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Wednesday, September 29, 2010


little richard 1956

Driving in the light fog tonight coming up the mountain on the gravel part of Brown Road, what we used to call the Pine Swamp Road, it became disorienting. The sides of the road were not clearly visible in the fog. Sometimes it seemed like a big space and no road, driving over barren ground. Up the hill toward the stop sign at Air Bellows Gap Road seemed about double the distance as otherwise. I knew to stay away from the right side of the road because it dropped off pretty steep. Hugged the left side of the road almost too close sometimes. It seemed so much longer than usual I began to wonder if I was really where I thought I was. I might have come home another way and be on Bullhead Road, but knew better. Once I found the stopsign it was like finding home after being lost.

Driving down the mountain earlier in the fog I found myself a bit disoriented going down Wolfe Road from Pine Swamp Road to Mahogany Rock Road. Turned there automatically. Recognized all the houses along the way. When I pulled up to the stop sign, a sign across the road looking at me in the fog said, Mahogany Rock Road. In my mind I was on my way to Tedder Road. What the? How did I get here? I looked to the left and saw the familiar new Camaro and knew this was the right place, but where was Tedder Road? Duh. Turn left,the other side of the Camaro, left again, like always. The fog changed everything.

Rain is wetting the ground after what some weather people call a drought. I tend to think of a drought as when the ground cracks. We're nowhere near that. The rain is a soft, quiet rain that soaks into the ground, refreshes the roots of everything growing. 55 degrees outside the end of September. Yellow leaves appearing in some of the trees and some rhododendron leaves turn yellow too, before falling to the ground to add nourishment to the tree's own roots, and the roots of others nearby. In a few weeks recarpeting the forest floor will begin in earnest.

Just before I started writing, I watched a 9 minute video by George Clinton with the Funkadelics performing Atomic Dog. "It's nothin but the dog in me." It was great music, but boy was it elemental, down to basics. That's what they do. I believe there's something incredible going on with that band. They've been at it since the 60s. George Clinton is a cool old man. He's somewhere around 70 now and still funkin up audiences everywhere he plays and every recording by Funkadelics and Parliament, the same band, just different names with different labels. I saw them play in Boone 6 or 7 years ago. It was a concert to behold. He performed the concert in his pajamas and his voluminous head of dreads was wrapped in a rag that came undone a little bit as the concert wore on. They're the masters of funk. Prince in there with them.

On YouTube I've found some film footage of Little Richard in 1956 singing Long Tall Sally, those songs from that time, Rip It Up, The Girl Can't Help It, Lucille. That's when I was listening to these songs on the radio and buying 45s to play on my little box 45 player. My parents drew the line at Little Richard. I couldn't help it. It really wasn't parent defiance. At the time, I felt like it was an unfortunate consequence of something I can't help but like a lot. They disliked it a lot. I could only play Little Richard in my room down low. When I was 14 he was playing at an auditorium downtown Kansas City. I knew how to get there by bus. I wanted to go really bad, but I'm not much of an adventurer into the unknown.

The city was full of teenage gangs and hoods and knives, etc. It was the time of James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause, Marlon Brando, On The Waterfront, Mamie VanDoren, ducktails that hoods had. Elvis imitated hood style with his duck tail. Collar turned up. Zip guns, bicycle chains. It was the time of Juvenile Delinquency. The Fonz isn't even close. I knew a little bit about what was going on in those ways and hesitated to enter the unknown of a sea of probably black kids just a couple years after integration. Racial tension was sky high. 1956. I didn't feel like playing target. Then, I believed there would be no trouble, and have believed it to this day, but was too young to be certain of it. I've learned by many experiences later that I've been able to go into racially charged atmospheres and do fine. I go in peace. It works. Turns out it's a martial arts principle.

I did get to see Little Richard preach. I'd been in the mountains about a year when he turned up at Winston-Salem State Auditorium. He was good. He prowled like a jungle cat, a black leopard, wearing a black suit, back and forth along the lip of the stage like one of those cats in a cage. He has a tremendous charisma. When I was looking at his early videos, I came upon one of him at the Grammy Awards show with David Johanson (New York Dolls early 70s) in 1988. Little Richard took off making a joke, "and the winner is...ME" and laughed at his silliness. He took off talking to the audience, you never give me any awards and I'm the architect of Rock and Roll. The audience jumped to their feet to applaud him. He ended calling himself the originator. He is. There's no two ways about it. The audience knew it. Everybody knows it. He sobered up and went to open the envelope, the winner is, and he bent over in giggles like he couldn't believe what he saw. He said, Me, and broke loose laughing.

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