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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Top 10 Songs written by Wisconsinites

Top 10 Songs written by Wisconsinites
From Wisconsin – the one time Kingdom of Fiddlers, America’s home of Blues recording (when it mattered), the home of Brass Alley, The Cradle of Polka and the national petri dish of lost folk styles. My only regrets are that Liberace, Les Paul and the incomparable Hildegarde, none of whom were songwriters, are not on this list. This list, like the movements of tectonic plates and the weather,  is subject to change. 
1     WILDWOOD FLOWER. 1860.     Originally titled “I’ll Twine mid the Ringlets”. Written in Elkhorn, Wisconsin by Joseph Philbrick Webster and Maud Irving, it is the very backbone of American Country Music.  Although immensely popular in his day, J P Webster remains the single greatest unsung songwriter in American history. This is one of three songs written or co-written by Wisconsinites that would become official and/or unofficial state songs for the state of Tennessee - the other two are “Rocky Top” and “The Tennessee Waltz”. Tennessee’s own Carter Family, the first family of Country Music, made it famous all over again in the 1930’s and it’s only fitting that they perform it here.
   AFTER THE BALL. 1891.  The #1 all time best selling song from the sheet music era and a top ten all time top 10 hit from the subsequent Victrola era. “One of a handful of songs known word for word by nearly every man, woman and child in this nation”. Written by Charles K Harris. Harris grew up in Milwaukee (he was born in upstate New York) and he wrote the song in the Cream City after overhearing a conversation between a group of old men lamenting their long lost loves. A monumental money maker well into the 1940’s, it is estimated that the song’s worth (adjusted for inflation and including long time out of copyright use) approaches a billion dollars. Irene Dunne sings it in a clip from the 1936 version of SHOWBOAT (book by Appleton's Edna Ferber).
    DISCO LADY. 1976. The first official platinum record ever awarded and a true international hit - from Borneo to Japan, behind the Iron Curtain to Argentina and back again. Milwaukee’s Harvey Scales wrote this one, and Johnny Taylor sang it. Here’s a wiki link for Harvey.
    THE JOKER. 1973.  A monster hit, a cottage industry unto itself and Homer Simpson’s 2nd favorite song (“It’s Raining Men” is his favorite). Steve Miller was born in Milwaukee, got a guitar lesson or two from close family friend and life long mentor Les Paul and is famous among those of a certain age in the Badger state for leading a legendary party rock band (alongside Boz Skaggs and Ben Sidran) while attending The University of Wisconsin. Here he is in his prime and slightly ahead of a further series of big big songs…. like “Fly Like an Eagle”.

    MISS GULCH. 1939.  Not technically a song, but so what. This Leitmotif  has become musical shorthand for all things witch.  Herbert Stothart wrote it and took an Oscar home for his incidental score to The Wizard of Oz of which Miss Gulch is a part. Stothart was born and raised in Milwaukee and educated at the University of Wisconsin. He ran the MGM Music Department throughout Hollywood’s golden age. He is also famous for the operetta Rose Marie and was a co-writer of, hold your breath Slim Whitman and Nelson Eddy fans………”INDIAN LOVE CALL”.
    SKINNY LOVE. 2007.  From the debut album of Bon Iver,  For Emma, Forever ago. This one hit big in every way that a post analog era song could - blanketing series television, film and international charts.  Songwriter Justin Vernon leads his Eau Claire based ensemble in a clip from the Letterman show.
    LORENA. 1861. The #1 song of the Civil War era…on both sides. Joseph Philbrick Webster strikes again. Johnny Cash nails it.
8     THE TENNESSEE WALTZ. 1947.  Pee Wee King, the great entertainer, country music pioneer and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame from Milwaukee, Wisconsin was the driving force behind this song. He co-wrote it with his musical partner, Redd Stewart. The 1950 version by Patti Page became a multi-million seller. The song would return to the top 20 several times during the decade including a #6 by Waukesha native Les Paul. Hugh Laurie, of House and Jeeves and Wooster fame, performs in the clip.
9     WE JUST DISAGREE. 1977.  This one hit #12 in 1977 for Dave Mason and entered the Country Top Ten in 1993 in a cover by Billy Dean. It has since gained far greater fame as one of the enduring hits of the Classic Rock era.  Jim Krueger, a Manitowoc native, wrote We Just Disagree during his long partnership with Dave Mason. A year after it's release, Krueger appeared on  both a solo album that featured the song and in a Dave Mason band offshoot album with Milwaukeean Les Dudek , both on Columbia Records. Krueger and Mason were musical partners for nearly 20 years and Krueger is all over the single - his 12 string guitar and tight vocal harmony (Mason and Krueger harmonized like siblings) can be clearly heard. The following is from GOLDMINE, the ultimate source for vintage rock minutae (and also a Wisconsin based publication).
“Krueger (his nickname was Bruiser) was a shy, introverted guy, a talented songwriter and a pure tenor vocalist who could match Mason's distinctive style and follow him note for note. His harmonies were almost as good as Graham Nash's; this was not lost on Mason. Krueger and Mason hit it off immediately, and their at times difficult relationship would last an unbelievable (for either of them) 19 years. “  Krueger passed away in Manitowoc in 1993. The entire story of Mason, Krueger, We Just Disagree and Krueger’s untimely death can be found here.
Most recently heard in the motion picture Django Unchained. Joseph Philbrick Webster and fellow Wisconsinite Sanford Fillmore Bennett wrote This hymn by the wood burning stove at Bennet's place of business in Elkhorn. "Immensely popular in the nineteenth century, became a Gospel standard and has appeared in hymnals ever since. In the New Orleans jazz tradition 'Sweet By-and-By' is a standard dirge played in JAZZ FUNERALS". 
Mark Twain spoofed the ubiquitous popularity of the song in chapter 17 ("A Banquet"), of his satiric novel, A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court. The protagonist, Hank Morgan, a visitor from the future, attends a lavish court dinner given by Morgan Le Fay, King Arthur's sister, during which guests are regaled with music:
"In a gallery a band with cymbals, horns, harps, and other horrors, opened the proceedings with what seemed to be the crude first-draft or original agony of the wail known to later centuries as "In the Sweet Bye and Bye." It was new, and ought to have been rehearsed a little more. For some reason or other the queen had the composer hanged, after dinner".
Johnny Cash does J P Webster better than anyone.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


 This post was written several years ago by Bob, a very gifted writer and historian at THOUGHTS, MUSINGS AND ESSAYS ON THE CIVIL WAR. I have never read a better summary on the orgins of "On Wisconsin". Thanks, Bob - I hope I can steer readers interested in the Civil War to your site.

                                                       ON WISCONSIN!

On any fall Saturday afternoon, if you turn your television to a channel carrying Big Ten Conference football, you might happen upon a game involving the University of Wisconsin Badgers. And, should the Badgers score, you will hear their band strike up the stirring Wisconsin fight song, “On Wisconsin!” That tune, which is also the official song of the state of Wisconsin, has become quite popular with high schools across the country and even my own high school fight song was based on it. But the cry of “On Wisconsin” has a history that goes well beyond the Badger football team. It was once shouted by a young lieutenant over the crashing of artillery and rifle fire, helping to turn the tide of a crucial battle. As such, it is just another example of how the actions of one man, a single officer, inspires others and plays a role in changing history. So, you ask, who was this young lieutenant? And now I will tell you his story.
image The young lieutenant’s name was Arthur MacArthur, Jr. Born on June 2, 1845, he was the son of a prominent Milwaukee lawyer and judge, Arthur MacArthur, Sr. The elder MacArthur emigrated from Scotland as a youth, lived in Chicopee, Massachusetts for a time, before moving to Wisconsin when his son was four years old. He built a prosperous career as a lawyer, which he leveraged to gain political influence and power as a Union Democrat, serving as the state’s Lieutenant Governor. The younger Arthur, however, had little interest in following in his father’s footsteps and, with the approach of the Civil War, was sent to a military school in Illinois. When war did come, Arthur, Sr. did all he could to protect his son and prevent him from enlisting, which his son was most determined to do. The two fought over the issue and finally reached a compromise, agreeing that Arthur, Jr. would return school in Illinois while his father tried to get him an appointment to West Point. However, Judge MacArthur discovered that no positions were open until the summer of 1863 and his son let him know, in no uncertain terms, that was not acceptable.
Being only 17, Arthur was too young to enter the army as an officer, so the judge allowed him to lie about his age and exercised what influence he did have to gain his son a position as a second lieutenant and adjutant to the newly formed 24th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. The teenaged lieutenant had a rocky start to his military career, as the exuberance and immaturity of youth caused him many problems during training. At first, many of the soldiers under his command ridiculed the "boy lieutenant." His biographer, Kenneth Ray Young, wrote that, “When he shouted out his orders, the men laughed at his high, squeaky voice.” However, when the regiment moved out to join General Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland, these soldiers would quickly learn that the “boy lieutenant” became something quite different when the shooting started.
image MacArthur and his regiment soon had their inaugural exposure to hostile fire, “seeing the elephant” at Perryville, Kentucky in October 1862. As the battle reached its climax, the 24th Wisconsin was ordered to assault Confederate positions on the far side of a broad cornfield. Looking at the open ground in front of them with what must have been severe trepidation, the men of the regiment heard MacArthur’s voice and turned their heads to see this young man, galloping on horseback up and down their line, exposed to enemy rifle fire, shouting encouragement, and conveying orders to them. In the resulting attack, MacArthur would remain at the front of the regiment, who broke the Confederate line and sent them into retreat. The 24th soon pulled back, having survived their first combat with the loss of only one man. But, more than that, the men now gawked in amazement at the “boy lieutenant,” whom they now affectionately referred to as “Little Mac.”
MacArthur and the regiment would next be tested in the bloody New Year’s battle at Stones River, Tennessee. In a three-day engagement that cost 24,000 casualties, the 24th Wisconsin helped fend off a horrific Confederate onslaught on New Year's Eve, including holding the line in an area known as the Round Forest, which some combatants renamed “Hell's Half Acre.” MacArthur’s regiment would lose nearly 30 percent of its men at Stones River and Little Mac was in the middle of the carnage, displaying what his regiment commanding officer described as “great coolness and presence of mind.”
The 24th Wisconsin and the Army of the Cumberland would eventually move south, driving Braxton Bragg and the Confederate Army of Tennessee south and out of Tennessee altogether. In the midst of this success, young Lieutenant MacArthur became very ill and was sent north to a military hospital. While he recuperated, his regiment and Rosecrans’ entire army were badly defeated at Chickamauga, Georgia on September 19-20, 1863. The army retreated back to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Bragg effectively bottled them up and lay siege to the city. Arthur MacArthur would return to his regiment in October to find them running out of food, cut off from any regular source of supply, and awaiting Bragg to crush them.
image The loss at Chickamauga had completely undone Rosecrans and he simply ceased to be an effective commander. Undersecretary of War Charles Dana had been dispatched to evaluate Rosecrans before the disaster at Chickamauga, and now was asked to assess the situation in Chattanooga, reporting directly to President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton on “Old Rosy’s” ability to deal with the crisis. In what was, perhaps, his most scathing assessment of Rosecrans, Dana said that he had “never seen a public man possessing talent with less administrative power, less clearness and steadiness in difficulty, and greater practical incapacity than General Rosecrans. He has inventive fertility and knowledge, but he has no strength of will and no concentration of purpose.” Clearly disturbed by what he was hearing, Lincoln would comment that Rosecrans was not behaving in a way that inspired any confidence in his abilities and that, indeed, he was acting “confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head.”
On October 16, Lincoln appointed Ulysses Grant as commander of all Union forces in the West and ordered him to fix the situation in Chattanooga. Grant immediately relieved Rosecrans of command, ordering George Thomas, who was one of Rosecrans’ corps commanders, to take over the Army of the Cumberland. Grant telegraphed Thomas, saying “Hold Chattanooga at all hazards. I will be there as soon as possible. Please inform me how long your present supplies will last, and the prospect for keeping them up.” For his part, the new commander of the Army of the Cumberland quickly responded with a summation of his current stores and bravely concluded, “I will hold the town till we starve.”
Once Grant arrived in Chattanooga, he assumed his characteristically energetic approach to command, personally meeting with all key officers, surveying the field, and immediately ordering actions designed to reopen the line of supply to the starving city. Once the supplies of food and military materiel began to flow, he turned his attentions to matters of strategy. Grant had little confidence in Thomas or his army, which included Arthur MacArthur and the 24th Wisconsin. Grant would comment to Sherman that, “the men of Thomas's army had been so demoralized by the battle of Chickamauga that he feared they could not be got out of their trenches to assume the offensive.” But, he would soon find out that he had misjudged both Thomas and his army.
Grant’s plan to break the siege and drive Bragg back into Georgia was based on both the terrain and his assessment of the men now under his command. Chattanooga was ringed by mountainous terrain, all of which was manned by Bragg’s troops. On his right, were the heights of Lookout Mountain, which merged with the steep slopes of Missionary Ridge. That ridge extended across Grant’s front to his far left, ending at a place known as Tunnel Hill. As for the men under his command, he had Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland, as well as the recently transferred XI and XII Corps from the Army of the Potomac, and General Sherman with units from Grant’s old command, the Army of the Tennessee. While he saw Thomas as slow and plodding and his army as unreliable, he considered the XI and XII Corps as only slightly better. He knew that they were merely cast offs from George Meade’s army and they were led my General Joe Hooker, an officer Grant loathed and even referred to as “dangerous.” The only forces he could trust were those from the Army of the Tennessee, led by his closest friend and comrade, William Sherman.
Therefore, Grant developed a battle plan that gave the most important assignment to Sherman, while Thomas and Hooker were to play supporting roles. Hooker, with XII Corps in the vanguard, was to make a demonstration on the Confederate left by pressuring Bragg’s forces on Lookout Mountain, while Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland demonstrated against the center on Missionary Ridge. Sherman, meanwhile, was to attack the Southern right at Tunnel Hill. From there, he was to roll up Bragg’s flank, at which point Hooker and Thomas could provide support by exploiting Confederate attention on the damage being done by Sherman.
image As for his own position, Grant chose to remain near the center during the coming battle, with George Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland. The center was, after all, the logical place from which to command. Further, given the distance from one flank to another, it would be difficult for Grant to practice his direct, on-scene style of leadership whenever an unreliable commander was in need a little command direction. So, perhaps, he decided to place himself nearest the force and commander he trusted the least.
The attack was launched on November 24, when Sherman crossed the Tennessee River, but the major fighting would start in earnest the next day. However, Sherman’s attack met stiff resistance and, because of an error on the maps, he soon found that the terrain on Tunnel Hill was not as favorable as believed. As a result, by mid-afternoon, the major thrust of Grant’s attack was going nowhere. But, at the same time, Hooker, rather than diverting Confederate attention, was rolling up Lookout Mountain and threatening Bragg’s right. In an effort to relieve the resistance against Sherman, Grant ordered Thomas to have his men go forward and seize the Confederate rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge, hoping that this little demonstration would pose enough threat to Bragg’s center that the Southern commander to pull forces away from his front opposite Sherman. However, just as with everything else in the attack, the demonstration would not proceed as ordered.
image With the firing of a set of signal guns, Thomas’ army moved forward towards the Confederate rifle pits. As the signal was given, MacArthur and the 24th Wisconsin, which now numbered fewer than 150 men, were crouched at the edge of the woods forming the no-man’s land separating the two armies, in the center of a two-mile line running between two rivers. Ahead of them, the ridge rose almost 600 feet, broken by ravines, gullies, and the rifle pits. The 24th crossed the three-quarters of a mile to the rifle pits at the double quick, crashing into the shallow trenches and fighting hand-to-hand with the defenders.
The Confederates finally retreated, but now the 24th and the other Union regiments found themselves pinned down at the base of the ridge by artillery and rifle fire from the crest above. Victory had turned into a hellish nightmare. Then, suddenly and without orders, the 18,000 soldiers trapped at the base of Missionary Ridge seemingly decided to take matters into their own hands. One by one and then in groups of two and three, they rose to their feet and began to climb the steep slopes of the ridge towards their tormentors. Grant, who was watching the attack progress, was horrified. He turned to Thomas and angrily demanded to know who had ordered the men forward up the ridge.
Thomas replied, in his usual slow, quiet manner: "I don't know; I did not." Then, addressing General Gordon Granger, he said, "Did you order them up, Granger?" "No," said Granger; "they started up without orders. When those fellows get started all hell can't stop them." General Grant said something to the effect that somebody would suffer if it did not turn out well, and then, turning, stoically watched the ridge. He gave no further orders.
At the center of this unplanned and unordered attack was Arthur MacArthur and the 24th Wisconsin. MacArthur’s color bearer had been killed during the fighting for the rifle pits and, as men began to clamber out of the trenches and up the hill, his replacement was decapitated by a round of solid shot from a Confederate gun above. MacArthur himself was wounded but still standing. When the colors went down a second time, he climbed out of the trench, grabbed them, and turned to his men, who were still cowering in the rifle pits. Raising the now ragged, battle-scarred flag high above his head, he shouted "On Wisconsin!" and moved quickly up the ridge. image In one of those rare moments when men are moved from terror to bravery, the men of the 24th Wisconsin rose up and began to follow Little Mac up the steep slope amid a hail of enemy rifle and artillery fire. As the Union soldiers up and down the line moved closer, the Confederate defenders abandoned their positions at the crest in disorganized panic. As Arthur MacArthur reached the summit of Missionary Ridge, he firmly planted the staff of the bullet-riddled flag in the ground for all to see. MacArthur, the 24th Wisconsin, and the Army of the Cumberland, who Grant had feared would not leave their trenches, smashed Bragg’s center in six places, sending the Southern army into full retreat. The siege of Chattanooga was broken.
That night, the 24th Wisconsin’s corps commander, General Philip Sheridan, reached the summit of Missionary Ridge. When he was told about young MacArthur's action, Sheridan found him and embraced the teenage lieutenant. Sheridan turned to the men of the 24th who were looking on and, choked with emotion, he said, "Take care of him. He has just won the Medal of Honor.”
That medal would be presented some 27 years later, on June 30, 1890. MacArthur would eventually take command of his regiment, attaining the rank of Colonel at the tender age of 19, the youngest to attain that rank in the Union army. In the years following the war, he would remain in the army, fight in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection, and retire from service in 1909 as a Lieutenant General. Along the way, he would father a son named Douglas, who would become a General of the Army (five stars) during World War II and also be awarded the Medal of Honor.image
After retirement, Arthur MacArthur returned to Milwaukee to enjoy the last years of his life. In 1912, the 24th Wisconsin planned to hold its 50th anniversary, with some 90 surviving members attending. They invited MacArthur to be the keynote speaker and, despite ill health, he eagerly agreed. The reunion was held in Milwaukee on September 5, 1912. The evening was warm and the hall was uncomfortably hot as the men took their seats. Despite being very weak, MacArthur summoned all his strength and moved to the podium to deliver his address. As he was about to begin, some say he glanced over to the tattered flag on the wall behind him, the one he had carried up Missionary Ridge that November afternoon. He then looked out over the now elderly men he had once served with as a young man, as their “boy lieutenant,” their “Little Mac.” His voice cracked a bit as he said, "Your indomitable regiment...." Then, he paused, his head lowered to the podium, and, as a hush fell over the room, Arthur MacArthur collapsed to the floor.
The first man to reach his side was Dr. William Cronyn, who had been the regiment’s surgeon and had treated young MacArthur’s wounds during the war. He quickly examined the fallen hero of Missionary Ridge, then turned to what remained of the 24th Wisconsin saying, "Comrades, the general is dying." Quietly, the aged veterans gathered around their once brave leader, reciting the Lord's Prayer in unison. When they had finished, Arthur MacArthur was dead, felled by a brain aneurism. One of the men, Captain Edwin Parsons, then rose to his feet, took the 24th’s colors from the wall, and draped them gently over Arthur MacArthur’s body. As they lifted him up and carried his body from the room, the colors Arthur MacArthur had so bravely carried up Missionary Ridge as a boy, now embraced him in death, and he probably would have wanted it so.

Friday, May 3, 2013

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the late, great King of truck driving music, Dave Dudley

Happy Birthday, Dave Dudley!  Darwin Dave Pedruska was born in Spencer, Wisconsin in 1928. He grew up to be Dave Dudley, the acknowledged King of Truck Driving Music. Above, you'll find him bantering with Charlie Louvin' and singing "Truck Drivin' Son of a Gun". He always sang with authority (and he was a hell of a baseball player too). Such a Wisconsin boy - he never really left his hometown, and when he did, he was quick to return. In the video he tells the story of an 18 wheeler that slid off an icy road and smashed into his property in Spencer. After a concert in Deerfield, Wisconsin he handed a friend of mine a book entitled "Everything I Know About Fishing and Women by Dave Dudley." My friend opened the book. All the pages were blank.
His final recording was a collection of patriotic truck driving songs written in response to 9/11. My favorite of these new tunes tells the tale of an army of eighteen wheelers chasing down Osama Bin Laden. Priceless. Dave Dudley died in 2003 at his home in Spencer.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

When In China....ask for it by name

Just received this snap from Gordon Specht, on the road in China.
"Wisconsin Ginseng is the most potent Ginseng on the planet. No other Ginseng comes close."
Over 90% of the ginseng grown in the United States is grown in Wisconsin - most of it in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Sales average exceed 70 million dollars a year. Not bad. It's also an industry with a long history in the Badger State that goes something like this....
The Fromm brothers lived in the town of Hamburg, not far from Wausau, in Marathon County. In 1904 they transplanted 100 wild ginseng plants from a nearby forest onto their own land. They carefully grew their new crop by recreating the conditions of the plant's native setting. The brother's diligent work and ideal area growing conditions would eventually make Marathon County the ginseng capital of the United States.

This week, the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin signed an agreement with the Beijing-based Tong Ren Tang Health Pharmaceutical, to use the trademark seal on their purchases of Wisconsin ginseng from the Marathon-based Ginseng & Herb Co-op over the next 10 years, The Ginseng Board of Wisconsin brand is registered in several Asian countries, including China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Murph the Surf and The Eagle Diamond

1964. The heist of the century. Musician, author, artist, con man, one time east coast surfing champion, Jack Roland “Murph the Surf” Murphy (pictured above) and two accomplices hit the American Museum of Natural History in NYC and stole the JP Morgan Collection of Precious Gems. Among the stones taken were the 563 carat Star of India and the "sunny colored" 16.25 carat Eagle Diamond from Eagle, Wisconsin. (When it was found in a glacial deposit in Waukesha County in 1876, it was the largest diamond yet found in the United States.)Within 48 hours of the heist, Murphy and his partners - apprehended while celebrating their success at a tavern - were behind bars. The Star of India was recovered. The Eagle Diamond was never seen again.

The Eagle Diamond (above) was the first documented diamond discovery in Wisconsin. In the summer of 1876, Charles Wood was digging a well through glacial drift in southwestern Waukesha County. “The digging had passed through 10 to 15 m of clay, and then through loose gravel, when a two meter layer of hard yellow material was struck. While penetrating this stratum, a hard stone of unknown identity was struck.” A few years later Wood’s wife, Clarissa, took the rock to a jeweler in Milwaukee named Samuel Boynton.  Boynton initially identified it as topaz and paid Clarissa Wood $1.00 for the stone. Shortly thereafter, the stone was correctly re-identified by Boynton as a diamond. Clarissa offered to buy it back for $1.50. Boynton refused the offer and Mr. and Mrs. Wood sued him. The couple quite literally did not have any ground to stand on as they did not own (they rented) the land they were digging through at the time of the stone's discovery. The case eventually landed in the State Supreme Court in favor of Boynton. The stone, now valued at $700 was sold to Tiffany’s for $850. Tiffany’s sold it to almost richest man in the world J. P. Morgan, who eventually donated it to the Museum of Natural History.
After the heist, Murph the Surf became a minor celebrity. He was America's "cool thief" and the press loved him. He would soon add "convicted murderer" to his resume, and, like many near genius ego-driven cons who bottom out, he found God and became a Christian Preacher. Murphy always needed to have some kind of project going. Cool shades, Murph.

Most of the diamonds that occur in the Great Lakes region have been found in glacial deposits (moraines) in southeastern Wisconsin.  The Teresa Diamond, the largest of the diamonds found in Wisconsin, was disovered in 1888 near Kohlsville on or near the Green Lake Moraine.  The stone weighed 21.5 carats and is currently the fifth largest diamond found in the United States. It has since been cut into 10 pieces. The Eagle Diamond may have met the same fate in some nefarious back room and, yes, there are still diamonds and precious gems to be found in the rolling hills of the Kettle Moraine. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013


First glimpse of HBO's upcoming Liberace biopic. The (arguably)greatest star of the 20th century is portrayed by Michael Douglas. Matt Damon is his youthful lover, Scott Thorson. Here's the official press release, I wonder who wrote this...
Before Elvis, before Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga, there was Liberace: virtuoso pianist, outrageous entertainer and flamboyant star of stage and television. A name synonymous with showmanship, extravagance and candelabras, he was a world renowned performer with a flair that endeared him to his audiences and created a loyal fan base spanning his 40-year career. Liberace lived lavishly and embraced a lifestyle of excess both on and off stage. In summer 1977, handsome young stranger Scott Thorson walked into his dressing room and, despite their age difference and seemingly different worlds, the two embarked on a secretive five-year love affair. BEHIND THE CANDELABRA takes a behind-the-scenes look at their tempestuous relationship — from their first meeting backstage at the Las Vegas Hilton to their bitter and public break-up.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wisconsin, the Enemy State

On this date in history the United States congress voted to denounce Robert La Follette and 9 other Wisconsin congressmen for opposing American entry into World War I. La Follette opposed a violent tide of war fever that swept the nation and Wisconsin was branded an enemy state. The war was pointless, about absolutely nothing other than senseless slaughter, and, for the most part, our people could see that with a rare clarity. How ironic that our Red Arrow Division had to put a fork into the entire damned enterprise by cracking the Siegfried line wide open. Once again, like Russ Feingold did when we entered the equally pointless Iraq War, Wisconsin stood on the side of sanity. The US congress wasn't through with the Badger state. Prohibition, an all out attack on our beer culture in the form of the 18th amendment, was just around the corner for this country. Both WW I and prohibition were disasters of a magnitude that would touch later generations in the form of WWII and the birth of wide scale organized crime. May we always be doubters,
independent and forward thinking.

The excerpt below is courtesy our wonderful State Historical Society and it's website.

 The move to denounce Sen. Robert LaFollette and the nine Wisconsin congressmen who refused to support World War I failed in the State Assembly, by a vote of 76-15. Calling LaFollette "disloyal," the amendment's originator, Democrat John F. Donnelly, insisted that LaFollette's position did not reflect "the sentiment of the people of Wisconsin. We should not lack the courage to condemn his actions." Reflecting the majority opinion, Assemblyman Charles F. Hart retorted that "The Wisconsin State Legislature went on record by passing a resolution telling the President that the people of this state did not want war. Now we are condemning them for doing that which we asked them to do."

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Here's a favorite post of mine from a few years back. I've updated it and posted a new picture. It shows Mildred Fish Harnack and her husband, Arvid..

Berlin, 1942. Milwaukee born UW grad Mildred Fish-Harnack led a double life. She and her husband Arvid Harnack, a German national who she met while attending the University of Wisconsin, were respected academics at Berlin University. They also led The Red Orchestra, an anti-Hitler resistance group that included Greta Lork Kuckhoff, a UW grad student from Germany who had met Mildred and Arvid in Madison during the 1920s.
In early 1942, the Red Orchestra was rounded up and put on trial. Arvid Harnack was sentenced to death and Mildred was sentenced to six years in prison. The defense argued well in her favor, convincing the German judges that because of her job at the University translating great German works into English, she was an asset to the German cause. The decision angered a Fish/Harnac obsessed Hitler. He now took a personal interest in her case.
Arvid Harnack and many other members of the Red Orchestra were quickly hung with a short rope, a technique meant to prolong the agony of the victims. For Mildred, there was to be a retrial. On Jan. 16, 1942, she was sentenced to death and transferred to Prison. Five months of interrogation left her broken, unable to stand upright. On February 16, 1943, she was led into a courtyard and inside a red brick building that housed a guillotine.
She would be the only American woman to be executed on direct orders from Hitler.
In a cemetery in the Zehlendorf neighborhood of Berlin is Arvid and Mildred's headstone. "It was only by luck that Mildred was buried there. After execution, her headless body was put in a wooden crate and sent to an anatomical institute for dissection. But, as it turned out, a professor that Mildred knew recognized her remains and secretly cremated her. He kept her ashes in an urn and, after the war, returned them to the Harnack family."
On the night before their trial, Arvid wrote a farewell letter to Mildred, he wrote of Wisconsin.
"Do you remember picnic point, when we became engaged? Before that our first serious conversation in the restaurant on State Street? That conversation became my guiding star, and has remained so. You are in my heart. You shall be in there forever. My greatest wish is for you to be happy when you think of me. I am when I think of you."
On Wisconsin.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Marques Bovre 1962 -2013

I recently learned that songwriter/musician, Marques Bovre, passed away after a two year battle with brain cancer. Marques lead the great Madison-based band Marques Bovre and the Evil Twins. Although the band’s popularity peaked in the early 90’s, they continued off and on to the end of that decade and in 2012 re-united for a memorable celebration of Marques' 50th birthday at the High Noon Saloon in Madison. Tonight, I’m thinking about him and I thought I’d share some memories.
Smart Studios, Madison…sometime in the early 90’s. I’m playing pedal steel on a remarkable composition Marques has written for the Evil Twins latest album - Ghost Stories from Lonesome County. The track is called called Sleepytown.  I can still picture Marques at that session. He is seated at the recording consul, next to album producer Doug Erickson (Doug is a singer/songwriter/producer and a member the band, Garbage) and I’m behind both of them seated at my pedal steel. We are all only about 4 feet apart in the 1st floor control room. Marques has a big smile on face and we are conversing about both of us  growing up in small towns in Dane County (while I run through the song). He is truly enjoying this part of the process. So informal, so easy (it’s always easy when the band is good).  We are not quite done laying down the track and his mind is already on the next song, one called Drunk and Disgusting. “Grab your accordion and play like an old drunk Norwegian farmer on a Saturday night.”  Pause. I answer, “Am I a Norwegian farmer from Deerfield, Edgerton …..or Stoughton?”  He replies quickly, “Ahh, the golden triangle. Let’s go with Utica.”  Brilliant answer. He always had a brilliant answer to any important questions.  It would shortly result in many long conversations and even longer phone calls (at the time he lived in Stoughton and then Cottage Grove) filled with esoteric conversation on every subject imaginable during that decade.  It was a fun time and the peak of Marques and his band’s popularity as a live act. The boys let me play with them at Summerfest that summer(of the recording) and, for awhile, it seemed like the band would break out of Madison (where they were huge and very much loved) and onto the national scene. I lost touch with Marques for awhile in the early 2000's and last saw him at the Wisconsin Film Festival in 2007. By then, the osteoarthritis that had plagued him for most of his life had taken an enormous toll on his body. He never complained of the pain or difficulty it caused and he was as wry, observant and serene as ever. He was a devoted Christian who found it very funny that I couldn’t stand Christians. I never told him that he was one of only three real authentic Christians I’ve ever met in my life – the others being a Jesuit in the Philippines and a filmmaker in Oregon, all nonjudgemental and with great senses of humor. I’ve kept a quote that Marques enjoyed (from one of our 90’s phone calls). It’s from Thomas Merton and I think it describes the way Marques approached his faith. “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” Marques walked the walk. 
PS  Marques was a big, big Packer fan. Amen.
To sample both Sleepytown and Drunk and Disgusting or buy the album… here.
In honor of Marques, his family is asking that people make a donation to Haiti Allies ( …..It’s an excellent cause and I urge you to give. I did. Don't let me down you cheap bastards!