I think the halftime ceremonies are one of the most truly American folk rituals that we’ve got. Every country in the Western World plays a version of football, but it’s only America where about three minutes before the gun goes off for the end of the first half you see this great crowd of people gathering down in the end zone. All these chicks with their bottoms hanging out with the sun shining down on them. You see the blond hair of these chicks with the short vests with the little sparkly things all over them. And then the gun goes off –POW! And here they come: “And now it’s time for the colorful halftime ceremonies!” Oh man, you talk about folk rituals. There’s all kinds of overtones and undertones—it’s all there—they go marching down. “And there she is—the Queen of Homecoming!” You can see the sun glinting on her braces. “And there’s the big Chevy dealer from downtown there. See him?”
I dig these halftime things. Why? Because I’m going to tell you this, I’ve got a selfish reason why. Very selfish. I am legend. But not for the reasons you think. When you see guys walk down the street, do you ever think of what they must represent to other people? In other times, other places? Men carry legends around with them like little balloons hanging in the air attached by thin strings to that invisible aura of their life. And they go walking down the streets of existence.
I am one of the all-time great double B-flat sousaphone players to ever come out of the state of Indiana. You see, a sousaphone, to begin with, most people call a bass horn. It’s not a bass horn. It’s not a tuba. A sousaphone is a sousaphone and it was created by John Philip Sousa. The reason he invented this was because he wanted to build a great marching band, the U. S. Army Marching Band, and he wanted a horn like a tuba that could be carried, and so they worked and finally designed the sousaphone, which is a horn that is carried on the shoulder, with the big bell over the top.
GRAPHIC NOVELS INTRO—
What are they and why?
Will Eisner, inventor of the modern form; Sienkiewicz’s expressionistic Stray Toasters; Sim, &Gerhard, creators of the great Canadian graphic novel in 300 monthly issues, Cerebus (an aardvark).
McKean and his amber masterpieces; Drooker, Massereel, Ward, modern and older black and white wordless wonders; Milt Gross and his wordless He Done Her Wrong; Kalberkamp’s wordless stand-alone, Mea Culpa; Peter Kuper’s stencil work; Chris Ware with his unremittingly sad elegance; Art Spiegelman’s award-winning Maus—Jews as mice, Nazis as cats.
Frank Miller, McKeever, David Mark, Harvey Pekar’s “Out of the Streets of Clevland Comes” American Splendor.
More of the Unexpected: Shatter, the first computer-generated graphic novel; and Beanworld, self-proclaimed “most peculiar comic book experience.”
Not Graphic Novels, But Graphic Short Stories: in several parts.
EC COMICS: Were they comics, what were they, why were nerds addicted?
TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU MAD. The comic that made you think, observe, and laugh.
THE ARTISTS OF EC COMICS—WALLACE WOOD. Wood is considered by many to be the all-time best comic artist. Science fiction, War, Horror, he did it all, superbly. Meeting him with evidence to prove it.
SYMBOLIC DESIGN—AMNH Classification & Continuity.Nature of exhibit design.
ROSE Efficient coordinator and simultaneously, a clever, elegant artist.
VIVIAN AND FROGS Getting a frog-o-phobe to accept and paint the entire life cycle of a frog.
MUSEUM LEGERDEMAIN 1 of 2 Ray.M. Believable true tales of exhibits behind and in front of the scenes.
MUSEUM LEGERDEMAIN 2 of 2 Ray.M. More believable tales to make you smile and gasp!
SOUTH AMERICAN HALL Designed with ramps. The intihuatana.11/24/16
PACIFIC HALL AND MARGARET MEAD See the sweaty-handed designer deal with the world-famous celebrity-anthropologist, and, museum director in attendance, see that designer attack with hammer, the museum’s Easter Island head! (see revised/expanded version for book.)
CAVE ART-Holding original fertility goddesses in the palm of my hand. Yes, I’ve held the real, honest-to-goodness originals in my hands! The “Venus of Lespugue” and more!
PLANETARIUM & STAR TREK Designing where no exhibits have gone before—Spock’s ear, a tribble, and more.
Tuba Contest Finale
The instant I heard the first note I knew. I had never heard such a tuba player in my life. This guy didn’t triple-tongue, he quadruple-tongued, he octa-tongued. This guy played variation on variation on variation—what do you think he was playing? “Caprice.” He was playing it better than the composer could have played it.
I just watched this guy with sickness coming up up up, and then he was through. I heard the great roar of applause coming out of the auditorium and then I was pushed out on stage. I walked out and sat down and began to play. I have no idea whether I hit any note or I hit all of them. All I know is that I sat numbly and I played “Neapolitan Nights” and “Caprice,” and it was done. All over.
Instantly they were giving out awards and this kid won all available cups, he won badges, he won buttons. And the Yankees signed him to their farm system. They quietly handed me my second place ribbon, the kid behind me his third place ribbon, and another kid a fourth-place ribbon, and they told us to go home.
Ever since that time I have known that for every good thing you do there are fifty-thousand better things that somebody else can do with his eyes shut.
Those with sufficient memories, will note that the idea of this story–
that there’s always someone better than you–Shep expressed in his sorehead/
Mark Twain/Morse Code contest story transcription that I posted
a while back, and my shorter description of it can be found in my
Excelsior, You Fathead! pages 357-360.
Continuing Table of Contents for
Artsy Fartsy book manuscript
HOKUSAI’S “Views Along the Sumida River” Getting to own and fondle an original of the greatest work in the field of Japanese wood-block-printed books.
SHUNGA Japanese erotica—a description of the books, with expurgated examples.
“MONS V.” “Shunga” tribute–one of a kind original for general audiences.
NETSUKE Paean to a major Japanese artistic expression, and the experience of holding in hand the world’s finest example of this little-known art form.
ABSTRACT VISUAL RELATIONSHIPS
ROWENA REED KOSTELLOW Tribute to a sublime design instructor who proclaimed, “Pure, unadulterated beauty should be the goal of civilization.” The book encompassing her teaching describes her as “an immensely influential teacher who spent her life developing and refining a methodology for teaching what she called the ‘structure of visual relationships’ underlying all art and design.”
LANDSCAPE AND DESIGNED ‘SCAPES
VILLAGE CHURCHES A description of experiences in religious spaces—little, big, awesome, spooky, comforting.
SCULPTED LANDSCAPE Description/appreciation of some man-made structures that are inseparable from the land into which they were designed. Machu Picchu, Falling Water, Vietnam Memorial, Scottish golf links, where expert humans interact with a stylized, slightly rough-hewn, and robustly alive nature. And so forth. (In two parts.)
LA LA LAND Arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, what’s the first thing one does? I hailed a cab and directed the driver to proceed to the Watts Towers. Now take me to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House. Yes, I’ve got my priorities right.
A bookshelf headboard. Unpublished novels, a couple of published poems and a large, focused miscellany. Librarian or Nobel Prize Laureate—failed wannabe.
UNPUBLISHED BOOKS Bound manuscripts anguishing on shelves. Reading novels, to artists’ books, to graphic novels,
READING POETRY, WRITING POETRY—A visual “poem.”
ARTISTS’ BOOKS INTRO
What are they and how far back does the genre go? Mexican Codex, Books of Hours, Tristram Shandy, William Blake.
WARJA LAVETER—In 2 parts: Stories in wordless symbols and Sketchbook–the history of art from caves to our day in a continuous historical artwork.
FOUND IN TRANSLATION Part 1 “A Throw of the Dice”—a designed poem by 19th century Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme, and by a 20th century artists’ book enthusiast.
FOUND IN TRANSLATION Part 2 “La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France” by Blaise Cendrars-=text; Sonia Delaunay-Terk=art. With a written and designed tribute to the Long Island Rail Road.
FOUND IN TRANSLATION Part 3 A Humument. A “treatment” of a corny, 3-decker Victorian novel, described as “An 1892 Victorian obscurity A Human Document by W. H. Mallock,” transformed into a modern artist’s book by Tom Phillips.
FOUND IN TRANSLATION Part 4—Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, a dystopian novel of the future told by an English Huck Finn, interpreted/transformed into a deck of black and white images.
ALCHEMY & MARCO BULL by Tim Ely & by Lois Morrison: A hand-painted, mystical, alien, fold-out map; & a hand-sewn travel story done in thread and cloth.
WILLIE MASTERS & TURN OVER A visual dissertation on using words and using no words at all. Comparison and contrast.
ACCIDENTAL ARTISTS’ BOOKS A Scottish lady’s beautifully augmented fishing diary & a fake Native American Indian’s history of his people illustrated in a ledger book.
ARTISTS’ BOOKS IN CD JEWEL BOXES Small format artists’ books: thirteen of mine, just showing the covers.
POP-UPS Robots, horrors, a large and empty cardboard box, and other wonderlands. Paper engineered in three dimensions and sometimes sound!
FLUX WORK A no-words and no-image book, a pure, intellectual concept, a wordless mini-essay on the nature of what we so casually make books out of. Bewilders and captures the mind by its simplicity.
And one big day Mr. Derks, our band instructor, came to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Jean, have you ever thought of competing in the solo contest, the Indiana State Solo Contest? Against all the other tuba players of the state?”
It never occurred to me that this could happen. He gave me two pieces, a “Caprice” and “Neapolitan Nights,” and he said, “I want you to work on both of these.” I began to work on them. A secondary tuba player would come over and say, “Oh, what a bass player!” I got so that I had a sense of power.
I was blowing “Caprice” and “Neapolitan Nights,” I was really blowing them, and I began to get better and better. Mr. Derks was in there helping me and everyone was coaching me and I was taking laps around the track and taking deep breathing exercises and I’d bring my horn back home at night and sit there in the front bedroom and the neighborhood would hear the sound of “Neapolitan Nights” being played on a B-flat sousaphone, a four-valver, and it would float out over those Midwestern quiet evenings and the people would come around and talk—“Gee, your son’s the musician, isn’t he?”
Then it finally happened. That big week. We worked up more and more and more to that moment. It was going to be on a Monday morning and we traveled down to a little town called Plymouth, Indiana where they were having the state championship. And I felt twenty feet high. I felt magnificent.
The contest was being held in the high school auditorium and there were a thousand people sitting there listening, and in the front row were the assembled judges. Big, famous musicians had come down there to judge. That morning, as the solo contest got under way they started out with the saxophones. I heard the bassoon players play. I heard the trumpet players. Ah, there were a lot of good trumpet players, but they were not my competition. As the afternoon wore on, we got closer and closer to the tuba and the sousaphone section, which was always way down at the end of everything.
In the meantime, of course, I was running around with my mouthpiece in my mouth, blowing on it. I went down to the basement, tuned my sousaphone and blew a few notes. I’m blowing the spit out and I’m polishing this thing and I’d blow a couple of phrases of “Neapolitan Nights” and I was having that feeling of competition, like getting ready to run at Madison Square Garden, and I was to be number two on the program.
There was this kid ahead of me from Huntington, Indiana, a short, skinny kid with big jug ears. With that kind of red Adams apple look. And he was wearing a green and white band uniform that hung off of him like rags, and I looked like a Greek god waiting there.
So, I was standing in the wings with my tuba on my shoulder and out of the other side came little jug-ears. He came out, he sat down. He was spread-eagled and I looked back at a tuba player buddy of mine and I said, “Boy, watch this!” I could hear the sound of this kid’s teeth hitting the mouthpiece, clink clank. And then—he began—to blow.
In several parts to come, what follows is the draft of my book manuscript’s “Table of Contents” for Artsy Fartsy, done with short, descriptive comments composed to attract attention, some a bit amusing, so one has a sense of my conception of the book and how I’ve organized it. The individual essays were written and posted to the blog in a scattered way, not done in the gathered Parts as they appear here. I felt that for the blog-reader, the variety of general subjects would be more approachable for those without special interest in some of the parts. But, clustering them by general subject I feel is a better organization for the hoped-for published book.
I’ve begun sending query letters to literary agents. These days, most agents want emails, and say to expect about a 6-week delay for a response if they’re interested; and, if not interested, they never respond at all. It’s a forever delay. Which saves them the time of having to email:
“Interesting, but no thanks. Best of luck in your endeavor.”
Those who have followed my Artsys will recognize most of the illustrated essays. There are only a couple more still to post.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Describes how knowledge of arts/museums/etc. provides some insight leading to quirky/unexpected experiences. But, as their nature requires images, no overly short, words by themselves, could express the content of these mini, illustrated essays.
ART CRAZY— Van Gogh and other artists are not “crazy,” but are super-sensitive preceptor of the world around them. My incomplete and never to be continued novel manuscript, Art Crazy, the idea of which had been based on a part of my real experience, could never have been realized in the ideal form in which I envision it.
LANDSCAPE ART: Seeing Originals is a Different World Vermeer and Van Gogh—seeing the originals significantly alters perception of two masterpieces.
SITES TO BE SEEN in two parts A sad description of some art pieces that I’ve seen relatively unencumbered (such as Stonehenge, Botticelli’s “Venus on the Half-Shell,” the intihuatana), but that subsequently should have notifications attached: WHILE KEEPING YOUR DISTANCE, ADMIRE FROM AFAR.
PICASSO “GUERNICA COLORIZATION KIT” How I created and sold 100 copies of this kit out of a vending machine for $1.25 each (kit included 3 Crayolas).
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART PICASSO MISTAKE In MOMA’s Picasso Retrospective, I discovered a mistaken caption and they surreptitiously corrected it.
THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS How to see this original Bosch masterpiece better than you’ve ever seen it before. One: go to the Prado. Two: Ask for the “El Bosco” rooms. Three: Don’t peek. Four: Do what I did.
CEZANNE’S ANGRY PATCH My published letter to the editors of American Artist magazine corrected their columnist’s misinterpretation of a Cezanne masterpiece, and through this, I discovered a heretofore unknown aspect of Cezanne’s work. (Or has someone, unbeknownst to me, amateur that I am, predated my Cezanne revelation?)
CEZANNE & MARIN My John Marin watercolor and how, in comparing his works to Cezanne’s, I encountered an important influence/tribute.
EMOTION OUTRANKS TECHNIQUE What are the differences and in what way is emotion superior to technique in art (in my humble opinion)?
IS IT FOR REAL? Having encountered an image of a drawing, what qualities do I see that might allow me to distinguish between a fake and an authentic work by an artist I admire? Could I afford to take a chance on my amateur/educated/perceptive guess?
VENUS DE SANTA How dare I conflate the ancient Greek goddess with our comfortably snugly and lovable Christian symbol of largess?
RAVEN RATTLES Acquiring a better-than-authentic replica by shamefully, yet acceptably, capitulating to reality.
CHALK DRAWINGS–KEITH HARING and RUDOLF STEINER A tribute to two remarkably divergent styles of artistic expression.
CLOTH ART My unusual, sun-bleached, marvelous mola, and my original Huichol “yarn painting.” How are they much more than any old “airport art” on the wall?
ART OR CRAFT? There are innumerable works of craft that are elegant, finely designed and made, but do they rise to my definition of art, which for me, must express at least a somewhat new–yet universal–view/understanding/interpretation/insight regarding our world that can be understood/appreciated by the intelligent/perceptive person. Or am I just a snob?
LEGAL ACQUISITION OR ART-THEFT? How I coulda stolen a Gaudi door handle, and how I really did abscond with a part of the Roman Forum—With a photo to prove it!
DEVOTIONS-Devoted to Art and Ice Self-mocking poem beginning: We seek transcendent craft with mind and heart,…
More ARTSY Table of Contents, etc. to come.
Getting to be a Tuba Player
How does a guy get to be a tuba player? There’s a certain look of sadness in the eye of all tuba players. A tuba player is a man who has lived through a peculiar kind of hell. When you’re marching down the street with a spanking wind blowing in your direction and you’re carrying that big ol’ B-flat tuba on your shoulder and the band is starting and you’re picking it up with “Stars and Stripes Forever, “Semper Fidelis,” “El Capitan.” We’re marching, men. The crowd is roaring and cheering and somebody throws a quarter into your bell. You hear ding ding dingdingding. Or a penny or an eraser. That kind of thing.
As a kid in high school I was absolutely the ace of the bass section of our band. The first chair bass man. And that is a great feeling. For years I had worked my way up. I started in eighth grade playing E-flat tuba. The tuba itself is a kind of challenge. It’s a heavy instrument. You get so that you love the tuba. You get so that you actually have a physical love for your instrument—for your tuba. Yeah, you sit there and you pat it, you talk to it. Many’s the time I’d come into the band room and seen Reg Rose, who was in the bass section. I saw him one time weeping, sitting there talking to his B-flat sousaphone, weeping and crying, and the sousaphone was crying back.
So you get deeply involved with this instrument and it begins to sort of become an extension of yourself as a sousaphone player. At first you’re not and you feel like a phony. Then you begin to learn this instrument and it begins to be part of you. Every day I’m in school all day in trig, in algebra, and all those classes. And then I had a band rehearsal period. You know how Sherlock Holmes sits by his window and he’s playing his violin and he’s composing himself. I used to love that. I’d be by myself in this little band room surrounded by all those instruments up on racks. All by myself with my tuba, and in front of me is a rack of music. And I’m playing Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba baaaa. That is Exercise Thirty-two. Then tacatacatacataca, Exercise Thirty-three. And I begin to grow to love this instrument and begin to feel that I could play it.
More Tuba Player to Come
Spirals come in many forms: The clustered bits of some flowers;
many animal horns; tornados; galaxies, and much more.
Over the years I’ve sought out and peripatetically encountered
articles and books focusing on spirals.
Spirals, for me, represent the prime symbol of life and advancement in almost all things. To simplify: the circle seems to me to represent an Eastern ideal—eternal return without advancement; the straight line seems to me a Western ideal—the single-minded idea of moving from past to present to future without a sense of the past and tradition.
A special and widespread form of spiral, which, in its living force, advances around toward its circular beginning, and, through the foreword energy of a straight line, moves outward and combines in one, the two energies.
(I designed the form of my first un-published novel, written in the early 1960s,
as though the content progressed metaphorically in a spiral shape.)
The type of spiral I refer to is called “logarithmic,”
conforming to a mathematical formula. The sequence of numbers
arrived at by adding the sum of the previous two numbers.
(The smallest square =1, each succeeding square is formed by adding the previous number to it—1+1= 2+1= 3+2= 5+3= 8+5= 13 etc.) The resulting proportion, called “the golden mean,” has been used in art and architecture for thousands of years.
It’s present in many growing things, most spectacularly in the chambered nautilus, that forms chambers within its shell that grow in a particular, mathematical progression known as a “Fibonacci Sequence” (named after an Italian, Middle-Ages mathematician who formulated the particular numerical pattern upon which such spirals are calculated.) The nautilus (and innumerable other natural forms) grows outwardly around itself, best seen when its shell is cut in half lengthwise.
The most common of the few species, the most familiar, is Nautilus pompilius. I’ve only read a bit of the popular literature about it, and I’ve looked at my samples and many other images in publications. The tube that runs through the chambers, I believe, is to allow the animal to be heavier and float downward when water is ingested, or, when the water is expelled, it’s lighter so it rises up.
I’ve noted two aspects regarding “growth and form,” visible from the sliced samples, that I haven’t found in popular commentaries, and both concern my understanding of how/why the animal forms its chambers. (These must be familiar to experts on the subject.) As the nautilus’s fleshy body grows, its shell has to grow with it, so it must move forward from the latest interior wall to accommodate a slightly larger interior bulk, forming the new, larger interior wall.
On right, smaller, final chamber
with its thicker wall.
But I’ve noted that the final chambered area, instead of being larger (as are each of the earlier ones), is smaller, seen in the photo above. Yet that final wall is thicker. My amateur’s theory is that, old, no longer with the vigor to continue to produce its larger bulk, it still produces the shell-material, which it exudes into a thicker wall.
I have books and various articles about the nautilus; about spiral growth; and about its ancient ancestor, the fossils we call ammonites, some of which are straight and many feet long, but many of which are in the same shape as the modern chambered nautilus. (As I came into possession of a preserved chambered nautilus during my design of a Museum of Natural History exhibit, I had the specimen for years, until the wax seal preserving it in its glass container failed, and I had to toss out the whole stinking mess.) I’ve had several nautilus shells, whole and cut, revealing their chambers, and I’ve also had a number of inexpensive ammonites, whole, and also cut to show the chambers. (Sometimes I’d see at the Museum, being wheeled through the public halls on a dolly, a cut and polished ammonite that I believe was about three feet in diameter.) Below, those on the upper right and lower left are of some of my own ammonite specimens.
One may well be familiar with the poem, “The Chambered Nautilus” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, written in 1858, so the metaphor of the shell had been contemplated for many years before I thought to refer to it. (Even in such a muscle-bound manner as the Holmes poem has it, with its philosophical hyperbole.) I wrote my own nautilus/ammonite poem (with what I hope is restrained simile) and made it into a 6 X 9 inch “artists’ book.” The thick, front and back covers have, inserted, the two halves of the same, authentic, small ammonite (approx. 1- 3/8”diameter) revealing its chambers:
A book by eb, 1998
I would turn to page fifty-seven and there it would be at the top: pizzicato. Pizzicato means a string that is plucked. “Should I start at the top, Miss McCullough?”
So I would grab that bass and I would start dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun. Now my left hand is aching all the way up to my shoulder and I feel seven gigantic blisters forming on my right-hand fingers—which never did when I normally played. I used to dread Thursdays. She never told me anything. Just used to sit and listen.
So, wherever you are, kid, taking those music lessons, we bow our heads for ten seconds in silence. I know exactly what you’re going through. God only knows the torture that man can wreak upon his fellow man.
End of Music Lessons
Stay tuned for even more of Shep’s music
MOM’S VIOLIN, PARAKEET, AND EGGS
As a young woman, Marjorie Crosby, my mother, left home to play the violin in vaudeville. She joined a woman’s dance troop. The dancers would come on stage and do a few numbers and then leave to change costumes, which is when my mother would come out from behind the curtain and play classical music for the audience.
The dance ensemble moved from city to city, and in New York, finally broke up, where my mother remained, eventually meeting my father, Benno Bergmann. After a long courtship, extended by the financial strain of the Great Depression, they married and had me, their only child. Eventually she taught me to play the violin well enough to be in the high school orchestra.
From time to time, when we had guests, mom would play the violin for them. As she was very shy, with our adult friends in the living room, she entered the next room, closed the French doors, and then play.
My mother taught our parakeet to recite poetry. She set up an audio tape loop, playing a word or two over and over by his cage until Pretty Boy could repeat it, then go on to the next word.
Eventually Pretty Boy could recite, all together, the first lines of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám:
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
Friends kept erroneously saying that Marjorie’s bird could recite Shakespeare. So she taught Pretty Boy to recite a few lines:
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
A bird food company wanted to pay Pretty Boy to recite during a live TV commercial, but Pretty Boy would only perform when he wanted to.
Then my mother, inspired by Faberge Eggs, began designing her own original creations with chicken eggs. She discovered a way to be able to twist the egg shells into varied shapes. (She would never reveal her secret.) Sometimes she would also design cutout shapes for the basic shells and my father, with his Dremel tool, would cut them to her specifications.
She promoted her work to a mid-town Manhattan bank, which displayed her eggs one Easter season in their show windows. I designed an exhibit of them for the Museum where I worked. One year, New York’s Daily News sent a photographer and a reporter to our house, and her work was displayed in the Easter Sunday double-spread of its magazine section.
She designed and made elegant royal crowns,
complete with real diamond, ruby, and emerald chips.
Marjorie Crosby Bergmann
was our family’s original
artsy fartsy artist supreme.
And then I would start to play eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eughhhh. Eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eughhhh eughhhh. Augh-augh-augh-augh-augh- auuuugh. My hand would start to ache. It never ached whenever I played it by myself or when I was playing in the orchestra. I was hanging around with Schwartz and we used to jam a lot and it never ached! I’d play for two hours straight! All I had to do was play maybe three or four measures for Miss McCullough. My hand was aching all the way up through my elbow. It’s your left hand that aches when you play the bass. Then I would finish the section eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eughhhh eughhhh. Augh-augh-augh-augh-augh- auuuugh.
“Thank you. Now would you turn to page fifty-seven. I’d like you to try page fifty-seven and begin at the top.”
I don’t know what got me thinking this way (probably images by Picasso), but whenever I see three dots or little circles in some arrangement, I see two eyes and a mouth—a face. I see faces everywhere. So, for me, it’s only natural that when I come across a cardboard easel used to support upright a flat ad on a counter, I see the opening as a mouth.
I began making animal faces and abstract faces by drawing on easels with felt-tip markers. Some of them are rather tall and work well for large animals such as bulls, elephants, giraffes. Then I thought they might be a good adjunct to commercial displays of perfume or other objects for sale, so I arranged some in our backyard and photographed them for my design portfolio.
I made an appointment with Tiffany’s renowned window display designer, Gene Moore. He liked my easels a lot but said they were too dramatic and would overwhelm the jewelry. He recommended that I show them to his friend across Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, who designed the windows for Bergdorf Goodman’s Delman Shoe Department. This designer liked them and bought them from me. (I made copies of them for me to retain.) He used them for all of their 5th Avenue windows–not for the usual month, but for two. He gave me black and white photos of the displays.
I’ve got my easel faces scattered on perches around my study,
from which they peer down at me.
Miss McCullough taught the strings in the orchestra. And every Thursday at three-thirty was my time. And for fifteen minutes I would stand before this music stand with a big, double, B-flat bass. Big bass fiddle. She would just say nothing. She’d just take the exercise book that we used and she would open it to a page and say, “I want you to start at figure C.”
I would take up my bow, nervous, sweating, and I’d put rosin on it. I always used to try to stall for time. I’d put a lot of rosin on it. I’d put my hand up to the pegs and listen dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-duuuunn. I was pretending to tune it. Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-duuuunn. Miss McCullough would look at her watch, meaning, let’s get on the stick! She says nothing, she’s sitting there in her metal chair, just waiting.
Going to work at the Museum by subway, I used to take a longer route than necessary so that I could have a comfortable seat and be able to easily read my book. From Forest Hills, Queens, I’d take the F Train to 6th Avenue and 34th Street, then climb stairs, go through a mezzanine, then downstairs to the Uptown B Local and get off at the Museum’s 81th Street stop. That was until I met a violin busker, James Graseck.
One morning, about to go upstairs, amid the noise, hustle, and bustle, I heard a classical violin despite the roaring trains, on the far side of the tracks—yes, in the subway. I went up, across the mezzanine, and down, finding the musician playing. I listened until he stopped, and put a dollar in his violin case.
Every morning I sought him out and went over to listen. I bought one of his CDs, I introduced myself and we would talk. Each day I put a dollar in his case. I told him that my mother used to be a classical violinist, a professional, playing in vaudeville in her youth, and that she had taught me to play.
* * * * * *
I became obsessed with his indomitable spirit to play against the roar of trains.
I wrote a poem about him and gave him a copy.
He seemed quite pleased with my unusual gratuity.
He may still have it in his case.
That was twenty years go.
He’s been interviewed and shown
performing on radio, TV, periodicals.
I believe he still performs
his audacious artsy.
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
In high school Shepherd plays bass violin, tuba, and sousaphone–instruments requiring both physical strength and intestinal fortitude. He describes the crucial role music plays in his life. From the beginning he is obsessed: “I was a dedicated tuba man.” He comments on a show that his playing tuba in the school orchestra is the first time he ever created beauty. Using music as metaphor, he illustrates his joy in making art.
His love of music continues throughout his life: He hosts a Cincinnati radio’s weekly opera broadcast; plays contemporary jazz records on his programs and emcees major contemporary jazz concerts; writes two magazine columns focused on jazz; improvises narration of the Charles Mingus piece, “The Clown;” and narrates an album, “Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown With Jazz Music.” He plays a major role in New York’s 1950’s jazz scene and is named by a jazz magazine as its “jazz personality of the year.” He also delights his radio listeners with his proclivity to scat along with the recordings he plays and to perform on nose flute, jew’s harp, and kazoo with outstanding skill and (nearly) universal acclaim.
* * *
I had a fear, and really, it was a great fear. It had nothing to do with algebra, nothing to do with English or history. But every Thursday afternoon at three-thirty I used to have to go into this private band room. I played in the orchestra and the band. And I would have to go into the private band room, and we had a lady, she was not really, strict, but she was “enigmatic.” She was tall and thin, her name was Miss McCullough.
About 40 years ago, my then-significant other and I went camping in Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park about three hours north of Toronto. A great, partly-wild and yet, alongside the access highway, partly-civilized campground on the edge of a vast, untamed forest with designated, individual campsites out in the wilderness. She got out her oils and acrylics and set up painting. All I could do was sit and read and admire her work for most of the several weeks—it was pleasant to be outside among the trees, lakes, and sky.
The following year I brought watercolors and paper. We both painted. We would look at the progress the other was making—she admired my rather realistic style, and I admired her semi-abstract, emotional attack on her canvasses. We each wished we could paint as the other did. It was a contrast in temperaments that made much of the differences.
First I worked in a 6” X 9” black-covered sketchbook and eventually found some vision and skill. The next year I brought along a medium-rough watercolor pad, about 11” X 14”. Of the pictures I made during those summers (they took me about 4 to 5 hours each), most were done in Algonquin, and a few at other outdoor sites). Each represents–with only some slight adjustments–the motif I observed in front of me. Some, though, interrupted in process by the day’s fading light, I continued in camp, enhancing the effect I sought. I think of them, visually, as musical chords.
Post vacation, back at my job in the Museum, a co-worker, a rather conservative, uptight fellow, asked me why I didn’t fill in all the white areas of my pictures. I pointed to a painted area of one image, then, toward every blank white space I simply said, “Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.” I’d found my way of seeing and designing what I wanted on the page (maybe somewhat inspired by Japanese woodblock prints I admire), and I stuck with it. (Click on each one for bigger views. For technical causes, some of the background areas are not the pure white of the originals.) I consider the second one here, with rotten fence post in the middle, one of the two best visual objects I’ve ever produced.
Despite my “dittos,” I’m not sure how to defend what I do. (Who says I gotta DEFEND ‘EM?) All I know is that, despite being an admirer of more adventuresome modern art and artists, this is what I did and I’m happy with the designy/artsy result.
I did several dozen watercolors over several years, then one day, walking our dog across the street from our apartment into Central Park, I decided that I’d try crayons. I got a 4” X 6” watercolor block and spent about three laborious hours doing a single image, recording a tightly condensed, accurate depiction of a scene just inside the park at Central Park West and 93rd Street.
Down a sloping path (white, triangular area), with green, sunlit-grass and a single, central tree; on the far right, a vertical tree trunk; above the slope, just at eye level and so un-noted except for a thin white, horizontal line for separation between bright green and much darker, is an open field beyond which is a wall of trees, dark green because of the shade of the late-afternoon sun.
With utmost exactitude and concentration, with the rich intensity of crayons on the textured paper, I worked through the afternoon and produced, with Crayolas and sharp-pointed scraper for the thin white lines, an intense, pared-to-simplicity piece I now consider probably the best picture I have ever produced.
A few days later I decided to find another motif in the Park and produce, as quickly as I could, an “empathic” picture to contrast with the earlier, studied effect. I did it in about 15 minutes, and I also like that result. I have the two individually framed and mounted on gold boards, one over the other. But it is the upper one, in its intense color and focus, its singularity and simplicity, that holds my interest and self-admiration.
On 40 Meters
It was then that I knew—out there in that dark river there are shoals, out there, there are people who can really do it. Somewhere there’s a guy who can re-a-ll-y, really make it move! And that there are limits.
I can only say to the rest of you guys, you kids out there—you’re lucky. You have not yet been put to the test. You have not, at three o’clock in the morning, met a guy who can really write a play. You have not met, at four o’clock in the morning, a guy who could really act. You have not met, at 4:15 AM, a guy who could send and receive above two hundred watts on forty, sixty-five words a minute in coded groups without even missing a beat for a half hour on end. And until you do, you are living in a dream—a dream.
Once Morse code gets hold of your soul, buddy, it gets ahold of your soul
and gnaws at it and never lets go.
Artsy Fartsy began with my idea to add comments about some of my unexpected art experiences at the tail-end of my blog posts that’re focused on my longest-running art-related obsessions. The category that began October 18, 1999 with an obituary in the New York Times, has no end in sight. It’s about the guy who, in significant part, helped make me and many other nerds and loners into more perceptive adults. (Jerry Seinfeld, for one, said about him: “He really formed my entire comedic sensibility. I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd.”) More about that later.
It’s a book. It’s art. It’s believable but true. It’s artsy fartsy.
Go into art’s world and find your own artsys to fartsy.
Explore the nitty, the gritty, and the funky.
Am I, in many of this book’s inclusions, just being an egomaniac?
Am I an embarrassment to my kids?