An unlikely result of organizing the all-day shape note sing at the Depreciation Lands Museum: my discovery of this old novelty hit and, more happily, the amazing Slim Gaillard:


 And what does this have to do with shape-note singing? The day before the sing I happened to call the museum office to check on a detail, and the nice woman there informed me that there would be a cement mixer running in the parking lot in front of the church we'd be singing in. In the end this didn't happen (thanks, Karen!) but I had a pretty tense time for a little while. I was describing all this to my parents on the phone, and one of them said, "cement mixer, putty putty". I said, "what?" When they explained this was an old popular novelty hit, I said, are you kidding me? and immediately went to the internet to check it out. Pretty soon I was standing with the phone in my hand playing this video and they were laughing hysterically. 


Thanks to Joel Kennedy, I've been learning the original melody (tricky!) to Moondog's amazing canon "Nero's Expedition". I had long wondered about the Sud of Nubia. I suspected Moondog of erudition rather than fantasy here. Being in a time-wasting mood today, I did some searching around and found this from a scanned-in-as-image report of the Crocodile Specialist Group Steering Committee Minutes, 1993, Darwin, Australia (the rather attractive crocodile drawing is from the report):


Proposal for a Crocodile Survey in the Sudan


This proposal had also been approved by the CITES Standing Committee. Dietrich Jelden suggested that the proposal was generally acceptable but some practical considerations might require changes in implementation. drawing of a crocodile from the reportSocial unrest and warfare in some parts of the country made some of the proposed survey locations (e.g. the Sud of Nubia) impractically dangerous at present.

Update: somewhat disappointingly, it turns out that if you spell it "Sudd" you get a lot more information, including the inevitable Wikipedia:

The Sudd, also known as the Bahr al JabalAs Sudd or Al Sudd, is a vast swamp in South Sudan, formed by the White Nile.

Less disappointingly, I suspect someone of perpetrating a sly tribute on the Wikipedia page for Nero:

Nero's expedition up the Nile failed because water plants had clogged the river, denying Nero's vessels access to the Sudd of present-day South Sudan

Peterhof by Cole Thompson

Cole Thompson makes lovely black and white photographs. Since I’m mystically attracted to trees, I’m including some thumbnails of his tree photos, but if you like them you should go look at his whole site.

Two Trees in Lifting Fog by Cole ThompsonHe also has a blog where he writes many interesting and useful things about creating art, for instance:

I recently taught a workshop on Vision and was discussing my practice of Photographic Celibacy. I explained that the reason I do not look at other photographer’s work is that I don’t want my Vision to be tainted by the vision and images of others. And while that is completely true, there is another reason that I am embarrassed to admit: when I look at other people’s work, I doubt my abilities and get discouraged.

When I see all the many wonderful images out there, I feel mine are inferior by comparison. When I see the great images from locations that I have photographed, I am disappointed that I did not see them. I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of great photographers out there and think: there’s no room left for me. I feel inadequate when I see so many original ideas…that I did not think of. 


I need to remember that art is not a competition.  When I create from my vision there are no losers, only winners.


Cold and Alone by Cole ThompsonI’m occassionally embarrassed by precisely the same feelings about songs. Sometimes I’ll get a recording of a songwriter I admire (here’s to you, John Lilly!) and then it will sit around for a long time before I listen to it. Partly it’s envy (the competition) and partly it’s something else: wanting to draw from what’s in me and feeling that too much exposure to the music of others gets in the way of that.  I sometimes say that after so many decades of being input-only, I’m becoming output-only, an exaggeration, but not a falsehood.




Moon and Clouds by Cole Thompson

Jane Freeman paints, among other things, illustrations for classic novels.

A novel may work on us like a lucid dream.  Awake, but not in control of events, we take in images, words, symbols, ideas, feelings, without pausing to master them--and they work their way in our interior world, pressing secret latches and opening previously unsuspected doors.

One pleasure of childhood I’ve always been sorry to leave behind is the illustrated story. Like Jane Eyre, in adult books I saw “no bright variety … spread over the closely-printed pages” and felt a blank loss. But most attempts to illustrate novels, especially beloved novels, have left me cold. Their literal approach clashes painfully with my interior visions; I’m unable to pour into them my own responses to the work. This dull-looking lady of flesh and blood in hJane Eyre chapter 12er over-elaborate clothing and hair can’t be my Jane Eyre, my Lizzie Eustace, my Marian Halcombe! My imagination slides away from the images instead of entering and giving them life. 

Hence my enthusiasm for these small paintings by Jane Freeman for Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and Persuasion. They are visual delights, but that’s not the real reason I keep coming back to them. These doll-like beings have life and expression to draw me in, but not so much independent reality as to repel me with their otherness. Viewing them, I inhabit them, invest them with my own life, my own meaning. The expressionistic qualitiesMonster gloating The burning bedof the paintings, often extreme, might, I suppose, run the risk of over-

Frankenstein monster in wood

interpreting the writing. But this doesn’t happen; perhaps the level of visual abstraction imposes a restraint that leaves space for my dreaming mind to do its work along with the artist’s.

The paintings are informed by an intense study of the works that inspired them, which comes out in many ways, often in sly touches like the red bookLouisa and Benwick in the scene from Chapter 14 of Persuasion, or the mirror behind Sir Walter in Chapter 16. My imagination is stimulated, too, by considering the choice of which moments to illustrate. Why show Mr. Rochester miming the prisoner in BridewellMr Rochester in Bridewell, for instance? Only when I asked myself this question did it occur to me that what I had always considered a superfluous scene presented in quite unnecessary detail was in fact part of what Freeman calls the “narrative as solid as a crown” of Jane Eyre. Rochester is indeed a prisoner of his marriage to Bertha Mason, of whom his mock-bride Blanche Ingram is an avatar. The scene is part of Brontë’s obsessive patterning of allusions and foreshadowings.

Then, too, these figures I’ve called doll-like can be amazingly expressive of physical and emotional movement: for instance the “Off, ye lendings!”  illustration from Chapter 19 of Jane Eyre and (particular favorites) both the illustrations for Chapter 24Jane, Adele, and Mr Rochester in the carriage. I can’t explain to myself why there’s a strong mixture of affectionate laughter in my response to this expressiveness. Maybe it’s the miniature quality of the scenes. They are real, serious, and tiny.

St John's deathbed

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