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Saturday, December 31, 2011


       constantin brancusi, blind

Stayed up late visiting with friends and watching the 1966 Japanese film, SWORD OF DOOM. A samurai slasher film in black and white. It was quite good as a film of its time, Japan coming back from the devastation of the war, filmmaking becoming a viable business long enough that a few directors were reaching into making films with something besides box office in mind, though box office still the first consideration. An early samurai film of the artful variety where everybody struck by a sword was compelled to let out a dying yell. It was mostly comic. When the big bad samurai arrived on the scene, Lucas said, "Lampshade Man." From then on, he was Lampshade Man. Big straw hat with a brim that went downward covering his face, holes in the weaving for him to see through. He looked like a floor lamp you might see in a Surrealist exhibition.

Been thinking more about friend I had lunch with yesterday. I felt like the child of a contrary man, obliged to be aware of all his buttons, what makes him explode in rage, what makes him say, "I don't approve of violence," every time the opportunity arises. He has buttons like a computer. Push this one and this happens. Push that one and that happens. I have to watch everything I say because he is a minefield of buttons. Like in the Mario Brothers computer game kids played where the guy would drop down a hole you didn't know was there. Like that. It's best to keep him talking, because then it's assured he will only hear what he wants to hear. I've heard it said by another of his friends, "he's so liberal he's conservative." That is well put. He has his own dogma as absolute as 17th Century Protestant dogma. He was talking about going to NY a few weeks ago to get with the Occupy Movement. I said, "There's one in Charlotte," where he came from, 100 miles down the interstate almost a straight line, knowing it was insufficient before I said it, just to be a bitch. No, he wanted to go where it matters. I said, "Do it."

In the course of my lifetime, I have known and lived successfully among some really blockheaded people. Men's heads tend more toward solidification than women's. Usually, when a woman is a blockhead, a man is behind it. Like the rule used to be that a man was behind every woman in prison. Women are allowed educations now and they're surpassing the men, because they don't have all the centuries of being required to fight in wars. It was the women's role to bear children, pass on the man's genes and mourn. In warrior culture, men are expected to fight. Ruling class men fight with mental strategies as in Kevin Spacey's recent film, MARGIN CALL. Middle class men fight as officers in military. Working class men shoot the guns. In our culture, men are encouraged not to be too smart. Also, women are encouraged not to be too bright. Men don't make passes as girls that wear glasses. Since Women's Liberation, the newer generations of women don't pay much attention to expectations. Women are surpassing men, because men's heads are so apt to atrophy. Take a look at Angela Merkel. Perhaps the most brilliant mind in politics today. I know that's not saying a lot, but I say, Praise the Lord, we've got one.

Every time at lunch with friend, I have to remind myself this is not the time to speak freely or of subtleties of any sort. Edit everything I say before I say it. That's easy. Parents taught me well long ago. Feels like home. I've known several old-time mountain preachers, and there's no conservative mind in this world beyond theirs, before the Reagan Era. It's been frightening over the last 30 years to see the liberation of the blockheaded man. It's a reaction to Women's Liberation. The blockheads gotta have their attention, too. Everybody has to be one way, in march step. Understanding not a factor, not allowed. Do what you're told. No deviation tolerated. War the ideal. No attention paid to collateral damage. Tough shit. I grew up trained not to care, but it never took. I can only say it's God's Grace. Thanks to God's Grace I want to be open to the flow. This is why I have such a time with friend. I have to shut down my open hatch, and consciously incorporate the experience with my flow. It's like big rocks in a mountain stream the water has to flow around. I tell myself over and over it's ok. I question myself over and over, do I have to be the only one disrespected? Answer comes back: no. Then I say something that pushes the volcano button. :D 

Strangely, I'm used to it. Half the people in the world are men and I'm one of them. Among them is as great a variety of kinds of people as among women. Male culture is the one I was trained up in. The whole coach phenomenon I never got. Gotta play football for the coach. It might have had to do with the DI at home was all I could handle. No more of same, please. My inner editor had a full-time job. He had to be awake all the time I was awake. Mother too, because she was subject to the man at home and the preacher man. I did not want to shut down the part of myself that wanted understanding. I wanted to be able to have empathy with the people around me, instead of blind judgment. I have to confess to plenty of blind judgment within. Perhaps this is why Brancusi's sculpture in the shape of a head with no features, white marble, almost an egg, called Blind, appeals to me so much. Blind is how I feel all the time. It seems like only in the moment that is Now is where I have sight. Rhododendron leaves in sunlight, shadows of leaves crossing leaves, a wind moving the leaves just enough to keep sunlight and shadows in continuous motion.

I don't know what I'm in writing this, Now or what? First thought was attention to thought as it's happening and putting it down with fingers is very much the Now. Yet, much of it, nearly all of it, if not all of it, is spent searching in memory, piecing together the world inside my head. That's not necessarily the world as it is outside my head. It's just another movie, but a bit more complex than an hour and a half story made with a camera and script. That's the fun of being a human, for me. The way we create entire worlds in our heads from memories, feelings, thoughts, imagination, reactions. The world we create in our heads is a map of the world we live in on the outside. We need to do that to get around in our lives. Everybody creates his/her own worlds. Sitting in a restaurant, the person across the table from me is in a completely different world from mine. We communicate where the circles of our interior worlds intersect.

We do our best to have the same world in all our minds, like standards for bolt making, so all turn to the right to tighten, left to loosen. It took a long time to see it, but I like that dimension of a lifetime as a human, everyone his/her own world, own culture, own belief system. It's all that and more we become acquainted with in the people who enter our lives. I love it. Language and culture the standards running through 7+ billion worlds on one planet. The world a composite of varieties. Monoculture doesn't seem to work too well among us, like it doesn't work so well in the world of plants. Like you cut a straight line ditch for water to flow through, the water will take the straight out of the ditch right away. Over years the straight line will become as crooked as any creek in the world. We humans don't flow very well in straight lines either.


Friday, December 30, 2011


       jaap mooy, dutch, 1915-1987

What a day it has been. First thing, I go to lunch with a friend of 30+ years. Today was not the day for us to get together. He's my contrarian friend who is knee-jerk compelled to contradict whatever I or anyone else has said. I've seen this for so long, I'm used to it. I just give over to being disrespected regularly. I don't care. I prefer to stick with a friend through interpersonal differences. The major difference between friend and self is he takes his opinions very seriously, as fact. I don't take opinions seriously at all. I have them and express them, but don't believe them necessarily. I think of opinion as a belief about something that is based on little to no information. With plenty of information, it's not an opinion. Opinions are open to be right or wrong or neither. One day a year or so ago, I'd forgotten about his passion for his own opinions; he interrupted me, stating some opinion in reference to something we were talking about that didn't even pertain. I said, "That has nothing to do with anything." Whoa. Same thing happened today.

In our conversation over the table he'd already disrespected me half a dozen times. I pay it no mind, just consider the source, knowing how seriously he values his opinions. Today we were doing well. I let moments of disrespect go by several times. Like I mentioned my friends coming up from Atlanta today with their daughter and her husband. I mentioned both had recently received their PhDs from Berkeley. That elicited a snort. I said, "I'm impressed. I couldn't even get into Berkeley." Harumph: "I know somebody went to Harvard." I sat and thought: Aw shit, let it rest. It's a knee-jerk thing that he has to keep me reminded he knows more than I do, is more informed than I am, is superior in every way and every department. And I say, Ok, hooray, you're superior. You can piss higher than I can. I'm fine with that. Now that we know our places, can't we get on with our conversation? I have to confess I get tired of the reminders. He has a master's degree in science, just like Dr Science of the Duck's Breath Mystery Theater.

In the early years of knowing him, it drove me crazy sometimes. I'd get with myself in a serious way and tell myself to stay away from him, all he does is aggravate me with the ongoing brow beating that he knows more than I do, has better judgment than I have, has more interesting experience than I have. Hooray. I really am fine with it. I live in a world of people I believe superior to me in every way. I'm ok with it. I'm used to it. I like smart people. So we're sitting at the table and I've held my peace for an hour and a half or so. We were doing well. Then I said something about something I found on the internet. Harumph: "I know everything that's on the internet." That one broke the camel's back. I said, "You do not know everything that's on the internet." Phew. That one blew the volcano's stack. "I never said I knew everything about the internet." I held my ground. "Yes you did. Those were your words." "I didn't say that." Whatever. Within five minutes we'd paid and were out the door. I'd dissed him. Feces occurs.

Earlier the contrarian came up when he pushed me about painting abstraction instead of realism. I told him AGAIN that I paint for the people of the world I live in. I live in Alleghany County. I paint for the people of Alleghany County. Their aesthetic is recognizable realism, so that's how I paint. I don't live in New York, London or Paris. I live in Alleghany. I get reminded of past lectures on I should be painting for myself. I had to stress that I do not have room in my house. He writes for himself. Earlier he'd asked me about the process of starting a blog. I brought that up and suggested he not put his writing to himself in a blog, because then someone else might see it. I suggested if he wants to write for himself, write it all in a notebook and when it's full, throw it in the fire and start a new one. It's the only way you can be sure no one else will see it. Several times in the past I've got with myself about talking openly with him. But I tell myself if I'm going to be like that, stay away from him. Since I don't care to shit-can friends, I continue to go back for more. It's not hateful. Nor is it hurtful. Nor is it demeaning or rough on self esteem. It just is what it is. Two people in this world that know each other.

I'd missed my morning coffee, and the coffee ordered at the restaurant was awful. And it was luke warm. It was disgusting. I understood suddenly why we have coffee shops now. Restaurants can't make coffee anymore. If they ever could. I find restaurant coffee especially bitter for the most part, and when I drink some in a restaurant it's because I want coffee so bad I don't care how terrible it is. In a restaurant the first time, I usually order spaghetti, because most restaurants are incapable of screwing up spaghetti. Boil it and throw on sauce from a five gallon can. We left the restaurant and I wanted to go to Selma's for some real coffee and rational conversation. Did I ever jump into it there. A table with Tim, Joe, Todd and Mr Moxley engaged in conversation. I sat down and we proceeded to go into a subject I didn't know we all saw pretty much the same way on. The shop was full of people we'd never seen before. A constant flow of so many people it kept Selma busy, which we're all happy to see.

We had animated conversation over our own coffees we like, mine Kenyan done French press. Joe drinks good tea. All these guys have active, intelligent minds. I love listening to them talk with each other. I love being in conversation individually with all of them and all of them together. Not one of us plays I-know-more-than-you-do. That game is entirely absent from the coffee shop, anyway among us. I can't speak for the people going in there I don't know. I remember in the early months when we who call ourselves the "regulars" would tune out when someone came in we didn't know who started posturing. Not one of us is responsive to posturing. We're all glad we found each other. It would have been complete if Dudley had been there, but he's on his way back from Seattle. It was refreshing to have these guys to talk with, not one of them a contrarian, all, acutally, sympathetic with each other, minimal judgment going around the table, if any. I arrived home around 4, went straight to the bed, kicked off shoes, stretched out, covered up and stayed there feeling my nervous system worn out from talking and paying close attention for 4 hours. Too wired to sleep, I relaxed into inner stillness and stayed there long enough to let all that nervous energy spiral down the drain.


Thursday, December 29, 2011


    where I spent life's happy hours in the vale of shendoah

I've been sitting here watching a YouTube video of Willard Gayheart and Katy Taylor singing the Carter Family song, Mid the Green Fields of Virginia. Eyes started running. Nose started running. Tears running down my face. Mountain music has always done this to me. From the first time I heard it. It is the only music that has ever made me weep from loving it so much, feeling the joy in it. It's only played right when it's played joyfully. The Carter Family get to me the most of any of the music. I can't hear the Carter Family without tears running. Their grandson Dale Jett does the same to me when he's singing one of their songs. Ralph and Carter Stanley, both, make tears run. At one Ralph Stanley concert at Fairview Ruritan, I had tears running down my face the entire concert, tears of joy. The kind of joy you feel at the end of a really legitimate feel good movie like the Swedish film, AS IT IS IN HEAVEN. The kind of overwhelming joy that wells up from the heart and pushes water out of my eyes.

Mountain music is heart music. It is only played right played from the heart. Music played from the heart in the musician goes to the heart of the listener. Music played from the mind is received by the mind. In mountain music the very first thing is play from your heart. If you're not playing from your heart, you're not making music. I can hear a mountain fiddler like Buddy Pendleton or Thornton Spencer or Richard Bowman and be moved to tears because they're playing to my heart. A fiddler who learned mountain music playing cds by these fiddlers, copying them, learning to play like them, they play to the mind, because that's where their music is coming from. My friend Jr Maxwell, bluegrass banjo picker, said of the copiers, Th'aint no music in it. I recall a time I played on my radio show an hour of an old-time band from off the mountain. He said of the show, I didn't hear no music in it. All of a sudden I knew what he meant when he said they weren't no music in it. He meant what he said. Wasn't no music in it. Music comes from the heart. They were playing from the mind.

I was talking about this once with Kilby Spencer, fiddler son of Thornton Spencer, and he said Thornton was the same way. He could say of a band there was no music in it, when it sounded fine to Kilby. It puzzled both of us. But there it was when Jr said he didn't hear no music in it. I said without thinking, "They weren't none." I knew what he meant. And I spent the whole hour regretting I'd chosen to play such soulless mountain music. My show was for the mountain people who love their own music. That was my first and last venture into playing an old-time mountain band from the Flatland. I got it like an epiphany when Jr said that. I spoke my answer in the language of his meaning. I was grateful for that moment. Jr taught me a very great deal about mountain music from the inside. He informed my radio show all the way along. He had a good ear for fiddles and banjos and guitars. We'd listen to Blue Ridge Backroads, the bluegrass show on WBRF 98.1, and he would be listening to a banjo in a certain band, say something about it, and I don't hear a banjo at all for all the other instruments. He had a subtle ear for bluegrass. I loved listening to bluegrass with him. He loved bluegrass the same as home. His fiddlers convention winning tune was Home Sweet Home. He taught me a lot, not information, but understanding.

Mid the green fields of Virginia in the vale of Shenandoah. Willard sings that song like it's his own. Hearing him sing it, I think of Sara Carter. Willard's style of singing is not vocal gymnastics that call attention to the singer instead of the song. He sings much like Sara Carter in telling the words, telling the story to a rhythm. Lou Reed does that in rock. Willard's singing is mountain singing to a T. He plays music, music you feel in your heart, with his Henderson guitar. Willard always plays music that makes me feel satisfied I'm hearing music. Of all the bands and musicians Willard and Scott have featured every Fri nite at the Fiddle and Plow show in Woodlawn, I and the other 20 who go regularly enjoy a show of Scott and Willard with Dori more than any of the other performers. This is saying Scott and Willard are the equals of the best of them and Dori at her beginning is among the best of them. Next show will be January 6. I hope it is the three of them. It has a good chance.

Willard as a mountain singer is certainly among the best. So is Scott. When they sing together, it is mountain music as good as it gets. Not too many people that feature their singing really support it with driving music. Willard and Scott always have drive in the songs they sing. Willard's Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon with a western swing is a tune that moves right along. People could dance to it and get some motion going. All of the guys will be jealous when they see my playmate so sweet. Before I heard Willard sing it, I laughed at that song. Now I love it. Willard opened my ears to its inner beauty. I like to hear Bob Wills sing it on YouTube. Willard and Scott do the western swing well. I love it every time they get into playing western swing tunes. They do Take Me Back To Tulsa exceptionally well with a western swing.

Willard and Scott are musicians who play together as one. Around 25 years they've been making music together. Scott married Willard's daughter. When they started going together, Scott didn't know Jill was Willard's daughter. He and Willard were in their band Skeeter and the Skidmarks at the time. Later, they got Alternate Roots going, one of the very finest bluegrass bands of a new kind of bluegrass that was their own. Katy Taylor sang and played rhythm guitar. I maintain Katy is the equal of Allison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent, just shy a million stage experiences. What I'm getting at is with as much stage experience as they've had, Katy is their equal. Only to say she's a really fine bluegrass singer. Katy with Alternate Roots was good bluegrass. Scott Freeman and Steve Lewis, Randy Pasley, Willard Gayheart, Tony Teserman and Katy. It was a magical group in their field like Jane's Addiction and Rage Against the Machine in rock, bands that made 4 great albums and went POOF.

The four Alternate Roots albums are mountain music classics. They were not a band to self-promote. No one in the band was a self-promoter. They just liked making music the best they could. They'll be discovered in the future when half of them are dead, and hailed as a great band of their time. Willard Gayheart and Scott Freeman are two musicians of the mountain tradition that the other musicians of the tradition love to make music with. They all say Willard's rhythm guitar is such that they don't have to think about the rhythm, Willard's got it. And it doesn't get any better than Willard's singing. I told Scott and Willard and Edwin Lacy before a Skeeter and the Skidmarks show, Y'all are my new Rolling Stones. I meant it. I appreciate their musicianship at this time in my life like I appreciated the Rolling Stones' earlier in my life. Skeeter works more with my flow in this time in the life in love with mountain music. Skeeter playing Running Through The Graveyard satisfies me as much now as Honky Tonk Women used to, still does. We have a world of beautiful music. The music is the best part of the modern world. Today in the coffee shop I heard Michelle Shocked sing Anchorage, and Faith Sandoval sing Fade Into You. Hadn't heard either one in awhile. Both moved me to silence, but not to tears.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011


        eva hesse, drawing


I'm finding myself in a phase of life where my peers are breaking down, ailments galore, dying, what have you. One thing I find is I stay home more, like all the older people I've known. Out running around spending money is a youthful activity. Older, you have other things on your mind besides how you look and the name brands of your clothes. I know how I look. I rarely look in the mirror. Just not curious. I've quit shaving and run over my face about once a week with hair clippers and let it go for another week. Hair same way, though less often. This is something I grew into, like driving up the mountain into a cloud, which on the ground is called fog. The fog is a place of the mind, less active, even at peace, uninterested in confict, long spaces of no thinking, peaceful blank spaces of no mental agitation. Lots of forgetfulness goes with it. Names disappear when you need them. I can see them go away. I think of them running down the groundhog hole. I've seen this natural progression in a number of people I've known well enough to see declines in mental and physical abilities. Almost every one of them was annoyed by being less able to do what they could easily do before.

I have come to take it as natural as baby fat going away or growing pubic hair and all the hormone whirlwinds that go with that period of one's life. My teen years were the ones I'd dislike having to live again. The confusion in my head was opaque. I prefer this time of drifty mind and driving slower than ever. I find I'm driving 45 now in the 55 zones of Highways 18 or 21. Scared of highway patrol too. I can't afford a $50 ticket that will run my insurance rate up so it ultimately costs around a thousand dollars. I maintain the insurance corporations ought to be paying the highway patrol expenses. Insurance corporations get the thousand dollars over a ticket that is $50 for the state. The state is paying the highway patrol for the insurance corporations. Tax dollars from the people that work for a living, not even getting a living wage. Corporate lobby makes laws in favor of the corporations on the state level as well as the federal. This has been going on for so long, they've got us by the throats and they know it. They aim to keep it like that. And they will as long as they're able.

I'm reminded of a joke Dave Vaught of the VWBoys told onstage last time I saw the band. He was speaking of the bass player, Fat Albert Blackburn, who was bald, saying he grew up through his hair. I find myself growing up through the beginning phases of what we call old age. I tend at this time in the life to think of old age when one becomes feeble. Everyone dreads feeble. When I was looking after Jr Maxwell in his old age, feeble hit him hard. I was able to make it not a problem by being able to get him a glass of water so he didn't have to make the effort and end up on the floor. I carried him a few times when his legs could not hold him up. He protested that he was too heavy. I told him he's no heavier than a hay bale. And he wasn't.

First time I scooped him up, his eyes about jumped out of his head when his feet left the floor. It was momentary fright, about like picking up a cat. Some years ago Caterpillar would have a moment of anxiety being lifted up from the floor. From the moment her feet left the floor, her eyes got big and round. I realized when she was a kitten I was probably picking her up so fast it disoriented her. So I raised her from the floor slower and she relaxed into being lifted. Fast, she braced against it. I suspect it made her head swim. I was aware of this in cats and saw the same in Jr. The times I had to pick him up after that first time, I did it more slowly, deliberately, giving his mind that had slowed down considerably a chance to stay with the motion. It was disorienting the first time. But not the second time. I only had to carry him to get him through a doorway in the house when his legs were about as sturdy as wet spaghetti.

I'm growing up through the different phases of old age; first, the white hair, then memory fading away. The latest science says coffee is good for inhibiting Alzheimers. I drink some good Kenyan or Etheopian coffee every morning. Not because of this Yahoo! news bite, which I look at as may or may not be so. But because I like it. This news bite justifies it when I'd been questioning it. I'm not interested in going all the way into Alzheimers or have the mind just go away like it did Jr. I wouldn't want to be in that situation. In a nursing home I wouldn't notice that everything they fed me had the nutritional value of jell-o and ketchup. I wouldn't remember I'd been staring at that ceiling for months and months. Like everyone, I don't really care to drop off the edge into complete helplessness. Considering that's not my call, I really don't believe it's in my future as I grow up through the cloud on the mountain of age.

Everyone my age is looking at this. Some worry about it, some don't. I'm among the ones that don't. I think. When the doctor diagnosed heart failure, he said, "You're gonna die." His actual words tattooed on the vacated drive-in screen of my mind. All I could think to say was, "Duh." The only thing that really bothers me is thinking of the mess I'll leave behind. Australian Aborigines had it. One spear. That's it. I'm a post-WW2 American consumer who would rather buy onions and potatoes in the store than grow them. Hoeing a garden is not what I was put on earth to do. It is not among my talents. I have come to like the gradual changes. When I take the fear out of the changes, they can be fun. Like I'm reversing letters in typing rather regularly now, like whne for when. Sometimes I even leave out words, like the implied "you" in get me a beer. I don't mean that one, but several that are two or three words left out. I understand they're "implied," but no reader would. That's what rereading is good for now. It's ok. Like Jr said, "If it aint one knot in a log, it's ten." There's always something. These are just some of the things we grow into.


Monday, December 26, 2011


     jimmy kuehnle

     twas the day after christmas
     and all through the house
     the ticking clock went
     tock   tock   tock   tock

You can tell it's a house without television. If anybody could talk about it rationally, television is certainly among the more influential phenomena of social change in civilization, but I've found nearly no one who can talk about television rationally. To watch it is to be invested in it, automatically defensive for it, like owning stock in it. The people that don't watch it are on the other side of an invisible divide, a conceptual divide, from the ones that watch tv. It's even more radical a divide than between readers and nonreaders. People who watch tv are in one culture and people who don't watch it are in quite another culture. I don't include watching movies the same as watching tv, at all. Movies are picked by choice and they have no commercials. They have none of the hype that goes with television that cranks one's nervous system way up and holds it there. Television is the propaganda organ of corporate America: Mammon.

It used to be a said in the Third World that whoever controls the radio station controls the nation. Now it's whoever controls the television. It's not me. It's not you. Television is totally a corporate entity, it's purpose to keep the consumers shopping, and to create a myth of reality that involves buying something new more frequently than you're able, keeping you in wanting mode, never satisfied. On tv, everybody is famous but you. You don't even figure except on a poll of how many people watch what tv shows, and that is discovered by statistics, not talking with you. You are the target, the one addressed by the most sophisticated propaganda machine the modern world has known, and the one to be set subliminally into salivation. I think it was in the 11th grade in a Sociology class I learned about the different appeals of advertising, like bandwagon, etc., and realized these techniques were about undermining my judgment, which I hadn't even yet developed, cutting loose uncontrolled craving to the point that wanting equals living. Since I left the house of my parents, I never lived with another tv, except as a video monitor to watch movies with.

At other people's houses I like to watch tv with them, see what the commercials are appealing to today, see the art in the commercials. Commercials are the only art form on television that I've found. I don't ever see ads for anything of interest to me. I don't want a new car. I'm fine with my shaving supplies. The ones that make me laugh every time are about "erectile dysfunction." Havin a problem gettin a bone on? Erectile dysfunction, you can say in church from the pulpit and it's ok. Last night at Justin and Crystal's house I saw maybe 10 minutes of Truman Capote's Christmas Story, which I'd never seen. It was at the time the child said fuck from surprise and parents went ape-shit. Had the child said fornication, no problem would ever have arisen. They'd have thought it cute. He learned that word in church. Like the kid said in the story, he heard his dad say it ten times a day. Just trying to be like daddy. No you don't.

The commercials are entertaining once, even up to half a dozen times, but to live with them in my house on a regular basis telling me I am nothing without whatever it is that costs more than I can afford, I cannot live with that. I'm nothing if I don't want to drink beer in a sports bar and watch football on the nearest of a dozen tvs. I'll die in a car wreck if I don't buy tires that cost more than I can afford. I sit and watch these things at friends' houses and break into laughter. They don't know what I'm laughing at, because they "tune out" the commercials. They still hear them, however. They ask what I'm laughing at, I say a certain something in the content of the commercial and they say, "Yeah, that's pretty funny." Like the one of the kid playing Darth Vader on the Volkswagen in the driveway, and dad inside the house with a clicker starts the car. Blows the kid's mind. (I was glad the car didn't run over him like in an event on A Thousand Ways To Die when a guy started his pickup with a clicker and it ran over him.) To my mind-eye, the commercial of the kid playing Darth Vader was a work of art. It was inspired by YouTube, as so many commercials I see now are.

Even when I see a commercial for something I don't want, I experience that appeal to undermine my judgment and sell me something I absolutely do not want, like a George Foreman grill, making me believe I do, subliminally. When I'm in the over-the-counter medications section of the corporate drug store looking for something like an anti-expectorant, and see hundreds of things that I don't even know what they are or what they mean, that don't even give me a clue to how close I am to what I'm looking for, I know that any person I see nearby I can ask and they'll give me an educated answer and find it by going straight to it. They watch tv. I don't. That's the difference. People who watch tv know what all that stuff is. People who don't watch it don't know what any of it is but aspirin, which the AMA has rendered by prescription now, because it works and they want some payback on it. Tapped into television is a straight line to the worst influence on any human being there could be. That is a true saying. If the US Govt really wants to control Afghanistan and Iraq, they'd arrange it so everyone could see American tv in translation. Them foreigners would acquiesce and become as easily manipulable consumers as Americans. Under control.

I've found that television is the only thing in America that is really sacred, besides money, the given. You can't talk down about television to anybody. The gawkers are right there in your face if you do. Seems to me that's the definition of sacred, something everybody agrees in common is not to be made light of. It's a good source for news (really?) and keeps you up with what's going on (really?). The commercials are necessary for the rest of it (really?) and we don't pay attention to them anyway (really?). What I see is the spaces between commercials getting shorter every year to the place that by now the content between the commercials is there for the commercials' sake. Television used to be about what was between the commercials; now, it's about the commercials. I really don't care to hear about McDonalds Whoppers a million times. I'd rather hear a wren sing. I'd rather have a conversation with a friend. I'd rather hold Caterpillar and watch a movie. Today's movie I'll be seeing again, JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY, by Danish director, Ole Bornedal. In a 5-star system, this one rates 6.


Sunday, December 25, 2011


    twas the day before christmas (image borrowed from Fox)

Christmas is here. Parties everywhere. Dinners everywhere. Kids playing everywhere. Television football everywhere. Then there's the other half of the population that's depressed due to something that happened somewhere along the way in their lives. I had a friend from Knoxville, who was depressed at Christmas because when she was a kid her mother and dad got drunk and fought. Another I know had a brother who killed his wife and himself on Christmas Eve. It wrecked his life, not just his Christmases. Then there is the song Carter Stanley sang, The Story of Charlie Lawson, who killed his wife and all his kids but the oldest boy on Christmas. These were men with serious issues. The people who play happy on Christmas think their behavior a normal response to Christmas. Somebody whose entire family died on Christmas does not think happy is normal for such a day.

Like everything else, Christmas is what it is to each individual, no one thing for all. This American thinking that we as a nation ought to be homogenized, in education, in culture, just one culture---white culture---is what the corporate control of our government would do with us, put us into forced homogenization like Stalin and Mao did their people, and rule us under a collective dark cloud. Will that be a happy Christmas? For half the people, yes. Interesting that half the people also choose not to vote. Half the American people are depressed at Christmas and half don't vote. I'm certain the two halves are not composed of the same people. Of course, some would intersect, but probably not most.
We understand why, because half the people are tired of having no one to vote FOR. I only vote because I vote AGAINST. I've never had anyone in my lifetime to vote FOR, but Carter and Clinton, and all others I vote against. I vote against district "representative" Virginia Foxx, whoever is running against her. It's a case of anyone would be better.

I also don't vote with the belief my vote will count. So much fraud is involved in our elections, they've become meaningless. I don't vote because I think my vote matters. I would not vote at all if thinking it mattered were important. I vote as a form of protest, saying: I want democracy. I vote to add my digit to the votes cast as one more vote for democracy. If I vote persistently, it says I dream of some day having democracy in America. It matters to no one, but me. It's my own symbolic gesture to satisfy myself. It has nothing to do with who is running. It has to do with one anti-republican vote. My single digit raised high. The very same gesture back to the republican party that it gives to the working people and now the middle class. I'm a rebel and I'll never ever be any good. I vote to cancel one republican's vote. It's legal. Again, it's not that it matters. Only that it's fun.

In my own childhood I never had any adverse associations with Christmas. It was always a good and festive time. Presents, seeing relatives. In Jr Hi and High School I would come down with the flu first day school was out and recover the day before school started. It was never easy for the young rooster in the chicken house when the big rooster was in. Christmas was big rooster day and little rooster stayed in the background, out of sight of the big rooster as much as possible. If big rooster was inside, little rooster went outside, and the other way around. It was personal safety as much as avoidance. Any time young rooster got some attention, big rooster gave him a look that said, when we're back in the chicken house you better watch out. I call the house with my parents the chicken house because the behavior inside was pure poultry. I mean unconscious all the way back to bird consciousness, like an evolutionary arrested development.

When I grew up and went on my own, I let Christmas go, except as a time to give presents to friends and party. The giving presents is the fun part of Christmas. Much more fun than getting presents. How often does a kid get what he or she wants? I do tend to have a problem with all the get-up with trees and decorations and food and spending too much money. I try not to spend too much money. Always do, but that's ok. It's all in good spirit. It's the spirit of Christmas I like, the spirit of friendliness with friends and family, anyway in my experience. My maternal grandmother made Christmas into a Norman Rockwell time, big family around the table with grandma and grandpa. Since I've lived by myself, I've never had a Christmas tree. For one thing, I've experienced what goes into making a Christmas tree, and I don't want one in my house. An artificial tree would be ok, but not a tree grown in the mountains where the growers poison the ground water with carcinogens, kill all life in the mountain streams, and destroy the soil. I can't partake of that. It's my boycott of one. I don't care if nobody else boycotts it, as long as I do.

Like everything else in our commercial world, Christmas has become absurd. The shopping is absurd with malls and big stores staying open all night. You may be sure they will not be open all night on December 26, the day for returns. Television at Christmas has become absurd. The money some people spend that they don't have is absurd. That Christmas shopping is the bed rock of the Economy is absurd. That Christmas has become meaningless is absurd. Churches pound their members with the reason is the season, or the other way around. Whichever. The marriage of Capitalism and Christendom has made Saturnalia ok, and the holy day of the year means more calories for the fat cats. None of it has to do with anything but money. Like Jesus trumped the pre-Christian festive time, Saturnalia, Mammon trumped Jesus at Christmas. None of it inspires me to any kind of participation, but to visit with friends, give and receive presents, watch football with friends, eat some good food made by friends, wine when out and about, liquor at home. I'm like the George Thoroughgood song, I Drink Alone. It's too much trouble, with drunk driving laws, to drink anyplace but home. I've a feeling that one day during this Saturnalia I may let myself get shit-faced and see what happens. I might pass out in the chair watching a Steven Seagal movie.


Saturday, December 24, 2011


      new air bellows rock formation

Hearing on the news about Tea Party congressional Mad Hatters angry, irrational, confrotational. An extension of Karl Rove's mind whipped to a froth by Party Philosoph Rush Limbaugh. And they talk about Boner. But they never talk about what these people are doing as strategies. Boner's party out of power is keeping 50% of the vote by saying No. Political rule of thumb: be against something and you have 50% of the vote automatically. It's looking like Boner is hanging onto the 50% in a time when voters are catching on that the Republican Party is a very serious enemy of the working class and the middle class. Well done propaganda trumps knowledge, so knowledge counts for nothing in American politics. In my personal estimation, Gingrich is the most vile elected "representative" I've witnessed in my lifetime. Somebody who points the finger at others over morality, and has none in himself. There is no bottom to how low he is willing to go. One word defines him, like the picture that's worth a thousand words, hypocrite. He has exhibited this definition of himself over the last 30+ years publicly on tv, like he's proud of it.

I can't help but laugh at him divorcing his wife dying of cancer in an Atlanta hospital and marrying a Nordic DC babe to keep his dinger ringing. At the same time he was so self-righteous and indignant about Clinton exercising executive privelege. He is a good example of the saying about pointing the finger, three fingers point back at the one pointing. He isn't daunted that the press is making an issue of his hypocrisy. This is the master propagandist who has orchestrated morons into high public office. He's not interested in substance. Only the glitter pays. He has been the mind of the post-Reagan republican party. There's no chance he'll make president, fortunately, unless by fraud and judicial fiat. He could do that again. 

I understand more every year why Meher Baba recommended to his people that we stay out of politics. I wonder how much it has to do with the karmic burden that goes with it. Like, are W, Rummy, Cheney and Rice karmically responsible for the deaths, misery and crippling injuries of multiple hundreds of thousands of people that result from their decisions? Does Obama and his staff carry a karmic debt over directing a Drone hit of an enemy operative, family and neighbors? I can't see how the Shakespearean ordering of a president assassinated so one can take his place as president can go without some fairly heavy karmic debt. He was eventually defeated by his own lies and went out in infamy. One thing I see in politics is egotism to the Nth degree. That's just the first thing. To survive more than a month in politics, hyprocrisy becomes the mode of operations. It is the rule. The spiritual path in any of the Ways cannot tolerate hypocrisy and strategic lying. Therefore, nobody in politics can be on a spiritual path of any sort, which may be a good thing. Keeps Deistic dogma down. 

There is no way the fundamentalist Baptists of the South and Midwest can benefit from their involvement in politics and political thinking. It will render their words hollow. It will render their faith hollow. It will make them the Hollow Men like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Jerry Fallwell, who fell very well in relation to the others like him, preachers in politics. Pat Robertson never seems to get it when he's laughed at for his public defenses of blockhead dogma. Maybe he's too distracted with his horses and the stables, to get anything much any more. I have a difficult time paying close attention to a millionaire preacher. Like the Lenny Bruce sayin, Never trust a preacher in a three-piece suit. I have seen the truth of that in this conuty. The only preacher I knew of to wear a three-piece suit watched the money plate and milked little old widows for their wills. He was the essence of pretend humility, and grew old with a million lines on his face. My neighbor, Tom Pruitt, called him a "money preacher." In Tom's old-time religion, a money preacher didn't have anything to say that Tom wanted to hear. I'm the same.

Talking with friend Jim Winfield the other day over lunch, we were picturing this time we're in, right now, as a tremendous number of pieces of paper with a different issue written on each one, all the papers in a bowl. Throw the bowlful of papers into the air and the place we are in today is all these papers with an issue written on each one, in the air, floating toward the floor into an arrangement that is yet to be known. That's about the best I can make of threads of influence. It's like that time at the beginning of WW1 when the anarchist bombed the monarch's carriage in Serbia, the spark that started the war. Seems like any time now something like that can happen. Some inexplicable act somewhere by someone unaware of the full implications of the act, and a conflagration is set off.

Americans and Israelis are pretend sccretly bombing Iran right now. Iran doesn't take this sort of thing lying down. The American and Israeli bid to dominate the Islamic world can only fail. Our economic downturn (media for Depression) came from the beginnings of the attempt to dominate the Middle East and the deeper we dive into that quicksand, the quicker we go to the bottom. They're not going to leave Iran alone, and Iran will retaliate. If they're really looking for an endless war, Iran can give it to them.


Friday, December 23, 2011


      apple and wine

Christmas is coming. I just now turned the radio off for playing have yourself a merry merry Chistmas. Some of it might have been curmudgeonism, most of it is weariness of hearing these same old dreary songs every year. The really good ones seldom turn up, like Ralph Stanley's Beautiful Star of Bethlehem. I don't hear it so much, so it's not, as they say in the mountains, boresome. I've always liked Christmas, but was worn out by Christmas music early in life. Maybe it came from watching adults do music at church, prepare for Christmas skits by the kids, all of it empty and without meaning. Of course, it was the savior's birth, though it's not really his birth date, mixed in with Saturnalia, an astrological span of time of festive spirit and giving.

It's somewhat strange that in Christendom, Christmas is the big money spending time of the year, the time of the year that keeps the Economy rolling. Shopping. Now they're shopping all night long at malls that are staying open all night for the people who have to work all the time during the day. Long ago I learned I can't keep up with what is required for Christmas, buying expensive presents for everyone I know, just about. I tend to give more or less symbolic presents now, inexpensive, but nice to have. Like some of my friends are getting Dori Freeman's new album, Porchlight. Her singing is so good and the songs so finely put together, just about everyone I know, who likes music at all, would like Dori's singing. She's from this region of the mountains, and sings her own style that is accessible to the ear mountain music is sometimes not accessible to. Somebody like Marcus Martin is inaccessible to an ear away from the mountains. Dori is of the mountains, but not mountain specific. Her dad is a great musician, and her grandpa on her mother's side is a great musician. She has several uncles who are excellent musicians too. She grew up in a world of mountain musicians playing mountain music. 

That's about it for me and Christmas. I may end up watching football at somebody's house. May not. That's another thing that has estranged Christmas from me, football on tv. Men sit in the living room talking their tv football nickel knowledge. In the kitchen, the women come and go, staying away from the television. Then there's the dog show for anybody not wanting to watch football. Who wants to watch a dog show? It seems to me training dogs to be vain about their appearance like humans is the same as bestiality. Dogs have such intelligence about them in their own dogness, I can't see using that intelligence against them, to turn them into ego-maniacs, the worst thing a human can be. Why do that to a dog? It's the same as doing it to a child. Jon Benet Ramsey comes to mind first thing. Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except in the basement. 

The dogs that have lived here with me along the way, I've allowed their dogness. I didn't try to make them into projections of what I want for myself, how I want to be seen with my beautiful dog. My dogs dragged dead rabbits home and ate them. My dogs found deer corpses hunters left to the night animals after cutting off the head with the antlers for mounting. The dogs brought home deer legs and chewed the flavor off the bones and later use the bones for exercising their teeth evolved for ripping meat, for catching running prey, for defense and offence. I allowed that in my dogs. It means that all through hunting season, outside my door looks like outside a caveman's den. Bones, hide, legs, spines, have even had a few heads. Martha, the dog next door that spends her days here guarding my place, has torn the hair off a hide she drags around and chews on. A deer's foreleg is out there in the rain now. It's gross having deer parts strewn about, but it keeps the dog pacified to have something to chew on. I believe it keeps dog in touch with its own dogness. 

I liked to give a dog a good dog's life. The dogs have evolved as human companions ever since they began to evolve out of untameable wolfness. I look at a dog as needing human companionship, a human to love, a human to protect, a human to be given shelter and fed by. They also have in them a need for the chase, the kill, the taste of blood. Living here where I am with meadow immediately around the house on 3 sides and tremendous acreage across the road of woods. The meadow has rabbits and groundhogs. The woods have everything else. It's where the wild things live, the things a dog is shy of, like bobcats, mountain lions, bears, rattlesnakes, copperheads. And it has the smaller critters a dog can chase and sometimes catch and eat.

I was glad to be able to offer my dogs a balanced dog's life. My only regret with all the pets that have lived with me, I didn't know how much they loved me. I knew they loved me, but didn't understand the depth of their love. Growing up in a culture that believed dogs, cats and all the rest of the animals have no soul, it took a lifitime to learn how to communicate with the animals that are only dumb because they can't talk. They taught me they have feelings and thoughts, and they have the capacity to figure things out. I don't mean like figure out math problems, but they learn and they learn fast. My dog Sadie was a groundhog dog. Twice she dragged a dead groundhog to her place under the house. I had to crawl under the house and drag the groundhog out after it had begun to smell and draw flies. She watched me bury both groundhogs. From that day when she killed a groundhog she carried it to a place nearby she knew the ground to be soft. She'd dig a hole with her front feet, push the groundhog into the hole with her nose. Pushed dirt over the groundhog with her nose. She buried all the groundhogs she killed after that.  


Thursday, December 22, 2011


       kazakhstan's flag

Recently, recently in months, I've been looking back to my initial purpose moving to the mountains in 1976. Then, I had one neighbor up the road, Tom Pruitt. The road was gravel. Meadows on both sides of the roads for grazing cattle. Now a subdivision is up the road and Tom Pruitt's house is empty and gradually becoming a ruin of another time. Then, barns were everywhere in the county. Now you see a barn here and there, very seldom. They've fallen down. I call my time here the Time of the Falling Barns. The wood has given out. The wood that touches the ground has rotted and the wood in the sunlight has dried out until the barns are reduced to their skeletons, their basic structure. The life has gone out of them as the center for farm operations. Barns used now for Christmas tree operations have metal walls and roofs bolted to a cement slab. Churches are now going for that metal building construction with no windows on the cement slab. 

The old churches made of wood that burned wood to keep warm in the winter have largely been abandoned, torn down, replaced by brick structures that are heated by oil, kerosene, propane or electricity, better insulated and cushions on the benches. The changes in the churches happens after the changes have happened in the homes of the members, who get used to central heat, cushions on chairs, gravel or paved parking lots instead of parking on the grass. These changes are the subjects of films all over the world now, people living in the transition from the old ways to the new. Young people listening to pop music, their grandparents still living the old ways, parents living in the new way and thinking in the old way.

So it was in the today's film, TULPAN. It was made on the steppes of Kazakhstan, which is a big country between Russia and India. The steppes are table-top flat as far as you can see in all directions, like that part of the American plains between Texas and North Dakota where it is table-top flat. The land had no trees and wind blowing all the time. The people lived in yurts like in Mongolia. The people looked like a cross between Greeks and Mongols. I suppose they would be called Eurasian people. Originally, all the -stans from Afghanistan east were once Kazakhstan. The land and the people I saw of Kazakhstan showed me the -stans are a westward extension of Mongolia. The Mongols plundered across the -stans, then Kazakhstan, all the way to Persia (Iran) and Turkey, into the Ukraine. Russian director, Tarkowsky, made a film of medieval times, Andrei Rublev, where he depicted the Mongols, also known as Tartars (hence, tartar sauce), killing all the people in a walled city of the Ukraine.

In this movie, Tulpan, it's a very simple story, if it is a story at all. A boy just out of the Russian Navy is staying with his sister who is married to a man who herds sheep and one of camels. The boy is looking for a wife, but the only woman in the area of marrying age doesn't like him and won't marry him. The boy wants to leave, but his sister wants him to stay, he learns some of the work with sheep, stays awhile, then leaves. The only suggestion to where he is going is to the city where he can find a wife and a job. In remotest Kazakhstan we see now these changes that came with electricity. The old people dressing and talking in the old-time ways. The young kids listening to transistor radios and wanting a television. All that is just a racket to the older people.

Looking at the people in this region of the world, hearing their language, seeing how they live, what's important to them, is of interest to me. I've always been curious about other cultures, their ways, how the people act out those ways. In my early years I wanted to know all the different kinds of people in my world. With that curiosity, I managed to meet and become acquainted with people from all over the world, not every place, but all the major reigions. I've known people of all races. Then there came a time I realized this is a world where everybody is motivated by different desires and it gets more and more complex finding out that I'm better off not knowing so many different kinds of people. I came to a place where I have found my own people, and don't care to spend any time away from my own people, who I think of as the people of these mountains where the old people dress like farmers and the kids dress like California surfers.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011


          the stones

Am watching a video of the Rolling Stones in 1978, Ft Worth, Texas. I suppose it was the tour for the Some Girls album recently released. It got me to thinking now that the Stones are up in years and writing their memoirs, the millions of hours of concert footage the band probably has the rights to for endless releases of Stones concert videos. They are good business people. They know how to work it. I think the Scorcese Stones concert from a few years ago is the finest concert film I've seen of any band or music. Pink Floyd makes a good concert video, but Scorcese did it just right, like it almost wouldn't matter what band it was, the filming of the concert was so good. But using the world's greatest rock n roll band Scorcese can use artful photographing that isn't so obvious when the subject calls for artful camera work as a given.

This concert, Some Girls, is spectacular music. 1978 was when they'd been the hottest band in the land for over a decade. 1978 was also 3 years after punk came along and the music was changing away from the Stones sound. By this time, everybody in the band was an artist and master musician. Keith Richards and Ron Wood lay it to their guitars. It's from the time of the guitar hero. Both these guys gave an exhibit of how incredible electric guitar playing can be. The energy in this show is such that it makes me wonder what they're thinking about the music changing away from them, how they're thinking about dealing with it. Their sound was so fluid it could incorporate any sound they wanted to go with. They were first a blues band. Along the years I was buying their records, early 60s to early 70s, I saw every other album would be a blues album. They'd make a rock album in the vein of what is happening that year in rock, every other year. A rock album and a blues album and a rock album and a blues album. Black and Blue was one of their really super fine blues albums.

Back in that time you liked either the Beatles or the Stones, like they were Pepsi and Coke, Chevy and Ford. To my ear, the Beatles were bubble gum like the Beach Boys. I liked the blues sound in the Stones, preferred bands that leaned toward the blues instead of toward country, like Eric Clapton's bands, Allman Brothers. Neil Young leaned a little too much to country for my ear in that time. Now he just sounds like a whiner. I still like his music though. There's no finer rock album that Neil Young's After The Gold Rush. I never bought a Beatles album and bought every Stones album as they came along. Didn't need to buy Beatles because all my friends had Beatles albums and I heard them at everybody's place I knew. It was a dynamic time in rock. Bob Dylan was the other one whose albums I bought as they came out. Dylan, Stones and Clapton I listened to primarily in that time. Now to see the Stones from that time 33 years later is a wonderful moment. It tells me the music I liked then I continue to appreciate now.

I was telling my friend Lynn Worth, who plays fiddle, banjo, guitar and bass, all very well, and sings, that my years in the mountains listening closely to master musicianship everywhere you turn, hearing what makes an extraordinary fiddler or a fantastic banjo picker, hearing the subtleties in picking, my ear for listening to music has improved mightily. I believe I'm enjoying the musicianship of Richards and Ron Wood like on a new level from what I heard before. I heard them well then, but believe I hear them better now. The Stones still do it for me musically. Even though I liked the Stones a very great deal, I believe the Clash came along and satisfied my ear for rock n roll a little bit better than the Stones did. Perhaps I like them equally. It's like the Clash is the Stones the Next Generation. Joe Strummer's next band after the Clash's junkie drummer fell out and they couldn't find his equal to replace him, the end of the Clash, The Mescaleros made some awfully good albums. Then Joe Strummer died face down on the kitchen table.

I went with punk when it came along as 60s underground rock was becoming establishment and the next generation of auditorium rock, Bon Jovi, Ted Nugent, REO Speedwagon, were coming on doing the same things over and over. Punk was a new sound all the way around and it was a return to the 50s sound. Punk was back to basics. Guitar heroes reached such a place nobody coming along could even think about playing as well as Jimmy Page, ever, let alone be able to play better. They were all so great they put up a wall between them and the next generation. The next generation went back to the three chord method and followed the influence of the Velvet Underground, a band that didn't do guitar hero, a New York band with next to no audience outside New York. Sixties rock took about a decade for it to become mainstream rock. It took punk 25 years to become mainstream. The last half of the 70s now, looking back, was as dynamic a time in rock as the mid 60s when the San Francisco sound was going, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and Holding Co., Jimi Hendrix et al.

In 78 the Stones were really at their apex. Their solution to what to do about punk coming along was to keep on playing the blues and being the Rolling Stones. And they kept on a-keepin on. Now they're 70. People laugh at how unlikely it was for these guys to live so long, considering drugs, etc. A Rolling Stones concert is a major exercise workout for everyone in the band, except Bill Wyman who stands still the whole time. Plus, they have to work out when they're not on tour to keep the muscles flexed. Mick Jagger is making moves at 70 that I sure as hell can't do. He works out. Probably has personal trainers.

Also in 1978 the Stones were the darlings of the Jet Set, partying with international wealth, buying castles in France, and working with the Rolling Stone dedication to their careers that bought them everything they wanted. They seem to have handled unlimited wealth and unlimited fame better than Elvis. It's a tightrope to walk with no safety net and they walked it. When the Jagger and Richards songbook is printed as poems, it will be a major literary event of the year. Also, Mick Jagger's harmonica is the only harmonica in rock that doesn't sound like Bob Dylan's harmonica. I feel fortunate that the Stones and Dylans lives ran through time parallel my life. I've listened to their music from their first recorded songs to the most recent. Half a century.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


     dan flavin, untitled, 1971

Every year I give myself a Christmas present. Give myself a birthday present too. I've done this for so long I don't remember when it started or my reasoning. Whatever the reasoning, I agreed with it in the time I could remember it, so now that it's gone I'd just as well go on agreeing with it. I think the first reason is it just makes sense. I remember suggesting it to somebody a few years back groaning because he hoped somebody would give him something in particular for his birthday. I said give it to yourself. That way you're sure to get it. He was appalled at the thought of giving himself a present. I was appalled that he was appalled. It makes perfectly clear sense to me. For one thing, which is secondary, but very important, this way I am certain to get something I want. I suppose it came to me in childhood when year after year I never got anything for Christmas or birthday that I really wanted. Give myself a present and I get at least one thing I want.

This Christmas my present was a fairly recent publication of the art movement in New York beginning in the 1960s, MINIMALISM, edited by James Meyer, associate professor of contemporary art and criticism at Emory in Atlanta. I've looked through it for the copyright page with the date of publication on it. I've found quite a lot of notation 1980 to present. I don't know how to find when "present" is, what year. I found notation that Sol Lewitt died 2007, meaning the book was printed after that. That's close enough to give me an idea of when the book was made. I imagine Meyer worked several years on getting everything together toward publication. I'm very happy with it. It's all pictures. Beautiful prints by the publisher of art books, Phaidon. Each picture has a paragraph telling something about it. In the beginning is a preface, which looks like it might be interesting. I have a 1988 book on Minimalism by Kenneth Baker, a good book for reading and the collection of pictures.

This new one, 20 years later, has entirely different pictures. The newer one has Anne Truitt in it and lacks the earth work artists like Michael Heizer and Walter deMaria. Robert Smithson is represented in the newer book, but indoor pieces instead of his outdoor works, which the Baker book includes. The earlier book has different examples of Eva Hesse's work. As time goes by, I appreciate Eva Hesse's works more and more. This later book has Carl Andre examples galore. He has done quite a lot with blocks of wood 3' long and 1' by 1' arranged in different simple patterns. One standing by itself he titled Herm in 1976. Andre makes arrangements of bricks on the floor, and steel squares 1' by 1' he arranges on the floor in like 20 rows of 5, or 12 rows of 12. I've seen the set on the floor in the Museum of Modern Art. Museum goers are invited to walk on it. I've walked on it twice. It was no bigger deal than walking on any flat surface. But it was an interesting kind of zone feeling, feeling inside Carl Andre's prescribed zone that he articulated by these tiles on the floor.

     carl andre

Andre has used the floor probably more than anyone for arranging blocks of wood or bricks. Carl Andre seems like there is little to nothing to what he is doing, in that way like Cy Twombly making childlike scribblings. It's a new stretch of the mind to be able to step into a room in a museum and see some bricks arranged on the floor, and a few 3 foot long timbers arranged in a pattern. It really pushes the mind to say, I can do that. But I didn't. Carl Andre and nobody else did that. Therefore, it's unique because he did it and I didn't. Now, anyone that does it is following Andre. Neither of the two books on Minimalism---not meaning to imply there are only two, but the two I have---has much of Elsworth Kelly. I noticed neither of them has anything by Alexander Lieberman. Maybe Lieberman was thought more an abstractionist. 

I keep this new book of Minimalism beside my chair. Every time I have a few minutes I open and look inside, read a little, look at a lot of pictures of beautiful works of art. I like Abstract Expressionism an awful lot, and Pop too, but it's Minimalism that really speaks to me. I believe Minimalism might be my favorite period in 20th Century art. I like all the others, but something about the minimalist object appeals to me. The newer book has a good collection of Agnes Martin grids and Robert Mangold pencil lines on beautiful colors. And there's a great collection of Robert Ryman works, largely white. I've come to appreciate Ryman a great deal. This is a good Christmas present to myself, something I will look at again and again and probably read every word in it. And it didn't cost a great deal, which made it possible. Say it 's selfish to buy oneself a Christmas present? Maybe so. But so is everything else we do. Like once I caught on that everything is a sin, I was set free. It can't be avoided, so it's no big deal. 

     frank stella


Monday, December 19, 2011


the least interesting in a cast of uninteresting characters

Yesterday's film was made in Estonia, Sugisball. It has an umlaut over the u, for whatever that tells someone who knows the language. I had seen some tourist photographs of the old part of Tallinn, the Estonian capital located directly south of Helsinki, across the Gulf of Finland that runs from the Baltic Sea to St Petersburg. What I saw of Tallinn in the film suggested Tirane, Albania, or Belgrade in what is now Serbia, in Soviet times Yugoslavia. I thought of Romanian films I'd seen of Ceaosescu times in Bucharest. I thought of my train ride behind the Iron Curtain in 1971, from Trieste through Belgrade and Sofia into Greece through Thessaloniki. Big high-rise apartment buildings made of concrete, all of them exactly alike, everywhere around Belgrade. It looked like hundreds of them. Evidently that's where everybody lives who is not a party official, and probably some of them from the lower rungs of the party ladder. I suppose my friend Lucas Carpenter, whose mother came from the Ukraine, sees these concrete high-rises all over Kiev approaching the airport by plane, visiting the relatives of his mother's family.

I specifically recall approaching Belgrade by train, seeing rows and rows of these apartment buildings made of concrete, all exactly alike. They were interesting architecturally because they were devoid of aesthetic consideration. It was disheartening to see so many people living like that. I remember someone I knew who lived in New York City several years ago, John Jones, originally from Thomasville, Georgia. He said of all the new high-rise apartment buildings going up in New York back in the Sixties, "tomorrow's slums." And they indeed became that. I think of the suburbs of American cities that have apartment complexes in a great network of streets, all buildings the same color, the same architecture exactly. They look like computer chips from the air. I think of it as Soviet housing. Like flying low over New Jersey on the way into a New York airport makes me feel sad for people living in a seemingly endless, to the horizon, complex of houses and streets, driveways and cars under a New York City flight path. I marvel that at least some of those people live in such places by choice.

The movie, Sugisball (Autumn Ball), released in 2007, evidently takes place in Soviet times. Those concrete high-rise apartment buildings looked so depressing I couldn't help but think of Albania. In places like the train station in Tirane, gypsies wash their clothes in the public toilets. Tallinn in Estonia looked that kind of depressed, to my eye. I went into the movie with a curiosity to see how Estonians live in this time, expecting a culture somewhat Scandinavian, but it was not at all. It was Soviet despair everywhere you looked. The people in the story were under the deadening boot heel of the Soviet period. The characters were all twenty-somethings, people who evidently all lived in one of the apartment buildings. They were Eastern Europeans under Soviet control more than they were Scandinavian. To think of Estonia as Scandinavian is as far off the beam as thinking Morocco European.

The Estonian characters all seemed like people who in this country would be called dorks, nerdy people who don't quite get it, whatever it is. I'm meaning the actors themselves as well as the roles they were playing. Absence of sophistication in film making, I couldn't decide if it was by intent or not. It held my interest for two hours trying to figure out what was going on, right up to the end. The summary that is printed on the envelope for the disc from netflix calls it a "collection of lost souls who  bleakly face the future while reaching blindly for some form of connection." That states what I saw very well. Evidently it is a vision and a comment on contemporary life in Tallinn. Director's name is Veiko Ounpuu. What I saw of the Estonian people, the thread that ran through all the characters, was their spirit shut down by police state government. Corporate police state will be the same as Soviet police state or Maoist police state. Americans don't know that yet.

Possibly the film's intent was to show how dorky people become under a political system much like the one the republicans will have us in America live with. I have to confess that throughout this film I was seeing America in the future after republicans have the FEMA concentration camps full to overflowing, and "we the people" are afraid to say anything against the government for fear of arrest and indefinite detention, now that the Patriot Act makes it ok to "detain" American citizens without charge or sentence, "indefinitely." Every time I see a film of Soviet times, I see the future of America, though without health care, especially in the Romanian film, The Death of Mr Lazarescu. Evidently in Soviet Bucharest it was as much a social taboo to have a drink as it is in America today among Baptists. Mr Lazarescu liked a little drink every day. He had what appeared to be a heart attack. Managed to get to a hospital. Too busy there. They took him to another. The doctor won't treat him because he drinks. They take him to another, and another. Finally, he dies in a waiting room. And that was with health care. Police state without health care? We're in deep shit.

I don't mean to throw off on the film too much. The city scenes at night were film photography at its very best. Beautiful city scenes using the lights and the night. The lights at night are more interesting than the despair in daylight. I recall one scene that is worth seeing the movie again to see. The point of view is sitting in the middle of the back seat on a public transportation bus, looking up the aisle with empty seats on both sides. The bus, or trolley, is two cars joined by a swivel in the floor that makes one long bus instead of two that bends in the middle. The lights are off inside the bus. The wide angle camera sees the city lights through the windows on both sides, like we'd see it sitting in that spot. It was beautiful seeing the city lights through all the windows along both sides. Then the lights inside the bus came on that looked like green fluorescent, and we rode awhile seeing only the interior with no passengers. It was among the most beautiful moments I've seen on film. It brought to mind the unforgettable final scene in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, The Unconsoled. I came away from the film feeling a degree of sorrow for the Estonian people with the suffocating years of Soviet occupation in their recent history. It's the same feeling I get from other films I've seen from behind Soviet lines.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


        agnes martin, stars


      An ant walks on the window screen

      Looking for a hole big enough to get through.

      He walks for what must seem miles

      looking at the endless holes. He goes back and forth

      convinced that one of the holes

      must be bigger than the others

      but the screen is new

      and all the holes are the same size.

                                 ---Edward Field


Saturday, December 17, 2011


     the highlanders

     scott freeman, fiddle; jimmy zeh, banjo

     jimmy zeh, banjo; marvin cockerham, bass; willard gayheart, guitar

     scott freeman, fiddle; jimmy zeh, banjo

       bobby patterson, mandolin; scott freeman, fiddle

The Fiddle and Plow show happening at Willard Gayheart's Front Porch Gallery, Woodlawn, Virginia, featured tonight the Highlanders, a Galax bluegrass band of almost 40 years. Willard plays guitar and sings with the band. When the World's Fair took place in Knoxville, Tennessee, back in the 80s, the Highlanders played there for a week. Buddy Pendleton was their fiddler. Pendleton recorded an album playing fiddle with Larry Richardson & the Blue Ridge Boys, a classic mountain bluegrass album recorded in 1965, Buddy was a youngun then. He had a great career started as a fiddler with Bill Monroe for awhile and then the Greenbriar Boys, a New York City folk revival old-time band. From there he returned home and worked to retirement at the Floyd, Virginia, post office. He's a frail, honest, thin, seemingly weightless man now with gray hair. Oh, but he can play a fiddle. He played at Fiddle and Plow a year or more ago. I spoke with him a few minutes before the show, asking permission to make video of him playing, and wondered what this frail little guy would do with a fiddle. It didn't take long to find out. Once he started playing, I knew this was a master.

Buddy wasn't with them tonight, so Scott Freeman played fiddle in Buddy's absence. I was hoping Buddy would show up, but he didn't. Scott played a beautiful fiddle. Musically, Buddy wasn't missed, but I would like to see him and hear him play fiddle again. His fiddling has an airy quality about it. By airy, I suppose I mean like an apple tree pruned such that birds can fly through it. I put up several videos of Pendleton on YouTube, which I was very happy to do, to make his fiddle playing available to whoever might chance upon it or find it by looking for it, whoever sees it. Buddy Pendleton is too great a fiddler to overlook. I don't mean to imply Scott's fiddle wasn't up to Pendleton's. Scott is so close, it doesn't matter if one is better than the other. I like to hear both of them play a fiddle. I don't know if it communicates a sound to say Scott's fiddle playing has a full bodied sound. He bears down on the strings and makes them work. Visually, I see Scott's manner of fiddling in VanGogh's and Edvard Munch's paintings of women. I can't explain it. It's a subjective feeling. Where Pendleton's fiddle might be of the air, Scott's is of the earth. He uses his bow to dig the notes out of the strings, he takes charge of the strings. Again, I'm not saying one is better than the other. It's different styles of playing a fiddle.

Willard was the lead singer for the band, and such a good singer Willard is. There is quite a number of songs of Willard singing on YouTube. Write his name in the search box and everything with him on it will come up. Willard's singing is good mountain singing. By "good" I mean like Sara Carter was good at mountain singing. Willard is that kind of good at delivering a song. He doesn't dramatize the song with his voice, he delivers the words and lets the words tell the story. He keeps ego out of his singing, out of his guitar playing, out of his performance, in the mountain way. I and several others see Willard as the best kept secret in SW Virginia. Willard doesn't know how good he is. He doesn't promote himself. Scott Freeman married Willard's daughter, Jill. Scott and Willard have been musical parnters ever since; first with Skeeter & the Skidmarks, then Alternate Roots, then Skeeter & the Skidmarks redux. Willard and Scott make a great duo. Willard also plays duo with Bobby Patterson.

Bobby Patterson is a good singer too. He plays mandolin with the Highlanders. He plays guitar and banjo when he and Willard play together. Bobby Patterson is best known, for me anyway, on the album June Apple with Tommy Jarrell on fiddle, Kyle Creed, banjo, Audine Lineberry, bass, and Bobby Patterson rhythm guitar. He was young then, playing with the old fellers, the masters. Audine Lineberry played bass with Whit Sizemore's band, the Shady Mountain Ramblers. She sang Ruby the way it was meant to be sung. I personally hold Bobby Patterson as the most important man in SW Virginia, for what he has done for the music of Grayson County, in particular. He has a small label and a recording studio. He recorded local old-time bands and some bluegrass. He recorded the Shady Mountain Ramblers, Whitetop Mountain Band, Otis Burris, Art Wooten, a mess of others and made collections from the Galax fiddlers convention every year for cd. He started with LPs, then cassettes, then CDs. Bobby is a great musician and a noble man. 

Everyone in the band I could say is a noble man. Noble is a word not used any more, and that's a good thing. Now it is free of connotation, and it's meaning can be what I mean without sentiment mixed in. I mean they are noble in that they, each one, is who he is. Each one has worked hard all his life, has raised a family and made music on weekends. They are, every one, what we call here in the mountains good people. Give them a chance to make music and they're happy. Jimmy Zeh came to Galax from West Virginia. Willard came to Galax from a little township 10 miles outside Hazard, Kentucky. Scott is from MtAiry, lives in Woodlawn, Marvin Cockerham from Meadows of Dan. Bobby Patterson has lived at Galax all his life. Willard lives in Woodlawn. Bobby Patterson's Heritage Shoppe and Heritage Records is right there by Willard's framing shop.

From the moment the band started they played straight ahead mountain bluegrass and they never let up. Scott's fiddle came forward from time to time and raged for us. I think it might have been Katy Hill he cut loose on. I wasn't prepared with the camera when he started up, I missed the beginning, so I used the time to get still shots, wishing I'd got that fiddle on video. Then I always tell myself it is not at all necessary to have it all on video. It is not necessary at all. Enjoy it raw, straight from the fiddle to my ear. It gets to be like a Warhol fixation to want to record everything. I do it to archive this moment in time in the evolution of mountain music. I believe it needs doing. Nobody else is doing it. Then it's mine to do. I get to do things like this because I don't do it for money. I don't care about copyrights. I just want to share this mountain music with anyone around the world who wants to hear it.