Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014: The Year in Review

I've been dreading this. My 2014 resolutions were made pretty explicitly and pretty publicly in this January blog post. Since then, they've been in the back of my mind, mostly in that, "Oh yeah...I should do that..." sort of way. Some I've acted on, some I haven't.

So, since I'm a bullet-point kind of guy, and this is the season for making lists and checking them twice, let's look back and see how well (or poorly) I did with my 2014 resolutions:

  • Read 52 Books: Done. This will happen. I've read 51 books so far and will certainly read one more before 12/31. For a full account of my 2014 reading, check out my GoodReads page: (As a side note, I should mentioned that I'd also resolved that at least half the books I read in 2014 would be by authors who are women. I ended up reading 27). 
  • Paint 52 Paintings: Not done. Not even close. I completed 15 paintings in 2014. I'll do better in 2015. I promise.
  • Exercise Every Day: Not done. This didn't happen either. While I do exercise most days, often, and semi-regularly, I've yet to nail it every day.
  • Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: Done. I've eaten marginally more fruits and vegetables, mostly thanks to Tutti Jackson's fruit salads and regular stops at Northstar Cafe (see also Beechwold Salad).
  • Write at Least Eight Reviews for Columbus Underground: Not done. I wrote seven. You can see them here: Realistically, I still have time slip an eighth one in. I really did like the Now-Ism show at Pizzuti Collection. Maybe I'll write about that.
  • Keep Up With My Social Medias: Done. I did reasonably well here. I could probably stand to improve my Pinterest presence, but overall I think I'm mostly staying in the game.
  • Record With Jim Diamond in Detroit: Not done. This didn't happen. We'll roll it over onto the 2015 list.
  • Take a Continuing Education Class at CCAD: Not done. See above
  • Fix My Scooter: Done. This happened! For the first time in probably five years I rode my long neglected 1965 Vespa 125 to work. Here's it is, humming along on Vine (In related news, I also won a (running) scooter at the Scoot-A-Que raffle. All in all it was a good year on the scooter front. Next up? Win a garage!).
  • Rake Leaves: Not done. LOL. Seriously. Not one leaf was raked; not the old 2013 leaves and not the new 2014 leaves.
  • Get a New Car: Well, new to me! Done. There's been talk around our house of retiring the Saab. It's been spending a lot of time in the shop and presenting a lot of niggling issues that make it a hassle to drive. I'd been "informally" looking for something in a little better shape, and when a friend mentioned she was getting rid of her 2000 Saturn, I snatched it up. I know it's not the coolest car in the world, but when you've got multiple vintage Vespas (see above), you don't really have to sweat how cool your car is.
  • Paint the Living Room Dining Room, Stairwell and Hallway: Not done. LOL. In fairness I took a week off in the spring with the intention of doing this. Apparently I got side-tracked. We'll add it to 2015.
  • Enroll in a Krav Maga Self-Defense Class: Not done. We'll add it to 2015.
  • Establish a Primary Care Physician: Done. This happened! For the first time in my adult life I have a PCP. That means regular check-ups, physicals, bloodwork and paper gowns!
  • Get All Those Horrid Tests Men My Age Get: Done. Completed without comment.
  • Listen to More (New) Music: Done. Well, more for me, which isn't a lot. For the last few years I'd paid very little attention to music and was kind of starting to miss it. This year I started listening to more music; not a lot, but more (baby steps).
  • Buy More Local Music: Done. Thanks to Connections and Lydia Loveless I've purchased more local music in 2014 than I have in the previous 20 years combined!
  • Take My Lovely Wife Out More: Done, though I got this one backwards (she takes me out). Still, we got to go out a lot and do a lot of fun things!
  • Talk My Lovely Wife Into a Trip To Ireland: Done. I don't know that I really talked her into this (it was more like a tough week at work and a desperate need for a vacation forced her hand). Still, we did go to Ireland. You can read what I learned here:
  • Barring That - Take Some Sort of Travel Vacation!: Done. I did however talk her into going to New York to see the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney!
  • Listen More: Done. I think I do! The truth is I'm so determined to not be one of those awful, insufferable, close-minded, intolerant old people that I probably spend more time on intentional self-improvement now than I ever have in the past.
  • Be More Patient: Done. See above.
  • Be More Understanding: Done. See above.
  • Ask More Questions: Done. See above.
  • Ask Better Questions: Done. See above.
  • Leave Things Better Than I Found Them: Done. Isn't that why we're here?
So, what's the finally tally:

26 resolutions presented.
18 completed
8 incomplete

That's a solid C, right? Really, considering how hard life can be sometimes, I'll take it.

Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

We'll see you in 2015!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Latest Addition

My wife and I have been putting together a modest collection of original art over the last few years. In this case "modest" means that we buy within our means and usually stick to smaller works, often by local artists. In the process of building our collection we've maintained a "wish list" of artists whose work we appreciate and would like one day to own. Paul Emory has been one such artist.

So, it was our good fortune that we managed the winning bid for his painting "Tonya" at a recent Ohio Art League fundraiser.

If you're not familiar with Paul Emory's work...well...honestly it's hard to talk about. I say that because the words that one might be inclined to use (words like weird, naive, creepy, and childlike) can make his paintings sound...well...unattractive. Similarly, the works themselves present something of an acquired taste. The first encounter with them can be jarring. In his narrative paintings, haunting, stylized figures exist either in dreamlike interiors or shabby small-town tableaus.

His fauna series depicts vaguely anthropomorphic animals crowding the foreground and gazing directly at the viewer as if sitting for portraits.

Beyond first impressions though, it's clear that Paul Emory knows a lot about painting and a lot about art history. Looking at "Tonya" it occurred to me that one could present a pretty comprehensive lesson on painting from 1860 to 1930 using just this single work.

Tonya 2003 

It has the impressionistic brushwork of Monet, the flattened figures of Manet, Matisse and Modigliani, the creepy Surrealism of DeChirco and Balthus, the patchwork of patterns favored by Bonnard, and the fractured compositions of Cubism. Going back even further, it's hard not draw the connection between the mischievous children in "Tonya" and the putti who appear in many classical and renaissance works.

For me I suppose that's part of the attraction of Emory's work. It carries on a dialog with painting's past while presenting a vision that is both refreshing and singular. I'm thrilled to finally have one we can enjoy in our home.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Anyone who's lived in the University District more than a couple years knows well the seasonal patterns of the migrating students who reside there.

Football season brings wandering bands of scarlet and grey clad bros sporting traditional Natty Light crowns.

Winter break sees a period of relative calm, punctuated by the backyard pyrotechnics and dumpster fires that signal the start of a New Year.

Summer sees the great exodus as students return to their ancestral homes.

And the end of summer? That's moving season; the time when leases expire and the annual game of musical apartments begins.

A major part of this seasonal change involves an effort to "travel light"  by jettisoning anything non-essential to the move. That usually means filling the campus area alleys with mattresses, TVs, chairs, couches, chests of drawers, and just about anything else that's either too heavy or too unfit to move.

To many, this accumulation of trash is nothing more than a seasonal eyesore. Me? I was taught that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade! So it was with great excitement that I welcomed the appearance of this single mattress propped against the dumpster behind our house.

I understand that the untrained eye will see trash at the very best and a moldering biohazard at the very worst. To those of us well-versed in contemporary art though, this is opportunity!

See, the annals of contemporary art are filled with readymades, matresses, mixed-media, found art, and the attendant transformational flourishes that accompany all of the above. Put another way, when I saw this mattress propped so perfectly against the dumpster I immediately recognized in it the essence of Sarah Lucas' now iconic sculpture Au Naturel.

OK. Lucas employed a queen sized bed, so there's that. The color on the one behind my house is not exactly right either. Also, hers was in a gallery and associated with one of the most important movements in 20th Century art. It reached (and  spoke to) an international audience of art aficionados. My mattress is in an alley.

Still, how can one deny the Spirit! The Essence! The laconic posture of a filthy and unadorned mattress in full repose! How could I resist? (Plus, as Donald Rumsfeld so famously said, "You don't make contemporary art with the mattress you wish you had, make contemporary art with the mattress you have").

Needless to say, this morning I hustled up a couple of oranges and a cucumber and unveiled my newest work (You're welcome!) Au Naturel - Male (after Lucas).

A couple notes on the execution and presentation: This work is less a copy of Lucas' piece and more of an appreciation. Given the mattress was a single, certain compromises had to be made. The selection of the male form over the female form should not be read as anything more than a choice borne of convenience. Similarly, the selection of a traditional North American cucumber (over the European/English variety favored by Lucas) should not be seen as a particular endorsement. Each variety has its own merits and should be judged accordingly.

Au Naturel - Male (after Lucas) will be on view in Dixon alley (between Clinton and Maynard) for an indeterminate period of time. Note: this work contains mature themes.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

How to Buy Jeff's Paintings

It occurred to me recently that I don't make it very easy for people to shop for my paintings.

I don't have a gallery.

I don't have an Etsy page.

I don't have a Saatchi Art page.

I don't have an AbsoluteArts page.

I don't have a web site that shows available works, terms, prices, or any of the other rudimentary elements that comprise most free-market transactions.

I should probably fix that at some point.

In the meantime, here's a blog post that will hopefully answer a few of the most common questions regarding "how to buy Jeff's paintings".

Where can I see Jeff's paintings?
  • Jeff maintains a Pinterest page that features many of his completed paintings. That's probably the best place to look. He doesn't post every completed painting on Pinterest, but he posts a lot of them. Some have already sold, but many are still available.
How much do Jeff's paintings cost?
  • Size is probably the biggest determining factor when it comes to price. The smallest ones (5" x 7") are generally $250.00 - $300.00. The medium sized ones (9" x 12") are generally around $500.00 - $700.00. The largest ones are about $1000.00. Pricing is not an exact science, but those numbers will at least get you in the ballpark.
 What does that get me?
  • Well, you'll get the painting (natch). It will be signed and dated too! (By Jeff, on the back). Jeff doesn't sign paintings on the front. He's not really sure why. It might be because the front is where the painting goes. In any event, he just doesn't sign there.
  • Your painting will also come framed in a really nice Hackman Frame. These are handmade and hand-leafed frames. The corners are finished (i.e. there are no visible miter joints) and the painting is "floated" in the frame (unless it's a work on paper. Then it gets matted, put under glass, and then framed). Either way, it's a really nice presentation (if perhaps a bit traditional).
Do I have to buy it framed? Can I buy it unframed at a lower price?
  • Jeff is kind of a stickler for presentation and prefers to sell his paintings appropriately framed. Obviously buyers are free to have the paintings framed however they like once they take possession. Jeff does not recommend this. It's unlikely they'll be able to improve greatly on the work presented at the point of purchase.
So what if I decide I'm interested in a painting and I'm thinking about making a purchase?
  • At that point the simplest thing would be to get in touch with Jeff at jregensb(@) and make an inquiry. If you identify a particular painting of interest, Jeff can let you know if it's available. If it is, the next step would be a studio visit. You and Jeff would arrange a time to meet at his studio to see the work in person. Similarly, if you just wanted to browse and see what's available a studio visit can be arranged for that as well.
So, I should just contact Jeff if I'm interested in his work or in seeing more? Is that how it works?
  • Yep. Pretty much. 
What if I go through all that and I decide I don't want a painting after all. Won't that hurt Jeff's feelings?
  • No
Are you sure?
  • Yeah. Pretty sure.
Is there some way I can buy Jeff's paintings without going directly through Jeff?
  • Yes. While Jeff doesn't have gallery representation, he occasionally has works available for sale in group shows, specialized galleries, or any variety of local auction-based fundraisers. These opportunities come up sporadically, and Jeff usually promotes them through his social media channels. The best way to find out about these events is to follow Jeff's blog, his Facebook page, or Twitter.
What if I don't have enough money to pay for a painting all at once. Can I make payments?
  • Jeff's pretty reasonable about stuff like that. He wants people to enjoy his paintings so he's usually willing to work with them.
Are the prices negotiable?
  • Jeff feels like his work is priced fairly. When one factors in the time, materials, and the cost of framing, it turns out the prices are pretty reasonable (perhaps even a bit low). It's a high-quality presentation too; one that will offer years and years of enjoyment.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer Show at CS Gallery

I've been invited to show some paintings at CS Gallery this month.

It's actually a group show put on in cooperation with Columbus Underground and featuring a number of their "Local Artist Spotlight" participants and/or "Best of 2013" artists.

The line-up includes:

Adam Brouillette
Michael Bush
Amy Neiwirth
Robert Patricy
Jeff Regensburger

I'll be submitting five new paintings to the show, including these two:

 Landscape (F2, Late Evening)

Portrait (F2 at 750 Yards)

The exhibition runs July 18th - July 30th, 2014.

The opening reception is Friday July 18th from 6:00 - 9:00 PM.

CS Gallery is located at 66 Parsons Ave, Columbus, OH 43215

Sunday, May 18, 2014

10 Things I Learned in Ireland

I've done a fair amount of traveling; more than some, less than others. I like travel. I like seeing new places and experiencing new things.I don't necessarily set up lesson plans or assign myself homework, but the fact is I do travel with the idea that I'll learn something along the way. It's the Rick Steve's philosophy that travel should be about broadening horizons and gaining new perspectives.


And while I hope that all my travels have taught me something, this most recent trip to Ireland found me learning much more than I ever have before. I'd like to think that's because I'm getting better at learning, but the truth is it's probably because I knew precious little about Ireland to begin with (I was, as they say, the emptiest of empty vessels). As I told my wife, I think I learned more about Ireland in the 25 minutes we spent in the National Gallery Gift Shop than I did in my entire life before then (In all fairness, they had some very good children's books on the Easter Uprising, Vikings and the Battle of Clontarf).

Happily, I know more now than I did then. My wife and I had a terrific time and saw some amazing sites. So, without further adieu (and before I forget them), here's 10 Things I Learned in Ireland.

1. Ireland has artists.
I know you're thinking that Ireland only has writers, poets, and playwrights, but they have artists too; good ones! Jon Lavery, Paul Henry, Sean Scully, and Jack B. Yeats (that would be W.B. Yeats brother) are all terrific artists who claim Ireland as their home.

 Jon Lavery's "Japanese Switzerland"

2. Francis Bacon was one of them.
Maybe I knew this at some point, but I sure don't remember. Francis Bacon was born in Dublin to parents of English descent. He eventually moved to London, but his famously messy studio is reconstructed and on view at the Dublin City Museum Hugh Lane Gallery.

 Detail of Francis Bacon's Reconstructed Studio

3. The famous Dublin Spire replaced another equally famous tower on O'Connell Street.
Nelson's Pillar once stood on O'Connell street in the same spot currently occupied by the Dublin Spire. That monumental Doric column had originally been erected to honor Admiral Nelson's victory at Trafalgar. After years of quiet (and not so quiet) resentment, the IRA blew it up (well, mostly blew it up) in 1966.

 Then: Nelson's Pillar (Post IRA)

 And Now: Dublin Spire (Today)

4. You can get "American coffee" in Ireland, but its not made like Americans make it (and that's a good thing).
Let's start with American coffee. If you get it in America there's a good chance it will be brewed by the pot or by the carafe via an automatic drip coffee machine. It's then kept warm/hot until you order a cup. At that point your server pours you a serving, and that's that.

The Irish version of American coffee isn't like that at all. In Ireland an American coffee means someone will brew (to order) two cups of espresso. Then they pour that into a big cup and add hot water so it's diluted down to the strength of our automatic drip version. This method doesn't just approximate the taste of American coffee, it improves it. It's a charming, artisnal kind of process really, but like so much Old World charm (public transit, national healthcare, civility) it would never fly over here in the States. It takes about three minutes longer to serve coffee this way, and time is money you know...

5. Irish history is complicated.
It was, and it still is. Between the Vikings, the Normans, the English, the Scots, and well...the Irish, it's no wonder things were so unsettled for so long. Toss in a little religious intolerance (OK, a lot) and you've got, well, Troubles.

6. Dublin's St. Patrick's Cathedral is an Anglican church.
Herein lies my Catholic bias. Seriously. It never occurred to me that a church called St. Patrick's could be anything but a Catholic church. I was raised Catholic in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood. I spent the grades K-12 in Catholic schools. My middle name is Patrick. Catholics invented St. Patrick's day. They taught us about him in our Catholic schools. I just assumed his church would...well...

 St. Patrick's Cathedral

So we walk into the Cathedral and there's all these little clues that start pouring in: why is the gift shop in the church proper? Why does the Bishop in the painting have grandchildren? Why are there regimental flags hanging in here? Why isn't the Papal flag hanging in here? Where's the Holy Water???

My wife eventually figures it out and suddenly it's like were playing an away game. I've lost the home field advantage and I'm starting to get rattled. I'm out of my element. What should I do? Turn myself in? Pray? To who? The Virgin Mary? Well that won't work in here, will it?

St. Patrick's Cathedral (Interior)

Which over-dramatizes things a bit - but not really. It was ultimately a very telling (and personal) lesson not just in what it means to self-identify, but in the strength that self-identification can carry, even when we should know better.

7. The Battle of Clontarf is a big deal.
It's big. Agincourt big. Hasting big. Yorktown big. D-Day big. Irish unity prevails over hostile Viking raiders. Or at least that's the popular version. The reality is much messier than that and much more complicated. One particularly inventive way of telling the story was offered by The Little Museum of Dublin. They engaged artist Fergal McCarthy to narrate the events of the battle in the style of a graphic novel on the walls of the gallery itself.

 The Battle of Clontarf as depicted by Fergal McCarthy

8. Ireland was neutral during World War II.
They were! In Ireland World War Two was euphemistically referred to as "The Emergency". While I haven't read too far into this part of Irish history my hunch is that their neutrality was the result of two things, the trepidation of a young republic (you'll recall another young republic that once tried staying neutral too) and a distrust of all things British.

9. The Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site (and with good reason). It's beautiful.
I'm not even going to try to explain it, any more than I'd try to explain the Grand Canyon. Just trust me, or better yet, go see it for yourself.

10. The people of Ireland are a friendly bunch.
And accommodating too. They really are! Every inquiry involving any element of service anywhere was answered with a prompt, "No problem!". It's like their default setting and one I promised I bring back home with me.   

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I'm Sensing a Trend

Is it too late to make these into some kind of promo for Record Store Day?

Maybe next year.

In any event, props to The Christopher Rendition, Call the Midwife, and The Girls for supporting vinyl and all those who peddle it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Censorship Defined

I occassionally find myself having to explain to people what censorship is.

So, for easy reference I've compiled a number of definitions from authoritative sources.

Please feel free to link and share as needed:

Oxford World Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press)
Censorship: System whereby a government-appointed body or official claims the right to protect the public interest by influencing the release of any item of mass communication.

The World of Criminal Justice (Facts on File)
Censorship occurs when a government, business, or individual suppresses speech, writing, art, or any other form of communication.

The New Oxford Companion to Law (Oxford University Press)
Censorship commonly refers to the determination by a public official that certain material is unsuitable for publication or performance on grounds such as morality, religion, politics, or national security. The material may be banned outright or its circulation restricted to those thought less susceptible to its influence.

Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Political Thought
Censorship: the practice of examining, restricting and prohibiting public acts, expressions of opinion, and artistic performances.

The Columbia Encyclopedia (Columbia University Press)
Censorship: Official prohibition or restriction of any type of expression believed to threaten the political, social, or moral order. It may be imposed by governmental authority, local or national, by a religious body, or occasionally by a powerful private group. It may be applied to the mails, speech, the press, the theater, dance, art, literature, photography, the cinema, radio, television, or computer networks. Censorship may be either preventive or punitive, according to whether it is exercised before or after the expression has been made public.

The Encyclopedia of International Media and Communication (Elsevier Science)
Censorship¦is the act of suppressing or deleting expression that is considered objectionable on moral, political, religious, military, or other grounds. The term is applied most often to interference by a government or an authority in interpersonal or mass communication. ¦Censorship takes two basic forms: state-imposed and self-imposed. The first form is forced by a group in power on the individuals who are subject to the group’s authority. It usually includes penalties, or their threat, that create a “chilling effect" prompting individuals to impose censorship on themselves to avoid punishment.

Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices.
Censorship is the regulation of speech and other forms of expression by an entrenched authority. Intended as a kind of safeguard for society, typically to protect norms and values, censorship suppresses what is considered objectionable from a political, moral, or religious standpoint.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Boss? Again?

Yes, Bruce Springsteen has found his way into consecutive blog posts. Coincidentally this is another "Johnny come lately" tale from my life as a middling music fan. I say "Johnny come lately" because the fan culture I grew up in (New Wave -> Punk -> College -> Alternative -> Indie -> Whatevs) placed an extremely high value on discovery; on being the first to discover a band, on knowing about a band before your friends and peers did, on seeing a band before "they got big". This "will to discovery" is summed up perfectly in the (usually) condescending and (always) pedantic observation that "Their early stuff was better" (See Also, "They were better with the original line-up", "They were better before they signed to a major" "They were better two years ago at [insert name of small venue here]).

None of this should be too surprising. Information is power after all, and people will wield it accordingly; even when talking about something as presumably benign as popular music. (To be fair, it's not all snobbery. There are often qualitative differences that occur over the arc of any given band's career. One could make a a pretty compelling case that the Bob Stinson era Replacements were in fact better than the post-Bob Stinson Replacements).

Point being, if you want to like a band, you're welcome to, but really the gold standard is to have liked them before anyone else did. And in those unfortunate cases when you didn't have the intellect or foresight to like them before anyone else did, at least have the good sense to like their older stuff.

Which brings us to Australian punk pioneers The Saints, and (in a manner) to Bruce Springsteen. The Saints (along with a handful of other acts) sit squarely at Punk Rock Ground Zero. Seminal, overused as it is, remains exactly the right word. Their 1977 debut "I'm Stranded" stands as one of punk's founding documents; the playbook, gospel, and constitution all rolled up in one roaring 35 minute package. Its buzz-saw guitars and blatant disregard for commercial viability helped define music for a generation.

Also, I've never heard it. Seriously. Never owned it. Never heard it.

Oh sure, I've heard the single "I'm Stranded" (It was impossible not to in the circles I ran in), but beyond that the album never graced my ears.

What I have heard, owned, and loved was The Saints seventh album (yes, seventh), "All Fool's Day". Released in 1985, "All Fool's Day" presents well-crafted songs, lush arrangements, and a commercial sensibility that hides every trace of the band's raucous beginnings. It represents, in many respects, what would later come to be known as "selling out". The album's sensibility is captured perfectly in first track "Just Like Fire Would", a jangly, mid-tempo number that sounds custom-made for MTV. Honestly though, I'm not sure if anyone ever cries "sell out" or not. That's because no one ever really brings up "All Fool's Day" (It's just that kind of record). For that matter, and from what I can tell, no one in the United States talks about The Saints much at all beyond "I'm Stranded" (and occasionally "Eternally Yours").

All that might change now. In a move that's as perfect as it is perverse, Bruce Springsteen has chosen "Just Like Fire Would" as the single for his latest release "High Hopes". I'm not sure what connection The Boss had with The Saints, but good on him for plucking this little gem from the Outback and bringing it to a wider American audience. And good on Chris Bailey who will presumably see a little cash and a little recognition beyond "I'm Stranded".

Monday, January 27, 2014

Rosalita Revisted: Springsteen, Gender and Lydia Loveless

I'm late to the party. Again.

Two parties, actually.

A couple decades when it comes to the feminist critique of Bruce Springsteen. That may have peeked in 1992 with the publication of Pamela Moss's Where Is the "Promised Land"?: Class and Gender in Bruce Springsteen's Rock Lyrics.

And Lydia Loveless? Late again, this time by a few years. While my tastemaker friends (who are legion) were enthusiastically extolling the virtues of 2011's Indestructible Machine, I was still in the throws of a prolonged summer crush involving Kelly Clarkson's pop masterpiece All I Ever Wanted (which I'd been listening to more or less on infinite repeat for two years).

It wasn't until last fall that I waded into what is arguably the shallow end of the Lydia Loveless pool. I was at Lost Weekend Records, having recommitted to the idea of "supporting the scene" by purchasing local music from a local store. Truth be told, I don't follow music much anymore. It just takes too much time; or at least more time than I have. Plus, there's all that extra baggage that goes along with following music; the forming of opinions about music, the talking with people about music, the going to see bands playing music. The whole enterprise is pretty overwhelming.

But I digress.

I was at Lost Weekend Records ostensibly to procure the second Connections' LP Body Language (featuring the buzzy earworm that is Jeni & Johnny). While there, I saw Lydia Loveless's Boy Crazy EP perfectly positioned for an impulse buy, so I grabbed that too. The owner, Kyle (bless him), informed me (almost apologetically) that Boy Crazy was "a little poppier than her early stuff". Being that Kyle is one of the aforementioned tastemakers, I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd spent the last four years listening almost exclusively to Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift, and Francoise Hardy and was, as such, well past judging anything based on the idea it might be too poppy.

So I bought Boy Crazy. And it will surprise no one that it is indeed fantastic; fantastic for all the reasons likely spelled out by countless fans before me. But Boy Crazy's fantasticness wasn't the thing that stuck with me. I mean it did, because it is, but the place I kept getting hooked was on track three, Lover's Spat.

 Lover's Spat
At first listen it's a pleasant, melodic number; trundling along somewhere between a mid-tempo rollick and full-on gallop (not actual musical terms). The first-person verses highlight a tumultuous relationship and segue into a soaring (anthemic?) chorus complete with wooooo-hooooos and drum rolls. The more I listened though, the more something nagged at me. Lover's Spat sounded weirdly familiar, like I'd heard it before. Then it dawned on me, it was the song's soaring, anthemic quality that I found so familiar. It reminded me of a Springsteen song - not a particular Springsteen song mind you - but the kind of song that 1973 era-Springsteen could have written. Apparently the countless hours I lost listening to "The Boss" during my formative years have made me hyper-sensitive to anything approximating his emotive, major key stylings.

But structure was only the half of it. When I got around to reading the lyrics, I was gobsmacked. If Lover's Spat had the sonic flavor of a Springsteen song, it was lyrically and intellectually a counterattack on Springsteen's male-dominated worldview.

The aformentioned Pamela Moss offers an enlightening and nuanced reflection on Springsteen's lyrics as they relate to class and gender. Her work points out (among other things) that Springsteen's world is a place where men seek out their destinies in the public sphere, while women dominate the private, more intimate spaces. In Springsteenland, this public place is one where male protagonists are depicted as great actors. They are engaged in a struggle, a struggle to prove their worth and achieve their dreams. Women, conversely, are relegated to private spaces where, frankly, they don't do much. Usually they're at home, on porches, or in bedrooms, though sometimes they put in appearance on the hood of a car or in a dark corner:

(From Rosalita)
Little Gun's downtown in front of Woolworth's tryin' out his attitude on all the cats
Papa's on the corner, waitin' for the bus
Mama, she's home in the window, waitin' up for us

This public/private dichotomy plays out to the point where a song like Rosalita (or Thunder Road for that matter) mostly boils down to a male protagonist relentlessing coaxing the object of his affection out of her world and into his:

(From Rosalita)
We're gonna play some pool, skip some school
Act real cool, stay out all night, it's gonna feel alright
So Rosie, come out tonight, little baby, come out tonight


And from Springsteen's perspective that's more or less it. Guys primp and strut in public. They "flash guitars just like switchblades", they "meet 'neath that giant Exxon sign", they race, run, holler, and hoot. The night's on fire and filled with the machismo of countless Promised Land seeking man-children. It's romantic, an opera even - or ballet or waltz - depending on which Springsteen song you listen to.

And the women? Well, they're expected to follow their man. Why is never exactly explained. It's simply presumed that every Promised Land seeking man-child needs a good woman in tow as he follows his dream.

Which is another feature of  Springsteen's Springsteenland. Men are the ones with the dreams and agency. They're the actors and the orchestrators. It's their pilgrimage. Sure, sometimes they're misunderstood ("I know your Daddy, he don't like me, cause I play in  a rock and roll band") and sometimes life is hard, but the men in Springsteen's songs have a plan, even if it's sometimes a plan as flimsy as a record deal or as vague as "pulling outta here to win":

(From Rosalita)
Oh, your daddy says he knows that I don't have any money
Well, tell him this is his last chance to get his daughter in a fine romance
'Cause a record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance  

There you go. Baby, stick with me. The band's gonna make it! I promise!

It's all a very interesting perspective, but one that's hopelessly one-sided and perhaps a bit immature. Which is why Lover's Spat comes off as so welcome and so refreshing.

First, let's consider what all this night-out in-the-streets bravado looks like from the female perspective:

(From Lover's Spat)
So don't go runnin' round naked by the side of  the road
Honey you look ridiculous
With that cut on your eye and your dick hangin' out
Why don't you care about us?

One can only imagine how this particular Promised Land seeking man-child came to be naked at the side of the road, but realistically the reason is neither here nor there. The point is there's not a particularly wide gulf between the male-dominated nocturnes portrayed in songs like Jungleland or Thunder Road and the drunken douchebaggery of countless young men who've consumed countless Natty Lights. Furthermore, it's a gulf we ought to recognize, not romanticize.

And regarding who's got a plan, consider this:

(From Lover's Spat)
I'm from Milwaukee originally, but now I go to OSU
I'll be rich when I get my business degree
And I'll take good care of you

So imagine a young couple; the male is an inveterate band dood and the female is a business major. Now fast-forward 10 years. Given the unlikely event these two are still together, ask yourself "Who's taking care of whom?

And back to that dichotomy between public space and private space, Loveless takes a very different tack. Rather than viewing private spaces as something to avoid (or be coaxed out of), Loveless sees them as a destination; the place where things actually happen. Lover's Spat abounds with admonitions to "come home with me tonight", "stay for dinner" and "hide in my closet". Not that these private spaces are a bed of roses. Lover's Spat is pretty forthright in recognizing the violence that can often go hand in hand with intimacy. But at least she's not hawking some romanticized view of private space or one-sided notion of relationship dynamics.

Ultimately though, this isn't an either or question. The world is big enough for Bruce Springsteen and Lydia Loveless. The point comes with realizing there's usually a counter-narrative to the dominant view. The fact is I was listening to a lot of Springsteen while I wrote this, and as one-sided and romanticized as many of his songs are, I wouldn't trade them for the world. The trick is to remember that all those heroic first-person protagonists might not be the most reliable narrators. And while Mary may indeed dance across the porch like a vision, there's a good chance she was put on this earth for something more than that. 

Honestly, I'm the last person to ask. I do know I'm officially on the Lydia Loveless bandwagon (even if I'm a bit late and pointed in the wrong direction). I've got Indestructible Machine on backorder and I'm looking forward to the February release of Somewhere Else. And while I've seen Bruce Springsteen more times than Lydia Loveless (2-0 if your counting) I'm hoping to at least even the score in 2014!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

2014 Resolutions Deserve Their Own Post

So I touched on some 2014 resolutions when I wrote this post.

Well, I got to thinking that a list of resolutions deserved their own post. I also thought they should be bulleted, checklist-style, for easy referencing. Then, upon further reflection, I thought of a few more things I'd like to add.

So without further adieu, here's my complete and reformatted 2014 Resolution list:
  • Read 52 Books
  • Paint 52 Paintings
  • Exercise Every Day
  • Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
  • Write at Least Eight Reviews for Columbus Underground
  • Keep Up With My Social Medias
  • Record With Jim Diamond in Detroit
  • Take a Continuing Education Class at CCAD
  • Fix My Scooter
  • Rake Leaves
  • Get a New Car
  • Paint the Living Room Dining Room, Stairwell and Hallway
  • Enroll in a Krav Maga Self-Defense Class
  • Establish a Primary Care Physician
  • Get All Those Horrid Tests Men My Age Get
  • Listen to More (New) Music
  • Buy More Local Music
  • Take My Lovely Wife Out More
  • Talk My Lovely Wife Into a Trip To Ireland
  • Barring That - Take Some Sort of Travel Vacation!
  • Listen More
  • Be More Patient
  • Be More Understanding
  • Ask More Questions
  • Ask Better Questions
  • Leave Things Better Than I Found Them
 That's the plan anyway. I'll check back at the end of the year. As per my original post, wish me luck! 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Resolution Recap and 2014 Projections

I don't know if anyone else was keeping track (besides me), but you might recall at the start of 2013 I challenged myself to read 52 books and paint 52 paintings in 2013. Well, here's how that worked out:

The Good News

The good news is I read exactly 52 books in 2013! A full accounting of thos books can be found here: Jeff's 2013 Reading Challenge Recap. 

As I reflect on the year's reading I'm struck by the fact that I didn't really read a single OMG THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!!! book. Don't get me wrong, I read a lot of books that I really liked (The Rage, The Shining Girls, Colin Fischer, The Dog Stars, and Flora & Ulysses were among the standouts). I just don't think I read anything that was a real game changer.

I'm struck too by how few really popular adult fiction titles I read last year. Popular young adult fiction was pretty well represented (The Hunger Games, Unwind, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, etc.(Can you tell dystopian fiction is hot right now?)), but there's not much popular adult fiction on my list. I'll have to work on that this year.

The Not as Good News

The not as good news is I did not complete 52 paintings in 2013. The final tally came to 45. That's owing mostly to the fact that I didn't do much painting at all after my show at the Faculty Club went up on October 28. I think I just ran out of steam once I hit my deadline. A lot of the paintings I completed ended up in that show and in the end I was really happy with how it turned out (see below).

Also, I've come up with a handy acronym when people ask how the show went: ASFF (that's Aesthetic Success Financial Failure). It looked really good, but it didn't really sell. 

So that's how my 2013 resolutions shook out.

Looking ahead to 2014, I'm staying the course. I intend to read 52 books in 2014 and paint 52 paintings. Beyond that I intend to exercise every day, eat more fruits and vegetables, write at least 8 reviews for Columbus Underground, keep up with my social medias, record with Jim Diamond in Detroit, take a Continuing Education class at CCAD, fix my scooter, rake leaves, get a new car, paint the living room, dining room and hallway, and talk my wife into taking me to Ireland. Wish me luck!