As soon as you think you’ve landed The Charlie Millard Band safely in a genre, their next song sends you spinning back into a cosmos of musicality and originality that defies compartmentalization—and gravity, for that matter.
Yes, that’s Charlie nearly levitating from the kinetics of his voice and virtuosity. This guy is theatrical the same way a Tesla lamp is electrical–Charlie is amped, and so is everybody listening.
Charlie plays ambidextrously on two keyboards (often simultaneously) and leads vocals from paean to ballad to blues with this swinging arc that you realize was a segue when he’s moved seamlessly onto the next song. The energy just keeps ramping up.
Waits and Cave waft into the mood, but the Millards–Charlie and Jercat on guitar, harmonica, and back-up vocals–own their own sound, with help from Will Harris on drums.
Jercat and Charlie co-write and perform together with an easy blend you’d expect from damn fine musicians who are obviously having a great deal of fun with this family affair.
The last song isn’t over, even after they’ve left the stage… it’s still playing in your mind. When it finally ebbs, check out their touring schedule at http://www.hattiejanemusic.com and plan accordingly.
Just walking around Berlin, history speaks to you in the present tense.
You are aware of the stolpersteine—the small, square brass “stumbling stones” in front of buildings and houses engraved with the names of Jewish families who lived there followed by the date and location of where they were transported during the Holocaust.
Grunevalde is a lovely, upscale suburb on the outskirts of the city. As you walk up the ramp leading to the former freight yard at its train station, you’re aware of hollows in the concrete wall alongside. It takes a minute to register that what you’re seeing in a weird reverse bas relief are crumpled, mangled forms of human bodies… an impression where a head was pitched at a strange angle, a hand reached, or two bodies once huddled close. The effect is sobering to say the least.
This is more than “dark tourism,” it is one of the most unforgettable of the “never forget” memorials I’ve ever seen. It was installed in 1991, and on January 27, 1998, the Deutsche Bahn established an accompanying tribute to Gleis 17 (Platform 17) at the top of the ramp. Here, from the late 1930s to 1945, thousands of Jews waited in long queues here before they were “dispatched” from this platform to concentrations camps. The dates of the transports, the number of people they carried, and their destinations are all recorded on little brass plates at very edge of the track.
And if you go to the Bebel Platz, a large, beautiful square in downtown Berlin surrounded by the state opera, a cathedral, and Humboldt University, you could miss a memorial to “The Empty Library” if you don’t look down. Inset among the cobbles is a strong, clear plexiglass cover revealing a full scale 20K-book library in which all the shelves are empty… faceless mannequins stand zombie-like in a few places. A plaque off to the side explains the infamous book burning event the Nazis staged at this very spot in March 1933.
This is not a morose travelogue, but for a very long time now, I’ve been trying to express a view of what Art can do, beyond amaze us. I’m still not there, but it has something to do with reconstruction… the kind that delivers redemption.
Berlin is, in my opinion, exemplary of what reconstruction of a traumatized place should achieve. The point is not to erase, destroy, or revise history—especially dark, deeply regrettable, horrifically tragic events—but alchemize it through Art.
Wherever there is reconstruction, there was destruction. I believe reconstruction is an artform that is only partially concerned with structure… it is far more focused on meaning and transformation.
When all we do is address the problems on a structural level… we build again, we reconstruct… we cover it with grass… we may even erect monuments, but we put ourselves at great risk of repeating the past… of looping the scenes with the next generation, and the next, if we don’t let the artists do their work.
In the 1990s, I lived in Richmond, Virginia, a place that embodies the complexity of reconstruction. Today, the images of activism that toppled Confederate monuments show the rage no one was prepared to express in those days. After all, the Civil Rights Era had already done all that heavy lifting 25 years earlier, right? Well, to that, I submit that you can judge the mental health of a place by its art, and the most prominent artistic expressions of Richmond’s identity until recently were its Confederate heroes that gave Monument Avenue its name.
Having been raised in the north just a couple hours from Motown, and relocated to Colorado after college in Iowa, I came to Virginia blissfully unaware that some of the people there believed the South would rise again, and still had strong views about “the war of northern aggression.” One silver-haired docent at the Confederate White House Museum told me in a convivial tone that the South only lost because “We ran out of bullets.”
Fast forward to the 2020 destruction of the Confederate statues centering a brick-paved bastion of aristocracy… the sacred ground running through the old moneyed neighborhoods known as the Fan. A stoic Robert E. Lee covered in a riot of spray paint… the same for J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Matthew Maury… every monument “rebranded” until you reached the untouched shrine to native son Arthur Ashe, at the end.
By 2021, all Richmond’s confederate monuments were removed, which was the right thing to do… so far. Again, deconstruction is only half the equation. The right reconstruction has everything to do with embodying the wisdom gained, and that must be the bailiwick of art, not policy. I know there is the business-end of this equation, but that’s not the solution. The answer lies in the mind of an artist the Muse calls up for duty at just such a time as this. Could there be any greater example than Maya Lin, the Asian-American sculptor and designer of the profoundly moving Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC?
In 2018, the removal of Ianelli’s 1936 art deco masterpiece* from Bronson Park in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was a stellar example of a community trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the decades-long indigenous objection to that colonial cause célèbre—a rifle-toting settler lording in size and manner over the conquered Native American—did not prompt this action. Needed repairs to the fountain were more expensive than removing it, so the can of worms was re-opened. Still, I’m proud of the outcome so far… but there’s more to do… destruction necessarily leads to reconstruction. The right kind of reconstruction repairs a damaged place (and people) with a healing, circumspect beauty.
Today, if I’m at Bronson Park, I feel regret that the Ianelli Fountain is gone, then I feel guilty. I’m a white-privileged, middle-class woman who grew up with fond memories of that fountain… of kids splashing around in the pool, concerts, picnics on the grass beside it. Back then, I never saw the conquered Indian, at least that’s not what that meant to me. But that’s the problem… I wasn’t bothered by the message it reinforced about deplorable aspects of human history because that’s not what the fountain meant to me.
The good people of Richmond—certain ones anyway—saw a hero, a man of great honor and integrity in Confederate General Robert E. Lee sitting 60 foot high on his horse well into the 21st century. They did not see that monument as the festering flashpoint that would be triggered by George Floyd’s murder.
Where, at Bronson Park (or on Monument Avenue or in Minneapolis or or or…) is LaPietá to express what we have learned from the undeniable evidence of an unconscionable (or, at the very least, gravely mistaken) past? …to help us recognize our own unconscious biases before they’re perceived or experienced as racism?
Sometimes it takes a pillage…. or a mandate… but much more effective is a powerful, intrinsic, art-inspired motivation to force us out of the comfort zone of a familiar narrative and up the learning curve. When we know better, we do better.
Every one of us has a moral and ethical obligation to engage in knowing better, and doing better. It’s not enough to be “Woke” or bumper-stickered or engaged in some form of virtue signaling. None of that conveys what happens next.
Berlin has given the world a model of history, memory, awareness, understanding, accountability, and action welded into an identity that’s palpably, profoundly expressed everywhere with art.
When reconstruction brings that kind of redemption, it is surely the finest work of art.
Just made the remarkable discovery that Richard Katrovas writes and teaches from the Rust Belt. Michigan wordsmiths are a special breed–I’ve been to AWP where they were huddled in their own session trying to process the Lake Effect. It’s very fitting that Katrovas live in the Mitten, at least when he’s not living in New Orleans or Prague, a succulently seasoned place that could only be improved by the presence of my daughter, which it was when during our stay there this summer.
As for Katrovas, here’s an affable grin (and bear it) of an especially “winning” verse…
No shotguns needed at the nuptials I mean nupchuls for Aaron and Michelle, my friends who decided to throw a big wedding I mean weddin’ bash the likes of which none of us has ever seen. That may be a bit presumptuous on my part as the guests did a shockingly good job of looking like this was just another Saturday night at the Bitely Tavern for them.
The invitations scrawled on the back of a Busch beer carton set the stage…
Friends – I mean ‘cousins’ – were the players…
There wasn’t a dry eye – I mean mouth – in the crowd, including the happy couples’.
If you think you’ve seen the man (a rescue helicopter pilot) and wife (a physician’s assistant specializing in ER and trauma) before, please forever hold your peace about that, and just let them have some well-deserved fun.
Early in her amazing career, my friend Leslie spent some years in New Guinea teaching English quite unsuccessfully to remote villagers, the Papuas (the fuzzy-headed people). Over a lovely dinner at L’Ybane last week in NYC, she described the difficulty of finding a way to bridge their pigeon English to its proper expression. It wasn’t that they weren’t capable of the cognition, she explained, it was that she found herself not wanting to change their way of expressing their world. They said “mouth-grass” instead of mustache. She didn’t want to alter that, and found herself adjusting to their way instead. For example, the Papuas were familiar with 1) the shape of the blades on an electric mixer, and they knew that 2) the white man’s Jesus lived up there in the sky somewhere. So when a certain hovercraft made its first appearance over the island nation, the locals referred to it as a “mix-master-belong-Jesus.” That said helicopter to them. Whenever she corrected them, they would nod sweetly and affirm the circumstances of their lives relative to the object: yesyesyessss, mix-master-belong-jesus bring medsin. That was all they wanted to know about helicopters.
Nowadays Leslie is a consultant to federal asylum program based in DC. She works with foreign victims of horrific torture—usually young women—helping them learn English and adjust to life in the states. She tells me those years with the Papuas helped her develop a skillset she now relies on daily to avoid common word-triggers including “family” and “darkness” and “men.” She says a creative vocabulary is also essential in understanding what the women are trying to say to her. Knowing how “push-me-go/pull-me-come” translated to handsaw helps Leslie comprehend what she is hearing from these women who, under certain circumstances, still bleed sometimes…and will bleed for the rest of their lives.
A lot of serious writers would have a problem with the robust photoshopping of their headshot, but In a Perfect World (the name of my regular column in the #HandsandVoicesCommunicator) I don’t even need photoshopping (such is the power of my vision) so I was kinduv, pretty much like HELL TO THE YES, I mean yes when our new media and marketing sorceress #BrookeMontgomery showed me the promo for the Seaver Vision Award 2022. Those of you who know me, don’t bother DM’ing about the makeover–it’s all Brooke! ❤
Since my profession and my passion for Deaf stuff are vectored on my writings,* I’ll post this opp on my writing blog. Those who’ve won the Seaver Vision Award since its inception in 2012 are making life better for families with children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (like mine). If you know somebody who should be under the spotlight of appreciation, here’s what to do: https://www.handsandvoices.org/about/seaveraward.html
If you need a vision of how it all turns out–that your kids you worry about endlessly will grow up and live a life of their own some powerfully capable day, here’s my beautiful boy Dane in the mountains he loves:
I’ve known Sheryl since shortly before her August 2014 wedding day (pictured). She married into a wonderful farming family that I’ve known since grade school, which qualifies me to say her hubby Scott is one of the world’s nicest human beings. They’re facing some incredible challenges right now. I’m intentionally not using the c-word. Sheryl has found the healing benefits of off-loading some weighty emotions into her writing, and sharing those lessons from the school of hard knocks.
What Doesn’t Kill You, Girl, Makes You Stronger is as intimate as a diary, and as useful as a medical journal (one written understandably). It’s a navigational, inspirational tool. I’m so glad Sheryl is sharing what she’s lived and what she knows… this should be required reading for anyone working in the field of c (not gonna capitalize it either).
There are lots of swans here, which is why I call my writing retreat Swanchurch. Here are two trumpeters (blackbilled) and a mute swan (not as quiet as you’d think) just off my dock a couple springs ago.
Every spring, I hold my breath in anticipation of the signets. A banner crop of six in 2018 holds the record for most babies, also for most losses, which is a story about snapping turtles.
This year, Keats and Shelley (the pair–whichever pair–that claims my stretch of the river as theirs is called Keats and Shelley) had two signets two days ago.
Today, there’s only one. I’m not posting a picture of that.
There are swans here year round… they are photogenic in all seasons. I could post a hundred more pictures, but will leave you with this one from last autumn at Swanchurch.
The woods of my childhood were easy to reach beyond my backyard and across the long pasture to the west. There, at edge of civilization as I knew it, was a tall, thick stand of conifers with a perfect little smeuse the size of a six-year-old girl. Through it, I would step from the open field into a shady cosmos of birdsong… sunlight kaleidoscoping through the boughs… the sharp scent of jack pine oxygenating the air. It was enchanted in a way the grown-up world would rarely ever be… except on this night.
On this night, the taste of pine sap on my fingers brought it all back to me, except it wasn’t pine sap at all but a deep breath and sip of a Château Musar Rosé. From this “still and softly-oaked tribute to the ‘blended’ rosés of Champagne,” a liquefaction of memory poured forth. I was simultaneously a little fairy climbing a tree and an imperious professional woman attending her first-ever wine dinner.
Who knew wine could do that?
Well, Marc Hochar knew. It’s just another day at the office for Château Musar, which is not to diminish the wonder of such unexpected revelations. This just compels the Hochar winemakers to bless the wider world with the fruits of their labor. They have been making Château Musar wines for generations in the soil of the Garden of Eden, so it is understood: something divine is going on here.
Grapes and earth and weather over the imprimatur of time can create many lives in a bottle of Musar, and several more inside us, according to Hochar. That’s because “We preserve the life that’s embedded in these wines. We don’t filter them, or strain them, or take anything out,” he explained. “So they retain this ability to behave like living things… they change. If you open two bottles of the same vintage at the same time, you should not be surprised to find they are not the same.”
Coming from Lebanon, a land of extremes, such seeming contradictions are embedded in the DNA of a Château Musar. The Mediterranean climate of warm, dry summers and bitter cold winters in their Bekaa Valley vineyard inhabit every bottle. Such dimensionality was deliciously supported by a five-course “Taste of Lebanon” at Kalamazoo’s Rustica restaurant. At its by-invitation-only wine-dinner, six different Musar wines were featured. Each one was unique yet somehow recognizably Musar… familial in the roots of Rosé, Hochar Rouge, Blanc, Rouge… ancient and alive.
As we sipped, my friend and I would say the first thought the taste and aroma conjured: mown hay, carob, chanterelles, the marsh on a summer night, a cellar door. The ocean… sand that had been stirred up by whale fins. The acrid air from skeet shooting. Colostrum… manuka honey. An awareness of past lives… gravestone moss. The stories started telling themselves with our voices. This wasn’t about logical, credible comparisons, but letting the wine meander through our sensory lobes of experience. Here were memories that weren’t always our own… or were they? I thought of these lines in a poem by Jon Wallace:
What we say seems to make sense, yet
beyond the chatter don’t we go on forever, effortlessly
resisting the fixity of words? I tell you
we are precisely what cannot be spoken
or felt, and so remain secrets even to ourselves.
From this mysterious inner-expedition came my “sappy” review, which I was somewhat embarrassed to share with Marc Hochar when he stopped by our table. It didn’t seem dignified enough, or in the proper canon of wine vernacular. But to my great relief, Marc was delighted with my story. He found pine pitch entirely apropos because that’s what was real for me. And that was the point… maybe even the goal.
This remarkable event has raised the bar for every glass of wine I’ll ever drink again. You’re welcome, Hochars, and I am sorry, every other label.
It’s just that Château Musar invites an engagement in which wine isn’t just for enjoying, but for enhancing a delightful tour of self-discovery. The wet-dry, earth-sky, love-hate, hot-cold, blood-water, laughter-tears, primordial-modern Lebanon has imbued its country’s most famous wine with its own memories. To imbibe is to rehouse them… and explore the Muse of your own life when you let them live in you.
Among the gems found in my research for my new book commission: a scrap of paper on which A. E. Simons sketched out the music he’d soon memorize for his troop, the 37th Illinois Volunteers Infantry. Simons recruited and organized the brigade, assigning the best offices and commands to those he thought qualified. This magnanimous approach left him without rank himself, but “Every war has to have some privates,” he reportedly said. His commanding officer squelched that, “You’re not going to be a private. We haven’t organized our music; you must take charge of that.”
This is how Simons came to be the Fife Major.
Every regiment had a fifer and a drummer; their tunes constituted mass communications across the rank and file. Everything from breakfast and dinner “Mess” calls to “Taps” (day is done) directed the activities of the men, especially in battle. Simons performed his duties through harrowing circumstances until after the war in 1866. He was left with severely compromised health, dying just ten years later.
His widow, Jennie Bessie, and five small children, bravely set out to claim land on the Kansas prairie that was her “Widow’s Pension.”
All of the children would go onto successful futures. One would establish a successful newspaper publishing company that spanned four generations.
I am writing their story. Have I mentioned how much #Ilovemyjob