Steps in the Journey: “Strangers on the Earth” at the Cleveland International Film Festival

A film review by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

Life is onward.

As I drove from my home in rural Lucas, Ohio, to the Cleveland International Film Festival to see Strangers on the Earth, Tuesday, April 4th, I received a text that I had just become an uncle (well, actually, great-uncle) again. My niece Michelle, the closest thing this crusty bachelor will ever have to a daughter, had just given birth to her first baby, a son named Javier. A new life beginning a journey.

On the return trip a few hours later, I received another message: My beloved friend Kimberly Orsborn had passed away in hospice care. She steered me to the newspaper job that gave me a port in the storm in 2007 when I was transitioning out of the corporate world and into the creative world. In 2009, Kim left that small-town rag and began life as a free-lance writer. That same year, she was diagnosed with a malignant, fast-moving breast cancer. The doctors gave her months. She made it eight years.

Kim beat the odds to live many more seasons because she kept moving, kept doing, kept finding ways around the fog of “chemo-brain.” Before she was done, she said that cancer had ended up being one of the great gifts of her life, something that made her stop and relish every moment of her existence, before continuing on, more aware of her surroundings than before. It deepened her journey.

SOTE the way

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrimage path featured in the documentary “Strangers on the Earth,” presented this month at the Cleveland International Film Festival. (Photos by Kayla Arend courtesy of Fisterra Productions.)

So, a film about a journey is a good forum for savoring the life in us and around us. But how many feet can walk a road before it becomes a stampede? Strangers on the Earth is a film by Tristan Cook about the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region of northern Spain. Dedicated to the Christian Saint James (who is said to be buried in Compostela), the way actually co-opted an older Celtic sacred pathway and Roman trading route running from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
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When Swing Was King

After the February 18 Mansfield Symphony Orchestra Pops Concert

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Carl Topilow and the MSO

Carl Topilow, in red coat with red clarinet, leads the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra with his knees and shoulders, bobbing on the podium to the music as he plays along. The conductor leans with a sidelong glance to the drummer and, as one, the group moves toward the end of the piece, finishing on one blue note of a dime. Tonight, at the MSO’s “When Swing Was King” pops concert, Topilow is not Topilow. He’s Benny Goodman, he’s Artie Shaw. He and his bright  red clarinet lead a big band and it’s 1944 and the audience is young again.

At the introduction to each song the crowd murmurs appreciatively. Next to me my grandmother hums along. Everyone of a certain age has a memory that corresponds with each song. A piece of their youth, of the early years with their spouse, of their time serving their country.

The songs Topilow picks range from Gershwin excerpts to Glen Miller to an entire patriotic piece fitted around a bugle solo. Before I had thought of swing as swing, but now I begin to think of the complete range of sweet to sultry to stars and stripes.

The sweet songs inspire my grandmother to turn to me and tell me memories of her courtship with my grandfather. She uses the word courtship, and it occurs to me that I’ve only ever heard this word from someone of her generation, and also that I’ve never been courted. Stardust, Moonlight Serenade, Night & Day — a sweetness and innocence that I cannot fathom, but desperately want to know. Continue reading

A Voice of Survival and Regeneration: A Review of “40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses”

40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses by Chico’s Brother

                    A review by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

You wanna hear America right now?

It ain’t some chest-thumping, dumbed-down recycled-classic-rock with a yella-dog-in-a-pickup-truck-with-a-red-hatted-good-ol-bubba making Merica meth again. It ain’t the scratchy skirl of a Scottish fiddle playing a weathered tune, it ain’t the trip-skittle of hard bop, not the altered states of a Mahler mind-field, not The Beatles, no Nirvana, and it sure as fuck ain’t the latest auto-tuned non-entity sliding across the charts of lucre.

You wanna hear America right now? This is it. Folk ‘n’ urban, sweet as candy, and ready to cut you. Chico’s Brother, harmonious and alienating, narrative and nonsense, avant-ghetto, is the expression of Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, resident of Mansfield, Ohio, and elsewhere. He’s a stew of ethnic and cultural storms, rich in voice, startlingly open and maddeningly elusive, like everything and like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

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Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz is Chico’s Brother, the prince of Midwestern avant-ghetto. (Photo courtesy of Michael Pfahler.)

 

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Jackboots and Sinful Fishes

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Jackboots and Sinful Fishes: The Prophecies of Mahler’s Resurrection.

I love all music, but I’m a classical music nut. I’m also a bit like a vegan mentioning eating habits: if the subject comes up, people soon find my favorite composer is Gustav Mahler. I first heard his music when I was twelve and exploring the classics via a stack of old vinyl records my mom picked up for me at Goodwill.

I was hooked on the classics by my elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Lumadue, who one day played Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 in our weekly class. The dark rich colors, pulsing rhythms, and delicious tang of that music perked up my attention so much, I came in after class and asked to listen to it again. Before long, I was exploring her record collection instead of going out to recess, looking up the composers of this strange and wonderful music in encyclopedias. This wildly varying, unpredictable art form immediately struck me as being more like life, more like nature than anything playing on the radio I was forced to endure on the school bus every day. I found a better world. And I found who I was with that music. Many things create a person, but I could not have been the person I am without classical music.

But the big bomb didn’t drop until I was working my way through my stack of records and found a piece of music by some guy I’d never heard of. Gustav Mahler, born 1860, died 1911. It was an excerpt from his Symphony No. 1 on a sampler of recordings by the great German conductor Bruno Walter. I loved the record’s other contents, Beethoven, Brahms, Johann Strauss and such, but who was this Mahler guy? Mrs. Lumadue never mentioned him. Continue reading

We Stand With Standing Rock

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In late July, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating their concern that a pipeline slated to be built encroached upon ancestral lands.


It’s a five dollar donation to get in the doors of the Standing Rock Solidarity Benefit show, to be enveloped in the warmth, the glow, the murmur of conversations cut frequently by loud laughter. It looks like someone’s family reunion with folding chairs and cheap plastic table cloths, a buffet set-up with six donated Two Cousin’s Gut Buster pizzas and cheap booze. As the place slowly fills with people, the room becomes a beacon in the cold night, a bright light in a row of dim buildings, a convention of friends new and old, setting the stage for solidarity.


September 4th, Dakota Access begins clearing ground for the pipeline, bulldozing over sacred sites and burials. Protesters are attacked by dogs and pepper sprayed.


It took just under two weeks for Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, Mark Sebastian Jordan, Kathy Fetzer-Goodwin to bring this event into the public eye, being touted in the local papers and drawing over a hundred contributors and participants. It even received threats, though none came to fruition. The K.E. McCarthy building was donated as a space for the show and by door time, all money spent on food, drink, and entrance would be sent to the Oceti Sakowin Camp.

Mark Jordan opens the show as MC and performer and along with Jason Kauffman, Lucas Hargis, and Nate Weiland presents a spoken word piece (Pronouncement: An Invocation for the Standing Rock Benefit Concert). He repeats the question: “who speaks?” over the murmur of the settling audience and we listen, and finally erupt into applause on his final call-to-arms, that “We speak!”

This becomes the theme of the show, the different voices no longer silenced, but calling for an end to injustice. This is a shout for self-expression and for claiming a space in the land.

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The Brown Sound: An Unbridled Culture

by Nick Gardner

“Unbridled.” Aurelio has used this word quite a few times in our conversations and he always lets it linger. It rolls off the tongue like wild horses in empty green pastures or drinking deep, cool water in wild-west arroyos. It is a word that opens a door, opens an entire building. It breaks down barriers. It is a word best defined by a feeling. It is what The Brown Sound is all about.

At Castle David one expects to see ghosts. On the corner of Sturges Avenue and 1st Street the mid 1800s Victorian Style house, turned thrift store, sits with strobe lights going off in the windows. The feel is more house party than public show and friends stand in groups sipping beer and talking fervently about music, art, and sex. Nick Harris, picks up a guitar and sings his new song for a couple of his friends. Conversation stops and all attention goes to this guitarist. He is white. He is not on the bill, but it’s the kind of place where no one would keep good music from happening. His song brings attentive silence followed by loud hoots and applause.

Jerry Lang — There is a disembodiment that comes from his soliloquy

Jerry Lang takes the stage which consists of little more than an amp, a mic, and a PA in the corner of the main room. This is his first official performance, but he looks calm. The lights are dim and people line the walls and doorways or sit in antique chairs in the corners. Jerry begins to play his first song and the music is both haunting and alive. The reverb-heavy acoustic guitar embodies the bold regret and loneliness of the lyrics. His tenor voice blurs some words in the amplified distortion, but the emotion of the song is indisputable and ubiquitous. It is not your average singer/songwriter lamentation of lost love and alcoholism. This is no Elliot Smith or Conor Oberst, no David Bazaan. Though the lyrics may lead you toward this strain of thought, they bear an enlightened tone. The lyrics evoke Bill Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, and Rimbaud. There is a disembodiment that comes from his soliloquy. It is personal enough to make it almost awkward, but through that tone and the words we all feel his redemption. His sorrows embracing our sorrows and coming to new terms with meaning versus meaninglessness. It’s difficult to say too much about Jerry Lang’s music in more concrete terms. It is a feeling and it is poetry. Continue reading

“Da Field,” by Chico’s Brother

In “Da Field,” Chico’s Brother, aka Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, explores the darker side of Mansfield, Ohio, circa the 1980’s. The song starts off with a harsh mechanical percussion, reminiscent of the town’s industrial roots, like a sheet-metal press stamping out car parts, which gives way to the sound of wind-chimes. The song’s affect is of drinking lemonade on the front porch in summer, deeply peaceful, but you can’t shake the feeling that something Cthulhic inhabits the shadows. After a while you realize sheet-metal press percussion has ceased, but it’s all the more real for its absence —like the blood pulse in your ears, this eerie clack of teeth. This shit is rotten to the core!