Brushing up on Retirement.

I remember some light-hearted fun-poking when it was discovered that former president George W. Bush had taken up painting in his retirement. It may be that the teasing was a little premature.

His latest book (he has had more than one on the best-seller’s lists) – his latest is called Portraits of Courage, a collection of military veterans paintings done by the former president. I didn’t really study his early works – a couple of self-portraits were among the earliest – but I know from experience that it is much easier to put down criticism than it is to pick up a brush.

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When the book arrived in the shop today, I was immediately impressed with the cover. Boxing in the title are a series of portraits that – taken at face value (nyuk, nyuk, pun intended) – are fairly striking. Stylized faces in soft colors.

Most artists of any note have their own technique, and if the result is supposed to look exactly like the subject, then a cell-phone photo ought to suffice.

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Of course, President Bush has had a few years to work on his technique: two terms and a swearing-in ceremony’s worth of time.

I’d say he’s made the most of it.

It may be favorite-son status, or former US president notoriety, but a collection of the original portraits is currently on display in Dallas, and the book is currently on display at the top of a number of national best-seller lists.

He writes in the book that he isn’t sure how his efforts will be received, due to his status as a “novice” – but he adds that “each painting was done with a lot of care and respect.” His efforts in those regards are apparent. His may be a quick ascent to the book lists and art galleries, but then again – maybe he paid enough dues in a different arena to legitimately bump up his place in line.

At lunchtime today I spotted someone looking over John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage,” – published in 1961. I can easily imagine someone giving President Bush’s “Portraits in Courage” the same consideration in another half-century.

Providing that these things called “books” are still around then.

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 S. Main St. Broken Arrow OK!

Looking Back is a Bad Habit: Rooster Cogburn

The three of them would walk down to Owl Drugs after school, and there they became a cartoonist’s club – of sorts: Paul Davis, Russell Myers, and Archie Goodwin. And who would have thought of the trio of Will Rogers High School students as headed for stardom?

What?

You don’t know them by name?

I had a surprise there, too. Opened up the mail and pulled out a first edition copy of True Grit by Charles Portis, which ranks somewhere near the top of my list of favorite books. As it is with any new acquisition, I was checking the copy, making sure it was everything it ought to be.

It was.

Portis wrote the story with a rural eloquence that is almost poetic. Then there is that wry humor as typified in the courtroom scene:

Goudy: I believe you testified that you backed away from old man Wharton?
Rooster Cogburn: Yes, sir.
Goudy: Which direction were you going?
Rooster Cogburn: Backward. I always go backward when I’m backin’ away.

My examination had me lingering over the dust jacket and the artwork. A singular style, I thought. Simplistic but powerful. Knowing the story, I thought it captured the essence of both Mattie – the main character – and the title of the book.

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I wondered who had painted it, and that’s when I learned about the after-school artists and Owl Drugs in Tulsa. Paul Davis did not linger in Tulsa long after high school. His skill with the brushes earned him a scholarship at a New York City art school, and he established a reputation and a clientele in short order.

His works were visible on the streets, on television, in magazines, and on movie sets. He painted record album covers and advertising art. He was in high demand as an illustrator even before he founded Paul Davis Studio in 1963. It was five years later that he was commissioned to do the dust jacket for True Grit.

It positively shocked me to learn that he grew up in Tulsa.

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But I could relate to the idea of a cartoonist’s club. My ninth grade buddies and I considered ourselves more of a clique than a club, but we spent more time than we should have, putting pen to paper. Shortly before the end of the semester, my English teacher took me aside and informed me that I had turned in so few assignments that she was going to be forced to fail me.

She told me she hated to “Fail” anyone, and intended to record my grade as – I – for Incomplete. The letter wouldn’t make so much difference, I thought – figuring whatever letter she wrote would probably keep me out of tenth grade, or have me in “summer school” at the least.

It likely wouldn’t happen today, but she allowed me to stay after school each day of that last week of school, starting at the top and working my way down the stack of the semester’s worth of assignments I’d failed to turn in…

…because my buddies and I were too busy free-handing the line art from A Tale of Two Cities.

It was passable art that almost kept me from passing out of ninth grade, but – obviously – not enough to win an art school scholarship.

On the other hand, Paul’s art buddies managed to find their ways into the art world. Archie Goodwin – whom I had the good fortune to meet on an occasion – made his mark in the comic book world and was a frequent guest at conventions.

The work of Russell Meyers is something I examine every morning. The Tulsa World carries his comic strip Broom-Hilda, which Meyers syndicated in 1970 – the same year I squeaked into my sophomore year.

It doesn’t surprise me that so many talented folks have ties to the Tulsa area, but I am surprised at the number – with international renown – who have managed to slip under my radar.

Being a fan of True Grit, it tickles me greatly to know that the story is set in our general area (including a visit to JJ McAlester’s General Store!) and is such a wonderfully written book wrapped in artistic local color.

Like to own a copy?

I just happen to know where I can lay hands on a First Edition…

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow OK!

Before lip-synch was even invented…

Honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it was Leon, even if someone had pointed at the screen and said, “Hey! There’s Leon Russell!”

Nope. Wouldn’t have believed it. Behind the piano, all right, but no beard, no white hair. In fact, he’s got a cruiser-hair-do straight out of an S.E. Hinton novel.

Then, partway through the song – in between the lines of the verse – he stretches out a word the way only he could do it, and it is unmistakable. Can’t forget a voice that was already one-of-a-kind, even back in 1964.

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Some of you may remember the show: Shindig! (That’s not my exclamation point… it’s the way the show was titled.) It was pretty early rock and roll, and unlike New Year’s TV music broadcasts these days, there was no lip-synching. Real guitar licks. Real vocals.

There was a house band that played each week. The Shin-diggers – who were later known as the Shindogs. Some musicians who later became big names, including Tulsa’s Leon Russell on piano. There was Glen Campbell, Billy Preston, Delaney Bramlett (half of Delaney & Bonnie, and the guy who taught George Harrison to play slide guitar), and other notables who were later known as the Wrecking Crew (Phil Spector’s studio band).

Shindig! was put together as a replacement show for Hootenanny, another musical variety show that featured folk and bluegrass music. (Even as I’m typing these show-titles they sound old-fashioned and antiquated. Did we really use words like that?)

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“Come on!” we yelled. “Let’s have ourselves a hootenanny!”

“Oh, you’re darn-tootin!” rang out the shouted reply. “We’ll have a regular shindig!”

Looking at these pirated episodes, I have to shake my head at the dancing (as familiar as some of the moves look…) and the hair styles, but the music isn’t embarrassing. The show was taped before a live audience and the musicians did themselves justice. Sure, they’re oldies. But they’re easier to dance to than a history book.

The show had a two year run – not quite 100 shows – that for a time aired twice a week in prime time.

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And there were plenty of stars: the Beatles taped a performance in England for the show (Oct 7, 1964), Roy Orbison, Mannfred Mann, the Righteous Brothers, Tina Turner, Tulsa’s Roy Clark, Marvin Gaye, the Beach Boys – all performed in the early shows over the first few months, and there were plenty of others.

It’s almost a miracle that I’m able to view the episodes. Back in the early 1960’s, videotape was a new thing, and quite expensive. Since it was re-usable, it mostly was – and many programs were simply lost in the overwrite recording. Some years ago, a record label released some compilation tapes (VCR), picking and choosing songs to include according to a theme.

But in this case, some fan put a film camera in front of his TV screen (I’m guessing, in the way the old Kinescope recordings were done) and created an archive. Some shows are obviously copied from a studio master, as the inclusion of a running-time stamp would indicate.

One thing I’ve noticed about these shows I recall from back then: Everybody sure looks young.

Well, some of us no longer have our youth – but we’ve got technology, by gosh! I’m cranking up the computer and jumping up (slowly) to do the Mashed Potato!

(Chef Dustin makes his mash by hand every day for lunchtime, so Come Visit!)

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow, OK!