Hyperrealism and the Philosophy of Jean Baudrillard

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment
Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard

In a short story by Jorge Luis Borges a country creates an extremely detailed map that has a scale of one mile to the mile.  In short, the map is the same size as the country with all the detail of the country.  The map expands or retracts as the empire gains or loses territory.

But then one day the country collapses suddenly and with such rapidity that all that remains is the map.  Yet this is not as tragic as it at first appears, for the map suffices in the absence of the country.  The simulation is as good as the reality.

Although the story doesn’t go so far, the philosopher Jean Baudrillard imagines what could happen next.  The actual country is forgotten, but the map carries on.  The simulation now represents nothing.  It is its own reality, and it can be manipulated or changed at will.  It can be amplified or muted. [1]

Imagine a city that grows so fast it completely eradicates the natural world.  As Joni Mitchell puts it, “They have paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”  Then one day the people of the city look around and decide that what’s needed are a few trees, some grass, maybe some flowers and shrubs.  So they bring them in, dig holes in the pavement for them, grow them and nurture them.

Jesus and the Devil

Jesus and the Devil by Harry Sudman

Soon the people of the city begin to shape the shrubs and graft the plants.  They are building their own reality, one that mimics the natural world, amplifies it, changes it.  Their simulation of reality is more real than the nature it mimics.  The actual natural world is long gone, buried under the pavement of the city, but the simulated world is vibrant and growing, and eventually loses its reference to the actual world it replaced.

This view is at the heart of the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard who asserts that in the post-modern world there is no such thing as reality, only the simulation of reality.  In such a world objects have no actual meaning, since they have lost their original referent.  Consequently, meaning is created through difference – through what something is not (so “bird” means “bird” because it does not mean -“frog “, not-“cow”, not-“stone”, etc.).  The object becomes situated in a web of meaning.  It is only understood in reference to other objects within the same web, and this complicates things. [2]

As man searches for meaning he becomes lost, confused, groping through a vast array of reflective referents.  Eventually he becomes seduced, chasing one set of interpretations to the very pinnacle of its implications, which is itself a simulated version of reality.  This intense focus on a single set of interpretations, a restricted yet overemphasized interpretation of meaning is what Baudrillard terms hyper-reality. [3]

In the paintings of Harry Sudman the philosophy of Baudrillard resonates.  As with other hyper-realist artists, Sudman’s subjects appear so intensely real, so even beyond reality, that the viewer’s first reaction may be to take a step back with a feeling that they’ve been provoked.  In a sense they have.  The confrontational nature of hyper-realism is owing to the heightened concentration on a single version of the truth, a version we may not be entirely comfortable with, even though we are fascinated by it, seduced by it.

Baudrillard’s post-modernist world view is exemplified throughout modern culture. Wherever a restricted yet overemphasized interpretation of meaning is clustered around a subject that is vague or nebulous we are seeing it.  From processed foods to overproduced music.  From mega-churches to the news media.  We are seeing a set of interpretations intensely and insistently applied – put forward as “the truth”- to a subject whose original referent is vague or elusive.

Baudrillard would say that, to their adherents, these versions of reality are real, more real in fact, than what they are trying to interpret.

Like the map that has come to stand in for the country, they are all that we have.  Yet they are subject to manipulation and prone to distortion, and if we are not totally bought into their version of reality, they may cause us to take a step back for a moment, before we become seduced.  ♦

Author and Client:  This article was written by Malcolm Logan for Sudman Art.com

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Sources

1 Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulations. The Precession of Simulacra. European Graduate School.

2 see Baudrillard’s final major publication in English, The Intelligence of Evil, where he discusses the political fallout of what he calls “Integral Reality”

3 Wikipedia contributors, “Jean Baudrillard.”Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Baudrillard Retrieved 2010-02-27
Image Credits

Jean Baudrillard, European Graduate School; Jesus and the Devil, Sudman Art

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The Least of Our Worries: Inflation and the Hysteria About Printing Money

February 18, 2011 1 comment
Titanic Sinking

Our economy nearly hit an iceberg. The disaster would've been catastrophic.

Our economy nearly hit an iceberg.  We heard the ice scraping.  We veered out of the way.  Even now we’re still not sure if we’re in the clear.  There could be other icebergs, and along the bow there’s a murmur, a sound not of water, but of something even more terrifying, out of control inflation.

Among some there is a concern, bordering on hysteria, that printing money to stave off the economic crisis has created conditions that will lead to the eventual collapse of the dollar. Printing money is foolish.  Printing money is reckless.  Printing money always leads to out of control inflation.  Always.

But before we start oiling up the rifles and stocking the basement with canned goods, let’s consider what the banks are doing.  Let’s watch the banks.  Banks are rabid to make money.  Banks particularly like to make money through speculation. So do they think the collapse of the dollar is imminent?

What is Inflation?

Printing Money

Most economists agree that adding to the money supply leads to inflation - but this is not gospel.

Banks know this: inflation is a rise in the general level of prices of goods and services over time.  This rise in prices is usually accompanied by a simultaneous erosion in the purchasing power of money.  Put another way, inflation is an upward spiral in prices accompanied by a downward spiral in buying power.

Businesses hate inflation because uncertainty over the future value of money discourages investment.  Labor hates inflation because inflation goads employees to demand rapid wage increases to keep up with prices or face a loss of buying power which is tantamount to a pay cut.

Most economists agree that inflation is fueled by an excessive growth of the money supply.  Since the law of supply and demand determines the value of most things, a country usually prefers to keep its paper money a scarce resource; in other words, the demand for a country’s currency should be greater than its supply.  When the supply becomes greater than the demand the value of the currency drops.

However, the degree to which the growth of the money supply influences inflation has never been accepted as gospel.  Like Economics itself, there are several schools of thought.

What is a Dollar Actually Worth?

Economics is not a hard science like Biology.  It has not been categorized, theorized, empirically tested and set in stone.  Economics is a work in progress, like Psychology or Sociology, not like Math or Physics.  It remains wide open to conjecture; there are disagreements, and what’s more, unfolding events add something new, a wildcard.

The fear about printing money proceeds from several faulty beliefs.  First, that the agreed upon value of a dollar is fixed by some tangible asset.  To put it bluntly, there is a widespread assumption that a dollar is worth something to begin with – presumably something worth a dollar.  It is not.

Fun and Profit with Currency Debasement

Roman Coins

The Romans were the first to get the clever idea of debasing their currency.

In the beginning money – coins to be exact – had “specie value”.  They were worth their weight in gold, or silver or copper or some other valuable metal, literally.  The first inflation was brought about by the Roman Emperor Commodus when he debased coins by introducing worthless metals into the alloy.  Nine-tenths of the coins were still gold, but one-tenth was lead.  Not surprisingly, this soon brought about a ten percent rate of inflation.  Later emperors were less transparent about their debasement of the currency which only led to worse inflation due to uncertainty about the true value of the coins.

In spite of the risks, governments have routinely debased their currencies throughout history in an effort to increase the money supply.  In most cases it has led to inflation, but not all.  In some cases consumers have continued to believe in the value of the currency even when they understood that the currency was debased.

Beginning in the 1700’s many countries began introducing bank notes to represent the amount of gold or other valuable metals held in possession.  Pieces of paper are easier to transport than mounds of coins, so this was a sensible solution, “fiat  money”, otherwise known as bank notes (or dollar bills) began to replace coins as a representation of tangible wealth held elsewhere (most likely in banks).  On the other hand, it allowed for mischief.

Let’s Print Some Money!

Money for Sale

Some governments can't resist the urge to print money. In Somalia they have plenty of it. But no one's rich.

Governments in desperate need of money, to finance wars or grapple with natural disasters or cover up their own wasteful extravagance, couldn’t resist the urge to print money in excess of what they had in gold reserves.  The South during the Civil War is a perfect example.  Betting that their victory in the war would eventually bring them great wealth from cotton exports, they printed confederate dollars to finance the war, in effect promissory notes against future wealth.  When it was clear that the South was going to lose the war, inflation went through the roof, and then the confederate dollars became worthless.

However, this didn’t stop the US government and others from printing paper money that had no actual basis in wealth.  Ostensibly bank notes were tied to the gold standard – meaning that their value was based on gold held in reserves – but often they painted outside the lines to finance land booms or gold rushes, resulting in a painful cycle of booms and busts in the late 19th and early 20th century.

In the 1930’s Franklin Roosevelt decided to end the charade and officially took the United States off the gold standard, switching to a monetary system backed only by the laws of the country.  In a sense this was virtually the same thing the South did during the Civil War, betting that a victory in war, in this case World War II, would infuse a precarious currency with great wealth – betting on the come, as it were.

This time it worked.  With the destruction of Europe and Asia, the United States became the world’s primary repository of wealth and the value of the American dollar soared, fueling the postwar boom which lasted until the 1970’s.

But the fact remained; the US dollar was backed by nothing other than the full faith and credit of the United States government.  The world followed suit, removing their currencies from the gold standard.

As Good as…

Prospector

Who doesn't want more gold? Gold means stability and reliability. Right?

In abandoning the gold standard the world crossed an important threshold.  Henceforth, money would not be based on anything of tangible worth – it was simply a measure of the people’s faith in a given currency.

The current run up in gold prices is a direct reflection of Americans’ lack of faith in their currency.  Many people think that by buying gold they are buying something that is more reliable than greenbacks.  However, the only reason gold is currently so valuable is because people believe it is.  The amount of gold in the world has not changed, so its value is a matter of speculation.

Arguably, the probability that gold is overvalued (that there is currently a speculative “bubble”) is much greater than the probability that the dollar is losing value.  However, when the value of gold plummets, when the bubble breaks, it will probably not negatively affect the dollar, because the dollar is not tied to gold.  It’s not tied to anything.  A dollar is not actually worth anything, except what people think its worth.

The Fiction of Money

Today, in the new global economy, we have gone even further, not only is our money not actually worth anything, in most cases it doesn’t even exist.

Another faulty assumption that people cling to is the belief that the government is printing money.  Alarmists on the right love repeat this as if it’s fact.  “The government is printing money!  Disaster looms!”

Awash in Dollar

The country is awash in hundred dollar bills! Actually, em... nope.

Actually, in most cases when the Fed wants to increase the money supply, it doesn’t “print” dollars.  Instead, it pushes a few buttons on a keyboard.  Magically, the amount of money available for banks to borrow from the Fed increases.

When banks do borrow (at zero percent interest currently) what changes hands is nothing more than a few numbers on a computer screen.  The banks show an increase in assets on their books with an accompanying liability to the Fed.  No actual money changes hands.  The money doesn’t actually exist, not in tangible form.  The country is not awash in dollar bills.  The money is largely a fiction.

So what do the banks do with all that fictitious money?  Well, the assumption is that they return it to the American economy in the form of lending to businesses and individuals, putting all that largesse into the hands of the people in the form of paper money, which, if it actually happened, might lead to job growth, business investment, and, yes, inflation.

But that’s not what’s happening.

What Would Citibank Do?

Look around, banks are not lending to the American people.  Instead they are speculating, or sitting on the money, driving up their stock prices by showing enormous cash reserves.  When they do invest they are increasingly investing in multinational corporations which are, increasingly, investing in overseas ventures, specifically those offering cheap labor.  In so doing, they are fueling downward pressure on American wages and moving the money offshore.  From an inflationary perspective this means that there will be no upward pressure on wages in the US for the foreseeable future.

Avoiding an Iceberg

We avoided an iceberg. If we spilled your drink, sorry about that.

With no upward pressure on wages and US dollars being diffused throughout the global economy the usual pressures leading to inflation are subdued.

This is not to say that the United States can go on adding to the money supply indefinitely.  Nor is it to imply that there is no danger in having added so much already.  The current temperament in Washington for cost cutting is well reasoned and to be applauded.  The United States cannot continue its spendthrift ways and must make some hard decisions if the country is to retain its position in the world.  But if the issue is the imminent threat of inflation, the fear is probably overblown.

To see how little the fear of inflation is affecting the economy just look at mortgages.  If the banks truly felt that rampant inflation was just around the corner they would refinance fixed rate mortgages at variable rates starting now, with interest rates at 3%.  With the advent of inflation those interest rates could be expected to climb, going from 3% to 5%, and then 8%, 10%, 12%, and with a high degree of inflation, 18%, 22% and higher.

Think about it, what bank would not want to refinance an 8% mortgage at 3% if, within ten years, that mortgage could be expected to rise to 25%?

Yet the banks won’t refinance at all, not even with a variable rate, unless the equity in the home is greater than 20%.

It seems clear that the banks are not speculating on an increase in inflation.

The United States added hugely to the money supply in recent years in an effort to stave off the economic crisis.  That’s a fact.  But having done so, it doesn’t mean the table is set for an even worse crisis.

To wring our hands now over the threat of inflation is like complaining that our drink spilled because the Titanic took a sharp turn to avoid an iceberg.

Clean up the drink and stop fretting.  You avoided a catastrophe.  It could’ve been worse.  ♦

Author and Client:  This article was written by Malcolm Logan for Searchwarp

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Image Credits:

Titanic Sinking, Public Domain; Printing Money, Daily Tape; Roman Coins, Capital Numismatic Group; Money for Sale, Bartez; Prospector, Tony Oliver; Awash in Hundred Dollar Bills, 2bgr8; Avoiding an Iceberg, Kim Hansen

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Hyperrealism: A Version of Reality Beyond the Photographic

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Harry Sudman's PaintingArt that makes you stop and look again.  That’s a good description of the striking genre of painting known as hyperrealism.  A simple glance may make you think it’s merely a photograph.  But let the eye linger a moment longer and you will sense something’s up.  This is photographic reality, yes.  But it’s something more.

Hyperrealism is distinguished from photorealism because it uses the photographic image as a departure point.  While strict photorealists strive to imitate the photographic image1, hyperrealists build on it, creating a more sharply defined, meticulously detailed image, a version of reality that goes beyond the photographic.2

The hyperrealist paintings of Harry Sudman, like most other paintings in the genre, honor the philosophic thinking of Jean Baudrillard in striving to achieve “the simulation of something which never existed.” 3 His oversized panels blow up the original photographic source material ten to twenty times.  His lighting and shading effects lend a tangible solidity and a striking presence to the subject matter.  His use of fragmentation – breaking up the images into separate panels punctuated by squares of color – creates a pulsating affect, as if bursts of color and image have been stitched into the wall.  Like most hyperrealist paintings, Harry Sudman’s paintings confront the viewer with a new sense of reality.

Confrontation is part of the thematic underpinnings of hyperrealism.  Because photorealism grew out of the Pop Art movement of the 50’s and 60’s, those paintings tend to be acutely mechanical with an emphasis on the commonplace. 4

Hyperrealist paintings, by contrast, use the amplification of reality to provoke.  Hyperrealist painters like Denis Peterson and Latif Maulan have tackled subject matter as harrowing as poverty and genocide. 5│6 Harry Sudman’s work gets at the idealization or eroticism, using the confrontational nature of hyperrealism – its heightened color and sharp definition – to peer through the soft focus of conventional eroticism to the stark, often disturbing reality beneath.

It’s art that makes you stop and look twice.  It confronts and heightens.  It takes traditional photography and uses it as a springboard to something more.  Hyperrealism is a genre for our time, a way of reaching beyond the merely mechanical to a world of intriguing, arresting and sometimes frightening possibilities.  ♦

Author and Client:  This article was written by Malcolm Logan for Sudman Art.com

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Sources:

1  Chase, Linda, Photorealism at the Millennium, The Not-So-Innocent Eye: Photorealism in Context. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, 2002. pp 14-15.

2  Meisel, Louis K. Photorealism. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, New York. 1980. p. 12.

3  Jean Baudrillard, “Simulacra and Simulation”, Ann Arbor Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1981

4  New Britain Museum of American Art – Educational Resources

5  Robert Ayers, Art Critic, “Art Without Edges: Images of Genocide in Lower Manhattan”, Art Info June 2, 2006

6 Daniel Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1992). ISBN 978-0-679-74180-0

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The 10 Most Romantic Cities in the USA

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment

The United States is full of gorgeous places to be in love, but these top ten stand out for the sort of ambiance and attitude that excite the passions and warm the heart…

#10 Woodstock, VT

Woodstock, VT

Classic New England.

Quaint, lovely Woodstock with its white steeple churches, covered bridges and lush green rolling hills is a classic New England getaway and the perfect place for pitching woo.  In autumn you can walk hand-in-hand through woodlands drenched in stunning reds and golds.

 

In winter you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a painting by Currier and Ives when you take a horse-drawn sleigh ride before stopping to dine at one of the village’s many fine restaurants.  Woodstock has a nice selection of historic B&B’s to choose from and provides a serene setting for hushed conversation over a candlelit table as a horse-drawn carriage goes clopping by.  Historic small town charm of the very best kind.

#9 Santa Fe, NM

Santa Fe, NM

When night descends on Santa Fe...

When night descends on Santa Fe and the desert moon hangs over the Sangre de Cristo mountains, romance is in the air.  Everywhere is the dream-like glow of warmly lit adobe.  Shop windows reveal a profusion of silver and turquoise, the color and symmetry of Navajo blankets, the red poppies and purple sunsets of Georgia O’Keefe.  The aroma of desert sage mingles with the scent of a crackling fire.  Somewhere in the distance someone is singing an old cowboy song.

 

On the Plaza at the head of the old Santa Fe Trail, hotels and restaurants abound, some in the Spanish Colonial style.  Here you will find nouvelle cuisine heavily influenced by Mexican cooking, rich red wines, peerless rib eye steaks, elk tenderloin and plenty of green and red chiles.  Enjoy a spa experience during the day or go for a hike along the Chamisa Trail.  For romance with a western flare, nothing beats Santa Fe.

#8 Charleston, SC

 

Charleston, SC

Spanish moss and magnolias.

Once upon a time, in the romantic antebellum past, southern gentlemen wearing swords and cravats bowed to perfumed ladies on the pillared porches of Charleston.  Today, Charleston retains much of the flavor of its romantic past.  Stroll along cobblestone streets past restored antebellum homes, stop to whisper sweet endearments beneath ancient oaks dripping in Spanish moss, steal a kiss before handsome wrought iron gates and rustling palms.

 

Down at Waterfront Park, amidst the gardens and fountains, find the porch swings and sit together, enjoying each other’s company, as you look out at the harbor, waiting for the sun to set, waiting for a sky awash in stars.  Afterwards, dine at one of Charleston’s many fine restaurants.  Daytime activities can include shopping at the famous King Street shopping district or a side trip to the beach.  At night you can stay at a restored antebellum hotel or a romantic B&B.  Charleston exudes romance, just as it did a hundred years ago.

#7 Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

 

Carmel, CA

Romance California-style.

Carmel’s cobblestone streets and whimsical old world charm make for a lovely idyll by the sea.  Just 26 miles up the coast from Big Sur via scenic Route 1, this small town with something more is all about romance, California-style.  Those wanting to immerse themselves in the vibe will want to start with a stroll through Carmel village with its art galleries, boutiques and specialty shops before picking up a picnic basket at one of the local restaurants and heading down to the white sand beach where plenty of secluded picnic spots await.  Here a couple can wile away the time on a blanket with a bottle of wine and some gourmet cheese as the waves crash and crawl on the sand.

 

Later, the happy couple can take in a film under the stars at the Forest Theatre, the oldest outdoor theatre west of the Rockies, or enjoy cocktails on the patio at Mission Ranch overlooking Carmel River Beach while listening to live jazz.  Five star dining is right around the corner and first rate accommodations are nearby.  Carmel-by-the-Sea is California’s small town song to romantic couples seeking a scenic seaside retreat. 

#6 Miami Beach, FL

 

Miami, FL

Miami gets the blood moving.

For those in love, Miami Beach can certainly get the blood moving.  Start by joining the poolside scene early at The Clevelander Hotel amidst the art deco gems on Ocean Drive.  Then slip away to enjoy one of the most unique and sensual dining experiences in the country at B.E.D.  This restaurant replaces tables with king-size beds so you and your significant other can cozy up as you dine.  Want some seclusion?  Just pull the drapes closed.  But be sure to let the waitress in to deliver the outstanding French/Brazilian cuisine.  You may be tempted to stay for the dancing but drag yourself away to enjoy a stroll down Ocean Drive where the sexy neon and art deco details lend a delicious flare to the Latin beats spilling out of hotel after hotel.

The next morning relax at the News’ Café.  Enjoy a café Cubano at a sidewalk table as you watch the models and celebrities stroll by.  Later you can rent a cabana and recline in privacy on lounge beds as you relax seaside.  Don’t forget to work in some time for shopping at dazzling Lincoln Road or historic Espanola Way with its Mediterranean Revival architecture hearkening back to the 1920’s.  Miami Beach is rich with ambiance and sensuality, a perfect getaway for those with passion in their hearts.

#5 Aspen, CO

 

Aspen, CO

A magical place for lovers.

For lovers in Aspen, world class skiing and shopping are just part of what’s on offer.    Start the day with a champagne brunch complete with chocolate-covered strawberries and flowers courtesy of Unicorn Balloon Company followed by a magical balloon ride across the snow-capped peaks.  Follow up with a gondola ride to Aspen summit and spend some time relaxing on the spacious Sundeck watching the beautiful people mix and mingle.  Return to Aspen village for a couples’ yoga class at O2 Aspen Spa, and follow it up with a couples massage at the Remède Spa at the St. Regis Hotel.

Your evening might include a horse-drawn sleigh ride to a rustic cabin where you can enjoy venison and caribou courtesy of Pine Creek Cookhouse before returning to your lodgings for a soak in a steaming outdoor hot tub.  Late night cocktails and dancing take place at Mezzaluna, and you can end the night with a quiet nightcap at the genteel Hotel Jerome Library Bar.  Oh, and did I mention, there is also world class skiing and shopping?

#4 New Orleans, LA

New Orleans, LA

Gas lights and jazz.

After dark under the palms, as you stroll past Creole cottages and the sound of jazz lilts in the air, you may stop to kiss beneath a flickering gaslight on a secluded street that feels for all the world as if it’s unchanged from a hundred years before.  You are in love in New Orleans and there are few better places to be.  In the morning it’s beignets and chicory coffee at Café du Monde before taking a stroll along the Mississippi river, gazing out at paddleboat steamers and watercraft of all kinds.  Back in Jackson Square before the resplendent white St. Louis Cathedral jugglers, street artists and fortune tellers gather to entertain you.

The warmth and authenticity of the people can’t help but mellow you and awaken a warm spot in your heart.  Take your lover to one of the world class antique dealers on Royal Street or stop by an art gallery.  Enjoy the culinary delights of Cajun and Creole cuisine, immerse yourself in the history and ethnicity of America’s only true Caribbean city, listen to a wonderful variety of music in the narrow warren of 18th century streets.  Enjoy a glass of absinthe, take a streetcar past the antebellum mansions of the garden district, retire to a quaint B&B with French doors that open to sultry streets, and kiss again beneath the flickering gaslights.  Romance in New Orleans is hard to beat.

#3 Honolulu, HI

 

Honolulu, HI

America's island paradise.

A thousand miles away in the middle of the Pacific lies America’s own tropical island chain, home to luaus and leis, ukuleles and tiki.  Hawaii’s charms seem made for those in love.  Friendly natives bow and slip a garland of blossoms over your head to welcome you to their domain, a place of white sand beaches, green peaks and fragrant flowers.  On a crystal clear Honolulu morning you can awaken to breakfast in bed at a luxury Waikiki resort, or take a stroll down the beach as crescents of surf spread out at your feet.

The Waimea Arboretum is an ideal place to wile away the time, home to a lush variety of tropical flowers spread out over 150 acres.  The scent of hibiscus will be in the air as you repair to the Na Hoola oceanfront spa for a couple’s massage  In the evening enjoy open air-dining in the formal dining room at La Mer with its picturesque views of Diamond Head.  The next day go scuba diving or learn to surf.  Take a sunset dinner cruise or hike to the silken waterfalls in Akaka Falls State Park.  Don’t forget to attend a luau and enjoy a fruity drink as you watch the hula dancers.  Honolulu has so much to offer couples in love.  This American city is truly an island paradise.

#2 New York, NY

New York, NY

A city legendary for Romance.

New York’s status as one of the nation’s most romantic cities is legendary.  Depicted in dozens of films and books, penned by writers as diverse as Neil Simon and Henry James, New York’s ambitious energy, flavored with just the right amounts of elegance and danger, create a heady mixture that seems bound to spark romance.

Everywhere you go you are reminded of other lovers who have been there before you.  Standing outside the windows at Tiffany’s you are reminded of Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak.  On the observation deck of the Empire State Building you recall Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember.  At the ice skating rink in Rockefeller Center you think of Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack in Serendipity. Under the Brooklyn Bridge at the River Café you are reminded of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Manhattan. And the carriage ride in Central Park?  Well, suffice it to say that the romantic places to eat, drink or recreate in New York City are almost too numerous to mention.  Suffice it to say, that New York’s wonderful electric atmosphere, unmatched anywhere in the world, make it one of the top romantic destinations in the US.

#1 San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, CA

Romance on another scale.

Being in love in San Francisco is an experience that everyone should have at least once in a lifetime.  The matchless charm and beauty of the City by the Bay are a powerful tonic for romance.  Everywhere is grace and sensuality, from the iconic span of the Golden Gate Bridge to the cable cars pulling gently up the hills overlooking the bay.  Whether you are flying a kite on the lawn before the Marina or watching a wedding in the columed rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts you can’t help but be struck by the romantic savor of the place.

Luxuriate in the Edwardian ambiance at the Hotel Majestic where you will have your own fireplace, claw-footed bath tub and Turkish robes.  Enjoy coffee at the Café Trieste with its historic Italian ambiance.  Dine in the middle of the bay at Forbe’s Island, the only man-made floating island in the world.  Sail out past barking sea lions and wheeling gulls and watch the sunset from the lighthouse.  From the narrow streets of Chinatown to the bowling greens and Japanese gardens of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco offers a wide range of experiences to excite and entice lovers.  When Tony Bennett sang about leaving his heart in San Francisco he didn’t mean that he’d left his lover there, he meant he would not be in love again as he had been in love in San Francisco.  Romance in San Francisco is love on another scale.  So San Francisco is our top romantic city in the USA.  ♦

Author and Client:  This article was written by Malcolm Logan for My American Odyssey.com

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Image credits:

Woodstock, VT, wallpaperweb.org; Santa Fe, NM, santafenm.gov; Charleston, SC, theothersideofme-tl.blogspot.com; Carmel, CA, public domain; Miami Beach, FL, socapa.org; Aspen, CO, public domain; New Orleans, LA, Sami Cetinkaya; Honolulu, HI, Cumulus Clouds; New York, NY, public domain; San Francisco, CA, Franco Folini.

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The End of National Governments: The Shocking, Unforeseen Impact of the Internet Revolution

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment
Egyptian Riot Police

Egyptian protestors confront riot police.

Egypt has a problem.  For nearly 30 years the Egyptian people have been living under an autocratic regime and they are fed up.  Once again, the power of the internet is being credited with building and sustaining this popular uprising.  In fact, we are now looking at our third “Twitter uprising” in two years.  What is happening here?

Presently Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, is cooling his heels in a London jail.  What our government will do when they get hold of him we will not be permitted to know, but it won’t be pretty.

The US government has been pulling its hair out over the infuriating audacity of WikiLeaks in exposing government secrets.  Never mind that many of those secrets are along the lines of criticizing world leaders for being venal, stupid or self-indulgent (stuff we could’ve guessed) or revealing that the Pakistanis are not very good allies (stuff that is obvious to anyone who has bothered to read a book about Afghanistan).  Nevertheless, we are urged by the media to disdain Assange as a dangerous radical, to be outraged by his irresponsible whistle-blowing.  And we comply, by and large, without thinking it through more deeply.

Naturally, if someone is revealing government secrets that endanger soldiers in the field, or jeopardizing military strategy, those revelations are criminal.  But we are not being asked to parse the leaks released by WikiLeaks.  Rather, the government and the media want a blanket condemnation of Assange and his ilk.  In other words, they want the ability to silence internet whistle-blowers any time they feel like it, and they want our approval in doing so.  For now, we are willing to give it.  But will we always be?

A World Without Borders

Julian Assange

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.

We are less than ten years away from accurate and reliable voice translation software.  Soon we will be able to hold our cell phones up to someone speaking another language and play it back in English.  We are on the verge of a world without language barriers.

Language is the greatest single impediment to cultural assimilation.  Remove it and you have a whole different world, one where an angry radical in Pakistan can have a frank conversation with a Bible college student in Little Rock, if they care to talk to each other, and increasingly they do.

Quite literally, the young people taking to the streets in Egypt (and getting clobbered and killed for it) are the same people some of you have been playing Farmville and Mafia Wars with.  How does it effect you differently when Muhammed (Mafia War name: Bugsy), the same fellow who helped you score a pair of brass knuckles and a chain gun, is slain by riot police in Cairo; or when Oscar fails to show up for his chess match at six because he got blown up in a car bomb in Mexico City?

My guess is that it brings it home to you, unfiltered, without spin, viscerally – and if you should ever start communicating with these people outside the social gaming world, should you ever have frank conversations with them about things that really matter, and find that, by golly, you actually like them, you might start getting angry about government efforts to silence them.

Political and Cultural Fragmentation

Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck, defining what it means to be an American.

The internet is a huge and growing problem for national governments – all governments – even the ones pretending to be open and aboveboard.  If people start talking to each other across languages, across national boundaries, across cultures, and find common cause, this could, eventually, lead to the decline of national governments, and the beginning of a new tribalism.

We are only a nation because we agree to be, because we believe more strongly in our national identity than we do in our other possible identities, ie., international businesspeople, artists, aid workers, players of Mafia Wars, etc.  But if that identity is called into question, if it’s diminished or trivialized, it can fade into insignificance.

The noisy fringes on the right and the left have developed a nasty habit of calling into question the patriotism of those they disagree with.  The right wing in particular, behind politicians like Sarah Palin and mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, are fond of declaring who is and who is not “an American”.  They would dearly like those who disagree with them to go away.  They may get their wish.

Today, rational political discussion is becoming increasingly difficult.  Compromise is scorned.  To make matters worse, many Americans, regardless of political affiliation, feel the government no longer represents them.  The whipsaw nature of politics today has a lot to do with this.  In trying to please both sides the government is failing to please either. Ultimately the country could split.  But don’t expect a civil war.  Fragmentation is the likelier outcome.

Pioneers in a New Global Mindset

Unemployment Line

Unemployment line. Who exactly does the government work for?

Throughout history the process has played out.  When the tribe gets too big, growing out of touch with its people, fissures develop and ultimately the tribe breaks up into smaller units.  The breakup of the British Empire is but the most recent example.  We are on the verge of another.  The internet will accelerate the process, and corporate greed could provide another catalyst.

Locavores, permaculturists and barter clubs are experimenting with living off the grid, looking for ways to work around an economy that no longer works for them but works instead for giant multi-national corporations who sometimes seek to increase their profits at the expense of the public.

Seen another way, these corporations are working for their stockholders, the members of their tribe.  When they act in the interests of their stockholders at the expense of the general public, their tribal identity is greater than their national identity.  Whether or not they realize it, they are pioneers in a new global mindset, one that places tribal identity above national identity.

The End of National Governments.  Is This Going Too Far?

The Treaty of Westphalia

The Treaty of Westphalia. Inventing the concept of national governments.

Despite what most people think, the nation state has not always been with us.  In the full arc of western history it is a relatively recent development.  Prior to 1648 most social and political groups in Europe were essentially tribal.  They overlapped and impinged upon each other frequently, leading to war and strife.  Even in Roman times, the great Roman Empire was more like a sequence of military occupations imposed on tribal peoples than a vast nation state as we think of it today.

The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 changed all that.  It established the concept of sovereign nations based on territoriality and fixed the idea of national self-determination.  It was an elegant idea and an effective one for its time.  But we may be growing past it.

Today, plagued by intractable political divisions, convinced that our governments no longer represent us, we find ourselves networking more effectively with like-minded people all over the world, defining ourselves culturally, economically and politically in ways that transcend national boundaries.  The day is rapidly approaching when our tribal identity could become more important than our national identity.  The one thing that could kick this whole process into overdrive is governments’ attempts to suppress it.

The Drift Toward New Tribalism

Riot police attack

The coming crackdown may take many forms.

Cracking down can take many forms.  Watch how the US government redefines and picks apart net neutrality.  Recasting whistle-blowers as dangerous radicals is an effective way to eviscerate the prime responsibility of journalism to speak truth to power.  At the far end of the spectrum the billy club of the Egyptian security forces gets the job done.  But it won’t work.

Governments that try to suppress the free exchange of ideas on the internet may briefly succeed but will ultimately fail, either because they lack the will to impose harsh and unrelenting restrictions on freedom of speech – any chink will only lead to a groundswell of discontent – or because they act to clamp down so thoroughly, like North Korea, that they become irrelevant in the global economy and a pariah in the community of nations.

The drift toward tribalism is on.  We are likely headed toward a world constituted of self-sustaining, supra-geographical governmental units working, where possible, in conjunction with one another, but not represented or overseen by a traditional national government defined by territoriality.

It won’t be pretty.  We will experience many hiccups and set-backs before we get there (the most likely outcome in Egypt is an even more autocratic government, probably one with an Islamist cast) but the general trend is away from ineffectual, heavy-handed national governments toward something better, a world where the power of the internet to bring us together is allowed to flourish, a new tribalism that allows individuals to grow and prosper within a community of their own preference and definition.  ♦

Author and Client:  This article was written by Malcolm Logan for Searchwarp

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Photo Credits:

Egyptian Riot Police, Muhammad Ghafari; Julian Assange, New Media Days; Glenn Beck, Luke X. Martin; Unemployment Line, FEMA (public domain); The Treaty of Westphalia, public domain; Riot Police Attack, Athens Indymedia

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A Truly Super Super Bowl

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment
A Super Super Bowl

The potential lethality of The Blue Angels could be constructively employed

Check this out.  This is amazing.  Out of the blue the NFL sent me a letter asking me to take over the running of the league.  At first I was reluctant (it seemed like such a big responsibility) but then when I considered the screwy way the playoffs are run and the tiresome bombast that has become the Super Bowl, I decided to step up and make some changes.  I fired off this letter to the league, and here is what it said:

Dear League:

Starting next year we’re going to do things a little differently.  Although I am respectful of the League and it’s storied past I look at the League as essentially innovative and therefore trust that these changes will be embraced in the right spirit.

First, we’re going to do away with the AFC/NFC divisions.  All the teams will be playing in a single conference and playoff seeding will be based solely on win-loss records.  In round one, the first seed will play the tenth seed, the second seed will play the ninth seed, and so on.  There will be no wild card teams.  There will be no playoff byes.  And there will be no teams with losing records getting into the playoffs while other teams with better records are denied.

While it may come as a shock and a disappointment to advertisers, there will no longer be a week off before the Super Bowl.  This will reduce the ridiculous media circus surrounding the event and cut down on the tedious media exercise of trying to say the same thing over and over again in different ways.  More than that, it will relieve the athletes of having to trot out the same weary, clichéd responses to the same vapid questions.

We are going to do away with the unfair and inauthentic system of holding the Super Bowl exclusively in domed stadiums in warm climates.  From coast to coast, at every level, all season long, football it is played outdoors in every kind of weather condition.  This adds a dimension of excitement to the game that should not be brushed aside just because a bunch of wealthy executives don’t want to get their tootsies frozen.  If they can’t take it, they might want to think about giving up their tickets to real fans who regularly brave adverse weather conditions all season long to root for their heroes.

A round robin system that allows every NFL city to host the Super Bowl is fairer to the fans and the team owners and insures an economic windfall to each city that supports a team.  If it so happens that a Buffalo or St. Louis seem a little too dull to be worthy of a big party like the Super Bowl, than maybe the league ought to consider moving teams to more exciting places currently without teams, like Los Angeles or San Antonio.

To some extent the League has lived in a vacuum.  Except for a keen understanding of the value to itself of advertising dollars, the League has failed to recognize that the Super Bowl is no longer a mere sporting event.  It has become a national holiday.  More American productivity is lost on the Monday after Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day of the year (with the exception of the day after Thanksgiving).

This would seem to cry out for rescheduling the event to Saturday.  But a better solution would be to simply move the Super Bowl up two weeks so that it coincides with the Martin Luther King holiday.  Yes, this means that the season will have to start a week earlier but think of the benefits.  Opening weekend will then fall on Labor Day weekend and the first round of the playoffs will occur during the Christmas weekend when, at present, crappy second-rate college bowl games are the only offerings.

I feel confident these changes will make for a more competitive game and a more enjoyable Super Bowl experience for all concerned.  Any loss of revenue that may briefly occur due to the shock of breaking with past traditions will soon be made up by having a more engaged and enthusiastic audience.

Oh, and by the way, if you could arrange to have the Blue Angels fly low enough to kill whoever is performing the overblown, lip-synched halftime show, I think a lot of fans would appreciate that.

Sincerely,

Your New Commissioner,

Malcolm

Categories: Sports Tags: ,

The 10 Best Music Cities in the USA

January 16, 2011 3 comments

Playing, listening, recording and appreciating, here are the ten best music cities in the USA in ascending order.

#10 Memphis, TN

Memphis, TN

B.B. King, Elivs and "The Home of the Blues"

Memphis is a legacy music town, which is to say that its greatest contributions are in the promotion and performance of its formidable past.  Home to Elvis Presley, B.B. King and Beale Street, Memphis spotlights its legacy with museums, tours and plenty of live music, all of which are great fun, but few of which suggest an organic scene beyond what can be trundled out for the satisfaction of tourists.

In 1977 Beale Street was officially declared the Home of the Blues, and immediately descended into urban decay.  It was only revived in the 80’s after Graceland was opened and began drawing Elvis fans to the King of Rock and Roll’s former home.  Today Beale Street is largely a cluster of plasticky chain establishments like Coyote Ugly and the Hard Rock Café, but the street music is reminiscent of New Orleans and what the area lacks in authenticity it makes up in enthusiasm, which is why Memphis makes the cut onto our list of ten best music cities.

#9 San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, CA

Birthplace of the jam bands

Back in the late 60‘s San Francisco gave the world a distinctive style of music known as The San Francisco Sound.  Among its greatest practitioners were Jefferson Airplane, Santana and The Grateful Dead.  That sound is rightly regarded as the predecessor of today’s jam bands.

However, following the 60’s, and during the next decades, the Bay Area departed from that singular focus and went on to produce a diverse, even disjointed, array of music from Journey to Romeo Void to Chris Issak.  Currently, it’s best loved native sons are Green Day and Counting Crowes.

These days San Francisco stands out more for the variety and quality of its offerings than for any single contribution.  You will find clubs devoted to every genre from jazz to blues to hip hop.  Music festivals like the Stern Grove Music Festival and the San Francisco Jazz Festival provide something for a range of musical tastes, and the San Francisco Symphony and Opera offer something for more refined palates.  If you love good quality music, you can find it in San Francisco.

#8 Portland, OR

Portland, OR

The new indie rock mecca

There is a gathering storm in Portland, a musical deluge that seems about to burst forth from the clustering of big name musical talents.  Portland’s unique dynamic is that, increasingly it is the home (literally) of successful musicians.  Everyone from Johnny Marr of The Smiths to Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Pepper seems to be moving there.

Last year Slate magazine declared Portland the new indie rock mecca largely on the basis of its formidable indie rock citizenry, noting that it is now the residence of Modest Mouse, the Shins, Pavement, Spoon, the Decemberists and Death Cab for Cutie.  Add to that Portland’s reputation for being a magnet for hipsters, artists, hippies and others seeking quality in authenticity, and you have the recipe for something big in the way of a musical breakout.  Portland is trembling on the verge of becoming a top American music city.

#7 Detroit, MI

Detroit, MI

Motown and much, much more

Detroit’s musical contributions are broad and deep.  For more than 75 years Detroit has produced groundbreaking musicians and sounds.  In the 1950’s Detroit gave the country a bounty of great jazz musicians including Elvin Jones, Paul Chambers, Yusef Lateef, Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell and Pepper Adams.

In the 1950’s it helped usher in the rock and roll era with Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”; and in the early 1970’s it introduced a raw and messy new sound with bands like MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges that eventually became known as punk.  Detroit has produced pop and rock artists galore.  The city gave us Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seger, Kid Rock and The White Stripes, not to mention Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder and Madonna.

But by far Detroit’s greatest legacy is Motown, that bastion of 60’s soul that produced hit after hit by such durable luminaries as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Martha Reeves, The Four Tops and Parliament Funkadelic.  With such a deep musical resumé and the promise of more to come, it’s nosurprise that Detroit makes it to number 7 on our list of 10 best music cities.

#6 Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles, CA

The home of surf music and hair metal

So much music is produced and recorded in L.A. that it’s no surprise it attracts a wide variety of talent, and there is no shortage of places to see them.  Legendary music clubs like The Troubador, The Roxy, and Whisky-a-Go-Go provide venues for more established artists while lesser known clubs and premeditated dives like Tiny’s K.O. and The Joint let newbies have their fling.

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With a rich musical legacy comprised of surf music from The Beach Boys, folk music from the likes of The Byrds and The Eagles, plenty of hair metal from groups like Motley Cru, Poison and Ratt, power pop from Van Halen, and the hip-hop inflected punk of Red Hot Chili Peppers, L.A.’s musical legacy is broad and deep.  This says nothing of the contributions of the gangsta rap subgenre of West Coast hip hop that burst onto the scene in the late 90’s and dominated airplay for the better part of a decade.  If one city can be said to be responsible for more record sales than any other, it would certainly be L.A.

#5 New York, NY

New York

A musical heritage that is second to none

The musical heritage of New York City is second to none.  The same city that gave us Tin Pan Alley gave us the Jazz giants of Harlem in the 1950’s, the folk singers of Greenwich Village in the 1960’s, and the punk rockers of the East Village in the 70’s and 80’s.  The clubs and venues are legendary: the Apollo Theatre, the Village Vanguard, CBGB’s and The Fillmore East.  The composers are justly renowned: Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, John Cage.

So why isn’t New York number one on our list?  Because today, despite its storied past, New York doesn’t possess the kind of pulsating soulful ferment that distinguishes cities with great music scenes.  The cost of living in Manhattan has driven artists out to places like Brooklyn and Hoboken, which, while they are certainly hotbeds of musical artistry, has dissipated what was once concentrated and intense, weakening a scene that once produced the greatest music in the country.

#4 Seattle, WA

Seattle, WA

An all-around town with a vibrant, magnetic scene

A vibrant music scene is one that is alive and flourishing, a magnet for players aspiring to a certain ideal.  Seattle certainly fits the bill.  Having produced minor tremors prior to the late 60’s, its first notable achievement was the emergence of native son Jimi Hendrix in 1966.  In the mid-70’s the band Heart took the charts by storm, followed by Queensryche and Candlebox.  But the real eruption occurred in the 1990’s when Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Nirvana blew the lid off the rock world with the powerful sound of grunge, the first uniquely local music sound since the San Francisco Sound of the late 60’s.

Unlike L.A. or New York, Seattle clubs are open and democratic.  They welcome players and enthusiasts alike with a down-to-earth, show-us-what-you-got attitude.  On the other hand, there is a strong musical establishment in Seattle in the form of the Seattle Symphony and the Seattle Opera.  There is jazz and blues.  There is alternative and indie.  Seattle is an all-around music town with a vibrant, magnetic scene that attracts aspiring players from all over the country.

#3 Nashville, TN

Nashville, TN

The undisputed center of the country music world

Nashville is the third largest recording center in the country after New York and L.A.  Its streets swarm with producers, session musicians and up and coming artists.  The acts recorded there read like a who’s who of country music from Johnny Cash and Tammy Wynette to Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson

Beginning with the birth of the The Grand Ole Opry radio program in 1927, Nashville became a magnet for country music artists.  From 1943 to 1953 the Opry attracted the likes of Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Lefty Frizzell and Faron Young.  In 1954 a teenager named Elvis Presley appeared on the Opry stage.  That same year Owen Bradley of Decca Records, with the help of Chet Atkins, built a recording studio on what would become Nashville’s Music Row.  By the mid-1960’s recording studios had cropped up all over town, many of them recording a unique style that would become known as the Nashville Sound.

Today Nashville remains the undisputed center of the country music world. Walk the streets of Nashville and sooner or later you will hear someone strumming a guitar.  Like all great music towns, music permeates the culture and is everywhere.  Nashville wears its moniker proudly.  They call it “Music City USA”.

#2 Austin, TX

Austin, TX

A torrent of groundbreaking new talent

In 1975 Clifford Antone opened a club called Antone’s on 6th Street in Austin which provided a venue for blues legends like John Lee Hooker, Clifton Chenier and Muddy Waters.  It also provided a showcase for exciting up and coming Texas blues artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Meanwhile outlaw country artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings settled in Austin to escape the more traditional country music scene in Nashville.  And at the same time a place called The Armadillo played host to a succession of punk/new wave acts like the Police, Joe Jackson, Blondie and the Talking Heads.

All this musical ferment provided fertile ground for the development of Austin as a premier music town, resulting in a number of top-notch musical festivals like the Austin City Limits Musical Festival, Blues on the Green and the nation’s most beloved music festival established by and for musicians, the South by Southwest Music Festival.

Today, Austin is home to great intimate music venues like The Continental Club, Threadgills and Emos, and produces a torrent of groundbreaking talent that melds American music from a variety of traditional forms into a unique and compelling new sound.  Few would argue, Austin is one of America’s greatest music cities.

#1 New Orleans, LA

New Orleans, LA

Sincerity, passion and authenticity

Walk the streets of New Orleans and music is in the air.  Brass bands play impromptu on the door steps, wander the streets aimlessly, or join in behind parades, blowing and thumping in high spirits.  Jazz trios improvise in cobblestoned courtyards.  Rock bands blare from open air nightclubs.  Blues players tinkle on old upright pianos in the backs of 18th century Creole houses on gas lit corners.  The culture of New Orleans is the culture of music, and has been for more than a hundred years.

As early as 1835 slaves congregated in Congo Square to dance and sing.  The influence of ragtime and brass bands on that  music eventually evolved into jazz.  The first practitioners, people like King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong, emerged in the late 1920’s and early 30’s, and New Orleans jazz went on to form the back bone of big band jazz and be bop.   It continues to thrive in the city today, proclaimed nightly by exuberant players who happily share the stage with players of Louisiana’s other indigenous musical form, Zydeco.

Most cities can’t claim even one unique sound.  New Orleans can claim two, both of which they cherish and proclaim with endearing ardor.  If sincerity, passion and authenticity are the measure of a great music city, New Orleans is number one.

Image Attributions:  BB King, Heinrich Klaffs; Haight Ashbury sign, Nancy; Portland, USGS (public domain); Motown, TMPuekert (public domain); Kreator Live at Hole in the Sky, Christian Misje; View of the Apollo Marquis; William P. Gottlieb, Library of Congress (public domain); Nirvana, P.B. Rage; Music Row Nashville, Malcolm Logan; Louis XIV at Emo’s in Austin, Ron Baker;  Jazz Funeral, Infrogmation.

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Categories: Travel Tags: , , ,