Saturday, January 22, 2011

By the Old Sea Shore, Not as Conceptually Oblique as You Might Think

THERE were two sisters, they went playing,
      Refrain: With a hie downe downe a downe-a
To see their father’s ships come sayling in.
      Refrain: With a hy downe downe a downe-a
And when they came unto the sea-brym,
The elder did push the younger in.
‘O sister, O sister, take me by the gowne,
And drawe me up upon the dry ground.’
‘O sister, O sister, that may not bee,
Till salt and oatmeale grow both of a tree.’
Somtymes she sanke, somtymes she swam,
Until she came unto the mill-dam.
The miller runne hastily downe the cliffe,
And up he betook her withouten her life.
What did he doe with her brest-bone?
He made him a violl to play thereupon.
What did he doe with her fingers so small?
He made him peggs to his violl withall.
What did he doe with her nose-ridge?
Unto his violl he made him a bridge.
What did he doe with her veynes so blew?
He made him strings to his violl thereto.
What did he doe with her eyes so bright?
Upon his violl he played at first sight.
What did he doe with her tongue so rough?
Unto the violl it spake enough.
What did he doe with her two shinnes?
Unto the violl they danc’d Moll Syms.
Then bespake the treble string,
‘O yonder is my father the king.’
Then bespake the second string,
‘O yonder sitts my mother the queen.’
And then bespake the strings all three,
‘O yonder is my sister that drowned mee.’
‘Now pay the miller for his payne,
And let him bee gone in the divel’s name.’

     I've heard people claim America's culture is bland, without a long history, and commercial in nature.  While there are reasons and points to the previous claim, to make a general statement with out investigation is in no ones interest on this subject.  Modern migrations have brought old histories and culture to obscure the American "native" one and time has gone on to obscure our shared histories and amalgamated them to where we can't always decipher what came from where.  Modern Philosophies and "Avant Garde" art don't spring spontaneously from the ether and its easiest to be shocked by the things we choose to self censor.  Many of the contemporary art movements seek to distance themselves away from 1960's art history and the idea of the object and viewer in a private space. I believe this distancing is un-necessary as more community based projects and performance art began to grow then along with Folk Music making a revival into the popular scene (an unfinished thought).  At UnionDocs on February 10th and 11th you will have the opportunity to experience, with others, documentery films about the sharing of songs and stories, experience the songs performed live and artistic interpretations of the Child Ballads through paintings on exhibition.  
     Hey! Stay on track already. . .  So. . . Child Ballad no.10, known as "The Cruel Sister", and "Twa Sisters" is an old tune dating to the 1600's;  a song over 400 years old and still sung today; the Twa Sister's has been covered by Paul Clayton and even as late as Tom Waits in a 2006 recording.  If my memory serves me right, Art Rosenbaum, who worked with his son Neil on one of the documentaries being screened at UnionDocs, recorded Mary Lomax singing this song or part of it.  Whats important about Mary singing this song is that the song was passed to her by her father in a long line of oral tradition at which roots go back to the 1600's.  Even though the Child Ballads are not totally inclusive of every single ballad, they represent a hefty cross section of what we may consider an American cultural equivalent to Beowolf or even Homer's poems.   I'm sure if we dug deep enough both of those  form an influence upon the ballads somewhere.  The themes in the ballads are not necessarily restricted to Western, or European ideas and archetypes but can be found around the world in all cultures.  The "Twa Sisters" design I developed is based on a variation where the sister that has been wronged has been made into a violin.  When she is played before her parents, her sisters crime is found out.  We always hope justice finds those who wrong.  Unless sometimes its ourselves who are the cruel sister, perhaps then we wouldn't want "to face the music".  Paying people there dues, many thanks to Teddy Johnson and Heather Fares who have done a tremendous amount of work preparing for the Child Ballad shows in both Baltimore and New York.  They will be continuing to work together and are setting up a new exhibition for The Rotating History Project in Baltimore. . . ---> .

Freed From the Gallows, Or How I Stopped Fearing Led Zepplin and Love the Ballad

The new design I've been working on is Ballad No. 95, entitled "The Maid Freed From the Gallows", and is about a maid waiting for someone to buy her freedom from the executioner.  Variants have been recorded by Ledbelly, Bob Dylan (recorded as Seven Curses), and Led Zepplin, among many many other artists.   This design can be found HERE, as well as in New York, February 10th and 11th. . . at The Child Ballad Show at UnionDocs.  For More information please visit


O Hangman, stay thy hand,
And stay it for a while,
For I fancy I see my father
A coming across the yonder stile.

O, father, have you my gold?
And can you set me free?
Or are you come to see me hung?
All on the gallows tree?

No, I've not brought thee gold,
And I can't set thee free;
But I have come to see thee hung
All on the gallows tree.

Oh the briery bush,
That prickes my heart so sore
If I once get out of the briery bush,
I'll never get in any more.

O Hangman, stay thy hand,
And stay it for a while,
For I fancy I see my father
A coming across the yonder stile.

Repeat the verses above with
other relatives -
Mother, Brother, Sister, etc.
The song concludes with
The arrival of her "True Love" as below:

O Hangman, stay thy hand,
And stay it for a while
For I fancy I see my true love
A coming across the yonder stile.

O true-love, have you my gold?
And can you set me free?
Or are you come to see me hung
All on the gallows tree?

O yes, I've brought thee gold,
And I can set thee free;
And I've not come to see thee hung
All on the gallows tree.

O the briery bush,
That pricks my heart so sore;
Now I've got out of the briery bush,
I'll never get in any more. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Crow Bites Everyone Eventually, Or Dawna Summers Eat Your Heart Out

As I investigate the Child Ballads further I've created some designs for T-shirts (and soon to be  printed) posters.  If you are just starting to read my blog posts the past few have been on the subjects of history, Child Ballads, and interactions between cultures and etymology.  Francis J. Child collected and traced the history of 305 Scottish and English ballads in their American variants that were prominent in the late 19th century, many of which can still be heard today through airwaves and just about anywhere you hear music. These ballads infiltrate rock n' roll, soul, spiritual, country. . . well almost anytime a story is told in song. The ballads cover superstitions, love, tragedy, non-tragic love, Robin Hood, Outlaws, Historic, Humorous and Semi-Burlesque themes.   Brought to the forefront of my interest by the influence of friends and the inclusion in Art Exhibitions (including the first New York City show I'll be part of is Feb 10th and 11th - EXCITMENT) I've started to approach things through a print along with the painting side.

One of the latest print designs  I've been working on is for Child Ballad #111, entitled "Crow and Pie." It is one of the older ballads having been traced back to the early 1500's by Mr. Child.  This may be considered a tragic love theme.  I don't think it would be fair to pigeon hole it as such as it becomes complicated in a contemporary interpretation.  The ballad starts out as a "Gentleman" rides through the forest and spots a maiden singing, he approaches her and tries to seduce her by offering his love, and is denied with the phrase, "The crow shall bite you" (updated spellings there).  The crow associated with death and suffering must mean in modern terms, "wander off and die please."  He further offers her a golden ring,  then a velvet purse and each time is refused and she tells him, "The crow shall bite you".  After the third refusal he rapes her.  She asks for marriage  or some sort of personal token (as would prove he was of social standing versus some common person and would provide for the child if there was one) and with each she is met with a refusal and the sexuallized phrase, "For now the pie has pecked you," (again updated spelling).  Pie is an older term for the English magpie, a Corvid cousin to the crow.  Perhaps similar to "la petit morte" for him?  Not quite the death associated with the crow but the pie is still a bringer of sorrow.  The ballad serves as a cautionary tale to 16th century young women, to be wary and avoid rape.  What I like about this ballad is the ending lines, the woman denied reparations for the man's act decides she will go on with her life, that she will not despair but recover.  Some versions include the line "Neither dead no slow. . . " meaning she is alive and still has some wits about her, what a great line.  What a song!  I think this is where the ballads excel.  Many of the ballads are filled with death and tragedy, but to have one that says, "No matter what has happened, I will survive."  I think that this is a message that everyone can related to and should aspire to not give up.  Geez, all this into a T-shirt.  Yep.  The things that go into design and paintings.  So the next time you pick out that shirt to wear, whats on it?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Ship of So Long Farewell

Transforming from being a place of (once upon a time) the largest maritime ship building complex in the world to an access ramp to I-95, the cramps building reveals itself brick by brick.

From being the leader in ship building, to the invention of The Slinky, the cramps building is taken apart to become part of another transportation system.

I suppose that history itself can not save a thing but can only aid in giving a thing added value.  History can comfort us in that we are connected to something larger than our time and lives, and it can fade away.  Who knows when structures will show their imprint on us in the future.  In the distant future some satellite taking pictures of vegetative growth through infrared sensors may reveal clues to who we are to who we will be.  We march through time because our 5th dimension self  manifests itself in 3 dimensions as what we experience in our comprehension.  Or something.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Neither Dead Nor Slow

As things go. . .  the Cramps building down the street where the Slinky was born is meeting its demise, the walls are being knocked down in its removal for an interstate access ramp.  Tomorrow I'll go down there with a tripod and camera for some photos.  If its a little warmer I'll take some paint with me.  Its always fun trying to paint with frozen materials.
I suppose this is one way how the world will end, demolished to make way for something new, a la Douglas Adams.  There is the thought that our Universe expands at the rate we gain knowledge; that our world gets larger as we find out more about it.  Buckminster Fuller called it the Ever-Expanding Halo.  I like the sound of it and while I can only aspire to match Fuller in his accomplishments I must insist that it is not ever-expanding, but has the potential for collapse and at best ebbs and expands.  Eventually all things fade out of memory and even if physicists tell us information can't be lost doesn't it mean it can be accessed.  In his book "Dragon's of Eden" Carl Sagan talks about our ability to accumulate extra-genetic and extra-somatic information, and that our bargain with nature for larger brains and prolonged learning has in turn lengthened childhood.  This past week my wife met a couple who are in their early and late 50's who are having surrogate twins.  As explained to me, they are both in respected vocations and their careers consumed their years.  Some people think that moving to agriculture was a mistake, that as hunter gatherers we were more athletic lived longer and had more leisure time and once we farmed we weren't as healthy - our diet wasn't varied, we suffered from more diseases and shorter lives.  Its took us a while to get past the down side of farming but I'm sure it was due to our accumulation of extra-somatic information.  A couple thousand years isn't much time to the time that preceded that time.  Bad Humor.  With the new ways we've found to transmit and store information hopefully it will add new ways to help us.  There is never enough tools to keep entropy and the loss of information at bay and none should be neglected.  Feb 10th and 11th we will be celebrating Child Ballads and other traditional folk songs at UnionDocs.  Art and Neil Rosenbaum will be exhibiting their new film, John Cohen will be showing one of his, music will be abound, and even a painting by me! So remember, we may not save your life but we will do our best to save your soul from the access ramp to the interstate of entropy.  Stay Posted for more info!
Analytica Tracking: