Monday, May 30, 2011

The Steakhouse Dinner

My blog page was intended for the use of posting information relating to my first novel Benson's House. I was hoping it would become a vehicle for discussions and a companion to the novel, allowing descriptions of the era's, topics, themes, and subplots of the story.

However, finding the time to write new articles has been preoccupied by the necessities of polishing the novel for publication, and rewriting letters to promote the book. I'm finding less time to commit to developing new material or contributions to the blog.

Still, I need to write. I'm compelled by this unknown desire. So, I submit the following short unrelated to Benson's House, and hope you enjoy.

The Steakhouse Dinner

He watches with discontent as she applies her lip gloss to the measure of the restaurant chatter and the soulful phrasing of Sam Moore's- I Can't Stop the Rain- piping in from the ceiling speakers. Her eccentric application is enough to prompt him to dismiss the date; to return home to the half consumed sandwich, wedged- for the last two days- between a half filled carton of Corona and a plastic wrapped case of water bottles on the bottom shelve of his garage refrigerator. However, he decides, instead, to endure her antics and not allow her self indulgences to prevent him from enjoying his favorite steakhouse- chosen selfishly- as his reward for the months of Friday night dates, escorting her to pricey dining locales, where she hoped to be discovered as the next national broadcasting treasure.

She closes her compact mirror and places it the depths of her knockoff Lois Vuitton, Cabas, Ambre, handbag, just as the food arrives.

"I don't see what attracts you to dumps like these? There's not a soul in this place that can offer anything to advance our careers."

"Perhaps not, but they singe a wicked Rib-eye," he offers while winking at the waitress. "Anyway, I'm quite happy with what I do."

"Best steaks for the price in town, ma'am, can I get ya'll anything else?

"I don't suppose you'd have a Valium or a stomach pump handy?"

"No ma'am."

"Then just bring me another Mojito," she says dismissively.

"I'll have another beer."

"I don't believe for one minute you're really content with producing the local news. We could've dined with the Hendrickson's at Roy's tonight, John. He's often spoke of meeting with you to consider your advancement into the larger markets. That's how things are done in this industry- over dinner in swank restaurants in a more relaxed atmosphere. I would have ordered the seared Barramundi, instead of this slab of animal flesh. My God,will you look at the portion of meat they've served me? I can't eat all this."

Already indulging in a bite of his season rubbed, entrée, John focuses on the taste as a distraction to the protesting coming from the other side of the table. He chews, silently, savoring the flavors, watching as she grips the utensils and slices the bacon wrapped fillet upon her plate.

"Oh this thing is way undercooked," she objects while tossing her knife and fork onto the table. "This hunk of meat has E. coli written all over it."

He swallows before speaking.

"Katherine, taste it. It's suppose to be pink inside. I've had it before. It will melt in your mouth."

"Let it melt in someone else's mouth. If I ate that I'd be in the bathroom all evening, and I have better things to do tonight. We should of gone to Roy's."

He carves off another piece of steak, and begins chewing with aggravated fervor.

"My God, John, I'm an anchor, and a regularly watched person in this community. What were you thinking, bringing me to a diner full of yokels, to fattening me up with large slabs of undercooked cattle?"

"Beef is not fattening."

"Really, John, speak with you mouth full. It's such a turn on. I'm incredibly attracted to you at this moment."

He pauses, motionless, with a grimacing expression.

"What's wrong?"

"I bit my tongue."

"Here we are," the waitress said returning with the beverages.

John swallows, then places his napkin on the inside of his mouth.

"What's wrong?"

He bit his tongue."

"Oh my," the waitress said placing the drinks in their appropriate spots.

John pulls the napkin away to reveal a circular, rose colored, blotch on its folded corner.

"Nice. Now your tongue will probably swell to the size of a baseball with all the bacteria contaminating your steak."

"Is there somethin' wrong with his steak, ma'am?"

"It's fine. I'll be okay."

Katerine fans her hand, dismissively.

"You can take this away."

"Aren't ya gonna eat you meal ma'am?"


"Do you want me to bring a box?"

"Yes," John interjects, "Bring boxes for each; we're leaving."

"Yes sir."

Katherine crosses her arms and raises her left hand to support her chin.

"What?" She finally asks.

"Does any of this have to do with the comment I made to the lady at the retirement home luncheon this afternoon?"

"Oh that. I've forgotten about that, but now that you bring it up, yes. You told that innocent, little, old, lady that Palin was not news worthy, after she asked you to allot the candidate more air time."

"Palin hasn't officially announced that she is running."

"Whatever. That's just another example of what everyone's been trying to instill in your stubborn mind, now, for the last year or so. Our viewers like Palin, and don't care about the issues. They want to be entertained. It's what television does; it entertains."

"And informs. We have a responsibility to the segment of viewers who want to be informed, don't we? How are they to decide on an elected official if we don't report the issues?"

"What are you talking about? People vote because they have a right to. You can't tell them how to vote."

"I'm not suggesting that. I'm simply pointing out that they need information to make informed decisions. Our network has a responsibility to provide that."

"Trust me, our viewers don't care to be informed that way. They want to learn about events going on in the community, the weather,and that's it. And, they want an attractive woman- who doesn't stutter- to present it to them. That's why I was hired."

"Here's your boxes."

"Listen, dear, see if you can't get the cook to fire this up a little longer, would you please."

"That mean you're staying?"

"Let's see if this man can finish his meal without chumping on parts of his tongue, shall we.

"Yes, ma'am.

"Would you bring me a glass of Jack Daniels?"

"You just want a full glass of bourbon?"

Katherine smiles.

"Just bring him a double on the rocks for now, and another Mojito for me."

"You know, you're such a hypocrite," Katherine continues as the waitress moves away. "You talk about the need to feed the public intellect, and, yet, you date me- not because I'm intellectual- but because I'm hot, and you like the attention that's drawn to us."

"I don't see it like that."


"You know, sometimes you can be as phony as your handbag. I know you don't mean all that you're saying.You've told me, often, that you feel the world is becoming a cesspool of uneducated, tattooed plasma; consuming to fill the intellectual void in their lives."

"And you think our little news network can change all that? If we attempt to change our viewer's habits our audience will tune out. Our ratings will then drop, and you and I, my dear, will be looking for something else to do. You can't go back to your editorial post at the Times- they're falling apart. Just where do you think you'll land? I don't think Fox will have you"

"Here's your steak ma'am."

"Oh goody!"

Katherine cuts off a small portion.

"How is it?"

Um; just yummy," she says sarcastically.

"Oh, well, I'll go get your drinks now."

Actually, John, this is damn good," Katherine admits when the waitress was out of earshot.

"Something's gonna change; it's bound to. Society can't continue on this intellectual slide."

Katherine was not listening. She was preoccupied by her dinner.

Soon the waitress returns with their drinks.

"Somethin' I've been meaning to ask you all night, ma'am. Aren't you the lady on the local news channel?"

Katherine pauses to swollow.

"Yes, but do keep it to yourself, shall we? I don't often have time to relax outside of the limelight."

"I understand."

"Tell me," John askes, " how often do you watch the local news?"

"I don't, to be honest. They really don't have much to say, 'cept what's goin' on with the local teams, or maybe the weather."

"I see. So, where do you get your news from?"

"Oh, the internet, mostly- Huffington Post- that sort of thing."

John's smile spurs Katherine to interject.

"Tell me what do you think is the most provocative story out there?"

"Oh I reckon it's this Casey Anderson trail."

"Uh huh, and do you think she did it?"

"I don't know. She probably did, but I don't think they've got enough evidence pinned to her. She'll probably walk, and make millions on her life story, or end up on Dancing with the Stars or somethin'. I swear, that's just how things are, now, in America. People are just so damn stupid, and I blame the stuff on television. I remember my daddy made the family watch Cronkite every evening at 7:30, right after dinner, before any of the prime time shows came on. We'd then talk about the issues during the commercials over the remainder of the night. Nowadays, the evening news is on during the dinner hour, so folks can watch Wheel of Fortune. No ones listening to what's gonin' on in the world anymore. Seems a shame. Can I get ya'll anythin' else while I'm here."

John smiles.

"No, darlin'; comeback a little later.

He then returns his attention to his meal.

"I'm surprised, Katherine states. "I would have thought the pain from the last experience would have prevented you from biting you tongue again."

John chuckles and motions with his fork.

"I think she spoke to the issue well enough without the need of further commenting. Go on an finish what little bit is left of your steak."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Brand On The Run

When the moments arise when I become frustrated by the ineptitude of the submission process, I'm reminded of early advisement given by someone whose words hold true. I was persuaded early on to have faith in the industry, and was assured that by understanding the distinction between a writing coach and a literary parvenu, I would avoid self rejection, and maintain the confidence to construct a successful project.

The goal of my initial objective was to complete the first draft, then seek someone to guide me through the process,and assist me in improving my work. I thought an agent would appear to coddle me with encouraging accolades, and correct my project's imperfections with experienced advise. I know Benson's House is appealing; I've watched my words provoke emotions from those reading it's text. The gratification of striking that cord is like what an entertainer feels when in sync with the audience: the sensation is overwhelming, and I strive to enhance the power of that connection.

Many talented people have been willing to help me on this quest, but often I find there are incompetent braggarts circulating that dictate phony advise, and claim to be the oracles of knowledge on the traits necessary to brand a financially successful project. It is important to recognize the difference between those sharing practical experiences and those selling snake oil. The ones providing constructive criticism are genuine and have favorably contributed to my ambition of authoring- as one of my colleagues described it- the best historical fiction of '12. I am not boasting, but merely setting the bar.

And, I personally find it difficult to avoid the ones offering false promises: I'm too gullible. I'm often tempted to enter the tent of the charlatans: those offering "how to" advise for a nominal fee. I find myself like that of a boy, standing before the sideshow barker, pondering if I should pay the 50 cents to see the bearded lady. I'm intrigued and ponder if the person behind the tarp has the same facial hair length concealing the sultry form of the woman appearing in the illustration on the banner outside the tent.

Fortunately I become bothered by the barker's dares to see, first hand, whether or not the illusion is real or fake. I become convinced that the odds are in favor of his persuasion being false, and although I'm a natural born optimist, the consultant's words of having faith in the industry speak to me, and I preserve my four bits for a more sensible purchase.

I was once tempted, by the promotion of a former literary agent assistant, who promised to reveal the secret to alluring an agent into receiving a query letter. The mystery surrounding the submission process was to be revealed in the purchase of her book. Then the consultants voice spoke, again, and I questioned with remorse how it was possible for a literary agent's assistant to council creative writers how to compose a compassionate letter.

I once received a submission reply informing me the agent would not be a suitable representative, because my project was in the genre of historical fiction, and she did not do well in high school history. I never responded; I felt her remark was somewhat like confessing the inability to determine if Rachmaninoff was a gifted musician, because of a failure to do well studying piano.

Blockbuster's filing for Chapter 11 is because of a lack of genuine product, not because of a lack of viewers. Boarders Group nears bankruptcy because of a lack of genuine product, not because of a lack of readers. And, yet, projects rot in slush piles like compost in the city dump. But, the words return: "Have faith in the industry!" I do, and so far the process has structured improvements to the content of the novel.

No one prefers weak tea sipped before it has sufficient time to brew. There are no dull literary works only unpolished projects, and I'm confident the consultant's words are correct. The industry will- in synergy- provide me with the resources to shape my work with perfection. I've formulated the necessary rewrites to submit Benson's House. I've constructed a marketing plan and I'm ready to receive advise in orchestrating the stages to launch the novel's public premiere.

The boy will preserve his 50 cents until the novel's release, when he will celebrate by exchanging his coins for a swirl of cotton candy wrapped around a paper cone. The confectionery sweetness will be savored, and will be appreciated, at a future moment in time.

If I ever get out of here,
Thought of giving it all away,
To a registered charity,
All I need is a pint a day-
If I ever get out of here.
If I ever get out of here.

Paul McCartney

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

1913 International Exhibit of Modern Art

In this excerpt from Benson's House, Elizabeth- the prodigal granddaughter of Justin and Sarah Benson- returns to New York to debut her art exhibit- Postcards from the Western World- at the newly constructed Taggart Benson Museum. Elizabeth was nine when she began her formal studies of art with Cecelia Beaux at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. She stayed with Cecelia until enrolling in Goldsmiths College, London, England, at the age of sixteen. Elizabeth was now twenty- five and had been abroad for nine years. At the time, Cecelia had gained a renowned reputation as being one of the most talented traditionalist portrait artist of the era.However, she found the direction of contemporary art undisciplined, and denounced many of its current contributions.

Danielle Watson was Elizabeth's lifelong best friend, and the current President of Chariot Records. They were staying at Elizabeth's mother's home on MacDougal Street, a few streets away from Benson's House. The reunion of the Post Impressionist painter, and the head of a thriving recording company, marked the beginning of a revolution of sight and sound that was about to create a new era of contemporary pop culture .

Elizabeth put her nightgown on as she carefully listened for an indication her mother had retired for the night. When she heard her mother’s bedroom door close, she quietly exited her room and crept over to her brother’s former bedroom where Danielle was spending the night. She cautiously entered to find Danielle in her nightgown, sitting on the bed with her back against the headboard, and her knees pulled towards her chin.

“I attended The Armory Show in 1913. Danielle confessed softly.

"What!” Elizabeth cried with whispered enthusiasm as she sat on the side of the bed.

Danielle nodded her head swiftly.

“I’ve wanted to tell you all night; I went with Cecelia.”

“She never told me that.” Elizabeth stated. “I know she considers the moderns popularity a passing fad, and didn’t have much to say favorably regarding the exhibit.”

“She hated it.” Danielle claimed. “She said the works lacked traditional disciplines and said something about the subject matter being as defiling as those depicted by the Ashcan Boy’s?”

Elizabeth placed her hands over her mouth to muffle her laughter.

“I knew members of The Ashcan Society in Philadelphia. Robert Henri once told me that his style and subject matter- both of which Cecelia refers to as corruptive- was inspired by my grandmother. He told me The Eight, as he described them, were influenced by Melrose’s 1887 exhibit at The Taggart Benson Gallery. They aligned with the acceptance of realism Melrose had adapted from his former associate: Sir John Everett Millair. Henri believes the goal of both members of The Ashcan School, and of Urban Romanticism, are attempts to illustrate realist aesthetics in urban settings. He’s right, and while I learned discipline from Cecelia Beaux, Henri made me recognize the skills I had instinctively adopted from my grandmother- speed and composition.

The exhibit referred to was the International Exhibition of Modern Art, which was held in New York City's 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Avenue.For many New Yorkers it was their first glimpse of the progressive art movements that had become the rage of Europe.

Here in America, Traditionalists were shocked by the new expressions of Avant-Garde,Cubism, and Fauvist, and rejected the movements with the same convictions as Cecelia Beaux. The newly conceived expressions were considered short lived mockeries of art disciplines. However, The Metropoloitan Museum of Art's purchase of Paul Cézanne's displayed landscape,View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph, at the exhibit,was regarded by the public as the museum's acceptance of Post- Impressionism, and a signal of the art world's accepted integration of modernism. Progressive cultural ideology was entering the American Psyche.

The Armory show displayed standards of art that challenged the times. Realism was shown with distorted departure by the Painterliness expressions of Fauvisms with contributions by artists such as Henri Matisse and Maurice Denis. The influences of Avant- Garde pushed new levels of early Modernism, with displays reflecting the advance stages of Cubist expressions by Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp.This freedom of expression soon entered the era of Dadaism, which declared all objects as art, and formed the foundation of Surrealism and the beginning of our current pop culture.

It was an era of new developments and expressions unlimited by conventional standards.The social introduction of Edison's inventions also created a new medium of sight and sound. Both music and art formulated with limitless adaptation. Jazz cultivated without boundaries; imagery without perimeters.Pop culture began to span its wings in the nest of a new tomorrow.

I often stress the necessity of this thinking in our current cultural climate. Unproven concepts are often ignored, with a false conviction that proven strategies determine the criteria of mass appeal. The story of Benson's House is enacted in a history of pop culture proving conventional wisdom cannot determine the will of the people's taste. Perhaps it is time for a Dada renaissance, striping the shackles of conformity, and allowing for experimentation to give way to new expressions. Unconventional thinking breeds new ideas. It's what caused Surrealism in art; Jazz in music. It's what led to Jackson Pollock and Elvis Presley; Andy Warhol and The Beatles.

The limits of this post, however, prevents me from an extensive examination of The Armory influence, but I encourage all to take a moment some evening and research the show on the internet. View the paintings,study the artists, understand the genius that was unleashed with meaningless free expression.

Wir können nicht wie die Hunnen auf einen Fanggrund gehen, ihn vernichten und dann einfach mit der Karawane zum nächsten weiterziehen, ohne uns um das Hinterlassene zu kümmern.

Hugo Ball

Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflections in an Empty House

The house is temporarily free of revelers whose annual holiday intrusions are insistently spent in an inebriated state of mind. Needless to say not much writing has been completed over the last two weeks. Officially the year end festivities will cease this evening, but I'm longing to resume writing and find the tranquility of a currently quiet home inspiring. The solitude is shared only by Clio, the proclaiming Muse, whose scroll dictates the order of my post.

Before continuing with the promised reflection on The 1913 Armory Show, I wanted to share an observation my daughter made over dinner during the holidays. We were dining at our favorite Tampa, Fl, locale: Ceviche. The smells of fresh baked bread, and roasted pork, wharfed the air in an atmosphere like that of a rustic church. Plates of many Spanish tapas were spread across our table: oxtail braised in red wine; roasted peppers stuffed with veil and sausage, topped with a light sherry sauce; and, of course, a plentiful serving of Ceviche De La Casa. My attentions were devoted to sampling the dishes, and sipping glasses of white Sangria, constantly freshened by the ceramic pitcher attended to by a ever observant waiter, when my daughter spoke.

She began a torrent of blaming the nation's current financial woes on college graduate programs offered during the late '70's and early '80's. She insisted the curriculum of the day were too respondent to theoretical teachings and to a concerted ideal that was formulated among many of the leading business schools.

Graduates had come away with a conveniently assessed persuasion that all businesses are entities incapable of conceiving morality. Therefore, a profit organization is only responsible to profitability without consideration of consequence. The new order of these "captains of industry" were then obligated to abide to this creed. My daughter was convinced this illogical thinking had seeped into the psyche of America, and was transparent in the concepts of most corporate ceo's and most political leaders.

When she noticed that I was more responsive to the diner and drink, she stared at me intently before shouting-

"Dad! Their reasoning is psychopathic. Our modern society is being manipulated by teachings that have given rise to sociopath leaders."

The statement caused both me and the waiter- who stood holding the pitcher of wine beside where I sat- a moment to pause and reflect. I then noticed my daughter reaching for her purse. When she pulled out a folded sheet of paper, which she began to unfurl with avid authority, I suspected my dining was to be placed on hold for a while, and decided it was probably a good idea to have the waiter prepare another pitcher of Sangria. I was about to approach him, but his glance indicated my order went without saying, and returned several minutes later to prepare the wine.

She began to read descriptions of the behavior of sociopaths, pausing ever so often to raise her eyebrows, and widen her eyes, as an indication to note the defense of her surmise. When she read that sociopaths never recognize the rights of others, and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible, she again turn her assured expression on me.

"Sound like any of your old Wall Street cronies, dad?"

Actually I could have named a few, but merely suggested she continue.

She then read how sociopaths were pathological liars, with an ability to create complexities about their own powers and abilities.

"Sounds like the spinnings of political pundits, or the false allures of commercial advertising to me, doesn't it?" She offered with another stare.

They lack remorse, and see others around them as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. They have no concern with wrecking others' lives and dreams, and are oblivious to the devastation they cause. They will not accept blame on themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.

When she was through she folded the piece of paper and returned it to her purse.

"Today, these attributions are admired by many in competitive vocations, and are consider traits of leadership. It is the root cause of why many industries are failing."

She then clutched her glass of wine.

"Social Darwinism has failed our Republic." She concluded before taking a sip.

I took this as a sign to return to engaging my fork and knife, which I delightfully procured.

"You are not at all alarmed by my observation." She asked.

"No," I responded, "it will change."

She peered across the table, distraughtly, as I continued cutting my food into eatable portions.

"It will turn," I offered, "it always does. This sort of appeal to avarice behavior was evident at the turn of the century; it ended with the great depression. We managed to turn things around, then, and created a sustainable economy that lasted nearly sixty years. America will gain its moral compass. It will come again."

"How?" She asked.

I paused, with fork and knife still firmly gripped in the clutch of each hand.

"Well, your young and ambitious, and you've observed this national character flaw. Do you honestly think you're alone with your observation? It may correct with the guidance of your generation, perhaps. Still, it will change. In the long run people become bored with immorality and self-serving acts."

She smiled.

"Finish you dinner, dad!

I need to begin preparing for the last evening of a ever disappointing decade, and anxiously anticipate the last dance of 2010. My resolution for the new year is to work with the people, to treat the insanity that is slowly eroding the wealth of the middle class, and discouraging the dreams and efforts of some many aspiring working class heroes.

Let's mark the new year as the moment in time to begin this goal!

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Charles Dickens

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Writer's Christmas Wish-list

I thought I'd better start composing my Santa wish-list of things I want this year. If Santa complies, here are some of the headlines that will be revealed in the new decade!

IRS regulations allow 401(K)contributions to be made in art and literature.
The S&P 500 plummets as investors liquidate and transfer funds, from Wall Street investments, into the more profitable commodities of art and literature. The paradigm shift- initially spurred by transaction fees dropping to less than 5%- takes hold when consistent long term annual yields of 12% are recognized in contemporary art purchases.
Investors, eager to find alternatives to the financial markets, have also begun investing in the long term appreciation of books. A new breed of literary annalists has replaced the conventional wisdom of stock advisers, and the investment choice is creating a American cultural renaissance.
Publishing houses have begun packaging books with usb data sticks that contain the text in e-reader formats,allowing investors to preserve the hardback copies in home libraries. Home libraries and art galleries have become as trendy as home wine cellars: each storing content that will potentially appreciate in value with age.

Corp bookstore chain coops with nation's public libraries
An amalgamated facility of resource and enlightenment has become a popular weekly evening destination for middle class families. As television viewing continues to abate, places like The Book Store and More chain has risen in popularity.The existence of this conglomerate of both public and private funding is shaping as a prototype of future endeavors.Each night visitors find an array of fascinating family activity, from production extravaganzas surrounding book readings for preschoolers, to media enhanced lectures on literary eras and personalities.
Strolling the aisles one finds senior citizens participating in reading groups and high schools students working collectively on school projects. Research advisers stand in information booths directing visitors to the activities surrounding any given subject on any given night. An appreciation of the sensations afforded by reading has brought the people together in community spirit. Books can either be purchased or borrowed from the library. The chain has experienced a 50% annualized growth rate and is expected to begin opening stores internationally next year.

Macy's literary and art section a hit with retailers.
Clothing brands and accessories associated with the current resurgence of art appreciation are adding to Macy's bottom line. Shoppers can find an array of eclectic buys, from purses styled in patterns inspired by artists such as Pollack and Monet, to white summer suits created by the author Tom Wolfe. For the more discretionary purchaser- nostalgic for the days of un generation perdue in late 20's Paris- evening wear and accessories can be found from the Zelda Fitzgerald Collection.
Some of the more popular novelty items are polo shirts embroidered with the corp. logo of Rearden Steel- inspired by Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged; porcelain school mugs adorned with the crest for Pencey Preparatory Academy- the school Holden Caulfield was dismissed from in J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye; and blue blazers sporting the Gemini pocket insignia of the Taggart Benson Museum; from John Milner's Benson's House.
A mannequin stands in the entrance of the department wearing a white t- shirt that is embroidered with the word Transcendentalism in black cursive lettering. The jeans worn are from the Bonanza Jellybean Collection and the mantilla covering the head and shoulders is adorned with a print of Picasso's Guernica.

Harper Lee's birthday becomes a national holiday
April 28th becomes the official Day of Reading for America. It began with the grass root efforts of Grace Merriweather- a retired librarian from Monroeville, Alabama- when she launched a movement that encouraged viewers to mute television sound and read during programing not written by The Writers Guild of America members. Americans soon took to the idea and found reading as having more entertainment appeal than shows like Dancing with the Stars. Grace's new found celebrity allowed her to continue her quest leading to the official day. It is suggested all patriots spend the initial holiday reading To Kill A Mockingbird .

John Milner's novel, Benson's House, is attributed to the inspiration for the summit for world peace.

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmound Ahmadinejad, announced plans to host a summit of world peace after reading John Milner's first novel: Benson's House. The President confessed to being inspired by Milner's theme of the common sense. He claimed to have experienced an epiphany after reading a passage provided by the character, Nathanial Benson. In it the character suggests a common voice is instilled within every human being. Benson expounds upon the instinctive sense of right and wrong, which he calls common compassion. This compassion is not enforced as canons of religion, or standards of fraternal orders. It is a homogeny of the Laws of Nature that all people are born with. It is the fabric that keeps us civil. It constitutes the desire for dignity and the drive to be recognized as the provider of the security- endowed by our mutual Creator- to allow all men, created equally, the right to their pursuit of Happiness. Ahmadinejad would like Milner to be a keynote speaker at the global summit for world peace.

Imagination dictates the formulations of wish-lists. Convictions cause those desires to become real.It is a formula that rewards sincerity, with, of course, Santa's help!

May your days be merry and bright...

Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus's lonely walk down the aisle.
"Miss Jean Louise?"
I looked around. they were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the oppisite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes's voice was as distant as Judge Taylor's:
"Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'."

Harper Lee

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ladies & Gentleman- The Congo Square Players!

As mentioned in previous posts, Congo Square was a New Orleans gathering place where plantation owners allowed slaves to united on Sunday afternoons. It was during the musical performances, on these Sunday outings, that the foundation of today's pop sound was formulated.

The name, Congo Square Players, is given as the stage name to the group of emancipated former slaves that begin performing at Benson's House during the years immediately following the end of the Civil War. Their appearance in the novel formulate the genesis of pop music. They are symbolic of the initial musical acts leading to the creation of Rock 'n' Roll.

Their sound is an adoption of spirituals, with foundations in the call and response songs sung by slaves while working in the plantation fields. It is from this style that a certain metaphorical composition is created. From the fields of slavery came the implied meaning of songs- speaking for the working class- with a voice that would challenge oppressive domination for generations.

A call and response is also referred to as a field holler. One individual would begin by singing a verse that was responded to by the others in the field. It allowed them to preoccupy their minds from the monotony of their activities. The verses often derived from the words taught to them through gospels and the epistles. Slaves found The New Testament filled with the promise of freedom. A faith of reaching the Promise land would often be emphasized by the reminder of the caller and the agreement then came from the response.

However, aside from the style that transcended pop music, the call and response became the precursor of the spiritual. On the surface, the words of the spiritual spoke of a promise of freedom. It seemed an innocent performance of an early type of Kumbayah, but the metaphoric lyric was also speaking to the counterculture of the day.

Songs like Wade in the Water suggest a cleaning of the soul through baptism, but the words were used to warn the runaway slaves to take routes through streams so to obstruct the bloodhound's scent trail. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot appears to be a spiritual about one day reaching heaven, but the words spoke of the underground railroad: "coming for to carry me home." It was sung to provoke slaves to become fugitives; to defy the dominance of their captivity and run. The spiritual is the earliest Songs of Freedom.

The music of the Congo Square Players were rooted in this tradition, but as the characters develop during the story, their expressions allow unique separations to occur. TJ Hardy, the elder of the ensemble, becomes a blues man when he's given a Spanish parlor guitar as a gift. Mary T. Covington, a young runaway house slave, adopts the spiritual and alternates the meanings to lament the loss of those she had abandoned when she fled. Her music leads to a creation of songs of loss love or Torch Songs. Another member of the group, Sonny Boy Hanks, gives concern to the melodies and originates a piano sound known as Ragtime.

This music blossoms and provides the soundtrack of our lives. It becomes Jazz and Rhythm 'n' Blues, and speaks against the exploitation of labor during the turn of the century. It became Folk Music protesting the treatment of migrant workers during the Depression, and demanding civil rights in the 50's and 60's. It became Rock 'n' Roll: the music of the common man.

The stories of the loves and tribulations of the people responsible for this saga evolve in a place called Benson's House, where the upstairs art gallery and basement tavern become the center of an artistic universe shaping modern day pop culture.

My next post will provide a look at the art that directed the trend towards our modern pop culture. A traditionalist approach was discarded, and a post-impressionist movement was introduced at The Armory Show in 1913, leading way to an expression of independence personified in the culture of Paris during the 1920's.

People get ready, there's a train comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
You don't need no ticket you just thank the lord

Curtis Mayfield

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dawn of Democracy

My initial intent for the novel, Benson's House, was to construct a historical fiction with each chapter a separate vignette standing independently, but when compiled together, documenting the evolution of pop culture. I deviated from that idea somewhat in the later chapters, but the first few can be read as individual sketches. This is especially true with the first chapter. It was written more with a desire to illustrate a conceived concept than to direct the plot.

I thought it would be interesting to develop a character who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg and then returned to his former combat location on the day of the ceremony to consecrate the grounds as the Civil War Cemetery. His presence on the day of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address needed to be coincidental; it could not be preordained.

The chapter introduces the protagonist, Justin Benson, who meets the profile. His is a young, illiterate, naive, wander, who allows spontaneity to dictate his course of action. He serves in the Thirteenth Independent Battery during the three day Battle of Gettysburg and is positioned in the Union Army's infamous “fish hook” formation on the high grounds known as Cemetery Hill. The chapter depicts his regiment's successfully held rank in preventing General Lee's Army from forging an advance leading to the roads for Philadelphia.

On the evening following the second day of combat, Benson is given a lantern, and wanders off the ridge onto the vast battlefield below. He stumbles upon a dying Rebel soldier and comforts him during his final moments of life. Just before his demise, the soldier apologizes for his treatment of his fellow man.

“Man is God’s finest creation." He states. "It seem a shame, we treat his works, with such reckless abandon.

Benson never learns the boys name and becomes convinced that somehow his existence on earth is preventing him from passing onto the afterlife. He stands alone with the body as the howls of wounded soldiers echo in the night.

I initially wanted to create this scene, allegorically, as a metaphor to the insensibility of war. I also intended to illustrate a disturbing setting that seemed plausible of convincing the Benson character to spend the remainder of his life in support of humanity.

Justin Benson becomes one of the originating promoters of the music that became Rock 'n' Roll. Through stories describing the lives of future Benson generations, music stands the course of time in championing a defiance against human suffering and abuse. It serves as a fanfare for the common man and develops as the sound track of our current pop culture.

When a friend read one of the first drafts of the first chapter, he commented on how unrealistic it seemed for Benson to return to Cemetery Hill, during the twilight of morning, and falling immediately asleep at his former post. I argued the journey had kept the young protagonist awake for over a day and he was exhausted from the long march, but agreed that something was missing.

I was certain the scene was to have effective impact with him arriving at the former battle station in the dark of night, sleeping, and then awaking to find the stage for the ceremony had been placed above the spot where the Rebel soldier died. I felt it compelling to have Lincoln recite his ceremonial speech above the ground where the boy had perished. However, I agreed something needed to be added.

One day, while still struggling with a solution to the void, I was sitting at a bar, conversing with a stranger sitting beside me. I'm not sure how the topic was breached, but the person told me he had recently read an essay that claimed the concepts of political theory and the origin of democracy had more than likely been conceived under the intoxication of wine in a Athenian symposium. He enthusiastically ranted on with how euphoric inebriation had defined the ideals of a Utopian society, and how debauchery lead to Plato's principals in The Republic.

Being much less erudite, and not completely understanding all the references to Platonism, I instead heard elements that allowed me to imagine a surreal hall serving as a way station between life and death. I came up with an image of both Benson and the Rebel soldier wrapped in linen, lying on separate couches in a cavernous hall cooled by a surrounding wall of rigid stone glistening in cascading waters. Between the two former soldiers laid a large clay vase filled with wine. A young steward poured wine into the goblets they were holding, while a semi- nude courtesan entertained them with music she played on her flute.

The image was much more appealing than the boosterism for Athens coming from the man sitting next to me.

This became the setting for a dream Benson has while sleeping before the ceremonial dedication at Gettysburg. I felt the scene effectively filled the void and brought the chapter in line with the plot of the story. Benson would dream he was in a symposium, during the dawn of democracy, and would learn from the Rebel boy that he was destine to create a similar place on earth. This place was to become the center of a artistic universe, and the Rebel boy was to serve as his guide until he reaches his destiny. The symposium on earth would serve the common man and provide the songs of freedom; of the people; by the people; for the people.

This becomes the premise of the novel. Chapter 2 begins to tell the events of how the symposium on earth was established, and begins the portrayal of the role it played in developing music and art for over one hundred years. Justin Benson's destiny is brought to a brownstone building on Bleeker Street, in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1865. The activities in that building are what shapes pop culture for decades to follow.

My next post will concentrate on the origin of the music. It came from the elements of slave songs, sung in the fields to distract from the toils of arduous labor. The lyrics spoke of optimism; of hope. The songs of freedom; of one day reaching the Promise land found in place called Benson's House.

Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the almighty
We forward in this generation
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs

Bob Marley