Well, ’tis the season for ancient airs and dances.
I was breathing the air of a forest, full of hemlock, cedar, and oak, and listening to alternative/indie bands from long, long-ago. The 1980’s – -90’s, mostly British and American. Especially Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, Lush, Yo La Tengo.
When I tried to read about the bands, I kept finding that back in the day, critics often lumped them together as “shoegaze.”
We all like shortcuts and labels – – humans seem to be programmed to sort & categorize. But I really don’t get the usefulness of this “shoegazing” label, because the music is so varied – – sometimes dreamy electronica, or neo-psychedelic, sometimes kind of punk or metal-sounding. Maybe “shoegaze” was about critics concerned with clever-sounding snarkiness, instead of any real appreciation or insight. Apparently bands got tagged this way, because they’d perform standing still, and literally looking down at their feet. From the feel of the music, and videos, some of the musicians I guess were maybe introspective, lost in a groove, and concentrating on their sound. (I also read that they were using a lot of foot-operated effects pedals, to create a distorted sound.)
Anyway, the bands achieved some very cool music.
So…so what? what brought this to mind? you ask, perhaps in a puzzled, somewhat irritated manner.
These photos today are shoegazing shots. They were all taken looking downward.
(Do you still hear the expression “I’m down with that,” where you live? I looked it up, thinking it had a ’60’s or ’70’s vibe, but found it goes all the way back to the 1930’s!?)
So the album is downcast, but not depressing – – Watkins Glen, a park in the Finger Lakes, is beautiful in the fall and winter. Once cold weather begins, the stone pathway and stairs in the Glen are closed, so you can only walk around the top perimeter, looking down into the little gorge and the stream, and even then, you need to watch your step, the trails are often pretty icy.
You’ll find tons of great photos online – – during the summer, it’s probably photographed millions of times. I’ve walked through there many times during the summer, but always with out-of-town visitors, and haven’t ever tried to photograph the twenty-or-so falls in “good” weather!
But during the park’s “downtime,” it’s pretty interesting, in it’s own way.
Watkins Glen is a small village at the southern end of Seneca Lake.
NASCAR & Trans-Am, etc. fans recognize the name, because they’ve been racing cars there since 1948. The races used local streets and roads at first, until they ran over a kid, and then built a track. There’s also boat races on the lake.
Glen Creek runs down from the hills into the village, dropping about four hundred feet over a two mile distance. The original settlers, in the 1790’s, just saw that as water power, for grist and sawmills, etc. But on the 4th of July 1863, the day after the Battle of Gettysburg, the Glen was opened as a tourist attraction, and it’s been an attraction every since. Now a state park.
I’ve never visited the racetrack, but I’ve walked in the park many times, and never get tired of it, in any season. If you visit, definitely bring some headphones. “Water Music” to me means Handel, maybe Debussy, Ravel, but Cocteau Twins would also be a perfect soundtrack.
51 thoughts on “Walks Around The Finger Lakes. Watkins Glen. November, mostly.”
Great details in the pictures!
Happy Thanksgiving, Pit!
Amazing terrain and waterfalls, and the autumn foliage shots are lovely too!
So glad you liked it! It’s not a big park, but one of my favorites
So, along with those enticing photos of Watkins Glen, how come you didn’t send us each a plane ticket to Ithaca (which seems the nearest airport) so we could see the place in person?
Your colorful picture 8 managed to keep a lot of details in focus.
As for being down with something in the sense you mean, I never heard that expression till about a decade ago, and always from people in their 20s or teens. If it was used in the 1930s, it apparently died out and got resuscitated. In contrast, the sense of ‘let’s do away with,’ as in “Down with the tyrant!”, has been around for my whole life.
You’re right, Ithaca is the only “real” airport in that area. If you fly out of the smaller ones, they usually want to do some crop-dusting along the way.
I also ran across “get down” in two ’70’s videos, for KC & Sunshine Band, and Kool & The Gang, but I ran screaming out of the room, so I don’t know in what sense they used it.
“Get down” is a different animal. One online definition is “enjoy oneself by being uninhibited, especially with friends in a social setting,” and the example given is “Get down and party!”
Once in my life I flew from Ithaca to New York City, though it was so long ago I don’t remember why I didn’t drive that time.
Marvelous photos! The curves and waves in the rocks and ice are wonderful. And as for expressions…”I’m down with that.” or “I’m up for that.”
Thank you, Anne! 🙂
Hi Robert. Of the bands you mention, I wonder how many are still together. Yo La Tengo is. Not sure about the others. Do you know? See you —
P.S. I like the photos. My faves are the close ups of leaves. And I like your essay too.
Thanks, Neil, and Happy Thanksgiving. I probably shouldn’t have talked about the bands in the past tense, but I was just listening to older stuff. Don’t think Cocteau Twins or Lush are active, but I think the others still exist. Yo La Tengo must have turned out a hundred albums by now, sometimes kind of throwaways and sometimes really good.
Great set of photos take from above! Great perspective, Robert! Do you already snow and ice in NY?
Thanks, Peter, yes, there was 14” of snow the other day at home. These photos are mostly from past Novembers/early Decembers.
Wow, that is Old Man Winter knocking at your door.
Yes, it’s down to 12 degrees now, and it would’ve been ok if Winter took his time getting here, I don’t know what’s his rush.
There either must be some serious bridges there, you’ve got a handy little drone, or there’s something you haven’t been telling us because there hasn’t been too many quick-change phone booths around lately…
Well, I’ve only got regular pajamas, no superpowers, and I don’t have one of those little helicopters. 😦 But I do tend to drone sometimes. The park has a cool old pedestrian bridge, which I just looked up, it’s a “bowstring pony truss,” and I’m sure that clears things up! Now that I realize it was built in 1870, not sure I’m going over it again. Most of these shots are just leaning over the little overlooks along the top. There’s a railroad bridge, too, but it’s in use and I’ve never gone out on it,
Great shots, Robert! Cool post. Happy thanksgiving 🍁🦃
What a glorious looking park. How fortunate that it was preserved as a park, saved from being a power source.
I had no idea being down with an idea was such an old expression. My 20-something year old son just spontaneously started using it about a year ago, so I thought it was new.
Are you finding good places to haunt where you are now?
I was surprised, too, it seems to be an expression that has legs.
So far, I’ve just tried the nearest urban trails:
Hank Aaron, parts of the Oak Leaf, and the Beerline, which were ok. That last one is along the river, where a bunch of breweries used to be. Mostly it’s been walking around town, looking at different neighborhoods.
Have you been to the art museum yet? It has a wonderful lobby area but I was disappointed to see they didn’t remodel the rooms where the art hangs, and so everything smelled musty. Not good for art. I’m hoping they have upgraded those rooms since I was there last. I don’t know any good nature places up there but there are some nice ones South of you.
I was there briefly a few years ago, when I was here with City Year, but haven’t been recently, planning on it this winter. It’s got a great site and great architecture, really hope they’ve gotten rid of the mustiness.
Yeah, me too. Besides unpleasant, I really worried for the paintings. Talk about over investing on the window dressing and ignoring the substance….
That’s an amazing landscape, Robert.
I searched for Yo La Tengo and found this video: https://youtu.be/Py2KOyrtq6o
They do get their inspiration from lots of stuff 🙂
They’ve remained interesting for 34 years, so far. Sometimes their experiments fall flat, and just sound like rehearsal noodling, but they’ve also done a lot of good stuff, and it’s very cool that they keep experimenting.
Those are gorgeous photos. I am surprised you already have so much winter. But that is maybe normal in that area? Otherwise an interesting discussion about the old bands. 🙂
Thank you very much Otto, these are pictures from past Novembers, early December, one from late March. I just arrived home a bit ago, and it’s 19 F. (-7 C.) and there’s quite a lot of snow here! It’s unusually cold and snowy this year, even for a pretty wintry area.
You should do more shoegazing Robert; beautiful pics. Alt-indie bands! Interestingly, the ones you mention, although I’ve heard of them, I don’t know their music. There is a big gap in my music education, paralleling the arrival and nurture of 4 kids! Now they have all left home I am enjoying a new generation of alt-indie bands. Currently listening to (if you are interested) Andrew McMahon, Leisure, Local Natives, Real Estate, Saint Motel, Still Parade, Tennis, Two Door Cinema Club. Anything there sound familiar?
You’re finding a lot of good bands, most of these I’ve listened to, and yes, I like them, too. But I haven’t seen any of them live. I like Local Natives and Real Estate – even though they’re based on opposite coasts, I think, they sometimes play the same shows. I like Andrew McMahon, also. Haven’t heard of Leisure or Saint Motel, I’ll check them out. And I have a friend from Ireland, who I think played some songs by Two Door Cinema Club, they’re good too. Have you listened to The National? from Cleveland or Cincinnati, but now in Brooklyn I guess, they’re interesting, too.
Thanks Robert, I’ll check The National out. I seem to recall one of my kids mentioning them. Any other tips, just drop me a line. Andrew McMahon’s latest is getting a lot of airplay at the moment.
Well, I think I found another gap — I haven’t heard of a single one of those groups you listed in the beginning, nor any whose names were bandied about in the previous comment. I don’t mean I haven’t heard their music, or don’t appreciate their music; I mean I’ve never come across even their names. It’s amazing, really, how we can live in the same world, and yet live in such different worlds.
When I think of the refrain ‘Get down,’ I always remember the song “Jungle Boogie” by (of course) Kool and the Gang. i’ve always been fond of it, but mostly because of its use in a BBC video showing bears dancing in a setting much like Watkins Glen. Every time I’m in desperate need of something to laugh at, I pull up that video, and laugh.
I especially like the photos of the leaves, although the downward shot (#7) that shows the trees on one side and all the layers of the rock is my favorite. The sinuosity’s especially appealing. Long views here always are horizontal, not vertical: another example of how different worlds can be.
I’m sure your Thanksgiving was great. I’m sure a little more tromping around in snow will happen, too.
That bear video is hysterical, who know those big guys like to boogie!
Some of those photos have the most deceptive perspective! And because of that (and your own viewpoints, and themselves) they are great! 🙂 As for the ‘shoegazers’ – I’ve never heard the expression. But… this… this is one of the most beautiful songs.
It’s beautiful. Hope Sandoval has a very affecting voice, doesn’t she.
Gorgeous nature shots, Robert. And I like your analogy of “shoegazing”. 🙂
Thanks Jane! 😀
Shoegazing “translated” into photography–very cool! Back in the day, in the surrounding suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, I’d never heard of “shoegazing,” but there was an “alternative music station” and it played all of those songs, so “alternative” was the only label I knew and loved. Now I can enjoy a new label, I guess–or just shoegaze for the heck of it:)
Yeah, we all said “alternative” also, I think “shoegaze” is a British thing, I think Radiohead was also part of that, always on the college stations, and I love their early albums, too.
It pays to be downcast….I love #5 and #7 (did we ever get there when I lived in Syracuse? I don’t know). And in #8 I like the way the cedar keeps to the middle of the oak road. 🙂 The final photos is lovely too, and I’m sure I would never tire of Watkins Glen either.
Thank you! glad you liked them.
Hi Robert. This summer an acquaintance of mine who is quite a respected aficionado and wise sage of music earnestly declared to me that Cocteau Twins was his absolute, all-time favorite band and he gave me specific instructions to listen to a certain album. It had touched him during a certain period of his life and made an indelible impact on all of his listening and his appreciation for music, going forward. We were sitting in the sand along the shores of Lake Michigan at the time (trying to not sweat so much) and he tried playing a song for me on his tinny waterproof speakers but as you can imagine it didn’t sound very good over the crashing waves and so I promised him when I got home I would give that album a listen. Months later, I remembered my promise and made what I considered a sort-of-sincere effort but I just couldn’t get there. I have to admit, maybe I didn’t listen enough or with an open-enough mind. So now I believe perhaps I should go back and give it another attempt. Thanks for unwittingly being my voice of conscience, Robert. I’m a real fan of Yo La Tengo, by the way. They were just out here not too long ago.
P.S. Really enjoyed looking at these pictures, by the way. What an interesting place.
Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever been a conscience before, usually I’m the Jiminy Cricket of procrastination and evasion, but since it’s accidental, I won’t overreact. I react to music in an intensely situational way – – I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious, I just mean, there are tunes reserved for laundromats, when I get tired of just pogo’ing in time to the washer, and there are tunes for long car rides, for walking, whatever. For what it’s worth, I listened to Snowburst and Snowblind, really like it, “Sugar Hiccups” was on that. Yo La Tengo, my mistake was, listening first to what I think was a double album of outtakes (not a reliable memory), and not all of it was scintillating, but sometimes it was just excellent, and I’d certainly listen to them again.
I’m pretty close to Lake Michigan now, I’ve moved to Milwaukee. Still doing some Upstate NY stuff, and travel pieces when I’ve chopped out 50% of the overlong writing.
Yeah, if you can get to Watkins Glen, when it’s not busy, rainy day, or during the winter, it’s pretty cool. Tons of wineries around the lakes, too, if you’re into that.
Beautiful shots. Some of these would make great shoegazing album covers.
Love your playlist too. As I recall, most of those bands predated the shoegaze tag. It was coined in the early 90’s to describe a wave of bands who were emulating The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, the Cocteaus etc. It pretty much died a death when My Bloody Valentine released Loveless and pretty much wiped the floor with all their pale imitators. Some good stuff came out of the second wave but nothing really to rival the originators.
Guess the tag gets applied retrospectively now.
Thank you, it’s a neat little glen – a nice cool spot on a hot day, and interesting in the winter
And I appreciate the comments from a musician – I guess the “shoegaze” label has come to be an example of people compressing & blending history. Yesterday, I heard a radio host use it for The War on Drugs, so apparently it’s still kicking around and pretty elastic.
I was very happy to run across your wonderful photos and stories about the Lake District – – when I was in college, one of my favorite profs, a real Wordsworth enthusiast, would often talk about his walking tours there, and it’s on my short list. I didn’t have a chance to visit your music site yet, but I’ll look forward to listening on the weekend.
Thank you. Yes, I think you’re right. Music journalists like labels as it helps them compare genres and bands easily, but they don’t always do justice to a particular band’s originality and breadth.
Yes, the Lake District is a big draw for Wordsworth devotees. It’s a beautiful place. I’m sure you’ll love it when you visit, but then you’re clearly not short of stunning scenery around you!
Stunning photos! And as a fan of the Cure from way back, the “shoegazer” reference made me smile; I’ve heard it many times. You chose a great way to use it.
Thank you, Lesley, I’m really glad you liked them. The Cure is one of those bands that seems to create lifelong fans.
I’m looking at your soup recipes, we’re have a little cold snap here, in Milwaukee (maybe not the chilled cucumber! 🙂 ) French onion and the red lentil/black bean chili are sounding really great.
Thank you so much, Robert! We’re having the same cold spell here in Northern Illinois, so that’s a definite “no” to the chilled soup. 🙂 I honestly just made the red lentil chili yesterday because I was craving it. Here’s to staying warm!