Ah, dear Reader, delighted to see you!
The Cigar of Wooden Shoes is of a circuitous origin; we continue on with a few tales of inspiration, tidbits I’ve read, and collected from just about everywhere, anything that can get the creative juices boiling and the Muse over-excited…
Many are from my Mom’s writing and calligraphy – we’ll get into that more a little farther down the road, but in the meantime…
She spent 40 or so years in SE Asia, studying Sumi-e painting, and on her practice sheets, she always had wonderful quotes from Asian History, Chinese Philosophers, or from her teachers, all of whom were over 85 as I recall.
When she took me to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, we sat in the temple courtyards while she did wonderful rubbings of the hundreds of carved panels that ran around the outside of the main Wat. These were illustrating the story of the Buddha in an epic Hindu Poem – The Ramayana. Here’s one of my favorites from those halcyon afternoons:
Though the current be strong,
it cannot sweep away the moon
One day, several years ago while I was playing in upstate New York, and almost exclusively in the Southern Tier – which means Ithaca, NY and Horseheads, the Finger Lakes region, I had a series of shows in and around Corning, NY where all the glass and fiberglass comes from. I got to know Corning, NY fairly well and there was a little theatre in Corning that gave me a spot when I was in the area. Ithink it was called The Cigar of Wooden Shoes.
It was magical, and it was so beautiful in the fall! Spring in the Southern Tier is an experience.
On the way up and back from the Virginia, DC, and the Chapel Hill area, I would take Rt. 15 up through central Pennsylvania, and that means going thru Williamsport. That’s where the Little League World Series is held, which I saw once or twice, and the germ of The Cigar of Wooden Shoes was planted there…
That was a long drive – and the daydreaming always came easy, and I had an assignment for a short story, I was pressed for time and put the following down:
20 feet ofF the ground, leaning back to get the last touché of pink onto the wall panel, Walmart DeVille was sure it was all over today. The end of the line. The last hurrah of Walmart DeVille, Dutch Master, Painter Extraordinaire.
The ladder was teetering, the pink and white paint buckets were dangerously loose on the top rungs and the 100 year old wooden ladder he loved dearly was so structurally unsound at this moment that from where he was perched – 20 feet up, 5 feet out – the surface of the asphalt parking lot looked hard and unforgiving.
Wearing his trademark wooden shoes, lace collar and heavy cloak wasn’t helping matters. A close encounter with the hard surface below seemed inevitable and it would probably be fatal if he missed a step and fell.
And he wouldn’t mind it being over. He was tired of the zero-sum life of being a 17th century Dutch soul dropped off – pushed off the bus, really – into modern day Elmira, NY by cruel fate. He was an excellent painter. A Dutch Master himself, in fact, but at 27 he was flat broke, in debt, hounded by his mother’s belief that he was a complete failure and simply ready to cash out.
The things he loved most – painting in his beloved 17th Century Dutch Masters Style, wearing period dress – wasn’t attracting any more portrait commissions or family sittings – people took photos to FedEx Kinkos and had them printed onto canvas, fitted into frames. No one wanted to pay for real painting and still fewer wanted to be in a room with someone named WalMart DeVille who effected a perfect 17th Century Dutch Masters Style look as a normal way of dress and painted in the Rembrandt van Rijn Style of the 1660’s.
And yes, he was that good. He could easily paint anything Rembrandt van Rijn had painted and then some. WalMart – an unfortunate name his mother had given him after his father had been fired from WalMart, then sued, won, and took the money and vanished – had studied the Dutch Masters – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens – and perfected their technique and style. Perfected – to an uncanny degree of accuracy.
Now, in complete shame and disgust, he was reduced to this: painting a huge mural for Dunkin Donuts in their corporate colors on the side of their building in Corning, NY just up Rt. 17. It was finally finished as soon as he got off the ladder. This being a holiday weekend he had two days of peace coming – the town was almost empty. He would leave the scaffolds up.
Sitting on the parking lot curb in the late afternoon sun, brushes cleaned, tarps folded and stowed, Walmart DeVille stared at his recent commission: a monstrosity in block letters and horrific colors: Pinkie, Creamsicle, Coolatta and White.
He pulled out another cigar from the Dutch Masters 50 Box he always carried, lit it and took a few puffs and glanced at the top of the box as he closed it: it was Rembrandt van Rijn’s group portrait “The Syndics of The Drapers Guild” staring back at him. He loved that painting.
He looked up at the bare side of The Johnson Building that ran at right angles to the Dunkin Donuts wall. It was clean. It was smoothly finished. He looked back at the five figures on the Dutch Masters Cigar Box. He looked back at the wall. Then back at the five figures.
On Tuesday morning, as the good citizens of Corning, New York went to work, a small crowd gathered in the Johnson Building parking lot sipping Dunkin Donuts coffee and staring, transfixed, at the largest, most beautiful painting they – or anyone in The Southern Tier – had ever seen. Cars were stopping, people gathered…
The Syndics of The Drapers Guild, writ large in breathtaking color and magnificent detail, filled the entire side of the building and glowed like a Baptist window in the glorious morning light.
WalMart DeVille is 3rd from the right.
He is home.
“If there’s a place for musical perfection, it’s wherever you’ll find Eric Sommer – A blistering acoustic style plus a variety of slide and open tuning formats will knock you for a loop…” wrote Studdie Burns, Melody Maker/UK in 2013. “How one guy can do this so well is remarkable, but if you look a little deeper there’s a batch of road miles around this lad… and it all makes sense.”
Eric started his musical career in the Boston area under the eye of legendary promoter Don Law and was onstage at The Paradise Theatre in Boston for a record 40 appearances. He has been a regular player on many national and international tours and showcases, and worked in Europe for two years with Nick Lowe and acts Bram Tchaikovsky and Wreckless Eric; during this period Eric worked on Danish, German and British rock stages, returned to Boston and formed The Atomics.
As founding member of Boston’s legendary pop/new wave cult trio “The Atomics”, who toured non-stop with Mission of Burma, Gang of Four and The Dead Kennedy’s and were on the leading edge of a number of musical transformations, Eric never lost sight of his acoustic roots, returning to his heros and mentors often: David Bromberg, Steve Howe(YES), Duane Allman (Allman Bros.), Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, Robert Johnson. Mr. Sommer’s current project with power trio “The Solar Flares” shake up Chet Atkins and David Bromberg influences with those of Randy Travis and British Rocker Elvis Costello – a remarkable mix.
And to keep track of it all, Eric started keeping notes, which evolved from napkin scribbles to paper and pen efforts, writing stories, making poetry and capturing the roads and bridges as they went by, plus people, places and… more people which become his notes, then become characters for songs, stories and prose.
Eric currently has four volumes of verse, 5 studio albums, a LIVE in AUSTIN DVD as well as an electronica project titled “The Smallest Particle” and more on the way… this blog is an attempt to keep track of it all,
You can reach Eric directly at ericATericsommer.com and see more of his projects here on this website. Red Chairs, Black Pancake and Blue Turtle are all available here, as well as all current releases. Please share and comment below.
Singer/songwriter Eric Sommer is an unbelievable intersection of improbable influences and experiences channeled into an amazingly diverse catalog and a résumé that reads more like a musical adventure novel than a series of career bullet points.