June 14, 2017 – Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl

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It’s still hard to put into words when I look back on these two. I met the husband and wife musical duo at a 4th Avenue bar in Tucson, Arizona back in 2005 or 2006. The two were playing music in the bar lounge. It was a week night and there was no cover charge, which is really the only reason my girlfriend and I went out that night; we were both going to university and didn’t have a tremendous amount of spare cash, so free music and cheap happy hour drinks were always a solid draw.

I really enjoyed the music. Amy and Derrick always had magnificent chemistry. They always seemed happy and in love, and that came through in their music. They’d take breaks in between songs and interact with the crowd, ask questions, take requests, and make jokes. It was impossible to walk away and not take some of that joy with you. As relatively broke as I was, I had to buy one of their albums, and it become a regular part of my musical rotation.

Years down the road I secured a job in the old copper mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. With the mining operation all but shut down, the town had long-ago become a mecca for artists, musicians, drop-outs and various other vagabonds. It’s unique color and history also make it a draw for tourists, which sustain a healthy hospitality industry – restaurants, bars, and hotels abound in Historic Bisbee. As it turned out, Amy and Derrick called Bisbee their home; they played multiple sets at various venues each and every week. My favorite times were Wednesday nights at The Copper Queen saloon where Amy would play solo, seated behind her keyboards, and take requests from anybody who happened to be there – funny, improvised, and ingenious performances. I quickly learned, when dropping by Doug Stanhope’s Super Bowl party, that the couple actually rented a house from the comedian and lived adjacent to the Stanhope compound.

In a small town, everybody seems connected to everybody else in one way or another.
I could never boast a close, personal relationship with Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl, but I always enjoyed their music and their kind, generous energy.

Amy Ross suffered from lupus and kidney problems. After spending more than a week at the Tucson Medical Center, she passed away at the age of forty. She’d been suffering from a blood infection and died shortly before a scheduled surgery. Derrick shot himself in the head in his home in Bisbee with a firearm he purchased shortly after his wife’s death. Amy’s death was announced on her Facebook page:

“Hey kids! Bad news! I died this morning and Derrick didn’t know how to tell you. I love you all and hope you go out and be nice to someone. Funerals are a bore so hopefully I don’t have one. Give Derrick some alone space…He stinks at this stuff so leave him be for now. Thanks for all the kindness…Please spread it around.
~Whiskey”

We learned shortly thereafter that the message was penned by Doug Stanhope after receiving permission and password information from Derrick.

It’s hard to tell if anybody had any idea that Derrick would take his own life. He’d mentioned that he might kill himself while speaking on Stanhope’s podcast before Amy’s death, but such a public proclamation – and on a comedy podcast no less – didn’t seem to bend too many ears, especially when speaking with a man known for humor that’s regularly pretty dark.

The whole town, still absorbing the loss of Amy Ross, was in shock after learning about Derrick’s suicide. A gathering of locals descended upon The Grand Hotel Saloon in celebration of the lives of Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl. Local musicians sang songs, covered tunes from the deceased couple, and many glasses were raised. The bar was packed with glassy-eyed locals, and I like to think that it was a decent send-off.

Today’s photograph was taken in the green room at The Bisbee Royale, a short-lived night club that is now home to the local radio station.

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June 12, 2017 – The Pit Fire

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For several years, while I was living in the borderlands of Southeastern Arizona, I made it a point to attend the annual Cochise College Pit Fire. The entire evening surrounds a main event, the lighting of the pit fire itself; it’s an ancient method of baking clay pottery in which the pottery is placed in a trench dug into the ground with a wood fire burning above it. The result is pottery covered in interesting patterns and colors.

The evening is peppered with various musical performances on several outdoor stages, dance performances, acrobatics, theater art, gourmet food supplied by the college’s culinary arts club, and other vendors. It’s free for anybody who wants to attend, and it is genuinely one of the more interesting (and little-known) events in this somewhat remote area of Cochise County, right along the Mexican border.

I wouldn’t even be able to tell you if today’s picture depicts a booked performance artist or if it’s just an enthusiastic attendee who decided to spin poi in the field where the pit fire’s lit. It doesn’t really matter – it illustrates the energy and creativity of the event.

If you live in southern Arizona and want to attend, all you need to do is mark your calendar. You can check out their website here.

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June 08, 2017 – All Souls

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There really isn’t much that I have to say about All Souls. For anybody who has lived in Southern Arizona, you already know about it. For everybody else, the All Souls Procession is a Tucson tradition that culminates in a community-wide procession through the downtown area, ending with a grand finale of pyrotechnic theater, live music, and acrobatics. The event first began in 1990 by a local artist, Susan Kay Johnson, who wished to express her sadness over the loss of her father; she wanted to ritualize her grief and create an event, much like Dia de los Muertos, to honor the dead.

Tens of thousands participate every year. People start to gather along 4th and 6th avenues before sun-down, arriving in costume, tailgating and helping paint each other’s faces in a fashion reminiscent of Day of the Dead. Jugglers and street performers, musicians and stilt-walkers weave through the throngs of people. Participants are encouraged to write notes to the dead on pieces of paper and deposit them into a giant urn that leads the procession – once the urn reaches the end of the procession, it is elevated above the crowd and set ablaze.

I have never seen a not-for-profit, grass-roots community event like this anywhere else. It’s an amazing thing to see.

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June 06, 2017 – Logan Phillips

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Lifted from his website, Logan Phillips explains what he’s all about in words more eloquent than I could conjure. Suffice it to say, being in the room while this man speaks is an experience; I have never been moved by spoken word or poetry, ever in my life, until I met this man. I’ve been moved to tears by Steinbeck and been affected by Virgil’s “Aeneid,” had my mind twisted and perplexed by Hume, questioned my reality because of Descartes and questioned my morality because of Kant, but I had never been struck, emotionally, by spoken word poetry. I had never seen an artist so skillfully weave his stories.
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“Poetry is holding the center, not hiding in the margins: we construct our world through words. Poetry is the art of putting into words all that which is otherwise unsayable, of constructing other ways of knowing.

No matter where I’m working––the DJ booth, the classroom, the art studio, the stage––I’m creating a poem; stringing together disparate elements to say something new, creating connections in collaboration with everyone in the room––

E.E. Cummings said he was ‘overly fond of that precision which creates movement.’ Poetry is word precision, poetry moves the world forward.”

~LOGAN PHILLIPS

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A lot of people immediately disregard poetry as something that just isn’t for them. The word itself, ‘poetry,’ elicits the trauma of under-enthusiastic English teachers and classmates murmuring, passionless, one after the other, lines of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost in sterile high school classrooms. Many of us have a negative association with all kinds of art specifically because they were taught so poorly. Logan’s mission is to illustrate that poetry can be meaningful and moving, that it’s accessible and culturally significant. He participates in education programs and seeks to inspire creative passion in our youth, which is no small task.

I’ve enjoyed sitting-in during several of his readings, and encourage you to take a look at his work. You can learn more about him at his own website here.

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June 03, 2017 – Doug Stanhope

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What can I say about Doug Stanhope – people either know his comedy work or they don’t. Whether or not the name rings a bell, there’s a healthy chance you’ve seen him. He was a prankster on Spy TV, co-hosted The Man Show with comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan, and has an admirable collection of stand-up specials under his belt. He has also guest starred on Louis CK’s hit television show Louie, started his own podcast in 2013, has been collaborating with actor Johnny Depp, and recently drafted a book called “Digging Up Mother: A Love Story.”

When I moved to Bisbee, Arizona in 2011, I hadn’t ever heard of Doug Stanhope (although I realized after-the-fact that I had seen several of his works). During the annual Bisbee Home Tour, an elderly gentleman – who had been regaling me with treacherously graphic Vietnam war stories – told me about this interesting house he’d toured over in the Warren District – it was the Stanhope Compound. A few months later, my girlfriend and I were invited to a Superbowl party over there and all the pieces fell into place.

He was a gracious host. A pretty and relatively quiet guy, it seemed – a radical shift from his opinionated, anarchic, cynical stage performances. From everything I’ve gathered, he chose Bisbee because it’s a remote location, away from the madness of Hollywood. He spends a tremendous amount of time on the road, so it makes sense to have a quiet, sleepy, bizarre little high desert town to retreat to.

In the years since then, I’ve consumed just about as much of his comedy and writing as possible. His cynicism and outright rage at our political system, at social justice activism, and at art in general – almost always clutching a cocktail – absolutely resonates with me. I also found it refreshing to wander about the grocery store or stand in line at a local bodega for a cup of coffee and see a man like Stanhope – a successful performer and, by all accounts, a celebrity – milling about and saying hello to people just like anybody else; no grandeur, no need for a posse of sycophantic parasites, he doesn’t appear to treat anybody like they’re beneath him.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, check him out. I believe Beer Hall Putsch is still on Netflix, and there are plenty of clips on YouTube to dig through.

Today’s image was taken at The Bisbee Royale in the winter of 2012, during a stand-up performance filmed by the BBC. He returned to The Royale in November 2015 to shoot No Place Like Home, which you can watch here. He’s a genuine talent and I am very honored to have had the chance to wander around backstage and take his photograph.

Illustration of the Deadbeat Hero

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June 01, 2017 – The Song-Man

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I’ve been trying to pick some kind of theme for each month and, after looking through the endless archive of images I’ve collected over the years, decided that I would see if I could identify a month’s worth of interesting “music and theater performance” images to share. I’m not a veteran concert photographer and I’ve always have a difficult time getting good images; low light environments and a pitiful lack of knowledge regarding flash photography and artificial light, I’m sad to admit that the terrible photographs outweigh the good ones by a sizable margin.

Nevertheless, I have managed to squeeze-out a few good moments.

We begin today, on the first of June, with the image of a guitar-man wielding his instrument. I lament that I don’t even recall his name. All I recall is that he was an opening performer at a night club in Bisbee, Arizona – a one-man band whose performance was nothing short of mesmerizing. He made the guitar do things I hadn’t seen before, making it both a percussive instrument as well as constructing a melody. It was close to magic, what he was able to do, and the room fell completely silent when he began to play.

If you recognize this man, please add his name in the comment section at the bottom of this post.
“Performance June” has officially begun. See you all tomorrow!

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January 19 – The Old Aztec Theater

01-19 Art & Athletics post

“Unless we tell stories about ourselves, which is all that theater is, we’re in deep trouble.”
~Alan Rickman

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Winter-time in Kansas City is like summer-time in Tucson – the streets looks deserted most of the day, as if everybody packed in the middle of the night and fled without notice. Instead of tumbleweeds, the crisp air carries dead leaves and newspapers.

I went on a walk in downtown Shawnee, through the nearby cemetery and up towards city hall. The temperature has been hovering in the teens and twenties; needless to say, I didn’t see any other pedestrians, save for the poor pitiful fool dressed as the statue of liberty, promoting a tax prep service on the corner. There ought to be a law against that kind of cruelty.

Pictured here is the Old Aztec movie theater.

The Old Aztec was designed by the Boller Brothers architectural firm of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Their designs ranged widely in size and style, from minor vaudeville houses to grand movie palaces. To date, about twenty surviving Boller Brothers theaters are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Old Aztec is clearly among the smaller houses, commissioned by Shawnee’s third mayor, Mr. Marion Summeror, and opened on Labor Day in 1927.

It was named Aztec in the 1940s after it was acquired by Dickinson Theaters. The current signage was installed in 1972 after the theater was purchased by the Pflumm family. Closed for renovations in the summer of 1975, the theater never reopened. There was a time in 2005 when the building changed hands again. Renovations began again, too. The outside has been finished, but the project stalled and the status of the theater is not known.

I like the way old towns feel, although that sense of Main Street life has largely melted away. This little intersection in Shawnee is surrounded by an ocean of strip malls and shopping centers, traffic congestion and highways. But for one block, you can dig your hands into your pockets, bury your head between your shoulders, and walk down the sidewalk against the wind. You can look up at the old marquis and consider a time, almost a hundred years ago, when people walked the same streets, through the threshold and into theater, to watch a silent film dance across the canvas screen of a true American movie house.

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