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Sunday, July 31, 2011


lookout lookout lookout lookout

In the gloaming rain water is dripping from the leaves of trees after the rain and thunderstorm passed through an hour or so ago. The distant occasional rumble in the sky is gone by now. All is quiet with occasional sounds of drops hitting a small puddle of water. A few months ago, it was about this time, an hour or so after the storm passed, a bolt of lightning hit so near the house, the light and the bang almost simultaneous, it gave me goosebumps for half an hour. Total surprise. The kind of surprise that makes you jump. When lightning is popping all around, I get uncomfortable. Have had conversation with several friends this year who talk about being uncomfortable in a lightning storm. We've had so many this year, they stay in the front of the mind. I don't object to the rain that comes with them. Don't object to the lightning either, except sometimes it's a little unsettling.

At Selma's last night I had one uncomfortable moment. One of those moments of being taken for the opposite of my own meaning by somebody who didn't know me well enough to know I'm not television. It wasn't the kind of thing where I can say: What I really meant was.... Just have to let it go. Shit happens. In conversation with somebody I'd seen in Selma's a few times, but had never talked with, he mentioned about living near the Pioneer Eclipse plant. I mentioned some local people I knew that lived nearby. I said, "They're real hillbillies." And they are. He went into defending hillbillies saying his dad came from West Virginia, lived and learned in the good old days, then he walked away. He took it I was running mountain people down calling them hillbillies, I suppose. He doesn't know any to know that over the last 5 to 10 years the mountain people, anyway the ones I know, have taken to the word hillbilly with pride. You're darn right I'm a hillbilly and proud of it! Hands on hips. Possibly, it's a reaction to political correctness. The problem was created by talking as myself instead of adhering to political correctness, which, I'm seeing is a totally middle-class phenomenon. An offshoot of American denial.

Somebody I know sent an email regarding yesterday's post about the Cuban party at Selma's, making a statement with a question mark, "what's GOOD about anglos?" Like I'm prejudiced against his race. As I recall, all I said was anglos, as a rule, considering there is an exception in every city, don't dance with a sensuous flow like Cubans. Like dancing is the only facet of a human being? Maybe it is, spiritually, but he's an atheist and has no sight into the spiritual dimension. That's not what he means. I'm cornered by Dr Science like I'm making a sweeping generalization that includes every aspect of anglo-American culture and the nature of every individual when I say dancing. Like I've written a treatise making Cubans out to be a superior nationality to his own because I assess they dance better. Maybe he wants equal time for his nationality when I say something positive about somebody else's. Didn't make an A on that paper. It's evidently not politically correct to say white people dance like stick figures.

I heard Juan Williams interviewed on the Diane Rehm show a week or so ago. He was fired from NPR without recourse, because he said out loud he felt a bit of ill ease on a plane with middle eastern looking people on it. After a decade of government- and media-generated fear of Muslims, who can honestly say anything else without lying? The point is: lie. The irony was that he was a liberal being fired for political incorrectness off the air. I went to amazon during the radio show and put his new book on my wish list. The title is MUZZLED. Fox, a right wing Rupert Murdoch tabloid tv network, then hired him. At Fox he is allowed to be a liberal voice. At NPR he was not allowed his own voice, even in private. He's been writing this book of his experience and thoughts on the matter of press censorship since that time. His point is political correctness has gone off the deep end into absurd. It has become so absurd you can't even say white people dance like stick figures without being attacked for political incorrectness.

I sat back and listened the whole time Juan Williams was talking. He's an intelligent man, and I have to say I respect him more now than before. Before, I paid attention when he talked. Now, I really pay attention when he talks. He resonated with me. I saw on Yahoo news two or three days ago a couple of women were at Dollywood and one of them had on a tshirt that said, marriage is so gay. Management, in exaggerated mortification that a child might see the phrase and be corrupted for life, evidently made into a queer by reading it, and Dollywood might be sued by parents for turning their kid into a fag, asked her to put on another shirt. She got all shittin and made a fuss for the news in full self-righteousness. Like the old gal told to put on a shirt in Walmart. It wasn't for indecency, I'm sure. I get these emails periodically of pictures taken of people in Walmart, a whole lot more indecent than she was.

It was surely for her own benefit from apprehension she might be arrested for public ugliness, self-made ugly with tattoos and piercings and a body too old to be time-traveling in the mirror all the way back to teenager. It was the equivalent of me walking into Walmart in a thong and a big tattoo on my back that said, Abercrombie, with a red dragon breathing fire. I think of it as plain decency not wanting to cause everybody around me to recoil in horror from what I look like naked, which nobody but a true sicko would want to see, and I'd be afraid of whoever that might be. Innocent bystanders would say, "Now I seen it all." The old gal was rough to look at. If she were to walk into Selma's, my eyes would open so wide so fast they'd be in danger of popping out. She huffed and puffed in self-righteous indignation too; I have a right! She has a right, but, alas, no shame. If I were brave or senile enough to walk into Walmart in a thong (don't worry, I don't have one), I'd hope to at least have the good humor, when asked to put on some clothes, to say, "That's what I come in here for."


Saturday, July 30, 2011


johnny violin introduces lisa de milo at the cuban celebration

lisa de milo y piney creek

ruben sings of his love

pablo de vincenzo on accordion, his wife sandra with castanets

selma at home

pablo, sandra and selma

lisa de milo, pablo and the back of dr arocha's head

like a dance moment in Carlos Saura's Carmen

Selma's wine-tasting event this month, the last Friday of the month, was Cuban Celebration night. Cuban finger-food spread out on the table, all of it amazingly delicious, the quality of the cooking a treat to the palate. The wine was good, of course. This time, Latin American wines. Good vibrations throughout the party. much dancing to Latin rhythms. Lisa de Milo who started off the night singing was more wonderful than I imagined her to be. I imagined pretty good, given her history with the big bands of what we think of now as Las Vegas music, Frank Sinatra, his league all over the country, all over the world, with her husband Johnny Violin. She sings a good song in English, New York New York, and some beautiful Latin songs in Spanish. She has a good command of the floor when she's on. I've an idea that along her way she has wowed many an audience.

It was a mild form of excitement to have some Cuban musical energy generating in the crosshairs of downtown Sparta. Good Cuban music flowed out the screen door into the open windows of cars stopped at the red light. It's a sensuous, flowing music everyone can dance to, from old to young. All are the same age dancing to Cuban music. It's not like kids jerking around laughing at the old people who hold hands when they jitterbug. One looks at the other and laughs with derision at them for knowing nothing about fashion. On the dance floor at Selma's, the Cubans were showing the anglo Americans that we who call ourselves white can't dance at all. Everybody Cuban in the place was dancing at one time or another in their own ways. Selma got to flowing with the rhythms when her work was done and she was free to join the party. She is not afraid to dance. She's another wide-open woman, uninhibited with her feminine. Like I said of Ashley a couple days ago, I can say of Selma too, that she'd be a good model for a painting of Goddess. That's the kind of feminine energy I see with her.
By Goddess, I mean a full woman. Her feminine grace is her own. 

I'd known Johnny Violin and Lisa de Milo for some years, mostly on the telephone or a chance meeting in the library. He called me one day asking something about a fiddle shop in Galax, wanting to know how to get there and what it is. We talked for quite awhile. He told me his life as a violin player with orchestras that played for Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, the whole list of singers of that generation of urban music that was pushed aside by rock n roll in the mid 50s along with bluegrass and everything else. None of those musics that rock n roll eliminated died out completely. It seems like now rock n roll is dying out. It's an inclusive music and by now, after half a century, it is an open field with every kind of music being played on the charts. I can't help but think something new is getting ready to move in to fill the gap when rock n roll has become so thin that a lot of people are losing interest and turning to full-bodied acoustic music. There is an awful lot of good musicianship in rock n roll, and certainly dynamic presence. It seems like the wheel of fashion is turning, bringing something up as rock n roll is fading down. I'm suspecting the musics that rock pushed aside are coming back, like bluegrass, big-band, regional kinds of music, like polkas in Michigan, Bob Wills music in Texas.

With gas prices prohibiting going out to corporate entertainment, as it gets more and more expensive to go to a concert of about anything but local music, I'm thinking a lot of people will return to supporting local music. Maybe. That's one possibility of many. Whatever. The music at Selma's came from the people there. Lisa sang, Ruben sang. The accordion player's name is Pablo de Vincenzo. His name is Italian. His papa was Italian and his mama Venezuelan. He was something spectacular on the accordion. He can make you appreciate the instrument like never before. The woman dancing to his music is his wife, Sandra. She was a beautiful woman and a good dancer. She brought to mind women in Carlos Saura's films. Saura is Spanish. I was tripping on Latin culture, how open like family they are with each other out partying, when they see each other. Anglo culture doesn't permit touching except for sex, and dancing is something anglo Americans used to do. When auditorium rock came along, anglo culture quit dancing and sat down at concerts. When anglo's do dance, there's no dance to it, jumping up and down in place for the kids, uncertain, awkward footsteps for the adults. Watching Dr Joe Arocha and his wife dancing was some smooth Latin dancing you'd see on a dance floor at a Cuban dance club.

I was an old stump sitting on a chair or stool the whole time, taking pictures. The other anglo guys avoided the dance area like I did. I'm a boring old white turd. We call ourselves white, but we're really pink. Or is that too much like a pig? As it's been all my life, the fun I have at things like this or anything else is my own enjoyment inside myself. I've always been one to have my fun alone, like going to a movie or a concert. I despise going to a movie with somebody who gripes about it when it's over. Or gripes about whatever's not right about a concert, like, 'I wish everybody didn't stand up all the time! I couldn't see anything sitting down!' That particular concert, Golden Earring, 1976, Charleston, SC, was a great concert from the beginning that put everybody on their feet, and the band kept everybody on their feet throughout the concert, except, of course, for my date, who wanted to sit down. Go ahead and sit down. On my right a 14 year old girl was screaming her guts out, jumping up and down all the time. I said to myself, 'I'm with her.' This is what I mean by boring anglo (white) folks of the English heritage that inhibits sensuous movement. It has inhibited us til we don't dance anymore, as a rule. The Cuban dancers flowed freely with the music, the movements of sensuous Latin dance. Compared to anglo stick-figure dancing, the Cuban dancers flowed like rapidly changing clouds.  

Cuba libre seemed to me the atmosphere of the evening. I was seeing in the Cuban people their allegiance to Cuba before and after Castro. I might have got my first understanding tonight of how the Cuban exiles think of Cuba as it is now. I think if I were to leave my country to be an ex-pat in some place like Finland after the Republican Party overthrew our government with the help of the Supreme Court and set up the police state, I'd feel similar bitterness toward the police state that has run the American Constitution through the shredder and put a complete end to American liberties. We'll have the right to watch television, though what we watch will be monitored. I can't help but think the Democracy experiment in America only lasted 2 centuries. The cancer of self-destruction started growing inside and by now is on the verge of imploding the government by methodical intent from the inside. It's especially fervent now with a get-the-nigger zeal. These were my thoughts spending the evening among Cubans who have been here so long they're now as American as any anglo present. Good vibration, good energy in the people throughout the whole party. Nobody got mad. Nobody started a fight. Nobody cussed anybody out. The place flowed with Selma energy from opening to closing. 


Friday, July 29, 2011


dusty, lyle, josh



dusty and lyle

The old white utility van with 250 thousand miles on it putt-putted the Buffalo Death Rattle band up the road toward the highway to wherever they're headed. I was able to see them for a few minutes as they were packing the pod for the road. First thing I noticed, Ashley was more beautiful today than yesterday. I've come to see that her feminine is the total of who she is, not just her looks, not makeup and heels, nor generally the expected. I came away from this experience with a very real respect for her as a human being, as a woman, as herself. I can say the same of the others, them being people who, individually, expanded as I came to know them a little bit better, talking, such as, "Where you from?" John came from a small community of a town in NW Maine, rural and remote, the Appalachian mountains where they leave the country at the northernmost extremity of the east coast. He has a stillness about him of people familiar with very long winters, cutting lots of firewood. And he evidently spent some of those winters perfecting his guitar picking. He plays a Martin and deserves it. 

Their destination is northward toward Clifftop fiddlers convention in West Virginia. They've never been to anything like that. They were apprehensive, anxious, concerned that nobody might connect with their music, them being new together and relatively new on their instruments, having no idea what to expect there. Their first night of the jam on the porch knocked my sox off. I've said before, I expected pretty good, but not what I heard. What I heard was a group of people from random dots on the map of the eastern US. They'd found their way to post-Katrina New Orleans, each in his/her own way, and for their own reasons or motivations. Each with an interest in old-time music and making their own music in the old-time way. They learned from cds, now mp3s, from hearing old-time bands and fiddlers, Ed Haley, Emmett Lundy. When I mentioned Eddie Bond as a fiddler from this area, Lyle and Dusty lit up. Cds and YouTube. Dusty especially has seen quite a lot of old-time bands from around here. They were familiar with a lot of names. 

It tickled me to hear these young twenty-somethings who went through the waist of the hour glass in New Orleans and came out a band, talking about the musicians of our region of the mountains as the legends that they are. I just don't hear it from the outside much. It's understood around here that it don't get much better'n Kyle Creed on a banjer and a fiddle, or Benton Flippen on a banjer and a fiddle, too. And the list goes on. The people in the band knew of Galax as legend. I was loving it, hearing the people I live among appreciated afar as they're appreciated at home in their own communities. I was hearing these musicians whose ears directed them to old-time, they each one figured it out on their own, got together and are now figuring it out as a band, together. It's a communal teaching and learning, practicing and performing together. They have a firm command of the music, and they play it like people born in these mountains play it. This is what motivates my awe in response to what I hear of their musicianship.

Tuesday night they jammed for a couple hours as I sat in the ring of the semi-circle getting pictures. I like to wait awhile after a band starts to get the feel for their sound, their rhythms, their physical gestures, their eyes, their expressions. In a sense, to get the feel for their flow. When I start seeing images I want to catch, I take the camera out of the case, crank it up and frame a certain composition and click. I had fun with the sun setting in the background, putting fiddle, bass and accordion with strong back light. I'd focus the camera lower out of the light to get the aperture I wanted on this fantastic automatic camera, pushing the button half way and holding it, then frame it like I want it and click. It white outs the sky and puts a nice white line around the edge of the person. I sat in one spot taking the pictures to avoid being a distraction. I figure a good picture can be found from any perspective. If not, oh well. I'm happy with the perspective of sitting on the deck looking up at them. I felt like it was an appropriate perspective as I looked up to them in respect, every one of them individually.

Yesterday I heard them practicing the same tune for several hours. A couple of them working on noting and timing, like Dusty's banjo and Lyle's fiddle finding the groove together on the deck. Ashley running through parts of it on her accordion in the shade of the white pine. John sitting on a turned-up milk crate they use for carrying things in the van, and for sitting on outside the van, practicing his fiddle playing.  Multi-use furniture. Same tune all the way along, parts of it going here, parts of it going there. The music became three-dimensional in space. It was a more relaxed version of what I'd heard the evening before when they were jamming, though this time pieces in the air from three directions in no relation to each other except the same tune. It was beautiful. I was thinking of John Cage's ear hearing this and being enchanted enough with it to make a composition recreating it for balafon. The arrangements happened as they happened. The hills were full of the sound of music. I wondered how long it had been since the mountains at Air Bellows heard live music in the air. 

Though I appreciated the musicianship and the becoming of each one of them, people at the beginning of doing what they really want to do so bad they have to do it without money. Tough it. I felt good for them in their journey. Their mountain sound holds on in my mind. I have to figure that it's because each one of them figured out their instruments on their own, picked up old-time music on their own and figured it out. The mountain sound is in them like it's in their blood. It's that they play from the heart. They pick up a tune, work it out the way it sounds good to them, then hit it with real old-time drive and let it roll. They catch the groove quite a lot when they play and they start laughing, fall into the groove and play it on and on. When they played Breaking up Christmas, they did it right. They played the fire out of it. Fiddler Lyle told me the band's name came from a time he was playing someplace and hit a sour screeching note. Afterward a man told him he heard the buffalo death rattle. Lyle asked what that was. It was the screech of the way-off wrong note on the fiddle. He liked the 3 words together and the meaning equally, liked them a lot. Eventually, it became the name of his band. 

Saying good-bye at the van in the road and seeing it go up the road out of sight gave my heart a warm feeling that I'd spent the last couple of days in the company of some truly wonderful human beings. The only thing I can hope for for their sakes is that they go wherever they want to go in their music. They're not eat up with ambition. If it works out, if it doesn't, whatever--they went for it, gave it a go. They have a spirit as a group that is like their music, composed of all five of them, seemingly separate from them, though dependent on them. It's a comfortable spirit of people doing what they want to do, 5 people who met in post-Katrina New Orleans playing old-time music the mountain way. I watched the van roll up the road and felt like grandpa watching his grandbabies go out into the world together to see what they can find. I can't honestly advise them. But I can honestly encourage them. They were due encouragement. I didn't want to lay it on too thick, though couldn't help but emphasize more than once, "Y'all are better than you know." I didn't want my younguns going out into the world with low self-esteem. They've got what it takes to make a band with a good-sized fan base. They're in overdrive learning as a band and as individuals. All they have to do from here on is do it. They've got all the ingredients. Throw them in the bowl and stir. Play Indian Ate a Groundhog. 


Thursday, July 28, 2011



Spent much of the day at the Willis farm "next door" (half a mile), everybody in the band hanging outside in perfect weather, practicing a new tune they were working on in varieties of gatherings. Fiddler and banjo working on it. Fiddler and guitar working on it. Lyle, who played banjo before fiddle, put in a lot of time with Dusty and the banjo, them jamming, getting the notes right, then getting the rhythm going, finally playing the tune with their full-force drive that makes them so good a band to my ear. I can't say for somebody else's ear, because I don't know. But I can tell you I heard them practicing, not often completing a whole tune, about 6 hours of hearing the different instruments working out note progressions, smoothing them when they're rough. John was working on some fiddle. Ashley worked on her accordion. What they were doing all day today is what makes them musicians and me not. I can't do the same thing over and over without end. It's why I don't practice when I've tried to learn a banjo, because I can't stand to do the same thing again and again, perfecting one note.

This is why I paint and don't make music. Every painting I work on, I'm doing it the first time. I tend to be a kind of tedious painter, work a thing to death. A justification is that I want the image to be what I see in the mind's eye, what I visualize in the initial inspiration for the image. Most often, the visualization I'm working toward changes along the way, seeing possibilities that work a little better than I was able to see before. I can see in musicians that doing something a hundred times to get it right is enjoyable, something new every time. Once I asked a friend who watched every baseball, basketball and football game on television, how can he watch these games all the time. He said, The same way you can listen to that music you listen to. And I got it, immediately. I also saw the games in a new light. No two games are alike. Each one is itself and itself alone. It's like watching flames in a fireplace. I'm also not able to practice the same thing repeatedly, because I've not felt the experience of making music, something that once it takes hold of you, you don't want to let go. Do it again.

After a year and a half of photographing musicians at Woodlawn on Friday nights, and at some other occasions, like Big Country Bluegrass in concert, I've developed a feel for framing a shot of a musician that shows both hands as clearly as possible, and the face. My pictures are based in hands and faces. I do it thinking musicians who see the picture can read the chord and see what they're doing. It is the hands and the head that make the music. When music really gets going the head has to get out of the picture and let the hands have it. But to get to that place where you can play without mind is a good bit of work for the head. Lyle, fiddler with Buffalo Death Rattle, appears to me to have the ability to leave mind at will and flow seamlessly with the music. When I'm painting musicians, the hands, the fingers I feel like need the same life energy as the face. It is the hands making the music. The face identifies whose hands they are. It's equally important to me to paint hands with the same attention I paint a face.

The camera stayed near at hand throughout the day with the band. Ashley, John and I were sitting on the grass, talking some, them talking mostly about the new tune they're working on. She was finding the new tune with the accordion and he kept rhythm for her. The sun was dropping from behind the pine branches overhead just before it fell behind the ridge across the meadow. It was hitting me in the eyes, and I was sitting there ok with it, knowing it wouldn't last long. Then I saw Ashley with that blaring back light. I picked up the camera, found the shot and made two pictures, unable to decide which one I liked the best. I'll put the second one up there too. I like them both. I'd been sitting there looking at Ashley thinking of how she has changed before my eyes as I'm getting to know her a little bit after talking and hanging out together. I thought of Woody Allen. I've seen in some of his more artful films, Stardust Memories, in particular, he takes a woman who appears rather plain in appearance the word glamorous doesn't apply to. She becomes more beautiful through the course of the film as we know her better. By the end, she is ravishingly beautiful in a truly feminine way. He has a great eye for feminine beauty.

I was looking at Ashley remembering first meeting her yesterday, a little bit distant, not quick to open to somebody she doesn't know, so I didn't push myself on her like, Hey, I wanna know you. It wasn't like that. She's a woman who has lived in the world wide awake and she hasn't missed much. I figured she knew men well enough to keep distance between herself and that old white haired turd one of the guys in the band knew. Whatever, I studied her out of the corner of my eye, found her visually interesting with homemade clothes that looked like they came out of a rag bag and tattoos in the most sensitive places on the arms, three piercings in lower lip at the edge of the lip where it really hurts like hell. I felt like her messages in the tattoos and the piercings was that she can take it. She can stand toe to toe with pain. She's a fully independent woman. She is a feminist without carrying a card. She don't take no shit offa no body for no reason. She has a firm stance that a mugger would read as somebody he cannot easily knock off balance. She is who she is and she don't want to be anything other than that, just herself. She came from the mountains of western Maryland.

Yesterday, she seemed to me rather plain by appearance. Today, as we were sitting in the shade of the white pine, I was watching her play the accordion after we'd talked some, relaxed, comfortable, and she became beautiful before my eyes, just like in a Woody Allen movie. It got to where I sat in awe of her feminine beauty, post-Germaine Greer feminine, what I think of as a woman comfortable with herself as woman. A woman who doesn't need glamor aids. Get to know her a little bit and she transformed into someone who would make a good model for a painting of Goddess, tattoos et al. Too, her feminine energy is a good anchor for the band. When Ashley had reached her full beauty before my eyes, I saw the above image, picked up the camera and turned it on. By this time, they were comfortable with me taking pictures. I don't distract by moving around and being conspicuous. I just get what I see from where I sit. The above moment happened and I went click. Thought I'd get a backup in case it might be fuzzy. Click.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011




john and dusty
lyle, josh, ashley


dusty, lyle, josh


These guys are Buffalo Death Rattle. They play old-time and their own compositions in the old-time style. They've been a band less than a year. They're here in the mountains to see what jams they can find and fiddlers conventions. They'll be going to Clifftop in West Virginia. They're from all over the place, and came together in New Orleans. Josh on the bass is from Winston-Salem, grandson of Ben and Agnes Willis who had a vacation farm in Air Bellows, the old Jim Scott Place. Ben and Agnes have been gone quite awhile, and the farmhouse is now a vacation place for the grandkids, Josh the one that uses it the most. Josh has been in New Orleans for some years, went back and forth from Philadelphia a few times, and found this band he's with now is the one he wants to stay with. They are staying at the farmhouse for a few days on their road trip looking for Appalachian music.

They travel in 2 vans and play music all the time. They are together about music and music is what they do. They are at the place now in their development as a band of how to flow with each other's styles of playing, and getting the feel of the whole. I think all they need now is stage experience. They play mountain music like mountain people, and they didn't even know it. They like old-time and they like to play. Josh in the past telling me about the band apologized for them every time saying, "We play fast," as if to say it might be too much. What he calls "too fast" is what's called drive in the mountains. They have drive in abundance. The fiddler can lay it to it, too. They tore up Breaking Up Christmas, Lost Indian, Ed Haley's Indian Ate A Woodchuck, and other such fiddle tunes. I mean tore them up! I told them when they get before an audience and want to get everybody's attention, play those tunes and have everybody on their feet the whole time. The drive they have is on the order of New Ballard's Branch Bogtrotters and Whitetop Mountain Band.

The band doesn't sound like old-time played by people not of these mountains. My perhaps erroneous thinking is the people from other places learn mountain music by the mind. The mountain musicianer learns it by heart and plays it from the heart. The very first rule musicians learn in the mountains is play from the heart. Lyle is such a fiddler. He plays straight from the heart. He plays with his ears and his heart as one. Dusty, the banjo picker, used to play guitar, picked up a banjo a year and a half ago, started plucking around on it, got focused and now he's playing very respectable clawhammer he's taught himself. John, the guitar picker, is one dynamic picker. He plays details and he plays hard, both at once. He can get a rhythm going and he uses his guitar to push the band through the waves of the music. He keeps the rhythm solid and plays melody with the banjo as well.

Before they started making music, I heard them apologize that they're not very good, that they don't have it together yet as a band. I suppose it was all their apologizing before they played that gave me the surprise at hearing them make music, respectable mountain music, the real deal. I want to tell all my musician friends about these people, maybe get a few videos on YouTube where they can be heard. They are just now starting to think about things like that. At this place in their development as a band, this trip is intensive practice, picking every day, finding their flow together. I told them I believe they'd be very well received at the Rex Theater on a Friday night. I believe they'd be well received at any place in these mountains they might play. It was a joy for me to hear them playing Appalachian music in Appalachia the first day, and already having the sound. I believe they have the sound because they each learned their instrument the old-time way, figure it out and how you figure it out becomes your style. Each one has his/her own style of playing that's not like anybody else. Josh the musician continues to blow my mind.  

Ashley is playing fiddle tunes on the accordion with the fiddle. They sound good together. It's even along the line of an autoharp with a fiddle in its sound. Instead of being a separate sound, it enhances the fiddle's sound as if it were coming from the fiddle. She is playing viola too. Sometimes banjo plays note for note with the fiddle and they sound good together. Josh I've known him since he was a youngun playing soccer in jr hi. I knew his grandparents, his parents, uncles, aunts, brother, sister, cousins, over the years of being next door neighbor with the Willis farm. When Josh was at Chapel Hill, he had different bands doing post-punk noise kind of Mercury Rev thing. Band mates he'd bring to the mountains sometimes to retreat and make music. I'd go over and have a concert of some dynamic sounds. Josh is a good musician all the way around. Good songwriter, good singer and a bass player who plays individual notes on the bass, fingers of both hands going. He's played bass for a long time. He plays banjo too, figured it out on his own and has his own style.

It's always been a treat of a concert when Josh brought his present band to the farm. Because all the musicians he's had here in the past have been real artist musicians, I figured these guys would be too. When they started playing this evening just before sunset, I was surprised and not surprised at once by what I was hearing. It was no surprise that they were as good as they were at making mountain music, but it was a big surprise that they are a very respectable old-time band. Their drive is just right. From here on, they learn tunes together, talk about arrangements, live totally in their music, develop their sound with hundreds, then thousands of hours of stage experience, make recordings to sell at gigs. They have a facebook page now with links to a few videos. Write buffalo death rattle in the search box on facebook and you'll be there. I think they have a few things on youTube too. We talked about making some video tomorrow for YouTube. That will be awesome. I like their spirit.


Monday, July 25, 2011


the old abbot

Here is a better picture of the recently finished painting. I've never done anything like this. Done some abstractions, which I consider this one to be. I like to make abstractions using realism for colors and shapes. Several years ago several of my fruits and vegetable paintings hung in a bookstore for 6 months. Of all the people that saw them, one said to me, "You're really painting abstractions, aren't you." I wanted to know her, but never saw her again. Everybody saw the fruits and vegetables and thought they belonged in the kitchen, but were too big to go in the kitchen. Oh well.

Having some popcorn. It feels like watching a movie. I have liked popcorn at a movie since walking to movies in childhood. Then, popcorn didn't cost $5 or $10. I haven't gone to a theater in so many years, I don't know how much it is. And while going to theaters, it was many a year since I bought popcorn when it started going way-way up. I expect by now it could be $20. Evidently they sell it at those prices. I saw people standing in long lines to pay it. Popcorn and coke filled to the top with ice. Essentially, a coca-cola snow cone to drink with a straw while it melts.

The head in the image above is a likeness of a man I sat with a few hours a week to give round-the-clock caregiver a chance to get out of the house, go to the store, take a nap, whatever. This was with hospice. He was from Dickenson County, Ralph Stanley's home county, in the Clinch Mountains of Southwestern Virginia. He was essentially helpless, needing constant care. Could barely talk. It was with him I saw redneck weddings on Country Music Television. He was pretty far along. The last I heard of him, he was taken to Tennessee to be kept by a relative there. The day after I'd signed the painting using his likeness from a photo I made of him with permission, I learned he died the day before I signed it.

I took an interest in painting a portrait of him the day I saw him looking like a zen monk on a Japanese scroll, the face in lines of black ink on gold scroll. He was wrapped up around his neck by his blanket suggesting a monk's robe. I wanted to make a portrait of him in a way that suggested a Chinese or Japanese scroll portrait of an abbot in times past on a monastery wall. Only suggest. And only suggest to me. I have had in my mind flash cards used in Japan to teach children, a picture of an ear above, and the word below in calligraphy. I used my hand for below, for the calligraphy American style, graffiti. I had thought of using spray to write the words, like graffiti, but I don't have a great deal of control over spray like I have with a brush. So I used stencil as contemporary artless print.

In my western version of the flash card, the calligraphy has its own meaning. His face at rest and lightly painted like a memory becomes the image of other. The hand becomes the image of self. Both are painted using the same colors, white, light purple and light yellow. Other and self are interchangeable. From other's point of view, other is self. It runs both ways at the same time, like a state highway. This is the nature of every relationship, even seeing a dove through the window flying to the bird feeder. This is how we know each other, a play of consciousness. The head without hair is not gender specific. It could be monk or nun. The round face could be Asian or western, the abbot Buddhist or Catholic. Taking an eastern form, I've filled in the blanks with western parts. On such scrolls a poem might be written on a part of it. Other and self is my three-word poem that goes inseparably with the image.


Sunday, July 24, 2011


found installation

I saw a little bit of some b&w film footage of the Japanese take-over of China in the 1930s, showing the time the Chinese burned their crops, homes and everything else so the Japanese could not use them. It was an intense time. The Japanese had a mean streak a mile long. I've read a novel, Red Sorghum, by Mo Yan, based in that time, and it was pretty rough. I once knew a man who spent 3.5 years in a Japanese concentration camp in Shanghai, where he was an American working as a hospital administrator. I've seen a couple of films on the time, Lust-Caution and I can't recall the title of the other at the moment. It had Zhang Ziyi in it. Got it: Purple Butterfly. They beat the Chinese people down really bad, so bad it has to be an embarrassment to anyone Japanese, but, of course, it's not. Like what we've done in Iraq doesn't embarrass the American people.

I find myself thinking thoughts given to me in school, church, listening to grownups talk, that Asians are meaner when it comes to what they do to people in wars, torture, etc. We heard the yellow peril and the Japanese were thought by Americans to be very strange people because they fought a battle to the last man standing, and when a ship was sunk, they all went with it, almost. They didn't dare emerge from the war alive. Their regard for human life was said to be not quite up to ours. Also, from my side I hear a lot of self-serving nonsense about morality and value for life. I heard that from childhood. These Victory At Sea films I've been watching the last few days are like boats floating on a sea of made up belief system about ourselves like we Americans only do what's right, morally and every other way.

I've seen the Japanese takeover of Nanking and Shanghai in documentary and fictional film, a novel, too, by one of the writers of contemporary mainland China. They were bad. A very great deal of hate was behind it. Possibly a great deal of national arrogance too. I've heard the Chinese are arrogant among other Asians. Taking it for granted what Japan wanted from China had to do with the Japanese equivalent of dollars, money. The hate was expressed in how they beat the people down, like every one of them was a target only. I see film of American soldiers in Iraq, film they've made of themselves breaking down doors, charging into mosques with big guns during prayer, taking adult men to prison for torture, shooting a few here and there, collateral damage. We don't count their dead. Not worth the bother.

It seems to me from our side it's more like indifference toward the being of the other. It's not meanness. The meanness comes in when tormenting people and torturing them. Then the meanness rises to the surface. It's not like we're mean people, but when it's collectively acceptable, look out. We've got it in us. I've got it in me. I try to live my life in a way that doesn't tempt the inner meanness I don't allow expression. In some war situations it takes letting that meanness have expression to deal with what has to be done. One of the major reasons I never wanted to be in a military war was I didn't want to ever be in a position where that inner meanness became my motivation and I couldn't curtail it. Then live the rest of my life in deeply anguished regret, it never letting go of my mind. Conclusions I would draw about myself would be difficult to live with.

One major difference I see between Asian and Western action films is the Asian liking for a razor-sharp blade, up close and personal. We of the west like guns. I believe my liking for men-with-guns and men-with-swords movies is a form of sublimation for the desire inside I've never let myself experience to kill and commit mayhem. A little sublimation from time to time keeps it in the pen where it belongs. The Asian aspect in Steven Seagal films is the readiness to kill arises from a kidnapped child and/or wife, threat of whole family being killed, revenge for a murdered son. These are not reasons in America. Our men-with-guns movies are about money. Those personal themes of the heart are childish to us, naive, unsophisticated. Asian scriptures are Buddhist and Taoist largely, sound guidance in living one's everyday life spiritually. Western scriptures are histories of wars. The West has been wanting to corrupt Asia all along to make consumers of them. As they get the taste for more money, they get an awful lot like us.

This time we're in is a time of the merging of East and West. Each has attributes the other needs. In the West, we're a bit overburdened with self; I want. In Asian cultures, other's come first in consideration. Perhaps Asians are out of balance not considering self enough. Perhaps we of the West are out of balance not considering others enough. There is a lot more to it. In this crazy time we're in now, that evidently follows post-modern, where meanings fall apart and traditions fall away like the end of a movie, people of both East and West don't know what to do, but go after more money. The End. Mountain culture happened a few hundred years, then came The End. When East meets West, money is the international language everyone understands.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


by joan mitchell

Today I played vegetable all day. Didn't do anything. Napped once. Did a little painting. Went to watch a movie and decided to look at disc 2 of Victory At Sea, the WW2 documentaries of war film footage. Richard Rodgers composed the theme music. Copyright 1952. I have seen all of these Victory At Sea episodes on tv then and the years that followed. They were on tv every Saturday for quite awhile. This was the Navy's war experience. The Big Picture was the Army's part of the war. I liked the wartime documentaries. They showed what my daddy, uncles, and the guys of their generation did while they were away from home. I learned a good bit watching them, too. Like, I don't want to be in a war. Watching today, the 50s comedy hit Please Mr Custer played in my head, "I don't wanna go. There's a redskin waitin out there, fixin to take my hair."

The narrator, Leonard Graves, was sufficiently dramatic. A lot of times the script meant to be poetic, and almost was, in a cowboy poetry kind of way, using words like Victory the way a sports announcer reports a touchdown or homerun or a basket. One of the things he said was so good I had to write it down, "Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land." Sounds like it was picked up from a war poet. The early 50s were less than a decade out of the war; people who had lost a boy still missed him. Victory at Sea was my favorite of the war documentaries, because I loved to watch the ocean, see the ships bobbing from side to side, the prow of the ship going under, then up out of the water and back under. In childhood I wondered what those waves were like. I wanted to see them and ride them. Looking at the ships in rough sea now, I remember what it was like on a small WW2 destroyer, up, down, rolling side to side, the front of the ship goes under and the turning screws come out of the water in back. The front rises out of the water and the screws set back down in the water, again and again.

They don't tell about the whole interior of the ship smelling of puke and 3/4 of the crew laid out in the agony of seasickness. Nobody in shape to clean up the mess. The 1/4 that didn't get seasick, one of them me, we were so busy keeping the ships business going we didn't have time to clean anything, and we had to stay at it round the clock 2 days and nights. I didn't want to go into the compartment where the racks (beds) were occupied by guys wishing they were dead. The smell got to me worse than the moving boat. I enjoyed the up and down, side to side. I told myself if they had this ride at an amusement park I'd pay to ride it. In this case, they're paying me. How can I beat that? By the time the storm calmed and everybody started waking up and cleaning up, I'd regretted I didn't get seasick, because I never got a minute's rest. Still, I'd rather work than have a churning belly all the time.

The word was that seasickness came from liquid sloshing back and forth in the stomach. We were advised to eat saltines, because they settle like bread and don't move around. It worked for me. I always consumed a mess of saltines when the weather was rough. I did not like seasickness and I did like the ship in rough water. Had it made. One time at night I had to stand watch on the top deck where the semaphore people roost. I had a steel hand rail to cling to watching the front of the ship go under, then receive the giant wave that covers the entire ship. It was like standing in the water at the beach receiving the waves. I was all the way at the top of the ship's structure and the wave went over my head. I clung to the rail when it hit me, every time. They were Yee-Haw moments. It wasn't the sort of thing I could mention I enjoyed. Y'aren't supposed to enjoy anything in the Navy. I spent a lot of time gawking at the ocean, attempting not to be noticed. For me, the only good thing about being on a Navy ship was the ocean. I have to admire people who take a sailboat round the world, whether they stop along the way or not. That is just about the ultimate challenge, self-sufficient on the great big sea.

I have no specific recollections from those years from about 10 to 15 seeing Victory At Sea with the same zeal some people watch the Andy Griffith Show. I do remember, however, my feelings, some of my thoughts from then and some of the conclusions I drew then that I still live by. First thing it told me was I did not want to be in a war. It looks cool to be tossing depth charges off the back of a destroyer and watching the surface of the water bulge and explode. But I tend to think about what it's like in the submarine, in a bubble under water about to be popped. Never in my lifetime have I wanted to be in a situation that I had to kill somebody or be killed. That's too extreme. I'm not of warrior mind. Never have been. Since my daddy and some uncles were in the war, I figured there would be a war for me. There almost was. I was set free from my sentence just as Vietnam was cranking up. Slipped out by a frog hair the way Jet Li walked out of prison in Romeo Must Die. 

It still bothers me now like it did in my boyhood to see guys just out of boot camp, not long out of high school, not much older than me, running out of water craft troop carriers onto the beach, bent over running toward the dunes and fall down like a knee gave out, and not get up. I thought then as I think now: I don't wanna be that guy. In that time of my life, life itself was everything. I lived on waiting for time to go by until I'm out of high school and on the way to self-sufficiency. When I'm free, ready to start my own life, the draft subjects me to 2 years of involuntary servitude. Of course, I signed. It was that or behind bars prison. At least on floating prison I was able to visit Valencia, Rome, Napoli, Athens, Nice and some other places. That was worth it, being able to walk among people of Rome, of Athens, be in their midst, see how they live, their shops, their houses, their traffic, their churches, their nightlife, the varieties of people, hearing another language. Wherever I was, it was the same moon overhead at night as the moon at home. The full moon on a clear night at sea is a sight to behold. It's, like, cosmic.   


Friday, July 22, 2011


3 views of highway 18

I skipped the music in Woodlawn tonight because I didn't feel like driving for an hour and don't have money to put gas in the car. Didn't know who was playing. Didn't want to know, because if I knew I'd have gone. The yearning to stay home was stronger than the yearning to hear the good music again. Was involved in painting the Rise & Shine Band and making some good progress, feeling it. I painted until fumbling took over what I was doing. Putting together model cars as a kid, I'd start fumbling after awhile and my mother advised me to stop when the fumbling starts. It' means I'm tired. So I stop then. It works. I'm in no hurry. It wasn't the only reason I stayed home. The feeling of the day has been that I belong at home. Old-time band the Zephyr Lightning Bolts started playing at the Rex Theater in Galax at 8. I get to listen to Jacob Bowen's fiddle, Diane Bowen's clawhammer banjo, and Steve Bowen's guitar. Jacob is the son. They lived next door to fiddler Melvin Slayden when Jacob was growing up. He's become quite a good fiddler over the years.

The foreign film of the day was an hour and a half documentary / interview with Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, called BERGMAN'S ISLAND. When Ingrid his wife of 24 years died, and he made his last film, he retired to an an island in the Baltic Sea. He appears to be in his 80s. He lives alone and loves the silence, loves going days at a time without talking. A woman interviewed him during the walk through the house between talks, outside, the beach, inside watching film clips in his small film studio in an old barn. He talked about his films, how they sometimes came out of what he was going through in his own life, most often within. He said his film The Seventh Seal where death and a knight play a game of chess, if the knight wins he goes free, this story came to him from his own fear of dying. I was all ears and eyes in the artificial presence of what I see as the world's finest film director. His films are all about feeling.

Yesterday I saw CRIES AND WHISPERS from 1973. I only remembered it from seeing it back in 73, it being somewhat disturbing in a Chekhov kind of relationship between three sisters. The rooms in the house were painted red with white and off-white trim, the people wore black or white. Men wore black. The maid wore white. The sisters sometimes wore black, sometimes white. Red, black and white. A beautiful color combination in constantly changing relationships throughout the length of the film. The story was emotionally powerful while the story was minimal as it could be. One of the sisters in the bed dying. It showed people of Scandinavian clamping down on expression of feelings. The characters go about their day straight-faced at all times. Bergman uses the tension of the external show of no feeling and the emotional turmoil going on within to keep the story in motion. He can stir some powerful emotions. I feel like his films are emotional rollercoasters and when the ride is over I don't know I've been on a rollercoaster ride, but I feel like it.

I'll be going to the Q at netflix to run some Bergman films to the top I've not yet seen, like Persona, and ones I have seen, like Scenes From A Marriage, and see more of his films. They satisfy me totally. Akira Kurosawa and Zhang Yimou satisfy me to the same degree as Bergman, consistently. There are others I like quite a lot, like Andrei Tarkovsky, who can make a powerful film, like The Mirror, The Sacrifice, and the unforgettable 4 hour long Andrei Rublev. Tarkovsky has the brooding Russian dark cloud overhead throughout his films. Of the same brooding is Kozintsev's King Lear. Depression unto despair appears in Russian art films like it's a national characteristic. Chekhov's characters have it pretty bad. Dostoevsky's characters too. When it comes to brooding, Solzehnitzyn rules. Bergman's characters have a kind of existential weariness that is sometimes characterized by brooding. It's like his characters give over to resignation just short of dropping off into brooding and despair.

Watching Bergman films, one thing that stares me in the face is my own nature. It's that Swedish protestant self-containment that I evidently received through Calvary Bible (independent Southern Baptist) Church from the Swede preacher who came to Kansas City Kansas from Minnesota. Recent immigrants, perhaps his parents. A lot of that Swede austerity in Kansas. Now, at this ripe age I see that this internal temperament I have carried though my life came from Sweden. I feel at home among Bergman's people. Their religion crossed the sea and came to me. The same religion that made an existentialist of Bergman when he was young made an existentialist of me in my youth. I do, however, think this is my approach to "the world," this collectively accepted reality we share. The reason why I relate so well with Bergman has to be that we grew up in the same belief system, the same form of religious austerity. Wow. That's something to sleep with tonight. 


Thursday, July 21, 2011


morris louis, point of tranquility, 1960

Yesterday, Selma told me she'd heard of some people that went to the waterfall and saw bear tracks along the edge of the water below the fall, and baby bear prints with it. Also, they found a cave the bear is living in. Considering that the one who reported the paw prints is from a city and walking to the falls with a couple of little kids like a visit to the state park, it didn't have much credibility for me. Except it's not a state park. First thing I said, "There are no caves down there." Selma swore they said there was a cave. I said they might have seen a rock overhang they took for a cave. I could go with bear prints. They're rather unmistakable. Then I wasn't quite with baby bear prints. They might be coon, dog or bobcat getting a drink. I've seen a bear turd in the road several months ago and took it a bear was marking territory. It sounded an awful lot like drama.

This afternoon talking with Gary next door, source of the second-hand info Selma told me about. He said he got it from the young woman from Chattanooga with an SUV and kids, suburban soccer mom to be. I questioned the cave part to him. He described a place in the bank across the stream the bear had dug out, a kind of den. She had photographs he saw. She photographed the paw prints too, and he affirmed it was indeed small bear prints. We've known a bear was living in the woods across the road for some months. A bear alone doesn't bother me, but a bear with a cub tells me to stay out of the woods. I really do not want to scare mama bear. I don't want to come face to face with her. We talked about the bear for quite awhile and he convinced me there was something to the baby bear and the "cave." They have claws like cats, only much bigger, and big sharp teeth. I stay out of the ocean because I figure it is full of critters looking for something to eat. I'll stay out of the woods for awhile, until I hear somebody has killed the bear.

The last time we had a bear up here, somebody killed it. It's skeleton was found in the first holler the gravel road goes around as it starts up the mountain from the pavement's end on Brown Road. I'd seen several traces of it in the woods across the road and smelled it strongly in the air. It might have even been looking at me. But, as happens, it ended up dead. Now that word is out about this bear at the waterfall, I imagine somebody will go in looking for it just to kill it. A lot of people don't like having bears around. I'm sort of in the middle of the matter. Not interested in killing one, I really don't want them around if I have a choice. I know all that they say about black bears not being aggressive, so that part doesn't bother me. What bothers me is having the shit scared out of me so bad. I even wonder about putting up a small sign at the head of the trail that goes to the waterfall to let people know a bear is in the area. The people that come here in 4wheel drives of every variety with license tags from Away are from the suburbs of North Carolina and Florida cities, sometimes Maryland.

It's an hour romp in the natural world they see on nature tv, a petting zoo without bars. When I think about making a small sign to advise heads up, I imagine it stolen by one of the first half dozen people to see it. I wouldn't think like this except that the people I see park across the road heading for the waterfalls in multiples on foot, often with kids and indoor dogs, are so innocent of the natural world, so unaware of dangers that are everywhere, or can be, run about and holler like they're in their back yards at home. It's probably a good thing that they make a tremendous amount of noise walking through the woods, talking, laughing, shouting, stepping on sticks and breaking them, to warn the wild things that live in there the humans are coming. They get out of sight in a hurry, knowing that all a human has to do is see you and you're dead. The critters living in the woods are way more afraid of us than we are of them. Their fear makes them dangerous.

I think of ways to warn people going to the falls to be attentive, pay attention to what's around them. Then I remember times I've attempted to warn people of some of the hidden dangers in the mountains and got derided and laughed at every time. So I quit. They're on their own. Occasionally, someone I know will come to the door on the way to the falls to say hi. Them I will advise that a bear with a cub lives in the area and let them make the decision what to do. I honestly don't think there would be a problem, because suburbanites make so much noise the bear would see them without them seeing her and vacate the premises unseen, unheard. She would be more wary than they would be. The wariest they might be would be spooked.

While Gary and I were talking this afternoon, we talked a good bit about how helpless city people are in these mountains. They even want internet as fast here as it is in the city, which it's not. They drive down the middle of a gravel road and do not pull over to let you go by when you meet one. I can get by them with the right side tires riding the edge of the ditch and still miss their rear view mirror with mine. It scares the shit out of them when I'm going down the mountain and a gigantic SUV or Detroit van is coming up the mountain in the middle of the gravel road. I can read the space available to me pretty well by now. I don't even slow down, just go on by them laughing at the pellets in their under drawers. One of the many changes I've seen in 35 years is when meeting a car or pickup on a gravel road, it pulled over to the side and I pulled over to the side and we gave each other plenty of room, in years gone by. Now, it's almost never that I meet someone on a gravel road who pulls over to the side a little bit to make room. They never do. I think they freeze and don't know what to do.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011


 new painting

Above is the new painting. Poor photograph of it, but it gives an idea of the colors, which are like shown above. Attempting to avoid glare I went with too little light and that was not a solution. It has some fairly subtle color differences in the background that are completely left out of the photo, though the subtleties in the colors in head and hand and words made it through ok. I tend to see the head as something vague like a memory, even a symbol of memory, given that we know others in our memories. Someone dead or someone living though not present, both live in the memory. The head is rendered by the artist. The hand is the artist's hand, a print taken directly from the hand 3 times. The head recedes visually, while the hand comes forward visually, like with an outstretched arm between them, the hand saying STOP: Thought Xing. The head in perhaps meditation is thinking. The Old Abbot. He's considering other and self, which, when you get down to it, is every relationship, and ultimately the entire world we live in.

Meher Baba gave me a good one when he said others are God, self is not God. Self is ego. That one stays in the back of my mind floating among other enigmas that I don't quite know what to make of. It felt like I got it automatically the first time I came across it, but when it comes to saying what I got, I'm stumped. Self as ego goes for all the others too, but seen through the self (ego) the others are God. It takes me to when Jesus said, talking to us (others), "ye are gods." His ego was gone, so I take it he spoke not from self, but from other. That's another one like love your neighbor, 2,000 years have passed and we still don't get it. Does that make us something like a coin, a god on one side and ego on the other? Two sides of the same consciousness? Some religions like to call the ego the devil, which I'm ok with when it comes to interpreting what they mean by the devil. Only problem is, people who like to see things in terms of the devil tend to identify others as the devil, when it's self that is the devil. There's where things get all mixed up and Jimmy Swaggart plays sniff without scratching.

I prefer not to put things in terms of the devil and evil. I see too much of people calling themselves Christian, who get fixated on Satan and the Devil and Damnation and agony forever, to the point it becomes the subject of their focus. Entertainers like Ozzy Osborne use the imagery of hell as their projection, and what I see they're about is ego run riot. Like the old feller said, Same differ'nce. Charles Manson, who liked the Satan imagery and lives in prison for being evil and committing evil acts against society, I tend to see an Xtreme ego-maniac without any regard for others (God). Totally involved in self (ego). I won't say anything about the spirit world where there are indeed the dark, evil, hideous spirits, as well as the spirits of light. We're veiled from that world only a shaman has access to, the reason a shaman must be brave as a warrior. In my everyday life, I'd rather look at the difference as self-centered and other-centered. Self-centered behavior takes us to the inner dark, whereas other-centered behavior takes us to the inner light.

The news about Rupert Murdoch is hilarious every day. It's become a serial comedy. Tune in to the news for more laughs. Not only has he learned from Ronald Reagan to keep on pushing for police state and never let up, he's learned from Reagan how to get away with lying under oath, "I don't remember." Visiting my mother a few years ago, I picked up a Reader's Digest I'd not seen in so many years I almost forgot it, flipped through it, looked at the ads and pictures, read titles of articles, started reading one and thought it awfully much a right wing propaganda. Stopped reading it and picked another article. Same thing. I looked in the front and saw Rupert Murdoch owned Readers Digest. I put it down.

He also bought the Village Voice in New York, one of the last little voices of free press in America, to shut it up. For many, many years I've waited, hoping for the day Murdoch would overstep his bounds shutting down free press and replacing it with police state press. Rupert Murdoch is a serious enemy of democracy. Every once in awhile amidst the world news pops up good news. The press about Murdoch now is good news every day. Though he won't suffer any more than inconvenience for the mess he's trying to make of our world, I'm glad to see him at least get flea bit on the ankle. I say glad, because it resembles justice slightly. So many of those people get away with what they do to the rest of us, justice appears much of the time to be on hold for the rich. A poor kid in this county who stole a used tv from a charity for the poor got 2 years in prison, and not tennis camp prison. Going by that system of justice, Murdoch needs his neck put to the chopping block, sent on to his next life as a gypsy girl's baby in Tirana, Albania, living in a train station toilet. Karma rules. Only problem with that solution -- it's a little too messianic. May you be born in a manger! I have to remind myself: look out what you wish for.

I don't look for anything much to come of the present legal ordeals old Murdoch is going through, but inconvenience for the old boy who'd rather be at the club with the other old boys talking about it over drinks. His son is the equal rogue who needs censuring as well. Legal justice seldom touches the mega-rich, meaning I don't expect anything of a legal nature to come of it besides bluster and other people's heads rolling. He's already done so much damage, maybe exposing him at least might keep him from doing more. Maybe this court experience will satisfy his appetite for more.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011


george segal, parking garage, 1968

On the news at this moment the newscaster is talking about a "heat wave" that's a problem somewhere. I've wondered where the notion came from among people I've seen over the last few days that it's so unbearably hot. To my memory, this is the mildest summer we've had in 25 years at least. My first summers here, 35 years ago, the thermometer touched 90 maybe one day in the summer. About 10 years later it began creeping upward until the hottest day of the year touched 100 several years ago and has done it consistently every year since, except this year. This summer it touched 90 one time. I happened to mention while talking in Selma's that it was a mild summer. Did that ever get a broadside of protest. I was thinking we live in the same place, their temperature has been the same as mine. Now I get it. The news is talking about a heat wave someplace like Texas and people dying. So the people around me in the mildest summer at least of their experiences here are believing it's hotter than it really is because the tv says so. Yesterday, in response to somebody griping about the heat--I'm thinking 80 is not hot--I said, "It's summer," and got called for being a smart-mouth. Again, I remind myself of the power of television.

It made me reflect on the immensity of what I'm not aware of by avoiding television. I don't know the names of any sports stars except, of course, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Don't know of anybody in pop music now except Lady Gaga, and that because she's such a bizarre presence. And enchanting to me like Nina Hagen and Patti Smith were in their time. When I sit in front of a television it's to watch, most often, a foreign film of my choice, and most often made over the last 60 years. I don't keep up with anything new anymore. It has been so long since I've kept up with the new that I'm not even aware of who is a hot dog in the New York art world. When I hear mixes made by young friends on a cd, I hear every variety of rock and roll from rockabilly to Paul Anka to hard-core, even 40s crooning. What's new under the sun? The present moment in rock being a kind of anything-goes market tells me something new is  brewing, a new sound. I've an idea fusion from all over the world is coming into pop music here. New rhythms, new ways of seeing and hearing, putting parts together in new ways.

In the span of time between the dying out of the first surge of rock and roll in America and the "British Invasion," Spencer Davis Group, Dave Clark Five, Rolling Stones, we had a lull in pop music when all kinds of tv pop was played on the radio and the "folk movement," Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, were the beginnings of "underground," in that you had to buy them to hear them. The Brits were livening up the radio again, then Bob Dylan plugged in and created what has been called rock ever since. From then to now, Bob Dylan has been the most amazing human phenomenon of my lifetime, up there with the guy that walked the wire between the World Trade Center towers, Philippe Petite. Bob Dylan is and has been for a long time the Mozart and Shakespeare of songwriting. He has put Cole Porter and Richard Rogers, every songwriter that went before, in the shade. It can be said somebody wrote a great song and somebody else wrote a great song. Then there is Bob Dylan, who has written volumes of great songs, and performed most of them in arrangements that define the songs. He played a harmonica in so distinctively his own sound that no one else can use that sound without sounding like Dylan. To my ear, and to my ear alone, as far as I know, his last 4 albums are his finest to date. Like English playwright Harold Pinter, he waxed better and better in a steady progress. Like a runner from Kenya, the leader of the pack, the one out in front that nobody can catch up with.

I recall the time an aunt who lived in North Palm Beach jumped in my face over the phone because I hadn't heard that Conway Twitty died that day. I've always preferred the Clash to Conway Twitty, the Clash and just about any other band. He never tripped my trigger. He might have if I'd ever paid attention to him, but there are hundreds of bands and singers I'd listen to before Twitty, multiple hundreds. Big deal. According to her, I needed to get out of these mountains and get in the "real" (lol) world where I'll know what's going on. Conway Twitty dying is something going on? Might have been for him, but it was nothing for me. She asked me, confrontationally, if I liked him. I said I don't necessarily like him, but I appreciate him as a musician. Then I was lectured to that I can't appreciate something I don't like. Maybe she can't, but I can. It was more than she could bear that I wasn't upset over Conway Twitty dying. She was getting me upset, but he didn't bother me at all. It was one of those times I wanted to go outside and scream into the center of the bowl of sky overhead, So Fucking What!  Michael Jackson doesn't trip my trigger, either. So what? All it means is I'm not 12.

I couldn't figure out how living on a cul-de-sac in a Florida suburb watching television and listening to country music radio was an example of "in touch" with anything. I'd rather be "in touch" with the people around me, the people I live among, my friends, than anything in the pop world. I see and hear plenty of it, but mostly with indifference. It's rare that I hear a pop song and want to know who did it. When I hear an old-time fiddle tune, or a banjo tune, or a Carter Family song, that's when my ears dance. Right now I have a Friday night source for some of the finest musicians in SW Virginia and NW NC, who blow my mind with their music every Friday night. Live. Small audience of people who know each other. I'd so much rather be "in touch" with the music of Scott Freeman and Willard Gayheart than anything on the radio like Kieth Urban or the Dixie Chicks. I'd rather put on a cd than listen to just about anything on the radio. No XM or any of that radio in the house requiring $20 or so a month. By this time in my life I have cds of all the music I like to listen to, from dance music in Kinshasa to Chicago blues, Taj Mahal, Tibetan nuns, Santana, mountain banjo, and the list goes on so long I can't even start a list. Conway Twitty's name failed to make the list.

Finished a painting today by signing it. I've fussed and fussed with it until I sit and look at it for hours and see nothing else to do. It's complete conceptually and complete visually. It has something of a visual dance. It's night and I can't get a picture without glare. Will get a photograph tomorrow. In original conception, it was a head, a hairless, eyebrowless man's round head. Eyes closed. Initial title was The Old Abbot. The head is the upper half. It is done lightly, almost ghostlike, more like a hologram, though with opaque paint instead of transparent light. Bottom half is a hand print, first time white, then light purple on that and a very pale yellow on top. The same colors used to paint the head. The hand pushes forward boldly while the head fades back a little ways, perhaps an arm's length. A word in stencil spelled vertically to the left of the head, OTHER. Between the head and the hand is the horizontally stenciled word, AND. Then rising from the space between thumb and forefinger the diagonal word, SELF. I'll let you have it from there to make of it what you will. I don't know that my way of seeing it is the only way, so I'd rather let you, like one seeing it on a wall, apply your own meaning. I don't want to limit it to only one meaning. It's not a riddle. It's a visual entertainment only. Any thoughts it might inspire are your own. No test will be given.