Photo Shuffle-Watch The Weather

My goodness, has it really been since May when last I did a Photo Shuffle? When I realized that a few days ago, I thought I better correct that oversight as soon as possible. I almost felt like I needed a refresher myself since its been so long! So for my own benefit, and anybody who has only started following me more recently, Photo Shuffle is an idea I had last year where I set my Ipod on random, and let it choose a song I then pair with one of my photos. It is the reverse of how I write my usual posts, and is a lot of fun to do. So here we go…

I pressed play on my Ipod and this is what I heard…Watch The Weather, By The Health & Happiness Show

Alabama Rain

Like many people I enjoy sitting back and watching the weather roll by. Provided of course that I am in the comfort of my own home and not fearful that it will turn into something more serious. There is something oddly soothing about watching the snow pile up outside your window.  Or rain pouring down, punctuated by the occasional burst of thunder or lightning.  The eerie sound of the wind circling the surrounding landscape. To some the notion of watching the weather might be more akin to watching paint dry, or a pot boiling, but for me it can be better than any TV show or movie.

Weather also makes for interesting photography. Thinking about that more carefully, it is probably because weather causes something that was not there moments before to suddenly dominate, altering the scene rapidly. That is obviously something appealing to anyone who has ever picked up a camera as clouds darken the sky. We recognize that sudden change as something new we want to preserve. I certainly did when I pulled my camera out and took this photo a few years ago in Alabama when the sky was clear one moment and then pouring the next. That idea is similar to music in many ways and in an older post I explored this idea further.

Watching the weather is also a metaphor for watching the world go by, and ‘weathering’ the changes. I think this is the idea behind the song by The Health & Happiness Show. There are lots of references to the weather-snow keeps falling, never seen a summer this long, April rain keeps coming on and on… But the key line relates both to the actual weather, and to life itself-

‘Some changes come without warning, Some changes you can’t really see.’

The song was influenced in part by Sadie and Bessie Delany’s biography ‘Having Our Say; The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years’ and viewed in that context, this idea really makes sense. Especially since it was written by one of my favorite and  one of the most criminally underrated artists of the last 30 years or so, James Mastro.

The Health & Happiness Show formed sometime in the early 90’s in Hoboken, NJ by guitarist Mastro and drummer Vinny DeNunzio while sitting around a table and playing Hank Williams songs so the story goes. Both had been members of bands that had put Hoboken on the map as a music destination and received some critical acclaim-Mastro in The Bongos and DeNunzio in The Feelies. Both were feeling disillusioned with the business side of music and wanted to get back to just playing music however. Soon the core of a group formed, and they took their name appropriately enough, from a series of radio shows by Hank Williams. A strong debut album called ‘Tonic’ appeared in 1993 which garnered some attention. With an alt-country, Americana meets Celtic sort of sound and Mastro’s beautifully crafted songs this was not a surprise. Two more albums followed-Instant Living in 1995, and Sad & Sexy in 1999. The sound had changed slightly, moving away from the alt-country to more of a rock sound, but James Mastro’s songs remained a force, with wry observations and subtle humor.

This can be heard in his song ‘Watch The Weather.’ To me the mark of a good songwriter is many things- being able to tell a story you want to hear as the listener, to write about different subjects, to make observations, and most importantly, to not resort to the same cliches and observations others do. It is not easy to maintain that, but gifted writers like James Mastro, together with The Health & Happiness Show pulled it off to dedicated fans like me. How I wish I still had my T-shirt, which was a knockoff of a Bayer aspirin box! These days James continues to play with a variety of artists in the Hoboken and NYC area, as well as around the world with Ian Hunter (of Mott The Hoople fame), while also running the popular Guitar Bar in Hoboken. Easily recognizable by his wide ranging collection of hats he has always worn, if you see his name on a bill anywhere, make sure you catch him.

Now, I think I’ll throw some Health & Happiness Show on the stereo and watch the weather. Do you like to weather watch and dream?

Watch The Weather-Written By James Mastro

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

*Photo Shuffle is a new, very short slice of my regular blogs based on setting my Ipod on shuffle and matching up one of my photographs to whatever comes up.

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Voices Of The Haudenosaunee

Natural Wonders

Awhile back I was given the gift of a book called Encyclopedia Of Native American Tribes by Carl Waldman. It was one I had seen on a visit to the Museum Of The American Indian in downtown Manhattan some time ago.  Ever since I received the book I have spent time thumbing through it,  sorting out the history and the hierarchy of the many North American Indian tribes. Though not a scholarly work,  the book does a good job covering a lot of basic ground. I had long been intrigued by the connections between tribes.  Whether joined by language structure, cultural similarities or geographical area, many tribes do have these sorts of connections in some way. I encountered this in a small way while travelling with my family across the U.S. one summer years ago.  In South Dakota we primarily came across the Sioux (or as they are more properly known, the Lakota). While in Arizona and New Mexico we saw some of the beautiful art and culture of the Southwest tribes such as the Pueblo, Navajo, and the Hopi.

It was probably my first real exposure to Native Americans that I can recall. Sure we learned one ‘interpretation’ of Native American history in school though it was usually skewed towards people like Sitting Bull and Geronimo that they felt obliged to teach us.  Sure I also lived in a part of New Jersey where Native American town and place names were common-Mahwah, Ramapo, Ho-Hokus. But that was essentially just a legacy. I’m sure if I had looked there were deeper signs of the culture around, but until I was out in the American West and saw real Native culture, that I really began to understand that there was so much than what felt was force-fed to us in school.  I turned 11 on that trip, so I was too young to truly appreciate the culture, history, language and  traditions fully. One thing I do remember clearly however was the rich variety of art, imbued with rich colors and patterns.

Years later I discovered some of the traditions of Native American music. Just like with the variety of tribes and cultures, the music is also diverse. From the Great Plains, to the forests of the Pacific Northwest. From the Deep South to New England and the cold northern tundra, the music of Native Americans reflects this diversity. Pow-Wows, chanting, flutes, drums are the typical sounds, but just like with the variations between tribal customs and culture, I have learned that there is great nuance to the music as well.  Added to that, just like other traditional music from around the world, Native American music is likely to be heard in different contexts now, combined with styles such as rock or even hip hop while still maintaining connections to the ancient. Early on as I began listening to Native American music (and there is a lot of it!) I really came to appreciate the voice and music of Joanne Shenandoah, an Oneida Indian.

The Oneida, along with the  Onondaga, Seneca, Mohawk, Tuscarora, Cayuga and Seneca tribes comprise the Iroquois Six Nations, the origins of which go back to the 1500’s.  Collectively they are also known as the Haudenosaunee (People Of The Longhouse). Though each Nation has its own unique customs and identities, singers like Joanne Shenandoah see the inherent unity between them. The liner notes to her songs freely mingle between each. Though Joanne herself is Oneida, she sings the stories of the Haudenosaunee-not just Oneida,Seneca or Onondaga, but for all its people.

Such is the case with the song I have chosen here-an absolutely stunning traditional Mohawk Friendship song called I Am Your Friend. Within a few seconds of listening, the simple chant becomes more insistent, more mesmeric. I find myself lost within its charms, transported away from whatever distractions in my life at that moment by the beauty of Joanne Shenandoah’s voice. Awhile back I wrote a post about the simple charms and restorative nature trees provide me. There is something inherent not only in Joanne Shenandoah’s music, but Native American music in general that is similar. We all know of the great respect and honor all Native Americans have shown for the land, and the spiritual healing related to it. As I have read more from Carl Waldman’s book, I am also learning about the great respect most tribes had initially to outsiders as well. History tells us of course that outsiders seeking land and fortune did not always treat their hosts with the same respect. It also tells us that many tribes had deep resentment and conflict with one another for long periods of time.

But hearing a beautiful song like ‘I Am Your Friend’ reminds me that at the heart of Haudenosaunee culture,  even the heart of Native American culture are some simple truths that we need reminding of, especially in the tumultuous world we are in today. First, we really do need to honor and respect the land we live on. The photo I chose for this edition reminded me of this- plants and trees thriving in a natural environment. Yet more than ever before we are abusing our land in ways that will eventually ruin it. Denial or pushing it aside gets us nowhere. Native Americans understood centuries ago when to plant crops, or when to hunt. They knew because they observed. They learned, and their thinking evolved as a result.  The scientists observing our planet today who issue the warning signs of dangers to come often hit a brick wall from people who quite frankly don’t learn, evolve or think much. Rather than argue we need to trust the observers of our planet.  Second, we need to really understand what simple words such as ‘I Am Your Friend’ truly mean. Does it mean a social media connection, or does it mean someone who truly understands the word ‘friend’ with honor and respect. In this increasingly angry world we live in the choice is ours.

Postscript- In the last year Joanne Shenandoah has had a number of health issues and is currently waiting for a liver transplant. Like many independent musicians not signed to a major label, medical costs can be staggering. She and her family have a GoFundMe site where you can make a donation to help with these costs. Every little bit helps-https://www.gofundme.com/joanneshenandoah

I Am Your Friend-Traditional Mohawk, Arranged By Joanne Shenandoah

Encyclopedia Of Native American Tribes-Written By Carl Waldman, Third Edition Published In 2006 By Checkmark Books

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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Irish ‘Noise’

Muckross Head

Muckross Head, Kilcar Donegal

Last week I returned from a short trip to Ireland. The main reason for being there was for my great aunt Brid’s 100th Birthday Celebration. It was wonderful to be with my (large) extended family for such a special event, and it was also wonderful to be back in Ireland again. It had been eight years since my last trip, which was for our honeymoon. Even though I was there for only a few days after flying in, I made sure to make the most of it. That is something you just seem to do when you visit Ireland. Especially in Donegal where my family is all originally from. It is a place of wondrous beauty- all rugged coastlines and rolling hills, flowing streams and deep glens. Its hard to see it all, especially on such a short trip, but I made an effort to try. Of course I took my camera with me nearly everywhere I went. Below in the gallery are some highlights of the trip.

At this point I have written a few posts based around Ireland or the other Celtic countries (here and here). Like my other posts they were based around the idea of finding a musical pairing or match for the photographs I took so I do not want to repeat what I have already written about. On this trip, in between various family events, as I wandered around, I became aware more than ever before about the sounds of Ireland, or Irish ‘noise’ if you will.  When I thought about  new ways I could write about the country I thought that this idea was interesting. It starts innocently enough when stepping outside in the morning-the chirp of a bird, the incessant baa of sheep which are…everywhere, or the deep rumbling echo of a cow in the distance.

Cliffs Of Slieve League

Cliffs Of Slieve League

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The Book…

 

Part 3

Lowell, Massachusetts, May 14, 1969

 

Johnny Leary was desperate now. He needed a fix real soon. Even though his body was letting him know he desperately needed food and rest, Johnny didn’t care. The shaking and the cold sweats would subside if he could get one more hit he told himself. Just one more, and then I’ll go straight. It was a promise Johnny had made many times before, usually on days like today when he had all of $5 in his pockets. His ‘job’ at the bar would not be paying him again for another week so he knew he had to come up with something. He looked around his ramshackle apartment for more things he could pawn. His eyes glanced towards the stack of books in the corner.  It was not always like this of course, and when he was younger his mom had read to him at an early age all kinds of books. She took special delight in delicately pulling out the older books, which she explained to him had belonged to the grandfather he had never met. “It’s not just the words inside the books that tell a story” she had told him. “Sometimes the books themselves have a story.” For a while he treasured the books as well. Mom never minded when he borrowed them in those days because she knew they always found their way back to the bookshelves. Eventually though, marked gaps in those rows of books started appearing. “I’ll bring them next time,” Johnny always promised when she asked him, but gradually she realized they would not when she saw the condition he was in with every new visit.

These days, Johnny could give two shits about things of sentimental value like old books. In all honesty he did not even think about his mom that much since the last Christmas at her house, when disappointed with his behavior she had told him not to come back until he had straightened himself out. Whatever the hell that meant, Johnny had thought, I’m perfectly fine, she’s the one that has a problem with me. As he scanned the room he started making a pile of the things he thought could get him a few bucks. Records he had bought as little as a year ago, a fishing pole his dad had given him when he was fourteen, a plywood guitar he had once happily strummed along to the Beatles with. And the books. He grabbed them indiscriminately, not even pausing to see which titles they were.

Johnny Leary was desperate now. He needed a fix real soon. He packed everything in a box and headed out the door…

 

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The Book…

Part 2

Harwich, Massachusetts, August 29, 1954

What to take, what to take? Susan Leary was frantically looking around her small cottage trying to decide what treasured possessions to put in the car. A storm was coming. A big storm potentially that the authorities were naming ‘Carol’. It had been two years since Susan made the move from Boston to Harwich, having accepted a teaching job after her father’s passing.  The Cape was beautiful during the summer and it was relaxing being near the ocean. It had been a good decision on her part to take a job away from the city, but oh those Cape Cod winters!  Cold, bleak and empty save for the rest of the full time residents. Still she wanted a challenge, and being a 28 year old teacher living on her own in a small town most of the year (until the summer vacationers started pouring in) was a good fit. If she had stayed in Boston, people in the neighborhood would have no doubt started murmuring about being 28 and unmarried. Perhaps they did in Harwich too, but after suffering so much loss in her life, she frankly could care less. Everything had changed since the war. What she did was her own business.

In some ways she was ready for a fresh start after her father had passed away. The nightmare of selling the house and most of its contents had worn her out. Most of the furniture she sold outright, keeping a few pieces with her to Harwich. Of course she kept a lot of old photographs of the family in happier times, and some odd trinkets here and there. The porcelain tea set, a pearl necklace that had been her mom’s favorite, but not much more in truth. Something about having lived through the war years made her more frugal about possessions. All the government sponsored drives for the war effort had done that. She recalled the scrap metal drives, and calls to conserve everything from rubber to paper. All for the war effort. The one thing from the house that she kept complete were the books. Most she had not read yet, though she was making progress with them on those cold Cape Cod winters.  Some were her brother’s books, the ones she had seen her father perusing that night years before. Others had belonged to her father, some going back to his youth. Dusty, delicate volumes that he had always kept in a particular order, which she had done her best to replicate in her cottage. She remembered how many boxes they had all needed to get them here. But she knew that deep down, the books were what her father would have wanted her to keep.

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The Book…

One weekend recently I was going through some old books on my shelves.  Some are  very old books bequeathed to me, while others were purchased over the years in various used bookstores where I have happily spent many hours on a rainy afternoon. Usually I have a general idea of the type of book I am looking for-maybe an Agatha Christie mystery or a PG Wodehouse comedy, or some account from an explorer traveling the world.  Even if I don’t find any of those,  the pleasure is in the browsing and inevitably I bring home some old gem. One thing I realized  though is that it isn’t always the book itself that makes it a gem. Sometimes it is what happens when you open the cover.

Something my wife and I have always done when we give one another books at special occasions is to write a note just inside the cover. It gives that book a reference in time, and a marker of sorts of the things you were interested in that particular year. But as I open the cover on those old books, and see similar notes sometimes from decades ago,  I often wonder about who those people were. What did that particular aging book, delicately held in my hands all these years later, mean to them at the time as a brand new one? What did it signify about their lives at the time?  Or even, where did they live, and where was the book purchased? I also thought that books are a bit like currency, They can sometimes travel far and wide, changing cities, states, even countries on a whim. It is of course impossible to really know, but I had an idea to write a bit of fiction based on that idea. Almost thinking if that book could speak, what story would it tell. There is no music in this post, just a bit of imagination.  So gather round, while I tell a little story…

The Book-Five Great Modern Irish Plays

Published By-The Modern Library, 1941

The Dedication-(Undecipherable) November 26, 1945

 

Boston, Massachusetts-November 26, 1945

Susan Leary was fretting. Today was her father’s birthday and she wanted to give him something special. There had not been much cause for celebration in recent years, both as a nation and for their family. For any family actually. But with the signing of Japan’s formal surrender on September 2nd, life was slowly starting to become bearable again. Bearable in that the first topic of conversation was no longer ‘the war’. Bearable in that the official letters stopped coming announcing that someone else’s son or neighbor had been killed in combat on some far off battlefield.

Such a letter had come in their family. Susan’s only sibling, her older brother James had perished at the Battle Of Monte Cassino in January of 1944. Though it had not quite been two years yet, it seemed like a lifetime ago now since the news arrived. Susan was devastated, but everyone throughout the entire country was as well. No family was left unscathed. Her father (also a James, but affectionately referred to as Jimmy Sr) was characteristically stoic when the news came, no doubt a result of his own service in World War I, but since the wars end Susan noticed small bursts of emotion occurring. A wistful far away look at a family portrait taken in happier times, before Susan’s mom had passed away. An ‘excuse me for a moment’ retreat to the bathroom when someone made a seemingly innocent comment about the house being quiet. Those were all understandable to Susan, but one evening, when she thought he had gone to bed, she realized he was in James’ room, perusing books that had remained untouched since he had shipped out. This was a different sort of behavior.

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Sway With Me

 

Sway With Me

As a teenager growing up in the 1980’s I had a lot of the usual influences-MTV for music, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Star Wars for movies, and TV shows like Hill Street Blues. In addition, appearing in newspapers (remember them?) starting in about 1980  was a comic strip called Bloom County written by Berkely Breathed that loomed large in my life at the time. The lovable but honest characters of a Mid-West town included the precocious Milo Bloom, his wishy-washy sidekick Michael Binkley, the loathsome Steve Dallas, the fun loving wheelchair bound Vietnam veteran Cutter John, but especially the naive, yet honest penguin Opus. I loved the strip for its often timely stories that were presented in a funny way. It poked fun at the major news-makers of the day, but was never truly vicious. Occasionally though, as an extension of Breathed’s pen, the characters captured the mood perfectly.

To anyone who especially read the early days of the strip ‘the meadow’ was a central location to the storyline. Quite often the characters would sit in the meadow, ruminating on various topics, or reciting silly poetry. There was always a punch line. But in one particular post that has stuck with me long after my once prized editions of Bloom County books became relegated to the bottom of my bookshelf and scarcely looked at, the meadow served as a perfect analysis for something not so silly. It became a place of shutting off the interference and noise of society. Of bad news and violence. Of shouting and screaming. It became an all too brief moment of respite. The other day while walking the grounds of the Storm King Art Center, I came across a scene that reminded me once again of that strip, and just like the fictional characters in that Bloom County cartoon, I wanted to take a ‘Mass Dandelion Break’ too.

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