Today I had one of those “How did I get here?” moments as I caught myself dipping my head along with the beat in the song I posted here earlier today.
Eric Clapton’s 2004 album Me and Mr. Johnson was my first foray into the intriguing and historically significant genre of music known as Delta Blues. I spent many hours in the car as a teenager with my Dad listening to the album from start to finish, and it had a very real impact on my musical tastes, my guitar playing, and, subsequently, my life.
The album is composed entirely of songs written by legendary Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson in the 1930’s.
The legends surrounding Robert Johnson have been perpetuated for the last 80 years through other artists, authors and film makers. Johnson is part of the infamous 27 Club, but he is best known for allegedly selling his soul to the devil at the “crossroads” in order to become the most successful guitarist around. Johnson’s complete recordings include just 41 tracks, but that material has provided enough inspiration to be considered some of the most influential music of all time.
Clapton’s rendering of the music is the most accessible, and also, not surprisingly, the best produced. Many artistic liberties have been taken (the addition of piano and other instruments, a wider variety of tempos, more solos), but these interpretations of the song are able to maintain a surprising level of authenticity while simultaneously bringing the aging tracks to life. Simply put, I love listening to it no matter where I am or how I feel.
Me and Mr. Johnson has stuck with me for nearly 10 years now because of tracks like “They’re Red Hot”, “Stop Breakin’ Down” and “Hell Hound On My Trail.” I won’t claim to understand what Johnson’s life down on the Mississippi Delta was like in the 1930’s, but when my ears catch wind of these tunes on a warm summer day it makes those days a little easier to picture. The Delta Blues are the origin of country, rock and even a great deal of pop music, and Eric Clapton’s interpretation of it is the best way for my generation to begin enjoying it.
Back to work after being out of town for a whopping nine days. By my standards, it was time well spent.
I put more than 1,200 miles on my car in that time period. The drive back to Howard City is about 180, so that means I took the Subaru somewhere relatively far away. This time, “somewhere” was a hilly town with legendary sandwiches, a ton of bridges, and skating penguins.
If you guessed Pittsburgh…DING DING DING! I hit the road with John and his girlfriend (I could write a book on being the third wheel) so that we could chase down our beloved Detroit Tigers while they played the Pirates at PNC Park.
The ballpark was excellent. It was easy to navigate, had great food options, and gave spectators this incredible view. The Tigers lost, but the experience this ballpark provided nearly made up for that disappointment.
Pittsburgh is one of the hilliest cities I have ever visited, so there are a lot of great places to get up high and see the surrounding landscape. We rode up the Duquesne Incline (a cable car system built into the hill) and took in this view of the area.
We enjoyed the famous Primanti Bros. sandwich, which came with fries and cole slaw held within the confines of the sandwich. I’m not a big fan of slaw, so I had to psych myself up to enjoy this monster. While I’m not pining for that particular item again after eating the sandwich, it worked well and I would never even think about ordering one of these without it being piled high with all the traditional toppings.
We didn’t really get a good pulse on the public transportation, so our legs got a noteworthy work out as we crisscrossed the city. You could call us foolish, but the weather was nearly perfect and we really got a good look at everything around town.
While we were in that area of the state, I knew of one other place that I really wanted to include on our itinerary. Ever since I was about 12 years old and I saw pictures of this place, I knew I wanted to visit.
Fallingwater was absolutely fascinating, and it exceeded my expectations. This is one of the most inspirational things I have ever seen. This place represents finding creative ways to make the best of a tough situation. It’s about focusing on what can be done instead of what can’t be done (I’m sure at some point during construction someone told Frank Lloyd Wright that you couldn’t build a house directly over a waterfall). I’m not going to stretch this post out with a ton of facts or historical information, but I would encourage anyone to learn more about this place. The most interesting fact I picked up while there was that the project went way over budget (as in almost 4 times as much as was budgeted for). In 1939, this is what $155,000 would buy you. Frank Lloyd Wright was a sly dog, but he made this work for everyone involved. He made an $8,000 commission (not bad for an architect during the height of the Great Depression).
The remainder of my time off was spent outdoors either navigating West Michigan waters, riding on my new bike, or building backyard bonfires. Mom didn’t disappoint with her offerings at the dinner table either.
I didn’t have any high aspirations other than trying to disconnect from every day life and hit the reset button before heading back to reality. Mission accomplished.
As I left the house yesterday, Mom said “I hope you weren’t bored.”
“Not at all. I like the quiet.”
Guess my old soul is making itself a little more visible these days.
Groovy is the best word I can use to describe music these days, and this earns the title.
The sun is spending a little more time with us these days, which should be a good indicator that less time should be spent staring at screens and more time should be spent wrapped up in things you love that you couldn’t enjoy for the last few months (my beloved kayak is the first thing that comes to mind). If you live somewhere with a more friendly climate I hope you have embraced it, given thanks, and taken full advantage of it.
I departed from what most people consider the traditional notion of being a full-time student two years ago, and things have continued to change at a variable pace since then. Sometimes life feels like it is moving along quickly and the number 24 seems a bit too advanced, and at other times I’m able to calm down, kick back and say “that’s really not old at all.”
I am continuing with graduate courses here at Valpo while working full time in the Office of Undergraduate Admission. I find my position here to be meaningful and fulfilling on a personal and professional level. I enjoy meeting new people and working with them through their college search process, and I’m incredibly excited to move to a brand new building in just about three weeks from now. I’d like to emphasize that this new space is a Welcome Center not just for those trying to familiarize themselves with the University, but also returning Alums. Make sure you stop by and check it out next time you’re back - the dedication will take place at Homecoming this Fall.
After spending time reflecting on what happened over the last year through pictures and a few quality conversations with pals, it’s going to be tough to top summer 2012. So far I have three graduate courses to complete, a few road trips in the works, as well as concerts, beer festivals and baseball games to look forward to (hoping to get some quality time with my family in too if we can ever get people in the same place). I plan on moving into a new apartment sometime in July.
Ideally, if you were going to run into me this summer I’d have it be on the shore of Lake Michigan somewhere. I think that’s the best way I know how to sum this all up. Cheers.
I already miss this band a lot. No one makes music like this.
After an 11 year gap, I had the chance to visit New York City again during Easter weekend. There isn’t much to be said about this place that seemingly hasn’t already been said, but I’ll try to promptly sum up my experience.
I spend most of my time in Queens and Manhattan. I enjoyed experiencing a neighborhood setting out in Queens. Seeing how and where the working people of New York live was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I was excited to investigate neighborhood restaurants, grocery stores, bars and living spaces. Just like any other trip, getting into an actual living neighborhood can make you feel much more like you’re on vacation. You find yourself detached from the things that are set up for tourists to enjoy and you get the chance to experience things just the way they are instead of having them reined in and made into an attraction.
Midtown Manhattan was a 15 minute train ride from my home base for the weekend. Manhattan was just as overwhelming as I remembered it from before, and I loved it. I was able to knock out all my goals for the trip in one day. I had an incredible sandwich at Katz’s Deli, got to stroll around Central Park, I got up high and got some great views of the city, and I also got to see an art exhibit by one of my favorite souls on the planet - Dave Matthews. Taking part in the NYC Craft Beer Festival was right up my alley as well. Surprisingly I found that volunteering and serving the beer was just as, if not more enjoyable than, simply being there and enjoying all the beer from the other side of the table. I love sharing beer with anyone curious to try something carefully crafted and new.
New York would be perfect for me because I could live there and never have to get in a car. I don’t have a problem with driving, but of all the people you know I’m the guy that is most likely to suggest that we walk, bike, roll or at the very least carpool wherever we’re going.
However, there’s a lot more to New York than just strolling around the city. The change of pace noticeable, but not too drastic for me. I like to go fast as well. Cost differences were just as I expected. As Liam Neeson said while playing Oskar Schindler “Nice things cost money.” I think a lot of people that visit New York have dreams of living there at some point during their life, and I’d be lying if I said those thoughts hadn’t legged their way around through my brain the past few days. The biggest challenge for me would be coping with the sheer number of people that I would encounter and the personal space that I would surrender. This seems like a lame thing to complain about, but the first thing I noticed when I left the city was a comfortable feeling that came as a result of not seeing people in every direction. Perhaps with adequate time I could overcome that. Perhaps I was never meant to be a city dweller. Only time will tell.
Thanks Laura, Joe and everyone else I encountered for an awesome trip!