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Saturday, October 30, 2010


scott and willard

The music last night at the Front Porch Gallery ran along the lines of young guys killing their girlfriends, one for having a roving eye, another because she wouldn't marry him. Knoxville Girl and Banks of the Ohio. He took her by the golden curls and swung her round and round. He saw her drowning in the river; it was a dreadful sight. These are great songs in the tradition that today's television addict can't connect with very well. They don't have happy endings and they don't deny all but the superficial and cheery. They are the kinds of songs Carter Stanley loved to sing. I believe his audiences encouraged him to love them. It was then a world of very little entertainment that you don't create for yourself, as opposed to now when we're saturated with entertainment.

I don't mean to exclude myself from the category saturated with entertainment. I watch movies of my choice, not the choice of a corporate network. I have a lot of cd's, tapes and lps because I like to listen to the music I like, not music on the radio where I might like one out of ten songs. When I have my own music, I only listen to music I like. At the moment, I'm hearing Schubert quartets by the Melos Qtet. I watch movies, play music cds, paint pictures and read books, entertained to the max, just like everybody around me, in my own way, as everyone else has their own particulars. One of the things I find most interesting about this time is just about everyone is involved in listening to music quite a lot. I doubt any two people in the entire USA have the same cd collections. Might be some along the same lines, but not the same specific titles.

Last night at Woodlawn the music was right there, as always. It was a Halloween theme, songs with references to ghosts, fear, murder. Willard sang a song he wrote called The Shootin, about a murder where he grew up in eastern Kentucky 10 miles outside Hazard. I believe he recorded it with his band Alternate Roots. Willard writes a good song. In a way, it seems like Willard is about nostalgia, "the Norman Rockwell of Appalachia," though I tend to see him more as an artist whose theme throughout his life as an artist has been visual art, vocal art, guitar picking art, song arranging art, songwriting art, Willard uses the world he lives in for his theme. He has made a lot of pictures of people in the old-time ways, and he's made a lot of pictures of people in today's ways. His music is of the past and it's of the present. It's all about living in the mountains. Willard's musical expression is mountain music, old-time, bluegrass, the fusion of the two.

I can't forget seeing at the Hillbilly Show the slide show about BROC members who died over the last few years. The narrator had whatever it took to bill himself in the credits, The Voice of the Blue Ridge. He didn't even have an accent, a city guy who came here not very long ago, giving himself the title owned by Ralph Stanley only. I realize the guy has no idea about mountain culture or who Ralph Stanley is. He may have heard of Stanley and maybe even heard a song or two by him, but all it really told me was he's innocent of mountain culture, knows nothing about it, doesn't intend to, and thought he was being clever coming up with such an audacious title for himself, without an accent even. I accept that he can call himself anything he wants, though an elephant by any other name is an elephant. It doesn't matter to me. It's just that I'm in awe, like jaw dropped to the floor and bouncing a time or two kind of awe. It makes me laugh every time it comes to mind like it did seeing on the screen.

It's satisfying in the autumn of my life to see I'll end my days with the very last of the mountain people. They have been my guiding light for 35 years Monday. I came here to learn, arriving here one year and 3 weeks after seeing that God indeed is. When I saw that, there was no living as if I hadn't. Somebody I'd met in my first year here, who was here from Raleigh, told me it's good I came to the mountains so I can teach these people something. I knew Tom Pruitt and his nephews mostly through that year and knew for a certainty I had nothing to teach "these people." What teaching there would be could only go from them to me. I wanted to learn about mountain culture from experience, not reading about it. When somebody went to Jr to ask him to teach them to play bluegrass banjo, he told them if they can't figure it out on their own, they don't want to learn it. That's how he learned it, knew no other way.

Monday is my 35th year here and the one year date of Jr's departure. Melia, his 2nd cousin, and I will go to Jr's grave with some liquor, pour a sip on the ground and have a sip with memory of him and talk of him. We'll laugh the whole time. For me, Melia is one of his friends he left to me. All of his friends became my friends one year ago. They're a good bunch of people I'm more than happy to have for my friends. In some cases it even feels like family. Our celebration at the cemetery will be a reminder of my Whitehead citizenship as well. All these reasons and more make it a date I want to do something more than just remember it's the day. Jr shared with me some of the best liquor that's ever been made in this world. It feels right to have a symbolic drink with him in spirit. If souls on the other side can see into our world, he will get a kick out of our celebration.


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