Thursday, November 18, 2021

Space and Time: The Context of Museums and Locations with Holocaust Thoughts

Space and Time: The Context of Museum and Locations with Holocaust Thoughts

 Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

The way one approaches a space can be affected by its history, and especially time. It can also be warped by our own perceptions of context.

We have all visited museums, a place where objects are taken out of its original space/framework, and placed in an unrelated location where it becomes a collection of objects, often transforming it into something else devoid of meaning. For example, at the British Museum,  there are a number of dead bodies on display, from the “Bog Man” (also known as Lindow Man) to Ancient Egyptian mummies. Museums can be, in fact, cemeteries, but because there is no tomb, no hole in the ground, the meaning of the persons’ life and especially death, becomes trivial for the observer. Their existence transforms into a museum art object rather than the corpse of someone who had a life that was either recognized or not at its time. But more about this later.

In 1993, while my partner was at a conference in Washington, DC., I visited the newly opened Museum of Jewish Heritage – Holocaust Museum. Being the age I am, and that I grew up in a neighborhood with Middle-Class Jews like myself, the Holocaust was not unfamiliar to me: for example, the couple who ran the local grocery store of my childhood had numbers tattooed on their forearms. As I managed my way through the museum, I saw the edicts showcased on the walls, the photos and videos strewn here and there, and felt, honestly, nothing much. It was all so out of context, bright and shiny, soaked in neon lights, and familiar at the same time.

Making my way along the pathway, it took me through a boxcar, one that was used to transport the Jews to the death camps. As soon as my foot hit the bare wooden floor, suddenly everything changed. I was no longer in a museum, but in an actual place. Truthfully, I immediately felt different. The context had changed. No longer was it images posted on a wall, or videos on closed circuit televisions, I was in the place. Frankly, it took me by surprise, how uncomfortable and disoriented I felt about my surroundings. When I crossed to the other side, and stepped back onto the polished linoleum museum floor proper, the feeling instantly vanished. Deep down, I did not understand what happened, or what intergenerational trauma was at the time.

During the Summer of 1998, I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Krakow, Poland, the buildings of which mostly were untouched by World War II. Charming houses, squares, and parks are for the locals and tourists on which to marvel.

From Krakow, we took bus tours to various destinations, such as a 22-minute ride southeast to the Salt Mines that were, indeed, turned into amazing works of art.

We also went to Auschwitz, the German death camp, which was an hour west of Krakow. I was surprised by how green it had been transformed. Rather than keeping it in the state of mud and dirt that pervaded it while 1.1 million Jews, gays, Gypsies, and political dissidents were systematically killed, the land was full of grass and flowers. I found that odd and almost uncomfortable that they would try to make it peaceful, like it was a living non-sequitur.

During the tour of the camp, some of the buildings were filled with luggage, others with hair, shoes, or eyeglasses, and the like. I noticed at least three bags that had the name “Weiss” on it. In grade school, I had a friend named Joel Weiss who lost much of his family to the camps, and I wondered if any of these belonged to them.

There was a lot of unease, as one might expect in a place like that, but it was more the way the space was projected and described. At one point, we passed a wall that had been used as a backdrop to a firing squad to execute people. Our tour guide, a middle-aged woman, pointed to it and said loud and plain, “Against this wall, they shot the great Polish martyr [his name].” And then in a lower, quick voice as if it were secondary, “And 10,000 Jews.” Going to another building, there was a cell, and she announced, “In this cell, the great Polish poet [his name] was tortured and brutally killed,” and again lower, “…and 30,000 Jews.” I found it quite startling.

Towards the end of the tour, we approached the gas chambers. I stepped inside, and for a few moments, I was the only one in there. It was quite profound for me, looking around this surprisingly large room with non-functioning shower heads and numerous finger scratchings along the walls. This felt incredibly visceral to me, and I had the thought, “If I was here in the 1940s, while I would have been conscious walking in, I would not be aware going through the back door,” which led to the crematorium.

I stepped through that back door and there was a younger couple already ahead of me. The woman was pointing to the oven like Vanna White when she just-turned a letter on “Wheel of Forturn,” with a big grin on her face, while her boyfriend was taking some vacation snapshots. I was appalled, and my partner and I had a long talk about it on the bus ride back to Krakow.

What I have come to realize is that there is a difference between the space in a museum and the actual location where an event happened. A museum tends to be safe, its dangerous material like weaponry or other material of a violent past is removed from context, and it becomes benign, turned into artifacts. That certainly is its goal, I would wonder.

Despite it being before the big Internet boom, that young couple who were taking the vacation photos in the crematoria was separated from that real/museum dichotomy, and did not really comprehend the difference. They had grown up with museums, and for them, this was merely one of them, a site they had probably heard about in class from teachers that were as far removed from reality as the tour guide. That’s part of culture, that the Other is distanced from the every day. There was no connection for them as it was for me, who had also lost family to this death machine. It went beyond mere history books to  a personal, instinctive level for me, but not for them.

Since moving to Saskatchewan, I have wondered if the local First Nations and especially Metis people have that intergenerational trauma experience when they visit Batoche, the site of the Louis Riel Rebellion of 1885, or the stone circles near Eastend left by First Nations peoples who were starved by the North-West Mounted Police. Do the Settler generations react the same as that couple, that it is a story from a book, even though they are in the actual spot where a rebellion occurred? Do the tour guides discuss the brave Canadian soldiers, and blithely mention the genocide that let up to the rebellion?

It is all in the context of the place and how it is approached as either a museum or a location of angst. It is also in the perspective of the person viewing it, and their relationship to the events, if any. In her 2012 book, A Geography of Blood, I believe that author Candace Savage, though of Settler stock, was tuned in enough to the land to realize of what the rock circles were indicative. If I went to Batoche, I am not certain I would feel that, but I would hopefully be more aware of my consciousness and take a check on my own placement in its violent history.

It should be noted that I did take a single picture of myself on the grounds of Auschwitz: on the way out, I stood under the gate sign that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work will set you free). I did this in defiance, to say in my own way, “You didn’t get me, you Nazi bastards!“


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Albums and Singles/Video Reviews: November 2021

Albums and Singles/Video Reviews: November 2021

 Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

Note that these reviews are alphabetical by first letter, and not listed in a “ratings” order.


James Lee Stanley & Dan Navarro
All Wood and Led
This release is just part of a series of covers of classic rock songs, where the “wood” represents acoustic guitars, which have included albums of material by the Rolling Stones and the Doors (both previously reviewed on this blog). As Navarro says, “With absolute respect and admiration, we chose not to simply duplicate the originals, but instead imagined, ‘What if Led Zeppelin had lived in Laurel Canyon in 1967 instead of England?’” The folkie soul in me is quite satisfied with the rocker part of this collection. While not a popular opinion, I was never a Zep fan, and honestly, a lot of this material is new to me for that reason, giving it some virgin ears. They nail such classics like the obvious “Stairway to Heaven,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Dazed and Confused,” but they also do a stack of non-radio saturated numbers like “Good Times Bad Times” and “Hey Hey What Can I Do?” True to their word, they reinvent the songs to their own spirits and it works out incredibly well. The Doors was a pretty easy translation, and the Stones’ blues riffs fit quite well into the model, but Zep is more of a transition, but the hand-to-glove still works in surprisingly good ways, mainly due (in my opinion) to Zep’s use of Olde English melodies in rock form, such as “The Battle of Evermore.” If you are either a folk fan or a curiosity seeker, this may meet your needs on multiple levels.
Full sample song HERE 


Nine Pound Hammer
When the Sh*t Goes Down
As the sticker on my CD clearly states, “Original members Blaine Cartwright and Scott Luallen team up with Ramones Super-Producer Daniel Rey.” Who in my shoes could not have their curiosity piqued? Especially since I am not very familiar with the Kentucky cowpunk (their description) band. I must say, after most of my life being force-fed Southern Rock like Skynyrd with the occasional good stuff like Rank & File and Nashville Pussy (which shares Blaine as guitarist), this is so refreshing. From the opening, using a clip of Mel Blanc’s Foghorn Leghorn, you know they don’t take themselves too seriously (meant in attitude, not aptitude). Starting strong with “What Kind of God,” and especially the second, title cut, you can definitely hear the Rey influence as the sound is laid bare and stripped, though Cartwright’s guitar flairs brilliantly here and there. It’s almost like the Ramones zeitgeist if they listened to country rather than surf and girl groups. At gut-wrenching speed, most songs are quite short at about 2:30, with a couple being longer. Their mindset can be seen in titles like “Street Chicken,” “Mama Lied,” “Billy Lost His Feet,” “Get the Hell Off the Farm,” “Daviess Co Tractor Massacre,” and “Lizard Brain.” I know I haven’t gotten the full effect of the lyrics yet, but this one is so much fun and kicks so much butt, it will certainly be replayed, so I’ll get there and enjoy the ride. Just wish there was a lyric sheet included.
Full title cut can be heard HERE 


Yod Crewsy
The Longings of Paul Roalsvig
Before he was in bands like the Splatcats, the Sky Cabin Boys, the Dark Marbles and the Bernie Kugel Experience, Yod was known by his birth name, Paul Roalsvig. This two-disc collection is split into a “Love” group and “Peace” selection. There are 31 cuts in total, being a mix of covers both infamous and obscure, and originals. Some of Buffalo’s musical royalty appear on here, such as Dave Meinzer, Russell Steinberg, and Cathy Carfagna. He starts off strong with Icehouse’s “Crazy,” which follows one of Yod’s personal favorites, the poppy theme to the film “That Thing That You Do!” Third cut in is when we get our first original, “I’ll Keep Sending You Flowers,” proving that Crewsy knows his way around creating both a melody and a strong lyric. Of course, I won’t be discussing all the cuts, but will pick and choose. His cover of the Stones’ “Dead Flowers” is almost projected through a folk lens which actually works quite well. More somewhat obscurities with Dylan’s bluesy “I Threw It All Away” and the Monkees’ “Sometime in the Morning,” and then a deep version of Orbison’s classic “In Dreams.” The more folk-oriented Peace disc starts off with one of my fave tunes, “Eve of Destruction”; here it is handled more folk pop leaning towards the Turtles cover rather than Barry McGuire, but the stanzas are intact. Included are masterful covers such as Dylan’s snarky “With God on Our Side” (banjo led), Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding,” and a raucous Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs,” But the gem here is the back half of this second disc that is solid originals, including “Edie” (about Edie Sedgwick) and the timely ballad “When They Stormed the Capital.”
Full sample song HERE 


Chesty Malone and the Slice ‘Em Ups
Turn to Crime
1332 Records /
Despite moving relatively recently to the hinterlands of Pennsylvania, CMatSEUs have lost none of their drive or appeal. The main focus is still vocalist Jacqueline Blownaparte and her partner in – er – crime, guitarist superb Anthony Begnal, with a new bassist and drummer. Their aggressive hardcore both brings reminiscence of the 1980s style of in-your-face madness with a touch of harmonies that do not fall into the wishy-washy ‘90s Green Day kind of fluff. What I especially like about the chorus is that it can be both chantable, and can be used in the fist pumping way to build up adrenaline for the mosh pit (or in lieu of it; I’m old enough to be a lieu of person, but I digress…). Possibly the best comparison would be the flavor/attitude of the Cramps mixed with the influence of the likes of GBH. This is just one side of their new single (7”-er, remember them?). This is some of the better post-hardcore sound I have heard in a while, and a high mark even for them, and they set the bar high.
Can be heard HERE 


The Dictators
“Let’s Get the Band Back Together”
2:25 minutes
Dictators Multi/Media
I have liked the Dictators (DFFD) since I heard their introductory album, and even more when I saw them live (CBGB in 1975) for the first of multiple times (including at The Bottom Line, The Left Bank, and Irving Plaza). Over the years, HDM got most of the attention, but I always thought that the songs Andy/Adny Shernoff voxed were amazing, as well. They had a style that was metal and could be juvenile at the same time, which was part of their charm. Songs were singalongs and often brilliantly silly (such as “Master Race Rock”), but they could also be profound (“Steppin’ Out”). Over the years through various incarnations of the band, they are back, with Andy on vocals and bass, ace metal guitarist and right winger Ross “The Boss” Friedman, Albert Bouchard (ex-Blue Oyster Cult) on drums, and for this recording, the recently late, great rhythm guitarist Scott “Top Ten” Kempner. This song feels, in tone, like it could fit somewhere between the first and second album. The “C’mon” in the chorus, sung by Manic Panic/Sic F*cks’ own Tish and Snooky Bellomo, is certainly chantable, layered with Andy’s New Yawk accent, sounds like fun. The phrasing of the song is a bit melodic rock, even with Ross’s solo burst, but with its occasional hint of early rock’n’roll on some parts, it is definitely an enjoyable listen. While I look forward to the full album, as an aside, after you have heard this Dictators’ song, it is also worth hearing an earlier, more pop solo Shernoff version of it from almost a decade ago HERE
Full song can be heard HERE 


Gary Louris
“Almost Home”
3:31 minutes
This travel song has a nice “hoo-hoo-hoo” chorus to sing along with, with it’s poppy and upbeat singer-songwriter tone. Of course, as should be, the rhythm is steady like the wheels of the car (truck?) humming along a highway, not too far from the final exit. Louris’ vocals fit the sound so well, and the video that accompanies it is arty without being obtuse. It’s as simple as the driving beat. Humorously, I wonder about the line “When I close my eyes, I see your face…” Err, aren’t you driving? Still, the chorus is extremely catchy possible earworm and a hoot. A good listen, but that should come as no surprise as he was in the seminal band The Jayhawks, and a founding member of “supergroup” Golden Smog.
Can be heard HERE