Of Peacocks and Patronage

Darren Waterston’s Mass MoCA installation “Filthy Lucre” explores the relationship between money and art.

As the cello music stops, I crane my neck forward and lean in toward the toppled-over shelves, straining to hear the words being whispered by the broken vase. “An artist’s career,” the ceramic seems to say, “always begins tomorrow.” Next to me, Darren Waterston nods toward the urn. “I am a thing of beauty,” whispers the vase, “and a profit-maker forever.”

I chuckle a bit, and Waterston smiles slightly. “Kind of freaky,” I find myself saying. “But in a good way.”

The recorded voice and cello soundscape provided by the band BETTY begins again, and we wander through the distorted room. Walls are covered by vases that look as if they are about to fall from the broken, splintered wooden shelves on which they precariously sit. To our left, large images of peacocks painted in gold fill floor-to-ceiling window shutters. Gold shapes like stalactites hang threateningly from the ceiling. And at the far end of the room, a pool of gold paint collects on the wooden floor like blood from some long-forgotten crime scene.

Waterston’s installation “Filthy Lucre” is a reinterpretation of James McNeill Whistler’s “Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room,” and serves as the centerpiece of his new Mass Moca exhibit Uncertain Beauty. It is invitingly disorienting.

Waterston tells me he wanted to create a painted room, and was drawn to Whistler’s famous “Peacock Room” as a way to explore the complex intersections of money, art and patronage. The result is a space that invites the viewer both to remember the forgotten and discover the unknown. Either way, I find the experience of wandering through a reinterpreted recreation of a room that originally existed nearly 150 years ago extremely odd and unmistakably exhilarating.

“I set out to recreate Whistler’s fabled ‘Peacock Room’ in a state of decadent demolition—a space collapsing in on itself, heavy with its own excess and tumultuous history,” the mixed-media artist explains. The room’s “once-extravagant interior” is ruptured and warped, both lavish and grotesque at the same time, “like it’s diseased.”

Walking through the installation while hearing from Waterston the history of the original “Peacock Room,” I feel as if I’ve happened upon the remnants of some Gilded Age relic, which for decades has decomposed in a neglected, cobwebbed attic, waiting patiently to be reconsidered.

It’s the first time I’ve come across the story of the “Peacock Room.” But the tale feels familiar in that elusive, collective-unconscious sort of way.

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UMass Proud: Behind the Scenes of Derrick Gordon’s Coming Out Party

Derrick Gordon sat behind a table in the corner of a room in the basement of the Mullins Center, fielding (to mix a sports metaphor) questions. At a table 10 feet from Gordon, his former roommate Tyler Bergantino chatted with reporters. Across the room, UMass athletic director John McCutcheon surveyed the room before stepping out.

Men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg took turns standing and then sitting at yet another table, talking to a steady stream of reporters, all of who were there because of Gordon. Behind Kellogg stood UMass professor emeritus Pat Griffin.

Earlier that morning, in articles with video interviews posted at both Outsports and ESPNW, sophomore UMass guard Gordon had come out, becoming the first openly gay male basketball player in a major Division 1 program.

The impact of the announcement was immediate, with outlets from Sports Illustrated to ABC News to The Huffington Post picking up the story. Sitting at the table with Gordon, one reporter told him he was trending on Twitter. He responded by saying he heard he was on the news in Israel.

“I didn’t want to be the first [male basketball player to come out],” he told me. “But I’m comfortable and confident about it.”

Gordon transferred from Western Kentucky to UMass two years ago After sitting out the first year—as per NCAA rules regarding transfers—he played his first season on the court for the Minutemen this past year.

“I could have been anywhere and come out, but I just happen to be in Massachusetts, which is great,” Gordon said, noting the state’s equal marriage law and accepting culture of both UMass and the Valley.

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Jason Collins. Brittany Griner. Michael Sam. Now Derrick Gordon. And that’s this past year alone.

The news of American athletes publicly declaring their homosexuality may not be as unheard of as it once was, but it’s still notable. There’s still a stigma—albeit a diminishing one—attached to being a gay athlete. Our society has yet to figure out what a sports culture looks like that is so accepting of its athletes that the act of publicly coming out is no longer needed.

“We’re writing the playbook for this,” Griffin tells me as we stand across the room from Gordon, occasionally glancing in his direction.

“I’m really proud of UMass,” she adds. “The entire athletic department, from McCutcheon on down, has been amazing.”

But while the support of McCutcheon, Kellogg and others in the UMass athletics community is vital to the immediate and the long-term success of Gordon—who still has two full seasons of eligibility left—it is the presence of Griffin, whom UMass officially honored last fall for her work as an LGBT advocate, that is most telling.

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Serenade to a Donkey Jawbone

David Wax Museum’s Mexo-Americana sound.

A wintertime session at a recording studio in the town of Parsonsfield, Maine—which sits on the New Hampshire border west of Sebago Lake and east of Lake Winnipesaukee—may not bring to mind folk music from the sun-drenched climes of southern Mexico.

Likewise, Missourian David Wax and Virginian Suz Slezak, who met and formed the Mexican/Americana indie band David Wax Museum seven years ago in Boston, are not ethnically linked to the region of Veracruz, from where so much of their musical style derives its influence. But that has not prevented them from recording the latter two of their four albums up in Maine, and presenting their musical amalgamation with a fluidity that is accessible, authoritative, and an absolute pleasure to hear.

This week, Wax and Slezak return to the Valley—where they lived for five years—to perform once again at the Iron Horse.

“All music can be blended,” Slezak told the Advocate over the phone last week, as the couple drove with their infant daughter to Washington, D.C. for a gig with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. “Any new genre is a blending of two or more genres. So there’s nothing necessarily special about blending rural Mexican with American folk.” Because not many musicians are doing it, however, especially in the Boston area, it felt fresh, she added.

As a student at Harvard, Wax studied Latin American literature and history before getting a post-grad fellowship to study music in Mexico. Learning from living masters of the style called son Mexicano, Wax returned to Boston with a deeper understanding of traditional Mexican music and a desire to form a band that incorporated traditional instruments like the leona, a deep-voiced guitar that sounds similar to a stand-up bass, and the jarana, a smaller, eight-stringed guitar. Not to mention the jawbone of a donkey.

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Local Beer and Southern BBQ

Berkshire Brewing Company takes over the Wildwood taps this Wednesday.

Consider yourself warned: do not attempt to satisfy your curiosity by popping into Wildwood Barbecue without getting some grub. Once the delicious scent of smoked meat settles in your nostrils, it will be near impossible to avoid succumbing to your desire for a meal of barbecue.

Like a fool, I tried it last week, telling myself I would merely stop by to take a photo or two. Leaving a few minutes later with an empty belly and some suddenly over-active taste buds, I suffered through the remainder of the night, dreaming of pulled pork and imagining myself seated at one of Wildwood’s picnic tables some summer evening with a beer in one hand and some barbecue in the other.

Glenn Brunetti opened Wildwood Barbecue in Hadley last summer, and in the intervening months his Route 9 restaurant has become one of the most popular new eating spots in the Valley. On the first Wednesday of each month (second Wednesday in April) this spring and summer, Wildwood will turn its beer taps over to an assortment of local brewers, including Element Brewing Company in May, People’s Pint in June and Lefty’s Brewing Company in August.

This Wednesday evening, Wildwood’s tap will pour a selection of BBC beers, including Lost Sailor I.P.A., Berkshire Czech Style Pilsner, “Shabadoo” Black and Tan Ale, and Coffeehouse Porter.

The Advocate contacted Brunetti to learn more about Wildwood’s first tap takeover by Smuttynose last month, and to hear about this month’s April 9 tap takeover by the granddaddy of Valley microbrews, Berkshire Brewing Company.

Valley Advocate : What’s it like running a barbecue place in the northeast?

Brunetti: It’s wonderful. Customers are often transplants from the South and are happy to get a taste of home, or they are just being introduced to slow-smoked barbecue—which is different from backyard grilled barbecue—and discovering that they love it. Either way, they are an appreciative and enthusiastic bunch.

We offer classics such as brisket, ribs, pulled pork and chicken, and do smoked salmon, chicken wings, pastrami, sausage and housemade bacon on a regular basis. We have creative weekly specials and bake our own desserts, and of course carry great beers to go along with it.

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Signs of Intelligent Life

Peter Mulvey performs at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts, U.S.A., Earth, Milky Way Galaxy…

Despite living in the greater Boston city of Somerville for a mere four years, folk singer and songwriter Peter Mulvey maintains many Massachusetts connections. He records on local label Signature Sounds, plays a regular Harvard Square summer stint at Club Passim as part of the trio Redbird (with Jeffrey Foucault and Kris Delmhorst), and considers several local musicians—including Pamela Means, Tim Gearan, the Blue Ribbons (who back him up this Thursday at the Iron Horse) and Rusty Belle (who open the show)—to be his “musical tribe.”

“I tour constantly, but I play more gigs in Massachusetts than anywhere else,” Mulvey tells the Advocate. “In many ways it has remained my artistic home, though I moved back to Wisconsin in 1996.”

But it was the combination of a cave in West Virginia and a Czech professor from the University of Washington that caused the curator of the Kansas City TEDxTalks to ask Mulvey if he would give a lecture last year. Titled “Lyrical Astrophysics,” Mulvey’s talk was based on his song “Vlad the Astrophysicist,” which he recorded on his 2009 album Letters from a Flying Machine.

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Moonshine On You Crazy Emerald (City)

Sometimes a pun can be taken too far. Far too far. But other times, said adventurous pun is surprisingly appropriate, as is the case with Dark Side of the Moonshine, the San Francisco-based Poor Man’s Whiskey bluegrass band’s performance of Pink Floyd’s classic album. Let’s just say that if you like your live music driven by an amalgamation of upbeat hootenanny bluegrass, concept album classic rock, and costumes of characters from The Wizard of Oz, you’ll want to be at the Iron Horse this Monday.

Having played The Great American Music Hall, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and the legendary Fillmore Hall, Poor Man’s Whiskey makes a quick one-week stopover in the Northeast before heading back out West. Its Northampton appearance will include two sets, the first featuring the band’s original music, the second covering Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, with bandmates dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz.

The members include Sean Lehe on guitars, Aspen Stevenson on bass and vocals, George Smeltz on drums and—wait for it—suitcase, Jason Beard on guitar and mandolin, and Josh Brough—who makes a lovely bearded Dorothy—on vocals, harmonica, keyboards and banjo.

(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)

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Student Athletes Sue the NCAA

An antitrust class action lawsuit has been filed by high-profile sports labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler on behalf of student athletes against the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) and its five wealthiest conferences (Big Ten, Pac 10, Big 12, ACC and SEC). The suit aims to challenge the amateur status of men’s college basketball and football players.

“In no other business—and college sports is big business—would it ever be suggested that the people who are providing the essential services work for free,” Kessler told ESPN. “Only in big-time college sports is that line drawn.” One of the most respected sports labor attorneys, Kessler has was instrumental in forming NFL free agency, and has represented many high-profile athletes, including Tom Brady.

The suit comes less than two months after Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter and former collegiate athletes—including UMass grad Luke Bonner—formed the College Athletes Players Association, which hopes to unionize collegiate athletics (“The NCAA vs. Student Athletes,” March 13, 2014, http://www.valleyadvocate.com).

“The effort to create more of a voice for college athletes in revenue-generating sports is a major issue that’s existed for a while,” Bonner told the Advocate. “There’s no voice or vote from the players who drive this multi-billion dollar industry.”

The suit seeks no damages, but challenges the NCAA’s “false claims of amateurism,” charging that those governing college sports “have lost their way far down the road of commercialism, signing multi-billion-dollar contracts wholly disconnected from the interests of ‘student athletes,’ who are barred from receiving the benefits of competitive markets for their services even though their services generate these massive revenues.”

(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)

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