Sunday, April 27, 2014

Spain Shpain

I have been trashed, wasted and put up wet. There are no Sketches of Spain to be had just yet. So here's Rose.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Los Extranjeros

This candid portrait, street photography really, has stuck with me since the moment this lovely woman of a certain age walked out of her hostel in Antigua, Guatemala. The fortuitous background shadow sets up her sunlit visage perfectly.

Below are our subject and her angular mate engaged in conversation during a pit stop on our way to Lago Atitlan.  The couple, like so many others that I encountered in Guatemala, were on their way to work among the poor of the country, in this case the Mayas.  It seemed that every adult extranjero (foreigner) in Guatemala was providing aid of some kind. One nurse, a part time resident with another home in Alaska, had just assisted in more than a hundred eye surgeries.  Another was building schools for Mayan girls who traditionally are not allowed an education. Only the first born males go to school. And yet another was installing water treatment systems. Potable water is in short supply. The needs are acute despite Guatemala being the richest country in Central America in terms of natural resources.
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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Legends, myths and echos of the past

Legendary RCA Victor Studio B was run by the equally legendary Chet Atkins who built the facility in 1957.  Until the studio was completed musicians recorded in the stair well of a nearby office building to get the echo Atkins wanted and which became part of “the Nashville Sound.”  Back in the day my singing partner and I recorded in the bathroom where the tiles worked similar magic and later in 1960 when we cut our single Once Upon A Time the echo was provided by an empty 2000 gallon water tank on the roof of Audio Recorders in Phoenix. It was the same studio where Duane Eddy had unleashed his “twangy guitar” three years before. 
Our record, alas, was on the old Oblivion label.  You may not have heard of it.

Studio B is the studio Elvis Presley built.  More than 200 of his songs were made in the unprepossessing cinder block building at 222 Fifth Street on Nashville’s Music Row.  Reputedly Elvis could enter the studio through the back door while everybody else including some of the biggest names in country and pop history had to get by a gate keeper at the front door.  Such were the perks of being the biggest star on the planet.

I'm told that Elvis had to be in the mood to record so appropriate lighting was supplied for the King. Sometimes the colored lights were the only lights. The plaintive Are You Lonesome Tonight?, a noted blue light ballad, was recorded with so little light that the pianist could barely see the keys. And, who knew?, the piano man on that midnight session was Elvis himself.
Legend has it that Elvis was on piano with only a double bass and the Tennessee Three singing back-up. Except I’ve just listened to the recording and I’m pretty sure I hear the soft strumming of an acoustical guitar and can't identify a piano at all.

Because the studio was so dimly lit I couldn’t hand hold a long shot of Elvis’s piano (that’s how it’s known) but I could brace myself against it for relatively sharp shots of its innards and of my cousin Kristin’s skilled fingers caressing the keys.


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Dry America

US 84, Sudan, Texas

The very dry Sudan, Texas
Prohibition is a blight. There’s a thread of consequences that accompanies it.  There are no good restaurants and that’s a nonstarter for me. There’s a dearth of style, vitality and worldview in these loathsome places that are stuck in the 1920s.  And in absence of any forward energy is an aging populous that sees the New York Times as elitist left wing propaganda and thinks Fox News actually produces news.  What’s more these desiccated burgs inbreed like West Virginia cousins and can’t attract educated, well travelled newcomers that would infuse new blood into the community.  It’s a double whammy of reduction and repulsion.

As of November 2013 there were eleven entirely dry counties in Texas, 194 were “moist” or mixed and 49 wet.  As you’d expect the wet counties include all the major metropolitan areas and most southern counties.  The sticks of east and west Texas contain most of the dry counties to the surprise of absolutely nobody. How they vote is a given. They’re as red as Jim Bob’s nose.

84 year old Marian Steich helped make Winona, Texas the first “wet” town in Smith County. The tea totaling, church going great grandmother decided that folks should be able to decide what to drink and where to buy it.  Steich says, “I’ve never understood why you have to leave the county to buy beer to enjoy in your own home.” And she adds,“I watched this town die, she says, “Now I’d like to see it grow.” She made an alcohol to growth connection even I wouldn't have attempted.
In tiny Winona, population 600 and nestled in the buckle of the East Texas Bible Belt, residents finally voted by the slim margin of 18 to repeal prohibition and town tax revenues quintupled with the addition of four package stores. That's nobody's idea of ideal growth but none of the drys’ warnings about crime and littering have come true.

Winona mayor Rusty Smith who cops to the occasional beer reports, “We’ve seen a reduction in speeding on the highway. Cars are stopping in Winona now.” That's opposed to getting out of Winona as fast as possible.

Not to mention drunk driving. Alcohol related deaths are nearly four times higher in dry counties, 6.8 deaths per 10,000 people to 1.8%.  The logic being that people are going to drink and they’ll drive as far as it takes sober or otherwise to get demon rum.

One in nine counties is still dry, but Tennessee communities allowing alcohol sales have grown 55% since 2003. In the same period, 22 more of Texas’s 254 counties and 235 of its municipalities have turned wet or at least moist. In Texas the “wets” have won 80% of alcohol elections in the last eight years. Even in Kansas, where Prohibition lasted from 1881 to 1948, fifteen counties have seen the light since 2002. What's the matter with Kansas? you ask.

Put a cork in it. Prohibition is a lame duck candidate with no war chest, a platform that doesn’t hold wine and whose prospects are evaporating fast. The trajectory toward universal lubrication is immutable but there are still die hards.  So in the public interest, here are the Texas counties not to visit.

Bailey, Borden, Collingsworth, Delta, Hemphill, Kent, Martin, Palmer, Roberts, Sterling and Throckmorton.