Monday, February 28, 2011

The Ulster Cycle: The Webcomic Series

I honestly haven't been into any comics since I was a kid. No offense to the art; it's just not something I've had an interest in or been exposed to over the years. The only exceptions I can think of are Jeffrey Lewis's comics and The Beats: A Graphic History. Also awesome, but a topic for a later post. What I'm getting at is I'm by no means all that knowledgable on the subject, but I recently stumbled across Patrick Brown's adaptations of the Ulster Cycle of ancient Irish mythology and I'm really digging them. It's a perfect storm of geekdom: history, mythology, literature, and comics all rolled into one. The Ulster Cycle is fascinating to me, the stories dark and mysterious, the characters complex and at times grotesquely violent. Brown's work really helps make sense of the often confusing, sometimes downright contradictory tales. I'm sure he's taken artistic license here and there, but it is mythology, after all. Every myth you've every heard, read, or seen involves artistic license on someone's part. This guy certainly does his research. Not only does Brown write and draw, he's also compiled an impressive series of his own original translations of Ulster Cycle stories. It's all well worth a look:

If you're still not convinced, here are a couple pages from "The Cattle Raid of Cooley," in which the teenage Cú Chulainn faces off against an entire invading army. Take that, 300. Cue the carnyx:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Frozen Past: Available in 3D

"Royal Gardens, Dresden, Germany." Undated.

Long before our recent 3D movie craze (before movies, for that matter) people enjoyed the simple magic of stereoscopic photography. Why look at a flat photo when you can leap right into a three-dimensional freeze frame? I picked up the photos in this post at a used book store few years ago and I've been meaning to post them for a while. They show images from around the world taken around the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. If you're into stereoscopy, I also highly recommend Clicksy Pics. The site's owner takes images like these seemingly still, dead photographs and breathes incredible life into them through animated gifs. I would not, however, recommend them to anyone suffering from epilepsy or susceptible to motion sickness. They're intense, though perhaps not quite Avatar intense.

"The Sad Roll Call after some of the British were cut off at Dordrecht (Dec. 30th), S.A." 2nd Boer War, South Africa, 1899. Published by Underwood & Underwood, 1900.

"Spanish prisoners freed by the Americans on the capture of Imus,--Las Pinas, Philippines." Spanish American War, 1898-1899. Published by Underwood & Underwood, 1899.

"Street Scene, Cairo, Egypt." Undated.

"The Stadium, Rome." Undated.

"Garden of Gethsemane. Palestine." Undated.

"Off for Porto Rico." Undated (Spanish American War?)

"A Public Well, Pekin, China." Undated.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Appalachian Trails

A few more photographs of eastern Kentucky in the 1960s and 70s by William Gedney. In his notes for these images, Gedney included a quote from Harry Caudill's Night Comes to the Cumberlands:

“Exhaustion is apparent on every hand—exhaustion of soil, exhaustion of men, exhaustion of hopes. Weariness and lethargy have settled closer everywhere. The nation, engulfed in its money-making and international politics, has paid no noticeable heed to its darkest area.”

Source: Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Monday, February 14, 2011

Authentic to the Bone

I must apologize for my lack of specificity in discussing the "authentic" in my last post. Rather than blathering, I thought I'd simply illustrate it with a Civil War geekout dose of fantastic, minstrel-style, Civil War era tunes. On video. Complete with seriously kickass bones a-clickety clackin'. Shit just got real.

For more 19th century minstrel bliss, check out Tim Twiss's Banjo Clubhouse and the YouTube channels of minstrelbanjo, giggletoot, and oldcremona.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Civil War Mixtape - Take 1

UPDATE: For the latest version of this mixtape, which fixes some broken files and changes up the list a bit, please see this post.

For years I've been in search of the perfect Civil War era music compilation. Disappointed with what I found along the way, I eventually started experimenting with making my own CD-length Civil War mixtape. It always ends in frustration as I end up being miserably unhappy with the results. Though I've since given up on the whole perfection thing (part of growing up, right?), anthologizing/mixtaping is nonetheless a surprisingly difficult art. My attempts at establishing parameters is usually one of biggest snags. Do I only include songs that can be absolutely verified to have existed during the Civil War? And what about the instruments and playing styles? Must they be also confirmed as absolutely accurate? I admit, this is a terribly neurotic way at approaching the task.

The Smithsonian Folkways album, Back Roads to Cold Mountain significantly changed my way of looking both at this mixtape project and at Civil War music in general. It's a ghostly collection, brilliantly compiled by musicologist (and former New Lost City Rambler) John Cohen and Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier. Many of the songs in it eventually made it into the movie, covered by a number of artists, including musician/actor Jack White of the White Stripes. Cohen and Frazier undoubtedly took some liberties in assembling this album, but it really got me thinking about what constitutes "authentic," particularly when it comes to studying a period that pre-dates recorded music. Many purist students of Civil War music, whose research is indispensable, won't consider something true Civil War music unless it can be verified in period sheet music and instructional songbooks. Such is the duty of a respectable scholar. But what if we go about this as informed artists? It gives us a little wiggle room, to be sure, but this is not just a lazy man's way out. I believe imagination is vital to the understanding of the Civil War. It would be foolish to assume that colloquial musicians of the period were all learning from books. Many people learned then as they did a century later, in the heyday of Appalachian field recordings--by a combination of oral, passed-on tradition and the occasional bit of improvisation. There's no way of knowing for certain what music sounded like that far back in the telephone game, which is where imagination comes into play.

So here's my disclaimer: this is not at all an attempt at collecting fully authentic Civil War music. Most of the songs here definitely existed at the time of the Civil War. I've certainly more than filled in some gaps. I've also added a bit of literature to the mix, including a wax cylinder recording, supposedly of Walt Whitman himself, and a turn-of-the-century recording of an excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin. These recordings date from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. You may find some of them to be strange or even hard to listen to. This is a compilation inspired by the American Civil War, after all. Comfort is a cop out.

This is still a work in progress, so any feedback will be more than appreciated. In the meantime, tilt back your slouch hat, kick off your brogans, and prepare to be rocked in the cradle of the deep:

Download: Spring of '65

1) French Carpenter - "Camp Chase"
2) J.D. Cornett - "Spring of '65"
3) Walt Whitman - Excerpt from "America"
4) Thomas Alexander (37th NC veteran) - Rebel Yell
5) Glen Faulkner - "Short-Cycle Blues Pattern)
6) Camptown Shakers - "Ol' Dan Tucker"
7) Clifton Hicks - "Going Across the Mountain"
8) Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton - "And Am I Born to Die (Idumea)"
9) Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham - "Fall on my Kness"
10) Len Spencer and Company - Excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin
11) Hobart Smith - "Cuckoo Bird"
12) Bob Holt - "John Brown's Dream"
13) Frank C. Stanley - "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep"
14) Bob Flesher - "Jim Along Josie"
15) Seán Ó Riada & Le Celtóirí Chualan With Darach Ó Catháin - "Ag Scaipeadh Na gCleití"
16) Carolina Chocolate Drops - "Dixie"
17) Texas Gladden - "Two Brothers"
18) Wayne Erbsen - "Southern Soldier Boy"
19) Jim Taylor - "Getting Out of the Way of the Federals/Run, Rebel, Run"
20) 16 Horsepower - "Wayfaring Stranger"
21) Seneca Indians - Funeral Chant
22) Dillard Chandler - "The Soldier Traveling From the North"
23) Buell Kazee - "The Dying Soldier (Brother Green)"
24) Frank Kittrell - "Want to Go to Meeting"
25) Woody Guthrie - "Buffalo Gals"
26) Oscar Parks - "The Battle of Stone River"
27) John McCormack - "Kathleen Mavourneen"