Art Meets Art: Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me

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At the entrance to Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is a blackboard that allows visitors to write down their innermost thoughts about the upcoming performance. Here was mine.

Continue reading “Art Meets Art: Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me”

(Seven) With or Without You

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The Joshua Tree

In 2001 I attended one of my first big rock concerts at what was the MCI Center in Washington, DC. While a great band with an amazing repertoire I was (at the time) a really a big fan of their most recent album. It was a great concert. I had a lot of fun.

Five months later I went back for more. This time, we were a little further north at the Baltimore Arena and unlike the first concert which was an enjoyable experience, this night filled an emotional need, converting me for life. The band, of course, was U2 and that second concert was one month and eight days after the horror of 9/11. I didn’t realize it until I walked out of the Arena but those two hours helped make sense of a month of chaos and insanity. Continue reading “(Seven) With or Without You”

Dream Gardens: Talking Number the Stars with Jody Mott

I’m sure everyone is on the edge of their seats waiting for my annual New Year’s Post.

This isn’t it.

I’m struggling a bit this year – trying to find a way to stay optimistic and see the promise of the future in a world that feels like it’s gone a little bit crazy. And then there was my two-week cold that pretty much demanded a lack of productivity.

All that being said I did one thing in the early part of this month that was interesting and new. As many of you know in January of last year I published a children’s book called The Heart of the River. When I did that I also joined the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It’s a great organization that supports its members by providing resources and marketing through events like the Book Blast (here’s my page which will be live for another week or so).

number-the-stars Continue reading “Dream Gardens: Talking Number the Stars with Jody Mott”

What Would Dolly Do? Public History in Music City

Gate at the Hatch Show Print shop and workspace. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

This past April I was in a small exhibit space at the Country Music Hall of Fame learning the history of country music through the years. There were CMA awards and costumes, record covers and photographs. In front of me was a screen cycling through the songs of the featured artist. As it shifted to a new song first my foot began to tap, then my head began to bob, and though I was dutifully avoiding eye contact with anyone else in the room I knew I wasn’t the only one.

And then we just started to sing:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

Because when The Gambler comes on, you can’t help but surrender and smile.  Likewise coming to Nashville means settling in and embracing the music. Continue reading “What Would Dolly Do? Public History in Music City”

The Revolution in 1865

A common image of John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s Assassin. From the Library of Congress collection.

For a long time I have devoted my energies, my time and money, to the accomplishment of a certain end. I have been disappointed. The moment has arrived when I must change my plans. Many will blame me for what I am about to do, but posterity, I am sure, will justify me. Men who love their country better than gold and life.

–John W. Booth, Payne, Herold, Atzerodt

When we think of history it is linear. One event follows the next tripping forward, action precipitating reaction. And so when the line loops around it provides a sense of historical congruence, a symmetry of understanding that while obvious, feels like puzzle pieces dropping into place.

Continue reading “The Revolution in 1865”

Welcome Back Howard Theatre

The Marquee of the Howard Theatre
Credit: Priya Chhaya

Just a quick post to share some pictures I took at the Howard Theatre (link to info on the restoration) re-opening this week. If you want to read a great account of the night, that included performances by Trombone Shorty and George Clinton check out this post at PreservationNation — complete with great interior shots that my basic digital camera could not take successfully.

As you can tell from my previous post I love the theatre/theater, and while I often talk about the plays, movies, or performances that occur inside these buildings, these performances are enhanced by the places where they occur. Ambiance, acoustics are often what takes a concert to the next level.

One of the places I saw the Hunger Games was in the Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park, DC. It’s an old, one screen theater–complete with a balcony. While the movie was the same (I had seen it a few days earlier) there was a sense of grandeur in seeing it again, something that you sometimes miss out at the cookie cutter, stadium seating theaters.

So when an old theatre or theater is rehabbed and brought back to life it’s a wonderful thing. Often these spaces are transformed from original use, but as was the case with the Howard Theatre there is still that origin story of its original place in the community. In this case the memories of performances by musicians of the present and days gone by are about to be added to by a new generation with performances by Savion Glover, Wanda Sykes, James Brown, the Roots and the like.

For more on historic theatre’s visit the League of Historic American Theatres.

Some more pics:

Twenty-Eleven/Twenty-Twelve

It has been a long, strange, year. On one hand it felt like it disappeared without a fuss, slipping away, month by month, day by day. Winter became Spring, Summer then Fall in a blink of an eye, but so much happened, both in the world and personally that it has its own weight and import.

And now here we are. Over the anticipation and into the 3rd day of the year two thousand and twelve (try saying that three times fast) with resolutions crying to be made, and best of lists flooding the Internet. I’ve had a year of personal triumphs and losses along with professional challenges that forced us to embrace change.

So 2011, Twenty-Eleven 2-0-1-1 I’d like to bid you adieu.

Guaranty Building in Buffalo, NY

I am grateful for another year of family. For a wedding that made it grow, and for support when personal losses flew in unexpectedly.

I am grateful for another year of friends. As my thirtieth year on earth begins, having known some of these people for up to ten years has enriched my imagination, my world view, and my heart in the ways that only friends can do.

I am grateful, once again, for a year where I could walk into work and write and talk about something I believe in and love, even when it was hard (and at times, it still is). Change is a funny thing. When you know it is coming it can be frightening, a looming monolith–daunting, but as it sweeps in it can force you to look at old ways of working and push you in new directions. Optimism is my greatest weapon.

I know I haven’t made mention of some of the larger events of the year—of stories that we’ll be talking about as historians for years to come. Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Tornadoes changing the narrative of nations and small towns for decades to come. Believe me those larger events made an impact on how I view the meaning of place and where we came from in a new light. And the death of a friend this summer emphasized that life is fleeting, and that so much of what we have needs to be embraced right here, right now. 

Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ

And then there  are the typical “best of” lists. As always this is a reflection of things I’ve discovered/read/listened/saw this year.

Books : The Help, People of the Book, The Hunger Games Series
History Exhibitions: Maximum India, Taliesin West, Martin Luther King Memorial
Music: Sigh No More (Mumford and Sons), Collapse into Now (REM), We Are Young (Song by Fun. As heard on Glee and Chuck).
Television: Game of Thrones, Downton Abby, The Hour, Doctor Who
Movies: The Help, The King’s Speech, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
Theatre: Les Miserables, Hamlet, The Heir Apparent

Many of the items on this list I wrote about on the blog this year, while others have flown in under the radar (including my recent love for David Tennant and Dr. Who. As a historian, watching a Time Lord fly around space during different historical periods is amusing and at times, surprisingly poignant.) Downton Abby (Season 2 starts January 8, Season 1 is available on streaming via Netflix Instant and PBS.com) and The Hour are two other series that I haven’t talked much about on the blog, the first has been written about in many places—great acting, great drama. The Hour, a six episode series set in England during the 1950s about a one hour news program, has an intensity that surprised me.

Each of these pieces of pop-culture fed my creative soul, made me learn something new about storytelling, and were, above all else, fun to listen to, watch, and see.

So….Twenty-Twelve, what can I expect from you?

My resolutions for the year are complicated. They range from the personal (eating habits, work out goals) to the aspirational (write more, dream more). Above all else I see 2012 as the year of getting organized, to continue to live my life in a way that helps others and sends love, peace, and kindness out in the world.

It is certainly going to be an exciting year. The Olympics, the 2012 Presidential Elections (to name two) that are sure to make headlines. There will be stories to be told, and lives that will be changed.

It is also a year of moving the needle, and raising the bar. Challenging myself to take risks and leaps that I have only taken tiny, hesitant steps towards in the past. Figuring out what does come next for me personally, professionally, and creatively. So no matter how we write it 2012, Twenty Twelve, 2-0-1-2, this is the year of living life.

Life is Bigger

I am sure many of you have heard the news. REM is over. After 31 years of working together Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills have decided to move on.

I’ve taken so long to write this post, one because I was traveling (I started this on an airplane and am now finishing it on another trip), but also because I wanted to think about how I felt, especially since reactions elsewhere ran the gamut from surprise, befuddlement, to sadness.

A band born two years before my birth I am quick to admit that my gateway song into REM fandom was the ever popular Losing My Religion. As my musical education grew I found myself being drawn to songs that were a little off the beaten track (by which I mean, not Orange Crush, Stand, Man on the Moon, or Nightswimming). At present my favorite is Walk Unafraid.

Walk unafraid
I’ll be clumsy instead
Hold my love me or leave me
High

Say “keep within the boundaries if you want to play”
Say “contradiction only makes it harder”
How can I be
What I want to be?
When all I want to do is strip away
These stilled constraints
And crush this charade
Shred this sad masquerade
I don’t need no persuading
I’ll trip, fall, pick myself up and

Walk unafraid
I’ll be clumsy instead
Hold my love me or leave me
High

I’ll also admit that I kind of loved the CD reviled by many (Reveal). Especially She Just Wants To Be.

It’s not that she walked away,
Her world got smaller.
All the usual places,
The same destinations,
Only something’s changed.

It’s not that she wasn’t rewarded
With pomegranate afternoons
And Mingus, Chet Baker and chess.
It’s not the stampeding fortune,
Of prim affectations.
She’s off on her own
But she knows

Now is greater than the whole of the past
Is greater, and now she knows

She just wants to be somewhere
She just wants to be
She just wants to be somewhere
She just wants to be.

Perhaps I can say that my relationship with REM was solidified by seeing them live at the Patriot Center in 2003 where despite floor seats among a largely apathetic crowd I loved Michael Stipe’s dancing and steady vocals in addition to the energy from the whole band.

That being said REM’s last swing through Merriweather Post a few years ago with Modest Mouse and The National remains the best concert I’ve been to. With three fairly well known bands I expected a short set but REM stayed on for over two hours and put the other two to shame.

While I wrote this post I was listening to an old episode of All Songs Considered called “Splitsville: Breaking Up With Your Favorite Band“. I know that many fans out there broke up with REM a long time ago. Perhaps it’s because nothing could really compare to other earlier work, or because they stayed within their musical boundaries, which dated their sound in a world of Lady Gaga and pop music. Whatever the case may be, there is something sad about never hearing another new nonsensical yet soulful lyric.

As my bro in law said when I shared the news:

“You know, everybody hurts but I find that if I surround myself with shiny happy people holding hands, I don’t feel like I’m losing my religion…in fact, I feel like the man in the moon.”

I think what I will miss the most of all is the poetry of REM. The way the lyrics flung me into new visions and played in the background of all of my early attempts to write fiction. Despite their disbanding I look forward to their catalog inspiring me for years to come.

Oh this lonely world is wasted
Pathetic eyes, high alive
Blind to the tide that turns the sea
This storm that came up strong
It shook the trees, and blew away our fear
I couldn’t even hear

…..

Oh this could be the saddest dusk I’ve ever seen
Turn to a miracle, high alive
My mind is racing, as it always will
My hands tired, my heart aches
I’m half a world away