Monday, July 31, 2023

Good Trouble in The People’s House

by Gregg Chadwick

Review of Courage in The People's House: Nine Trailblazing Representatives Who Shaped America by Joe Neguse

Courage in The People's House: Nine Trailblazing Representatives Who Shaped America by Joe Neguse is the latest in a line of must-read books about the history of political thought and action in the United States. Joe Neguse, the first Black American elected to the House of Representatives from Colorado, tells the stories of nine folks who stepped up and served their communities and country as elected representatives in Congress. Neguse explains that “the People's House fulfills the founders' intent as the most democratic part of our federal government. And true to form, over the decades this system has worked to open up access to more of our citizens.”

Inspired by the courageous career of Representative John Lewis and filtered through Neguse’s reminiscences of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, Neguse’s Courage in The People's House provides inspiring stories of political and personal bravery. The profiles in Courage in The People's House reach across one hundred years of American history. Neguse begins with Joseph Rainey who was elected in 1870 as the first African American to serve in the United States House of Representatives and concludes with Barbara Jordan of Texas, elected in 1973, who was the first Southern Black American woman to serve in the House. Neguse explains that “the public servants profiled in this book…found the courage to speak truth to power, even when their political party, or own self-interest, made it far easier to go along with the prevailing view. 
Every American has the capacity to do the same.”

Neguse deftly tells the stories of nine groundbreaking Congressional Representatives:

Joseph Rainey

Joseph Rainey from South Carolina was the first Black person to serve in the United States House of Representative where he fought to pass laws that guaranteed equality for all in the United States. 

Neguse quotes Rainey as he spoke to his fellow Congressional Representatives: “Why is it that the colored members of Congress cannot enjoy the same immunities that are accorded to white members? Why cannot we stop at hotels here without meeting objection? Why cannot we go into restaurants without being insulted? We are here enacting laws for the country and casting votes upon important questions; we have been sent here by the suffrages of the people, and why cannot we enjoy the same benefits that are accorded to our white colleagues on this floor?.... Why this discrimination against us when we enter public conveyances or places of amusement? Why is a discrimination made against us in the churches; and why in the cemeteries when we go to pay that last debt of nature that brings us all upon a level?

Gentlemen, I say to you this discrimination must cease.”

Josiah Walls

Josiah Walls from Florida was the first African American elected to the U.S. Congress from the Sunshine State and the only Black Representative from Florida until the early 1990s. During the Civil War, Walls joined the Third Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops in time to fight during the assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina in July 1863. Walls campaigned in Congress for universal education throughout the U.S. 

Neguse informs us that “In his first term in Congress, Walls pushed hard for education and the economic development of his state. He was a prolific legislator, introducing more than fifty bills as a member of Congress, many of them for improvements in Florida, and won a number of victories.

He proposed new mail routes that sped postal service, new customs houses, navigational improvements, lifesaving stations, telegraph lines, and a rail link to a port that would aid transportation to Cuba. And he received widespread praise in Florida's newspapers for his efforts.”

William B. Wilson

William B. Wilson from Pennsylvania was an immigrant from Scotland who worked as a child laborer in the coal mines of Pennsylvania and later became a labor leader and progressive politician. Wilson was elected to Congress and later served as the first Secretary of Labor from 1913 to 1921. 

Wilson’s inspiring words are as true today as they were in 1920s America: “The men who seek money are always doomed sooner or later; the men who seek power or fame are continually taking chances and running risks of disaster; but those who are actuated by a simple desire to serve are the ones who ultimately win. The paths of such men may be long and tedious. It may be necessary for them to go through sloughs of despond and to climb treacherous heights; but by keeping the one star in mind they ultimately win, and become an honor to their families, to their communities, and to their nation.”

Adolph Sabath

Adolph Sabath from Illinois was an immigrant from what is now the Czech Republic who became a tireless fighter for immigrant rights in the United States. Sabath served in the U.S. House from 1907 to 1952. Sabath’s celebration of immigrants in the U.S. is deeply inspiring – “Due to immigration, our country is the wonder of civilization. Its population is made up of all the peoples of the earth. We have all races, all religions, all nationalities. They have come to us from all quarters of the globe, and we have the best.”

Oscar Stanton De Priest 

Oscar Stanton De Priest from Illinois was the first African American to be elected to the House of Representatives in the 20th century. During his three terms, he was the only Black American serving in the House and had to battle against segregationist policies and racism within the U.S. Capitol Building. In a fervent speech before Congress he exclaimed, “The restaurant of the Capitol is run for the benefit of the American people, and every American, whether he be Black or White, Jew or Gentile, Protestant or Catholic, under our constitutional form of Government is entitled to equal opportunities. If we allow segregation and the denial of constitutional rights under the dome of the Capitol where in God's name will we get them?" 

Margaret Chase Smith 

Margaret Chase Smith from Maine was elected to the House and also the US Senate thus becoming the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress. 

In 1950, during McCarthy’s Red Scare, Margaret Chase Smith delivered in the Senate Chamber a stirring rebuke against McCarthyism in which she defended American citizens’ rights to criticize, to hold unpopular beliefs, and to protest: “The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body in the world. But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity . . . I do not like the way the Senate has been made a rendezvous for vilification, for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity."

Neguse deftly describes the moment as Smith concluded her speech – “She called for the body to remember American principles of free speech and fairness, she did not mince words. It was time, she stated plainly, for her party to disavow ‘t]he four horsemen of calumny- fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear.’ The eyes of the reporters were transfixed on McCarthy, sitting a mere three feet away, as he turned pale and grim. He rapidly left the chamber as Smith finished her speech.”

Henry B. Gonzalez

Henry B. Gonzalez from Texas was the first Hispanic American ever elected to Congress from the Lone Star State. Neguse paints a vivid picture of Gonzalez’s road to the People’s House: “His parents were political exiles from Mexico and had hoped to return there, even after Henry was born in 1916, but they never did. An avid student of American history and the Constitution at an early age, he learned to speak English during the first grade in San Antonio and spent his days at the local library, reading history, literature, and classic texts in English. To eliminate his accent and improve his public speaking voice, he practiced with pebbles in his mouth in front of a mirror, after learning from his reading that the Greek orator Demosthenes had done the same. At home he read widely in Spanish, as well, devouring books brought home by his father, Leonides, who was editor of a Spanish-language daily newspaper.”

During the Vietnam War, Gonzalez was concerned that too much war making power had been given to the U.S. President: “If the president has unlimited foreign as well as domestic powers, what remains to prevent the development of a police state?

What remains to keep the government from assuming all power in the name of one man? The answer is that Congress must share the power. The president may not like this, but if we want this government to survive, that is the way it has to be. When the flexibility and suppleness of the Constitution are gone and power is no longer divided, the revolution will be over, and the king will be restored to his throne.”

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm from New York was the first black woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives. Chisholm represented New York's 12th congressional district for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. The powerful words of Shirley Chisholm exemplify courage:

“I ran for the presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.”

Fighting Shirley Chisholm: Unbought and Unbossed.

Barbara Jordan
photo by Annie Leibovitz

Barbara Jordan from Texas was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first Southern Black woman elected to the United States Congress.

 Jordan’s courageous speech during the Watergate hearings in 1974 still resonates today – “Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, 'We the people.' It is a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that 'We the people.' I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision I have finally been included in 'We, the people.' Today, I am an inquisitor. I believe hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”

Power concedes nothing without a struggle

Neguse concludes his book by encouraging Americans to get involved, to support democracy, and to vote in every election. - “As citizens, we each have a solemn responsibility to contribute to this magnificent experiment in self-governance.”

Neguse reminds us that one of Shirley Chisholm’s favorite maxims was proclaimed by Frederick Douglas when he said that, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle.”

And John Lewis was always willing to get into Good Trouble when he was seeking positive change. 

Joe Neguse’s inspiring book Courage in The People's House: Nine Trailblazing Representatives Who Shaped America vividly opens up dusty copies of the Congressional Record and brings the stories of American changemakers to life. 

Highly Recommended!  

by Gregg Chadwick
14"x11" oil on wood 2023

Joe Neguse and his family and friends attend the swearing in ceremony at the U.S. House of Representatives. 
Courtesy of Joe Neguse

Joe Neguse's Official House Photo

* All photos, unless noted, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Happy Birthday Kate Bush - and Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë
by Patrick Branwell Brontë
circa 1833
21 1/2 in. x 13 3/4 in.

This portrait
"This painting, which was discovered at the same time as the famous group portrait of the Brontë Sisters (see NPG 1725), is apparently all that remains of a group portrait of the Brontës by Branwell Brontë of which it formed the right-hand part. The shape just visible to the left is almost certainly the shoulder and arm of Branwell Brontë, who also appears second from the right in the two other Brontë groups (NPG 1725, where he painted himself out, and the 'Gun Group'), his head forming the apex of a triangular composition. While the identification of the Brontë sisters in the surviving NPG group is now generally accepted, the identity of the sitter in this fragment is still disputed, and the claims of Emily and Anne have both been pressed.
In an interview in 1895, the Rev Nicholls told Clement Shorter that he had cut out a portrait of Emily, from a group picture, which he then destroyed, and gave the fragment to the Brontës' old servant, Martha Brown, during one of her visits to him in Ireland. [1] Martha Brown is known to have been in possession of this portrait of Emily in 1879, for in that year, Sir William Robertson Nicoll visited her in Haworth and saw it there:

'I shall never cease to regret that I did not buy the portrait she had of Emily Brontë, though I got a few other things. I did not buy it because I could not very well afford it, and it has been irrevocably lost. I have made many efforts since, and have been helped by many of Martha Brown's relatives. But that really fine and expressive painting has hopelessly disappeared, and now we have nothing that deserves to be called a likeness of that rarely endowed girl.' [2]"

by Patrick Branwell Brontë
circa 1834
35 1/2 in. x 29 3/8 in. 


Monday, July 24, 2023

We Are All The Hold Steady

by Gregg Chadwick

Review: The Gospel of The Hold Steady: How a Resurrection Really Feels 

by Michael Hann and The Hold Steady 

Craig Finn and The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady, described by many as the world’s best bar band outside of E Street, releases a new book on July 25, 2023 that delves deeply into the stories behind the band and its loyal fans. The physical book is gorgeous. The story of the band and their passionate fans blazes across the volume from the first page to the last. Over two hundred expertly composed photographs capture The Hold Steady on stage and off with a proper smattering of confetti strewn floors.  

The history of The Hold Steady is told through interviews with the band members and those who were there behind the scenes. From their Midwest roots to their adopted Brooklyn home, the members of The Hold Steady open up about the struggles and triumphs of creating, performing, and promoting their music. Lead singer and lyricist Craig Finn opens the book with a heartfelt introduction. “The Hold Steady didn’t change my life, it is my life.”, Craig writes. And then says, “And if you’ve read this far, it’s likely yours too. Our songs are mainly fiction, but they try to be very honest at the same time. So, at the end of each show, we say and scream and shout all together a benediction: “We Are All The Hold Steady!” 

The Hold Steady

In The Gospel of The Hold Steady, we hear from the members of the group as they describe the birth of the band. The Hold Steady’s origin story is built on the ashes of Craig Finn’s earlier band Lifter Puller and the Minneapolis, Minnesota indie music scene. After Lifter Puller broke up, Craig moved to New York. Bassist Galen Polivka, whose old band had played with Craig’s band in Minneapolis, had also moved to New York and sowed some early seeds for The Hold Steady by exclaiming to Craig at a club in NYC that “If you want to start something musically, I’m in, and I’d love to play bass for you.” Drummer Judd Counsell joined the early phase of The Hold Steady along with guitarist Tad Kubler. Craig writes that the music they had in common was Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, and Zeppelin. Craig explains that “Being Midwestern was something that made us unique.”  After gigging in Brooklyn and NYC, The Hold Steady was ready to record their first album Almost Killed Me and keyboardist, writer, and university lecturer Franz Nicolay joined the band. Their inaugural album was released in March 2004 and the word began to spread. Drummer Bobby Drake flew out from Minnesota to replace Judd Counsell on the upcoming tour. The Hold Steady brought their mix of beautiful loser Midwest tales, infused with Brooklyn Indie, and garnished with Classic Rock riffs to the “not so wholesome heartland” of America.  

The voices of the fans – The Unified Scene – are also found in the book. The last chapter gathers a collection of personal stories from fans that describe what The Hold Steady means to them. 

Rob Sheffield writes that “Every fan has their own stories, their own songs, the favorites we cling to like patron saints.”

Craig writes in The Gospel of The Hold Steady, “that a rock band is in a race against time.” We  join Craig and the band on their existential quest as they struggle to find meaning and joy through their insightful lyrics and raucous music. The Gospel of The Hold Steady is the perfect companion volume for this quest. 

Highly Recommended!

The Hold Steady is Craig Finn, Tad Kubler, Galen Polivka, Bobby Drake, Franz Nicolay, and Steve Selvidge. Since forming in Brooklyn in 2003, they have released eight studio albums. Their debut album, The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, was named one of the 100 best albums of the century by Rolling Stone.

Michael Hann is a writer and editor based in London who contributes to the Guardian, the Economist, and Uncut. He also wrote Denim and Leather: The Rise and Fall of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. 

Friday, July 21, 2023

The Gaslight Anthem - History Books (ft. Bruce Springsteen)

RIP Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett, Champion of the Great American Songbook, Is Dead at 96
From his initial success as a jazzy crooner through his generation-spanning duets, his career was remarkable for both its longevity and its consistency.


More on Tony at - 

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Study and restoration: The Museo del Prado's copy of La Gioconda

Ana González Mozo, researcher in the Museum’s Technical Documentation Section and Almudena Sánchez Martín, restorer at the Museo del Prado, comments the technical study and the restoration process of the Copy of La Gioconda.

From the Prado:

"A member of Leonardo’s studio produced the Prado panel and that the copy and original were produced at the same time and in parallel. With regard to who the artist might be, the pictorial handling is not comparable to the style of pupils or collaborators such as Boltraffio, Marco d’Oggiono or Ambrogio di Predis, who have a defined artistic personality. However, it is possible to locate this work stylistically in a Milanese context, close to Salaï or perhaps to Francesco Melzi, Leonardo’s most trusted pupils, heirs of his work and the painters who had direct access to his landscape drawings.

The high quality of the materials used for the Madrid panel suggest that it was an important commission. In addition, up to now all known copies of La Gioconda were executed after its creation and reproduce what was a celebrated work from an early date. Technical analyses demonstrate that the Prado’s version was executed at the same time as the original, supporting the hypothesis of a workshop “duplicate” produced at the same time and with direct access to the gradual process of creation of Leonardo’s original work."


La Gioconda
Atelier of Leonardo da Vinci
ca. 1503-16. Oil on walnut panel, 76.3 x 57cm, 18mm thick

More at: 

Monday, July 10, 2023

Happy Birthday Camille Pissarro