Friday, October 26, 2012

Nice Weather For Ducks

Gargh.
Well, that's 16 stone o'snails consumed, and now we're back on the seas of ether!
Oh yes mates, that was a tough week.
Sheephouse is still sorting out his negatives, but in the meantime, he found time to write a little ditty about a Capn's favourite subject - Weather!
It's been bad, but it's going to get worse.
He's a sage old soak is Sheephouse, but me and Mog like him . . .
Even though he eats snails.


***


You know what - this FB has nothing to do with photography.
I know, I know, but get over it.
I have been conducting many amusing and interesting photographic exploits for your edification, but they will appear later.
I just had to get this off my chest.

The title of this week's FB alludes to the marvellous track by Lemon Jelly - you should listen to it - it has a jolly sound and a good beat, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
But in typical FB offroadness, here we go in another direction.
The baldy (but excellent drummer) Phil Collins once, in solo guise, intoned the following lyrics:

Though your hurt is gone, mine's hanging on, inside
And I know, it's eating me through every night and day
I'm just waiting on your sign
Now I, Now I wish it would rain down, down on me
Yes I wish it would rain, rain down on me now
Yes I wish it would rain down, down on me
Yes I wish it would rain on me

Well Phil, it did and it does and it will.
I don't know about you lot, but I am looking at a future of wellies and ponchos, of web-feet and oily feathers.
If I were of a scientific bent, I would say that yes indeed, the sheer amount of water vapour in the air and a warmer planet can only mean one thing - more rain.
But as a man from a Darker Age (and I do count myself amongst these out-of-time individuals) I will say that the planet is angry. Very angry.
Whichever way you look at it, I think we're pretty fcecked.
But then again what do I know? I'm just a pleb at a keyboard who thinks a lot about things.
I do know one thing though, and that is that British infrastructure is entirely unprepared for the levels of rainfall we are experiencing.
So, apart from questionable flood defences is anything really being done?
Is it going to take armageddon-style rain, a spring tide with higher sea levels and the failure of the Thames Barrier to make people realise that this is serious?
Will people start to think when 20 million litres of backed-up sewage explode out of the manholes of the Capital?
Instead of mucking around with millions and millions of pounds of public money for this and that questionable social cause, why not direct it into a mass culvertisation of the parts of the country that need it most?
Massive unemployment?
Do a Roosevelt and bring in the likes of the PWA (Public Works Administration) ** and get these works moving . . and fast.
(I know that all sounds dreadfully un-environmentally friendly, but drastic times call for dreastic measures sometimes and to be honest it could be done properly.)
Back in the day when people in this wonderful old land lived closer to nature, it was entirely obvious that a flood plain was there for a reason. In Winter or Autumn when heavy rain upland loaded the river systems, the plains took the brunt of that water, flooding over and providing a valuable resource and fertile land. People didn't live on them because to do so would have been stupid.
But the world has changed again.
The almighty monetary unit has, I am afraid, greased more palms and lined more pockets. Despite seemingly draconian planning regulations, we've built on flood plains, shoved housing estates in where there should never have been any, grossly underestimated drainage capacity, ignored all the warnings from old guys leaning on gates saying:
"You don't want to build that there . . ."
In other words there never has  been much in the way of 'joined-up' (how I hate that expression, but it fits) thinking about anything that might happen in the future. And actually there probably never will be.
Yes we build next to rivers . . . it's a mankind thing, but the river is your friend and should never be your enemy.
Unfortunately though, most rivers are now unable to cope with their original vocation, and they are starting to flood. Regularly.
And what can we do, because we've melted the ice caps; we pump gallons of water vapour into the air from our reliance on condensing boilers; we've built on land that should never have been built on; we've paved over gardens; concretised green spaces; relied way too much on the benevolence of Victorian waste water systems; we've built and demanded and raped and dug and scarred and disrespected the one thing that we need to take care of - this land.
The bones of old Albion are in a sorry state these days because few care.
Instead of looking after that which gives us our everything (and remember this is a Prehistoric Man speaking, so I mean everything, place and soul too) we've become destructive and intransigent, which is a dangerous and self-fulfilling way to be.
We actually hold our own destruction in our own two hands. We are lifting that handful of earth which we've formed into our own god-like shape into the air, and we're passing it onto our children with no thought for them.
A recent holiday helped me experience the sheer change in the weather in a very obvious manner.
We've caravan holidayed for years and yes it has always rained - that is part of the fun. But these new-style pulsing tropical showers that the West of Britain now gets in off the Atlantic (we're sort of unused to them over here in the East of Scotland - though we certainly do get incredible rain at times)  were so intense and so sharp (rather like someone turning on a tap full blast for a short period of time and then turning it off quickly) that they were actually frightening in their severity.
The Prehistoric Man that is me, felt himself cowering against the wrath that the planet was unleashing.
And curiously it did feel like wrath.
They stopped as quickly as they started, and then started again. They were relentless and unforgiving. 
So can I only assume that these will get worse?
Planetary science is a complex and interlinked subject, but as far as I can tell, more ice melt, means more fresh water in the sea and higher sea levels. A warmer planet means greater evaporation  from that engorged sea. Greater evaporation means more water vapour in the atmosphere. Water vapour creates clouds. More clouds with more water vapour, generally means more rain.
If I have been too simple about this, then please feel free to tell me - I am an everyman science person. I was rubbish at the sciences at school, but I am still interested, and I walk around with an open mind and open eyes and ears.
Whichever way we look at it though, it doesn't look very bright does it?
Of course it is more than likely a natural cycle, but an accelerated natural cycle. There was a period in the Dark Ages when crops failed on a massive basis, leading to famine and war. This was possibly a consequence of the mass destruction of the forests and burning of wood (and they got through a lot of wood then - I know . . I was there!) combined with undocumented volcanic activity. I don't know, but what I do know is that the consequences of vast cloud cover were devestating.
Actually though, we are possibly in a worse position than our ancestors - for a start there's a hell of a lot  more of us with a greater demand on dwindling resources.
And secondly, here in the West we're also utterly useless when it comes to self-suffiency.
What was the old adage about society . . that it was three square meals short of anarchy? ***
It's not quite that bad, but it certainly isn't rosy. All this rain. All that cloud cover. Not enough sunshine.
Can you imagine the consequences of food shortages?
I mean proper food shortages - rationing, maybe even worse. Civil intervention to prevent looting?
I stood aghast in Tescos last night - I genuinly saw a squeezy bottle of Manuka honey for £13.99! Even ordinary honey has tripled in price in the last 8 years, simply because there are no bees. ****
Prices are increasing on everything because the crops have failed in such a way this year that it is frightening.
And what are you going to eat when the crops fail?
Are you stockpiling now?
Would you be prepared to defend yourself if someone found out about your horde and they were starving?
Could you kill to defend your collection of tins?
This does seem to be getting out of hand, but I am typing and thinking and musing so bear with me - I know a lot of you are probably sniggering into your mugs, but honest, society is that fragile.
And you there, whipping through pages on your phone or your iPad, don't even get me going upon the reliance on communications systems that can be destroyed by electromagnetic pulses . . is it any wonder the Russians relied on vacuum tubes for their Cold War communications? Can you imagine a failure of even one communications network?
There was a fantastic book written in the 1970's by the Italian sociologist Roberto Vacca, called 'The Coming Dark Age'. It should have been required reading in schools, but like most education, we're (to quote Ian Anderson) skating away on the thin ice of a new day . .
It provided a number of scenarios where parts of society collapsed , and I found it chilling and thoughtful and actually, very factually written . .
And that was back in the 1970's.
Imagine the consequences nowadays.



 
The Portent Of Doom
Roberto Vacca's Masterwork




The whole downfall of society was touched upon by Terry Nation in his book 'Survivors' and the subsequent TV Series (and forget about the remake from a couple of years back . . what's that smell? Phwoeargh - utter drivel!). In it a virus is spread around earth with remarkable ease leaving small pockets of survivors who end up at war with each other.
There are two other books I can recommend on this subject:
First (obviously) 'The Day Of The Triffids' by John Wyndham - arguably the greatest survival book ever written.
And then a lesser-known but still incredible book 'All Fool's Day' by Edmund Cooper.
Both deal with this theme beautifully.
There were many other books which also ploughed this furrow back then (in particular John Christopher's 'The Death Of Grass') but if you are interested in that style of book I would say go with Wyndham and Cooper.






The Trimvirat Of Doom
Epic In Scale - The Chill Voices Of Seers



Anyway, as usual this is digression, but it is founded.
You know you sometimes sense there's things going on, but you're not sure what?
That visceral instinct of intuition?
Well I feel it, but I can't put my finger on it. It isn't a positive feeling though.
I feel something cataclysmic and dreadful is lurching into life like never before.
Our planet is angry with us. And that might be the Prehistoric Me speaking, but it is also the rational 21st Century man too. Hard to know where it is going to go really. We've been here before, and personally I have weathered the naysayers and doom-merchants till I am sick of it, and haven't said a thing, but now, this time, I think we're just over the crest of the hill and are picking up speed, heading downhill without any brakes.
I'm sorry that the tone of this FB is so negative, but I worry about things. I worry how my wife and son and neices and nephews would cope in a world where the worst has happened. You have to think about these things - they aren't just going to go away!
Anyway, just to cheer you up, here's a short film I made - I think it sums things up quite nicely.








Enough. Rant over.
You know I was just going to leave it at that and sign off, but somehow it didn't feel right.
The world is in big trouble, but it can be benevolent if you are open-minded and respect it.
I felt I was a tad critical of everything in today's FB - my rant had taken me along negative roads (can you see where I am going yet?) . . s'cuse the pun, but this is FB - it has to be negative, and sure enough just when I thought it didn't feel quite right this week, I thought and thought and realised that I could shoehorn in some photography. So here it is.




Ilford Delta 400 in HC 110




The above just shows what opportunities for photos turn up at the most unexpected times.
There I was wandering along enjoying a stroll, when I rounded a corner and came face to face with nature's bounty.
Storms and worsening weather can generally mean one thing in a forest - - upended trees. And sure enough here one is, but look at the naturalistic form that has been given to the roots.
I beat my chest and worshipped and gave thanks.
Prehistoric Man will always find gods in anything natural, and here was this wonderful profile just sitting at the edge of the path.
It was made on my newly acquired Leica with the 1934 50mm uncoated Elmar. It isn't a particularly sharp lens (despite what you might read elsewhere) but boy has it captured the spirit of this form.
As I move further along my photographic journey I realise that contrast is often overdone. Coating lenses might well have helped in colour transmission, but it somehow made B&W a bit too contrasty.
One thing you won't read about the Elmar is that it is better as a people lens. In other words it seems to work a lot better in the 3 to 10 feet sector. In that range it renders things deliciously smoothly.
As a landscape lens, it can be a bit difficult to use, as a lot of variables start to come in, like lighting and contrast.
But close-up, I think it is beautiful. And stunning.
And I don't know, but it felt right to render something like this with a lens that is that old.
The negative was made on Ilford Delta 400 rated at EI 320. It was developed in HC110 Dilution G for 20 minutes at 21 C.
It might well have been sharper had I used a more concentrated dilution, but there were a lot of differing scenes on the roll, and Dilution G it was.
So that's it.
Be open to the natural scene, listen to your inner Prehistoric Man and
Respect nature, please.
Remember, we've spent a lot longer living close to our earthly Mother than we have in our concrete and stone boxes.
Until next time - take care, God bless, and keep taking the tablets.



** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Works_Administration

*** This appears to have been a bit of an urban myth being attributed to either Larry Niven (the SF writer), or Grant and Naylor the writers of Red Dwarf.

**** Possible solutions to the future of bees here:
I personally feel that the abundance of so many telecommunications masts has something to do with it too.



Friday, October 12, 2012

A Brief Word About Lenses

Greetings Shipmates!
Well, what a week it has been. We been helping Mr.Sheephouse out, and we're plain knackered. It was shifting boxes here, shifting boxes there; sorting out this, sorting out that; a scritchin' and a scatchin' with a quill; use of the magnifier.
We even purloined a light.
Not just any light either but The Stevenson on the Mull O'Galloway.
Oh yes, up there at night, pieces of glass held up against its God-like brightness, checking for imperfections and blemishes.
What a week for it.
We settled in at the Stevenson though, even though we weren't supposed to be there. You can't beat a lighthouse in good weather and this is a beauty.
Clear views to the Lakes and the Isle 'O'Man and Ireland. Puffins and gulls. Wide vistas and clean air.
It also has the best collection  of snails I have ever seen (on a south facing wall) - there be hunners o' them - big too. We likes a snail or six, quick fried with garlic an' butter.
Mog hates them though, so he had to make do with a few tins o'Kattomeat from a local emporium.
Oh yes, what a week.
And then when everything was checked it was back on the Goode Shippe FB and off on the seas of ether.
We's got a long haul ahead of us this week though, he's threatening to lock us in his darkroom again so we might be out of signalling distance for some while.
Still, at least we've got a couple o'hunnerweight o'snails to keep us company.


***

I will warn you in advance - there are a lot of photographs in this weeks FB.
It is strange really and doesn't seem to make any sense at all, but quite a number of years ago, a weird phenomena overtook the world of photography, and it doesn't actually seem to be getting any less. If anything it is on the increase. And I find it hard to get myself into the mindset-cave where it is residing like some big cave-dwelling thing, waiting to devour passers-by.
Surely, photography, any form of photography, is all about the image.
I would hope that any of you reading this that aren't even of a photographic bent would realise this. Snaps of Aunty Tony and Uncle Sally, Nobby the Cat, your children, neighbours, friends, that tree that looms over your garden, a house, a bowl of pasta . . . get my drift . . . a photograph needs subject matter, and more to the point, the subject matter needs to be the reason for the photograph.
I've been doing a lot of legwork in the ether in the past few weeks, checking out lenses and their out of focus characteristics, and also the way they handle contrast and skin tones and detail, and having done all this, I have come to the conclusion that photography, which was once a means to an end, seems to have become an end to a means.
I'm going to be contentious here, but at the risk of getting my baseball cap knocked off my head by the youth with the cudgel, I'll say it anways:
Photography, looks like it has become almost exclusively a 'lads' hobby.
There . .
OUCH!
Let me try and explain how I came to this conclusion at the risk of alienating any female readers.
In much the same way when I was young, male teenagers of 14 and 15 and 16 yearned for a Yamaha 125, or a Kracker (Kawasaki) or a Suzuki moped, now, men (and some women, but mostly men) of a certain age, seem to have have become obsessed with cameras and lenses.
And it is a strange obsession, because it doesn't actually seem to have anything to do with what you can do with a camera. No, it is more of a 'let's-have-it-up-on-the-ramps-and lets-check-this-beauty-from-underneath' type of attitude.
I fully understand that the fascination with the beauty of cameras has been there from the start, and I have that fascination too, however it seems to have turned a corner and now what we are getting is the wholesale grading of every lens ever made with buyers in search of some magical extra something that will make them a better photographer.
So what you have is
Either
everything shot wide open,
Or
everything shot with a regard as to how sharp a picture is.
If it isn't sharp or if it isn't pleasantly smooth, then the lens seems to get disparaged.
Subject matter has nothing to do with it.
Common problems like closeness of subject matter and it's inherent lack of depth of focus, and landscapes and apparent depth of field, are discarded. Hardly anyone mentions the use of tripods or monopods in aiding a steady camera, or mentions the influence a mirror will have in its movements. There is no talk of how a lighter-bodied camera can actually make things worse. Photographic technique and craft? Forget it.
If a lens isn't sharp at maximum aperture, if it doesn't have bokeh smoother than James Bond, then it is almost totally disregarded and the madness and hunger drives them ever onwards.
I think I could understand this if interesting photographs were being made, but they aren't.
Not by a hole a million miles wide they aren't.
Lenses, and the whole point for their existence, photographs seem to have become a diversion from the main meat and potatoes.
We have entered the world of the Cool Wall, but with small bits of glass and brass and aluminium and lubricants.
On the Top Gear Cool Wall, millionaire's toys are paraded around with an audience hungry for petrol fumes and 'fun' and a total disregard for anything nearing practicality.
I used to love Top Gear, but I stopped watching it years ago because it became a semi-pathetic parade of middle-aged men strutting around with their flies open.
Everything became about the fastest, loudest, smoothest, most expensive, most exclusive.
'Petrol Heads' the world over fired up by this boy's-own attitude became intent on using up as much of the finite resource that is oil as possible, with scant regard for the planet's future (don't worry . . I'm not going to soapbox)
Do you know what I mean?
And this Bigger, Stronger, Faster, More attitude has now saturated my rather quaint world.
My Morris Minor Convertible has been nicked and pimped.
I spotted it the other day, harassing some Grannies.
Gone are it's wooden panels and old world charm, it is now sporting Twin-Carburettors, a jacked suspension and a 22 inch Sub-Woofer.
Instead of transporting its occupants on a pleasant Sunday drive for a spot of fishing, it now cruises to the nearest Drive-Thru for the consumption of mechanised meat.
(And whilst I am on the subject, if you eat meat, you'd better get used to becoming a vegetarian .  .there's no way we can sustain current meat production for the populations the world has. Remember the hydroponics plants so beloved of Science Fiction films? They're coming my friends. It's the only way to deal with the coming Hungers.)
Anyway, stop looking at your burger . . it's back on with the lecture!
When I started taking photographs I started because it was part of my college course and because my inherent curiosity about the world seemed to click ('scuse the pun) with making a photograph. I became fascinated with what things looked like in Black And White. I also became fascinated with maybe trying to single out things in this crazy world that looked a little different to my eyes. In a few words, I found a creative pursuit that would enable me to express myself in fuller terms than just playing the guitar.
My pursuit was borne of creativity and is still fired by it, and will continue to be so till I stop.
Yes I love cameras, for what they can do, but they are a means to an end and not the other way round.
Anyway, in the interests of the subject matter of this FB, I have compiled my own tongue in cheek


Cool Wall




Sub Zero
Leitz Summicrons and Summiluxes and Noctiluxes
Cooke Portrait lenses
Aero-Ektars
Anything of historical note with an aperture wider than f1.8
Large format lenses from the golden age of Pictorialism
Zeiss Planars and variations thereof
Zeiss Sonnars and variations thereof
Dokter Optik
There's bound to be a few more, but this isn't meant to be a definitive list

Cool
Plastic lenses from plastic cameras
Lens Babys
Nikon/Pentax/Canon/Olympus prime lenses with a highly regarded reputation (Like the Pentax SMC 50mm f1.4)
Ancient prime lenses from the 1950's and '60's
High End Mainstream Manufacturer lenses (the likes of the ED Nikkors)
Lomo
Diana
Kodak Ektar
Anything else other than the pinnacles, with Leitz or Zeiss engraved on it
Some Russian lenses
Nikon and Canon Rangefinder lenses
Certain Schneider, Rodenstock and  Fujinon Large Format lenses
Nikon large format lenses
Hasselblad

Uncool
Zoom  lenses
Praktika
Minolta
Olympus
Canon FD
Most 'ordinary' Rodenstock and Schneider and Fujinon large format lenses
Ordinary mainstream lenses from the likes of Nikon and Pentax and Canon
Rollei MF SLR lenses

Seriously Uncool
Anything by Vivitar, Tamron and other third party manufacturers making lenses for a less well-off mainstream camera buyer
Cheap Bundled mainstream Zoom Lenses
Lenses from people like Soligor - basically manufacturers now long extinct, who were possibly questionable at the time anyway
Zenit

***

You'll probably disagree with the list, but then it is just knocked up with only a tiny amount of thought at a ridiculously early hour of the morning whilst recovering from too much wine, so feel free!
This situation has led me to become convinced that what we now have is a:

Whoargh  
Look at the lens on that! 
Cwoooor
Check out them f-stops 
Cwooooooorrrrr 
Gauss?
Gauss! 
CWOOOAR 
Tessar?
Whooooohhh
Got Symmetrical Dialyte?
Drool


situation.
So, is there any point in this activity at all?
To be honest, I think the answer to that is no, and yet everyone seems to do it!
I'll just ask one question (and the ghosts of Eugene and Ansel and Henri and Wynn and Edward and Clarence are right behind me on this):

Are you going to make a photograph with that lens or are you just going to snap away at random objects and then see how sharp/smooth your new acquisition is? 

It is almost getting to the point where one questions a photograph anyway these days.
This is an enormously complicated subject and way beyond FB, because I could ramble on for far longer than anyone could be bothered with, but the photographic world seems to be morphing (a terrible word) between having a tool that one uses to interpret your take on the world and a gleaming chunk of metal that you polish on your driveway every week.
Faster.
Sharper.
Smoother.
More Expensive . . .
Does this make any sense to you? I sort of know what I am trying to say, but I am finding it hard to express myself (unusually).
Anyway, I have actually been there and done it, but only in a modest manner.
I've printed and checked and enlarged, and I will now bring out my soapbox and say that really it doesn't seem to matter very much at all.
What matters most is your subject and the way you have observed it.
That my friends is the whole point of picking up a camera in the first place.
It is your recorder of the world you are travelling through.
Anyway, enough of my personal opinions - you lot must get sick to the high teeth of them . . but as I have said before this Blog is my little domain and I can do what I like.
Just to show how very little difference things make (to me) I have included some images made with prime lenses from several different manufacturers.
It isn't an exhaustive list, just what I have to hand.
The only slight difference between any of them is film - it is a mix of Rollei RPX 100, Kodak Tri-X and TMAX 400 and Ilford Delta 400, and camera - SLR and Rangefinder, and camera-shake.
See if you can see a difference that is worth spending hours mulling over, other than the fact that the subject matter might or might not be interesting.
I apologise for the alignment - I couldn't be arsed finding out how to do it properly, plus I ran out of time . . . also the horizontal banding on some of them is from my ***ing scanner . . .
Here goes:





The above were made using a Pre-Ai 50mm f1.4 Nikkor on a Nikon F2.
Possibly my favourite lens - totally sharp wide open and detailed stopped down.







These were from the highly regarded SMC-M Pentax 50mm f1.4, used on a Pentax MX . .
Notice much difference?
The OOFA on this lens was always particularly nice.







And again - the above were from a 1980's Russian 50mm f2 Jupiter 8 used on a 1950's Leica.
Whacker-whacker-whacker . . can you tell what it is yet?
Character is what you get with this lens  - it is soft but does that make a difference?







The three above are from a pantheon of photographic achievement - quite remarkable seeing as it is nearly 80 years old . . a 1934 50mm f3.5 leitz Elmar (uncoated).
A very well made lens with great qualities.
Better in the 3 to 30 feet category and beautiful OOFA.







I'll even add some different focal lengths into the mix.
This is the sharpest lens I own - a Pre-Ai 55mm f3.5 self-compensating Micro-Nikkor - it is astonishing. So astonishing that they adapted it for film camera use when making the original Star Wars films.
It isn't nearly as good at infinity though - but you can't touch it for extreme close to near distance.







Ok, we'll take it down a shade now - the above were made with the humble 40mm f2.8 D.Zuiko on an Olympus Trip.
Nothing too tardy here I can tell you - very sharp all round with nice qualities.






Something a bit wider now - the three above were made with a Pre-Ai 35mm f2 Nikkor.
Sheer quality and great OOFA and sharpness - also a favourite lens.
It has great 'pictorial' qualities.




                                                     


And finally, some bottom feeding. The lens above is a Nikkor again, however this time the widest I own - a 28mm f2.8 (non-zoom) Nikkor on the lowly AFS600 compact which I purchased for the grand sum of £5.
The lens is actually very sharp indeed and with minimal shutter lag, if you want an all electronic film camera for general purpose picture making then this would be a good choice . .  .if you can find one!
The rewind motor is as noisy as hell though.

***



So there you go.
Be honest, can you notice any discernible difference other than subject matter and focal length?
Of course lenses are different and the variations are enormous, and owning a nice lens, is a nice thing, but it really isn't the be-all and end-all as far as I can see.
Maybe I am being naiive and stupid, but to me, the important thing is to make photographs.
I had fun making these photographs and printing them - they are my take on things.
They haven't been over-analysed, or mulled over (very much) - they are all to a man, photographs, not lens tests.
So try and get on with things.
In the words of Bobby McFerrin:
Don't Worry, Be Happy
and in the words of Tommy McFerrett:
Nae Worries, Any Lenses, Happy Bunny
Life is short, good light is shorter.
Stop reading about differences, spend the time on learning photographic craft skills - they will always see you right, and get out and make some photographs you can be proud of!
There'll be no FB next week for the simple reason that I need to organise my negatives and get some printing done (yes . . even at my usual ungodly hour of the morning). It might not seem like a lot of work, but each FB is hand-crafted, lovingly carved from words and given a final buff-up before being presented to you . . in other words they take up a huge amount of creative time, and I have let my filing slide!
Also I need to freshen my brain up. Winter's coming up fast - if I want to entertain you I need to take some time out and think about what to write. And also, I am just not sure how long FB can go on. Yes it has sharpened my writing, and yes it has been fun . . but I am not sure how much more I have to say . . . so we shall see. I know I have some regular readers out there . . and a big thank you for that - it is appreciated. So we shall see. I will be back though, even if it is briefly (I've got some planned that'll have you wringing your withers . . .), so worryeth not!
Anyway, as usual, take care, God bless, thanks for reading . . over and out.

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Greatest Thing You'll Ever Learn

Gretting m'dearios, and "Hoo-Hah!" as a certain blind man once said in a film.
But little did they know that Mr.Pacino's Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade character was closely modelled on Blind Pew.
Not The Blind Pugh, no, he's too famous, 'course it's not him, it is in fact me ol' shipmate, Blind (Barney McGrew PepĂ© Le) Pew.
Neptune bless 'im.
He's a man famous for being both blind, and having a rancid stench to him.
"Hoo-Hah!" was an exclamation he once made when Mog took a dislike to his kitbag and sprayed on it (this was before Mog was done and he was powerful foul).
It must have been summat to grab the nostril hairs o' Barney though, he pongs somethin' terrible.
Oh yes, mighty powerful.
Who'd have thought it.
Sometimes the unexpected susprise can come from the most unlikely places.


***


It isn't often one can be taken by surprise by something one hasn't even got a scooby about . . however, this week I was.
There I was as usual at my command post, scrutinising all the new release info that was coming in (and you'd better believe that the record industry isn't dead!) when I encountered an album by an artist I had never heard of. Now that seems a tad trite and big-headed of me, however I have been looking at books on music since I was about 14, working professionally in it since the mid-80's, and I've handled literally hundreds of thousands of albums in working in a stock room, so it is unusual to encounter a name I have never read.
The chaps name was Eden Ahbez (or eden ahbez as he felt Capitals should only be used for God and Infinity) and he is responsible for writing one of the all time classic crooner songs.
Now don't get turned off when I mention crooners . . sure, unfortunately, the likes of the X-Factor and 'celebrity' singers discovering a new cool, have shat all over the memory, but when you scrub away the mucky bits and get down to the real deal, you are often talking about seriously powerful and moving music. My favourite crooner, probably because he was my Mum and Dad's, is Sir Nat 'King' Cole, and my favourite song by him is 'Nature Boy'.
The title might not mean much, but the lyrics will:


There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far
Over land and sea

A little shy

And sad of eye

But very wise 
Was he

And then one day 
A magic day he passed my way 
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me:

"The greatest thing
You'll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved in return"

"The greatest thing
You'll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved
In return"


Ah, yes, that one!
It has been covered by the greats, it's been used as a theme, and basically, like every Beatles song ever written,  it has become a part of the Western World's collective psyche.
Mr.Cole and the wonderful sound recordists at Capitol Records in the 1940's did an incredible job of capturing the feel of the song.
Now you might ask what has that got to do with my new musical discovery, Mr.abhez?
Well, he wrote it.
Not only did he write it, but upon further reading I found out that he lived it!
To get a feel for how much of a forward thinker eden and his kind were you have to jump into your time machine and head back to 1930's and 40's America.
A place on the cusp of the future, where men were men, women were women and the social scene ran the gamut from huge poverty and unemployment through to people who lived lives of undreamed luxury; from the bread line to the cinema line; from the handout to Norman Rockwell perfection. During this time America seems to have been a place dreams and extremes.
Into this world of short hair and conformity, you have to imagine a group of (mostly) men wandering. Not just any men either but men who eschewed conformity and wore sandals and sported shoulder length hair (! - can you imagine . . . in the 1940's!).
People who walked everywhere in a land of automobiles.
Raw food vegetarians in the land where the short order cook was king.
People who turned their backs on society and the way it had become, who yearned for an earlier and simpler time; a time with the romanticising of itself based firmly in the roots of German alternative lifestyles from the 19th Century.
The Nature Boys.
These were individuals with a healthy interest in (obviously) nature, naturism, vegetarianism, the outdoor life and all things that harkened back to a semi-mythical past lost in the misty Dawn of Time, where man lived from hand to mouth in commune with the world.
It was a form of idealism, but an idealism that is possibly just there in everyone's core.
Maybe you aren't like me and am wondering what the hell I am going on about, but it is possible that you might have had a similar 'naturistic' encounter when you were very young and have maybe forgotten it.
I remember being about the age of six or seven and being buried in goose grass by my sister and feeling such a kinship with the warm earth beneath my back and the grass and insects and sky and just darn everything that I forgot everyone was looking for me.
I was deep in the grip of the bones of the land.
Auld Caledonia had reached up through the soil and roots and stone and taken my heart.
So overcome was I by this feeling of oneness with the land that I just lay there, until the sounds of the alarmed shouting of my name shook me from my reverie. 
In the words of Rolf Harris, I  " . . scared the wits out of me Mum and Dad"
Anyway, I haven't looked back . .
I would call myself a Nature Boy, but without the naturism, and actually without the raw veg too.
So rewind again, to a California in the 1940's, a land of seeming plenty with an abundance of sun and fruit. Sorry if that sounds trite, but California at the time, and rather like today, seems to have become a magnet for people who wished to pursue an alternative lifestyle. As well as (if you've ever read The Grapes Of Wrath . . God I love that book) a refuge from the horrors of Dust Bowl America, the deep grip of the Depression, and, even then, the gripping wrench of loan foreclosure.
The inclement weather seemed to prove beneficial to health.
There was a burgeoning arts scene.
Space and lonely canyons abounded, and people could effectively 'drop out' of society with no one noticing. Sounds idylic doesn't it!
Nature Boys as they were colloquially known, were spotted in California from sometime around the 1930's onwards.
Jack Kerouac mentions seeing one in 'On the Road' from 1948.
Now if you are a slightly foward thinking mind, you can see where all this bare-footed nature loving stuff is going can't you . . yep . . . hippy. Predating a life and society changing movement by some 20 years.
Anyway, this is an aside from our eden, who whilst having worked as a musician in Kansas City and New York, gave that up and made the long walk West, eventually ending up playing piano at the Eutropheon,  a raw food restaurant and whole food store on Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
The owners of the Eutropheon were the Richters, a pair of German immigrants influenced by a counter-culture from the homeland involving healthy food, sunshine, labour and generally a feeling of how essential it is for humans to live a life as close to nature as possible. **
Without getting into the land of obscurity (you can if wish read a full and in-depth scholarly and well-written breakdown of the roots of this in the link at the bottom of the page) eden married and settled into the outdoor life in the land of golden sunsets.



eden and family


In 1947, by chance and prompting, he handed the score and lyrics to 'Nature Boy' to Nat 'King' Cole's manager whilst Nat was playing the Lincoln Theater in L.A.
Nat loved it and featured it initially during encores and then as part of his main set.
You can hear why really - it is such an unusual, almost ethereal song.
The lyrics, combined with Nat's wonderful voice just make for a very timeless listen.
The use of brass and strings at the start build you quickly into thinking it will be a traditional crooner-style tune, but the use of flute throughout the recording give it the lone-faun-playing-on-a-mountainside-in-the-days-of-yore effect (if you know what I mean) and this gives the song its ethereal and dreamy air, and then when Nat reprises the melody on his piano with the strings and then the Gypsy violin joins in briefly, you are brought back down the mountain to a land of plenty where everything is all right with the world.
The cheeky flute just seals the deal and maybe reminds you that if you want to head back up the mountain and give in to the call of nature in your heart, then you too can return to the land of dreams.
It really is a masterful arrangement.
But the lyrics are its heart.
They are a powerful message that can still hold you, and to me are one of those 'touched by the hand of God' moments.
It is all over in 2 minutes 54 seconds and maybe your world is a better place for it.
Underlying parts of the melody are apparently Jewish and rather old, though eden claimed to have heard it "in the mist of the California mountains", but for all this, the song still initiated a court case of plagairism resulting in an out of court settlement of $25,000 - the equivalent of over $193,000 in 2012 terms!




1948 . . just remember that



In order to record the song, Nat and his management had to find eden, which they did . . . eventually.
He was living the life of a Nature Boy (some would call it being a hobo and sleeping rough . . but that's a digression) camped up under the Hollywood Sign with his wife and son.
And of course the song was a hit. It stayed at the top of the Billboard Charts for eight consecutive weeks in 1948.
And those really were the days of record sales - that must have been a hell of a lot of records.
One wonders where the publishing rights went to and whether eden saw any of it. He is still credited as writer on all the Nat compilations I have seen, though strangely the copyright dates from 1963 . . .
Anyway, eden carried on regardless of the fame; made his own music; still lived like a Nature Boy; was courted by musical cognoscenti, but ultimately drifted into the land of obscurity.
Life wasn't really kind to eden though. It almost seems like his fame, his contact with the secular world, tainted his life and destroyed the dream.
His wife died in 1963 and his son drowned in 1972.
eden himself died in 1995 at the age of 86 after a car accident.
He finally headed back up the mountain into those long sea mists coming in off the coast.
Back into the Land Of Dreams.
I actually think I would have liked to have met him.



***



As usual though, this is FB so here comes a shameless bit of shoe-horning about photography. I thought I would include two photographs here just to show the extremes that existed in America at that time.
The first was taken by the Farm Services Administration photographer Ben Shahm, and whilst the poverty is shocking, I have seen similar in Joseph McKenzie's Gorbals pictures from the 1960's.
Mr.Shahm's photograph is utterly superb though, taken at the height of the Great Depression.




Children of destitute Ozark mountaineer, Arkansas, 1935




The second is as extreme a difference as I could make it.
Just four years later, and obviously as far-removed from the outer limits of rural Arkansas, but you know, I think that in its own way it is as telling of the hopes and aspirations of a nation as just about any 'gritty' social photograph of the time.
To me, this is one of the greatest photographs ever made.
Just study it closely.
Yes it is a set piece, but everyone's expressions are just so damn spot-on.
It was made by the famous advertising photographer Nickolas Muray.
Unfortunately the web simply cannot do this masterpiece justice - the colours and clarity of the original are just beautiful.




Nickolas Muray - McCalls Magazine - Homemaking Cover -1939





And that's it folks.
I had no idea I was going to write something like this this week, but there y'go.
Sometimes life can take unexpected turns if you listen to your heart.
Cheers and God bless, and thanks for reading.


** The roots of this behaviour can be found as an export from Germany in the 1930's, where, from the turn of the 20th Century, a movement had burgeoned that was firmly rooted against the massive rise of German Industrialism. As with all things, the more you scratch, the deeper you get, so I will direct you to this fantastic article: