Feb. 16, 2022

#18 - The Creatively Engaging - Beth - Pt 1

#18 - The Creatively Engaging - Beth - Pt 1

Welcome to my "unexpected" episode with independent filmmaker Beth Harrington. "Unexpected" in the sense that I originally planned to interview Beth so that I could secure maybe one or two soundbites to use in my upcoming March podcast about the artist David Greenberger. That changed when I started to listen to the tape of both Beth and me. It soon became evident that Beth's longtime friendship with David and her in-progress documentary on David, "Beyond The Duplex Planet," was more significant than one or two sound bites.


www.BethHarrington.com

www.beyondduplexplanet.com

www.ourmrmatsura.com

www.themusicianer.com

www.thewindingstream.com

 

http://www.davidgreenberger.com

https://davidgreenberger.bandcamp.com

 

 

 

Transcript

I'm Bruce Devereux, and this is the Creatively Engaging.

Beth Harrington:

I'm just struck by what a consistent human being he is with other human beings. He's present with people in a way that isn't showy or cause driven. He didn't just arrive at this, this is something about him that is one of his greatest attributes.

Bruce Devereux:

So welcome to my unexpected episode with independent Washington based filmmaker, Beth Harrington. Unexpected in the sense that I originally planned to interview Beth so that I could secure maybe one or two soundbites to use in my upcoming March podcast about the artist David Greenberger. That changed when I started to listen to the tape of both Beth and I. It soon became obvious that Beth's longtime friendship with David and her in progress documentary on David, Beyond The Duplex Planet, was greater than one or two sound bites.

Bruce Devereux:

The discussion we had builds a great foundation to understand who David is as a person, and as an artist. Beth talking about David not only gives me the opportunity to shine a pre-light on David's upcoming March episode, but it also gives me the opportunity to introduce my April guest, who will be Beth Harrington, whose most recent documentary, The Winding Stream - The Carters, The Cashes and The Course of Country Music is outstanding.

Bruce Devereux:
So Beth, how did you and David first connect?

Beth Harrington:

I don't remember the exact time, but I knew him when we were both right out of college and lived in Boston. We both wound up in Boston. I'm from Boston originally, so he was in art school and I had just graduated from Syracuse University and I was back in town. And I lived in this Italian neighborhood in Boston, and I was in the music scene. I was going to gigs and listening to bands, then at some point I joined a band, and David was in a band.

Beth Harrington:

I don't even remember who introduced us. It was probably through our mutual friend, Eddie Godeski. I think that might have been it, but early on I realized David was doing this cool thing with Duplex Planet, and I was like, "Oh, this is great. I want to know this guy." So we'd hang out periodically. We weren't super, super close, but because David is such an incredible friend and an incredible correspondent, he actively stays in touch with so many people, and I'm the beneficiary of that too. I'm one of those people.

Beth Harrington:

So, I think of myself as a good friend. If somebody needed me, I would be there. There are certain people in a circle that I have that I'm consistently in their lives, but David has figured out and it's great time investment. He has figured out how to stay in touch with all kinds of people from all walks of his life. Sometimes it's postcards, and sometimes it's a call, and sometimes it's a funny email, but he's consistently ... And I say this because I can see him doing it with other people even like people like my husband too, he only knows through me, but periodically Eddie, my husband, who's a volcanologist will get a postcard from David and will have a volcano on it, or it'll have some little reference to geophysics and it's something he does.

Beth Harrington:

It's just something he does and it's what makes what he does in his creative life so organic, he doesn't make a big show of it. I've never heard him say I'm a people person, he doesn't do that, but he just organically interacts with other human beings. And if he's met you, he stays in touch with you, it seems, you know.

Bruce Devereux:

As a friend of David watching his work evolve, when did you come to point that you decided I'm going to launch a Kickstarter` campaign to do a documentary about David?

Beth Harrington:

You know, I knew I wanted to do the film. I'd been working on it, chipping away at it. So I had tried to do some grant writing around it, but I realized these days in filmmaking, if you don't at least a demo of some sort, it's almost impossible to get a funder to pay attention to your project. They just truly, it's just, if you can present them with something visual, it's much more impactful. So I knew I had to do that and I had not been successful up to that point, getting money any other way, so I did a Kickstarter campaign. I've done them before for other film projects. The imediacy of that project was that David had done a residency at an art center in Santa Ana, California. The residency was going to culminate a year later in a performance, a revisiting of Santa Ana.

Beth Harrington:

And I thought, well, that's some a thing I should go and shoot. So I had a little bit of audio from when he was doing the residency and then I went back with a crew and we shot the performances and we interviewed the people who are now of course, documented on this CD and performed one of them even got up and did a piece with David on stage. So it seemed like the right time to go back and do that, so I needed to raise money and four days in Santa Ana, I needed to raise a certain amount of money, so I just went and did it and it worked.

Bruce Devereux:

When you mentioned that an individual got up and performed on the stage, was that the piece so beautiful?

Beth Harrington:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.

Bruce Devereux:

It was interesting because when I was listening to the CD David sent me a copy of it. One, I couldn't believe there was 60 tracks on it.

Beth Harrington:
 I know.

Bruce Devereux:

But as I was listening to it, the piece "So Beautiful" stood out to me because all of a sudden I could hear another person's voice. A lot of David's work has solely been his voice speaking. So that one really just jumped out at me off the CD. What was that experience like when you mentioned you filmed that, was that going to be part of the documentary?

Beth Harrington:

It is an outlier as far as David's work. I think I will, I mean, there's so much he does that's shifting, there are different ways he's working that are shifting, so I think when we shot that, the thought was, oh, this is cool, but it needs to be in the context of the understanding that mostly David does this stuff himself. Jose, who is the man who was on that track was just delightful. We'd met him and I was like, "Oh, we've got to film Jose. We've got to film Jose talking about David." It was just a lovely moment seeing him up there with David and David escorting him onto the stage and giving him the spotlight.

David Greenberger:

Even if you don't know the meaning, you can feel it. It happened to me. I was singing for a bunch of people here at the senior center and the people started crying, but they didn't know the meaning of the song. They don't know the meaning. The first time I heard Bengawan solo, it happened to me too. It's so beautiful.

Beth Harrington:

And you know, it's about music. It's about how music touches us. So, and of course for me, that's an important theme and I know it's an important thing for David.

Bruce Devereux:

David has no shortage of content to draw from, his writings, his interviews, his artwork, his audio, his video that he's done throughout his career, so how do you decide on what to use for this film?

Beth Harrington:

It's killing me. I mean David's CDs and back issues of Duplex Planet, the answering machine tapes and all kinds of ephemera, it is daunting. I have to say it's one of the biggest things that's kind of slowing me down that and of course money, but that's how independent filmmaking always goes. It's really that there's so much you could tell the story a million ways, so it's a little overwhelming. It's a great problem to have. I mean, usually the problem is you're grasping for these kinds of examples of somebody's work, even great artists sometimes you're lacking examples of their voice, examples of their work, examples of their interaction with other people. I have all of that. He's constantly creating too, it's not ... This isn't like a fixed thing where I'm just looking back on a certain amount of time, he's still going. And so I'm like, it's like a moving target, like, oh, can you just stop creating for a little while so I can catch up because this is a lot?

Bruce Devereux:

One of the things that really just impressed me about David was, I've been working in aging care for 30 years and David's been doing this type of creative work with people for 40 years and how he has been able to maintain this level of energy, this level of engagement, this level of humility and respect for the people that he's interviewing. When you look at really early for footage of him interviewing a person, he carries the same energy from that point to now, there's not this jaded or yeah, come on, give me the story. I need to get another story old here, I got to get a track done. It's there's just seems to be that constant, and I don't know how he can do that. It's pretty amazing.

Beth Harrington:

Well, I think it's just because it's organic to him, that's who he is. I also think as much as he considers himself an artist, which I agree with that label, I think that's the best label for him, a lot of creative people I know talk about their art practice or I'm going in now to do my art and then art happens. But with David, I just keep coming back to the word organic. He's a creative person. One of my favorite hours I've spent doing this project with is with David's sister, Jan, who had brought to an interview, a box full of things that David had sent her over the years as a teenager through college way before he was doing Duplex Planet. And the stuff was just remarkable and he's just a creative force, but it's not like a deliberate conscious thing.

Beth Harrington:

I mean, as an adult now I know he knows he does art for his life was always full of these projects. I'm going to, my sister sent me a book that I've read and enjoyed now I'm going to send her a thank you note. The thank you note is going to be a different piece of the message written on every page of the book and I'm going to send it back to her. Dear Jan, thank you so much for the ... that's like a little snapshot. One thing that he does in everything he does postcards and calendars and music, and he's a creative person.

Bruce Devereux:

It's interesting too in your film,"The Winding Stream", you weave together the narrative of the Carters and the Cashes and how those around them played a guiding role to shape how we see country music today. Like for me, that was a really interesting journey watching that process evolved. I just love the synchronicity of the pieces and how this person connected and you think if they didn't go there because of the flat tire, would this have all changed. And showing the move from all time music to what we know today as being country music, the beautiful creation of American history of music and culture. I'm wondering if you see any parallels with David's work in the sense that will we look upon his work in the future, in his context of spoken word, his understanding of aging, the power of the arts to share a dimension of aging to a broader audience and as a form of storytelling and story creation?

Beth Harrington:

Yeah. I think, as what we were saying it earlier, there's no lack of content with David and he's been doing this since the late 70s. At this point in our life, that's a really long time to be documenting some aspects of American culture. I think when you look at certain phases of the work, the certain things leap out, I think some of his most interesting work, maybe something that historians could look back on and be intrigued by not just the representation of aging at this time and the culture, but also his work around the pandemic. He and his collaborator, Tyson Rogers made 151 pieces of audio over 151 days in 2020. And he did it by phone. He did the interviewing by phone because of course nobody's going out and he interviewed both people he knew and people he didn't know by just kind of reaching out through various connections and that body of work, you can listen to the whole thing. The thing about it is that pieces are only like a minute or two long at the most. Most of them are under a minute.

Beth Harrington:

To catch the world, or at least the United States at that moment where people are inside talking about their lives and it's not on the nose, it's not about COVID, it's about people continuing their lives while something swirls around in the outside world, it's incredibly powerful. And it just seems to me that, as someone who's interested in history, looking at that, listening to that and going back 50 years from now, somebody finding that and going, "Oh my God, listen to this. This is time capsule of people talking about daily life." I mean, this is what social historians are always trying to get at. We know about the famous people, the famous people are doing X, Y, and Z, but what about every man? What what's every man doing in this time period?

Beth Harrington:

And David did that, especially with this body of work, it's called "EVERYBODY'S HOME". And it's great. It's all on Bandcamp and it's everything from, "Oh yeah. I just retired and I'm sitting on my porch, but there's nobody out here and I think the whole world has retired." Or some of it I'm on a couple of them, one of them is, "We went camping, we made s'mores, I'm ecstatic." It's just says leave there little shores. Yeah, there're little shores.

David Greenberger:

Campground in Maine holding a pole while my father was messing with lines for the tent, trying to make it all work used to make me anxious back then now I feel like having an opportunity to escape from your own head while we're mostly on our own indoors is important. And we make s'mores, sitting around making s'mores. That's not a bad thing. When else do you have an excuse to toast marshmallow and squish it between chocolate and Graham crackers? Forget about s'mores ice cream, I don't go in for anything, but the real thing. You can eat a few of those and you're all sugar it up, run around in the woods. It was good. It was really good. S'mores and fresh air.

Beth Harrington:

So that's a really exaggerated example of what he's been doing over the long haul anyway. Right? The sort of imposition of COVID has made it a chunk of it unto itself as a piece of history. And he's been doing that all along and the more you step back from it, the more you can see, oh, wow. I'm intrigued by the fact and you would like you know more about this than I would, the whole aging care thing.

Beth Harrington:

David was doing things in the Duplex Nursing Home as the activities director that he couldn't do today. He'd tell the owner of the mom and pop nursing home, " Yeah, Ken and I are going to go listen to music and they go out and go to a club." The corporate aging, oh, the liability issues, we can't let so and so go out with so, and so, what will the people think? David interacted with those men in a completely different way than you could do today. And he of course took great advantage of it. And I would argue, enhanced their lives, enhanced our lives by learning what it was that they were reacting to, hearing these stories about Ernie and Arthur and Ken and all these guys that we've come to know as individuals, because of David. So I think that's an interesting snapshot in itself that world of nursing home care that doesn't exist now.

Bruce Devereux:

That's a fascinating point when we think of it in the context of the history of nursing homes, I had not thought of that angle before. David is a skilled and creative individual in many, many ways, but what do you feel is a characteristic that sets him apart in the work that he does?

Beth Harrington:

Well, he's an excellent listener. He remembers things and picks up on things in conversation that I think a lot of people don't have. I mean, I do this for a living and I am super impressed by how he approaches things, because I know how hard it is to really lock into what someone's trying to tell you. David seems to just go ... He goes where other people are going. He doesn't come in with an agenda. It's very powerful what he is able to, he makes people so comfortable and he's been able to get great stuff. And he is not like a glad handing kind of guy, there's a certain level of he's very mannerly and very, which is a phrase that someone used to about Johnny Cash, by the way. But it is a good word. He's mannerly. And so people feel, I think, feel taken care of when they're talking to him, but he's not formal.

Bruce Devereux:

He can definitely see that and feel that in David's ability to connect so quickly with others. Now down the road, when you release your documentary "Beyond the Duplex Plane", what are you hoping that audiences will take away after viewing your film?

Beth Harrington:

That's an excellent question. I really want people to understand this thing that we're talking about, about David, that there are artists who can't create that David is one of those people and his chosen medium or media tells stories about us and tells stories about how we connect to each other. I think in these trouble times we live in, he's a guy who could be, I'm sure he'd hate to be considered a role model or anything, but he's kind of a beacon on how you could just listen to somebody. David and I have had conversations in the last four or five years, especially where, because I know him, I think I know where I find myself jumping to conclusions about what I think David is going to tell me about something. And then it's very different and it's great, and he's not like being a contrarian or trying to disabuse me of something.

Beth Harrington:

He's just looked at something very differently and said, you know, and he lays it out. I'm like, right. Oh, he's right about that. And it isn't to be right, it's just to present a view that, I think obviously we're in our own echo chambers with people who think like us and talk like us and I feel personally, like I get out in the world a lot, not the last couple of years, but in general, I've been all over, certainly all over the United States, talking to lots of people who aren't like me, but you can fall into your own patterns and your own belief systems and the people that you hang with and you can hear your ideas reflected back to you from people that you like.

Beth Harrington:

And I really like David and he'll say stuff, I'm like, "Huh, great way to think about that, David." He's just very surprising. So I think it ... I've said that facetiously in these trouble times, but really it wouldn't hurt for any of us to think about how much the received information of our tribes. It affects how we think about things and he's a great example of not going there.

Bruce Devereux:

Well, Beth, it's been a pleasure meeting and chatting with you today. Thank you very much. In closing,

anything else that you would like to share about David?

Beth Harrington:

I'm also struck by how David is with family. And again, it's not a big showy thing, but he is very, very engaged with his family. He was a single dad for a really long time. His daughter's amazing and now he's a grandfather, which just happened in the last couple of years and when I see little videos that he or his wife, Barbara send me of their granddaughter and particularly with David and their granddaughter, Ray, it's just charming to see that play out hope to get more of that in the film that we're doing, but I'm just struck by what a consistent human being he is with other human beings. he's present with people in a way that isn't showy or cause driven, or he didn't just arrive at this. This is something about him that is one of his greatest attributes.

Bruce Devereux:

Thanks for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the podcast with Beth and I look forward to you joining us on March 30th for the release of David Greenberger's podcast. And come back again in late April for the release of Beth Harrington's podcast episode. So thank you, and be well.