Thursday, July 15, 2010

Books, Music, and Me

Normally when I “blog” I post in a more scholarly style. A lot of my posts, for example, tend to be abbreviated academic papers that I modified for the internet. In other words, I upload my school papers, but tweak them enough in case some fucker tries to rip them off and call them his/her own. This time I thought I would just casually post some thoughts on things, and what is going on in my life. Nothing wrong with being a little casual, it keeps us all sane.

I am currently reading three scholarly books in three different academic disciplines – Archaeology, History, and Art History. I am reading:

Mysteries of the Hopewell: Astronomers, Geometers, and Magicians of the Eastern Woodland by William Romain

Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, The Untold Story of an American Legend, by Scott Nelson

Barcelona and Modernity: Picasso, Gaudi, Miro, Dali, edited by Robinson, Falgas, and Lord *published by the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Mysteries of the Hopewell book covers the area of archaeology and examines why and how the Hopewell (ancient Native American centered around Chillicothe, Ohio) built their massive earthen mounds and earthworks. I am three quarters of the way through the book, and the author does an excellent job of using scientific data and intuition to advance an argument on the subject.

The second book is an American History/American Studies book (American Studies is an interdisciplinary study which incorporates history, musicology, literature, art, theater, film, etc, to study cultural history in America), about John Henry.

For those of you who are not familiar with the story of John Henry allow me to give a brief synopsis: In the 1870s, during the American industrial revolution, railroad expansion exploded across the continent. In the wake of the Civil War, rich industrialists looked to rebuild the southern railways, and expand westward. Eventually this would lead to the creation of the Transcontinental Railway. Many railroad workers, track layers, spike drivers, were former slaves and ex-soldiers. John Henry was a former slave who worked as a track layer.

In American myth, made popular by work songs and blues ballads, John Henry was an enormous man, strong, proud, and honorable. When the railroad company brings a new machine to the work site, a steam powered spike driver that is said to be better than manual labor, Henry decides to make a challenge. Henry challenges the steam driver to a daylong competition to see who/what could drive more spikes. John Henry wins the competition, but immediately dies from exhaustion afterward. John Henry is forever immortalized as the hero of the working man in America.

The author sifts through different variations of the work songs, as well as slave and prison records to discover if John Henry was a real man. Like all folktales, there tends to be a certain element of truth. Reynolds claims that John Henry was a real man, a prison from Richmond, Virginia, who worked on the Tennessee and Ohio Railway in West Virginia. The author stretches his argument in certain areas, but still manages to make a rational argument on the origins of John Henry. I am two chapters from the end and will comment on its entirety in another post.

The final book is an art catalog for the Barcelona exhibition that was held at the Cleveland Museum of Art from October of 2006 through January 2007, and then at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from April to July 2007. The Period covered in the exhibition is roughly 70 years, from 1862 to 1939, essentially the Spanish Revolution to the Spanish Civil War.

The book looks to explain the history behind Barcelona, the capital of the area of Spain known as Catalonia, and how the cultural and artistic nature of the people made Barcelona into a second Paris in both its influence and significance. Barcelona, and the people of Catalonia, have always considered themselves separate from the rest of Spain. Indeed, the people of this region speak their own language (Catalan) and the close proximity between Barcelona and the French border, as well as the seacoast, offered the people access to more cultures than those living in other parts of Spain.

Some artists covered in the book and by the exhibition are Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Juan Miro, the architect Antoni Gaudi, among many others who were locally based and not as internationally known, but equally as interesting and influential. The book is both interesting, and fascinating. It mixes art history with beautiful photographs of all the paintings, furniture pieces, architecture, and sculpture used in the exhibition. All pieces featured in the exhibition are featured in the book. For anybody who loves the surrealist movement, cubism, Spanish/Catalan artwork, I highly suggest borrowing or purchasing this book.

Enough the academic stuff, let’s shift gears. I went and saw the Moody Blues in Cleveland a few weeks ago. The concert was epic, and even better than the concert I saw of them back in 2003. Here are some clips:

Although I am a Beach Boys junkie, I have always believed that the best rock band to come out of Europe was the Moody Blues. Their albums are unbelievable. A strong mixture of harmony, rock, symphonic pieces, and mysterious psychedelic poetry, make them among my favorite musicians. Also, in concert (and at their age!) they perform with the type of skill that leaves me in awe. It was an amazing concert. Check out some of their albums sometime!

I’ll be moving down to South Carolina soon, in about a month. I’m a little apprehensive, yet I am looking forward to the change. The work in graduate school will be hard, my responsibilities as a graduate assistant will be tough, and adjusting to a new location in a new part of the country will take some time, but I think I will come through in the end. At least I hope! I still don’t know what area of history I am going to study at the moment, but I have some time to figure that out. At the moment I am just enjoying summer, working out, trying to see some friends, and just relaxing. I tell you what, I am not looking forward to moving in, that’s a long long drive!!!

Well, that is all for now. If you want to see me before I leave, just hit me up on facebook.

À bientôt mes amis!

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