Google+ Followers

Monday, January 31, 2011


paul williams and the victory trio

Bluegrass gospel singer and mandolin picker Paul Williams played at Fairview Ruritan alternating with Big Country Bluegrass Saturday night. I went into the concert a clean slate, knowing his name, though never heard him but a few times on WBRF. I have so many religion issues, I tend not to be drawn to gospel music except when hearing it. During the first two songs tears ran down my face, uplifted in the spirit, happy for everyone in the place. It felt like country church. Every once in awhile someone would raise a hand in the air after an especially meaningful line that struck that individual in the homeplace within. I might have raised my hand a few times, but it would not have been unselfconscious, the only way that can honestly be done. If my hand just went up in the air and I didn't know it until it was already there, then it would have been real. I was thinking of it as a gesture praising God, and I felt like doing that throughout the Williams concert.

The joyful part about the kinds of gospel songs he sang, some of them hymns, was while he and the others were singing the words, the meaning in the words went straight to the heart, lightened the heart, lifted the spirit that spread its wings in the light. The songs were never pedantic, the kind that preach you should. They were songs about finding the light and some about living in the light. I wasn't the only one in the place feeling the spirit. The band played some real bluegrass and the vocals were just right. Paul sings so you can hear the words and they're songs you want to hear the words to.

I'd guess there would be a great deal of pressure on musicians in gospel bands to be sweetie pies like preachers, walk that narrow line in a world of church gossip and judgment that makes it look like you never had a carnal thought or wouldn't get drunk for the world, wouldn't be seen with car parked in a roadside biker bar parking lot. Watching the band making their music, I wondered about the intensity of the pressure on them to do the church thing, dress like a corporate exec wannabe from the 50s, expectations at every turn. I commend the ones able to do it. I'd have to keep a fruitjar out by the woodshed the way they did in the old days. Word would start going around I'm not goody 2-shoes enough and replacement would be next. It tells me what I already know, model Christians and I have different beliefs about what God expects of us.

I feel like God wants me to live a life relaxed in the flow of the spirit, in no hurry, not slacking either, following my own light, sharpening my awareness of my own light with experience, lean toward making my decisions in flow with the Way, which I can only know by intuition that needs developing, not inhibiting. I'm glad for the people who can model themselves after other people's expectations. It's not in me to lock myself down to a long checklist of what it takes to be acceptable. We have long enough checklists we adhere to anyway. Much of it was ingrained from childhood to conform above all, look like and act like a Christian soldier. I never wanted to be a soldier, never wanted to march in step with the many. I never took to identification with sheep, except as herd animals, which we are. Couldn't even learn to conform when I wanted to. Couldn't afford it for one thing.

Wasn't really intent on being an outsider either, just wanted to live by my American freedoms as an individual while it's still legal in a world that grows increasingly conformist. We don't even hear about it any more, not since the 50s when conformity was brought into question by the beatniks in NY, but only for a few and temporarily. Of course, the beatniks were conforming to very strict beatnik rules. I'm following my own interpretation of strait is the gate and narrow the way. A strait being the narrow passage a ship takes from the turbulent ocean of one's own ego to the smooth harbor of inner peace. Narrow the way says only one ship can pass through at a time, just like one's surrender to the Most High is done alone, inside oneself, the spiritual path a footpath not a highway. Everybody has their own path, even when we're unaware of our lives as walking a path guided by the Master or not guided.

I'm not questioning Paul Williams' theology. Just yammering about my own. I liked sitting next to Cynthia and feeling her responses to the songs as I'm sure she felt mine. This also being her first mountain music exprience, the gospel side of it, she connected with the band and their songs as much as I did, at least. It felt good throughout the concert to hear Cynthia's exclamations of delight from time to time during both bands' performances. Both shows were enhanced for me by seeing and hearing it through Cynthia's eyes and ears for the first time, like I heard it my first time. I remember feeling as she felt when I was at the Independence fiddler's convention in 1978, my first mountain music experience. I heard the New River Ramblers, Kyle Creed, Ernest East, Melvin Slayden and Albert Hash that I remember.


Sunday, January 30, 2011


big country bluegrass is: jeff michael, lynwood lunsford, tommy sells,
teresa sells, johnny williams, tony king
It's been awhile since I went to a Big Country Bluegrass show. Actually, I would have missed it if Jeff hadn't nudged me toward it on facebook. He knows I'm a BCBG fan and was giving me a heads up in case I didn't. He was right, I didn't. Like with most music, when I'm not seeing them in concert or hearing them on my sound system at home or driving, I forget how good they are. The first notes of the concert reminded me, this really is Big Country Bluegrass. They play bluegrass the mountain way, or the original way, as bluegrass took in the mountains on contact. It swept the mountains like fire and outside the mountains there were only small pockets of interest. The early bluegrass bands, Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Stanley Brothers, Reno & Smiley, Jim & Jesse, and others played in movie theaters, school auditoriums, courtrooms and tents in small towns up and down the Southern mountains to enthusiastic crowds.
Big Country Bluegrass carries the tradition and and it sounds right in this time in bluegrass. They've been touching in at #1 on the bluegrass charts over the last few years. On their website home page they note their song, The Boys in Hats and Ties, from the recent album of the same title on the Rebel label, is #1 Bluegrass Unlimited national bluegrass survey for Feb 2011. It is also #1 on Bluegrass Music Profiles January top 30 singles. Twenty years of ups and downs and an awful lot of good music. They have at least a dozen albums, every one of them excellent music, and they backed Henry Mabe on his fiddle album. Mabe is one of the great fiddlers of NW North Carolina. Past fiddlers with the band besides Jeff Micheal, who plays fiddle now, have been Wade Petty, Tommy Malboeuf, Ronnie Hawk. Jeff and Johnny Williams (guitar) made a couple of albums together in the not too distant past, calling themselves Grass Tank.
The band's banjo picker from the start was Larry Pennington. Then he died in 2003, a serious blow to the band. Larry Pennington was a very well respected picker. Jr Maxwell, Whitehead bluegrass banjo picker of Pennington's time, told me that when Larry Pennington came into a fiddler's convention carrying his banjo case, all the banjo pickers put their banjers up and went home. Of course, that's exaggeration as metaphor, speaking his meaning better than telling it straight. Country humor. Tim Lewis played the banjo with the band the next couple of albums, a couple years, until running the roads wore him out. Jeff had been away from the band about 5 years and Ronnie Hawk took his place. When Jeff came back, he brought his wife, Ramona Church, who had once been banjo picker with the New Coon Creek Girls of West Virginia, Ramona from Kentucky. A couple years later Dale Ann Bradley was finding her new band's success and she hired Ramona with an offer she couldn't refuse. Dale Ann Bradley had been a New Coon Creek Girl too. Big Country needed a banjo again. Lynwood Lunsford turned up, who had been with Lost & Found and Jimmy Martin's band.
Jeff returned to the band as lead guitar picker and vocal. Tommy Sells had been handling the vocals in Jeff's absence, and evidently had enough of it. I think he was better at bluegrass singing than he believed he was. Jeff and Ronnie would play twin fiddles on a tune or two in a show. First time I saw the band after Jeff returned, it was a disappointment to see him come out carrying a guitar. But when the music started, disappointment vanished like a sprayed mist. Jeff is a master of all the instruments. Last night Jeff brought out a banjo and played clawhammer the old-time fiddle tune Cindy. I'd taken my friend Cynthia for her first mountain music experience. Cindy is her familiar name. It tickled her like Jeff made that banjo roar just for her and it was New Year's Eve.
Teresa Sells, who plays guitar and sings harmony vocals, usually sings 2 songs per album and 2 per concert. I'd be happy to hear her sing more. She and Jeff sing well together, too. And Johnny Williams is recently in the band, though a friend of the band a lot of years. He plays guitar and sings. He has a fairly recent album of his own, Last Days Of Galax, that is quite good. Bluegrass singer / bass player Jeanette Williams is his wife. The two of them came and played at the Front Porch one night and they laid down some solid bluegrass from the get-go. Everybody in Big Country has talent that sets them apart. Jeff Michael's bluegrass singing seems to me to come from the same place within that Carter Stanley's singing came from. He doesn't sing like he's imitating Carter, but he has that special something Carter had that can't be named.
At the show last night we heard Big Country Bluegrass playing at home for it's fans from home. An awful lot of people in this area love to hear the band. For the music of it, I'd just as soon hear Big Country Bluegrass as about anybody else playing bluegrass now. There are an awful lot of really good bands, good singers and good musicians, but for my own personal ear that loves mountain music, Big Country Bluegrass does it for me. Must do it for a lot of other folks, too, with their #1 hits. The band has drive in abundance and talent in abundance. It must feel good for the band to be getting to the place they might be able to make a living playing music all the time. Cynthia became the band's newest convert last night. She exclaimed her joy as soon as it was over, and in the car on the way back. I felt happy I'd heard some really good music, and happy Cindy had such a magnificent introduction to mountain music. Big Country Bluegrass is truly mountain bluegrass.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


scott, edwin, sandy, willard

Skeeter and the Skidmarks lit up the sky last night over Woodlawn, Virginia. They kicked off with Scott Freeman's composition, Groundhog Shuffle, a brief explosion of a tune that sets the stage, lets you know the band does not intend to let up until the last note of the night. Skeeter starting a concert with this tune is as right as VanHalen opening with Unchained when Roth was with the band. You might say it makes a statement. The statement last night was we, the audience, were in for a couple hours of no letup Skeeter & the Skidmarks full blast. They were ready and the audience was ready. Justin Smith, a lifetime friend and friend of a lifetime I've known since he was 3, went with me for his first Skeeter experience, and was possibly the only one there who'd never heard the band. I think I played video of a song or 2 a few months back to give him an idea of what they do. No two ways about it, they blew his mind last night. He wanted cds, but they're out of print, so I'll let him make copies from mine.

This was the band's 3rd time at the Front Porch, and the very most dynamic. Their second time was dynamic, but not like last night. Before the band started, the people who are regulars were anxious in anticipation of what the band would do, and when it was over, all had big smiles on their faces. Total, perfect satisfaction in a musical concert. Doesn't matter the kind of music; it's the kind of satisfaction I experienced seeing Peter Serkin play the Goldberg Variations around 1967, a Jane's Addiction concert in 1991, and Ralph Stanley in 2009. Unforgettable concert moments, the kind that take me beyond mind. Skeeter did it last night. They actually blew the lid off the place, or like George Clinton would put it, tore the roof off that sucka. Everybody in the seats was locked into the present moment.

I'm so accustomed to seeing the bands on the 2" x 1.5" tv screen of the video camera, it's like operating the camera is so automatic it's no interference. Last night I was able to anticipate when Scott would start his break on the mandolin or fiddle, or Edwin play his ad lib of the tune, or Willard singing. I was better able this time to be there with the visual when one of them started. I like to focus on whoever is taking a break, who is singing. I like to keep the camera moving, will gradually straighten my arms out nearly straight up or over to the side, focused on the same place so if Edwin is playing his banjo, the others around and behind him would slowly move in relation to him. Always looking for little things to do to keep the visual interesting. Have already found I don't like the stillness of using a tripod. Would rather hold it by hand and move it around at will, trembles and all. I like to move it back and forth, left and right, focusing so it only gets 3/4 of the band, and go back and forth from the 3 on the left to the 3 on the right, sometimes the 2 in the middle. Not trying to make "good" videos, but as unselfconsciously as possible to represent the music, flaws and all, as in life.

The band played Skeeter songs from their albums, Alternate Roots and Hubbin It. Last I looked, amazon had copies of Hubbin It. These are some high energy old-time albums. In the early 90s when they were playing, a reviewer called them "progressive old-time" and it stuck. I think Scott likes that description. They Skeeterize (jazz) old-time into a music that is their own, like Bill Monroe jazzed old-time to make his own style of music, no notion he was starting a movement. Their particular style of playing is their own, as bluegrass was Bill Monroe's own. It's a sound particular to the four of them together playing an old-time tune like Whiskey Before Breakfast. They Skeeterize it, take it the next step while keeping the integrity of the original. They play the tunes note for note, and like a fiddler playing in his own style, they lay it to it in their own style, Skeeter, as distinctive a sound of its own as Monroe's bluegrass when his was the only band playing it.
If you'd like to hear their sound, go to YouTube and write Skeeter & the Skidmarks in the Search box. Then pick whichever title you want to hear. Or google them. Google has links to the videos at YouTube.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


coming down the mountain

the peak, whitehead

fender mountain, whitehead

This morning was one of those days beautiful to behold. A wet snow of maybe an inch in the night stuck to every little twig and branch. The trees were white and black everywhere you looked. The sun came out and made it all the more beautiful. White trees against blue sky. It wasn't long after the sun came out the snow started melting and falling off the twigs, sliding off the roof. The car's hood had about 3 inches of yesterday's two inches and last night's one inch on top of it, plus rain that packed the snow almost solid on the car and froze. First I had to sweep the snow off the ice on the glass, then scrape the ice. It was on there to stay. I left a good bit of the ice on the glass for the sun to melt when it heated the inside of the car. By the time I wanted to go to town around 2, the glass was clear. I took the speed up to 60 on Thompson Flat attempting to dislodge the ice from the hood, but it held firm. I love it when all the snow on the hood rises and crashes to smithereens on the windshield. It's gone as fast as it happens and the wipers clean the glass.
I heard that Dean Fender died yesterday. Hwy 88 in Ashe County, maybe headed toward Jefferson, possibly ice on the road in shaded curves the road graders didn't get, a tractor-trailer hit him head on. Killed him instantly. Heard it took 5 hours to cut the body out of the wreckage. Bad to think about, but a good, quick way to go. No lingering for years with cancer or strapped down in a nursing home begging God to take you. I didn't know Dean but to raise the forefinger from the steering wheel in passing. He was friend to several of my friends. He's had some hard times along his way. He and Jr thought a lot of each other. Everybody I knew of that knew Dean thought a lot of him. He may not have won many piety awards, but when you needed somebody you could count on, Dean would be the one to go to. I mean really count on, like to the detail. He drove an old Chevy pickup for years and years that didn't look so hot, but he kept it running good all the time. He was one of the Whitehead men like Jr was and Welter Hamm still is, who did everything he turned his hand to well, had a good mind and treated everybody right.
Drove to town to take a box to UPS counter at drug store, a good excuse to get into town to go to Selma's for a mocha. Already had morning coffee. I figured a good espresso in milk, chocolate milk with coffee flavor, wouldn't be so rough on the stomach as straight coffee. Selma makes a good mocha. I used to laugh at paying attention to varieties of coffees and things like mochas and lattes. Being in there becomes an education seeing other people order things I'd never heard of and see what they are. Talked with Joe at length. We talked of Tolstoy, his life, his writing. There I sat in Sparta talking with somebody about books, about reading. It was as foreign an experience as the time a woman said to me at Deborah Sherrill's apple cider party last summer, "What are you reading?" It comes by remarkable surprise. For so many years I longed to have somebody to talk about reading experiences with. Had a friend who read, but he played one-upmanship all the time and wasn't any fun to talk with. I reached a place where I didn't care anymore and now it happens. A saying comes to mind, you get what you want after you stop wanting it.
It was fun talking with Joe about good writing. He was an English major at I think he said, Marshall College, Huntington, West Virginia. Fundamentalist childhood. It turns out when we fall into conversation, it's interesting. Being of the mountains, he's not one to run his mouth, or like they say of a dog, bark to hear his head roar. Easy to talk with because he's not talking to fill the void of silence. Like somebody of these mountains, he's comfortable with the silence. One of the regulars at Selma's I'm getting to know as new people in my life. This the beginning of a new 7-year cycle that started last year. Gradually seeing the cycle's nature. I believe this one has to do with some of these people at Selma's and the Front Porch Gallery people on Friday nights. Last cycle was involved in distributing mountain music via store and radio show. This cycle appears to have to do with making videos of the music, writing about the music, painting musicians and writing this blog every day. Not certain I'll make it through the cycle, but that doesn't matter. Maybe this is the last 7 year cycle. It will be fun to observe it as such.
Seeing in the later years that my life has come to find its meaning in the distribution of mountain music, getting it into people's music collections, people who wanted it and couldn't find it, playing it on the radio to the people who wanted to hear it, now videos on YouTube. It feels good to see I've dedicated myself to something worth pursuing. I've never made a penny at it. Have done all of it at my own expense. The store was nothing but a major expense, but I regarded it buying the opportunity to make this music available to the people that want it. I bought my own cds. I didn't care about the money. The radio station didn't pay anything. I didn't want anything. I'm of the belief that an awful lot of people around us are tremendously talented in a lot of ways. My psychological makeup believes money takes something real and makes it into something unreal. Don't know where that came from, but it's been with me all along. Never could find a way to be comfortable dealing with money. Possibly all the years of preaching that penetrated my skull, whether I listened or not, had something to do with it. Not complaining. I don't like to think about money, have seen it do too many really weird things to people who value it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


caterpillar watching snowbirds

catfish in the snow

Wet snow in abundance, a couple inches. It snows a bit, then quits, starts again and quits. Sometimes the flakes are huge wet flakes and other times they're tiny flakes. It started last night about dark; rain, sleet, snow, all at the same time. It was an icy rain with big snowflakes in it. The state road scraper has been by, turning up big rolls alongside the road. They look like the kind I may have to dig my way out of, but believe I could plow through it if the snow ends soon. The forecast I saw said 1.6 inches. It looks like about 2 inches, telling me it must be over. That's enough.

Heard on the radio Obama "broke the back of the Great Recession." That's another hope-so. The humor is that I feel like it's momentous news--it puts a smile on my face--and at once have no idea what it means. Of course, the whole sentence is metaphor and abstraction. Somebody is explaining it on the radio news, but I can't make heads or tails of what he's saying. "Prioritizing," "in the context of the freeze," "a 30% reduction across the board," "he doesn't appear to be ready to take the first step at this point." Read these 4 quotes as one sentence and think about stretching it to 5 minutes of talk, then you get the sense I got out of listening. Now they're telling about a memory enhancing drug with a side effect of increasing the growth of cancer cells. Might help Alzheimer's. Big deal. Get your memory back just in time to suffer slow death by cancer. Gosh, thanks. Turned it off. At least Pakistan hasn't nuked India (yet).

Snowbirds are hopping about on the snow the other side of the windows. This kind of snow buries their food sources for a few days, so I threw some seed on the snow. They hop and peck. A titmouse, a sparrow, a wren and a red cardinal hop around too. I've never seen a second of any of these. Plenty of snowbirds. "Spread your little wings and fly away, and take the snow back with you where it came from on that day." That day? That day it snowed, or that day she lost control of her car on ice and slid into a parked Cadillac tearing both cars all to hell? That day. Of all the people I've heard sing that song, none come near Ann Murray. I'd guess Jeff Michael could bluegrass Snowbird and make it sound good, like he did Bill Monroe's and George Jones's Old, Old House.

The sun has come out, the snowbirds have increased in number until the snow has twenty or so dark gray birds hopping around on the field of white. They all hop alike, each one in its own direction at its own rate, keeping bird-on-a-wire distance between each other. One flies into the air to travel a foot. If one gets too close, the other gets ready to peck. I'd say they all have very cold feet. When it's this many snowbirds, the other birds stay away. Possibly the snowbirds hop around so fast and so unpredictably the other birds get nervous from fear one might hop too close. Also, snowbirds are braver when it is a whole flock of them than when it's just a few, like gangs. Maybe they keep the other birds run off. Caterpillar on her cushion is loving the show. She says they taste like chicken.

The sky has turned gray, the pink clouds after sunset are gone. Wind is picking up, blowing snow out of the trees. The wind chime is tinging one note over and over. Only a few snowbirds on the snow. They will soon be going to join their flock wherever they roost. I can see rhododendron being a good roosting place for snowbirds, but have no idea where they roost. They'll have their feathers fluffed for the best insulation tonight. These birds will at least have full bellies through the night to help keep them warm. The last bird just now flew away. Time to turn on some lights.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


accidental picture of the ceiling at front porch gallery

The cold this winter has become an issue. I'm tired of it in the extreme. I feel like the earth has shifted and now I'm in Siberia. The heat goes all the time and indoors I dress like for outdoors because the house is not tight and the cold never lets up. I have a long sleeved tshirt on, a sweater over that and an insulated shirt over that, buttoned all the way to the top. One pair of sweat pants when I need 2. With 2 I'm comfortable, but not with one. The floor is where the cold comes from. It is whatever the temperature is outside, 23 at this moment. At head level it is 71. From head to feet, the entire range of temperature runs up my body. Don't need a hat. I'm so tired of dressing indoors like it's outdoors I could go back to bed where I wear a sweater on top of "sweats" now to sleep in. The problem is, this relentless cold has become boring. 3 months of steady cold is old. Looks like 3 more to go. Aint fit fer man ner beast.

The title of a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti stays in my mind, Moscow In The Winter, Segovia In The Snow. I remember nothing about the poem, it being at least 40 years since reading it, but the title has stayed with me as a beautifully memorable title. I doubt I understood the content of the poem back then, so you can say it's the same as unread. Only the title remains. Coney Island Of The Mind, another good title by Ferlinghetti, will perhaps always be a classic of his generation. There again, I remember nothing but the title. Makes me want to go dig it out of a box and look at it again. Ferlinghetti is a poet I never think about much, but when reading him, it's always fresh. That's a good word for him. His poems have a freshness about them every time I see one. Maybe it's like they have air in them that can be breathed, something like Monet's paintings in that way.

Usually, I don't get this fed up with winter until late February, but this winter started a month early. Saw a statistic the other day that the sciences at universities are full of democrats. Republicans en masse don't believe in science any more. Science is too liberal. The science community doesn't deny evolution, no matter how much Rush Limbaugh talks against it. We can foresee that when police state has absolute authority, about the time the boys come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, non-creationist science will be outlawed. All I can say is LOL. The people that work for a living are being bled to death by the people that make millions a year playing golf. The Repubs are polishing Sarah Palin up for the next presidential run, proving the truth in the song by Jane's Addiction, Idiots Rule. No more needs saying. Look at the roll call in congress. Our "representatives." Virginia Foxx represents nobody I know, only money. When Mammon rules, what's false is true and vice versa.

I ask myself often how much longer a world built on lies, based in lies, and characterized only by lies can last. It keeps on going on. It's been this way since Greek and Roman times and way before that. The worship of a false god creates a life of falseness where truth is false. How many people can read the Tao Te Ching after graduating from college and make any sense of it? It goes against everything we've been taught, as does the spiritual life lived in any religion or outside religion. Las Vegas has become America's holy city, the glitzy shrine to money Americans from all over make pilgrimages to for the chance of being blessed by the god of money. That's a very different kind of holy city from Mecca. The muslims don't call us the Great Satan only because it makes a good sound bite.

The answer I get to how much longer can it last is: indefinitely. It's been going on all along, from before we started chucking spears. It's in our grain. It's natural to us as flopping your ears is to a dog. This is why God has to take human form from time to time, each time the first and only, to get us back on track. It's like He is schooling us along collectively as He does individually. It's like a mother dog that teaches her puppies to stay out of the road by turning them away from the road with her nose. From talking with my friends who are lovers of God, I see we are cared for divinely in such ways as getting steered away from a disaster before it happens, looking back and saying the divine hand was with me. I believe it happens to us collectively, too, in times when it couldn't get worse we have our saying about the darkness before the dawn. It seems to me the USA is the darkest it has ever been and keeps on getting darker. Maybe this means the dawn is just over the horizon. It has to be.


Monday, January 24, 2011


italian futurist photograph of betty vornbrock & kirk sutphin

By no design of mine, the colors in this picture represent well the movie I've just finished watching, Federico Fellini's And The Ship Sails On, 1984. It's a ship of fools theme, a ship in the Mediterranean on its way to a small island where the world's most renowned opera singer was from. The island looked like only insects and birds could be born there, but this is Fellini, whose films are of dream reality. A cast of opera singers, a monarch, a pianist, a composer, various odd society people of Rome 1915 at the beginning of WWI. The outfits were late 19th century, the state of mind like wealth of any time, this a time of grandness, a look into another time that is not only foreign in language, but conception in the way the people thought then so different from how we think now.

This was Italy where opera singers were their rock stars. They were taking the ashes of this great opera singer who died to spread on the water around the island where she was born. It was a 3 day one-way trip. Enough time for liaisons to begin and people to get tired of each other, stuck together on a fancy raft at sea. All was splendor and magnificence. The opera singers among the passengers let go a caterwaul from time to time, never a complete aria. As in a Fellini film, they were a bunch of truly off the wall kinds of people. A journalist takes us around to each one for a brief introduction to who this character is. All Fellini's characters have a creepy edge, even the beauties, and a humor in the creepiness. I see the circus dance of the film's characters at the end of his film 8 1/2 where he parades the strangest faces he could find in Rome.

In this film, when the people don't look strange at first and we later get to know them better, they're really strange. Two old boys in their 80s with long white hair looking like composers, wearing black, appeared from time to time with a nun wearing white. Once, they were found in the ship's kitchen playing glass armonica (rubbing a finger around the rim of a crystal glass) on champagne glasses, so rhythmically they had everybody in the kitchen swaying to the music. A pianist played the beginning notes of Claire de Lune every now and again in the background, sometimes the foreground, a tall thin man in black with long white hair and wind blowing in it all the time. Fellini, whose early films portrayed post WW2 Roman decadence, does pre WW1 decadence in this one.

The colors in the above picture go with the colors in the Fellini film. I hadn't seen a Fellini film in so many years it's a long time. The ones I like to see several times are La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2. La Dolce Vita was the first art film I saw. Age maybe 21. It was incredible. I didn't understand anything about it. It was scenes going by and I couldn't find connections between them, just watched it as something amazing. It was playing at the auditorium of Wichita State U one night, 1963 maybe. It was rumored to be the coolest film ever made. This was in the time of existentialists and beatniks, jazz and the beginnings of the Brit invasion, Dave Clark Five, Spencer Davis Group coming in to save rock & roll that was just about down and out defeated by the adults, Dick Clark wearing the gloves.

La Dolce Vita was in black & white when color was new and necessary for box office success, extreme black & white. Like the rest of Fellini's films, it was put together like a dream that shares our outer reality with our inner reality, mixing them up so they become the same reality. Marcelo Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale and Anouk Aimee, who later made her name in A Man And A Woman with Jean-Louis Trintignant. La Dolce Vita is the story of a womanizing director in Rome, his issues with his wife and mistresses, how the headache eventually takes all the fun out of it for him and he needs to get away. Of course, I didn't get that until about the 3rd or 4th time I saw it. When I see something like that I can't make heads nor tails of, I'm drawn to it like a magnet to a refrigerator. I have to study it until I find what it's saying, like Jean Anouilh's play, Dear Antoine, which I came away from more confused the second time than the first time. To this day, it's one of my favorites ever.

Fellini's films are from the right brain. Like at the end of And The Ship Sails On, he withdrew the focus from the right brain and brought in the left brain, the construction mind. The beginning was b&w photographs of Roman people in the pre WW1 time, first still photographs, then moving b&w films of street life in Rome, odd looking people popping up from time to time, telling me he filmed it to make it look like b&w filmed back then. He gradually moved our attention from a light sepia film that becomes a ballroom decorated in sepia colors, changing to color like a slow focus of the camera and we're in the story when the first people appear. Fellini playing with the mind is not just intellectual mind, but the whole mind, the outer and inner, the social and private, the confusion of traditions breaking down from one generation to the next, people unable to get out of their own heads enough to communicate with each other.

Fellini's films stretched my mind, showed me a whole new way of seeing in my early 20s. I felt like his vision pulled my comprehension to a new level, which I needed. His films have a visual flow to them that carries the viewer from scene to scene, not caring that sometimes it doesn't make any sense, glad for those moments, like, really, every moment in the film, watching it as one would listen to an orchestra, not requiring it to have meaning. Like a dream adrift on its own. Perhaps my favorite moment was the end when the camera withdrew from the scene and showed the set and the crew working on making the film. Walked right out of a mental fantasy into the construction of props, the scaffolding, eliminating any sense of what we call reality having to do with what I'd just seen. Waking up, the end of one kind of fantasy and beginning of another.


Sunday, January 23, 2011


the goat rock, whitehead

In the last few years several people have suggested in conversation that I know about mountain culture, these being people from Away, and they're wanting to know something about the culture, especially if they'll be "accepted," having a house in a subdivision that was once somebody's grandpa's farm. First thing I have to say every time is I don't know but a very little. The only way you can know the culture is to be born into it, and then you don't know it for a culture--it's just life. Curiously, a culture never becomes interesting to the people living it until the culture is dead, as mountain culture is now. It's something to study as a culture that once was. Traces of it continue, like the music, which I think of as the spirit of the culture. I never know what to say when somebody wants to talk about the subject.

In our time of talking instead of listening, most often when I start, the one with the question starts talking and never stops. I've learned by now not to worry about it. It's just America where everybody thinks they're on a tv talk show. One thing we've learned in television culture is never let there be a moment of "dead air," or in pre-broadcast language, silence. Thelonious Monk called silence the loudest noise there is. In America these days it's certainly the most frightening noise there is. We're so accustomed for so many generations now to the white noise of tv and/or radio that silence has very little place in our lives. Just like on tv, it doesn't matter what you say. All that matters is keeping the void of silence away. Come again another day.

This is how I am told that the person who asked the question isn't really interested. I say ridiculous things, like get acquainted with your next door neighbor. But the people next door are working class and the one interested in mountain culture is from the middle class. Can't rub elbows down the ladder. That's not in the equation. When it comes to getting to know working class people, television is so much better. Their sense of humor is antiquated, test-taking in school is not their measure of intelligence, so they're not educated, equals illiterate, equals look down on. Many customs of the middle class are designed to separate them from the working class, by saying something is hick or what my mother called country in my instruction not to talk like my grandmother, aint and them for those, like that. So the language is different, such that those trained not to talk like a hick are put off hearing hicks talk. It sounds dumb, uneducated, because we're trained to hear it that way, not because it is.

I'm not pointing fingers, just saying this is a bridge that has to be crossed by someone truly interested in mountain culture. Most that come here are not. Among them, a few think they are until it gets down to having cornbread and pinto beans at the Circle L or listening to an old-timey fiddle squawk and a Beverly Hillbillies banjo. Among the ones that come here interested in mountain culture, they settle right in, get to know the people around them, learn to get by the best you can, the mountain way, and come to respect the people they know. This respect inevitably surfaces when you learn that the way we think of intelligence, coming from a society where education is qualifications, doesn't apply. In the mountains, your character is more important than your knowledge. That's new to somebody coming from an urban setting.

After some years of explaining, I learned to keep my answers brief as possible, because the questioner is just filling in the silence and not really interested in an answer. If I could put it in a 20 minute tv show with 10 minutes of commercials would be ideal; or even better, a half hour infomercial for real estate. I tend always to want to answer the question as honestly as I'm able, to perhaps be a bit of help to someone who might be interested a little bit. I've found that all I can really say that answers everything is treat everyone you meet with basic human respect. If I'm not interrupted before the end of the sentence, I might add, though this is getting a little wordy: the people of these mountains treat each other with respect. It's part of the culture. You learn as a little kid. It's among the first things the kids learn. When somebody who has only known being treated with respect, and I don't mean being looked up to, the least little trace of disrespect, even in attitude, stands out and will go unforgotten. It stands out so much it becomes an offence.

To sum it up in as close to a simple sentence as I'm able, I have to say treat everyone you meet with respect and be yourself. Even if the people around you don't agree with you, if you're yourself, you'll be respected for that. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases that's too much to ask. When somebody asks, I don't know who means it and who doesn't, so I attempt to treat the question as if it's meant until the questioner shows me it's not, which usually happens by the end of my second sentence. Treat everyone you meet with basic human respect, in a moderately compound sentence, is about all I have to say any more. It's all in that nutshell.


Saturday, January 22, 2011


air bellows gap air current

Pink and gray 1955 Ford convertible. In that year of pink and gray cars and blond furniture, friends of my parents, Jack and DeLouris, had both. I thought they were so cool. Rock & roll was kicking off with Bill Haley & the Comets, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. Delouris liked the new music too. I was in the 7th grade when Elvis's first movie came out, then Elvis Presley--his last name hadn't been dropped yet, Love Me Tender, I think it was called. Love me tender, love me sweet, love me like you love your feet, take the dirt between your toes and rub it on your big fat nose. My sister was 5 years younger in the 2nd grade when this verse went around that she brought home. Generations later, a girl who now is mid twenties and then was a child thought it amusing to sing, pretty woman walking down the street, pretty woman I can smell your feet.

In both cases I'm amused remembering that time in myself how funny feet were. My sister and I would say to each other, smell my feet, stinkin feet. As an adult I can't find anything humorous about feet in such a way. Our daddy had stinking feet. I think it was because he wore his shoes two sizes too small. In every generation of children's humor, feet are one of the really funny subjects. In this time of showers and easy water, there probably isn't much stinking feet going around. I expect in the old days, grandpa who worked the farm and only took a bath once a week had some pretty rich feet. We're more particular about our scents in this time. One of the delights about DeLouris for a kid was she got a kick out of knowing kids. She'd laugh at kid jokes, listen to what's important that a kid had to say, and Jack was the same. I wanted them to be my real parents, though I'm not sure that would have worked.

Pink and gray together always bring Jack & DeLouris to mind for their 1955 classic car that was classic when it was new. And they had one. In the 7th grade starting to pay attention to cars and style and music and keeping up with what's cool, I couldn't go see Elvis Presley's movie, Love Me Tender, because I needed parents for transportation and they weren't going to a ridiculous movie with Elvis the Pelvis in it. "He won't last." They were put out that rock&roll was squeezing out Sinatra, big band, Andrews Sisters, and the kid was listening to that screaming Little Richard. They could take most of it, even hip-shakin Elvis, but drew the line at Little Richard. I could only play him when they were not in the house.

The other kids in 7th grade were seeing the new Elvis Presley movie and talking about it in school, how it made the girls cry, how great it was. I was aching to see it, because I thought he was great--Heartbreak Hotel, Love Me Tender, two of the coolest songs I'd ever heard at age 13. Jack and DeLouris took me to see it. DeLouris and I cried when Elvis was shot and died at the end. Oh no. Dead Elvis. I don't even want to think about seeing it now, but then, it was art to a kid just discovering pop culture. Also discovered at the same time MAD Magazine, which started as a comic book until the comic-code was initiated to get rid of it. It went to magazine and is still funny as it was then. DeLouris thought it was funny too. Jack and DeLouris were my friends until they both died, Jack of cancer, and DeLouris of old age.

They were very important people of my childhood. Very important. They were adults that paid attention to a kid who was only waist high, easy to overlook. I wondered why it was that more adults didn't pay attention to kids like kids really are conscious people. In my adult life, Jack & DeLouris are an ongoing example of how important it is to pay attention to a kid. I don't always do it. In fact, I'm like the majority when it comes to not paying attention to kids. Now and then, however, I get to know a kid from knowing the parents. When I know a kid like that, I extend myself to them, let them see I'm open to pay attention to their interests. That's when I start seeing their intelligence. Some years ago when my friends were having babies, I'd sit on the floor and roll a ball back and forth, ask them about their toys. That's all it took. They run off and return with an armload of toys, spread them on the floor and tell me the story of every one. I've regarded those moments among the most precious of my life that I'd have missed by only looking over the top of a kid's head, probably would have missed had I not known Jack & DeLouris.

DeLouris and my mother were friends in high school, Shawnee Mission in Kansas City, Kansas. DeLouris's mother, who had her own apartment in the other half of the house, was from Charlotte NC and cousin to Billy Graham. My mother loved it. DeLouris hated it. My mother became what we call a church nut and DeLouris couldn't humor the extreme my mother became, and my mother couldn't go on being friends with an unrepentant sinner who drank beer. They eventually fell out and Jack & DeLouris fell away from my life. Many years later I got back in touch with them and visited a few times. We drifted apart, but continued to have our places in each other's hearts. That will always remain. Kids I've been friends with are grown up now and continue as valued friends. It's a wonderful thing, watching kids you care about grow up and go through all they have to go through in their teens and twenties; marriage, babies, debt. Now I'm knowing their kids. I remember Selma Diamond on the Tonight Show, the only time I'd ever seen her or heard of her, talking about baby-sitting and how much she loved it. Carson expressed dismay. She said, "Children are just little people." That's as precise a definition as I can think of.


Friday, January 21, 2011


billy cornette

kirk sutphin

betty vornbrock
Another excellent concert at the Front Porch Gallery in Woodlawn. The Reed Island Rounders, a Hillsville old-time band, entertained a capacity crowd tonight. The place was full as it could get. The band's banjo picker, Diane Jones, couldn't make it due to some fairly serious surgery she came through all right, but needs rest. Kirk Sutphin filled her place with the banjo, and sometimes he played twin fiddles with Betty Vornbrock, the band's fiddler. Both are among the region's better fiddlers of their generation. Vornbrock tends toward Kentucky and West Virginia fiddle music, especially attached to JP Frahley of Eastern Kentucky, who they said is pretty far gone in old age dementia, but continues to live and respond to fiddle music.
I like the sound of eastern Kentucky and Betty Vornbrock makes good use of both the Kentucky and West Virginia styles of playing old-time music. Plus, she's actively involved in SW Virginia music too. She played several Frahley fiddle tunes through the evening. She has a flowing, subtle style with her fiddle. She's more inclined to play a tune of easy flowing rhythms than the all-out fiddlers convention stomp. Kirk Sutphin played clawhammer banjo most of the time. His hands didn't look like they were doing much, but the notes that came out of the banjo sounded like his hands were all over it.
I was thinking while watching Kirk Sutphin playing banjo and fiddle equally well, that he's the new Kyle Creed. Sutphin is very much a NW North Carolina musician, like Creed. He doesn't play like Creed, as he plays his own style, yet he has Creed's dimension, whatever that means. It sounds right. I think somebody who knows Sutphin's music and Creed's would understand the meaning. Kirk Sutphin has made quite a lot of recordings over the last several years, some of his own and some with other bands. One I especially like was one he recorded with Kevin Fore of Round Peak style pickin. Awfully good album. He's played on some of the tunes on Hungry Hash House Ramblers albums. It's too long a list, this is just the flavor of his music. I've played a lot of his music on the radio show and paid close attention to it along the way. For me, Kirk Sutphin showing up with the Reed Island Rounders was a special treat. He's one of the musicians of our region I have a great deal of respect for. Eddie Bond comes to mind as another musician I pay close attention to, who is also a great old-time and bluegrass fiddler and a really good singer.
I'd heard the Reed Island Rounders at the Rex Theater on WBRF, have heard Lynn Worth sing the praises of Betty Vornbrock's fiddle, and I've heard a few tunes on WBRF. I'd heard enough to know they're a very respectable old-time band. I was delighted when Willard said they'd be playing. Billy Cornette, who plays guitar, kept a good rhythm going throughout. His rhythm playing is pick a bass string and strum the lower strings. He keeps it moving so Betty can float all around on her fiddle and not have to concern herself with the rhythm, which he has under control. He's a good singer too. He sang maybe 3 songs, every one of them very well delivered. He's not a fancy singer, nor does he just talk sing. It's singing mountain style, plain.
Tomorrow I'll go through the videos and pick the better ones to put on YouTube. I look forward to that part. I hear every tune an average of 3 times and they will bring the concert back to enjoy again every time I hear them. Listening to the music tonight I was thinking about how much fun it will be tomorrow hearing these tunes 2, 3 and 4 times. Then they'll be available for others to enjoy their music at home, live, in person. I like the opportunity to make this awesome music from right here available around the world to anyone who might discover the videos by chance. And for the ones that know their music too. For anyone. I'll be uploading tomorrow and Sunday so you can hear them if you want. They are definitely worth a listen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


still standing

Our place in evolving civilization, that is not only changing all within civilization, but pulling all that was outside civilization into the fold, is taking us into uncharted waters like Columbus crossing the Atlantic every day. Whether or not there was anything to it, we believed we might have been moving in one direction and then the tech boom comes and changes all that went before, which was in change already. The 20th century's love affair with the New created a culture of the new that looks from today's perspective old. The 20th century was the cutting edge century like the prow of a ship breaking the water, charging ahead into the unknown every moment of every day. The momentum is still with us, though it appears to have taken a quantum leap in change, taking us since the computer into ways children can easily master, adults have a difficult time with, and old people don't even know it exists. Old people think of twitter as something a bird might do.

We're engaged in a level of changes now that seem to be incomprehensible to anyone not directly associated with whatever it is that's new. Keeping up is our way of life. In England one might scold another for not conforming, while here, one might be scolded for not keeping up. You're going to fall behind, lose touch, and the worst possible American nightmare, be an outsider. We keep up with the new, the new music, the new tv shows, the new writers. Pop culture is about what's new, keeping what's new in our faces, advertising all the time. Where the country landscape is trees, the mental landscape is advertising.

I find people expecting me to know about this cold remedy and that, all kinds of other things I could only know about watching commercials. A friend who was a psychotherapist once told me I know all about drugs. Her conclusion was drawn from my generation being a drug generation. I didn't bother to tell her, because I was a bit put off being taken for a clone of my generation, whatever that would be, that I don't know anything about drugs. People talk zanexes, quaaludes and other nonsense syllables, and I have no idea what they're talking about and don't care to. I'm not interested in having a dictionary of drugs in my head. I'd rather know the names of all the Zurich Dadaists.

Naomi Wolf's documentary film THE END OF AMERICA stays with me. She outlined the blueprint for closing down an open society. She takes for granted we understand 911 was an inside job. She gave ten criteria used by Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and the American triumvirate, Rummy, Cheney and Bush. The blueprint in 10 easy to understand qualifications tell it in plain English we're in police state and there's no going back until the American Empire goes all the way, way too far, like in Germany, and the whole world comes down on USA and shuts us down like the Yankees did the Confederacy after the Civil War.

1. Invoke an internal and external threat.

2. Secret prisons where torture takes place.

3. Develop a paramilitary force.

4. Surveil ordinary citizens.

5. Infiltrate citizens groups.

6. Detain and release citizens.

7. Target key individuals.

8. Restrict the press.

9. Recast criticism as espionage
and dissent as treason.

10. Subvert the rule of law.

All of this came about while the citizens of what might have once been a democracy were mesmerized by explosions on tv. While American people slept in willful ignorance, the corporations took our government after more than half a century of lobbying, buying the laws to their favor, against ours. That's done now. We have a corporatocracy. The new from here on will be adjusting to the new social spectrum being set up, the ruling class and the peasantry. About the time we start accepting Malaysian sweat-shop wages, we'll get our jobs back. My disappointment with Obama is that he has done nothing to undo any of the above, has only enforced the legislations of the dark cabal. His disguise as the opposition to police state is wearing thin. I'm thinking now he never promised that, only launched a public relations scam of seeming.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011



This is Selma in her world, the Backwoods Bean Coffee Shop across from the courthouse in Sparta. Any time I go in there, whatever day, whatever time of day, it's like taking a part in a play on a stage, the scene a coffee shop in a small mountain town where lively conversation runs between whoever is in there. Selma is the audience. She said today that every day is uniquely itself, different combinations of people, different conversations. It's a spontaneous show that goes on around her all day long that involves her directly. The theater of participation. The feeling in the place every time I've been in there is open, free to include anyone who walks in the door. The variety of people that frequent the place is a good cross section of different kinds of people who have as their bond an appreciation for coffee. It's a bar for coffee instead of beer.

Had to make a town run today, and an hour or so at Selma's is necessity. Going to town for any reason, I was always worn out when I returned home. Wasted. Now, with Selma's there, the place I can go to for visiting with friends and acquaintances in a comfortable place with good vibes. I drive home from town with a light-hearted spirit after some conversation with people who are friendly without gaming. I suspect a large part of it might be there is no spirit of judgment in there. It's a respectful atmosphere. The colors in there are warm like the air. It's good to have a Main St business in Sparta that is doing well. The view out the front window is the best view in town, the front of the courthouse with sunlight on it all day when it's not cloudy. It's like a big painting on the wall.

I'm tired and about to turn in. Saw a good film today by Naomi Wolf, The End of America. Very disturbing and all of it right there in our faces. She calls it our open society closing. She's not fanatical or even emphatic. She just tells a process the way it lays before our eyes. None of it is new information, but it's put together in a way that is clear, to the point, no exaggeration needed, no opinions even. Just putting it on the table like a spread of cards. The only thing disturbing about it is the truth in it. Good night.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


the barn

This small barn, top floor for keeping hay, bottom floor for keeping calves or a cow or two. It has a couple of feeding troughs. Tom Pruitt built the barn. He cut the wood, took it to John Richardson's sawmill at the foot of the hill in Whitehead and it was sawed there by Jr Maxwell, who was working the sawmill for Richardson at the time. My affection for the barn is in that it was built by two men who have told me the stories of their lives over a period of years. In telling me their lives they were also teaching me their culture. Tom's life was around farming and his Lord. I learned the history of Air Bellows from him, the stories of the lives of what he called "the old people," the people that were old and died when he was young, one and two generations before his. He could tell me back that far and no more. Jr too, could only tell his story involved in bluegrass banjo picking, bull-noser driving, sawmilling, tractor fixing, to a couple of generations back. The same with Tom's brother, Millard, whose life was involved in the Regular Baptist church among the preachers, farming, pipe factory, the Esso station in Sparta, carrying the mail.

These were the people who taught me the culture my parachute landed me in the midst of. When it comes to people I have known who lived their lives by the integrity of their own beliefs of what constitutes a life lived honestly in God's eye, these men are the ones. All three of them lived in God's sight, and all of them, I believe, were beloved in God's intimate care. Millard, the preacher, was the more pious of them, though not by a lot. Millard's piety was inside himself. He didn't act pious, though he was a man conscious of his thoughts, words and actions. Millard was a preacher I have no doubt was indeed "called" by God to preach in the Regular Baptist Church. I have seen the conviction of his belief so convincingly I believe it too. I've seen that Millard didn't settle for hocus-pocus. It had to be a great deal more convincing than something you're not quite sure if it came from God or from ego or imagination or from wanting it so much. He didn't want to be a preacher. He struggled against the call to the peril of his health, gave in and got well.

I found in an old hillbilly of the Blue Ridge Mountains a scholar who studied the Bible with serious intent all his life, talked with other preachers and men who studied serious questions in the Bible, studied deeply, such that all I could do was listen. He did not believe the earth was a round planet hurtling through space unimaginably fast, but it doesn't mean he was without knowldge. He was an incredibly intelligent man. Born in a priveleged class, he could easily have been CEO of a major corporation. He played old-time fiddle, banjo and guitar. Couldn't play them outside the house. Once he took up preaching he had to quit playing for dances. Singing, he had a singing voice from the soul of these mountains like Ralph Stanley.

Millard can be heard on an album CHILDREN OF THE HEAVENLY KING: Religious Expression in the Central Blue Ridge, recorded by the Library of Congress in the early 80s. It's a 2 cd set, and can be found at for $16 + shipping. It's worth it. It's worth 10 x that. Millard and his church have 7 tracks on it, singing Jesus Is Coming Soon, When The Redeemed Are Gathering In, How Happy Are They, Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone, a prayer and some preaching. It has other preachers and other churches singing in the different styles of the different churches in the region. It is a beautiful collection of what it calls itself, religious expression. The devotion I have to call spiritual, because it is only housed in the religious, Millard Pruitt was a monk to his Lord and Savior, his every thought, word and action in the presence of the Lord. It didn't mean he had to pretend to be something he wasn't. It meant he was all the more obliged to be himself, who he was, even when it meant alienating certain people, because he didn't bend his beliefs and opinions for no man.

Tom lived in the presence of his Lord the same as Millard did. It wasn't like God, Jesus, Savior, Lord, whatever you want to call it, was off paying attention somewhere else. Tom Pruitt lived in the actual presence of God. Tom was a liquor maker and a weekend drunk until one Monday morning when he was 36 he didn't remember anything about the weekend. He put down the liquor and gave his life to the Lord. Tom had it too. When he'd set to talking about scripture and Jesus, his talking took a rhythm like a preacher just before he's about to be overtaken by the spirit and he's off into preaching. Tom's face glowed pink when he talked like this, his pale blue eyes shone brilliant with joy or grace, whatever you'd want to call it. He'd get on a roll at the verge of taking off preaching, and he'd stop. He'd say, "I wasn't called to preach. I don't have the gift." I can see in retrospect that God landed me in Tom Pruitt's neighborhood, in the proximity of one of His monks. Tom indeed was a monk. He could sit in his rocking chair that didn't rock, spit backer in a Maxwell House instant coffee jar on the floor beside his chair, straight down the center of the opening every time, and stare at the wall in front of him all day every day and never be bored. Day after day for years. Tom quit going to church over overhearing a preacher lie about him. "He told a lie."

Jr Maxwell was every bit as devout as Millard and Tom, lived just as much in the presence of God, though in his own way. Jr thought the ten commandments sufficient guide to live by and knew too much about what preacher say and what preacher do. He didn't respect preachers, but for a few. He liked to listen to old-time preaching on the radio every once in awhile, but not often. He read church as not the way. Jr lived his life as himself, which is sufficient unto God. He was what God made him and there was no need to act any other way before God. Jr had a drink of liquor every day since he was 14. His daddy gave him his first liquor, taught him to respect it, not make it a taboo. It was his daily medicine that cured certain ills, and when he wanted to get drunk, all he had to do was have a few more drinks and pass out. One day he said to me, "I don't know if I'm going to heaven or hell." I said, "Hell wouldn't have you." He looked at me funny for a moment, questioning in his mind if I meant that the way it sounded, then he saw my meaning and a smile came to his face.


Monday, January 17, 2011


you can't hide your lion eyes

Caterpillar doesn't let me get photos of her eyes very freely. When the camera goes up, Caterpillar's eyes go down and away. She knows it is pointing at her, that she's the subject, but she doesn't understand what it's about. Makes her self-conscious. Makes her look away because in absence of understanding what I'm doing, she feels some fear. She knows as well as she knows anything that she needn't be afraid of me, except when she's in my way as I walk through the house in the dark. After kicking her a couple times I've taken to carrying a flashlight. Don't see any point in turning on lights, but do need to know if Caterpillar is near my feet. She has learned to stay away from them, but not altogether.

My first dog here in the mountains, Sadie, came to me when she was 3. We bonded right away and our minds even worked together. Sadie would not have been my choice of a name for her, but it was already her name and I didn't want to change it. It could have been better if I'd had more experience before her, but she was the one taught me that we communicate by telepathy. It took her a long time to teach me that she understood me. I gradually came to understand that when I talked to her, she knew what I was saying, even when it was in words she'd never heard before. Sadie was my dog. She was meant for me. I didn't have to train her in anything except not killing chickens, and that was only once. She heard an awful lot of classical music in her time living here. I'm like in the song about Mr Bo Jangles, "his dog up and died--after 20 years he still grieves." It's been 25 years since Sadie left the body and I continue to feel deep loss when she comes to mind. The last photograph taken of her is framed and has its place on the wall.

Sadie was apprehensive of the camera at first. There came a time she got it. From then on, she posed for me. I'd point the camera, she'd hold the pose until I expressed satisfaction I'd got the picture. When I first started noticing she was posing, I told myself I'm just projecting it, wanting to think she's getting it. She's a dog. How could she get it about cameras and photographs? She got it, and wasn't long in the getting. It became something I took for granted after awhile; it was what we did. It pleased her for me to get her photograph. It affirmed for her what I told her about herself, that she was a beautiful dog. I never had any problem with my dog uncertain whether it's a dog or a human. I kept Sadie understanding that a dog is a wonderful thing to be--no shame in being a dog. She was never just a dog for me.

I learned from knowing Sadie that the only mental difference between us was the forebrain, which I had and she didn't, to her good fortune. The forebrain is why we need to get saved to go to heaven and dogs don't. They don't have a tongue for making a wide variety of sounds, so they never developed language beyond a long list of body-language, eye-contact, squeals, barks and a variety of sounds with particular meanings. Different barks have different meanings. The part of the self we call the unconscious, which is misnamed, it being the wide-awake part of the mind that misses nothing, is where I was able to see where the dog's mind was. They don't have the confusion of language that makes up the so-called conscious mind, the forebrain, meaning to me the dog's mind was a great deal more clear than mine. It showed when we were out walking. She heard and saw everything. I was off in my head missing everything.

I had the same kind of relationship with Aster, one of being able to talk to her and she knew what I was saying. In both relationships, I was the one slow and dense of mind. My relationship with TarBaby the cat was the same. I could talk to him and he knew what I was saying. Tapo was that way too. Caterpillar took the back seat in my relationships with the 3 cats. She never liked other cats and slept away from them, stayed away from them the best she could. Being the biggest and a fighter that went all out from the start she entertained herself pouncing on them and intimidating them. I gave her as much attention as she wanted every day, but we never communicated like I did with TarBaby. Now that TarBaby and Tapo are gone, Caterpillar and I are learning each other, drawing closer until by now our relationship is almost as close as with TarBaby. It might be there and I'm the one that doesn't get it. Sometimes I see Caterpillar frustrated with me for not getting her meaning. But I get her meaning more and more. We're still learning each other.

TarBaby and Tapo were Caterpillar's womb mates, grew up together, were together all their lives. TarBaby and Tapo got along well, but Caterpillar didn't get along with either one. By the time they individuated, Caterpillar would rather I'd have given them away. Now that she's the last cat, our last couple months have been adjusting to her being the only one. She missed them and was glad to be rid of them. Cats tend to be solitary, and Caterpillar has a full dose of it. I don't like to let her outside without watching her, because of dogs and coyotes. Since I don't have a dog to keep dogs and coyotes away, I keep her in the house. And she wants to stay in the house. She would rather watch birds through the window now than stalk them. She doesn't stalk mice any more, either. She stays indoors and we stay consciously in touch. We are each other's other house mate. Both of us used to live as all 4 of us, now it's just the 2 of us. We're both gradually catching on that it's just us. We're learning how to live as just us. She's now understanding my meaning when I talk to her in sentences.


Sunday, January 16, 2011


on the road to woodlawn

Waking up this Sunday morning I was hearing Willard Gayheart singing his song Sweet Virginia, not the Rolling Stones words, but an old one Willard found, a love song to the state by someone whose home was in Virginia, but had been away, longing for, missing sweet Virginia. It has an ambiguity about it, too, so it could be a woman named Virginia, like "sweet Virginia, you know I'm gonna win ya." You might say it's both. That runs the risk of dropping off into way too corny, but the balance is just right in the song. The original Yellow Rose of Texas, which Willard also sings, has no ambiguity about it. It's not about Texas. It's a woman named Rose who lives in Texas. After Sweet Virginia played out in my head, Willard singing Take Me Back To Tulsa began in my head. "Suzy she's a doozie." Willard and Scott play western swing well together, make it a natural sound instead of pointing at it saying: western swing.

I came here to the computer and went to YouTube to hear Willard sing these songs. Before turning in last night I found the cd of Willard and Bobby Patterson with Sweet Virginia on it. It was recorded before it came to Willard to play it with a western swing rhythm, or Bob Wills. I wasn't expecting it and it sounded odd. I remembered loving it when I heard it on the cd a year or so ago, and now, after having Willard's Bob Wills rhythm going in my head from hearing him play it at the Front Porch and replaying the videos on YouTube, his original way of playing it sounds like nothing after hearing the way he plays it now. I turned it off in the middle of the song, because it wasn't what I put it on to hear. And this morning after I'd played those two songs by Willard, I had to hear him sing Catfish John again. It's a great song and I've never heard it done better, not even by Allison Krauss.

I remember the first time I heard Willard sing Catfish John at an Alternate Roots concert, his band at the time, in Jefferson maybe 7 years ago. Willard had recorded the song with his band The Highlanders some years before, which I didn't know at the time. While the band was playing Catfish John I was hoping it would be on their next album, which, alas, never happened. I was able to record him singing the song when the Highlanders played at the Front Porch and Catfish John was one of their songs.

Mama said, Don't go near that river,

Don't you be hangin around old Catfish John.

Come the morning I'd always be there,

Walkin in his footsteps in the sweet delta dawn.

Catfish John was an old black man, a freed slave, living in a shack by the river. The song is the songwriter's memory as presumably a boy who looked up to old Catfish John, appreciated who he was when nobody else did.

It brings to mind 2 beautiful reads from the past, The Last Algonquin and The Education of Little Tree. Last Algonquin was written by a man from Long Island who knew when he was a child an old Indian who lived nearby in most humble circumstances. He was the last living member of his tribe, the Algonquins. The boy spent a lot of time with him, as much as he could, and learned his story, which he told in the book later. The Education of Little Tree is written as by the man who was once the boy who lived the story as it's told. I believe the man who wrote it was the Governor of Arkansas, so it doesn't quite compute that he grew up a Cherokee kid in the Smoky Mountains sent off to Indian school. It's an excellent job of projection, writing it as if he'd experienced it. And it's one of the most beautiful stories that can be read. They made a good film of it too, but the film is missing the emotional involvement the writing carried so nicely. Not that the film was dry of emotion, because it was full of emotion, and beautiful to look at. I don't know of anybody that's ever read it that didn't love it from the heart.

I continue to feel privileged to be able to go to the Front Porch on Friday nights to witness the music there, whoever is playing. With the kids Friday night, the enjoyment wasn't the music so much as seeing 8 kids learning mountain music from Scott, the future of mountain music. At least some of them will be ones to carry it into the next generations. They are living mountain music, the same as Scott and Willard are. Whether or not they play mountain music the rest of their lives is irrelevant. Whatever they do, mountain music will be in them as their beginning, the source. One of the boys playing, Ethan Edwards, I can see in his mid and late teens taking ribbons at fiddlers conventions, and becoming a dynamite bluegrass mandolin picker. He has a seriousness about him that says he aims to master this music. He has a look that says this music will matter to him all his life. He wore a camouflage ballcap with a Confederate flag on the bill. I see him in that hat, carrying the mandolin, and I say, "Good pickin." Future bluegrass musician of Grayson County, Virginia.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


l to r: scott freeman, ethan edwards, mark freeman

l to r: scott freeman, mark freeman, willard gayheart

Back at the Front Porch Gallery on Friday night for more music after a few weeks over Christmas and New Years of no music. Last week Scott and Willard played, but it was snowing and I was apprehensive of driving home 3 hours later in however much snow. I heard last night 4 people showed up and the show went on. I wanted to be there, because to my ear Scott and Willard make the best music made there, no matter who plays. They make an excellent duo. They've made music together at least 30 years, Scott is married to Willard's daughter. They are as close as brothers and even play songs from the past by several brother duos, like the Wilburn Brothers and Blue Sky Boys. Both are good singers and excellent musicians. I'd have to say I like Skeeter & the Skidmarks as much as Willard and Scott, and they are half of Skeeter.

Last night's entertainment was Scott, Mark and Willard opening with a couple of songs. The rest of the show was by Scott's student musicians from a boy 8 to a boy 14. There was a girl who looked to be 14, thereabouts. Each was in his/her own place along the way toward becoming a musician. The boy of 14 was mighty good. He and Scott played a mandolin duo, Scott leading him, challenging him playing some hot licks. When it was the boy's turn to cut loose, he matched Scott and had a ball doing it. You could see it felt good to both of them to be making music together. It does Scott good to see one of his students progressing so well. The girl of approx 14 played a very respectable fiddle. The 8 year old boy even made some music. Scott teaches them not just to play the notes, but to make music too.

Willard, Scott and Edwin Lacy ended the show with Willard singing a song of his own composition, The Workin. It's a good song about farmers helping each other out, a song of days gone by. Willard has a way of singing songs from other times and making them current. I especially like his rendering of Sweet Virginia, not the Rolling Stones version. I think he said it was a Gene Autrey song. Willard gives it a western swing rhythm and he sings it just right. Willard sings with what I have to call soul, similar to what I call soul in Ralph Stanley's singing. It's that soul that comes from the heart, that comes from growing up singing old hymns in old-time religion church. I'm looking forward to the time the new Skeeter & the Skidmarks cd is released. It may take months, maybe a year. Those 4 people have a sound together none of them has alone. Together, it's a single sound they all make. They'll be playing at the Front Porch in 2 weeks, the 28th of Jan. That will be a dynamite show. Next week is the Reed Island Rounders, another good old-time band from nearby.
Ralph Stanley was scheduled to play at Fairview tonight, but according to what I was told, he had a pacemaker put in and was too soon out of the hospital to make the show. It was rescheduled to Feb 5, and it turned out Stanley had another show scheduled for that night. It's looking like Ralph Stanley won't be playing at Fairview this year. I wouldn't mind if they scheduled the band for during the week. It wouldn't hurt ticket sales much, if at all. When somebody wants to see Ralph Stanley, they want to see Ralph Stanley. It's not just looking for something to do on Saturday night. It's the voice from the soul of these mountains. Like when Prince puts on an unannounced show at 2AM in New York, the place is full. With Ralph Stanley, it's a matter of see him when and where you can.
The music of Willard and Scott is every bit as satisfying to my ear as Ralph Stanley's. That special something Ralph Stanley has that makes the songs he sings extra special, Willard and Scott have in their own renderings of the songs they play. I don't think either one of them is aware of that aspect of their duo. I'd like to see them make a live album of the two of them, recorded at the Front Porch over the course of 2 or 3 shows to select from. Almost every Friday since May I've heard music of the region by various truly fine musicians, all of them I call masters without hesitation, Scott and Willard opening with 2 songs every week. Now that I've heard them so much, and every week in relation to equally fine musicians, I'd like a cd of them together as a duet, a project of tunes they pick. It would be a good record of music now in SW Virginia.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


alleghany landscape - bullhead

A book came a couple days ago I discovered at, THE SOUND OF THE DOVE: Singing In Appalachian Primitive Baptist Churches, by Beverly Patterson, director, I think, of the NC folklife center in Chapel Hill. It's the singing that draws me into a Primitive Baptist meeting. The churches Patterson studied were in Alleghany County and Grayson County. From what I've read so far, she's got it. She made an awful lot of interviews and recordings. Her book, as far as I can tell after about 25 pages, has to do with the historical origins of the singing as done in the Primitive Baptist churches. The doctrine behind the singing goes back to 17th century England and beyond to Gregorian chants. Patterson also accounts for why the Primitive Baptist way has continued to carry the singing style without changing as all the other protestant churches have changed over time.

I grew up in fundamentalist Baptist church in Kansas, meaning hard core fundamentalist, the preacher a Swede from Minnesota a few generations back, Johnson. The Scandinavians were every bit as hard core protestants, see BABETTE'S FEAST, read about van Gogh's preacher daddy. Kansas hard core fundamentalism was of the same belief system as Scandinavian and English 17th century protestant beliefs. It wasn't just something I was taught, but the preacher beat it into my head, week after week, day after day. Essentially, it was debilitating. It rendered every possibility of living a lifetime in this world defeated before it started.

The Pilgrims were hard core protestants of 16th and 17th century belief systems from the backlash called the Reformation following the Renaissance. This is the belief system at the foundation of our nation, though some of the composers of the Constitution and Declaration were what we call now Unitarians. Like them, I used education to help me crawl up out of the paralyzing morass of a belief system that has no practical application to this world we live in, anyway for me. I understand why the rejection, but we still have to live here. This is our spiritual playing field. Instead of living by an infinitely long list of DON'TS, I prefer to live by what makes the best sense to me, because it's my life. I prefer to live by Do instead of Don't. I was raised on No, Don't, and You Better Not, grew up with no idea it was possible to Do anything, because there was nothing left to Do, the flow of life sealed off with a log jam of Don'ts.

I'd love to be a member at a Primitive Baptist church, but I cannot adhere to a doctrine, whatever it is. I don't believe it's my duty to go to church. I go because I want to, and that is the only reason. I will not go because it's expected of me by anyone. I'd go more often than I do, but at a certain point of familiarity, expectations start arising and I start backing away. Like I'm not going to drive to Boone to go to the liquor store. When I want something from there, a few times a year, I'm going to the Sparta store. I believe in spending my money in the local economy, and I don't care who sees me or who they tell. Connected with a church, that's the big No-No, along with dancing and playing cards, and, of course, fornication. It makes me wonder if they've ever really thought about sin; like men beating wives and children is not a sin, but a sip of wine will send you to hell. Give me a break. So I took my break and live independently of other people's belief systems that are most often enforced the rooster in the chicken house way. I grew up in a chicken house. That was enough. I've paid my dues to the rooster syndrome. Am free of it and not going back.

This is the 21st century, and collective human consciousness has changed quite a lot since the 17th century. First, we've left the system of Patriarchy that governed the last 6,000 years, and have entered the age of Matriarchal and Patriarchal working together. We're moving into a time where women will be a part of decision making up front instead of in the bedroom. Male domination of the female is over. I can't identify myself with a patriarchal system in clear conscience, because I don't believe in it. In the American Indian way, women were a part of the tribe's decision making equal with the men. The male spirit needs the balance of the feminine spirit. The patriarchal time was characterized by war, power, killing, and tilted way out of balance. As we get more female perspective entering collective decision making processes, we might do a bit less killing and have less emphasis on power. The feminine spirit is nurturing. Everybody in the world needs nurturing after 6 millennia of men carried away in warrior mind, a long-standing tradition, a tough nut to crack.

If I could allow myself to join a church in this time of my life, it would be the Primitive Baptist. My connection with God is my own, however. I don't need to have my belief system approved by a board of roosters. It's only approved by me, because I'm the one living my decisions. I don't see God just the Father, but also the Mother. That may not be too acceptable to patriarchalists. It shuts me out of religion, which is a good thing. I'm of the protestant belief that my relationship with God is my own. It isn't available for approval by somebody not living my life. I am my own Calvin in that way. I don't want to lay down laws to my way of seeing for other people to follow, just to embrace it as my own, and live it, fine tuning it as I learn by experience along the way. If somebody else says the Lord commands me to go to church, too bad for his Lord, but mine says it's ok. I'm just living the original American belief system, following my own pursuit of happiness with the freedom of religion.

I don't call what I have religion. Everyday life is my church, my religion. It's in everyday life the Master wants me to work out my own inner logjams, in relation to other people, discovering the spirit in the other, learning by experience to value the people I live among. I can't do that and maintain adherence to a group that doesn't think I ought to know anyone from another group. A little too high school. Like some of my best friends are atheists. It's ok by me. As far as I can tell, it's a thinking man's place at the moment on a long path. Who am I to expect someone else to step off their own path and get on mine? It doesn't work well. Everyone's path is their own. Getting on a cruise ship of a few thousand and going together like that is ok by me.

Whatever anybody wants to do on their own path is what I want them to do. It just happens I'm alone on my path, the only way I can see that it's to be. This is where I temporarily am on my path. I'm engaged with my own flow to some degree and prefer to keep the flow in motion rather than anchor it down with doctrine. I tend to believe it's about seeing the spirit in others to the point where we're living in a heavenly way on earth, the garden, friendly associations with the people we live among. We don't live among just one kind of people. We live among every kind of people. We're like characters in Dickens novels all mixed up together. I think of the East Indian greeting, Namaste, the God in me greets the God in you.