Everyone's a Critic
The Observer's culture blog
Friday, July 14, 2017
GHOST STORY, by David Swain
John Cain played trumpet in my big band, the II-V-I Orchestra, for about 20 years. He died unexpectedly in 2015 of undiagnosed cancer. The cancer was making his heart beat irregular, and it was that symptom that was being treated, rather than the underlying cause.
John and his wife, Keely, first met at the band's regular weekly Sunday night gig at the Heidelberg during the 1990s. Keely was a waitress there, and one of her tasks at the end of the performance was to fold up the tablecloths that were still relatively clean, so they could be used again the next week. My parents were quite fond of both John and Keely, and as I sat with my folks at the end of the show one night, my mom and pop exchanged meaningful glances of approval as John stayed after to help Keely with her chores. One thing led to the next, and before too long, the band was playing at their wedding reception.
After John's death, Keely asked me to have the big band play at his memorial service. She asked us to play the song "Blackbird" by the Beatles at the end of the service, as it was the song that John would always sing to their daughter Sophie at bedtime.
Some Beatles' songs are harder to play than others, but Blackbird is as challenging as any of their tunes that get played in public. Like "Stairway to Heaven" and "Dust in the Wind", Blackbird gets worked on by aspiring guitarists far more often than it is actually performed. As an exercise or etude-type study it is fun to work on and pleasant to hear. But to fit all the parts together and get the intricate finger-picking patterns up to a speed that will fit the words is a daunting task.
The II-V-I Orchestra has been playing locally since the mid-1970s with an ever-changing lineup of musicians. As a result, we have an extensive "alumni association" of people who used to play in the band. I was extremely fortunate to be able to call upon the services of multi-instrumentalist Dave Roof (whose father was a CPA in the legendary firm Gross, Puckey, Gruel, and Roof!). Dave played trumpet in the band during the big swing fad of the 1990s. He went on to play in the Imperial Swing Orchestra, where he picked up the stand-up bass when the ISO lost their bass player. He was also in Dan Mulholland's popular combo, the Vibratrons; Dick Siegel's Brandos; the excellent 60s-English-rock band, the Invasion; and many others. He is also an accomplished producer and audio engineer at his combination vintage and high-tech studio at his home in Grand Blanc.
Dave's role at John's memorial service was to play trumpet in the big band before the service, and then, as the minister finished speaking, he was to immediately sing John's daughter Sophie's special song, accompanying himself on guitar.
The band's part went fine, and then the minister began to speak. The rest of the band spent much of the time engulfed in tears, but Dave had to stay focused on his upcoming obligations. When the time came, he launched into an exquisite version of the song John would sing at the end of the day for his daughter. It was an extraordinary display of grace under pressure.
Fast forward a couple of years. Keely hasn't gone out to hear live music since John died, but it is the last night for Top of the Park, so Keely and Sophie come out. I spot Keely and greet her.
After I get my crying somewhat under control, I realize that there are several other musicians in the crowd who played with John in other bands (Luddites, Jive Colossus, Naked Ace, etc.). I round them up and they tell Keely and Sophie how much they enjoyed playing with John, what a fine fellow he was, and how much they miss him.
Seeing all of us is a bit overwhelming for Keely, but the best part is yet to come. The headlining band is George Bedard and the Kingpins, but at this point, a rockabilly trio from Redford called Nobody's Business is playing.
Their bass player is none other than our hero, Dave Roof! After a gap of more two years, the last live music Keely heard had been from Dave Roof, and here he is again.
Posted by John Hilton at 5:50 p.m. | 1 comment
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
JIM COGSWELL'S ARTS AND ANTIQUITIES, by Lois Kane
Many of the huge windows at the University Museum of Modern Art and the Kelsey Museum look like they've been attacked, top to bottom, by a child with a truckload of giant stickers.
That is sort of what happened. U-M art professor Jim Cogswell seems to have retained a child's ability for non-linear thinking, a teenager's delight in desecration, and an adult's profound intellect. Let loose with permission of the museums, he has spent the last five years creating a timeless epic with a quixotic logic based on objects ranging from the antiquities of the Kelsey through modern icons at the UMMA.
In June, Jim led 100 or so people on a tour of the windows, the objects on the other side of the windows, the stickers on the windows, the stories, and interpretations of the stories.
I've known Jim a while. I knew him as a kind, funny, imaginative, generous, person who made art. That day, it seemed as if the art made him. He is an awesome inspiring modern day Homer of the visual arts. He talks in riddles and rhymes, too, as he explains the reasoning, or suspension of reasoning, behind the thousands of separate images that merge in a gigantic whole.
Maybe this is a Greek goddess with a horse's head and wheels instead of feet; it's hard to be sure because it's upside down. This is a definitely a terrifying hurricane, and this is almost surely a Roman army having big troubles.
Many images reflect Jim's interest in how real objects, now and historically, get moved from place to place (theft is one of the reasons).
The walking lecture—literally a moving experience—ends ("begins, maybe", he says) at the west door of Kelsey which he says is his favorite spot in the afternoon with the sun shining so the decals shine like gold. Then he sends us on our way with his permission to, as he does, interpret all this in our own way. Like all oracles, he is handing out permission and encouragement to figure it out for and about our own creative selves. The sun is shining on him. He is radiant.
Posted by John Hilton at 3:03 p.m. | 0 comments
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