Prophetess of Spiritual Apocalypse

My mother annotated her environment. Florence was mainly a homebody and as we’ve been cleaning out her house, my sisters and I keep finding little handwritten notes – hundreds of them – often in nearly microscopic but always beautifully legible cursive. She made notes in expected places like book margins, on the edges of photographs, and on calendars.

Wasted youth? Partying with my sisters - 1966/67.

Wasted youth? Partying with my sisters – 1966/67.

But she also wrote highly detailed, sometimes florid notes on un-special pieces of scrap paper. She would then tape them to the bottoms of delicate china, or sturdy silver trays. She tucked them between the colorful folds of fancy silk scarves, in jewelry boxes, in the labels of long unworn clothing. I found an old, pale yellow Pepsodent toothbrush holder with a tidy little reminder slipped inside that it had been, “Used only three nights in Las Vegas.” Her sacred and lucky toothbrush case.

Keeping it light. My sisters set Jesus up for a comfortable little rest in mom's bed where they were sure I would find him.

Keeping it light. My sisters set Jesus up for a comfortable little rest in mom’s bed where they were sure I would find him. Good stuff – but no notes.

All of this would be hilarious if it were not also heartbreaking. There is a soulful quality to the endeavor of cataloging one’s surroundings – something generous that is close to being spiritual. Some of her commentary is delightful and lighthearted – charming reminders of the origins of her keepsakes. Many of her notes are simple, straightforward, and descriptive. But a few individual scraps of paper betray the quivering hand of a writer who set down each careful word with anguish, squinting, and with her eyes full with tears.

Florence at about age 16, with parents Clyde and May Rose Campbell.

Florence at about age 16, with parents Clyde and May Rose Campbell.

She was determined to get her story down and began writing little notes early in her life – we have found her memories recorded and attached to items dating from her girlhood days in the 1930s and 1940s. She was fiercely devoted to her parents and dearly loved her family. But the frequency and the urgency of her existential footnotes reached new levels during crises – for instance, after my dad died – and then especially in later years when she was developing signs of dementia. Most of her notes from that time are clearly meant for dual purposes – first, to remind herself of herself; and also, to tell others of the significance of her important things and the people who populated her life. Taped to the clapper of a ceramic handbell: “From Phil, My Dear Husband, Our children’s Daddy – Berlin, Germany – 1983 – He LOVED you. Great Guy!”

Combined with the practical necessities of tying up loose ends at the end of a loved-one’s life – these little notes have made cleaning out our mother’s home a form of emotional anthropology for my sisters and me. During our times spent together going through mom’s things, there is a mixture of joy and sorrow that we feel, both individually and as a sibling group. There is banality, mystery, and gratitude in our work – respect and confusion. It makes me sorry for anyone who must do such things alone, because it is exhausting. Each detail, each story, and each shred of paper is really a plea: “Please remember me.”

These are matters that also have me thinking about how other people tell their stories and the importance of doing so. Recently I learned about a fascinating Ukrainian artist named Mariana Sadovska, (thanks to coverage by NPR’s All Songs Considered of globalFEST 2016 at Webster Hall in New York City.) Writer Rob Weisberg’s summary of her is very fine: “… a charismatic and adventurous musical and theatrical performer. She began her career in avant garde theater, but also traveled across Ukraine, her home country, to learn songs from village women. She combines these influences and uses an array of traditional and non-traditional vocal techniques to create some of the most distinctive interpretations of traditional song you’ll hear anywhere.”

Sadovska in performance.

Sadovska in performance.

I will add that I first heard Sadovska while driving my car ninety minutes from my home to my mother’s. I was alone, and by the end of the first song I was so moved – so shaken – that I impulsively growled out a loud, “WOW!” when the song’s last notes faded away. Her singing infused me with a shock of adrenaline and emotion. I am unaware of any Eastern European heritage in my family, but this music hits me the way blues must hit others. I immediately replayed the song and my reaction was the same.

There are centuries contained in Mariana Sadovska’s voice, and multitudes. It is as if she has the ability to gather up into her body the events of years, and the anxieties, grief, and joys of souls from the past, then unloose them in displays of spectacular primal vocal variety. Her voice is at times otherworldly but always distinctly human, like the crying of a single soul echoing out from a thousand-year old tomb, or a curious and soothing sound riding to you on a breeze from the heavens. At times it is as dark as the inside of a closed coffin. And at other times her voice is an eruption of fire, while she embodies a witchy prophetess of volcanic spiritual apocalypse.

Isn't she witchy in pink.

Isn’t she witchy in pink.

Although the methods and the scales are poles apart, it strikes me that this wonderful artist, (with the devastating notes of her songs,) is making the same essential plea that my mother made with her notes: “Please remember me.”

I cannot decipher the lyrics of most of this song – her incantations are in Ukrainian, Russian, or Polish – but a chill will almost certainly rush over you when she sings a few words in English and you realize that the intensity of her tone and attitude are products of an undeniable universal affliction – the desolate torments of reflecting upon lost time and wasted youth.

Heaven-shaking power - Mariana Sadovska

Heaven-shaking power – Mariana Sadovska

Modern and ageless simultaneously, here is a link to a perfectly titled song:

Spell by Mariana Sadovska recorded live at globalFest 2016.

And this one:

After You’ve Gone by Marion Harris (1918 Victor).

Please remember me.

13 Feb 2016

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February Bike Ride, or, “Der”

J writes…

I am going to write about things you already know.

That global climate change is real – not an opinion – and that it’s worrisome to have a span of summer-like days in the middle of what should normally be the coldest month of the year.

But also, how wonderful it is to get a nice day in the middle of February, just when many of us are about to sharpen up the axe to use on our families.

Today, on the third day in a row the temperature here on the plains hit 70, I pumped up my bicycle tires and hit the trails. I rode past people doing yard work and washing their cars.  I rode by walkers, runners, and other bikers who could not help but flap their hands in enthusiastic waves of recognition about how we strangers were enjoying the sun and warmth. “Hello again, do I recognize you from the warmer months? Maybe not, but let’s share the path anyway. Take care. See you in the Spring,” the wave said.

I report (with serious consternation for our plant and animal brothers and sisters)  …   the February bike ride was awesome X 100.

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You Can Leave Your Cares Behind

With nearly a month under our belts 2016 is shaping up to be a nice year. Today the sun is shining cheerfully and I had a nice walk and chat with my friend, Mary. Every few weeks we take an hour to circle around the lake that she lives on with her husband, Jim. It was great today, bright and cool and windy. Geese and hawks were swooping around, and the two of us threaded our way through the muddy trails and trees while catching up. It is wonderful to talk with someone about the things you care about, and to discover that in so doing, you can leave your cares behind.

Something else to be happy about – DIIV has a new release due next week that will feature 17 tracks. In case you are new to DIIV, the band’s front man, multi-instrumentalist Zachary Cole Smith, has a proclivity for loose-fitting clothing and mind bending, complex, shoegaze pop.



Thanks to the folks at The Guardian, who have put up an exclusive live stream to the entire piece, you don’t need to wait another minute to hear Is The Is Are, DIIV’s follow up to their brilliant 2012 debut album Oshin.

You can link to Is The Is Are by DIIV (due 5 Feb 2016 Captured Tracks) here:

The Guardian Music Blog



I am about halfway through the first listen and have loved every second so far. Go ahead, link to it and then you can dance if you want to. Like its predecessor, Oshin, this new DIIV release, Is The Is Are, will be in extra heavy rotation around here, and will show up on many best of the year lists.



Be kind to each other.

29 jan 2016

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On not hiking



The hardware that is now a part of my left ankle.

This is a brief entry on not-hiking because I have been doing just that since mid-November. I busted up my ankle rather spectacularly right before Thanksgiving and a big plastic clunky boot along with slowly healing old(erish) lady bones can put a real damper on enjoying a trail.

To tell the truth the down time hasn’t been that horrible. Here’s one reason why: whenever I was forced to acknowledge or deal with the big grey boot (i.e.; everyday) I frequently pictured my friends and acquaintances who had been laid low by Mr.Death and how they would have gladly opted for a broken ankle. I can’t even say ‘my friends that got sick and died just like that’ (finger snapping for added emphasis) because the diseases and illnesses that carried them away generally took their damn time. (Exit stage left…slowly…slowly…one more grimace please before the final bow; that’s it! Now scram. Forever.)

So while not-hiking I smiled for my dearly departed friends when any one person (and there were many) would acknowledge my big boot and murmur sympathetic words. I thought of my friends so much I ended up creating a phantasmagorical scene in my head where they were given the choice of a chipped-up tibia or a lethal dose of cancer. An other-worldly do-over if you’d like. This mental one-act took my mind off not-hiking and allowed me to envision long-gone friends with a happy choice in front of them. (“I’ll take door number two!” asserted with the angelic confidence of someone who knows precisely what is waiting for them).

Col & me in Tikal Guatemala about 1989.

Col & me in Tikal Guatemala up on a temple about 1989.

My busted ankle, which made me one with the couch for weeks on end, enabled me to think about my missing friends in a different light – new images of them in a hopeful place with a new hopeful choice (and I acknowledge it was all pretend – but nonetheless…). Weirdly, that is what my smashed up ankle came to symbolize: hope. My own do-over. As I focused on my missing friends I was able to toss out some of the anger I held on to about their absences (angry only because they left so soon). No fear, I am not breaking with the real world, I acknowledge the make-believe nature of it all. But it was a good mental crutch to use during my confinement. And it was a relief to think of friends happily and not with the usual sense of deep loss / of smothering sadness I seem to have embraced for many years.

And now my father is sick too, probably nearing end of life. Cancer is cutting down the big D (dad, Don) and has reduced the man to a confused shrunken being muttering nonsense on an endless loop underpinned by a good dose of paranoia. Sorry, I can’t make his cancer story any prettier; and he wouldn’t appreciate the nicety anyway. If the end is long (no swift heart attack, no fiery car crash) modern medicine can quickly turn a vibrant person into a clucking confused being with dull eyes and knotty hands worrying the edge of hospital sheet. The long stroll toward death can strip people of their privacy and dignity (in exchange for a few more days, another month). I have witnessed numerous (otherwise considerate) humans walking into my father’s hospital room only to comment on his urine output or shout questions like ‘how are you feeling today’ as if he was dying of deafness and not multiple myeloma.

I am not especially close to my father and during my formative teenage years he wasn’t around so I don’t have a strong familial tether to him. But I acknowledge thatmany of the moments he and I shared helped shape the better parts of me.

  1. I am brave because he is brave. ‘Look at me! Just look at me’ he shouted over the roar of a roller coaster as my 5 year old self whimpered about an upcoming drop. ‘You won’t be afraid if you look at me’. Honest, that image has stuck with me forever and I call upon it when needed. I see his young face, not much more than 30, with his thick black hair lifting in the wind and his face smiling, nodding, encouraging and urging me to welcome the upcoming thrill.

    The Big Dipper, the one where I was urged to be 'brave'.

    The Big Dipper, the one where I was urged to be ‘brave’.

  2. I am not afraid to enjoy the things that make me happy because I saw him chase happiness his whole life. It is such a simple thing, and yet so many generate reasons that stop them from defining and embracing their own pleasure. My father was a straight up ‘yes’ man when it came to life’s opportunities.

    Source of my pleasure, hiking with Anj.

    A great source of my pleasure, Anj; and hiking with Anj.  At Latourell Falls, Columbia Gorge 2015.

  3. And I do not to spend time worrying about other people’s life choices because he let me know that was, ‘none of your business or mine’. It’s not that I don’t care about other people’s lives, but in one way I kind of don’t care. While not the most open-minded person, my father never gossiped or fussed about what people did with their lives.
  4. He was inclusive and I aspire to that too. Again, not the most open-minded person but if he came close enough to someone/anyone he always gave a genuine and hearty ‘hello’.
  5. My deep love and appreciation for the outdoors is the result of his insistence of the importance of being outside as much as possible. He did not approve of playing indoors and most of my childhood was spent outside, even when it was raining, even in the dark.

    My first hike with dad on Hood. Before child-size North Face wear.

    An early hike with dad on Hood, long before child-size North Face wear. Those shoes were my hikers until the buckles rotted off.  I had wandered off the trail and played in the snow, much to my father’s displeasure.  I finished the hike with achy cold hands.

For one who was often oblivious to the impact his actions had on people around him, my father noticed the smallest details in the woods, the slightest changes on the beach.

So it was appropriate that as I began to bury my childhood grudges with him we opted to get to know one another again outdoors. We started with small walks in grey drippy coastal mornings in the early 1990’s, when I would slip out to Oregon for a week here or there. And we gradually moved on to longer, bigger trails when our conversations became easier and we found we had more to say to one another. If we were alone we would often zip to places quickly on the coast because companions often complained of hours in the car. But he and I agreed on one thing, that hours in a car were often worth a perfect costal view or hike.

He watched the outdoors like a sly detective. He was always present in the outdoors, not distracted as he often was when indoors. He was always looking and he would elbow me with new sightings or announce the information in his overly loud outside voice (often spooking away what he was trying to point out).

It is a powerful human theme that resonates with me this: walk yourself (your relationships, your problems, your fears) to a better place up a mountain trail, along a prairie path, next to a lake or river. And make time to bury meaningless grudges along the way because that weight only draws attention to the unimportant.

As expected, as eagerly awaited, my ankle is growing stronger after 3 months of down time. My goal is to hike St. Helens in the long mid-summer light with my great good Andy, the best hiker buddy and ankle-nurse of all time, and our wonderful new, strong, and funny friends Lori and Jeff.

Best hiker buddy of all times, Spyglass.

Best hiker buddy of all times, Spyglass. In Coba, Mexico.

Jeff and Lori mentally preparing for St. Helens this summer.

Jeff and Lori mentally preparing for St. Helens this summer.

And on that good summer day, I will remember my long gone dear friends as I haul my happiest memories of them and my healing ankle up St. Helen’s.

I guess this entry, in the end, was just as much about hiking as it was about not-hiking. And I think I owe a tip of the IP hat to Jude (she knows what I mean).

The Scramblers on a hike behind Dan and Kim's house.

The Scramblers on a hike behind Dan and Kim’s house.






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New and Delicious 2016

Finding and hearing new music is one of the great sensory pleasures of life – as satisfying as stroking a purring cat or eating a wonderful meal. There are scads of very rewarding places to find new music, (some are discussed briefly at the end of this post,) and lately there’s been a spate of fine new tunes to discover – including music from this fine fellow.

David Bowie

David Bowie

Listen to this song from The Arcs. It was released late last week and I must have played it a twenty times already – I seriously can’t get enough of it. It was inspired by the case of a Wisconsin man who spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Beyond the lyrics, it has beautiful minor chords and a tempo that puts me in the mind of a slightly rocked up version of Jobim’s Girl from Ipanema. It is dreamy and addictive – simply slaying. It is as if the guitars are programmed to make you sway and swoon. I am going to listen to it again right now.

The Arcs

The Arcs

Lake Superior by The Arcs.

Thanks to pal Andy Agena for hipping me to this: Tim Gane of Stereolab formed an exciting new collaborative project called Cavern of Anti-Matter in 2013. A triple LP is due next month and guests include Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox and Sonic Boom from Spacemen 3. They’ve offered up over twelve minutes of new material that has the same propulsive and varied electronic invention that Stereolab delivered for about two decades.

The piece linkable below is all instrumental, (the multi-signature sound of Stereolab was wedded to the inimitable vox of Laeticia Sadier, and the dear, late Mary Hansen,) but Gane mines the gamut of instruments and apparatus to satisfy your craving for groovy syncopation and hooky drone.

Cavern of Anti-Matter

Cavern of Anti-Matter

Tardis Cymbals by Cavern of Anti-Matter from the upcoming full-length void beats / invocation trex (due 19 February 2016 Duophonic).

The four-piece band Savages are the answer to the question, “Where has the intensity gone?” Three English players and an almost unbelievably ferocious French singer deliver a thoroughly potent mix of post punk that channels Joy Division. I am so eager for their new release that is expected later this month.



The Answer by Savages from Adore Life (due 22 January 2016 Matador).

The artist whose name appears most frequently on this blog is David Bowie’s. His broad range of magical, seemingly limitless talents have influenced, awed, delighted, and educated me as much as any artist. He is responsible for forming my musical taste as much as anyone else, and his music has given me so much pleasure. I owe him enormous gratitude. His new project with producer Tony Visconti is called Blackstar, and it is a jazz/rock masterpiece – extraordinarily challenging and innovative. It was released only several days before his demise at age 69.

He was always fascinating. There was no one like him. I wish safe travelling for him into the stardust. Thank you, and please rest in peace.

Singular. Bowie.

Singular. Bowie.

Lazarus and Blackstar by David Bowie from Blackstar (2016 Columbia).

Here is precedent for the mad, jazz mastery of David Bowie and his cohorts that was recorded over 40 years ago. It still sounds brand new. Bonkers. This will leave you shaking your head in wonder and joy.

Aladdin Sane by David Bowie from Aladdin Sane (1973 RCA).


I am really thankful to some of the outlets at my disposal for the collection of new music, and for learning about things I may have missed along the way. The question comes often: “Where do you find out about all this music? First, I have great friends with great taste who have taught me throughout the years. Jeff Runnings, Peter Palermo, Cathy McBride, Robert G. Bennett, and Peter Acheson all come immediately to mind and get big nods – and there are lots of others whose names will rocket into my mind the second I post this. Thanks all. I am indebted in ways big and small to the people, programs, and sites that help me learn about, and turn me on to music. This is an incomplete list, but it’s a start. I endorse the following

I never miss a podcast episode of All Songs Considered. I have been a longtime fan of the criticism of Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton and their colleagues at NPR. They almost always seem to “get there first!” They play a mix of established and obscure musicians and combine criticism with interviews, stories, and live performance. The focus is on new music, and while I don’t always agree with their tastes or takes, I do always listen.

Sound Opinions is a weekly podcast from radio station WBEZ hosted by Chicago-based writers, Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot. They feature lots of live performances, interviews, and breakdowns, as well as reviews. The focus is on providing musical context, and while they primarily feature new music, there are healthy doses of exposition to historical and multi-genre music. Again, I don’t always agree with them, but I do always listen.

I look at Pitchfork a few times a week. A comprehensive service to lovers of lots of new music, they post news, reviews, and links to music. Pitchfork Media is considered an iconic tastemaker by many, and considered overreaching, insufferable, and ubiquitous by many others. I like it.

There are tons of cool (and much less hyped) outlets, too. Hardly anything is as cool as Jack Rabid’s project The Big Takeover that started examining and championing the underground of new music as a classic zine in 1980.

I learn about so much great music by listening to Sirius/XM’s satellite radio station SIRIUS/XMU. Highlights include:

-D.J. Jenny Eliscu.

-The featured weekly show called Download 15 (the fifteen most frequently downloaded songs of the week.)

-Access to specialty shows from music bloggers like Brooklyn Vegan, Carles, gorilla vs. bear, and even monthly treats like Serious Boredom hosted by Patrick Carney (and as a tidy bookend, Carney is the Black Keys bandmate of Dan Auerbach – who led this post off with his side project The Arcs…)

I have to admit it is a mixed bag and change the channel often to get away from some of the dreck that is played on SIRIUS/XMU, too.

Phew – lots of info there! Be good.

11 january 2016

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