Song for Woody

I'm out here a thousand miles from my home,
Walkin' a road other men have gone down.
I'm seein' your world of people and things,
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings.

Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
'Bout a funny ol' world that's a-comin' along.
Seems sick an' it's hungry, it's tired an' it's torn,
It looks like it's a-dyin' an' it's hardly been born...

-- Bob Dylan, 1962

I was born in 1965 -- meaning I have no recollection of the sixties, I think my memories start in the late Nixon era, I have vague recollections of missing programs on PBS because the Watergate hearings were on TV... and I faintly remember watching Nixon's resignation speech. Perhaps the experience scarred me for life?

Even though it was the tail end of the sixties I grew up in an environment dominated by IBM and its strong and conservative culture (suits and white shirts were the uniform, every day) -- this was the era when the company was considered a monopoly and embroiled in anti-trust suits.

So needless to say, my parent's musical tastes tended to be pretty mainstream. There were, however, some old Kingston Trio albums around the house, their version of "A worried man" is still pretty funny today, and I still know the lyrics to "Tom Dooley". I also dimly recall going to a Pete Seeger concert when I was young and it was held in a playhouse or something, and was sold out, so we wound up sitting in folding chairs up on stage. (My parents also had a pretty extensive collection of Ray Coniff albums, but I have no recollection of ever listening to these, but remember that the album covers all featured pretty girls....)

To get to the point of this post (the point being that there is no point), my mom still likes this kind of music, and she is a lifelong Democrat (she voted McGovern in '72!) so I took her to the Vermont Stage Production of Woody Guthie's American Song. My mom enjoyed it and it was a quality production featuring some talented local musicians. I agree with the reviewer at Seven Days who gave the production a positive review but wrote that it could have been cut some... it was a long show.

This was the third Vermont Stage Production I have seen, I saw their productions of Waiting for Godot and A Child's Christmas in Wales (also with my mom), and they do put on quite professional productions... and set a pretty high bar for local theater.


Missing "Freyneland"

Vermont (specifically Burlington) has an alt-weekly, Seven Days, which I do read, even though it is trendy, politically correct and takes itself too seriously sometimes -- in other words, it mirrors much of the lefty hipster college town community. Two things I always read in this paper are the job ads -- a cash cow for the paper, they have undercut the local Gannett publication's usurious prices, and I have been on a pretty much endless job search for most of this decade, so even now, when I'm not really looking, the first thing I read every week is the back section of the paper.

The other section that I read without fail is the political gossip column "Inside Track" by Peter Freyne. I didn't share the straight lefty perspective of the writer and found his worship of Bernie Sanders to be extremely irritating (and before that, he was completely enthralled with the idea of "President Howard Dean" until that operation went off the tracks). However the column is a sharp and gossipy take on politics in this very small state and is an entertaining and sometimes informative read.

Peter Freyne recently started a blog "Freyneland" which I think I enjoyed more than his column in that it was partly political but also consisted of a guy with deep roots in Burlington roaming around (on a bike! -- Peter is someone who uses a bike for transportation around town, I used to see him on his bike all the time, when I lived in Burlington) with a digicam recording his daily observations and encounters with ordinary people as well as with more political types. I thought that this was a good use of 'blogging' and that it did cover things that stayed out of the mainstream media.

Peter announced on his blog last week that he has been diagnosed with cancer and is immediately starting a course of chemotherapy. Rather than just leaving a comment 'get well soon' with 60+ other people on his blog, I would post this here, I wish him the best, the paper, and the local blogging scene, will be less lively without him.


Swamp Pop

Hot music on a cold night. I have to say, that Buckwheat Zydeco, that man is quite an entertainer, and his band puts out a really big sound. The Flynn looked to be full and the large crowd enjoyed the show.


Reconsidering Warren Zevon (Happy Birthday Warren)

Don't the sun look angry through the trees
Don't the trees look like crucified thieves
Don't you feel like Desperados under the eaves
Heaven help the one who leaves

(Desperados Under the Eaves, 1976)

Where I was when: The Pickle Barrel, Killington, winter 1993. I drove down from Burlington to see Warren Zevon in a solo acoustic show. I remember that it was kind of subdued and that I had an exchange of insults with some loud bitchy girl from Brown University. Killington isn't really my favorite place in Vermont but it was the only time I saw Warren Zevon live. I remember I was going to try and see him in Burlington once in the late 80s but I was living in central Vermont at the time and there was a pretty significant snowstorm the day of the show so I didn't go.

I saw her leave the luau
With the one who parked the cars
And the fat one from the swimming pool
They were swaying arm in arm
I could hear the ukuleles playing
Down by the sea
She's gone with the hula hula boys
She don't care about me
She's gone with the hula hula boys
She don't care about me
They're singing,

Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana
Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana
Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana
Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana

(The Hula Hula Boys, 1982)

Dreams of California: I was born in California but left the state when I was very young and haven't been back since. I think, however, it still has a hold on my imagination. Many of Warren Zevon's old songs make me think of California (think Eagles music on acid), in a very trippy, noirish way, story songs about losers and down-and-outers. I would like to fly to San Diego, rent a car, and drive up the Pacific Coast Highway all the way to San Francisco, and then head east to Las Vegas, fly home from there (recreate in my own way, HST's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, on a slightly different route, and with rather fewer chemicals).

Last spring I was talking to a guy in a bar in NH, he was from out west, but was back east because his wife was in school, and I asked him "Do you find New England to be small, tired, and claustrophobic?" and he knew exactly what I meant. Vermont Zevon factoid: His daughter Ariel lives in Barre and founded this organization.

And your face looked like something
Death brought with him in his suitcase

(The French Inhaler, 1976)

I know exactly what these lines mean, a really horrifying situation, that's all I have to say about it.

Sometimes when you're doing simple things around the house
Maybe you'll think of me and smile

You know I'm tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for awhile

(Keep me in Your Heart, 2003)

"Enjoy every sandwich": These lyrics would be nothing special but they are from Zevon's last album which he recorded as he was dying from cancer. By happy chance I saw his last public appearance on David Letterman, which was pretty amazing. He could still perform and crack jokes even though I read that he was actually very sick and feeling pretty awful at the time. The phrase "enjoy every sandwich" has come to mean "enjoy life" and it comes from David Letterman asking Warren Zevon (then terminally ill) "From your perspective, do you know something I don't know" and Warren replied "I know how much you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich." Fitting last public words from a guy who wrote some very darkly funny songs through the years.

("Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" from Letterman, still up on YouTube, watch it while you can.)

This post is a couple of days late because my computer has been used for other things for the past couple of nights.




Taken in the woods on Sunday, it was far too cold to play with camera settings, so this is the camera doing its thing in the 'snow' mode.


The Winter Woods

"Better late than never": Winter has finally arrived with lots of cold and some snow. And it feels doubly sharp and biting because Vermont has been basking in 50 degree temperatures for far too long this season.

Here is a picture of Stevenson Brook to match the images in this post, there is plenty of snow and ice now:

This video did not turn out the way I wanted. I knew at the time that a clip of me snowshoeing is about the most uninteresting thing imaginable. What I was trying to capture was the sound of the woods -- the wind was moaning through the trees, and the trees were groaning and creaking in the wind. The camera, however, has a wind filter on the sound pickup so the main thing the camera recorded was my labored breathing -- I sound like a heavy smoker. It was far too cold (low teens f, and windy) to play with camera settings.


Skinscapes: 20 years of the "The Singing Detective"

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene

I (the usual beginning of blog posts, I have noticed, this is quite the self-absorbed document) first saw the the British television miniseries The Singing Detective in 1987 - 88 as I was graduating college and starting to try and find a first post-college job. Typically, I hadn't really given the subject of 'what to do for work' much thought and my life was quite unsettled at the time. Even with all the chaos did I manage to catch the series almost in its entirety.

At the time of its release the series created a sensation and was widely written about even though it is very gloomy in parts and very British. It is the story of a writer afflicted with extreme psoriasis confined in a grim ward in a hospital, but is extremely non-linear as the protagonist feverishly lapses into noirish interludes from one of his pulpy detective novels further intercut with vivid and punishingly scarifying memories from his childhood (adultery, suicide, classroom humiliations). And, strangely, it is a musical, full of dance hall songs from the 40's that move the story forward through the use of hallucinatory lipsynched song-and-dance numbers.

In some ways the story is a twisted retelling of Job -- a connection actually made explicit in the opening episode. The main character has powerfully conflicted relationships with women and the portrayal of sex is both frank, unpleasant and emphatically not arousing. The series is a dark and very full explication of how a character's past influences his present state, which is a theme that does interest me as it has some applicability to my own personal situation.

"I can sing the songs. I can think the thoughts. But I'm not going to feel the feelings..." -- the protagonist's detective alter ego

Surprisingly the Stowe Library has a copy of The Singing Detective on DVD, so I watched it again recently. It still holds up well and delves into themes that most dramas won't address so directly (and, it is also largely plotless, the action is internalized). The ending is, if anything, discordant with the very gloomy opening -- things get resolved in a surprisingly neat, happy package that seems at odds with most of what has gone on before -- but all in all I think it does deserve its reputation.

There is a wikpedia entry on the series, that is somewhat edifying, and does have a list of songs used in the production. There are also various essays and critical responses floating around online.


Beachfront Property? (the cold snap is just an aberration)

It's supposed to be cold in Vermont in January. It's entirely natural and expected. But things are changing, fast. I remember reading somewhere that the Inuit never had a word for "robin" because there were no robins in the Artic... until recently. These changes show up here in the form of shorter, milder winters, and fewer snowstorms and more sloppy mixed precipitation events with rain and ice.

The New York Times had an article "The Warming of Greenland" that discusses the rapid climate change in Greenland and the apparently unprecedented pace of the melting of the icecap:
The abrupt acceleration of melting in Greenland has taken climate scientists by surprise. Tidewater glaciers, which discharge ice into the oceans as they break up in the process called calving, have doubled and tripled in speed all over Greenland. Ice shelves are breaking up, and summertime “glacial earthquakes” have been detected within the ice sheet.

“The general thinking until very recently was that ice sheets don’t react very quickly to climate,” said Martin Truffer, a glaciologist at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. “But that thinking is changing right now, because we’re seeing things that people have thought are impossible.”

A study in The Journal of Climate last June observed that Greenland had become the single largest contributor to global sea-level rise.

Until recently, the consensus of climate scientists was that the impact of melting polar ice sheets would be negligible over the next 100 years. Ice sheets were thought to be extremely slow in reacting to atmospheric warming. The 2001 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, widely considered to be an authoritative scientific statement on the potential impacts of global warming, based its conclusions about sea-level rise on a computer model that predicted a slow onset of melting in Greenland.

“When you look at the ice sheet, the models didn’t work, which puts us on shaky ground,” said Richard Alley, a geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University.

There is no consensus on how much Greenland’s ice will melt in the near future, Dr. Alley said, and no computer model that can accurately predict the future of the ice sheet. Yet given the acceleration of tidewater-glacier melting, a sea-level rise of a foot or two in the coming decades is entirely possible, he said. That bodes ill for island nations and those who live near the coast...

I live about 200 miles from the seacoast and at the top of small hill. Who knows? Perhaps at some point in the future I will have some prime beachfront hacienda?

I once went to a lecture on "peak oil" at UVM and the presenter used a slide like this that shows world population growth:

The chart zooms upward at the beginning of the industrial revolution and has been heading almost straight up ever since.

The next slide in the presentation was a graph of a yeast population in a sugar solution, and it looks exactly like the world population graph, except the population zooms upwards, reaches a zenith, and crashes precipitously as the yeast cells poison their environment -- the decline is an exact mirror image of the upward graph...the population falls just as rapidly.

The third slide in the sequence read "Are we smarter than yeast"? -- the answer is, I think, "probably not". Too many people consuming way too much stuff in a finite system. It will have consequences and probably sooner rather than later.


Baby it's cold outside

Finally. I don't like the fact that I hear the furnace running all the time even though it's only 60 degrees in my place but the unnaturally warm weather this season was kind of unnerving and did spark lots of conversations around the state.

I heard that there is a bill in the Vermont legislature that would put a surcharge on large inefficient vehicles (ie, SUVs) and I am all in favor of this. Most of Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation (ie, driving).


Counting cardboard and diner food

I used to count cardboard for a living, which was every bit as tedious and mind-numbingly boring as it sounds. I also had issues with my employer, which I will not go into here, except to say, that what I was told I would be paid, and what I actually was paid, differed quite significantly, and not in my favor. This, along with the low level of job satisfaction, eventually precipitated my leaving the firm quite abruptly to take another position.

[Actually, what I did was perform 'VMI' (vendor managed inventory) at customers all over Vermont. The job taught me a lot about manufacturing as I worked out on the shop floor at a wide range of companies in diverse industries... some of these places had new, state of the art facilities and some were like museums from the heyday of manufacturing in New England. The work was dirty and sometimes dangerous -- I worked at one manufacturing site, that was basically one big OSHA violation -- and the 'primary job function' was counting cardboard. Lots of cardboard. I did, however, gain a lot of respect for firms (and their employees) that can survive in this environment because it is really hard to stay afloat making things in the USA these days...]

My route consisted of northern Vermont, from Rutland to St. Johnsbury which I covered in a company minivan (which I once got very sideways on I89 in a snowstorm, I thought I was dead). The relative freedom of the road was the main side benefit of the job... driving around Vermont, listening to VPR and stopping for lunch at diners and snack bars in little Vermont towns. I remember stopping to eat at places like the "Bluebird" in Castleton and the "Miss Lyndonville"; it was a definite perk of the job.

Anyway I read that the Parkway Diner in South Burlington might be closing and I had my camera with me on Saturday (see previous post) so I stopped and grabbed a few non-descript photos. Truth be told the food wasn't that great and since when did an omelet and a cup of coffee get to cost $10 w/ tip but the place was an authentic old school diner so it was still fun to visit sometimes and watch the cook work the grill. And the Parkway is infinitely preferable to the place across the street which does a good brisk business:


"Not Bowling Alone"

Part of having a blog is I feel sometimes like a wild animal (a wild turkey, perhaps?) constantly scratching and foraging for 'content' instead of food (this is further complicated by the fact that I do not discuss my current job here, which is a pretty big chunk of my life). So here is a video I put together about a bowling party I attended. The event was supposed to be a sledding party but the very inadequate winter of 2006/07 put the kibosh on that idea. I fully realize that this falls into the category of 'no interest to anyone unless you were there' but here it is:

I also read in the Wall Street Journal that there is a startup company in Silicon Valley with lots of venture capital funding that is busy working on a spider that will remotely troll the Internet looking for copyrighted materials/violations... If this spider works, perhaps one morning I will wake up and discover that half the Internet (and most, if not all, of YouTube) has disappeared overnight.



Just a quick follow up to this post, showing the true size of the icefall on the New York side of Lake Champlain. This photo was taken on Feb. 2, 2004, around noon.

The only way to get to this spot in the winter of 2007 would be in a boat. There has been lots of discussion of 'climate' versus 'weather' lately, but I think something is going on, especially when one starts reading about some of the rapid changes taking place in the Artic. In some ways, if nature kicks our collective ass, I think we (collectively) deserve it, actions -- mass consumption, car dependency, etc. -- have consequences.


Stevenson Brook, 3 months on, little has changed

This past Sunday was a nice, warm (about 40 degrees) January day, so I went over to Little River State Park to go for a walk in the woods.

This picture was taken when I was having my bear encounter at the end of September, 2006.

This was taken in the same spot in January, 2007. Other than the fact that the leaves are gone, the scene looks exactly the same. There's no snow or ice at all and the ground isn't frozen. It did not feel or look at all like January.

Taken at the ruins of an old sawmill along the trail, I'm guessing that VBCo stands for Vermont Brick Company:

I heard a news report on VPR about the winter weather and they reported that it has been a great season for mosses:

I wonder how long before people start making economic/lifestyle decisions based on this? It was a really warm balmy autumn here in 2006, and I did not purchase a Nordic ski pass at one of the areas, because I guessed that this winter would be warm as well... this decision has been vindicated so far. And I saw that Trapps was discounting their season passes in December so perhaps I am not alone in thinking this way.


I have acquired a "Bumbeck": 'The Attack'

My friend Stefan Bumbeck, who was an excellent bike racer in his day (one of the 'strong, fast' people I was happy to be able to keep up with in the local practice criterium series) is also an artist, and he recently had an exhibition of his work at a local bar (which is kind of a bohemian place).

The paintings in the exhibition were a mix of images of old school bike racers and images of robots. The robot paintings didn't attract as much attention but the bike racing paintings (to me at least) were quite striking. The crowd at the opening was pretty funny, a mix of the people one would expect at an opening... with a smattering of bike racing types mixed in.

Unbeknownst to me, someone who is quite close to me contacted Stefan and purchased on his paintings for me as a quite extravagant and very appropriate housewarming gift. I wasn't as gracious as I could have been upon receipt of this (I thought it was much too much) but it is a very perceptive and touching gift. It is also funny that I know two other people who have purchased Stefan's painting and these guys are racing cyclists not art collectors.

The image is the very old photo that Stefan used as inspiration. Bike racing for all its problems and strange behaviors is still a tough sport with lots of suffering and this shows clearly in the images.


The new reality of 'winter'

The view out my kitchen window this morning. The weather has been a huge topic of discussion around here this 'winter'... which hasn't been very winterlike at all, so far. The local economy is tied to tourism (skiing) and I can't imagine that it is too easy to coax people to leave Boston or New York (where fruit trees are blossoming, now) to come to Vermont to experience mud, rain and shades of gray. It's not very Currier & Ives -like at all.

These old photos, taken just 3 years ago, show what winter could be like. It was February, I wasn't working (long story), and a friend called me on a Monday morning "Let's ski across Lake Champlain" so we drove down to the Basin Harbor Club (live image of the lake) and headed out across the solidly frozen expanse. I remember that I almost died trying to ski around some long disused (19th century) quarries on the NY side of the lake. The pictures were taken in front of an immense icefall and it was a brilliant winter day, the glacier glasses were not an affectation.

I have seen An Inconvenient Truth and I do think that things are changing, fast. I don't mind that it doesn't cost much to heat my place when it is 50 degrees in January but a 5 month long mud season will be pretty depressing, and I have multiple pairs of skis, snowshoes and other gear collecting dust in my garage. I still don't know many people who have changed their lifestyles (myself included, except in some small ways) because of this.


2006, year of living fatuously

Alexander Pope's Dunciad is a satirical mock epic decrying cultural decay in 18th century England. The lines at right (which I may remove at some point, they are pretty obscure) foreshadow the coming of a new age of venality and 'dullness' -- not so much as merely 'boring', but more in the sense of 'decayed, depraved, faddish, etc.' The poem is a funny, satirical -- and exaggerated -- portrayal of cultural collapse and concludes:

Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And Universal Darkness buries All.

The image is the frontpiece to the poem, an ass burdened with a load of 'dull' books (18th century bookselling being the rough equivalent of today's tabloids), and with an owl symbolizing pedantry.

And, in a rather lurching transition, I see that Time Magazine has named "You" ("I?") as "person of the year", and has gone so far as to attach a mylar mirror to the cover so that readers can study their own reflection. This choice is meant to celebrate all the millions of bloggers, youtubers, myspace page maintainers, flickrs, etc. who are busily engaged in 'content creation' and ushering in the age of Web 2.0.

I am far from convinced, however. I once told someone that I saw this blog as one man's one page send up of myspace and that I was tempted to write "I have no friends" (no friends in the myspace sense of the word) across the top of page. I don't really believe in online community (see my somewhat prescient post Solipsism). I think that we live in a bored culture where people want more and more 'content' blasted at them from all directions. I am somewhat prone to this but I still don't own an Ipod or a cellphone and am quite happily living without exposure to television. I also don't spend too much time reading other people's blogs though there are a few that I do check out regularly, (Freyneland at Seven Days, for example).

In addition to boredom, there is a large measure of narcissism (excellent post on this subject here, a reference from Rough Type, another blog I do read) in all of this. I am all in favor of homemade creative endeavors, especially when compared to what is pumped out by movie studios, television networks, publishing houses, etc., but this new environment does create, I think, a situation where strange (and sometimes unpleasant) group dynamics flourish and where people's online personas overshadow the mundane reality of 'real' life.

I don't know. I'll keep posting photos to flickr but I doubt that I have the energy to fully participate, I am still debating if I want to sign up for a 'pro' (truly a misnomer -- more flattering narcissism) account. At least on flickr the cream does seem to rise to the top, the popular users usually take interesting pictures that have some merit. This isn't true in my limited youtube experience, the times I have looked at what is popular on that site... I have been thoroughly confused. (I tried to watch a 'lonelygirl' video recently: I failed, lacking the patience to sit through it).

I guess I will keep this blog going at least until its one year anniversary at the end of May and then I will reconsider it. It doesn't get much traffic but I do like seeing how readers come to discover the site (there have been searches for terms like "Eva Deadbeat" and "Josh Dillon" -- from Belgium, where he made a quick trip to race in the fall) and site visitors from China, South America, and several varied points in between. One afternoon someone at a law office in Bennington VT read pretty much the whole thing in one sitting which is a pretty scary thought (hopefully this wasn't on billable time!).

So, Time Magazine, thanks for the honor but I really don't feel that special or particularly momentous, and who knows what the new year will bring?