Saturday, January 20, 2018

Doug, Greg, Jesse & Cole

A wood engraving once was the one and only way to create an illustration for a newspaper, and this engraving shows an artist's conception of the infamous Jesse James/Cole Younger gang botched bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, on September 7, 1876. The target of the robbery was the First National Bank, located on the side street behind the Lee & Hitchcock building. Here is a post meant to mention three of four "whatever" facts about Northfield .... like anyone really cares other than me ....

Tying up some sort of loose ends

I am reminded that Northfield, Minnesota, has two institutions of higher learning. One is Saint Olaf College, with Lutheran and Norwegian roots, which I mentioned in my December 24, 2017, post. The other is Carleton College, founded in 1866 as "Northfield College" by members of the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches. It was renamed Carleton College after Massachusetts brassware manufacturer William Carleton donated $50,000 to the fledgling school. Both are private liberal arts colleges.

One of my better friends graduated from Carleton. Actually, we partied off and on while he was a Carleton student and I was working as a journalist in a town not far from Northfield. I moved along to another newspaper in another town and we went a few years without seeing one another. Then, out of the blue, Doug walked into the newspaper where I was employed to apply for an opening as a sports reporter. I saw to it that he got the job.

Doug Bezechek originally was from Iowa. He was sort of a "wild and crazy guy." After several hours of drinking one night, he decided to walk home when his car would not start. Rather than go the long way, he chose to swim across the Cannon River. He did not make it all the way. I learned of his death when I arrived at work the next morning. I still think about Doug and wish I would have been with him that night ....

Moving on .... Carleton has a fellow named Gregory Blake Smith on its staff. Having written a number of novels and short stories, Smith, who teaches American literature and creative writing, would seem well qualified for the position. His most recent novel, "The Maze at Windermere," was released only a few days ago. It is difficult to describe this tale in only a few sentences, but here goes:

The novel contains five distinct stories spread over three centuries. Smith cycles through these eras, again and again, from today back to the late Seventeenth Century. In the final section, the divisions between these stories collapse, but they are tightly folded in translucent layers of time so that contemporary and previous eras appear to mingle while retaining their respective hues.

Since this piece is not a book review and since I have more on my mind yet to write about, I think I will let it go at that and advise you to either buy the book or to search out "real" reviews and read them. I have a copy, but have yet to sit down with it. After I have read it, I might have more to say about it .... depending on if it is as good as his earlier work.

Northfield has another claim to fame other than its two colleges. It was the town where the Jesse James/Cole Younger gang was sort of shot out business during a failed bank robbery on September 7, 1876. For a number of years, the city has staged a reenactment of the event. I was present as working journalist for one such "mock shoot 'em up production."

Some "highlights" of the raid are these: Gang members Bill Stiles and Clell Miller were killed during the botched holdup, along with two residents of Northfield. Charlie Pitts was killed, and Cole, Jim and Bob Younger were captured when a posse surrounded them in a slough on September 21. Frank and Jesse James had been wounded in Northfield, but managed to escape to Nashville, Tennessee. There have been a number of films made about this "raid." 

The Younger brothers pleaded guilty to murder and were given life sentences at the state penitentiary in Stillwater. Bob died there of tuberculosis in 1889. Cole and Jim were paroled in 1901. Jim committed suicide in a Saint Paul hotel room in 1902. Cole "partnered up" with Frank James in a touring "wild west" show. He died in 1916.

Frank James did some jail time, but never saw the inside of a penitentiary. His jobs included being a shoe salesman and a burlesque theater ticket taker before teaming with Cole Younger. Jesse James was murdered by Bob Ford in 1882 in St. Joseph, Missouri .... although every now and again some dispute that "fact" .... Frank managed to last until 1915, dying in Kearney, Missouri, the town in which he had been born.

All right .... enough about Northfield and its history .... do a bit of research if you are curious .... actually, due to a number of classmates having graduated from Saint Olaf; my Carleton buddy, Doug; Smith's stories; and periodic encounters with Jesse James films; I think about Northfield with some frequency .... and, with the town only thirty miles away from where I now live, I drive there periodically to make certain the place has not vanished ....

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tell me another word for "midpoint"

Wait .... I think I see a polar bear lurking in the distance ....

What is the essence of winter?

For anyone who might be operating under the misguided assumption that Minnesota winters are mild, I offer this photograph of my backyard ....

Well ???? Do you believe me ????

The photograph, in reality, is of Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula. Remember, I do like to tease.

I use the photograph because today -- January 16 -- marks the midpoint of FramWinter. For those unfamiliar with FramWinter, it begins on November 1 and ends on March 31. There often are frigid temperatures and significant snowfalls -- even blizzards -- in October and April, but the really "mean stuff" generally does not arrive until November and usually does not go on after March has run its course. The hallmarks of the first one-half of this FramWinter have been less snow than usual, but much colder than normal.

The reason the Fram calendar was "born," so to speak, was because neither the centuries-old Julian calendar (Julius Caesar/introduced in 46 B.C.) nor the more recent Gregorian calendar (Pope Gregory, introduced in 1582) fit the climatic world of Minnesota. Solar time is solar time and is fine for marking astronomical events, but the earth is ruled more by weather and by planting seasons .... hence, winter is more of a five-month than a three-month event in places like Minnesota.

Get my drift? Whether you do or you do not, here we are at the midpoint of FramWinter ....

Just for the record, it snowed in a number of states in July 1816 and crop failures were widespread in the United States and in Europe, prompting the year to be characterized as the "year without a summer." My personal Minnesota experience includes light snow once during a picnic on September 1 and measureable snow during the last week of May. You just never know ....

And, also for the record, polar bears only are found in Arctic regions and not at all in Antarctica.

One song is included with this post. It is Sarah Brightman and her rendition of, "Figlio Perduto," which translates to, "Lost Son." The music actually was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven as his, "Symphony No. 7," with the lyrics a translation by Chiara Ferrau of a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. My understanding is that Brightman was the first to record it .... and, it is utterly, breathtakingly beautiful.

So, with that, Happy MidFramWinter, baby ....

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Who knows the stars in the sky by name?

Either the title of this painting is, "Viking Ship," or it is something else that I failed to notice .... but, obviously, it is of a fleet of Viking ships emerging from mist and fog. It is an oil on canvas painted in the 1860s by an expatriate Englishman, Edward Moran of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It currently resides in a private collection in New York and is available through an online auction. It can be your painting if you are the high bidder at an estimated $10,000 to $12,000.

The Vikings have a reputation as explorers and traders and pirates and mercenaries and .... well, a few other things. I think of each new year as a new age of discovery for each and every one of us. Next week, we will embark on a journey into an unknown time moving toward an undiscovered destination. How we utilize what we encounter during our trek and what we to do with those things depends upon the decisions we make along the way. I wish each of you good fortune as you undertake your own voyage of discovery in 2018.

Travel toward the sounds which please you

Troopers in the Marine Corps have a reputation of moving toward the sound of gunfire, not retreating from it. George Armstrong Custer had the same reputation, and it was well known among the cavalry soldiers he commanded.

Do not worry. This is not a post about the Marine Corps or about Custer. Rather, it is about sound and the appeal or the lack of appeal various sounds have to individuals. The sound of gunfire, for instance, is a pleasant sound to my ears. The sound of some music has significant appeal, while the sound of other songs sends me running in the opposite direction. Although I do not like all music in this genre, my preferred music is what I describe as "classic rock" .... conversely, songs marketed as "rap" or "hip-hop" -- as well as some others -- send me rushing for the nearest exit.

My range of musical interests is somewhat limited, but I enjoy an occasional dash of opera and Broadway and -- while loud sounds generally are an abhorrence to me -- I turn the volume up when a piece by Johann Bach or Johann Pachelbel reaches my ears. Despite my religious leanings and questions, I enjoy much spiritual music and nearly all Christmas music. Must be traits left over from childhood ....

There have been studies done on which voices and which languages sound pleasant to the ear and which do not. Hearing Italian spoken, it is said, is mostly a pleasant experience, while hearing French sometimes is and sometimes is not and hearing English or German spoken often is not. I assume we all have preferences in that regard -- I know I do.

Very, very rarely I encounter a woman whose voice is particularly melodious, and I could listen to her speak for hours no matter which language she was using. When I hear a woman with such a voice, I wonder if "she" is descended from the Sirens whose song Odysseus listened to only after having had himself tied to the mast of his ship.

I have a marginal hearing loss which I like to describe as due to "machine gun" ears, meaning overexposure to gunfire. In truth, this loss was first noticed when I was age twelve and the era of gunfire was just getting under way for me. As is my habit with many medical issues, I simply ignored it and learned to live with the deficit. (I could tell you a few stories about that, but some involve the Marine Corps -- like how to cheat to pass a hearing test -- so we will skip those tales for now.)

The question, which probably has no logical or satisfactory answer, is this: Why do some sounds appeal to some people and not to others? I could speculate and I suspect my partial loss of hearing affects my tastes since I do not always hear spoken words the way others hear them .... make sense ???? But, I have no real answers.

Whatever .... I hope the sounds which appeal to you and make you happy and bring you contentment are those you encounter during 2018. To begin the process, here are the sounds of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, composed by Bach and performed by an unknown organist, and Indescribable, written by Laura Story and performed by the Slavic Chorale .... I sure like them and I hope they fit your fancy ....

Sunday, December 24, 2017

T'was the night before ....

Under the category of "ancient history," for part of 2009 and 2010 I took up residency in Warsaw, Poland, in a third-floor apartment I rented across the square from the Royal Castle. A portion of the castle is visible through the window, and a segment of a towering Christmas tree also is visible. It was a sweet view, and I never did tire of looking out from that window. Christmas and New Year in Warsaw were among the most interesting and most enjoyable escapades of my life .... I always will be glad I was there.

Wondering if Christmas is an anachronism

To mark the holiday season, here are three -- absolutely/no doubt about it/for sure -- "traditional" musical selections which focus upon Christmas and its meaning. These selections were among my favorites when I was a boy .... they still are, for that matter. Christmas will never be an anachronism for me: Merry Christmas, guys ....

"Carol of the Bells" .... was composed by Ukrainian Mykola Leontovych in 1914, with lyrics by Peter Wilhousky. The song is based on a Ukrainian folk chant called, "Shchedryk," which in English translates to, "The Little Swallow." It is performed here by the Bel Canto Choir of Vilnius, an independent choir established in Lithuania in 2009.
"O Holy Night" .... was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem, "Minuit, Chretians," which translates to, "Midnight, Christians," by a wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau. It is performed here by London City Voices, a non-religious, non-audition, community London choir.

"O Come, All Ye Faithful" .... was originally written in Latin as, "Adeste Fideles." The earliest manuscript dates to 1751 and bears the name of King John IV of Portugal. An English Catholic priest, Frederick Oakeley, translated it from Latin to English in 1841. It is performed here by choirs from Saint Olaf College in Minnnneeeesssootata.

Verbatim from Wikipedia: "St. Olaf College is a coeducational, residential, four-year, private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, United States. It was founded in 1874 by a group of Norwegian-American immigrant pastors and farmers, led by Pastor Bernt Julius Muus. The college is named after the King and the Patron Saint Olaf II of Norway and is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America."
To this I would add Saint Olaf is thirty miles from my current residence. My high school class consisted of twenty-nine students, of which five later graduated from Saint Olaf. Of those five, two went on to become Lutheran ministers, one an university English professor, one a public high school teacher and the other a taxi cab driver in Washington, D.C. .... hmmmm .... strange brew, so it would seem .... 

Friday, December 15, 2017

"And the hunter home from the hill"

The hunter who is home, of course, is me. I am back for a while, not counting a few very quick excursions I will be engaged in related to the Christmas and the New Year holidays. The photograph is one from the internet of two musicians from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) performing high above the audience. Interaction between performers and audience members is more and more becoming part of concerts, it would seem, and this is one technique to achieve it. Looks like fun to me .... and, by the way, the title of this post is the last line of the poem, "Requiem," the first draft of which was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1880.
Use it or lose it ....
In the past, I have praised David Bowie and his 1987 Glass Spider Tour as being the ultimate rock concert. For whatever reason, I never have seen or even thought about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) and its series of annual Christmas concerts -- which consistently draw rave reviews for its music, its lighting displays, its overall performances. This crew might well replace Bowie as the top concert event on my list.
The orchestra will stage two concerts in Saint Paul on Saturday, December 30, and I have a ticket for the evening performance. No way do I intend to miss it.
While I believe I have attended more concerts than the typical guy, among my greatest complaints about myself is the number of great bands/great musicians/great performances I have not seen ­live on stage -- usually because I felt I was "too busy" to attend -- and now, due to fate and circumstances, never will have the opportunity to see and to hear.
The band Boston, with front man Brad Delp, is among the "losses" I feel in that sense. Delp killed himself in 2007. No way to see him and to hear him on stage now. Already death is cutting into the TSO legacy: Founder Paul O'Neill died of a drug overdose in April and bass player David Z was killed in a traffic accident in July.
How much their absences will affect the show is something I cannot gauge, since I never have been to a TSO concert and since cast members frequently change anyway. David Z, incidentally, and his two brothers grew up here in the Twin Cities and have collaborated with Prince over the years.
I will note that one of the songs played here is, "Christmas Canon Rock," which is the music of Johann Pachelbel's, "Canon in D Major," with lyrics for it written by O'Neill. I absolutely love this rendition of the song, and I believe Pachelbel would have approved of it, as well. The show this year is a repeat of, "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve," but includes some new music.
The long and the short of it is that I no longer will skip those concerts which I very much would enjoy attending using an artificial excuse such as there will be other times to see the act in the future .... there may be, but this particular time might be the one and the only time it is here for me .... use it or lose it, baby ....


Something special ....