Archive for June, 2014

Bob’s Wee Art Gallery, Part II

©2014 By Bob Litton

A couple of days after publishing my last post, it dawned on me that I had left out three other creative exercises — and these truly juvenilia. I am not sure it is sensible of me to publish them here, where they can be broadcast worldwide, since they are as puerile as they are. However, some basic elements in my nature have goaded me into doing so: (1) I wanted to preserve them as long as possible from becoming any more deteriorated than the browning, crumbling pages reveal; (2) there are a few notable saving graces in them (which I will point toward as I go along); and (3) I am shamelessly vain (hence the title of my blog).

But first, I should provide some back story for each.

The other day, I heard part of an interview on our local NPR station in which a male interviewer and a female child psychologist were discussing “rambunctiousness” (aka “horseplay”) among preteens. The psychologist claimed that a certain level of violent activity was part of normal development and should not be immediately tamped down, as many parents are inclined to do. At the time I was listening, I was driving from my apartment to a café and thus caught only a middle portion of the dialogue, so I did not hear the upshot to the discussion: What level of violent behavior is healthy? I tried to locate that interview on the Internet later but was unsuccessful.

The psychologist’s comments dredged up memories of my own childhood, especially of my fondness for “shoot’em ups” (i.e., B-westerns) and Erroll Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. I also recalled the days when our school’s music teacher allowed us to pick the songs we wanted to sing in our song book: I always wanted to sing martial songs such as the “Caisson Song” or “The Marines’ Hymn”. Then there were the radio shows: Mother and I were fans of “Gangbusters”, possibly the most violent program on the air during the 1940’s.

Such a dose of violent entertainment appears to have affected my artistic endeavors then, as I will demonstrate with these six faded pages of an unfinished comic book I started sometime during my seventh and eighth years. Please pardon the egocentrism reflected in the main character’s name. I will point out some salient — I boldly assert saving — elements later. Note that you can enlarge any panel — or even any small portion of a panel — by clicking on the desired area. A little “⊕” magnifier will appear which you can use to focus on a smaller area and click again for further enlargement. Neat, heh?:







Now, folks, this is an unfinished work of art, kind of like one of Michelangelo’s sculptures. By some people it would be called a “cliffhanger”. But let’s look at some of its artistic features. On the first page, note the detailed dash board in the bank robbers’ car  (2nd panel). Then observe the pencil and note paper stuck behind the driver’s seat, and the handkerchiefs neatly folded and tucked into the bank robbers’ coat pockets (3rd panel). Then contrast the doubting question from one of the crooks to his boss (5th panel) “Do you think they can do the job clean, boss?” with the action inside “…take that and that…bang, bang, bang!” (6th panel) Genuine “Gangbusters” material!!!

(By the way, these fellows’  hats are supposed to be fedoras, not panamas!)

On page 2, we see one robber with a small bag of money (which we can identify as such because it has a “$” printed on it), still shooting, only this time in the direction of his partner (panel 2). Next we have some more exciting “bang, bang” and even a police car siren: while at one point (panel 3) the cops are gaining on the robbers, in the next our hero (that would be me) is suggesting to the police chief that they turn around because “you’ll never catch them” (panels 3 and 4). Panel 6 is a masterpiece of what we artists call perspective: a bird’s eye view of the police car doing a U-turn while the robbers continue on.

On page 3, we are treated to a nice closeup of the police chief, whose profile bears a striking resemblance to Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy. Now that’s odd! You would think Detective Litton would look more like Tracy. At the bank, we see Litton examining the dead teller’s body, while the chief and two other officers, dressed in 19th century vintage uniforms, stand by. Next, after a cursory search of the teller’s pockets, Litton surreptitiously picks up a cigarette stub (panel 3). And, “meanwhile”, the robbers make it to their hideout in a car that needs a brake job (panel 5). Notice how the house is fully equipped with an air-conditioner, a broken window pane, and even a liquor bottle lying on the roof. Note also (panel 6) how the cigarette-smoking robbers, playing poker, have knobby noses, indicating they have been in more than a few fist fights. (My brother Elbert had previously taught me that you can always discern a felonious character by his knobby nose.)

On page 4, we see Litton confessing to the chief, who now has a name, “Pat”, that he has been withholding evidence…at least for a little while. He tells Pat about the cigarette (which he pronounces “cirgrate”) and suggests they have it examined for fingerprints, and then tells the chief he would like to work the case solo (panel 3)…but he doesn’t explain why. However, Pat is extremely accommodating and only adds one proviso: bring in the killer. The lab scene (panel 6) is interesting for its vials and tubes, especially the one on the top shelf. Nice detail for a seven or eight-year-old!

On page 5, we discover that this department’s forensics expert is more punctual than many of our modern day fellows; he has not only found a fingerprint but has also identified the smoker (panel 1). But now the chief is having second thoughts about Litton, brave soul though he be, facing odds too superior in going against “Big John”  by himself. In panel 3, we glimpse Litton going out the door, his head six times as large as his hand and his hat twice as large as his head. (Litton has always had a problem with a big head!) Then he does a quick about face and tells the chief to send backup to 3234 River Bank Street if he isn’t back by 6 o’clock. One wonders where he got this particular address. In panel 5, we have another terrific perspective shot when a taxi responds to Litton’s whistle. A bit of comedy is offered us when Litton gives the taxi driver the address and then tells him ahead of time to “keep the change”.

On page 6, we discover that an elderly couple, including a man with a cane, live at that address, not Big John. Not to worry! Big John, the old man informs us, lives in “the next house down” (panel 2). After walking a few yards from one house to another, Litton complains, “Boy, are my feet hurting.” He classifies the next house as one of the species “hideout” (panel 3). And then he notices a car — the getaway car! — parked near a building that looks more like a church (panel 4). But Big John spots Litton through the broken window…uh, oh! (panel 5). Litton is ready for action with a drawn six-shooter (panel 6), but, as he opens the door and starts the syllable “Rea…?” (Explanation: He was trying to say “Reach!”) he is conked on the head by one of the robbers. Meanwile, as it approaches 6 o’clock, Police Chief Pat Whatever declares it’s time to go assist Litton (final panel). Note the book case with several volumes (Chief is a voracious reader!) and the gun rack with three shotguns in a row. Nice details, n’cest-pas?

Well, I hate to leave you in suspense, folks. You might come back next week for another exciting episode, but I wouldn’t count on it. I honestly don’t know why I did not finish that comic book, but I would surmise that it was because I couldn’t figure out how to save Litton.

* * * * * *

Now for exhibit Number 2: My experience as a song-writer.

Actually, although I liked to sing songs in music class, always volunteering to sing some cowboy songs (like the theme from High Noon), I was usually embarrassed when the teacher summoned us up to the piano, one by one, to test our tones against the piano keys’ tones. I gathered very early that I “couldn’t carry a tune in a basket”, but that didn’t stop me from volunteering on “talent show” days. That is what renders the following anecdote ironical.

In 1950, when I was ten years old and in the fifth grade, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s then conductor, Walter Hendl, joined with the Dallas Independent School District to sponsor a song-writing contest. If my memory is accurate, the DSO held a “youth concert” every year, especially during Hendl’s tenure there (1949-1958). I cannot recall if 1950 was the only year the DSO and DISD held a song-writing contest, but it is the only one I recall. The teacher, in announcing the event to us, said we were limited to five subjects, of which I can remember for certain only three: school, play, and sleep. I believe the other two might have been our nation and work, but I’m not sure. For some forgotten reason, I decided to give it a try; so later, in art class, when I was supposed to be drawing pictures with my Crayolas on manila paper, I spent the time writing a poem which I titled “In my Sleep”. And, supposing that the more colorful the rendering the better my chances, I used different colors for the letters. I gave it to the music teacher the next day, and she very sensibly transposed it to a type-written page. A few weeks later, the teacher informed me that my poem had made it to the “finals”; and soon afterwards she told me it was the winner.

The second part of the contest was to compose music for the lyrics. As you probably have already guessed, this was my weak point. Nonetheless, the teacher worked patiently with me, coaxing a tune out of me, which she transcribed to a sheet of music paper and sent in to the contest judges. I was not surprised on being told weeks later that an elementary school class in Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas, had won the musical composition portion of the competition.

My own music, the teacher informed me, had been adjudged “too jazzy”. I thought that was odd, not that I had been bested, but that my tune had been deemed “jazzy”. I didn’t much care for it either, but “jazzy”? It was too lively in the latter half, certainly, for it was supposed to be a song lauding pleasant dreams, but not “jazzy”. Part of the problem was that I had aimed to match the music to the individual lines; and, after the eighth line, the lyrics were pretty martial type stuff, as you can discern here:

 In My Sleep

When the clouds have hurried by
And the evening moon is nigh
To my bed I fairly fly
And there I sleepy lie.
Castles of dreams will come into sight,
Lands of wonder every night.
To the many lands I go,
To bold deeds long ago.
Dreams of battles and marching soldiers,
Story books and picture folders;
Dreams of cowboys and painted Indians,
Pirates and sailors and Mounted Canadians.
I never fuss; I never weep
When I must go to bed and sleep.

The last two lines — nicely composed iambic tetrameters — retreat from the marching tone and even close the rough sonnet with a couplet on “good behavior”.

As an adult, looking over that sheet music, which I kept with me until a year ago, I thought, These are a boy’s day dreams, not suitable subject matter for a restful night! However, it was the music, not the lyrics, that eventually moved me to destroy the composition. The first eight lines and the last two I still find commendable when considering that I was only ten years old at the time. Over the years, I asked a few friends to attempt playing the song on their pianos; they couldn’t get very far. I wondered how my fifth grade teacher had managed any better.

On the day of the “youth concert”, a young girl from the Oak Cliff school and I waited in one of the stage wings until Maestro Hendl summoned us to front center stage to take our bows. Then the orchestra played the music, and the auditorium full of school children sang. I liked the music that Oak Cliff class had fitted to my words. I suspected that the whole class, or at least several youths in it, had done the actual composing; and that the girl beside me was simply representing the class; but perhaps she indeed was the sole composer. It was a nice moment for both of us. That was the only reward we got for our creative efforts: standing there on stage as a whole auditorium full of Dallas children sang our song.

A couple of years ago, I tried to obtain the Oak Cliff class’ music from the archives of the DSO and the DISD, but both places professed not to have any record of it. Odd!

* * * * * *

And last, there was the animation film I made when I was 15 or 16 years old. Again, some back story.

In the mid-fifties, Walt Disney produced two documentaries that aroused ambition in me to be a nature photographer. One was The Living Desert (1953) and the other was The Vanishing Prairie (1954).

I must have talked about those two films a lot, because my mother gave me an 8mm movie camera for Christmas. I wasted several rolls of film photographing various dogs, but I also did some of creditable “scenes” of a couple of friends and me creating our own B-western…with special effects: an arrow being aimed in one shot and sticking in a log (behind which one boy was shooting his BB gun) in another shot; and of smoke (i.e., flour) exiting the barrel of the Red Ryder air rifle.

A more ambitious project, however — perhaps too ambitious — was my drawing, on about twelve sheets of paper, a tennis player swatting his serve. The scene, as shot, lasts only a very few seconds; you have to have a quick eye to perceive it was even on the screen. However, in 2010, an artist friend of mine copied it with his camera phone and, after playing it three times at normal speed, reproduced it in slow motion once and posted it on YouTube:

My mother had kept, for many years, the several rolls of film I had made with the camera; and I had practically forgotten about them, when I received a boxful from my sister-in-law back in 2010. I was disappointed that the film of the “cowboys and Indians” was not included, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well I had done with the tennis animation. The frames are a bit jerky, all right, but the player’s body proportions are amazingly well-maintained. Also, the changing position of the man’s legs is convincingly consonant with what one might expect it to be. Frankly, I am surprised I had enough patience to draw all those frames.

To all of you who stuck it through to the end of this lengthy post, I thank you, thank you very much!


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Thank you for reading.


Bob’s Wee Art Gallery, Part I

©2014 By Bob Litton

I have made brief references in previous posts to my graphic art interests. And, truthfully, in my youth I seriously considered becoming an artist, primarily an illustrator. For, unlike some of my favorite artists, such as N.C. Wyeth and Edward Hopper, I did not view illustration as a prostitution of talent which they had to perform to survive financially.

In my early childhood, I learned much about drawing from comic books. I started a couple of comics pages myself, but never completed a story, an eternal fault in me. Also, my father occasionally brought me some Ford Times magazines, a small (4×6 inches) magazine that the motor car company distributed to its dealerships from the 1920’s until the 1980’s. Therein I saw delightfully finished watercolors, some of which I copied.

By the time I was in junior high, dreaming of becoming a cowboy, I read novels by Andy Adams (Smoky and Log of a Cowboy) and Tom Lea (The Wonderful Country), which they illustrated as well as authored. Some of my subsequent style was influenced, if ever so slightly, by Adams’ drawings. In particular, his drawings led me to try pen-and-ink sketching; and they suggested to me the importance of texture and shadowing.

In high school, I had pretty much outgrown my cowboy dreaming and given up the idea of an art career as well. At one point I “dedicated” my future to the ministry; a short while later, having read Irving Stone’s Clarence Darrow for the Defense, I shifted to a future as a lawyer.

Before I could enter any of those fields, however, I had to get my military obligation over with; so, not wanting to slog down a muddy road as a foot soldier, I joined the air force. And that’s when my artistic gifts — both as a graphic artist and as a writer — resumed their place in my life.

In the fall of 1959, I and about a dozen other airmen who had just arrived on the island of Okinawa had not received our permanent assignments yet. For a week or so we did menial type stuff, like cleaning up a storage building. Then, one morning as we stood in formation outside the barracks awaiting our day’s chore order, the first sergeant asked if there was an artist in the bunch. I raised my hand. The sergeant told me to go over to the crafts center and create a large Christmas scene to be placed above the hallway entry in Group headquarters (which was also our barracks building). I cannot recall if the sergeant gave me some money out of a petty fund box, or a requisition slip; anyway, it was not I who paid for the pastels and two large sheets of paper with which, that day, I finished the task: a Nativity scene. Just think, Uncle Sam was my first patron!

Nativity (1)

(You can enlarge this and the other images by clicking on them.)

Now, I realize that many of my readers are going to utter something like, “Ugh, how amateurish! The baby’s almost as big as his momma, Joseph’s staff looks like it is penetrating the child’s head, and those camels look more like overgrown cats!” But there are some positive elements here which I would like to point out to you: the baby looks like an actual baby instead of like a tiny adult, which too many “madonna and child” paintings present; the composition on the right-hand half of the picture (one of the two sheets of paper) is admirably balanced; and, on the left-hand page, the three magi arrive in a manner suggestive of progression. (One of the weaknesses in art, for me at that time, was that, compared to literature and music, one could hardly portray a sense of time passing.) Also, although I doubt that my notion of symbolism extended thus far at that time, the shepherd with the grossly long arm seems to be holding his staff in a manner that suggests a  barrier to the pagan world: Thus far and no further!

I was not really very interested in religion when I did that Nativity scene; it was just my assignment. However, one day an airman, overtaking me in the barracks’ hallway, stopped me and said, “Here, Litton. I thought you might want this.” It was a slide negative of my Nativity piece as it appeared over the hallway entrance that holiday season. I carried the negative with me for 25 years before having it printed. By then I was a recovering alcoholic in AA and had just regained my spirituality; so, literally as well as spiritually, my spirituality went from negative to positive after 25 years.

The following year, at the Protestant chaplain’s request, I wrote a poetic treatment of the Nativity story. My free verse rendering, when read by the chaplain on AFRTS, was interspersed with carols sung by a small choir. When we were leaving the studio, the program director came out of his area, waving his copy of our script, and told us, “That was the best thing we’ve ever produced here!” Unfortunately, I gave the only copy of it I had to a girlfriend; she was a theology student. She told me shortly afterwards that she had thrown it away. I didn’t ask her why, but I believe it was because of her ultra-liberal mind-cast, which had little use for mythology. For a while I recalled many of the lines, but now I can summon up only a few:

Seven archangels stood before the Lord,
And their leader was Gabriel the “hero of God”;
The Lord spoke to Gabriel from his dais
Above the sun……………………..
“At first I thought my wrathful flood would cleanse them
But now I see that only love beyond reason will endure.”

A couple of years after leaving the service, I was an art major at the university. I did several pieces — water color, oil and tempera — during the two years before I changed my major to history. I sold one (a tempera of a modern Faust) to one of my classmates for $20; a few months later, while I was visiting at her apartment, I noticed the work on the floor with one corner chewed by her dog. I gave away most of the others, including two watercolors and an oil to a girlfriend who had them framed and years later admitted to me that she had lost them during her several moves. (She was the same young woman to whom I had given my Nativity poem.) I left an oil painting copy of Rembrandt’s “The Falconer” in my brother Elbert’s apartment; years later, one of his carpet layers, to whom Elbert had given the painting, told me somebody had offered him $50 for it. So, you see, financial gain was never a major incentive for me when it came to art.

I did do one art work on commission: a student majoring in another discipline told me his parents would like for me to do a sculpture of an old man and would pay me for it; I asked for $35 when I turned the finished piece over to his father. At the time, I had been admiring a popular “coffee table book” titled Family of Man. I resorted to it for my model: the late New York State Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand. (Don’t ask me how he got that moniker; I haven’t the faintest notion.) I sculpted a clay bust of Learned Hand and, being thoroughly irreligious by that point, titled it “Jehovah”:

IMG_0001 (1)


My friend gave me these two Polaroid photos without my asking for them. Obviously they show the limits of photographing a gray object with a flash camera, but they are adequate to the purpose of retention as a memento. My friend’s name was Scott Lindsey. I don’t recall his parents’ names nor his sister’s. But they were a close family and good to me.

Before I leave “Jehovah”, I want to include another photo which my friends took, apparently using available light. It is weirdly dark except for some highlights on the heads and shoulders of Jehovah and myself, which, to me, makes it an artwork in itself of Impressionistic qualities. There is also a slight sense of the mystical resulting from the darkness/highlights aspect.


Before I gave up my art major, I completed another piece that I consider noteworthy in its draftsmanship, although I concede that the subject is not one fit for home decoration: It is the only mature work I have kept for myself and hangs now on my living room wall. I have titled it, humorously, “After Work H2O Cocktails”. It is a pencil-drawn copy of a whiskey ad I admired in a magazine. When I am blushing over memories of my artistic attempts, this drawing assures my soul that, once upon a time, I did indeed have the makings of an artist.

Black and White Print--more contrast

These guys are obviously professionals, possibly lawyers or CPA’s or Wall Street investment types, who work at the same firm. In fact, I would wager that the elder gentleman on the left is the firm’s founder, or at least the senior partner, and the fellow on the right with his elbow resting on the middle chap’s shoulder is next in line, while the latter is a “probie”. They might even be members of the same family — three generations!

Of late, I have wished I had kept at it with art. With the ease and inexpensiveness of publishing these days, everybody wants to be a writer. Would you believe that even the author of Ecclesiastes and Martin Luther both complained that too many books were being written? Also, while writing, depending on your memory of what you read long ago or “heard from a dead French lord”, you might be unintentionally inventing or carrying forward a falsehood; while in art, all you have to do is render what appears before you.

Just a few years ago I tried to resuscitate my artistic gift by copying with pencil some photographs in newspapers: It was a very disappointing exercise. What’s the old saying, “Use it or lose it”?


NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.




Pappy’s Day

Haywood Barnett Litton b. Sep. 15, 1903, Mooresville, NC d. Feb. 10, 1985, Dallas, TX

Haywood Barnett Litton
b. Sep. 15, 1903, Mooresville, NC
d. Feb. 10, 1985, Dallas, TX

©2014 By Bob Litton

Whenever anyone, usually a stranger, wishes me a “Happy Fathers’ Day”, I feel just a wee bit guilty. But I do not feel much guilt, because it’s a day it seems that many people do not pay much attention to, not like they do Mother’s Day anyway.  Also, I have read many accounts of famous persons, especially of literary and theater notables, whose fathers deserted their families or abused them.

However, I am of the old school who believe that fathers who remain and perform their paternal duties, particularly as positive role models, at least tolerably well are beneficial to society as a whole. For, as much as we might hate this world and dread the endless oncoming catastrophes, we need well-developed, intelligent leaders to help us cope with it all. The logical conclusion to that dilemmatic condition is that children must be generated to grow into those leadership roles as well as into the hardy followership roles.

I have never been married, never fathered children. Therefore, I have not done my duty. Most of my life that lack has not bothered me, although there was a brief period, in my fifties, when I felt a strong paternal instinct driving me to ask a couple of young ladies to give me a baby: they refused.

I sincerely doubt, though, that I would have been a good father. The requisite qualities are absent from my genes; as attested to by my own father, who must have been warped by his own impoverished childhood. He reportedly never attended school beyond the second grade; yet he nonetheless read a lot as an adult, the only part of his life when I knew him.

What did he do? He painted signs for many years, built at least one house, worked on the Dallas Ford plant assembly line, and managed a small night club for a while. In his late years he sold mail order shoes and fireworks, operated a small hamburger joint, and played at being a night watchman at one of the large Dallas banks. He also gambled and hustled rich women, I was told.

He kept several chicken coops in the yard behind our apartment. One interesting aspect of this enterprise of his, that I did not learn about until Internet search engines came along, was that the day-to-day problem of chickens pecking  at each other’s butts spurred him into inventing an “anti-picking device”. That was the way he spelled it on his patent application in 1944, granted in 1946; I think he meant “anti-pecking device”, but don’t forget: he never got beyond second grade. Here, for any who might be curious enough, is the URL for that patent:

For many years he dressed like a dandy whenever the opportunity to do so occurred. He was tall and slender, had an aquiline nose, and intensely dark brown eyes (which my two brothers and I inherited). I have a black-and-white portrait photo of him dressed in a dark, double-breasted suit with a handkerchief stuck in the breast pocket, and a dark fedora: a regular “man-about-town”. However, late in life, during the “hippie” era, he let his hair grow out a small way and fastened it at the back of his head with a rubber band.

Since my parents divorced when I was still a toddler  — due mostly to Pappy’s philandering, although I think his slaps also had something to do with it — I never got to know him as well as “normal” children come to know their fathers. He would come over to the small duplex apartment where Mother and I lived and play pitch with me; he even bought me a fielder’s glove, which was a disappointment to me because I would have preferred a first baseman’s glove, which has the finger parts connected, but I never expressed my disappointment. Also, knowing I venerated cowboys and wanted to be one, he gave me some spurs; however, there again he had gotten the wrong type, for they were cavalry spurs (no rowels). With my artistic talent and inclination in mind, he built a large plywood easel, which Mother ended up using as a drying stand for washed clothes. (I had given up on the easel as far as art equipment was concerned because it had no base to hold canvases or drawing pads; it never occurred to me that I might have secured water color paper on the board’s large surface with masking tape: I was not even aware of such tape.) In addition to such gifts, Pappy’s contributions to my development were his teaching me, over the telephone, to tell time, and his instructing me not to push food toward a fork with my finger but to use either bread or a knife. A major education there!

One of Mother’s sisters told me that Pappy “was a brutal husband and a brutal father”. However, he never laid a hand on me; I suppose that was at least partly due to the fact that I was the last child and after my baby years he never had to be responsible for me on a daily basis. I believe, though, that he probably had come to realize, after the experience of my three older siblings, that brutality was not acceptable behavior.

My elder brother apparently got the worst of it, at least judging by his own account. Several times, my brother related an incident to me in which he begged Pappy not to speak harshly to our sister, who had inadvertently locked the outhouse door. Pappy, my brother recalled, kicked him in the chin. My aunt told me that my brother took up weight-lifting after that, swearing that Pappy would never be able to treat him that way again.

Pappy was not a religious person. Once, when I tried to talk to him about God, he responded, “And before God created the world, who created him?” That is a rather antiquated atheistic argument, but I was very young then and stumped. Nevertheless, late in life he began to read paranormal psychology books. He apparently even got to the point where he thought he could command other-worldly beings, for, one day, I noticed a piece of paper on his table where he had written a demand that some spirit must bring him a small fortune…now! How peculiar that one can be so rationalistic about a deity and yet so superstitious about genies and gremlins!

I have already written about his death and funeral back in 1985. I posted it here with the title “Ashes” last May 31.

Like the other members of my immediate family, Pappy was a conundrum I will never understand. Like us, he had his few virtues and his many faults. And like us, he fought with and yet clung like glue to us. Like Mother and my brothers, he is a continual presence in my brain that will never disappear.


Concerto for Rocks: A Poem

©2014 By Bob Litton



No, I can’t hear. Hear what?

The wind yonder among those rocks,

how it bends them with sound

so like a single strum on a guitar —

lightly, yet strong.

Its will will not be thwarted;

it will force the rocks to sing.


The Encompassing Panorama


The cliffs here create a canyon

that meanders like a dry river.


Through valleys and canyons amid the mountains

our highway winds; cliffs beside

and precipices beside

dictate our path.

The view taunts, humiliates, our vision’s periphery,

now enlarging, now enclosing at each bend in the road.

So far the valleys extend this way and that,

a cliff only crowds us.

What vista looms at our back?

Why can’t we encompass the sight?

It sticks out so at each end,

like an unwieldy box we try to wrap.

Nothing to frame the scene:

No moulding, no cornice to contain a wild gone wild.


Eternality of the Rocks


How can one love a rock?

Why call a pile of frozen lava “beautiful”?

Forever resides in the rock: the dead lies eternal.

So, is that its pull?

That the rock was here millennia before us

and will remain millennia after?

Its silence is contemptuous.

Yet, I almost want to hug it.

My soul yearns for the rocks,

and as much for the trees.

The sunlight gives such form to the stone!

Without that highlighting

there is no scenery!

We give these rocks names

as a way to control the rocks

or to direct ourselves.

We must know where we are:

Being lost is a dizziness we can’t tolerate!

The other side is hidden unless we walk around;

and then this is hidden, unpossessed.

A total view might make the rocks immortal,

do you suppose?


Mysticality, Reverence and Awe


Aeroplanes penetrate the red and blue heaven —

high above, leaving their white vapor trails.

Such tiny planes and their puny effort to invade heaven,

too miniscule even for a laugh.

Cacti and juniper cling to the mountainsides,

leaving their own shadow trails.

There’s no gauging the distance one from another:

They might as well be two-dimensional

since they have no real sizes.

And to right and left

the cacti and junipers continue on

without a comma even.

It is an expanse of green and brown and gray-blue

holding dominion over our eyes

which we cannot rescue.


Is the sublime divine?

It makes my heart ache with reverence

and quake with fear —


Was I here when the boulders were bubbles of flow?

Somehow? Any how?

They ridicule me with their dumbness.


Fragility and Mortality of Man


They make me fall away, fall back upon myself —

Looking outward so far

forces me to look inward too deep —

Are these the only choices?

Outward into a vast desolation,

inward into a vast desolation?


I am not a rock: I move, I love, I die.

My mortality is always apparent; not so the rocks’.

I know rain wears the rocks away: I’ve been told.

But each day’s shaving shows me a fissuring face:

I can see my slow death; not the rocks’.







A “Shout-Out” for Amira

By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS:  I “fell in love” early last May, when, due to another of my “serendipitous” Internet explorations, I happened upon some performances by a young Dutch girl on YouTube. The three clips were filmed during the “Holland’s Got Talent” competition last fall and winter. The girl’s name is Amira Willighagen. She was nine years old when she sang Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” as her audition number in October 2013; I read later that her tenth birth anniversary was last March. Amira’s semi-final offering was the “Ave Maria” composed by J.S. Bach/Charles Gounod, which Amira performed on December 21. And her final rendition, a week later, was another Puccini aria, “Nessun Dorma” from his opera Turandot.

I was so overwhelmed with admiration for this little Dutch girl that I emailed the YouTube URL’s to friends and revisited those clips many times since. Most of my acquaintances are aware how obsessively analytical I am. The writing below is the result of my analysis of almost everything that was apparent during Amira’s three performances.

— BL

Jaws dropped in a Netherlands auditorium last October 26 when a nine-year-old Dutch girl, standing confidently in the middle of a cavernous stage, empty except for her and a large backdrop of a painted farm with rows of tulips, opened her mouth and began to sing the opening notes of Giacomo Puccini’s aria “O Mio Babbino Caro” from his opera Gianni Schicchi. The surprise — almost shock — was not due simply to the fact that the girl was sounding all the right notes: it was also due to her voice tone: she sounded like a lady thrice her age. In fact, one of the judges, Gordon Heuckeroth, expressed the possibility that Amira might be the reincarnation of Maria Callas. (Amira’s fans have posited an alternate spirit: Kirsten Flagstad.)

But, actually, much of the surprise was generated even before Amira had begun to sing; by the uninhibited manner she strode to center stage, vigorously waving her hand in salutation to the applauding audience, which included her family and friends as well as many strangers. Her responses to the three judges’ preliminary questions were tantalizing as well: she told them she had looked for some suitable songs on YouTube for singing on “Queen’s Day” and that she had never had a singing lesson. I have heard of playing the piano “by ear” but never of learning to sing arias from “YouTube”.

All three judges — Heuckeroth, Chantal Tanzen, and Dan Karaty — were effusive in their praise of Amira’s talent and remarked especially on how unthreatened she had revealed herself to be before the large audience. They heartily voted that she should be given the “Golden Ticket”, which would allow her to proceed directly to the finals. (Since she would sing “Ave Maria” during the semi-finals, I am not sure what she was being permitted to skip over.)

After Heuckeroth gave her the ticket and hugged her, Amira ran toward her father and brother who were waiting in the wing. She smiled at the audience and waved her ticket as she ran. Then she hugged her gleefully hopping brother, Fincent, who might have been her twin, for he was virtually the same in height, and his facial features were almost identical to hers. The most charming thing about Fincent, for me, was that he showed not an ounce of jealousy toward his sister; he was, in fact, immensely proud of her. Amira’s beaming father was also there, and she hugged him as well.

The next time I viewed that video, I noticed an interesting element that perhaps most people might have passed over: There was a low, glass partition separating Amira from the judges; on it were printed three large “X’s”; one of several cameras used, while focusing on the standing and applauding judges, captured the reflection of Amira running off stage and waving her large ticket. Other camera angles throughout the preliminary interview and post-performance comments from the judges were equally impressive, just from a technical standpoint. Very professional camera work and editing!

During her audition (“O Mio Babbino Caro”), Amira wore a cute but informal outfit, the same as she might wear to school or to the playground. She had on a long-sleeved, chamois-colored top that extended almost to her knees, and stone-gray pants, which reminded me of a Chinese peasant’s outfit.

For her semi-final performance (“Ave Maria”), however, she came dressed in a short white dress and wearing a garland made up of gleaming white berries or faux pearls such as one might imagine an angel would wear. Also, her long, brown hair had been “done”: while, during her audition, it had shown some loose, natural curliness, it was now much more definitely full of curls. And, when she stood on the circular platform that had been set up for her, her stance and hand movements showed that she had been given some coaching in stage presence since October; but she had exhibited modesty and calmness even back then: she did not really need much coaching. When Amira began her “Ave Maria”, she still was not nervous, but the judges certainly were: they acknowledged that they could not understand how a nine-year-old girl could bear the pressure of being the focus of millions of viewers.

And, on her final day at the competition (“Nessun Dorma”), she wore a cream-colored summer dress with a wide, golden cincture around her waist. The naturally wavy curls were back. The scene was much more formal, with triangular light patterns and a chorus of grownups as backup. Amira’s posture, too, was more stylized and evidenced a heavy, but effective, dose of coaching. Much of the time she held her arms out with upturned fingers and moved them rhythmically, as though she were conducting a chorus. Judge Chantal Tanzen admiringly remarked on Amira’s several seconds of silence, her hands held lightly and still in front, and eyes closed as the chorus did their part. Not missing was Amira’s usual guileless simplicity, her openness to the audience’s response.

Days after first viewing the “Holland’s Got Talent” videos, I noticed on YouTube the image of another young girl who had amazed her judges during a similar competition in the United States. I checked her out. Her name is Jackie Evancho, a native of Pennsylvania; and, lo and behold, back in 2010 — when she was ten years old — Jackie had won the contest by singing the same songs as Amira! Now Jackie is fourteen and has recorded CD’s and performed at various concerts: she even sang the national anthem at a professional ball game!

How can I compare the two girls other than by remarking that Jackie is a blonde, while Amira is a brunette or that Jackie is an American; and Amira, a Dutch girl? I am not a musicologist, so I do not feel competent to compare the levels of musical quality in their voices. Also, I saw and heard Amira first, a fact which unfortunately compromises my judgment. You know the common comment about which was better, the book or the movie? Well, I think most of the judgment in those comparisons favors whichever was experienced first; and the same holds true in this situation.

However, I believe there are some elements here which I can address honestly and directly. One is the volume in each of their voices: Amira has a surprisingly powerful set of lungs; she can project, so her voice seems to me to be more suited to operatic pieces. Jackie’s tone is more subdued, something like Julie London or Nina Simone. Another element is the stage presence: Amira hardly moves her head at all, and when she does, it is always in smooth, gliding motions; while Jackie has a bit of twitch in her neck that, for me at least, is distracting. And, more subtly, Amira seems to reveal a level of adept concentration and candidness that I miss in Jackie’s expression; but that difference might be attributable more to the camera work than to the girls.

Another element which affected me but which I cannot hold either girl accountable for are the settings and choreographies: let’s face it, my fellow Americans, those Netherlanders have got us “whupped” when it comes to show atmosphere! In one of Jackie’s videos, especially — her “Bridge over Troubled Waters” — I was so much turned off by the long gown she was wearing and the special effect of a shallow river she supposedly was strolling through that I “clicked” it off, even though “Bridge” is one of my favorite songs.

Jackie did have one major point in her favor, however: she was there first, like four years first! I cannot deny her that. And that fact smudges my appreciation of Amira a little bit — just a little bit. I was left with the impression that the songs Amira saw and heard performed on YouTube were the ones Jackie had sung.

Brother, do I ever love that little girl Amira! I just hope she does not get over-worked, lose her voice too early, become egocentric, or end up dismayed by all that she probably will face in the future: it is important that she realize her childhood. By all means, I hope she can avoid becoming a celebrity; but I think that is going to be hard to manage. As one of the judges, Dan Karaty, said to Amira after one of her performances, “You’re a star — you are a star who belongs onstage!”


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