Category Archives: You’ve Got to Check This Out

Carnegie Museums (YGtCTO #216)

Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Whether or not we have a messy desk and an inability to appear on time for appointments, we are still inclined to organize the world around us. The most befuddled among us do manage to distinguish all sorts of things all day long. We alter our behavior based on the amount of light available. We divide everything into stuff we eat and stuff we do not- sometimes stuff we eat now and never again.

My point is that we handle the world by organizing it. This is sport and this is not- the eternal arguments about bowling, billiards, and rhythm gymnastics. I suspect much of this divide and organize inclination starts early and is trained. Our caregivers go to a lot of trouble to teach us to keep things orderly. Big toys go in this box. Outdoor toys go by the door. Green beans go in the mouth and not the nose. As a side note, that may be why prejudice is easy to teach. It plays to our natural inclination to organize the world into categories.

One of those early ways to organize the world is by art and science. Art makes things pretty and science makes things make sense. Your experience may vary, but none of us were privy to graduate school theory definitions of art or science when we first recognized the difference in ultimate output between the person who worked with all the test tubes and the person who worked with all the paint tubes.

Our museums generally reflect the same well-defined borders. Unless… you have been to the main Carnegie Museum facility in Pittsburgh. Basically, the art and natural history areas are housed together. They make an attempt at distinguishing themselves, but the exhibits are interlaced across multiple floors like hands folded in prayer. Sure, you could visit just one section, but why would you?

As a youth,

I knew that a trip to the Carnegie promised the best of both worlds. Slowly, however, they revealed how everything was part of something else. The geodes were natural works of art. The architecture hall looked more like the dinosaur hall than the art galleries. The areas dedicated to native people and ancient Egypt displayed art and history and nature. The entire experience questioned the divisions that I had previously used as well as providing a view of the world that could be both orderly and a little chaotic.

The top floor provided an escape from museum feet and overwhelming input with a long, narrow hall filled with birds and coins and what have you. The glass cases were perfect examples of just-put-some-cool-stuff-out-there and people appear. Categories do help (I prefer not to eat dirt). Yet, we have to recognize that they are a construct. Sometimes, in our more courageous moments, we need to let the walls between things become a little more porous. In those moments, we might find a door among the birds and coins that grants a way into our next great discovery.

Carnegie Museums

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 84 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Allen Ginsberg (YGtCTO Words #72)

Howl

Poem written by Allen Ginsberg

I could be wrong about this, but I believe that poetry started being free on the internet first, before music and video and lunacy and porn. Not surprisingly, Big Poetry did not bring all the force of its corporate power to bear on those who would share poems without sending a few pennies to the poet or their corporate “protectors.” No, we live in a world where poetry is given away for free and we shrug and we figure the price is about right.

Poets tend to toil in obscurity. I know the U.S. has a poet laureate, but I did not know that the role started as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, which was changed in 1986 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. The post was funded in 1936 by an endowment. From the sound of things, the endowment remains the funding, so I am guessing that Congress decided to give a better title instead of a raise.

Here are the holders going back to 2001 (I could not have done this list without Wikipedia):
2001–2003: Billy Collins
2003–2004: Louise Glück
2004–2006: Ted Kooser
2006–2007: Donald Hall
2007–2008: Charles Simic
2008–2010: Kay Ryan
2010–2011: W. S. Merwin
2011–2012: Philip Levine
2012–2014: Natasha Trethewey
2014–2015: Charles Wright
2015–2017: Juan Felipe Herrera
2017–present: Tracy K. Smith

I’ve read poems by five or six of these folks and go out of my way for two of them. Honestly, I haven’t a clue about the last four. While maybe I should feel bad about this, I don’t.

Allen Ginsberg

All of this

is a long way of saying that we don’t generally remember our poets. We don;t particularly celebrate them either. If they cross over into the world of personality, then our culture has something with which it can work. Charles Bukowski did this for a while. Better yet, a poet can manage a guitar or piano and we call them a singer/songwriter. In either case, we forgive the quality of the poetry in favor of the performance.

Ginsberg had the performance part down. He also managed to appear at moments when television cameras would be on. I knew who he was from the national news before I knew that he was a poet. Really, he seemed like another one of those too old people hanging around youth movements of the moment- like William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, and Terry Southern. All sorts of “adults” popped up on college campuses seeking counter-culture verifieds.

Lasting in the memory is really what we want from our poetry. That proves a deft trick because we don’t always grant a poem more than a cursory thought. Perhaps the other part of the trick is hitting an audience when they are young. I’m not sure my brain is made for memorizing stanzas anymore. For that matter, I’m not sure I have conversations anymore where dropping in a line of poetry does anything more than bring matters to a halt.

And then I read Howl. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 85 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Billy Bragg (YGtCTO Music #72)

From Red to Blue


Song written and performed by Billy Bragg

Pittsburgh still managed to support one of those massive warehouse-sized record stores in the waning days of media that could be held in your hand. They shared a plaza with a post office and dwarfed the federal government. For reasons that remained elusive, you entered on the ground floor, but the public space was all upstairs. Surmounting the final step, the rows ran off into the distance.

If you ventured far enough, then you discovered various audio equipment available for sampling the wares. THis was standard back in the day, but not so common outside of a couple bookstore chains who dabbled in compact discs. Besides, these actually worked and the staff was amenable to letting you listen to anything they sold. Of course, this worked in their favor. I walked out with the Waterboys, for instance.

Then, there was this album with the play on words about William Blake. As it turned out, the artist had more of a folk music reputation, but what did I know?

Billy Bragg

Realistically, I skimmed a few songs before buying the disc, so I did not absorb the political content. I probably had registered the artist’s name from some mentions in the music press, but had no definite associations. Ahh, naivete.

Bragg has quite a bit more in common with Woody Guthrie than, say, any pop star. His politics and willingness to stand up for what he believes, as well as the wide range of musical interests, strike me as the modern setting of the dust-bowl troubadour. The similarities are obvious enough that Bragg was invited to collaborate with Wilco and Natalie Merchant on two albums of Guthrie’s lyrics set to their music.

None of this is surprising to fans.
What amazes me is the resilience of the type. Speaking truth to power, with or without the art, is a challenge beyond most of us. Perhaps that is why we react so disdainfully when our artists express opinions that appear to be outside their areas of expertise. (On the other hand, unvarnished stupidity does not improve with fame. I rather appreciate a considered opinion from an open mind, whatever else characterizes the source.)

Listening to Guthrie now can be difficult for ears trained on musical production of the past fifty years. Even early pre-electric Dylan sounds miles more polished. That’s meant as an observation. I have commented previously on the prevalence of so much work by past artists, especially as that presents a challenge to new artists. Yet, listening to the difference between Bragg with his guitar and voice compared to Guthrie with the same, it’s like listening to a Victrola.

Ultimately, there may be a cut-off for just how far back we are willing to dive into the archive. Current artists may always have to take up the mantle of re-presenting older material in new fashions. Of course, that will be dependent on the continued interest in a lone voice backed by a guitar reminding us of those who have had their voice silenced elsewhere.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 86 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.