Saturday, June 27, 2015


It's the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; world weariness,
earned rest, the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
the gayety in the stride
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry,

.Wendell Berry

Sunday, March 24, 2013


The noon day sun shone through a skylight in the back room of the newly opened "Twice Told Coffee House" on Bardstown Road near a new clothes shop called "Grateful Threads." Two more of our city's recent tips of the hat to Bohemian culture.

A sunbeam bounced off walls covered with enlarged book covers of titles like "Dharma Bums," by Beat generation icon Jack Kerouac, and a drawing of William Burroughs, the author of "Naked Lunch." Then it landed directly on the bald, bespectacled head of Allen Ginsberg, the poet largely responsible for the literary movement that spawned those books and writers.

In Louisville for the first time, as the guest of U of L's "Thinker Review," the author of the revolutionary "Howl" and over 30 other books sat surrounded by about a dozen admirers, including his "Thinker" hosts, who invited him to teach and recite at the college.

It was part of a "literary explosion" that "Thinker' editors Ron Whitehead and Kent Fielding say is going on in the Louisville area.

As Ginsberg a vegetarian meal of beans and rice, a choice necessitated by his diabetes and recent heart failure, Ginsberg, a long time  human rights activist, talked about censorship, politics and the state of the world.

"It seems like the fundamentalists and neo-conservatives are trying to  reimpose some kind of Stalinist mind control," he said. "They use the same language in attacking what they call corrupt art or dirty art or individualistic art."

What motivates people like Helms?

"I think it's some kind of authoritarian impulse. They just want to be mind dictators. Jesse Helms is always talking about homosexuals. He's obsessed with the subject. He's always waving dirty pictures around. His relation to the gay scene is that he wants to be the dominator, the sadist...humiliating the passive partner. So he's the pervert."

What about the Republican party, Dan Quayle and their stance on family values?

"Quayle is a prig and a draft dodger. Phyllis Schlafly's son is gay. Ronald Reagan's son his gay. The Reagans hardly ever went to church unless it was politically obvious and expedient. When George Bush was head of he CIA, he payed off Noriega knowing full well he was a drug dealer. So the whole family values thing is just hype, a con, a scam."

If these politicians are so bad, why did the American people put them in office?

"Most everybody gets their information from television. And at this point, most public media is owned by 20 or 30 people. So it's like an oligarchy that's really determining what's emphasized in the news."

Do you think that people at the university level realize what's going on?

"Yeah, I think so. I think that everybody knows it. And there may be a reaction with Bill Clinton. But I don't think Clinton is going to be much of an improvement except on the culture front. Reagan and Bush have dug the United States into such an economic hole, I don't think we are ever going to get out of it. We're going to lose the planet in the next 100 or 200 years anyway."

Only a hundred years left?

"A couple hundred. I don't think there is going to be an explosion or an apocalypse. I think just a slow, sluggish gridlock. A Chernobyl here, a hurricane there, an ozone hole here or a weather change there."

Any advice for young people today?

"It depends on what field they are in. If they want to be scientists, I'd say try and help to find some clean energy substance. Besides over population, I think the use of fossil fuel is our biggest problem."

What about the liberal arts? Are people going to be reading anymore or writing books? Is poetry still going to be important?

"Yeah, sure. When they pull the electric plug there will still be books. And when the books rot or the libraries lose their lights, the only thing that will be left are singers like Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan. And they'll be considered the great poets because they will be stuck in memory."

So saying, Ginsberg scrawled a token of his appreciation, a symbolic sketch of a goddess figure surrounded by a circle representing the life cycle. At the bottom he drew a skull.

"Existence contains suffering," quoth a departing Ginsberg.

"So if you're not afraid of suffering, you can be happy. If you are afraid of suffering, then you are going to surround yourself with chemicals, TV sets, skyscrapers and atom bombs and make it worse."

by Danny O'Bryan

The Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO) magazine


Monday, March 18, 2013

Danny O'Bryan's Louisville Jazz Blog

Louisville jazzman Mike Tracey is always teaching it or playing it

    Remember the old 1950s stereotype of a jazz musician?

    He was the guy who hung out in bars getting strung out on a reefer - or worse - while playing his instrument, usually a saxophone, and grooving to its sensuous, sinful sounds.

    Over the last 20 years, that hedonistic image has been shattered by a new breed of jazzmen (and women) who have been coming out of the nation’s colleges and music schools with a serious and dedicated commitment to their art.

    A case in point is saxophonist Mike Tracy, 33, who is now appearing with the jazz band Chameleon at Howard Johnson’s Greenstreet Tavern, 100 E. Jefferson St.
    Tracy, unlike the 50s stereotype, neither smokes nor drinks, and his goal in life is to ‘become a better person.” He hopes to achieve his goal through playing jazz.

    Tracy, who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville’s School of Music, has been playing jazz and teaching jazz theory in local high schools and colleges for more than 10 years. Besides being an artist in residence for the Jefferson County School system, Tracy is teaching jazz classes at both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.

    And he does this while holding down a four-night-a-week gig at the Greenstreet Tavern.

    Tracy said his love of music developed early in life. “When I was a kid, my parents kept the stereo on all the time the way most people do the television. We listened to all kinds of music, from classical to big bands.”

    When he was in the fourth grade, Tracy began playing the saxophone. Later, while he was attending Seneca High School, he played in a number of all-state and all-county bands, plus stage bands.

    But it wasn’t until 1970 when he was a student at the University of Louisville School of Music that his jazz mania began. That year he met his mentor, New Albany jazz educator Jamey Aebersold, who was then teaching at U of L.

    “Before I met Jamey, I never really thought about jazz and improvising - but after we met, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

    In 1974, when Tracy graduated from college, Aebersold quit teaching full time in order to devote more time to his mail order record business. “I thought that was a perfect opportunity for me to jump in and start teaching because Jamey and I are a lot alike. We both like to teach jazz and be around young people,” he said.

    Tracey said a lot of people have made comparisons between him and Aebersold because they are both thin and have a lot of energy. “But basically we just enjoy doing the same things. I enjoy giving and getting from my students. And I was fortunate that Jamey saw something in me that he could use,” Tracey said.

    Over the last ten years, Tracey has traveled to Nova Scotia, New Zealand and Europe teaching at Aebersold’s jazz camps. “It’s been great and I’ve learned a lot and had the opportunity to teach with great jazz saxophonists like Joe Henderson and Dave Leibman,” he said.

    Tracey is very excited about the new job at the Greenstreet Tavern.

    “I think Chameleon (which includes pianist Glen Fisher, bassist Tyrone Wheeler and drummer Daryl Cotton) has the best rhythm section in town. Our goal is to play good jazz with a lot of variety, everything from fusion to bebop,” he said.

   “Jazz requires you to search within yourself and be inquisitive about things. I’m very busy, but jazz has given me the freedom to look deep within myself and become a better person, a better teacher and a better musician.”

By Danny O’Bryan
Nightlife Columnist - Louisville Times’  SCENE magazine
October 1985

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”

Friday, February 1, 2013

My 1993 LEO article on the Literary Renaissance


Ron Whitehead and Kent Fielding, co-editors of  "The Thinker Review," a University of Louisville student literary journal, were having a leisurely lunch with the famous Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg ("Howl") after his reading at the UL Student Center in October 1992.

Ginsberg commented that is plane was to leave Standiford Field at 2:30 p.m.. "I told him to look at his ticket," Whitehead says. "He pulled it out and it read 1:30."

By then it was 10 minutes to lift-off, so Whitehead and Fielding packed the poet into a car and took off for the airport at 90 miles an hour, disregarding red lights along the way. When they got to the terminal all three jumped out and sprinted toward the boarding gate.

"We'd almost made it when Ginsberg started running away from us. "Whitehead says, "Kent and I both began running to keep up, when suddenly Ginsberg turns around, bends down on one knee and pulls out a camera and takes our picture."

The resulting snapshot, which catches both men in mid-air, arms and feet flying, is emblematic of the frantic pace at which Whitehead and Fielding have operated for the past two years while trying to make Louisville a world literary capital. (Whitehead teaches literature at UL, Fielding is working on his master's degree in   creative writing.)

Last spring after collaborating on the last of three widely praised editions of "The Thinker Review," the dashing duo joined forces with Louisville business man Judah Thornwill to form the "Literary Renaissance,"
a non-profit organization whose ambition is to make Louisville the home base of a global literary community.

Thornwill, 31, owns Integrated Customer Services (JCS), a telemarketing company that specializes in promoting  the arts; it's past clients have included the Louisville Orchestra and Stage One: The Louisville Children's Theatre. Thornwill said that he became involved because he thought what Whitehead and Fielding was doing was unique.

"The volume and variety of things they had already accomplished amazed me," Thornwill says, "I thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me to lend my expertise to something I really believed in."

In addition to revitalizing the UL student review, Whitehead and Fielding has published numerous chapbooks (small, paper bound editions of poetry) featuring local and national writers; put out "The Dark Woods I Cross," an anthology of Louisville woman poets; and sponsored readings at UL by several world renowned writers, including Ginsberg, fellow Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and African American poet Amiri Baraka.

Most of the products of the Literary Renaissance - locally produced cds, posters and chapbooks - are aimed at college educated consumers younger than 30 who attend music concerts and poetry "slams", competitive readings.)

One division of the Renaissance, Riche's Lemon Herb Media, records and markets cds - the first being "Omphalos," a wild combination of a  poetry reading by Ferlinghetti, Baraka and several Louisville based poets with music ranging from classical to experimental rock.

Sales of "Omphalos," were brisk during October's 62-hour, Renaissance sponsored "Insomniacathon," featuring 90 poets and 40 bands over three days and nights at the Brewery Thunderdome and Tweligan's Tavern.

Whitehead says he's is happy to leave the marketing to Thornewill.

"It's a good thing that Judah is helping us," he says, "but I don't give a damn about money. All I care about is the generation of the creative spirit, which is the imagination."

(Whitehead and Fielding's lack of concern about money landed them in controversy last year, when their stewardship of "The Thinker Review," left the magazine $5,000 in debt and the two of them in dutch with UL's administration.)

In Whitehead's view the ultimate purpose of the Renaissance is to bring people together.

"When a new poet reads on stage during one of our events, he or she gets the same respect and appreciation as someone who has written six or seven books," he says.
"This is not an elitist organization. We want to be inclusive rather than exclusive."

Ferlinghetti told Whitehead during his visit last spring that "not since the 1950s had he seen such energy and interest in poetry."

Especially that of the Beats. Whitehead and Fielding clearly are fans. They recently read their own poetry at a festival celebrating Beat icon Jack Kerouac ("On the Road") in the writer's hometown Lowell, Mass., and even put a "Insomniacathon" ticket  on his tomb stone. More recently they sponsored a Louisville appearance  by Beat poet/enigma Gregory Corso.

And Rant, the literary journal of the Renaissance, a 12 by 12, 400 page publication due out early next year, reflects a diversity of tastes; it will include the work of writers from South Africa, Ireland, Norway and Kentucky.

The featured artists will include Wendell Berry, Sarah Epstein and Diana Di Prima, whose poem "Rant," provided the journal's name and its anthem, "The only war that matters is the war against the imagination."

Danny O'Bryan
Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO) 1993

Saturday, January 26, 2013


As I mentioned in an earlier blog I am going through a purgation, a spiritual renewal, a casting out of the devils. The scales have dropped from my eyes. It's now 3 a.m. and I'm back at it after dropping like a rock on-to my new couch (newly acquired furniture is analogous to my present situation) in my studio.

Yesterday I felt like playing my saxophone, which I haven't in months and of course I have been singing every day. Purgation requires it. Also yesterday I ate very little. I'm fasting before Mardi Gras. It doesn't  matter, it has to do with my timing no one else's. Speaking of Mardi Gras my new Mardi Gras wreath came in the mail yesterday and I hung it on my front door. All the way from Louisiana it's bright colored strings of gold, purple and green announce my allegiance to the holiday season. The one that began with twelfth night and ends with Fat Tuesday.

During one of my last purgations several years ago I accumulated the strength to assemble all my old photos in binders along with other memorabilia. I haven't gone through it in years but yesterday I found this written poem in the binder across from  some of photos of my very young mother and me as a toddler:

My darling little Danny boy
you have been here just a year
you've filled my every hour with joy
each day you've grown more dear.

With your eyes which are of deepest blue
and hair with touch of gold
and laughter like a  tinkling bell
you've brought me joys untold.

Each minute of this precious year
has been so full of fun
for mother and for daddy too
your such a darling son.

I know as  each year passes
that you will have to grow
I want to see you be a man
but I love my baby so.

Margaret Shaw O'Bryan - August 22, 1948