TAKE IT EASY: PORTLAND IN THE 1970s by John Duncan; Islandport Press, 2021; 124 pages, $19.95; ISBN 978-1-952143-20-5.
FACILITY: PORTLAND IN 1970
Journalist Joseph Gallivan wrote: “Old hippies don’t die, they just lie around until the laughter stops and their time turns again.” And for old hippie photographer John Duncan, the time is now.
“Take it Easy” is Portland photographer Duncan’s first book, a nostalgic photographic essay of Portland in the 1970s, a decade of mixed past and future, as seen by a street photographer with a Canon camera who used real film (remember that?).
The book contains more than 130 black-and-white photographs taken by “a 20-year-old free spirit with no formal photographic training”, capturing fantastic images of people, places and events, all candid shots taken while walking or driving a taxi in the center of the city
Duncan loves photography, was self-taught as a teenager in high school, has a keen eye for subject matter, timing and clarity, and his photos can easily make people see themselves on Congress Street, or leaning against a VW bus with his hippie friends. . The pictures are wonderful, but his narrative and captions are equally revealing and entertaining. It soon becomes clear that this effort is not just a photographic history of Portland in the 70s, but a personal journey of fond, funnier, slightly bittersweet memories.
Street scenes show downtown Portland in a sad transition of decline and decay, old businesses long gone but fun to remember, like the Porteous department store and the Old Citizens Barber Shop. Fashion is a reminder of frumpy old women wearing hats and gloves, and hippies with long hair, bell-bottoms and paisley shirts.
During the 1970s Duncan partied hard (alcohol, drugs, music), worked odd jobs as a dishwasher, pump jockey and taxi driver, and his stories are grim memories of good times. This is their journey, and also an important look back at ourselves.
WINTER WOLVES: A WESTERN ROAMER by Matthew P. Mayo; Five Star Publishing, 2021; 239 pages, $25.95; ISBN 978-1-4328-8732-2.
Journalist Katherine Whitehorn (1928-2021) wrote: “I won’t say when you’ve seen a western you’ve seen a lot; but when you’ve seen the lot you have the feeling you’ve seen one.” He could say the same thing about Western novels, but then he probably never read anything by Matthew Mayo.
The Maine Mayo writer is a Spur Award-winning author of 18 westerns, four in his unique Roamer series, including his latest “Winter Wolves.” And Mayo is clever – Roamer’s character is distinctive and his western adventures are not typical hay. This series is different and Mayo nails it with solid and entertaining storytelling.
Roamer is the name of the main character and also an apt description of his lifestyle. He is big, ugly, well armed, reads poetry, has only two friends, and believes that animals are much easier to learn with people. He likes his own company. In “Winter Wolves” Roamer heads to Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains to visit his friend Maple Jack and his partner Winter Woman. Roamer plans to visit a bit and then trek up the mountain on snowshoes – a thoughtful and solitary journey.
At his friends’ remote cabin, Roamer finds evidence of violence and both friends are missing. Roamer may seem like a softie, but it’s not. He follows the tracks in the snow, without getting closer he is no longer the hunter: he is the prey. An avalanche and a wolf attack leave him in a bad place, but it’s about to get worse – a lot worse.
What he discovers is difficult for him to understand, but he knows he must escape and quickly. However, there are complications, especially when killer wolf hunters show up and start shooting. Some of the storytelling is different, but Mayo pulls it off well with a colorful story of people doing their best.
Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.