Who Is Gunhild Carling?

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As an old movie fan, I’ve noticed how often the plot or subplot has to do with vaudeville either being dead or dying. Think of Gypsy, The Sunshine Boys, Limelight, Babes in Arms, Ziegfeld Girl and others. I never once thought I would see it revived until I discovered the multi-talented, Gunhild Carling.  I first saw her as an unnamed blonde prancing around a stage, reminding me a little of Cab Calloway, but also a bit like a guest who may have stayed too late at a party. But when she grabbed her bagpipes and started playing and swinging with the band, I was transfixed.

When that same unnamed blonde showed up again in my Facebook feed singing, scatting, playing the trombone and tap dancing in Central Park, I decided to find out about her.

Gunhild Carling was born into a family of musicians in 1975 in Gothenburg, Sweden. At age 7, she started touring and performing with them. She writes music, sings, tap dances, plays the harmonica, trombone, trumpet, harp, bagpipes, odd shepherd’s pipes, flute, banjo, piano and heaven knows what else.

A Very Odd Image

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Like other artists, I collect images. For years, I have filled my notebooks and files with the ones I want to remember. Those images can be works by other artists that are just plain wonderful. Others might be mysterious, poetic or have a quality I can’t describe. Sometimes the image depicts in a surprising way a quality we all share as humans. And sometimes I collect an image, because it is odd.

The picture above fits the latter category. What is going on here? There’s a TV from around 1960 showing the test pattern that used to come on late at night when the station had shut down and the workers had gone home. But where’s the plug for the TV? The television is in the barren field of a deserted farm that looks like something out of the dust bowl. Notice the parched cracked ground and the abandoned truck. It reminds me a little of photos I’ve seen of central New Mexico after the first test of the atomic bomb. It is that forlorn, hopeless and depressing.

None of this would be so odd but for the fact that someone paired this image with Dream, the old 1944 jazz and pop standard with words and music written by Johnny Mercer.

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Hipster Flipster Illustrator, Jim Flora

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If you collect vinyl records and have spent more than a few hours wading through stacks of Mitch Miller, Ferrante & Teicher, Mantovani, Pete Fountain, Vaughn Meader’s The First Family, Herb Alpert, Mario Lanza, John Denver, Ray Conniff, Bert Kaempfert, Boots Randolph, Perry Como, Dan Fogelberg, Tennessee Ernie Ford, James Taylor, Chicago, Switched On Bach, Lawrence Welk, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, Chipmunk Punk as well as numerous very odd gospel albums looking for rarities, there’s a good chance you have also come across the graphic design of Jim Flora.

jim-flora-jazz-album-covers

“In the 1940s and ’50s, James (Jim) Flora designed dozens of diabolic cover illustrations, many for Columbia and RCA Victor jazz artists. His world pulsed with angular hepcats bearing funnel-tapered noses and shark-fin chins, who fingered cockeyed pianos and honked lollipop-hued horns. In the background, geometric doo-dads floated willy-nilly like a kindergarten toy room gone anti-gravitational. Jim Flora wreaked havoc with the laws of physics, conjuring up flying musicians, levitating instruments, and wobbly dimensional perspectives. As he reflected in a 1998 interview, ‘I got away with murder, didn’t I?'” This is from Flora authority, Irwin Chusid,  author of The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora.

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How The King’s Wife Became His “Sister”

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I have to admit I have never paid much attention to Anne of Cleves. Sure, I knew she was one of Henry VIII’s six wives, and I was familiar with the portrait Hans Holbein painted of her in 1539. Henry VIII commissioned it to help him decide if she might be of interest as a wife. He liked it, too. But when he met her in person, he was disappointed in how she looked and exclaimed, “I like her not! I like her not!”

So what if she was a little more plain than Holbein had painted her. Holbein had also flattered Henry when he painted him a couple of years before. By this time, corpulent Henry was no prize. Their never consummated marriage was later annulled.

Cornelis Massys’ portrait of Henry VIII. National Portrait Gallery, London
Cornelis Massys’ portrait of Henry VIII. National Portrait Gallery, London

Even if Henry didn’t like Anne the first time he saw her, he gave her several houses, furnishings, an annual income, jewels and rewarded her with the title, “the kings sister.” I learned to like her a lot.  She was a pragmatic survivor who made the best of her situation. I like that Anne of Cleves was good at needlework.

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Thomas Hardy Secret Discovered Behind a Wall

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There’s something I like about writers and artists who are able to do their work while holding down another job. It’s encouraging, because most of us in creative fields are unable to support ourselves from sales and royalties alone. It adds to my admiration for the person to know they are able to do several things well.  Philip Glass, considered one of the most influential music makers of the late 20th century, worked as a cab driver and plumber. It’s fun thinking of T.S. Eliot as a banker while writing The Waste Land and Wallace Stevens working 40 years at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company while writing The Man With the Blue Guitar.

For many, our first encounter with the writer, Thomas Hardy, was when we read Return of the Native in high school. For others, it was viewing either the 1967 or 2015 versions of Far from the Madding Crowd or the BBC production of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. But Hardy was also trained as an architect and worked as a draftsman. Until recently it was thought his ideas remained on paper alone, and that his projects were never built.

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