Hitting the road

You can probably guess where I’m headed for the weekend. Well, just as soon as I finish teaching …

Art had the voice


I have mostly given up reading Salon. I find its strident, braying liberalism and misleading clickbait headlines as tiresome as the Daily Caller’s chest-beating conservatism and misleading clickbait headlines.

But occasionally Salon surprises me with an actual gem. Like this morning’s long interview with Art Garfunkel, whose soaring angelic voice gave range and depth to the poetry of Paul Simon’s lyrics. As a duo, Simon & Garfunkel created music that allowed them to transcend the folk revival of the 1960s and secured for them a place in the pantheon of musical greats. They were, and remain, peerless artists.

The interview with Garfunkel is full of wonderful moments. It’s not even really an interview. It’s alternately a reverie, a monologue, an inner dialogue externalized. There are occasional questions and lengthy, sprawling, often poetic replies. Like this:

You know, I walked across America so I got a real feel for the geography. Bloomington’s near the middle of the state, near Indianapolis, right? So this is very American. The land is kind of flat with a little bit of curvature—a very sweet curvature to the land, yes? We think of Bloomington as a college town, correct? So fall means back to school in a very rich way. It’s wonderful, that back-to-school feeling of September. It’s a rebirth. The air gets autumn keen and the spirit sharpens up.

As I mentioned, I’ve walked across the U.S. and now Europe, so I know the land. There are many different version of the land: industrial, wasteland, uninspired land. But campuses are a Walt Disney movie. They’re a dream come true. They’re such a cut above almost all of it. Campuses are so pretty, if only the kids realized it. The rest of the earth is something less than that. The skyscrapers downtown, the used-car lots, the hamburger chains, everything that makes up the normal American scene. But not the campuses. They’re pretty. Those trees …

There’s a lot more like that.

Do you know this about musicians? Making music is a place we go to. It’s a real comfort zone. On the Monopoly board, it’s the box marked Go. When you pass go, you get $200. It’s our favorite box. When you go into a song, when you respect your own God-given talent, there’s something automatic about flexing those muscles. You go to that comfort zone and lo and behold, you find other musicians there. That’s the great thing about making music, but it’s also why Paul and Artie can be very squirmy around each other. We’re so damned different, but when the song and the music is happening and Paul is playing guitar—and Paul Simon plays brilliant acoustic guitar—you go to that place comfortably.

I could post any number of Simon & Garfunkel songs, but for me, none displays the crystalline beauty of Art’s voice as well as “For Emily Wherever I May Find Her.”

This is how summer ends

The main stage at twilight, Wheatland 2014.


I don’t know about you, but for me, summer doesn’t end with Labor Day, or the first day of school. It ends this weekend, on an old farm in mid-Michigan, where my family, family-by-choice, and 15,000 of our closest friends gather for a weekend of camping, making music, and listening to music.

The author and his wife.

The Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, MI, has become our end-of-summer tradition since we first went with friends in 2009. While this is my family’s sixth Wheatland, some in our group have been going since 1975, the festival’s second year. Our camp now boasts three generations of native “Wheaties,” as attendees are known.

For 41 years now, the Wheatland Music Organization, has been dedicated to preserving, celebrating, and showcasing the richness of traditional music and dance. This isn’t Burning Man or Bonaroo. This is a folk festival in the best sense of the word, because the people at the festival are as much the musical fabric of the weekend as are the performers that grace the stages.

Guitars and new songs at camp.

At our camp we have guitars, banjos, fiddles, Irish flute and whistle, autoharp, mountain dulcimer, upright bass, and the best harmony our voices, liberally lubricated with whiskey and coffee, can put together. While the official Sunday morning gospel sing is at the main stage, we pregame it with a camp sing of our own.

Our numbers are a little diminished this year with some cherished members of camp missing for health reasons. It’s the second year now without our daughter, down in college in Tennessee.  And it’s likely the last one for a while for our son, who will himself head off to college at the end of this year.

The advance party for our group set off in the predawn darkness this morning to line up so that when the festival gates open they can claim our traditional camping spot and begin to lay out the dimensions of our home for the next two days. I’ll be bringing up the rear this year, hitting the road for the two-hour drive north as soon I’m done teaching for the day. By the time I get there the tents will be up, the camp kitchen organized, the instruments will be out, and the whiskey will be flowing.

I will have some catching up to do.

Happy end of summer.

Wait, what?

Taylor Swift, glamorizing colonialism, with lion.
Taylor Swift, glamorizing colonialism, with lion.


In the category of Controversies I Never Thought Could Exist, I give you Taylor Swift as glamorizer and apologist for White European colonialism in Africa. Or, as the Guardian’s headline put it:

Taylor Swift accused of racism in ‘African colonial fantasy’ video

The fuss centers on the video for Swift’s new single, “Wildest Dreams,” in which the singer plays an actress falling for her hunky co-star

Critics are shocked that,

Taylor Swift, her record label and her video production group would think it was OK to film a video that presents a glamorous version of the white colonial fantasy of Africa.

Here are some facts for Swift and her team: Colonialism was neither romantic nor beautiful. It was exploitative and brutal. The legacy of colonialism still lives quite loudly to this day.

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. All of that is true. But wow, that’s a lot of indignation to heap on something as inconsequential as a Taylor Swift video. At least in my book. So I watched the thing (the sacrifices I make for you, dear reader), and while it pains me to say so, I have to agree with the director, Joseph Khan, who told NPR in a statement:

This is not a video about colonialism but a love story on the set of a period film crew in Africa, 1950.

But then he ruins it with the equivalent of “I have lots of black friends …”:

The reality is not only were there people of color in the video, but the key creatives who worked on this video are people of color. I am Asian American, the producer Jil Hardin is an African American woman, and the editor Chancler Haynes is an African American man.

I chalk this one up to our current fascination with the Outrage of the Day. And I totally didn’t write this just so I could post a clickbait photo of Taylor Swift and her leg …

Oh yeah, here’s the video.