Patriotic gore: Dr. Johnson on the political brouhaha in the Colonies

Here at Art Scatter we’ve been keeping a keen eye on this year’s political races and the concurrent pommeling and puffing-up of patriotism that’s been accompanying them. In ordinary times we don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the sloganeering of the love-it-or-leave-it crowd. People wave their flags and spout their platitudes, and life pretty much goes on, unimpeded. But it seems such a hot topic as November 8 approaches that we decided to consult an expert on the subject, Dr. Samuel Johnson, the noted English poet, essayist, and lexicographer. Dr. Johnson is a devout Tory but possesses a sharp wit and a keen mind, and will rail against foolishness and chicanery wherever he believes he has found it. Even in the midst of a vicious election season, he is no blind slave to party loyalty.

Joshua Reynolds, 1772, Portraot of Samuel Johnson, commissioned for Henry Thrale's Streatham Park gallery; Tate Gallery, London / Wikimedia Commons
Joshua Reynolds, 1772, Portrait of Samuel Johnson, commissioned for Henry Thrale’s Streatham Park gallery; Tate Gallery, London / Wikimedia Commons

The good doctor, as it turns out, has been busy checking proofs for his essay “The Patriot,” in which he expounds upon this very topic, and so could not meet with us in the flesh. But he agreed to answer questions through his publicist, Mr. James Boswell. The arrangement seemed congenial, and so we submitted our queries. In due course the good Mr. Boswell returned Dr. Johnson’s replies, a few from the very pages of the essay he’s been preparing. Here is the result of our long-distance discourse.

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Everybody’s talking about it, from presidential candidates to professional quarterbacks. And everybody seems to have a different idea about it. What exactly IS patriotism, anyway?

A patriot is he whose publick conduct is regulated by one single motive, the love of his country; who, as an agent in parliament, has, for himself, neither hope nor fear, neither kindness nor resentment, but refers every thing to the common interest. Continue reading Patriotic gore: Dr. Johnson on the political brouhaha in the Colonies

Stage notes: Not just JAW (but that’s the main course)

IN THE BEGINNING was Stark Raving Theatre, a little company with the audacious goal of producing nothing but new plays.

Check that. In the beginning was New Rose Theatre, with its long and fruitful sponsorship of new plays set in the Northwest by Charles Deemer.

Check that. In the beginning was Storefront Theatre, which made up new plays like an artisan baker whips up fresh new pastries every morning.

Crowds gather at the annual JAW fest not just for the main readings, but also for the many supporting performances and events. From the 2013 festival, Wes Guy and the New Birth breakdance crew wows the crowd. Photo: Patrick Weishampel
Crowds gather at the annual JAW fest not just for the main readings, but also for the many supporting performances and events. From the 2013 festival, Wes Guy and the New Birth breakdance crew wows the crowd. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Check that. New plays have always been a part of the mix on Portland’s theater scene, but never with the frequency and impact of the past 10 years or so, when companies across the city have made it a prime goal to create new work. And part of the credit for that goes to JAW, the Just Add Water festival, Portland Center Stage’s annual summer development workshop for writers from hither and yon. The festival has focused on national playwrights, with a few locals and auxiliary programs, and a good percentage of its shows have gone on to full production at Center Stage, other Portland theaters, or companies across the country.

Continue reading Stage notes: Not just JAW (but that’s the main course)

Gird your loins: the battle hymn of the Republicans (and the Democrats)

The candidates, debating in typical restrained fashion. (George Bellows, "Dempsey and Firpo," 1924, oil on canvas, 5 x 63.3 inches, Whitney Museum of American Art / Wikimedia Commons)
The candidates, debating in typical restrained fashion. (George Bellows, “Dempsey and Firpo,” 1924, oil on canvas, 51 x 63.3 inches, Whitney Museum of American Art / Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t really like to do it, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So on occasion, when I feel the situation has devolved from everyday addle-headedness to foolishness pure and simple, I breathe in, cinch my belt, and enter into the political fray. I do this mostly from the sidelines, not holding much truck with the actual playing of the game since the evening, long ago, when my first wife challenged a future United States congressman to a drinking match and won. It’s not that the future congressman didn’t try: both contestants ended up under the table, where they just sort of slithered at some point, taking care to grab their respective bottles as they slid. But the future congressman stayed there, snoring, while the first wife emerged wobbly but triumphant, and from that point I figured the trouble with politics is that it’s played by amateurs, and therefore not to be taken overly seriously.

Still, Matters of Consequence do come before these august bodies (I’m referring to the House and Senate, not to the future congressman or my first wife), and so it’s only common sense to pay at least a little attention to what the incumbents and candidates for incumbency have to say and do. That does not mean I watch the form of debased televised theatrics known as presidential debates: I’m proud to say that in the endless campaign slog of 2015 and 2016, I’ve skipped them all. Still, I read the post-mortems, and word seeps through.

No, I like to take my questions on the political process to the experts, of whom I’ve known a few. Readers of this column might recall my previous conversations with the likes of the canny Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, who among other insights into the power racket made the famous and eye-opening distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft: to paraphrase very loosely, if you accept tit, you’d better give an honest tat.

I also chatted with the Italian political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli, who’s developed a fierce and controversial reputation for his views on realpolitik; the American steel magnate Henry Clay Frick, a key corporate political insider; my old friend Kautilya, a superb tactician who wrote the ultimate Hindu treatise on statecraft and military tactics, the Arthashastra; Eugene Field, a poet among political commentators; Thomas Hobbes, the noted political theorist and author of Leviathan; Huey Long, a master practitioner of the byzantine form of politics followed in the Deep South; Jesus of Nazareth, an influential populist religious leader with ties in the disputed territories of the Middle East; and the prominent American religious revivalist Elmer Gantry. Continue reading Gird your loins: the battle hymn of the Republicans (and the Democrats)

Five Years at the Opera with the Large Smelly Boy

Mixed-media collage by Laura Grimes
Mixed-media collage by Laura Grimes

 

BY  LAURA GRIMES

It’s been only five years since I took the Small Large Smelly Boy to his first opera? It’s already been a whole five years?

During that time I’ve thought frequently about the post I wrote after I took him to Portland Opera’s double bill of Pagliacci and Carmina Burana in fall 2010, when he was 12 years old. At least a few times every year I think about writing an update: What’s he doing now? Did it take? What’s happened since then? How old is he now? Did that first opera change his life like all the ta-DUM-ing in the post?

That whole event back then seemed like just life. A night out on the town with my lad after he took out the trash. A quick documentation of a special occasion. But I had no idea how much it would resonate and grow long-long legs and, well, if not change the course of history, then at least skew its trajectory just a bit.

Continue reading Five Years at the Opera with the Large Smelly Boy

Jack, 2000-2015: Big and bold and not just any cat

JackFerns2

By LAURA GRIMES

To say our cat died is ridiculously casual and wildly unfitting. Jack, mafia don and Facebook darling, all sass and sweetness, as demanding as a popped blister and as loyal as a lab, was our warp and our weft, our emotional ballast, our third Large Smelly Boy, more boy than the sum of the rest and more macho than a swaggering lot of pirates. He would never stand for being just a cat.

Jack. A name we didn’t give him but inherited from his kitten foster parents and decided to keep, both to honor his first family loves and because it fit. Solid. Straightforward. Nothing to duck. That was Jack, who died Monday, May 11 — days ago, but no one in the family could yet bear to make it public, perhaps because we still couldn’t believe it and saying it aloud would make it real, perhaps because we futilely willed to keep him to ourselves a little longer, and perhaps because the grief was so deep that it was silent and private. Funny, because Jack was never quiet.

He insisted on long conversations and had lots of opinions. But don’t take my word for it. Ask the neighbors. He talked to everyone about everything. He acted all lovey to every passing stranger, and promptly answered all manner of sounds – words, whistles, belches, farts. He wasn’t picky, as long as he had someone to talk to. Or not. He head-bumped with the best of ’em and knew how to rub a good leg. And he knew how to push newspapers onto the floor when they vied for his attention. If he were here now he would be digging a paw into my sleeve and pulling my hand away from the keyboard, insisting on having it to himself, persistently becoming an impossible pest until I would have to do something, perhaps give him a good long hug over my right shoulder, a favorite spot where he went limp. I started making bed nests for him near wherever I happened to be working to placate him, scrunching up soft blankets and pulling chairs closer.

Continue reading Jack, 2000-2015: Big and bold and not just any cat

For Pete’s sake: A Memorial Day remembrance

On Memorial Day weekend a year ago, my nephew, Peter Joseph Hicks, a Navy veteran of the Iraqi war, died after a long battle with cancer. He was 31 years old – born March 11, 1983, died May 23, 2014.  I was honored when his father, my brother Bill, asked me to give a talk at the celebration of Pete’s life, in Oak Harbor, Washington, a gathering where Pete was remembered by his family, friends, and Navy comrades. It was one of those sweet-and-sad days, a farewell and a remembrance, a telling of tales, an embracing of who Pete was, and a way to keep his essence alive in those he loved. For those who knew and loved him, and anyone else, here is what I said on that afternoon.

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Pete with his Aunt Barb, 2013. Photo: Chuck Hicks
Pete with his Aunt Barb, 2013. Photo: Chuck Hicks

I was talking with my brother Bill, Peter’s dad, on the phone the other day, and Bill said, “I think Peter packed ninety years of life into the thirty-one he had.”

No kidding. I can’t count the number of things Pete’s been and done. Some of you who knew him more closely or in other aspects of his life could surprise me with your stories, and after we’re done here I hope you will.

A few things I remember clearly. Pete liked bows and arrows and other things of velocity and impact. He liked to cook. He was a tinkerer and a builder and a grower. As I discovered in the last couple of years, he was a writer, although I’m not sure he really thought of himself that way: he was just expressing what he believed.

He was a Navy guy, and not just a Navy guy but a Navy guy who went to war and took on one of the most dangerous jobs around, defusing bombs that threatened soldiers and civilians alike. He was a good friend and a good brother. He was fierce and he was gentle, and he loved a good joke, even when it was on himself.

Maybe most important of all, he was a dad and a husband and a devoted family man. His wife, Sasha, and their five kids from the family they blended together – Bell, Abby, Lucas, Caden, and Kali – have lost a part of themselves with his death, and will need time and compassion to grieve and move on. It’s hard. I wish grace and good memories for you. Pete was a determined warrior against this cancer thing, but it was a sneaky devil, and it took a 10-year head start before it let him know there was even a battle going on.

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So by Bill’s reckoning of ninety years in thirty-one, if Pete had made it to ninety-three, the way his grandmother Charlotte did before she died last fall, he’d have had two hundred seventy years of life experience under his belt, and any of us who were still around would be absolutely gobsmacked by his accumulated wisdom.

Which I’m sure he would have been more than willing to share.

Continue reading For Pete’s sake: A Memorial Day remembrance

Nancy Drew, mon amour: my secret affair with the world’s greatest girl detective

digger

This morning I discovered via Facebook feed that the great American literary sensation Nancy Drew is 85 years old, making her quite possibly the oldest 16-year-old super sleuth in history. That got me to searching for this story, which ran originally in The Oregonian on October 12, 1997. A revised version later ran in the late, lamented magazine Biblio.

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Here’s to you, Nancy Drew. You were my first true love. My first safe true love.

Sure, there were others. Freckled Norwegian girls with hair like hay and eyes as swift as mountain streams. Lipsticked, rounded girls in cashmere sweaters that clung to peach-soft skin. Porcelain dolls of unapproachable sophistication. But they were dangerous, because they were real, and liable to utterly destroy the hesitant intentions of an awkward boy.

Ah, but you, you forthright, striding, titian-haired marvel. You, you crime-busting beauty in your little blue roadster.

You were a flash, an action. A wonderful blank, waiting to be filled in. Made of printer’s ink and imagination, you were the speeding American vision of a bright future. An ideal, a fantasy, a goal. You were not for attaining. You were for setting the standard. You were the New American Woman.

Thank heavens for the printed page. With real girls, I was pretty much doomed to be tongue-tied and star-struck. With you, I had a relationship. And it was about all sorts of things, perhaps the least of which was puppy love (you were not, essentially, romantic, though you were a creature of romance). It was about literature and the secrets of writing. It was about boldness and courage and the declaration of self. It was about waking to the possibilities of a bigger world. It was about laughter and embracing the ability to enjoy. It was about doing right and fighting wrong. It was, in several pertinent senses, about growing up.

Not, of course, that I realized it at the time. At the time you were just a darned good read, a queen of the cliffhanger. How, in The Secret of the Old Clock (the very first Nancy Drew mystery, published in 1930), would you get out of the closet where the vicious thief Sid had locked you so he could make his getaway? Why, in The Hidden Window Mystery (No. 34), does Luke cry out in terror when you start to pull the lever to the trap door in the haunted house?

Continue reading Nancy Drew, mon amour: my secret affair with the world’s greatest girl detective

Melinda Lee, 1942-2013: memories are made of this

lindy-smiling

My sister Melinda Louise Lee, born Melinda Louise Hicks on June 7, 1942, in Richmond, California, died on Thanksgiving morning, November 28, 2013, at her Seattle home, while lying in bed and holding her Kindle: as her kids and our sister Barb noted, Lindy loved to read. She died quickly, apparently of a heart attack, and unexpectedly, just six weeks after our mother, Charlotte Lucille Baldwin Hicks, had died at age 93. Mom’s death was a shock but no surprise. Lindy’s was out of the blue, one that no one was prepared for: she was filled with vitality to the end.

Printed below is the text of what I said at Lindy’s memorial service on Friday, December 6, in Ferndale, Washington, where we grew up. Three of Lindy’s children, Melissa Doll, Fernzwood (Bud) Lee Jr., and Kelli Harrell, also spoke. Lindy’s fourth child, Alicia Gudgel, sang. Their messages were beautiful and from the heart. I mentioned before I began my prepared talk that Lindy’s death was devastating, not just because it was unexpected but also because she was in so many ways the heart of our large extended family. And I noted that there were many Lindys lodged in our memories and imaginations, a different Lindy for each of us who knew her. She was the oldest of seven siblings, and four years older than the next-oldest, Laurel. She was five and a half years older than I am, and 11 years older than the next in line, Barb, 12 years older than Chuck, more than 13 older than Bill, and 15 years older than the youngest of us, John. Four years or even 15 in the adult world isn’t a lot: it’s an easy bridge to gap. But in childhood, that’s a chasm, and it can make for vastly different relationships. One of the many wonders about Lindy is that in later life she so easily embraced all of us: it was a reflection of her warmth and generosity of spirit.

Here is a link to her official online obituary.

And here’s my talk.

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The first thing I want to say is, hardly anyone was more alive than our friend and sister and aunt and mother and grandmother Lindy, and that’s what makes this thing so difficult to understand. It’s like she just disappeared in mid-laugh or mid-sentence, just dropped away, or went into the kitchen to get a glass of water, and hold that thought because she’ll be right back. Except she won’t, and although our minds know that, our hearts can’t quite believe. So now it’s good to remember, because by remembering we keep the warmth and conversations flowing.

Continue reading Melinda Lee, 1942-2013: memories are made of this

Charlotte Hicks, 93: a gentle passing

CHARLOTTE LUCILLE BALDWIN HICKS

February 20, 1920 – October 17, 2013

This is the talk I gave at my mother’s memorial celebration on Saturday, November 9, 2013, at the First Baptist Church of Ferndale, Washington, where Mom had been a member for many years. She was born in Holtville California, near the Mexican border, and grew up in Richmond, California, across the bay from San Francisco, and moved with her young family to Ferndale, Washington, in 1952. The written talk is a little bit longer than what I delivered on Saturday; I had cut a few passages to keep the talk from getting too long. – Bob Hicks

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Charlotte 1

When I got the phone call from my sister telling me that Mom had died, I was shocked. Oh, no: the moment’s come! It’s always a shock, of course, that moment of passing, even when you know that it might happen at any time. But only the night before, Mom had had a little crisis, and was taken to the emergency room, where she spent several hours, and after the doctors announced that her vitals were fine and she was in good shape, she went home again. So when she died in her bed a few hours later, yes: it was like a piercing of the heart, or a punch on the chin.

Mom was 93 years old, and she died in her sleep, which was a blessing, and as I was driving north later that morning from Portland to Ferndale, thinking and remembering and feeling, I remembered the last crisis Mom had had, just about a year ago, when it seemed that she might die. She was so close to it that the doctors told us to be thinking about end-of-life questions, including the big one: Should we pull the plug? Mom had long ago made sure we knew she didn’t want to be maintained artificially in a vegetative state. But knowing when that time’s arrived isn’t always easy. She was conscious enough that we talked with her, and asked her. Do you feel like you’re ready to go and see Daddy again, or do you feel like you still want to be here? Mom replied without hesitating, emphatically and with what sounded to me, at least, like surprise that there would be any question about it: “Well, I want to LIVE!”

Continue reading Charlotte Hicks, 93: a gentle passing

It’s only a flesh wound: from Botticelli to Van Dyck, a museum’s art and soul

Bernardo Strozzi, "St. Lawrence Giving the Treasures of the Church to the Poor." Early 17th century.
Bernardo Strozzi, “St. Lawrence Giving the Treasures of the Church to the Poor.” Early 17th century.

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Art Scatter lives! We admit, we’ve been remiss. We haven’t filed a post since July 28 of 2012, for heaven’s sake. That’s 10 months. Our last post was about the demise of the fabled Classical Millennium music shop (which, we’re happy to report, lives on, if in extremely truncated form, inside its big-daddy Music Millennium) and that sort of depressed us. Plus, we got busy with other things, not least of which was posting quite a bit on Oregon ArtsWatch, and also conducting a little daily art-historical experiment called “Today I Am” on Facebook. It was partly through that endeavor that Carol Shults of the European and American Art Council of the Portland Art Museum asked me if I might give a gallery talk to the group: just pick any topic as long as it relates to those galleries, she said.

So I did. My talk, called “The Way of All Flesh”  (thanks, Sam Butler), took place last Thursday in the museum’s Renaissance gallery, with just a peek around the corner into the Baroque. It covered eight paintings, with quick swipes at a few others, ranging from 1500 to roughly 1640. And it was fun, even if I rambled a bit too freely and didn’t quite cover everything I’d expected to. When you’re in the galleries, looking at the actual works instead of looking at slides of them in a lecture hall, you tend to toss away your notes and just talk. What follows is the more or less formal speech I didn’t give, but which formed the basis of my more conversational remarks in the galleries.

All of the pictures, by the way, are gathered from the museum’s relatively new and growing online photo gallery of works from the permanent collections. It’s a great project; check it out when you can. – BH

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By BOB HICKS

The title of my talk is “The Way of All Flesh.” I’m sorry if you came thinking I was going to do a slide show about nude bicyclists pumping through Puddletown. Not gonna happen. Instead I’m going to talk about the ways we’ve looked in Western civilization at life and decay and death. That’s not really the bummer it might sound like, because in the process we get to look at a handful of pretty fascinating paintings covering a little over a century, between about 1500 and roughly 1635 or 1640.

The subtitle is “Purity, Pain, and Pragmatism from Caroto to Van Dyck.” If I hadn’t submitted it before I’d finished my research, I’d have changed it to “from Botticelli to Van Dyck,” because Botticelli’s small painted devotional “Christ on the Cross,” which really starts things off, is from 1500, ten years before Caroto’s intimate painting “The Entombment of Christ.” I figure that’s a good mistake, because anytime you can kick off an evening by looking at a Botticelli, you’ve got a fighting chance.

Continue reading It’s only a flesh wound: from Botticelli to Van Dyck, a museum’s art and soul

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