The Rhumba Man Sings No More: A Jesse Winchester Appreciation


I don’t know when the term “singer-songwriter” came into vogue, but it’s difficult to think of anyone who defined the very essence of that term as cleanly and clearly as Jesse Winchester, he of the impeccably rendered lyrics, near perfect diction, lovely simple melodies and sincere, affectless stage presence.

Winchester died on April 11, just about a year after I gravitated to his music for my shortest ever blog post in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. At the time, his soothing and tender balladry seemed just the prescription for a tormented national psyche.

Winchester engendered a deeply devoted following over his nearly 45-year recording career. That career took a distinctive turn very early on when he opted to go to Canada in 1967 rather than respond to a draft call that might have seen him pressed into service in Vietnam, a war he considered morally repugnant...

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Reflections on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

HowarthTrail 150square

Sometimes I think life effectively ends the morning you wake up and you’re no longer able to look forward to something. It can be just about anything: your cup of coffee, the gaze to your garden in the first rays of the sun, a favorite show or sports event on television, the opening of a newspaper or log-on to email, the dive back into the book you fell asleep with the night before, the walk with the dog or meetup with a friend or family member at lunch.

Anticipation is everything, it seems—the pull forward to something that awaits, the zest and expectancy with which we tell ourselves in the quiet of our heart: “Oh, this will be good!” (To which we often append the colloquial expression we kindly share with those whose presence we anticipate: “Can’t wait!”)

Yet anticipation carries within it the seed of its own problem: Will the reality measure up? Will the actual conversation or lunch or ballgame or lovemaking (or the writing of the blog post!) match the zest with which ...

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Death and Ritual for a Sparrow

SparrowBy NancyCastillo

It was one of those everyday tasks one adapts to and just gets done, however odious its undertones: getting the dog poop off the lawn and into the trash.

I went at it with dispatch on this winter morning, wielding my sawed-off shovel with well-practiced scoops until I came across some bird feathers, then a few more. I knew what they meant: If I followed the trail, I would find evidence of my cat’s most recent conquest. Sure enough, a few yards farther across the lawn, an eviscerated sparrow.

When my daughter was young and we came across such finds, we would treat them just as we did the dog and cats and rabbits and fish whose demise shadowed her tender years: by performing a ritual burial and saying farewell. But it was years later now, my daughter at school, tasks awaiting, the morning cold, and the ground hard.

So with my shovel in hand, albeit with dog poop already on it, I set about taking the convenient course and loading up the dead bird—still floppy and warm—then heading for ...

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Noah: The Movie, the Fable, and the Issue of Belief

FlowerOnWater By Alliessorc

I’d like it known that I read the book first.

Which, as all literarily inclined people know, is the right and proper order of things in a modern media age when Hollywood regularly absconds with your favorite tales and more often than not turns them into something  shallow and alien. This inevitably causes you to exhort those who reversed the natural order of things by walking in blind to see the movie: “Oh, you just have to read the book!”

In the case of Noah and its film iteration from director Darren Aronofsky and Paramount Studios, we have the good fortune that most everyone grows up at least hearing about this strange tale involving a very ticked-off God telling his obedient servant to build a humongous ark that will literally save the last living things on the planet. Still, it had been a while since I visited the real story, which, for all its epic grandeur, plays out in a compact 2,300 words in Genesis 6-9. (Hmmm…how might War and Peace have fared with the editor of Ge...

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Driving Lessons and the Marvel of Consciousness

DrivingBy PeterNederlof

If, as the old maxim goes, the best way to learn something is to teach it, I am now advancing rapidly toward my Ph.D degree in Advanced Driverology. Yes, my friends, that would mean I am teaching my 15 1/2 year-old daughter how to drive a car. Pray for me.

Want to know what is most striking about the experience? (Besides the near violent pitching forward of my body as Beloved Daughter works out the finer sensory details of applying appropriate pressure on the brakes.) The astonishing array of rapid-fire stimuli that human consciousness can absorb and act upon in the course of its otherwise mundane comings and goings.

Get into that passenger seat in an instructive mode with a beginner and you suddenly see, in a way that you simply don’t even notice anymore yourself, how many fast-moving, whack-a-mole stimuli keep popping up, competing for your attention and requiring immediate response as you navigate a 3,000-pound steel and plastic enclosure down a narrow lane next to countless other...

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Making Love to Your Life: Light Amidst Philip Roth’s Dark Vision

PollinatingBee ByJENorton

 In Philip Roth’s otherwise dark and terrifying Pulitzer Prize-winning novel American Pastoral, there is an improbably lovely sequence during which the protagonist, Swede Levov, is romping over hill and dale on his gentleman’s country estate, caught up in reminiscences about his boyhood literary hero Johnny Appleseed. Youthful, vigorous and successful before Roth begins to turn the vise of multiple tragedy tighter and tighter on his neck, Levov is concluding his jaunt by cheerfully pretending to toss apple seeds across his beloved land from an imaginary bag on his shoulder.

Having observed him from an upstairs window, his wife inquires upon his return to the house what he had been doing. He doesn’t answer, but Roth does on his behalf: “What he had been doing out on the road—which, as though it were a shameful or superficial endeavor, he could not bring himself to confess openly, even to Dawn—was making love to his life.”

Making love to his life.

The line gave me long pau...

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“As You Did to the Least of Them”…Notes on a Special Education

Calla Lily By Bob Kelly

A little more than 40 years ago, I literally wandered into my first job out of college, a totally unplanned and unprepared for happenstance that nevertheless bequeathed to me a timely, early exposure to the whole faith-in-the-human-race idea that has helped sustain me ever since. A week ago, I met back up with some of the people from that job, most of whom I hadn’t seen since then, at a reunion that made the intervening 40 years seem like a short stroll we had all taken around the block to catch a breath of air.

The situation in the winter of 1973 was that my college counselor had miscounted my transcripts and I was one unit short of graduation that was looming just a few months hence. No problem, the counselor said, we could always arrange a community service project to pick up a unit—did I have any preferences? “Well, I dunno, I always wondered what it would be like to work with retarded kids,” I replied...

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Bahia Orchestra Project: Glimmers of Classical Music’s Future?


Classical music via large symphony orchestras has been on the ropes as long as I can remember. Perpetually white-haired audience members dying off and not being replaced at quite the same rate, pinched budgets, arts education in schools a shambles, the populace burrowed down with its headphones, no doubt listening to vapid pop music or worse.

Or so the narrative goes, and there is plentiful evidence to support it, with classical record sales in steady decline and symphony orchestras in various cities going kaput.

It’s one reason why the field tries to sell sexy soloists, a phenomenon explored in a post several months ago. But many problems beset the genre, not the least of which is a certain kind of stultifying air, bringing to mind stuffy Vienna drawing rooms, man wigs, and deeply sober approaches to musical expression...

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The Human Connection: “Her” and “Twenty Feet From Stardom”


A slew of almost electrically talented backup singers grappling with never quite breaking the stardom barrier and a lonely man with his new girlfriend-the-operating system filled up a dreary weather Saturday last weekend, reminiscent of the “double bill” presentations that were de rigueur in the movie houses of my boyhood.

Oh, what a filmy weekend it was.

Synopses of the movies in question: Twenty Feet From Stardom and Her, can be gleaned from the trailers below, so what will concern us here is but one thread that works its way through both films, dominantly in Her and as an interesting side story in Twenty Feet.

Boiled down to its essence, the issue is: Are other people all that necessary?

Late in Twenty Feet, one of the fabulous, magnetic backup singers the film so lovingly depicts is reflecting that at some point in recent years “the phone stopped ringing” as much as it used to...

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Love, Love We Do

HandsBy DSharonPruitt

Love, love love love love. We are awash in it—or in its absence—at every station of life, in all its forms and expressions. Its four letters creep into our discourse in almost every setting and time, ranging from the mundane (“I love Oreos!”), to the passionate (the murmurings and exclamations of sex), to the intimate (deep interpersonal communication and regard), to the eternal (loving God and Life all that exists therefrom).

Here on the precipice of Valentine’s Day, we are drenched in romantic love, that relatively modern cultural construct that finds such ubiquitous resonance in our media. (iTunes cuts off the listings for the search term “Love” at 500 songs, apparently feeling that can keep their customers quite busy enough while would-be songwriters the world over continue to add to the cache. Love is, indeed, a many-splendored thing…)

Being of essentially romantic temperament myself (a bequeathal from both my slightly star-crossed parents), I don’t bah humbug roma...

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