Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Browning Versions

Pete Browning was Tod Browning's uncle. Neither seemed to have any relation to the poet Robert Browning - that would've been too much on the odd juxtapositions meter.

Pete Browning was one of the greatest batters in 19th century baseball. He had a lifetime batting average of .341 - the 4th highest of any righthander in history. More famously - though there is some dispute about it - Ol' Pete was known as the original "Louisville Slugger". His moniker adorns the most famous type of bat in baseball, made by Hillerich and Bradsby. Pete gave Biblical names to his bats and "retired' them when he felt they'd exhausted all the hits fate had allotted them - only fitting that baseball's most famous bat was initially (it is conjectured) made for him.

Pete was not "running on the beaten path" shall we say...a severe case of mastoiditis left him almost entirely deaf since childhood. This condition indirectly lead to pain-numbing alcoholism (a flask of whiskey habitually tucked in his baseball jersey, and one local paper continually addressed him as "Pietro Redlight District Distellery Interests Browning"), a reputation as a bumbling fielder, and the adoption of a defensive position that involved standing on one foot and sticking the other outward in the air - Monty Python Ministry of Silly Stances? No, he was defending himself against oncoming runners or fielders whom he wouldn't hear.

Now on to the nephew, Tod Browning (pictured at the top, and note the Browning ear similarities), who lived 2 houses down from Pete in Louisville.
Under the spell of a "side-show queen" Tod left home to join the carnival and shine in such roles as the Hypnotic Living Corpse - he was put in a trance and "buried alive' on the carnival grounds to be miraculously disinterred 3 days later. From there it was on to vaudeville, movie-acting, and finally, behind the camera, as an assistant to D.W.Griffith. He struck out on his own and teamed up with Lon Chaney, "the Man of a Thousand Faces", to make a series of bizarre and incomparable films - long on improbable plots and high on the atmospheric. The Unholy Three,West of Zanzibar, and The Blackbird are still raved about in silent film circles.
If Tod Browning is remembered by J.Q.Public at all today it is as the director and creative force behind Dracula(with Bela Lugosi) and Freaks (which was altered to be a more of a "horror" film than he intended, by the studio heads).

I don my rose-colored spectacles, and like to remember Tod as the nephew of Ol' Pete and I imagine they tossed a few balls around and shared some stories. Of course there's no record of it....

Monday, July 24, 2006

Lord Buckley; Post-Trip

Came across an article in an Utne Reader about the early, pre-hippie days of LSD research.
Psychiatrist Oscar Janiger was funded by the Sandoz Corp. to administer the drug to a variety of personages in the Los Angeles area in the late fifties and report back their experiences. Among a fair assortment of artists, writers, and performers selected for the "sessions" was the great -attempting here to describe the ineffable-"beat monologist/comedian" Lord Buckley.

After his first "trip", Buckley reported the effect in relation to events of the following day: (some familiarity with the singular voice and countenance of Buckley is proper requisite for full impact of this vignette)

"I was opened up to the beauty in people who had never seemed beautiful before. The next morning at the Pancake House, I walked up and bowed to four nuns. I had never spoken to nuns before - i couldn't penetrate their cloak of reverence. I walked up to them, and loved them, and they were sure I owned the place, and gave me their orders for breakfast. When the waiter came and I sat down at my table, it shook them.
But i spoke to them again and told them i saw them as Sisters of Beauty. They tittered and giggled and blushed, well-pleased."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sara Tavares

I just stumbled across a very cool record, "Balance" by singer/songwriter, Sara Tavares. Sara is from Portugal hailing from second generation Cape Verdean immigrants. Her music is a mix of Cape Verde and Portuguese styles with the modern sounds of Soul, Bossa Nova, and Funk. Very gentle, but it kicks.
Check out the nice little videoclip of Sara doing the title track at
(scroll down to the bottom of the page)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Tops of the Pops: July

Ok, a break from my Italy raves -
Here are my top song rotations for the last 2 Weeks;

I'm Waiting For the Man - Velvet Underground from
The Velvet Underground & Nico 1967 -
I gotta hear this one continuously. Wish the whole record was like this,; I'm guessing this cut in particular was an influence over many.

Night and Day - Joe Henderson from Inner Urge -
Joe is really talking through the horn here and playing the tune in a lower key (sonorous for him) than normal. Exquisite Elvin jones laying down the carpet. Its rare carpet from the Mountains of the Moon.

With A Song In My Heart and Time On My Hands -
from Sonny Rollins (various titles) 1951 -
I live with this record ALL year round; these 2 tunes in particular. Sonny's sound and feeling here are like bread, water, air, rain...and wine.

Bruce Cockburn; The Instrumentals -
A friend compiled this for me. Cockburn has a great original guitar style and is always a delightful surprise.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Tarot Garden

The Tarot Garden of Niki De Saint-Phalle lies just off the coast of Tuscany in a wooded area connected to an old quarry.
Niki De Saint-Phalle was initially inspired by the Park Guell of Gaudi in Barcelona which she visited as a child, as well as the fabulous garden of Bomarzo outside of Rome. With the help of many artisans and laborers from around the world, Niki spent 18 years planning and constructing the sculptures of the Garden - basing them on figures of the Tarot. For a time she lived inside of the giant Empress figure - known also as the Sphinx - designing and supervising construction. Her husband, the artist Jean Tinguely, assisted with much of the work and built kinetic sculptures that are motion activated by your strolls in their proximity.

The Garden was must-see goal of our trip to Italy and we drove many miles from Assisi to see it one day. We stopped in the old Umbrian hill-town of Orvieto on the way and, as the hours drifted by, we realized we were "cutting it close"! It was almost 7pm when we made it to the coast and, after despairing of finding the place at all, we arrived at the Garden parking lot nestled in at the end of a country lane. I bounded up the hill and jumped for joy to see that we still had a half-hour before closing!

To visit the website of the Tarot Garden, go to www.nikidesaintphalle.com
There are many books on the work and life of Niki. Notably, Niki De Saint Phalle:
My Art, My Dreams
an autobiography with assistance by Carla Schulz-Hoffman, and
Pierre Descargues

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Summer in Venice took me quite by surprise. I thought I'd been there enough in my mind after a lifetime of cliched gondola-and-canal imagery. It wasn't like that. I was surprised that the anomalous beauty of the place almost made me forget the hordes of summer tourists.

The buildings and bridges in winding pathways and along the water lie suspended between forms finely crafted in simple lines or oriental arabesques by human hand - in an array of colors never repeating - and patterns of time and decay making a meal of the material world. This, set against the milky green canals and the lagoon, turning different shades by the hour.

In his "The City of Falling Angels", John Behrendt captures arrival there in a nutshell:

"I had been to Venice a dozen times or more, having fallen under its spell when I first caught sight of it twenty years before - a city of domes and bell towers, floating hazily in the distance, topped here and there by a marble saint or a gilded angel."

"On this latest trip, as always, I made my approach by water taxi. The boat slowed as we drew near; then it slipped into the shaded closeness of a small canal. Moving at an almost stately pace, we glided past overhanging balconies and weatherworn stone figures set into crumbling brick and stucco. I looked up through open windows and caught glimpses of painted ceilings and glass chandeliers. I heard fleeting bits of music and conversation, but no honking of horns, no squealing of brakes, and no motors other than the muffled churning of our own.
People walked over footbridges as we passed underneath, and the backwash from our boat splashed on moss-covered steps leading down into the canal. That twenty minute boat-ride had become a much-anticipated rite of passage, transporting me three miles across the lagoon and five hundred to a thousand years back in time."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Bologna, Italia

Me in front of a poster of Lyda Borelli (aforementoned Italian silent film actress) in the Piazza Maggiore, Bologna c. June 19.
I may look pensive - wandering down a philosophical backroad - but what i'm really thinking is, "I reckon I'd like to have some more of them fried fritters."

Quoting Caravaggio

While in Italy I was reading "The Lost Painting" by Jonathan Harr. It's a true story presented as an "art detective-style" thriller (if such things thrill you) centering on a painting of Caravaggio's thought to be lost, "The Taking of Christ". I finished the book on the plane from Venice to JFK and, fittingly, "lost" it somewhere along with a journal I'd kept - probably in those damn pocket-pouch things that swallows up my stuff. (It was one of those "couldn't put it down, but when i did....." books)

Only in recent years has Caravaggio achieved his placement high up in the pantheon of classic Italian painters along with Raphael, Da Vinci, Botticelli, Titian, Michelangelo et al.
His neglect for centuries is due partially to the unconventional subject matter and style of his paintings. Though he was paid stupendous sums by his patrons, late renaissance and early baroque Italian art critics were not ready for him. It fell to the Dutch painters of the 17th century to carry his torch. Many appreciated and adapted his chiaroscuro, and dramatic natural style; most notably Rembrandt, through his teacher Peter Lastman.
During his lifetime and soon after his death Caravaggio was condemned for using prostitutes and street people as models. His combative personality was another strike against him.

Caravaggio left very little in the way of documentation about his personal life. After hearing the documented quotes of artists writing to their patrons, ie "I have completed the 10 cherubs on the border and, as you desired, included the gold leaf inlay on the robes..." - I take perverse enjoyment in relishing one of the few quotes attributed to Caravaggio. Apparently he was accosted by police for a carrying a dagger and sword. After presentiing his permit for them, he shot back in Italian, "Ti ho un culo!" - "Shove it up your ass!".

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Sent my friend, poet David Chorlton, a postcard from Bologna, Italy after i visited the Museum of painter Giorgio Morandi there 2 weeks ago. Early yesterday morning, having returned to Phoenix, I heard something drop in the mailbox and found this poem hand-delivered from David...

Postcard from Bologna

with thanks to Tom

A postcard arrives from the province of Morandi
whose borders are the walls
of the room with a population of one
and whose army consists of bottles
standing to attention in coats of grey paint
applied by the man who directs them.

He invents a horizon, places an arrangement
before it, and dresses his imagination
in camouflage. Morandi is the minister
of interior space, discipline,
defence, and modesty. His daily routine

is to declare peace by wrapping
simple objects in light from a bulb
that hangs on a cord
from the sun at the center of his ceiling.

- David Chorlton

David Chorlton's poems and paintings can be glimpsed at
and www.howlingdogpress.com