Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gabriel Brown and His Guitar

Gabriel Brown is one of those great unknowns of the blues whose story seems way too odd to be ignored, but he garnered only a scant paragrph in Edward M. Komara's otherwise excellent Encyclopedia of the Blues:
A strangely anonymous artist with no real discernible roots and a sophisticated background that that belies his concentration on slick country blues. Brown won first prize in the St. Louis National Folk festival of 1934 and was recorded for the Library of Congress. He became an actor, working with Orson Wells, among others and was taken up by record company owner Joe Davis. who recorded him extensively from 1943 to 1953 before he reportedly died in a boating accident.

How a character like this could be forgotten in a world where an unknown actress named Peg Entwhistle entered the world of legend simply by jumping off a sign seems impossible to me.

He achieved the notice of such famed field recorders as Alan Lomax and Zora Neal Hurston1, no tin ears themselves. His professional association with the formidable character of Joe Davis2 alone should have made him more visible to the legions of blues collectors out there, but sadly, he still languishes in the shadows as an unknown sideman. Collections of his music, a scant two records on the UK labels Flyright and JSP, do little to give him the respect he deserves. His loping guitar work brings to mind the work of Pink Anderson, and Lightning Hopkins, and his original songs have lyrics that compete with the best of the Delta Musicians.

So what I have here is a 78 record I picked up in a thrift store and have played for nearly every interested student of American Music I could, hoping to spark some resurgence of interest in Mr. Brown. But now thanks to the magic of the internet, I've made a digital copy of this recording, and am uploading it here and at YouTube, so you can hear this largely unknown artist without having to trek out to my house.

1: Some of her recordings are available here, and it should be noted he worked with her and Orson Welles in the controversial Federal Theater Project * in Harlem.
(object OP10, on this page is a photo of him in costume, sadly not online, though.)

2: Example story of his exploits here

If you want to purchase his two available cd's they are in stock at CD Universe here and here. An Alan Lomax recording of him is on this collection from Rounder Records.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

*sound of jaw hitting floor*

I have no words.

More here.

Again, I am indebted to BikeEXIF

The dog days of winter.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Consider the object: Kiln gods

A small collection of kiln gods

Attended constantly by some, and scorned by others, the kiln god is a unique tradition among ceramicists. Usually a small sculpture placed on a kiln to assure good luck in a firing, they can be simple or complex, as illustrated in the above photo.

I'm not sure where this tradition started, but I do know that every kiln I've ever visited, from a large industrial kiln at a university to humble electric kilns on porches to old-fashioned groundhog kilns have had them.

I personally genuflect rather heavily at the altar of the kiln god and spend way too much time making them, probably time I should be spending creating. Whenever I was running a kiln firing I'd have all my assistants make kiln gods and then I'd judge the best to put into the next firing. I'm kind of a fascist when it come to firings... but that's another story. I've had several people offer to buy mine, but I have a distaste for buying or selling them, and I amassed the above ones which are not mine through trades. The center piece of the above photo I believe was one I made for my penultimate and final firings of the salt kiln at my university before we tore it down. Others were collaborations with artists who were helping me fire the kiln.

Semi-related: The Kiln God National Exhibition

Friday, February 20, 2009

I'm here to help.

You know what your problem is? Your life just isn't surreal enough. In the good way, I mean.

So here's what I'm doing for you: I'm giving you not one, but two dueling auctioneers. I'm gonna throw in a yodeling lassoist, and a cameo appearance by David Byrne and John Goodman:

There, now don't you feel better?

This excellent clip is from the highly recommended movie True Stories. Go find it, and buy it, you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Speaking of...

Since I was just considering photographs and motorcycles, here's a nice selection of vintage racing motorcycles found via Google's Life Magazine Archive, which is my new favorite toy of the moment.



Triumph Tiger


A JAP engined grass track racer

Indian Chief

Indian Chief (non-race dress)

Now, if I was sitting in 7th grade study hall, these would have been sketched on my trapper keeper dividers, but since it's the 21st century, I'm posting them on my blog in a lull between editing promotional video.

Honestly, I think I envy the kid in study hall...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Big picture.

Everyone who reads this already knows about The Big Picture over at the Boston Globe, right? Because you should.

Today I thought of Kurosawa.

Peach Blossom

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Two wheeled mind.

On the beach at Daytona.

Lately I've had motorcycles on the brain. Maybe it's the warm weather. Maybe it's the fact I'm within striking distance of finally getting my customization/restoration of a beater Yamaha back on the road. Maybe it's the fact that my daily driver has a built-in child seat and is making me feel old. But whatever the case, I'm down to the point of not thinking function and I'm right smack dab in the land of form.

Vincent Black Shadow

This is the sort of thing that can lead to long hours of daydreaming in front of the computer on quiet afternoons. Leafing through parts catalogs, reading bulletin boards and pondering the advantages of stainless steel v/s aluminum.

1949 Moto Major 350

Of course one can get carried away and have to be reminded that I don't have a tool and die shop, sheets of expensive alloy and unlimited time and funds at hand...

Norton Manx

Fortunately, my design ethic tends toward the stripped down café racer style, where the approach isn't to pile on more, but to remove everything that doesn't actively propel the bike forward, which creates a stirring form on its own.

What time I could spend this weekend not being dragged down by a vicious stomach bug was spent slowly polishing the aluminum on my bike back to its former glory and looking longingly at the naked seat pan and planning my next trip to the beach...

This bike may be the biggest vehicular project I've ever taken on, and at two years in, it's starting to feel like it's come under control, instead of being a wild mishmash of repair manuals, faq printouts and packing lists from mail-order houses. I haven't had the heart yet to add up my investment, but I'm starting to feel like I'm on the good side of the price v/s smiles equation.

Now if only it wasn't sitting still...

All photos from the excellent BikeEXIF.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ben's Jukebox.

Some of my friends may recall my occasional e-mail missive "Song of the Moment." In the interest of being interesting to a wide range of people I'm taking it public. With video. And yes, that is my stereo above. Just imagine you're sitting on the rug with the dog and and enjoy.

I've been insanely busy this week (editing video, natch) so I haven't had time to go out and enjoy the spring-like weather that has settled into the southeast this week, but I've been watching it wistfully through my office window and humming this song to myself.

While much of Gillian Welch's music can be grand and expansive, to me she's always at her best with songs that remind me of sitting on the edge of the bed and singing to a pet. This song exemplifies that in so many ways, in the space of 2 minutes and change she tells a tale of a long winter alone and broke and the high expectations that accompany the first warm weather.

"Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun..." - Wm Shakespeare

Monday, February 9, 2009

Faded, torn and frayed.

The Zone system of denim.

This weekend brought warm weather to the southeast, and thus it was time for the semi-monthly washing of the denim. Observing all my favorite jeans hanging out in the early spring sun reminded me of the the tortuous time spent learning the zone system in undergrad, so I made up the above shot showing my pants, oldest to newest.

To say I'm obsessed with denim would probably be fair. I had a summer job working for Levi's once upon a time, and what I learned working with the manufacturing of their clothes that summer has stayed with me ever since. It was then I learned about selvage denim, and about the now legendary "big e" Levi's. I learned about arcane terms such as "twist" "whiskering" and "slubby." I still have a soft space in my heart for the classic shrink-to-fit 501s, but as Levi's cuts costs further to compete, I've been looking elsewhere for my raw denim fix.

The promised land for denim these days is Japan, with artisan level jeans being produced and classic designs being reproduced. Sadly, these jeans seem to only be available for Japanese sized folks, so this big, tall anglo is all out of luck.

The middle two jeans in the above shot are both from APC in France who seem to appreciate some people need inseams longer than 34 inches. So far, I'm smitten. This isn't to say I have quit seeking a pair of Sugarcanes or Nudies in my size, but I have a viable alternative to the current shrink-to-baggy 501s.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Screen time.

The role of "mug" is played by itself.

I have yet to achieve the pinnacle of one of my artist peers who was overjoyed to see one of her works in the background of a Law & Order episode, but I have had the small joy of coming across my own work appearing in film.

Above is still from The Four Children of Tander Welch a film made in my adoptive hometown of Columbia, South Carolina and starring Mackenzie Astin with a small guest appearance by Patty Duke (who interestingly enough is both Mackenzie's mother in real life and the movie). That mug you see in front of the family photos (which I'm told are actually of Mackenzie and his mother) is one of mine.

It's one of my early swirlware mugs, back when I still salt-fired my work at the university, and was probably bought at one of the art sales the USC art department would hold in the holiday season. There's a blog post somewhere in here about how I taught myself to make swirlware, but that's for another time.

My good friend Anna Redwine's art (and her fingers in the opening sequence) hold far more of a starring role in the movie, which is why I watched it in the first place, but coming across my mug in a brief cameo was a pleasant surprise. And thanks to the magic of digital TV, I was able to grab a still from this film when it reaired to record for posterity. Let's see it up close, shall we?

Ready for a closeup.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Warp whistling in the dark.

Lately I've been whiling away the winter nights playing old-school NES games and reveling in the joy that is 8 bit gaming.

I never had a Nintendo growing up, so this my my revenge for a childhood spent outside. Honestly, the only games I have ever really played up to this point were all board games. Even time spent on my childhood Amiga was likely spent playing with code or writing, with an occasional round of games thrown in to reset my retinas. However, I'm making up for lost time because like all my hobbies, I've gone a bit overboard on this one. Between asking total strangers for advice and scouring flea markets and ebay for new (to me) games, I've learned things that most of my generation knew fifteen years ago.

I was out getting a digital converter box, and I actually stopped in the console aisle, something I've never done before. I'm not sure I'm going to plunk down hard-earned cash for a Wii (especially not when I have a list of motorcycle parts stuck to my fridge) but the seed of a idea is there.

In the meantime I'll just enjoy the joys of Tecmo Bowl and Dr. Mario against human competitors and being every bit as bad at Super Mario Bros as I was at 14.

Yes, yes it is.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Time done been, won't be no more...

Water plants, Sams Gap, Madison County, NC, 1996

"We are defined by those parts of the earth that we haven’t changed. We’re defined by wildness, whether it’s through our religion, or our economies, or just our basic spiritual identity. That’s always been the defining element, and if we lose wild areas, we lose ourselves" - Taylor Barnhill

The New Road: I-26 and the Footprints of Progress.
A photo essay by Rob Amberg.

A nice selection of photos of the present encroaching on the past in the highlands of North Carolina.

All right, let's rock this joint...

Switched on