Letters 07-27-2015

Next For Brownfields In regard to your recent piece on brownfield redevelopment in TC, the Randolph Street project appears to be proceeding without receiving its requested $600k in brownfield funding from the county. In response to this, the mayor is quoted as saying that the developer bought the property prior to performing an environmental assessment and had little choice but to now build it...

Defending Our Freedom This is in response to Sally MacFarlane Neal’s recent letter, “War Machines for Family Entertainment.” Wake Up! Make no mistake about it, we are at war! Even though the idiot we have for a president won’t accept the fact because he believes we can negotiate with Iran, etc., ISIS and their like make it very clear they intend to destroy the free world as we know it. If you take notice of the way are constantly destroying their own people, is that living...

What Is Far Left? Columnist Steve Tuttle, who so many lambaste as a liberal, considers Sen. Sanders a far out liberal “nearly invisible from the middle.” Has the middle really shifted that far right? Sanders has opposed endless war and the Patriot Act. Does Mr. Tuttle believe most of our citizens praise our wars and the positive results we have achieved from them? Is supporting endless war or giving up our civil liberties middle of the road...

Parking Corrected Stephen Tuttle commented on parking in the July 13 Northern Express. As Director of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority, I feel compelled to address a couple key issues. But first, I acknowledge that  there is some consternation about parking downtown. As more people come downtown served by less parking, the pressure on what parking we have increases. Downtown serves a county with a population of 90,000 and plays host to over three million visitors annually...

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Captain Yonder‘s ‘Mad Country Love Songs‘ Revealed at Dec. 14 Show

Robert Downes - December 11th, 2003
In his press kit, songwriter Ryan Pfeiffer says he met the brilliant but obscure “Captain“ Jack Yonder while serving as an attorney for the federal government in St. Louis, Missouri -- a job he quit to become a folk singer and student at Great Lakes Maritime Academy. The two got to be pals -- fishin‘, shootin‘ shotguns, and playin‘ guitars down in the Ozarks south of town -- and when Yonder died last spring, the old man bequeathed Pfeiffer the rights to 1,000 unrecorded folksongs he‘d written over the course of his long life.
On Sunday, Dec. 14, the public will have a chance to hear Pfeiffer‘s take on some of Captain Yonder‘s material, which he has incorporated into his own “American-gothic songs about madness, infatuation, solitude, country and nature,“ when he and his band perform a CD release party at the Loading Dock in Traverse City at 7 p.m. The Captain Yonder band includes Esmè Schwall on cello, Craig Johnson on percussion, and James Edlund on guitar/Wurlitzer.
Just where Captain Yonder leaves off and Ryan Pfeiffer begins on the CD, “Mad Country Love Songs“ is unclear, since the 10 songs on the album don‘t sound like they were written by anyone belonging to the “Greatest Generation“ this side of poet T.S. Elliot. The songs are exceptionally literary, to the point where two -- as well as the CD‘s title -- have been adapted from Sylvia Plath‘s poem, “Mad Girl‘s Love Song.“ In terms of song structure, the melodies seem to owe more to modern art bands such as Yo La Tempo or the German expressionism of the 1930s than what one might expect of a lone balladeer living in a trailer in the Ozarks. But, as Pfeiffer explains, the work is his interpretation of what Captain Yonder bequeathed him.
Nonetheless, Captain Yonder is an urban folklorist‘s dream in that he managed to hit some of the sweet spots resonating in modern folk music legend without leaving any tracks. It‘s claimed, for instance, that he rode the rails with his guitar in the Great Depression, and collaborated with Woody Guthrie on a number of songs. This is an obviously iconic experience, emblazoned on America‘s collective subconcious mind, and it seems odd that there were *two* rail-riding Woody Guthrie types who managed to hook up in the Depression (of note, Bob Dylan made a similar claim of being a rail-riding hobo minstrel early in his career until he was outed as a hoax in Time magazine). Pfeiffer also says his friend had three wives, but no children, nor apparently any step-children to pass on his legacy. And not a single photo of him exists, other than a distant shot of a man whose build and hair color look a tad robust for a man in his 90s. Pfeiffer also notes in his press kit that Captain Yonder “was an anomalous man“ who died a “timely“ death, Pynchonesque clues that hint at a possible leg-pulling.
Whether Captain Yonder is a spoof or not doesn‘t detract from Pfeiffer‘s work, however; in fact the legend adds to the ingenious aspect of his project, imbueing it with a rich sense of Americana. As Pfeiffer tells it, Captain Yonder left him “many strange, dark, beautiful and often enigmatic melodies and lyrics, which operate furtively in a traditional roots style.“ His work is one of completing the Captain‘s songs because the majority were “unfinished, unrecorded and untranscribed. It will be my reponsibility to stitch, mend and fill. And in cantinas, bars and barges along the way, I will continue to write and perform songs that you will recognize as my own.“
What does Pfeiffer‘s music sound like? Gothic folk in the sense of this CD runs to dissonant harmonies, strong close-to-the-bone images, and moody lyrics in the school of such cult musicians as Stereolab, Kronos Quartet, Ute Lemper, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Yo La Tempo and Portishead. Close to home, one might find a kissing cousin in the form of Keyboard and Plastic Duck, playing similarly quirky music, which swims against the tide of pop. Other reviewers have found Pfeiffer‘s music to be “lush and beautiful,“ “intriquing and difficult,“ “haunting and mesmerizing“ and blessed with a “far out, spooky cello and wild phrasings.“ Above all, Pfeiffer‘s songs are thoughtful with exquisite lyrics. Whether you believe that Captain Jack Yonder really did work on a Navy minesweeper in World War II, taught poetry at a small Midwestern fine arts college, and died an unrecognized genius in the hillbilly squalor of a trailer park, you can‘t deny that his protegè Ryan Pfeiffer is an exceptional artist and songwriter.

-- by Robert Downes

Mad Country Love Song II (Feeling Softly)
By Ryan Pfeiffer

In fecund wood I drifted upon a robin;
With precision I shot it from the tree,
Took seasoned spade and burrowed in the garden
And buried it there feeling softly.

In brambles I threw my body down;
Barefoot I walked on nettles firey,
Crushed thistles in the palm of my hand,
Lay naked on the grass feeling softly.

With torch I descended to the skiff;
By moon‘s rays I struck into the sea,
Where overboard I cast myself deftly
And surfaced, climbed aboard, feeling softly.

In common bed I turned my back to Rose
And told her I‘d love for her to grieve
How very much I had come to hate her;
Then I slept and awoke, feeling softly.

Dear Rose, perhaps you‘ve learned my name.
Good-bye Rose, may the future bear you brightly.
I have for you merely one request;
When you bury me please do it softly.
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