Happy Landings Amelia

 

A few nights ago I learned what really happened to Amelia Earhart. That would of course be the scoop of a lifetime, and I would no doubt be lauded far and wide and there would be book deals, movie rights, TV appearances and all that sort of thing. Unfortunately I would have to eventually reveal that what I learned came from a slightly cheesy episode of Star Trek: Voyager instead. I never really thought much of the show at the time it first aired, but courtesy of Netflix we are working our way through the series. The particular episode had a solution to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance that was far simpler than some of the other real theories that are out there, but I will leave that particular one out among the Star Trek galaxy.

But it made me think of the appeal of an unsolved mystery, especially one involving someone so famous, and with so little clues left behind as to her disappearance in the South Pacific in 1937. She and her navigator Fred Noonan were attempting an around the world flight in their Lockheed L10 Electra plane. Though a circumnavigation had already been done previously, Earhart was going via a much longer route and over the most open ocean which presented considerable risk. By virtue of her already long list of accomplishments in aviation up to that point, there was a sense of excitement and publicity surrounding it. At the time of the disappearance of the plane, Earhart and Noonan only had approximately 7000 miles of the journey remaining. At midnight on July 2, 1937 they took off from New Guinea bound for Howland Island, a speck of land in the vast Pacific Ocean with no inhabitants, just a hastily built runway. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter was standing by for communication help. What is known for certain is that bad weather and communication problems almost certainly hampered Earhart’s effort to spot Howland Island, and her last communication was at 8:43 AM. After that is all speculation.

Some of the more dubious conspiracies out there regarding Amelia Earhart posited that she survived and took a new name and lived her life out in New Jersey. Another was that she joined with the Japanese and read propaganda broadcasts as ‘Tokyo Rose.’ Pretty out there stuff. But some theories are a little bit more believable. Chief among those are that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan had to ditch at sea having miscalculated their fuel levels. Similarly is that not being able to locate Howland Island, they instead diverted to Gardner Island instead where the plane met an unknown fate. There are deeply technical interpretations of faulty radio communications and signaling that may have caused a problem. There is also the plausible possibility that Fred Noonan’s drinking problem played a role or that it was quite simply pilot error on Earhart’s part.

Another of the more plausible theories is that the Lockheed plane had been outfitted with sophisticated spying equipment, as a way for the U.S. to gauge new Japanese military outposts in the South Pacific, long before satellites were able to. Earhart’s popularity and success as a groundbreaking aviator would have made an interesting cover to do this of course. In the 1960’s journalist Fred Goerner uncovered evidence that suggested that Earhart’s plane was captured, and that she and Noonan were executed by the Japanese. None of these theories have ever been proven. There has been no ‘smoking gun’ for any of them. Though there have been some mysteries that have been solved in our lifetime-Titanic’s resting place or the Mars face, there are many more like Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance that are lacking any sort of absolute evidence.

Which is a good thing in some ways, because in the case of Amelia Earhart, it resulted in some songs about her. Plainsong were a short lived group in the early 1970’s, centered around the wonderful singer Iain Matthews. Their 1972 album was actually called In Search Of Amelia Earhart and featured two songs based around her final flight. Coupled with a cover of the traditional song ‘I’ll Fly Away’ some thought it a concept album, but in actuality it was just a great sort of country-rock album that happened to feature two songs on the same subject. Matthews’ own song ‘True Story Of Amelia Earhart’ is chiefly based on Fred Goerner’s investigation and expresses a sense of disappointment about such an ending-

“Oh Amelia it’s true, you’re the lady of the air & this I’m not disputing anyhow,

But if what Mr. Goerner says is only half the truth, then Amelia…Oh Amelia”

The other song-Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight sung by Andy Roberts is slightly dreamy and hopeful. The facts are presented but there is almost a hint of nostalgia-

“She fell into the ocean far away

And there’s a beautiful, beautiful field

Far away in a land that is fair.

Happy landings to you Amelia Earhart

Farewell, first lady of the air”

The facts of Amelia Earhart’s last flight may never be known at this point. Extensive searching of the area immediately after the crash resulted in no traces found, and subsequent searches and theories have yet to reveal defining proof in all the years since. But I think that is why we like a good mystery. We will never truly know what happened. That makes the story more pleasing in an odd way somehow. Even the hair brained theories that Amelia was abducted by aliens (okay…that was the Star Trek story) or broadcast propaganda for the Japanese during World War II keep the story out there. They allow for movies to be made and songs to be written. They allow for dubious stories to be passed down through generations from people who ‘claimed to be there’. In a world full of increasingly less mysteries, where everything and every place has been discovered few mysteries still remain. Amelia’s disappearance 80 years ago ties us to a time when adventure still existed and there were still achievements to seek. Now everything is an internet search away and we feel disconnected from that sense of adventure that Amelia Earhart sought. We may never know, but is that such a bad thing? Happy Landings.

True Story Of Amelia Earhart-Written By Iain Matthews

Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight-Written By David McEnery

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Monochrome Mondays

One thing I like about monochrome photography is that it conveys a sense of calm to a subject matter. Even if the subject is not calm and quiet, a monochrome photograph just seems to freeze the movement and noise in place. It must be a sensory thing deep down. Sure, some color photographs are able to capture the same feeling, but I think the way we perceive the scene we see in a monochrome photo feels different somehow.

I took this shot a few years ago, on a cool late November afternoon as my wife and I were heading out of NY Harbor on a cruise to the Bahamas. We had a room with a small balcony and of course you know I had to take lots of shots as the ship pulled out and we steamed out to sea. For anyone who has left New York Harbor by water knows, you really only feel you are on a journey once you go under the Verrazano Bridge (which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island). Once past that bridge, the ocean seems to open up wide before you and the noise and congestion of city life are suddenly behind you now. I knew that day that the shots I might get of the Verrazano just before and just after passing it would be my final ones of the day. And though the big cruise ship was blasting its horn, and helicopters and airplanes were buzzing over the harbor high above and cars driving across the Verrazano, when I look at this photo I just get that feeling. A sense of time being momentarily frozen, tranquil water,  the sun setting on the horizon and a sense of peaceful calm.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

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Presenting: Toli Nameless

Toli Nameless

There was a very brief time in the early days of this blog where I actually considered doing music reviews or features about artists that are not so well known. I think I decided in the end that there are an awful lot of places to find music reviews, and doing artist features did not put ‘me’ out there in the way I wanted. So I quickly decided to stick with the original plan. That being said, I wanted to take a few moments now to introduce you to an amazing person. She is a singer, a songwriter,  a trombone player, a percussionist, she dances, she is an educator, she is an activist. I’m also deeply privileged to call her a friend of mine for years now. She is the unique and unforgettable Toli Nameless.

I first met Toli over 10 years ago at Tower Records. I had been working in the World Music Department there, and one day someone introduced me to Toli, who had recently started working in another department. It was a big store (3 floors full of vast amounts of music and video), open from 9AM-12AM every day so there were a lot of employees and  shifts that overlapped.  Which meant you tended to not see the same people all the time. I’m not even really sure how or why Toli and I seemed to hit it off and became friends looking back, but we did. Not too long after though, Tower Records went bankrupt and all its stores nationwide closed permanently. Though events like that can suddenly make friendships go by the wayside, she and I still managed to get together occasionally, having pints of Guinness in the pub or sharing laughs online.

It was while working at Tower that I learned that Toli was ‘a bit of a musician’, as were a few other people who worked in the store. Other than hearing her sing in a Christmas showcase the store had put on, I don’t believe I ever heard her own music until after the store closed however.  In the years since with the benefit of YouTube, Itunes, and other social and music media sites, I came to understand that my friend is actually an amazing musical talent and I have kept up with her adventures ever since. This has included time living  in Europe performing and working in music education. She is adept in a variety of styles-from  jazz to reggae to electronica and she can really wail on that trombone!  I enjoy hearing everything she does, but arguably the biggest appeal for me has been the music she created with The  Femm Nameless, a band she had formed years ago. They were  a mighty all-women Afrobeat band who recorded and toured regularly at the time. The reason for this post  now is an announcement that came out of nowhere a few weeks ago that Kooyman Records out of Los Angeles, is about to release a 10″ vinyl single (and available digitally too of course) of some classic Femm Nameless tracks newly remastered.  https://kooymanrecords.bandcamp.com/

I was so thrilled to see Toli’s name back out there in the place where it rightly belongs. The tracks may go back a few years, but they still sound incredibly fresh and relevant. The standout track is their take on See Line Woman. Performed by many people over the years, Toli & The Femm Nameless channeled the spirit of Nina Simone’s recording of the song combined with the deepest grooves this side of Fela Kuti to make something epic and truly unforgettable with flutes and funky bass weaving around the percussion and Toli’s vocals.   I also love how their version ends with the words ‘See Line’ and ‘Woman’ over and over. It makes the song even more compelling.

The second video demonstrates more of  the political and empowerment side of Toli’s music.  Early on she chose to use ‘Nameless’ as her stage moniker as well as band name ‘to signify every female musician and unsung heroine whose name would otherwise be forgotten.’ The song Ibajekbe (What If) asks some powerful questions. What if the soldier put down his gun. What if the vagabond becomes rich, and the rich becomes poor.  Afrobeat  might be an intoxicating blend of styles musically, but it also speaks a great deal of  truth lyrically. With this song Toli & The Femm Nameless really present a powerful thought. What if, what if…what if.

You meet a lot of people in a lifetime. Some you gradually drift away from. Sometimes for good reasons,  sometimes for events outside your control. Others stay in your heart and though you may not talk on a daily or even weekly basis, you share a connection and relish the brief moments  when you might exchange a message on Facebook or via email. But when you have the time to catch up it feels as if there has been no passage of time at all. When Toli and I catch up these days that is what happens. Life gets in the way. Good times and bad, but the friendship survives.

I cherish my friendship with Toli, but I also am hugely inspired by her as well (something I have never told her). Not musically, I can’t compete with that of course, but having untapped this creative well inside of me, I find I appreciate her music even more for one big reason. Toli just goes for it full stop. Sometimes that may not resonate for some people right away. It might take awhile for them to catch up and understand. I have learned the same lesson the deeper I get into writing and photography. But you have to try, you have to put yourself out there.  I think that is why as her friend I have been so excited for this release from the moment I heard about it. We need to ask ‘What If’ more than ever before, we need music that traps you into a deep groove and doesn’t let go. We need reality and not fantasy.  We need artists like Toli to do it.  I hope you will dig deeper into Toli & The Femm Nameless’ music even further.

Toli Nameless

Official Facebook Page For Toli Nameless-https://www.facebook.com/tolinamelessmusic/

See Line Woman-Traditional, Nina Simone

Ibajekbe (What If)-Written By A. Szylagi/Santos & T.A. Nameless

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Monochrome Mondays

Well if last week’s inclusion of a song was a bit different for Monochrome Mondays, then this week’s installment is different as well. I’m going to start off by saying that the photo featured this week is not a great photo, nor do I intend it to be though of as such. There is nothing special about it. No great technique used to take it with camera settings. Nope, there is none of that. It is just a rather bleak  building standing by itself looking rather lonely. Honestly, until yesterday I had completely forgotten taking it. But enjoying a lazy day yesterday, my wife and I had a bit of a marathon of The Avengers. No, not the Marvel Comics Avengers, but the classic British TV show from the 1960’s. A few years back I introduced my wife to the show.

After some initial skepticism, she became as much of a fan of the show as I was, and especially the ‘Emma Peel’ years. We enjoy watching the dapper bowler hat wearing, umbrella carrying character of John Steed (played by Patrick MacNee) and his partner in saving the world from diabolical plots, Mrs. Emma Peel (as portrayed by Diana Rigg). The show is just a lot of fun, full of silly plots and fabulous fashions, especially by Emma Peel! There was one b&w season, and one color season with the Emma Peel character. It was while watching one of my favorite b&w episodes of the show yesterday-The Hour That Never Was that I thought of this photo because my photo and this particular episode have something in common actually. The plot of that particular episode has our heroes roaming the grounds of an abandoned Air Force base. Well actually, they weren’t expecting it to be fully abandoned yet, but that mystery comprises the central point of the first 3/4 of the episode.  A great deal of time is spent by Steed and Peel roaming empty buildings, hangars and runways. Military trucks and equipment lie abandoned everywhere and there is not another soul to be seen anywhere.

Last year in Cape Cod, we also found ourselves wandering the similarly eerie grounds of the former North Truro Air Force Station. Though it is now part of the National Park Service and some of the property and buildings re-imagined, it still has a bit of that eerie feel to it while walking around, much like Steed and Peel did in the episode. Maybe it was a subconscious thing on my part and reminded me of the episode, or maybe it just seemed ‘cinematic’ in some way, but the few photos I snapped were all done in monochrome. It just seemed so fitting!

The Hour That Never Was

 

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Monochrome Mondays-The Sea

For today’s Monochrome Mondays I thought about the sea. For many of us summer would not be complete without going to the beach at least once. Of course when I was younger we went to beaches a couple of times a year, doused with sunscreen and nourished with hot dogs and ice cream. Sadly my very pale skin color does not allow me to enjoy the beach or wade in the surf  these days like I used to as a 10 year old. Quite frankly its just not fun to have to be covered up so much and fighting the crowds for a plot of territory for the afternoon so I tend to leave the beach for early mornings or evenings and off times of the year now. What I sacrifice in the pleasure of cooling down on a hot day is made up for in watching the sea crashing in and out. There of course is something so compelling and soothing about watching the sea. It can be both gentle and forceful. The sound of the waves can lull you to sleep, and the power of the waves can inflict damage suddenly. This last thought was inspired by the late Sandy Denny’s song The Sea. She first performed it with the group Fotheringay in the early 1970’s. While doing some research for my book recently, I came across something she said about the song herself-

“The sea seemed to become a sort of person, like a mind, and that’s what I have tried to convey, the power of the sea.”

I took this photo last September on a beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was a beautiful day. A little chilly, but the sea was essentially calm. If I had come back the next day it would have been different. The next day, maybe even more so. Thinking about Sandy Denny’s words, I think her song conveys that idea. We have calm and peaceful moods, and we can have stormy, turbulent moods, just like the sea itself. Though I seldom enjoy the pleasures of being ‘in’ the sea, I still am very much a part ‘of’ the sea. And I think that is why I enjoy taking photos of it so much.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0IMZs7u0Wo

The Sea-Written By Sandy Denny

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Monochrome Mondays

Summer is progressing here. Long lazy days where you don’t want to move around too much. Just find a shady spot somewhere and watch the world go by. Here in the big city there are lots of places, and lots of things to look at of course. Since we moved to Queens I have one favorite spot called the Anable Basin, or as some call it, the Eleventh Street Basin in Long Island City. It is an artificial inlet built in the 1860’s for industrial use. When much of that industry dried up, the area went through a period of decline before being re-purposed in the 1990’s as Gantry Plaza State Park. The park as a whole offers a lot of activities and people watching, as well as an amazing view across the river to Manhattan. But tucked away on the side of the park, runs the basin. As I have said here before, I love old buildings, and things like a ship wharf or an old brick building have a natural appeal for me. I love sitting there under the trees reading or people watching and imagining what the same view must have looked like 100 years ago. Which is just something your mind seems to do on a long lazy day in the shade.

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Home

Home is a unique word. As adults most of us have a home. An actual current home we live in. Often though we talk about other homes from our past. The home we were raised in. The home we lived in after breaking out on our own for the first time. The home we move into with our significant others. The home we spend our final days. The word evokes so much, both good and bad. Earlier tonight, I was looking at this photo I took a few weeks ago on a ferry trip from Brooklyn to Rockaway Beach. The photographer half of me took it because the scene was so inspiring on a beautiful day. The other half of me, the emotional half realized that it was my home in so many ways.

Other than 4 years off for good behavior attending college in Massachusetts, this photo represents all my ‘homes’. On the right of this photo is Brooklyn, where I was born. It also shows Queens, where my wife and I have happily lived for over two years now. On the left is New Jersey, where I grew up and spent all my youth. In the middle of course is Manhattan, where I spent my most crucial years of development. It is where I began taking up photography. It is where I dived deeper into the rich diversity of music that was there for the taking. It is where I met Jennifer, the person who has changed my life the most in so many incredible ways. It is where I learned who I am, though of course that process is ever evolving. Finally, surrounding it all is water, which connects me with my spiritual home of Ireland. Those of you familiar with my posts know that water plays a crucial role in my photography. That ebb and flow feels like life itself, and for me that is a crucial realization. My physical home may change, but for now as I ride the most meager ferry, or sip a beer on a beach, the crucial ingredient to all of them has been a connection to the water. Lakes feed the rivers, which flow to the sea, which carry you away towards home…

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