oregon, made 3, live from the traveling Pepsi Cola studio.

I’ve had the 3 78’s forever, and following on my recent recording project decided to translate the old 78’s (probably done in 1942 or 43) to CD which I then put at the Sound Cloud site.

Not a problem, but they’re in reverse order – I’m still learning the ropes . Just click on the tracks. They are short, very short, but very moving and the snippet Dad sings is on the second track. Hmm … I was almost as moved by his mention of beer, sausage and a good time as by his song. That was Charlie: joyful king of the barbecue.

Family and friends I trust you will enjoy. BTW my father’s one hundredth birthday was this past Nov 11. And to keep the martial theme going and the peace and home theme too –  the very day World War 1 ended.

PS: The title, Sing Me Back Home, is from a Merle Haggard song. It isn’t a war song but about a guy on death row. In a way a war song, at least a song about a young guy facing death wishing someone could take him back home.

Dec 6 2018


Headshot Of Aretha Franklin
American singer Aretha Franklin looks over her shoulder, her hair pulled up into a beehive style, 1961. Franklin was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Photo by Metronome/Getty Images)
I was conquered by Aretha Franklin and a cohort of black Junior High School girls, on our schools white elephant day in June 1967. It was an end of the school year bon voyage party before summer vacation. We had the school yard to romp about in, refreshments and music we selected ourselves coming from an amplified turn table. When I say we, I mean the group of black girls who commandeered the record player and gave the rest of us a turn only when they felt like it. So we listened to a lot of soul music and one song in particular, Aretha Franklin’s Respect. Over and over, and it seemed as the morning progressed, at an accelerating rate. By noon we must have heard Respect at least a dozen times and the girls seemed to be in the throes of an obsession, and to me a rather annoying one, “can’t they play something else” I asked impotently?
After lunch I got my answer, No! More Respect, more annoyance, but with an undercurrent now of something else, I knew not what, welling up.  Suddenly the clouds of my mind, of my soul, parted and I done saw the light. Respect, and it came in a pleasure rush, by divine infusion, was absolutely fantastic, in the argot of the time, Respect was outtasite.
Poor pitiful me, the girls only had my best interests at heart – not that they even knew I existed – but God does work in mysterious, doncha think?
That was then now is now. A friend, an opera singer and coach, sent me the 60 Minutes interview below and my response and reflections follow.
But my dear peeps, to understand what I’m saying you have to watch the interview. It’s under 15 minutes and though Bradley irritates, Aretha shines … and listen to the 2 musical selections. If you don’t, you’re as dumb as I was when I was 14.
I was going to listen to this last night but I thought it was 60 minutes long, so I postponed. Thanks opera lady, for sending.
I like the interview, I like Aretha. She’s smart and funny and I really like the way she fended off Bradley’s stupid, insulting really, sex questions. A pet peeve of mine: Rock+Roll; Rhythm + Blues; Beat Music; is not about sex as the publicity mills would have us believe – at bottom it’s really about the body, the whole body, and the joy and exuberance of rhythmic bodily movement. I’ve seen 2-year-old toddlers automatically rock and sway as soon as it starts to play. And because music is also the pure language of the emotions, it’s about emotions, all of the emotions, in their never-ending subtleties and interminglings. Remember, Aretha was the Queen of SOUL, not the Queen of Lust, as the annoying Bradley kept pushing her to say. What a smarmy dope.
Of course sexuality plays into these things, but isolating sex from the full human person and the fullness of human relations, reduces us to the level of animals, even worse in fact because we are, or should be, so much more.
She mentions the song Do Right Woman: Here are 2 versions: the first is the studio version, which in its sparseness and air of quietude strikes me as a kind of chamber piece. Aretha, her piano – thank you Jerry Wexler – and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. The second is a live, but also prerecorded version, (it sounds produced and where are the live musicians?) that was shown on the Merv Griffin show.
When she sings softly you really get to hear the delicacy of her ear. Those little Gospel ornaments she strews at the end of phrases are utterly beautiful, and set up perfectly her louder expressions later on. It’s Aretha at her best.
* * *          ***                 ***
Peter Guralnick is a cultural historian who specializes in American music, especially the music of the American south – from whence all good things came – I’ve read his 2 volume biography of Elvis Presley, and for a couple of decades now I’ve been meaning to read his Sweet Soul Music:  “A gripping narrative that captures the tumult and liberating energy of a nation in transition, Sweet Soul Music is an intimate portrait of the legendary performers–Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, James Brown, Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Al Green among them–who merged gospel and rhythm and blues to create Southern soul music. Through rare interviews and with unique insight, Peter Guralnick tells the definitive story of the songs that inspired a generation and forever changed the sound of American music.”     With Aretha gone, and soul music too now mostly gone, I will be reading it soon.
I want to create for myself, a kind of well appointed with facts and stories, interior memorial to sweet soul music.
The music of our youth, like our youth, gone gone gone.
PS: Just thinking: Opera, and classical generally, is kept alive in perpetuity, perhaps because the composition and the scaffolding of the stories is the main thing , and is thus open to varied interpretations over time. Despite opera’s over the top star culture, its canon outlives its performers. Soul music however is, was, too much of its time, was not attached to specific long form narratives, and was utterly dependent on its performers who swam in the cross currents of those times.
The moment of black liberation has come and gone, and so are the artists who gave it voice. Who can recreate that time and who can recreate or even reinterpret Aretha Franklin?  It can’t be done.
Do Right Woman Studio version
Do Right Woman  from The Merv Griffin Show.
RIP Aretha Franklin   Queen of Soul
August 18 2018

Top Guitarists 1929 – 1969 R Beato

This just came out – JULY 1 – by someone named Rick Beato. A good list and he promises anther video just with blues. He starts with a couple of classical guitarists and then moves on never looking back. As was opined recently by someone, classical doesn’t cut much mustard with the guitar crowd. Of course he leaves people out maybe he shouldn’t have, conspicuously the folk rock greats: McGuinn, Young, Stills, and I might add, Robbie Robertson for a more blues rooted player.. Who knows, maybe he’ll turn them up elsewhere.
People don’t know it – though it was obviously the Beatles who got the whole world playing guitar, the Byrds LP Mr Tambourine Man was the first truly guitar dominated rock album. Every cut was saturated, dominated, by McGuinn’s wildly resonating 12 string Rickenbacker. For example: Jackie DeShannon’s Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe:
* BTW at the end that’s Bo Diddley stuff chiming in and up, brilliantly!
Hmm… with guitar I think jazz is the classical form, not classical classical. It contains the repository of high technique and theory, but it is still Chicago blues that is the headwater, not only of all subsequent rock guitar, but jazz/rock fusion as well.(where’s McLaughlin, Coryell, Beato? I assume they’re coming up.) The attack, the drama, and grandeur of modern guitar, which forms the thrust of McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, comes from the blues which is why I disagree with Beato that Wes Montgomery was the most influential post war guitarist. That distinction I’m convinced beyond doubt, belongs to BB King. In any case, jazz is over my head. I might have the ear for it, but not the chops, nor the heart for that matter.
I knew the Wichita Lineman, Glen Campbell, was good, but not this good – talk about jazz chops! As a non reading sideman he played to the song and arrangement, often with beautiful simplicity. For instance check out his Galveston
He paraphrases the melody, and sometimes, here and elsewhere, he plays the melody straight out. What makes it work is the melody itself, and his exquisite tone and touch.
PS: Beato’s second promised video featuring just blues, undermines his Montgomery pick, and supports my vote for BB. No matter, I’ll be checking Wes out more closely which is the main thing right?
July 12 2018

Astral Weeks

I’ve been meaning to send this article by Dominic Green along. I didn’t mean to put in my 2 cents and then some, but that’s what happened.

Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks was conceived in the spring in Boston 50 years ago, and recorded that autumn in New York in 2 sessions!. I stumbled upon Dominic Green one night and proceeded to read about 7 or 8 of his pieces – interesting feller.

There was a cultish scene in Boston, Green reports, in 68 around a guy named Mel Lyman. I read about him and his scene in Crawdaddy Magazine. I don’t remember the details but I recall feeling disturbed by it and learning that the Jim Kweskin Jug Band was associated with him. In fact he was in the band, as were the Muldaur’s Geoff and Maria. I had thought jug band music, as the Spoonful declared, was the cure, not the disease: “and the doctor said give him jug band music it seems to make him feel just fine.” Crawdaddy was America’s first rock magazine.

Mentioned herein is Morrison’s rough time with the mob. Big Time Operators from 1993’s Too Long in Exile chronicles that experience.

And from the darkly incandescent Astral Weeks: Beside You

Green says Astral Weeks is the greatest pop album ever. Don’t know about that but it’s up there… I haven’t read yet the book under discussion, Ryan Walsh’s Astral Weeks, but it’s on my list.

I used to play the album a lot . As hard as it might be to imagine, for a woman of her background and generation, unless you knew that is, of the kind of ear and sensitivity she had for music and for art generally, my mother liked it too. She said Morrison sounded, with all his whirls, and as I assume she perceived, his high sense of drama and tragedy – like an opera singer. – She didn’t actually say whirls or whorls, but something like it. – She also remarked on the flowing melodicism of the guitars and voices of Younger than Yesterday, and once was literally taken aback by the riveting story telling ability of John Prine. She had been walking about attending to various chores and such when she suddenly sat down to better focus on the Prine performance I was watching and she overhearing – apparently with gathering interest.

Who knows, if she had been of our generation she might have sung in a folk or folk rock group.

OK, a quick stab: what does Astral Weeks mean? what’s it about? Best answer is we don’t quite know and even if we do in part, we also know or should, that we can’t fix the meaning of a true work of art. And Astral Weeks is a true work of art. As Dylan said, we should not attempt with dreams and poetry to shovel the glimpse into the ditch of what each one what means. But generally, broadly, Astral Weeks is about being young and remembering and grappling as a young man, with the ancient mysterious world of childhood. It’s about being very young but feeling old, ancient in fact, almost timeless, almost lost in this world, and almost finding the way again in deepest memory .  And it’s about always searching, remembering, feeling. Dreaming, of infinite love, infinite tenderness, dreaming and remembering with sadness and longing, beneath the halo of a street lamp, in Belfast, in Brooklyn or some other haloed/hallowed world, be it beneath the hallowed stars or floating on the holy river… All seen from the illuminated vantage of childhood, from that mysterious village at the edge of eternity which is childhood, which leads or might, to the adult realization, re realization, recollection, that our deepest longings – if we can even recall them – can only be realized by God – not nature, which is finite and contingent – but by and in the infinite God, the very infinite non contingent, self subsisting, source of those longings.

We possess irremediable desire for infinite and perfect truth, perfect beauty, perfect  justice, perfect love, but as currently constituted, we and the world are finite and passing, which is why we are too long in exile and why there ain’t but one way out. It’s as simple as that. And yes Virginia there is a God.

Songs of innocence: Beside You; songs of experience: Slim Slow Slider.   Hmm a longer version with a revealing sung coda. First time I’ve heard it.

There is something true about Astral Weeks for all of us, whether we know it or not, or acknowledge it or not, and that includes Van Morrison – in the Green article he quotes Van saying that the album was written by a different person in another place and time. That’s not right! He’s the same person if differently situated, there’s transformation but within an essential continuity … And the biggest truth which all the smaller, contingent truths point to, is as Augustine says, that we are restless Lord till we rest in thee .

Morrison I’ve read, grew up as an evangelical protestant. I have no idea what he believes now – if anything. The man’s a bundle of intuitions, many profound, but he seems to lack any intellectual thrust and push. The mind and it’s right operations can get us a lot further along the way than the inarticulate speech of  the heart he extols – to put a spin on Pascal – even knows – though in the end it is true, that love is all.

Pietism, faith alone, even Van’s funky faith, is not enough, at least for the believing community as a whole if not all its individuals.

For instance, via logos, we can prove by intellectual demonstration that God exists.  The sceptical modes of argumentation that say we can’t, founder on their own performative contradictions, By their very deployment they undermine themselves and in very short order. Hume for one, an Anglophile favorite, says we can’t prove a first cause (God) but he also says that we can’t prove any cause, even the simplest, most embedded, most commonsensicle sorts commonly used to express universally observed reality . So he undermines, if taken strictly, not only all science, but more importantly, all causalities, and all explanatory endeavors, including the mental or intellectual causality of the very argument he is attempting to make. Similarly, Kant says we can’t know first causes but his epistemology declares that we can’t even ever know the thing in itself (the real). But if we can’t know the real, or the true, how then can we know that Kant’s presumably true dictums, about causality, about God, about anything, are themselves true?  His statements about reality,  purport to be true, but if we cannot really know truth, that danged, thing in itself, what pray tell, is the basis for his declaration? And for those extreme materialists who claim that the laws of physics are all, and that not only is God’s existence unprovable, but that he doesn’t even exist, what ever is the point of their arguments and books and such if in fact there can be no independent of physical reality arguments to be had?; if in fact, as their view strongly implies, that there is no mind, no logos – but just atoms and stuff – and hence no logically determined argument, and indeed no logically, non physically, determined or conditioned realms of discourse and being. And what then to make of a realm of thought that denies thought itself in its essence, and thus denies it’s own very validity, it’s very reality –  thereby making itself utterly incomprehensible?? The word absurd suggests itself. And what kind of bizarre, absurd, incoherent, self negating, mind negating, self blinded, world do these folk inhabit anyway?  As Lennon once said – unless drugged by their own ignorance and vanity, – how can they sleep?

We are a unity, a wholeness, though fractured by sin, of heart and mind, body and soul. The attempts to deny that unity, or any aspect of that unity – physics independent mental processes say – are and quite literally, insane.

glory be to him

Anyway here’s the article:

In 1968, even Boston wglas ankle-deep in LSD

‘And this is good old Boston/, The home of the bean and the cod,’ John Collins Bossidy quipped in 1910,…

16 March 2018

‘And this is good old Boston/, The home of the bean and the cod,’ John Collins Bossidy quipped in 1910, ‘Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots/, And the Cabots talk only to God.’ Also home, in 1968, to Mel Lyman, a folk musician turned LSD guru who believed he was God, and to Van Morrison.

The music business abounds with stories about Morrison being grumpy. In my experience, he’s perfectly reasonable. You’d be grumpy if your job obliged you to consort with thieves, liars and drummers who can’t keep time. You’d be especially irritated by people asking how you wrote Astral Weeks. Sensibly, Morrison explains that Astral Weeks was written by a different person living, as its title song says, ‘In another time/ In another place.’

That time was 1968, the place Cambridge, Boston’s university town. The circumstances were that Morrison and his girlfriend Janet Planet had decamped from New York following contractual difficulties involving the breaking of an acoustic guitar over Morrison’s head and the peppering of his hotel room door with bullets. In December 1967, Morrison’s producer, the Mob-friendly Bert Berns, had died of a heart attack. Morrison’s contract passed to Carmine ‘Wassel’ DeNoia, an associate of the Genovese crime family.

Morrison had split from Them and scored a solo hit with ‘Brown Eyed Girl,’ but he had visa troubles as well as business problems. The record labels were chasing psychedelic rock — heavy metal was slouching towards Donington — but Morrison was writing jazzy acoustic songs: ‘I’m nothing but a stranger in this world/Got a home on high.’

Cambridge is now a placid university town and hi-tech hub. In 1968, the whole of Boston seems to have been ankle-deep in LSD. The ‘secret history’ exhumed by Ryan H. Walsh is a forgotten freak scene. Researching this book, Walsh found himself inhabiting ‘an upside-down, hallucinogenic version of the metropolis’ he knows. Beacon Street, once a Jamesian parade of redbrick townhouses and now expensively dull, was a student ghetto. Roxbury, now a gentrified inner suburb, was so decayed that Mel Lyman’s acid-addled followers were able to buy up a whole street.

Lyman locked troublemakers in the basement and reprogrammed them with ‘guided’ LSD trips, but he never went the full Charles Manson. There was no killing spree, only a free sheet called Avatarand a music venue called the Boston Tea Party. The Velvet Underground became regulars.

In Cambridge, Morrison assembled a small acoustic group and created the template for Astral Weeks; his flautist, John Payne, was related to Robert Lowell. MGM tried to capitalise on the scene by hyping a ‘Boston Sound’. Walsh, tracking down a live tape from 1968, confirms that Astral Weeks was the real Boston Sound.

The 1960s were what Gershom Scholem would have called a ‘plastic hour’ in American history. The talking-to-God weirdness crystallised in California, but the countercultural reaction had begun in Boston in the days of the Cabots and Lowells. As Henry James’s satire of the table-tapping utopianism in The Bostonians suggests, Brahminic Boston pioneered ‘self-actualisation’. The first yoga studio in America was in Cambridge; William James discusses its teacher, the Hindu nationalist Swami Vivekananda, in Varieties of Religious Experience.

The local Blavatskyites identified Vivekananda’s akasha with their ‘astral plane’. Walsh notes Morrison’s interest in the third-generation Theosophist Alice Bailey, who inspired another record that broke the Pop mould, the Velvets’ White Light /White Heat. Has the protagonist of ‘Astral Weeks’, a dreamer recollecting experience in innocence, caught a whiff of Boston occultism?

Another time, another place: the real magic happened in New York. Joe Smith, the Warners executive who had signed the Grateful Dead, heard Morrison’s demos. He sprung Morrison from his contract by handing $20,000 in cash to some Italian American music lovers in an abandoned warehouse. In three sessions in October 1968, Morrison recorded a masterpiece, using hired New York jazzers and his Cambridge flautist, John Payne.

Walsh leads the Boston band Hallelujah the Hills. He has written a splendidly half-cracked cultural history, free of theoretical frottage and vivid with psychedelic colour. Great music speaks for itself, but Walsh’s findings confirm that Morrison was just passing through, nothing but a stranger in tripped-out Cambridge. It makes sense. Astral Weeks, the vinyl image of that plastic hour, is Pop’s greatest record because it isn’t Pop at all.


July 5 2018


Plastic Ocean



Thanks to an old buddy of mine who broached the subject, I’m spending my golden years – or is that hours? – reading about plastic pollution…As Spock would say “fascinating”.

The main problem, at least as far as land based dumping is concerned, is the explosion of plastic items in developing counties, (mainly Asia) outstripping their garbage removal infrastructure – plus corruption, ignorance etc.

Naming the US as a major polluter, as the above headline does, however is misleading; as you’ll see, the size of the Asian droppings dwarf ours. China, the world leader in pollution, in 2010 dumped 31.5 times more plastic than we did, Indonesia 11.5 more and the Philippines 6.5. Not only is the rate of plastic pollution increasing, but so too the proportional disparity between our input and Asia’s. We’re bad, but not nearly so bad as the third world leaders.

And how about this from Wiki:


Sources of ocean-based plastic pollution[edit]

Almost 90% of plastic debris that pollutes ocean water, which translates to 5.6 million tons, comes from ocean-based sources. Merchant ships expel cargo, sewage, used medical equipment, and other types of waste that contain plastic into the ocean. Naval and research vessels eject waste and military equipment that are deemed unnecessary. Pleasure crafts release fishing gear and other types of waste, either accidentally or through negligent handling. The largest ocean-based source of plastic pollution is discarded fishing gear (including traps and nets), estimated to be up to 90% of plastic debris in some areas. [2]

I looked at the cited source and found a list of about 70 articles about more general and more specific aspects of the subject, none, it appears, referring however to the 90 per cent ocean based derivation. And the more regularly cited stat is that 80 per cent of the ocean debris is from the land and only 20 per cent from the sea. Since almost all of the articles I’ve perused either focus on land based plastic sources, or quote the 80 per cent figure, I’m strongly inclined to go with the predominantly land based attribution. Also a reminder – as indispensable as it is – to be ever wary of Wiki.

A while back I saw a NYC documentary on how the city processes recyclables. 2 things stood out: 1> it’s entirely automated, and 2> it doesn’t seem we recycle plastic bags. 

We get to see the bags being separated out from the rest of the items, presumably to be disposed of as mere garbage,(but how, by incineration, land fill?) and the plant manager explicitly says, that though more fastidious and thoughtful New Yorker’s  think the bags are being recycled – in fact, they are not..

I’d always thought, and yes I do think about such things, that they were collected,  processed somehow into some kind of primordial plastic mush, and thenceforth returned to the plastic bag factory, as part of a kind of plastic cycle – to be refashioned into new plastic items. In the interim: stored in huge vats of plastic ooze waiting for deployment –a supposition I’m afraid, solely the product of my imagination.


The Blob

I think I had Steve McQueen’s Blob in mind…I guess we do live and learn…sometimes. 

PS: If you really want to get into the subject, note 2 lists 76 articles>.



The Annunciation

Annunciation Henry Ossawa Tanner.jpg

The Annunciation:  Henry Ossawa Tanner


annunciation carnavale fra

The Annunciation: Fra Carnavale

Two quite different depictions of the Annunciation. As some may have gathered, I love the great, courtly, religious classics of European art – so coming upon, the semi everyday realism of Tanner, a black, expatriated American – was bracing

Mary, before or after her fiat? – in Tanner, a poor girl, in a corner of her bed in a corner of her lonely room, already pondering in her heart – just look at her face and posture – her encounter with the supernatural. A plain material poverty especially striking to see after having bathed in middle ages and renaissance works, where as with Carnavale, Mary’s special grace is rendered gloriously as a type of aristocracy:  as a royalty of the spirit, with Mary, as Queen of Heaven, of the spiritually enriched aristocracy of the humble.

Both depictions I think, are accurate: different angles on, different but interlocking symbols of the same sublime reality. One where her poverty masks her true wealth, and the other where her material splendor masks, and thus indicates, both her actual material poverty but also a spiritual poverty, the poverty of the first beatitude *, which it symbolizes as splendor – which is in deepest reality, a kind of rarefied, exalted wealth.

*Blessed are the poor in spirit in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

PS: with religion I seem quite often, to be moved by art even more than I am by literature, and that goes for religion in general,  not only Christianity. Does that resonate with anyone else?


April 9 2018