Captain’s Log

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Captain’s Log

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“The Time Is Now!”

Gerald Williams

Gerald Williams’s “Messages” (1970) is on view in “The Time Is Now! Art Worlds of Chicago’s South Side, 1960-1980,” at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago. Credit Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago.

The exhibition, “The Time Is Now! Art Worlds of Chicago’s South Side 1960-1980,” which opened in September and runs through Dec. 30, is part corrective, part history lesson, part reintroduction.

Gerald Williams 2

The artist Gerald Williams in his studio in Chicago. His work wasn’t shown at the big Chicago galleries in the 1970s, but now that is changing. Credit Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times.

(Tariro Mzezewa, “50 Years Later, Chicago Artists Are Getting Their Due,” NYTimes, 11-8-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Gucci Pride


In Milan, billboarding the Gucci logo with a multitone sweater and belt. Credit Claudio Lavenia/Getty Images.

“For youthful fans, the Gucci logo is a tag, a way of stating, ‘I am socially responsible,’” [Milton] Pedraza* said. “It gives you a very clear identity that goes beyond a fashion statement.”

[*Founder and CEO of the Luxury Institute, a New York consulting firm.]

(Ruth La Ferla, “What Gives the Logo Its Legs,” NYTimes, 11-7-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Tenderness in the Kitchen

Flynn McGarry

The young man [Flynn McGarry] seems a relatively gentle soul in a world still learning to be less needlessly rough.

(Glenn Kenny, “‘Chef Flynn’ Review: A Gastronomic Wonder from Boy to Man,” NYTimes, 11-9-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Lyrics Again

Selfie With Tea Kettle, JMN, photo. (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

Selfie With Tea Kettle, JMN, photo. (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

One of my playlists I call “aMix” is an eclectic selection of some 50 songs from various genres and periods. (There’s also a list called bMix.) This morning I heard Jacques Brel singing “Ne me quitte pas.” As the poignant song washed over me while I cooked, I became aware of the phrase “on a vu rejaillir le feu….” Also something along the lines of “il faut oublier les malentendus.” It occurred to me to revisit thoughts about song lyrics and what they’re for.

I’ve tried to get on board with the notion that there’s good modern music in which the words being sung aren’t recognizable, and that that’s okay. The content of the lyrics is dispensable without diminishing the song according to this line of reasoning. It is, after all, music, not poetry. A poem must be exceedingly well wrought and articulated linguistically to be successful; I see no room for compromise on that score. It would make no sense to mumble a poem to an audience, or to make it difficult to read by using a script font, for example, or poorly calculated line breaks. Song lyrics, on the other hand, take a back seat to melody, harmony and rhythm in much modern pop performance — even to dance, as Eric Wayne usefully points out.

Hearing the throat-constricting emotion conveyed in Brel’s “ne me quitte pas” (don’t leave me, don’t leave me), I gave in to a wave of sadness over a lifetime of betrayals and abandonments perpetrated by me — of relationships, children, goals and ideals — and of my dogs’ forsaking me in turn by dying. The song worked on me that way and I let it, grudgingly — what are a few more drops in the tear bucket.

Notwithstanding my desire to embrace innovation and eschew crusty conservatism, a still small voice keeps whispering to me that the most complete realization of a song happens when the lyrics — their content as well as their sonic properties — actually do support the music intelligibly and are supported by it, rather than engulfed in instrumentation and visual razzmatazz.

(Perhaps I’m too cerebral, or have tunnel vision, but I mistrust the concept of multimedia as much as that of multitasking. The latter is a mask for nimble serial monotasking, I surmise. And the notion that we can be shotgunned simultaneously by diverse sensory stimuli, as in music videos, and still process the experience optimally, is suspect, I hypothesize.)

Selfie2, JMN

Selfie with Guitar Music, JMN.

Back to lyrics. According to my still small voice, at the pinnacle of song the lyrics are integral to the music, like melody, and not separable from it or adjunctive or dismissable. That sort of melding doesn’t happen all the time, but neither do masterpieces in any art form. And, of course, I’m not sure what to do with rap, which has gone in the opposite direction, mostly words chanted in staccato torrents with percussive backing that’s minimally tuneful. Rap is of major importance in the music scene, but I’ve already said more than I know.

Oops, not quite. Out of curiosity, I recently researched whether or not “hip-hop” and “rap” are synonyms. A source served to me by Google clarified that, strictly speaking, rap is one of the three elements of hip-hop culture, the other two being break dancing and DJ’ing. The distinction may not be useful enough to survive. My impression is that it’s common to use the terms “hip-hop” and “rap” interchangeably in casual talk.

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Otto Schubert: Paintings from the Trenches


Otto Schubert postcards from the trenches

16 January 1916 My dear Irma! Received your mail in the trench this morning, newspaper and package. Made me very happy. Now I will eat ‘high on the hog’ [ich werde hohe Tafel halten] and, while doing so, I keep thinking how beautiful it would be if only we could do this at home. Thousand greetings to you. Your Otto

Art student Otto Schubert (1892-1970) was 22 years old when he was drafted into the war. As the conflict unfolded, he painted a series of postcards that he sent to his sweetheart, Irma.

All pictures extracted from Postcards from the Trenches: A German Soldier’s Testimony of the Great War by Irene Guenther, published by Bloomsbury Visual Arts.

(“World War One: Painted postcards sent from the trenches,”, 11-8-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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