February 15, 2013

announcing your place in the family of things


Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
     love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

–by Mary Oliver, from New & Selected Poems (Harcourt Brace)

(with this soundtrack:)

Internally paired this morning.

Read about Julia Kent’s new found-sound and cello record here, read more about Mary Oliver here. Turner’s paintings go with a lot of complicated, powerful things.

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March 11, 2012

sun in an empty room

I spent yesterday afternoon marveling over the spectacular new American Art wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was surprised and delighted so many times by the thoughtfully curated collections and themes. My three favorite rooms were the “Artist’s Studio” painting depictions, the room of portraits of women (and, by extension, conceptions of femininity), and American Impressionism.

I decided early in my tour through the wing that The Weakerthans felt like a really perfect iPod soundtrack for the collection – something in their directness, and cogent beauty. As I walked into the American Impressionism room, this song shuffled on, and this picture greeted me.

Sun In An Empty Room – The Weakerthans

[Edmund Charles Tarbell, Across The Room, 1899]

It was a perfect moment.

Off to SXSW tomorrow for my panel Tuesday; I’m working on a shortlist of bands I am prioritizing seeing, and will post that soon, for those of you also heading into Austin’s sweaty gorgeous fray.

January 26, 2012

noticing the ratty little dead things

The New French Hacker-Artist Underground, Wired Magazine

Why do they care about these places? Kunstmann answers this question with questions of his own. “Do you have plants in your home?” he asks impatiently. “Do you water them every day? Why do you water them? Because,” he goes on, “otherwise they’re ratty little dead things.” That’s why these forgotten cultural icons are important.

One of the most electrifying articles I’ve read in years. I’m probably considering a career change.

[image credit: UX]

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November 18, 2011

like a blinding flash of narcolepsy

I’ve made it back from my sojourn across the Atlantic, feeling just like a shiny new penny with all the oils of a thousand hands rubbed clean off, and the golden copper Lincoln grinning through again. After twelve years, I returned to the city where I studied abroad and where, in many ways, I think I first started to bloom even though I didn’t know at the time what colors I would be. I saw new terrain too, new monuments to beauty and joy and struggle, in cultures that value putting public money into creating and sustaining such majesty. I feel dizzy. I am reminded of things I used to know.

I’ve been enjoying my fast from technology as well, noticing how much more powerful the resonance of my thoughts can sometimes be when they just echo inside my own head and don’t zap out in bits and bytes to everyone else all the time. I have a few chapel sessions coming to share with you all, and they will come when they are ready. For now we’re contented in an inlet, a lull.

This is something I wrote one afternoon last week in a small cafe in Barcelona, alone, on my little iPod touch. It’s the only thing I’ve written lately, more about an internal dialogue than a new song. I thought you might enjoy it.

Barcelona, 11.10.11

Sometimes, I drift unmoored. The seas have been high, and choppy. The focus has been on the salty, windy survival. Today when I walked into Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, I surprisingly felt closer to God than I have in a long time, as the colorful light brilliantly flooded into all that whiteness. It is the most stunning and overwhelming space I have maybe ever been in. A train might as well have hit me when I walked through the doors; the splattering effect of my psyche was the same. I was derailed. I was, for a short time, wordless.

When you study and live and experience art (also reference: the complicated and sometime emotionally abusive relationship I’ve been in with Michelangelo these years), it’s like a small rip in your fabric is enlarged and pressed and kneaded outwards, sometimes violently. Picture the hands that work the pizza dough from underneath, as it drapes and offers no resistance. There’s a hollow vacancy that’s been left in my life as I try to return to normal dimensions after living daily with beauty and art that challenges and probes. Days like today blow everything back up and out again.

The exterior of the church evoked the dribble sandcastles my mom taught me how to build on the beaches of Santa Cruz when I was a kid. The spires are chaotic and irregular, and expansive and impressive, and dirty from years of exposure, and beseiged by cranes and scaffolding and workers still building. A hundred years after Gaudi started it, craftsmen are still rappelling down the sides.

But indoors.

Walking into that massive space felt like a blinding flash of narcolepsy, where suddenly I knew this place but I knew it from dreams, from a place that I used to be, thousands of years ago. I stood at the base of a forest of columns that turned into trees as I craned my neck, knitting together so high over my head into a canopy. I rolled around Wendell Berry’s words, “I love to lie down weary under the stalk of sleep growing slowly out of my head, the dark leaves meshing.”

There are clean, flat, angular planes everywhere that somehow still feel organic in their sharpness, the way starlight or thistles are organic. Dazzling, pure color (!) and light (!) bleach and stain and permeate the church, and soak through me. Here we are, and we are liberated from tradition, we are severed from heavy gold ornamental oppression, and we have forgotten our grief.

Sometimes you are in a space that is a perfect combination of all the elements that you are uniquely wired for, and this was mine. Gaudi’s got my number, and he has it completely. In art, I felt known.

Dig Down Deep – Vandaveer

In my head, songs often play, even without the tethers of white earbuds. Echoing all around me I heard the 2:17 crescendo of this song, sustained.

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June 16, 2010

The stories behind the music portraiture of Todd Roeth

avett brothers todd roeth

This weekend a photo exhibit opened up in Southern California showcasing the music portraiture of Todd Roeth, a wonderfully talented Denver artist (and friend) who I’ve worked with on many occasions for interviews appearing both on Fuel/Friends and on Gigbot. The Setlist: Music Portraiture by Todd Roeth exhibit is running through August 5th at the Brooks Institute of Photography.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way an insightful photographer can capture ephemeral moments in a concrete way. Todd’s exhibit pairs audio clips + music alongside his massive-scale portraits, so you can hear the artists’ recollections of the photo shoots, or Todd discussing artistic direction used for that shoot, or just thoughts of folks like me who were involved with them. For this exhibit intro, I said:

I think that music photography is a wonderful challenge for someone that really loves music. To me, music a lot of the time is interesting because of the person behind it — what they’re trying to say, who they’re trying to reveal of themselves, or who they want to be. Good music photography elucidates a certain aspect of a person, or challenges the viewer in a certain way by pressing against maybe what they think is true of that person, versus what the lens can actually capture, and Todd has a very intuitive sense of knowing what will work…

LISTEN: What I remember of the Langhorne Slim interview and photo shoot @ The Boulderado Hotel

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langhorne slim todd roeth

Even without going to the exhibit, you can see and hear the rest of the features virtually — from portraits of folks like The Avett Brothers, Jesse from These United States, Joe Pug (from this interview), Patience from The Grates, Handsome Furs (from this interview), Thao Nguyen (from this interview), Catherine from Horse Feathers, Gregory Alan Isakov, Blitzen Trapper, The Knew, and Nathaniel Rateliff.

I was at many of these shoots, and I love hearing the slightly-twangy reminiscences of a good, earnest friend who normally doesn’t talk much about all these things going on in his head during the actual shoot. Now I can see some of the methods behind his wonderful madness.

As for me, I’m off to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival early tomorrow morning. In addition to seeing folks like Dave Rawlings Machine, Alison Krauss, Ben Sollee, Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, and Court Yard Hounds over this summer solstice weekend, I will be interviewing Josh Ritter over beers around this time tomorrow. I am beyond excited to speak to an artist who I think is one of the best songwriters of this generation. Wish me luck; I might come back from the Festivarian campsite as a hippie. We’ll see.

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September 9, 2009

A song-filled myth about the beginning of time

(click to watch trailer)

Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National along with Matt Berninger, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, Kim and Kelley Deal from The Breeders, and a 12-piece orchestra — combining with visual art of Matthew Ritchie and attempting to depict the beginning of time?

Count me in? I spent Halloween in NYC once, I would totally do it again.

The Long Count: Part of the 2009 Next Wave Festival, Oct 28-31, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)

October 14, 2008

Damien Hirst exhibit, MCA Denver

On Friday I went to the opening night of the Damien Hirst gallery exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Denver. Hirst is a modern British artist who I probably first heard about when watching the Live Forever documentary about British pop culture in the Nineties. He was mentioned in the same breath as Oasis and Blur, as an artist who embodied the break from the old, the hedonism, and the challenging of new boundaries.

The first piece of Hirst’s that I saw was last October when I went to visit my best girls in New York City. His most famous piece The Physical Impossibility of Death In The Mind of Someone Living (1991) is a 12 foot tiger shark suspended in bluish-green formaldehyde. That’s it. There was a layer of shark oil floating on the top. Leaking. I will admit I felt like prey, standing there in front of its huge jaws, looking at its rows of teeth, so impotent, so harmless now.

This current exhibit in Denver (now through August ’09) consists of four pieces, but the most buzzed about is the St Sebastian, Exquisite Pain (2007), because, well, it’s a gutted calf strung to a steel post, pierced through with arrows. And there’s formaldehyde again. Two of the other pieces involve butterflies –so gorgeous and ethereal in life– dead and pasted onto painted canvases en masse, while the final is a portion of his famous Pharmacy display (1992) of bottles and pills and potions stoically beaming from shelves.

As one who cut my own art history teeth on Renaissance art and the search for the beautiful, the transcendent, Hirst’s exhibit raises interesting talking points about what art is, and what (if anything) its function can be. My companion to the show is a fierce visual artist herself, so I enjoyed bouncing ideas off her — what is he trying to say or make us think about with this one? Threads of death and life and pain and modern apathy all came up in our conversations.

The calf startled me in several ways. I felt nothing but detached when I looked at him front on. Then to my right, and around to the back — brutal but clinical. But when I moved around to the fourth side, suddenly there was something sad and familiar and almost sensual about the curve of his head as it lay to the side. Strange and startling to see a bit of that ecstasy-in-death that I am so familiar with in Renaissance art. I had similar thoughts while studying the hundreds of butterflies arranged in neat geometric patterns in death. That’s what I appreciate about contemporary art — the ability to ambush you.

St. Andrew (The Battle Is In The Air) – White Stripes
Butterfly Nets – Bishop Allen
The Drugs Don’t Work (live on Jools Holland, 1997) – The Verve

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October 27, 2006

Like an L.S. Lowry painting come to life

I posted something once before with a similar title [see: Like the Musee D’Orsay come to life] –because I love seeing intelligent and creative interpretations of art set to music.

I nearly minored in art history (which is a fancy way of saying that I love wandering around in old museums but was a bit too lazy to finish the upper-division coursework for the minor), and often “see” music in a visual way, so whenever a band can create something that reminds me of a painting, I am all over that action. Oasis has a new animated video for their b-side song “Masterplan.” It’s mostly a jaunt through hometown Manchester with the boys, but the cool thing about it is how it resurrects the best paintings of L.S. Lowry into an industrial landscape in motion.

L.S. Lowry was also from Manchester, England, and lived from 1887 to 1976. Most of his paintings were muted landscapes of the industrial areas where he lived, often populated by so-called “matchstick men” (fairly simplistic, slim, homogenic folk) with an almost primitive and flat representation of perspective. There’s a certain autumal beauty to the tones he uses, and a charming air about his works.

Here’s one of L.S. Lowry’s paintings — “Coming Out Of School” 1927, Tate Gallery:

Now watch what Oasis does with the same stylistic idea. If you are familiar at all with some of the more well-known works by Lowry, you’ll see that many of his paintings are represented in the content of this video (i.e. Man Lying On A Wall, Fairground At Daisy Nook). Oasis worked with Lowry’s estate and received their blessing on the endeavor, which they hope will bring “a fresh new image” to good ole’ L.S.

The song itself is lovely and I think it’s a nice touch how the original 5 band members walk (well, Liam struts) past actual Manchester landmarks. Good on Oasis for giving props to a fellow Mancunian through their video, possibly even sending a few kids scurrying to crack open an art history reference book. Watch:

Oasis is busy workin’ it in support of the release of a greatest hits collection (Stop The Clocks! It’s out November 13!) and Noel Gallagher is set to appear in NYC at the premiere of the new tour documentary Lord Don’t Slow Me Down (CMJ FilmFest, November 4th).

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June 20, 2006

Ahh, if I were in London tonight

. . . In addition to hoisting a pint to calm my nerves after a tense, hard-fought game today pitting England against Sweden (ending in a draw, but how I rooted for a Brit win) – I would be heading to the British Museum. I took a seminar class on Michelangelo when I was studying abroad in Florence, and as such I consider myself fortunate to have seen most of his finished works and many of his drawings and sketches. But this exhibit brings together some that I have not seen. I love the anatomical power and grace of Michelangelo’s human forms.

Michelangelo Draws Night Crowd
Associated Press article, 6/8/06

LONDON – The British Museum said Thursday that it will stay open until midnight for the first time to meet the demand for access to its exhibition of the works of Italian master Michelangelo. More than 140,000 people have visited “Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master,” since it opened at the end of March.

Now the 247-year-old museum will remain open until midnight every Saturday until the show closes on July 25.

“The exhibition has been such an overwhelming success that we wanted to find a way to let more people see the show before the end of its run,” said director Neil MacGregor. “This really is a unique opportunity to spend your Saturday night with a master of the Italian Renaissance.” The exhibition is a study of the Renaissance artist’s life from his earliest pen drawings to his late, haunting crucifixions.

It reunites material not together since the posthumous dispersal of works from Michelangelo’s studio in 1564. The works come from collections in the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Teyler Museum in Holland.

The museum’s first Michelangelo exhibition in 30 years features 90 drawings and a collection of thumbnail sketches and red chalk studies that trace the evolution of the painting of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

The exhibition took a record 11,000 bookings before it even opened, beating the previous record of 3,670 advance bookings set by an exhibition of Persian art.

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May 7, 2006

Do you like American Music? (I like American music)

“Popular music has been characterized by some as a rather disposable art form associated with youth culture, and yet the performers and their songs have the capacity to stay with us and embody deeper meaning as we grow older — and there is great power in this dichotomy. To quote Patti Smith, ‘Our music grants us a coat of invulnerability, a spring in which we bathe with abandon, methods of response, moments of respite, and a riot of self-expression.’ With these photographs, Annie Leibovitz illuminates and celebrates the full range of experience contained in American Music.”

. . . and so the sign greeted us at the beginning of the fabulous American Music photography exhibit, currently in residence at the FAC Modern in downtown Colorado Springs. It is a journey through the landscape of current American music, with most pictures shot in the past several years by famed Rolling Stone/independent photographer Annie Leibovitz. Organized by and premiered at the Experience Music Project in Seattle in 2003, the exhibit has travelled across the country and may be coming to your town soon. If it is, I highly recommend a trip.

I love rock ‘n’ roll photography. There was an excellent exhibit in San Jose last year (at the Tech Museum) with portraits and live concert shots spanning the entire gamut from Bono to the Beatles to Charlie Watts to Michael Hutchence to Michael Stipe. I love rock photography because of the way a good photograph can look into these artists’ souls and give you a voyeuristic chance just to stare at all their wrinkles and warts (or glowing luminous skin and teeth, depending on the subject of the photograph).

While the Tech Museum exhibit last year was a broad and far-reaching look at rock music across the last 50 years (and I loved it), Annie Leibovitz’s exhibit strives to capture American music at this precise moment, in all of its broad forms from jazz to soul to rock to country to rap to blues. I don’t think any picture in the exhibit was taken before 1999 or so. It was fascinating. It would have been perfect, perfect, unbelievably celestial for me if the exhibit came with headphones and a digital music player – so that as I looked into these faces that told so many stories I could also listen to their souls come out in the music they make. I knew many of the artists, but a lot of them I didn’t recognize, especially in some of the genres that I am still learning about.

I am having a hard time finding online where the American Music exhibit is travelling to after it leaves the shadow of Pikes Peak, so if you want to see some of the pictures, you can either order her excellent American Music book (containing all the photographs and some superb commentary from Ryan Adams, Patti Smith, Roseanne Cash, and more), and/or you can view many of the pictures in the exhibit here, although it lacks the same punch (I am admittedly a total museum whore and love just being in a museum).

Here are some of my snaps from the exhibit last night. I didn’t get a good one of the stunning Iggy Pop portrait pair, so check that link right above to see the leathery road map that his skin has become. I’ll say it again: fascinating.

That White Stripes photo is just fabulous. You can’t see it in this shot, but I love how Meg White is just so impassive. She’s like, “Okay, Jack, whatever you say.” Someone once told me that Meg White was a good woman because she does what she is told.

Mike Ness is seriously one of the baddest mofos ever. I am overdue for a post on him and his music. His skin is an art form in and of itself.

This is supposed to be Johnny Cash with Roseanne Cash on his front porch, but my haste to take covert pictures blurred it. A better shot is here. I love this because of the distance in Johnny Cash’s eyes as he plays. The music is taking him somewhere that is hard to place.

Country roots and wings with Bonnie Raitt and the Dixie Chicks. Raitt is photographed backstage in New York: I found the bottle of Dial soap sitting on the ratty old sink somehow poetic. I love little tiny details like that and I can’t say why.

Brian Wilson looking more than a bit like my dad, in that bathrobe and I think my dad has the same slippers. Sorry for the blur, see here for a good shot (my picture above looks all artsy blurry – it’s my attempt at, uh, social commentary about the speed with which we age). Wilson looks sad and lost and suburban.

Life imitating art.
(We’ve already established that I am a geek, so, ya know . . .)

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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