Cowboy Poetry Week: “I Ride an Old Paint”

An American Paint Horse at a horse show in the Czech Republic, from Wikipedia, photo by Karakal

The Death of the Old West

Depending on who you talk to, rumors of the death of the Old West, may be somewhat exaggerated. Some say it died when the railroads started carrying beef on the hoof to places like Kansas City and Chicago. Others say it died when barbed wire was invented. Even today, there are those that infer that the Old West lasted until the automobile and paved roads became the norm for transportation. And finally, there are those that believe that the Old West may still exist in small pockets, where a few determined herders somehow manage to work what’s left of the open range.

The Search

Back during the Roaring Twenties, when speakeasies and Jazz music were the rage, Carl Sandburg went on a search. He was looking for genuine cowboy songs from the Old West. To do this properly, the young Midwesterner dropped out of college, crisscrossed the western mountains and prairies, looking for old remnants of years gone by. Somewhere in the high desert of New Mexico, he came across this beauty of a song.

What’s an Old Paint

First of all, an Old Paint is a type of horse common to the American West. Basically, it is a stock horse with a “pinto” pattern of color. The splotched color separates this breed from the solid, American quarter horse. Except for the color pattern, the two types of horses are similar in size, build and stock. Nonetheless, they are considered two separate breeds, which are both quite popular among American horsemen.

About the Song

Too many, “I Ride an Old Paint”, embodies the spirit of the Old West, as well as any folk song. There are many wonderful elements to the horseman’s tale, but perhaps the unusual method of burial is most telling about the special appeal for this Western lament. I seriously doubt that many (if any) cowhands were treated this way after leaving the world of the living. Yet still, there is a communion with the outdoor range, rarely expressed in Western music,when the corpse of the main character is tied to the back of his horse and then set loose into the bush.

Carl Sandburg at age 77

Who Was Carl Sandburg?

Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois in 1878. After serving in the military in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War, Carl returned to the Midwest, where he worked a variety jobs before he began publishing his own poetry in 1916. As an offshoot of his poetry, he put out a recording of folk songs (1927), gathered from traditional sources. This landmark album included such noted American classics, as the “Sloop John B” and “I Ride an Old Paint”. Over the years, the Old Paint song has one of the most recorded songs in American music.

 

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Prince

Prince on the Mountaintop, artwork and photo by artist
Prince on the Mountaintop, artwork by author

Prince

Prince Rogers Nelson died last week and it wasn’t til his death that I realized that Prince was his real name, not a stage name. Though he looked many years younger, Prince Nelson was actually 57 years years old, approximately the same age as my youngest brother, who happens to be a big Prince fan. It’s always sad to see someone younger pass away, especially someone who probably had a lot of creative music left inside him. Nonetheless, his musical output was prodigious and plentiful and as a result there will be lots of Prince recordings and videos to enjoy for years to come.

About The Drawing

Done primarily with art markers, this quick sketch depicts PNR standing on a mountaintop holding a traveler’s umbrella to shelter himself from the “purple rain”. It is meant as a tribute to a talented artist, who was able to ascertain a certain amount of greatness which his fortuitous skill and talent. Not many are able to do this, thus Prince is pictured alone.

What Creative Writers Can Learn from Pink Floyd

Pink_Floyd_-_Division_Bell
This cover for Division Bell was created by Storm Thorgrson. The two heads were intended to symbolize the absence of Waters and Barrett from the band.

A Catchy Title Is Everything

This band began in 1963 as a small group of London architecture students practicing in their school basement, so they could could play at private parties. Eventually the name Pink Floyd was created as a last minute, spur-of-the-moment decision because their chosen band title, The Tea Set, was already being used by another London band. Do you thing this group of musicians would have gone very far with a name like the Tea Set?

Image of Floyd Council, from wikipedia
Image of Floyd Council, from wikipedia

The Title Deriviation Process Is Not All That Important

Syd Barrett, a London art student, and childhood friend of original member, Roger Waters, chose the title based on the first name of two Piedmont blues musians from the US. Though Pink Anderson and Floyd Council never had much name recogniton playing their own music, their names are forever immortalized with the creation with one of world’s most successful and well-known psychedelic, progressive rock bands.

Practice and Perserverence Overrule Talent and Creativity

For both the writer and the musician, practice is most important. Nothing can replace the long hours of  perfecting the scales, riffs and break of contemporary music. Writers go through a similar mental process, as they learn how to master grammar, punctuation and vocabulary to provide a fresh voice to readers. The main difference here is that writers tend to work alone, while most musicians eventually learn to play in accompanyment with other musicians.

Multi-genre Artistic Creations Tend To Reach a Wider Audience

In the early years (the late 60s), Pink Floyd was primarily known as a psychedelic rock band. At the time, psychedelic music was the “in thing” and this British quintet fit the bill very well. As times changed and the band entered a new decade, their music evolved and was often placed under the progressive label. After the release of Dark Side of the Moon was released, a new label was added, “space rock. This occurred despite the fact that the title derives from the dark side of the human mind.

 

pink floyd in concert
Pink Floyd performing in the US, July 1973, photo from wikipedia

Don’t Expect Immediate Success

In 1973 Pink Floyd put out Dark Side of the Moon, which quickly became a bestseller. This groundbreaking release would remain on the charts for 741 weeks, sell 40 million copies and thus become of the most popular rock albums ever. However, it should be noted that this phenomenal success followed seven albums of moderate acclaim and success.

Creative Genius Does Not Equal Mental Stability

Syd Barrett, who is generally recognized as the main creative force behind the original sound of Pink Floyd, left the band in late sixties due to mental health issues.  Excessive use of LSD may have been responsible for his mental condition.

Did You Like This Post?

Then you might like to check out a similar blog by Jeff Goins…….which inspired me to come with my own set of conclusions revolving around how innovative rock musicians can influence artists working in different venues.

Far side of the moon, photographed by Apollo 16
Far side of the moon, photographed by Apollo 16

Knee-deep In Garbage, Firing Rockets at the Moon ( remembering Pete Seeger)

A Trip to the Moon  Image Credit: Georges Méliès, Wikipedia
A Trip to the Moon
Image Credit: Georges Méliès, Wikipedia

“There is hope for the world,” Pete Seeger

The Irascible Troubadour

Pete Seeger first heard the banjo, while traveling through the southern Appalachians with his mother and his stepfather. As it turned out, Pete’s love for the strange sound made by the five-stringed instrument would become a lifetime obsession that would carry him around the world. After working with the prominent folklorist, Alan Lomax, Pete went on to perform with the Weavers. However, Pete’s left-leaning political persuasions caught up with him during the McCarthy era, when he was blacklisted and even imprisoned for a while. The irascible troubadour emerged from the harsh experience to become one of America’s most well-known folksingers and protest performers. After becoming a stalwart of the sixties civil rights and anti-war musical scene, Pete moved on to meet the demands of a worldwide audience.

Pete Seeger at age 88, from Wikipedia, photo by Anthony Pepitone
Pete Seeger at age 88, from Wikipedia, photo by Anthony Pepitone

A Legend Passes On

I saw the headline on the internet the other day. Pete Seeger had died in his sleep at age 94. My first reaction was quite simple……. One can be a rabble rouser and professional shit-stirrer and still live to a ripe old age. And then there is the corollary theory that it is also possible to make a decent living by singing protest songs. Joan Baez did it, Bob Dylan did it, Phil Ochs did it, but nobody did it quite like Pete Seeger….or for as long.

Flash Music

Nowadays we have flash fiction, but Mr. Seeger, the wandering folksinger, was doing the abbreviated musical version, long before the internet made brevity the status quo. Nothing sticks in my mind better than a one line song he sang on one of the late night talk shows (probably Johnny Carson). I think the song went  like this; “Here we are knee-deep in garbage, firing rockets at the moon”. That was it….one line and the song was over and flash music was invented. And Pete had made his point, as only the roving minstrel could do.

Important Update

Nowadays, our rockets at the moon have gotten much more sophisticated. If you don’t believe me, just check out the impressive images sent back to earth by the Hubblecraft, the Cassini spacecraft and the Mars Rover. However, we are still knee-deep in garbage. And the problem seems to be growing.

Pete Seeger’s Favorite Quote

“It is very dangerous to allow the wrong kind of music in the republic”,  Plato.

My Favorite Pete Seeger Quote

“Don’t let your schoolin’ get in the way of your education,” Pete Seeger.

The Red Rectangle Nebula from Hubble  Image Credit: ESA, Hubble, NASA; Reprocessing: Steven Marx, Hubble Legacy Archive
The Red Rectangle Nebula from Hubble
Image Credit: ESA, Hubble, NASA; Reprocessing: Steven Marx, Hubble Legacy Archive

Bob Dylan’s Transfiguration

Bob Dylan with Joan Baez
Bob Dylan with Joan Baez in 1963, from Wikipedia, photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

“In my case, there’s a whole world of scholars, professors and Dylanologists, and everything I do affects them in some way. And you know in some way I’ve given them life. They’d be nowhere without me.”   Bob Dylan from the Rolling Stone Interview

The Interview

Last week Rolling Stone Magazine officially released their September 27 issue, which included a lengthy interview with Bob Dylan. The interview, which was conducted by Mikal Gilmore had generated some pre-publication press, especially around his quotes concerning plagiarism and U.S. slavery. I actually got my hands on a copy of the R & R mag yesterday and had a chance to read the in-depth discussion between Mr. Dylan and Mr. Gilmore. What I learned was very interesting and also very informative.

Transfiguration

Transfiguration – A marked change in form or appearance; a metamorphosis.     from the American Heritage Dictionary

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the interview is Bob Dylan’s belief…… that he was transfigured, when another person bearing the same name, died in a motorcycle accident in 1964. This is heady stuff indeed, but its inclusion makes for good reading. And that other person, who died in 1964 was named Bobby Zimmerman…..and…he was president of the San Bernadino chapter of Hells Angels at the time of his death. Even stranger still is the publisher’s footnote stating that the Hells Angels guy really died in 1961 almost at the same time that Bob Dylan (formerly known as Robert Zimmerman) got his first big break in the form of a NY Times interview.

The Fifties

Another important fact to note, when discussing the folk bard, is that Dylan was born right before Pearl Harbor and that he attended high school in Hibbing, Minnesota during the fifties. Not only were the 50s a more peaceful time, but also the future folksinger’s early life in the hinterlands of America may have been instrumental in the development of Dylan as a singer and social critic. A quick look and listen to some of the rock’n roll artists of that era will go a long way in learning about how somebody from those years might view the world. If you don’t agree check out this list of the top five R & R hits for that decade.  In descending order it includes Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley, Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets, Tutti-Frutti by Little Richard and Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On by Jerry Lee Lewis. This list says a lot.

Other Interesting Topics

Other areas of discussion that caught my eye include a defense of borrowing and some thoughts on John Lennon. Plagiarism is a term tossed around the literary world a lot. In Dylan’s opinion this happens more often than it should be, for it is in unavoidable dilemma that any folksinger, poet playwright, writer or whatnot cannot create fresh material without borrowing from the past. For me that kind of says it all.

Bob Dylan and President Obama
President Obama rewarding Bob Dylan with the Medal of Freedom at the White House, from Wikipedia source NASA

Free Things To Do In Las Vegas

A Vegas Sign On the Uncovered Part of Fremont Street

Palms and the stratosphere in Las Vegas, Nevada.

About Las Vegas

There are two towns in the west named Las Vegas, which translated from the Spanish, simply means the meadows. One of these towns can be found on the eastern slope of the Sangre de Christo mountains in New Mexico, while its more famous relative occupies the arid southern tip of Nevada near the Arizona-California border. Las Vegas, New Mexico is the older settlement as it was a Mexican land grant that became a stop on the Old Santa Fe. In its heyday it was a wild town that supported gaming halls, saloons and prostitution. Some its more famous visitors include Doc Holiday, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and Jesse James. Today it is a quiet Hispanic town with a popular hot springs.

Welcome to Las Vegas
The Welcome to Las Vegas sign is located on the south side of town on Las Vegas Blvd.

Welcome to Las Vegas, Nevada

At the south end of town  on Las Vegas Blvd. (also known as “The Strip” visitors will find the famous sign. On any given day (or night) there will invariably be several picture taking tourists located right in front of this sign. And of course there will be the picture takers snapping away with their new digital cameras. It doesn’t cost anything to visit this popular site (except maybe some gas and wear and tear on your vehicle) so you might as well join the crowd and check out this Las Vegas icon.

The Luxor Resort has a distinctly Egyptian theme
The Luxor Resort on the Las Vegas Strip has a distinctly Egyptian theme

Walking the Strip

It’s a long walk from where the strip begins near Sahara Ave., but if attempted in the cool of the evening, the long walk can be a very enjoyable stroll. Incidentally, the Luxor Resort is located at the far south end near Tropicana Ave. Numerous elevated crosswalks make crossing the busy avenues much easier, as both the road surface and the sidewalks can be filled to near capacity. There is much to see along the way, not only in exterior architecture, but also in the plush interiors of the casinos, performance halls and retail outlets. Be sure to take along a comfortable pair of shoes and drink lots of water.

The Treasure Island Sirens
The Treasure Island sirens know how to really heat things up.

The Outdoor Night Shows

Two venues namely the Mirage and Treasure Island put on free nightly shows, which can easily be enjoyed by those walking “The Strip“. At the Mirage the main feature is the Volcano, a simulated replica of the real thing that erupts every hour from 8 p.m. till midnight, accompanied by some hot Tiki-techno drumming. The volcano is located on an island in the middle of the lagoon that borders the sidewalk. After watching the street show, you might to walk inside the Mirage to play a game, eat or enjoy a drink at the bar. The interior design alone  is worth the journey. At the Treasure Island Resort and Casino there is a more ambitious free performance that features some titillating conflict between a band of pirates and just as many sirens. Check out this short one act play for some lively music and clever scripting.

Indoor Performances

Live (and free) circus performances can be enjoyed at the Circus Circus Resort and Casino. A special stage and trapeze can be found inside for all types of performances which are listed inside near the stage. And for those who want to sit on yet to be released TV productions can make arrangements to do so at the MGM complex. Just be aware that giving your opinion of the show comes with the free admission.

Heart Attack Grill
The Heart Attack Grill can be found on Fremont Street just past the covered area.

Fremont Street Experience

Away from the strip is Fremont Street, which includes a pedestrian mall that serves up lots of free entertainment, including live musical performances,  after sundown. One controversial restaurant provides free meals for patrons, who weigh over 350 pounds, provided they check in with a doctor or nurse first and they don’t share their food with anybody else. The place is called The Heart Attack Grill as the name of the restaurant and most of the dishes will start you thinking about your own diet and mortality.

On a saner note, well designed light shows go off every hour from dusk till midnight. These shows only last about ten minutes, but they feature an incredible array of images and music projected against a huge overhead screen. A must see for anybody spending any time in Vegas.

Levon Helm Dies at Age 71

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Levon Helm playing in Woodstock, NY in 2004, from Wikipedia

Brief Bio

Levon Helm, the long-standing drummer and superb tenor vocalist for the Band, died today in Woodstock, NY after a long struggle with cancer. Having grown up in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, the talented singer and musician brought a lot of talent to one of the most popular rock groups of the 60s and 70’s. After The Band broke up, Helm went on to record with other Band members (excluding Robbie Robertson) and eventually doing his own solo recordings. The drummer-singer is known for some of the most riveting vocal leads in recording history, including the lead voice in “The Weight”, a R&R Classic.

Helm’s Feud With Robertson

Martin Scorcese filmed the last concert of the Band (it’s called the Last Waltz) and unknowingly produced a Rock & Roll classic. Though not very apparent to most film viewers, Robertson and Helm were feuding before, during and after the live performance. Their differences became quite obvious after the break-up of the Band. Since that time the two have had limited contact with each other. The most common form of communication between the two musicians indicates a general dislike of each other. One point of contention was the break-up of The Band. Robertson was for, Helm was against. Another component of their feud was Helm’s claim that he did not receive complete credit for his songwriting contributions. Nonetheless, Robbie Robertson had this to say about Helm recently, as it was widely known that his death was eminent, “We all need to send out love and prayers to my Band mate Levon Helm.”

After The Band

After the break-up of the Band both Robertson and Helm have had distinguished solo recording careers. In contrast other members of the group have remained on the sidelines. While Robertson went Native, Helms chose to continuing exploring his rural Arkansas roots. By coincidence Helm was the only American member of The Band. Special praise should be given to Levon for his literary biography of the Band, entitled “This Wheel’s On Fire.” It is Helm’s tribute to rock & roll history and by most accounts the book is a stimulating and forthright account of the rise of a five-piece, musical group known worldwide, simply as “The Band”.

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Bob Dylan and the Band playing in Chicago, 1974, from Wikipedia