It IS the Valhalla of Roots Music: John Prine, Neko Case, Allen Toussaint, Buddy Miller, Ricky Skaggs, Lyle Lovett, Hazel Dickens, Kevin Welch/Kieran Kane/Fats Kaplan, the Old 97s, Rodney Crowell, Marshall Crenshaw, Tim O’Brien, Mavis Staples, Dave Alvin, Billy Joe Shaver, the Knitters, Ralph Stanely, the Flatlanders, Dr Dog, Emmylou Harris and World Party, along with diverse locals ranging from Boz Scaggs with a fascinating band to MC Hammer. The acts you don’t know are as satisfying as the ones you do - and there’s no chance you will see them all.
To remember the spirit of music for the sake of playing, songs for the truth that they hold, artists who deserve to be heard and collaborations - like the song circle of Steve Earle, Tom Morello, Allison Moorer and Dar Williams - that are for the moment. A kaleidescope of styles, ages, homes and surprises (Matianne Faitthful? Steve Martin?). Three free days in the park in San Francisco… flowers in one’s hair optional.
Feet slightly wider apart than the hips. Hands on waist. Back straight, but not rigid. Slowly bend in the middle, maintaining the line. Past parallel to the floor, maintaining the strength in the core. And still the unwinding, the leaning over, the gentle relaxation and surrender to gravity.
Spread out the fingers, let the palms find the floor - and allow the arms to ease the head onto down. If it makes contact, press the feet into the floor and rise up through the hips. Press the head down as well, even as the shoulders and trunk lift away. Let the blood flow back into your head, into your scalp, bringing oxygen and strength to the place tension robs fastest.
There is power in this position. There is clarity. Feel the energy pool, collect and gather. Emerge stronger, enervated. Celebrate the moment that was draining you - and marvel at the systems, the restorative processes inherent to our human form.
Directed by award-winning documentarian RJ Cutler - best known for his film about the inner-workings of the Clinton campaign’s messaging dynamic “The War Room” - “September Issue” is a look not just inside what it takes to create the year’s biggest issue of its dominant fashion bible, but it examines the personal dynamics between creative forces (legendary design director Grace Coddington’s vision and warmth, taste maven Tonne Goodman’s executional skills, photographer Mario Testino’s eye) and especially the personal sacrifice and standards of Devil Wore Prada inspiration and head editrix Anna Wintour.
Bitchy at times… lost in details and minutiae that in a world of growing debt, health care issues, environmental controversies seem petty at best and a waste at worst… and certainly stressful in a way that could probably compress diamonds, “September Issue” offers the insanity that goes into mandating what style shall be. It is part whim, part laser focus vision; ultimately realizing a billion dollar business. It is anything but fun and games, and the commitment necessary - should one watch the process over the personalities - is hard to believe. Whether for entertainment or education, there is much here to hold the moviegoer.
If you look under settings - the ones where you can select Spanish, French or Farsi - and you keep going, you will find it. In an old English variation. Pyrat. In that scalawags tongue, Facebook will translate your banal postings into something far more rogue. To be a marauder of the high seas requires such an investment, to talk the talk, one need only surrender the translation to the machinations of Facebook’s drivers.
What could be wenchier?
They are the color of lemon curd. Small tight buds. Stems that bounce back. Wicked little thorns. Dark greens leaves that speak to rich abundance. Bright. Sunny. Welcoming. Friendly. Buds that pop open with that same joie de vie that was the French chef in all her exuberant glory.
That yellow is the color of good-bye. That a dear friend appeared at breakfast with a small spray of them following a tragedy only deepened the euphoria they wished to spread. Not because they wiped away the pain, but because that jubiliance could be seen through the agony - and the beauty puncture the state of being to remind one that there was hope somewhere down the road.
“Julie & Julia” Anyone who’s NOT seen it, do. To remember the gift of the spirit, the crooked peg in the too tight hole, the power of passion and laughter and love of the experience. Yes, Meryl Streep is genius. Absolutely, Child’s recipes remain ni plu ultra. But just for what it says about the will to throw your life wide is open. A must.
So pure. So fearless. So unrealistic. Oh, to be so free - or drunk on the possibilities.
More intoxicating than moonshine. More adrenalin-pumping than a roller coaster, To watching someone touch what might be, to recognize this is beyond what could is its own wonder. There is such an unbridled enthusiasm, such willingness to surrender inhibitions and throw down the gauntlet, it sweeps up everything in its wake. It is to be renewed and returned to a more innocent place of being.
Basil Hayden, infused with figs, gives this a smoky, rick fruitiness. Marked by Fee Brothers’ peach bitters and finished with very small batch vermouth, this most classic grown-up cocktail takes an opulent turn for the mysterious, not quite Madison Avenue goes Morocco, but certainly with a mystery tat captures the imagination - and opens the conversation.
The small lair of a cocktail lounge off the front corner of the lobby, the Vanilla Manhattan - expertly mixed by the low-spoken Matt - is the perfectly polished wood and leather pocket to steep in the moment, sinking into the couches and enjoying the dim lights for any purpose one might choose. Old Hollywood moxies up making the past future perfect - all in a chilled martini glass.
Few songs capture the loneliness and growing awareness of fate that is the prettiest girl in class domesticated. After all those wild nights, boys calling and the future beckoning, the reality of marrying well and children outside playing falls soddenly on the shoulders of the homecoming queen now set on a shelf with everything she should want and nothing that makes her feel alive.
Driven by an acoustic guitar and Seger’s most comforting timber, this is the wake-up call for the enduring ennui that has become her fate. It is a mix of compassion, sadness and knowing that gives this dreary glimpse into a world so perfect on the outside its tug. Gently rendered, this is tender mercy, indeed.
In a world where mental illness is considered a weakness, failure or something to get over, where over scheduled people calm “anxiety attacks” and many of the steeped-in-caffeine or over-amped on frustration claim to be “manic,” our country is in many ways further from understanding the mechanics of true life-challenging - and at times -threatening - mental issues. “Boy, Interrupted” is award-winning documentarian Dana Perry’s 90 minute examination of the life coping with mood swings, chemical cycles and eventual suicide of a 15-year old boy in Manhattan.
But the young man who climbed on the ledge and jumped one July day wasn’t just a child she’d found to document, but her own son. Culled from family video, interviews with siblings, friends, doctors, this is a highly compassionate attempt to untangle every diligent parent’s nightmare: a child slipping from their grasp. In the angst, there is insight - and a better understanding - and perhaps the impetus for giving the undiagnosed and marginalized more focus on their needs.
As the child of a parent with bi-polar disorder who was so charming, so decent, so willing, it is about getting the help, the support, the proper treatment - and that takes a lot more effort than a broad diagnosis and a standard protocol. The humanity of “Boy, Interrupted” is a mandate for just that.
Janglier, more penetrating and far smarter than Nashville’s pressboard emotional horizons, “bad girl” Miranda Lambert offers a voice that is equal parts moonshine, cherry cobbler and rawhide to songs that give love a commonality, pride accessibility and swagger something other than jingoistic belligerence. Whether it’s the wry cat scratch civility of “Only Prettier,” the cracked vase way love goes “Making Plans” or the tiny detail-grounded return to “The House That Made Me,” Lambert’s gift - beyond the electric sizzle to her voice - is her believability.
Not one to shove columns of air around for effect, when she roars through Julie Miller’s surging “Somewhere Trouble Can’t Find Me,” it’s pure urgency - and John Prine’s “That’s The Way The World Goes ‘Round” is an Appalachian philosophical charge via the Clash. Still, the bleary-eyed wreckage of “Sin For A Sin,” the lost but worthy “Heart Like Mine” and hopeful recognize your grace “Virginia Bluebell” offers a mirror for real women in a world that grows harder every day, but will be survived and savored no matter what.
Musically astringent, brilliantly cast, Revolution recalls the mix’n'match feelings, truths and sparks of Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless and Lee Ann Womack at their finest. Can music this smart and honest survive? It may well come down to marketing and not getting bogged down with the convention of her beauty and fitting into the mold. Buy now, roll down windows and let the songs rush through you… and don’t wait around to see what happens in the world of Barbie doll country.
As if her name wasn’t back loaded enough, Rosanne Cash’s immersion in country music came backstage on the road with her father Johnny Cash’s road show - learning guitar from her Carter Family aunt and mastering a list of the 100 Essential Country Songs provided by the Man in Black. Now after producing the definitive song cycle about mourning, love and life Black Cadillac, the once modern country iconoclast songwriter returns to the list for The List and breathes a sultry near eroticism and absolutely haunted echo into 12 of the 100.
Her voice equal bits cedar and velvet, Cash embodies the lonely that infused Bobby Bare’s “500 Miles” with the ache of anyone too far from their people, offers a pride in the heartbreak take on Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” and melts into the cocktail vintage sorrow of Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You.” But there is also the how-did-it-all-go-so-wrong confusion of “Sea of Heartbreak” featuring Bruce Springsteen, the shake-it-off tang of “Heartaches By the Number” with the pub pluck of Elvis Costello and the tear beneath of the stoicism of Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” that employs Rufus Wainwright’s drama to perfection.
This collection is a living, breathing collection of what was enlivened by a very now fire - and a reverence and sense of what was intended that can only come from the blood. Minimal without being stark, to understand country’s sweeping emotionalism, The List does country and both Cashs’ legacy proud.
A friend killing time at a crafts fair saw them shrieked and went, “Holly!” Two antique bangles: one _ an inch, the other thinner. Not quite fragile, but thin enough to move up and down the air weightlessly. Each imprinted with complimentary patterns: flourishes, vines, shapes. They are meant to be worn together, a little vintage, a little gypsy, a little old lady, a little innocent.
In a world of hewn, of thick, of weighty, they are a perfect contrast. Their heft comes from the times they’ve been through, the memories unknown but absorbed. They are imbued with the love of a dear friend, the reflection of how I am seen, the treasure that is being recognized. But even without that, they are a timeless, feminine sort of beauty - floating around my wrist like the finger tips of someone leading a sleepwalker back to the place of their dreams.
If the sound of convent Vespers had a color, it would the shade of this not to sweet, not too herbal cake that evokes quiet, ease and earthly delight. It is not purple, nor blue, nor beige. Somewhere between all those with a hint of ivy, the triple layer breath of cake sits on a plate promising a palate-sating treat that isn’t cloying nor too rich.
Instead, it melts upon hitting the tongue, moist and satisfying in a way that closes a meal without drowning it. Subtlety has never been headier.
With the fanciful notion of life through a pet’s eyes - everyone captivated by Enzo’s take on his master’s world in The Art of Racing in the Rain raise your hand - Flush offers a historical perspective of how humans live with a whole other kind of social commentary. Written in 1933, Virginia Wolfe tackled the life, truth and fears of wondrous British poetess Elizabeth Barrett through the eyes of Flush, the cocker spaniel who was her companion through infirmity, courtship by by equally renowned British poet Robert Browning, travels, babies and aging.
Though only the most opaque notion of what his owner was feeling are offered, the protective commentary - and waxing and waning tides of their relationship - of a woman’s most loyal companion offers an insight into Victorian living that shows rather than tells the truths of oppression, expectation and social station. Beautifully turned language, but also a charged devotion and the kind of love that surpasses what humans can give each other. A bit of a hunt to find, a treasure worth the search.
In a place that at best can be described as reserved and at worst Ground Zero for the outdoorsy preppy reality that is pure Orvis, Sanity is a breeze of hip air. Not as excruciatingly pricey as Cleveland ni plus fashion forward shrine Juicy Lucy, yet trendy without shrieking victim. Lean lines. Urban sensibility. Sexy, not slutty. Free, not sloppy. It is boots, Morphine Generation t-shirts, embroidered Indian scarves, briefs with condom pockets, cocktail dresses just this side of punk or prom.
Some lower high end names - the stock changes frequently enough to make discretion less about name-checking than owner Isabel and Kevin Pritchett’s pursuit of the newest, freshest, most cutting edge looks - and plenty of within reach street chic tags fill the racks. To be of the moment, not of the country club; to be now, not frou. This is a must shop stop for Northern Ohioans or migrates returning home to the family.
They were the voice of what it meant to be young, alive and full of the possibilities coming of age in Northern Ohio in the late 70s and 80s. One was a folkie singer/songwriter, known for his scat call to party “Skinny Little Boy” and expansive ballads grounded in local topography “Grand River Lullaby” and “Carey Come Smiling,” the other was a hard-charging rock hero who served up pride in what we were with the rousing “My Town” and “In The Heartland” on his way to setting multiple night attendance records at Blossom Music Center and the Richfield Coliseum.
They represented so much of what the unseen could be, offered the best of who we were strung across songs that were as good as what was on the radio gave the notion local talent a far headier connotation. For Stanley who found Billboard’s Top 20 and Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” and Bevan whose default vamp “Have Another Laugh On Cleveland Blues” opened Newsweek’s coverage, where they were from was fertile and potent and meaningful. For one night, the two men who’ve never shared a stage and swapped stories and songs will come together to celebrate the roots of who they—and several generations of Ohioans—are, melting time and life back into the freedom of possibilities and the magic of being alive in the process.
The ultimate rock & roll coterie. Bright colors, rich silks,lush velvets, thick jersey, draping cuts - and major cutaways, including a low-backed dress with a peace sign carved out of where the derriere will go. Jackets, jeans, robes, peasant blouses, skirts of every length and any article of clothing one could conjure, Lady J can bring into being. And she has the clientele - from Prince to members of Black Sabbath - to prove it.
And beyond the alluring, figure sweeping clothing, there are t-shirts that will punctuate any and every state of mind: Dylan Plays for the Gods, Everyone Else Plays for the Fans; Sacred News; What Part of Peace Don’t You Understand; and my personal favorite: Traumatized by Mediocrity. High grade cotton, a Mission-style type face and some of the very coolest people you will ever buy clothes from. For anyone who ever dreamed of the burgeoning rock/hippie emergence that was West Hollywood, this is an even cooler extraction of the same aesthetic.
Lady J is a philosopher, costumer, weaver of style and conjurer of the essence of larger then life.
These are the days that try and challenge our souls, our sanity, maybe even our very reason for being. As the prophet Springsteen wrote in 1975, “Some day, we’ll look and this will all seem funny.” Indeed,, Springsteen and James Thurber are right. When the storm passes, the shaking from it has passed, there will be that moment when the overwhelm will - in most cases - turn to laughter.
In my own life, so many of the horrifics have hardened to their kind of hilarity: the stories so extreme and beyond explanation, what else can you do but laugh? Sometimes, even in the moment - if you can exhale - some tiny grain of laughter will emerge. You have to let it, be ready and especially willing. But it is there - the kernel of humor that will take the sting from the thorn.
It is a Belle Epoque postcard of deep-saturated, highly diffused lightning that captures exquisite French architecture, sumptuous fashion, languid caresses of flesh - and there is very little coupling. Instead Colette’s short story about the aging courtesan who takes her boss’s son to bed and then losses him to an arranged wedding - and the wages of true love, its cost and our own unwillingness to embrace happiness is a tour de force for Michelle Pfeiffer and creamy-skinned swain Rupert Friend, as the amusement turned paramour who honor the rules of engagement only to realize what they had and be presented with an opportunity to surrender to the solace of what ought.
Though Kathy Bates is uncharacteristically a bit scenery-chewing, the machinations of should be, pain, loss, love’s transparency and weight are displayed in a show-don’t-tell diorama that thrills and tugs gently at every decision made for right, not the heart. In a playback of should have, this is a cautionary tale that feeds the soul, offers clarity without preaching and holds the viewer… as well as offering a lovely series of scenes at the 1st Arrondisement’s Regina Hotel, an obscure jewel that has always made my time in the City of Lights a wonder.
In the rush of it all, it is so easy to glance and think you know. What color hair, the kind of clothing, maybe the carriage, Those are the facts of someone’s physicality - easily measured in a quick look, a weighing of what’s before you. And those things completely deny you the truth of what’s being seen. To look at is to see, to look into is to understand - and what things one can behold.
Gazing into someone’s eyes - not the over-the-checkered-tablecloth-Italian-restaurant-third-date-soul-scrape-stuff - and really measuring what is going on inside. The emotions, the doubts, the beauty. To look into people is - in some cases - a relief, the blessed gift of showing someone you care about who are. It is respect, the curiosity of wanting to know and comprehend… and when there is fear, hurt, anger, a wordless signal that you want to understand, perhaps help untangle whatever has brought them to this place.
In our accelerated world, humanity is often the first thing written off. It is an inconvenience that can be ignored if we don’t bother. But what is inside is also the key to the riches of others’ experience, insights, notions, dreams, details…. And if the time here is limited… if the path should be paved with kindness, not malice or indifference, then how cam we live in full and engage any less?
One of the truest pieces of classic New York: the heavy paneled bar at the Plaza Hotel. Big paintings of Central Park hung on the walls, tuxedo-ed waiters inquiring as to your needs, a sense of grand without being stultifying. The Oak Bar, where a drink poured neat is generous and somehow tastes even more indulgent, is everything we’d like to believe about the captains of industry: classy, stoic, dignified.
And with a bar menu that is a bit progressive, but still grounded in old school notions, it merges the best of now and the greatness of old school manners. To while away time over a glass of bourbon or an extra dry martini is to feel like you’ve arrived, even if its that rare annual treat that lifts you from the reality of soccer Mom-age, overworked middle manager or bohemian trying to find a toehold.
A willful of flavors - some tart, some sguarfree - ranging from what you’d expect (basic fruit, vanilla, chocolate) to exotic (taro, root beer, coconut) - and you pick the amount you want. Then you can pick your toppings accordingly: Captain Crunch, fresh berries, coconut, red bean paste, walnuts, cheesecake bits, .
You can mix and match. Be a purist and only have Madagascar Vanilla, Smores or Mango. You can make it a little kids candy strewn delight. Sour worms with tart fruit flavor. Ginger with gingersnaps. It is a creamy, cold, infinite pinwheel of gustorial opportunity - and everyone gets as much and exactly what they want. How often can that be said?
What do you want? What do want… REALLY? Recently bumping up against an intractable, unreasonable pompous bit of incapable of defending their position, the quandary was hit: show him I was right and engender even more condescension and bad feelings? Or take matters into the practical realm and do the thing I needed done, knowing it was not only okay, but wouldn’t ever be detected?
And so under an almost full moon rising, with a hole somewhere no one will ever know it was dug, I buried my heart. With a dear friend and an able bodied agrarian. With dignity. With grace. With a few scripture verses suggested by a true and honest preacher’s son. Eternity resolved, somewhere beautiful and filled with peace.
How many times does it come down to forcing the hand… or resolving the issue with a minimum amount of drama. Because it’s that morale imperative that isn’t nearly as important as we think, that righteous vindication not nearly as necessary as peace of mind.
Three discs of a dark brown - almost tortoise-looking—material, carved to resemble Chinese medallions. Linked together, they extend from the ears like some post-retro Jackie Susann bauble that is as kitsch as it chic. But the depth of the color adds richness, the airiness of the discs keeps them from being “heavy.”
As a go anywhere - t-shirt and jeans to sarong to tribal print to sheath - accessory, you can’t go wrong. That little bit of something that shifts to the moment, and stands out no matter where.
There is a thing that Pat Conroy does - evoke places, feelings and people with tremendous viscerality - and it has been 14 years since his last novel Beach Music. In 528 pages, Conroy moves between 1969 and a group of kids cast together by the narrator’s school principle mother and their adulthood in 1989. Cast across societal, racial and economic barriers, these friends weather the cultural upheaval and class system, forging the friendships that will sustain them throughout their lives.
Ranging from the privileged to one of the first black students integrated in Charleston, South Carolina, Conroy creates a tableau that can move from old school Southern gentry, Hollywood movie stars, San Francisco’s glittering gay community and the average American trying to find their way - and in the communion of these disparate friends and lush writing style, fans of the deep humanism that defines Conroy’s voice will have reason to celebrate. Evocative, emotional and with plenty of personal reckoning, South of Broad is everything loved from the man whose made the nobility of flaws a signature aspect of his work.
Douse your prom dress confection in kerosene, strike a match, raise it to a Marlboro 100, take a long drag, then throw it onto the pile. The resulting combustion would be no less fiery than Miss Willie Brown, a duo of post-Southern belles who ply a real deal throwdown kind of country for girls who’re honest enough to embrace how it is without flinching. No good men, wanting to get drunk, collapse in a pile, pride in coming from a farm family, the notion of men who don’t put up or shut up and having too much for far longer than any human should be to endure fuel Miss Willie Brown’s high-spirited, no-punches-pulled, turpentine and baling twine kind of California/Texas/Mississiippi/FloridaWest Virginia sorta music - where the guitars sting, the piano pounds, the drums crack and the two women rain down hard as Chinese algebra.
Kasey’s the hunt-fish-4-wheel type, with her truckers cap on backwards, tattoos peaking from her waist band and gum-snappng grin begging the question, “Can you handle it?” Amanda is the glossy haired beauty who looks demure and opts for that fistful of oppression busting through that is a velcet glove hiding brass knuckles. The latter’s voice a power bit of silver against her partner’s chain saw alto makes for an interesting juxtaposition - and together the girls are post-queens for any woman who can’t live up or down to the clichés and stereotypes so pervasive in our current world.
To tag it tight, blowtorch country pretty much hits the spot. Big angst blown up cause no man, no job, no bad mood is worth the pain. Fight back, throw down, laugh loud, live proud. Miss Willie Brown is all that, and more.
They are the ultimate jump in and go footwear. But with the thick shearling insole, you sink into something a little lusher, a little plusher and a great deal more “ahhhhhh…” for your feet. Anyone who’s ever done flip flops all day knows the exhaustion the traditional renderings can yield; but with their rubber bottoms to absorb shock and even the way and thick sheep top to sink into, you find yourself never wanting to take them off.
More whipped and airy than a traditional Snickers, the Almond vsriation on the caramel/nougat/ peanut drugstore favorite, thr Almond Snickers bar is a little less salty and a little more adult, With the subtler flavor of the almonds, this is less a quick cram guilty pleasure that’ll fill you up than a bit of candy worth taking your time with and enjoying. As a variation on a theme, especially if you’re looking for something that just doesn’t seem like junk sweets in a paper wrapper, this isn’t a bad way to go.
Coming of age has never been easy - and for James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), whose European post-college trek is lost to his father’s job implosion, that means a job at what is basically the husk of a down-on-its-luck with a crew of not quite carney locals, also suspended between youth and adulthood. With a predictable back-drop of slacking, pot, booze, sexual grappling and perhaps - perhaps - the unfurling of a genuine love connection between Brennan and a rich-girl punishing her parents with a minimum wage job Em (Kirtsen Stewart), this is a dream catcher of mistakes made, lessons learned and dignity dented as the soul tax of the process.
A rocking late-80s soundtrack interjects authenticity, while the dead-end truth of life below the white collar achievers looms large and larger as Brennan inches closer to his Ivy League post-grad reality. In the end, it is a meditation on choices made, what one values and the foibles of that awkward age, along with a sharp script, that give a less than glossy film about a down-on-its-luck amusement park its punch of truth, mercy and recognition. One of those slow risers that sticks with you.
They are not of “now,” and yet the themes are often timeless, the insights clearer than our psychobabble and the voices elevated and bold. It’s not just the classic - though finding an old edition of Hemingway, Salinger, Steinbeck or Dreiser can be a thrill - but books that no one necessarily remembers. Picked up for $3-12 dollars at any used bookstore that has that dusty pungency of forgotten houses, these are windows into what was that give you a compelling sense of the human condition; in some cases, the wages of greed, the capriciousness of whim and human cruelty, in others the state of elegance and dignity surrendered for a quicker, harder, now NOW state of being.
Whatever you like, there are old books to be had that will enrich your sense of where it comes from. Sometimes lost details emerge, others offer a more visceral emotional plane to substitute for over titillation. Either way, it is a satisfying way to engage one’s brain.
“Don’t bother to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors.
“Be better than yourself.”
It really is that simple. You can compete what is, or you can find out what you’re made of. For those content with whatever seems easy, there is always the path of least resistance. But that path will never lead to greatness. No, to matter, to make a difference, it is always about maximizing one’s capabilities. Whatever gifts - and dreams - you were given, it is about reaching deep, refusing to settle and being compelled to find out.
Whatever it is, however you journey, Faulkner was right: be better than yourself.