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Wednesday, March 31, 2010


composition in gray #20
Who's to say that a lie is always bad

and who's to say that the truth is always good?

You're a fool to wring your neck by searching for the truth.

A character in today's film, The Lower Depths, originally a play by Russian playwright Maxim Gorky. It was made for film by Akira Kurosawa in Japan, 1957, b&w. It became a Japanese story of a dozen or so characters in the slum of a slum. Most interesting to me was the characters who were brought down by their own excesses in our human ways. One man drank so much he ruined his liver and is about to die. A woman who'd lived a particularly rough life died of some slow breakdown. None of them had foresight. They all reacted emotionally to each other instead of responding sensibly. Wranglings among them were going all the time like monkeys in a tree.

A poor traveler dropped in to stay awhile to rest in his travels. It turns out he was something like a wandering monk who would, from time to time, show some compassion, gave them sound advice they didn't understand. He said to them once, lies trump the truth every time. Another name that would work for these characters is lost souls. The wandering monk frequently stopped one from doing or saying something that would be a mistake with disastrous results. But they didn't understand him. He seemed to talk in riddles. They were not people who could comprehend such a concept as lies trumping truth. What? They didn't have tv and they didn't have today's news. Throughout my adult life I've seen over and over that lies do indeed trump truth. The nature of the American judicial system is an attempt to separate truths from lies. Turns out it's a public poker game between two players with the judge a referee.

The way things turn out, by the time the wandering monk is ready to move on, issues erupted between the characters that had been held back too long. It turned out it probably would have been best if he'd never appeared. By the time he was gone the characters were defeated by themselves. He did what he could, but they didn't understand, so they did what they interpreted he said and made things worse. I was watching it thinking this seemed awfully familiar. Like history. Like what went with Christendom after Jesus. What happened to Islam after Mohamed. In our time our Fundamentalist boys and girls want to go to Iraq and Afghanistan for jihad to kill infidels. Muslim Fundamentalists strap dynamite around their waists and kill as many infidels as they can. I call it the Fundamentalist war. The Christians want to kill Muslims and Muslims want to kill Christians over dogma and interpretation and anything else you want to throw in to keep the fire going. It's all there. For both sides it's a religious war. The American Fundamentalists believe they're bringing on Armageddon and the Muslims are calling jihad.

What I don't get is Christendom has for it's foundation Love and love only. Forgive, forget, care, assist, understand, help the poor. Sounds crazy. It's what sounds crazy about those words in relation to American Christendom, Fundamentalism, that made the wandering monk in the movie an enigma to the people. Looks like that's what happened with Jesus too. It looks like it would have been better for humanity if he'd left it alone. But it wouldn't have. They were in a time then like we're in now where decency broke down and, like Wm Butler Yeats put it, the center didn't hold. Divine guidance altered directions and they came through it, all of civilization came through it. One thing I don't get is this enthusiasm I see in young Christian guys to get on with the holy war. Doing it for Jesus. It's a mind I don't understand at all, except that I grew up in Kansas Fundamentalism. Kansas is like the Vatican of Fundamentalism.

It made an unbeliever, like in uncola and unsweet. Like took out what was already there. I had a hard time believing God was behind Joe McCarthy in the early 50s. Later, after growing up a bit, I find out about all the people in DC who jumped out of office windows, homes wrecked, honorable people's lives wrecked so one alcoholic dunce with an IQ right down there with Rush Limbaugh's can commandeer media attention trumping the truth with lies. When I heard the man in the film say, "lies trump the truth every time." I hesitated with the "every time." As a rule, I see it. Especially in politics. Republicans are masters at it. Tell a lie enough times and it becomes true. It's a truth in propaganda that always works. Even as a kid, it didn't seem right to me for a preacher to be telling the people how to vote, praise McCarthy, and come down on Communists because they're unrepentent atheists, the same as dead. Heard on the news today Sarah Palin's back, spinning reality with lies, this time more pumped up than ever. She's been groomed for something to do with the lower depths. We'll be seeing the Party's role for her soon.

My parents believed the preacher's praise of McCarthy, but I didn't. He preached too much about evangelists and his awe for Billy Sunday and Billy Graham, and getting more preaching on television and radio and learning to perform winning body language while talking before a crowd. They were modeling themselves after business, advertising, going for the big bucks. I didn't trust it. The trend created Tammy Faye and Jim Baker, the most obvious frauds of the host of tv evengelists in the 80s who were on the take. Many of them fell with a crash. I found it interesting that Jerry Falwell fell well. I don't know where I got this from unless it was the preacher himself talking about things Jesus said and did. A kid in jr hi, it did not compute with me that church stuff, religion, would do any good modeling itself after business. I could see it only diluting the religion further, making itself secular. I couldn't talk with any of the adults about my thoughts. I'd be heard as something like a barking dog and told by wise crack the preacher knows more than I do or I'd be the one up there preaching. I knew how it would be received before I asked the question, so I didn't ask the question. Figured it out for myself.

I was possibly 14 when I got up on Saturday morning and walked through the living room on the way to the kitchen, daddy sitting on the couch looking at the paper. As I walked by him, he said, "If you ever join the Communist Party, I'll kill you." Gee thanks, Daddy, I think you're expendable, too. Of course, a fascination for communism was conceived that moment. I wanted to be a communist more than anything. Every time I saw pictures or heard on news about Russia and communism, the hammer and sickle that spread terror through the world of Christendom, I'd listen close and see if I could learn something about it. All through the high school years I carried a secret longing to be a communist. In the college years I read about Lenin, Stalin, Mao like they were way high up special great ones.

Then I began to see what treacherous varmints they all were and not one of them gave the first shit about the working people. They were thugs with absolute power. Stalin killed more Russians than Hitler did. These guys were serious egomaniacal despots. I knew I would end up in Siberia or dead if I lived under any of them. I figured that was worse than fundamentalism in Kansas by so many leaps and bounds it made the suburbs look good. I rode a train through Soviet occupied Yugoslavia and Bulgaria in 1971. The men with Soviet green coats that went to the floor and a red star in the center of their caps, were frightening. Spooky to me, but mortifying to the Yugoslavs on the train. The men snapped to attention, addressed them as though they were physical manifestations of absolute power. I was thinking, This isn't it. They were lies told so many times they became the truth.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


WPAQ 740 AM MtAiry North Carolina

In my own personal belief system, I believe WPAQ radio sation in MtAiry is the most important thing in the state of North Carolina. I mean it when I say it. I'd never met dj Tim Frye, though we'd talked on the phone a good bit when I had the store, and I saw his band The Carolina Travelers he plays mandolin and vocals in a couple years ago. Today I made it a point to go by WPAQ to see the place primarily, meet Tim if he might be there. I'd been putting the station on every once in awhile to see if it was him, but a preacher had that half hour.

I wanted to go to the museum in MtAiry on Main St. to see the Smithsonian show, New Harmonies, pictures and instruments and push-button recordings by various people. The museum itself was a surprise to find such excellent remaking an old building into something remarkable. I think I was struck most by the architecture more than any one department inside. The whole museum was very well presented, and some actually interesting exhibits. I probably liked the best a space where several taxidermied animals were standing around. An 8pointer running, one foot touching the ground. I marveled at how somebody managed to carry all that weight, even if the bulk of the deer is hollow, on one small rod coming up out of a firm foundation in the floor to run up the leg of the deer on the inside and connect to a serious structure inside to keep make it stand, and not fall. It's weight was far out of balance from that spot on the floor. All I could see was about a half an inch of the rod where it entered the floor. So often stuffed animals look dead and stuffed, but these looked living. The fox, possum, bobcat, muskrat, and some others stand around in their little pretend forest like in a petting zoo.

The Smithsonian show was indeed interesting, pictures galore of Woodie Guthrie, Bessie Smith, Sun House, Muddy Waters, Bill Monroe, and the only one from here, Tommy Jarrell. They did a good presentation of Jarrell and the Round Peak area of musicians. I felt at home. I have a large b&w photograph of Tommy Jarrell with his fiddle on my wall. It was something that leaped on me when I saw it. I was in Elkin at the arts council place and saw a bin of matted photographs and prints. All of them were nice, then the b&w Jarrell appeared and my first thought was, mine. It was a bit much for an "impulse" purchase, but it was a one chance only thing. It's by a MtAiry man named Robert Meritt. It's number 4 of 400 prints made. The women at the desk in the museum had an Our State magazine with an article about the show. It had about a half page picture of Tommy Jarrell that is this particular image.

It's a good exhibit, one of those walk-through things that didn't take up much space, but they managed a lot in that space. All of it was done in high museum quality, beautifully presented. I had to check my disappointment that it was so small, it is what it is. And everything was interesting to look at. They had an old turntable device that made made the grooves in some kind of record type disk to later be printed on records at the factory or wherever they do it. I was thinking of Ralph Stanley and Carter recording their first songs, all their first songs on Rich-R-Tone label. Ralph said the man carried all his recording equipment in the trunk of a big car. When I looked at the turntable, I thought of the Stanley Brothers, Molly and Tenbrooks. Humble beginnings, and it was advanced technology not very long ago. Ralph Stanley was a grown man, and he's still living. I saw too that Fred Cockerham lived by Camp Creek, hence the band's name the Camp Creek Boys, Fred on fiddle and banjo, and Kyle Creed of fiddle and banjo. One of the finest old-time bands there is. Like the old feller said, they laid it to it.

I don't know my way around MtAiry, so I found a place to park in the vicinity and walked. I do better on foot than driving around and around from redlight to redlight. They're long in MtAiry, too. I'm so worn out from trying to keep myself from jumping out of my skin waiting for it to turn green that by the time it does turn green I'm about asleep from exhaustion. Sitting there staring at a red circle made of little red lights, pixels. Then to the next one, sit and watch the red circle waiting for the green one to come on. It's like waiting for water to boil. I want to walk away from it and forget it, but I can't, the motor's running, I'm in traffic, cars everywhere going all directions. I wanted to park first thing and save the driving for getting out of there. You know, when MtAiry traffic on a Tuesday afternoon gets to you, it's time to stay at home. Which I already knew, but mainly I wanted to take the Catfish out for a drive on the road, feel it, see how it handles, to spend some time with it like a friend I only see for a little bit every few days. Like having a long conversation to talk about the things we haven't had a chance to talk but in short spells. Already, I feel it, the car and I are friends. We've bonded. I find when I drive it I drive so it won't scare Jr, like he's in the passenger seat and we're out on a sunny day drive. It means I want to take care of the car because it's special and will outlive me.

We had a good time together today. The New Harmonies show was the turn around point, something I can call a reason to drive to MtAiry and back. It's about an hour drive, nice country to drive through, Low Gap, Round Peak. I never think of MtAiry as down the mountain until I drive there on 89 and wring and twist down the mountain, thinking I didn't remember it was so far down the mountain. Driving along that road I think of the Round Peak musicians, the legends and the younger ones coming on. Jr once said every other house in Low Gap had a musicianer in it.

I talked with the two women at the desk where you go into the New Harmonies show for quite a bit. Another came along and we talked about old-time music like it was the latest thing since punk rock. I asked how to get to the WPAQ radio station. One of them wrote excellent directions on the back of an envelope. I looked at the rest of the museum enough to see what it was and set about getting the daily exercise walking to the car down this street and that. They have MtAiry perked up, clean like Southern Living clean. It looks good.

Out of town into semi country and there on the hill the brick building that is WPAQ. To me, it's a kind of mountain music mecca. I wanted to meet Tim if he might be there, see the place, be inside it, see it. That was all I wanted. Tim was there. He was on the air. We spoke a little bit during the songs. I told him I believe this station is the most important thing in the state of North Carolina. It's made a great contribution to mountain music. It is mountain music. I didn't go into all that, but I went about my way, not there to take up anybody's time, just to be there, to touch the place. That was all. I told Tim I model my show after WPAQ, meaning really it's my inpiration. It's the real deal. Or Philip Roth's way of putting it, Thereal McCoy. It was like the time in an art museum in Zurich, Switzerland, I saw a white marble sculpture by an artist I have a great deal of respect for, Jean Arp. It was called, Cloud. For my particular taste, he's something like the apex, among a few others like Brancusi and Giacometti. I had to make contact. I touched it with the tip of my finger for half a second. And alarms didn't go off. I got away with it.

Monday, March 29, 2010



Lunch with Jim Winfield at the Mexican restaurant, Misarados, my plow. It's a good place for lunch. Very successful restaurant. The Mexican restaurant before it was a good one too, but one of the employees embezzled it out of business. The people with the restaurant now came along and made a go of it as a family business. Everyone working there is in the family. They did with their kids what Mexicans come to USA to do, give the kids a better life. I've watched these kids grow up and by the time they're out of school, they are capable, on the ball people. The whole town has taken to the place over the years for the good food, good prices and good service. It's where I learned I don't care much for Mexican music, but for salsa. The trumpet and iy-yi-yi-yi music is, I'm sure, great at local dances in Mexico. I expect if I were to hear such a band playing at a dance someplace in Mexico, I'd love it. It has a vibrant spirit. But it grabs my attention about like Lawrence Welk. Next.

Saw an interesting Chinese film today, BE WITH ME, an art film out of Hong Kong. Art film out of Hong Kong means no guns. I took it for Hong Kong because everyone wore shorts and light tshirts, semi-tropical. It was a quiet looks into the lives of several people who interweave through the story, such that by the end, it all comes together as things work out. Beautifully filmed. Almost no talking. Very little. The drama amounted to the relationships of the different people. One of the characters was a blind woman in her 60s who is capable of basic cooking, cleaning house, wrapping presents, doing everything by feel and memory. She is one of the characters in the story, plays herself. She's a blind woman who handles it very well. The relationships that seem early on to be simple everyday life relationships turn intense by the end in matter of fact ways, as in life. They're everyday people going about their lives.

It turns out everyone has a loneliness that drives them in whatever ways they go. And it has no stars. Some of the people know each other and some don't. It's everyday life with natural intensities instead of big drama intensities with fights and guns and explosions. There is the elderly man who takes an interest in cooking for the blind woman, which brought him up out of his depression. Quiet relationship stories that wove a kind of mental tapestry that seems like very little is going on until toward the end when things start falling into place. Much, Oh, so that's what.... Beautiful, soft spoken, plain looking people--no one looked like a movie star. I believe I'll see it tomorrow too. It's one to see twice, to enjoy it again.

I stopped in at the Hospice office after filling the tank with gas and buying a cross-bar tire-iron for the trunk. Now I'm set. At Hospice I visited with Vickie Todd awhile, saw Michelle and Donna. They were so important in my mission to keep Jr at home, I'm grateful for them every day. I like to stop in from time to time, to keep in touch, to remember what special people they are. In my time of retirement, thanks to Social Security, I am staying on my mountain, which was my initial purpose coming to the mountains. I wasn't ready then. I'm ready now. The people I see are my friends, people who don't spin webs of trouble where they go, nobody playing one-upmanship games, nobody positioning themselves on the hierarchical ladder of status. The people I like the most are satisfied with their absence of status, don't want it, and psychological games are not even a consideration. I'm so free of those kinds of games now that when I meet somebody who likes to play games like Gotcha and It's your fault, control and dominance, it stands out like an alarm going off. I think, Later for this, and find the cat hole.

Something else I don't miss stayin on my mountain. "You know what you oughta do!" and, "You needta," and you gotta be there, you gotta see it, you gotta hear it, you gotta buy it, you gotta have it. You gotta, oughta, needta. I've got so bad that when somebody says, You know what you oughta do? I say, Yes. That's the end of it. It comes across to the other as rude, but somebody telling me what I oughta do, when I know for a certainty they do not know, is rude in my way of seeing. When it comes down to answering the question about a pet peeve, I suppose this is mine. It's nothing but thoughtlessness, the kind of thing that you wouldn't say if you thought about it before saying it.

Stopped in at the BROC office and talked with Donna, who was taking care of the place today. Since Betty Bledsoe died, we have a replacement now. Since I'm with BROC I like to know the new people. I used to stop and see Betty from time to time, smoke cigarettes and talk. I miss Betty. I'm glad she went out fast, for her sake. She'd been with BROC as long as I've been in the mountains. It's the only organization with meetings that I want to stay with in Sparta. The others were civic sorts of things that belong to people involved in Sparta, which I'm not anymore. There are plenty of people in Sparta I like to see. I find when I go to town now, I make it a point to stop by and see somebody at work for a few minutes, keeping in touch. It used to be that when I went to Sparta I came home depressed. Now, I come home lit up and feeling good, because I've visited with friends I've not seen in a matter of months. Like I went to pay property taxes the other day and I know everybody in the tax office, had to talk with everybody, came out of there feeling well and happy. I'm finding there's a great number of people I care a very great deal for.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


cloud over bullhead

Looking at the picture of yesterday's entry, the Phoenix Mountain Band, I saw Leo Tompkins in the background in green shirt talking to a man I know by face, but not by name. I started thinking about Leo and laughing with his sense of humor. His sense of humor is all I know about Leo. I don't know any gossip about him and don't want to. We've spoke a few times over the last 33 years, but not to say we know each other. The only time I talked with him, I asked what happened to his Roadkill Cafe poster with menu that was on the wall in a room where they kept parts. When I go into Choate to get the annual inspection sticker, I'd look at that poster, saw it once a year, had a good laugh every time, appreciated the sense of humor behind it. One day I was in there and Leo was there and the poster was gone. I asked him what went with the poster. He didn't know it was missing. He saw it was gone and got concerned about what might have went with it.

We set to talking about the poster and how funny it was. Of course, he had it there because he thought it was hilarious. It was. That was several years after he'd retired from working at Choate, running the place, whatever it was he did there. It must be a good place to work, because the people working there, work there for life. No turnover except when somebody dies or retires. Leo was a county commissioner for a few terms. He is a man who could drive the most exotic car in the county, but the last time I saw him on the road, several years ago, he was still driving the (maybe) 58 Plymouth, not one kept for a show car, but because it drove well and he loved it. On the bumper was the sticker that was there back when he was commissioner, which tells you what years it was. The picture was Mickey Mouse standing up shooting the bird. The text: HEY, IRAN. Back then I didn't know anything about county politics, and still don't, but I voted for Leo Tompkins because of the bumper sticker. I see a man with an active sense of humor.

This is a reason I'm glad Agnes Joines is on the town council. Agnes has a sense of humor that's busting out of her all the time. This is something else I love about the mountain people, that their sense of humor is alive. Old-time humor was very different from today's humor, though similar in where humor comes from. Old-time humor was situational, seeing funny in something that's happening or just happened. My first spring here, Don Pruitt and his brother Bill were showing me how to make rails by splitting a locust log lengthwise using 2 wedges and a sledge hammer. They both hammered several times and I got the hang of it. My turn. My first swing hit the edge of the wedge and it went flying straight to the right, end over end, like a ninja bullet. It went straight at Bill's ankles and he jumped out of the way on full alert. Don broke out laughing and said, "What kinda daince you call that?" Bill laughed and I laughed. They laughed at me and I laughed at me. It became something hilarious.

I realized that a sledge hammer requires some practice. You don't just start out knowing how to swing one. Over the years I improved a great deal, but always went by one thing I learned early. There are only 4 possible directions the wedge can fly, straight ahead, straight back at me, off to right or off to the left. I would place the wedge and stand between two of the directions so when the wedge took off in whatever surprise direction, spinning end-over-end in rapid flight, I would be out of the way and didn't have to do a dance to keep from getting hit. The distance of a sledge hammer handle's length doesn't give much time to escape. About the time I noticed would be when it hit my leg. Like they say in Ireland, Shite!

They'd make great weapons in medieval warfare. Rows of men skilled in hitting a wedge to make it fly exactly where they want it to go, like a golf ball. That would clear the way. But they could be picked up by the other guys they missed and used as a hand weapon. Better to use arrows. Like the war between Italy and Poland. The Polish army threw firecrackers over a wall at the Italian army. Italian army lit them and threw them back. By comparison, that's "today's" humor. Polish jokes are old by now, but in the evolution of humor from old-time situational humor among people who were each other's entertainment to the age of hi-tech pop culture, jokes by professional joke writers for late nite tv shows are consistently funny. They've dampened our joke telling by being so much better that they're intimidating. If you tell a joke now and it's not up to the tv bar, rejection, not funny, keep your day job. It looks like television has made our collective sense of humor dependent on tv for our humor. But humor is malleable. It's not going away. It's always with us in one way or another. Humor is like music and other art forms in that way.

The jokes that go around now in the hallways of schools are very different from the time I was in school. To the school kids now, my humor is old hat, like Hee Haw humor is to city people. Probably by now mine is 3rd and 4th grade humor. Going by a few I've heard over the last few years, the jokes are more racially and culturally demeaning than ever in an anti-politically correct kind of way. A trend springs up among adults to suppress smoking and it becomes a trend among teenagers to smoke. Grayson county lawyer, Lorne Campbell told me our jokes that go around from person to person come from prisons. The prisons are fountains of humor like these mountains are fountains of music. One of the aspects of Campbell I liked was he regarded people in prison and ones who have been in prison as people. They did the crime, they did the time. That's it, cat shit. It's all over. He's karmicly clean as if he'd never done the crime.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


phoenix mountain band

I just now gave myself a little bit of a laugh. I'd put on the cd of Paul Brown and Mike Seeger, Way Down In North Carolina. I like the energy of it. Good rhythm, but doesn't pull me to want to dance or play air banjo. Last night I listened to the field recorder collective cd of Fred Cockerham, which has some mighty fine banjo picking, fiddlin and singing on it. It has a similar energy to this one. Nearly all old-time music demands that I regard it only in the front of my mind. It won't take back seat. I suppose what I mean by the "energy" of this album and Fred's is the music can play in the back of the mind as well as in the front of the mind. I don't like to play anything that draws my attention to it when I'm writing you. But about every music draws me to it. Music that doesn't draw me to it I don't play. I may have to turn this off. It's pulling my attention as I was afraid it might. They're playing twin fiddles. Then Paul's banjo and Mike playing jaw harp. Both excellent musicians. On every tune they play different instrument combinations. Both love old-time and both play it as well as natives.

The radio show this morning was the Carter Family, the whole hour. Played the songs that are not the familiar standards most associated with the Carter Family; No More The Moon Shines On Lorena, Can't Feel At Home, Evening Bells Are Ringing, He Took A White Rose From Her Hair, Gathering Flowers From The Hillside. Another time I might play all the familiar Carter Family Songs. I tossed in a few today, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, East Virginia Blues, Keep On The Sunny Side, River of Jordan. Whenever there is an East Virginia Blues to be played, I'll play it. I love that song and don't know what it is about the song that takes hold of me like it does. One, I like the title. I like the beginning, I was born in East Virginia, to North Carolina I did roam. It's a narrative song. Good story, good melody, and everybody sings it well. I like the way Spencer Pennington sings it with Whitetop Mountain Band. It's more like he's telling his own story than singing a song.

I don't play the Carter Family enough. I have certain listeners who ask me to play more by them. I always intend to, it's just that over the last few years I'm tending more toward themes and individual bands or individuals, plus the months of playing the Alleghany musicians. They took up several months. I think I played through the set of 4 cds 3 times from start to finish. There are some gems among them. I've been asked to play more gospel songs, so I make it a point to get some or several in each show. Gospel hour follows my show. Sometimes I've thought I would like to dj the gospel hour too. That would be fun. It would be mountain gospel by bluegrass bands, old-time singing, Stanley Brothers, Ralph Stanley, old-time church singing. There is so much good mountain gospel I think I'd like to jump into that. I believe my listeners would like me doing with the gospel similar to what I'm doing with old-time and bluegrass. About every bluegrass album has several gospel songs on it.

I'd never dreamed I might dj a Saturday morning radio show of mountain music for mountain people. Never dreamed I'd dj anything. This came about because it wasn't happening. Alleghany was the only of surrounding counties that didn't have a Saturday morning show of regional music. It used to, before the 2 djs there for the last 18 years ran off the listeners, ran off the advertisers, and ran off with a great portion of the station's library. I was thinking the station needed such a show. When it started, I stepped into an environment at the station that had alienated the station from the county. In the time before, when Arnold Clodfelter and Judy Halsey worked the station, Jeff Michael hosted a show with live bands every week. Jeff could do that, because he knows all the musicians around.

I'm doing it because nobody was doing it and I believed it needed doing. I'm one who believes if I think something needs to be the case, then I'm then one who needs to see it through. I can't expect somebody else to carry out my own visions. I believed I could do it. In the beginning I didn't know history and lore of the music, but that was ok. The listeners didn't either and didn't want to know it. They only wanted the music. So I give them the music. Played 16 songs in the 50 minute hour today. I don't waste time talking. I despise jabbering djs. I'm no good at it, but I play good music and identify everything played. I believe it's important for dj to identify everything played.

I like to name all the musicians and tell where they live, when I know, like West Virginia, SW Virginia, E Kentucky, E Tennessee, NW NC. That egg-shaped region in the mountains called the Central Blue Ridge is the region I play. Sometimes I reach outside a little, like down into the Georgia mountains for the Skillet Lickers, who used to tour up and down these mountains and more than likely played at the Spartan theater. Uncle Dave Macon came from central Tennessee, like Lester Flatt and the Louvin Brothers. Uncle Dave played in Sparta for several years when he was touring the mountains.

I believed it was important that the people of the county have access to their music. It was ridiculous for a county in a region of the mountains that is a fountain of a music not to have access to it on the local AM station. WPAQ in MtAiry does a beautiful job of serving the community that loves mountain music. That's a lot of people. The mountain people have been good to me, allowed me to live among them, taught me the best of what I know. I say thank you with the radio show. My "give back."

Friday, March 26, 2010


swift water

Yesterday I had an email from Melia Edwards telling about the benefit auction at Whitehead Community Center, "tomorrow night." Yesterday was Thursday. Yesterday's tomorrow is today, Friday. When I read Melia's emial, my mind registered Saturday night. This evening at 8, I called the house to ask about it. Joe answered. I asked about the thing tomorrow night. He said, It's tonight. I said, Oh shit. Good-bye.

I changed clothes in a hurry. Good chance to try out new dress pants I've not had on yet. Don't get excited when I say dress pants. It's not like they're anything but permanent press khaki-like cloth. For me, something with a crease is dress pants. Washing machine and dryer and they come out unwrinkled with a crease. Not bad. That's my kind of living. We don't have a dry cleaner here anymore.

I drive down the road with the radio on WBRF Friday nite at the Rex. A bluegrass band with a name I didn't get was playing How Mountain Girls Can Love at about half tempo from Stanley Brothers. On the next tune I paid a little closer attention to the banjo, because it sounded like Jr playing it. The guy played a lot like Jr. Plain and clear, every note in the tune. Jr's band used to play for these auctions. I caught myself with tears going down the road, telling myself to get it together. Don't be getting all teary seeing these people I know through Jr and people I don't know who know me by association with Jr.

I walked in the door and felt at home. Good feeling in the air. Happy looking people. I felt collectively welcome. I spoke with a few people, spoke with Stephen Joines, Judy Carmichael, Melia, saw several, spoke with Gene Hash who is in a rough way. Good old gospel guitar player and singer. Can't play any more. Thinking I need to see Gene and get some pictures of him holding a guitar, because he's a musician of the county, a good one, and everyone respects him. He's in his last perhaps months. I may want to paint him. For certain will want to get a photo and a little bit about his music life on Lucas Pasley's website of Alleghany musicians. I'll get in touch with him one day after the weekend, explain what I have in mind to get him in the registry or whatever it is of Alleghany musicians.

Talked with Jim Winfield earlier today about going with me to MtAiry to see the traveling Smithsonian show at the museum there of American roots music, including mountain music, though not exclusively. It's every kind of American music from all over the country is how I read it. It has a website: http://www, Evidently it's put on by the the NC Humanities Council. The show is NEW HARMONIES, a Smithsonian Institution Exhibition. That means it will be presented beautifully. The show is on til April 24. I expect I'll go more than once. It's the kind of thing Jim will enjoy as much as I do, but entirely for his own reasons as I enjoy it for mine. When it's over we will have seen two different things. When I go, I'll let you know. The show visits 6 NC cities. The website tells about it.

At the Whitehead Community Center, the old Whitehead School house where Jr went to school and was known as a scamp. A prankster he was all his life. I was happy to be in there among Jr's people, now my people. What I noticed the day of his funeral was that Whitehead had shifted its love for Jr to me. It continues. This is why I felt so strongly about being there. I felt like I needed to be there in celebration of my honorary citizenship 5 months ago. I wanted to participate to show that it continues on my end too. At the auction I bought a coupon for $15 at the Chinese restaurant. Next week I intend to get some Chinese and take it to Crystal and Justin's for supper. She's working like a field hand right now in her new photography business and doesn't have time to be fussing in the kitchen, though she does. Also bought a butter pecan cake made by Edith Edwards. I'll have a piece a day until it's gone. Then I'll take the plate back to her. I'm glad I had money in pocket today, which I seldom do.

I felt Jr's presence very strongly in the community center this evening. As various ones saw me, Jr came to their minds, when I saw them, Jr came to my mind. It has seemed ever since Jr's passing that he stays with me as something of a spiritual master who can remind me of the importance of just being who I am and no need for any reason to be ashamed or proud of it, either way. It just is. I remember the first time I heard Jr say that of some conundrum, It just is. No reason to be ashamed or proud of who they are. Everyone friendly together. I feel his presence like he was a spiritual teacher for me when he was here in the body. Now that he has left the body, his presence stays with me reminding me of his ways of seeing things, not as truths to be memorized, but the heart to go into circumstances and experiences with.

I'll always carry with me as a guiding light what he said about believing God put things down in front of him for him to go through. It's the only way he could have made it through the heartbreaks of his life, and it's what made him the light that he was at the end. In this way, his life has been a Pilgrim Way, walking the path put down specifically for him by God. I don't mean light like illuminated like a saint or anything like that. Jr came through all of it whole. Alone, but whole. He's a light for me of someone who was able to take it, whose life was a mastery of taking hard knocks like a log kicking back in his face at the sawmill, getting up, wiping the blood off his face and going back to work.

Sometimes I wondered if he wouldn't get his knee looked at by doctors because the pain kept his mind in the present moment. He'd done lived the past, didn't want to think about it too. It was over. I came to believe the pain focused his mind, was a kind of meditation. I'm seeing that the times I feel Jr's presence is when wisdom I learned from him comes to me in a decision making moment. Wisdom offered as "a fool's advice," I take for the real thing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I drove to Sparta to pay some bills and get some groceries. Stopped in about everyplace I go in town. I enjoy going into different places and seeing people I know, talking a bit, friendly chats. Halsey Drug for drugs. Farmer's Hardware for a "lopper." That's long handled clippers. The ones before were in the truck when it burnt up. They were about worn out. I use them a lot, though I hadn't used them in some years since looking after Jr. I like to go through the woods and clip the lower dead branches from rhododendron, mountain laurel, various trees. I've found when I get the dead limbs on the ground it opens the woods immeasurably for easy and enjoyable walking, instead of getting snagged on branches and devil's clothesline briers. It's also moderate and easy exercise. The branches on the ground get covered by leaves in the fall and their decomposition begins. In a few years they're topsoil.

Bought a jack today for the car. One of those jacks on wheels and a handle to pump it up and down with. I had one of them in the truck when it went up in flames. It's the only kind of jack I like. They don't cost very much considering their value. I do not like any jack I've ever experienced that came with a vehicle. I looked at the one that came with this car and swore I'd never touch it. The jack on wheels is so easy to operate that it makes jacking up a car an enjoyment instead of a passage through hell. I'll get one of those cross bar lug nut removers. They're so easy and the single bent bar is so troublesome by comparison. They're only good for fights in movies. I've never had a flat in my parking space at home. I want something I can operate in the rain that doesn't drive me out of my mind, and gets the job done in a hurry. That's the Boy Scout in me. Be prepared.

I like to be ready for the unforeseen in the realm of what I'm able to take care of myself with a good jack, good jump cables, a spare tire with air in it. Nearly all the time nothin don't happen. And then it does. The way I see it, it's the nature of the material world. I was told once by a woman I know, who knew what she was talking about, that I was hyper-vigilant. I'm hyper aware of what's around me all the time. Walking on a sidewalk in a city I kept an eye on who was behind me in store window reflections. In Charleston in that time, in any time, surprises happen when you're not paying attention. Driving, I'm as much aware of what's going on in the mirror as in front. I drive on the highway and especially the interstate like anything can happen, because anything does happen.

Before seatbelts became a stiff fine, somebody would ask me from time to time why I use a seat belt. Are you afraid of dying? I say if I have to leave the road, and I have had those moments, it's bumpy, sometimes really bumpy. I like to be held in place to have control of the steering wheel and the pedals on the floor. I don't want to be flopping up and down wishing I could control the steering wheel. Chances are, where a wreck is concerned, without a seatbelt I more than likely would not die, but wish for the rest of my life I had. Certainly there are worst cases of people who were thrown from the car when they'd have died if a seatbelt held them in. But there are thousands and thousands more that came through something with a seatbelt unhurt, when without a seatbelt they'd have gone through a wall of glass face first.

I've questioned what she meant by that ever since. I don't think I am. But, what do I know? Can the mirror see itself? I've avoided a few accidents by seeing it coming up ahead and slowing down, backing away so I'm not collateral damage. Somebody else would have driven up into it. But I believe most people would not. But I don't know that. I don't know what's going on in any car but my own. Mine is the only one I can trust. The yellow line is the rule everybody goes by, but sometimes somebody doesn't. If I see it ahead coming my way in time, I can get out of the way. I like to pay attention while I drive and keep both hands on the wheel. I don't see that hyper. I see it simply sensible. Race drivers use both hands. There are reasons why. Good reasons. First, with both hands on the wheel I can react instantly. I don't get surprised a lot, but when I do, I'm glad to be paying attention. Perhaps the hyper could be that I'm always aware of what's going on around me. I find the exits first thing in a new place. I couldn't live in south Florida because there is only one highway out, it glutted to a stall by everybody else's car in south Florida. A pipe carrying fresh water to the Keys is too vulnerable a thing for me to subject my life to. I've never wanted to live on the beach.

The ocean has a life of its own and doesn't concern itself with property values on the beach. I'm not one who could live on an earthquake fault. I don't see any point in it. I'm like Tom Pruitt when watching tv news of a flood someplace in Missouri, I think, and a tv reporter asked a man whose house had washed away what he was going to do. He said he'd rebuild on the same spot. Tom about blew a gasket. A man building a house where his last house was washed away in a flood did not strike Tom as man with good sense. It continues to ring with me probably 25 years later among the most incredible things I've witnessed on tv. Tom and I both exclaimed together, the man didn't have a lick of sense. We probably weren't being politically correct making fun of a man's thinking after a flood washed his house away. We were both of the old way where PC was concerned. Dumber'n shit is dumber'n shit, any way you look at it. Of course, we don't want anybody to notice when we commit our own such moments, I don't know what I was thinkin.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


landscape with commentary

I found the bumper sticker above somewhere on the edge of Hamptonville. Allan next door had the day off and wanted to go to Hamptonville to get pictures of a few graves for his own family's genealogy and for somebody else's. Geneologists photograph grave stones for other genealogists via internet when they live too far away to see for themselves, a friendly thing to do. It's been so long since I've been off the mountain looking through a windshield down 21 that every place looked new. I've been half a dozen times in Alleghany in Motion vans, but that's looking out side windows at distant landscape because the near landscape zooms by, and concentrating more on conversation with the other riders than the view. Every time it has been with interesting people and some really wonderful people.

The other direction, Virginia, I've only been to Woodlawn to see Bobby Patterson at Heritage Records and Fairview for Ralph Stanley concerts. I like living so close to a place where Ralph Stanley puts on a concert every year. That's about as far as I care to go out of my mountains. Though it was nice driving along highway below the mountains and seeing the mountains in the background. It strikes me odd how the landscape can be so flat, flat as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, then straight up the mountainside. The mountains don't start gradually. They're suddenly there.


Elkville String Band is playing at Mountain Music Jamboree near Glendale Springs this coming Saturday night the 27th. The Jamboree has a website If you like mountain music or are curious about it, this is a good place to hear it. Arvil Scott runs the place and makes it happen. All regional bands. Dancing and eating and big parking lot. A whole lot of people and it's real friendly.


Driving on familiar roads I'd not seen in so many years they've changed beyond recognition, one thing held it all together. We were in the South. Everywhere we went it was the South. I was thinking when one of my Yankee friends visits I'll take em on a drive around Yadkinville, Hamptonville, that area, any highway, a tour of the South. It's Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, northern Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, etc. When I visited friends in Georgia and drove on rural highways from town to town, I'd think, it's the same as everywhere in the South. Not exactly, by any means, but it's the South and the South only.

We're in the Southern mountains. We're in the South, but the South as it appears in the mountains is different from how the South appears in the flatland, or piedmont. Down along the coast it's even different, but it's all the South and it all comes under the red field with blue X and white stars. Political correctness likes to belittle the rebel flag, but I tell you what, it aint a-dyin in the South. That flag unites the entire South. After the South had been my home 45 years, I went outside the South to Kansas and learned people outside the South know next to nothing about it and all they have is contempt for it over slavery. I wondered if the mystique the South held for me through childhood came about because I didn't know anybody who knew anything about the South. I don't have to apologize for slavery. So my great great grandfather had slaves. I can't help it. It was a different time, different way of thinking in every way--Baptist Old Testament thinking, which isn't so very different from today. They didn't have electricity or plumbing. It was very different.

In London in 1971 I was talking with a man who was a History teacher in their equivalent to our highschool. I was renting a room in their house while staying there. I sat with them one evening watching the telly, and there was a BBC documentary on slavery. It was interesting, as those kinds of documentaries are. I forget his name, but he swelled up and told me it's a shame what "you Americans" did to the poor black people in those dreadful ships and slavery and all of it. It was one of those wise cracks that comes out of the blue and catches you completely unprepared to deal with it gracefully. It's what I call a cheap shot. As they say, it went all over me. I'm thinking: this guy teaches? I didn't have time to think about it. I heard myself say that when the slaves were bought in Africa and sold in the New World, it was British buying them, British shipping them, and British selling them to British colonists. When we became "you Americans" we've been at working out the mess youBritish created. Phew. I didn't know where that came from. I had never consciously put it together like that before, but there it was. It was one of those divine moments. It was like somebody else was saying it with my voice. But I accepted. My sentiments exactly. That was the end of it.

Another time, I came close to knocking a man backwards off a a barstool in a pub for talking a bunch of shit about my southern accent and what you southerners did to those poor black people. His life was saved that night by me thinking for a split second what it might be like, an American in a British prison for life. I got up and walked away. All I had to do was straighten out my left arm to the left, connect fist to face, he wouldn't even see it coming, and over backward he goes, a concussion for sure, probably death. He came real close. By then I didn't like it there and was past ready to come home. I didn't want to stay there the rest of my life behind bars with Viking thugs.

Allan went to see this old pre-Civil War cemetery of some of his ancestors. The forest that grew up around the old farmhouse and outbuildings and cemetery was being logged. They'd flagged the cemetery with pink and orange plastic tape surveyors use. It was a small area. All the stones were flat rocks. No markings, no names, no dates. Just rocks. It was beautiful. All the graves were sunken in. One great big tree of a kind we don't have up here on the mountain, the bark was new to me, and I didn't think to ask Allan, it grew right up out of a grave. He found a tip of the gravestone the rest of the tree had grown around completely. Big tree, old too, almost dead of old age. We marvelled that this tree had the entire cemetery for nourishment. The family tree. I think Bell was the name. It's where I found the bumpersticker. I love it that he doesn't wash the truck, but keeps the sticker clean. It's a good one. He wears it with pride, like a guy I know named Jack who wears a Jack Daniels hat, big white letters on dark blue. It's his dress hat he wears to funerals.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010



A beautiful sunny day of blue sky and white puffy clouds drifting over Carolina blue. I see a crow in the meadow pecking around. Black chickens. I want to attract them to the house so I can see them. The fence between here and the meadow keeps the dogs this side of it. I don't want to lure them too close for their comfort, just close enough to see them better. It's been a cold day in the 30s and 40s. I think it went up to 46 or so and is on the way back down for the night. 44 now. The digital thermometer sits here on the computer tower receiving signals from the transmitter on the side of the shed out the window.

I bought this digital thermometer for Jr some years ago, 3 or 4 maybe. He needed a new thermometer. The one by the door with the red line that went up and down had little numbers. He had to go up to it to read it, so I read it when I passed through the door. I went to Radio Shack, believing I'd seen such a thing there. $30 then. I wouldn't have spent that on one for myself, but it seemed like this was what Jr needed. He'd declined to the place walking was difficult, going outside even more difficult. The numbers on the screen are at least an inch high. When I put it together for him at the coffee table, read instructions (yes, I do that--I learned it putting model cars together) and put the batteries in, trying to explain how this thing works when I don't have any idea. What I understood was easy to tell. He got it. It's just that it was something he'd never imagined existed. Like me if somebody walked in and gave me an iPad telling me I need it. I'd have to beg to differ.

Batteries in, it started working. I took the transmitter box out and put it up under the porch's roof out of the weather and the wind, 8 or so feet from the window. From the moment it started operating he sat and watched it like it was a little television. It was far more interesting to him than anything that's on tv. He would watch it all day long. He watched the numbers change as the air went cooler or warmer. I came to see it that he lived his life working outdoors in every weather. He liked the feel of the outdoor air. The temperature told him how the it felt. A string about a foot long hung from the clapper in a bell on the porch post below a cast iron tractor somebody had given him and he wouldn't take nothin for it. The wind kept the string going. It told wind direction and wind speed.

The way the house sat in relation to the wind and the row of white pines beside the house created patterns of turbulence that sometimes sent the string going in every direction. A memory came of a day when big snowflakes were drifting down. Caught in the little bit of turbulence directly in front of the window, the snowflakes drifted up and down, around. It was a window full of lightly dancing snowflakes. Jr said of it, "Seein those fnowflakes floatin around out there - looks like they can't hit the ground." And that's how they looked. The window told him everything about the weather visually. He saw the curve in Hwy18 at Rifle Range Road. That curve was in his view. That's where he read the traffic. He could tell by how many trucks and the kinds of trucks what kind of business was going on and how much. He watched the trucks carrying trusses die down to almost none. Logging trucks too. Weekends brought the motorcycles and Wednesdays the paper told how many of them wrecked someplace.

I've sat and looked at the scene out the window with him to where I know it pretty well. From time to time, not often, he would mention what he was reading in the traffic. I'd been watching the same traffic and didn't see any of what he saw. I was seeing landscape in seasonal and weather changes, vehicles running through it from time to time. He was reading cattle markets and every kind of thing to do with commerce on the roads.
A lot of them he knew who they were. He had the eye of a hawk. Seeing Jr confined to the house was like seeing a race horse put out to pasture. The digital thermometer cost the same as nothing as far as I was concerned for what it gave Jr. It gave his eyes something to watch while he sat thinking. That's why he didn't watch tv or listen to the radio. He'd rather think about things. He could solve about anything in a sleepless night.

When he wanted to know what I paid for it, I told him it wasn't much to start with and I got it on sale. That was my way of telling him I'm not going to be paid for it. It's a present. Thinking about buying it, I didn't have any idea it would be so great a present as it turned out to be. It gave his eyes something to focus on that didn't distract him from his thinking. It was so right it felt divinely inspired, because I believed so completely I was sent to him to help him in his helpless time. I marvelled at God's conscious setup to arrange for Jr to have somebody on his side he can trust. It didn't matter to me whether Jr believed he could trust me or not. I knew he could trust me absolutely, that the last thing he would know would be that I kept his trust. That was important to me. It was important to Jr too. Because I knew he could trust me absolutely, I didn't feel the least bit anxious about whether he thought he could. I couldn't tell him he could trust me. That's the same as saying he could not. Time would tell it. And there is always time.
And time for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
- TS Eliot
The thermometer is now with me. I became interested in the temperature after watching it so closely with Jr. I asked for it upon his passing. I knew no one would want it. I did. Before, I didn't care what the temperature was. A look out the window at the rhododendron told me. I have a lot of ways of estimating the temperature. I don't need closer than an estimate. What to wear when I go out the door. Now I watch the numbers change to the 10th of a degree. My old thermometer with the red vertical line doesn't do the trick any more. It's good for backup when the batteries die out in the digital. With rechargeable batteries, it goes on and on. It's the best object for a memory of Jr I could have.

Monday, March 22, 2010


borrowed from piraro

It's been a rotflmao day. Was about as anxious over the health care vote by the corporate representatives as a presidential election. I'm not staying up late and tapping my foot hoping it goes my way. In the morning I'll find out. There is always tomorrow. If not, it won't matter. First words when I turned the radio on was Dems were cleaning up the party hats after last night's celebration. There it was. If I wanted to turn it off, I could. I loved it. Wanted to hear more. The Repubs were totally locked against it. That tickled me all the more. I wouldn't want it to have any of their support, even one. It would be like a dent on a new car. They're saying next election the Dems will pay. I laugh because it has an even better chance to turn out the other way around.

I've had a smile on my face all day. I've not seen anybody or talked with anybody. Just another day. A brief email exchange with a friend in Maryland. We see it differently. I keep at him to think for himself and let go of parroting Rush Limbaugh. I don't care if we go on disagreeing. I'd like to see him find his own interpretations, right or wrong being neither here nor there, because there is no right or wrong. It's politics. Illusion in illusion in illusion. A skyscraper built with bricks of lies on a foundation of lies. Still, I have a difficult time with people who take seriously a very well paid and protected propagandist with the 4th grade level of intelligence that journalism schools advise writing to. It might be more like 2nd grade now, after half a century of boob toob dumbing down. Effective propaganda has to reach way down there, and the minds behind Limbaugh have no limit to how low they'll go. Like Howard Stern, another stain in Uncle Sam's underpants.

The phone rang just now. "Hi. My name is Bentley. I'm a sophomore at the College of Charleston." I checked the impulse to say, Hi, my name is Scott Brown, I drive a truck. Click. Bentley wants money. I want money. It's my home, my telephone. Am I calling you at suppertime asking for money, Bentley? No. I'd like to send money, I really would. But I don't have any. I really don't. Bentley, in the summer of 1988, the last time I was in Hanes Mall, I recall a middle class man with an office way up in a skyscraper downtown, you could see it in his arrogance and his clothes, he was tugging on a 5 year old girl's hand, and said, "Come on, Mercedes." I continued walking, thinking, Better Mercedes than BMW, I suppose. Hi, my name is Hummer. That doesn't quite have the ring. Think of how many Velveetas there are living. You know there's at least one. And you know a lot of little Ronnies are going around with McDonald for a middle name. Not to mention M&M. "Come on, M&M." A little boy with a boggan pulled down over his face, "Daddy, I caint see." In my generation, dogs were named Prince.

I'm happy to see legislation occurring that has for its purpose the benefit of the American people at large, not just the ruling class on the take. I can't help but see that since the assassination of Kennedy the USA has been on a downhill course. Our government has been unresponsive to the will of the people, except superficially. People say get out of Vietnam. People say get out of Latin America. People say get out of Iraq. People say get out of Afghanistan. Lies steered us falsely into all these wars, documented, and lies keep the public pacified. It's a war economy. Government contracts where you can get a thousand dollars for a hammer keep the economy going. Without wars we wouldn't have reason to keep up the manufacture of missiles and helicopters and ships and planes and bombs in factories that pay fairly well. These jobs located in every state not only keep the economy going, but dependent on wars, not big scary ones, to be sure, but television wars where you can see buildings blow up on the evening news, bombs from the sky. They're poor. They don't matter. Throughout my adult lifetime there have been American wars on the evening news. Send a missile and blow up a drugstore in Sudan. Oops. They know to stay out of Africa. Africa will swallow them like quicksand. The middle east might yet. It will if they jump into Iran. There they will find the bottomless pit. Oops.

It's 31 degrees at 8pm. I looked outside. The wet leaves on the ground, everything on the ground wet, had already frosted. Might snow a little tonight. But it will go away by noon. Maybe. White frost in the curled leaves. I heard on the news just now a growing need for healthcare workers. That's a good thing. We need more. We need hospitals to be able to meet their expenses to keep going. We need more doctors and dentists in small towns around the country. In the Age of Narcissism professionals out of college would go to big city firms. They wanted money. Can't make good money in a country town. Because country people can't afford to go to the doctor. So they go to the emergency room for free, "at taxpayer expense." I get so tired of that ridiculous phrase. It always comes up around helping some poor people. It's penny pinching. It's tight lipped venality. Why can't we help people having a hard time of it with taxpayer money? We kill poor people several a day with bombs, guns, land mines, etc., made at taxpayer expense. Nobody has a problem with killing and spreading misery at taxpayer expense (except me). Good Capitalism. Honor. Glory. Money. We're Number One.

I'm moderately ecstatic inside today because I saw today for the second time a crack in that Berlin Wall that's been up between us and Democracy about as long as the original Berlin Wall was up. Our Berlin Wall hasn't yet fallen. But today I saw another crack in it. The people rising up, albeit gently, we really do want to avoid civil war again, is encouraging to see after all these years of the impotence of the American people politically. The only presidential candidate who had what it took to stand up to the war machine won overwhelmingly, and him black. Kinda says something. Then the Supreme Court announces loud and clear to us again, we're not having Democracy around here.

Another minor victory, if victory it is, for the people of this land, the American people who work for a living and have to pay taxes because they make so little. The incentive is to get rich then you don't pay taxes.
Pardon me going on like this. It's just that I like Democracy, radical as that is, and airy fairy pie in the sky the cow jumped over the moon as it can possibly be. I'm just nutty. I'd like to see people get along with each other, without it being the Truman Show, impractical as that is. I like it to be such that we see somebody over here having a hard time, let's help her out, get her back on her feet. If we had serious rehab centers reasonably funded in every city, even towns, and them run like hospices, not the way the medical community would do it, we'd have a lot less junkies, a lot less crime, a lot less danger walking from your car to your door.
Junkies don't want to be junkies. They want to get well, but can't on their own. I'd say serve them if they come back and come back. Like Jesus said, 7 times 7. 49 chances. I believe we are civilized according to how we regard our poor. The poor aren't even on the American ladder. The people on the ladder are looking up the ladder. The poor on the ground don't matter. And for some odd reason that is yet to be known, a fluke maybe, we have a president who sees the people on the ground. And today the people on the ground have been given some breathing space, as well as the people on the lower rungs of the ladder. Maybe we've had so much insanity the wheel has turned and maybe sanity is coming forward, though I dare not hope for it to be so. It still makes me smile. Not one Repub. What a coup.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


image borrowed from amazon
I bought one so it's ok
Exactly as the forecast, today it was clear then cloudy and started raining at 2. Fog came in with the rain. It's been a foggy mountaintop. Daffodils are up and about to bloom the next day the sun is out. It's one of the most beautiful days there is, wet landscape in cloud. The wet makes all the colors vivid, the yellows, tans and browns of last year's leavings, the greens of pines, and the fog gives it beautiful depth against the light gray backdrop. Last year friends here from Missouri were disappointed their day here was wet with light fog. I mentioned that the wet brightens the colors the sun bleaches and the light fog gives actually greater clarity in what you see, and a sense of distance. The evidence came up on the digital screen and a lousy gray day turned into a spectacular day in a flash. I love to walk in the woods on a foggy day. Umbrellas don't do so well in the woods, so I wait until it's not raining to go walking.

The windchimes ting lightly with the splashes of water running off the roof to the rocks below. 48 degrees. It was funny at the radio station attempting to tell the weather news Saturday morning. I had to operate Sue's laptop, which I'm not familiar with at all. She showed me how to get up the weather and scroll it. It worked. I'm reading Saturday, Sunday, Monday and I couldn't get it to scroll. It was a full arm's length away from me, because the mic was quite a ways from it. I was in there trying to keep voice near the mic and reach as far as I could reach, hold one little thing down with my thumb and scroll on the mouse pad with my finger to make it go on to Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I like to go through Thursday, because it gives a pattern of weather for the next 5 days. Nobody can remember the details of each day. I certainly can't. So I find the pattern and feel like about everybody gets the pattern, like if it gets warmer every day, or if it gets rainier every day, see which way the wind blows. I like it so you don't have to be a weatherman to know.

Today I watched a netflix movie twice. BROTHERS. It was made by Japanese director Takeshi Kitano. He writes screenplays of all his films, conceives the story, plays lead character and directs them. Plus he has his own studio, Office Kitano. I've seen 5 of his films recently and find Takeshi Kitano a brilliant mind. Each one is radically different from the others except for the Kitano mind that runs through them. This one takes place in Los Angeles, both English and Japanese spoken. I used subtitles for all of it. He has what I interpret to be a post-modern twist in his films. He has funny asides from time to time. His films tend to have 4 dances in them. Not dances like conventional dancing. On one, 4 guys are making music with 4 wooden staffs banging them on the floor making intricate rhythms, while they tapdance on sandal type shoes with a flat wooden circle for a heel and one for the ball of the foot. Get a bunch of them going and the sticks hitting the wooden floor, and they can make some noise and music. Two guys banging on both sides of a big drum. It an aside, comic relief, a surprise dance.

In today's film, one of the "dances" was 4 men in suits on a beach seen from a long ways back, an inch or so high, with the ocean, horizon and sky beyond them. 2 of them were tossing a football back and forth, and 2 of them just stood around. I've found he does this 4 times in each of his films. One of the dances in today's film was half a dozen guys in suits playing basketballs indoors with a portable indoor basket, none of them players. Jumping around, tossing the ball, moving here, moving there. This would be Takeshi's humor. In a film of mostly men, yakuza, mafia, he has them dancing with balls during the dance scenes. I think of all the attempts to make a basket, it happened only once. The guys are shown as being inept at everything in their lives but shooting guns, and not so hot at that. They use the point and shoot method. Shoot enough times and you're bound to hit something.

Constant movement, all of it in relation to the ball. Fascinating when seen as a dance. Our man, Kitano's character, Older Brother, gets a cell phone call from guys in another mob telling him they have his girlfriend. Meet them at certain place and time. He shows up. 2 guys have their guns on girlfriend's head. Older Brother stands and looks at them awhile, pulls out his gun and shot all 3 of them, girlfriend included, and drove off. It wasn't like he intended to. She was collateral damage for his method of shooting: point and empty the gun.
It had the humor of the unexpected in it. Nobody in gangster movies does that. It says, this guy's a loose cannon and everybody better watch out. He was, too, and he made a mess of things before he was through. Takeshi Kitano, the artist, likes to play with the unexpected. That's him in the center of the picture above. Omar Epps is the black man. He makes a good character in every movie I've seen him in. He puts on a great solo performance driving the car at the end, leaves us laughing.
Kitano makes characters that are a little bit off the deep end, you never can guess what they might do next. Any of them. I've come to see him as something of a Woody Allen of Japan. Not that his characters are involved in psychoanalysis, but he writes them, directs them and plays the lead character in them. They're not anything like Allen's films, but he is an artist to the same degree Allen is an artist. His films are visual dynamite, the compositions of vertical and horizontal lines and color in architecture for backgrounds. Kitano has a similar eye that finds art everywhere.
In one of the crazier scenes, he and Epps kill a bodyguard of the man they're after, and lay him down in the street where it says BUMP in big white letters and two lines above them making an arrow to point to this one spot where the bump is presumably located. They put him on the street at the tip of the arrow and ran off. Every scene is a beautiful picture inside the rectangle frame. The characters are from a wide variety of personalities, each one individual in every way. And like Allen, there is unexpected humor everywhere, clever, good humor. In some of the scenes I can see Kitano off camera laughing at something the actors are doing. His sense of humor is zany and he makes the most of it. I get the impression he's a zany individual, too. His movies are never comedies, anything but, yet I always laugh inside when I think of him for all the funny pranks he pulls in a film. I had to give this one 5 stars on the netflix evaluation.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


first applications of color

This afternoon I was looking for my Stanley Powerlock 12' measuring tape in the desk drawer. That's where I keep it. It wasn't there. I opened the drawer all the way. It still wasn't there. Then I realized it was on the table beside the reading chair. I spotted a a little blue 4"x 6" spiral notebook. It seemed like it had a light on it. When the computer crashed last year I lost my notes on Howard Joines from a phone conversation with his son Richard. I wrote down everything he said like taking notes in class, fast as I could go. I copied it into the computer and put the notebook in a safe place. The same as putting it in a black hole, which is what I've found safe places to be, and still use them. Like, duh. I'd looked everyplace I could think to look and places I wouldn't think to look, the same as lost. I didn't give up all the way. I don't often go to prayer for such as a lost notebook, but this was more than that. The notebook had a brief of a man's life in it. I felt like that made it ok for prayer. That was just a few days ago. When I saw that blue, I thought, if I'm not wrong, I wrote it on several pages in a small notebook. A little bit of memory coming in. It could be false memory too, so I didn't get excited. I opened it and there it was. Phew. Thank you.

I've read them over and thought I'd tell you about his life as told to me by his son Richard 3 years ago. Tomorrow I'll enter the notes on a website Lucas Pasley put up for information about different Alleghany musicians. I like Richard's description of how Howard played. It's a good example of musician language that says specifically what they mean, though to a nonmusician sounds like mush. Richard said, "He bears down on it, gets it out of it, doesn't just tickle it." To any mountain musician, that is perfectly clear. He bears down on it, obvious, lays it to it with the bow, digs into the strings. Gets it (music) out of it (the fiddle). He doesn't just tickle it (the fiddle). His bow doesn't just glide over the strings. He bears down on it. Gets him a full bodied sound out of the fiddle.

Of the very few tunes I've heard him play, maybe 5, every time I hear him play Cacklin Hen I can see the chickens scratching around, making their chicken sounds. Then there's the cacklin hen. Howard gets the chicken notes in that song like there's a chicken in the fiddle and he found it. I've noticed that the old timers who lived with chickens all their lives always get those chicken notes in Cacklin Hen, Cluck Ol Hen and Chicken Reel to sound just like a chicken. Fred McBride never came close to the chicken note and neither does Lucas Pasley. Neither does anyone else who didn't have chickens. I am only aware of it because I grew up with chickens, and had chickens here the first 10 years, until rambling dogs, one thing and another made it impractical. I especially like Howard's playing of Cacklin Hen because I can see chickens when he's playing it. They're everywhere.

Richard said Howard could hear a tune played once or twice and have it. Howard's mother said when he was 6 or 7 he started playing tunes on a tin fiddle. She said he'd stand behind a door playing for people when he was a kid. He bought his first fiddle for $50 from a Montgomery Ward catalog when he was 18. He was born in 1908, so that would make it 1926. Fred Roupe liked it the best of any fiddle he ever played. Richard said the last fiddle Howard bought he found in a flea market in Florida. He paid 10 or 15 dollars for it, put strings and a bridge on it and got it going.

Howard held Kenny Baker as the best fiddler he ever heard. Richard said he liked to play Kenny Baker tunes with Fred Roupe and Jr Maxwell, both bluegrass banjo pickers, both really good. All three of them had a lot of blue ribbons from fiddlers conventions. Jr and Howard made much music together through their lives, Howard Jr's uncle. But Howard played old-time and Jr played bluegrass, so they didn't make as much music together as they would have if they'd both played bluegrass or both old-time. Jr could play old-time, knew the tunes, but found it boring next to bluegrass. He played banjo when young, old-time. Then came a time when he quit playing because it was too boresome. Then bluegrass came on in the early 40s and he picked up the banjo again to learn bluegrass and loved it.

Howard's mother and dad were Lillie Holbrook and Beeler Joines. Richard said the music in the family came through the Holbrooks. I think he said Lillie played spoons. Beeler taught school at Pine Swamp, had a store and operated the Post Office for Pine Swamp. I believe Richard said Pine Swamp was then Brooks, NC. Lillie's sister Maggie played an organ like Heywood Blevins played piano, by ear, and played every note together with Howard on fiddle. Aunt Maggie sang Old Time Molly Hare every time they visited. About all the boys played an instrument. Mama said Howard was the most talented of the boys.

If I got it right, I think the last band Howard played with had Richard Nichols playing bass, Jack Handy, guitar and vocals, Kyle Dean Smith on banjo, Richard Joines, mandolin, and Howard fiddle. If these names have no meaning for you, I can give you a hint: they're all master musicians that don't stop short of making music. Ed Atwood, who lived at the bottom of the mountain in Whitehead, grew up in sight of Jr's farm, played banjo with Howard for many a year. They played a lot of dances. Clifton Evans played guitar with them. I used to know Ed. He smoked Camels by the carton. And he could pick the fire out of a banjo. I didn't know Ed picked for a long time. I was invited to a neighbor's house for some music and it was my first up close old-time music, Fred McBride, fiddle, Faye Brooks Wagoner, guitar, George Eller, banjo, and there was Ed Atwood clucking that clawhammer like nobody's business. And Faye, I didn't know she picked until that night and could sing so well.

Tom Pruitt knew Howard Joines. They both had fox dogs and foxhunted together. To both of them, the chorus of the dogs' voices was music. If I'd lived in that time, I'd have had fox dogs. I can hear that music in a dog's voice. I know what they're talking about, that appreciation of the music, but I've never had anything near the foxhunting experience as done in these mountains, or at all. Catching the fox was not the goal. If you catch it, then you can't run it again. The goal was to listen to the dogs run all night long. I expect every man brought his own fruit jar. You drink all night (if you're a drinker), listen to the dogs, talk with friends all night, listen to the dogs. Tom had mentioned Howard Joines to me over the years, a fiddler hard to beat, foxhunting friend, a good man. A Pine Swamp Joines.

Friday, March 19, 2010


listening to the rain

Applied paint to the fiddle today, bringing it closer. As of today it's beginning to look like a fiddle by color as much as shape. It appears to have the lightness of a fiddle, deceptively light every time I've picked one up. If I can keep that or even enhance it is essential. I don't want the fiddle to look like it weighs 10 pounds. For the darker part of the wood I need darker than raw umber, which I can't use at all because it has a green base and I'm using red tones. Many ways I can get it. Red and green put together right can make black. Same for orange and blue. I'll make the dark part one of these ways. Orange and blue makes a warmer tone. I want all warm tones on the wood. I've studied his face all day and will approach it tomorrow. One of the eyes needs a tiny touch and nothing more, but it has to be right. His left eye makes him look Japanese. Funny, when I look at it and see the eyes oriental, the entire face becomes oriental. I see his eyes as western and he looks like a white man. I'd never noticed before the powerful influence of the eyes on the entire face.

I would venture, meaning I don't know, that our use of language has weakened and cell phones have demolished our original way of communicating through our eyes the way they do in the world of the dumb animals, dumb only in that they can't talk with language we understand. The language they talk we don't understand either. I've never heard the cats say a word to each other. I've learned with them and the dogs before them that I don't need to talk to communicate with them. Nearly all my talking to them is hearing my head roar, has nothing to do with anything. The cats have learned a lot of words, which I use for triggers. Like catfood. They also understand, You want out? That's in response to pleading eyes saying I want.

There are certain words, just a few, like friend. First time I told TarBaby he was my friend, he went into deep relaxation and purred out loud. I don't know that he'd ever heard the word before. This happened 5 or so years ago. Since then, every time I tell him he's my friend, he relaxes and purrs like that's telling him the very thing he wants to hear. I didn't say it any special way, but he got something. I doubt it's in the sound of the word itself because the same word in German is said something like froint. I asked TarBaby if he was my froint--he acted like he didn't hear. He's an American cat. Talk English.

Speaking of which, it bores me unto weariness when I hear somebody go on about why they oughta make em speak English if they want to live in this country. This is a English speaking country. Same as the immigrant issue. Defenseless people to bash. That's bully mind. Switzerland uses 3 languages on their currency, French, Italian and German. Those are the languages people tend to speak in the 3 regions of Switzerland surrounded by these countries. Anything I buy that's electronic and needs an instruction manual has the book divided into 2, 3, 4 or more languages. So what. All the better for people to understand you with. I like walking on a New York sidewalk and hearing every language spoken and occasionally my own. I've always loved the sounds of other languages. As a kid, my mother worked with a Mexican girl, Juanita, high school senior. I'd ask her to speak Spanish to me just so I could hear it. Bob Dylan has a song, Spanish Is A Loving Tongue. We don't have much that's loving going on, so it might be nice to have the Spanish language spoken more frequently.

It's just that old colonial racist belief that you keep the people of color down. The problem with Spanish is brownish skin tones. That's a no-no in the land of denial. The arrogance of whiteness was challenged this most recent election when we learned people of color are 50/50 with the white population. Being kept down, they're relatively poor, and sometimes totally poor. The poor tend to have more kids, meaning from here on, the people of color outnumber white in USA. When the Civil War was over, the freed slaves outnumbered the whites in the Deep South states. In a democracy, that's power. As long as white man has power that shit aint happening. That's where requiring education to vote in the South and keeping the black folks away from education started. The Randy Newman song, I think it's called Rednecks, comes to mind.

White man is in crisis at this moment. White man used to control the money, but now Yellow man controls the money. Yellow is non-white. Chinks. Slopes. Gooks. As America's white man star is fading, the Asians are coming on in the stock market world, outdoing us at capitalism. They used to be them dirty commies. Now they own us, thanks to the expense of two wars on poor people brought to us by white men. It looks to me like USA passed over the top of the wheel of fortune between the time of WW2 and Kennedy's assassination. The 20th Century is called the American Century. This century looks like it will be called the Chinese Century in retrospect. We're on the downside of the wheel as China and India are ascending. When I was little, those were the poorest places on earth. The wheel won't stop for them either. I hope they do better than we did, though I don't dare expect. They are, after all, human.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


the starting sketch

Happy sunny day. The temperature went above 60 for a few hours. Sun out most of the day. Fluffy clouds gray on the bottom, white on top. I imagine them seen from above in a plane. First time I flew above the clouds, I thought, Heaven is no more here than anywhere else. So much for that old cosmology. Flying above the clouds has driven Heaven out into outer space, ultimately beyond the universe. It's not there either. In church, when I was a kid, it never made sense to me the adults all thought Heaven was out there someplace, someplace where we're not. The night sky is the heavens.
I thought it was perfectly clear when Jesus said Heaven is within. I've never understood, nor really wanted to, how the traditional belief arose that Heaven is out there when we're told it's in the heart by the one who knows. I hear people say all the time, "hell's right here on earth." Seems like if hell is on earth, heaven would be too. Heaven and earth, the polar opposites we waver between going about our days as we stand upright on the earth with our heads in the atmosphere.

Painted a good bit today on Howard Joines's forehead, touches here and there all over his face, another coat on the fiddle. The fiddle is moving in the right direction. The colors are coming together to suggest wood. It has 5 coats of different colors from red to a golden yellow and burnt sienna and raw umber. It will probably get 5 more coats, though the next ones will be moving toward completion, more subtle shadings from dark to light. The sense that it is wood is coming along too. Whether or not it makes a terrifically good rendering of a fiddle, I do want its color to suggest wood and nothing else. Not even paint.

His face is almost there. Touches here, touches there. Every time I do anything to the face, I go over the whole face, leaving previous layers to come through. At this moment, the eyebrows are too dark. That's easy to fix. I'll put in the bow when the fiddle reaches satisfaction. A long narrow almost straight dark line. It will have to be light enough to show up against the dark wood of the fiddle, dark enough to stand out from the white shirt, and light enough to show up on the dark background. Then a straight line of white. It's the kind of thing I put off until everything else is done. No room for correction. No room for doing it twice. It's a one time thing, like zen archery. One arrow. One shot at it. Every bow I've painted, I've done this way. I study it and dread it, go on studying it until the time feels right. When I'm ready, it takes a very few minutes and it's just right or close enough. It's not something I can take for granted. I see it something like when a fiddler is making a particular note feel what he wants it to feel by willing it.

The eyes gave me a little bit of a fit for awhile. Then they appeared. I paint around them now. When the eyes get right, I don't mess with them. By right I mean, look like they can see. When the fiddle is right you'll hear it in your mind's ear when you see it. Whether or not it gets there I can't yet say, but that's the goal, the guiding light. I don't know if it really favors Howard, as I've never seen him to know it was Howard Joines, if I ever saw him. His face is familiar in pictures of him I've looked at, but only like somebody I might have seen at the bank or the post office or gas station. All I have to go by is his head is shaped like Stephen Joines, Howard's nephew, or great nephew. In the beginning, I was laying down the shadows and lights of the face and up came Stephen. See above.

I've had him favoring Richard, his son. Going by that, he at least looks like he could be a Joines. I'm in the right family, anyway. That's all I have to go by. But I think it's enough. Jr was his nephew. I see they had the same noses, so I know Howard's nose by Jr's. Stephen has that nose and so did Jr's mother, Howard's sister. If it doesn't favor him enough, I'll just call it a mountain fiddler. Mr Joines. But I believe I'll get it at least close enough to be able to call it a portrait of him. By knowing several Joineses, I have some idea of Howard's character, real character. I already know he was an honorable and respectable man. I already know he was an extra good fiddler, too.

Painting Alleghany fiddlers the rest of my life, or the rest of the time I'm able, will be a good purpose to live for. See how many I can get done. My ideal is that they all stay in the county. I will price them so they can. Will probably do 2 or 3 more of Jr. Must do one of Fred Roupe. I want to do one of the Rise & Shine Band that plays at the Jubilee. Will do a Ralph Stanley & Clinch Mtn Boys soon. It's taking place in my mind. I'm about at a place where I'll select the canvas and start sketching it on with pencil and oil crayon so when this one is done, the next one will be ready to start applying colors.