This morning, I was tinkering with a partially written (but long ignored) post from a trip to Nashville in 2017– wondering if it was worth reviving, completing, and posting. Somewhere into this thought process, somewhere toward the bottom of a cup of coffee, as I was figuratively walking away from that post– leaving it once again in blog-post-purgatory– the universe began pelting me with spitballs, each one hitting me with a ping that whispered “Nashville.” So, yes, that post will pop up some day. But first, I bring you a little info of note– the spitball that hit me right in the eye/the delicious morsel of Nashville trivia that popped up, unbidden but perfectly timed, in my news feed this morning.
On this day in 1969, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash recorded an album. It was never released.
Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Recorded. An. Album. Together. And it was never released.
How is this possible? That’s like panning for gold and throwing back a shiny nugget. Maybe the tracks weren’t up to snuff? Maybe they just didn’t congeal together as an album and didn’t fit well with anything that came after? Maybe people just forgot about them? (Could a recording session with Dylan and Cash be so mundane that you just forget about the tracks it produces?)
According to an article from the website Open Culture, “On February 17 and 18, 1969, Cash and Dylan recorded more than a dozen duets. Only one of them, a version of Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country,” made it onto the album, Nashville Skyline. The others were never officially released, but have long been circulating as bootlegs.” (You can access the article and a recording from Dylan and Cash here.)
So, there you go. A random post, but too shiny a nugget to throw back. Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash recorded an album, and, if you are resourceful enough, you might be able to scare up a few tracks somewhere. Cash and Dylan, and their rough around the edges but pure poetry music, is too good let lie in silence.
I woke up this morning to the news that two Van Gogh paintings, stolen 14 years ago, have been found in Italy. (The news blurb can be found here.) After 14 years, there was no expectation that these paintings would ever come back home to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and it’s fair to say that the museum director was absolutely giddy with excitement when the news broke: “‘The paintings have been found! That I would be able to ever pronounce these words is something I had no longer dared to hope for,'” said museum director Axel Ruger. ‘We have been waiting for this moment for 14 years.'”
If Mr. Ruger had a fatted calf at hand, or if artwork was inclined to dine, for that matter, I’m sure a great feast would be in the works. In fact, I imagine that a great feast and homecoming celebration are in the works anyhow–centering around the returning art, but fattening up the people who are ecstatic to welcome it. How could you not celebrate the return of two Van Gogh paintings? At the very least, you must revel in the return of the property: reportedly worth over 30 million dollars. But beyond the quantifying, there is the qualifying value of Van Gogh. The beauty, the daring, and . . . that other thing about Van Gogh. That thing, that hard to explain thing.
Is it me, or is there something radically personal about Van Gogh and his art? In every way, he and his art are prodigal. And because of that, they are life. Your life, my life, each moment of life that is extravagant. The simple beauty of the crisp starry night that we had here in Florida last night– so mundane, I suppose, but so vibrant when you actually look up to notice it (and though the sky is not swirling, the breeze on your cheek gives the world that effect, if only you will notice).
Or the moment when you look in the mirror and actually see yourself today, as you are and without judgment, erasing the 20-some years of what you thought you looked like (and maybe what you still look like in the right light, with your hair done just so, and your makeup expertly in place)– but at 50 years old, in the stark morning light, before you have raised your facade to meet the world, you find new movement to your face and new tones in your skin. The jowls are sliding here, the eyes crinkle there, the furrows are surely evolving from expression lines to permanent fixtures. You see the shade of your ancestors in your own face– and you recognize the movement and energy, and changing moods, of Van Gogh’s own self portraits. (Some people try to uncover a descent into madness in his shifting self portraits– I see only lighting, only mood, only the natural movements and shifts of life. Changeable; life is nothing if not changeable.)
On the prodigality of his art, it is interesting to note that the two works that are returning home are early works– a traditional seascape and landscape with church. They are lovely, but don’t show the hallmark of his later works–the lavish, thick paint (a month’s wages spent on one painting!) and movement that so well expresses mood and vigor. If the earlier works capture moments in everyday life, the later works both capture and release those moments, those energies.
Sure, his work is pretty and bright, but that’s not what instills such fervor in his followers. Why has my family pursued him in Paris, shadowed his footsteps in Arles, and greedily devoured his work in the form of a birthday cake? What inspires that devotion?
It’s the capture and release that gets us. The energy remains. We feel the life, experience the life, rather than just observing it.
Or maybe it’s the sheer prodigality– in every sense. Van Gogh went full throttle into his art–whole tubes of paint smeared across a canvas, skies that move and refuse to stand still on a static canvas, and his proclivity for running headlong into his own canvases (on good days and bad, with ear or without). Full throttle.
Did you know that Van Gogh left school early (out of financial necessity) to work as a dealer in an art gallery? When that life turned sour, he threw himself into his faith and began to teach and then minister in the Church. But in time it was clear that he didn’t fit the Church’s mold and he was released from his post. He turned back to art, but as an artist, not a dealer. Full throttle, he painted himself into the canvas, he became the creator.
But, eventually, disaster. The well told tale is of an unstable artist who died at his own hand, mad and destitute. But that’s just one narrative, and recent investigations have brought that story into question. . . because, even in death, he won’t stand still. Prodigals have a way of returning.
And, today, we can celebrate the fact that their art does too.
Take, for example, “The Picasso” in Daley Plaza in Chicago. It is untitled– which is the first tricky thing about it. No hints to tell you what it is. I walked by it for years, always assuming it was a horse. I’m sure I’ve heard plenty of Chicagoans refer to it as “the horse,” which looked about right to me. (The long muzzle, the powerful haunches, the glamorous mane– it all fits.) But on our recent visit to Chicago, my daughter said, “It’s a baboon.” That’s all, no debate. Clearly, it’s a baboon. Duh. And, guess what? I totally see that too. (How could I not have seen that before?)
However . . .
it turns out that if you view it from the side as you come around it, instead of straight on . . .
it’s a woman’s profile. In fact, at just the right angle, you really see the woman and her cheekbone lines from the front– especially if you look at the sculptor’s model in the Art Institute of Chicago. The hair, the shoulders, the cheekbones, it’s all there.
Although that model could still be an especially fetching baboon. Hard to say.
Picasso designed this mammoth statue for the city of Chicago– it’s 50 feet tall and weighs 163 tons. At that size, whether or not you understand it, you will find yourself looking at it.
But wait– there’s more. Because it’s a huge piece of art in a huge public space, you will find yourself as part of a community that interacts with it. People navigate by it, eat lunch by it, stage movie scenes around it (remember the Blues Brothers?), and allow their children to play on it.
Can you do that? Play on a Picasso? Is that cool? Some onlookers clearly think not, but others seem to believe this was Picasso’s intent all along– let the children run and slide on it!
Me? In my head, it will always be a horse, but Picasso loved bending the lines of life. I think he’d be thrilled that we are perplexed. “Keep your eyes squinting at it, your mind chewing over it, your children running up and down on it,” this is what I think he’d say.
After all, he’s the guy who said, “Everything you can imagine is real,” and “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.”
So Chicago has its untitled Picasso, a gift given freely by the generous artist– a little nonsense standing at the navel of a great city, daring its inhabitants to guess its riddle. Pablo Picasso knew exactly what he was doing. . .because even if we don’t get it, we still get it.
“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse…
but surely you will see the wildness!” Pablo Picasso
Done that? You can’t say that about a town like Chicago, can you? You’re never really done with it– too much to see, to do, to take in. Always changing, always jumping. Nope, “been there” maybe, but “done that” doesn’t cut it.
And now for the pun:
This is the Chicago Bean.
It’s fondly called the Bean, but really it’s Cloud Gate by artist Anish Kapoor. Dating to 2006, this sculpture stands in Millennium Park and is a crowd pleaser! It is visually stunning, but it’s also entertaining. The polished surface reflects the cityscape in a fabulous fish-eye way.
And if that’s not interesting enough for all of us self-absorbed earthlings, it reflects us! You can dance, goof around, and posture, and you are reflected in the bean. You can even take a picture of yourself taking a picture of yourself.
More interesting, though, is the way it reflects the larger movements of the people, the community around it. We were in Chicago this past weekend while a weekend long Jazz Fest was going on in Millennium Park, and the music and the constant movement provided a fascinating “urban dance” in the polished surface of the Bean. The people were a constant swirl, while the buildings stood static . . . but not so static.
Under the spell of the Bean and the jazz, the buildings looked like they were swaying with the music too. And why not– a sunny day in the park in Chicago will do that for you.
Our trip to Chicago was a spur of the moment thing– missing our travels and bracing for a possible hurricane in Florida, we decided to book a flight to Chicago and get the heck out of Dodge. A little impulsive; a lot fun.
Chicago is a fantastic city. I lived there for about two and a half years in the early/mid 90’s, and I hadn’t been back since, so I was really excited about this trip.
Had I forgotten my way around the city in the intervening decades? A bit. . . but maps and cabbies solved that problem. And, besides, a weekend trip to Chicago only leaves you time for the essentials: strolls along the River Walk, a visit to the Art Institute, and shows at The Second City. (And, as an added perk for us, a Jazz Fest.)
I’ll probably post more on Chicago in the weeks ahead, but here are some photos to whet your appetite.
First, a collage of city scapes:
Second . . . city. The stage at Second City (proving grounds for John Belushi, Gilda Radnor, Steve Carrel, Tina Fey, Steven Colbert, Dan Aykroyd, Peter Boyle, Chris Farley, John Candy, Mike Myers . . . would it be easier to list comedians who didn’t get there start here?)
More tidbits on Chicago in the weeks ahead. For now, so long, and all that jazz. . .
Left: Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night (on Place du Forum) Arles,1888
Right: Same spot, ‘Le Café La Nuit’ on Place du Forumin daylight, Arles, 2016
The spot may be less picturesque on a bright spring morning in 2016, but it’s still vibrant enough to cast its light into the darker streets. Notice the yellow shirt on the passerby? In my mind, it’s really a plain white tee that takes the gold cast once he steps within the fabled space of the Café Terrace . After he strolls on past, it resumes its ho-hum identity as a plain white tee. (How could it possibly be otherwise?)