Saturday, December 10, 2011
NEWS FEATURES, Acoustic Americana Music Guide, December 12, 2011 edition
“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ~ Berthold Auerbach
(with thanks to Andy Hill & Renee Safier for sending the quote.)
Want to get each weekly edition of the Guide's NEWS FEATURES delivered directly to your inbox? (Without waiting for your webgroup moderator to approve and post it?) Email and subscribe directly, for FREE,
Just say, SUBSCRIBE ME!
(That way, you'll also know each time our SPOTLIGHT EVENTS section gets a major update, though we do NOT email that one, because it's huge.)
WE ARE GRATEFUL to our many website and webgroup partners who faithfully bring you The Guide's weekly News Features. But these are sometimes subject to delay (up to several days, it seems) for moderators of some sites / groups to re-publish for their readers. So why not GO DIRECT!? (Yep, it's still free, and we don't share your email address with anybody.)
This section is the NEWS – you can find ALL THE EVENTS in the Guide's companion section – SPOTLIGHT EVENTS – at
Let's get started!
Tied to the Tracks'
December 12, 2011 edition
THIS WEEK’S NEWS FEATURES
1) Toy Drive at the “Fork in the Road” this Weekend
2) Celtic Fiddler KEVIN BURKE Plays Saturday's Caltech Folk Music Series
3) Volatility: in Money, Arts, Music, Movies, Politics...
4) Farewell to Radio's “Alive & Picking” – Final Show is December 31
5) Want to Volunteer for the Arts and Music Program for Prisons 2012?
6) MARINA V Gets Another Song Placement on NBC Soap, “Days of Our Lives”
7) Kerrville New Folk Winner ERNEST TROOST to Release Live Album
8) FREEBO Reports from Occupy Wall Street NYC Just Before the Eviction
9) Review: AMC's New Series, “HELL ON WHEELS”
Here are this week's news feature stories, listed above...
Our # 1 Story
TOY DRIVE AT THE “FORK IN THE ROAD” THIS WEEKEND
All-day Saturday & Sunday, December 10 & 11, there's a new addition to the mosaic of local toy drives for needy kids. This one happens at the giant fork sculpture at Pasadena Avenue & St. Johns Place, from early morning to dusk, both days. The actual address, and the only side of the triangular park where you can park your car, is 200 Bellefontaine, Pasadena 91105; that's the address for your Mapquest.
Like the Forkians' record-breaking Thanksgiving Food Drive, this will be a huge event with many children-oriented charities participating.
The Forkians (we've told you about them before) remind us, “Don't let any child (adult) live with the memory of not getting a toy at Christmas.”
Bob Stane says, “That's the guilt part. Works for me.” He's the Coffee Gallery Backstage impresario and the guy for whom the 18-foot-tall fork was crafted as a surprise birthday present.
Bob adds, in his inimitable fashion, “You'll see this on lots of TV news programs. There will be 'elf tossing' from the piles of toys. Or will that be toy tossing off of piles of elves? Oh, Bob, stop it.”
Contribute a new, unwrapped toy. Or come out and volunteer. Or both. More info, send an email to chief toy wrangler Philip Coombes at email@example.com
We'll add that if you spend all your money on toys for needy kids, you can still afford to reward yourself with a nearby free concert. On Sunday, from 11 am-1 pm, MURPHY'S FLAW brings “Bluegrass without pity” to their monthly residency at Jones Coffee Roasters, 693 S Raymond Av, Pasadena; 626-564-9291.
Our # 2 Story
CELTIC FIDDLER KEVIN BURKE PLAYS SATURDAY'S CALTECH FOLK MUSIC SERIES
From the famous BOTHY BAND to his solo tours, this guy is special. The New York Times wrote, “Burke imparts a rhythmic intensity that is remarkably powerful...a superior instrumentalist in any idiom...impressively virtuosic.” Folk Roots wrote, “Burke’s fiddle playing has a sweetness of tone and a purity of sound that makes it unmistakable.”
Rex Mayreis and Nick Smith, co-producers of the long running series, tell us, “After a memorable week of wind, power outages, and cold weather, we're already at our final heads up for KEVIN BURKE.”
They continue, “You can view him playing a selection of polkas and reels at the Edinburgh Folk Club, May 2008 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pOtZkeJkLE and get a taste of his fiddle mastery and wry manner.
“He hasn't released a solo recording since 1999's wonderful 'In Concert,' which begins with Kevin's version of 'The Butterfly,' composed by TOMMY POTTS, the man Kevin replaced in the BOTHY BAND. You'll just have to come Saturday night to hear what he's doing solo these days.
“Go to Kevin's web site at http://kevinburke.com and you'll be treated to some of his music automatically, if your speakers are turned on.” Better, come to the concert and be treated to his live performance.
The show is tonight, Saturday, December 10, at 8 pm, Celtic Fiddler KEVIN BURKE plays the “CALTECH FOLK MUSIC SOCIETY” series at California Institute of Technology in Beckman Institute Auditorium, on the campus in Pasadena 91106; enter on Michigan Avenue, south off Del Mar, and park in either of the two lots at the end of the street (parking restrictions in the lots are not effect on weekends, so all spaces are available). Info, 626-395-4652.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for Caltech students and children and can be purchased for cash at the door.
Our # 3 Story
VOLATILITY: IN MONEY, ARTS, MUSIC, MOVIES, POLITICS...
That was the subject of a far-ranging conversation last week, on Friday morning on NPR. One topic they included was an acronym we didn't know: “FUDs” – Fear, Uncertainty, Doubts.
Seems that was a popular term from the NBA a few years ago.
Yes, the same NBA that teetered on the brink of canceling the entire season.
Volatility comes from the Latin, meaning “to evaporate away into the air,” and in the modern Italian, “Volare” means “to fly,” as in the old Dean Martin song.
What does in mean in real terms?
A movie opens with record box office revenues then quickly fades. A month ago, an SNL sketch had Newt Gingrich running his campaign from a closet, and now he's the GOP front-runner. That's volatility.
Occupy movement sites were leading the news in every city before they are raided and evicted. Record Santa Ana Winds threw trees across miles of roads and left 300,000 with no electric power.
Still, homeowners and businesses adjust, knowing Edison will get to them, just as Occupy protestors adjust after evictions, and plan massive marches for next spring. That's the rest of the story: Humans are resilient. We adjust. In the age of too much information, we adjust to knowing we will never absorb all the information available about anything, and we accept that “change” is a constant that happens rapidly. Artists accept that their fifteen minutes may be more like two minutes. We already have the next project taking shape in our minds.
Even with our natural predisposition to adjust, life with rapidly paced volatility has profound impacts: Do we stop seeking career-level employment because we know no jobs come with health benefits anymore? Will we all become lifelong renters because we know real estate values can put mortgages upside-down and leave us owing more than our houses or downtown lofts are worth? Will we all become serfs of the 1% who will own all the rental properties? (7,000 repossessed homes just went in a single auction this week.) Will the cost of restoring storm-damaged infrastructure fall on us in the 99%, forcing us to pay higher taxes because the big barons escape paying taxes?
Now we learn that a Congress that can't do anything else may put horse meat on our menu. No kidding. Times are hard, race horses that don't win go to the glue factory, the wild mustangs were all rounded-up and many are “surplus” in captivity, since feeding them costs too much. Seems dead horses are now cheaper than live horses or dead cows, and times are hard for a lot of people. We wouldn't eat Fido or Fluffy (yet), but somebody thinks we're ready to eat My Friend Flicka. (Have these people ever seen a Western? GADS!)
It's volatility, and all those FUDs – Fear, Uncertainty, Doubts.
Get a flu shot or spend the money on better food that supports our immune system? Get the kids vaccinated or believe the internet horror stories about risks?
All but the last three paragraphs come from the NPR story. Obviously, you can apply this topic to most of what we are all facing right now.
December 1 was “World AIDS Day.” A disease that scared the hell out of everyone 25 years ago is now something that we understand better, reducing the inhumanity of the FUD factor, but have we adjusted so much that we're too comfortable? Worldwide estimated new cases of HIV infection, 2.6 million; estimated total number of people living with HIV/AIDS, 33.3 million; estimated total AIDS deaths, 1.8 million; source, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Report on the global AIDS epidemic 2009, August 2009.
Even adjusting can bring volatility and risks and a new set of FUDS.
Get CDs pressed, or just release the new album digitally because that's where the big labels are going? But how do I tour and pay for hotel rooms without impulse-buy merch to sell at the gigs?
Looks like FUDs transcend the concept of volatility and require reasoning – except in the NBA.
And except on Wall Street and in politics. That's Ouija board and voodoo country. Newt Gingrich, the guy who served divorce papers to his first wife while she was in the hospital on her presumed death bed, and now he's the front-runner of a party that's more moral than the rest of us? No rational explanation. Volatility.
Back to music. We complain a lot around here that L.A. has none of the excellent NPR music packages, despite two NPR affiliates in this town. The recent story made us glad we endured the endless blah-blah-blah just long enough that day to hear Madeline Brand and her guest. Then again, maybe we could create enough FUDs and volatility to get KPCC or KCRW to include one of those NPR music packages. Imagine that: we would no longer be the only city in America without “The Thistle and the Shamrock.”
Nah. L.A. radio execs and their FUDs have no room for artistic creativity and the kind of rich musical diversity that's proven popular everywhere else. It's too volatile for them.
Too much of everything is just like on Wall Street: it's always the shortest path to the most short-term profit, and the future viability, the very longevity of the enterprise, be damned. The needs of the people, or the opportunity to grab a quick buck and get away with it? Geez.
Our # 4 Story
FAREWELL TO RADIO'S “ALIVE & PICKING” – FINAL SHOW IS DECEMBER 31
News came from the Caltech Folk Music Society, who wrote, “We're saddened to learn that MARY KATHERINE ALDIN will be signing off from “ALIVE AND PICKING,” her Saturday morning bluegrass and old time music show on KPFK, effective on December 31. We'll miss her voice, her knowledge of folk music, and her keen musical taste, as well as her guest hosts. We appreciate the years of devoted hours that she's put into the show and grudgingly understand her desire for more personal time. It is a huge loss for the folk music community.
“The only good thing about this is that lot of people (including Mary Katherine) will be able to sleep later on Saturday mornings. Read her farewell at her web site on the November 28 entry, www.aliveandpicking.com/Ramblings.html.
“Tune in to her last few shows (Saturday, 6-8 am on KPFK 90.7 FM, also archived for 2 weeks at www.kpfk.org), as she has JOE FRAZIER (of the Chad Mitchell Trio), GEORGE GROVE (of the Kingston Trio), ART PODELL (of ART & PAUL and THE NEW CHRISTY MINSTRELS) and JIM MORAN (of CHILLY WINDS) will do a folky Christmas show, and JOHN & DEANNE DAVIS [former radio hosts of the long-lost and much beloved “Wildwood Flower” show] visit for their special Christmas program (not just for Christians!) on December 24.
“Mary Katherine will maintain her folk music calendar at www.aliveandpicking.com.
“Mary Katherine's departure marks the diminishing presence of folk music on broadcast radio. This is a good time to mention that Roz Larman's FolkScene radio show continues from 6-8 pm on Sunday nights, also on KPFK [simulcast worldwide at www.kpfk.org]. We highly recommend this show for live performances and great music on recordings. Roz, we love you. Keep it up!”
The Guide thanks Rex Mayreis and Nick Smith of the Caltech Folk Music Society for sharing the less-than-welcome news that another one bites the dust. And we humbly add our bon voyage to Mary Katherine Aldin, who we'll miss between her annual emcee duties at the Santa Barbara Old Time Fiddler's Convention. And of course, we add our best wishes and sincere appreciation to Roz Larman, the grande dame of L.A. folk radio shows.
Our # 5 Story
WANT TO VOLUNTEER FOR THE ARTS AND MUSIC PROGRAM FOR PRISONS 2012?
Singer-songwriter and recording artist JENNI ALPERT wrote to tell us, “The Arts and Music Program that I designed as a way to help rehabilitate inmates at county jails and state prisons was just approved by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.” She adds, “Wednesday was my first day visiting the Los Angeles Men's Correctional Facility.”
Something like this requires patience, care, and cooperation/collaboration. She sends her thank you to Marni Parsons, Al Bradley, Kenny Burrell and UCLA for supporting this project.
Jenni has designed the program she will implement throughout 2012. Now she wants to know if anybody is interested in being a guest artist in the program's approved areas of music, painting, sketching, and creative writing. If you are, send her an email with your area of interest, at firstname.lastname@example.org
There's plenty on Jenni and her muisc at www.jennialpert.com
To get you interested in her new project, Jenni is offering a free download of the track "Sweet Talk," at http://jennialpert.com/dl
Go there and enter the code pmsq-qeo8
And you should check her out on YouTube. Jenni says, “This is a song of hope and peace for those who are held or locked away against their will for speaking their heart and mind.” It's at www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LAfwEYcHkCg#!
Our # 6 Story
MARINA V GETS ANOTHER SONG PLACEMENT ON NBC SOAP, “DAYS OF OUR LIVES”
“...monstrous chorus and a great hook” — legendary artist / producer, Sir BOB GELDOF, referring to Marina V's song “You Make Me Beautiful.”
She's that lovely Russian emigre with the superb voice who was classically trained in Moscow and who writes and performs in English with absolute mastery of lyrics and arrangements, whether she is playing piano / keyboard or guitar. She wrote to tell us, “I'm super excited to announce that yesterday one of my songs aired on an episode of 'Days of Our Lives.' Over 3 million people watch 'Days,' and the show has been running since 1965!”
Here is the link to watch the clip: www.hulu.com/watch/307561/days-of-our-lives-christmas-traditions
Actually, she's no stranger to TV placements of her original songs. Marina V's “Small Collection of Interesting Songs,” a July, 2011 release, features seven previously unreleased songs, including three of Marina's songs from “Days of Our Lives.”
Marina hastens to ask us to tell you, “If you'd like to buy my albums as gifts for the holidays, I'd be the happiest girl in the world! Here is a special discount link for 'My Star' [another of her CDs] for only $6.50: www.marinav.com/discount.html. I'll sign, hug and kiss each CD and will write the recipient's name in Russian.”
We've been watching, listening, writing about, and celebrating Marina's successes for a decade, and believe there is plenty more ahead for her.
In case you're wondering, we are not alone. Here are some of her press comments:
“hauntingly beautiful” — L.A.Times
“melodic and passionate music” — The Washington Post
“the voice of an angel” — The Prague Post
If you're in OC, you can catch MARINA V's next show on December 15 in Costa Mesa. Whether or not you're there, get acquainted with her, or catch up, at www.MarinaV.com
Our # 7 Story
KERRVILLE NEW FOLK WINNER ERNEST TROOST TO RELEASE LIVE ALBUM
It seems only fitting that Ernest Troost’s newest album, “Ernest Troost Live at McCabe's,” (slated for general release January 17, 2012) was recorded at the very venue that inspired him to begin songwriting and performing, and it will come full circle with a CD release party at 8 pm on January 6, 2012, at the place it was recorded almost exactly a year ago. The show is sure to sell-out.
Ernest's previous album, “Resurrection Blues,” reached #5 on the Folk-DJ airplay chart in 2010. He was already a New Folk Winner at the 2009 Kerrville Folk Festival, that annual three-week-long extravanganza in Texas.
The new live album features some of the most popular selections from his two previous records, “All the Boats Are Gonna Rise” and “Resurrection Blues,” together with seven new songs. It was all recorded a year ago, on January 8, 2011. The record captures an evening of Ernest’s songs that slowly build from solo performance to a full band.
It will be the first concert of McCabe’s 2012 season, on January 6th.
Before that, on Sunday, January 1st, Ernest will promote his McCabe's CD release show with a performance on Pat Baker's KCSN radio show, “Tangled Roots.” The Show begins at 2 pm. The station, at 88.5 FM, has a poor signal reach, but fortunately, you can listen from anywhere to the high-quality web simulcast at www.kcsn.org. Pat Baker will interview Troost, and he will play a few songs live with the added bonus of ticket giveaways for the January 6th McCabe's show. Troost is a fine radio guest who did several performance-interviews on radio's “Tied to the Tracks,” where he also represented the Piedmont Blues style in an all-acoustic special edition of live blues music forms.
Troost earned the high praise of Steve Dulson, President of the FAR West Folk Alliance, who says, “Ernest, playing in his infectious Piedmont-blues style, has phenomenal guitar chops. His voice is uniquely his own, and free of affectation. His melodies are inventive and original, and his lyrics, though deep, are in a straightforward, everyday vernacular. His songs are filled with almost cinematically described characters so vivid they linger long after the song’s end. Humble on stage and off, Ernest is the whole package.”
Paul Zollo of Blue Railroad writes, “His work reflects Woody Guthrie’s axiom that any damn fool can be complicated, but it takes genius to attain simplicity. It also takes a certain measure of courage in the context of modern times. His lyrics blend wistful humor, gentle resignation and the kind of enduring folk wisdom which has made great songs great for ages. These songs aren’t confection; they’re not synthesized, looped, or digitally manipulated. This is about real music, things of substance, as he expresses ideally in ‘Real Music,’: ‘Real music got a mind of its own/Real music is blood and bone.’ Indeed.”
There's lots more at www.ernesttroost.com.
In addition, he is featured on “Californiality” at www.californiality.com/2011/11/ernest-troost-live-at-mccabes.html; Ernest is cited as an example of blues / folk style at http://oliverdiplace.blogspot.com.
ERNEST TROOST will play his CD release show at 8 pm on January 6, 2012, for his “Live at McCabe's” CD, at McCabe's, 3101 Pico Bl (Pico at 31st), Santa Monica 90405; www.mccabes.com; 310-828-4403; tix, 310-828-4497. The concert includes special guest SHAUN CROMWELL. Tix & info, 310-828-4497 or www.mccabes.com/condata.html.
Our # 8 Story
FREEBO REPORTS FROM OCCUPY WALL STREET NYC JUST BEFORE THE EVICTION
We have received a PHENOMENAL amount of mail from you, our readers, as thoughtful and heartfelt, and sometimes heart-wrenching, comments. All are posted (after some necessary moderation) with the individual pieces to which the replies were made (see the list of individual urls in the “Recent Editions” section at the end of this edition to access any of these.)
As we continue our commitment to bring you news of causes and concerns in which artists are engaged, we are pleased to bring you this report from FREEBO.
FREEBO is an award-winning singer-songwriter who tours internationally. He is famous as BONNIE RAITT's bass player for more than a decade, on the road and in the studio. He has performed with countless music stars and is well known and highly regarded for his thoughtful and powerful use of words, both in song lyrics and in prose and narrative.
We are grateful to him for sharing the following:
OCCUPY WALL STREET, New York City, November 29, by Freebo
Less than two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Zucotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the site of Occupy Wall Street. It turned out to be the last night the amazing Tent City community was in existence, the night before it was shut down by Mayor Bloomberg and The NYPD.
I played three songs... “Stand Up,” “Before The Separation,” and “If Not Now When” ... I figured the lyrics and vibe of these songs would be appropriate. To be just some small part of a movement that hopefully will help bring about some changes in this society that are desperately necessary for its peaceful survival felt really good.
In the scope of things, my music and the 30 or so people who heard it at 9 pm on a Sunday night with temperatures beginning to drop into the high 40s “doesn't amount to a hill of beans”....and yet it does! Because it's an energetic, it's all one person can do, could do at that moment.
Each one of us is only one person, seemingly meaningless in this world of Seven Billion. But each of our voices are heard by others, whose voices are heard by still others, and before you know it, the numbers begin to add up. It's the way all movements have happened throughout history.
As Margaret Mead so eloquently said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has!”
This is what the brave, conscious, and committed folks who've put there bodies on the line at Zucotti Park, in Oakland, at UC Davis, and so many other locations across the country are doing. They are walking the talk, they are standing up for the millions of US citizens who are feeling disenfranchised from the system, the 99%. Whether you are Republican, Democrat, Independent, Tea Party, Capitalist, Socialist, unless you're part of the 1%, there are many things in this society that are NOT working for you. And this Occupy Movement is in the democratic process of finding solutions for the voices of the disillusioned while raising the voices of dissent for a system that appears to be broken.
There are and always will be those who find fault with those who protest, those who “shake it up,” those who dare to buck the entrenched system, those who dare to raise their voices through the din of the status quo. But as Margaret Meade and history have proven over the millenniums, it is this dissent that is the only process that effects change. For so many, change is difficult, it's fearful, it's easier to keep in place the system we know, the relationship we know, rather than face the unknown of the one we don't. But if a situation or circumstance, global or personal, is not working, if a relationship is toxic, it is a death sentence to remain in it. The courage must be mustered to move on... “One door closes, another door opens.”
The economic system in this country is broken, Multinational Corporations are beholden to no one, only to the bottom line profit. Back in the '70s, when some of us were protesting against nuclear power, we were able to make the connection between profits and people. Our bumpersticker phrase became “PEOPLE BEFORE PROFITS, NOT PROFITS OVER PEOPLE.” That was 35 years ago, before the greed and political change of the '80s.
“Profits Over People" has now gone on steroids, and that dynamic is, I believe, what is behind the Occupy movements. I will continue to put my name, my voice, and my body if necessary on the line to help make the changes necessary for a better America....
YES, I am patriotic, I love my country every bit as much as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or any of the Right Wing Talking Heads who suggest they have a monopoly (yes, that's the right word!) on patriotism. Oddly, they are the 1%, and along with Rupert Murdock, Fox News, and those who are in control, they want to keep that control. Those 99% of us who want to limit that control are a threat, and so we must be marginalized. That has always been the case and will continue to be. And so we must “STAND UP, BE COUNTED, LET OUR VOICE BE SOUNDED.”
I hope you ... are as thankful as I that we live in an amazing country where we can express our beliefs and somehow find a way to effect the change we wish to see. "BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE"....Ghandi.
Learn more about FREEBO and his music at www.freebomusic.com
Our # 9 Story
REVIEW: AMC's NEW SERIES, “HELL ON WHEELS”
If you know any basics of the building of the first transcontinental railroad in the years immediately following the Civil War, or you're a fan of the rich catalog of songs of that period, you've probably been attracted to this new cable TV series, airing Sunday nights at 10 pm. Ostensibly, it's a history-based tale set in the frontier of the American plains, pushing westward across the wild prairies of the Nebraska Territory, from an off-camera start just across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The coming of the railway will expand west to link distant California and the new state of Nevada with the rest of the just-reunited Union – and, in so doing, spell the end of the emigrant wagon train, the herds of millions of free-ranging buffalo, and the glorious, nomadic life of the American Indian nations that most people envision when they think of Native Americans. So, if you stick to the history, there's plenty of material for many good yarns.
The name “Hell on Wheels” is authentic to the time. It was given to whatever was the temporary settlement at the end-of track as the railroad pushed construction westward. It was a portable agglomeration of railroad cars and wood-framed canvas tent structures that housed everything from the railroad's dining facilities for workers to the entrepreneurial saloons and general stores/mercantiles to the brothels. In the series, a brothel is prominently present, as is a “magic lantern” tent – an early single-frame picture show – run by two Irishmen. That enables the observation that the historical dominance of Irish-Americans, mostly ex-Civil War soldiers, as the Union Pacific's tracklayers is not in evidence. Instead, African-Americans, recently freed slaves, are presented as the key builders of track.
Clearly, this isn't a remake of Cecil B. DeMille's 1939 classic movie, “Union Pacific.” (That year's films also included “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and iconic westerns “Stagecoach” – the first great teaming of John Ford and John Wayne – and “Destry Rides Again,” starring Jimmy Stewart before he became a real-life WWII hero. Films made in 1939 matter, so anything that seems to derive from the ground they staked out cannot escape comparison with the originals.)
In fact, “Hell on Wheels” is not like any railroad movie since the unedited version of the Lee Marvin / Ernest Borgnine “Emperor of the North Pole.” The AMC series takes most of its cues from another cable western of recent years, HBO's “Deadwood.” We'll stop short of suggesting a connection with the AMC series that precedes it every Sunday, the zombified “Living Dead,” though the cable channel's program execs clearly may be trying to retain the same audience. The point is, “Hell on Wheels” is gritty and brutal, and like the era that began with Clint Eastwood and persists to the present, it's all done in the westernesque formula that replaced the old formulaic westerns – the chief element being, there's no clear “good guy” character. Executive producer Tony Gayton calls the style “Dirty but beautiful.”
“Hell on Wheels” is also rather claustrophobic. With the limitless grassy plains available as a backdrop, everything seems to revolve around a single set of missing survey maps whose whereabouts are unknown to all but a few characters, and / or a prewar vendetta from the time of John Brown's abolitionist terrorism and “Bleeding Kansas” that all occasions murders of a group of once-terrible perpetrators, who all seem to be individually hiding-out on the first few miles of railroad.
Anson Mount plays a fictional character named Cullen Bohannon, an ex-Confederate who seems to be there only to fulfill his blood feud. Even historical characters are distilled and amalgamated into one, as UP construction boss Grenville M. Dodge, an ex-Union Army general, and UP president Thomas Durant are combined into the latter, played by Colm Meaney, as a character who embodies all the political hacks who swindled investors with the UP's Credit Mobillier scandal that created the first batch of one-percenters.
The locomotive in “Hell on Wheels” is a usually a mere prop, but the director can't decide whether it should be a character. It appears incidentally as a dark form playing a minor role, and is usually portrayed in some ominous way, like an angel of doom. No doubt the director wants it dark in keeping with the atmosphere of the show. But that's inexcusably wrong. Real history always presents incongruities that served as focal points, propelling the events and motivations, even the enthusiasm, of their times. Then as now, image was often more important than substance in determining what people thought and did and how they approached and regarded things. The locomotives – and the topic should be treated in the plural – were always objects of pride, even though they could kill you. They were just too important to be relegated to a shadowy background in any tale of 19th century railroading.
How should things be done? If you've visited the splendid California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento, you know that locomotives of that period were treasured and expensive machines that were celebrated with colorful paint jobs, adorned with gold-leaf lettering, hand-painted murals, intricate gold filigree, even carefully adorned with portraits or landscape scenes worthy of Albert Bierstadt, with lots of highly polished, gleaming brass for handrails and fittings, including their whistles (each with a unique voice) and melodious bells (and even the insides of the shining brass bells were colorfully painted).
It's not like the machines aren't available to Hollywood. The show's dark and laughably spindly prop locomotive should be replaced by one of the stable of original and operating 1870s vintage Virginia & Truckee locomotives at the Nevada State Railroad Museum, or the William Mason, an 1850s era operating locomotive at the Baltimore & Ohio RR Museum in Maryland, or one of the V&T engines at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, or one of the original 1860s engines in Sacramento that was fully restored to be capable of running again. These museums could likewise supply vintage passenger and freight cars, rolling stock authentic to the period.
The California State Railroad Museum does a fine job imparting the brilliant colors that made pioneer western railroading so attractive and romantic, despite the abject exploitation and myriad dangers it brought. And the museum is equally effective imparting the tale of “The Big Four” who built the Union Pacific's competitor for grabbing land, and western connecting partner in the first transcontinental railroad – the Central Pacific Railway's California pioneer businessmen Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Charles Crocker – and how they ripped-off the guy who first envisioned and surveyed a railway route over the daunting Sierra Nevada Mountains, the largely forgotten Theodore Dehone Judah.
Judah didn't live to see his dream of the Central Pacific Railway completed. The now-dead surveyor character in “Hell on Wheels” on the fledgling UP may be based on Judah; certainly, the wives of the real Judah and the fictional surveyor both fight for their husbands' legacies.
Likewise, the show's main boss character – the ex-Confederate played by Anson Mount – seems somewhat based on Crocker, the CP's construction boss. Crocker was the one who first hired Chinese immigrants to build his railroad west from Sacramento, across the Sierra. Crocker famously answered a criticism that the Chinese were too small to do the backbreaking work with the quip, “They built the Great Wall of China, didn't they?” For the show's character, it is instead about realizing the humanity of newly freed black slaves.
If this sounds like we wish the new TV series had portrayed the CP instead of the UP, we aren't going there. The real UP had its share of challenges and colorful characters who met them. We do wish the show's writers would learn about them, those real and very human characters who were truly unique and colorful and strong and brave and flawed human characters – rather than invent scenarios for an increasingly claustrophobic cast. And we wish that the rich legacy of music of that era would be authentically featured, instead of an incongruous mix of music that someone thinks is necessary to accommodate today's monochromatic sensibilities.
The show's soundtrack includes its official music video, a track called “Can't Make Tears” by a band called The Straight Shot. Still, Gillian Welch's “Scarlet Town” was used on the show, and made Entertainment Weekly's list of favorite songs on TV. Though the latter may have been more to our liking, neither is authentic to the deep trove of music of the time the show portrays. Surely, after the successes of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Cold Mountain,” no one still believes a musical hegemony of modern pop is necessary for viewer acceptance of a story set in the past.
Why not include a soundtrack of period music, nighttime fiddle reels and banjos and concertinas and harmonicas and guitars as they were raucously played in the real “Hell on Wheels” camps? And why not use a counterpart of melodious daytime steam whistles energetically punctuating the rich catalog of work songs sung by the rock and grading crews and the tree-cutting tie makers and the bridge gangs and the spike-drivers and the track layers? Each group had their own songs and many are preserved, so it's not like there's a shortage of material.
The single example of a work song by the show's black track-builders, led by Common in his role as Elam Ferguson, depicts the track gang singing a slave-era field song while working and glaring at the foreman. That might have been appropriate if the story were about the building of the Southern Railway through Alabama, but it's incongruous and inappropriate to what really happened.
Like a lot of what is depicted in “Hell on Wheels,” it just doesn't cut it, and the plot devices that stray from the rich story of all that really happened are diversions that fly in the face of history and are at least mildly annoying. The show needs to refocus to embrace elements of a story that was far more spacious and exciting and challenging, and at least as dangerous for its real-life participants, as the tightly woven fictional tale it is now developing.
RECENT EDITIONS of The Guide's NEWS FEATURES are still available!
Just check our archive! Read the contents bar on the left side of the page at www.acousticamericana.blogspot.com and click the appropriate month.
The MOST RECENT past editions (last 30 days) are easy to find! Just use the direct url's provided below, PLUS many recent feature stories and reviews are available individually at their own urls...
Special Features from the Guide, at individual addresses...
“OCCUPY WALL STREET / OCCUPY EVERYWHERE” – our series of special Feature Stories, are available as individual items including READER FEEDBACK.
The Guide's special series examines events with an emphasis on the roles being played by artists, and / or the implications for the future of the arts and for arts & music funding. Each part and our recent related features are still available – and still receiving (and posting) your comments.
Listed from most recent to earliest, here's how to find them:
THREE FEATURES ran in mid-November, on the eve of police shutdowns and evictions of “Occupy” sites nationwide. Those features are:
> 2) “CRITICAL LANGUAGE IN ACTION” CLASS SATURDAY, PRESENTED BY OCCUPY
> 3) ELIZA GILKYSON REMIXES "BEAUTIFUL WORLD" AS SALUTE TO “OCCUPY”
> 4) DOES THE OCCUPY / 99 % MOVEMENT STILL NEED A DEFINING SONG?
Ran as three individual features in the Guide's November 18, 2011 News Features edition. Each is available by itself, with YOUR COMMENTS, as follows:
2) “Critical Language...” is available at
3) “ELIZA GILKYSON's ... Salute to 'Occupy' Movement” is available at
4) “Does the Occupy / 99 % Movement Still Need a Defining Song?” is available at
Here are some excerpts:
(From Feature #2, “Critical Language...”): “Whether or not you are inclined toward the whole “Occupy” Movement, this is a fine opportunity to learn about the use and impact of specific words in specific settings and circumstances. All artists should understand that words are powerful and always laden with impressions and images. Whether those are the ones you wish to communicate, or are even aware of what subtext you create is often the difference of how successful you are in attracting or repelling others with your cause.”
(From Feature #3, “Eliza Gilkyson...”): “The press statement from Red House notes, 'The album and song are still timely today, especially in light of the protests going on around the world.' … Music in support of the 'Occupy' protests has already come from other Red House artists, with support from the label's PR office. A recent press release began with the words, 'In solidarity with the “Occupy Wall Street” protestors, Americana songwriter PIETA BROWN is offering her song “I Want It Back”...' Now Gilkyson is stepping up to the plate. She says, 'I originally wrote the song as a means of staying inspired and engaged in the struggle to defend our beautiful world against the ravages of humankind... I am excited to release this provocative new remix, in solidarity with a struggle that is more crucial than ever.'”
(From Feature #4, “Does the Occupy / 99 % Movement Still Need a Defining Song?”): “It's been one of the points we've made in several features in our series on the participation and influence of artists with the 'Occupy' / 99% Movement: It's the only American protest / social change / you-name-it movement in modern history that has no anthem. As we detailed last week, the movement is heavily inclusive of young people who don't know the rich legacy and catalog of songs from the Civil Rights era. And because this movement is so much about text messages and cyber communication, the movement conspicuously lacks an orientation toward songs sung by groups...”
> SO, WHAT'S UP WITH THE “OCCUPY / 99%” MOVEMENT? IS A “LEAGUE OF NON-VOTERS” COMING? IS MUSIC PLAYING A ROLE? from the Guide's Nov 11, 2011 News Features edition, is available by itself, with YOUR COMMENTS. Here are a string of excerpts: “This protest movement is different in its modes of expression.” - “Is it a political or an economic or a social justice movement? Yes.” - “Could the masses that comprise the 99%, in and out of the movement, be induced by manipulators to feel deeper disillusionment, and “guided” to see no point in one thing in particular – voting? Yes.” - “An ultimate irony is coming: during the Civil Rights Movement, the disenfranchised fought for their rights to vote. Now, disillusioned masses might, in droves, give up entirely on the notion of bothering to vote.” - “The net effect isn't to make everyone fight for their rights. More people than ever are simply disgusted and sensing futility.” - “We may soon be governed by people who literally do not represent us, because too many of us see no point in fighting the overwhelming spending by corporations that purchase politicians to do things their way. With that conclusion reached, why vote? It's not individual or group apathy. It would be an intentional act, driven by entrenched and widespread disgust. It's the electoral equivalent of a sit-in. It will be tantamount to an organized 'League of Non-Voters.' ” - Of course, there's plenty more. Read it in full at
> ARTISTS JOIN “OCCUPY WALL STREET” AS UNEMPLOYMENT, ECONOMY WORSEN, The Guide's Oct 7, 2011 feature story, with YOUR COMMENTS, is available by itself. Here's an excerpt: “We should be talking about the exact form and structure of a new WPA and a new CCC to re-employ Americans with projects that will give us all a future legacy – like that we inherited from the enduring public works projects of the '30s. We could be building high-speed rail and alternatives to gas-guzzling automobiles and alternatives to polluting coal-fired power plants. We could be leading the world in high tech investment and encouraging math and science education with a vigorous space program, aimed at Mars, instead of pouring money and blood into the sands of Afghanistan. We could be creating jobs so that the 24% of the military enlistees, who go there because there are no other jobs, could find career work in improving our society and rebuilding it for their children's future... Instead, we are told that a tepid jobs bill is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives, even as we see record profits for companies that took our money to employ people overseas, but not here. We see money being used to make money without creating any jobs or benefits for our society in a time when meaningful, career-track jobs should be our key national priority. We're not building for the future. We're not even doing required maintenance on the gifts we received from our parents and grandparents. We hear politicians rant that government must charge the rich no taxes and make Capital Gains profits off-limits to taxation, altogether. We see bonuses paid to money manipulators who exported America's jobs even as they took bailouts from taxpayers. Rome is burning. They're buying Stradovari violins with our money.” Plus, there's a “Memo to those wallowing in Wall Street bonuses and bank bailout billions.” read it all at
> OF AUTOHARPS, JOBS BILLS, AND A VISION FOR OUR FUTURE (OR THE LACK OF IT) a feature that PRE-DATES the Occupy Movement by just two days, examining ways artists can oppose the “I've got mine, f--- you,” attitudes of the power elite, and fight against “a corporatocracy or an intolerant theocracy or a place of ruthless end-game capitalism.” It first ran in the Guide's Sep 15, 2011 edition; it's available by itself at
> 9-11's LEGACY: THE PART PLAYED BY ARTISTS, AND WHAT'S STILL TO BE DONE, is our feature that PRE-DATES the Occupy Movement, but presents several of what would be its focal points. It ran in the Guide's Sep 9, 2011 edition. Here's an excerpt: “Together, military over-commitments and a select few no-bid civilian defense contractors bankrupted our economy, cost us our space program, cost us any chance for spending on arts education, cost us renewal of our decaying bridges / highways / city streets / utility infrastructure, cost us building any major new public works projects, and essentially cost us our vision for the kind of 21st century future promised by '2001: A Space Odyssey.' Meanwhile, our drone-based wars have cost our troops unprecedented numbers of re-deployments to war zones, record numbers of suicides, and record numbers of PTSD cases that all but assure us a tragically plentiful supply of homeless disturbed individuals for decades to come... It's a fitting time to ask our politicians whether contrarian intransigence is worthy of their silenced constituents... or worthy of their constituents who rushed to help [on September 11, 2001] and in the days and months following, and who now suffer as a result, yet who receive little or no help from what should be a forever grateful nation.” And, “Just as Congress appears unable to help 9-11's surviving first responders, both political parties appear bereft of any real vision for a better future for all of us.” It's available at
> CALLING STEPHEN COLBERT: HELP! WE'VE BEEN COMPROMISED! is the Guide's August 4, 2011 feature that PRE-DATES the Occupy Movement by six weeks. It looks at the ability of Super PACS and big money to control politics. It's a scathing and satirical piece on the devastating and maddening manipulation of the people's money and what was – and was not – evident in the Debt Crisis, with MUCH reader feedback. It anticipates some of the central themes that would become those of the Occupy Movement. It's available by itself at
> IS THE FUTURE OF ARTS FUNDING GONE IN AMERICA? This is, for us, the feature story that started it all. It's the Guide's pioneering, in-depth, July 18, 2011, feature, that PRE-DATES the Occupy Movement by two months, with analysis and quotes by a host of experts and iconic Americans, and it reaches far beyond Washington's maddeningly gridlocked politics. It debunks the Debt Limit, spending cuts, and budget battles and examines the roots of issues that motivated Occupiers. It's available by itself, with a then-record-number of comments, at
OTHER recent SPECIAL FEATURES, available as individual items...
> PENN STATE, HERMAN CAIN, LINDSAY LOHAN: THE CULTURE OF CELEBRITY VS. THE AMERICAN CREED, a special feature from the Guide's 11-11-11 edition, is available by itself (with reader comments) at
> MUSIC GOT US TO THE MOON – WHERE MIGHT IT YET TAKE US? a special feature from the Guide's Oct 27 edition, on the eve of NASA's final Mars lander, is available by itself (with reader comments) at
> KEN GRAYDON MEMORIAL CONCERT BRINGS FITTING ADIOS ran in the Guide's Sep 15 edition. Ken was the best history-based songwriter we've ever known, bringing places and people and events to life with the freshness of a spring breeze. It's available by itself (with reader comments) at
> IN MEMORIUM: JOEL OKIDA, MUSIC JOURNALIST EXTRAORDINAIRE, a consummate writer and all-around great guy, ran in the Guide's July 28, 2011 edition, is available by itself (with reader comments) at
RECENT REVIEWS, available as individual items including READER FEEDBACK...
> REVIEWS – NEW SERIES TAKES A FRESH LOOK AT OLD RECORDINGS,
“ACROSS THE DIGITAL DIVIDE...” new ongoing series – fresh reviews of pre-digital era recordings; series explained, from the Guide's edition of Nov 3, 2011, available at
> REVIEW – ACROSS THE DIGITAL DIVIDE... “HOME SWEET HOME,” A CASSETTE TREASURE, from the Guide's edition of Nov 3, 2011, is available by itself at
> REVIEW – ACROSS THE DIGITAL DIVIDE (# 2)... “LIKE DESPERADOS” - JOHNNY CASH, WILLIE NELSON, MARTY ROBBINS, CHARLIE DANIELS BAND, OTHERS, from the Guide's edition of Nov 11, 2011, is available by itself at
Recent reviews of NEW releases:
> CD REVIEW – DAFNI, “SWEET TIME” from the Guide's News Features edition of Nov 3, 2011, is available by itself at
> CD REVIEW – “MOODY BLUEGRASS TWO...MUCH LOVE” WITH VINCE GILL, RICKY SKAGGS, SAM BUSH, & MORE, GETS CRITICAL ACCLAIM is in the Sep 30, 2011 edition at
COMPLETE WEEKLY EDITIONS
...from the past 30 days, including everything as published. (Note: reader feedback received on features that were co-published or re-published individually is included with individual pieces, not with the complete weekly editions.)
All past editions are available, by digging in the archive at acousticamericana.blogspot.com
or for very old editions, the archive at
December 2 FULL (special) edition is available at
and the one feature story is:
1) Invitation: YOU Can Join Artists & Hollywood Celebrities this Sunday to Make a Difference!
November 18 FULL edition is available at
and the stories are:
1) Quick Roundup of the Weekend's Events
2) “Critical Language in Action” Class Saturday, Presented by Occupy L.A.
3) ELIZA GILKYSON Remixes "Beautiful World" as Salute to “Occupy” Movement
4) Does the Occupy / 99 % Movement Still Need a Defining Song?
5) Folkie SARAH McQUAID Is Touring Like A Rock Star
6) Ear Buds DO Cause Hearing Loss
7) Invitation to Artists: 30th Annual LOS ANGELES HOLIDAY CAROLING FESTIVITIES
8) Spend THANKSGIVING at the Learning Garden in Venice
9) Thanksgiving – a Bit o' History...
November 11 FULL edition is available at
and the stories are:
1) It's the Century's Only Perfect Palindrome Day, 11 11 11
2) Giant Civil War Reenactment and Period Music this Weekend in Moorpark
3) Veteran's Day Premiere for New Video, “I'll Go (A Soldier's Oath),” & a Sunday Event
4) This Weekend's Quick Roundup of Events
5) Extravaganza for Recording Artists this Weekend in West L.A.
6) “Put The Fork in Hunger,” Pasadena's Largest Food Drive, is this Weekend
7) ROLAND WHITE BAND Plays this Week, with Top Bluegrassers East & West
8) REVIEW – Across the Digital Divide (# 2)... “Like Desperados” -
Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, Charlie Daniels Band, others
9) So, What's Up with the “Occupy / 99%” Movement?
Is a “League of Non-Voters” Coming? Is Music Playing a Role?
10) Penn State, Herman Cain, Lindsay Lohan: the Culture of Celebrity vs.
the American Creed
Questions? Comments? Contact us through our Blogspot site or by email at
tied to the email@example.com
(just remove the spaces in the above address – we're trying to cut-down on spam)
YES, we invite you to add YOUR comments!
You can always find the LATEST EDITION of THE ACOUSTIC AMERICANA MUSIC GUIDE, with separate links for:
1) the latest NEWS FEATURES, with feature stories / reviews / editorials / current acoustic music happenings / "heads up" notices to buy advance tickets for shows likely to sell-out / news you can't find anywhere else from and about the world of acoustic and Americana music and artists;
2) the latest SPOTLIGHT EVENTS section, with new and updated info on festivals / artist workshops / schedules and calendars for concerts, club gigs, live music happenings, acoustic & Americana music-related events / and more;
3) The Guide's VENUE DIRECTORY of over 500 acoustic music-friendly venues in Southern California – the places TO HEAR MUSIC, or CONTACT TO GET GIGS.
It's all available 24/7 (& frequently updated!) at ~
www.acousticmusic.net or at
- or follow any of the links in the fifteen web sites and web groups that carry the Guide’s weekly News Features.
All archived contents copyright (c) 2011, Lawrence Wines & Tied to the Tracks. All rights reserved.