A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 53: Album Art Gallery, part 1

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A couple of birthdays ago, my wife gave me the book pictured here: The Art of the Album Cover, by Richard Evans. She knows I love music and I love art so it was a double-whammy kind of present. It is a great book to peruse and take in the creativity that is album art. Some believe it is a dying art as we no longer have the LP and it’s large format to accommodate designs. Though there is something lost in the tiny icons on a screen or the small format of a CD cover, there are still some great examples of the art that is meant to convey and/or accompany the musicians and music for the listener.

I believe there is much to be enjoyed by viewing album covers as art. A good cover not only communicates so much about the content of the album but can also stand alone on its own merits. For those of us who love music, that cover wrapped around our favorites songs is the image imprinted in our brains. We see the cover image and immediately songs spring to mind. And vice versa. It is a wonderful marriage of artistic genres.

I am a major music fan. As I began to look through my collection to decide what album covers I really love for their creativity and design, I realized my list was getting longer and longer… So I am slicing up this Gallery of Album Art into three pieces. I narrowed it down to albums I own so there will be favorites of yours that will not be included. My apologies but it is my blog after all. If you want a different gallery, get your own blog!

Here is the first installment of the Gallery. Most of images are self-explanatory but I’ve included captions if I felt it was necessary to do so. Try making it through these images without a song or two popping into your head. I dare you…

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Earth and Sun and Moon by Midnight Oil

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Dark Sid of the Moon by Pink Floyd

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 16: Benevolent Alchemists

 

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MacGyvered Capo, House Concert rehearsal, photo by Christina Stapper

“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain” – Bob Marley, “Trenchtown Rock”

I found a t-shirt at Value Village with that quotation on it.  I snatched it off the rack quicker than you could say, “Ya, Mon”! So many things have been said about music by some of the greatest artists in history but this statement by Bob, written into the lyrics of one of his songs, nails it for me. As the Man in Black says in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”But music can knock the hell out of pain. Music is not to be trifled with. Music can take that savage beast and body slam it.

Last Saturday evening I had the pleasure of attending a house concert in the cozy confines of my friends’ home. I also had the privilege of playing three songs that night, though my jangly sloppiness seemed almost sacrilegious compared to the esoteric, beautiful and heartbreaking offerings of the other performers – songs by Leonard Cohen, the Wailin’ Jennys, Ryan Adams, Alison Krauss, Ricky Nelson – It was a fine time. And music did its work on me again. I came there tired, worn out from a headache I had battled all day, and not very enthused about my part in the evening. But quite literally within the first few moments of the first song of the night, the music hit me and I felt so good. The pain dissipated, the weariness lifted, and it felt good to be alive again.

I know there are scientific reasons for this; releasing endorphins or endolphins or some such thing. Whatever. All I know is that music has done this for me time and time again. When I am at my lowest, when I’m feeling depressed, or when things just are not that great, I’ll be driving in my car, a song I love will come on the radio and I’ll start singing, maybe even shimmying a bit in my seat (ever done the driver’s seat boogie before?) and my day is transformed into something else. It is magic, science be damned. It is like being given some elixir from a benevolent alchemist; you drink it down and – Voila! You are made new again.

I was reminded of this on Saturday night in that warm and welcoming living room, full of people there to enjoy music and share music. I was reminded about the role artists play in the lives of others. By willingly giving their gifts, they bring healing; they sow joy; they take your barely livable life and make it exceptional and make you so grateful to be alive. Talk about alchemy! It made me very thankful to have so many benevolent alchemists in my life, either those known to me or those who I know only by their art.

These thoughts made me realize the part that I can play in people’s lives. It renewed my thankfulness for my own gifts and talents. So often I disparage them and feel that they are inadequate. It seems a common trait of artists to think whatever they offer is not quite up to par, not as good as the next person, and therefore unworthy to be shared. But the truth is that creating something and offering it to others for their enjoyment or to challenge or to inspire, is a sacred thing. As a sacred thing, what you offer as an artist, crafted distinctly from who you are, is never unworthy. It is magic. And the world always needs more magic.

Always.

 

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 1: Marley & Me

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“The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?” 

Bob Marley is an iconic figure in history. His music and image are well known all over the world. What is not as well known is that on December 3, 1976, someone tried to rip him open with bullets and take his life.

It was just a couple of  days before the “Smile Jamaica” concert, organized by the Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley, in an attempt to bring peace between warring political factions. Some saw Marley’s decision to play in this concert as support for Manley. In the midst of these tensions, a gunman entered Marley’s home and shot him, his wife Rita, and manager Don Taylor. All survived but sustained injuries, Marley to the chest and arm. Nevertheless, just two days later, as scheduled, he appeared on stage with the Wailers to sing and play. When asked why he would choose to perform just two days after an attempt on his life, Marley responded, “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”

As I reflect back on 2016 on this first day of 2017, the lasting impression is of a year that cast a dark, dark shadow. It was a tumultuous 365 that contained tragedies like Aleppo and tragi-comedies like the US Presidential election. Racists were emboldened to go public, hatred in speech and action was rampant, innocents suffered for others’ political ends, and images of destroyed cities, thousands of refugees and dead children threatened to make us all despair. There was good in 2016, of course, but the bad seemed to outweigh it so much as to crush the life out of it and us.

How to move forward after all of that? It is easy to retreat into our fantasy lands, our distractions and our devices; easy to bury our heads in screens and a virtual reality of our own making. This is especially true for us in the privileged parts of the world, where bombings, death squads, starvation and disease are part of the plot to our favorite Netflix show, not part of our daily lives.

But retreat is cowardice. Retreat is giving in to those who are trying their hardest to make this world worse.

I am an artist, a creative person. I don’t say this in a boastful way. It is simply who I am. I draw, I paint, I sing, I write – creating for me is essential to keeping me from going dead inside. I associate with other creative people, from the local painter toiling in obscurity to the iconic Reggae singer known worldwide. I understand the drive and I understand the risk. Artists can only be truly creative if they are vulnerable. Artists are meant to put themselves out there, on display, warts and all: Open to criticism and disdain, praise and adoration or , worst of all, being ignored.

Creating art and putting it out there is like exposing a wound: It’s painful, it stings but it could possibly bring healing. Artists go against human nature, against the evolutionary grain of self-protection, self-preservation. They play the role of standing in the breach, naked to enemy fire and friendly fire alike, with the possibilities of complete failure or eternal glory hanging in the balance.

Bob Marley knew this. He knew that artists are always in conflict, either with themselves or with the world around them. He put himself out there, exposed. It was where he needed to be and had to be. As someone who created music that gave life and hope, he felt a responsibility to keep on creating no matter how fear and self-preservation may have gripped him.

Pondering this event and considering an artist’s response to the darkness, the void that threatens to suck all the light from the world, I was deeply challenged and greatly inspired. I could not give in to the brutality and banality that was dragging me down. I am an artist and I have a responsibility to respond creatively, hopefully, compassionately. .

To that end I have decided, first of all, to post to this blog each day for the entirety of 2017 – 365 days of Creating Dangerously. What I hope to do is post things about or from artists that inspire me and challenge me to truly live my life. And I hope to also share with you my creativity, my artwork, my words, to give you inspiration and challenge you in your lives. Second of all, I plan on creating a series of paintings this year, with the goal of one per month (or more!). These paintings will be of the artists who have shaped who I am and who I admire, not because they were perfect, but because they were courageous and took risks; because they fought to beat back the darkness and bring light.

On December 30, 2016 I completed the first painting in my series which I share below:

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Punk Rock Warlord (Joe Strummer Vs The Void) Ron Kok December 2016 Acrylic on canvas

Joe Strummer was the front man and main songwriter of the legendary British punk band the Clash. But he was so much more than a “rock star”. Joe was as flawed as the next human being but was also deeply passionate about people, about truth and justice, and about being a champion for good in a often nasty world. His desire to connect with people, to demolish the barrier between performer and audience, to empower other artists to find their voice, to keep kicking at the darkness until it bled daylight (to borrow a Bruce Cockburn lyric) has been a continual source of inspiration for me in my life. He was an artist who understood that to make a significant impact, you had to put yourself out there to be spit on (which happened to him quite literally) or loved or both. I guess it’s the vulnerability of someone who half-jokingly referred to himself as a Punk Rock Warlord that I have always admired most.

Joe seemed like a great place for me to start in my Year of Creating Dangerously. I hope you can come along with me for the ride. I want to do my part to be proactive and creative in 2017. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and bitch and cry. I want to take on the world in the way that I am wired: As an artist. And I want to inspire you and give you hope. I really do. If just one person can be moved to do what is right and good despite all the ugliness around them, I will know that it was all worth it.

I don’t want to take a day off. This fight is too important. Let’s rise above, friends, and give love, embrace hope, spread peace, and speak truth.