Blog Entry #1

Everyone who knows me knows I’m “high-tech-challenged,” and struggle to keep up with the modern world. But at the urging of many of my friends, I’ve finally decided to have a go at writing a blog, so here is my first entry.

Someone called this to my attention recently:

http://www.goarticles.com/cgi-bin/showa.cgi?C=2387713

The gist of it is that this investment advisor, “Doug Up” (I suspect this is a nom de plume) thinks it would be a good move to buy paintings or commission portraits from me now, and from another artist, Dan Gerhartz. I concur with his astute analysis, and add some more reasons to buy my paintings. As Mr. Up says, my reputation is growing, and the law of supply and demand favors me as a good investment prospect because the supply will become fixed as soon as I die, and I’m 70 years old as this is written [71 now, 2016]. On top of that, I ride motorcycles, which some folks regard as a dangerous activity. So those of you who have bought my paintings in the past would be wise to buy some more before some calamity befalls me, and those who have been thinking about it might consider doing it soon, before a truck runs over me or some other such thing happens. Whereas I have supreme confidence in my ability to remain alive while riding a motorcycle, with 50 years of experience to protect me from the dangers of the road, there are those who think I’m a lunatic with a death wish when they see pictures of me riding on race tracks at my age (pictures of this are on the Photo Album section of my web site,) which characterization might or might not be accurate. The intelligent art collector could do a lot worse than buy paintings from an artist in his senior years who continues to engage in pursuits that most people regard as extremely dangerous.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Virgil Elliott

Second Installment:

I had always intended to write about Jan Vermeer of Delft. My publisher imposed a page limit on my first book that left no room for it, and once that book was finally published I was so far behind on my painting and music projects that I was not eager to launch into another book immediately. I'm still not caught up on those things, but I think I need to either write another book that includes more about Vermeer, or update the first book in an expanded, revised edition, if Random House will agree to it. Friends are encouraging me to write a new book, and I'm leaning toward that option, though it would involve a lot more work. If you agree, please write to Random House and urge them to offer me a very lucrative deal in order to make it happen. I have a lot more to say than I was given room for in the first book, and as I mentioned in my previous blog post (and alluded to in my painting, "Tempus Edax Rerum"), my time will run out one of these days. So please be especially emphatic on the money issue. Insist that they agree to all my terms and indulge my every whim forever after. Surely it would be in their best interests to do so.

Thank you in advance for your support.

Sincerely,

Virgil Elliott

Third Installment: My take on the Avant-Garde

BYRON THE BEATNIK AND HIS RUBBER HOSE

In late 1965, with a few short weeks left of my term of enlistment in the Army, I took over the lease of a seven-room apartment on Gaslight Square, the center of St. Louis’s beatnik scene. As a bohemian artist, I thought that was where I should live. Stationed near Kansas City for my last six months in the Army, I came to my apartment in St. Louis on weekends, and then moved there as a Free Man when I finally got my discharge papers.

There were two roommates already living in that apartment, and I was happy to let them stay on and pay equal shares of the rent. One of them was named Henry, but he preferred to be called Byron. A nice, mild-mannered fellow who played the stereotypical beatnik role to the hilt, Byron worked as a welder, and spent most of his pay on stereo equipment, jazz records, and marijuana. He had a wispy goatee and mustache, wore a beret, and began every sentence with a meaningless bop-talk preamble: “Like man, I mean it’s like, you know…” etc. Often he would trail off to “OoooWAaah!” or some such nonsense before he had ever made whatever point he might have had in mind when he’d started talking, if indeed he’d had one at all. The cat was, like, way out, man. One of the local “heads” called Byron a “comic-book beatnik,” which I thought summed it up pretty well.

The social scene among the Gaslight “heads” in those days consisted largely of gathering in small groups in one or another person’s apartment, smoking marijuana, and listening to music. Most often the apartment where these gatherings occurred was mine, since Byron had money to buy marijuana, state-of-the-art stereo equipment, and jazz records, and the apartment was large enough for comfort. I had taken the former kitchen as my room, since it was all the way in the back, at the opposite end of the apartment from the living room and Byron’s room, which adjoined the living room. Byron was the more sociable of the three of us, so the partying was always at his end of the apartment. Lloyd was the other roommate, and his room was between Byron’s and mine. Byron called Lloyd “Hero” because he was always the hero of the stories he told.

Byron was a big fan of John Coltrane and Miles Davis in particular. He referred to them as Trane and Miles, as if he were personally acquainted with them. When Trane came out with his Om album, in which he experimented with “free jazz,” Byron played it for a bunch of us at one of our pot-smoking evenings. After we’d had enough of it, we all urged him to play something else, because we were not enjoying listening to it. He responded by berating us as squares from nowhere for not being hip to Trane’s cool groove. That was when the trouble started.

Inspired by Trane and the idea that the coolest thing was to break free of all the rules of music, Byron decided he, too, would be a cool jazz musician like his idol, John Coltrane. Only he would even out-cool Trane by rejecting mainstream musical instruments in his zeal for avant-garde intellectual supremacy, and opt instead for one of his own invention. He stuck a tin funnel in one end of a rubber hose from an old washing machine, and a trumpet mouthpiece in the other. Byron had no musical training whatsoever, no understanding of music theory, and no experience playing any musical instrument, but none of that mattered, because he was avant-garde. Cool, man! At the next gathering, Byron decided he’d play along with Om on his hose-horn, and the sound was what one might expect of a stoned non-musician blowing into a rubber hose with a funnel on the end. Actually, it was worse than that. No one was enjoying it but Byron. The cat was in The Zone, man, and we squares from nowhere were too unhip to dig where he was coming from, like, he was at one with the universe, out there in the ozone, communing with the cosmos, and we earth-bound slugs couldn’t grok it. To us, it just sounded like ugly noise with nothing musical about it, and we wanted him to knock it off. Byron accused us of being up-tight cats with a hole in our soul for bringing him down and being unable to groove on his free-jazz trip.

I tried to explain to him that Trane and Miles were actual musicians, masters of their respective instruments who had established their credentials as such to the satisfaction of the world at large before they ever went off on their experimental excursion into the unknown, and that if they had not, no one would want to listen to them. The logic of this was lost on Byron. Logic was just one more contrivance of uptight squares that he was too cool to be bound by, and he rejected it as yet another trick bag the straight world was trying to put him in. After running us all down for laying a bummer on him, he resumed his free-jazz hose duet with John Coltrane. But after the fog cleared somewhat from his mind, he began to think that maybe he didn’t sound so good on that hose-horn after all, as we had all been trying to tell him. Soon thereafter, he went to the pawn shop and came back with a real trumpet as his new "axe," and the rubber hose was retired; problem solved, or so he thought.

At the next evening gathering, Byron, stoned on marijuana, put on the Om album, dragged out his new horn, and proceeded to play along with Trane. The only difference we could perceive between Byron on the trumpet and Byron on the rubber hose was that the trumpet was louder, which in this instance was not an improvement; quite the contrary.

Around this time, I discovered that our other roommate, Lloyd, was a thief who stole from everyone whose dwelling he was admitted into, and I kicked him out with the threat that if he ever came back, I’d break both his arms. Byron objected, saying, “Hey man, like the cat’s sick, man, like cut the dude some slack! Like, violence is uncool, man, like it’s a downer, I mean, you can’t do shit like that!” Byron’s admonitions notwithstanding, I stood firm on my threat, and Lloyd was out. Knowing that there was no lock on the back door, however, he snuck back in one night while I was out of town, and stole one thing only; the one thing he knew I would not object to his stealing: Byron’s trumpet.

Whenever the topic of avant-garde anything comes up, I’m always reminded of Byron the beatnik and his rubber hose.

Virgil Elliott