Best Beach Reads for Summer 2017

July 10, 2017 – Summer vacation season is in full swing, and whether you’re headed to the beach, the lake or the mountains, there’s nothing better than sitting in the sun and reading a good book.

If you’re looking for suggestions, here is a list of 30 of this summer’s hottest reads.

And if you’re really adventurous, here are the best beach reads of all time according to NPR’s audience.

 

Pop art in Philly, part 2

MagicGarden_R.Kennedy_12-587July 7, 2014 — Last week, this blog highlighted Philadelphia’s pop art sculptures in the downtown area. Today, we’ll venture over to South Street, to visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

In the 1960s, local artist Isaiah Zagar (pictured) began decorating South Street with mosaic tiles, producing more than 120 displays during the 50 year period. His amazing work is also featured at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, located at 1022-1024 South Street, a display that took 14 years to create. For the Magic Gardens, Zagar used mosaic tiles, along with folk art statues, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, mirrors and china.

The display is definitely worth the trip to see in person!

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Pop art in Philly, part 1

June 30, 2014 – Pop art, or art based on modern popular culture and mass media, is alive and well in Philadelphia. In this two-part series, we’ll explore some of the pop art sculptures around the city in its downtown district.

The Clothespin; location: 15th & Market Streets
This odd sculpture, commissioned to commemorate Philadelphia’s Bicentennial celebration in 1776, is the brainchild of artist Claes Oldenburg. I’m not sure what a clothespin and the 200th anniversary of American independence have in common, but legend claims that if you look at it from the right angle, you can see a “76” in the steel springs of the pin. I can clearly see the 6, but the 7 escapes me.

clothespin


LOVE Statue;  location: 16th Street & JFK Blvd.
Robert Indiana’s LOVE statue, created in 1970, is showcased in a few American cities. In Philly, the statue sits in JFK Plaza, appropriately nicknamed “Love Park” in honor of the pop art sculpture.

love statue


Your Move; location: Broad Street and JFK Blvd.

In the pop art world, even the most common items can be interesting.  Giant game pieces, including dominoes, Parcheesi pieces, Monopoly pieces and chessmen, can be found scattered about the Municipal Services Plaza, also known as “Game Piece Plaza”. “Your Move” is the work of artists Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis, and Roger White. The group assembled the pieces in 1996.

parcheesi piece

chess pieces

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Franklin’s Kite and Lightning Bolt; location: 6th & Race Streets

This stainless steel sculpture of a kite and a key by artist Isamu Noguchi was created in the 1950s in honor of Philly’s own Benjamin Franklin and his electricity research. Supposedly it sits at the same site where Franklin actually conducted the experiment.

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Next Monday, we’ll highlight the wonderful works of art in Philadelphia’s South Street area, known as Philadelphia’s Magic Garden.

A new painter’s journey

May 12, 2014 — When it comes to the arts, I can hold my own in a writing class, and perhaps a digital photography class. I’m not bad with graphic arts, but don’t ask me to sing or dance — we’ll both be disappointed. Although, I may be able to handle a bit of acting thanks to a few years of high school plays and drama classes.

If you told me a year ago that my creative interests would extend to painting, I would have said it was unlikely. I can’t draw and had no experience outside of “paint by numbers”, which always turned out badly. I never liked to color within the lines.

About 10 months ago, however, I discovered painting could be relaxing and fun. I went hesitantly to my first “Painting with a Twist” party last July, where I painted “Fireflies”. The first image is my attempt, and the second is the painting we copied:

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Sure, my moon looks like a bowling ball, and my jar of fireflies like a cocktail shaker with some alien beings inside, but it was my first attempt, looking at it doesn’t my skin crawl, and I enjoyed creating it. It’s OK that the painting instructor (and my friends) told me I looked a little tense. The experience did bring out the type A in my personality, but I had fun. I swear.

A few months later, I stayed with the dark blue and black theme, and painted “The Park at Midnight”.

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the park at midnight

It’s not quite the masterpiece I expected to create now that I had a little experience, but there is improvement, at least enough to keep me interested in learning more.

Next, I aimed for something more colorful:

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partner

This was supposed to be a partner painting; he/she would do one half, and their partner would do the other. Our group decided to go solo and paint the tree on a single canvas. Again, the word alien comes to mind when I look at my painting, but I still enjoyed the experience, and I believe I continued to improve. At least you can tell it’s a tree.

With three paintings to my credit, surely I am ready to tackle one of the masters. Yesterday, I participated in a Mother’s Day morning class where we attempted Monet’s Waterlilies.

waterlilies

waterlilies

Watercolors may be best for this painting since it’s supposed to look soft and muted. I need to be lighter with my brush stroke. My version looks different again, and I honestly don’t think this is better than my former attempts, but it was another enjoyable experience. I simply have to figure out why all of my paintings look like they came from outer space. I must have lived there in a former life.

Good or bad, I’ve become an artist, and plan to continue on the journey. I’m reasonable, if you want to make me an offer. 🙂

 

The holy or the broken

music-notes3March 28, 2014 – Let’s play Name that Tune.

This song was…

  • Written in 1984
  • Not an initial hit for its Canadian singer-songwriter creator
  • Covered by over 300 artists including Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, k.d. Lang, Rufus Wainwright, Willie Nelson, and Il Divo
  • Widely used in film and television, and on elevators
  • Named the 10th greatest Canadian song of all time, and listed as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time by “Rolling Stone”
  • Named the greatest song of all time by U2’s Bono

Need another clue? This song was the topic of “The Holy or the Broken”, a book written by music journalist Alan Light.

If you guessed “Hallelujah”, give yourself a pat on the back. If you guessed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” you deserve much more; people may know the song, but it is rarely attributed to Cohen. And if you don’t think you’ve ever heard of the song, listen here, and I’m sure you’ll find you’re mistaken.

Light also writes for “The New York Times” and “Rolling Stone”, and is the founding editor of “Vibe Magazine”. He appeared last night at Kelly Writers House, a center for writers from Penn and the Philadelphia region on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus to discuss the book, the song, and the myth, and how it became an international anthem for human tragedy. Or triumph, depending on the performer and which verses of the song he or she chooses to sing.

Yes, “Hallelujah” can be that simple, or that complicated depending on your point of view. Even Cohen, who created the song, has been known to change and add lyrics to suit his mood. In all, he has written about 80 draft verses for it.

Light talked about and played portions from a few different versions of the song. He started off with Cohen’s version, and told the story that when he recorded it, the record company did not want to put it on the album. “We all know you are great,” the record company executive told Cohen after hearing ‘Hallelujah’, “we just don’t know if you are any good.”

According to Light, “Hallelujah” was a difficult song to write. Cohen struggled with the lyrics for years, and recalls being in a New York City hotel room in his underwear, banging his head on the floor saying, “I can’t finish this song.”

It’s also puzzling, he points out, that the song is used at many benefits to help victims of various disasters, yet no one, not even Cohen, knows what it actually means. The song even became popular with kids when it was used in the movie “Shrek”. Light explains that since “Shrek” was a DreamWorks film, a DreamWorks recording artist was needed to cover it. Rufus Wainwright sang an upbeat version for the film and it became planted in the minds of a whole new generation.

So, how did this song go from Cohen’s obscure album to Shrek? In the late 80s, Cohen and his music enjoyed a slight resurgence, and various artists put out a tribute album of his songs. Among them, John Cale of the Velvet Underground, who performed his version of “Hallelujah”. He recorded it much like Cohen did, as a solo piano piece, but he changed around the lyrics a bit. It was Cale’s version of the song that caught the attention of Jeff Buckley, who recorded it, and it became the most popular version of the song.  Buckley’s version is the one used widely in various films and television programs. However, it wasn’t a true hit for him, either. When he passed away a few years after he recorded it, people took a second look at his music, discovered “Hallelujah”, and made it what it is today.

Light also says that Cohen may “have penned it, but Jeff Buckley owned it.” He told the intimate crowd at Kelly Writer’s House that he didn’t think about dedicating a few years to writing a book about one song until he began to talk to people about “Hallelujah”, only to realize what a tremendous impact it had on them.

“Everyone had a story connected to the song, and that is very powerful to hear,” he said. “I wrote the book after hearing that a friend of a friend actually named her daughter Hallelujah after the song.”

Are there any bad versions out there?

“Very few,” says Light, “because it is a song that is forgiving. Among the bad, however, are versions by Susan Boyle and Bono.”

Boyle’s version, which appears on her Christmas album is too clean. Her voice is fine, but she barely brings any meaning to the lyrics, and concentrated more on the Hallelujah chorus. Bono’s version may be the worst ever, and Light explains that artist agreed as much when he interviewed him for “The Holy or the Broken”. Bono performs the song to a trip hop beat, whisper raps the lyrics, and belts out a soprano chorus that doesn’t please the ear.

My favorite is k.d. Lang’s sultry cover, which she performed when Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, and also at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

In addition to a compelling lecture, there were two moving performances of “Hallelujah” by Penn student musicians.

For more information about Kelly Writers House, and the programs available to area writers, visit  http://www.writing.upenn.edu/wh/.