Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Guardian Angels within: A Memoir of my time with art therapist Ben Ploger

The Guardian Angels Within
By Patricia F. "Patty" McGehee
As a small child I sat many days along side my mother as she painted many works of art. She always included me in her activities allowing me to paint my childish paintings to keep me busy and out of her way. She was a wonderful painter.

As an abused wife, most of Mother's  works were destroyed by my abusive father in rages he threw at her in the apartment. My mother's safe place was the Delgado Museum of Art in New Orleans. When I was very small and not in  school as of yet, she would walk with me  to City Park to heal emotionally and spiritually.  There in the cool, serene atmosphere, (yes, there was air condition!) Mother would dream about becoming a great artist.  Delgado calmed her nerves and distracted her from the terrible life she had. 

It was on one of those visits to the Delgado Museum of Art that I discovered Dorothea Tanning's Guardian Angels (1946), with the beds covered in crinkled linen, and with the horrific but also beautiful angels above. I was mesmerized by it. I was both afraid and comforted that the Angels existed.

Back home, night time brought terror to our home as my father's demons possessed him. I would think about the Guardian Angels in the painting. I knew they existed, even though  no one had ever admitted to seeing one, because Dorothea   had painted them. She  was the visionary proof in my life that I was protected.

My parents stayed together their entire lives. Daddy had to work out  issues that had affected him as a result of being an abandoned child. At the age of 16, he had run away from Milne' Boys home in New Orleans, changed his age on his birth certificate, and joined the United States Army.  He became  a One Hundred and  First Airborne Paratrooper serving  over Occupied Japan.

As the years went on Daddy and I  became close. He had a huge influence on me by exercising my intellectual side. He made me read and discuss current events and National Geographic articles. He suggested  books to read  and he selected some for me. Fortunately, I enjoyed reading and I cherished our time discussing these things. 

Mother! Oh Mother. I wish she were still here, for we were bonded. I miss her every day and treasure the time we had as mother and daughter. She still talks sense to me within  my own sensibilities.  I hear her voice though me when addressing my daughter with motherly advice.

During the 20th year of my life (1974) I was having difficulty managing my life's plan. I had spent one year at Southeastern Louisiana University. I spent  another year waiting tables and  sewing in a sailboat sail loft living by the beach in California. I had also endured  two, back to back, terrible relationships with men. The second relationship left be in a state of bewilderment.  I was living in fear with the unrealistic belief that if I formed a relationship with a partner, it would be a violent hell just like what Mother endured during the early years of her marriage. I had struck out twice and was keeping everyone at arm's length.

Then one day while riding the City Park Avenue Bus in New Orleans I met Van Seibert. Under his arm was an extraordinary oil painting. I asked him where he had learned to paint so well. He said he was working with the art  therapist Ben Ploger.  Henry "Van" Seibert was painting daily under  Ploger's eye  at Delgado Junior College  hoping to  heal from PTSD. He had become an amazing painter under Ben and had been featured in a local magazine called The Dixie Roto.  In New Orleans everybody knew who Van was, but all he really was interested in was fighting  his PTSD in a personal war  armed with a paint brush.

I visited  Ploger, and discussed the possibility of becoming his student. He insisted that I always call him by his first name, Ben. Ben Ploger (1908-1993) was the first Art Therapy Association's Professional Standards Chair and he  was from New Orleans. At the time Ploger was the Chair of the Art department and a  professor at Delgado Junior College.

At the suggestion of Ploger,  I signed up to be in  his Art Therapy group class at Delgado. He suggested that I give a go at spending a school year working with him. I agreed.  I enrolled and padded my schedule with a few other courses. I wanted to make it a worthwhile year. Mornings would be spent in the Art painting studio with him..

I would get up every morning and go paint in the studio, after setting up my easel  next to Van. There were others in the group, all of them have names that I can't recall these days. There were beautiful, but  deaf, twin girls, two other vets, a battered divorcee, and a man whose face was terribly burned in a car fire. In the late afternoon, I worked part time at a department store.

Ben hovered around us like a busy  bee pointing out this and that, things that had nothing to do with the quality of the work but of the symbolic  associations he was able to pick up on. He would tell me. "Go ahead! Push the paint into the canvas!!! Feel It!" Then at other times, ask about the nature of the all brown painting I was painting and why I chose such terrible colors. And he asked, "Why do you paint the same landscape with a huge crack in the ground over and over?"  Or,   "Why are you painting skeletons of dead animals? " I had no idea why. I had selected a cow's skull off a shelf at random and painted it. He insisted it was a symbol of  the  death of something hidden in my inner psyche. Ben was sure of it. I did not think so.

Across campus, my Psychology professor (whose name escapes these days)  hired me to interview Viet Nam Vets by asking them 50 questions and recording their answers for  research on a book he was writing. He wanted to know how well they were  assimilating back into civilian life after their war experiences. He paid me two dollars per interview. At the time, nearly half of the men at school at Delgado were veterans going to school on the G. I. Bill. 
I was set up at a table in the cafeteria and at the end of the first day there were more than fifty Vets wanting to talk. I was overwhelmed by it all. I started making appointments to do the interviews and that made the job more manageable. I needed the money.

It became problematic interviewing the Vets because someone told one loudmouth where I lived. Suddenly, Vets started showing up at my apartment just to talk about what had happened to them. It was not hard to find me. They were all polite and came just to talk about the horrendous things they had experienced. I found it emotionally impossible to turn them away. I would bring out glasses of ice water and make them sit with me on the stoop while I listened to their stories. I would offer verbal comfort, insist that some of the awful things they had to do were what one calls duty. That it was O.K. Some of the things they admitted to were horrible. What they endured was horrific. At the apartment, I was not able to ask the questions since the professor that hired me insisted that I work in the cafeteria at a table. Instead, it became a time of  just being there for the about 25 or so  men who needed someone to talk to.

It became too hard on me. Somehow, I had become The Talk Lady of Delgado and everyone knew who I was. Van insisted that I go look for a new apartment and move for my own peace of mind. Instead, I made a sign and posted it on the door warning people not to disturb me when I was too overwhelmed to deal with it all. That was the creation of my first healthy boundary. What a milestone! I decided to move away in May at the end of the school year. My time listening and talking to  the Vets was coming come to an end.

Working with Ben had been amazing and I had made great emotional progress. We delved into to the family dynamic that shaped the ways I perceived how relationships should be. I  decided to discuss Dorothea Tanning's painting The Guardian Angels  with Ben. Ben was a devout Catholic.  I told him what the painting meant to me. Ben insisted that the guardian angels are within  us and we must protect ourselves. The angels are only there to lead  the way during our internal turmoil of deciding where our healthy boundaries lie. This was Existentialism at work. Ben was so pleased with me.   

Ben was all wrapped up in Sigmund Freud's  ideas and Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche's book Beyond Good and Evil (1886.) I sincerely tried to read it. Over and over I tried. I would bog down every time I felt Nietzsche  did not understand women. One day I got to a part that said something like this: A woman should be taken as a possession and if she did not  have sex  frequently she will become mentally ill!  I had reached an epiphany.  I chunked Nietzsche's book into the nearest trash can with force and vowed to NEVER let a man treat me any other way than  with respect. In the anger that grew, I coincidentally lost my fear. I thought, what could a man from the 1880's know about a modern woman anyway?  Ultimately, Ben was right. I had to be led to the right way to protect myself. The missing key was, most men will treat a woman terribly if they can get away with it.  Don't let them. There within me grew the healthy boundaries that had been missing.

Ben and I discussed over and over the issues I needed to work on and I was able to finally work out a life plan that was my own and I felt I could be successful carrying it out. He also taught me how to make sure the boundaries I was erecting were the ones emotionally healthy for me. At the close of the school year in May of 1974 I knew my time working with Ben Ploger had run its' course.

On May 28th, 1975, I quit my job working at the department store. I packed up my entire belongings and fit them in my car, leaving my mattress behind in the apartment. It did not fit. I left the key on the counter for the landlord. I went to the The New Orleans Jazz and festival for the day  with all my meager belongings stored in the car. That evening I drove out of New Orleans to stay with a friend in Hammond, Louisiana.

One day a man I knew casually drove by the house where I was staying in Hammond, Louisiana. I  was sitting on a porch. He turned his car around at the corner and came back and stopped to visit a while. He was a different sort of man. He showed me respect and seemed to have my best interests at heart. Today, forty one years later,  I can't imagine my life without him, for he  is my husband. I have never had to put up boundaries towards him.

And what of Nietzsche, Dorothea's Angels,  and Ben Ploger?  I have fond memories of Ben.  He still talks to me in my dreams, too, just like Mother, with his white hair and steel grey eyes, piercing my sensibilities. And the Angels?  Metaphorically, they are  still inside me just as Ben had explained. And the Angels? I visit Dorothea's image of them at NOMA frequently.

Nietzsche? Well Nietzsche, as far as I am concerned, he can rot in hell.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ernest James Zydeco releases "Automatic Harvester"

Late July rolled around and my friend Ernest James shot me a line that he had wrapped up his latest CD "Automatic Harvester." This was just a shot in the arm to get me out of the end of summer funk. I sat around for two weeks waiting for it to come while nervously considering  the huge changes in my job, which was about to unfold at the start of August.

The disc came in the mail just as I  got wrapped up in getting ready for the opening of the school year. I tried popping into the CD deck on the way down the highway to LaPlace, La. where I teach, but I just could not focus on it while  listening to the radio to see if there is a traffic jam up ahead. I like to take in a new CD in one fell swoop. So I shelved it for a couple of weeks  and last weekend, having a three day break, I got to listen to it three times in a row, just long enough to feel the power of the drums, the rhythm of the riffs, and the element of a soulful vibrato Ernest has brought into his vocals.

So, this week, now that the school year is under way, I started slipping it into the CD deck  during the ride home back up to Ponchatoula. One of the first things I notice right away is that Ernest James Zydeco is slowly losing that hint of California undertone and slipping into pure Zydeco (Except for the cut named "Bulldog.") And there is a tinge more Cajun influence slipping in. I think my favorite cut is "Bulldog," a rhythmic ditty rife with dobro, a funky groove, and a kick ass electric guitar riff that has a Hendrix-like tinge to it. Following slap dab behind it it the purist Cajun sounds on the CD, and possibly is one of my favorite Ernest James Zydeco  cuts of all time. "Eh Catin" is a two step  featuring the above said vibrato in Ernest's voice that is so captivating.

But what knocks me out about this band is the GENIUS psychic connection to NOLA Mardi Gras Indian Chant music found on a song named "YJ's" a song about drinking beer on Mardi Gras morning. As far as I know, this is ground breaking! Ernest James has taken the Brass Band sound, Mardi Gras Chant music  and merged it with ZYDECO!!!

Ernest and I have had several discourses about the emergence of the Mardi Gras scene found in Kansas City, Missouri, where, get this, this band hails from. You can connect up with Ernest at his website:
Broaden your musical horizons and take the time to check it out. You will be glad you did.

"Automatic Harvester"  is recorded by Jamrat records and can be purchased at

Patty McGehee

Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 Festival Season

We kicked off our yearly Anniversary whirlwind of music by checking out Tab Benoit at Ruby's Roadhouse on April 22nd. Tab played a very energetic show, which I felt was a bit short and there were no encores which for Ruby's, is a rare event. 

Tab said, "You know, a guitar is just a wooden box, so it is just like being inside a guitar here. Playing at Ruby's is like being inside a wooden box. Who does not love listening to music inside a wooden box.?" 

Tab says ...we are in a wooden box......

The crowd was a bit rowdy and getting into my space. I went onto the patio against the wall right behind the band and the sound there was awesome. I hung out there for a while and went back in to watch  him play "Give me my medicine." I was at the side of the stage standing on the benches. It sounded great from there.
Tab Benoit

We had planned a Lil' Band of Gold gig for the following Saturday. I started looking around to see that there was a second LGB show that was cancelled. I was wondering what was up. I asked around and heard rumors that were hard to believe. I have decided to keep the stories to myself. There is no way to verify them.

Steve Riley
On Sunday, March 23rd, we slipped off to Eunice to go see Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys at a crawfish cook off. The festival had no food left by the time we got there at 1:00. We did get a bowl of  Etouffee that was excellent. Steve played about four songs and the wind blew dust up into Dan's contact lenses, so it became apparent that we had to go home. It was a pretty day and the ride was nice once Dan got his lenses to clear up. The wind was very cold, but the sun was bright and the skies were very blue. We did a little sightseeing around Eunice and drove a scenic route for a while.

Friday, April 12th, we went to Lafayette to see Black Bayou Construct at Downtown alive in Lafayette. It was a fun set, but we only saw part of it because we had tickets to see Zachary Richard at the Acadiana Center of the Arts Crossroads series.Roddie Romero was playing guitar for him and Dudley "Cruze" Fruge was on drums. I was excited because I love Dudley's drum style. Dave Torkanosky was on piano. I don't recall the bass player's name as he was a new face to me.  It was a very good show. I especially loved to hear some new songs and some old ones also.
I was expecting to get the new CD autographed after the show, but Zack did not come out as he usually does. He was with the film crew. After the show we hung around in the Lobby long enough to greet Dudley and Roddie. Dudley was beaming with excitement to have that opportunity to perform with Zachary again. He had toured with Zack in the past. We had a great visit and planned to go over to Antlers on Jefferson street to catch Michael Juan Nunez play the last part of a set. I don't have photos because the center does not allow them.

Next: Michael Juan Nunez.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ernest James Zydeo releases a new CD - 3 Steps from La La

I got another interesting  message from my Zydeco friend Ernest James who lives  up in Kansas City Missouri. (See my previous blog January 2010.) He wanted me to review his new CD -3 Steps from La La.
I had become interested in this band when Valcour records made their previous CD the CD of the month, EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE NOT RELEASED ON VALCOUR RECORDS! That's what got my attention in the first place.

I was checking post on the Facebook feed and saw an  interesting thing. Ernest James posted he was playing an Octoberfest gig  and I laughed to myself. Zydeco music is a far cry from German Polkas. Then a few days later Ernest posted a funny statement.  He a said a man approached him in the middle of the gig and this is what was said:  (Copied from his FB Page ....)

" Quote from Tulsa man: "Heard what chu boys was playing right dare an I said, "Them German boys been eatin' some crawfish!"
*firm handshake at Oktoberfest

I got a full belly laugh at that. I was ready for the new CD. After communicating with Ernest back and forth, he sent it to me. I have it in the car CD deck and have been digesting every note of it song by song. It is VERY GOOD.

The Zydeco influence is still strong, but this CD is very complex. Starting out with the lead cut, "Shake it Sugaree,"  each cut is strong and well thought out. As I stated in the previous review of his two previous CD's, there is an undercurrent of melodies that are California influenced, such as the guitar work on  "Sugaree."

My favorite cut, "Supposed to do" is pure blues. This is a song about evading temptation. I love it, especially when he professes to the seductress, " If you knew what I had you would understand......" 
The intro to this song starts out with clear as a bell guitar work, has a silent moment then spins into  low down gutsy groove. There are sophisticated drums and lead guitar licks that knock me out. It is hard driving, in a slow gutteral way that hits home. It slows down and then builds up suspense over and over again. You can see the mental struggle the singer faces and -SNAP- you feel his dilemma. The chorus is sung with two part harmonies which is brilliant. 

Ernest is very good at writing lyrics with some tongue in cheek witty sexual innuendo. On "Woa Sally" he sings about Sally taking him "into   into  the kitchen and turning out the lights, then "turning on the stove,"  then into the  basement, going "underground," and other two meaning phrases that are a delight. The lyrics are sung in a very catchy pleasing way. The second song with innuendo that I like is "Janitor" which starts out with a clever statement after a ringing doorbell, "Did someone call for the janitor?" followed with some clever two meaning lyrics. 

  Jaisson Taylor vocals ramps it up on "Zydeco Mother's day" with some hard core blues. If you like the Blues, you will adore this cut. 

The whole CD is filled with extremely good guitar work, well thought out lyrics and harmonies, and attention to detail.The song "Red cross People" is an example of story telling, emotional insight into the plight of  the rail riders and homeless in America, and the fact that there is little consideration for these people. It is told with a hint of humor. The mean, psychedelic guitar work at the end highlights the cluster-funk of angst these people must go through. There are layers upon layers of guitar work towards the end that express the jumbled up feelings that these people must endure. Jaisson Taylor sings one soulful  line that really hits home at the end "I didn't hurt nobody....."

Ernest ends the CD with the  Gospel standard,  "Glory Glory" ramped up with accordion that is complex, pleasing, and sure to be played over and over again if you pop it into you CD player. This is like a cross between Dixieland and Zydeco woven together in a way I have never heard before. It is delightful. 

Their CD release party will be held on November 30th, 2012 with their first live performance with their fiddler:

BB's Lawnside BBQ  
1205 E. 85th Street
Kansas V City, Mo

You can access this CD by going to 
the band's website is

Patty McGehee

Music Trip to Austin -September 2012

Sam Broussard, Johnny Nicholas, and David Greely at Hilltop Cafe
Johnny Nicholas and Dave Greely at Hilltop Cafe

Starting in at the first of August, Dan and I  made a trip to Austin and Fredericksburg,  Texas to chase Golden Triangle. We caught their CD release party at Hilltop Cafe out of Fredericksburg on a Thursday night.
The Hilltop Cafe is a small gem in the middle of nowhere owned by Johnny Nicholas and his wife, who is the chef.

This place is an old service station from the 40's revamped and decorated with a lot of memorabilia Johnny collected when he toured with the band
 Asleep at The Wheel. (Dan and I followed Asleep at the Wheel around for a few years over 30 years ago.)  This was a unique dining experience, paired up with the incredible show performed by Johnny Nicholas, David Greely, and Sam Broussard, also known as the Band Golden Triangle. Previously, I posted a song performed by two of the performers at Chickie Wa Wa. Check it out to see what you think. Sam was unable to make that Chickie Wa Wa show show, but the performance  still stands up extremely well. Dan and I were the first to purchase their CD that night at The Hilltop and they autographed it on the spot.

Patty at Luckenbach

The next day  kicked around the countryside and visited Lukenbach Texas and then caught Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys  and Golden Triangle on a double bill at Antone's in Austin. C C Adcock sat in with Steve's band. That was a very good show. Dan and I started dancing and got the whole place up and going.

After the show, C C told us that Jimmy Vaughn was at The Continental Club Upstairs and we went there when we left. We were able to catch most of a set Jimmy Vaughn  put on, which was sort of a Jazzy Blues mix.
Steve Riley At Antone's

Patty and Jimmy Vaughn

C C Adcock At Antone's

We went back to The Hilltop that Saturday  night for another spectacular dinner and show by Steve Riley and his band, of whom one of the members is Sam Broussard. Sam is an exceptional guitarist, I might add. 

After visiting with Jimmy Vaughn after the show Friday night, CC also  invited us to go to the Fuck Cancer benefit held the next day (a Sunday) at The Continental Club , which was a benefit  for guitarist Nick Curran, who was riddled with cancer at the time. (Nick passed away two weeks ago-RIP.)

Patty and Dale Watson
The list of performers that played that day were:
Dale Watson
Dave Gonzales and Stepahnie Marlar
The Wyldwood Four
The Horton Brothers
The Bellfuries
The Sniffs
The Modern Don Juan
C C Adcock and The Lafayette Marquis and of course
Nick Curran and The Flashboys

Nick was very sick, could not speak, yet he played a blistering set of high powered punk. Dan got a poster and had all of the performers autograph it. I don't think I will hang it with the "F" word on it, but we will treasure it anyway.
I am posting  a photo I took of Nick's hands. I will not post a photo of him the way he looked that day  out of respect. He looked terrible and I don't want anyone to re-post a photo of him in that state and take it out of context.
Nick Curran's hands at the Fuck Cancer Benefit

The concert ended at 7:15 that evening and I had to jump in the car and drive back to Louisiana to be at work the next day at 7:00 am. I was an hour late to work, getting there at 8:00, after making a hellish ride back though the night which included getting lost in Houston due to a badly marked detour. It was worth it.
I went to work the next day  with the stamp on my hand in red  ink that read "Fuck Cancer." I wore it proudly. After all, I lost both my parents to cancer and it just did not seem right to wash it off.

Patty and Nick Curran in 2009  at The Blue Moon-Lafayette LA

Friday, June 8, 2012

Johnny Nicholas and David Greely

Johnny Nicholas and David Greely

Dan and I braved the rain and drive to NOLA to see Johnny Nicholas and David Greely do a set at Chickie Wa Wah. It was an incredible show which showcased Johnny's song writing ability and David's ability to pick up a melody right away. David Johnny have voices that mesh quite well.
Here is the  song address for the song "Big Basile."  David Greely is amazing and Johnny writes the most wonderful  songs.