Movie Review
From War to Wisdom
Daniel R. Collins & Josh Hisle

I might not even be aware of this movie’s existence if I didn’t know one of the directors. Maybe someone else will learn of it only because they know me. If so, that’s a good thing. And it’s also a good thing if someone learns of the movie by stumbling onto this blog post without knowing either of us. If either of those things happens and someone watches From War to Wisdom who otherwise would not, I’ll be a happy man. It’s a movie that deserves to be seen with a story that needs to be heard.

It is primarily a story of Afghanistan and Iraq combat veterans. To some degree it is a new version of the oft told tale of guys going off to war then having difficulty returning to the civilian world. It’s a view that the tagline “When the war ends, the real battle begins” encourages and the movie’s general organization supports. The film’s front end focuses on the war and the second half focuses on the return. The “off to war” part is made extra effective through the use of gripping footage shot by embedded journalists Mike Cerre and Mike Elwell. The “difficulty returning” part is made personal through excerpts from interviews with those having the problems. But excerpts from those interviews also appear in the film’s early scenes and create a solid connection between the two halves.

Creating a marker between the halves is a text only shot. In front of the shot we see returning soldiers marching between welcoming signs and banners then being dismissed to reunite with their families while veteran Hans Palmer describes the time as “the proudest I’ve ever felt in my life.” Following the text is a scene with Josh Hisle talking about needing a “place to decompress — every day.” He’s sitting outside his apartment waiting for everyone else in the complex — his “area” — to go to sleep. “It’s not insomnia,” he says. “It’s duty.”

Five panels fade from one to another in that near midpoint text shot. The number of troops killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan is mentioned along with the average number of veterans — a gut-wrenching 22 — that commit suicide each day. The last phrase is “many veterans are taking it upon themselves to help their fellow warfighters to truly come home.” That’s what this movie is about. It’s what makes this more than another war sucks story.

War does suck and From War to Wisdom makes that clear. It also makes clear the serious damage that war can inflict on those who survive it and it tells the stories of some of the veterans who overcame that damage. Then the stories go a little farther. Some of those veterans not only overcame their own issues but have made major efforts and established ongoing organizations to help others overcome theirs.

There’s Common Ground on the Hill’s Veterans Initiative that Josh Hisle was instrumental in establishing after he personally benefited from the Common Ground experience. There’s The Battle Buddy Foundation that veterans Kenny Bass and Joshua Rivers created to help other veterans obtain service dogs like Atlas who makes a normal life possible for Kenny. There’s New Directions for Veterans that was established in 1992 by a pair of Vietnam veterans and is represented in the film by Iraq veteran Matthew Lorscheider. Matthew does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of this film when he says “That’s what we did in the military. Help a buddy out. I’m not going to stop now.”

There are many other examples of veterans helping veterans both in the film and out. They are bright spots and their successes are to be celebrated but they aren’t enough to make From War to Wisdom a feel good movie. It is, however, an encouraging movie and an informative one. Most of the veterans that appear in the film fought in either Afghanistan or Iraq. There is one notable exception. He’s a Vietnam vet who’s legal name is now Ragtime. He is a stained glass artist who teaches at Common Ground and started 1,000 Points of Peace back in 2006. The warriors recorded in this film say many wise things; The “wisdom” in the title is there for a reason. But I found a couple of Ragtime’s utterances particularly memorable. I don’t really think it’s a generational thing but maybe. From Ragtime: “America forgot what it was supposed to be doing… but I remember.”

The movie’s website lists a number of ways to see it. They include purchasing a DVD or watching online as either a rental or purchase.
DVD Online

This is my third movie review. When I did the second, I had actually forgotten the first (which I called a video review) and repeated a line about being even less qualified to review movies than books. I had done a few book reviews before starting this blog so doing some here didn’t feel too awkward. I wasn’t quite as comfortable with music reviews. I remember the circumstances behind that first one. Josh Hisle was working on an album and I knew I wanted to review it when it came out. I reviewed other albums so it would not be the first. Josh got distracted. Not by something shiny but by this movie. Between it and his work with Common Ground and being a full time husband, father, and student there was no time left for an album. That’s OK. It’s a lot more than OK. The album still hasn’t been released but we instead have this movie which I have a hunch is going to do a whole lot of good for a whole lot of people.

Even though I’m still waiting for that album and this is the first chance I’ve had to review a Josh Hisle product it is not his first mention here. He was the subject of this blog’s ninth post (There’s Something Happening Here) in 2011 and appears in at least three trip journal entries: February 19, 2010, July 23, 2010, and October 10, 2011.

Trip Peek #38
Trip #100
Hail, Hail Rock w/o Rail

This picture is from my 2011 Hail, Hail Rock w/o Rail trip. Yes, that’s a pretty goofy name but I can explain. In May of 2011, I went to Saint Louis, Missouri, to see Chuck Berry and called the trip, Hail, Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll. My original plans for this trip were to ride a train to Washington, DC, to see two concerts. Calling it Hail, Hail Rock ‘n’ Rail seemed quite clever. But, less than two days before the scheduled departure, the train was canceled. I saved the trip by driving but, in the flurry of rearrangements, the best I could do for the title was replace “‘n'” with “w/o” which isn’t very clever at all. I saw Dirk Hamilton (pictured) and Josh Hisle (opening for Stephen Stills) in concert plus Fort McHenry, Ocean City, museums, diners, and colorful fall foliage. As I said in a trip postlude. “…everything was perfect for a train ride except the train.”

The trip was my 100th so I did a blog post to mark the occasion and reflect a bit on previous journeys. This Trip Peek is being posted following trip 135.

Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

Music Review
No Agenda
Ryan Kralik

No Agenda CD coverI was pretty much prepared to not like this. I only became aware of Ryan Kralik when he recorded a cover of Neil Young’s “Ohio” with Josh Hisle but I’ve certainly heard of him a lot since then. Actually, heard from him a lot would be more accurate. In order to download that “Ohio cover, I signed on to his mailing list and that led to becoming Facebook friends. Down these two funnels, Kralik has poured a steady stream of promotional messages. The first were about the “Ohio cover, then they were about this album, and now they are about an in process tour. I’ve no particular problem with guerrilla marketing of this sort. It may lack the punch of a full page ad in Rolling Stone but, for cash strapped artists, it beats a blank and can be fairly effective. But the primary goal of Kralik’s messages seemed to be connecting his name with the better known musicians who had helped with the recordings. The basic idea is no doubt good but when that seemed to be about the only thing Kralik had to tout and I’d heard it too many times, it became off-putting. There seemed to be far too much grasping at coattails involved. I became irked rather than piqued.

So I kind of hoped to just ignore the album but knew that wouldn’t be easy. In an idle moment a few days after a streaming preview became available, I gave it a listen. It didn’t suck. It sufficiently didn’t suck that I ordered it under some special edition half price offer. That was in late November. It arrived sometime between January 27 and February 6. I was out of town so can’t really nail down the delivery date but I clearly had a couple of months for negative thoughts to grow. This was not the result of simple laziness. The delay was caused by production problems but it was still a delay and it did nothing to endear Mr. Kralik to me. Some of that guerrilla marketing talked about the packaging so I kind of knew what to expect. The CD itself is made to look like a vinyl record complete with (printed non-spiraling) grooves. It is inside a standard cardboard CD sized sleeve. That sleeve is in one side of what looks like a folding double LP jacket (for 7 inch LPs) along with some stickers, tickets, and such. The other side of the jacket holds a very nice booklet with lyrics, pictures, personnel, and most of the other things you want to know about a CD but aren’t always told. That booklet, all by itself, counterbalanced a whole bunch of the negativity I’d developed. The remainer was knocked off by the music.

Those names that Kralik dropped with wild abandon early on are all here. Dave Krusen (Pearl Jam) is on three tracks. Rick Rosas (Neil Young, Joe Walsh) is on two. Michael G Ronstadt appears three times and Josh Hisle once. Josh and Michael I know from their solo stuff along with their work with Lost in Holland and Ronstadt Generations. Some of these guys and a couple of others get the occasional music credit but the lyrics are all Kralik’s. So are the vocals.

The music begins and ends with ukulele tunes. Another resembles something the Ramones might have done. That’s quite a range though No Agenda does not hit much of the space in between. The two uke songs and another tune, “Me and You”, which might actually be a love song, are kind of slow and kind of quiet. The remainder are all driving rockers. Kralik is no opera singer but he doesn’t try to be. He doesn’t push his range in delivering the topical and witty words he has written and it sounds right. “The Egypt Riot”, that Ramonish tune I mentioned and which is my favorite on the CD, could almost be too topical. The big time protests in Egypt came and went while No Agenda was being birthed but songs that capture a moment, like the aforementioned “Ohio”, are often good things. Maybe “The Egypt Riot” does that. I’m not sure.

When Rosas and Krusen aren’t around, Keith Lowe and Jeff Strainer do admirable work on bass and drums and Pete Jive contributes some nice guitar to those two ukulele pieces. Kralik’s guitar can be heard on almost every track and it’s solid but it is James Holsapple who adds the bright work here. I particularly liked what he does on “The Setting Sun” where he deservedly gets co-writer credit.

I’ve named three songs and there are five more. Yep, eight songs, totaling about thirty-two minutes of music. Maybe that’s not unusual today. I really don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t mind if there was more music here and that would not be the case if the music sucked. It doesn’t.

Check it out here.

There’s Something Happening Here

Two years ago I didn’t even know who Josh Hisle was. Now I believe I can call him a friend. I first went to see Josh perform about a year and a half ago in response to some very complimentary chatter in the local blues society’s online group. Between the time of that chatter and actually meeting Josh, I realized that I had heard of him before. I’d seen the CNN report on a guitar playing Marine in Iraq but hadn’t really connected that with Cincinnati. Josh lives in Indiana but it’s in the corner that is often claimed as part of Greater Cincinnati. He did two tours in Iraq. One as a gung ho young dude with no personal attachments and one as a more contemplative husband and father. His music was an important part of both tours. That CNN report is here.

That first time seeing Josh was sort of like getting the sampler platter at a BBQ joint. No, it was more like getting the sampler platter at a Burmese sushi Tex-Mex gelato Cajun pizza BBQ joint. In the years between Ramadi and that night in Rising Sun, Indiana, Josh had performed head-banger heavy metal, soft acoustic folksy stuff, blues ala country, country ala blues, and every other musical genre that he could hook on to. That evening contained tastes of just about all those flavors.

The show was supposed to be sort of a shakedown for Josh and cellist Michael G Ronstadt who were about to start a tour as the two-piece group Lost In Holland and, to a certain degree, it was. The two of them played a fair amount as a duo but they also played as the point men of just about every permutation of musicians that could be concocted. It was great fun, great, music, and showed off both Michael and Josh as extremely talented and versatile musicians. I saw that show as part of a short trip and wrote about it here.

I was impressed and went to see Josh several more times. That sense of variety continued as I saw him alone, with Lost In Holland, Ronstadt Generations, and other mixes of people. It became something of a joke that I never saw Josh twice with the same lineup. On Thursday I saw another pre-tour shakedown.

Lisa Biales & Doug Hamilton, OCAC, Miami, OH, Sep 8, 2011Lisa Biales began the concert at the Oxford Community Arts Center solo but brought up violinist Doug Hamilton after a few tunes. Josh joined them for a couple of songs before Lisa and Doug finished out the first half of the show. Lisa is both musician and actress and the evening was something of a sendoff for her as an actress. She has a significant role in Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt and would head to Toronto the next day for the movie’s premier.

Josh Hisle, OCAC, Miami, OH, Sep 8, 2011But it was Josh who was there for the shakedown. Singing in a war zone brought the Marine to the attention of Neil Young who was working on a documentary. That was 2008’s CSNY/Déjà Vu which Neil asked Josh to appear in. Josh said yes and that soon led to meeting the ‘C’ & ‘S’ & ‘N’ parts of the group, too. When the ‘S’ guy, Stephen Stills, needed an opener for an upcoming tour, he turned to Josh. Once again Josh said yes, and on Thursday he shared with the OCAC audience the songs he will draw from when he begins the tour in October.

Josh Hisle, OCAC, Miami, OH, Sep 8, 2011It’s a powerful collection of songs including a couple written or completed specifically for the tour. His time on stage with Stills will permit playing only a portion of the set we heard Thursday but it won’t be the same portion every night. He will mix it up depending on location, audience, and probably his own mood. Josh is very aware that getting to present himself and his music at sold out Stephen Stills concerts is a valuable opportunity. He’s not going to waste it. He will be doing his portion of the show alone but will return to the stage each night to sing Love the One You’re With with Stills and his full band. Not only will that give the audience a little reminder of the guy that opened but it’s got to be one hell of a thrill. Good luck, Josh. Go get ’em, buddy.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Every form of media — TV, radio, papers, Internet, etc. — is filled with reminisces and other commentary. I’ve nothing to add but making a blog post today without at least acknowleding the date doesn’t seem quite right, either. So I’ll point to what I wrote on the first anniversary when memories and emotions were more powerful. Yes, we’ll never forget but our memories may change. That nine year old piece is here.