The Princess and the Periodical

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 4.10.44 AMScreen Shot 2018-05-31 at 4.09.05 AMScreen Shot 2018-05-31 at 4.09.16 AM was saved by a great body of knowledge.  Luckily for her, the most significant events of the twentieth century, catalogued chronologically and contemporaneously, were stored carefully beneath the century-old artifact.  The first man on the moon, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb all contributed equally to break what would otherwise have been a nasty fall.

The bed was so old that two of its legs just broke unceremoniously like Snyder’s pretzels when inadvertently sat upon.  Snapping and crackling loudly the pine pallet tipped, attempting to suddenly spill its dozing dweller to the floor far below.  Were it not for the fifty-year compendium of Nat Geo mags stored under the bed for some future undefined generation, she would have had a rash awakening.  Could it be more fitting than to be supported by such a bedrock institution?

il_570xN.714780838_8nnj

(My daughter was happy to spend the night at her grandmother’s.  Apparently, the bed was an heirloom, crafted from some dodgy wood a century before, probably when a five-foot tall protein-deprived populous weighed in at less than 100 pounds.  Luckily the Nat Geo stash was under that bed and the China was stored in the other room.)

Advertisements

Looking at a Scarlet Sky

Back in the last century, when the human attention span was still quantifiable, it was perfectly normal to watch Hank Marvin and the Shadows perform repetitive instrumental covers on TV at prime time.  Four minutes of a goggle-glassed grinning Hank, carefully picking out Stratocaster notes one at a time, with seemingly way too many other musicians in the background doing something inaudible.  Nonetheless, this guy had a unique sound; you knew when you were hearing Hank.

For this new song, Scarlet Sky, I played my beautiful Taylor T5 semi acoustic guitar, or as they call it nowadays, a hollowbody electric, which is otherwise an elegant piece of flamed koa fine furniture with strings.  It’s one of those guitars that seems to dictate how you play, and for me that oddly seems to be a melodic Hank Marvin minus the whammy bar.  However, definitely not in the Shadows, is the bass which has a forward groove like the Chili Pepper’s Flea, and the cans, which are sonically architected here by a rhythmic Dragan Bonham Stojkovski.

My great friend Steve Mackereth seemingly has developed a real knack for rank and file melody: Mack’s newfound mastery of dark social narrative drives the song insistently from start to finish.  For the conjectural voiceover, our first choice would have been Vincent Price, of course, but we went with the ubiquitous, angry-but-informed Scottish guy.  Anyway, if anyone should ask, this is what the song is about.

             Looking at a Scarlet Sky by Steve Mackereth and Alex Smith, produced by Dragan Stojkovski (4.06).  Photography by the intrepid Chris Blackshear.

The Horned Rim Fan

I’m a big fan of David Hockney; always have been.  That’s really why I bought the robin’s egg horned rims.  However, all similarities end there, although old Hock paints a mean woodland.  My current fascination continues to be with my elephant ears who will shortly leave me for winter recess.  Therefore, I am excited to cross the finish line with two colocasian compositions today, although I’ve still got a couple more yet to pass the halfway point.

IMG_4975

The Ear Whisperer

Rather than attempt to focus on technical accuracy I have endeavored to capture sheer vibrance as I interpret these fascinating, partying perennials in the chaos of my very own verdant oasis.

IMG_4958

I took entirely different approaches to each pachyderm plant portrayal using oils, brushes and knives and I had a thoroughly great time, visiting each one from time to time, along with some outdated music, whenever I felt motivated.  For both shrubbery shrines, I used the firmer, smoother Gessobord, which was a welcome break from canvas.

IMG_4976

Although I’ll likely lose my ears to frostbite this winter, my gesso greenery will hopefully harken back to the hazy days of midsummer.

 

Image-1

My Goddess of Mercy

The least religious guy I know just installed a 500lb Buddha in his backyard.  My new friend Matt has an affinity for all things Thai and likes to import stuff, and I have a long-developing soft spot for the Buddha.  As we all know, historically, the Buddha was male: his name was Siddhartha Gautama.  The king of his tribe in Nepal, he called himself “Buddha” because it connotes being awakened by light.  So far so good I’m thinking as no one in this story has yet died for my immoralities.

IMG_3977

Much heavier than it looks – the statue too

This Buddha, however, she is female.  Long since pioneered by the likes of the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, it is possible for the Buddha to transcend gender and even, shock horror, take an enchanting female form.  Today this is all conceivable even while the Rotary Club of Hamilton, Bermuda remains strictly male only (I did get to take my lovely wife to dinner there as a reluctant guest).  Guanyin is considered a goddess of healing and a Taoist immortal, among other reverential appellations.

FullSizeRender-3

Devotees arrived within minutes of the installation

As a bonus my new Buddha also has a third eye, or Chakra: a gate that leads to inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness.  So many fascinating features!  I look forward to her good company in the years ahead, and yes, she will be decorated at Christmas.

FullSizeRender-2

Radiating peacefulness

Four Wheelchairs and a Femoral

“I am not a number,” I mumbled under my breath; “I am a free man.”  Well, at least I was, two interminable days ago.  Unlike Patrick McGoohan in my deep-rooted teenage treasure, however, I know the reason I’m here.  But the hours have slowly casseroled into days and there is no buffet in sight: I have no exit strategy.  Even the Prisoner of Zenga was liberated eventually, I told myself reassuringly.

In what must be some morbid remake of Misery, I am imprisoned by an even meaner Kathy Bates.  This low-budget, foreign language version of the movie is Hecho en Madrid.  In the Spielbergian overly-long opening scene, as they always are, I am already hopelessly hobbled and strictly confined to a low-budget gray metal-framed cot.  Bedridden and brooding, I’m staring soullessly at an adjacent matching low-budget gray metal-framed chair where my personal effects have been unceremoniously crammed into a bin liner, like some rumpled tent dismantled hastily in a downpour.  Not one of those big industrial black rubbish bags, but the smaller Febrezey white ones with the handy built-in ties.  From the bulge and imprint puzzle on the bag I surmise that clumsy Kath has dumped my open backpack in there upside down, no doubt resulting in some Apple-themed detritus interspersed with my priceless collection of cheap hotel pens.

Filmed with a handheld in grainy black and white, in the next lugubrious scene my mind wanders, although it still looks as though I’m staring intently at the bulging bin liner.  No: I’m thinking back to this morning when I was violated; plopped like a cadaver into a wheelchair and shuffled to the showers where I was stripped of my dignity.  Sponged all over with the small exception of “todo,” which she said repetitively while pointing the industrial grade sponge.  I assumed that was Spanish for clean your own willy.  Nobody expects the Spanish imposition I thought, with a visual of Michael Palin riding an old London bus.

Shamefully returning to the confines of my cot, cantankerous Kath shoved my bin liner aside and dumped my carcass into the chair, like a proverbial hot potato.  My badly-aimed bottom apparently managed to entrap the divider curtain over the chair resulting in a semi-automatic staccato of snapping curtain hooks as my cheeks greeted the old hard-plastic seat at 9.81 m/s2.  Clunky Kath barely noticed the collateral damage as she went off brusquely scanning for her next victim.  I loudly shouted “fuuuuck!” after her as she left abruptly—just so she’d know she’s not getting the whole 5 stars for the service—as I did earlier when she joltingly administered my Siberian shower.  Why wait for Yelp?

Cane and Able

Cane and Able

As I reached gingerly to contain my hotel pen spillage on the old sterilized linoleum floor I wondered how long I’d be trapped here.  Just four days ago I’d been enjoying the sights and sounds of marvelous Madrid, when a growing, searing pain mysteriously enveloped my right leg, and just like successive Black Sabbath albums it got worse and worse, until I simply could not walk.  In writhing agony, I had to be trundled to the hospital in a wheelchair.  And we couldn’t work out what was wrong.  My doctor’s office back home emailed that I should be checked out for deep vein thrombosis, but it wasn’t that apparently, and, after a bunch of x-rays, the hospital merely administered intravenous pain medication with episodic doses of careless Kath.

So, I decided that I’d had enough and I would leave the hospital henceforth, commandeer a wheelchair and fly home immediately to Washington DC to embrace the fleeting benefits of Obamacare.  But I couldn’t walk; otherwise I would have just gotten up and left like I did in Venice that time when I had a staph infection in the other leg, now known lovingly as my good leg.  Funny how that goes.

Hockey_Time

Hockey is a Always a Priority

Like some low IQ version of Stephen Hawking I lay there helplessly, quietly conjugating my Spanish verbs, all the while hatching my devious escape plan like Antony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.  “Tienes un bastón por favor,” I practiced over and over, which roughly translates to, “My kingdom for a cane,” or, “I’ll give you one thousand dollars for a walking stick.”  Everyone who came within earshot of my bed was subjected to a well-practiced Solicitación en español, even the visitors.  Finally, El Doctor came on his last round of the day, and, like a broken record, I trotted out my little overused Spanish phrase.  He said, “OK, but are you able to leave on your own?”  “Oh yes, no problema,” I retorted with great confidence, lying my ass off like Donald Pleasence before he tripped over the guy’s leg while trying to retrieve the carefully positioned tiny needle from the floor.  (That’s a really relevant reference to the most awesome scene in The Great Escape for those older than, say, 50).  With all my might, I stood up and concealed my abject agony, and for winning best actor in a low-budget foreign-language drama he brought me my cane.  (I decided not to do a joke here about Kane and Able, but I did think about it).  In good but halting English he said, “OK the nurse will remove the intravenous drip and you can get dressed and you can go.”  “Thank you,” I said with genuine sincerity.

As he walked away I thought, fuck that, catheter Kath ain’t laying another finger on me, as I professionally removed the contraption from my vein, having already practiced said maneuver when I escaped previously from the hospital in Italy.  They had cats in that hospital by the way.  Anyway, I modestly positioned my half-curtain and delicately started to dress, as the doc walked past one more time.  Thinking my curtain wasn’t closed appropriately he helpfully tugged on it moving the half towards him revealing my glowing harvest moon to the lovely visiting family at the next bed.

My dignity now shredded, it took every fiber in my being to walk out of there with the walking stick, while trying not to show how much pain I was in.  Turns out I had a very bad case of sciatica, which took many weeks of injections and physical therapy to heal.  It took four wheelchairs to get home from my Spanish slammer: four wheelchairs and a femoral.

Airport_Pickup

It’s Always Nice to be Met at the Airport

A Favorable Juncture of Circumstances

At the crossroads of happenstance, ambition and aspiration one may find opportunity. While many of us may drive continuously through an eternal grid of indistinguishable meandering roads, most of us never get there. Some of us may come close, but we either dead-end or get scooped onto the highway to dwell.

Bert Keith realizes this, as for him, opportunity “beckons like a whore.” “Just reach out and take it,” he cries persistently, his voice almost breaking with frustration and sincerity. Underneath, the bass pumps and drops and the 70s-sounding rock guitars riff haltingly, like a braking locomotive. “Where do we go from here?,” Keith barks. Where indeed.

Written by Steve Mackereth, Alex Smith and Bert Keith, Opportunity was produced by Dragan “the man” Stojkovski.

A Soul For Every Sleeper

“Churchill will win,” he yelled irrepressibly after constant taunting by the vicious guards, and in return he swiftly received the most severe beating of his life. “You don’t do that twice,” he said decades later. “You quickly learned anger management in the camps.” After the ocean liner Empress of Asia was attacked by a fleet of nine Japanese dive-bombers in the Banka Strait, Mick G. was one of the fortunate survivors, who was then unfortunate to make his way to Singapore just before it fell to Japan on February 4th, 1942. Many of those prisoners were conscripted to build the infamous Burma Railway, or Death Railway, as it became known.

A Soul For Every Sleeper by Two Worlds Apart features Steve Mackereth on Vocals, Alex Smith on guitars and Dragan Stojkovski on percussion.

Free My Trade

Bert “Stands With a Fist” Keith creates another solidarity classic in his tribute to working men and women everywhere. On the back of an upbeat groove, folkster Keith croons “Let me work, you know these hands can work.” While the world may be turning upside down on who gets employed and who doesn’t, his chant is not about nationalization or globalization. More essential than politics, more vital than industrialization or automation, it is about application of the human skill, putting to use practiced hands, hands that have been trained for years—through apprenticeship, through mentorship, now prepared for the short span of a human career. Not to be confused with the current political nationalist fervor, it is a more fundamental ode beyond Walesa or Lenin.

Produced by the brilliant Dragan “Less is More” Stojkovski, who brings out the simple clarity of the music with a paucity of instrumentation, augmented by hammer-like percussion during the breaks, reminiscent of the mechanics of construction.  With Bert Keith on vocals Alex Smith on guitars.

Cultivating Colocasia

I’ve always liked elephant ears: Big rubbery, flappy happy-go-lucky heart-shaped semaphores that appear designed solely to convey optimism and joy. So rapidly do they appear in North America’s summertime that one day there is nothing, the next small packs of fine Cohibas unfurl here and there, and by the end of the week you’re in the Day of the Triffids.

leaves-sitting-blog

And thus the quintessential English landscaped garden is transformed instantly from order, symmetry and standardization to a haphazard playful phalanx of emerald and avocado. It is perplexing how such gangly, delicate fronds endure high winds, incorrigible children, darting dogs, and inept conscripted gardeners. Nonetheless, when one is damaged irreparably it quickly and calmly makes way for a new leader, restoring order, beauty and balance to the herd.

img_9767

With the dawn of a new year, I thought I’d start a new series of paintings, somewhat more novel than previously attempted. In my mind, such a bold shrub deserves to be tackled intrepidly with suitable tools and materials; more knife than brush, more board than canvas, and mixed media to boot. Since oil paint takes so long to dry, especially when mixed liberally with linseed oil I will attempt several projects simultaneously. Shown here are the first three in the series—all unfinished at this time, and I am considering various oversized print applications.  I will update as I make reasonable progress.

img_9770

 

The Glasgow Voyager

I think it was Billy Connolly who famously said that Scotsmen only sing about Scotland when they’re far away from home. Well folk crooner Bert Keith has taken that a bit further and written a gusher of a Christmas song, all about life and the streets of Glasgow and, to the best of my knowledge, he has never been! Now Glaswegians might think, gonny no dae that, but I would urge them to give this a good listen first.

I have to say, when I hear him chant I do think about wintertime Glasgow, where rain-veneered streets reflect a leeching mix of soft amber and stark white streetlights, and there is a distant echo of a can being kicked inadvertently down some nearby street by a stranger hussling to catch the last bus home.

I believe Bert has played folk music in various pubs in Ireland, but I wouldn’t compare the stark streets of Belfast or the brimful byways of Dublin to the fortitude and grit of Glasgow. No, if I had to make a comparison to my Scottish hometown I would say it was more like Philadelphia, though with fewer Americans.

thewardens

Whenever I think of George Square there are always leaden skies and Traffic Wardens.

Nevertheless, this provenance is no more a stretch than some short Australian playing William Wallace in a County Antrim field. On a side note, take a look at the foreboding size of William Wallace’s sword in his rock star namesake monument. Sorry, but no way Mel: Just not plausible.

Confidently reaching for the highs, his liberal legato and relentless retention of those last notes, Bert appears to have captured that authentic pub-enthused croonerism that your Caledonian dad and uncles would indulge in—usually after a few whiskies at any commemorative occasion; with an audience of at least one and devoid of musical accompaniment. Geez a song Big Yin.

The Glasgow Voyager by Two Worlds Apart. Lyrics and vocals by Bert Keith, music and guitars by Alex Smith, keys and percussion by Dragan Stojkovski.