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Wednesday, June 30, 2010


found art

Rode over to Rugby today with friend Chris Durgen, an artist who works in wood, to see Wayne Henderson. He wanted to ask Wayne for some specific tips on guitar making as Chris is wanting to make a guitar for himself. I went along to deliver to Wayne his copy of the cd in gratitude and to be sure he had this recording he made back when he was in his 20s. This picture above I found where Bledsoe Creek Road joins Spicer Mountain Road. The sand was put there by the human mind for a purpose and the tarp put on it for a purpose, and no aesthetic consideration whatsoever. None. Separate from its purpose, I see a snow-covered mountain out west. Maybe Christo was here and wrapped a sand pile. This is the kind of art I love the best.

The drive to Rugby was a beautiful road all the way. From Sparta out 93 to 113, then 58 to Troutdale, left toward Whitetop Mountain to Rugby. At concerts Wayne says Rugby has a population of 4. Over the last few years with Jr I heard 4 obituaries from Rugby. I said to Jr, Rugby must be empty now. Of course, it was comic exaggeration to say 4. It's a beautiful highway through forest after leaving 58. It was a beautiful day for a drive, cloudy enough that sunglasses weren't necessary and sunny enough to have light just right without glare. Chris and I hadn't talked in quite some time so we both ran our mouths as fast as they'd go, conversation jumping all over the place.

On the way back, we stopped by to see Daniel and Robin Cater, the potters on Antioch Church Road. We sat on their porch looking into a nice stand of trees and a big rock cliff in the side of the mountain behind the trees. One of Daniel's clay sculptures stood on a natural shelf in the rock face. Moss all around in patches following the lines of the rock. We gazed off into the wooded side of the hollow and talked fast as we could get it done. Robin told me some of her experience of taking care of her mother with her 2 sisters while mother was dying. And I told some of my experience with Jr. We wiped our eyes some as we talked. I asked her if she'd had joy and sorrow mixed into one whole so you couldn't separate one from the other. She knew exactly what I meant. She went through her experience feeling both at once as the ongoing feeling.

It feels good to talk with someone who has had similar experience for the understanding that goes both ways. The conversation took us to a quiet, comfortable place within, red-eyed feeling sorrow and joy to the same degree, the dampness in the eyes from sorrow as much as from joy that brings tears. Robin knew Jean in a beautiful way. I told Robin the time she met and talked with Jean that she had been an angel unawares. I'd taken Jean to a Christmas party Marsha was giving of Farmer's Hardware. Jean knew no one there and I knew about a third. Jean was trying to control her nervous jitters to the place where she was just uncomfortable and feeling out of place. Robin walked in the door. Jean and I were standing not far from the door. Robin and I hugged, I introduced her to Jean, they started talking, fell into conversation, talked like sisters half an hour or so, then went over to the fire place and talked by the fire. And Robin didn't even go around seeing other people, though she knew plenty of them. She talked with Jean like friends who hadn't seen each other in a few years. When they got said all they had to say, each joined the party. Jean was relaxed, at home, felt good inside and out.

That evening I saw something in Robin I hadn't seen before. The sincerity I perceived in her from the brief encounters we've had over some years turned out to be authentic. I've become like the mountain people waiting to see if different ones are as they seem or if the seeming is veneer. I saw that night Robin's sincerity is from the heart, it's who she is. I've seen her a good bit since then and see it in her more and more until by now, today, the Robin I see is a light. I never forgot that night with Jean, what Robin did for her not knowing she was doing anything but talking.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


crouse house fiddlers

Some mighty fine fiddle music going with Wade Petty and Erica Godfrey hearing each other's sounds together flowing through the music, neither trying to outplay the other, but to use their different styles and sound to complement the other, weave their different ways of playing into a single sound that gives the tune a new dimension. They were having the kind of enjoyment only musicians know. The way I hear it, they are artists of sound creating a new sound together, 100% totally in the now. It's like music of all sorts is going with the ongoing now giving it varieties of waves, sound, every note a present moment high and low, the music riding the waves of the tune.

The musicians took a break, some of them to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and anything from a variety of cookies, some home made, some store bought. When the others got up to stretch their legs, Wade Petty pulled his chair to face Erica, and somebody whose name I don't know stayed with a guitar and kept rhythm for them. They played several songs in such a way it showed one of the spontaneous joys of musicianship. Two extra good fiddlers enjoying a chance to make music with another. I was watching them and hearing them, seeing the present day fiddlers in the tradition of our region, hearing the sounds they created in relation to each other. I felt like their musical aside was a concert in itself. I stood listening, thinking, this is quite a moment. Wouldn't it be great to record it? Wouldn't it be better not to? Allow it its own spontaneity. Let it be what it is. I felt like a snapshot without flash would be no disturbance to the music. I didn't want to interfere in any way.

Yesterday and today I went around to different people I wanted to deliver the cd of Jr, Cleve and Art to people I know who knew them, made music with them, love this music. Dropped in at the radio station Monday morning to see Sonya and deliver the cd for her and Bill. She wanted to play the 2 songs of Jr with Cleve Andrews. She asked me if I'd like to give some out over the air. Sure. I went to the car and brought some in. The telephone rang every time I clicked the off button. I knew several of the callers and we had a moment of being in touch. 15 called in a row. Then no more. It was wild. I was writing names, being certain that my imperfect hearing got the name as it really is. Like in this part of the mountains the names White, Wright and Wyatt are all pronounced the same. And these were my listeners, the ones I made the cds for. It gave me joy to talk with each one of them, sometimes someone telling me they used to make music with Cleve and Jr too. For bluegrass lovers, this is straight on mountain bluegrass picked by musicians who get the job done. And every one I talked with on the phone Monday and Saturday was somebody who knew at least one of them, most often Cleve and Jr. Several were in awe of hearing Cleve's fiddle again after 32 years since he's been gone.

Several hours today I went around to particular people I wanted to be sure had one, stopping to visit for a while, then on to the next one. I saw people both days I've not seen in awhile. Good spirit with everybody. Going from place to place leaving the cd and visiting for awhile, telling the story of how this music came together, where the recordings came from, Kilby Spencer, and how he came by them. The people of the county are becoming aware of heritage now that the old ways are gone. They're aware now, thanks to Ernest Joines, possibly the only one in the county who knew everybody who ever picked a string during his lifetime to assemble the 4-cd set of music from Alleghany County. Ernest's collection has done a great deal toward drawing interest to the musicians of the county. This collection of Jr's musician friends is something so rare of such good music and sound quality I couldn't keep it to myself.

It has been 2 happy days of talking with people I see too seldom. The love for this music is enthusiastic. It's like something that fell out of the blue into my lap. I chose to share it with my listeners, Jr's friends and kin, radio stations and archives. The joy I've received from this experience was a side effect I hadn't taken into consideration in advance, at all. It crept up on my by surprise.

Monday, June 28, 2010


crouse house pickers

That's Richard Nichols playing the bass, Wade Petty with the fiddle and Charlie Edwards on the guitar. They were in a circle of a dozen or so musicians and 20 or so people sitting around listening under the big oaks out in front of the Floyd Crouse house. After half an hour or so an ominous black cloud suddenly appeared in the South like maybe it came up the gap from Wilkes. A big, brooding black cloud that made everyone exclaim when they saw it how black it was. It was heading our way and we all being people who lived around here knew it meant we'd better get inside now, because if we linger, we'll get wet. As the last ones were going into the house the sprinkling started and then it was on. Big rain for maybe a half hour. But we were in the house with good music going and everybody comfortable.

The music at the Crouse House on Monday night is always good; the house is always loaded with people who love the music. The good music goes from 6:30 to 9. Erica Godfrey of Low Gap was there tonight, at first in the old-time room and when the old-time people went home she came into the room with the bluegrass people. She's a fine fiddler and age 19 or 20, was playing with Mac Snow's band when she was 16. They played Sally Ann and she was having a hard time following it. When it was finished, she showed them how she played it, and she did it the Low Gap / Round Peak style, that being where she's from. They played it the way it's played here. Everyone was taken by the difference. When she played it the way she knew it, the other musicians fell in with what she was doing and they did an almighty Sally Ann.

I went with half a dozen cds in my pocket and about 10 more in the car. First one went to Charlie Edwards, who I knew would love it, appreciate having something of all those musicians he's known who never recorded and their music died with them.
I gave one to Richard Woodie who bought Jr's banjo when he left off the music, back around 1990. Richard offered him a lifetime right to it, he could keep it as long as he lives and then it goes back to Richard. He was trying to encourage Jr to get back into making music, which several people attempted in their own ways. None of it took. He didn't have the heart for it any more. The callouses on his fingertips were gone and the strings caused a burning sensation. His fingers didn't work on command any more. His control was gone. His desire was gone.

Jr being a practical man didn't like doing something that didn't get something done. Just sitting around jamming at home after he'd already done his time playing music to make people dance. He liked to make music that made people get on their feet and dance because they can't still. That's the kind of music Jr made. The music making fire was out in him, or down to a smoulder. I have respect for Richard for that. It bespoke tremendous respect on his part for Jr. It told me Richard had what it took to understand where Jr Maxwell was coming from. Not many did. He makes the 3rd that I know of who respects Jr's mind. Anyone acquainted with Jr's mind is in awe of it. Jr didn't have a clue. He'd have got mad at me for presuming to make a fool of him thinking he'd believe such bullshit. He'd either keep it to himself or tell me I need my head examined. After 3 drinks and then 4, he might say about anything. Whatever he'd say, it would be humorous and make me laugh my ass off at the same time I'm getting what he's telling me.

Next cd went to Richard Nichols, bassist, who has known all these musicians and made music with them, as had Richard Woodie. That is, Jr, Cleve and Art, the ones of this county, this particular music community. He's respected them all his life. We talked for quite a long time at the kitchen doorway that looked into the room with the music. He was taking a break and somebody else was playing the bass. He was in the kitchen having coffee and talking with others in there. David Joines was there too and he got one. He told me tonight he's made 15 fiddles. He makes other instruments too. He's a friend of Floyd Reeves, who also makes fiddles and some other insruments. Very pleasant mannered people. While we were talking I was thinking I might go see him at his workshop and get some pictures, get some info about his life for Lucas Pasley's website of Alleghany musicians. And I'd write you about seeing David's workshop. He has a sense of humor that is going all the time.

The 3 of us talking and gazing into the room with the music as we talked, this man on the periphery, which was in the space just this side of the backs of the musicians he was sitting behind. He played a guitar, looked to be up in 70s, maybe 80, a character, a cut-up, an entertainer who turned in our direction, him between the people in the chairs and the band and he started doing his own show to the white haired womed around him, pretend flirting with them, enjoying them, being silly, and playing the guitar to what the band was playing. As the attention of the people around him shifted from the band to him, he took off on a blues song of the Mississippi Delta variety and was funky. He sang and played blues guitar, cutting up. I was wishing I'd started videoing him with the camera at the beginning of the song. I let the thought go, then thought, I can get what's left. I put the camera on him and got the last verse of the song. When the song was done, I asked Richard Nichols who he was. He said the man goes by Smilin Jack. And I got it. A light went off in my head. Smilin Jack had been in my store, sometime in its last year. He was wanting to sell me a home made cd of him singing gospel songs. He was a catbird and she was too. They seemed like people who are friends I hadn't seen in years or like we just found out we're kin. They were fun. I enjoyed talking with them, listening to them. He was a natural-born comic who had been like that all through his life, in a way kind of wild and free though contained.

I introduced myself to him soon after Richard told me his name. What a catbird he was. He remembered the store and said he and his wife were talking about me the day before. He told me he had some cds in the car, come on with him. Louise, his woman, was sitting in the car. We remembered each other too from the store experience. She is a refreshing woman. We talked for quite awhile at the car with the door open. Smilin Jack went off to talk to 3 people who were leaving. He came back and I told him I wanted one of his cds. $10. A dollar a song. I've an idea it was the same one I bought from him at the store. I'll get it and see. It doesn't matter. I wanted them to have the $10. The cd is made on the computer with nothing written on the cd and a list of the 10 songs in the cd case. They're charming people. They have a light spirit about them. I believe it was the same one I bought from him back then for a dollar a song. All the better if it is the same, because I'll give one to the radio station. The other will be in my collection to go to the library upon my demise. I remember the cd being something I wanted to play on the radio show. Now that I have a gospel hour I can justify playing all of it, even featuring it. I'd even like to tape the show and get the tape to them. Just for fun.

I showed them the video of him, Smilin Jack, last verse of his blues song. They were both struck by the technology of it, a movie, just like that. It showed up well in the dark. It made a good short video. He was sitting directly under the lights in the middle of the room so he's well lit. He's funny. And I got it that his humor is what she loves best about him. He keeps her amused because he's always being funny. And the Smilin part of his name is a constant. He's always smiling in one way or another. When he talks, his voice smiles. He's a man of peace, who a century ago might have worked in medicine shows like Clarence Ashley and Uncle Dave Macon. A catbird. In a way, Smilin Jack is something like a Shakespearean character who jumped out of an opened book and is loose in the world. From there I went to the car, then to Food Lion go get some supplies to last til the 1st. There are times when it is really fun being a human being. Today was one of them.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


morgan freeman as nelson mandela

Today's movie was Clint Eastwoods INVICTUS, a new one with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The story begins with Nelson Mandela's release from 27 years prison at Robben Island, South Africa. I have paid attention to Mandela since the time he was in prison and it looked like he'd never be let out. I was impressed most when he became president of South Africa his refusal to let revenge get in motion when the black people became free to outnumber the whites in elections. He was mild mannered and toned down the popular will among the blacks to strike out and eliminate the whites. Mandela articulated the ridiculous in that approach and actually led the way for the integration of the races. Wise politician is an oxymoron, but that's what he was. He stabilized the country by example and inspiration. Alas, when he was out and Thabo Mbeke took his place was the beginning of political corruption and ineptitude. Mandela's purpose was to raise the people up and have South Africans working together instead of against each other. When the political machine people came in, that was the end of wise government in South Africa. Not much improvement for the black people has happened in Mandela's absence. Again, a founding father of genius to pass the nation to self-focused politicians, until in the American case Alice's Tea Party rises against a president who puts the nation first because he's the N-word, which word I'm sure is the password in Alice's Tea Party.

I used to have an issue with Clint Eastwood for making movies devoid of emotional experience. He must have seen it too, because that started to change from movie to movie. This one had emotional tugs all the way through, legitimately, not cheep Hollywood shots. There is the occasional obligatory American need to explain the obvious to be sure you don't miss it. It's a Hollywood truism that you must explain the obvious. In Hollywood they know very well about the American attention span, the level of American education that sinks in. In journalism courses it is taught to keep writing level down to the level of 4th grade comprehension. And they operate by cliches that work, like if it bleeds it leads. It's not like that's worse than any place else. It's no different in other countries. Like Ronald Reagan said justifying his regime at the end, "It could have been worse." Yeah. Eastwood's film had less than half a dozen of those American moments that say, in case you don't get it, here it is spelled out. Shakespeare did that all the time. I found every verbal enigma I came upon reading him was explained within a few lines. He made himself perfectly clear to his audiences that were largely illiterate but for the ruling class. He wrote to both. Hollywood does too.

I have to give this film 5 stars because of Morgan Freeman's rendering of Nelson Mandela that gave much insight into Mandela himself. Also because of Clint Eastwood's correction of his dearth of feeling in the films. Of course, he came out of the action genre into drama and they're different. The only emotion an action film plays to is fear. Other feelings distract. After UNFORGIVEN I quit watching Eastwood films because I found them consistently flat emotionally. MILLION DOLLAR BABY began to have some fairly strong emotion going on. By the time of this one, I find Eastwood cured. He has a good balance in his films now. I've never experienced a Clint Eastwood film until now that fully satisfies me as a worthwhile film. He named it after a poem he described "Victorian" that he passed to Matt Damon's character to study the poem that kept Mandela going through all the years of prison. It's title was INVICTUS, written by William Ernest Henley (1849-1902), English, from Gloucester. The poem has some powerful meaning, as did Mandela. You can find it online googling: invictus poem. Goes straight to it. This movie INVICTUS demonstrates that Eastwood has reached his potential he'd been working toward like on a staircase, one step at a time. Morgan Freeman was exactly right for Nelson Mandela. Freeman gave me glimpses of the silence in Nelson Mandela after 27 years of living in silence, nobody to speak to, only berated and knocked down.

Mandela, himself, made his prison cell into a monk's cell and came out of it a wise man. It's said that wisdom comes from suffering. The Buddha said this world is characterized by suffering. I take it to mean, then, that this world is the path to enlightenment, because it's all about suffering, our great teacher. I recall a time I was bent over with kidney stone pain for 40 hours. Came out of it with a little bit of wisdom I didn't go into it with. The 7 months of sorrow after Jr left the body taught me a very great deal too. It's like suffering drives us deeper into ourselves. I come out of it knowing myself a little better, a little better understanding. A bit of grace. The pain cleared my mind of its ongoing nigglings of memories, motivations, desires, worries in general. When the pain subsided, my mind came back. I hadn't realized how clear it had been through that time of pain. When mind came back, I wanted the pain again, but settled for mind. Didn't like the pain that much. When I see people with multiple piercings and tattoos I wonder if pain is a rush for them. There's enough pain going around in everyday life, I can't see paying somebody to help me feel pain. I wonder too, if pain is an affirmation of existence. It says: I exist. If so, an awful lot of people must question their own existence and need something to nail themselves to it. It couldn't possibly mean there isn't enough pain living in this world and we have to go out and buy some from time to time to feel existence. That's a little too complex for me.

A spiritual master named Upasni Maharaj recommended regarding pleasure as pain and pain as pleasure to help to hurry oneself along the Path. I've thought about that for years. I believe there is something to it, but I've never felt tempted the first time to try it. I can't quite get my mind around it. I suspect there might be something to it, like one of those things you can't foresee the benefit of. You have to try it on faith. On the other side, it's a deeper, more inclusive way of seeing. I have no inclination to martyr myself to pain because I have convinced myself it's pleasure. Maybe so, but I don't get it. I'm not one to go to S&M bars looking for somebody to beat me up so I can feel the pleasure of pain. The only way I can see that is twisted. I'd rather go on in ways I can believe a little bit and aren't so severely neurotic. I'm not one to sit cross-legged and practice little rituals. I think I prefer to face it straight on like Jr did. That's one of the aspects of who he was that I admired, even something I hope I learned and assimilated from his example.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


air bellows outdoor art museum

This morning's radio show was among the best. Played some good music by Jim Lloyd, guitar and banjo picker from the Rural Retreat area. Started off with him playing Waiting For The Robert E Lee solo banjo. He did it right. Played 4 really good songs by him, then switched over to Kevin Fore's album, Round Peak, The Tradition Continues. This one, too, is loaded with good music. 19 tracks of first rate old-time, him playing banjo with various fiddlers of that style; Kirk Sutphin, Benton Flippen, James Burris. 4 songs with each fiddler mixed up throughout the album. James Burris stole the show when he played his uncle Otis Burris's song Fortune, Otis's signature tune. It seems like every fiddler has a song he plays best, wins fiddlers conventions with, and likes the most. When James and his brother Joey (guitar) get going, music happens. Kevin Fore played banjo with them, making Southern Pride with Kevin playing banjo. Southern Pride is the name of Burris's present old-time band. Back in the 70s James and Joey, then playing banjo, were the New River Ramblers. I saw them at my first fiddlers convention in Independence in 1977 and they lit that place up. These boys don't slow down for nothin.

Eddie Bond sang a lot on Fore's album. He's a good singer. He had a band some years ago, Old Time Tradition. They made 2 albums. A Grayson County band. Last I saw, I think he was the new fiddler with the New Ballard's Branch Bogtrotters, or anyway he's recorded with them. Good fiddler. Mac Snow is on it Chester McMillan. Bobby Pattterson of Heritage records who made the cd copies for me sings a song on the album. He plays guitar and Kevin Fore plays banjo. They played well together, and Bobby did the singing. He's another good singer. Beautiful music every track.

Second half hour I played from the cd of Jr and Cleve Andrews, Art Wooten and Ernest Johnson. I'm presently making the error of playing this music now while I'm trying to write you. Every once in awhile something remarkable happens with the fiddle or the banjo and I go away for a minute or two and dive into the music. Just now heard Florida Blues, which was played this morning. Pausing now to hear Jr play Home Sweet Home, his fiddlers convention winning tune. Now he's playing John Hardy. His pickin is plenty respectable. It's a joy to hear it when he was at his prime. I told it ever so often I was giving the cds to anybody that calls wanting one. Got 8 calls and 2 of them came to pick them up right away, listening in the car. They were excited, people that really love this music, people who knew these musicians. The people I talked with on the phone were excited. This is white haired people the youngsters think don't even hear music. Art is right now tearing Fire On The Mountain to pieces.

Leaving the station I made some stops to individuals in town I wanted to have one. At Floyd and June Reeves's June insisted I eat her good cooking and I was grateful. Floyd was tickled just like the others who received one. Floyd loves this music, knew Art, knew Jr, knew Cleve. He loves this music so much he'll hear just how good this music is. This is some dynamic bluegrass. Raw mountain bluegrass. It's all such beautifully played bluegrass, the kind that makes music. Every time I give one to somebody I feel joy inside because I know they're going to love it. And everybody understands that this is rare. I called it rare as chicken teeth. And it was that rare. Just floating out in oblivion and one day fell into Kilby Spencer's computer and he sent them to my computer by email. I put them on a cd to play at the station. It never seemed right that I be the only one in the county to have this music, when it bespeaks some bluegrass musicians among us who can get the job done. Cleve and Jr never recorded. This is it of what has been found to date. There must be some old reel-to-reels in a box in somebody's house and nobody knows who it is. Maybe more will surface in future. For now, I'm happy with what we have. It being so rare and so essential to have these gems of some of the county's musicians, I needed to get them out in the county to the people who love this music and know these musicians. All of them could have been pro except for all the time on the road, getting by on hamburgers and coffee and indigestion, being away from home for a job that doesn't pay hardly enough to buy the gas to the next town.

On the way home I went through Pine Swamp and stopped at the Blue Ridge Gallery to leave copies with Melia and Judy, Claude Edwards's girls, Jr's cousin, and their mother came in and she got one. She'd known Jr about all her life and thought a great deal of him. After awhile a man came in with a couple of women. I've seen him at the Jubilee, at the Hillbilly Show, the Mountain Heritage Festival, meaning he likes this music and probably knew all the musicians. I went out to the car and brought in a copy. I walked up to him and handed it to him telling him what it was. He knew my name and I didn't know his. Turned out he knew Cleve and Jr. His new car has a cd player, so he can't play his cassettes and feels at a loss for music in the car. All the better. He told me I lived up there by Tom Pruitt. He knew Tom well and we talked about him for awhile. I like to talk about Tom with people who knew him as much as I like to talk with people who knew Jr. It brings them back a little bit. It's been a trouble free day full of joy all day long putting this good music in the hands of people I know love it.

Friday, June 25, 2010



Tonight's entertainment at the Front Porch in Woodlawn, Virginia, was Mark Freeman on banjo and guitar. Mark is Scott Freeman's brother, accompanying him above. Scott credits Mark with getting him started on mandolin. Scott came along after 4 brothers, all of them played an instrument except the mandolin, so Mark assigned Scott to the mandolin to round out the band. In the present day, they have a bluegrass band that leans to gospel called PATHWAY. They make respectable music.

Mark's theme tonight was Jimmy Arnold, a musician who was from around here, Ashe County originally, then Galax and at the end I think he was located at Fairview, outside Galax on the hwy to MtAiry. Good singer, good song writer, good musician. Made a couple of country albums, never went far in the country music world, but might have but for downward spiraling habits. He made an album of songs of the Civil War that is a classic album of just plain good music. His style of country fusioned with bluegrass and old-time. He was an excellent banjo picker too. Learned his licks from Tommy Jarrell. Mark didn't sing much, and the tunes he and Scott played were tunes associated with Jimmy Arnold. Mark talked a little bit about him too. Arnold is a legend in this area, held way up high. Mostly Mark picked banjo and Scott mandolin. Sometimes Mark played a guitar and sometimes Scott played a fiddle. Mark is all over the banjo's neck. I found most interesting listening to the way they played together, musicians who know each other's musical minds, have known each other all their lives, brothers.

Mark and Scott picked with casual familiarity all the music they made the same as he makes music with Willard. These are the people Scott has made music with throughout his life. This whole family of MtAiry Freemans I'm finding is an extraordinary bunch of people all in one family. I find them sensible, balanced people who make music and have their jobs and families. This can be said of about all mountain musicians. I don't mean all like 100%. More like it's a rule of thumb. Applies to enough to make it seem like all. What I say about mountain musicians doesn't always apply to musicians in general. Off the mountain musicians have very different attitudes toward themselves. The tradition in the mountains is a humility about it. Making music is not something to hold yourself up high over. In the tradition, mountain musicians play in such a way it calls no attention to the musician. The music is what it's about. The younger ones who grew up on television are breaking the mold.

The people coming to hear the music are becoming different every week. For some time it was the same ones. Now it's different ones every week and a small core of the same ones. I go every week and see everybody. Interesting variety of people. The cat that lives there walks through the seating area and music making area once each night. She's recently been shorn and she hates it. She really hates it. Her whiskers were snipped off too, and the tip of her tail cut, which has never healed. She walks around with a sour look on her face, which is mainly in the way her eyes are set. The place is her home. All these people in a place where people come and go all day long, sitting down and making loud noise. She lets anybody pet her that wants to, but not too much. It's like the cat lets them pet her because it does them so much good.

Next door at the Heritage Shoppe I picked up the cds from Bobby Patterson of Jr and his musician friends. Bobby showed me his music studio where he does the recording and cd making and all that he does with all the old equipment, table top size, replaced by a computer with a big monitor and a mouse with a ball on top. With it he can take out a sour note and replace it with a good one. It's an extremely complex machine and he figured it out all by trial and error, letting the 10 hour video rest. He did a beautiful job with them. On the label is a b&w picture of Jr playing banjo and Cleve Andrews playing fiddle. He got the names of all songs and musicians on the label. After we had them ready to go, he brought up the bass player with Jr and Cleve. He said it was a woman named Ann Jaffner, the very woman Jr never forgot as the best bass player he'd ever made music with. Too late to get her name credited on the cd, which is a shame, but I can add it to the paper playlist.

So it's ready to go. I'll take several to the radio station tomorrow and give them out. This is a joyous moment for me. Like I said to Bobby this evening, I could not sit on this music having the only copy of it. So curious that it came to me at once after Jr went away. It made perfect sense to me to have a hundred copies made to give out to Jr's friends and relatives and archives in Chapel Hill, Boone, some other places. This is important music. It's all there is of Jr and Cleve Andrews. It's all there is of a bunch of people on it. It's rare music. It's a thing that it's a shame in one way Jr isn't here to hear it. In another way, it is what it is. Evidently it wasn't meant for him to hear it. It was meant for me. These musicians on the cd are people Jr has told me about, but I was never able to hear Cleve Andrews, who, like Jr, never recorded. I never dreamed I'd ever hear Ann Jaffner, the woman bass player Jr swore by unto the day he died as the best bass player he'd ever made music with. Bobby Patterson recognized her bass. I'd been suspecting it might be her, and Bobby nailed it. He'd heard her play. He remembered her style of playing. It's her own. She continued in Jr's memory until his mind was gone. When Jr came to the place he couldn't remember names especially, he asked me what that bass player's name was he likes so much. Ann Jaffner. Now I know why he remembered her to the day he died. In this cd I hear what Jr told me about over some years. It's like seeing the movie after reading the book.

Thursday, June 24, 2010



The news about McCrystal makes me laugh every time I hear about him on the news, every time the news is on. I found the Rolling Stone article online more or less interesting. I remember him and Petraeus were generals that did not retire in protest of the Bush / Cheney / Rumsfeld Junta. Because of that, I've never trusted either one of them to function in a pretend democracy. "Winning the hearts and minds of the people" is hilarious. American military? Any way I look at it, I can't see how killing and torturing people is effective to that end. Even if we kill less than we did before, every person killed has relatives and friends. There is not only the killing, also the arrogance of ruling by deadly force. If occupying Chinese military patrolled my road in a Hummer with big machine gun on top every day with a recent history of torture, bombs from the sky, and I know their reputation from the period of occupation, there is no way they could win my heart and mind. They might win my false cooperation by keeping me reminded I dare not resist.

Reporter Helen Thomas was fired from her career for speaking truth on camera about Israel. She said, "The Palestinians are OCCUPIED." Oops. The Israeli lobby finally got her out of the picture. We don't do truth around here. I expect McCrystal is saying the same thing. Only difference is, Helen Thomas is not in a chain of command. A general knows by the time he becomes a general that in the military you do not criticize your superior in a pop magazine with major circulation. I'd say McCrystal consciously made it public he doesn't respect our N-word president. This will make him a hot dog of Alice's Tea Party. Another threatened white man.

And winding up this opinionated commentary of the recent news, the Malian umpire in the World Cup game who denied Americans the winning goal will probably never tell why he called the goal off. I've an idea he was doing his own personal, private political duty as a muslim. Or he could have been paid a very great deal. Something was way off about that deal. I'd like to think they discarded that ump, but I doubt they did or will. That call fired me up to pay attention to the games. I'm hoping USA will plow through and win the final game. I hope it gave the team the fire to beat every team they play. Until that call I didn't care if USA won or lost. Now I'm wanting our boys to come out on top.

The McCrystal thing is something of an enigma, like the Malian umpire. McCrystal's slip was not a slip. He knew what he was saying. You don't get as far up the military chain of command with a loose tongue as he's done. He knew what he was doing. Why, is yet to be known. It will show up in time to come. Sarah Palin pulling out of being governor of Alaska looked to me like she had something offered she couldn't refuse that was playing to her vanity. Alice's Tea Party. The spokesperson at rallies and maybe take Charlton Heston's place in NRA. She's the cheerleader bimbo of the Repubs now. The new Dan Quayle, the new Ronald Reagan, the new George Bush I, the new George Bush II. Appealing to the bottom half. They might be setting her up to run for president. It's like a serious effort to appeal to ignorance. We see there is enough ignorance going around to make such a vision a likelihood.

I see in news clips the rise of militia outfits around the country, a groundswell among white people, men and women, of reaction to seeing white is not the majority any more. When I learned that Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia had more black people than white after the Civil War when the slaves were emancipated, I got it. Democracy didn't have much place in those states. Only among the white, shutting out the black. Over the last half century that system of apartheid has broken down, and now that the people of color are beginning to outnumber the whites, Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld Junta took power in a Shakespearean way to assert white man power everywhere in the world. Then we got a black man who won the election overwhelmingly and now I see the white people hunkering down. Custer's last stand was a momentary success for the Indians that brought on the slaughter that put an end to the Indian wars. White man doesn't like to give up power. Every day I think about a quotation from Huey Long I found recently, When fascism comes to America it will be called anti-fascism. America is a unique place predictably unpredictable. Democracy, or the dream of it, is in perilous times.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Today's movie, THE SAINT OF 9/11. It has been on my netflix Q for a couple years creeping toward the top. The Oliver Stone film brought it to mind. Priests don't usually hold my attention. I have a terrible time with people who "represent" God in their imaginations. I don't have much regard for missionarizing, using God and religion to tell other people what to do with authority. The Age of Colonialism used religion to control other people in ways that in my way of seeing were very twisted, because self-centered only. All to serve the Massa and make him rich so he can live in a great big house with polished brass doorknobs and Goldilocks for his wife. The notion that people of cultures not our own are invalid comes from ego-centrism only. It has nothing to do with making lives of those people any better. Get them in bluejeans and tshirts fast as possible, make them look civilized, send pictures back home of civilizing the natives and folks back home send more money. Another way for the few to control the many.

All this said, I don't go into a documentary about a priest with much enthusiasm. I'd seen the picture of him dead at least a dozen times, and I don't even have television. The Stone WTC film brought him to mind. Thought I'd run it to the top of the Q and see it now while the WTC film is fresh in the recent past. What a surprise it turned out to be, right away. I never once distrusted his motive. A Franciscan monk, he chose to live in the world of NYC with street people, the poorest of the poor, comfort people with AIDS, always looking to help somebody out, out of whatever ditch they find themselves in. There was lightness about him, light as in shining light and weightless light. He sought ways of serving that were real serving, not show serving.

He became the chaplain of the NY Fire Department. He had a special relationship with all of them, a spiritual guide and a friend. He spent a lot of time in the fire stations, knowing everybody, assisting them spiritually, individually and just being somebody to talk with. He walked all over NYC. He came from Brooklyn, his mother and dad Irish immigrants. The people that knew him liked to call him a saint. Myself, I'm slow to use such a word. I suspect they were slow to use the word too. I have met a few people I'd say were filled with light. As people who knew him described the light in him, I recognized the lightness I'd seen in a very few. I expect he did indeed have the qualities of what we call a saint. It's an awkward word and no one in their right mind wants to be called that, least of all him, Mychal Judge.

I liked about him he wasn't looking to start a missionary organization or anything like that. He went at odds with the Church's commandments on a fairly regular basis. When he was helping people with AIDS and the pope declared people with AIDS heathen outcasts, Father Mychal was helping them, doing what he believed Jesus would do. The film caused me to reflect that an awful lot of people extend themselves in service to others, this county and everywhere else. Faces and names of people I know are racing through my mind of people who do things to help people who don't have much ability to help themselves. When somebody from Rotary sits outside Food Lion asking people to buy some items for Solid Rock Food Closet. The baskets fill up with bags of food different people bring out and give to them in a hurry. I think what got to me most about the film was seeing as my thoughts ran parallel to the documentary that he's not the only one. It's everywhere.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010



I've decided to play music while writing you tonight. Needed to hear the cd of Jr with Cleve Andrews and Art Wooten. Don't know how long this will last. Art Wooten is playing the fire out of his fiddle. Jr's banjo is keeping a roll going. Wayne Henderson's rhythm guitar picking runs up and down the strings. I find myself going off into listening to the 3 of them together, hearing them individually, together, hearing the music that is seemingly independent of them, though entirely dependent. This music is getting at my heart. I'm going over with myself again my eternal joy that mountain music is all around where I live, that I've found it. It's such an intensely personal music. Listening to Art Wooten's fiddle is a beautiful moment to behold.

If I had never come to the mountains, I'd never have known this music. That I have what it takes to appreciate Art Wooten's fiddle, that I had a brief acquaintance with him and his wife Minnie, that I have painted his image 3 times, is better to me than knowing Elvis. Jr's banjo in there with the fiddle, not taking over, supporting him like a wave the man on the surfboard can hang 5 on all the way to the end of the song. I honestly mean it when I say that until I heard mountain music I had never heard music. Seeing the video of Eric Clapton MTV unplugged playing acoustic, I sat in awe that he was no better than he was. I thought, I know I can name half a dozen guitar pickers inside a 40 mile radius of my house who could pick circles around Clapton. The number is probably more like at least 20. And that's just right here. All up and down the mountains there must be a thousand who can pick better than what Clapton did on the unplugged show. Only listened to it once. Can't do it again. Somebody told me he played a Henderson guitar on it, but he didn't.

I'm happy I've been able to see into the world of mountain music and listen to Jr for 7 years talk of his musician friends, music experiences at fiddlers conventions, at square dances. And Jr was the real deal. The point is not that he was the best there ever was. He'd be the first to make certain you understood he was not to be mistaken for that. He just liked to pick and done the best he could. Now Jr is cutting loose on Home Sweet Home, Wayne Henderson playing rhythm with him. Had to pause with head down and listen. Now he's cutting loose with John Hardy, Wayne's guitar going right along with him. It turns out I know a lot of people who play Henderson guitars. A picker in these mountains, especially a stage picker, one who self-assesses himself good enough to play out in public without embarrassing himself and his family name has to have a Henderson, is willing to wait 10 years for it. I don't know if resonance is the musical term for it, but it's what it seems to me a Henderson has over a Martin. A Henderson puts the sound out there. The sound is exactly right. I don't know the terminology for guitar sounds, but a Henderson sounds to my ear like the texture of honey is in the sound.

Listening to Jr I have been able to see from the inside the world of mountain music. Not as I would as a musician, but that's ok. When anyone asks me if I pick, I say I'm the audience. I do the appreciating. I'm hearing the sample copy Bobby Patterson made to make the other copies from. It is clear. Very clear. Same sound level all the way through. Originally they were 3 different sound levels. The sound is so good I can hear it that he put a lot of time and attention into it. He did with the cd "label" managing to list every song, name every musician and a picture of Jr and Cleve Andrews. Bobby did a beautiful job with it. I'm a hundred percent happy that the quality of reproduction is what I went to Bobby Patterson for. The music is over now, finishing with Jr picking Billy In The Lowground, the radio show's theme song. It's just right. Bluegrass banjo noting the song in an ongoing roll. Plain, meaning clear. I feel happy honoring Jr in this way. There's not a whole lot I can do, but this project feels right. It cost a little bit, but so does everything else. It is my gift to Jr's relatives and friends who are now my friends. It's a little bit of a way to keep memory of him alive and appreciated. And to be sure he is archived in Chapel Hill and probably Boone, Johnson City, TN, other places I can find to send them to. It's music way too good not to be heard.

I don't want Jr forgotten right away. I'll go on keeping his name alive and Art Wooten's name alive, Fred Roupe's name alive. This is one of the ways the radio show is so satisfying for me. I'm keeping a lot of names alive, Sara Carter, Carter Stanley, GB Grayson. I love about playing music of the region that the musicians are of the community I've lived in the latter half of my life. The mountain people have been gracious enough to allow me to live among them for which I'm every day grateful. The music I play on Saturday mornings is my gift to the people of the county I love way down deep in my heart. This is why it is such an emotional experience every week. I close myself up in the studio, turn the sound up loud so all my attention is on the music. I feel the emotions of the songs. I do that to guide my choice for what to play next after each song, keeping a flowing harmony going from song to song through the hour.

Last week in the gospel hour I played 5 songs by Hazel Varner, a petite woman from Wilkesboro, writes her songs and sings them. Her husband plays the church piano. David Johnson, who recorded them at his studio played steel guitar. She has a high childlike hillbilly voice, "When Jesus comes again he won't have to be born in a barn." And it's a soulful voice. "There'll be no wheelchairs in Heaven." Yes, there is soul in white music. Hazel Varner has it. Ralph Stanley has it. Doc Watson has it. Hazel Dickens has it. So do an awful lot of others in these mountains. It's a Suthun thang. I could not have lived my life happily outside the South. The Southern Mountains, the Central Blue Ridge, Alleghany County, Bullhead Mountain, Whitehead, Air Bellows, home sweet home. I like living someplace I love. It feels good all the time. A place with no written history.

Monday, June 21, 2010


summer solstice

A visit to Carpenters' house today to do some puttering about, casual yard work, I found a bottle of local wine in the refrigerator called Bullhead Blush. I had to have a sip of something called Bullhead Blush. It's ok, because it came from the Blue Ridge Gallery in Pine Swamp and I'll replace it before they're here next. I thought I'd sit on the deck awhile with some cold red wine. American stylee. I'm no purist, or so I like to believe, don't need it at a particular Centigrade, anything. A memory popped to mind of a moment in London at a pub, which I could never find to be a big deal, a bunch of people standing and sitting around drinking and talking. Gotta be a cultural thing. I was sitting at the bar drinking a Worthington E beer and a man beside me ordered a drink with every detail stipulated, temperature, the works. Being a curious sort, even knowing in advance it's a stupid question, I asked him why so particular. My accent and entire demeanor told him I was a Yank and didn't know nothin, so why pretend otherwise? He looked at this ignorant American and told me he drinks for the taste. Why do Americans drink? I didn't like his tone of voice and the smug English accent. I'd about had it with you-Americans by then, so I said, "To get drunk." That's not my own reason, and I wasn't willing to discuss any of it with him. His nose went up in the air and that was that. I lmao inside.

I watched the clouds from the deck with the peak of the roof overhang framing the expanse of sky and trees. The scene is always changing. I watched one cloud that was shaped like a backwards Carolina C in white on the Carolina blue sky, watched it twist and fade into a thin form that for a moment resembled a feminine sculpture by Rodin, the cloud the essence of the marble. It faded and separated into 5 whisps of cloud that faded into the blue leaving no trace a cloud had ever been there.

I watch the clouds change shapes, watch their directional patterns, wonder what is directly under them. This one pictured above looks like it came up beyond Whitehead, maybe from about where Bledsoe Creek Road meets Spicer Mountain Road. I spent so much time on Jr's porch watching the cloud patterns, finding the currents the clouds traveled on, like Gap Civil where the clouds come through that go over Sparta, that is when the wind is from the west. The cloud above was moving upward like maybe air currents that ridge Antioch Church Road rides the length of, maybe that ridge sends the current upward. That's a guess that I know is not the case, so don't take this for fact. I don't know enough about clouds to tell facts. Just what I see. As in life which is equally nebulous and continually changing. I feel like I'm gradually becoming aware of the world around me as my creation by my own interpretation, which is entirely different from the next man's interpretation, and the next.

My question is, if it's different to every possible perception, where is the reality of what it is? All I can say to that is it's in every perception. Outside perception, does it exist? I don't know. I've seen a tree fall in a forest one time when I was at the Nile on the New River painting. I barely heard it. Brought to mind if a tree falls in the forest and there's nobody to hear it, does it make any sound? Sound is vibrations. Why particular about human hearing it? What about lady bugs? If there is forest, there are zillions of bugs, and zillions of critters that eat bugs, like birds and spiders. Sure, it gets heard. A tree doesn't fall over in a vacuum where it's entirely alone in a controlled in vitro environment. Only in a vacuum could a falling tree not make a sound. That's not going to happen. Besides, that's not in a forest.

Since I've been back here at Air Bellows I've lost track of watching cloud patterns like I've lost track of the crows. I'm so surrounded by trees I have to be out someplace to see the clouds enough to study their patterns. So I don't know whence they cometh nor where they goeth. They form and swirl around a bit and fade away. The only pattern I've noticed to the northeast, the direction I see out this window where I can only see the clouds when the trees are bare, it looks like they are of a flow around Bullhead passing from Glade Valley to Cherry Lane around Bullhead where hwy 21 goes. I'm suspecting strongly that the flow pattern runs from Gap Civil and follows hwy 21 around Bullhead and possibly leaves the mountains at Roaring Gap. That's only one possible channel of the many I saw from Jr's porch over time and changing wind directions. From up here on the mountain it's an entirely different perspective. They even seem from here to go counter to the flow directions I saw from Whitehead. If they were predictable, they wouldn't be clouds, would they. I think that's what I like about people, too. Predictable is dull to depressing. Clouds that never change would have to be made of white marble. That wouldn't work. It would make interesting sculptures.

Saturday, June 19, 2010



Just before dark I took a walk through the woods among ferns and the canopy green so sky only peeped through little spaces like stars. I was looking for a good place to sit down and be in the shade of the trees for awhile. Distant rumblings were coming closer, but going by the distance and the rate they were advancing, I had plenty of time. I guestimated it would reach here about dark. I'd stopped my forward advance and was looking around for a seat when I thought I heard a cat cry. I put it off as my own wheezing and heard it again, more articulately cat. I recognized Caterpillar's plaintive miao that sounds so pitifully alone. She had followed me, though far enough back I never saw her. She was walking her particular Caterpillar walk with eyes big and wide open. She came to me like I'd just rescued her from one of the night animals. I picked her up, she purred and wanted me to rub her face. She puts her face in the palm of my hand, pushes and rubs, and I wrap my hand around her head. She likes that just a few seconds, 5 or so. It varies from time to time. Then it's enough.

There is something about burying her face in the palm of my hand that makes her happy. A dry washcloth or towel can give Caterpillar joy for hours. She Holds it to her face with her paws and rubs her face and rubs it. Thick as Caterpillar's fur is I wouldn't have thought she'd be as sensitive to textures as she is. She likes to rub on paper. She likes a variety of textures. The texture of the palm of the hand is her favorite, on her back, on top of her head, her face. When I held her out in the woods, she liked being up high where she could look around and see farther than usual. She looks around, studying details in distances, looking for anything moving. After a few minutes she was satisfied we were safe and relaxed. At ease, she wanted down. Caterpillar likes her feet on the ground. She likes being held, but not too much.

She walked around looking for anything she could find and watching me when I got up to walk down the hill to the house. She stayed back and watched me descend the hill, and I figured she'd come on when she was ready. I looked down at my feet and there she was, just a few feet away. That's her world. She doesn't like to go there without me anymore. Yesterday she wanted to go outside and I had a fair idea Martha the dog was somewhere nearby. Caterpillar went out about 20 feet from the house and here comes Martha. She started to take off after Caterpillar, play chase, I hollered at her and she stopped. Martha has the learning capacity of somebody with old-timers. When she turned her eyes back to the cat after being distracted by me, she was ready to run at Caterpillar again. I had to holler at her again. This went on 4 or 5 times until I stepped out the door threatening that I mean business. Looking back at it now, Caterpillar must have been terribly impressed at how the human just hollers at the dog and the dog stops. I don't believe Martha would hurt her, but I don't know that.

As soon as I stepped outside Martha ran to me and coiled herself around my feet squealing and squirming, wringing and twisting. I touched her and she went into spasms of ecstasy bark-squealing and squirming so much I had to pull my hand back and tell her to settle down. The dog that never learns. She has learned a little bit that when I'm walking from house to car and car to house, do not jump on me. That was all she could do for a long time until I got just rough enough with her to let her know it is not acceptable behavior. Now she jumps up and down all around me, squirming in the air, unable to contol the impulse to jump on me until the last split second when she wiggles against her momentum to retract the lunge. It's a constant jump up and down dance like that. I have to kick my heels up behind to keep her off the backs of my legs. This is every time, not just every once in awhile, and it's every step. Like half the humans are below average, half the dogs are too. I've tried to take her for a walk, but it's not long before she sees an imaginary deer and takes off after it. Next time I see her she's at the house waiting for me.

When the night became dark the thunderstorm dropped a major downpour for half an hour or so. It made Caterpillar uneasy. Her impulse was to crawl under something, but she found a little corner, hunkered down and put her face in the corner. She stayed there until the storm passed. She's gone off to bed by now. Caterpillar is an easy cat to live with. Tapo is too. Tapo might be outside. She's spent several nights lately under the house. All I can figure is she has a corner with a ceiling so low dogs can't reach her, a place where she feels as secure as in the house. Tapo has appeared. Her back is damp from being outside. She's now lying down on the desk beside the keyboard, tip of her tail sometimes crossing the corner of the screen. Tapo's first sign of becoming an old cat is one whisker turned white. TarBaby was getting several white hairs sprinkled around in his coat. Tapo has none.

Friday, June 18, 2010


greg cornette @ the front porch

The music tonight at the Front Porch in Woodlawn (behind Harmon's on Coulson Church Road) was exceptionally satisfying musically. One thing that is never missing from a concert at the Front Porch is the music. For these fellers, music is the reason for making it. I recall a time I played on the radio hour some old hippie old-time bands from the eastern part of the state that did a pretty fair job of playing mountain music mountain style. After the show, Jr said, "I didn't hear no music in it." I had to laugh because I knew what he was saying. I said, "No. There really wasn't." I thought it a subtle call back then, at least 5 years ago. What he meant was there was no music in it. It didn't make you want to dance or tap your foot. You could dance to it, but it didn't make you have to dance. Good musicians, but the music wasn't there.

Tonight, the music was front and center. These guys play the music so well, Greg Cornette and Scott Freeman, the super quality of the playing doesn't matter, they could play sloppy and it would be just as good, because they had the music. The music lived when they played. Again, Greg is another master musician. He played clawhammer banjo such that, like Jr's bluegrass banjo pickin was plain, Greg's clawhammer pickin was plain. That doesn't mean dull. It means articulate, playing the notes so they can be understood, without frills that call attention to self instead of the music. At first, watching and hearing him pick, I was thinking he's a good banjo picker. The more he played the more I thought that, until by second half I sat listening in awe to what he was doing.

Greg and Scott played fiddle tunes together, East Tennessee Blues, Florida Blues, Mississippi Sawyer, and they laid it to it. On first seeing Greg, like first seeing Scott, you'd not guess this guy was well experienced with the stage. But by the time the music was over tonight, another master musician. I'm generally not one for listening to musicians talk much between songs. That was my number one issue with Del Reeves. When he played a concert here, he talked more than he made music. My issue with the bluegrass band Lost & Found in concert is the bass player believes we came to hear him talk. Not me. But Greg was good. He talked for great long stretches sometimes and it was always entertaining and fun. He talked just like people sitting around the living room pickin, telling about his family genealogy in fun ways and every subject he went to he made it funny. No academic stuff about any of it, just playing the music for the fun in it, the mountain way.

I bought a copy of Greg's cd and wanted to play it while writing this, but don't dare, because I end up listening to the music. I can't listen to music when I write to you. Anything. I have tried things like Japanese flute, no words, no familiar melodies, and when it starts, that's it, I can only listen. I can't use music for white noise, because whatever it is, I hear the art in it and listen. Dvorjak comes pretty close to something I can listen to while writing you, but not often. I prefer silence. Katydids are chirping outside, and katydids are in my head so I don't know which is coming from where. I like that music. Interactive and subconscious. A good playing field of sound.

The music tonight was music you can sit and listen to for hours. It's casual. Scott and Greg, friends for a long time, don't get to see each other a lot and make music together, making tonight an extra enjoyment for both of them. Greg talked at length about their musical friendship over several years, noting that though they're entertaining us, they're having a ball among themselves. He talked of how much he loves that he was gifted with making music. It's a gift, he knows it, he respects it as such with full gratitude. Of the pictures I got tonight, I picked this one to show here because it shows him reaching inside for the emotion he was putting into the strings. He cuts loose when they get going on a fiddle tune and Scott cuts loose too. Banjo and fiddle going at it between two musicians who think alike musically.

Willard opened the show tonight with Scott, singing I'm Going Back To The Blue Ridge Mountains, the song they open with every week. I never get tired of hearing them play it. Willard's singing voice is one you can listen to indefinitely. Scott does a good tenor with Willard. And Willard does a good tenor with Scott. They've made music together for so long it's as natural as talking with them. Scott's daughter, Dori, is Willard's granddaughter by Scott's wife, Jill, who works the framing shop, The Front Porch, where the music is played. Willard's drawings are in frames on all the walls, with prints by other artists among them. Willard's drawing studio is on the ground floor under the frame shop. Scott gives his music lessons in a corner of the frame shop. These are such good people in the real way that I catch myself reminding myself that they are a gift to me from Above, and I am grateful for them as such, because I like all of them a lot.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


sweet fern

This evening I totally forgot until it was too late that Tim Smith and Eric Ellis are playing at the library tonight. I've circled it on the calendar, though so long ago I forgot why. That would have been a good one. Both are excellent bluegrass musicians. It plumb left my mind. At 6:30 when it started I was sitting with this week's paper, just home from going to town for grocery store, and saw the ad for it. I could have got there a half hour late, but preferred not to. Inertia kept me here. I can't do everything. Home is where I always want to be.

I'm bad like Jr in that way. That's actually what made it possible for me to stay at Jr's when he was down and out. He didn't like to go anyplace. I didn't like to go anyplace. He didn't like tv. I didn't like tv. That's much of the landscape and we saw eye-to-eye that not going anyplace was the best way to go. Like the time my grandmother wanted to go to Hawaii. Grandfather said he aint left nothin there. She went without him. But I do like it at home. With no one else here, I don't have reason to want to be outside cutting the grass, washing the car, trimming hedges. Here, no one is telling me I didn't do adequately, that I oughta do another way, that everybody else knows best about my life. When I have time to be alone, I can see that nobody else knows best about my life. I'm the only one knows anything about it. The bank knows I'm no good handling money. But the bank doesn't know why. I do. You hear talk about the comfort zone like it's not a good place. No pain, no gain. How can you be comfortable when more money is your only goal? It's like wanting to make all As in school. It's anxiety inducing. I've got no problem with my home being my comfort zone. Isn't that what it's supposed to be?

I made it a goal not to leave home this week, to hold out until Friday if I could. Today I had to go to town to get a little bit of groceries. And to get into the other world of my habit patterns, Sparta. It's disheartening missing Tim and Eric tonight. I was looking forward to the music. Tim Smith is one of the respected fiddlers of today's bluegrass. Eric is among bluegrass's better banjo pickers. Tim played fiddle with the Bluegrass Cardinals several years, a popular bluegrass band of the 60s like the Country Gentlemen. Tim chose to live in Kernersville, work a job, live at home, raise his kids. He had enough of living on a crowded bus, his life someplace else. He has a recording studio in his house. A band needing a fiddle track in a few songs on an album would mail a tape to him in the past, probably done digitally now by email, and he put in the fiddle part. In that way, he's recorded with a large number of bluegrass bands. Outside the world of bluegrass musicians, Tim Smith is not well known. In the world of bluegrass he's respected by all.

Our humble county has produced 2 of the great fiddlers in bluegrass. Maybe Harlan County, Kentucky, could say the same, but not many others, if even Harlan. Two of bluegrass's fiddlers with names that will never be forgotten as long as there is bluegrass came from Alleghany. They weren't the only good fiddlers around here, either. Jr Maxwell on the banjo was in their league, he just never wanted to live the life of the professional musician. It didn't pay worth a shit. He auditioned for Jimmy Martin in Tampa, Florida, when Jr was driving a banana truck. He got the job. A month of living on "hamburgers, coffee and indigestion" was all he could take. It didn't pay nearly enough to make it worth it. Lois encouraged him to stay with it, but it wasn't for Jr. Jr loved home too much. He loved Lois too much. He loved the mountains too much. He wasn't driven to it. It was something he saw he could do. It was affirming, at least. It showed him he had what it took.

In that month, Jr developed a respect for Jimmy Martin that never waned unto the day he died. Any suggestion that I doubted Jimmy Martin was the best singer in bluegrass got a sharp look that said, don't you cross that line. I don't doubt it. Never doubted it. I have to pause a moment when Carter Stanley comes to mind. Jr didn't like Carter, so Carter was out of the running. He said Carter was mean. And arrogant. Jr did not take any sign of arrogance lightly. He could hardly stand it that I liked Carter's singing. We talked it over one day, I told him I don't have the same experience he has where the music is concerned, for one thing. I don't know that much about Carter, and I didn't know him from inside the music world of these mountains as just another Joe. Jimmy Martin doesn't move me to tears. His singing moves me to awe, and so does Carter's. Carter's voice can move me to tears, Ralph's too. As for best, they're all the best.

It's actually a shame that few people in the county have any idea who Tim is. His mother and dad and his kin are here, but he's lived away a long time. There was a time he was winning Union Grove Fiddler's Convention, about the same time I arrived in the mountains. I bought an LP of Tim Smith world champion with AL Lambert's band at Smitheys. His name was all over the place, everybody proud of him for winning Union Grove. By now, I have to explain who he is when I want to mention his name. That's not right. And I'm partly to blame. I have air time and I don't play him enough. I know that. I don't. Don't know why. That will change right now. I'll be bringing his name and his fiddle forward, play him and talk about him some more. He needs to have a fan base in Alleghany and right now there is very little. I don't play Art Wooten a great deal either. Kind of take them for granted. That's changing too. Maybe tomorrow I'll pick up the cds of JR MAXWELL & FRIENDS and be playing that some more. This Saturday will be a good one for Art Wooten and Tim Smith. Tim has a great deal of gospel recorded too. That's it. Tim and Art this week.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


bark and light

Isn't this about time for the summer solstice, the longest day, the shortest night. Just a few days away. It's a big thing astrologically like winter solstice is its own big thing. There was a time I read a few books about astrology to get the hang of it and check it out. I found there is something to it. But as for learning it, I don't have the drive to memorize all the details of squares and trines. There are websites now that make it easy so you don't have to understand all the details. It takes needing to. The people I've known who understand astrology want to really bad, like learning a banjo. You gotta want it. I don't want it that much. Sometimes when odd things are happening I'll get in touch with my friend Bette, who lives in Colorado and has studied astrology a long time. She'll tell me something about Pluto retrograde or Jupiter conjunct Sun. It all has particular meanings. Look your own up at some free astrology site for a brief view. If you're superstitious, stay clear. It will spook you.

I don't know what solstice and equinox mean except the dynamics of earth rotation around sun and why they're the longest and shortest days. But all I know about solstice is that I think it has some importance for goddess energy, women around bonfires. There was a time I was curious about things like that, because I knew nothing about them, wanted to at least be familiar to have some understanding of what it is. I've read much and forgotten much. What it has come to for me is everyday life the playing field of spiritual practice. It's where I gain my understanding. It's where we play a kind of ping-pong of the spirit with others, subject to the natural law that everything comes back. I learned the law of karma in kindergarten and didn't even know it.

I'm rubber
You're glue
Everything you say
Bounces off me
And sticks on you.

There it is, a living nursery rhyme that kids use for its meaning. It was something like a Zen koan for me. I didn't understand it for a long time. I quit using it about the time I quit using those other PeeWee Herman sayings, "I know you are, but what am I?" And quit thinking about it as a universal truth. We have an awful lot of old old sayings that have come down through the centuries that illustrate certain meanings and we're not even aware of them. They're automatic. Don't cry over spilled milk. Reminders. There's always a faster gun in the West. Tom Pruitt had a good one I liked especially. "Be wary of a man that shows ye his teeth, cause he'll bite ye." That was his justification for not liking Democrat Jimmy Carter.

This island Earth is under assault as of now in 20Billion dollars worth of embarrassment for BP. As we measure in dollars and death toll, 20B is a lot. It's all too far out there for me to think about it. I trust Obamaman is doing his part in this major mess that has the potential to wipe out the marshes of the Gulf coast east of Louisiana. Texas was spared. This time. Accounts I read of what is happening and MSNBC news videos tell me this disaster is worse than horrible. And what's next? Certainly something. And next? The Age of Enlightenment. All of civilization using the ocean for a dump has come to this and much more we don't know about. Chevron created a major ecological disaster in Ecuador. No problem. Poor people. With global warming coming on, Greenland might be a good place to start summering. Fishing villages dot the southern coastal regions. Old villages. Makes me wonder what the old-time fiddling tradition is like there. Surely Smithsonian must have recordings of Greenland fiddlers. Nova Scotia has its own styles of old-time fiddling.

Civilization has come to the place that it's a matter of learn the earth's rhythms and live by them or stink up the whole mess until the atmosphere is poison gas and nothing can live. Our Indian brothers and sisters in concentration camps called reservations have been telling us that what we're doing, we being Western Civ, is self-destructive. You spit on the earth, you spit on yourself. It looks like today Western Civ is getting something to the tune of 20Billion. This oil spill is a major spit upon self. Like driving down the highway a beginner chewin backer. Spit one out the window and a quick gust whips it right back in your face. Splot. A Beavis & Butthead moment. Don't you know the Indians of our land (theirs actually) are mourning in sorrow on the one hand and laughing their asses off on the other. The rest of us see the news and say, aint it awful. Then a commercial for Gilette smooth glide. Next: Should a 16 year old girl be allowed to circumnavigate the globe solo? Don't try this at home.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


to the rescue

This evening I listened to the president talk about what's being done to clean up around the stateside edges of the Gulf. I tend not to listen to presidents talk when they have some prime time to address the nation about one thing or another. I couldn't listen to Bush2. It was all lies any child could see through. Same with Bush I, Reagan, Nixon, Johnson. The Party of NO blocked Carter and Clinton from being effective in any way. The Party of NO hates intelligence as much as they hate the poor. I see now with Obamaman the Party of NO is doing the same to him they did with Clinton and Carter, obstructing intelligent legislation, but this time they've come up against somebody who has studied their strategies and found ways to bypass them, hop over them, get on without them and get something done. All the Party of NO really objects to is anything having to do with bettering conditions for the American working poor.

I like about Obama's blackness that he never adopted white American denial. He was evidently raised mostly by his white grandmother, the woman he went to Hawaii to see at a time he should have been some place else for political expediency. He's not one to talk about a major mega oil spill and act like it's nothing to be concerned about. The corporation has it under control. Don't worry about it. Lose a few ducks. No problem. I was told today that Limbaugh is telling it that environmentalists created this oil leak to get people on their side. Sounds about right coming from the Gingrich/Rove strategists. You can be sure Limbaugh gets instructions by email and fax multiple times a day telling him what to rant about. He's not alone. He's too stupid to be acting on his own. He's a hand puppet. Sesame Street for adult white men. C'mon boys, let's go tree us some coons. The funny is how the Party of NO depends for support on white working men, the very people they're dead set against. The consequences of denial?

I like having a president I can trust to address real issues that concern the people of the country, the people who work for a living, the people who pay the taxes, the people who go off to war; the people legislation has gone against throughout the last 30+ years. And they jump up and down for the Party of NO. I like a president who consults highly educated people in particular fields to gather around him the knowledge that can be known to make decisions by. I like believing I can trust Obama not to enrich Haliburton further at our expense by giving them the contract to clean up the Gulf, meaning it would never get done. They'd buy new houses on the Cayman Islands and not pay taxes. I can't help but be heartened to think that we have a president now who has some basic human integrity. It seems out of sorts in a politician, and this guy is a master politician, but his integrity is right up there, the likes of somebody not afraid of the truth. Somebody who looks for the truth and believes it is important to make decisions by what one learns in the search. It seems unprecedented in my lifetime. Maybe Roosevelt had it, but I was a baby in his time. Survived it, so it must have worked out ok.

Johnson was the one to kick me out of taking part in politics in any way but voting. He was such a mega-liar he made W appear a beginner. People believed Johnson. He lied with conviction. I see this video every time I put on the Viet Nam videos, the one it starts with, Johnson standing at the podium with mic like a television evangelist lying out right. It's been proven over and over. It's a known historical fact. It's also known by historians willing to face it, he gave the nod that turned absolute power over to himself, and, of course, Lady Bird. Turned out it's more like Lady MacBeth. I may be way off the beam, and surely am, yet I can't help but be heartened to have someone in the presidency from outside the Texas oil cartel. It makes him an easy target, like Kevin Costner running the gauntlet of a Civil War battlefield, but so far he gives the appearance he's up to it. I like my country being run by a man that brave. Like the Jamaican government couldn't shut Bob Marley up because assassination would martyr him and make him more dangerous to their agenda an immortal saint.

I feel good believing I know the Obama crew is undoing Bush-Cheney assaults on Democracy as fast as they can get it done. I like that he hit the ground running. He's going at it like this is his only term and he knows it in advance. There is much I don't understand. Let me be sure to say that for a certainty. I am not one for you to think I know what he's talking about. I don't. I just sit here watching words appear on the computer screen following my mind simultaneously. Fingers going like Ralph Stanley picking bluegrass banjo. This is my music, transferring thoughts to a form you can read and run your thoughts parallel with, not to be influenced by it, but for the mind dance. Thinking about Obama out loud. I've always liked him. I like his name. I like that when he was a kid he told everybody he didn't want to be Barry any more. He wanted to go by his real name, Barak. In America that was a brave kid. I love it that his other grandmother is in Kenya. They grow good coffee there. The coffee plantation in Isak Dinesen's OUT OF AFRICA was in Kenya. I tried some Kenyan coffee from curiosity and switched.

I can't help but be apprehensive that the downward momentum of the Reagan/Gingrich Revolution is too long a freight train and going too fast for all the undoing that can be done to change the direction of its Ayn Rand obsession. What if it turns upward just enough to make a ski jump and gives out? Woo-hoo. We'll need a real good ski jumper to lead us through the air to an upright landing farther along. It's a weird time for anybody with intelligence to want to be president. This man is not going to cow tow to the Party of NO. Why should he? All of the Dems did it before him and the Party of NO chopped their heads off. Not the Big O. Both him and his wife post-grad Harvard law school. Getting into Harvard is the nearly insurmountable hurdle. They did something so far beyond anything I'd dare dream about for myself that it would be plain foolish of me to even apply, let alone take 5 or 6 courses at the same time with some of the most hard core faculty on earth. I don't have a mind that can do that. I do have a mind to respect the ones that can.

Finally in my lifetime I've seen a president I can respect. I respect Carter. I respect Clinton. They were defeated by the Texas oil cartel all the way along. Not Obama. He's stepping on thin ice when he stands up to the corporate CEOs. Good this guy with BP is British. Let's see how he does with Exxon. It seems like he's making it clear to them that President trumps CEO. Obama is the first one I've seen who had what it took to stand up to the moneybags. I don't dare presume, so I watch and wait, see results of what's going on behind closed doors with armed guards even Steven Seagal couldn't get through. I feel heartened that we have at least an intelligent man making our decisions and doing what he can to protect us from the big dogs. He's giving us the backbone by example to stand up to them ourselves. Or, anyway it's there if we want it.

Monday, June 14, 2010


nicholas cage in wtc

I watched WORLD TRADE CENTER again last night and liked it a lot more than the first time. I'm able to see the artistry in a film better the second time when I know the story, know what to expect, and know its worth paying closer attention to. I wanted to hear Stone's running commentary, so today I watched it the third time, with Stone talking. I used subtitles for the film, because the volume was almost all the way down while Stone talked. He'd be commenting on something that was happening, and I wanted to know what they were saying too, because that was part of it. I've watched so many foreign films with subtitles, I use subtitles now with movies made in English, because there is so much whispering going on in movies, muttering and mumbling. I figure script writers get paid pretty well and they have a reason for being involved in the film. It tells me they're pretty good writers or they wouldn't have that job, though I have seen movies I'd prefer silent.

Listening to Stone talk about his film was the same as listening to an artist tell how a painting was inspired and painted, or telling about how he wrote a given work of fiction. I like having these director's commentaries. There is no way I could ever be acquainted with Oliver Stone and have enough time with him to listen to him tell about making WTC. He wouldn't do this conversationally. I hear an artist telling his decisions along the way in making the film. Seeing it with him telling it, I was able to see it more scene by scene and pay better attention to details in a given scene. I appreciated it all the more the 3rd time with commentary. The Marine evidently drawn to the wreckage by prayer lived someplace else. From the wreckage next morning he cellphoned his workplace and said he wasn't coming back. The man this character represented reenlisted and did tours in Iraq since 2001.

Not only did I learn much about Stone's process as an artist, what he looks for visually, how he and the crew work out problems. He noted that all the characters in the film were individuals who were involved in the original incident. In some cases, the original person played himself. The man Michael Pena played appeared in a few scenes as a cop. All of the scenes in the film of the two towers on fire and falling were done by computer animation. He said they didn't use footage from that time of the towers falling. A lot of the scenes on the street were filmed in LA. They had a certain amount of time to work in NY, so they had to do the scenes that had to be NY, then computer graphics in LA, and at the studio where they created a rubble heap to rescue the 2 men from. They did it so well, it seemed documentary. He said the wreckage covered 16 acres. That's a major chunk of ground.

At one point, Stone said while he was making the film, his motivation was "to help, in some way, the human condition." He's been like that from the beginning. He wants to participate in making the world a better place. Whatever that means. It means something different to each individual. He's not the only one. An awful lot of people are guided by a need to help, in some way, the human condition. Every individual has a particular purpose. One way I saw Stone helping the human condition in this film is understanding. He brought forward the human perspective, two love stories running parallel to each other, honoring working men as valid human beings, drawing attention to the heroic element in individuals when called upon. Especially, I felt, the American response to Emergency is where we see true democracy. Any race, religion or class will assist any race, religion or class at terrific risk in America.

I liked seeing the film with attention to the creation, scene by scene. He broke it down into three acts. First act was getting to know everybody, a New York morning, people getting up, going to work, the city in different early morning lights, Stone talking about how he loves the sky in NY. The sun coming up. The second act, the collapse, the darkness of being buried alive in 16 acres of wreckage. He went with the symbolism of coming out of the darkness into the light when they were rescued. From the dark pit to a flash of bright white light, white walls of hospital corridor scenes. He said he wanted to get through the hospital scenes as briefly as possible. There is absolutely nothing new that can be done with a hospital that hasn't already been done on television. The third act, the rescue and return, he talked much of how filming darkness required various lighting issues and close quarters issues. I feel like Stone transcended something with this film, something within himself as an artist. The next time I see it, I'll turn on the commentary of 4 of the actors. Maggie Gyllenhaal is suddenly my favorite American actress. There with Mira Sorvino and a few others. Sure enough, Oliver Stone saw CRASH and discovered Michael Pena there.

I have to give it to Oliver Stone. He is, indeed, a major American director. No two ways about it. I'm surprised by my own fascination with this film. I've noticed after seeing it 3 times, it is rewarding to watch several times for the subtleties throughout, for the brilliant photography throughout. Mostly, I have found Stone's films hard hitting, poking holes in the propaganda we're controlled by, assisting the human condition with understanding. Stone is a multi-talented artist I can't help but respect. I believe a beautiful work of art is an assist to the human condition, the same as Stone does. He's a fortunate man. His entire adult life has been lived doing what he wants to do. And he's done it well.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


maggie gyllenhaal in wtc

I watched Oliver Stone's film, WORLD TRADE CENTER, last night late. I don't think Stone made this one to be a blockbuster academy award winner, millionaire-making mega film such as JFK or PLATOON. This one goes inward. It is a consciously made story that comes across as a documentary that happened to have cameras in difficult places. It follows the story of 2 NYPA (Port Authority) cops stranded inside the rubble of the collapsed first tower, pinned down, unable to move. Much of the film was them in the dark talking to each other with a distance of about 20 feet between them. Then at their homes, their wives and kids, their reactions to hope against hope.

These two men's stories actually happened. It has elements you don't often see in a serious film, like the Marine who felt a strong compulsion to help, to search for anyone who might have survived. His conviction and single-minded action on it brought the guy in NASHVILLE to mind when his mind was set on assassination. The Marine put on his Marine Corps cammies and joined the effort to rescue survivors. He found another Marine to go with him to search in some unlikely regions of the destruction. He was the one who found the 2 police survivors. At one point, in the home of one of the 2, a woman is found by surprise in the kitchen on her knees praying, a mother. You don't see much of that in movies. In a subtle way, I took it the woman's prayers were such they set the Marine in motion searching where no one else was looking.

The drama in the story seemed to be whether one or both of these guys would make it. I felt like Oliver Stone stepped out there to try something artistically that ran the risk of chasing off the audience looking for eye candy. All the spectacle part that's been on tv so much the Bush-Cheney administration banned it from tv, which kinda makes me wonder, was off-stage. It was the intimately human story of 2 men who survived a most disheartening situation. It took us into the homes of these men. It took us to their inner attics and basements, too, where we watched them wind down to their final things to say, all of which was at home to wife and kids, not to tv news. When they came back to the world, those were the first things they said.

There was a time I'd have seen the movie because Nicholas Cage was in it, but that was so long ago that by now he's like any other Hollywood star whose movies I avoid, like Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. It was the David Lynch film, WILD AT HEART, that made me want to see something else with Cage. It wasn't long before Hollywood offered him more than he could refuse and he became another pretty boy to pose for the camera. I saw Cage in John Woo's FACE OFF with John Travolta, and that was it for either one of them. Neither of their names made me want to see anything with them playing roles. There is the occasional step outside the norm, which Travolta did in PULP FICTION, and perhaps Cage did in WTC. It seemed to me Cage performed as an actor in every scene. He was never a pretty boy. He was dirty and ugly most of the time. He made a memorable character.

Michael Pena was the actor of the other NYPA survivor. I recalled him from CRASH, the Latin guy who made a truly unforgettable and endearing character as the locksmith. His character was a whole human being. Oliver Stone saw Crash too. He put Pena in a leading role with Cage and he was up to it. Again, he created a whole human being. All this was done in a terrifically theater-like manner. These two carried much of the story with just their faces in the dark and their voices. No movement. Just words. It worked. Looking at the art of what they were doing in the film, it was a theatrical tour de force. Looking at the boxoffice in it, all that inaction weakened the boxoffice response. Maggie Gyllenhaal was the actress who played Michael Pena's wife. I'd seen her a few days before in CRAZY HEART. In both films she made a complete human being. She made a character who was individual in both roles. She wasn't just filling in the space and speaking the lines. She made it seem more like a documentary so unselfconsciously performing her roles.

I'd not heard anything about this movie that made me want to see it. I saw it in a big display of $5 movies in the Galax Walmart where I went to find a battery operated wall clock to replace the one that died after at least 20 years. I've learned that in sale bins where just about everything isn't worth a nickel, there is one in there someplace that is hiding and everyone else is missing it. I saw WTC, Nicholas Cage. Nope, not this one. Then I saw Oliver Stone. Stone doesn't make bad movies, and this one is pretty far advanced in his body of work. It didn't have stars on the front nor a notice of thumbs up. Nothing mentioning film festival nominations. Only noting on the front, "a true story," and at the top a line from a critic, "Glorifies that which is best in the American spirit." That's a good way to put it for advertising. It's catchy and seems to make sense. The funny part is, that's actually what it does. American response to emergency transcends racism, politics, belief systems, nationalism. Emergency is the melting pot of Democracy, it seems like Stone is saying, the melting pot illustrated so beautifully by Herman Melville in MOBY DICK, the variety of human hands in the melting pot of whale blubber, kneading out the chunks. In the NYPD the world's races and nationalities are represented. Stone makes particularly American films, and this was another one. I'll watch it again soon with Stone's commentary, hear what he has to say about it.