Saturday, May 30, 2009

When Not Listening To Country Music Seemed Like Good Common Sense

My ears started perking up to the sounds of more traditional Country music right after Cathy and I moved back to Chicago from Berkeley in the winter of '03. The Country music of the 80s and 90s hadn't exactly inspired further exploration. Country was a genre that I had previously ignored with what I felt, with great conviction, was simply good common sense.

But I was wrong. Like any genre, country music has an unwieldy, sprawling family tree. One of the branches I've enjoyed most centers around what was happening in the late 60's and early 70's, when rock began to explore country music in earnest. Gram Parsons teaming up with the Byrds for Sweetheart of the Rodeo along with Sneaky Pete Kleinow's amazing pedal steel guitar contributions , the Rolling Stones all over on their 4-album run from Beggar's Banquet through Exile On Main Street, Buffalo Springfield, what Bob Dylan and the Band were doing both together and apart, the Grateful Dead's one-two punch of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty and a whole lot of what Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were releasing then, though I'm more fond of their solo releases then anything they did collectively.

Here are the Stones performing a fantastic live version circa 1972 of Exile's Sweet Virginia, as good a country rock hoedown as you'll ever find from this time. The sax gives it more of an urbane polish then it probably needs (but I still like it), and like so much of the Stones best stuff, the song's practically bursting with swagger.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Telling Grandpa Ernie's Story

Not long before my Grandpa Ernie passed away, my brother Greg had the good sense to sit down and talk to him with a video camera rolling. I've never watched it, but my parents burned a DVD of it for me this Christmas. I'm looking forward to seeing it, I just haven't had the time to clear a space where I could really watch and listen to it with the attention it deserves.

The picture on the right is from his wedding day. It strikes me as odd that I have no idea what day or year their wedding was (1940? 41? 42?) or where it was they married. It was in spring or summer I'd guess by my Grandpa's outfit here and the lushness of the trees across whatever body of water he's using as a backdrop.

I plan on taking this DVD of my Grandpa that Greg shot and editing it down to a 10 or 15 minute documentary. Ideally I'd refine and shape a story by gently editing (see Studs Terkel on the fine art of the interviewing edit) and adding some complimentary footage--photographs, super-8 and maybe my own narrative and video additions. Might be a good test for Final Cut Express. I have it, but I'm afraid to take a look under its hood. It's a potential Pandora's Box, I tell you!

I realize, too, that I keep talking all this personal documentary smack and have yet to produce one since the Obama documentary. I have a good as an excuse as any with Megan's arrival, though I don't think it would be setting my sights too high if I tried to complete 3 of them before summers end.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Psychedelic Teeming

Leafing through some meteorological books in the Library this past winter, I serendipitously stumbled across a blurb about phenology. Not phrenology, mind you, but phenology, which the USA National Phenological Network has nicely defined as:

the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events, or phenophases, such as leafing and flowering of plants, maturation of agricultural crops, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. Many of these events are sensitive to climatic variation and change, and are simple to observe and record.

It's that last bit that I like the most, the part about how easy it is (with a little foresight and discipline, mind you) to become more mindful and aware of all the climatically inspired "events" going on around you... and to record them! Aldo Leopold's daughter, Nina, has continued on in her father's spirit, keeping highly detailed phenological records of her family's property in Sauk County, Wisconsin. And after emerging from the bruising of another 6-month Chicago winter, with a final insult courtesy of mercury-dropping lake-effect winds, I like the idea of looking for new and interesting (edifying even!) ways to engage with the unruly climatic variables of where I've come to make my home.

What I think I like most about phenology is how it reframes the way we engage or observe the natural world. There's a strong spirit of collaboration at its core that I like a lot too, with citizen scientist networks actively pooling their observational data together on plants, animals and landscapes.

I like the idea of being more attuned to the subtle and not so subtle phenological events. Especially now. There's phenology going on everywhere. It's crazy with the teeming in Chicago right now. It's this lysergic kind of green--there's a psychedelic aspect to just how vivid some of the greens are. The flowering on all the trees especially. It's a shimmering pool-bottom green.

Like most, I've always found this time of year to be one of the most naturally dramatic. These first 4 months have been the wettest on meteorological record (my little Megan has begun her life in a deluge), so those days, like today, where the sun managed to sustain its presence, have had a drama all their own.

And not surprisingly, I really like that phenology is concerned with the recording of these changes. Not just through writing and statistical record keeping, but through a visual record. The next step, then, is to make a short documentary about phenology for the Library. I'm hoping to storyboard this one, too. Something about checking out a book from the Library and by reading it becoming (suddenly!) aware of the phenological events happening all around me. Ending with a little nature trip. Got to be funny. Too little humor in the pedagogical bent of citizen science. Too little humor in the Library. Got to work on that one!