28 February 2012


Where have I been all month?  With my head stuck in a sound hole, that's where. It was February!  This means February Album Writing Month (FAWM).  Although I have not enough time and a shortage of good ideas, I took on the challenge. Not having quite made the goal of 14 songs in 28 days doesn't matter so much as just simply trying. I developed 7 or 8 songs. A few of which are worth further development.

Get a sample of this work at my FAWM site. Or on the YouTube.

17 February 2012

On the Passing of Anthony Shadid, Journalist.

Anthony Shadid 1968-2012
credit: Bill O'Leary / The Washington Post

The world of journalism mourns a great loss. Anthony Shadid meant a lot of things to a lot of people. To those of us who have passed through the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism & Mass Communication, Shadid was nothing less than one of The Absolute Best. His passing from an apparent asthma attack while covering the ongoing political and cultural turmoil in Syria is a huge loss for American global journalism. He was 43.

A stirring tribute can found in The New Yorker and a photo gallery highlighting Shadid's "lyrical and poignant" work is also available from the Washington Post. Acknowledgement on the homepage of UW-Madison, of which Shadid was a proud J-School alum, at first lead to a piece from The New York Times itself, where Shadid had been a senior foreign correspondent for many years. UW has now generated its own journalistic tribute in this story. Video excerpts are also available through the Times, here. On a local note, stalwart Madison journalist and long-time mentor to UW interns writing at Isthmus newspaper, Bill Lueders, offers this reflection. No further evidence of Shadid's genius is likely needed.

On assignment inside Syria, having crossed the border from Turkey under cover of night and without permission from Syrian officials, Shadid had an apparent allergic reaction to the horses being used to transport him and his associate, NY Times photographer Tyler Hicks. The level of personal peril that Shadid repeatedly faced is all but impossible to comprehend. The fact that he did it time and again is simply heroic. The Washington Post acknowledged that Shadid was one of "the most incisive honored foreign correspondents of his generation."

An excerpt from the NY Times explains some of his immense impact:

The death of Mr. Shadid, an American of Lebanese descent who had a wife and two children, abruptly ended one of the most storied careers in modern American journalism. Fluent in Arabic, with a gifted eye for detail and contextual writing, Mr. Shadid captured dimensions of life in the Middle East that many others failed to see. Those talents won him a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2004 for his coverage of the American invasion of Iraq and the occupation that followed, and a second Pulitzer in 2010, also for his Iraq reporting, both of them for The Washington Post. He also was a finalist in 2007 for his coverage of Lebanon, and has been nominated by The Times for his coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings that have transfixed the Middle East for the past year. 

Students at UW have had the opportunity to hear Mr. Shadid talk and to talk with him. His calm and down-to-earth nature were appealing and made for easy conversation. He was a great journalist and a great writer of humanity's struggle in the Middle East and elsewhere. These words do not say enough and cannot convey the grief very well. I'm not trying to represent UW or any other group or individual. I'm just trying to cope with the loss of someone who positively influenced me and people like me.

The release date for Shadid's forthcoming book, “House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East,” has been moved up. It will be released on Feb. 28, moved up from March 27, 2012.

10 February 2012

Photographs and Memories

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this collection hosted by the New York Times is priceless.

I will let the power of these images speak for themselves. Oh, the places you will go!

02 February 2012

Lucinda, Townes, and the Songwriting of Place

The excerpt below was taken from a recent American Songwriter piece highlighting Lucinda Williams and, more specifically, the influence of songwriter Townes Van Zandt on her and her development as an artist.

His love songs were very romantic, very beautiful. I loved [their] earthiness. He had an obvious sense of place. Oftentimes, he’d have references to different parts of the country, like his song “Snowin’ on Raton.” I’ve done that a lot in my writing. He wrote a lot about cities and towns and rivers, and he used a lot of that imagery. When you heard Townes, you knew it was him. He had a way of writing very simply and sparingly, and yet being very evocative and effective. That’s one of the things I’ve strived to do over the years in my writing.

Image of Townes Van Zandt, stolen from AmericanSongwriter.com

People often reference places in songs, but evoking a sense of place is more than mere mention of some street corner or lonesome road. It is more like painting with words the textures of a landscape, evoking the visible and the invisible, the seen and the sensed, the magic and mystery of some special place.

Are there songs (or songwriters) that evoke a special sense of place for you?  For me, artists such as Tom Waits and the Drive-By Truckers exemplify these qualities. Who else?