Google+ Followers

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


caterpillar with something on her mind

It's been a rough day in the mind. Drove to town to get out of my mind and visit with some of the regulars at Selma's coffee shop, Backwoods Bean. It's a good place to talk with friendly people who aren't trying to prove anything about themselves being high up the ego scale. Everybody has their egos. That's not the issue. We live with our own egos and other people's egos. We learn how not to be abrasive to other people's egos, as much as possible, and forgive egoic infractions that are unconscious. I've been wondering about a definition of civilized behavior, what it means. It's not about tea in the afternoon or putting your shoes together by the bed.

It's difficult to call this world we're in during this time civilized. Like Yeats said, the center doesn't hold; we're going off in our own egoic directions following whatever motivates us individually. I like the above sentence that came out one word at a time. I'd never seen it like that, or so articulately in words. We learn how not to be abrasive to other people's egos, as much as possible, and forgive egoic infractions that are unconscious. Civilized is not a concern for others, nor is it a concern for the whole. It's self-centered as it can be. In our self-centered goings about we attempt not to be offensive to others with our egos and attempt not to be driven nuts by other people's egos. It's a delicate dance. It's about keeping peace when we humans live together in huge numbers so we're not like a bunch of fighting cocks jumping at each other all the time. We just show our spurs in civilization for evidence of manhood, as if nobody could tell by looking.

I've been having an inner conflict involving someone else's ego that is way out of bounds and can never stop making certain I understand he knows more than I do. And, of course, if I say something about it, he throws it back on me. I've known a lot of people in my life, have learned how to interact with other people's egos well enough to keep peace most of the time. Like Jr said, God puts things down in front of you to get through. When you get through one, he puts down another. Evidently God has offered me an overwhelming ego in a friend, with a sticky note attached like the title of Courtney Love's first album, Live Through This. I've taken bearing it as a challenge and attempted to pay it no mind.

A couple nights ago I dreamed a man broke into my house and I shot him. In dreams I take one's house to be one's self, attic mind, basement subconscious. The shooting happened in the living room just inside the door. Next night I dreamed a bear grabbed hold of me in a bear hug. I broke free and took off running. Later, lying in the bed awake, I was thinking about the issue at hand and said to myself in my mental talk, I can't bear any more of this. Bear. There it was. I've had a hard time bearing this invasive ego and made the decision to let him go. If it's as important to him that I look up to the shining light of his ego, insisting time after time I get it that he's smarter than me, he has spent our entire acquaintance frustrated. I'm happy he's smarter than me. I'd love to see everybody smarter than me. I'm nothing to compare oneself against in any way for any reason unless it would be laziness. I'm real good at that.

I'm just an American Joe who likes an awful lot of people, loves an awful lot of people and likes living in a world with my friends in it, civilized people with nonabrasive egos, people who don't have to be proving every minute of every day they have the biggest ego in the room. What can I say, but, Hey, your ego really is big. Carumba! It's curious that I also saw Wendell Rowell by apparent chance just as I'm reeling from this other friend, Wendell the non-gamer, the man who is satisfied you can see on sight he's a man and doesn't need to be huffed up calling attention to his manhood. His knowledge, his intelligence is his own for his own use, not something to browbeat others with. In my mental agitation, he was such a contrast to what I was struggling with in my mind, he helped me make the decision I feel I'm faced with now.

My friends are the most valuable people in my life. I like to regard them family, like you can't quit knowing somebody in the family because they piss you off. They keep on pissing you off and you keep on taking it, because it's family. That's how I want to be with my friends. His intrusive ego broke and entered where knocking first he'd have been welcome. He got shot because I couldn't bear any more. Lines from a Carole King song play in my mind, Something inside has died and I can't hide and I just can't fake it. I hear a Chicago blues singer, Everthing gonna be all right. Oh yeah.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


another accidental image

This picture is the countertop at Selma's coffee shop, Backwoods Bean. Camera accidentally went off and this happened. Saturday was choose-n-cut weekend. The coffee shop filled up with people such that I couldn't even go in the door. I went to Food Lion to give some people time to vacate. When I returned, the place was down to the regulars. Selma said she was swamped both Friday and Saturday. Saturday she had help from a Cuban woman named Yvonne. She was small, even tiny, like a miniature. And exquisitely beautiful.

I found at Food Lion a dvd of PINOCCHIO with Pee Wee Herman (Paul Rubens) playing Pinocchio. Had to see it. Pinocchio is one of my favorite stories. I read the original story by Carlo Collodi in paperback 35 years ago. Found a copy of it for a dime at Arnold's Variety Store next to where Teapot Museum was. Also found King Solomon's Mines for a dime. Never really expected to read King Solomon's Mines, but once it started, I was with it all the way. Strangely, I found that both stories had the same foundation. Both stories were adventure tales based in going through the 7 planes to enlightenment.

Pinocchio had 7 adventures that transformed him from a block of wood to "a real boy." King Solomon's Mines had 7 adventures, ending in a cave where the men of the story anticipated they'd be buried alive until they found an opening, and in it they saw the stars in the night sky. Symbolic. Stories happening in this world that are symbolic of the world of the spirit. I've never seen a visual representation of the Pinocchio story that came anywhere near the original in telling the story. Pee Wee was funny and did the character Pinocchio the best I'd seen him, but the rest of it was a bit dreary. They did it like it was on a stage with all the over-acting that goes with the stage. Nonetheless, I was glad to see it. They had the whole story to tell in an hour.

I stayed in bed all day today. Up around 5. Got up for an hour this morning, and went back to sleep. I tend to stay up pretty late during the week and don't get enough sleep. Then on the weekend, sleep and catch up. Listened to the news a bit and it was about credit cards use over the weekend shopping. Turned it off. Maybe I'm taking after Caterpillar who lays about and sleeps all the time. Can't go outside for the dogs, so she stays inside and naps. No Tapo or TarBaby to intimidate into a corner. Her role as Top Cat is over. Nobody left to bully. With the dog that killed TarBaby still coming around, I won't let her outside either unless I watch her closely. By now I regret not killing the dog back when I wanted to.

Having a hell of a time with Microsoft. Microsoft word in this computer will not start up. I have copied the 25 letter-numbers an infinite number of times, and it never takes. I called Microsoft, a girl from India helped me through the process. It worked when she walked me through it, but it didn't take. Next time I wanted to use it, it wouldn't accept the code. I'm looking for a place to email with Microsoft. I can't understand Indian accents very well. I felt like a dog asking her to repeat so often. Couldn't help it. I needed to understand what she was saying.


Saturday, November 27, 2010


backwoods bean coffee shop

Went into Selma's coffee shop, Backwoods Bean, on Main Street, also known as Hwy 21---there are no signs on Hwy 21 calling it Main St---it's just understood, like it's understood in Sparta that it's safer to jaywalk than to cross at the intersection the lawyers call Suicide Corner, because the intersection is 4x more dangerous than jaywalking. The middle lane assists jaywalking in that the walker can wait for the second lane to clear instead of having to make the whole stretch in one go. One can jaywalk casually in Sparta, but walking across at the intersection is an anxious time all the way, looking at every possible direction a car can come at you, from behind and in front at the same time, right turns and left turns. At the intersection, it's best to run.

Heading into Selma's coffee shop, I saw Wendell Rowell and his wife Sue, who are here from South Carolina and have a weekend / holiday piece of land in Pine Swamp that was once a part of Sherman Scott's farm. Sherman's parents lived on the next farm up Waterfall Road and sold it back in, I suspect, the early 60s and moved to Pine Swamp. Sherman died possibly 25 years ago, and the farm was cut up into lots. The parade I'd forgotten about had just ended. They were walking back to their car after stopping in the art gallery store between the Jubilee and the library's used bookstore. They passed in front of me as I stepped onto the sidewalk from the parked car. I said, Wendell. He stopped on a dime and turned around. It really was him. I hadn't seen him in a year and several months and he had a fur-lined hat on for the cold and a big coat. I figured if I spoke his name and he turned, it would be him. If it wasn't him, he'd keep on walking and think I was talking to someone else.

It was good to see him, and I'd not yet met Sue. Only met Wendell once, maybe twice. He has a blog, Bear Bottom, which is what they call the mountain place. The website for it is: . He started it with intent to keep an irregular journal of times in the mountains, pictures of the baby, and pictures as the baby grows, telling the story of family good times in the mountains. Part of the point is to give his grandson something tangible along the lines of a journal that tells him about his grandparents as well as his own growing up. Too few of us know our grandparents as humans instead of demi-gods we look up so highly to they lose their humanity.

Remembering when one of my grandmothers was in her 80s telling me about a rather major event in her life in her 20s I'd never heard of and certainly never imagined. It turned out she quit loving grandpa about 20 years before I was born. While she was visiting with me, talking about it, thinking about it, she concluded, after thinking it over and talking about it at length, "I think I really do love him." It was spoken from within, like thinking out loud. I've been happy for that moment with grandmother ever since. It was one of our best of many moments. It rounded her out like a Shakespearean character whose nature and ways you feel you know, instead of a flat, cardboard character like they're putting up in stores to make you think you're seeing somebody, then you see it's a photographic image on cardboard, and you can't miss what it's advertising. Effective, advanced advertising. Puts you through a subliminal mental maze, albeit very simple, where the product becomes the center of attention in a way you can't miss it.

I believe I got in touch with Wendell, curious to find out where these people live and who they are. We corresponded for several months by email, on and off. One day while I was staying at Jr's and they were up here the weekend, Wendell took a few minutes and came over. We sat on the porch at Jr's watching the cars and trucks go by on Hwy 18 in Whitehead, and the crows. I felt like either one of us could have talked the whole time nonstop, though we divided it rather evenly, giving each other a chance to get something said too, maybe an hour. Jr's porch was a great place to visit, a very comfortable place. I've spent many an hour sitting out there with Jr hearing him tell me his life.

If I remember correctly, and I probably don't, I think I found his blog one day surfing for Alleghany and/or Sparta blogs. Bear Bottom came up. Reading in it I got the impression the place was somewhere nearby, going by his descriptions of driving from there to someplace, or the landscape in a picture. I became curious where this place was; plus, I liked what he was saying, sounded like someone level headed. I tend toward level headed people. They're easy to keep peace with. They tend to like peace, like I do. When somebody takes out their emotional twists on me, I tend to start playing with the car keys in my pocket.

Or, if I misremembered, another possibility is that he read my blog first and wrote me about something I'd said. That feels a bit more like the way it happened. From there, I checked out his blog to see who this person was. One or the other. Let's say it happened both ways at once. As in life. I was happy to meet Sue today. Now it's like I know them, instead of just him, curious all the while to meet her. These are people I feel comfortable and happy with. They're not playing mind games, such as one upmanship, and he doesn't scratch around like a rooster in the company of another rooster looking for a chance to fight, translated play masculinity games, I'm-a-bigger-man-than-you, or among the better educated, I-know-more-than-you-do. None of that. I feel so at peace when I meet people who aren't up to some kind of game, positioning themselves into the superior role. That's when the keys go to rattling and yelling to me in their language only I understand: Let's get outta here now!

We were standing in front of Selma's window talking. After awhile, Sue noted the perfect mirror image of the courthouse on the glass. We looked at it a moment in awe, actually, of the beautiful image it made of the courthouse. In the mirror image the wires that run across the front of it were nearly invisible, enhancing the beauty of the courthouse. Wendell and Sue needed to get going before they froze into ice statues, being from a warmer clime, and this the coldest day so far and windy. I went to the car and picked up the camera. Hence, the image above. Went into Selma's and had some coffee from Kenya with more good company and good conversation.


Thursday, November 25, 2010


shout lula: ralph stanley & the clinch mountain boys

Turkey day, driving home from Woodlawn, Virginia, after dark I was thinking about a delegation against calling it by slang terms like turkey day, like you need to be super patriotic and call it Thanksgiving Day, like the drive in the 60s, thereabouts, to abolish Xmas, which worked. You don't ever see Xmas now. Perhaps now that the last little bits of decency are being blown apart by irreverence as a way of life, it may come back, at first as a joke, and even perhaps as a reaction to fundamentalist noise. Social changes in words is an interesting field of study. It is something I'd have enjoyed studying in school. Don't know if I'd have patience for all the nitpicky research necessary all the time. But it's still interesting to note from time to time. Like when I wrote turkey day instead of Thanksgiving Day, it was with intent, because turkey day means the same thing. The turkey is the thanksgiving feast. It's a kind of national communion based in our national mythology, the early pilgrims.

It is kind of curious that our European rush to occupy the North American continent was begun by people who call themselves pilgrims. It means people on their pilgrim way. They were not of the official religion, because it was all pomp and meaninglessness to them. I see them very much as our elders in the Primitive Baptist churches. The sermon in the Gregory Peck film of Moby Dick delivered by Orson Welles was written by Herman Melville, and it was written with experience in the Old Baptist way, much experience. It's an old-time Baptist sermon that's the real deal, by Herman Melville, whose life before Moby Dick was involved in the first half of the 19th century. What the Old Baptists were like in early 19th century Boston would continue much longer in the mountains, and has, even now. The beliefs, the songs, the dogmas were the same then as now. There are changes according to how the culture has changed since electricity. We talk with very different accents now than then. We would have a hard time understanding somebody talking 200 years ago, in the mountains or Boston.

It seems significant to me that the first Europeans here to stay were looking for a place where they could practice as they believed. I've come to think of the Primitive Baptist as something on the order of the Zen of Christendom. By Zen, I mean trimmed down to the essential core. It is in the architecture of the churches in the old time way. No steeple, no advertising itself. No prettification with stained glass windows, no baptismals, no cushioned benches. Simple architecture that required no blueprint. Plain. Wooden benches the people sat on made by men in the church. The trees were cut in the day they used 2-man cross-cut saws and axes. You know those guys kept their axes sharp as razors too.

They sawmilled the timber and the carpenters made the benches. They are not uncomfortable. They were not about luxury. They were about the heart and lining up with God in very real ways. Some of the old people I've known of the old-time way, dead over 20 years now, have been lovers of God that live in God's light. They taught me the old-time religion was spirit-filled like can't even be imagined now, except in some dark hollers along the West Virginia / Kentucky line where some people continue to adhere to the old ways, in trailers, driving cars and pickups, so poor nobody knows they're there. If there are any such places left, that's all that's left of the old ways.

The Old Baptists are not ones to worry over whether somebody says Turkey day or Thanksgiving, Chirstmas or Xmas. I've found the people of the old-time way to allow other people to be themselves, go their own ways, have their own views, have their privacy. They are not about controlling other people. They are about loving God, hearing a good sermon that inspires your own reading, inspires to follow the train of thought running through the sermon, following where he goes from one sentence to the next. The sermons I've heard in the Regular and Primitive Baptist churches have all been inspiring to me. That's why I go to them, when I go.

Anyway, I find it interesting our nation was begun by lovers of God looking for a place to worship God at the very core of the matter, not the superficial God based in accumulating money. That didn't last long. By now the accumulation of money is the American Dream, the only reality, the motivation that keeps the world in motion. It's like money is the bloodstream of civilization. It needs to keep flowing and now the few are taking from the many and depositing it in Cayman Island accounts, giving back nothing.

The above is the Stanley picture. I asked Crystal Smith to make a good studio shot of it for my computer files. This is as good a likeness as can be done.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010



Driving yesterday on two 4-lane highways and a couple of 2-lane highways, it felt on the 2-lane I was driving in the landscape. Landscape up to the road either side of the road. When it was forest on 16 heading to Marion, forest floor on both sides of the road pulled at me to park and go walking. Whenever I pass a wooded scene like that I look deep into it to see the individual trees, last year's leaves the most beautiful carpet ever. I can only do that a second at a time, especially with front wheel drive that tends to go where my eyes go. My landscape gawking is a snapshot view at a time. That's ok. I still get to see it. I love the highway from Mouth of Wilson to Marion, every mile of the way, every time of year. I pass roads that I've been down and remember them as I go by.

Hwy 72 in Virginia has its own quality similar to that of hwy 16 along that stretch, Volney, Grant, Troutdale, Sugar Grove. People live all along the way. Homes in landscape. Every time I pass Joe Osborne's farm, Joe dead at least 15 years, I remember the time I went to the house to tell him and his wife of his friend Lorne Campbell's passing. They knew he'd died, but I knew they would want to know the circumstances around it. Their primary concern was, was he saved? It was an expression of how much they cared about him. They were afraid for him because of his absence of interest in religion. It was a beautiful moment seeing how much they cared.

I told them that he'd told me when he first came into these mountains of SW Virginia, age 19 from San Diego, California, he rode with an old traveling preacher, who rode a horse from community to community through SW Va for several months, close to a year, if not a year, Lorne taking care of handling the Bibles he sold at the different meetings. Distributing Bibles is what he was doing. I couldn't imagine Lorne Campbell with the mind he had, riding with the Old Baptist preacher, who surely instructed him and I have no doubt Lorne made his profession with the old preacher, whose name I can't remember. I didn't see any way around it. He was learning the mountains, the mountain people, mountain religion, mountain belief systems, and he dove headfirst into this world without electricity. They'd had electricity where he came from for a long time. It was his introduction to the mountains, about 1930.

I'll tell you a little bit more about Lorne. On the way to the Atlantic from the Pacific, he went through the Panama Canal, age 18, just out of high school where he'd been the tennis champ. He landed in jail for 6 months for I don't remember what, probably nothing more than being drunk and doing something stupid. He went to New York and got a job as swimming pool guard at a swank hotel. In New York he met Spencer Parsons, from Grayson County, Va, who was driving a trolley car at the time, him about the same age as Lorne. They became friends. Lorne followed the harvest across Canada from east to west putting up hay, earning some money to operate with. Back in New York, he and Spencer went to Grayson County.

While they were in Grayson, Spencer married his cousin, which was against the law, and had to get out of the state. He went back to Baltimore, if I remember correctly, and went into debt buying some apartment buildings and paid for them and lived on the rent. That's what he did the rest of his life. He never had another job. Done as he pleased. Retired and died outside Elkins, West Virginia, beautiful country. Back in Grayson, the law was looking for where Spencer went. Because Lorne was his friend, in court Lorne testified that he would not tell. Contempt of court, 6 months in the Wilkesboro jail.

Out of jail, he took to learning Virginia law from a lawyer in Indepencence, John Parsons (I'm not 100% about the John, but close), who tutored him for a year. He passed the bar in 1932, the last year he could take the bar exam without going to law school. Age 21 he's a lawyer, no college, no law school, and by the end of his life had the name the best lawyer in SW Virginia. They said he would hold your hand all the way to the prison door, meaning he did everything he could to keep his clients out of prison. His reason, mountain boys don't belong in prison. This was also his purpose as a lawyer, to keep the boys of SW Virginia out of prison.

One got him, however, the son of a hunting friend. The boy had got into some really bad shit with another guy. The other guy went right off to prison, while Lorne was working to keep his client out. It was about the hardest trick he'd ever pulled. He jumped through a lot of burning hoops for it. Right up to the last minute he kept at it until he prevailed. Had to go to Atlanta. The boy was free to go, but he wanted to go to prison. He and the other guy were lovers and wanted to be together. Campbell had a heart attack. It made him so mad he blew a gasket. Yet, it was convenient to be in Atlanta where the hospital could take him right away. Every time I pass the driveway to Joe Osborne's dairy farm that used to be, these are the thoughts that occupy my mind several miles down the road.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


ralph stanley museum

Three hours on the road to Clintwood, Virginia, deep in the Clinch Mountains, slight rain, beautiful landscape, late November, trees largely bare, coal hauling trucks everywhere, big trucks. I misremembered the highway, I thought, believing last time I drove 72 in May the road had no white or yellow lines. This time it had the lines. I know my memory is a mess, but this didn't seem right. Later, talking with Pam Morris in the museum, she suggested the road might have been paved recently, the road takes a lot of wear from the big trucks. I did have to stop for road work once on that trip. Evidently it had just been repaved and the lines not yet put down. It was an entirely different road with the lines on it. I did notice a few places that were familiar from last time, but it never seemed right. I asked Richard Morris at the desk if there are two 72s. No, just one. It was a peculiar feeling.

I'd far rather drive into the Clinch Mountains by the old road instead of 4-lane. It turns back on itself several times, not just a few. Some of the trucks are so long they have to take the whole road to make those turns. I felt like it was ON when I left the 4-lane at Coeburn, where I think Jim and Jesse McReynolds are from, turning onto hwy 72, going deep into the mountains, through the mountains where you still can see rusted junk cars and pickups in yards, even a few houses that resemble shacks, but not many. The road is a mountain road from one end to the other. My heart expanded driving the mountain highway to Clintwood, the road Ralph and Carter, the Stanley Brothers, took to Bristol every day for years, and their weekend shows all over the mountains.

The Stanley Brothers never caught on much outside the mountains. Their only hit outside the mountains was a song they made up from a joke in the recording studio with one more track to come up with. How Far To Little Rock. It's good hillbilly humor, but the listeners outside the mountains evidently didn't connect with their music, which is particularly mountain music. They were so mountain, they were not very accessible outside the mountains, like the Laurel Fork Travelers and Tommy Jarrell. It's a curiosity to me that the Stanley Brothers never connected with listeners outside the mountains, but for musicians. For one thing, they were excellent musicians and pop music doesn't often reward excellence. Richard, at the museum, told me that somebody asked Dr Ralph why he didn't move to Nashville. His answer, I wasn't born in Nashville.

Dr Ralph was not at the museum today, which I felt a bit balanced about; glad on the one hand and disappointed on the other hand, each about the same degree, and neither hardly even an emotion. I went the way I approach about everything in this time of the life, going with God's will, whatever that may be. On the road, thinking about it, I had no problem leaving it to whatever happens. I didn't feel like it was necessary to meet Ralph Stanley. I don't go after autographs, but I went after his in my copy of his book. I was comfortable either way. It's best he wasn't there, because I'd have choked up. I know it. My purpose in the trip was to leave the painting with them, and that was it. I told Pam I claim no rights. From the moment I handed it to them, it's property of the museum, no strings attached. It was my love gift to the Stanley museum. It was conceived in there, and I felt like today I gave it birth.

First thing Pam noted while looking at it was Steve Sparkman, Ralph's banjo picker who played Stanley style, was leaving the band today. She saw right away it had Ralph with the banjo, not Sparkman. I was happy to see that they were happy to have it in the museum. Pam and Richard agreed right off it belonged in the small room painted white with the old-time church benches where visitors watch a video of the Stanleys. I didn't mention that room was my pick for where I'd like to see it, because I didn't feel like it was my place to be arranging a museum. But it felt good to get my wish without expressing it. A place on the wall in there was waiting for it.

I was especially happy they both thought it favored him well. I told Pam it had already had its compliment that satisfied me such that I feel like I touched the star I was reaching for. It was when Joe Edwards said, 'I can hear them playing.' That was it. I don't need any more feedback. That one told me it did what I set out to do, that nebulous something unnameable I attempted to breathe into it that would make somebody looking at it feel like they can hear the music. Joe's comment told me it was worth giving to the museum. I could only give them my very best, and believe I reached my best in it.

Pam took me to their community center, a big room with a lot of tables, chairs upside down on the tables. It was an interesting maze to walk through looking at 8 paintings a woman who lives there painted on a commission for the walls in the room. Every one was beautiful as beautiful gets. You could study one for an hour easily and never get tired of looking at it, put up a tent and live in it for awhile. The colors, the compositions, the content, every one I felt a major WoW standing in front of it. Her name is Ellen Elmes. She painted a mural on a big public wall downtown Clintwood, in sight of the museum. I felt immensely honored to be in her artistic company. Honored is how I felt all the way home. It's a deeply honored feeling, honored within, like I've done something worth doing that goes to the good for all concerned.


Monday, November 22, 2010


white light

Another accidental picture. This one seemed to take itself. If I remember correctly, probably don't, the camera was in my lap and I picked it up to focus on some still shots of the band. As I was lifting it, finger touched the button and the camera clicked. I thought: good. And wondered what accidental image it caught this time. It looks like it could be a minimalist canvas from New York the 60s at the same time as Pop art, maybe 10 feet by 20 feet, big like they did them then. Got a second accidental picture. Evidently pushed the button twice. I only remember the once. Will put up the other one some time in near future.

Today I don't have much in mind but the drive to Clintwood, Virginia, tomorrow, and back. It's a good drive. From here to Marion is a beautiful drive every time of year. The Interstate to Abingdon has nice landscape, Mt. Rogers and Whitetop on the left for quite a ways. From Abingdon to Coeburn on alt58, then right on 72, the windingest road I remember ever driving, no white or yellow lines, not as wide as our roads, straight up on the left and straight down on the right. It's a keep-it-in-the-road road. It winds back on itself all the way along. Gigantic coal dumptrucks coming the other way, in the tight, narrow curves. The road is only curves. And it's about the most beautiful scenic road I've ever been on. It's slow going, no hurry, no worry, just keep it in the road. 72 all the way to Clintwood, which is about like Sparta with different signs.

Going into Clinch Mountain country, the Clinch Mountains made legendary by the Carter Family, the Stanley Brothers and Ralph Stanley. Clinch Mountain Backstep. My Old Clinch Mountain Home. The Clinch Mountains have a mystique for me like the Lake Country in England has for my friend Lucas Carpenter, English professor, that Wordsworth and Coleridge made legend in their poetry. Their music is an art form the same as poetry is an art form. TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas and ee cummings read poems beautifully, but nowhere near what Carter Stanley could do with a song. So nowhere near there's not even a scale to measure it. Ralph too, and Sara and AP Carter. Last time I was there the trees were in full green. This time the trees will be bare and I'll see the shapes of the mountains more.

Back in May I went up 72 to Clintwood, but on the way back took 4-lane out around Pound and Norton, a very long way, the way everybody goes. I regretted it as soon as I got on the highway. Could have turned around, but didn't, wanting to see that landscape too. This time I'm going up 72 and coming back 72. I love that road. For my likings in landscape to drive through, the trip all the way from home to Clintwood is beautiful. Southwest Virginia has some beautiful country to drive through. It's about 2 and a half hours from here to there. Last time, it took 3 hours, but I had to stop for quite awhile 5 times. Every county I went through was doing road work, the perfect time for paving.

At Selma's earlier today I left with my coffee and brought home the cup. It's a thermal throw-away cup about twice the size of a styrofoam coffee cup and has a cap on top. That will accompany me and the Catfish on the road. The car feels like it's running good. The drive will be a good run for its round feet. Went by Crystal's studio and she photographed the Stanley painting and put it on a disk for me to have a copy of it. I'm looking forward to the drive there, the destination and the return. I'm looking forward to hearing the FM station out of Whitesburg, Kentucky, again. They play bluegrass.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


champagne in a dixie cup

One of the features of the www that I like is the picture above. I'd just finished seeing Woodstock and wanted to say something about it. Thought I'd like to have a picture of Janis Joplin. Googled her name, clicked on images and there's a mess of pictures. I wanted one that had the spirit of Janis at Woodstock and there she was in her Woodstock outfit acting out the Bill Anderson / Mary Lou Turner song of the time. Short-lived Janis didn't give herself much of a chance to live out her life. Maybe she didn't want to. Hendrix too. They went out in not many weeks of each other. The thrill and fun of rock of that period was waning.

As predicted, marijuana did lead to harder stuff and they started dropping off from heroin overdoses. Things went downhill in a hurry. The same happened with the punk scene in 75. Punk, an art school phenomenon, ran wild in London and New York. Press called them angry, but they were not angry. They were art students, anyway in London. Heroin was already going in New York. Johnny Thunders of New York Dolls introduced heroin to the London punk scene when the band was playing in London, and that was it. Nosedive. Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was one of the casualties, if dying could be called a casualty in his case. It seemed quite right in his case. He killed his junkie girlfriend, spent a little time in jail. Out of jail waiting for sentencing, he od'd. I'd say with intent, considering the circumstances, facing life in prison. He seemed to me too dumb to live and found the easy way out.

In the cases of Joplin and Hendrix it was indeed a casualty. Though, at the same time, the music was changing out from under them and there came a time when their music was on the wane. Like losing John Lennon, they were a great loss to world of pop culture and the people who pay attention. When I hear Janis Joplin singing I think she's the greatest. When I think of her life, it's not the greatest. Bette Midler played Janis in the movie of her life, The Rose. Janis was on a downhill run. At the bottom of the run was a cliff and she went sailing into eternity. They were just about the end of rock star as hero period.

We don't play the big star game in pop culture in this time. It's thousands of lesser magnitude stars now. Some continue from that period, like Bob Dylan, Greg Allman, Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, the Stones, et al. The young kids now tend to love Jimi Hendrix. I saw at Bobby Patterson's record shop where he specializes in music from around here, mountain music and mountain gospel music, he keeps Jimi Hendrix in stock, meaning he's had too many requests for Hendrix to ignore. Especially around Christmas, people shopping for their teenage grandsons, who get a kick out of their grandkids listening to the music of their period, though they were listening to country music at the time, hearing Champagne in a Dixie Cup.

Looking back, it's like that Woodstock period was the apex of bigger-bigger-bigger. Rock concerts were filling big football stadium bowls for the Stones and some other bands. Crowds got bigger and bigger, until the totally out of control half million at Woodstock. The way we think of numbers in this time, half a million doesn't seem like much, but when you look out over a sea of different colored pixels, heads, from a helicopter, it's a big number. I was thinking of what it would be like if everyone there had a cell phone like they do at concerts now. I'd imagine it would overwork the relay systems around there and put all cell phones out. It was called a disaster area because the town ran out of gas and groceries and no way to get anything in but by helicopter.

It went like a wave. From mega-domes for concerts, the sound of the time being the big auditorium sound where the bands played. Then mid-seventies the venues started getting smaller. More and more bands coming on in a flood, the kids that were little during the Sixties, the time of guitar heroes. Then punk came and did away with the guitar solo, dropped back to what was happening in the 50s and took the lead from the Velvet Underground of the Sixties, a band that didn't even figure outside NYC except for a small fan base scattered all over the country, like Woody Allen films in that way. About every city had it's punk club, a small brick box with a small stage and room for maybe a hundred people.

By now I don't even know what they do. I've heard Ziggy's in Winston-Salem has moved, but I've not been there since the move. All the way along going to concerts from high school years, college years, post college years unto now I've seen and heard some really good bands. First one to come to mind is The Cars, Van Halen, post-Sixties bands, Kiss, that carried the sound from that time. Burning Spear, Papa Roach and BoDiddley at Ziggy's. What's called "classic" rock was then called underground, because they wouldn't play it on the radio, so you had to buy albums and listen to other people's albums. Get together and play new albums was a party in that time. Like there's this new band from SanFrancisco you gotta hear, the Grateful Dead.

Whatever is happening now in pop, I don't care. My ears have turned to mountain music, acoustic played by masters. Every week at the Front Porch I hear mountain music as it is played by today's musicians. It's different from the old-time way, perhaps more accessible to people here from other places. It's not mountain-specific. It is, but it's accessible to the ear attuned to pop music. Today's mountain musicians grew up hearing rock, country, television pop, so the ears of the musicians extend further from home. Before WW2 you didn't hear much from outside these mountains. Now there is XM radio and other such carriers of pop music. My ear in this time has turned to the mountains. Every one of the people that play at the Front Porch makes music not only worth listening to, but it makes you listen by the grace in the musicianship. I leave every show completely satisfied I've heard good music.


Saturday, November 20, 2010


willard gayheart

scott freeman

All day I've listened to videos from last night's music, good music, good day of music. While uploading videos to YouTube I'm watching Woodstock for the first time since seeing it in the theater when it was on its theater run. Saw it twice then. This one I got from netflix. It's not entirely the same, I don't think. It was so long ago, 40 years ago, that my memory is not entirely accurate. I'm certain it has been changed, because much of it did not juggle memory. Some did. Santana's Soul Sacrifice, Sly Stone's Higher and Alvin Lee's Goin Home were the same. Whatever the case, it is a great music video. I went into it a bit apprehensive that I might find it boring after all these years, liking acoustic music a great deal and have been immersed in mountain music for several years. On the contrary, I may be enjoying it more than the first viewings. I doubt it. It is fresh and alive for me now. The music is not hard metal. It's the music of the time "classic" rock.

My day has been the music of the Woodstock era on the one hand and Hungry Hash House Ramblers on the other. For my ear, it's not as big a jump as it would seem. Scott and them playing with good drive and excellent musicianship were in pretty close to the same league. Those were often good musicians playing at Woodstock. In both the electric world and the acoustic world I've been occupying today, it's been some good music all day long. Edwin Lacy asked me last night if I'm getting bored of doing all these videos. Lord have mercy, no. If I were getting paid, I'd be bored by now, but it's not for money I'm doing it.

Scott and Willard put on these great shows every week for nothing. They don't make a cent from it. They do it because they love doing it. They're two of my favorte musicians and two of my favorite people. Their band Alternate Roots is still my favorite band. They made 4 cds, each one a gem. Their band before AR, Skeeter & the Skidmarks, had a similar musical energy, though a different sound. I told Willard last night that he has made me appreciate the song, Yellow Rose of Texas, Little Red Wagon, I Love You Nellie. Willard takes old songs like that from the 20s and 30s and brings them to life. Willard writes songs too, good songs. Scott writes songs and composes fiddle tunes. Scott is married to Willard's daughter. Both are creative artists who are always creating something new in music the way they play it. Scott and Willard have made music more than 20 years together and by now have what appears to be an intuitive connection while they're making music.
Talking with Edwin Lacy before the show, I mentioned that after all the shows and watching all the videos, many of them several times, what I've noticed more and more is that Willard is an amazing musician. Edwin seconded that enthusiastically. Scott has talked to me of Willard's musical abilities with the same awe Edwin expressed. Different musicians who have come to play at the Front Porch have noted their respect for Willard's musicianship. I quite honestly feel priveleged to be there among these people of such talent and creative energy. It's good for my own. I feel more among artists with them than I do among painters like me.

Friday, November 19, 2010


courtney burroughs in front of edwin lacy (banjo)

edwin lacy (banjo) behind courtney burroughs

scott freeman, mandolin / doug rorrer, guitar

doug rorrer (father) / taylor rorrer (son)
Gonna lay down my old guitar, sung by Doug Rorrer sounds to my ear the way the song sounds best. A lot of people have sung it and I've heard several, all of them good. It's one of them songs, like Goin down the road feelin bad, that sounds good any way its sung. Like lay down my old guitar can be sung several ways from folk song to bluegrass band. Doug's singing of this song pleases my ear. It's like Spencer Pennington singing East Virginia Blues on Whitetop Mountain Band's album, Bull +10%, sung the way that sounds to my ear just right. Like Willard singing Sweet Virginia. Like Audine Lineberry singing Ruby. Like Sara Carter singing I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes, who is sailing far over the sea. Like Ralph Stanley singing Beautiful star of Bethlehem.
I love it when I hear a song sung just right. Another one done just right tonight was sung by Courtney Burroughs, who also played fiddle, when she sang Streets of London. She brought the song to life, made the song her own, like Julie London made Cry me a river her own. The show at the Front Porch was, in effect, The Hungry Hash House Ramblers, minus the bass player whose soul left the body a few years back, Doug's wife, Taylor's mother, Kathy. She sang Summertime on one of their albums. It wasn't Big Mama Thornton, who owns that song to my ear, but mama made her solo singing of it stand very respectably in among all the hard driving fiddle, banjo and guitar on the rest of the album. Her singing of it was like somebody opened the door and a soft breeze of fresh air entered the room.
I recognized Courtney on sight when I walked in the door as fiddler from a young bluegrass band Broken Wire. I'd heard them play live and once at the Rex theater on the radio. I was struck by her fiddle, thought she had something special in her fiddle and her voice. I spoke with her, mentioned her band Broken Wire, and she said she's not with them any more. I didn't ask if that meant she left the band or the band dissolved. I suspect the latter, because I believe the banjo player was killed on a motorcycle some months ago. Something like that can act as a hand grenade that blows the band apart. Jim Van Cleve and Scott Manring played fiddle tracks on the HHHR cds. Scott Freeman, who played mandolin with HHHR, I think played fiddle on a track or 2. Taylor also played fiddle with HHHR.
Courtney's fiddle and voice, she sang 2 songs, gave the band a refreshing spirit like Kathy gave it before. Doug Rorrer's great uncle was Charlie Poole, and Posey Rorrer, Charlie Poole's first fiddler, was also Doug's great uncle. Doug is behind the Charlie Poole festival at Eden, NC, every year now. He has a record label at Eden, where he lives, Flyin Cloud, in his house where he records and distributes cds, acoustic music by musicians of North Carolina leaning toward the mountains, like Kirk Sutphin and Wayne Henderson. The website: . The Hungry Hash House Ramblers have a website too, .
Doug and Taylor have played guitar together for most of Taylor's life, and Taylor was his dad's equal some years ago. They make music together as one. Taylor has become quite good with the fiddle. It was a good show all way through. Edwin Lacy played banjo and HHHR's first album, The Butter Had Red Hair. You can find HHHR on YouTube, with Edwin Lacy playing his banjo on Mountain Reel and some others. This weekend I'll be uploading onto YouTube several videos from tonight's show. Write in the YouTube search box hobblealong1 and they'll be at the top of the list when they're up. They bear a good listen. Acoustic music at its best. I don't mean it's the very best. There's an awful lot of good music going around, and these musicians stand respectably among the very best.
Driving home I heard the last 45 minutes of the Whitetop Mountain Band playing at the Rex live. They sounded good. Thornton was fiddling. Martha sang Faded Love and made it her own. Martha also sang Ruby. Jackson Cunningham, Martha's feller, plays mandolin beautifully and sings a good song. They were in good spirit tonight. The musicians in Whitetop Mountain Band are in the same league of the musicians I'd just listened to for 2 hours. It was like there was no difference going from one to the other, except that they were different bands playing very differently, but they had the same spirit. I suppose that spirit is really good music. Both bands connected tonight and music was made in Southwest Virginia.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


cat eyes

I have reaped what I have sown. The chemical warfare attack killed all the mice. Last night was silence. All the mice were dead. It felt creepy. A friend had suggested a movie called 10,000 lights, I forget the rest. I wrote it in the search box at netflix and it wasn't in their inventory. As always, a list of titles, one of them, House of 1,000 Corpses. I cracked up. That's my house. Mouse corpses in the walls. And today I pay for my sin of poisoning all the mice. They stink and I can't do anything about it. They're in the walls and there are several. Doors and windows are closed with heat on. I tell myself it surely doesn't smell worse than Mumbai or Calcutta, learn to live with and I won't notice it, then it will be gone. What else? Pot pouri? (however it's spelled) I feel a bit of sorrow for Caterpillar too. She liked watching them. She looks and waits and they never appear. They were her 3-D television. She has nothing else to occupy her attention. She just lazes about on her cushion.

Have just finished seeing A Walk Into The Sea, a documentary made by a Massachusetts woman who had been searching for anything to lead to her brother's disappearance several years before. He'd been one of the hangers on at Andy Warhol's Factory in the 60s. It was interesting history, a brief review of that Warhol period in New York, the intensely boring films that were cool because they were boring, and the silkscreens of Marilyn, Elvis, Campbell's soup cans, Brillo boxes, coca cola bottles, and his hangers on were the essence of cool in that time, in that place. They affected boredom brought on by everything and everybody around them. On coke, of course. On heroin, uppers, downers, acid, every kind of drug they could get in any form. Making films of each other shooting up and arguing and being stupid.

They got immense attention in the art world and in the press. They were a sensation. Edie Sedgwick, the rich California junkie who flashed like the shooting star that she was, fizzled out, crashed and died. It was a dark atmosphere, and I don't mean poorly lit. It looks like Warhol drew his creative energy from the people around him. He manipulated and used them. They all wanted to please Andy. Andy was famous and making them famous for being famous. A bunch of junkies of artistic leanings hanging out, staying high, playing artist, actually making some very interesting art. Like Gerard Malanga evidently did an awful lot of the silk screens. Andy made the design and Malanga put them on canvas. Andy was after making art like in a factory. He conceived the image, got other people to put it all together into multiple silk screens.

Warhol became one of those nutcase New York people like Truman Capote who, like Warhol, sucked up to the rich and partied with NY high society, got their pictures in People magazine, had expensive eccentricities and not so gracious deaths. I saw as many Warhol films as I could, which isn't very many, interested by what he was doing in art, feeling like I got it to some extent, and fascinated by that crazy bunch of people around him. Now, many years later, after reading half a dozen books on them, by some of them, seeing documentary films about them, looking at Warhol artistically, I see a bunch of people I'd couldn't be comfortable among for 5 minutes. He might have been a nutcase, but he was foremost an artist who made for himself a respectable place in American/international art of his time. He's the source of the saying every American has known for several decades, 'in the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes.'

Part of what I likedItalic so much about this film was the absence of Warhol adoration. They looked at him with a cold eye. The director was searching for why her brother, who had been with the Factory bunch for quite a while as electrician for Velvet Underground concerts, disappeared. She went around to different living people from the Factory, almost 40 years later, and talked with them. They were some strange looking people. They looked pretty bad then, but in their own 60s they weren't quite as cool as they believed they were back in The Sixties.

I noticed nearly all the men that talked had permanent dark circles around their eyes. It was like they had brown donuts tattooed around their eyes. Bad hair, phew. What I was seeing was from the TS Eliot poem, we are the hollow men. I saw emptiness vast as looking into a black hole. I laughed at myself, thinking these were the people I thought were too cool for school at one time. Seeing these people, I felt glad again that I jumped off that track into the kind of emptiness that inhabits them. I'd have become like them, dark circles around the eyes, who I am locked up in a box and put in a safe place where it's forgotten. Living inside a self-created identity of what I want other people to believe about me. I can't live like that. It was in that time that God picked me up like a mama cat picking up a kitten by the back of the neck and carrying it from here over to there. I didn't do so well living in the world. I felt like a balloon with a slow leak. Then, like the song says, love lifted me. I've thought no more of the Warhol mystique since that time, but to enjoy his images from time to time. I'll always appreciate Andy's art.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


cat nap

Caterpillar is in place for the evening. She's been resting on her red cushion. I put a little bit of catnip by her. She likes the smell. She'll lie there beside the pile of catnip the rest of the evening and maybe the night. She never eats it, just smells it. Sometimes she rolls in it. Something about the scent relaxes her. I'm sure there is a scientific explanation, but I don't care what it is. It looks like she's settled in for the night, but that's uncertain.

It's a puzzlement to me what to do for Caterpillar. She wasn't the least bit social with Tapo and TarBaby except to intimidate them and make them hiss, but they'd been with her all her life, their presences were always here. Now they're gone. It doesn't feel right for me, and I sense it doesn't feel right for Caterpillar either. I may be projecting my feelings onto her, but so what if I am. We know each other well enough by now I have a fair idea how she's feeling by her demeanor. Right now she's relaxed and comfortable in the only place that's ever been home for her, the place she was born. The giant that has loved her since her eyes opened continues to be her friend and provider.

What I've seen in her moods has been glad Tapo was gone for a couple days, twisting and squirming happy to have her out of the way. Then a couple days of sorrow when it sank in that Tapo was really gone. From there, we had the feeling together, it's just us. It's something new to get used to. Now my attention is not divided between three, it's all on Caterpillar. She's all I have left and I'm all she has left. All her attention is on me now. So I pay her plenty of attention, keeping her knowing at all times I'm aware of her presence. Sometimes I just speak her name as a vocal way of petting her. I brush her hair from time to time, buy cat treats for her. Now that it's just us, she's all three of the cats for me and I'm the other 2 for her. I tell her every day I love her with all my heart, because I do and she needs to know it. She loves me the same

We have a closer bond than we've ever had. She's figuring out how to tell me what she wants. When she wants out, she knows how to let me know. She gets my attention, then leads me to the door. She wants food, she leads me to the catfood. She wants me to hold her, she stands at my feet waiting for me to pick her up. I pick her up at least once every day. We're two consciousnesses, family as family gets. I'm all the world she knows besides birds and mice. She hasn't attempted to catch either for some years. She used to be rough on them. I saw her once jump about 4 feet straight up and swat at a flying snowbird. She hit the wing and set it wobbling, but the bird pulled itself together and got out of there. I saw then that Caterpillar meant business and wondered how many times she'd slapped a bird out of the air.

She's having a drink of water now. That's another thing. I am certain to change her water regularly to keep it always fresh for her. I'm giving her the attention I gave 3 cats before, and am happy about it. I aim to keep her spoiled the rest of her life, knowing she's loved and well provided for. I've always wanted a good life for her. She doesn't go out any more on account of the dogs. I keep towels on the floor where the sun shines every day for her to have good places to lie in the sun. She just lays about and sleeps. At night she sleeps beside a heater in the bedroom I keep on low. All she asks of me is to hold her from time to time. When I read or watch a movie, she likes to stretch out on my lap for a nap. Her habits have developed in relation to mine, so we're as well matched as 2 beings can be together. She's the perfect cat for me and I'm the perfect giant for her.

Pillar, I call her about half the time, her familiar name, and feel it describes her role like Caterpillar describes her fuzzy fur, the stripes and the way she walked as a kitten. In the absence of mother, Caterpillar became the "nurturer" who kept the other's clean. She was a funny kitten with a big sweep of white hair swirling out from her ears. By the time she was full grown her ears grew around the hair, but when she was little the hair stuck out from her ears like little wings. She was about the cutest kitten you ever saw. But when time came for the 3 of them to establish their pecking order, Caterpillar came out on top, because she was the craziest fighter and the biggest. She fought like a wild animal. Her disposition changed utterly. She was ready to fight the other 2 every day. For years they walked way around her. She had an attitude that kept them aware she was Top Cat. Now that they're gone, Caterpillar's haughty attitude is gone. Now she's the cat she's always wanted to be.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


hands up

Just now listened to / watched the Colbert Report from yesterday, Nov 15th, about airport security. Colbert is to the left as Limbaugh is to the right, devoid of information, nothing but wise cracks, smart remarks and clever quips. He asks his interviewees questions, then doesn't allow an answer to get through his wall of loud cleverness. After 10 minutes of cutsie rant, he has said nothing. Every time I watched one, I went into it with expectation something interesting might get said. It's never happened in the ones I've seen. It's billed as comedy, but I've never laughed. Hearing on the news that Sarah Palin is being set up for the presidency, that's when I bend over and fall on the floor from laughter that turns into crying. Funniest thing I ever heard; even funnier that it might be likely.

Today's rant was airport security, Colbert shooting down everything interviewee said, replacing it with nonsense and humiliation of the guest, who was there to talk about (maybe) the humiliation of body scans at airports, threats, treating everyone like criminals. I got taken aside last time I took a plane ride, things gone through, everybody walking by looking at a criminal abducted. I don't think we had cell phone video cameras then, so there was no danger of turning up on YouTube. I said to the searcher, "I see we're in fascism now." He asked what I meant. I said, "This." He still didn't get it. He didn't have a laptop to google merriam-webster to look up the meaning of fascism, evidently a word he'd never heard. Skipped that day in school, if it's addressed in school now. It's probably subversive to teach about fascism. It sure is against the rules to use the word. The search didn't hurt anything, but I hated being treated like a criminal, talked to like a criminal, commanded like a criminal after paying hard-earned money to fly on a damn plane. All the time Colbert was making cracks about what to do about it, all I could think was: it's simple--stay out of airports.

That was my last flight. It's not that I'm afraid of dying in a plane crash, not that at all. I like the democracy I grew up in school being told we live in. But since I've been out of school, haven't seen a lot of it. Sure, we have elections, but we also have the men in black to overthrow an election when it's not to the liking of the right wing. If the winner gets through with such a large margin that it can't be twisted, then he's rendered impotent by new laws the men in black make up for the occasion. At this time in my life there's no place I want to go to, and if the need arises to go somewhere I have to fly, I'll either drive or not go. They talk about car pollution, what about jet exhaust pollution, each passenger plane burning 4 jet engines? But that's ok, like if my car smoked the air like a dump truck passing through town making it look like the whole town was on fire, I'd be arrested, my car taken and I'd never be allowed to drive it again. I'd be fined an amount I couldn't pay, then threatened with jail. But it's ok for the dumptruck. It's about making money.

The airlines will have to make their money without any contributions from me. It's not like I kept them going before, but I have a problem with paying a corporation to treat me like a criminal. If they were paying me, it would be another thing. Though if they were paying me, I'd quit. They have their justifications, and they can have all of them they want. It's obviously convincing to enough people to keep the airline corporations going that fascism is a good thing. What I see from history is the pattern in fascism is to do extensive damage, implode and take the entire country with it.

I still can't get over that our government has supported fascist governments around the world against the people of those countries wanting democracy. That's been going on all my lifetime. Now we're spreading democracy by crippling helpless countries and forcing the survivors to have elections. When the one wins that isn't the one our corporate government wants, they do like the Supreme Court, nullify the election and put in the one they want, or kill the one they don't want, whichever is the more expedient. Just like home. I don't know a solution for the situation. All I can see is to let it run its course, which it's going to do, and keep myself out of its way, don't play on its tracks. I tell myself stay on the mountain and let all the rest go by. I feel like Artur Sammler in Saul Bellow's novel, Mr Sammler's Planet, published 1970, who in his old age was metaphorically sitting on the bank of a river watching the world go by, aware that one man is no match against such gigantic social forces. Detached by indifference, he withdraws and watches it all go by.


Monday, November 15, 2010


han shan

Friday night I heard the Highlanders play Catfish John, one of my favorite old songs. Mama said don't go near that river, don't be goin around old Catfish John, but in the morning I would always be there, walkin in his footsteps in the sweet delta dawn. Catfish John was an old black man who lived down by the river bed, possibly a freed slave with nowhere to go. Good story of a kid, I presume, who had taken a shine to the old black man and became his friend. Brings to mind Tom Sawyer and old black Jim, and a wonderful read, The Last Algonquin, a memoir by a man telling of knowing this old Indian living, if I remember correctly, on a remote spot on Long Island. He was the last living member of the Algonquin tribe. The boy's mother wanted him to stay away from the Indian, but the kid was learning so much and had developed such a high respect that he can't ignore old man. The boy knowing Catfish John found somebody from another world that was gone forever to tell him about the time gone by and what's important in life.

Tom Pruitt was my Catfish John in the early years on the mountain. I knew him 14 years before he died, which hit hard. Tom seemed to me like somebody who would never die. It didn't seem right that someone like Tom Pruitt could die and take with him all his useless knowledge from another time that is gone forever. He saw all the Air Bellows people die out and the young ones sell the farms to flatlanders until he was the only one of mountain blood remaining on the mountain. It was that way the whole time I knew him and for perhaps that many years before I arrived on the mountain. Tom lived as simply as it was possible to live. In his later years the garden quit producing. It had been the garden spot about his entire lifetime and the soil was gray as moon dust. He would hoe a row for beans and sprinkle fertilizer into the trench to make things grow. They grew, but finally stopped. He was past a garden then, anyway.

I came here from only living in cities before, and dove in headfirst. I wanted to learn a new culture and get closer to God. I wanted to start over. Hit the reset button. I'd come to a dead end in my own life, where I was not happy, just trying to figure out how to live in the world with little inclination for it and coming up on a sign within that said FAIL. I really did come to a standstill within. Nothing I wanted to do, noplace I wanted to go to. My mind was really screwed up with a world of unspoken expectations to satisfy, a world whirling as fast as it could go around money. Money was the motivation that drove everything, and I wasn't interested. I didn't want to be in the money whirl. I wanted to be motivated by something real, not unreal, but the world all around me was nothing but unreal in my interpretation. Sucking up to the rich, climbing the ladder, focused on money, more money the ongoing goal. I'm one who would rather live simply on the least possible money.

I value time more than money, which is to say with time I can do a lot that I want to do, with money I do and think what it takes to get the money. In my lifetime I can't think of anyone I know with a huge amount of money that it truly benefited, though there are exceptions and those exceptions I value. Bill Wilson who got Pioneer Eclipse going and made an immense fortune in a short time, lost it in a short time and is now in prison where he's been quite awhile. I believe the only way I could ethically live with that kind of windfall would be to go on living as I live and give it away. An immense amount would go to BROC and an equally immense amount to Hospice. That's not going to happen, but this is how I believe I'd like to handle it---doesn't mean I would. I'd probably buy a corvette, more land than I need, a bigger house than I need and give myself a heart attack shopping. I'd rather not have to think about it. I know I would not handle it well, because I have no experience and no training in its use.
My only experience with money is to put a paycheck in the bank, pay bills and be out of money til next payday. I know no other rhythm. Much younger I would think being rich was as good as it gets, though after growing up and knowing a few, I don't see they have anything I don't have but a whole lot more stuff. Most of the rich people I've met or seen, I'd think the money was wasted on them. Why not go to somebody who could use it intelligently, not meaning me at all, but the principle of it. Doesn't seem fair. But it's like our government. Intelligent men or women stay out of it. We get the people who want it, which isn't necessarily intelligent ambition. Politicians are like evangelists, holding out the open palm of desire. It makes me question Obama's intelligence for wanting to be president in a time when intelligence is a liability in American politics---always has been, more now than ever.
In my early years in the mountains, still in the urban belief systems, I remember saying to Charles Dysart, who was new here then, that I did not want to get old like Tom. He said, You won't, which consoled me mightily. Years later I laugh out loud at myself for missing everything. By now, 34 years of living in his culture, I understand and value the way Tom was and would be happy in my 70s, unaware of what's the latest, what's cool, what's expected, what's acceptable. Tom looked at the wall beside the fireplace and spit backer into the fireplace that had no fire. He had a wood-stove standing in front of the fireplace with a pipe out the back running up the chimney.
He sat staring at that wall all day every day that he was awake in the house the whole time I knew him. It was the screen his mind played on. He sat in his rocking chair that didn't rock like a Zen monk comfortable in his mind, thinking about his Lord. He didn't read well, only read the red print in his New Testament, the only part of the Bible he read. Like Thomas Jefferson, Tom didn't trust Paul, and all the rest of it was stories. What's real is what the Master said, and that only. After a certain point in getting to know Tom I saw him as a monk in his own pilgrim way. He'd quit going to church over a preacher he believed told a lie on him, and to make it worse, believed the preacher had not been called by God, but was self-called to preach. Tom was a philosopher first. A couple of his brothers were called to preach, while Tom, who wanted to be called, never was. Tom's last half of his life was given to loving God and treating the people around him right. Now, after years of thinking about what Charles said, I wouldn't mind at all being just like Tom as an old man. He kept out of everybody's hair and everybody kept out of his.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


the last of the leaves

Just now heard on the news that the Dictionary has declared Sarah Palin's gaff, refudiate, a word, a mix of refute and repudiate. Lord have mercy. Does the Supreme Court select words for the dictionary like they select presidents? Does this mean the black robes will change the pronunciation of nuclear and jewelry to nukuler and jewlery because a republican president said them that way? Sarah Palin is simply famous for being famous, like Lisa Marie Presley Jackson. I guess W was too, as he certainly wasn't famous for being presidential.
On YouTube you can find thousands of videos of "fails" where a teenage boy on a skateboard jumps off a roof lands crosswise on a steel handrail, or somebody smoking a motorcycle's back wheel in place and it gets away from him. I was thinking the Bush administration was a continuous series of fails like a string of Christmas tree lights. The bewildering part for me that goes on being a puzzlement is it was OBVIOUS. It didn't even take paying attention to see it. All I can see is half the American people, perhaps the white people half, want to destroy our country for future generations because somebody of color might benefit. Intent is the only way I can make sense of not responding responsibly to anything but determined adherence to the fiction of Ayn Rand, as if they get it.

I don't know if it's the jaded curmudgeon within seeing it a certain way, or if everything around me is going 80mph and the transmission got thrown into R. This is not the America I grew up in that believed everything was working toward getting better all the time, might not be so good now, but things are going to change for the better. In the middle of my life the brakes were applied. 30 years ago $6 an hour was the going wage. Today it's $6 and hour. 30 years ago what cost 35 dollars at the grocery store is now 120. Gas has more than doubled in price. Small businesses and small towns have been shut down by corporate megadiscount business. The 70s oil embargo shut down small independent gas stations. The present depression is shutting down the small banks. Is there a pattern here?

The biggest change I see, however, is in the collective mind of the American people. I remember after WW2 our country was held the highest in the world because we treated POWs respectably and were known for it around the world. As a result, our boys were treated better in POW camps than guys from other countries. Or so I've been led to believe by reports I've heard and seen. By the time the Bush-Cheney-Rummy triumvirate's insanity was unleashed upon what they believed to be a defenseless country, we'd become the bullies of the world, the real neo-Nazis. It's how we took the land we live on. Now our side tortures with impunity and brags about it, refuses to obey any law requiring them to stop. Arrogance of power? Sen Fulbright wrote a book about that back in Vietnam time. Was he paid attention to? Yeah, he was laughed at.

I've felt satisfied all the way along that I was exactly the right age to tap into the new rock and roll in 1955. I was 13 and wanting to hear something besides the Andrews Sisters, the Lennon Sisters and the other dreck to a kid entering the teens after years of looking forward to being a teenager. Rock and roll coincided with integration, the mix of r&b and country, at the same time black kids were forced to go to white schools. A great deal of tension was in the air as whites were afraid of blacks and blacks were afraid of whites. At my school the black kids clustered into gangs and beat up white kids for protection money, to protect you from them. I know it's not politically correct to tell it like I saw it, but that's what was happening. The school had 2 main entrances and a gang hung at either entrance every morning and afternoon intimidating the white kids and demanding money. I knew a side door that was always unlocked, so I used it.

This is the tension that was in the air at the time when Bill Haley came along with Shake, Rattle and Roll, Chuck Berry with Maybelene, Little Richard with Long Tall Sally, Elvis with Heartbreak Hotel, Jerry Lee with Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On, Buddy Holly with Peggy Sue and set us kids free of How Much Is That Doggie In The Window and Harbor Lights. There was a lot of shakin goin on in that time in a lot of ways. Suddenly pop music for teenagers was beginning to be made by teenagers, instead of by adults. By now, teen culture is an entirely separate subculture from that of adults. It's like not even the gossip circles intersect.

After half a century of television and a half century of rock and roll, our country is very different from what it was before, especially in attitudes. By now, who cares if our public speakers have a rough time with the language? So does everybody else. American anti-intellectualism has gone through anti-intelligence, through anti-paying attention, to the place we are now in recliners with bags of potato chips and COPS on tv. It's called decadence. In my lifetime, our nation has gone from earning it's role as King of the Hill to squandering it with misuse of power. How Shakespearean is that in a time when Sarah Palin is comparing herself to Shakespeare?


Saturday, November 13, 2010


jimmy zeh at front porch gallery

Been looking at videos hearing the Highlanders from last night, playing every one of the tunes recorded, going through them, culling the ones that didn't take for one reason or another. Last night the music was good, but next day on video I heard a lot I missed. The Highlanders have been a band 40 years. From the beginning, I could hear these guys know how to play bluegrass together. I have a cassette of Highlanders music. There's none on cd. Last night's performance was better than the cassette. Last night was memorable. The recorded music is good, but there's nothing like a concert. The concert is the present form of theater. I've seen concerts of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Fats Domino, the Chantels (a black girl singing group I loved in high school years--had two hits, Maybe and Every Night), Bill Haley & the Comets, Ricky Nelson, Grand Funk Railroad, the Cars, Bob Dylan, Parliament/Funkadelic, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Burning Spear, Papa Roach, Bo Didley, Rufus, Kiss, Dr Hook & the Medicine Show, and a bunch more.

I've always found a concert a theater experience and tend to prefer concert albums by a band to studio recordings. Like Sade's concert gives her songs a dimension not heard on the studio recordings. In like manner, hearing studio recordings of the Highlanders is good bluegrass, but in concert with an audience of ten and the cat that lives there is another experience all together. A ways into the concert, a man in the audience said to the band they "would be a good professional band." The bass player picked it up and said, "Would be?" What the man evidently didn't know is they have been and have, in effect, had their day. They played at the World Fair in Knoxville in the 80s when they were a driving Galax band. I was seeing this concert as one of those great moments in the music of SW Virginia, a Galax bluegrass band that is mountain music as good as it gets, Willard the vocalist. Willard put up a display of posters advertising their shows in the past. Buddy Pendleton was their fiddler. He couldn't make it last night. Buddy Pendleton is one serious fiddler. The man knows how to get every note there is in a fiddle out of it. Scott Freeman played the fiddle.

I feel like I'm archiving this music at the Front Porch Gallery putting it on YouTube and on dvd disks. I feel like every one of these concerts is important to record the best possible. At Walmart on the way home picking up some dvd blank disks, I saw a small video camera for $500 and laughed passing by on the way to find the disks. What I have for a whole lot less does as good as that one does. It may have something about it that makes it better, but it couldn't give better visual quality. Only the sound could be improved and it probably is not much better on the expensive one, if better at all. The only part I'd want different would be silent gears zooming the lens in or out. On mine, the zoom gears get recorded into the soundtrack. As a result, I don't zoom during a song. I'll put it where I want it at the start and leave it there. I feel like this music happening at the Front Porch is a testament of mountain music as it is played in this particular time and place.

Willard has been with Highlanders 40 years. At the same time he was associated with that band, he was working with Skeeter & the Skidmarks in the early half of the 90s. Skeeter's 2nd album is titled Alternate Roots. When Edwin Lacy had to leave the area, Willard and Scott pulled together another band they called Alternate Roots. I think I saw AR in concert 15 times. I say freely that AR is my favorite band. They made 4 albums, every one of them a gem. It's funny about the Highlanders not having anything on cd. Bobby Patterson, mandolin in the band, has the recording studio where he records the old-time and bluegrass bands of SW Virginia. The magazine Old-Time Herald was begun in the basement of his Heritage Record Shoppe when it was in Galax. Now it's at Woodlawn, next to Willard's Front Porch Gallery. It's like the guy working at the auto body shop drives a car that looks a mess. The house painter's house needs painting. Bobby doesn't pay much attention to recordings of his own band.

Jimmy Zeh's banjo has a sound of its own. When he's playing it, it sounds good, but he makes it look like he's not doing anything. It doesn't look like he's doing anything complicated with his fingers or going for subtleties. Looks like he's just pickin, relaxed, riding the wave of the music, having a ball, doing what he likes to do best. When I hear it next day in the videos it feels like I missed an awful lot last night. His banjo today is much more intricately played than what I heard in concert. It's the same thing. Only difference is my own hearing at one time and another. His banjo in concert seems low key, takes the background. In the recordings that banjo is dancing all over the place. I hear much more deeply what he's doing. Perhaps there are a lot of distractions at the show, like holding the camera, but with or without the camera the music sounds the same. I may even pay closer attention holding the camera. My mind doesn't wander when I'm focusing on holding the camera still as possible.

Half a dozen of the videos are up by now. To find them, go to: and write in the Search box, hobblealong1. There you will find near the top the music I'm putting in today and all that went before.


Friday, November 12, 2010


marvin cockram and willard gayheart

scott freeman and jimmy zeh

jimmy zeh, marvin cockram, willard gayheart

scott freeman, jimmy zeh, marvin cockram, willard gayheart
The Galax bluegrass band The Highlanders played at the Front Porch tonight. Bobby Patterson played mandolin first half of the show, but he had to get to the Rex Theater at intermission time for a show having to do with the musicians guild in Grayson County. Scott played fiddle with them, taking Buddy Pendleton's place. When Bobby left, Scott took over the mandolin role. It was mountain music start to finish. Another dynamite show of good music by excellent musicians who have made music together 30 years.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


myself as vanquisher of mice

I've become a serial killer of mice. I did not realize how busy TarBaby was, eating the mice. He ate every one he caught. There was never a mouse in the house while he was living. Now they've moved in like it's Hotel Rwanda. Evidently Caterpillar and Tapo were not interested. They watch the mice run across the floor like they're cute. Caterpillar used to catch them and I've been talking with her lately about taking an interest in killing mice again. She plays like she doesn't hear. I've been using traps. One got Caterpillar on the nose when she went to sniff the peanut butter on the trigger. I heard SNAP, pause, HISS, and Caterpillar ran off to her private place. I know that hurt like hell. When I catch a mouse it's ugly and bloody, eyes bulging out, but it's quick. I like that, for the mouse's sake. But I've lost interest in the mouse's sake.

Today I bought a package of d-con. I don't want any danger of Caterpillar getting into it. Put it in coffee mugs with a few pellets of dry catfood the mice like and a touch of peanut butter on the bottom to fill the cup with scent. One on top of the refrigerator, another on a table surrounded by things a cat cannot get through, but a mouse can, on top of the kitchen stove. I'll put a plate on top of Caterpillar's water bowl so they'll have to go outside to get water. I've heard it's water that activates it once it's eaten. I hate to do this to God's little critters, the same as I hate to run over a squirrel, a dog or a cat. When I saw a baby mouse running about, that was it. They're multiplying faster than I can catch them. That made the decision to go with biological warfare. The Saddam Hussein of Air Bellows, feeding them poison so they will die and bother me no more.

A mouse can have 120 babies in a year. A dozen mice can have 2,440 babies in a year. That's a lot of mouths to feed. And they leave mouse turds everywhere they go. I'm tired of them. I've been through have-a-heart traps, taking them to a place along the road with woods on both sides. That evolved to dropping it into a bucket of water. That was gross too, so I quit doing that and cats came along. End of mice until the mouse serial killer died. I'd still like to blow that dog's head off with a .45 magnum hollow point. Self control is important. We live in civilization where it's important that we get along with our neighbors. It goes against the grain after how many millions of years of evolution in dog-eat-dog feral ways. In tribal times, a tribe was always at war with its neighbor tribes, and allies with the neighbor the other side of the hated neighbor, who hates the same neighbor. And the one in the middle is allied with the ones the other sides of those as well. It grows until we have world wars of Germany destroying its neighbors, Japan destroying its neighbors.

By now, the Jerusalem religions are going at each other, each attempting to outdo the other in atrocities and dehumanizing torment. India and Pakistan threatening each other with nukes. The way I personally see it, political correctness about Islam fails to take history into account. The same can be said of Christendom, and the same of the Hebrews; King Saul with God saying kill em all. It must have been God that said the same thing to Genghis Khan later, and God behind the Anglo-American genocide of the people living on the North American continent. God must have something to do with the training camps at Fort Benning, Georgia, for Latin American death squads. The God of love sure gets blamed a lot for manifestations of hate. Cracks me up every time I hear "God hates" this, that or the other. And it's usually preachers saying it. Oh well.

The picture above is an absurd visioning of my war on mice. It's also a great historical document. It's the story of Genghis Khan's life from birth to the time he became the Great Khan. It's beautifully made by a German director in Mongolia with Mongolians playing the parts. It gets down and dirty. The only sensation we miss is the smells and the taste of the food, and that's a good thing. This is how I feel setting out d-con for a mass extinction. Like God says, Kill em all. Doing my part toward the genocide of varmints.

Maybe God will give me a pink Rolls Royce in heaven and I can ride around with generals and admirals, kings and emperors, the mass murderers down through time God thinks so much of. Maybe God will let me ride around with LBJ and General Sherman throwing empty champagne bottles out the windows to hear them crash on the streets of gold, popping corks out the windows at the helmets of people riding liquorcycles. God will love me all the more now that I've become a mass killer. Maybe I'll do like King David and throw a drunk party after every killing spree. Ya-hoo mountain dew. Rebel yell. The Mouse War is on. Git-er-done.