Monday, December 22, 2014

Joe Cocker: the voice of my childhood

It has always seemed odd to me how people can feel the impact of a person's death if they had no immediate relationship or contact with that person. I suppose that passive relationships in the case of listening to someone's music counts as much as anything because I find myself more saddened than usual on hearing of the death of Joe Cocker. It is always sad when someone dies and you feel some empathy for their family losing a husband or a father, or whatever, but the news today spun me into some ultra reflection of the music that shaped my life. Many (and there are many) obituaries talk about how unique Joe was as a person, and how humble he remained even after years of celebrity. NPR rescored the interview  when he talked about his drinking and drug problems and his long climb back to sobriety. I knew none of that growing up in the 80s while my dad played his studio albums. (Once I figured out how to work the stereo I played it a LOT. This and Kris Krisstofferson's Jesus was a Capricorn album, but that is another story.)

I read the back of this album a million times and wore out at least one needle listening to it. The power of his voice was unmistakable. There was always something about it that made it the best listening for me. Then "With a little help from my friends" became the anthem for the television show "The Wonder Years." It was the first time I knew the music before the show, and the subsequent crush on Winnie Cooper further galvanized my relationship with Joe Cocker. 

Once I finally made it to the buy your own music portion of my childhood it was scouring the local pawnshop for cassettes and albums and you had to make every dollar count so a double album for the price of one got me Mad Dogs and Englishmen. For full disclosure I hate live albums, but this one was a lot of fun and remains one of the only ones I tolerate, and luckily it was reissued some years ago in CD form. If there is a quintessential Joe Cocker Album, I would say it was that one. 

I have listened to this, and other albums most of the day since I read the news this morning. It is not that unusual as I listen to at least one of his songs throughout the day on my playlist at work. There is something about the death of someone like this that leaves a body of work behind that you can still access after they are gone, some people may have photos, some audio, or even short video of loved ones that have passed, but not as easily found as a google or youtube search. So, I have been thinking about that and listening to his music, and reading the multitude of memorials and obituaries from British and American news outlets. 

Most if not all will mention if not link to his Woodstock performance, which was the first video of him singing I had ever seen. After watching it, I though he had some kind of brain issue, but later realized that was just him. The John Belushi Saturday Night Live skit captures it perfectly, and has been shared around a good bit today as well. 

Even more fun was when this was parodied on Animaniacs in "Woodstock Slappy"(which also had an amazing Abbott and Costello misunderstanding of Who's on stage) The best thing about this is he sings the original line from the Beatles song "Would you throw a tomato at me?" It was Ringo who said, "wait, guys, you know what happens when we sing about [some sort of candy] and the fans all throw it on stage? What happens if we do it this way? So they changed it to "Would you stand up and walk out on me?"

While probably his best known song, it is by far his only one. He had the kind of voice, delivery, timing, that easily made covers his own. In fact there are many songs that I heard Joe's version first and still prefer them to the originals. I don't think I could begin to count my favorites because they vary depending on mood, from fun and uplifting to dark and soul shaking. I have listened to the one above a few times today, but I will end with the one I have listened to the most today after finishing Mad Dogs  & Englishmen (and Joe Cock-er!) It is such a well done video to a song that really makes an impression. It is this amalgamation of lyrics and Joe's voice that give his music such power, If you don't feel something after listening to it, or him in general, you may need to rethink your relationship with music. Joe's death should not have had any impact on my life other than a simple death, but somehow it was like the loss of a distant relative who I never got to see and only interacted with by listening to the music he created. It is also interesting how even as trends in music came and went in my life that I always maintained an unrepentant love of Joe Cocker.It is even more interesting that during my lifetime 70 has went from being an appropriate age of death to the announcement today being met with "he was only 70." Far be it from me to sum up his life, work, and contribution to the world, but writing is a way of thinking, and it may be my meager way of saying thanks for all the music. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

In the Gallery: The Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

If you ever make it to Oklahoma City make it a point to visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Formerly the Cowboy Hall of Fame don't let its name and location fool you, there is something for everyone inside the gates.

 The Cowboy Museum, as it is known by its shortened name, has more than just cowboys and rodeos. Some of the finest western art--both historic and contemporary--is collected here either in their permanent collections or in the yearly contemporary exhibits which contain pieces that you can purchase if you are on the high end of art collecting.

The historic pieces are exhibited in galleries that do not allow photography, but through there website you can get a few teasing examples such as Bierstadt's Emigrants Crossing the Plains, and Alfred Jacob Miller's Cavalcade is there as well, in addition to Audubon's eagle and catfish.

Emigrants Crossing the Plains, Albert Bierstadt

Cavalcade, Alfred Jacob Miller

 There are enormous collections for Frederic Remington and Charles Russell works, including a single casting Remington made for a patron, and a rifle that belonged to a friend of Russell's. After complaining about a bad day of hunting Russell took the rifle and etched bear, elk, and bison onto the receiver and told him "Now, you'll always have fresh meat in sight." Remington's arch-nemesis Charles Schreyvogel has an gallery as well. At one point Remington came out in the newspaper criticizing Schreyvogel's painting Custer's Demand about numerous points of fact. One of the men depicted in the meeting and Custer's widow spoke out for Schreyvogal's authenticity and the Remington dropped the matter. In the collection/archives at the Cowboy Museum there is a letter that President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Elizabeth Custer claiming that Remington "Had been a perfect Jack" about the whole thing. 

If you are more into sculpture the museum has you covered. There are scores of bronzes from those mentioned above, but their larger than life pieces are worth going to see. You are greeted by Hollis Williford's Welcome Sundown. 


Once inside James Earle Fraser's iconic End of the Trail is your first experience. This is the original plaster cast that Fraser created in 1915. It was meant to be cast into bronze but the First World War brought a metal shortage so it remained in this form. It was moved to the Cowboy Museum in the 1960s and to its present location during the update and renovation of the museum in the 1980s. Fraser is also famous as the artist that designed the American "Buffalo" or "Indian Head" nickel. 

 Fraser's Abraham Lincoln is also housed in the Cowboy Museum, along with a reminder that Lincoln was more than just a Civil War and Emancipation president. With his signature on the Homestead Act in 1862, he opened the floodgates to the West. A million families of settlers flowed in the "empty" west before 1910.

There are also several monumental sculptures around the grounds that are also quite stunning. Below are a few, but you can see the rest here.

There is plenty of room inside for sculptures of this size indoors as well. Canyon Princess by Gerald Balciar is a beautiful animal piece made of the same marble as the Lincoln Memorial no less. 

If you are looking for a more authentic and actual cowboy experience not provided by art or art history there are numerous galleries filled with all kinds of cowboy gear from bits and bridles to chaps and brands. If you want to know anything about the 4,283,836 (completely made up number, but there are A. LOT.) of barbed wire (pronounced "bobwar" in many counties) then this is the place for you. 

There are by far more than two saddles, but you will need to go yourself to see what it is you are looking for.

If the TV and film west was more a part of your childhood than actual cowboy work, you won't be disappointed in that collection either. Their memorabilia runs from the earliest western films up through the fairly recent. Including a short little film narrated by Sam Elliot (who else?) describing the history of "The Western."

                              James Arness' Marshall Dillon wardrobe

Marshall Dillon's hat. 

Festus' saddle 
Gunsmoke Props

                             Chess Knight of Silver on Paladin's traveling gun. 

One of a few, they said the one that was actually wired with lights came with burn holes in it. 

Tom Selleck's saddle and outback hat from Quigley Down Under

                          Sam Elliot, Conagher, Louis L'amour book/movie

Daniel Day-Lewis There Will be Blood

As I mentioned above one of the neatest things the museum does if the continuation of the western art tradition by hosting new large galleries filled with modern american west artwork. Even the artwork in the gift shop is stunning.

Photography is not allowed in this exhibit, but thanks to the winnings being posted online I can share a couple of my favorites and a page on the artist that made them. I have always liked the anachronistic, mismatched, or false grouped images. Anything where it shouldn't be and imagined meetings of several famous people playing horseshoes or something have been the images that I have gravitated towards in modern context. My two favorites in this past exhibit do both. Martin Grelle's In Two Worlds is one of those iconic native in white clothing images that we are all familiar with. Most of the top hats I saw before studying the Gilded Age were worn by Native Americans.

In Two Worlds, Marin Grelle, see it and more here.

One that got a full HA! as I saw it was Bruce Greene's Wall Street From the Saddle Seat. I love it not only because it used that same trope, but because it turns the myth into the native. Civilization has come to the cowboy. Even the romantic ideal has started to vanish. 

Wall Street from the Saddle Seat, Bruce Greene, see it and more here

The Cowboy Museum houses more than you think, more than I thought for sure. We've lived a half hour a way for two and a half years and only went this week as part of my Art History class. It was worth the wait not only to see what was there, but to go through it with my professor who was the director there from around 1986 to 1996. He said that moving Fraser's End of the Trail to its present position was "The longest day of my life." They moved it all in one piece by crane over trees and through a giant window. Moving it was the quickest part, it took two hours to get it off the original pedestal and balanced properly in the crane straps and four hours to get it installed on its new pedestal.  When it was shipped to the museum in 1968 it was cut in to 5 or 6 pieces and rebuilt. 

There is much more to do in OKC than really meets the eye. Many people miss things like this because it is flyover state. If you happen to be in the area add this museum to your itinerary. If you are looking for something new to see or a new place to visit, make it a stop on your cross country drive. It's worth it. Only this historical galleries are static, and there is always something going on there with artists' talks and new exhibits. 

A final thought is I can never go into any kind of museum that features galleries of art of any kind and not think about the Dire Straits song In the Gallery. I hear it even more loudly in a space that highlights western art because the first line is "Harry made a bareback rider, proud and free, upon a horse..."It is definitely something to think about especially in a place that contains paintings of the American West from the 1830s and paintings and sculpture still being created about the same subject. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Karl Bodmer: Exacting Expeditionary Artist

When I looked back through my posts to study for my midterm exam, I realized that I had neglected a post on Karl Bodmer and his patron Prince Maximilian. I intend to remedy that here, and give a few examples of how exacting and detailed Bodmer's work was. If you appreciate it for no other reason, you should at least respect its authenticity.

Karl Bodmer (February 11, 1809-October 30, 1893) in 1877
A lifetime after his expedition with Prince Max 

Bodmer's story really begins with Prince Max. A German aristocrat (his grandfather was a ruling count), he soon fell under the mentorship of Alexander von Humboldt. Following his mentor's trailblazing adventurous style Prince Max led a scientific expedition through Brazil from 1815-1817. When Max begin his work in Brazil, Bodmer was back in Zurich at the tender age of 6.

Prince Max returned to the Western Hemisphere in 1832 where he organized a two year expedition in the Great Plains along the Missouri River. This time the young Bodmer was the official artist for the expedition and his works would accompany the official report of the expedition written by Prince Max in 1840. Prince Max's journals have been published in their entirety--three enormous volumes--and you should definitely get your hands on them, whether borrowed or bought, they are an absolute thrill to read.
Prince Max (September 23, 1782-February 3, 1867)

Below are a a few samples of Bodmer's work. You can see the attention to detail especially in the collections of artifacts that he reproduced in two dimensions. Even more so when he painstakingly recreates the native artwork that was part of the skin, bowl, or quiver.

Offering of the Mandan Indians  
Buffalo Dance of the Mandan

Magic Pile of the Assiniboin Indians 

Mouth of the Fox River from Travels in America 

Horse Racing of the Sioux

Noapeh, Assiniboin Indian

Sih-Chida and Mahchsi-Karehde, Mandan Indians

"Road Maker" Minatarre Chief

Mato-Tope Mandan Chief 

Mato-Tope print

Pehriska-Ruhpa. "A Minatarre of big-bellied Indian"

Collection of artifacts collected during the expedition

Pehriska-Ruhpa, Minnatarre Warrior in the Costume of the Dog Dance
The Dog Dance is probably one of the most recognized or famous of Bodmer's collection. It is stunning. There is a fantastic collection of Bodmer's work that was an accompanying text for a Bodmer exhibit at the Nordamerika Native Museum Zurich back in Fall 2008. It is called Karl Bodmer A Swiss Artist in America 1809-1893. That is another one you will want to at least interlibrary loan if you get a chance, because the used copies on Amazon are $500 and the new one is listed for $1893.58.

If you would like to see some Bodmer works in the flesh the largest of three known collections of Bodmer's work lives at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska of all places. They also have the original Maximilian Journals that "are a centerpiece of the Joslyn collection, accompanied by his collection of over 350 watercolors and drawings by Karl Bodmer."hey alYou can see more written about the Maximilian Collection by clicking here and scrolling about halfway down. 

Maximilian Journal Image Source

Interesting evening addendum: You find some interesting things wen you look for stuff to put into a blog post. I stumbled across this documentary created back in 2010 called Bodmer's Journey. I have not watched it so I can't speak to its quality. It is hosted through vimeo here for a $2.99 year long rental, or you can purchase it for $20 through Amazon. Here is the trailer: 

There is also a chap that gives a presentation as though he is Bodmer himself. I have seen one of these before about John Audubon, and this one is not bad, especially for it to be filmed in shorts.