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Dilemma, Take Two

Dilemma, Take Two

shadowrock
Shadow Rock

I can breathe here. With exceptions, like when large groups of tourists descend upon the mountains. When engines rev too high. When children flock to the trails, run, scream at each other, in joy or out of spite. Mostly, it’s quiet enough to hear the mountains. If you listen carefully, you can hear them breathe, too. Not like my breath. Especially not like my labored breath after I walk up trails.

Walking down them is much easier.

But that’s not the mountain’s breath. Its breath is slow and long and like a controlled blast of wind. So controlled, it’s more like a breeze set free.

Over the Ledge
Over the Ledge

Sent soaring above the valleys, with the birds, with the higher clouds and their child wisps. How many times have I stopped, stared at the clouds, the birds and their inhuman children and wanted to go there. Not much higher than they are. But a little bit. High enough to see them below me, and then follow them, watch the sunlight change the shadows on the mountain rocks and trees, like a painter with very long arms.

 Like a magically large painter, who can see everything. If only. If only the magic in books could be translated to the sky, the rocks and the breezes. I know when something is that good. Then it would be a time for suspending time. It would be a way to capture beauty in stillness, but, impossibly, to keep it all in motion, from top to bottom, side to side, a chaos of flight, an onslaught of inhuman Olympian displays. Kinetic, electric, blue and green and brown, with colors I’ve never heard of before, but always see. Colors I once was afraid to look at but no longer can be, once the magic of books passes into this world, on these ancient rocks, overlooking the Valley of the Crows.

valley
Valley of Crows
The Amateur’s Dilemma

The Amateur’s Dilemma

Over the years, I’ve become more and more interested in photography — in taking pictures, myself. When I was young and pursuing a degree in Art, with painting the focus, I was ambivalent about it as an art. I couldn’t really see it at nearly the same level as painting, as involving the same degree of talent, much less genius. Of course, at the time, my list of snobbish opinions regarding a host of different things was too long to detail, and would fill a book or two. Snobbery about books was, perhaps, at the top of that list.

Bridge of Shadows
Bridge of Shadows

But with age comes, if not wisdom, then at least some understanding of one’s limits — perhaps because those limits are starting to manifest themselves in ways we simply can no longer shrug off. Age, if utilized, causes us to slow down a bit, stop, take notice of our once take-no-prisoners declarations of likes and dislikes, and wonder: Could I have been wrong about this or that? Or, if not exactly wrong, could I have been a bit narrow in my focus, unwilling to consider things outside it?

Which brings me to the current dilemma of the amateur. Mustering enough humbleness in life to do away with many a youthful certainty, I now face another obstacle, and more than a few new questions: Should I invest in professional gear? Is my photography good enough to take another step? Would it make enough of a difference to go for superior tech, filters, learn the ropes of “manual” settings on the fly, etc. etc.?

 

Library of Clouds
Library of Clouds

Composition comes naturally. Painting and drawing and sculpture did that. The eye composes what, for lack of a better metaphor, the heart feels. And the sculpture, especially, helped me figure out abstract shapes in context, within a world that doesn’t always help those shapes, or couldn’t care less about them, forcing me to make them fit, make them work with or without that world. But is the end result lacking in too much polish, the kind of thing that could be remedied by expensive cameras, mad darkroom skills and umpteen specialized accessories?

Bubbles in Space
Bubbles in Space

Taking all my photos with a very inexpensive camera, or my phone, leaves me wondering what if. What if I dove headlong into the art of photography from the point of view of artists of the quick snap, with metal between the subject and me, between the object and my eye, with all of the paraphernalia and knowledge generally associated with that dive? Or should I just accept the way things are, so I can echo Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, and say “I coulda been a contender!”? Is it better to be Taoist at this point in life, and leave these things for the young, still in their take-no-prisoners mode?

 

Blue Gravesite1
False Lights at Noon

 

 

Ian Hunter: Epic Poet of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ian Hunter: Epic Poet of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Known by most as the lead singer of Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter was already a seasoned vet of 30 when he took the helm of that quintessential Glitter Rock band. I became a much bigger fan when he struck out on his own with his first solo effort in 1975, Ian Hunter, and continued to follow him through subsequent efforts — with All-American Alien Boy and You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic being favorites.

For me, Ian Hunter was like an English Dylan, one who didn’t try to hide his accent, his rawness, his earthiness. He wrote great songs, and had excellent Rock musicians backing him, especially Mick Ronson, David Sanborn, Jaco Pastorius and Queen. The sonic variety of his music impressed me always. Tough, hard-edged to sweet, rowdy to contemplative, raw to cooked and back again, his oeuvre is one of the best in the Rock world and is easily among the most overlooked and underrated.

He’s still touring and making music at 75. His restless youth has seemingly turned into restless maturity.

 

 

 

Haley Reinhart’s Creep, from Postmodern Jukebox

Haley Reinhart’s Creep, from Postmodern Jukebox

The scars of being boxed, packaged and sold by corporate machines can last all too long, but if this video is any indication, Haley Reinhart has managed to overcome this in resounding ways. If her time with Postmodern Jukebox tells the tale, she’s not only overcome her stint on American Idol (2011), but used it the right way: to launch what appears to be a unique and promising musical career, while doing it her own way, independent of corporate pressures and cookie cutter mindsets.

To me, her performance of “Creep” is flawless, with its incredible dynamic range, mood shifts, infectious building toward crescendos, its soaring highs and lows. A jazz aficionado, Reinhart adds scat, growls in just the right places, merges beautifully with the backing band, and basically knocks it out of the park. She’s only 25.

 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Surprisingly good, fresh, funny and touching, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl tells the story of high school kids, coming of age, learning not just about life, but about death, and how we still keep discovering new things about people after they’re gone. Even the most important things. We still keep learning about ourselves in the process, and that how we treated them while they were on this planet is everything — well, except for realizing this should apply to the not-dying too.

Young Greg Gaines, played by Thomas Mann, is a senior in a Pittsburgh high school, and he’s socially awkward, very hard on himself, and tries his best to navigate through all the baffling teenage factions without ever getting involved in any one of them. And perhaps because he’s decided to remain free from all attachments — except for his one friend, Earl (RJ Cyler)  — he’s taken aback one day when his mother asks him to befriend Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke, who has been diagnosed with Stage Four Leukemia. His mother (Connie Britton), “the LeBron James of nagging,” wants him to go over to see her, so he does, and he initially makes a mess of things, but soon enough his quirky sense of humor wins her over and they become fast friends. So while she goes through chemo, loses her hair, gets sicker and sicker, they become close, and the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, tries to steer away from the usual Hollywood cliches. Greg narrates the film and tells us more than once that this won’t be the usual YA romance. And it isn’t, really. The fault is not in his stars.

But I bought it. And so did the audience at Sundance, apparently. And that helped launch this film, made for roughly 5 million dollars, into wide release last year. Though if you’re in a cynical mood, and inclined to pick these kinds of movies apart, it’s not that difficult — ironically, on grounds the director and writer likely sought to preempt. These days, it’s harder and harder to make movies without referring to other movies referring to movies and worrying overmuch that you’re caught unaware that it is a movie. Sometimes it’s easier just to make a blow ’em all up, action/chase/thriller/horror film and be done with it.

 

 

Harper Lee has died

Harper Lee has died

This is sad news. The author of To Kill a Mockingbird and the controversial Go Set a Watchman died today, age 89.

Harper Lee
Harper Lee

There will no doubt be hundreds of articles about her life, work and times, appearing all across the web, and I won’t even try to add to that list. But I do want to express my thanks for her brilliant first novel, for the creation of several iconic characters, and for what she gave overall to the Republic of Letters.

Harper Lee, you will be missed.

For those of you who want to read a quick look at her life, with several links to other articles, this Guardian story is a good place to start.

Death and the Mountain

Death and the Mountain

Blue Ridge Mountains, NC
Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

I

The splinter of sunrise in the mind
Before the wind shifts

And the beacon fades

All of life is a furtive glance
By death

By death in life
Unless we laugh and make that splinter

Shine
Make it manifest as full beam

As entire sun
Entire world

 

Blue Ridge Mountains, VA
Blue Ridge Mountains, VA

II

The girl feared no one would care
She feared no one would come after her

But Van Gogh watched
And Van Gogh cared

As she walked into the horizon alone
Into the auburn and ochre

On her left
And the reds and greens

On her right

Black crows circling
Cawing above her

Mimicked in a sky
Like brushstrokes

Like golden bluish redish
Swirling heavens of new life

Overcoming death and fade
Death and forgetfulness

 

 

— by Douglas Pinson