Newfoundland Stories (Aug. 3)

And so as Tuesday rolled in, so did our final day in St. John’s. I was awaken near 6AM by a call from the front desk — could I move my car? Republic of Doyle was filming in the parking lot and my car was in the shot…

parking lot set

paparazzi style... Sean McGinley, one of the stars of the Republic of Doyle

The early morning was cloudy and unpromising, so we were slow to move. A quick stop at the Quidi Vidi brewery to pick up a case of Honey Brown. Provisions were needed for tomorrow’s long drive to Springdale and were found at Bidgoods, just south of St. John’s in Goulds. Some local specialties, like seal flipper pie and caribou stew, were passed over while others, such as frozen partridge berries, made our mouths water…

boiled flipper?

the berries are more my style

As we walked out of the grocery store, the clouds parted and slivers of blue turned into mostly open skies. We drove off and made our way to Signal Hill to take in the stunning panoramas of St. John’s and its harbour…

st. John's from above

With light on our side and the air dry, we wandered around St. John’s, dodging in and out of shops and taking in the urban landscape…

George Street, daytime

those famous clapboard houses.

The George Street Festival, one of Canada’s best-known music fests, kicked off over the weekend. It’s one big celebration of music leading up to the famous Royal Regatta with upwards of 4,000 people attending the concerts. Given that it was the last night and the Celtic theme, we were quick to buy tickets…

Kilkenny Krew kicks off the night's round of music

waiting for some music!

The close of the George Street Festival marked the close of our stay in St. John’s. We could stay and watch the rowers battle it out on Quidi Vidi Lake along with the entire population of St. John’s (regatta day is a civic holiday), but we thought, given the 13 hour drive between St. John’s and the Port aux Basques ferry, it was best begin the trek home…as we found out the next evening, it would have been wiser to join the festivities at the Regatta…

The Unwashed Phenomenon Decks the Halls

I couldn’t believe it either. Bob Dylan has released a Christmas album. 

The definitive voice of America’s counter-culture, the definitive voice of the anti-establishment had gone the way of the shimmering smooth pop-prince and recorded a Christmas record. Could you imagine anything more of a stretch? And Dylan is no crooner a la Frank Sinatra or Michael Buble. Would the croaking drawl that elongated syllables and fell in unexpected cadences butcher such loved carols as “Little Drummer Boy?

Skeptics, take note: there is no singer in this day and age more suited to sing “Here Comes Santa Claus” than Bob Dylan.

“Christmas in the Heart” is easily one of the best holiday albums recorded in the last decade by a popular artist. Dylan is as much a historian of traditional American folk songs as he is a creator of them. His early years were spent chasing Woody Guthrie, Odetta and John Jacob Niles — learning their songs and attempting to capture the visceral, genuine qualities of their voices. He is an archivist of sorts and deeply rooted in music’s past. Christmas carols are folk songs — songs that tell a story, that are revived year after year and passed from one generation to another. Who better to sing them than the King of Folk?

One of the great successes of “Christmas in the Heart” is that it’s a paired down, no-frills album. The only embellishments to the 15 well-known tracks are a few sleigh bells and backup singers that could easily be the company in “Holiday Inn.” The fact that Dylan’s Christmas album sounds more 1942 than 2009 only makes it more believable as a holiday album. Let’s face it — the American vision of Christmas has been shaped by Irving Berlin, “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) and Jimmy Stewart. That said, a good Christmas album should evoke the age of Gene Autry, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Personally, I can think of anything worse than an over-popped, poorly “updated” carol. Actually, when it comes to Christmas songs, there’s a lot of things that are pretty terrible… [click here]

Dylan has compared his musical journey to an Odyssey… “I had set out to find this home I’d left a while back,” he said in an interview for the documentary No Direction Home. “I couldn’t remember where exactly it was, but I was on my way there. I was born very far from where I was supposed to be, so I’m on my way home.” It seems appropriate then that my favorite track off “Christmas in the Heart” is “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Everything about it is just sooo Bob Dylan.

Highway Companion: Songs for Driving Cross Country

150,000+ — that’s the number of miles I’ve racked up driving around North America. me drive

I’ve driven home to New York from Sacramento, CA. From New York to Jasper, CAN and back. From home to Prince Edward Island, CAN. From Westchester to South Beach, FL and back (twice). Then there’s all the times I’ve driven to Atlanta, Richmond, Louisville, Columbus, Charlotte, Boston, Philadelphia and Kansas City. Yes, my Land Rover Discovery and I have been North and South, East and West many a time together. Tomorrow, I load up the car again and begin a three day drive to Grapevine, TX. WOOOT.

No road trip is complete, or even possible without a proper soundtrack. So what will I be cranking up over the next few days to keep me trucking from sun-up to sun-down in my favorite 4×4? A little classic Rock n’ Roll, a little acid rock, a lot of Tom Petty, a lil country and a lot of great guitar. Here’s my top 26…

1. Tom Petty — American Girl
2. Lynard Skynard — Sweet Home Alabama
3. Keith Anderson — Pickin’ Wildflowers
4. Jimi Hendrix — Voodoo Child
5. Mudcrutch — Shady Grove
6. Sheryl Crow — All I wanna Do
7. Alanis Morrisette — Not the Doctor
8. Tom Petty — Running Down a Dream
9. The Beatles — Come Together
10. Neil Young — Ohio
11. The Beatles — I am the Walrus
12. Johnny Cash — Big River
13. Sheryl Crow — Steve McQueen
14. Hair — Hair
15. Jimi Hendrix — All Along the Watchtower
16. 13th Floor Elevators — You’re Gonna Miss Me
17. Jefferson Airplane — Plastic Fantastic Lover
18. The Pretenders — The Wait
19. Bob Dylan — Subterranean Homesick Blues
20. Jason Aldean — She’s Country
21. Jefferson Airplane — Somebody to Love
22. Bob Dylan — Highway 61
23. John Denver — Rocky Mountain High
24. Gordon Lightfoot — The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald
25. The Animals — Get me out of this Place
26. Steppenwolf — Born to be Wild

Artwork of the Week for June 29, 2009

martin sharp explosion

Martin Sharp
Explosion (Jimi Hendrix); 1967

This week’s artwork is inspired by my recent viewing of HAIR and my general obsession with the visual culture of the 1960s (oh, and Jimi Hendrix).

1967 was the Summer of Love and California’s Bay Area was its epicenter. 100,000 hippies wore flowers in their hair and converged on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to find somebody to love, to practice political dissension, to trip on LSD and pass some joints, to groove out to folk singers and acid rockers alike. People realized Life was a multi-sensory experience. Psychedelia shaped the late 1960s visual world. Musicians were gods and music (enhanced by a few hallucinogens) was a conduit to higher planes of consciousness. By 1967, a counter-culture became the definitive culture.

Perhaps my favorite visual relics from the 1960s are concert posters. Ineffective as advertisements (seriously, you have to spend 10 minutes deciphering the lettering) but stunning as art works, they combined the sinuous curves of art nouveau with the bold colors and the ephemeral of psychedelic experiences. Martin Sharp, an Australian who made his way to the Euro hippie center of London, was an iconic designer and artist in the late 1960s (he did several album covers for Cream). Sharp’s “Explosion” captures the color, vision, feel, and sound of 1967. Hendrix was a phenomenon in his day — 20th century rock’s virtuoso — and 1967 was the year of his famous appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Sharp used a photo of Hendrix by Linda Eastman (later, Linda McCartney) as the base for his poster. To capture the raw emotion of his subject’s performance, he dissolves the image into bursts of electric colors. Sound becomes color and Jimi Hendrix becomes an experience.

How appropriate.

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