Saturday, January 31, 2015

Memory Pushing Against Song: Charlie Louvin's Satan Is Real

The Louvin Brothers' close harmony and songs about sin and redemption are legendary, and incalculably influential on modern and contemporary country music and bluegrass. Charlie Louvin's candid and direct 2012 autobiography Satan Is Real: The Ballad Of The Louvin Brothers offers poignant illustrations not only of older brother Ira's awful, destructive alcoholism and violent streaks but of the vast gap between song and deed, between the ideal and reality. Charlie's lucid, clear-eyed memories of and reflections on his brother's illness are contrasted by many of the songs the God-fearing brothers performed. Apparently for Ira, their music's moral landscapes existed only in melody and words; he found it impossible, or he was unwilling, to translate the songs' philosophy to everyday living. That old, old story.

In the opening chapter, "My Brother's Keeper," Charlies remembers, "My older brother Ira and I were finishing a stretch of shows, the last in Georgia, and we decided to stop by Mama and Papa’s place on Sand Mountain for a quick visit. Of course, we’d barely got on the road before Ira reached under his seat and pulled out a bottle of whiskey, and he drank the whole damn thing on the drive. When I pulled up to the house, I stepped out on my side, and Ira just kind of poured himself out on his."
Mama was out in the front yard, and you could tell how excited she was to see us. She came running up to try to hug Ira, but he put his arm out to hold her off. He was wobbling on his feet, barely able to stand upright.

She knew what was going on. Mamas know everything. “Aw, honey,” she said, “Why do you have to do this to yourself?” She wouldn’t even take Communion in a church unless they had grape juice instead of wine. She didn’t use alcohol and she didn’t understand anybody who did.

She should have known better than to say that, though. Nothing pissed Ira off like when somebody tried to put a little guilt on him. “Aw, leave me alone,” he said. “I ain’t hurting nobody.”

“You’re hurting yourself,” she said. “That’s who you’re hurting.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t remember asking you,” he said, and tried to light a cigarette. He was so drunk he couldn’t even get his lighter to make a flame. “Goddamn it,” he said.

“That whiskey don’t do you no good,” she said. “It don’t do nobody no good.”

Finally, he got his lighter to work, and he poked his mouth at the fire to light the cigarette, but he missed.

“Your father’s in Knoxville,“ she continued. “I sure am glad he’s not here right now to see you like this.”

Ira threw the still unlit cigarette on the ground. “Will you shut up, bitch?”

I can guarantee you the fucking fight was on then. I beat the shit out of him right there in the front yard. He was lucky it was just words, too. If he’d have touched her, I’d still be in prison. Shit, if Papa was there, he might have killed him anyway, but I just kicked his ass all over the place.Then I stuffed him in the car, and we drove away.

“I know you ain’t asleep,” I said to him once we got on the highway. He was curled up on his side of the car, holding his busted face. “I’m only gonna tell you this once. If you talk to her like that again, I’ll beat the shit out of you again. I’ll do it every time. You can lump it or try to change it, but that’s the way it is.”

“Oh, hell, I didn’t mean nothing by it,” he slurred. “That was just that old whiskey talking.”

“That ain’t no excuse,” I said. “Nobody forced you to drink that stuff. And you’d better not ever do it again.”

Then I stopped talking and just drove, fuming.
The family who prays, indeed.



In "Hank Williams," a devastating take on the titular honky-tonk legend's downfall, Charlie reflects, as he does elsewhere in the book, on the possible origins of his brother's tragic alcoholism. Was it to settle scores with his old man? With his mother? With his brother and singing partner? Or was the battle more epic than family:
I always got the feeling that some of those songs came from Ira understanding that he should have been a preacher, that maybe he’d made the wrong choice himself. From an early age, he was a regular prodigy when it came to scripture. He could recite chapter and verse of almost anything in the bible, too. He knew it all. And when he testified, the spirit of the Lord came upon him. Even when he was a kid, the whole church fell silent to hear him. There wasn’t a person on Sand Mountain who didn’t think he was gonna be a preacher when he grew up. Mama was very proud of him, especially since her father was a preacher. I don’t think there’s anything in the world that she wouldn’t have given for Ira to be like his grandfather.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Birth of Rock and Roll: Photos, Essay, and a Q&A

Next month Dust-to-Digital will publish The Birth of Rock and Roll: Photographs from the Collection of Jim LInderman, a book for which I've written an essay and in which I conduct an interview with Linderman. These found photos are the real deal: never-before-seen shots of mostly nameless men and women and children explicitly and implicitly dramatizing the birth of rock and roll.

From my essay:
There’s little historical documentation. A scrawled caption might name a family in a photograph, a venue for dancing, or the spiritual calling of a subject, but the common thread among these disparate photos is music’s ineffable power to inspire and unite the anonymous: as dancing groups, guffawing gangs, shaggy rural orchestras, kids entranced by a strumming grown-up, or urgent, flirtatious pairs on a make-do dance floor. (Of course there’s the occasional solo star, the center of amused or nervous attention as he cuts loose.) These photos narrate 20th century’s noisy pop history, from impoverished acoustic blues to middle-class square dancing, country fiddling and rural spirituals to urban R&B and twisting. There are cheap organs, and cheaper guitars, patriotic warbling and beery frat rock, denim overalls and sharp suits, long, solemn dresses and hip, fringed minis, the wide gulf between posed promotional photographs and impulsive artless dancing scored by song. 
The spontaneous nature of the vast majority of the images in The Birth of Rock and Roll adds to the exhilaration in the moments, inspiring some of the most unlikely to get up, testify, shout, have fun. We’re often in the wake of music: bottles are open, races are blending, legs are splayed, there’s smiling all around. Mostly, I like the surprised looks on so many of the faces. Some can’t keep joy off of their faces in the posed moments, clutching a guitar and winking at the photographer or a friend behind him; many others are startled into movement, aided by those in the frame and those outside, all, it seems, eager to get up and move to music that’s strummed, broadcast, or simply playing in their heads. In The Birth of Rock and Roll Jim Linderman has curated a secret, raucous chronicle of obscure America.
You can pre-order here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Didion's several Joans

"It all comes back. Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one’s self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were."
          —Joan Didion, 1966
JD, 1967 and 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dave Dudley's troubles: 12 beers, then hang a left

Dave Dudley, pondering his bad luck
"It takes a special kind of singing man to really make it in the Country & Western field. He has to have a big voice that can evoke a variety of moods and feelings—work or play, happiness or sorrow, love or lack thereof. He has to be able to put over a humorous lyrics, or build suspense, or simply create an atmosphere of down-home happiness."

This is all well and good, but the anonymous writer of these liner notes to Dave Dudley's Greatest Hits wonders about something more particular: "But what is it that makes Dave's songs such tremendously popular hits? Every good singer has a strong point. Dave's is his sincerity.... Dave is a 'method' singer, and he assumes the role that the song demands, totally and believably. Truck driver, miner, drunk, humorist, wanderer, errant husband, Dave always has the knack of putting the character as well as the song across."

To that list of characters I might've added, "Or all of the above." Dudley is most famous for his truck driving anthem "Six Days On The Road," but I'm especially fond of "Two Six Packs Away," a single from 1965, a brazen, rousing celebration of drinking and driving and the trees in the way, put across, of course, "sincerely." My favorite verse:
I told the judge there was two trees and I went between 'em
He said, "From what I hear your condition, that's the way that you seen 'em"
He laid down a hammer and he gave me ninety long days
I had a sweet little honey just two six packs away
Ah, the roadblocks placed before a man with a buzz and his girl at the end of the road.

"Two Six Packs Away" was written by Ronnie Self, a rockabilly artist who gained some measure of success in a vexed career; he wrote a clutch of terrific tunes, including "Sweet Nothin's" made popular by Brenda Lee (one of the first rock and roll songs I loved as a kid). Self was an alcoholic bitten often by bad luck, and perhaps some of his own sincerity bled into "Two Six Packs Away," which is sung with typical drawling jocularity by Dudley. The song is humorous, and played for laughs—the tempo is upbeat, and note the sly and knowing "yeah"'s that punctuate the background vocals. The lightheartedness of a driver measuring the distance to his girl not in miles or hours but by the number of beers at his feet is both of the era and slightly, and certainly entertainingly, disturbing. I love the unhappy menace that lurks beneath the surface of certain down-home country songs, the reality masked by whimsy. Pity the put-upon drunk, humorist, wanderer, errant husband. And it sounds terrific coming out of the jukebox. Great stuff.


I think that the ad Mercury Records took out in Billboard to promote the single captures the song's vibe better than any liner notes writer can. Nothing subtle about this:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Married Life, Narrated by Billboard Country Music Ads, Ctd.

Country music songs have much to tell us about the ups and downs of domestic life. So do their Billboard advertisements.

For every happy, singing family...
There are a host of dillemmas, temptations, and complications lurking within jukeboxes and behind closed doors and forgetting minds.

Jeannie C. Riley reminds us of a woman's place:

While Susan Rowe vows never to fall for the follies of a two a.m. romance:

Then again, it's 1975, and Loretta Lynn contemplates the new, next-day facts of life:

Faron Young, hands astride hips, resolutely contemplates the kind of girl he wants to end up with, for a night, anyway:
Her?

Meanwhile, George "Hello I'm A Jukebox" Kent, Del Reeves, and Johnny Bond remind us what gets men and women in these troubles in the first place:
And poor Doyle Holly just wants to forget it all. Hell, he'll wake up tomorrow morning a better man, the kind who sings with his family around the table in the kitchen. I'm scared to even listen to this song.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jerry Lee Lewis, that Kind of Fool

Jerry Lee Lewis has wrestled many demons during his long life, among them alcohol. From as far back as 1957 with "Wine Spo Dee-O-Dee," Lewis has been banging a piano and hollering about spirits. His decades-long wrangling with booze has been the subject of many songs, and the source of many private and public anguishes.

This triptych, spanning ten years, dramatizes the appeal, danger, and regret swirling in a glass. We enter, we sit, and hours later we mourn.

"Something kinda tells me I'm gonna like it here!...
There's 16 girls for every guy!"
 b-side (1965)

"There stands the glass
That'll ease all my pain, that'll settle my brain
It's my first one today"
 From She Still Comes Around (To Love What's Left Of Me) (1969)

"Look at that fool have one drink, then go home
Look at that fool, he's leaving that woman all alone
And go home to someone who loves him true
I wish ol' Jerry Lee could've been that kind of fool"
 From Odd Man In (1975)
~~

Lewis has been singing within, and behind, a persona for so long that it's often difficult to know when he's being sincere and unguarded. I hear the true Jerry Lee—the man behind the Killer—in this anguished version of Kris Kristoferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" from 2010's Mean Old Man. If you ask me, he didn't really need to cut another song after this.
 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Huxley on the Essay

From Aldous Huxley's preface to his Collected Essays, published in 1958, as solid and smart a definition, and defense, of the essay—its strengths and its limitations—as I've read:
“I am a man and alive,” wrote D. H. Lawrence. “For this reason I am a novelist. And, being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet, who are all great masters of different bits of man alive, but never get the whole hog… Only in the novel are all things given full play.”

What is true of the novel is only a little less true of the essay. For, like the novel, the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything.



Essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference. There is the pole of the personal and the autobiographical; there is the pole of the objective, the factual, the concrete-particular; and there is the pole of the abstract-universal. Most essayists are at home and at their best in the neighborhood of only one of the essay’s three poles, or at the most only in the neighborhood of two of them. There are the predominantly personal essayists, who write fragments of reflective autobiography and who look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description. There are the predominantly objective essayists who do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists in setting forth, passing judgment upon, and drawing general conclusions from, the relevant data. In a third group we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions, who never condescend to be personal and who hardly deign to take notice of the particular facts, from which their generalizations were originally drawn. Each kind of essay has its special merits and defects.



The most richly satisfying essays are those which make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist. Freely, effortlessly, thought and feeling move in these consummate works of art, hither and thither between the essay’s three poles—from the personal to the universal, from the abstract back to the concrete, from the objective datum to the inner experience.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Man In Black In 1970

From a 28-page tribute to Johnny Cash in the May 23, 1970 issue of Billboard.


 A great moody shot, page one of a Columbia Records ad.
 

Sam Phillips weighs in...
Merle Haggard goes by his sobriquet, and offers a tantalizing inside joke...
 Meanwhile, Glen had better days, grammatically, but the sentiment's there...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ruinous Beauty: A Conversation with Rusty Tagliareni and Christina Mathews @ Antiquity Echoes

Rusty Tagliareni and Christina Mathews post photos and videos of abandoned buildings at Antiquity Echoes, one of the most affecting and accomplished websites devoted to the documenting of rural and urban desertion. (YouTube channel here.) Tagliareni's and Mathews's goals are to "preserve, educate, and share...small epitaphs to the often overlooked bits of history that lie rotting all around us." Tagliareni photographs and writes, and Mathews takes videos; both edit and research. Through their dedication, seriousness, and ambition, fused with their considerable skill and their dramatic taste for the Gothic, the couple has created an extraordinarily impressive collection. The sites they research and document range from train stations, farmhouses, theaters, and hotels to mansions, castles, hospitals, and schoolhouses—all empty, all in the process of letting the world back in, most paired with archival photographs of their past, pre-abandonment glory, all staged in ruinous beauty via deliberate, evocative, cinematic compositions. While many photographers of abandonment are content to document from the outside, rarely entering the buildings or the sites, Tagliareni and Mathews go inside, roaming the ghostly, shadowy interiors, probing hallways, crumbling staircases, peering out of pane-less windows, searching not only for the correct photographic point-of-view with which to capture the perverse grandiosity of an abandoned building, but for the tiny detail, the relic that narrates, or half-narrates, imagined stories. Their work is provocative and vital.

Recently, I virtually sat down with Tagliareni and Mathews to discuss Antiquity Echoes, the ethical and legal issues involved in photographing abandoned buildings, and the cultural value of nostalgia.

~~

How did you both get started photographing abandoned places? At your site you write that your intention is to "preserve, educate, and share...small epitaphs to the often overlooked bits if history that lie rotting all around us." Can you talk a bit about this mission?

For the sake of reader sanity, this will be as abridged an answer as we can give: Antiquity Echoes is Rusty Tagliareni and Christina Mathews. We first met in 2006, through Myspace, believe it or not, and some time shortly thereafter we began dating. Being as we both had interests in things less ordinary, we enjoyed the mystique that is often associated with abandoned locations, and visited them often. In fact our very first dates was a visit to the ruins of a rotting old estate, overgrown in the forest.


After a year or so of visiting places, and occasionally grabbing snap-shots as we went, we came upon a place that skewed our collective perspective on not just the practice of documenting abandoned places, but the genuine importance of it. We were in Essex County, New Jersey and happened to be driving directly past a massive sprawling complex of buildings. From the looks of it the place was long abandoned, so we immediately turned around to investigate the place closer. Finding a pot-hole covered access road we made our way to the inner campus and parked away from the eyes of passing motorists. With little effort we came upon a wide open door and crossed the threshold.
Overbrook Asylum

Greeting us in the day-room which we had entered was a scene from some night terror come to life. In a dim corner, perched upon a dry-rotted vinyl chair, caked with dust and flakes of peeled paint, sat a headless body. The fight-or-flight urge was immediate, however we somehow overcame the urge to run flailing back to the care, and quickly the feelings of shock and dread subsided. Upon closer investigation the headless form turned out to be an old CPR dummy. We found its faceless head in the debris next to the chair.

As we ventured beyond the eerie day-room, we were in awe of what we found inside. The place was clearly some kind of hospital, that much was made obvious by the countless beds, large day rooms, and various offices. The deteriorating hallways stretched on for what seemed like forever in all directions. This was not the kind of place we could get to know in the time frame of a single day. The amazement we were feeling then-and-there inspired us to do our very best, and attempt to document what we were seeing before us. Beyond that though, we tried to capture what were were experiencing on an emotional level.

Not having planned this trip, and arriving in the late afternoon, we didn't have very much daylight in which to film. All told we spent roughly an hour inside the old rooms and halls of the disused hospital. Upon returning home we immediately began conducting research to better understand what it was that we just saw. It turned out that the place was indeed a hospital, but not in the way we had assumed. What we spent the afternoon exploring was the decaying husk of the Essex County Hospital Center, or if you were to call it by its original title, “Overbrook Asylum.”

At this point we came to two startling realizations. First, though the places we had filmed up until that point did indeed all carry their own tales and some weight of history, it wasn't until that moment that we had ever seen a place that had affected so many people over such a long period of time. The amount of history found in just a single ward of Overbrook was deeper than all of the places we had been up until this point, combined. The second realization came after some more in-depth investigation into the old hospital center. In researching the history of the facility we were able to gather together a time-line as well as begin to see just how massive of a facility this place once was. There were thousands of stories in those walls. During the hundred-plus years of Overbrook's operation, over ten thousand people spent their final moments there. All these stories were completely unknown to us until we stumbled upon the old hospital by pure chance. We also learned much about the evolution of psychiatric medicine, both in practice and in pharmaceutical development, which eventually led to the downsizing and closure of the massive complex. All of this newly found knowledge was spring-boarded by the most unlikely of things, an abandoned asylum on the side of the road. One which many people likely ignore as they drive past on a daily basis. If we had to put a pin-point as to when Antiquity Echoes actually began, it was at that very moment of realization. These abandoned places held much more than just abstract mystery and picturesque settings. There were countless stories here, and untold lessons to be learned.
Overbrook Asylum

Over the next couple years we set about documenting as many places as possible, focusing on still-imagery and videography. We upgrade equipment as necessary. In 2009 we unceremoniously launched our website. It focused on multimedia presentations of abandoned locations, with the aim of not only capturing viewer interest, but imparting knowledge. It had been our hope from early on that through intriguing imagery and subject matter we would be able to spark a genuine interest in learning that may not otherwise occur, much like what happened to us with Overbrook. We called our website Antiquity Echoes.

Much to our amazement, even amongst the near-infinite other websites out there on the Internet, Antiquity Echoes began getting noticed. For being a niche website, it was getting decent daily traffic within about a year of its inception. The best part about the website (for us) are the occasions in which we get to speak with people who remember a location from before it was abandoned, perhaps having worked at a now-abandoned asylum, or once enjoyed a stay at a long-deserted resort. Our latest endeavor is actually taking place offline. In the summer of 2014 we were approached by a publisher who was interested in putting out a book about Antiquity Echoes. As of right now we are currently hard at work on said book, which is scheduled for national distribution in the fall of 2015.

Do you have a favorite site among the many you've documented? Why?

While there may be some locations we have visited which stand out more than others, such as Greystone Psychiatric Hospital or the Bennett School for Girls, it's impossible for us to pick a place and say we prefer it to all the others. Where we actually derive the most enjoyment is from featuring locations that are unlike each other, it's the variety of the work which we find a lot of enjoyment in. Lets say we update the site with a set from a sprawling abandoned shopping mall. Immediately after that we would likely aim to feature something more intimate, like an old estate or farm house. No place is more important than another. It's all relative.
Bennett School for Girls


Bennett School for Girls


Farmhouse

Farmhouse

Mall

Mall

How do you deal with ethical and legal issues that you may face in your work. Many decry the cult of "ruin porn," where waste and decay, often the result of unfortunate circumstances for a building's/site's original owner(s), is exploited in the name art, or even sentimentality. What are your feelings about this?

To us this is history. Perhaps at its most raw, but also at its most accessible. We have spoken at school seminars from elementary to high school levels, about the importance of photojournalism. If you can gain someone's attention, through interesting photos and videos, then you open them up to learning. It's really that simple.

Case in point: a while back we spoke at a high school, one of the topics was about documenting abandoned asylums. Of course abandoned asylums are of interest to teenagers, they're mysterious and full of ghost stories. The imagery of decaying buildings is a hook, upon which you attach information. Well, by the end of the 45 minute session the class knew all about the history of mental healthcare, evolution of modern day pharmaceuticals, and the de-institutionalization of the country. We know this because after each session we heard people in the hallway telling others about not only the abandoned buildings, but why they became abandoned, and why there are no longer a need for such large facilities. They all listened to what we spoke about, and they retained the knowledge because it was linked with things that piqued their interest. Our website is just a history lesson wrapped up in some cool aesthetics.
State Hospital

State Hospital

Obviously we are not alone in documenting abandoned places, and there's currently so many other people doing it that we hesitate to even call it an underground community anymore. Still, the community is what's so great about all this. There's no way any one person, or group, would be able to document the globe. Thanks to the Internet however, we are all able to witness wonders like the ruined palaces of Russia, the abandoned sprawls of China, or the overgrown castles of Europe. In a global community of this size there will always be bad seeds, but that by no means makes the community bad. As it is with any group, you tend to only ever hear about the bad people and/or actions, and they oft overshadow all the good because of this. 

What is your attitude about trespassing, about breaking the law in order to do your work? (If that occurs.)

Trespassing is a against the law, and there's no real arguing that. Some people may trumpet that their actions are of a higher calling, or say that trespassing isn't a real crime, but it is. Being respectful goes a long way. Police and private security workers are real people, and it's not their fault they have to bust you for being somewhere you're not supposed to be, it's yours. There's no faulting someone for doing their job.

What equipment do you use? Do you have issues with the pre-set filters and lenses that users of Hipstamatic and Instagram employ?

Throughout the years we have accumulated a lot of equipment, mostly on the video end of things. While we won't name everything we use, we can give a basic rundown here:

For photography we are very partial to the Pentax line of DSLR cameras. They capture color amazingly, and are very well weather sealed. From laying in decayed sheet rock, to temps of -15 degrees, to filming in a summer downpour on a beach, never once have our Pentax cameras shown any issues. Of course we have a few lenses, the most utilized being a Sigma 12-24mm wide angle. Wide angle lenses are an absolute necessity for architectural photography and video. We also use a sturdy tripod, as we tend to have a lot of long exposures due to only using natural light.
State Hospital

On the video side we have a lot more going on. First and foremost, our primary video camera is a Canon 5D MKII. It captures brilliant footage, approaching cinema quality. We can go on about how great that camera is, but this whole interview would slowly dissolve into a Canon commercial if we do that. As stated above, we have a wide-angle lens, and several other lenses which are utilized as required. One of our most important tools is a computer controlled dolly system, which allows us to capture those smooth panning shots. At a non-collapsible six feet long, it's no easy thing to lug around, but it has given our work a style that we are truly proud of. It also allows us to film in nearly pitch black situations, through the use of time-lapse photography. For a single shot we actually will often end up with nearly a thousand photos, which we then stitch together to create a moving picture. Much like stop-motion animation works. It's all incredibly time consuming, with a 15-second shot often taking roughly 45 minutes to capture. The final product is always worth it though.

Now, as for Instagram and preset filters, actually, we have an Instagram and use preset filters on there all the time, so that probably answers your question. Mobile photography and editing has its place, and Instagram is a great example of it. There are some great artists on there, and who is anyone to say what is and is not a great photograph? If an image invokes an emotion, or makes you stop and admire it, then it's a good image. Who cares how it came to be, the fact that it exists is all that should matter.

Can you tell me a bit about Greystone's Last Stand?
Greystone


Greystone's Last Stand very much embodies of what we have been aiming to do for years now, and have been slowly working toward ever since that seed of intent was planted ages ago when we first stepped foot in the Overbook asylum. It is a culmination of urban exploration, education, historical preservation, and personal insight.

Greystone's Last Stand is a documentary-style film which we are creating in alliance with the organization Preserve Greystone, and with the aid of several other wonderfully talented people including Mark Moran from Weird New Jersey and Phillip Buehler of Modern Ruins. It tells the story of Greystone Psychiatric Hospital in Parsippany, New Jersey. From its opening in 1876, to its current state of abandonment, and the state's plans for demolition. The film began life as a short of maybe five minutes, to help the organization Preserve Greystone garner public awareness for their cause. Shortly after we began filming the state of New Jersey announced plans to demolish the building, and things quickly snowballed from there. People were coming out from all over to speak with us, from locals, to past employees, to community leaders. This past summer we spoke with Robert Kirkbride, a descendant of Thomas Story Kirkbride, who designed the plan which Greystone was built around. More recently we were filming at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia, a saved and restored asylum of the same design as Greystone. The owners of which submitted interest to the state of NJ to purchase and restore Greystone, which was turned down. To say that the scope of the film has broadened would be a gross understatement.

We also hope to show that there is a real value in the art of what most have come to call “Urban Exploration”. This community of people with an interest in the abandoned is in-fact a preservation effort. Certainly a nontraditional one, but a strong one nonetheless. Filled of genuinely good people who are interested in the preservation of history and architecture.


Finally, what do you feel is the cultural value of nostalgia?

Nostalgia is a double-edged sword. It's wonderful to fondly remember the past, but we must not become so lost in it that we neglect the here-and-now. Take away from history the lessons taught, and use them today, so that tomorrow may be better than what came before.

We document abandoned places because they are what call to us. We do not wish to live in the memories of these places forever, but to capture and pass their stories along to all those who care to listen. Hopefully through these actions we see a better respect given to abandoned places in the future, either through revitalization, or by simply not being left to rot in the first place.

~~

Here are a few more examples of Tagliareni's and Mathews's extraordinary work:





Monday, January 5, 2015

Bidding Farewell to Spring with Roger Angell

Roger Angell in NYC in 2014
It's below zero in DeKalb, and gray. I just shoveled the drive. Did I mention it's cold?

Naturally, my thoughts turn to Roger Angell, who began writing about baseball for The New Yorker after he was assigned by his editor to visit Spring Training in sun-splashed Florida, in 1962. The result, his first extended essay on the game titled "The Old Folks Behind Home," ran in the April 7 issue. Though Angell was already an accomplished magazine editor, and the author of two books, the piece commenced his greatest career as America's greatest baseball writer. His visits to, and lengthy, evocative reports from, Spring Training composed one part of his annual three-part look at the game, which included mid-season and post-season wrap-up essays, a triumvirate of peerless reportage and writing that both nodded to and broadened each season's predictable and unpredictable forms, and which for decades became a welcome fixture in The New Yorker pages.

"The Old Folks Behind Home" was collected in Angell's first baseball book (The Summer Game, 1972) and it's a classic, at once observant, off-hand, and knowledgeable. All of Angell is here: his humor, affection, sly fiction writer's eye for detail, and conversational but elegant style is fully mature. Here's an excerpt from a characteristic paragraph, in which Angell deftly and sincerely moves from observing a game to observing something far larger and more complicated. "Watching the White Sox work out this morning at Payne Park reassured me that baseball is, after all, still a young man's sport and a cheerful one," he writes.
Coach Don Gutteridge broke up the early pepper games with a cry of "Ever'body 'round!" and after the squad had circled the field once, the ritual—the same one that is practiced on every high-school, college, and professional ballfield in the country—began. Batters in the cage bunted one, hit five or six, and made room for the next man. Pitchers hit fungoes to the outfielders, coaches on the first and third baselines knocked out grounders to the infield, pepper games went on behind the cage, and the bright air was full of baseballs, shouts, whistles, and easy laughter. There was a raucous hoot from the players around second when a grounder hopped over Esposito's glove and hit him in the belly. Two young boys with fielders' gloves had joined the squad in the outfield, and I saw Floyd Robinson gravely shake hands with them both. Anyone can come to watch practice here, and fans from nearby hotels and cottages wandered in after their breakfasts, in twos and threes, and slowly clambered up into the empty bleachers, where they assumed the easy, ceremonial attitude-feet up on the row in front, elbows on knees, chin in hands. There were perhaps two dozen of us in the stands, and what kept us there, what nailed us to our seats for a sweet, boring hour or more, was not just the whop! of bats, the climbing white arcs of outfield flies, and the swift flight of the ball whipped around the infield, but something more painful and just as obvious—the knowledge that we had never made it. We would never know the rich joke that doubled over three young pitchers in front of the dugout; we would never be part of that golden company on the field, which each of us, certainly for one moment of his life, had wanted more than anything else in the world to join.
Vintage Angell: joy blended with bittersweetness without a drop of treacle or sentimentality. No one writes about baseball in such a way.
~~

Exactly forty-one years later, in the April 7, 2003 issue of The New Yorker, Angell published what will likely be his final on-site report from Spring Training. In "Here Comes The Sun," a "Talk Of The Town" piece, Angell finds in the reduced editorial space something typically robust to explore. At age 83, he was in tune enough with the vivaciousness, looseness, and distractions of youth to observe a group of women celebrating one of the women's 21st birthday. The piece begins with a classic Angellian blend of fact and evocation:
With Opening Day gone by, a visitor to the recent spring-training camps can expect to keep no more than a handful of memories of the short season, such as a low line-drive homer in Tampa by the Yankees’ new import, Hideki Matsui, intensely annotated by a horde of visiting Japanese media; or a Mo Vaughn sailer at Port St. Lucie, over the right-field fence and into a sandpit, where it was excavated by an exclaiming pack of boy archeologists; or Renee Conley’s birthday party in Lower Box 105, Row D, at Scottsdale Stadium, in Arizona. Renee and four slender, well-tanned friends of hers—Laura McDermott, Angie Ray, Angie Cronk, and Ann Chaillie—were dressed in jeans, tank tops, and a scattering of forward-facing baseball caps, and their occupation of this sector, close behind the backstop screen, a bit over toward the visiting-team dugout, brightened the afternoon almost as much as the sun, which had been hiding behind chilly rain clouds for the past couple of days. The women put out the news that this was Renee’s twenty-first birthday, and Renee, bowing and blushing a little—she had cropped dark hair and a nice strong nose—accepted the good wishes of the old fans and kid fans around her but then said, well, no, she was thirty-one today. This seemed to put her about in the middle, agewise, in her bunch, who turned out to be servers from the nearby Bandera restaurant. “The best margaritas in town,” said Laura, who is a bartender there. “Only don’t go today, because all the staff will be rookies.”

The game began—the Giants were hosting a split squad of Seattle Mariners—but the young women were distracted by party-favor comical cardboard eyeglasses, with a jagged “Happy Birthday” in exuberant colors above the frames. Putting these on could be done only by reversing the caps, and once this was done, to cascades of laughter, it was time for a round of Bud Lights and the first of a dozen or so group shots, with the girls hugging up in a tight bunch and showing their perfect teeth to each helpful, “cheese”-urging neighbor fan wielding a borrowed camera. Fan parties can turn into a royal pain if you’re there for the game, but, c’mon, this was spring training, and it was a kick to see how rarely this part of Row D ever actually looked at the field. 
Angell casually and affectionately eaves-drops on the women's conversation, noting their personalities and individual details, all while keeping one eye trained on a meaningless exhibition game.
“Ooo, look, the bases are loaded,” somebody said—we were in the fifth by now—but Rich Aurilia’s grand slam over the left-field fence was more or less missed because the friends were so busy with the birthday cake: two Hostess cupcakes, side by side, with a candle “3” stuck in one of them and a candle “1” in the other. Renee instantly blew them out, to a screaming that became part of the wild game noise as Barry Bonds, the next man up, delivered a monster blow over the berm in right. Nobody ate the cupcakes. 
In short order the women are good-naturedly hit on by a cameraman, and one of them moves down front in the hopes of getting a game ball; she succeeds via the flirty promise of hugs and kisses.

"All that remained," Angell writes in the last paragraph, "was the next stage of the party."
Because of the anticipated beers, the young women had parked their cars at Renee’s place and safely biked to the park. The last party treat was a drawing of slips with various possible post-game destinations inked on them, including Zorba’s Adult Shop, on Scottsdale Road, and a long-shot Las Vegas. “We could totally do Vegas,” Angie Ray announced, but they all had to be back at work tomorrow. Laura was holding down three jobs between Thursdays and Tuesdays each week. Renee’s party would soon end, possibly wrapping up at Billet Bar, a nearby biker joint, with adjoining tattoo facilities. When the friends had last been in there, a bouncer said, “Next time, ladies, back your bicycles into the rack. That way you’re real bikers.” The ballgame was running out—it was 7-3, Giants, in the end—though nobody wanted it or the sunshine and hurrying warm clouds to go away. The night before, President Bush had announced that Saddam Hussein had two more days in which to depart or face war. But this was still spring training, where nothing counts. We had this one coming.
Baseball, sun, tipsy women, escape from the workaday world, and the promises of summer. If "Here Comes The Sun" turns out to be the last time Angell files a report from Spring Training—and I suspect that it will be—then what better bookends can there be: 1962 to 2003, Mantle to Matsui, pre-Beatles to post-9/11, and the timeless observations in the sun that run between.



Photo of Roger Angell by Todd Heisle via The New York Times.
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