Results tagged “California” from this Public Address 2.0




Because the semester is starting in another ten days or so, I decided I had better do something about the compost heap in the floor. This is always a problem, and I’ve been putting off sorting out the articles and such that I really need to file— I noticed today that there were several essays on Chaucer. I haven’t studied Chaucer in at least four years. I suppose that goes to the sheer resistance I have to cleaning.

It isn’t unsanitary mind you, it’s just paper after all. No stale pizzas have surfaced, or unidentifiable sticky things, just paper. If I had a fireplace, I suppose I could bale it and keep myself warm for the winter.

Which reminds me of a story . . . There was a mailman in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in California, who serviced the outlying areas of a town named Caliente. The town was oddly named, because it wasn’t really hot there, but I digress . . .

The winters were severe in Caliente, and one of the contract mail delivery route drivers who serviced the outlying areas came up with a plan. He saved everyone’s junk mail— failing to deliver it— and rolled it up into fireplace logs. He was saved from the jail term for this horrendous federal offense because the residents stepped forward to say that they really didn’t want that mail anyway.

Cleaning and creative thought don’t go together, and that is adding to the quiet around here. This should be obvious, given my complete lack of anything interesting to say.



Blowing in the Wind

I always feel guilty walking past the bell ringers outside the supermarket. My father is a generous guy though, and every Christmas he donates a substantial sum to the Salvation Army. I have no reason for the guilt, largely because I have no money.

But I had a dollar in my pocket when I walked past. I was thinking about my father, remembering the way he fondly talked about voting for FDR: “He didn’t live long after that, but I was glad I got the chance— he did a lot for the poor people in this country.” It was a strange little tangent for my mind to take, and as I looked across the parking lot I thought for a moment that I might leave the cart in the parking space. But then I thought, “what would dad do?” He’d put it in the right place, of course. So I braved the whizzing traffic and pushed it across.

On the trip back, a car stopped and started honking at me. I looked back, and the man behind the wheel was about the same age as my father. He was pointing frantically at the pavement. I looked down, and saw the dollar bill blowing in the wind. I felt rather silly chasing it; I felt like the baby on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind.

The next car in line stopped and asked: “Was that money blowing across the road?”

Yes, I said.

I really should have given it to the guy with the bell. It would have saved the traffic disruption. But I’ve had less sympathy for those guys around here. I found out last year that because so few people volunteer to be bell-ringers these days, most of them around here are paid to stand there and make shoppers feel guilty. The incident also reminded me about the difference between Arkansas and California. In California, I wouldn’t have had to chase the bit of green paper because no one probably would have mentioned it. They would have waited until I left and picked it up.




Reading Shirley Abbott’s book Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South for a class today, I decided to save some snips. It’s fairly well written, I think, and it makes some provocative assertions:

To grow up female in the South is to inherit a set of directives that warp one for life, if they do not actually induce psychosis. This is true for high-born ladies as well as for farm women, and no one has ever quite explained it. A North Carolina journalist named Florence King made a good try, though, in a book called Southern Ladies and Gentlemen. All Southerners, she observed, are insane and most especially is the Southern woman insane. The reason is that “the cult of Southern womanhood endowed her with at least five totally different images and asked her to be good enough to adopt all of them. She is required to be frigid, passionate, sweet, bitchy, and scatterbrained— all at the same time. Her problems spring from the fact she succeeds.” (3)

Tracing the lineage of Southern settlers to the Ulster Scots, Abbott returns to colonial records to find gems. I was taken by her description of Reverend Woodmason’s (from around 1766) perception of Southern cooking:

Their cookery, if indeed it can be so called, is, he says, “filthy and most execrable.” What provisions they have consist mostly of bacon and cornmeal, and clearly the women have already acquired the habit of drowning everything in grease. (40)

Now that I think about it, the quick exploration of the cooking dovetails nicely with her thesis that Southern ladies/gentlemen see themselves as descended from the English aristocracy. British food isn’t exactly renowned either. One of the interesting techniques used to frame her elaborate historical tale of family is that she marks the ahistorical perspective of her Southern mother against her Yankee father who feels attached to history. From this perspective, she deeply explores the nature of Southern identity as manifest in Arkansas.

Bill Steber

Bill Steber 1997 exhibition postcard image

Outstanding in his field

It was a grueling day of grading papers. But I was rummaging about in one of the many boxes of “stuff” littered about my floor, and I stumbled on a postcard. It took a long route to get to me. My photographic mentor in California, Harry Wilson, sent it to me a few years ago after I talked about meeting Bill Steber in Helena, Arkansas. I’m terrible with names, and I hadn’t remembered it until found the postcard.

I walked into a bar in Helena during the King Biscuit Blues Festival in 1996 to find some truly outstanding work displayed on the walls. It was the first really significant (to me anyway) work I’d seen since I got here. I said something to the guy chopping barbeque behind the counter, and he said— “Do you want to meet him? Bill’s around here somewhere.” Bill and I ended up drinking together for a little while, and he was a really nice guy. Later, when I wandered off to photograph Cedell Davis, Bill was there too. I did my best to stay out of his way.

Today, searching around a bit I found that he has a web site displaying the work called Stones in My Pathway. The site is pretty amazing; it features real audio streams of Bill talking about the pictures— or if you click the note— music to go along with them. It’s well worth a visit, and an excellent example of worthwhile contemporary documentary work.

One of the issues Bill and I discussed was the problem of exploitation. He was going to photograph Rosetta Patton Brown, last surviving child of Charlie Patton, the next day and he talked about how difficult it was to get the trust of these people. He was conscious of the importance of giving something back. A percentage of the sale of his photographs goes to help surviving blues musicians. I think that is a wonderful thing. I wish I could afford to buy some of his prints, because they are truly gorgeous. The Blues Highway layout available elsewhere showcases some of the same photos, but also some different ones. Both sites are well worth a visit. Bill Steber is an outstanding photographer, and more than that, he has a conscience.



Syncing Feeling

With the discovery that audio CDs sound much better on my older Apex player than they do on my new Sony, I was sent on a strange spin. Rex called from California last night, and we were talking about the “golden age” of audio equipment. I was trying to figure out just when people stopped caring about how things sound. We both pretty much agreed that it was when CD’s entered the scene. Funny how a supposedly superior medium would start a chain of compromise which left the shelves of audio stores filled with inferior crap. It has to be better, it’s digital. Maybe Baudrillard was right in that respect; we now live in the age of simulation. CD’s simulate music, rather than presenting it in all its imperfect glory of harmonics and subtle modulations.

I’m not really a luddite. Every time the technology has changed, I have moved along with it. Rex and I were pondering the diversity of formats that we have chased in our lifetimes— from four-track tapes to eight-track tapes, from mini-cassettes to micro-cassettes, from LP to CD, and a thousand variants along the way. I’ve owned most types of audio delivery systems, mainly because getting the data requires owning a device that can cope with it. But there’s a rupture between digital data delivery and analog sourcing. Analog’s main problem is noise, whereas digital’s main problem is sync. Though I think the funny little blocks of color created by malfunctioning DVDs or VCDs are beautiful in their own right, glitches in audio are downright disturbing. When analog fails, the failure is usually harmonious (background hiss of pink-noise, or harmonic modulation of the sound through feedback). When digital fails, what comes out has no discernible relationship with the original. Of course, the die is cast— it’s now a digital world.

I was watching a history channel program about Rome, and that phrase supposedly uttered by Julius Caesar as he crossed the river to conquer Rome —“the die is cast.”— stuck in my head. The phrase has two possible connotations since the dawn of the machine age. In Caesar’s day, it meant that the roll of the dice (the randomness of fate and history) was done, and what would happen, would happen. The phrase made me wonder though— because my father was a bit of an amateur machinist, with cases of tools and dies in the shed— that it could also mean that destiny was fixed, rather than random.

A die is a machine tool now, rather than an instrument of chance. It stamps out identical replicas of whatever it was formed to produce. In the case of audio, we stamp out approximations (though fairly good ones, most of the time). There is a limit to how good something can be, once it is cast on that little silver disk. We’ve settled, in expediency, for something that really can’t be brought closer to the source— cold and metallic, shiny and pretty— unlike the ragged imperfect licorice pizzas with their warps and propensity for damage. Though both of these reproductive technologies are produced by dies, they have little in common. The grooves in a record trigger vibrations, just like the vibrations of a speaker which moves the air that sends the sound to you. Grooves are first cut then stamped. The needle just plows along the furrow, harvesting the swings of fate (and dustspecks) along the way. CDs are first burned, forming little pits which are stamped into thin foil. The dark forest of vinyl is replaced by shiny mirrors that either catch the light, or don't. Chance can wipe away the map of a CD quickly, leaving it totally out of sync— a coaster or ornament for a wind-chime— dead, rather than merely annoying to listen to.

Strange how the verb version of “die” has such a different meaning— to cease to exist. Were did the nominal version of die come from? I was looking at the OED, and it appears to have come from the Latin datum. The same root as data— but with rather a different connotation. The past participle of dare to give— “It is inferred that, in late pop. L., datum was taken in the sense ‘that which is given or decreed (sc. by lot or fortune).’”

It’s back to Apollo and Dionysus I suppose. Cold geometry, arithmetic perfection vs. wild and uncontrollable worlds of vibrations. It’s a matter of how you view the data— cast with precision— or tossed by fate. Either way, it gives me a sinking feeling.



Rabbit Drive, Caruthers Station, Fresno County, March 10, 1892.

I was following some links on New Things regarding rabbits in Australia, and it reminded me of another rabbit story. The photograph above is a scene from it.

The great rabbit drive, described as “one of the most successful and picturesque ever had in California,” was the work of more than 5,000 people and resulted in the slaying of about 20,000 rabbits. This day's "grand sport" had such an impact on fledgling California writer Frank Norris that he later incorporated it into one of the most vivid chapters of his classic novel, The Octopus.

Gypsy Trash


Gypsy Trash

I was standing outside a tall antiquated college building that looks more like a parking garage than a classroom. Long sweeping ramps, bathrooms on alternate floors, an impractical design. Near the adjacent Frank Lloyd Wright ranch style administration building, columns were forming. Two neat rows of guys in brown shirts, brown pants, and green caps. Each soldier held a white UALR plastic bag, and seemed impatient. They weren’t holding their ranks very well. I had a strange flash— I wondered if the Hitler youth were making a comeback. Except for the green insignia on the shirts, which I wasn’t close enough to read, and the green caps, the Aryan assortment was remarkably similar in appearance. Then I wondered if they were beer drinkers. I remembered a hypothesis by Frank Zappa that seems reasonable— only beer drinking cultures like Germany, England, and America succumb to marching.

When I got home tonight, Youth of the Third Reich was on the History channel. The episode was “Seduction.” It features interviews with former female members of Hitler’s BDM, and deep discussions about Hitler’s view of women as objects of beauty, and baby factories. The portrayal is skewed, as all of these easily consumable histories are, with the idea that only Germany placed an emphasis on eugenics, an emphasis on race, and carefully measured the features of children with calipers and rules weeding out those that did not fit the aesthetic concerns of a master race. While it’s easy to feel sympathy for the women interviewed who were only children at the time, locked into the childish games of bonding excluding all those who were different, I began to wonder how much stock we can place in the excuse “We didn’t know any better.” The supposedly enlightened English and American people played the same game, locking races on an evolutionary scale across the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It didn’t just happen in Germany alone. None of the “anglos” seemed to know any better either.

The most striking interviews were with a gypsy woman, survivor of a death camp, who talked about being spat upon and called gypsy trash by the cute little braided girls of the BDM.

I was thinking about what it was like in my high school growing up. There were black student associations, Mexican American student associations, and alliances available to most ethnic groups. Whites were only about 40 percent at the school. Stupid me, I wondered why we didn’t have an association. The answer always seems to be— “What are you talking about? Don’t you know that white society already has all the privileges?” I’ve got a different perspective on it now. I never found any of those privileges. Somehow I wasn’t comfortable with the labels people wanted to give me like cracker or pindeho— they never really fit. I like wheat or rye bread, not white. If anything, I must be a gypsy child.

Not in the sense of ethnic heritage, but in the sense of a lack of one. I did some tracing on a family tree a while ago and found that my family comes from virtually nowhere, and just wandered across the country— the deepest branch I traced came from London in the 1600s, entered in Maine, moved to Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, California, Arizona, etc. They were never in any single place for longer than a generation or so. There are no real roots to be found, except perhaps in the lower class drive to wander to greener pastures, new hopes of economic security, etc. I suppose I’ve always been envious of those who can say they are Irish-American, or African-American, or Polish-American, or whatever. I’m hyphen challenged. Just a mutt, a gypsy.

Ethnic roots give people a sense of continuity, of belonging. A feeling that you are not alone, a feeling that a line precedes you and will follow. But it’s such a thin line between ethnic pride and wearing brown shirts, though instead of screaming that a race is genetically superior, we now argue about which race was most oppressed. When ethnicity becomes a badge, it also becomes a weight. And it is all too tempting to measure that weight relatively, to create self-serving discourse aimed at propping up positions that only separate, weigh, and measure the relative worth of cultures. There has been far too much of that across history. I feel pretty good about just opting out, although I really have no choice. Garden variety white-guy, nothing special. But that’s just as well, I don’t want to be special if it involves marching. I’ll keep the beer, but skip the marching.

Pull Down


Pull Down and Pull Toward You

It was a good trip to Hot Springs. I saw four films, the latest paintings from Warren Criswell, and watched the freaks. Going down there is always like entering some sort of redneck time warp. I saw a grizzled guy wearing a Damn Yankees tee shirt, more Chuck Norris look-alikes on Harleys than I could name, and actually heard a car stereo or two. I remember my first impressions of Arkansas were based on the busy main-drag of Hot Springs. It was silent. No sound from car stereos, no music coming from the bars, no spill-over muzak, nothing— just the occasional horn or siren. No loud voices, no arguments, no struggles— just strollers, by the hundreds. It was more like a wake than a party.

The look this time was different. Film festivals draw a different crowd. Lots of people wearing square black-framed glasses. Lots of queer-as-folk. Lots of professorial types, and lots of people who seemed to be too-hip for their own good. And then there were the citizens, smiling friendly helping the tourists find their way around. I arrived just in time to rush into the theater to see Photos to Send.

It was a good film. There was a sense of discovery to it, as if the filmmaker allowed the chance happenings of the story itself play a role in the result. The theater was full when I got there, but I negotiated the balcony (which is a lawsuit waiting to happen) to find overflow seating at the front edge. I’ve never looked down on a film before. It was in progress, and I walked in to footage of a man riding a bicycle on country roads. You could hear the filmmaker say “I can’t believe it’s him!” repeatedly. A moment later, the original Lange photograph came on the screen. Yes, it was the same man on his bicycle that Lange had photographed. I got caught up in it, feeling much the same thing.

The director located and interviewed survivors, and relatives of survivors that Lange had photographed and juxtaposed it with quotes and pages from Lange’s journals. There were a few audio voice-overs taken from a 1964 interview with Lange regarding the project, and interviews with her son. The looks of the people as they saw for the first time photographs of their parents, and relatives that had passed on for the first time were priceless. What a great project. The faces of those people, looking at the photographs, reminded me of what I used to do. No amount of theory can strip away the power of the document to provide a window on the past. Photographs may be lies, but in a larger sense, so is life— and there are some lies we are compelled to embrace, to make it bearable. One of the fragments from Lange’s notebooks hit me hard:

Never straight-on. Always from the curves.

For years I struggled with the dead-on perspectives of Walker Evans and others. It was when I started to come at it from the curves that I really started to grow. There will always be artifice. The evidence of Stryker’s influence was all over some of the notebook passages, notes for things to research, like “Why no trees?” Ireland has changed since Lange was there, but as the filmmaker noted in the end— it was the things that had remained the same that were the most striking, not the differences. To see relatives sitting against the same backdrop as their parents, to see the continuity of life, seems to be one of those “lies” of photography that seems absolutely essential to living. As one of the descendents said regarding his farm, passed down for six generations— you get the feeling that you aren’t alone. Someone had been there before you. Somehow, that seems to be more important than the disruption and changes of time.

The second film I saw was David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge. It was outstanding, also. Several bits of information stand out, including Joshua Reynold’s portable camera obscura which folded up to be disguised as a book. I really liked the assertion that “intellectual property” was a part of life long before the juridical apparatus was there to support it. The technology used by the painters in the Middle Ages has been lost to mystery, however, because of this drive to protect it. However, as Hockney’s tee shirt proclaimed— optics don’t make marks. The idea that these painters used technology does not undercut their ability as artists. However, I’m not so sure about his proclamation that technology now will allow us to free ourselves from single-point perspective. Single point perspective is one of those comforting lies that I don’t see disappearing any time soon. However, the assertion that we are “in the world” rather than standing outside it looking in (the lie) is certainly food for thought as well. I remember seeing Hockney’s photo-collages on the beach in Venice, California in the mid-eighties. There was a sense of completion for me, in seeing this film. From the birth of an idea, to its fruition. Watching Hockney adjust the camera obscura, to sketch things at different points of focus reminded me of some similar experiments I was doing in the darkroom about that time too, trying to find new ways to see.

I wandered off after that to look at Warren’s latest at Taylor’s Contemporanea . Warren seems to be a bit time obsessed lately. There’s a little digital clock that keeps showing up in his paintings, always just after midnight. His sense of humor hasn’t dulled a bit though, Six Cent Still Life stood out to me, as did Books and Toilet Paper. Though the real connection is just a feeling that runs constantly through his work of flight. The web versions just don’t do the paintings justice— my favorite by far was Flash Flood. I walked the length of the strip, ordered a cappucino that came out of the same Krups machine I use at home, and went back to see the films we were supposed to see for the class.

Watching Daddy and Papa brought out memories of a different sort. The moment they flashed Anita Bryant on the screen, I started to get ill. Why can’t we just give Florida back to Spain? It might solve many of the country’s problems, though we would lose many fine beaches. It seems absolutely ridiculous to me that there is so much noise over gay adoption. It is so hard to find people who really want to be parents. Are group homes, filled with neglect really better “moral” environments for children? What a sham, and a disgrace. If people want to be parents, regardless of their sexual preference, I don’t see what the big deal is. Given the urge of children to rebel against their parents, it seems to me that if anything, it would increase the straight population.

The last film we watched was a real hoot. Georgie Girl is the story of the first transgendered MP in New Zealand. It seems to me that survival in such a difficult life role would be a guarantee of great political skill. The vintage footage of sex-clubs in New Zealand alone was worth the paltry price of admission. What was most interesting to me was a TV interview where the interviewer was just certain that there must have been a huge change in attitude once she had her genitals snipped. As if the root of identity was in a person’s genitals, and any change there must have had a profound effect. We went out for drinks afterward, and I’m sure I talked too much. It was a good day though. It’s just such a weird setting to see these films in. Hot Springs wants to be San Francisco (a few days of the year, anyway), but they really don’t have a clue. San Francisco is loud; open communities don’t come from silence and deserted shop-fronts.

In the bathroom of the restaurant where I ate dinner there was a towel dispenser that reminded me of an old album from the San Francisco band Hot Tuna: First Pull Up— Then Pull Down. It was named after the instructions on toilet seat protectors. The towel dispenser seemed more to the point: “Pull Down and Pull Toward You.” I like that advice better.




Besides the death of romance, my most mind-shattering shock after moving from California to Arkansas was the loss of audience. The stereotype of life in the Southern/Midwestern states is that people are friendly. Arkansas is a bit of both, perhaps more Southern than Midwestern— it did join the Confederacy, after all. I think that it’s the misreading of visitors, and natives, to make the claim for the happy helpful down-home folks. I find them cliquish and closed, as they smile big and say “no thank you.” Politeness and friendliness are discrete quantities. The shadow of politeness is dark, like most shadows.

I’ll never forget the gasp of horror when I first said “fuck” in public. It wasn’t that I used the word, people in Arkansas certainly do cuss frequently— but I said it in public. People around here never swear in front of people they don’t know. They also don’t ask anything of strangers, or impose their feelings upon them without extreme circumstances. Deep social networks make it possible to live with little exploitation (except of friends and neighbors). Arkansas is uniquely tolerant of outsiders, really— but it is tolerance, not acceptance.

I come from a freeway town in California. No one stays in a place like Bakersfield by choice, except those who have become complacent enough to accept that it’s an easy place to be. And it was easy. There was no veil of politeness, guarding you from what people were really thinking— they would tell you to “fuck-off” in no uncertain terms if the situation demanded it. Because everyone seemed to be in a constant state of passing through, the urge to exploit people for whatever talents or skills they had was strong. Get it while you can, in no uncertain terms. Life is rootless, wandering, and evanescent. One advantage of the climate of exploitation is that in some ways, you always feel wanted, needed— there’s always something that you might be good for. A ready-made audience of hungry eyes, and ears.

Strangers in the South aren’t needed. I walked through this state with my “exploit me” neon sign flashing for the first few years. I photographed for a charity, and made myself known to many of the musicians. My phone never rang. Unless you’re selling, they don’t want to take. They are far too polite for that. I’m sick of selling, and I really never want to do it again. I’m more intimately acquainted with being sold. For years in California I seldom bought a drink. There was always someone who wanted to seduce you into their project, their vision of how you might be used. I mistakenly thought that because I had some talent it should be easy to find some project to distract me, some new audience for my particular historical skill. No one ever bought me a drink in Arkansas. I had an exhibition in the most popular “counter-culture” hot spot in the city after a year or so. No calls, no comments, no thank-you. I discovered that to be exploited, I’d need to sell myself into it. I want to avoid selling, but in order to get an audience I suppose you do have to sell someone.

Without an audience of some sort, life becomes a bit meaningless. I think that’s why I felt like teaching was the only way out. A group of people sits on the other side of the room. You do your best to fulfill your obligation to impart something to them, to help them understand the subject you try to teach. You don’t have to sell them on exploiting your talent, the environment itself dictates the relation— you have something to give, and students are free to take what they want from you. The only real coercion involved is convincing students that the subject is important enough to pay some attention to. Of course, this means to a certain extent I’ve got to sell again— sell an establishment on my mastery of the material, and my ability to convey it. I’m looking at that as my final sales job. All I really want is an audience willing to exploit me, and I hope I can convince the guardians at the gate to let me in. My abilities as a photographer became unimportant to me when I found that there was really no one who wanted to look at my photographs. Without feedback, reactions to the work, you merely stand in one spot and stare at your navel. There can be no progress, no growth. Ever the adaptive, I’ve been forging new skills with words in the hopes that someone might want to exploit me for it.

I really just want to be exploited. I just came to the wrong part of the country for that. The land of “please” is also filled with “no thank you.” I hope I can find my way out of it soon. The place is incredibly beautiful, polite, picturesque— but my tastes lead into a gaudier sense of the sublime. One day I will return to photography, I'm sure— when I have satisfied my need for exploitation.

Portrait of a Decade

Gordon Parks, Washington DC 1942

Portrait of a Decade

I don't think anyone has done a really good “portrait” of the FSA decade (1932-42). But since I will be writing about it, I figured it would be a good idea to review some of the available books, both for their content and the mistakes I'd like to avoid.

Jack Hurley’s Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the Thirties (1972) is an excellent book in many respects. It has fresh, original research including first-person interviews with many of the people involved.

However, some of the basic concepts which it uses as a point of departure seem deeply flawed to me. Hurley ignores a lot of pioneering work through careful definitional exclusion. He feels that the Stryker was instrumental in enabling documentary work, work that would not have existed otherwise.

Edwin Rosskam gets a total of one paragraph. [I must amend— there are a couple more in chapter 6] Bourke-White and Caldwell are deprecated. The book follows a rather liberal party-line, where commercial=bad and all of the New Deal cheerleaders were the heroes. Evans is subsumed into this crowd, even though Hurley admits that it is an insult to him.

Intro. & Chap. 1
Chap. 2 — 9/1
Chap. 3 & 4 — 9/2
Chap. 5 — 9/8
Chap. 6 — 9/15
more to come later

Deep background in the “conventional” story sets this book apart. I like the book, but it is fairly shoddy scholarship. There are many errors, omissions, and travesties in the organizational structure. But it also has several leads I need to track down. The biggest problem is stripping away the obvious cheerleading to get to the meat.


Jeff Ward— Gumby— Bakersfield, California, 1993

Japonize Elephants


Japonize Elephants from Zorlock Land of the Lost

An acquaintance of mine, Daniel Gold of An Honest Tune, sent me a description of Japonize Elephants that I have to pass on. I know a few of my old Raindogs friends are readers, and might appreciate them.

Japonize Elephants -- pronounce Japonize like a verb, like legalize— consists of 12 to 14 musicians from California by way of Zorlock, playing instruments such as: flute, 2 sax, fiddle, stand-up bass, homemade percussion and drum kit with buckets and pots and pans, accordion, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and they all sing at the same time like a yelling clapping polka party, a klezmer dance, a gypsy caravan, or a 12-ring circus. The sounds and styles are a unique fusion of world music and roots music, I can’t pin them down to 1 style or genre, but it was a very ethnic mix. Their website logo mentions bluegrass, but I did not hear much bluegrass from them. I detected Eastern European music, Middle Eastern, and more.

There wasn’t a specific story-line or narrative to the show, but every song seemed to have conversations and role-playing, with each member doing different weird voices, almost like they were talking at the same time, but singing. Often they made a funny face or sang from the back of their throat to make strange voices (Like a funny voice you would use when trying to make your sister laugh.). They are extremely comical, comedy is a big element of this band, so is theatrics: not just a band, they were a show. Did they have costumes? Or was that their regular clothes? I don’t know. One of the (male) sax players was wearing a purple dress. The female fiddle player named Curley had on a see-through peachy tutu (ballet skirt). The center-lead-singer and guitarist had bed-head with his hair going every direction and all in his face, he looked insane (and he was). The drummer on his homemade drums, had on a striped vest and a handlebar mustache.

Oh, and Scott Rogers has kindly informed me that Stu Odum, the incredible bass player from the last incarnation of Thin White Rope, is in a new band called The Graves Brothers Deluxe. So much stuff to keep track of these days . . .

Fuzzy & Lee

Jeff Ward— Fuzzy and Lee Rocker— Bakersfield, California, 1994

Berol's Cafe

Jeff Ward— Berol’s Cafe —outside Bakersfield, California, 1987


Jeff Ward— Bakersfield, California, 1986




I wanted to write this down for some reason. John Ridge, a leader of the Cherokee nation knew that there was no way to stop Indian removal. Though he knew it would mean his death, he signed an agreement with the Jackson administration, providing for 13,800,000 acres of land and $4,500,000 to fund schools for his people. He relocated his family from a location near Chattanooga, Tennessee, to a location near Van Buren, Arkansas (25 miles from where my parents now live). He was murdered in his home by members of his own tribe, in full view of his wife and sons, in 1839, the year photography was invented.

John Ridge senior was politically active and well off— he owned 18 slaves. John Rollin Ridge, his son, had been educated by a missionary woman, Sophia Sawyer, hired by his father. After his father was murdered, John Rollin Ridge decided that he’d had enough of tribal politics and immigrated to Sacramento, California (where my eldest brother died last year). He later became a writer for the California American, a leading newspaper for the “Know-Nothing” Party, a secret nativist organization of the 1850s.

While all this is totally unconnected with my current project, a couple of years ago I did an online edition of the Poems of John Rollin Ridge. I was thinking, as I reviewed my mentor Dr. James Parin’s biography of Ridge, that the rising tide of female school teachers in the early nineteenth century was largely responsible for the tide of activism in the following decades. Without these women educating the future crop of “muckracking” journalists, the nations history would have been far different.

More tangential bits: it was against the law in Georgia to educate slaves. The Cherokees didn’t see any harm in it, so they freely educated their slaves. Oh, and for those who have only seen Native Americans in old Western movies, the delegation responsible for the fat settlement (which was not honored) all wore suits, not loincloths and feathers. It seems interesting to me that these “savages” valued education so highly.

I’m currently knee deep in The House of the Seven Gables by Hawthorne. I’m beginning to think that it should be required reading for all historians— and photographers too. The way that Hawthorne describes the buildings is like an Evans photograph.

Open 7 Days

Jeff Ward— Rosedale, California, 1995

Hillbilly Highway


It was a fruitful trip to Oklahoma. I stopped off in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, to pick up a rare book of Horace Bristol’s Korea photographs, published in Japan as a sort of guidebook/souvenir for American soldiers on their way to Korea. It was the abridged third printing from 1951, originally published in 1948. I’ll do a more complete entry on it later. Right now, I’m still on the hillbilly highway.

The photograph on the right is Bristol’s photograph of Grandpa Joad, the original one. I’m waiting for the Chronicle books monograph which should have the complete series of Grapes of Wrath photos. I saw them in a gallery in 1992, and haven’t seen them since. My excitement for the book project is growing.

I found out that my grandfather, the alcoholic miscreant that my father never had a kind word for, went to California in 1938. And I found that his first name was Jestus. From what I’ve heard, he wasn’t really a funny guy.

My father and mother, along with two of my father’s brothers, went to California for the first time in 1944. They didn’t find work, so they went back to Oklahoma.

Dad then went to Detroit with one of his brothers, and mom followed him on the train. He got a job in a cement factory for a while, but his brother wrecked his car, his brother’s girlfriend lost her mind and had to be institutionalized, and they headed back to California in 1945 or 46. The details are hazy.

What was amazingly clear though was my dad’s memory of Caldwell’s Tobacco Road. Though he read the book fifty years ago, he still remembered the major plot points. It blew me away. My older brother has read it too, and contributed his reason for reading it: the song of the same name by The Nashville Teens from 1962, and the fact that it has dirty parts. It was the subject of a big obscenity case which is used as a teaching example in first amendment law.

After I got back, I uncovered another book with a liberal social agenda illustrated with FSA photographs, Home Town by Sherwood Anderson from 1940, which used the same photo editor as 12 Million Black Voices by Richard Wright. I also discovered a series of books published by the FSA at the same time under the rubric of “social research.” The context deepens, and my bank account is getting much shallower. It seems that most of these books were subtly modified when they were reprinted, shifting them in a more “politically correct” direction. It seems important to locate as many first editions as I can.

The more I compare my family’s history with the Dorothea Lange / Paul Taylor book, the more I respect it. I’m beginning to think that it was the fairest and most impartial book to come from this crucial time. The book has had minimal critical response, as a book that is— Lange’s photographs have received all the attention. But as a book, it is quite impressive. I can’t wait until the rest of the material I’ve ordered starts rolling in!

Order Now

Jeff Ward — “Order Now” Bakersfield, California, 1990

Life goes by


Totally committed to the fifty-bucks

I didn’t want to write this entry— the “Stop Police” photograph started it. Then I got the notice to renew my hosting and realized I was totally committed to the fifty bucks. That phrase means something more to a Frank Zappa fan.

Turn it down! . . . I’m calling the Police! . . . I did it. . . . They’ll be here shortly!

Sometimes I think of this web site as my garage, where I tinker with building things, and perhaps manage to stumble my way through some tunes. In Zappa’s tour de force concept album Joe’s Garage, Mary— Joe’s girlfriend turned crew slut— enters a wet t-shirt contest to earn fifty-bucks for a bus ticket home. Following in Ray Davis’s footsteps, I’ll offer a limited time sample which also explains my other favorite phrase— “an ice-pick in the forehead.” Both phrases ran through my brain today. I’ve got privacy issues. No, there isn’t anything I want to hide. I get nervous when other people hide things. Nothing good comes from secrets— from my experience, at least. I don’t like silence either— I’ll often start talking just to break it. I can tolerate and sometimes enjoy silence in the wilderness, but if there’s someone else in the room I’ll start jabbering just to keep from feeling insecure. And I’ll discuss just about anything. There are no taboo subjects for me. I can make people uncomfortable easily with my willingness to reveal myself. Remember that Kristofferson/Joplin lyric about nothing left to lose?

If you don’t like confessional blogging, or personal disclosures, please don’t click the more link. Just listen to the funny sound byte and move on. I moved a lot of bytes around today and it made me want to write down some history now that I can remember the dates more clearly. Life slips by.

It’s wet t-shirt time again!

One of the hazards of writing in public is that when your eyes get wet— people can see right through.