Category Archives: GUEST EDITOR

From The Desk Of M. Ward: Musée Marc Chagall, Nice, France

M. Ward: When I finished my first record back in 2000, the first European companies to support my music were based in Brussels (62TV) and Paris (Le Disque Mange Tout). So I spent a lot of time traveling around western Europe playing music and trying to learn French, but also finding time to play le touriste américain. I feel fortunate that I’ve had the time to see some of the greatest museums and public spaces in the world. They have blown my mind too many times to mention.

Chagall

Ward: Another must-see in France. A perfect design on a hill beside a reflecting pool that ends in probably the greatest painted piano you will ever see. If you don’t like Chagall, don’t bother. But if you do, it’s mecca.

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From The Desk Of M. Ward: Musée Picasso, Antibes, France

M. Ward: When I finished my first record back in 2000, the first European companies to support my music were based in Brussels (62TV) and Paris (Le Disque Mange Tout). So I spent a lot of time traveling around western Europe playing music and trying to learn French, but also finding time to play le touriste américain. I feel fortunate that I’ve had the time to see some of the greatest museums and public spaces in the world. They have blown my mind too many times to mention.

MuseePicasso

Ward: I think certain museums in Europe exist because either the building (usually very old) or the setting (usually very amazing) or the history (historic) seemed to someone long ago that the place deserves to be made available to the public. This one has all the above. It’s a small-ish old castle overlooking the Mediterranean with some rare works you have probably never seen. The fact that you are in a castle overlooking the Mediterranean with only a few pieces in every room adds to the effect of everything on display. It makes you feel like you would never need going to a big museum again.

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From The Desk Of M. Ward: The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

M. Ward: When I finished my first record back in 2000, the first European companies to support my music were based in Brussels (62TV) and Paris (Le Disque Mange Tout). So I spent a lot of time traveling around western Europe playing music and trying to learn French, but also finding time to play le touriste américain. I feel fortunate that I’ve had the time to see some of the greatest museums and public spaces in the world. They have blown my mind too many times to mention.

LaAlhambra

Ward: The Alhambra is one of the most famous places in the world, but i had never heard of it before visiting Spain. except I heard the song as a kid, “Recuerdos De La Alhambra” from Andre Segovia. As a guitar player, that song is kind of like a mountain you will never get to climb unless you can play 16th notes. Anyway, I’m not sure the song is about this place, but I like to think it’s about my own memories (“recuerdos” in Spanish) of walking around this enormous medieval dreamscape they call “La Alhambra.” If you go, bring your iPod and download Segovia’s My Favorite Works Vol. 3 first.

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From The Desk Of M. Ward: East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

M. Ward: When I finished my first record back in 2000, the first European companies to support my music were based in Brussels (62TV) and Paris (Le Disque Mange Tout). So I spent a lot of time traveling around western Europe playing music and trying to learn French, but also finding time to play le touriste américain. I feel fortunate that I’ve had the time to see some of the greatest museums and public spaces in the world. They have blown my mind too many times to mention.

EastSideGallery

Ward: I’ll never forget the feeling I had during my first trip to Berlin; it was a late night in Kreuzberg district and hundreds of young people were in the streets—no signs, protests or upheaval—just thousands of young people in the streets, like a peaceful riot that happens every weekend. I remember the energy teeming, their voices spilling over the Oberbaum Bridge that connects Kreuzberg to Friedrichshain and the cafe lights reflecting off the River Spree that once divided East Berlin from West Berlin and thinking about the kilometer-long graffiti art we had just seen on the East Side Gallery, which is fundamentally an ever-changing kaleidoscopic message from tomorrow’s generation: a new vision projected in full color against the old one, which is fundamentally a grey wall. I remember thinking, “Where am I?”

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From The Desk Of Michael Cerveris: Do I Hear A Waltz?

Ashokan

It’s one thing to be a creative quadruple threat (film actor, stage actor, television actor, musician); it’s another thing entirely to excel as a quadruple threat for the better part of 43 years. From multiple Tony nominations—and wins—to starring roles on Fame and Treme, Michael Cerveris may be best known for his versatility as a thespian, but he proves just as formidable behind the mic on his long-awaited sophomore solo album, Piety. His sonic pedigree is unsurprisingly impressive, having shared the stage with the likes of the Breeders, Bob Mould, Teenage Fanclub and Frank Black. Cerveris will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read his MAGNET Feedback.

Cerveris: Phys Ed in West Virginia during my boyhood was a curious thing. Besides the President’s Fitness tests, rope climbing and the casual brutality of dodgeball, I remember being told one day that we were going to learn boxing—girls and boys alike, so I guess in that respect it was … progressive. We were taught some primitive skills and then sent in to a makeshift ring and told to compete in a class tournament (wisely, here the boys and girls competed on separate ladders). I drew a bye in the first round and in the second, faced off against one of my better friends, Seth Weisberg. Lacking any discernible skills, we both kind of danced around the ring and occasionally swung ineffective arms and oversized gloves in the general direction of each other. Entering the third and final round, my “corner” (another kid in class, under the supervision of our PE teacher) told me I was going to lose on points unless I started really trying to hit my friend. It took all I could muster to manufacture some utterly fictional reason to be mad at Seth just long enough to swing one punch in pretend anger. It landed square between his eyes, bloodied his nose, won me the match and left me with a lifetime of regret. It remains the last punch I’ve thrown in anger.

Presumably, word got back to the parents that their kids were clubbing each other in the name of physical fitness and the program came to an abrupt halt—mercifully before I had to advance to the next round where I’d inevitably have been slaughtered. In its place, this being West Virginia, for the rest of the year we did square dancing. Naturally, it was awkward, silly, stupid and I’m sure I complained about how ridiculous it was with my guy friends. But I also remember secretly enjoying it. I mean, occasionally you held hands with a girl or had your arm around her waist, and she had to let you. Of course, it was often not the girl you wanted to hold hands with, and God forbid you admitted to actually liking any of them more than Little League, but still … I think that was the first time I ever moved my feet under instruction to the beat of music. And for a long time, it was the last.

My acting career has passed through the world of musical theater on a number of occasions, and so I’ve had to contend with dance in various forms over the years. Despite the fact that my mother was taught by Martha Graham at Juilliard and my sister was one of the last three ballerinas hand picked by George Balanchine to join New York City Ballet, my general relation to dance could best be described as, “I’d rather you just shoot me in the head, thanks.” Most of the musicals I’ve been in have been complex, non-traditional works with little or no jazz hands. And on the rare occasions where I’ve had no choice but to move a little, generally I’m staged to do some minor move and then get out of the way while actual dancers dazzle the crowd. If people remember me dancing at all, it’s because they remember me standing onstage with Ricky Martin in Evita, for example, and confuse the two of us. Happens all the time.

A few years ago, I spent a week camping in the Catskills and studying a bunch of instruments during Southern Week at the Ashokan Fiddle And Dance Camp. My friends in the Cajun band the Red Stick Ramblers (now the Revelers) had attended this camp and ones like it since they were kids and were now playing and teaching there each summer. They painted such a bucolic, fun portrait of the place, I finally took them up on their encouragement to sign up and come. The first day was a sort of orientation followed by a huge, delicious home-cooked meal for more than a hundred, served at long communal tables in a large wood-framed dining hall. Other than my friends in the Revelers, I knew no one, and facing the rows of tables and diners, I felt that sickening feeling I’d had as a kid in the school lunchroom. Where do I sit? Who do I talk to? Where do the cool kids sit? Where do I sit since I’m not a cool kid? Will sitting in this or that place make me cooler or less cool? Why am I standing here worrying about this while my food gets cooler than I do? I managed to find an empty table next to strangers, ate quickly, mostly in silence, and headed back to my tent for a while.

That night was the first of the community dances that took place every night on an open air dance floor in the woods by the river, covered by a large tin roof. Since it was the only activity for miles, everyone at camp ended up there. To give you an idea of the vibe of the place, imagine Christopher Guest’s mockumentary A Mighty Wind. For real. Families and folkies of all ages milled around in little groups while the band set up. Lots of people like me where there for the first time. With the rise of the hipster old-time music scene, there were a decent number of younger Brooklyn folks, but the bulk of the attendees seemed to have been coming for years, many of them multigenerational families who seemed living proof that the family that sings together swings together.

The band was finally ready and the caller took to the mic to explain the first dance. It was going to be a square dance. Friends and strangers began organizing into squares. I took up my traditional dance position: off to the side, a comfortable distance from the action, safe from being asked in. The music kicked in, and they were off. It was charming and hilarious. Unlike every dire dance club I’d occasionally get dragged to for “fun” where the dancing is the slimmest of excuses to advertise or prowl for a companion that night, these folks were just here to be sociable. The dance skills on display ran the gamut, from elderly couples gliding through every move with astounding grace and economy, to young turks flashily showing their skills and small children basically just running around in circles. Hand grips were missed, shapes were wonky, toes got stepped on and knees banged into. And every single person had a huge grin on their face and shining eyes. It was beautiful.

So beautiful, in fact, that I joined in. I volunteered to join a square of strangers looking for a fourth. I followed along well enough and managed not to step on anyone. So I danced the next dance, too. And the one after that. And the next one. Until the evening was almost over and I had danced most of the night. I danced with plain girls, pretty girls, ladies of a certain age and little children. When I got back to my tent, my feet were aching. I could tell a lot of muscles in my legs and back, unaccustomed to being asked to do anything like this, were going to be stiff and sore tomorrow. But the thing that ached the most were my cheeks. Because, I realized, I had been smiling solidly for the last several hours.

The next day in the dining hall, I sat with some of the strangers I had danced with the night before. We were still strangers, but now we were strangers who had a shared experience and some amusing memories of having done something together. I suddenly understood why it was called social dancing. In a way that no group text thread or Facebook debate was ever going to, these face to face engagements built a community over the rest of the week that was palpable. Doing something together with strangers, performing an action with some casual rules and simple form and with no goal other than doing that thing and having fun—that’s almost absent from modern life. On the last afternoon at the camp, the final dance is a big contra waltz to “Ashokan Farewell” (the song played and written by Fiddle And Dance camp founder Jay Unger in 1982), and I felt my heart swell almost to bursting with affection for this odd gathering of strangers who had made a genuine community out of a week playing music and dancing together in the woods. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it restored my faith in humanity a little.

So these days, whenever I can, I go to Cajun dance nights anyplace from Manhattan to Louisiana, contra dances in Brooklyn; hell, I recently even ventured a little two step with my gal at a Robert Earl Keen show. I’m not all that good, but that’s not really the point.

Who knew dancing around the ring with Seth would lead one day to squiring old ladies, little kids and the occasional pretty girl around a dance floor? Whether it’s a date or not, a country waltz is among the finest things a man can learn to do, I think. I love playing them, too, which is why Loose Cattle’s first single/video was our little cowboy waltz, “Pony Girl.” And the sight of a Cajun Fais Do Do, with a room full of every age, gender, color, persuasion and type of person dancing in one large circle, all moving gently in the same direction is one of the more beautiful, hopeful things I can think of in the midst of our country’s current angry, fractious, deeply divided mood.

Like I learned in grade school, it’s time to take off the gloves and choose partners.

Videos after the jump.

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From The Desk Of Michael Cerveris: The EBow (An Appreciation)

It’s one thing to be a creative quadruple threat (film actor, stage actor, television actor, musician); it’s another thing entirely to excel as a quadruple threat for the better part of 43 years. From multiple Tony nominations—and wins—to starring roles on Fame and Treme, Michael Cerveris may be best known for his versatility as a thespian, but he proves just as formidable behind the mic on his long-awaited sophomore solo album, Piety. His sonic pedigree is unsurprisingly impressive, having shared the stage with the likes of the Breeders, Bob Mould, Teenage Fanclub and Frank Black. Cerveris will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read his MAGNET Feedback.

EBow

Cerveris: When I was a kid, my classically trained piano professor father decided that he owed it to his life’s calling to insist his three children at least attempt to acquire some skill as musicians. We were allowed to pick the instrument of our choice and then had to study for at least one year, after which we were free to put it down and never play another note if we chose. It seemed and seems a very reasonable thing for a father devoted to music to ask of his offspring. Piano is a hard thing to learn at home from your father, so after a short, vain attempt at that, I began looking for my instrument. Even at the ripe old age of 11, my budding rock curiosity was putting distance between me and the ’70s folk music I’d first been drawn to, and Appalachian music was still a long way off from making clear that it was planting itself in my soul. Probably as an attempt to bridge the gap between long hair and guitars and my father’s classical realm (though to be fair, Beethoven, Liszt, Bach and those guys had long hair, too), I was the ideal candidate for … prog rock. “Look Dad, Yes are writing symphonic rock songs in several movements! Emerson Lake And Palmer are playing Mussorgsky! Gentle Giant have Baroque breakdowns in their tunes! Kansas has a violin player—my friends and I just saw them at the Memorial Field House!” Dad was unconvinced, but I decided violin was going to be my instrument, and it was—for a while. Apparently something about the way I played violin as a young boy made my teacher suggest I switch to cello. Don’t ask me why. And I fervently wish I’d followed through on either of those instruments, as I would love to have more than a rudimentary skill with either of those two favorite instruments. But it was fourth grade and, not knowing it would take much more than this to be cool, I switched to guitar. I finished out my year of study, put it away for a couple years and then retaught myself by ear. To this day, what limited playing skills I have are really self taught more than anything else. Trial and mostly error.

I can pinpoint the day my prog-rock phase began. It was while working my first job in the local National Record Mart, where I spent the bulk of my salary every week buying LPs that I’d never heard or heard of only vaguely. ’70s radio was actually much more varied than today’s bland megastations, but this was pre MTV and I had no older brother and lived in West Virginia, so I was doing a lot of pioneering listening for myself. And then one day, out of the blue, I picked up the first Peter Gabriel-era Genesis live record, proving that sometimes you can judge an album by its cover. I was hooked. And that led me quickly to their 1974 surreal concept album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. And that led me to Steve Hackett. And that led me, on “The Carpet Crawlers” (one of my favorite tracks) to one of the earliest recorded examples of the EBow.

For those who don’t work at Guitar Center, the EBow, short for Electronic Bow or Energy Bow, was the “original type of monophonic handheld electromagnetic string driver,” according to the history webs. Invented by Greg Heet in 1969, it’s a hand held device that creates a feedback loop that drives a string to vibrate continuously. Crucially, this can result in a guitar player sounding almost like a violinist. The planets had aligned. I had my cake and was stuffing my face with it. I dutifully sought out my first EBow and spent hours experimenting with it. By moving the device closer or further from the string and up or down the neck, you could control volume, intensity, tone. Slamming it into the strings made some crazy clattering electronic sounds. Using it on an acoustic, though more limited than its customary use on electrics, elicited flute like tones. Even the higher strings of a bass could sing sweetly under the EBow’s magnetic spell. None of this qualified as mastering a classical instrument with my dad, but I do think the theremin-like whale sounds and endless electric wails coming from behind my closed bedroom door probably drove both my parents nuts, so I was at least fulfilling my responsibilities as a teenager.

This humble little handheld tool has been used ever since by artists as varied as the aforementioned pioneer Steve Hackett, Stuart Adamson of Big Country, Christian guitar whiz Phil Keaggy, Radiohead’s Ed O’Brian, Blondie, the Bongos, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and, even, avant garde composer John Cage. Peter Buck even gave it pride of place in the title of R.E.M.’s “E-Bow The Letter.”

Now, gear is fun. Machines have made some amazing sounds and make capturing them faster and easier and cheaper than ever (for better and for worse). And I love a good stomp box as much as the next guy. At one point, my pedal board was about five-feet long and lived in a flight case affectionately nicknamed “the coffin” by the bandmates I was always trying to persuade to help me lift it into the van. And when I toured as Bob Mould’s rhythm guitarist, at my feet were four distortion pedals, an overdrive and a tremolo (and though I don’t think Bob believed me, a good tuner). But what I think I have always liked best about this anachronistic piece of handheld ’70s hardware is that, like the Peter Frampton/Joe Walsh Talk Box, it existed at the tipping point where the future that would lead into MIDI and wholly synthesized music was still being manipulated by an actual human engaged in more than simply triggering sounds that a machine makes. It was the bottle-neck slide for the modern man. It’s quaint to think that back then it sounded like the future, like outer space in a little black box with its little red eye glowing. But it was a future that still needed humans to acquire a skill to utilize it. And while I’m much more invested in the music you make with wood and steel boxes these days, I still have a fondness for this geeky little device.

Oh, and I took up the fiddle again. I still play a bit like a fourth grader. But I’m working on it. Dad will be proud.

Videos after the jump.

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From The Desk Of Michael Cerveris: Kindness In Action

It’s one thing to be a creative quadruple threat (film actor, stage actor, television actor, musician); it’s another thing entirely to excel as a quadruple threat for the better part of 43 years. From multiple Tony nominations—and wins—to starring roles on Fame and Treme, Michael Cerveris may be best known for his versatility as a thespian, but he proves just as formidable behind the mic on his long-awaited sophomore solo album, Piety. His sonic pedigree is unsurprisingly impressive, having shared the stage with the likes of the Breeders, Bob Mould, Teenage Fanclub and Frank Black. Cerveris will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read his MAGNET Feedback.

Gibson

Cerveris: I’m an animal person, primarily a dog person, but I’ve loved all kinds of animals since I was a kid. I know it’s going to sound unlikely, but I remember belonging to a reptile-of-the-month club as a boy. Once a month, a little styrofoam box would arrive in the mailbox, and inside would be a newt or a salamander or some other little creature who had been mailed to me from somewhere. They were sometimes a little dazed, understandably. Sometimes, they were a little dead. Understandably. But more often, they survived and lived happily (I hope) in the terrarium I made for them in my room, at least for a while. Years later, I think that memory was part of my motivation in buying a salamander and dubbing him Murray, the Pinball Lizard, giving him residence in my dressing room when I played Tommy on Broadway, and burying him (with a commemorative plaque, no less) in the wall there at the St. James Theater when he passed. As far as I know, his little lizard skeleton remains there still, to be discovered and confuse future archeologists.

And growing up, we had a family dog, hermit crabs bought on a Virginia Beach vacation, gerbils, hamsters and the usual fireflies caught in a jar on summer nights in West Virginia or tadpoles dredged up from the creek. For a long time, I thought I might actually become a vet rather than an actor or musician—until I realized that some of my time would inevitably be spent trying in vain to heal or cure dying beloved pets, and I didn’t think I had the heart to endure that. For years, I watched TV shows like Daktari (google it, kids) and Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and dreamed of working in an African animal study center or helping Jim tag the endangered rhino while Marlin Perkins watched from the safety of the jeep. Or, having eagerly soaked up Jacques Cousteau specials, I thought for a time that marine biology was going to be my calling. Until I realized actual marine biologists spend years learning a lot of science, and all I really wanted to do was sail on the Calypso and swim with the whales. But John Denver got to do that just by being a singer. So I adjusted my goals.

I adopted my first rescue dog in college—a short lived adoption when my roommates changed their minds about the idea, and I’ve never forgotten the shame and sadness I felt when I returned little Zen, the mini Doberman mix, to the local ASPCA where I’d adopted him. I have to believe he found a better, wiser human soon after. Years later, when I was a questionably wiser, but definitely older human, I adopted Gibson, the eight-week-old border collie mix who became my permanent sidekick for the next 16 1/2 years, traveling the world, living in every dressing room or hotel, listening to every sound check and being my most enduring relationship with a female in all that time. When she passed, it was five years before I felt ready to adopt again. But last August, I went to New Jersey to the northern home of Southern Paws Inc., a fantastic group that rescues animals from Southern kill shelters and transports them North to find happy new homes. Evangeline (Evie for short) was rescued near the Louisiana/Mississippi border, a freckle-faced Brittany spaniel mix. She took to city life immediately and loves hanging out at the theater and meeting fans at the stage door, but her bird-dog instincts get constant rekindling on our daily walks where she’ll freeze upon encountering pigeons on the New York streets or slow to a low slinky, stalking gait, unerringly sensing the presence of rats and mice.

Sometimes, I pause for a moment and think about what could have happened to Evie had the good folks at Southern Paws not chosen to devote themselves to the kindness of rescuing pups like her. And it’s in those moments that I’m reminded of an extraordinary organization I first encountered in the ’90s called Best Friends. The founders of the group found each other back in the turbulent ’60s, varied people from markedly different backgrounds and experiences, who wanted “to sort out personal conflict and live a better life.” Their unifying goal became Kindness, and applying it deeply and sincerely to their lives and their environment. “The founders of Best Friends believed that by relating with kindness and unconditional love toward the most vulnerable and unfortunate recipients of humankind’s irresponsible actions, animals, they were being consistent with their aspirations for society as a whole.” Yes, it was hippie bullshit on a glorious magnitude. But they followed through on it.

With no discernible skill or knowledge, no experience or expertise, they located a large parcel of land in southern Utah and set about literally building a sanctuary by hand to care for, rehabilitate or simply give a permanent home to the innocent animal victims of mankind’s neglect or disregard. They began in the humblest of ways to perform a simple act of kindness to the world around them, and in the decades since, extraordinary things have happened. The Best Friends Sanctuary covers some 20,000 acres now and is home to thousands of domestic pets, horses, livestock and other animals being cared for by dedicated staff, volunteers and tourists who find a working retreat amidst the striking vistas of Angel Canyon, Kanab, Utah. And the organization has grown exponentially and partnered with organizations nationwide to lead efforts to eliminate kill shelters and the problems that gave rise to them, as well as opening centers in L.A. and, recently, N.Y. I have yet to visit their Utah home and hope to someday soon, but I’ve been an avid supporter of the sanctuary and the work of those Best Friends for years. The simplicity of their guiding principle and their ability to take the idea of the Golden Rule and translate it into tangible action, remaking the real world in a better way, is inspiring and heartening. It’s nice to know that other kids followed through on my boyhood dreams. And in Gibson and Evie, I guess I have tried to, too.

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From The Desk Of Michael Cerveris: Modest Museums

It’s one thing to be a creative quadruple threat (film actor, stage actor, television actor, musician); it’s another thing entirely to excel as a quadruple threat for the better part of 43 years. From multiple Tony nominations—and wins—to starring roles on Fame and Treme, Michael Cerveris may be best known for his versatility as a thespian, but he proves just as formidable behind the mic on his long-awaited sophomore solo album, Piety. His sonic pedigree is unsurprisingly impressive, having shared the stage with the likes of the Breeders, Bob Mould, Teenage Fanclub and Frank Black. Cerveris will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read his MAGNET Feedback.

JimmieRodgers

Cerveris: Legacy is an elusive thing. Some people spend their lives building theirs, others worry about it like crazy. Still others never give it a thought, yet end up with an enduring one. At the end of the day, though, once you’re gone, you don’t have much control over it. And that’s why I like random little museums.

One of the great things about touring is happening across these little gems in small towns and out-of-the-way parts of the country. In a lot of cases, they may have started when someone—usually a fan or acquaintance or family member—decides the things they’ve been collecting have filled all the closets and shelf space they have and need to be gotten out of the house. Or their wife or husband has decided that for them. In other cases, the collector adopts the mantel of curator to preserve and promote their hero’s memory. In any case, unlike a big, Official Museum, these personal collections are as much about the people who make and maintain them as they are about the thing they celebrate. And in the best cases, while they keep semi-regular hours during optimistically determined “tourist seasons,” they also have a phone number you can call in the off season or anytime it looks closed. Two of my favorite visits involved dialing those numbers, and having the owners answer and come around the corner from their homes to open up and show me around.

In the ’80s, I worked for a while at the Indiana Rep Theater in Indianapolis. I somehow heard that there was a James Dean Memorial Museum in a town not far from where his grave was in the corn fields around Fairmount and decided to make a pilgrimage. David Loehr was the collector who had assembled artifacts and memorabilia from around the world for his tribute to the troubled star. Housed in the fancifully named Gas City, among the foreign movie posters, early screenplay drafts and fan art he’d collected, there was an area of artifacts from the actor himself. A pair of his jeans, some accessories, a watch maybe or sunglasses. I couldn’t help thinking how weird Dean would probably find it that in death, his everyday things would take on the status of sacred relics for the faithful. Like if someone went into your bedroom right now and collected those socks you left on the floor last night and mounted them, labeled, under plexiglass with somber track lighting. The museum closed its doors in 2005 and reopened as the James Dean Gallery And Artifacts in the Fairmount Historical Museum. I hope the fanciness of those titles doesn’t mean they’ve lost that Gas City charm …

But my favorite little museum of all was one I just stumbled across on a drive from New York to New Orleans. I was getting tired on the last leg of the drive, and while I could probably have pushed on, I decided to spend the night in Meridian, Miss. While waiting for the motel night desk clerk to wake up and rent me a room, I started looking at that rack of local attractions that is another favorite thing of mine (“Wild Waters Rafting!” “Crazy Town Amusement Park!” “World’s Largest Ball Of Twine!”). And that’s how I found the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Museum.

I’m embarrassed to admit how little I knew then about the Singing Brakeman, Blue Yodeler, The Father of Country Music. But I didn’t need much more than the brochure with the pictures of his guitar in a safe, the boxcar outside and the collections of his guitars, railroad clothes and furniture to know that this was where I’d spend the better part of the next day before hitting the road again. And so I did, and from the very kind older woman who answered the phone and came over to open up and show me around and tell me stories of Jimmie and Meridian, I learned how much I had to learn about this pivotal figure in American Music and how much the music and musicians I love and treasure trace their roots back to this singular and deservedly revered yodeling railway man. And I started reading and listening to everything I could find about him, and that was really the beginning of my embracing and reconnecting with the music I’d grown up around but largely ignored as a kid in West Virginia. And I put aside my electric guitar for a while and started getting to know my acoustic again.

And maybe that is the real value of these legacies as preserved in these humble temples to personal heroes. That some weary traveler, just looking for a place to rest or kill a little time, might end up stumbling on a door to the past and a new road to travel.

Video after the jump.

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From The Desk Of Michael Cerveris: Walking The Walk

It’s one thing to be a creative quadruple threat (film actor, stage actor, television actor, musician); it’s another thing entirely to excel as a quadruple threat for the better part of 43 years. From multiple Tony nominations—and wins—to starring roles on Fame and Treme, Michael Cerveris may be best known for his versatility as a thespian, but he proves just as formidable behind the mic on his long-awaited sophomore solo album, Piety. His sonic pedigree is unsurprisingly impressive, having shared the stage with the likes of the Breeders, Bob Mould, Teenage Fanclub and Frank Black. Cerveris will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read his MAGNET Feedback.

MS

Cerveris: I’m not much of a joiner. Never really have been. And telling me I need to support a particular cause is usually the surest way to make sure I probably won’t. Not that there aren’t loads of worthy causes—it just gets exhausting and hard to keep up with what you’re supposed to care about this month. Until, that is, it affects your life or people close to you. I think the first time I encountered multiple sclerosis was when I learned that a musician in a band I was on the road with had been diagnosed just before beginning the tour. His symptoms weren’t bad, but there were days when playing was excruciatingly painful for him. And long rides in a van and road food and the stress of touring is not conducive to living with MS. But his bandmates were champs, and he was determined not to let his diagnosis keep him from making music as long as he could. He was a hero in my mind.

A year or so later, I was asked to sing at a Sweet Relief Benefit in L.A. being hosted by Frank Black and Moon Zappa. Sweet Relief had been founded by Victoria Williams in 1994 when her own MS forced her to drop out of a tour with Neil Young. Her friends raised money for her medical expenses through releasing a tribute album of covers of her songs. She, in turn, used some of that money to found the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund. It was an inspirational thing that I was part of that night.

And then some years later, MS struck even closer to home, in my family. And soon after, in one of my best childhood friends and then in another of my other close friends.

So I became a joiner, and I did my first MS Walk. I was a bit sheepish and shy at first as I sent emails out to ask for donations to support my walk. But I learned quickly that I didn’t need to be so shy about it. A heartening and sobering number of people wrote to send donations along with their stories of how MS had impacted their families, their friends, and their communities. Favorite teachers, aunts, mothers, friends, husbands, wives and children, all either taken or challenged mightily by this insidious disease. And person after person channeled their stories into action and gave whatever donation they could.

So on the day I showed up to actually, physically join in and stand together with thousands of other people who were walking for their own reasons but the same reasons, I had to choke back tears throughout the day. Not because of the dread of the disease or the suffering it causes, but because of the beauty and hope in seeing a mass of people making a symbolic gesture to help people they would never know. I always thought charity walks were kind of silly. Why not just write a check and send it in? But when I actually went, putting boots on the ground … I learned the infinite value of showing up. In a world where you can do most anything virtually, the value of being there has never been more clear.

So now I know the value of being there and taking literal steps. And now I am a joiner. I’m not going to tell you what you should show up for or that you have to be a joiner. But I will say that talking the talk is easy. And walking the walk means more than you’d think, and you don’t ever have to be shy about giving people a chance to be generous. Including yourself.

[As someone who has many people in his life with MS, I would like to thank Michael for all the fundraising he’s done over the years to combat this truly horrible disease. His next MS Walk is Sunday. You can, and should, sponsor him here. —Eric T. Miller, MAGNET editor-in-chief]

Video after the jump.

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From The Desk Of Michael Cerveris: Boys With Old Man Masks

It’s one thing to be a creative quadruple threat (film actor, stage actor, television actor, musician); it’s another thing entirely to excel as a quadruple threat for the better part of 43 years. From multiple Tony nominations—and wins—to starring roles on Fame and Treme, Michael Cerveris may be best known for his versatility as a thespian, but he proves just as formidable behind the mic on his long-awaited sophomore solo album, Piety. His sonic pedigree is unsurprisingly impressive, having shared the stage with the likes of the Breeders, Bob Mould, Teenage Fanclub and Frank Black. Cerveris will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read his MAGNET Feedback.

Masks

Cerveris: I had the great good fortune to be friendly for a time with Vic Chesnutt. It was far too short a time, but I treasure every bit of it. We were introduced by Bob Mould and Kevin O’Neill when they brought Vic and Tina to see me play Hedwig at her original spiritual home in the Jane Street Hotel. I had already been a fan of Vic’s for several years, and he seemed amused and excited to be around “a theeyater guy.” Later, when he and Tina came to see me play John Wilkes Booth in Assassins, he got a big kick out of telling me I “played a real good mean somebitch.” I would go see Vic every chance I got, and that took me everywhere from the Knitting Factory in N.Y., to a show with Kristin Hersh at the Mint in L.A., to Union Chapel in London and the Barbican (where the night ended improbably with a guitar and bottle of supposedly genuine absinthe smuggled in from Eastern Europe being passed around a circle that included, me, Howe Gelb, Mark Linkous, PJ Harvey, Vic and Evan Dando, who ended the night by hogging the guitar until everyone wandered off). Every show I saw Vic play was absolute magic in a different way. The world never looked quite the same when you headed home from a Vic Chesnutt show.

After years of crossing paths and talking about touring together, we finally hit on the idea of trying to make something together for the stage. We didn’t know quite what it would be, but what we agreed on for sure was that it should have puppets. That was part of the last conversation we ever had, backstage at Bowery Ballroom two months before he was gone.

I had brought my friend Les Waters to see Vic that night. He was a director I had just had a great time working with, who was then getting ready to take over the Actors Theatre of Louisville. I had a feeling Les was going to like Vic a lot. And I was right. He was transfixed through the whole show, and we talked about it and Vic for a while afterwards. That was when he asked me if I’d ever heard of a photographer named Ralph Eugene Meatyard. I confessed my ignorance, but we agreed I’d make him a mix tape of Vic’s songs and he would send me a book of Meatyard’s photographs. Once it arrived, I realized why he sent it.

Meatyard was born in 1925 in Normal, Ill. After attending Williams College, he married and moved to Lexington, Ky., to continue his trade as an optician. Upon the birth of his son, he bought a camera to take pictures of his boy and quickly became an experimental photographer, creating a body of surreal, intriguing pictures combining commonplace elements and everyday settings in ways that rendered objects and places and people unrecognizable at the same time they feel familiar, like some half remembered dream.

Some of his most fascinating early works involve children and adults wearing masks. And his Family Album Of Lucybelle Crater is a mind-boggling creation—a series of 64 images featuring his wife, Madelyn, in a rubber Old Crone mask paired with a different friend or relative wearing a transparent mask. The name Lucybelle was derived from Lucynell, a character in Flannery O’Connor’s story The Life You Save May Be Your Own. Like O’Connor’s stories, Meatyard’s photographs get under your skin and constantly remind you that you can’t just take them at surface value. They are at once beautiful and grotesque, haunting and hilarious. All things that you could say about listening to Vic Chesnutt.

Vic and Meatyard both died prematurely, Vic at 45 and Meatyard at 46. There is something both childlike and ancient, perpetually young and deeply mortal, in what they both left behind at far too young an age. It’s something that you can’t put aside once it’s gotten in through your ears or your eyes. It’s innocence found and lost in the same place.

Someday Les and I plan to make a theater piece somehow using Vic’s music and Meatyard’s images. Neither one of us quite knows what it will be, but it seems likely there will be children in old-men masks.

And, of course, puppets.

Video after the jump.

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