Friday, October 31, 2008

Featuring Thomas Crone as: The Cornerman

Yesterday I connected with the ever-elusive Thomas Crone at Mangia to unite him with my sketch of Fire Chief Sherman George (signed by the subject), which Thomas had agreed to purchase for $5. After money changed hands, and I spent the money on an O'Fallon 5 Day IPA, I made this awful sketch of Crone and had him sign it.

His musings documented on the sketch were about his turning away from the sport of prizefighting. Crone's whole Hoosierweight boxing career came and went while I lived out of state, but I remembered exploiting it for imagery in a chapter I wrote about local critics in a music memoir I worked on when I was in New York, looking back at the old Cicero's Basement scene.

Here is that chapter, featuring Thomas Crone as: The Cornerman.


From And Let Him Ply His Music:
Adventures in Post-Punk and Amateur Folklore

35. Betting the Horses
By Chris King

The runaway success of Uncle Tupelo was a cause for many in St. Louis to celebrate. No one popped the cork more often or more loudly than Richard Byrne, the music columnist for the Riverfront Times, the city's alternative weekly known as the RFT. Rich -- yet another refugee from the English program in Duncker Hall, a sarcastic wit from Philadelphia -- had banged the drum for Uncle Tupelo and Chicken Truck with an insistence that was difficult for some musicians to fathom. Not many people would have disagreed that they were the two best bands in town. But many people wondered why Rich Byrne seemed to think they were the only two bands in town.

Steve Pick helped us make sense of it. Our portrait song began with the lines:

Steve Pick, music critic
Former writer for the Riverfront Times
Ray Hartmann gave him the can
For a grave journalistic crime
He gave a poor review to a local band.

It was a true story. The paper's owner, Ray Hartmann, a local celebrity liberal, at first saw the paper as a civic booster. Rich Byrne, the paper's current music critic, acted as if it were his mandate to break a local band on the national scene. He picked his winning horses, Uncle Tupelo and Chicken Truck, and he covered his horses. Everybody else who showed up at the track got what was left over, which wasn't much.

Just as Enormous Richard was undergoing our overhaul, adding a classic rock guitarist and redheaded accordion player to keep the show on the road, Rich Byrne moved up the RFT totem pole. He became the media critic, with his new column stationed at the front of "the book" (journalists always call their papers and magazines "books"), the domain of "hard" news and a gateway to greater things. His replacement was a guy named Thomas Crone.

As a reader, Tom had railed against the RFT's music coverage. As a columnist, he saw some wisdom to their ways. If Rich Byrne had been trying to catapult Uncle Tupelo into national stardom, you couldn't be sure he had played a major role, but you absolutely couldn't say that he had failed. Yesterday, they were in Rich Byrne's column, and now, they were in Rolling Stone. Tom Crone decided to pick some winning horses, and Enormous Richard was his first pet pony. He blew us up in a huge feature story and began to cover our every Cicero's gig, which — not coincidentally — began to grow in size and stature.

The image of someone exhorting a horse to victory doesn't quite capture the image of Thomas Crone in the early St. Louis post-punk scene. Tom would later get involved in amateur boxing, as a writer and a fighter, and he brought pugilism to bear upon his approach to writing a music column. If he was something like Enormous Richard's corner man, bellowing encouragement and advice, he also took swipes at other bands (now permissible in the pages of the RFT, apparently) and generally enjoyed being in the middle of a fray.

St. Louis sits in the center of the country, and is said to be the Gateway to the West, but anyone working in the arts there often feels there are all too few roads leading out of town. Scenes tend to turn inward. A partisan local critic is a live wire. Everyone wants a little throb of the power, no one wants to get zapped, and nearly everyone feels a little more disconnected than they deserve to be.

Enormous Richard was a bizarre choice for a contender. Far more talented local musicians could remember gigs when we openly and honestly asked onstage for help fixing a broken string. No lead singer in town was less musical than I was. The Alex Chilton opening gig opportunity had come too early for us, just a month into our existence, advertising a very awkward band to every serious rock music fan in town.

But all those underage drinkers who saw us at the Red Sea could now drink legally at Cicero's. Many of them were the same easily eyed women who had followed around those handsome Suede Caesars. We were a band that loved to bend our elbows, and stopped drinking onstage only when we had to play a song, which is contagious to the crowd. That was a potent combination. Rich Byrne -- still a music scenester -- would often stop me at Cicero's to hint at the aphrodisiac powers of Enormous Richard. Our song "Al's Love Turkey" about the entrepreneur who sold packaged poultry dipped in Spanish fly began to look prophetic.

Guitar Karl and Chris Bess were enormous boosts to audience access. Johnny had plugged a hole in the band, and defined our sound as far as Matt and I were concerned. But his guitar was chronically out of tune, and his more ferocious departures were for post-punk roots purists only. Karl played clean and smoothly in tune. He nipped and tucked Johnny's licks, and packaged his solos in a way that anyone could understand.

Chris turned similar tricks on Elijah's contributions. Atonal fiddle and clunky banjo parts, learned on the job yesterday, were replaced by the pure, bold tones of an accordion played by a guy who seemed to have been born wheezing one. And Chris was visually unforgettable. Elijah's lithe build and bedroom blue eyes held their own crowd appeal, but just about every rock band has a sexy skinny guy. Only Enormous Richard had a 275-pound gagman in striped overalls, playing accordion with his legs widely splayed and the lead singer (that would be me) crawling in between them.

And we were, in some ways, and on certain songs, still a country band. If you were placing bets, you might think the St. Louis roots revival was about to get pushed up out of Cicero's on the magic beanstalk of Uncle Tupelo, with Chicken Truck next to see the light, and after them, dangling down a few branches, the weird cousin with the accordion, us.

If that was how Thomas Crone was betting his card, then a very smart, hardbitten club owner in Chicago immediately made his money look a little less stupid.

On the advice of Tony Margherita, Uncle Tupelo's manager, I had sent a copy of the Almanac to the Cabaret Metro in Chicago, far and away the most prestigious indie rock venue in the Midwest. Their unique method was to respond to band submissions by letter. There it was in print, signed by Fred at the Metro. We had "a naturalness you don't often hear." We were welcome to call, he would find us a gig. I called and booked a show for mid-January (1991).

Me and Skoob were getting off the window ledge at last, and Enormous Richard was getting on the road.

Pretty girl buys my sketch of inarticulate jock

A regular reader of my little spot o' blog here, a pretty girl (= beautiful woman) who works for Congressman Clay, has contributed further to my bragging rights as a "professional artist."

Having missed my first-ever art show, Dawn Fuller called and asked if anyone had bought my sketch "Inarticulate Jock at Local IHOP." I indicated that it was still on the market.

She asked what it would cost. I said $5, or one pint of quality draft beer. She said she should give me $10. I said we would accept $10. A lunch date was arranged.

At lunch yesterday, she said she would have to pay for our meal on credit, since she had no cash on hand. I said I would accept lunch in lieu of payment for my sketch, in the time-honored tradition of singing (or sketching) for your supper.

Given that I had a beet salad, fried green tomato BLT and that pint of quality beer, a home economist will note that in accepting lunch in lieu of payment, I in effect bid up my sketch well above the $10 agreed upon fee. One would need to consult Dawn's credit card statement to learn what now becomes the most I have ever been paid for a work of my "art".

I sketched this pretty girl, of course, while we were eating. Since my sketches are very poor indicators of what my subjects look like, and since it is good for my market value to promote the fact that very pretty girls are buying my stuff, I insisted on photographing her with her iPhone. She kindly transmitted that image today so I could show the world the kind of company my sketches of inarticulate jocks are keeping.

St. Louis American endorses Barack Obama

Here is The St. Louis American's editorial endorsement of Barack Obama. My campaign contact called from Chicago yesterday to say they had read it at headquarters and were excited. The picture of the man in Sarasota is from the campaign Flickr site.


Obama for us

It will come as no surprise that we heartily endorse Barack Obama for U.S. president.

There are at least 100,000 reasons for our decision. That is, roughly, the number of people who stood on the Gateway Arch grounds and beyond recently to cheer on his candidacy in its final weeks before the Nov. 4 election, when - as Obama told us himself, just before he stepped onstage - African Americans can be the decision makers in his favor if we vote anywhere near our strength.

The image of an African-American orator attracting a diverse, peaceful, passionate crowd of 100,000 in an historically segregated city like St. Louis should be endorsement enough for this very special person. If you can unite St. Louis, whose divisions we know all too well, you can move the country drastically forward toward greater equality and inclusion. And, as Obama told us personally before he took that stage, “America is always better when we pull together.”

Former Fire Chief Sherman George pointed out something important in a speech to his international colleagues in the fire service, soon after Obama made history under the Arch: “The crowd stretched from the Gateway Arch, where Senator Obama delivered his remarks, to the Old Courthouse, where one of Dred Scott’s trials in his lawsuit to free himself and his family from slavery was heard.”When we talk about making history on Nov. 4, that is the history we are talking about making.Obama has much more than historical symbolism or racial unity to recommend him as the 44th president of the United States. For a great many Americans who could care less if a black man ever serves as president, the deciding moment in his favor came with Obama’s almost unbelievably cool and intelligent response to the calamitous crisis in the credit markets n this campaign’s October Surprise.

Obama had the foresight to call his Republican opponent, John McCain, and suggest that a joint statement would be in the best interest of the nation at a very tentative time. Perhaps sensing he had been outsmarted and that Obama would take credit for a brilliant and sensible idea, McCain instead put his campaign ahead of his country and took the solo grandstand to suspend his campaign and rush back to Washington n where, according to his colleagues, he offered nothing whatsoever to the intense discussions about the bailout.

Against the urgent counsel of many of his advisors, Obama resisted the bait. He did not take McCain’s lead. Unforgettably, he addressed the American people to expose McCain’s ploy and remind us that presidents need to have the wherewithal to do more than one difficult thing at a time. He assured us he was in daily contact with his colleagues in the Senate and with Treasury officials n and, in the meantime, he would continue with the task he had set for himself: that of convincing a fearful and weary nation that he is the leader we need.

We are convinced.

In terms of policy proposals, the media is saturated with what Obama plans to deliver, compared to McCain, and we have printed much of what Obama will propose to the Congress and his party if we vote him into office. His middle-class tax cuts are more wise than the Bush tax cuts that McCain would uphold and increase n adding an estimated $4.2 billion in debt over 10 years. Obama’s health care plan - while far from perfect - at least moves toward the universal coverage we need, whereas McCain would tax citizens for the health care benefits their employers provide and push health insurance further down the path of deregulation that has brought disaster to the credit markets.

Of course, the president does not impose policy. He guides it through his leadership of his own party and his ability to build consensus with members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation. No one could possibly offer a shred of evidence that his opponent can achieve these difficult tasks better than Obama can.

The McCain campaign bickers and implodes, while Obama drives his campaign steadily toward victory, with even the Clinton sideshow belatedly rushing to join what could be an overwhelming victory. No one could name even one meaningful Democratic defection to McCain’s cause, while throughout his historic campaign, Obama has received support and endorsements from prominent, intelligent Republicans - Goldwaters, Eisenhowers, Buckleys and (a coup that will never be forgotten in Black America) General Colin Powell - based on his intellectual depth and ability to make wise, thoughtful decisions.

Powell’s support reminds us of this country’s many, bloody, precarious and expensive military engagements. Obama’s strong, unequivocal stance against the war in Iraq was key to the success of his primary campaign, and we can appreciate why he has downplayed his doubts about the war in competing against a Republican military veteran in a general election.

But anti-war Democrats have not left Obama’s side or thrown roadblocks across his campaign, because we understand that McCain will continue deadly and costly business as usual in our foreign policy, based largely on military interventions, whereas Obama will bring to it the same sound, penetrating, problem-solving mind that has managed to do the unthinkable: make a black man the favored candidate for the presidency of the United States, still the world’s only superpower, going into the last week of the campaign.

Barack Obama is the inspiring, transcendent figure in politics that comes along, at best, once in a generation, maybe once in a century. This man, who made a conscious choice to self-identify as black, represents what America is fast becoming in the 21st century: a diverse, multi-racial, multi-cultural nation that is inclusive and forward-thinking.

Obama is a man of the world, not of a parochial sector of his own country, and a politician of the future, not of the past.Because of his grounded upbringing and superior education, Obama has combined a brilliant mind with an even temperament, political savvy and the crucial ability to think on his feet. He also possesses the rare ability to communicate to the masses and move them in a positive direction, which the Republicans envy so desperately that they constantly demean this gift of his and have tried (and failed) to manufacture it in the form of their vice president nominee.

Obama’s appeal cuts across racial, ethnic, gender, generational, social and national lines, and he has been able to share his positive vision of the United States and the world with the masses n especially young voters, our future n who now share his conviction that change is what is required. Obama has been able to tap into the dormant spirit of a people and empower us to believe that we - any of us; all of us - are the ones who can make change happen.

As Obama told the American personally before he gave a similar message to 100,000 hopeful people in St. Louis, “We are all in this together and we must try to understand one another’s hopes and dreams, and in that way we will be more successful than if we turn on one another.”We are sure that a majority of Americans will pull together on Nov. 4, rather than turn on ourselves, as the Republicans always try to get us to do. We are sure that each of you will do all that you can so that all of the registered voters in your family, your church and your neighborhood go - early - to the polls on Nov. 4.

We must not let the success of his campaign make us complacent or think for one moment that our vote is not needed or won’t be counted. We must each of us do our part to help fulfill the dream of equality and equal participation in the political process ignited by the Civil Rights Movement. Each of us has a personal responsibility to help make a difference in this historic election. We strongly urge you to vote for JOE BIDEN FOR VICE PRESIDENT and BARACK OBAMA FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Michael Behle doesn't know what to say or see

I know the work of famous artists by stumbling into museums. I know the work of local artists by stumbling into bars and meeting artists and then eventually getting invited to their shows.

Michael Behle is a local artist. He has a show coming up at Thomas Jefferson School (aka TJ), a prep boarding school in South County not far from Laumeier Sculpture Park.

How do I know this? I stumbled into a bar and ran into a local artist, Greg Edmondson (whom I first met many years ago stumbling into a bar). Behle was sitting there at the bar with him. They invited me to a show Behle was co-curating that featured Edmondson. It paired St. Louis artists with Chicago artists; I attended the opening and wrote about it.

Now, Edmondson (who curates the space at TJ) is showing Behle. Call it a mutual admiration drinking buddyship, or the gig swap phenomenon gone visual. It's all good, except when the gig doesn't get swapped back, right? Like we thought maybe the St. Louis artists were going to get to show in Chicago, just like the Chicago artists got to show in St. Louis.

Brian Henneman of The Bottle Rockets said it best when he was still driving Chicken Truck. "I scratched your back, but I still got my itch." Anyway.

Behle solo show of recent work opens with box wine and brilliant, fidgety, pimply prep boarding school students 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7 at The Visual Arts Gallery at TJ, on OSuth Lindbergh in the Sunset Hills and stays open through Feb. 6, 2009 (space open 1-5 p.m. M-F and by appointments on weekend by bumping into Edmondson or Behle at a bar).

Lost on the way? Want to sock your kid away into a really impressive prep boarding school that is cranking out worldbeaters when it's not showing exciting new local art? Call (314) 843-4151.

p.s. As the opening falls on the anniversary of the birth of my dear wife and the mother of my child, and as I endeavor to remain nondivorced, I most certainly will not be consuming any of the boxed wine or Edmondson witticisms on Nov. 7.


The image, above, will be in the show. It's titled I don't know what to say, I don't know what to see (mix media on board, 20" x 24" 2008).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Local composer, dog, cat, Dr. Seuss villain

If you had asked me what an ASCAPLUS was, I would have thought, "Maybe a Dr. Seuss villain?"

It's not. It's an award from ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. It recognizes "activity generated by each member’s catalog, with emphasis on recent performances,” which sounds like a slightly stiff way of saying it's an award for composers who have been getting a lot of good gigs lately.

The crack PR staff at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville want the people to know that Kimberly K. Archer, assistant professor of music composition at SIUE, has an ASCAPLUS under her belt, or on her mantle.

How about those good gigs she has been getting?

During the past year, Archer composed and premiered Symphony No. 3 for Wind Ensemble. She also released her first two symphonies on CD and had several regional performances of other works.

I'm not seeing that there Symphony No. 3 for Wind Ensemble on her interesting website, but it does have links to loads of snippets of her compositions and the odd complete piece. A snippet is a snippet, but I'm digging the zippy snippet of Symphony No. 2, a dramatic minute of The Hour of Wolves , a suitably tragic if brief bit of For Those Taken Too Soon , a snappy twist of Jig, and the happy Ballad for Aisha, all 6:19 of it.

It makes sense for that last composition to be of modest scope. Aisha is just a kid, after all. Ballad for Aisha was commissioned by Linda and Thomas Dvorak in honor of their niece, Aisha Greene. The premiere performance was conducted by Linda Dvorak with the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Youth Wind Ensemble I on May 7, 2006 at Bader Concert Hall on the University campus.

The Dvoraks write, "In addressing the musical fabric of the piece, we asked the composer to write music with a gentle flow, with singing lyricism, filled with the soft timbres of keyboard mallet instruments, and intermingled with musical climaxes as one might experience in musicals, all mirroring Aisha’s gentle and warm personality, and her love for singing and listening to Broadway shows, especially Annie.”

Uncle Thomas and Aunt Linda should get Aisha a copy of the 30th anniversary edition of the original cast recording of Annie, newly remastered by my friend Adam Long, who lives and works in Midtown St. Louis.

As for the CDs of the new ASCAPLUS winner, I've nagged her for review copies and will report back when I've heard them.


The photo of composer with aunt's cat and dog is from that there composer's website.

Beets, Belford and beer dinner at Mangia

I had lunch at The Tap Room today. Good, fresh food alert here.

There is a beet salad on lunch special ($8) that deserves to be tasted while it's still on (Chef Andy White predicts a week or so, "as long as The Bottleworks has beets").

The salad comes out all stylized and vertical, marbled with a soft white cheese (I didn't pick Andy's brains for precise ingredients), drizzled with some yummy drizzly, and garnished with a pungent leafy foodstuff.

I asked Andy to take a picture of it for me so I could show off his presentation. He said he will do so. In the interim, I'll illustrate this brief tasting note with something equally delicious, two Kevin Belford sketches of a very special local model, dancer, person, mom.

My buddy Brett Underwood also emaileth of a Chef Andy White Schlafly Beer Dinner at Mangia Italiano, 3145 South Grand, at 7 p.m. Thursday Nov 20. That's one night before the 2008 Poetry Scores Art Invitational at Hoffman LaChance, but I'm sorely tempted to go.

Here's what tempts me.

Menu, with beer pairings:

Butternut Squash Soup
Hefeweizen Unfiltered Wheat Ale

Smoked trout and corn pancake

Elk medallion and pomegranate with wild rice
Bière de Garde

Duck confit and dried cherries
Winter ESB Ale

Apple tart
No. 15

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookie
Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

(Vegetarian options are available.)
The check, please: $50 per person
Reservations are required. Call (314)664-8585.

Free Missouri voter information cartoons

Kevin Belford drew both of these cartoons for tomorrow's St. Louis American. They promote the single most useful website and phone number for the Nov. 4 election in Missouri.

The website,, was developed by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan as one-stop-shopping for voter information. Perhaps most importantly, anyone in Missouri can get a sample ballot from this site. It is essential that everyone know how they want to vote all the way down the ballot before they go to the polls. Every minute you spend reading and considering some complex propositions is a minute someone else waits to vote.

Don't forget to vote for Robin Carnahan while you're at it. She has done an heroic job this year on ballot initiatives and election preparation.

The phone number - 1-877-MO-CHANGE (1-877-662-4264) - was set up by the Obama campaign as a catch-all for voter concerns - and, as the cartoon indicates, as a way for people to get rides to the polls who need them.

In an extensive voter guide in tomorrow's paper, we also cover fraid hotlines set up by the feds and Labor lawyers who will be on call (1-866-OUR-VOTE) in case of voter harassment.

About them fed hotlines:

United States Attorney's Office
(314) 539-7733
(314) 231-4324.
Civil Rights Division
1-800-253-3931 or 202-307-2767.
Civil Rights Criminal Section

This will not be an easy election for anyone to steal.

Wealthy white developer extols Obama's virtues

Bob Clark is a non-black St. Louis developer who runs CLAYCO and has been a core supporter and operative in the Obama campaign. I don't have much use for his local politics these days - he also supports and gives money to Mayor Francis G. Slay - but this endorsement of Obama he is circulating is very powerful, particularly in that it comes from a wealthy white man from a segregated city who tells us he voted for George W. Bush.

If Bob didn't have as much of his own money and developments leveraged in the Slay administration, I think he might say the same of our municipal administration that he says of Bush and co.: "a team of people who have been proven incompetent in almost every department. Cronyism, favoritism and lack of preparation ... resulted in terrible responses to a host of critical issues our country [or, city] faced." But you would have to add "nepotism" to the list if you are talking about Slay, whose unqualified brother Gerard Slay is deputy director of the airport authority and who generally likes to keep the money and power in the family.

I look forward to Bob Clark's future local my bad- "I voted for Francis Slay, and boy was that a mistake" - but for now I give you his well reasoned mea culpa for voting for Bush and a passionate appeal to vote for Obama.


Why I support Barack Obama
By Robert Clark

Six hundred fifteen (615) days ago, I made a personal commitment to Senator Barack Obama to endorse his candidacy for President of the United States and to lead the Missouri effort on the National Finance Committee as an official “agent” of the campaign. I did so in person in a one-on-one meeting with the Senator.

Previously, I had met Barack on a few occasions and seen him in action from the audience (or even on TV) several times. Senator Obama came to St Louis for a rally and a large luncheon to elect Claire McCaskill as one of Missouri’s senators. At the time, I had lunch with Barack and saw him inspire the crowds with his unique rallying message and his quiet strength. Sometimes, but rarely, a person appears at the right time and the right place to transform ordinary people into thinkers and doers who can accomplish more than they ever thought they could. That truly is the definition of inspiration. Barack Obama has this quality. I have witnessed it personally many times. But that’s not enough....

Leadership and brightness matter. The current president’s policies and actions make us painfully aware of just how much they matter. Our current administration will arguably go down in history as one of the worst ever -- a team of people who have been proven incompetent in almost every department. Cronyism, favoritism and lack of preparation (over 800 presidential appointments were unmade or in limbo on 9/11/2001) resulted in terrible responses to a host of critical issues our country faced. The president has isolated us from our international allies, destroyed our country’s world wide standing, delivered us into a crazy and expensive (and unjustified) war, tipped the wing of his airplane over the worst domestic disaster within our own borders, and enacted a tax cut in excess of a trillion dollars for the wealthiest individuals and most profitable corporations. Worse yet, it promoted and enacted deregulation that has completely crippled the economy.

The Republican Party has left the Republican Party. At least it has left behind the principles by which it stood.

Although the economy and other measurable standards were in the best condition ever under the Clinton administration, I voted for Bush. That personal mistake will always haunt me. My vote mattered then and it matters now. So does yours.

For almost two years I have worked tirelessly for the Campaign for Change, “Obama for America.” I have traveled and spent time with the senator in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Des Moines, Kansas City, Springfield, Cape Girardeau, Rolla, Union and Denver and been his host for all of his trips to St. Louis. This has given me that rare inside look at the strategy of the campaign. I have observed economic and foreign policy summits with top advisors, attended the debates, and campaigned door to door in the freezing cold in Iowa. My responsibility in the process has been to introduce the senator to new people and donors, act as a clearing house for Missouri communication, chair the Missouri Finance Committee and temporarily the North Carolina Finance Committee, host surrogate events with local politicians, Secretary Madeline Albright, Warren Buffet, Hillary Clinton, Senator Joe Biden and others, and to create an always available refuge in my own home for weary Obama staff and volunteers from all over the country.

During my time with the campaign, I have seen Barack Obama consistently meet every challenge. Ideas and promises have become actual policies and clear messages for hope and change. My candidate has been cool, collected and “presidential”. He has carefully selected and added to the team the best and brightest, as I do in my own life and business. It is clear that this process will continue and our leader will select a world-class team of people to administrate, manage and carry out service to the public. The more I observe Senator Obama, the more confident I am that my early hopes will be realized.

In great contrast, I have seen the Republican candidate drift completely away from the policies, comments and maverick behavior that had earlier gained my tremendous respect. He has surrounded himself with the same dispirited confused, and unqualified campaign managers, advisors, and supporters that helped put the country in the mess it is in. In particular, we watched with a bizarre sense of confusion as a misguided candidate or judgment-impaired advisors chose a completely unqualified vice presidential running mate.

If there is anyone in America that thinks things are going well and wants to stick with the same type of management as the last eight years, the Republican ticket is your ticket.

There has been much confusion and negative comments about Senator Obama’s proposed tax structure and economic plan. Having personally met with his staff and economic advisors (including Warren Buffet) and having actually read all the available information online , I am convinced that a progressive tax code, reversing the Bush trillion dollar tax cuts and delivering true tax cuts to all those American businesses and people who make less than $250,000 per year, is fair and equitable and will help, not hinder, the kind of economic activity we need for change.

Senator Obama can and will restore our reputation around the world. He will strengthen our alliances in Europe, the Mideast, Asia and beyond. Obama has been thoughtful, clear and shown great judgment since his early opposition to the war in Iraq to his concern about leaving the battlefront in Afghanistan and weakening the true fight against terrorism by mismanaging our resources and diluting our capability to respond to a very dangerous Al-Qaeda.

For years and years, I have been concerned and baffled as our leaders have frequently shrunk from real diplomacy and hands-on involvement and ignored the complicated solutions necessary to ease tension in critical regions around the world. That is why I am excited about a candidate and political leader willing to go face to face, under the correct conditions, to try to achieve objectives that have been shattered and to lessen the true risks for the United States.

On issues basic to the very core values on which our country was founded -- the Supreme Court, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Justice System (which is all headed in a disastrous direction) – I believe that Senator Obama can help set our country back on the right path. On a host of other critical issues such as access to health care, infrastructure investment, environmental issues, and energy policy, it is my view that Senator Obama is in the right place. And, we know that this is the right time!

Finally, I have complete and total confidence that just as Senator Obama has handled himself throughout his career, and especially in the toughest Democratic primary, he will continue to manage himself and his country … our country … with the calm, cool, collected and thoughtful resolve that he has displayed throughout. He has managed himself in the face of adversity, un-ending attacks on his religion, his ethics, his family, his color, his patriotism, with a cool resolve because he believes that the nation’s problems are too great to let the politics of fear and division separate the electorate from justice and the strong, decent leadership we deserve.

I am asking you for your trust and your vote on November 4th for Barack Obama for President of the United States.


Image from a blog about book design.

Missouri Republican newspaper endorses Obama

A clever press release from the Obama campaign about an exciting development:


St. Louis, MO -- Today, the Joplin Globe endorsed Barack Obama for president, saying that Obama can make "'change' more than just a campaign slogan, but a launching point for a brighter future for all Americans."

The last time that the Globe - located in Jasper County, which voted over 70 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 - endorsed a Democrat for president was one hundred years ago, when the paper backed William Jennings Bryant in 1908.

To put things in perspective, here are some other headlines from 1908:

* The Ford Motor Company debuts the Model T with a purchase price of

* The University of Missouri opens the first school of journalism.
* The Grand Canyon is designated a National Park.

* A ball signifying New Years Day is dropped in New York's Times
Square for the first time.
* Mother's Day is observed for the first time.


Here is a telling bit from the Joplin paper's endorsement:

"We are uncomfortable with Sen. John McCain's selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. With the Palin pick, McCain rallied his base but undercut his theme at the time that experience matters. We remain unconvinced that she is ready to step into the No. 1 spot if needed."

Speaking of Sarah Palin, the always on-point California Nurses Association has developed a hilarious Dress Like Palin game that tells you what you could buy that nurses need with any of the expensive used to outfit Palin with Republican campaign money. I wish they all could be California nurses.


1908 Model T ad from a car ad website.

For tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

My best friend John Eiler wrote the following poem about his daughter, Marcella Sali Grace, who was found raped and murdered last month in Oaxaca, Mexico.

He sent this as a direct address to activists in Oaxaca who had, basically, solved the mystery of her rape and murder and handed the confessed perpetrator over to the authorities.

Nothing about this story is settled, however.


My young warrior
By John Eiler

Sali learned through doing, so she was not one to sit still for lessons. But it’s the nature of parents – at least this father – to try to teach. I see now in my pride at what Sali learned that she is now my teacher.

It is also the nature of a father to protect – how to do this with a young warrior like Marcella? When I asked Sali about her apparent fearlessness, she told me that she was often afraid. (To not be afraid would be stupid.) She lived her life to confront her fears, to become stronger, to hone her edge.

As I lay awake at night my mind circles to something I held that could have protected Sali, not in shelter but with strength. Perhaps the practical knowledge of using the bottom of a plate to sharpen her knife? Or the deeper knowing – which artery flows close to the surface and unprotected?

When Sali was learning her first language, like most children she had difficulty speaking the words that describe “time.” Her wondrous name for “the future” was “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.” I offer this poem for my daughter, Marcella Sali Grace, and I apologize that in my love is also great rage. Thank you for keeping the memory of her fierce beauty alive for tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.


A cooking lesson for my daughter
By John Eiler

There will be time to perfect the taste,
to season and simmer.
You must begin where cooking starts,
in preparation.

The art is in the cutting.
To mince, to dice, to slice –
a perfect size and shape
for every purpose.

But wait, back up.
This father knows that tools
need preparation too.
And your knife is just a tool.

A simple household hint
taught in kitchens long ago:
Fine china will grace your table
but can serve in other ways.

Beneath your shining plate
feel the ring of roughness
in the clay.
Use this to hone your edge.

Quiet now, keep this our secret.
Another lesson for tomorrow –
we will learn together how to cut.
For tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.


The picture is by Sali from her photostream.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Last-minute voter info from Barack Obama

This is the last-minute voter information the Obama Campaign wants you to know. The historic photo of Barack Obama before a crowd of 100,000 at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is by Bill Greenblatt and ran on the front page of The St. Louis American last week. If you are in St. Louis and are lucky enough to find a copy at Schnucks or Walgreens (our return rate is very low, about 2 percent), grab one tomorrow before this collectible is gone for good from the stands.


With Election Day fast approaching, we want to be sure that voters are receiving useful and accurate information as they prepare to cast their votes. This will be the most historic election in any of our lifetimes, and we need to ensure that everyone who is eligible to cast a vote is able to do so as efficiently as possible.

Get prepared to vote @

1. Make sure your voter registration is current, especially if you have moved or gotten married since the last time you voted.

2. Verify your polling site BEFORE November 4th, especially if you are a newly registered voter or have moved since the last time you voted.

3. All election laws are local. With that in mind, read the instructions on your ballot when you cast your vote. Do not rely on unofficial information someone else told you, no matter the source, or that you read on the internet about how you should mark your ballot.

4. Visit the website to get answers to many of these questions and rumors that are out there. On this webpage you can find your polling site, verify your registration information, apply for an absentee ballot and check out any rumors you may have heard.

5. Make this a family affair – take your immediate family, friends, neighbors and colleagues to the polls. Whether you are voting early where that option is offered or on Election Day, make it a celebration. This is an incredible moment in the history of our country, and we should take pride in it.

6. The Obama-Biden campaign is encouraging election officials nationwide to increase capacity for voting by adding more machines to reduce lines during early voting and on Election Day. Once you get in line, DON’T LEAVE. Every vote matters in this election, and that includes yours.

The votes of African Americans, Latinos, Youth and First-Time Voters can make the difference in this election.

In fact, the number of registered African-American voters alone who did not vote in 2000 and 2004 was enough to make the difference in each of those elections.

Don’t forget that right now 34 states are offering no-excuse early voting. People in those states can cast their votes TODAY.


Vote EARLY where you can or on November 4th!

Crone buys Chief George sketch for five clams

I'm still getting around to giving some love to my first (and, one supposes, last) buyers at my first (and, one supposes, last) art show.

I also moved some product to my old colleague Thomas Crone, who bought this sketch of former Fire Chief Sherman George for $5. Maybe Thomas expects it to go up in value because he thinks Sherman will run for mayor, but I know Sherman doesn't want that job.

Crone and I go back too far through too many evolutions to summarize it all here. Whichever of us dies first (many years hence, I hope), leave it to the other guy to tell the tale. I know he has helped me a lot at various points in our lives, and I'd like to think I've helped him.

Sherman would have been at the art show, but he was out of town speaking at an International Association of Black Professional Firefighters convention. Before he left, he dropped off the intro and outro of his speech (with two bracketed notes for where he would insert copy he has used before) so that I could edit the copy for him.

That's what friends are for. After all, it's one of the only things I can do. My name is not Joe, and I am decidedly not a plumber.


Speech to International Association
Of Black Professional Firefighters
By Sherman George

I don’t think I have to tell anyone here that we are on the eve of an historic election. And I hope my hosts forgive me if I speak in a highly partisan manner about that election. Like a lot of people who have stood and fought in positions of leadership, I watch Barack Obama and his campaign with a keen and admiring eye, and sometimes I imagine I see some of myself in him and his efforts.

In St. Louis, where I live and for years served as fire chief, we recently welcomed Senator Obama at our riverfront with a crowd of more than 100,000 people that broke all the attendance records for political events. The crowd stretched from the Gateway Arch, where Senator Obama delivered his remarks, to the Old Courthouse, where one of Dred Scott’s trials in his lawsuit to free himself and his family from slavery was heard.

I don’t think I have to explain that symbolism to anyone here. I shouldn’t have to explain that symbolism to anyone in America. But, unfortunately, many of us do not know our history. In fact, too many people think that African-American history is not even American history – just like it is possible to imagine that an accomplished, complex and intelligent man like General Colin Powell could cast his vote for president on the basis of something as superficial as the color of a candidate’s skin.
[IABPF history]
[My history]
So, you can see that in St. Louis we are watching the final days of Obama’s campaign through weary and wary eyes.

Even as we work very hard to elect this special man to the highest office in the land, we look around ourselves in our own city and we see a lot of hard work that remains to be done and that President Obama won’t be able to do for us. We see a lot of people – in fact, an entire entrenched political organization – in power that operates by deceitful means and with disregard for what is legal, appropriate or just.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many American cities were run by similar political cliques – but I know for a fact St. Louis is run by such a clique.
I wish I could tell you it’s a pleasure to oppose a group of people like that. I wish I could tell you that I have enjoyed it. I wish I could tell you it will be fun if you fight for your rights. But in fact, I myself am an easygoing, peaceable man. I would much prefer to have been allowed to run my department as I was empowered, entitled and qualified to do.

But I have had to fight against a political movement that had different ideas – that operates along the old, awful principles of cronyism, nepotism and racism.
With all due respect to anyone here who plans to vote differently, I think Barack Obama points the way past these old, awful political realities of life in America. But he can’t do our work for us. I challenge each of you to learn your local politics well enough to know its injustices, and to organize yourself to oppose those injustices once you understand them.

Thank you and God bless.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Day of the live Japanese woman who sounds Beat

I'm honored and excited to have been asked again this year to read at Day of the Dead Beats, which goes down (or, maybe, on and on ...) this Saturday, Nov. 1 at The Way Out Club, 2525 S. Jefferson, starting at 8 p.m. with a $3 cover.

Last year I did Kenneth Rexroth, choosing to read from his Chinese translations to make a point. The Beats are remembered (and often imitated) for their sensuous responses to new, intense kinds of experiences (like newly discovered forms of sex and drugs). But they were bookworms too, even scholars, however much they might have thumbed their noses (among other appendages) at the academy.

They broke a lot of rules, but they learned a lot of rules before they started breaking them. And they invented (or adapted) new poetic forms, but they learned (and enjoyed) a lot of existing poetic forms before they tried to do their own thing. Rexroth's translations are a vivid reminder of that.

This year I am doing some of his Japanese translations. I read a New Directions paperback of this stuff on tour as a musician about 15 years ago, but put it back on the bookshelf in the crash pad when I was finished (after copying down some fragments that we turned into a song, "Those Born After Me," with a hook borrowed from Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, by way of Rexroth: "May those who are born after me/ Never travel such roads of love").

Last night, I sifted through the Rexroth archive on The Bureau of Public Secrets and found quite a lot of Japanese stuff. I decided I'll read only women Japanese poets he (co)translated, to compensate for something that aggravates organizer Brett Underwood every year: that there just weren't very many female Beat poets. Almost none.

However, in a confluence that amazes even this guy who goes through life looking for confluences, I managed to find a poem by a Japanese woman (cotranslated by Rexroth) that reads more than a little like a Beat poem. The poem even has a penis, named more bluntly than "penis"!

This poem by Shiraishi Kazuko (and the other poems I will read Saturday) were published in Women Poets of Japan, which Rexroth translated with Ikuko Atsumi. The painting of Shiraishi Kazuko performing on her 77th birthday this past Feb. 10 (above) is by Hisami.


For Sumiko’s Birthday
By Shiraishi Kazuko

God if he exists
Or if he doesn’t
Still has a sense of humor
Like a certain type of man
So this time
He brings a gigantic man root
To join the picnic
Above the end of the sky of my dreams
I’m sorry
I didn’t give Sumiko anything for her birthday
But now I wish I could at least
Set the seeds of that God given penis
In the thin, small, and very charming voice of Sumiko
On the end of the line
Sumiko, I’m so sorry
But the penis shooting up day by day
Flourishes in the heart of the galaxy
As rigid as a wrecked bus
So that if You’d like to see
The beautiful sky with all its stars
Or just another man instead of this God given cock
A man speeding along a highway
With a hot girl
You’ll have to hang
All the way out of the bus window
With your eyes peeled
It’s spectacular when the cock
Starts nuzzling the edge of the cosmos
At this time
Dear Sumiko
The lonely way the stars of night shine
And the curious coldness of noon
Penetrates my gut
Seen whole
Or even if you refused to look
You’d go crazy
Because you can trace
The nameless, impersonal and timeless penis
In the raucous atmosphere
Of the passers-by
That parade it in a portable shrine
In that stir of voices
You can hear an immensity of savage
Rebellion, the curses of
Heathen gism
Sometimes God is in conference or out to lunch
It seems he’s away
Absconding from debts but leaving his penis.
So now
The cock abandoned by God
Trots along Young and gay
And full of callow confidence
Amazingly like the shadow
Of a sophisticated smile
The penis bursting out of bounds
And beyond measure
Arrives here
Truly unique and entirely alone
Seen from whatever perspective
It’s faceless and speechless
I would like to give you, Sumiko
Something like this for your birthday
When it envelops your entire life
And you’ve become invisible even to yourself
Occasionally you’ll turn into the will
Of exactly this penis
And wander
I want to catch in my arms
Someone like you

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi.


Other readers on the gig Saturday with their Dead Beats:

Kenneth Brown - William S. Burroughs
Michael Franklin - Gregory Corso's "Bomb"
Greg Hazleton - Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Ann Haubrich - Jack Kerouac.
Brock Walker - Gary Snyder
K. Curtis Lyle - Bob Kaufmann
Bob Wilcox - Allen Ginsberg.
Bob Putnam - Herbert Huncke.
Phil Gounis - Jack Micheline
Agnes Wilcox - Diane DiPrima
Brett Underwood - Charles Bukowski
Erin Wiles - Anne Waldman
Joe Wetteroth - Kenneth Patchen
Michael Castro - Philip Lamantia

Action painting to live music to silent Dracula

In my sense of entertainment, you can't beat live music to silent film - unless maybe you add live action painting to the live music being performed to the silent film.

An ignorant and dismissive person - if that type survives in St. Louis after we rallied 100,000 people to cheer on Barack Obama! - might assume you can't get there from here. But yes, you can.

At 8 p.m. this Thursday, Oct. 30 local artist Chris Sagovac will complete a live abstract expressionist painting influenced by the movements, shadows and mood of F.W. Murnau’s, Nosferatu, accompanied by The Alloy Orchestra's live score.

Murnau's film is a darling of the live music/silent film revival - I've seen three different live scores performed to it, including Alloy's - and provides the prime subtext to Werner Herzog's film of the same name. Max Schreck's epochal Dracula performance for Murnau was the major inspiration for one of Klaus Kinski's unforgettable performances for Herzog.

Carlos Garza and Rich O'Meara of Silent Orchestra, who also have scored the film, cite Murnau's "use of superimposed images, negative images, and the oddly angled castle architecture" in offering his film as a masterpiece of German Expressionism. That sounds about right.

At Thursday's screening, in addition to the presentation of the film, a smaller synchronized projection will be utilized in the creation of the painting. I take it that the artist paints around a projection of the film on the canvas.

The painting I borrowed from Sagovac's website and posted above is titled The Living Dead; my guess is it was painted around a projection of the zombie movie of that name. I'd guess the same about his painting American Psycho.

I don't know anything about this guy, but a quick scan of his blog turns up a recent trip to the San Diego comic convention and ongoing work in comics and film. He also teaches at Webster. Sounds like a cool guy with a lot on the ball.

No surprise: This is a presentation of The Webster University Film Series, which is every bit as compelling as a film series needs to be.

Admission is $6 for the general public. The screening will be held in Moore Auditorium on the campus of Webster University, 470 E. Lockwood, Webster Groves.

Francis Zappa, an Italian "hoe"

When I saw that David Robertson had programmed The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra to perform some music by Frank Zappa this season (Nov. 13 at the Pageant), I knew I must be missing something. David is quirky and willing to shatter expectations, but not at the expense of musical quality. Zappa as composer must be the real deal. Who'd have thunk.

This weekend I took my daughter and her friend Navia to the St. Louis County Public Library to check out some books and DVDs. I browsed in Biography and came upon Zappa by Barry Miles. This weekend I read this fascinating and well crafted book about what seems to have been a deeply unpleasant but unexpectedly versatile and pioneering cultural figure.

I'll start a series of posts about this book with a note on the old man, Francis Zappa, drawn above from an undated family photograph where Frank looks pubescent.

The old man was of Sicilian peasant stock ("Zappa" means "hoe" in Italian), who was brought to this country (to Baltimore) as a toddler. He was able to afford college with the help of his father and his earnings playing cards. He studied history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and played guitar in a trio. Miles tells us the old man serenaded coeds with "Pretty Little Red Wing, the Indian Maiden" (a song I recorded Pops Farrar singing that we released on his CD Memory Music: Songs and Stories from the Merchant Marine).

Frank would eventually pick up the ancestral guitar, after getting started on drums (and failing to keep a backbeat), but the concept of supporting the educational aspirations of your children petered out before Frank Zappa procreated. Though he was a millionaire by the time his kids were grown, he told them they were on their own if they wanted to further their education.

This was because he had developed a simpleminded rap about education being a tool of mind control - and because he was a tightwad, a trait he seems to have come by honestly. When Francis moved his family to California, though he had a decent salary as a teacher, he used to follow farm trucks on weekends and have Frank and the other kids hop out to pick up the produce that fell to the road.

Miles makes much of Francis constantly moving the family hither and yon. He argues that always being the new kid - the new ugly kid with the big nose, one might add, though Miles doesn't judge Zappa's looks - made Frank distant emotionally. He certainly stayed that way almost until the end and comes across in this book as a difficult man to like or love. He treated his bandmates as employees, fired them en masse without notice, and couldn't get any of them to come to the 20th anniversary of The Mothers of Invention. As his longtime drummer said, Frank had no friends outside of his family - and you wouldn't want to be a member of his family.

During World War II, the old man did defence work with the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service and the Zappas often lived in highly toxic environments. That may or may not help to explain why Frank Zappa developed prostate cancer at an early age and died young, at 52. The old man also was pugnacious and liked to storm off on people, another trait inherited by the son and directed, in his case, toward everyone from the denizens of the counter-culture he helped to create and Tipper Gore.

Not much of a man, judging by this book, though his story as an artist is fascinating. I'll come back with that later.

Dana Smith, Obama, McCain, Palin and me

Dana Smith gave me this sketch of Barack Obama on Friday night the group art show that featured his paintings, my sketches and bunch of really interesting other stuff in various media. As he gave me the sketch, he said, "Since you're the only person I know who has actually spoken to him ..."

The sketch came handsomely framed and wrapped in some nice-looking, thick brown paper that I didn't want to throw away. So I decided to draw on it. My family lives in the County, which is definitely in play in this election - Obama is winning the sign war in our neighborhood, but he is doing much better than any other Democrat on the ticket, and I agree with the judgment of the robocallers and direct mailers that some of my neighbors must be undecided.

No one in my house is, which is why I say: Keep those expensive direct mail pieces coming! Waste your money on me! I made this crude drawing from the latest money the McCain campaign wasted on me. The headline on this mail piece read, "Your Republican leadership team needs you." I agree they need something, but it ain't me, and they ain't mine.

The piece also has a rhetorical riff with claims like, "If Barack Obama were an athlete, you'd call him a rookie" and other comparisons meant to belittle his degree of experience. To which I add, "If the best the Republicans can do to oppose him is a geriatric former playboy who voted in lockstep with Bush and a VP candidate who couldn't ace a high school civics exam without a cheat sheet, you'd call Barack Obama your next president."

I am very appreciative of Dana's gift. Now that it is scanned, it will be hanging it in The Skuntry Museum, otherwise known as my basement. I feel a fall museum mixer coming on, as the temperatures plummet. See you there, Dana.

His generous gift reminded me of something I always enjoyed about being a gigging musician, and which I now miss badly - the culture swap, when two bands passing in the dark of the night on the road at some local gig trade CDs and T-shirts. I still listen to bands that never broke out of their local status and whose music I know only because we giggged in their town 15 years ago and I brought home a tape or CD and kept it safe all these years.

Which makes me wonder: Did I offer Dana anything in exchange? It's possible I didn't. I was pretty excited to be at my first-ever art show and for so many people I love and respect to have shown up and stayed all night. Let me know if I swapped you back, Dana - I should have and will if I didn't and you actually want any of my drawings!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Catherine Eiler remembers Marcella Sali Grace

My friend Catherine Eiler has sent me her wonderful tribute to Marcella Sali Grace, the daughter of her husband, John Eiler. Sali was raped and murdered last month in Mexico at age 20.

These are the remarks that Catherine delivered at a memorial service for Sali in St. Louis. I have taken the liberty of editing out transitional remarks that relate to the pacing of the memorial service.

The image is a photograph by Sali, from her Photostream, a playful moment with a beautiful child in the middle of the struggle.


Marcella Sali Grace
By Catherine Eiler

Sali was born in Seattle, Washington and raised in Eugene, Oregon. At sixteen she finished high school. Her life for the past five years has centered around several places – Eugene, Oregon; Santa Cruz, California; Tucson, Arizona; and for the last two years, Oaxaca City, Mexico.

When I first met Sally she was 8-yrs-old and going into the third grade. The little girl I met wasn’t yet the outgoing, outspoken, empowered young woman that she grew to be. Instead she was rather reserved, the kind of girl who hung back and seemed to do a lot of watching and considering.

It got me wondering through all of this about the transition from the observer girl to the bold young woman.

The other day we opened a box of Sali’s things from childhood. At the top was a Halloween mask she made the year I met her. I remember very well watching her paint that. Holding a brush dipped in yellow paint she looked at that mask for the longest, longest time.

Then, with a burst, she started to paint. She quickly pressed two bright spots of yellow on either cheek and outlined the mouth in bold orange. It seemed like she had hardly started and then, suddenly, she was done.

Looking at the mask the other day, it occurred to me that this puzzling transition in her life was like that. She looked and thought for a number of years and then she was ready to act. So she acted. Her participation was unusually swift and decisive because she had prepared so carefully, and for so long.

Her initial “political acts” grew from her love of animals. I remember her coming home from a street fair with a PETA pamphlet, panicked over a picture of what researchers did to animals. That same year she declared herself a vegetarian - at age nine - and when a friend asked why she answered simply, “Because I love animals.”

Using resources wisely emerged early as well. Her high school was eventually to become unacceptable, in part because they did not provide bins for recycling all the paper that a typical school generates. The handouts from the first day of her sophomore year were too much waste. Almost reflexively she found a better, earth-friendly school for herself, the Quaker Friends School. Sali chose never to learn to drive, preferring to ride her bicycle over long distances and in all weather.

With that in mind it is natural to understand her fight to protect the old-growth forests of Oregon with the Cascadia Forest Defenders. She was only sixteen when she spent most of her summer living in a community organized around protecting scores of hundred-year-old trees. Life in the camp was rugged, and she became physically strong hauling water and wielding shovels and pickaxes.

She wasn’t ignoring human beings during this time, though. She rode her bike between restaurants to collect leftover food for the hungry and was a regular at Food Not Bombs, a group that provides meals as a form of war protest. The year she and her mother visited her sister in San Francisco during the holidays it was with religious devotion that she found the local Food Not Bombs to attend so that she wouldn’t miss a week.

Women’s Health and Safety joined her list of concerns, and I have some fuzzy memories of a circus-theater troupe in which she performed. They traveled around raising awareness and encouraging skill development to empower young women.

There were political protests, too, rallies and demonstrations against wars and laws, all the way from Seattle, Washington to Washington, D.C. (Supremely resourceful, Sali could get across the country on about fifteen dollars, busking on street corners with her banjo and selling sketches.)

Somewhere between Cascadia Forest Defense and Food Not Bombs was an emerging interest in the Spanish language and Hispanic culture. Sali studied Spanish in school (the earth-friendly one), and to practice she went out into the community and spoke with victims of political persecution through an organization that provided counseling and assistance to Latinos.

It was in the spring of 2005 that she made her first trip through Mexico. Doing things in her thorough, intense way, she traveled all the way down to Mexico’s border with Guatemala. She wrote home about how playful the Guatemalans were in spite of their impoverished and oppressed living conditions. This inspired her to earn and save, and she returned the next year to attend an intensive Spanish language course in Chiapas, the southern-most state of Mexico.

From there her life flourished in Oaxaca; continuing to live on very little she earned her keep through banjo and Arab dance, both performing and teaching. She was also part of a punk band that played, traveled and empowered.

As an activist her role in Oaxaca and at the border was that of an international observer and assistor. She photographed and wrote about the struggle of the people, publishing mostly online, and most importantly, she just did things – organized people, raised funds, cared for children, painted banners, provided water and basic aid to those walking the long, hard journey to the border … the list just goes on and on.

I’ve primarily described Sali’s life as a social activist. But of course, she was so much else as well. Young and energetic she had it in her to be an artist, musician and dancer; traveler, wanderer and busker; friend, sister and daughter. She is, I must tell you, my hero.

Rick Wood, Barack Obama and me in shades

At my first ever art show, I made my second ever "art" sale to my old friend Rick Wood. Rick bought my sketch of Barack Obama from the televised presidential debate in Nashville. I also sketched John McCain off TV that night (and gave that sketch to a stranger at the show who told me he reads my blog, the first stranger to do so, which warmed the heart of this self-publisher).

Those sketches from TV were my only sketches in the show that were not drawn from life, from actual physical proximity. I have never been anywhere near John McCain (and do not seek that opportunity), though I have twice been in a small room with Barack Obama. The above photo is documented proof of this, shot by St. Louis American photojournalist Wiley Price. My friend Meghan Gohil of Hollywood Recording Studios has been begging me to upload this photo since he saw it in my imaginary museum, so this one's for Meghan.

With Obama and me in the photo are two beloved local African-American politicians, Michael McMillan and April Ford-Griffin. This was a small group strategy session convened by U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay during the primary.

Yes, unfortunately, the only documented proof that I have been in the same small room with Barack Obama before he got super totally famous depicts me wearing dark sunglasses indoors. Those are tinted prescrition lens, I had recently stepped on and crushed my non-tinted prescription lens, I hate to shop for anything except books and beer, very much including eyeglasses, and I wouldn't have been able to see the great man very well without wearing the only prescription lens I had at the time (which happened to be tinted), but none of this keeps me from looking like a clown in perhaps the most historic photograph that will ever include me in it.

Just behind where Obama is standing, by the way, is a window. At one point, I got tired of standing and writing and went to sit down on the window ledge, without thinking that this would put me behind the back of a presidential candidate. This gave me a chance to feel like prey, as one of the Secret Service guys moved up and made me his only concern, until I grew weary of his icy stare and moved from out behind Obama.

The buyer of my sketch, Rick Wood, is a very talented architect with an office in the City Museum building. He also has made a variety of curious and amazing little artifacts over the years that deserve to be pulled out and shown to folks again, the next time somebody throws an art party like this one.

I know Rick through the local music scene. He invited my first band Enormous Richard to be on the first Out of the Gate compilation of alternative country in St. Louis, which Rick produced back in 1988 or so - long before Twangfest, Bloodshot Records, No Depression the magazine or No Depression the Uncle Tupelo record. Rick definitely saw that whole scene coming before most of us did, and he has stuck with it through the years as (I understand) a core Twangfest organizer. He also makes a mean mix tape and used to do candid and well written concert reviews and scene notes on a Vintage Vinyl blog.

My Obama sketch went for $10, which was double the specified opening bid of $5, though Rick's was, in fact, the opening bid. This bidding technique shows previously unknown political acumen in Rick, an architect and music organizer, since paralyzing the competition through shock and awe in the early stages is a commonly thumbed page in the power politics playbook.

That's what Mayor Slay, Inc. was up to recently in pressuring all of their (mostly County Republican) major funders to back out of a fundraiser being organized by an African-American political player whom Slay fears will run against him in March in the Democratic municipal primary.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Trent The Musician from Ohio for Obama

As another antidote to the repulsive "Joe The Plumber from Ohio" gambit on the part of the McCain campaign, I bring you Trent The Musician (and bookstore worker) from Ohio. I'm working on a little series here about all of the smart, working-class or lower-middle-class non-black people I know in Ohio from playing music there throughout much of the 1990s. I have been asking them what they think is really going on with Ohio voters like themselves.

Confluence City: Tell me a bit about the town in Ohio where you grew up in the city in Ohio where you live. When you bid them up, what do you say? When you dog them out, what do you say?

Trent Arnold: I grew up in Killbuck Ohio. A small town where the population hovers somewhere between 800 and 900 people. It's a beautiful area surrounded by green rolling hills and it was a great place to be a kid. I don't think I could live there now but only because I'm used to the amenities of the city. I can't really say anything bad about it except for the usual small town stuff. Everyone knows everyone else's business, etc.

I live in Columbus, Ohio right now. A good city to live in, I think. It has the conveniences of a city with a small town feel. My friends who live in small towns would probably disagree with that though. It has a healthy arts scene and a healthy business world. My only criticism would be that it has an identity crisis, it wants to be a major player in the big city world and it's just never going to be a Chicago.

Confluence City: I know you as a musician, but what do you do for money, honey? How would you place yourself, socioeconomically?

Trent Arnold: I work at Borders Book Store. I'm the Merchandising Supervisor. I would like to think that I'm middle class but I don't know if that's true. Maybe upper lower class.

Confluence City: Lifelong Democrat? Tell me a bit about voting and you.

Trent Arnold: I didn't really become politically aware until my first child was on the way. That will make you sit up and take look at what's going on around you. Since then I have been a Democrat. The first Presidential Election I voted in was Clinton's first term. I try not to vote strictly down party lines but it always ends up working that way. The Democrats speak to me, the Republicans don't.

Confluence City: What are the temperature and tenor (mixing metaphors here) of the political talk in your friendship circle(s) these days?

Trent Arnold: It's very hopeful. Everyone feels that there is a very good chance that Obama will be the next President. Everyone is also tired of hearing McCain/Palin talk about what Obama has said and done instead of what they can do for the country.

Confluence City: When did you decide Obama was your candidate? Why?

Trent Arnold: I decided Obama was my man very early. When all the Democratic hopefuls were trying to get the nomination. At first I didn't really know anything about him but his charisma drew me in. His lack of experience did not and still does not scare me a bit. I think he can be a strong and confident leader. I like what he has to say about the economy, foreign policy etc. Also, once again, that he is very charismatic. I don't care what anyone says I think that is an important trait for a leader to have.

Confluence City: Do you know of anyone who fell for Sarah Palin - who switched their loyalty to McCain - after she was announced as VP? If so, do you know any of those who switched back?

Trent Arnold: I don't know anyone who fell for Palin. As a matter of fact I think it had the opposite effect. I think that a lot of women who supported Clinton and didn't know who they were going to vote for saw right through that move.

Confluence City: Have you done anything to help Obama win? Will you do anything more other than vote for him?

Trent Arnold: I'm ashamed to say that I haven't done anything to help Obama win other than convince people that it's agood idea to vote for him. I'm very proud to say though, that my 15 year old daughter Clancey, has done some volunteer work for the Obama campaign. She has made phone calls and helped make signs among other things.

Confluence City: What's next for you if Obama loses? If he wins?

Trent Arnold: I don't really know what's next either way, but I don't even want to think about an Obama loss!


The photo of Trent and his Obama activist daughter Clancey is by me, from a few years ago, when I stopped by Columbus and stayed with the Arnolds (as always) when driving from New to St. Louis for my move back home. Trent has played in many great bands from Columbus and previously holds down the bass for Whoa Nellie, fronted by Bob Starker, who also gave me a Bob The Musician interview about Obama (collect them all!).

Dream of a complicated northern Italian gig swap

It will take a moment to explain how, in the middle of my first ever art show, in downtown St. Louis, I became fixated on the idea of touring the show, or elements of it, to Northern Italy, and then coming back with a bunch of northern Italian rock bands.

It all started with Italian national radio, a previously foreign concept that must now be seared into the minds of people who stuck around until the end of the show, for embarassing reasons I'll get to.

A producer for RAI, as the station is known, contacted me because one of his journalists was traveling here from Rome and wanted to interview a journalist in St. Louis about the Barack Obama campaign. In the process of coordinating that interview, I developed a rapport with the producer, who bears the name Massimo, a name I love to death, which I can say over and over again, Massimo Massimo Massimo, though I know full well it's a common name in Italy.

I was trying to get Massimo and his journalist, Bruno, to come out for a drink and to see the show. They had a long day of radio work, but called me from dinner, just around the corner, at about 9:30 p.m. The show was supposed to last until 10 p.m. Art events usually drag on at least an extra half-hour, so when they asked me what was the latest they could come and still see the show, I said 10:30 p.m. That was my first mistake.

Dana Smith, who had some of his local music paintings in the show, had been excited earlier to hear that Italian national radio might be crashing the party. So I found him in the crowd and told him the good news. We started to get excited about it. That's where the dreaming came from. I began to dream about the rockers I know in Northern Italy and envision a complicated, multimedia, trans-Atlantic gig swap, where a group of people who document the St. Louis music scene would show our work in northern Italy, their local bands would perform at the show, we would document them as they performed, and then we would show our paintings and drawings of them back in St. Louis, at a show where the northern Italian bands would perform, again (maybe with some of our local bands) - and maybe with some of their local artists in attendance, who could document the St. Louis show and start the crazy cycle all over again.

Somehow, this idea was born of the expectation that Massimo and Bruno were on their way to see our show, and somehow their seeing our show seemed essential to this fanstasy starting to slouch toward reality.

I approached the guy who owned the space (and who was letting Kim Richardson use it for free). He struck me as kind of an odd bird, fidgety and inward. Also, he had earlier volunteered that he is voting for John McCain and Sarah Palin. I do have friends, people I like and respect, who plan to vote Republican in this election, but I'll admit that hearing this voting preference from someone I don't already know and like presents an obstacle to my wanting to get to know or like them.

I told this guy the good news. To him, it was not good news. The party was over at 10, just like he had said upfront, Italian national radio or no Italian national radio. "I have other commitments," he said.

Likeable or not, reasonable or not, Republican or not, susceptible to the magic of Italian national radio or not, this man did own the space. It was obviously up to him whether or not we stayaed there another 15 minutes. Obviously, the thing to do was to call back Massimo and Bruno, let them down easy, get over it and prepare to meet them at The Tap Room.

But I was all goosed up on my first ever art show and good strong beer and the fantasy of a complicated, multimedia, trans-Atlantic gig swap, so I proceeded to do my best to make the owner of the space miserable until we all finally filed out of his loft, without national Italian radio ever having made the scene. I'm probably lucky this guy is not prone to physical violence. I'm sure I prodded him enough to have inspired some fisticuffs, and not only am I not tough, but I have fresh dental work that would have made getting socked in the face last night a really, really bad idea.

Massimo and Bruno did show up at The Tap Room. They played foosball. They enjoyed the local band - ha! that should have been enough to kick off the concept of the complicated, multimedia, trans-Atlantic gig swap! - but we were onto other things, by then, talking shop on journalism and the unbelievable possibility that the United States might actually revive its international image as an intelligent and desirable nation after Nov. 4.

I split early. I have a 5-year-old. I like to wake up with her on the weekends, fresh and early. When I got home, I saw I had missed a call from Massimo while rocking out to The Jayhawks on the way home. I called him back.

"We were wondering if you could tell us where to go where ... would be girls," he said.

"Girls to meet, or ... girls who take their clothes off?" I asked.

"Girls ... to meet," he said.

That's not my department, anymore, but I pictured late-night hipsters at CBGB or Mangia and directed them to South Grand. They got lost once. I redirected them at about 1:30 a.m. I still don't know if they ever got where they were going or found any local girls. I hope so. When I called Kim this morning to thank her for the show and to apologize for antagonoizing the guy who loaned her the space, she said she wished she had known the Italian national radio guys were looking to meet local girls last night.

"I would have played with them," she said.

Massimo's cell phone messages now contain this piece of intelligence. We shall see what happens next.

And I will send this post to my friend Andrea, the northern Italian rocker with the very great band Van Cleef Continental, to see what he thinks about that complicated, multimedia, trans-Atlantic gig swap idea. That's him, above, trying on the Mets hat I have him a few years ago when he and his bandmate Mateo met me at the Milano airport (I was passing by on my way to West Africa). That pile of CDs on the table between us are now in the collection of The Skuntry Museum Library, by the way. Anyone who wants to come out and drink beer and listen to northern Italian rock music should come out and drink beer and listen to northern Italian rock music.

That's probably as close as we will get to drawing and painting Van Cleef Continental at a gig in northern Italy, with our drawings and paintings of St. Louis musicians hanging on the walls. But who knows?