Archive for February, 2015

Deep Blues

February 6, 2015
The Late Bluesman Zeb Cash-Lane, Playing at Fort Worth's Peppermill Lounge

The Late Bluesman Zeb Cash-Lane, Playing at Fort Worth’s Peppermill Lounge

My Privilege to Share the Stage Alongside Zeb

My Privilege to Share the Stage Alongside Zeb, Playing Blues

The Illinois Central cuts through the heart of the South Side, where most Chicago blacks lived in 1943 and most still do. The passenger’s first look at the city consists of mile after mile of weatherbeaten two-and three-story frame and brick buildings with dilapidated back porches that reach right to the edge of the tracks. They march sullenly past the train’s windows for what seems like an hour, and then the rhythmic clickclack of the pistons slows down and the engine pulls into Central Station.

Robert Palmer, Deep  Blues

It is now Christmas Eve, and what am I doing? I’m seated in a darkened Amtrak lounge car, hurtling through the black night, watching the occasional small southern town sprint past my window with its red flashing crossing guards, and small frame homes. And I am listening to Muddy Waters on my Discman. I am listening to Muddy Waters playing Country Blues on a speeding train across Arkansas past midnight.

David Tripp, Journal, December 24, 2004, 12:22 a.m.

I look up from my work as small-town America rolls by beneath my Amtrak window.  Sleeping America, sprawled beneath a bloody three-quarter moon. The flashing red crossing lights. The white facades of sad buildings. Hope, Arkansas at 12:48 a.m.

David Tripp, Journal, May 27, 2005, 12:48 a.m.

Last night, just before bedtime, I opened Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues and began to read. I purchased this book over ten years ago, but never opened it, to my shame. When I was studying Blues more closely back then, I read over a dozen biographies and histories covering the American Blues music phenomenon. I even played in some bands, though I always considered myself shaky and uptight with my guitar attempts. I love this musical genre, and reading the text I posted above sent me scurrying to my shelves of journals to retrieve some things I had jotted from that earlier era of my own life. How well I remember those sad nights on Amtrak, traveling home to St. Louis to visit my family for Christmas. As the train left Fort Worth and rolled through the grimy unsightly neighborhoods and decaying business districts of Arlington, Grand Prairie, Dallas, Marshall, Longview, Texarkanna, Arkadelphia, Hope, Little Rock, etc., I would look out my windows at the small backyards, sagging porches, chained pit bulls, junked vehicles, washing machines and Christmas lights in these sad little neighborhoods. And I would listen to Blues music on my headphones–Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House–and experience feelings too deep to describe. As Robert Palmer reminds us, the history of the Blues is a “story of a small and deprived group of people who created, against tremendous odds, something that has enriched us all.”

For awhile, I played in a band with Zeb Cash-Lane, about two years before he passed away. We took our act on weekends to the Peppermill Lounge in east Fort Worth, playing before less than a dozen working-class men bellied up to the bar who showed no indication of listening to us. That took the pressure off, as we experimented with our Blues genre and took it to levels we never thought possible. I still hear Zeb’s Stratocaster crying out into the night as he pushed out the most amazing lead improvs that I never heard in our studio rehearsals. The man was possessed with a magnificent genius for electric blues guitar, and I miss him as I write this tonight. Following is something I wrote in my journal on October 13, 2006, the morning after I met Zeb Cash-Lane:

Last night, I had a life-altering encounter at a recording studio in east Arlington. I met for the first time Zeb Cash-Lane, an aged blues musician, specializing in harp and searing electric guitar (Fender Jazzmaster played through a Fender tube amp).  It was a night to remember always and I now attempt to record the visions . . .

7:00 p.m. Thursday found me pushing my Jeep westward on Abram, with temperatures dropping, a chilly October evening and a sun sinking large, flooding the western sky with color. Looming silhouettes of tire shops and tattoo parlors paraded down the corridors of my peripheral glances.  Finally, the cinder block building came into sight. Jim Farmer waited outside on the parking lot with a slender, rangy man sporting a Rasputin-like full white beard, faded jeans, suspenders and a gray-blue “Charley Guitar Shop” T-shirt. I was introduced and shook hands with Zeb Cash-Lane.

Inside the dim studio room that doubled as Zeb’s dorm room, we heard the searing electric blues that Zeb ripped. It was an authentic Blues environ: whiskey bottles, ashtrays, Zeb rolling his own cigarettes, scattered amps, guitars, a cello and even an upright piano. The room had the clutter of a maintenance shed or electrician’s shop, but it was a music room. A Blues room, a three-dimensional photo gallery of where Zeb was and where Zeb had been. Jim Farmer played his new electric bass, Zeb played his Fender Jazzmaster and I played my Martin D-35. The Blues seared, screamed and moaned late into that cold October night. Inside, the guitars cried while outside, the winds answered with a chorus of mournful, yet affirming howls. Stormy Monday set the tone for the Blues night in the studio.

After hours of playing, we sat outside on the concrete steps, weary but full of hope about our musical collaboration, and shared stories over cold beers. I drove home, late in the night, numbed by the experience.

My Watercolor of Zeb Cash-Lane

My Watercolor of Zeb Cash-Lane

Though most of the blues musicians with whom I have played in the past are either deceased or no longer in my social circle, I still feel a kinship with anyone who has played a Blues riff on a guitar. I’m grateful for what the Delta and Chicago bluesmen left us, what Zeb handed down to me, and so sorry for the way these musicians suffered to lay such a gift at our feet.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not really alone.

Warm Memories to Fight Back Against a Cold Day

February 5, 2015

In art, we are the first to be heirs of all the earth. . . . Accidents impair and Time transforms, but it is we who choose.

Andre Malraux

Texas Wesleyan University

Texas Wesleyan University

What a frigid Texas day! I know the Midwest and Northeast received the worst of the winter weather, but boring Texas gave us a 32-degree day with darkness and environmental dimness and not a trace of snow. Just cold. When high school let out, I had some administrative business to tend at Texas Wesleyan University in neighboring Fort Worth. Being strictly an online teacher at this time, I had no idea how much I missed that campus. Posted is a photo I took of the administration building after I had lumbered up and down three stories of stairwells inside. This morning, we discussed rustication in my A. P. Art History class, pointing out the Romans’ use of it in architecture and how the Italians picked it back up again in Renaissance times. I couldn’t resist shooting this facade, thinking back over what we had discussed earlier.

Once in the library, I returned to a spot on the top floor that I had always referred to as Luther’s Tower.  It was here that I cloistered myself before and after evening lectures, always enjoying the sight of the distant Fort Worth skyline to the north.

Fort Worth Skyline from the Top Floor of the University Library

Fort Worth Skyline from the Top Floor of the University Library

Fifteen years!  That is how long ago this university hired me to do adjunct work for them. It still seems like yesterday, and the longer I sat in that overstuffed leather armchair reading Wallace Stevens, the more I had to brush the memories away like a cloud before my face. It was a comfort in the best sense, a warming sensation on a frigid day that tried to bring depression in its claws.

Guitars Waiting for Me

Guitars Waiting for Me

Once I arrived back home, my waiting guitars made a good day even better.  My friend Reid had given me plenty of inspiration and material to practice from the night before, and I was anxious all day to begin work on these pieces. I’m glad to have an evening at home again–a chance to do some things that matter to me.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

When the Past Fuels the Present

February 5, 2015
The Back of My Classroom

The Back of My Classroom

When the darkness breaks, the generations to come may contrive to find their way back to the clear splendor of the ancient past.

Petrarch

Today was spent studying Renaissance art history–Donatello, Verrocchio and others in Advanced Placement, Michelangelo in Regular Art History. The students lately have had such fertile minds, prompting me to dialgoue with them on issues related to Machiavelli in philosophy and Robert Johnson in blues music. What a day! I rose from my bed, physically exhausted, and after the first three hours, found my mind swimming with fresh ideas, thanks to this environment the students created. There are days when being a teacher is indeed the most rewarding profession on our planet. Today was one of those days.

These rules of old discovered, not devised 

Are Nature still, but Nature methodised;

Nature, like Liberty, is but restrained,

By the same laws which first herself ordained.

Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism

I am convinced that the twisted path to learning is far more interesting than the linear one.  For example, today in the A. P. class, we examined a pair of equestrian monuments from Renaissance Italy:

Donatello's "Gattamelata"

Donatello’s “Gattamelata”

Verrocchio's "Bartolommeo  Colleoni"

Verrocchio’s “Bartolommeo Colleoni”

From memories of my own past as a student, I’m bored with the bare-boned notion of learning names, titles and dates of works of art and stopping there, confident of passing a written examination. Today I tried to lead the students in an exploration of ideas associated with these two monuments. In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli authored The Prince, arguing that the effective ruler would embody the traits of the lion and the fox. As students saw the cunning of the Donatello statue alongside the aggression of the Verocchio one, they were given the chance to expand on these contrasting personality traits.  Gattamelata displays the calm, cunning demeanor, in contrast to Bartolommeo Colleoni and his visceral posturing. Thanks to crossover students from my philosophy class, there were those who were already familiar with Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy with its contrast between Apollo (ordered, quiet, principled) and Dionysus (chaotic, petulant, impassioned) influences. In the history of ideas, we also like to draw our contrasts between the Neo-Classical and Romantic periods of creativity, the former harking back to principles from the ancient Greco-Roman culture, and the latter drawing from nature and its organic ways of accomplishing things. Neo-Classical seems more Apollo-driven, and Romantic Dionysian-driven. I cannot say that I managed to extract all I wanted from my students, but long after the bells rang, ending the periods, my mind continued to work on these ideas, and I found the study of Art History much more invigorating than it had been in the days when I sat in the student desk, recording data in my notebooks and hoping for nothing higher than passing written examinations.  As I remained at my desk after the final class had departed, I suddenly realized that I was doing the same thing I saw my college art history professor doing, well into the afternoons–seated at his desk with an art history volume opened before him and poring over the text.  I wondered then what was going through the mind of that keen intellectual scholar, and wonder today if I am even approaching the standard he set so long ago.  I’m glad for that visual memory of him, and proud to be engaged in the same profession, all these decades later.

Thank you for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

Home, Where I Belong

February 4, 2015
A Long Overdue Quiet Evening at Home

A Long Overdue Quiet Evening at Home

Current wisdom, especially that propagated by the various schools of psycho-analysis, assumes that man is a social being who needs the companionship and affection of other human beings from cradle to grave. It is widely believed that interpersonal relationships of an intimate kind are the chief, if not the only, source of human happiness. Yet the lives of creative individuals often seem to run counter to this assumption.

Anthony Storr, Solitude: A Return to the Self

This evening has been long overdue. I believe in what I’ve been doing lately, but must admit that the grind of nearly-nightly meetings and engagements have taken their toll. I’m glad at this early hour of the evening to have all my art history prepared for tomorrow’s classes and still some time for reading, for guitar, and even watercolor experimenting in my studio. I have been away from all this (and blogging) far too long. I guess I’m just not a social animal, though I’ve been covered up in people for a couple of weeks now. Tonight I feel that I finally got back to what I am about–not necessarily a creative spirit, but one who wants to create and explore.

Back in the summer of 2009, I was privileged with some time to study art at the Rachovsky House in north Dallas, and a book was given to me as a gift: Inside the Studio: Two Decades of Talks with Artists in New York, edited by Judith Olch Richards.  After reading the transcripts of more than a dozen interviews, I found myself intrigued with these words from Susan Rothenberg:

I start by taking a lot from intuition and then I depend on composition, on building the painting’s architecture. I use all the formal values of painting but it’s not terribly examined, I just let it come. I’m finding more and more that it’s coming out of drawing, which is new to me.

I take these words to heart, not only because I often begin my watercolors in the way she described, but because I have rediscovered drawing in the past months to be a prime mover in my decisions regarding subject matter and composition. In a funny way, this same principle has emerged in my recent attempt to play blues music on guitar. For several days now, I’ve been trying to “feel” Blues lead patterns by working on scales. Tonight my dear friend and Guitar God, Reid Rogers, opened my eyes to wondrous things with the A-minor scale, and showed me how to build a ladder.  My head is swimming with possibilities now.  Finally, an architecture to give confidence to these flailing attempts!

Working on Some Blues Scales

Working on Some Blues Scales

I’m also pleased to return to my abandoned garage studio.  I found this afternoon a stack of watercolors of subjects began a long time ago and abandoned, unfinished. This particular landscape I thought might have possibilities. I was fascinated with the portion of the Davis Mountain Range I photographed nearly ten years ago and started, hesitantly, with this watercolor. Years later now, I’m attempting to put some tree foliage at the base of the work and see if I can re-enter the composition. Baby steps!

Returning to My Garage Studio, and to an Old Watercolor

Returning to My Garage Studio, and to an Old Watercolor

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not really alone.

A Little Slide Guitar

February 3, 2015
Practicing Slide Guitar

Practicing Slide Guitar

We set up a lot of academies for ourselves, a lot of rules; the process of developing over time, loosening up and becoming free, is really the hardest thing to do.

Gregory Amenoff, New York artist

This will be short, as I had another commitment tonight that was school-related. On top of that I’ve had to spend more prep time for tomorrow’s classes, and now the hour is late.  Thanks to all of you who responded to my last post–it is you that make me want to write more and write better.  I’ll work on that.

A parallel I’m experiencing between my watercolor and my guitar playing the past few weeks is this notion of trying to break out of all the disciplinary procedures I’ve learned throughout the years, concentrating on all the rules and not on style (whatever “style” is!).  With watercolor lately, I’ve tried to break a few rules and follow some notions that I “felt” rather than learned and practiced throughout the years.  And now, after picking up the guitar following a lengthy hiatus, I’m doing more of the same.

As I wrote earlier, I’ve returned to a serious look at blues music, and for the past 72 hours have stolen some moments out of each day and evening to slip a brass slide on my finger and practice with open tunings (in G, D, and E).  The more I work the slide, the looser I feel my playing is, and I’m beginning to hear some things I like (playing slide guitar used to guarantee that I could empty a roomful of people within seconds).  The more I read of how Robert Johnson pushed the boundaries of music with his slide techniques, the more excited I’m becoming with these possibilities.  When I read this interview with New York artist Gregory Amenoff this morning, I was pleased to hear someone articulate what I’ve been feeling of late, so I posted his words to open tonight’s blog.  As the days unfold ahead, I hope I’ll be able to give some quality time to exploring these freedom boundaries.

Thanks for reading.

David

Swimming in Blues Music and Other Streams

February 2, 2015
An old watercolor of myself playing guitar outside the Silver Dollar Tavern

An old watercolor of myself playing guitar outside the Silver Dollar Tavern

Robert Johnson became the personification of the existential blues singer, unencumbered by corporeality or history, a fiercely incandescent spirit who had escaped the bonds of tradition by the sheer thrust of genius. . . . Like Shakespeare, though, the man remains the mystery. . . . From what remote and isolated well of inspiration did the music and poetry of Robert Johnson emerge? . . . It was a world in which Robert Johnson was suddenly elevated to significance by an act of creative will, by a synthesis of all he knew, of all he ever was to be.

Peter Guralnick, Searching for Robert Johnson

Good evening, and I apologize for my disappearing act.  I’m afraid I’m not offering much substance tonight, but wanted to re-enter the blogosphere and say to anyone who cares that I’m fine, but drowning in deadlines.  The past couple of weeks have been too busy for my own good, but I like what has happened.  I have returned to my abandoned Martin acoustic guitar, performed in a talent show, reconnected with a Renaissance man who is the best guitar teacher I know, played in a roomful of extraordinary guitarists who make my head swim with wonder and new ideas, presented a history of the blues to a living room salon gathering of kindred spirits, attended a Catholic mass that featured a polyphonic Renaissance repertoire of Latin music, connected with a large classroom full of philosophy students who are overflowing with fresh ideas (reading their journals recently made me shudder in wonder), and found an extraordinary mind in Goethe as I read his Faust in German and English.  What have I left out?  Oh yes, my new Logic class online at Texas Wesleyan University is also giving me a new lease on life, as are my AVID and Art History students at Martin High School.  And oh yes–I just emceed a Super Quiz for the regional Academic Decathlon meet last weekend, always an interesting pageant.

I have spent a large amount of time relearning blues history and playing slide guitar on my acoustic, something I had gotten away from in previous years.  My studies of Delta blues musicians has been an engaging one, especially connecting the Robert Johnson legacy with that line from Tennyson’s “Ulysses” about being a part of all that I have met.  I’m always intrigued with the multiple strands that make up individual creative personalities.  The lines of influence are never linear the way public education wishes we would teach facts.  Human experience is so fascinating and twisted in the best possible sense.  As I read the lives of Robert Johnson, Goethe, and more recently T. S. Eliot, I am always reminded that these men did not pursue a straight path.  No one does.  The tributaries that flow into our psychic mainstream are twisted and meandering, and so are our interests.  The more I work to untangle those tributaries leading toward the delta and finally the ocean, the more fascinated I am with the complexities and possibilities existent in our personal lives.

On a side note–I also posted my sentiments on Facebook yesterday, that I blacked out the Super Bowl for the first time in my personal history–I abhor a systemic cheating team calling themselves Patriots and am insulted as a teacher when I listen to the idiocy of one Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks during media week, wondering how colleges grant degrees to indivduals who become millionaire “professional” athletes, and then parade their ignorance and arrogance, somewhow evoking adulation from citizens and reporters who don’t seem to know any better.  All this on top of a year of the NFL not knowing how to respond to domestic abuse and child abuse made me reach a decision that I am terminating my Sunday Ticket subscription to DirecTV, refusing to send one more nickel to the NFL.  I abhor their bankruptcy of values alongside their financial show of pageantry.  I take my educational profession seriously and don’t want to associate or support public abuse, arrogance or ignorance.  I feel sorry for the billionaires who find value in this, and even more for citizens who think they need it.

To sum up–I am alive, well, overworked, but really wanting to climb back into the blogosphere.  I really want to return to making art, but there are still deadlines crushing me with high school and college responsibilities.  My mind is fertile, I’m loving blues music, the study of art history, philosophy and literature, and hope that very soon I’ll have good art images to show as well as cogent ideas worth publishing.

Thanks for reading.  I really miss writing and publishing for kindred spirits out there.

David