Friday, July 31, 2015

Tonight's Blue Moon

Tonight offers us the second of this month's full moons. Today we'd call it a "blue" moon but around 500 years ago the best research tells us it was a "belewe" one.  Of course it was possible in 1515 to have a moon - full or not - actually colored "bleu," "blewe," or even "blao" but the probability of that happening was exceedingly rare. On the other hand, "belewe" moons or "betrayer" moons happened infrequently but often enough to be of concern if you didn't want to fast an extra thirty or so days during Lent. Yes, it's complicated. When you have a church festival based on the Spring lunar cycle having two fulls moons in the same month it does present issues. Only one of those moons could be the Lenten moon so the early moon was labelled a "belewe" or traitorous moon in the sense that it seriously disrupted the tradition of "forty days before Easter."

Thankfully, the explanation for a moon that appears blue in color is much simpler. When particulate matter in the atmosphere - especially from forest fires and volcanoes - is uniform and of the right size, light passing through it is refracted or bent and appears blue. It's a rare event but at least you don't have to wait for a full moon as blue moons can occur in any phase.

Lunar eclipse over an ocean horizon

I have watched the Moon - full and otherwise - all of my life and in a variety of settings but have yet to see one blue in color. No disappointment here; our closest celestial neighbor never fails to entertain me. That's especially true when it is full and rising or setting over the "lost horizon" of a desert or ocean, particularly the ocean. Standing on the beach at twilight you hear water dancing with sand. On the horizon the Moon's growing arc rises out of the netherworld of sea and air. Illuminated by the Sun's fire at your back, the Moon moves higher into the quintessence of space and paints a moving image on the sea. It is the classic five elements, a timeless simplicity, a remarkable unity.

Go find a beach. Be there tonight!


Photo:, September 25, 2014 entry.

Text:, Blue Moon

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Words About "Old Perfesser" Casey Stengal On His 125th Birthday

Never make predictions, especially about the future.

He retired in 1960 only to return to the game two years later as manager of the "Lovable Losers", the New York Mets. Fans loved them and their "Old Perfesser" coach who captivated the press and broadcast media with his quips and comments, delivered in his famous "Stengelese" style, nurtured over his rich career.

Whether you love or hate the Yankees really doesn't matter today. It's simply a great day in baseball history for a beloved man of the game who happened to do well - very well - with the Yankees. His name was Casey Stengel, born on July 30, 1890, in Kansas City. Stengel took over as manager of the Yankees 1949 and won the World Series championship. They won again in 1950. And 1951, 1952, and 1953. It's a record of consecutive wins that still stands. Stengel went on to win two more championships with the Yankees in 1956 and 1958.

Stengal in 1953

For a kid born in 1946 and growing up in Lefty Grove's Georges Creek Valley, playing baseball was supposed to be a natural. It didn't work out that way for me. Rotten vision and Coke bottle bottom glasses rendered me useless on a baseball diamond, so I didn't play organized ball with my pals. On the other hand, I followed the sport just as fiercely, collecting my hundreds of baseball cards, listening to - later watching - the Washington Senators and the Baltimore Orioles, and arguing about those Yankees, love 'em or hate 'em.

I left the Georges Creek Valley in 1956 and have no idea what happened to my baseball pals. For certain, most of them left Appalachia in search of a better life. But regardless of their destinations, I imagine they never left the joy of baseball far behind. Though we are pulled in many directions, and obligations place demands on our leisure, the old pastime is still with us, thanks to icons like Stengel. If you want to honor the old man, go to a game today. If that can't happen, gather the fathers and sons in the family - and the girls who'll understand - and sit them down to watch Field of Dreams (1989). Chances are, Casey will drop by.

To learn more about Casey Stengel, visit his Baseball Hall of Fame page here. The page links to some good multimedia features, as well. Link to Wikipedia's more extensive biography here. The Official Casey Stengel Site has a great list of quotes here.

About the girls who'll understand...maybe they can find something else to do.


Photo: cover, Baseball Digest, October 1953

Text: wikipedia,com

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"...Mr. Bilbo Baggins...Announced That He Would Shortly Be Celebrating His Eleventy-First Birthday...."

Our title above comes from the opening sentence of the first of three volumes of high fantasy fiction that would indeed change the world of literature and beyond in the second half of the 20th century. Avid fans will easily recognize the source as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring. The first edition of the book appeared on store shelves in the United Kingdom on this day in 1954.

Who was the man behind this beloved three volume narrative we know as The Lord of the Rings? Below is some footage released in 2010 of a 1968 BBC program interviewing Tolkien and exploring his real and imaginary worlds. The audio is not the best so viewers may want to use earbuds or headphones. 


Tolkien died about five years after this production. It would take another generation before a cinematic version of his great work would, perhaps could, appear. In the interim his imagination gave new energy to a full range of fiction writers. His is a rich legacy and one that will be enjoyed and expanded in the years head.



Text:, J.R.R.Tolkien

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Death In Leipzig: J.S. Bach, 1750

Statue of composer J.S. Bach in Leipzig, Germany

While looking over my usual list of sites, I discovered that today marks the passing of one of the great three "B's" in classical music, Johann Sebastian Bach,  He gave us some of the most sublime music in western culture and it would be an oversight, especially as a Lutheran, not to honor this master of the Baroque and pillar of Lutheranism. Here is a taste of genius whose work was largely forgotten for a century following his death.

From the St. Matthew Passion, here is the final recitative and chorus, a lullaby to Jesus as he lies in his tomb:

The gavotte from the Cello Suite No. 6:

Themes and variations from Goldberg Variations, Nos. 1-5. The performance is by the dazzling and eccentric Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, who was well-known for quietly "scatting" during his performances.  He drove sound and recording engineers batty.

Last we hear the Gigue Fuge. This composition is proof that not all Lutherans are stuffy.

Bach's music has been a part of me for so long that I couldn't begin to tell you when I first heard it other than to say it had to be in church at a very early age. The preludes. fugues, harmonies, the shear wonder of his work, it's all in my blood. And I can't play a single note of it. Wouldn't have it any other way. I simply listen and let it flow.

Music’s ultimate end or final goal…should be for the honor of God and the recreation of the soul.
                                                                   Johann Sebastian Bach - Leipzig, 1738


Photo:, flickr/seabamirum

Dog Days In The Southern Piedmont

Sirius, the Dog Star

While some folks dread them I look forward to the coming of the "dog days." The heat makes me thrive and my arthritis becomes a memory. Atlanta's climate data tells us that on average the warmest days of 2015 will be behind us in a few weeks. The sun is already casting ever longer shadows as it arcs lower across the southern sky. Leaves hang limp on trees catching more and more of that light, giving the woods a golden hue even at midday. The aging summer has also brought this year's acorn crop to maturity. I can tell because the squirrel community in our woods is starting to work overtime on the harvest. They litter the patio daily with twigs, leaves, and broken nuts, making for a big mess as well as grilling "under fire."

Calm days and high temperatures also lead to popcorn thundershowers that meander across the region waiting to die out as fast as they are born. So far they've brought powerful lightning, the positive strikes that start fires, inches of rainfall, high winds, and pea sized hail. Their punch for such a small footprint has been much bigger this year. I enjoy them as long as no one gets hurt.

Weather isn't the only sky phenomenon at this time. Early Perseid meteors remind us that the most dependable star shower of the year is coming, reaching its peak in the early morning hours of August 12, just before sunrise. This year there will be little to no moon to compete with the dimmer meteors so we can expect a fine display if the weather cooperates. I hope that's the case because this is my shower as one of my earliest memories is seeing a Perseid blaze across the sky from my crib at a bedroom window. My Aunt Edith was there and she told me what it was. The wait and watch is an annual event now extending nearly seventy years.

As the Perseids dwindle so will the dog days give way to more comfortable temperatures, moderated even more by occasional easterly waves bringing showers and salt air off the Atlantic 200 miles to the southeast. The sound sequence of crickets to cicadas to katydids will come earlier and earlier each evening but there is still another half of summer to enjoy. Bring it on.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Man Who Brought Us The Soft Glow Of Electric Sex Gleaming In The Window

Shepherd on the radio in 1970
Today is the birthday of the American humorist, Jean Shepherd (1921-1999). His best known contribution to American humor is A Christmas Story, a compilation of stories and characters drawn from his earlier work. It was originally produced as a feature film in 1983 and made the transition into a television classic, thanks to the persistence of Ted Turner. Almost any man born before 1950 has lived some or all of Ralphie's childhood. Each man's path to adulthood is his own, but the markers are identical. Jean Shepherd was a genius at capturing them. And his skills as a narrator made him a natural at weaving the common threads into humorous and entertaining listening.

I find Shepherd's personal path in the American experience a most interesting one. Although he surely had the talent to become a well-known national treasure, radio did not provide him coast-to-coast exposure available with the new medium of television. He was fiercely independent, a maverick, and one not to take life too seriously. I can imagine he was a threat to the ego of more than one radio executive. Furthermore, he was a "night owl" on radio, broadcasting to a dedicated but smaller audience, and in direct competition with televised local news and the likes of Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show. In fact, aWikipedia entry, not verified, notes that Shepherd was in line to take over The Tonight Show with Steve Allen's departure in 1957, but Jack Paar had the right of first refusal with the NBC network. Paar unexpectedly accepted, thus, denying Shepherd his big break on one of television's most popular shows. Finally, from my research, it seems Shepherd maligned his radio work when he moved into writing film for television in the '70s. Indeed, it apparently was a clean break - maybe the execs were happier without him - and he did go on to success with films, including The Phantom of the Open Hearth, The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters, and Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss. Still, I think the fates denied him the opportunity to become a big television star in the 1950's and much better well-known in his lifetime. 

Jean Shepherd died sixteen years ago in Florida, known primarily for one film produced in 1983 when he was 62. There's much more to him than that and I hope more people come to enjoy his work. The settings now and in the future may be different but the collected experiences from childhood and adolescence often age into fine wine.  Thanks to Shepherd we can enjoy the harvest.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Imbibing History

I've spent a lifetime looking at the American experience from a variety of perspectives, most of them expected, a few of them unexpected and surprising informative. James Wondrich's revised edition of Imbibe! (2015) is one of those surprises. It was featured in a news blog post that caught my attention earlier last month so I ordered it as a Father's Day gift and finished it earlier today. The Penguin Randon House website describes it aptly:

Cocktail writer and historian David Wondrich presents the colorful, little-known history of classic American drinks–and the ultimate mixologist’s guide–in this engaging homage to Jerry Thomas, father of the American bar.
Wondrich reveals never-before-published details and stories about this larger-than-life nineteenth-century figure, along with definitive recipes for more than 100 punches, cocktails, sours, fizzes, toddies, slings, and other essential drinks, along with detailed historical and mixological notes.
The first edition, published in 2007, won a James Beard Award. Now updated with newly discovered recipes and historical information, this new edition includes the origins of the first American drink, the Mint Julep (which Wondrich places before the American Revolution), and those of the Cocktail itself. It also provides more detail about 19th century spirits, many new and colorful anecdotes and details about Thomas’s life, and a number of particularly notable, delicious, and influential cocktails not covered in the original edition, rounding out the picture of pre-Prohibition tippling.
This colorful and good-humored volume is a must-read for anyone who appreciates the timeless appeal of a well-made drink-and the uniquely American history behind it.

In time I'll enjoy some of the drinks described in Imbibe! For now I'm perfectly happy discovering mixology as a significant American contribution to western culture in much the same way we should appreciate jazz and blues. By their very nature, the roots of these experiences were not well documented. It's up to gum shoe detective historians like Wondrich to brings the stories to our attention and give them their due.

If you have an interest in history from unexpected tangents and a curiosity about authentic American drinks and their evolution, Imbibe! will be a pleasing addition to your library be it in the kitchen or the den or both.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

AirVenture 2015 At Oshkosh Reaches Its Midpoint

Today marks the midpoint of AirVenture 2015, the world's largest fly-in. It's sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) each year in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. What started as a small convention of flying enthusiasts at the Milwaukee airport in 1953 has grown into a world-class gathering that addresses virtually any aviation topic. In the decade before retiring, I had the privilege of working in the Federal Pavilion of five AirVentures beginning in 1999. Some may interpret that as overkill, but each one left me thrilled at the thought of returning for another event. And you may ask why the National Park Service would send a dozen or so employees and volunteers to work an airplane show. First, the agency has around forty out of 400 units with a significant link to an aviation theme. In addition, the Service maintains a fleet of fixed and rotary wing aircraft contributing over 20,000 hours of flight time annually in support of park operations, maintenance, and resource management. Add to that the interagency cooperation as well as airspace regulation over the parks and I think you can see the point. Regardless, it's a grand - demanding - opportunity to distribute information and talk face-to-face with thousands of guests. 

The Federal Pavilion usually attracts a bit over 10% of the 600,000 people who attend the week-long event. It's just one in a score of special exhibits on the site. When you add the 7500 aircraft tied down at the fly-in campgrounds, 2500 additional aircraft exhibits, 800 commercial exhibitors, and daily world-class airshows you can see where it becomes a festival for people who are simply "plane" crazy.  

EAA AirVenture map for the 2011 event

Here is a 90-minute video of the event from last year. It opens with the general aviation arrivals. The airshow portion begins at 24:00.

Nothing can replace being at Oshkosh. Fortunately, if you can't attend, the EAA maintains a comprehensive up to the second website where you can spend hours reading, watching and listening to the day's/week's events.

I hope to return again strictly as a guest and will gladly keep those 18-hour days as a fond memory.  Maybe I'll see you there. In the meantime, "Wheels up!"

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

First Solo Flight Around The World: Wiley Post - In 7 Days, 18 Hours, And 49 Minutes

One of the nation's most famous aviators, Wiley Post, completed this historic event today in 1933 when he returned to Fort Bennett Field after a near eight-day flight. Here is a map of the journey:

And here is what This Day In History ( says about the flight:

Two years earlier, Post had won fame when he successfully flew around the northern part of the earth with aviator Harold Gatty. For his solo around-the-world flight in 1933, he flew a slightly greater distance–15,596 miles–in less time. For both flights, he used the Winnie Mae, a Lockheed Vega monoplane that was equipped with a Sperry automatic pilot and a direction radio for Post’s solo journey.
His aircraft, Winnie Mae, was as well known as its pilot. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's summary description of the plane say this:

Flying this specially modified Lockheed 5C Vega, famed aviator Wiley Post set many records and pioneered several aviation technologies. In 1931 Post and navigator Harold Gatty flew it around the world in eight days, and in 1933 Post became the first to fly around the world solo, taking only seven days. In 1935, while wearing the world's first pressure suit, which he helped design, Post flew the Vega into the stratosphere, reaching 547 kilometers (340 miles) per hour while cruising in the jet stream. The Winnie Mae was named for the daughter of F. C. Hall, the original owner and a close friend of Post.
Designed by John K. "Jack" Northrop, the Lockheed Vega first flew in 1927. It was the first aircraft with the NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics] cowl, which streamlined the airflow around and through the engine. This decreased drag and increased power plant cooling.

Winnie Mae at her place of honor in the Time and Navigation exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC

Over the next two years Post explored the development of a suit for high altitude flight. During his experimental flights he became the first man to encounter the high speed air currents we know as jet streams. On August 15, 1935, he and the American cowboy humorist, Will Rogers, died in the crash of Post's hybrid Lockheed home-built aircraft while exploring the possibilities of an air mail route across Alaska. Below is a photograph of the pair taken shortly before their fatal accident:

Will Rogers (on wing) and Wiley Post (by prop) as they prepare to depart Point Barrow, AK, August 15, 1935

In many ways Post's interest in science, experimentation and controlled, powered flight mirrors that of the Wilbur and Orville Wright. The brothers' enabled Post to make his contribution to aviation history. And Post's work in turn continues to inspire and enable new pioneers to go higher, faster, and farther.



Photos and Illustrations:

Winnie Mae, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Post and Rogers, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ernest Hemingway: Introversion, Fame, And "The Essence Of Uncluttered Force"

Hemingway, his wife, Pauline, and their three sons posing with marlins, Bimini, 1935
Today marks the birth of the American writer, Ernest Hemingway, in 1899. Most of us likely met Hemingway through his Nobel Prize winning 1952 novel, The Old Man and the Sea.  It was required reading for me in high school and I trust that it remains a rite of passage for graduation these days. Over a fourteen year period he published four blockbuster novels: The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), To Have and Have Not (1937), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). His body of work includes additional novels, non-fiction, letters, collections of short stories and poems, and one anthology.  A private person by nature, his lifestyle and literary themes coupled with fame made him a larger than life and very public personality. In a 2010 paper, Professor Timo Muller (University of Augsburg), writing in the Journal of Modern Literature, noted that Hemingway "has the highest recognition value of all writers world-wide." That value is reflected equally in this quotation from the Hemingway entry on Wikipedia:

The extent of Hemingway's influence is seen in the tributes and echoes of his fiction in popular culture. A minor planet, discovered in 1978 by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Chernykh, was named for him (3656 Hemingway); Ray Bradbury wrote The Kilimanjaro Device, with Hemingway transported to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro; the 1993 motion picture Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, about the friendship of two retired men, Irish and Cuban, in a seaside town in Florida, starred Robert Duvall, Richard Harris, Shirley MacLaine, Sandra Bullock, and Piper Laurie. The influence is evident with the many restaurants named "Hemingway"; and the proliferation of bars called "Harry's" (a nod to the bar in Across the River and Into the Trees). A line of Hemingway furniture, promoted by Hemingway's son Jack (Bumby), has pieces such as the "Kilimanjaro" bedside table, and a "Catherine" slip-covered sofa. Montblanc offers a Hemingway fountain pen, and a line of Hemingway safari clothes has been created. The International Imitation Hemingway Competition was created in 1977 to publicly acknowledge his influence and the comically misplaced efforts of lesser authors to imitate his style. Entrants are encouraged to submit one "really good page of really bad Hemingway" and winners are flown to Italy to Harry's Bar.

I've read bits and pieces of Hemingway over the years but nothing cover to cover. Essentially he is a victim of my interest in non-fiction; however, the legacy has prompted our family to visit the Earnest Hemingway Home and Museum in  Key West, Florida. He and his family lived there from 1931 to 1939. There is something for everyone there including a furnished house, colorful gardens, and a fine bookstore. Our children enjoyed the polydactyl (extra-toed) cats that are descended from a white cat Hemingway received as a gift from a local ship captain. It's a good opportunity to glimpse a private life from another time and a lierary legacy that will be with us for a very long time.



John F. Kennedy Library


Quote and content, New York Times, July, 3, 1961

Monday, July 20, 2015

Small Steps; Giant Leaps: First Walk On The Moon 46 Years Ago

Space Window, National Cathedral, Washington, DC

Forty-six years ago, I had to work a late shift at a hotel in Ocean City, Maryland. The staff on duty - probably half a dozen folks - and several guests and passersby watched this historic achievement at 10:56 p.m. on a television we hoisted onto the front desk. Still have vivid memories of the event. Seems like only yesterday.

Did you know that a moon rock collected by Armstrong and Aldrin during this landing is embedded in the center of the Space Window's red planet?  Read more about it here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Elvis Hits The Radio Turntable

Presley in a promotional still from the film, Jailhouse Rock, 1957

Elvis Presley released his first commercial single record on this day in 1954. Last year, the 60th anniversary of the release, Michael Hann, writing in The Guardian, had this to say about the event:

The yellow label didn't exactly signify an earthquake. Above the cut-out centre of the 7in single ran the word Sun, a drop shadow beneath it. Behind the text lay rays of sunshine, and around the perimeter of the label were staves of music. The bottom half of the label contained the important information: the song title, That's All Right; the writer, Arthur Crudup; and the artist, Elvis Presley, with Scotty and Bill credited in smaller lettering. And at the very bottom, proudly, in yellow text reversed out of black, was the place of origin: Memphis, Tennessee.
Nevertheless, that disc, which arrived in Tennessee record shops 60 years ago, on Monday 19 July, 1954, did cause an earthquake. It was the first commercial release by Elvis Presley, the first tremors of a sensation that would soon transform popular culture and create the modern cult of celebrity. "You'd had teenage music before," says the pop historian Jon Savage, "but Elvis was the first to make music as if it was by teenagers, rather than for teenagers. And he was still a teenager when he made that record. After that, the industry realised they had to make music teenagers liked."

Read the rest of the article at this link. And below you can listen to the early sounds of that new music called Rock and Roll.

A little primitive...catchy beat...good voice. May have some potential.



wikipedia,com, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., photo, Library of Congress


Friday, July 17, 2015

The First Run Of The Central Of Georgia's "Nancy Hanks II"

When I moved to Savannah in 1977 people were still talking about "The Nancy." It was the familiar name for "The Nancy Hanks II." a daily Central of Georgia train that ran round trip from Savannah to Atlanta. Abraham Lincoln's mother seemed like an odd choice as a name for anything in the South until I quickly learned that Nancy Hanks was also a record breaking trotting mare at the turn of the 20th century.

Nancy Hanks in 1892 shortly after her record-breaking run
In fact, the Central of Georgia Railroad is best remembered for two trains named after famous race horses, the other being the much better known, Man o' War (1917-1947). That train made two 117 mile runs a day from Atlanta to Columbus. But it is The Nancy that gained fame among Georgians. The name was first used on a short-lived train in 1892-93. It was revived in 1947 and remained in use until 1971 when railroad across the nation ended virtually all of their passenger service. The train featured reserved-seat deluxe coaches, a grille and lounge car, a dome car in its later years, and maid service. The color scheme was a mix of blue and gray inside and out with a logo on each car. 

The Nancy Hanks at Wadley, Georgia in 1948

At 7:00 a.m. every day The Nancy pulled out of the Central of Georgia Depot and Trainshed in Savannah for its 294 mile, five hour and forty minute run to Atlanta. For twenty years the train was popular with a wide variety of travelers ranging from businessmen to children on school field trips to families visiting relatives and friends to shoppers - the famous Rich's flagship store was across the street from the Atlanta Terminal. Day-trippers had about four hours of useful time before they had to return to the terminal for the 6:00 p.m. departure and return to Savannah.  By the late '60's improved highways, government regulations, labor issues, taxes, and subsidized competition spelled the end of privately-owned passenger rail service across the country, a service that had rarely made a profit for railroads for decades. So it was with The Nancy Hanks II. She made her last run on April 30, 1971 just one day before the creation of Amtrak, a publicly funded rail passenger service. 

Twenty-four years earlier, on July 17, 1947, The Nancy Hanks II made her first run from the Georgia coast across the blistering midland to the state capital. Today, people still talk fondly about that trip. Some would be thrilled at the prospect of taking it again. Should a ride on The Nancy Hanks III become a reality I hope to be among them. 

Savannah's Central of Georgia Depot in 2015. It is now a visitor center

Atlanta Terminal Station, 1955. Demolished 1972


Photos and illustrations:

Kentuckiana Digital Library



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Now I Am Become Death, The Destroyer Of Worlds

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Trinity Test, the world's first nuclear explosion and the beginning of the Atomic Age. Expectation among the scientists that morning in the New Mexico desert ranged from a dud bomb to a world-devouring atmospheric explosion. Luckily, the result was reasonable and the success allowed the United States to pursue a quick and definitive ending to war with Japan. I am sure the debate on using nuclear weapons against civilian targets in Japan will be an endless one. Also, I am sure that President Harry Truman's decision to use those weapons saved Japan and the United States and its allies millions of additional casualties. Regardless of your position on this question and the Atomic Age, the greater reality is simply that our world has been transformed by this new power. As a leader of the free world, we have a huge responsibility regarding the use of nuclear power for creation and destruction as well as its proliferation. The events of July 16, 1945 and in the month that followed showed us the awesome power of the atom. Seventy years of nuclear history has only focused us even more on being careful to choose wisely in such matters..

The Department of Energy has a fine mixed media post on the Trinity Test and its context within the Manhattan Project. The Wikipedia entry for Trinity provides additional information, including several illustrations, and many interesting external links. Access Wikipedia:Trinity here.

Trinity Site explosion 0.016 second after ignition, July 16, 1945

The title of this post is a quote taken from the Bhagavad Gita spoken by J. Robert Oppenheimer on the realization of what he and his fellow scientists accomplished in the Trinity Test. In the Gita, the speaker is Vishnu, a supreme god in the Hindu tradition. Perhaps Oppenheimer's pessimism and quote were justified. I like to recall that Vishnu, as supreme god, had many avatars or incarnations. One of them is Krishna, also known as the Lord of the Cosmic Dance. As such, the Dancer is the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of the world as he stands on the Dwarf of Ignorance. I wasn't at Trinity that morning. Didn't see the flash or feel the heat or wind from the blast. Still, I have no doubt it was quite a dance for all who witnessed this historic event.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Gustav Klimt: Breaking Away

Readers who have followed this blog over the years know that I have a quiet obsession with something called the Wiener Werkstatte. It was a community of artists in Vienna that grew out of the Vienna Secession, itself a larger expression of the Arts and Crafts movement beginning in the late 19th century. My fascination with this theme began during a semester of cultural history focusing on organic form and function in urban planning and design. I'll leave it to you to find the linkages.

The important item today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of the most significant members of that Secession, Gustav Klimt. He is described as a symbolist painter, one who focuses on mysticism and imagination. His Wikipedia entry describes his early work as academic, a characteristic he gradually left behind following a life-long relationship with Emilie Floge that began when he was 28. Many art historians claim he captured their love in this 1907 painting, The Kiss:

It is probably not as familiar as this painting, also from what is called Klimt's "Gold Period":

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) has an amazing history involving Nazi looting, museum purchase, decades of litigation, $135,000,000, art world disgust, a book, and five films, including one to be released later this year.

There is much more to Klimt than the golden paintings. If you look at the body of his work it's easy to see how he continues to exert a broad influence on material culture and imagination a century after his death.



The Kiss, Austrian Gallery Bevedere, Vienna
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202


Klimt Painted Much More Than 'The Woman In Gold', Colton Valentine, Huffinton Post, July 14, 2015

Bastille Day 2015

Today is National Day in France - we call it Bastille Day - a holiday marking the 1789 storming of the Bastille by the people of Paris and the symbolic end of absolute monarchy in France. The event ushered in eight decades of political and social unrest as France and Europe as a whole struggled with the concept of nationalism.

For more on this day go here and here.

For an expression of the patriotism this day represents, there is but one song:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bob Dylan: "There Ain't Too Much I Can Say About This Song...."

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963

Bob Dylan was only 21 on July 9, 1962 when he walked into the Columbia Recording Studios in New York to record a song to be included on his second album. The song, Blowin' in the Wind, brought him fame and recognition as one of the nation's leading folk poets in the twentieth century. The lyrics and Dylan's comments on the song were published in June 1962 in the folk journal, Sing Out. He said this:

Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some ...But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know . . . and then it flies away.

The music critic, Andy Gill, said this about the song in his book, Classic Bob Dylan, 1962-1969: My Back Pages:

Blowin' in the Wind marked a huge jump in Dylan's songwriting. Prior to this, efforts like The Ballad of Donald White and The Death of Emmett Till had been fairly simplistic bouts of reportage songwriting. Blowin' in the Wind was different: for the first time, Dylan discovered the effectiveness of moving from the particular to the general. Whereas The Ballad of Donald White would become completely redundant as soon as the eponymous criminal was executed, a song as vague as Blowin' in the Wind could be applied to just about any freedom issue. It remains the song with which Dylan's name is most inextricably linked, and safeguarded his reputation as a civil libertarian through any number of changes in style and attitude.

The song remains a poem for our times, perhaps all times.



U.S. Archives and Records Service, Rowland Scherman Collection

Text:, Bob Dylan entry

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Taking Off: The Origin Of Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane's first album, released in August 1966

Two day ago, July 3, we noted a music milestone that occurred in 1968.

Today we recall a similar event that took place in San Francisco in 1965. On July 5 of that year, singer-songwriter, Marty Balin, watched a frustrated hootenanny try-out walk off the stage of The Drinking Gourd in disgust over his performance. Balin liked what little he heard and was impressed by the man's ambition. He went backstage and asked him, Paul Kantner, if he would join a band he was forming for his new Haight-Ashbury club called The Matrix. Kantner agreed. He didn't know it at the time, but he and Balin had just formed a band that would become Jefferson Airplane.

In a matter of days, another Drinking Gourd singer,  Signe Toly Anderson, would join. Kantner recruited his downstairs neighbor, Jorma Kaukonen, as another guitarist. A local drummer and bass guitarist filled out the group. Kaukonen would convince Jack Casady to become their new bass later in the year.

Six weeks after Balin and Kantner had their backstage chat, Jefferson Airplane debuted as the house band at The Matrix on August 13, 1965. The band was an instant success and went on to release their first album a year later:

The people changed, the name changed and some decided to pursue a solo career.  Through it all, after making music history for forty years their sound lives on for appreciative audiences around the world.

Sources:, Jefferson Airplane, Rock and Roll History, Signe Toly Anderson interview, KGON Portland, 2011 Mart Balin: Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, Joe Vertino, producer,, 2009

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Independence Day 2015: As A Band Of Brothers Joined, Peace And Safety We Shall Find

Happy Independence Day!

Liberty Bell postcard, ca. 1905
Tomorrow there will be parades, picnics, fireworks and other holiday festivities honoring the 239th day commemorating the declaration of America's independence from Britain. I'm going to add to the music this year with two pieces that may be unfamiliar to readers. First we have a piece written for George Washington's first inaugural in 1789 by Philip Phile and originally titled, The President's March. Nine year later Joseph Hopkinson added lyrics and the song became known as Hail, Columbia. It was one of several song used as an unofficial national anthem until 1931 when Congress selected The Star Spangled Banner.

Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, heav'n-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
And when the storm of war was gone
Enjoy'd the peace your valor won.
Let independence be our boast,
Ever mindful what it cost;
Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Immortal patriots, rise once more,
Defend your rights, defend your shore!
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Invade the shrine where sacred lies
Of toil and blood, the well-earned prize,
While off'ring peace, sincere and just,
In Heaven's we place a manly trust,
That truth and justice will prevail,
And every scheme of bondage fail.


Behold the chief who now commands,
Once more to serve his country stands.
The rock on which the storm will break,
The rock on which the storm will break,
But armed in virtue, firm, and true,
His hopes are fixed on Heav'n and you.
When hope was sinking in dismay,
When glooms obscured Columbia's day,
His steady mind, from changes free,
Resolved on death or liberty.


Sound, sound the trump of fame,
Let Washington's great name
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Let ev'ry clime to freedom dear,
Listen with a joyful ear,
With equal skill, with God-like pow'r
He governs in the fearful hour
Of horrid war, or guides with ease
The happier time of honest peace.


Our second piece is by Charles Ives a seriously original composer. He debuted Variations on America on July 4, 1892 to a somewhat shocked audience. The piece wasn't published until 1949 after listeners and the music world began to recognize his genius.  The performance is by the equally original and amazing Virgil Fox. Only once did I see the man in concert. No one will ever take his place.

In the spirit of the freedom of the American Experiment established on July 4, 1776, our cultural experience continues to reinvent itself every day. We can thank the Founding Fathers for that freedom, but with that it comes the awesome responsibility to preserve the system that created and sustains it. I hope you take some time this weekend between the burgers, the parades, the fireworks and whatever to think about that responsibility and resolve to keep our democratic republic strong for ourselves and future generations.



family postcard archive



Friday, July 3, 2015

The Birth Of Crosby, Stills, And Nash

CSN's first album, released May 1969

Music flows like water coursing through shoals, eddy lines, and pools in an ever-changing pattern. One could say those who make the music follow similar and often bumpy routes that leave little time for thought about destinations. By 1968 that was the case with three young musicians. The Byrds had already fired David Crosby, Buffalo Springfield broke up leaving Stephen Stills without work, and Graham Nash felt far too restrained working with the Hollies. They knew each other through the music scene in Los Angeles and networks that develop naturally among like-minded folks. Crosby and Stills had already been jamming in Florida and elsewhere. Both knew Crosby through his American tours.

The fourth name in our post today is singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell, the catalyst in our story. She shared Laurel Canyon, a neighborhood just north of Hollywood, with many other music industry notables and up-and-comers. Mitchell's home was described (Mark Volman) as "a little different...not so much maternal but about holding court in terms of songwriters who could find themselves there on any given night...and present their music to a kind of inner circle of people." On July 3,1968, circumstances brought Crosby, Stills, and Nash together at the house. "Nash asked Stills and Crosby to repeat their performance of a new song by Stills, “You Don't Have To Cry”, with Nash improvising a third part harmony."  In a Daily Mail interview, Nash recalled, "That night, while Joni listened, the three of us sang together for the first time. I heard the future in the power of those voices. And I knew my life would never be the same."

Neither would music for millions around the world. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and later, Neil Young, would go on to phenomenal success and influence in folk rock and popular music, a force very much with us today.

N.B. Among the principals, there is disagreement about the location of this monumental event; however, Mitchell, Crosby, and close friend, Elliot Roberts, insist it was at Mitchell's home. The official CSN biography by Dave Zimmer and Henry Diltz concurs.

Sources:, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, "An Oral History of Laurel Canyon, the 60s and 70s Music Mecca"," March 2115


"You Don't Have To Cry" quote is from
Nash quote,
Volman quote: Hotel California: The True Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Barney Hoskins. Wiley, 2007

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Wolfman: Still Growling In Syndication After All These Years

Wolfman Jack from the NBC television series, Go, 1974

One of the most recognizable voices in entertainment, Wolfman Jack, passed away on this day in 1995.  If you're an older boomer and listened to rock and roll on the radio in the '60's and '70's you surely heard him at least once on one of his very offbeat programs on the Mexican "border blaster" stations, on WNBC in New York, and in syndication out of KRLA in California .  If you're a youngster - under 35 - you've likely only encountered him in this clip from the 1973 blockbuster film, American Graffitti.

Most appropriately, a BBC News program recently called the Wolfman "the most outlandish, most thrilling and most elliptical disc jockey of the American 1960s." For more on this enigmatic and influential American entertainer, go to Kip's American Graffitti Blog. It's an essential source filled with photographs and audio links. If you enjoyed the film you can spend hours exploring the whole site

It would not be worth writing about the man without linking to some audio. Here is the radio master at work at WNBC in 1973. Oh yeah!