Tag Archives: art

Steely Dan Meets Shawn Fain

Although Donald Fagen evidently thinks otherwise, since the demise of Walter Becker who died of esophageal cancer in 2017, Steely Dan has ceased to exist. On the Steely Dan official website (which is remarkably hacky for a vaunted band) on the home page, two of the four images are large photos of Fagen and Becker.* There is no red X through Becker’s visage.

And it goes on to detail how the two started out as session musicians, including being members of the backup band for Jay and the Americans.

Then in 1972 Steely Dan was formed with Fagen and Becker joined by Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter on guitars and Jim Hodder on drums. On the Can’t Buy A Thrill album, the group’s first, the lead guitar on “Reelin’ in the Years” was played by Elliot Randall. The vocal on “Dirty Work” was by David Palmer.

And that was just the start. A quintessential characteristic of the band has been its amorphousness as regards membership. There has been a vast array of session and independent musicians as part of the crew over the years, including, but not limited to, Jeff Porcaro, Michael McDonald, Royce Jones, Peter Erskine, Tom Barney, Drew Zingg, Warren Bernhart, Bill Ware. . . .

The thing that stayed consistent was the duo.

And for some seven years the duo has been done but somehow it still presented, perhaps because of the IP associated with the brand, as “Steely Dan.”

But this isn’t one in series of my existential/economic screeds on bands that seem to exist only to continue to rake in the take. Rather, it was caused by two events from last week, which got me to consider session musicians. Without question Steely Dan is one of the preeminent employers of those players.

Continue reading Steely Dan Meets Shawn Fain

Just Fake It

The story, it seems, is this.

There is a broadcaster (although that term may not be entirely encompassing, as there is a streaming service involved, so that’s not precisely “broadcasting,” although as the channel has some 167 million subscribers in the U.S., that certainly is broad) who talks about sports.

Charissa Thompson works as a co-host for both Fox Sports and Amazon’s “Thursday Night Football.” She is no rookie to sports talk, as she had gigs at GSN, the Big Ten Network, Versus, and ESPN, the last being the place she left in 2013 to move to Fox. She also was a host on “Ultimate Beastmaster,” but we’ll leave that one alone. (She actually began her career in the Fox Sports HR department, which is probably hard at work vis-a-vis Thompson at this very moment.

Thompson has a degree in Law and Society from University of California at Santa Barbara, which is a nice place to get a degree of any type from. The Law and Society degree tends to be focused more on sociology than statutes; however, the role of things legal and their impact on society are certainly part of the curriculum.

Last week on a podcast, Thompson said that sometimes during halftime at a football game when the booth threw it to Thompson on the sidelines, she found herself in a bit of a fix because the coach wouldn’t, for whatever reason, talk to her.

Thompson said: “I didn’t want to screw up the report, so I was like, ‘I’m just going to make this up.’ Because, first of all, no coach is going to get mad if I say, ‘Hey, we need to stop hurting ourselves,’ ‘We need to be better on third down,’ ‘We need to stop turning the ball over and do a better job of getting off the field.’ Like, they’re not going to correct me on that.”

Seemed, to her, like a reasonable thing to do. And in the event that said coach heard her report after the fact and the various uncontroversial comments, there might have been a shrug, assuming that the coach even remembered the situation at all.

Continue reading Just Fake It

Ars longa, vita brevis, more or less

One of the collaborations that has become pretty much a part of antiquity is the art created for records (generally for LPs and then possibly adapted from the 12 x 12-inch canvas of the album cover to a 7 x 7-inch version for the 45, though not always).

Consider, for example, the cover of The Velvet Underground and Nico, created in 1967 by Andy Warhol. Arguably that banana theme was carried over by Warhol to his work for the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album art (1971).

In 1967 the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released with an incredibly crowded cover that was executed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth. The band (the Beatles, not Pepper) had been introduced by Blake and Haworth by a gallery owner, Robert Fraser.

Fraser was to introduce them to Richard Hamilton. I would (and do) argue that Hamilton was more important as an artist than Warhol as he actually created Pop Art in 1956, with a collage he created, “Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?” No Pop and Warhol might have simply continued with Bonwit Teller window displays. (Hamilton also made a major contribution to the world of art through his curation of a retrospective of the work of Marcel Duchamp at the Tate in 1966.)

Hamilton created the art for The Beatles (a.k.a., The White Album). What’s more, he suggested the name for that album. Hamilton recalled that he’d been paid some £200 for his work on the album. The album that has subsequently racked up sales of some 24 million copies. (McCartney is known to be thrifty. This takes it to a whole new level.)

Continue reading Ars longa, vita brevis, more or less

“Sing in me Muse, and through me. . .”

Nowadays, one of the things that doesn’t come up in conversations too much, if at all, assuming that your cohort isn’t described as some sort of aesthetic cult, are the Muses*. Once they were invoked by artists to either inspire them or to speak through them.

There are (were?) nine:

  • Calliope, epic poetry
  • Clio, history
  • Urania, astronomy
  • Thalia, comedy
  • Melpomene, tragedy
  • Polyhymnia, religious hymns
  • Erato, erotic poetry
  • Euterpe, lyric poetry
  • Terpsichore, choral song and dance

If you remove Urania from the list, all of the Muses (a.k.a., Mousai) have something to do with either writing or music.**

What isn’t represented are the visual arts.

But odds, should someone say to you, “Who is your favorite artist?”, you wouldn’t name a comedian or a poet (erotic or otherwise) but Banksy or Ai Weiwei or some other visual artist.

For some reason, the word artist has become associated primarily with, well, artists.

Rarely is it said that a given writer is an artist. Some might say that James Joyce was not simply a writer but an artist; it is almost ironic that he titled his early novel Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, with portraiture being more associated with painting than words on paper.

Continue reading “Sing in me Muse, and through me. . .”

What’s There That We Don’t Know

John Constable was an early 19th century British landscape painter about whom you—even if you took an art history course at some point—probably know very little about. In fact, you’ve likely not heard of him.

However, in art circles he is something of a big deal. Writing for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Elizabeth E. Barker observed, “Today he is often considered, along with J. M. W. Turner, one of England’s greatest landscape painters.” And Turner is sufficiently widely know such that Mike Leigh made a biographical film about him in 2014, Mr. Turner, with Timothy Spall (yes, of Harry Potter fame), portraying the painter: this is a movie that must be seen—or at least heard—to be believed because there are more grunts and other noises coming from Spall’s character than words (to exaggerate just a wee bit), and he’s the focus of the film. (I suppose most of us would like our artists and other characters to be more articulate and refined.)

A couple who live in a castle in Scotland, Craufurdland Castle, which has been in the family for 800 years, have a painting, Old Bridge Over the Avon, about which Simon Houison Craufurd, laird of the castle said, “It’s a painting that I have seen I don’t know how many times and have never actually paid any attention to it.”

The painting has been owned by the Craufurd family since 1918. Yes, he probably saw it plenty of times even if it wasn’t over some massive fireplace. (Constable liked to pain on big canvases: He wrote in 1821: “I do not consider myself at work without I am before a six-foot canvas.”) Yes, no surprise at this point, the painting was determined to be by Constable.

The painting is worth on the order of $2-million.

While this doesn’t change the reputation of Constable in any way, it seems remarkable that there was the work of one of the masters of British painting in plain sight for over 100 years and it was not known to be what it is. (Presumably it was known to be a Constable when it was purchased by one of Craufurd’s forebearers.)

Continue reading What’s There That We Don’t Know

“There’ll Be Spandex Jackets. . .”

A painting known as the de Brécy Tondo recently went on display Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford, England. This is notable because the painting, for decades, has been controversial.

Some people claimed it was painted by Raphael. Others claimed it was a copy of the artist’s Sistine Madonna alterpiece done sometime during the Victorian period, more than 300 years after Raphael worked.

The conclusion that the work was done by the artist and not by some imitator was largely predicated on artificial intelligence. Of course.

Hassan Ugail, a professor at the University of Bradford, and the director the its center of visual computing, developed an AI model that was evidently trained on Old Masters.

Hassan told The Guardian, “My AI models look far deeper into a picture than the human eye, comparing details such as the brush strokes and pigments. Testing the Tondo using this new AI model has shown startling results, confirming it is most likely by Raphael.”

Somewhat more substantive that it was done in the 16th century not the 19th is that Howell Edwards, a molecular spectroscopy professional at the University of Bradford, determined the pigments used were Renaissance-era appropriate. Odds are that some Victorian didn’t chance upon a cache of 300-year-old paint and decide to fake a Raphael.

Whether it is actually the work of the artist is something that, until someone invents a time machine, will never be completely known, AI techniques notwithstanding.

How do we know that the de Brécy Tondo wasn’t painted by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino’s dad, Giovanni Santi, who had been a painter, as well?

Continue reading “There’ll Be Spandex Jackets. . .”

“Lennon Sings Sinatra”

In the world of art there are generally four steps:

  • Creation
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Acquisition

The artist comes up with an idea. That idea is then manifest in some outwardly physical (and possibly) repeatable form. Then that is put out in the world in some way.

The Creation part is as easy to understand as it is difficult to do.

The Production part can take various forms. For example, for a piece of music this might be writing it down in musical notation or recording it on some form of media, whether tape (that can be used to create things like albums) or as a digital file.

Then there is the Distribution. Certainly an artist who is only interested in the Creation part might not even go to the Production step, simply having the music in her head or performing it in the world yet not capturing it so that the performance is ephemeral. But she might want to create artifacts for her own use or edification. In this case, the work of art doesn’t go out into the wider world but it still exists in a form that someone else could have it. (E.g., If Renée Fleming sings in her shower, no matter how wonderful it is, it only exists in that period of time. If she records herself singing in the shower, then that performance exists after the time of the performance.)

In the case of something that has been created and transformed into some sort of artifactual being, there is the possibility for the Acquisition by others: Someone buys the painting or downloads the music.

While this is a linear model that leads from the creator to the object and vice versa, there are situations where there is a disruption because it very well may be the creator is not the person who is thought to be the person who has created the work in question.

Continue reading “Lennon Sings Sinatra”

Objects of Interest

I regularly receive emails from Wolfgang’s Vault, promoting the latest items that it wants me to purchase. Wolfgang’s, if you’re not familiar with it, is the archival trove and then some of concert promoter Wolfgang Grajonca, better known as Bill Graham, he of the Fillmore fame. It is a vast compendium of photos, vinyl, books, merch, and posters from the venues (e.g., The Filmore, Winterland, Avalon Ballroom) at which Graham staged what can now only be considered legendary shows, even though back in the ‘60s they were considered, well, shows.

The posters are the most wonderful objects. Graphic artists including Wes Wilson, Lee Conklin and Rick Griffin created a visual vocabulary on the posters they designed. In addition to the full-size posters, these works of art—yes, commercial art, but be that as it may, they were artists, not just layout jockeys—were printed as 5 x 7-inch postcards, which increased the opportunity for ownership.

In addition to the wildly imaginative lettering and graphics that these objects embody, there is another fascinating aspect to them, which are the performers they promote. As the setting was San Francisco, it is not at all surprising that The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane loom large. Often, the two bands were on the same bill.

But what is in some ways more interesting than the art is the selection of performers on a given night. The Who and Cannonball Adderly. Jimi Hendrix and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Led Zeppelin and Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity (in my humble estimation one of the best groups of the last half of the 20th century that never got its due). The Yardbirds and The Doors. Pink Floyd and Procol Harum. These and many other shows are the stuff that audio dreams are made of, the sorts of events that give rise to “If only. . . .”

As I grew up in Detroit, there was the Grande Ballroom and similar handbills created, many penned by Gary Grimshaw, many including the MC5, which was something of the house band but one that would often get top billing, except in cases like playing second to Cream and Jefferson Airplane. Again, shows that only the imagination can capture.

Continue reading Objects of Interest

Sounds Like. . . ?

Apparently there is a museum in France dedicated to the works of a late 19th- early 20th century painter, Étienne Terrus.

The museum, located in Elne, France, in the Pyrénées, is full of paintings by Terrus.

Or at least many of the 140 paintings are by the artist.

And even more of them are, as has recently been discovered, fakes.

Experts have come in and determined that 82 of the paintings were not executed by Étienne Terrus, who died in 1922.

One of the clues in one of the landscapes: buildings that weren’t built until after the artist died.

You would think that something like that might be noticed.

But you often don’t see something unless you are looking, even if you’re looking right at it. And arguably there have been hundreds of people looking at those paintings, thinking to themselves, “That’s a nice Terrus.”

As the tagline for this site is not “Gouaches Can Change Your Life,” you are probably wondering what the Terrus Museum has to do with anything.

It got me to wondering about how we actually know whether music that we think has been recorded by an individual or a band really is aural evidence of that.

Continue reading Sounds Like. . . ?

Glorious Noise Interview: Daniel Edlen, VinylArt

Daniel Edlen's VinylArtWhen CDs debuted on a large scale in the mid-80s everyone was sure it was the death knell for vinyl. I remember watching a stereo salesman at the mall throw a CD on the floor and step on it to illustrate to a prospective customer the format’s durability. The CD skipped when he popped it into the player, but a point had been made: CDs are here to stay.

Twenty years later everyone is now predicting the death of the CD as digital downloads lurch to the front of the pack as the latest, most convenient format. In the meantime, a funny thing happened—vinyl has been creeping back. No, it’s not likely to ever recover as the dominate medium for music listening but just last year vinyl albums sold 1.8 million, more than any other year since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991. That’s a lot of wax.

Daniel Edlen is an artist and an opportunist (like most good artists are). He’s carving out a niche for himself with a novel idea that uses vinyl records as the medium for his drawings. Each piece is hand-painted with white acrylic on the vinyl. The results may be the perfect gifts for the vinyl fetishists among us. GLONO caught up with Daniel as he undertakes the dog days of summer and the art fair season.

Continue reading Glorious Noise Interview: Daniel Edlen, VinylArt