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Friday, September 30, 2011


selma ready to go

Another wine tasting at Selma's coffee shop, the Backwoods Bean on Main St in Sparta. Robin Cater played guitar and sang. I anticipated she'd be awfully good, but she went way beyond what I might have expected. She has a good singing voice and accompanies herself well with guitar. She was with a guy from Florida, Will Fernandez, who played a small conga drum. Good music. Good finger food. Good wine. Good company, nearly all familiar faces. As always, I pick a seat at the bar when I go in and that's my roost the whole time. I don't get up and circulate and talk and laugh carrying a wine glass without a stem. Would you call that unstemmed? Like tea without sugar is unsweet. I'm something of a stump at social events. It might be my country grandparents in me. My grandmother Worthington more than once stressed to me, You get on a merry-go-round and go round and round. When you're done, where you been? It is the country in me that's rubbed off from 35 years among country people. Country people don't run their mouths so much. City people light up when they get in a crowd of other people. Country people look for the cat hole, the exit.

cynthia in chberspace

Here is Cynthia in conversation. Talk with Cynthia and she googles subjects you're talking about, comes up with facts, pictures and web pages. Her blackberry, or whatever it's called, is the focus of her life these days. I think of Dick Tracy with his wrist watch version of what Cynthia is doing with her blackberry. Maybe she thinks it makes her look young. I think she looks fine as she is. She has a mind that runs so fast she needs to multi-task to keep all her mind engaged where she is. I think of her something like a ship anchored in a stormy sea; it takes 3 and sometimes 4 anchors to hold the ship in place. She came here to curate the Teapot Museum, but it went away as soon as she started. She wanted to stay here. I'm one of the people glad she chose to stay. She has a community of friends, mostly in the coffee shop, happy to have her around. She's a good addition to the ex-pat crowd in the county. By ex-pat I mean ex-patriated from the Flatland, repatriated in the mountains. No one misses urban traffic.

mr moxley talking with woman from scotland

Moxley retired from teaching high school social studies somewhere in Ohio, Cleveland area, I think. He's from here and returned to the family farm. He keeps cattle, does the farm work himself. Something to occupy his time and mind. He is one of the "regulars" in Selma's, one of the ones that go there regularly. There is about a dozen of us. We all like each other. When one goes in, there is most often another in there. Good conversations take place in there. I don't mean scholarly and erudite, rather nobody trying to impress anybody. We just talk about whatever comes up. If there's any posturing among any of us, I haven't seen it. That's one of the wonderful attributes about Selma's place is the absence of posturing inside the door. If somebody comes in posturing, nobody even pays attention. 

 the entertainment: robin cater and will fernandez

Robin is one of our county's potters. She and her husband, Daniel, both work with clay, take their wares to shows all over the place, and work at it like a job. They give it their all. I didn't know she sang so well or played guitar so well. Robin is a special soul. She is a bright light. I think sincerity is what stands out about Robin. It's a sincerity that is true. It's not an affectation. She's present wherever she is. Will Fernandez is an artist and potter, evidently singer and musician too. He's here from Key West. Last I heard he intended to stay here. He's still here. He does interesting work with clay and painting.

Had pleasant conversation with Rob Mangum, the potter and musician, guitar and vocal. I've known Rob the entire time I've been here. He and his wife Bet came here from southern Alabama a year or two before I came here from coastal South Carolina. Rob was robbed of Bet last year or more. She was a superb woman in all the best ways. Rob is something like Major Tom in David Bowie's song about the astronaut in the space capsule cut off from earth to float freely in space. Planet earth is blue and there's nothing I  can do. Rob has taken good care of himself, allowing himself to mourn, but also getting on with his life, letting it fall back into place as it will. Rob is someone I'd call, without hesitation or fear of contradiction, a true human being. He's a good guitar picker. Picks a Martin and deserves it. And he sings a good song. He is good at entertaining an audience with folksong, often taking the volume out of a rock song, singing it for the words in it.

Selma's is my social life in this cycle I'm in. I like it. I like the people that go there. It's a comfortable place. It brings to mind a preWW2 neighborhood bar where everybody knows everybody. Selma is the hub everyone revolves around. The wines, of course, were good, each one a treat.


Thursday, September 29, 2011


Trust is not one of my more spectacular attributes.
                                                  ---Steven Seagal

Another good Steven Seagal movie. He is making consistently good movies now, which has not been his pattern. In the years I've been watching Seagal films I've found him an artist. The unevenness of his earlier films were evidence, for me, of an artist trying this, trying that. And sometimes what works for the artist doesn't work for the audience. I feel like his most recent films have a consistent quality about them since Kill Switch, one of the worst movies I've ever sat all the way through. It seems like that one must have purged something for him, because everything since has been among his best. This new one, Born To Raise Hell, 2010, is perhaps the most mistitled movie I can think of. It's like the decision for a title was made by a committee. It's eye-catching, but any attempt to tie it to the movie after seeing the story says it might apply to one of the minor characters or the character Seagal's character was looking to kill.  

Seagal is a SWAT team commander, an American cop stationed in Bucharest, Romania, where making a film costs about half the cost in California. I like that he uses Romanian actors, crew, the works. The actors speak in English. It is a full-length movie version of his present tv show, Lawman, where he patrols with hometown cops and teaches them martial arts principles, especially to pay attention to what they're doing. Until.... A few weeks ago I heard on the news about his tv show somewhere in Arizona, that he with tv crew and a tank, yes a tank, raided a place where a Mexican guy was raising fighting cocks and killed 50 of the birds. Turns out the fighting cocks were show chickens. He raised chickens to compete in chicken shows. The cops killed all the chickens, raided the man's house with a tank and a SWAT team, and a tv crew. Big law suit to follow.

It was funny after hearing that news to see this film where Seagal is a missionary of American police state methods in Eastern Europe. To raid a house they carried the battering ram used by American SWAT teams to break down the door. From the looks of the doors they broke down, a swift Seagal kick could have opened it easily, and no one ever checked to see if a door might be unlocked. I have to admit I felt a bit uncomfortable at times seeing Steven Seagal a missionary for police state. I prefer to think that he sees what he's doing is training cops to be more conscious about what they're doing. I've an idea his influence is to ruthlessness as well. Seagal wrote the screenplay and produced the film. I appreciated that in this one he wasn't saving his daughter or his wife or his girlfriend or a pretty girl or a little girl from evil doers.

He went back to Out For Justice this time for the story around a revenge killing at the end. Revenge is another of his oriental themes. Of course, there was the obligatory views of tits and ass, and the nightclub with techno music and babes gyrating in bikinis with flashing lights crawling over their squirming bodies. One  of the aspects of a Steven Seagal movie I particularly like is his story telling. It's not that the stories are original, beautifully done or outstanding. For an action movie, at least it has a story. He doesn't do all the twirling kicks like vanDamme, Norris or the other anglo martial artists in action films. Seagal uses a particular form of martial art that takes the least movement, the least effort. He hits a guy in the chin with a stiff arm and the heel of his hand, why hurt your knuckles, and the guy is out. He takes hold of a hand, twists it in a certain way and he absolutely controls his opponent. A hard kick in the belly, between the legs, the face and the opponent is out.

I hear complaint that Seagal doesn't really do martial arts anymore. My jaw drops open, because I watch his films to see his martial arts choreography. He choreographs his own martial arts ballets with moves that work and the least movement necessary. His opponents are people good at martial arts. The actors and stunt men hired for the roles have to be fast enough to keep up with his speed. Seagal in his own life is trainer for undefeated Anderson Silva, one of them that fight in a more or less cage where anything goes. Martial artists, like musicians, get better as they grow older. Seagal as artist and martial artist came across to me this time as apparent maturity has set in with Seagal. Not getting old, but maturity as an artist; writer, actor, martial artist. It feels to me like he's more relaxed in his art forms from all the years of practice. I call this one of his better films, and it is a new direction in his film making, even though it amounts to a pilot for his tv series Lawman filmed in Bucharest. Seagal is Charles Bronson, the next generation.  

The parts of Bucharest seen in his films make something like a travel video of what looks to be a beautiful city. I just now scrolled up to see the image of Bucharest in the picture, saw the title again and broke out laughing at what a ludicrous title it is. For one thing, the title suggests a rebel. Turns out he's a supercop. Born To Raise Hell just doesn't ring as a title for a story about a supercop. He'd have done better to name it Supercop 3, or maybe 4. I've heard something about a 3rd Supercop movie. I have to give it to Michelle Yeoh for Supercop 2. She beat Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal all to hell and back as Supercop. I don't mean to throw off on Seagal's film, because I liked it enough to see it a second time same day.

The title continues to make me laugh. It's called marketing. Product packaging. A title that sells. He might have had another title and somebody with an eye to getting a return on investment wanted something more cliche-like. Something predictable to catch the eye of a Steven Seagal fan. I'd have seen it whatever the title. In fact, I'd be more disposed not to see a movie with that title. For a Steven Seagal film, it seems silly. Born To Raise Hell is a tattoo on the arm of a 1950s Harley rider with Borned To Lose tattooed on the other arm. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2011


by Ida Kohlmeyer

Someone talking on radio news today mentioned something about "consumer spending." I'm really tired of being labelled a consumer, like that's what I do in life, consume. I buy a cd, I'm consuming it. I buy gas, I'm consuming it. I pay electric bill, I'm consuming it. I read a book, I'm consuming it. Eating it. Or I am a fire burning it. But, it sounds good and it covers everybody, politically correct neutral. It's struck me odd for years to be regarded a consumer. A long time ago it was citizen. Now, it's consumer and sometimes taxpayer. A government employee gets caught with porn in his computer at work and he's accused of thinking dirty at taxpayer expense. Punish him! We could be called voters, but that only applies to about half the people.

Then, there is the news in relation to what we call reality. I listen to the news for years and a city like New York becomes a hell-hole to stay as far away from as possible. Go to New York and it is entirely different. You don't see people getting killed everywhere you turn. Gang violence is in the black parts of the city, and sensible white people stay out. For one thing, sensible white people know they're not welcome. Nobody has ever mugged me or picked my pocket in New York. I've had several attempts at pocket picking in London. I was in the crowd seeing Hirohito ride in a fancy carriage with the Queen. I felt hands feeling me up the whole time. Somebody passing through the crowd slowly. I knew better than to carry money and passport in pants pockets. I wore a jacket with interior pockets and stood with my arms folded. It felt like I was in a Dickens novel.

Every time I go to a city, I'm impressed by how not like the news it is. Nobody sticks a gun in the side window of my car, tells me to get out and takes the car. If it happens, and surely it does, it doesn't happen to everybody all the time. I tend to listen to the news quite a lot, albeit with about half attention, like 5 minutes after 5 minutes of news I don't remember any of it unless reminded. I've heard the headline news half a dozen times today and if you'd ask me what's happening on the news I couldn't give an accurate answer. A Kingston Trio song from the late 50s comes to mind, They're rioting in Africa, there's strife in Iran. That was half a century ago. Has it changed? Yes. There's more of it. I fill my head with Syrian protesters getting killed by government troops. I tell myself not to listen. Then I wonder about the people in the protest groups getting shot at. I wonder about the troops shooting them. I feel like they deserve at least attention. Then I laugh at myself, but not whole-heartedly.

It's funny how people mass together for security, then the enemy comes from within--crime from the people shut out of society, shut out from even making a decent living in a culture of white people jealously guarding the purity of their precious race. This is what I see the republicans reacting against, the recent fact that people of color in America now are half the population. Republican is now the racist party that the Democrat used to be. Of course they deny it, like the Democrats denied it then. They're Americans. Deny is what we do. But you look around and it's everywhere all over the globe. It appears to me that everything that is coming due around the world at the same time is the stuff swept under the metaphorical rug. Evidently the rug has been raised and all the piles of issues settled by denial are exposed.

The news makes me want to stay home and spend the least amount of money possible. It makes me want to stay out of everybody else's way, because we're in a dangerous time in a dangerous world. Not in Sparta. There is plenty of testosterone posturing in Sparta, but it's harmless as the sound of a mouse skittering across a linoleum floor. I have to remind myself that much of what's on the news is posturing for the sake of getting on the news. Unfortunately, The News is the only "voice" that is heard. Some bunch of people have an agenda and want the world to see their point of view, they do something to get on the news. It has to be horrendous, because that's all the news sees. The only good news I've heard in the last week is Rupert Murdoch sits on the hot seat in court for excesses against the interest of humanity.

Yet, I can see it quite another way. Because I pay attention to the news, avoiding corporate news as much as I can, I find I have an understanding of that mental sphere we share collectively. Of course, my understanding is my own, just like everyone else's is their own. A man in the coffee shop who talks down about liberals and wants to nuke the entire Arab world hears the same news I hear. He gets his from different sources. He prefers Fox news, I prefer NPR. They both tell the same stories, more or less. One with rant, the other with emphasis. The continuum of the news feeds into and modifies our mental "world view" from one hearing to the next. I have in my head these understandings according to the mental sphere only. The mental construct each of us has in our heads regarding the world of the news is our own. It's like paying attention to the weather used to be. The news changes like the weather, like the flame in a fireplace. I've an idea that's what makes it so interesting.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011


benton flippen of mt airy nc

The August-September issue of Old Time Herald arrived in the mail Saturday. At the mailbox I opened the envelope and pulled it out to see the cover. Steve Terrill, the cover designer, has a good eye for making an excellent cover image. It made my eyes jump. White in the midday sunlight was the first thing, then the lines. Ink drawing of 3 old-time musicians making music. The curving, curling lines in their clothes and faces made the patterns of the music they were making. 3 people sitting still and the rendering of the picture itself so active the picture comes to life on sight. That's what jolted my eyes: the picture was lines dancing all over the paper, the subjects making the music the lines visualize. The image has a living presence about it. I brought it in the house, sat with it a few minutes, flipping through the pages, looking at the pictures and the headlines, looking through the reviews of new projects to see if any from the mountains were among them. None this time. I was getting a feel for the nature of the issue.

This evening I was in good spirit after the day's movie, Harold And Maude, from about 1972. Had seen it twice before. One of my favorite movies. When it was over I didn't feel like getting up and doing something. I was comfortable. Good time to peruse Old-Time Herald. I looked at the article about Earl Murphy pictured on the cover, looked at the pictures, looked at the picture of the fiddler from southern Maine, Uncle Steve Kimball, deep-sunk eyes younger than his white beard. Noted the Bear Family ad for the 5cd set of the Bristol Sessions. What a treasure that must be. I think it's price is a treasure too. It looked like the issue would be a good one to read everything in it. Looking for something to read, my eye fell on the obituary, called Final Notes. Bold print Benton Flippen caught my eye in the middle of the page. I saw Paul Brown had written it, saw it was a page and a half, good. I'd been wanting to see what Paul Brown would write about Benton. He has made music music with Benton Flippen just about every summer since Benton's Camp Creek Boys days. He recorded quite a lot with Benton and made music with him. 

One of the first things I noticed when I heard Paul Brown's banjo on some tracks of Benton Flippen's Old Time/New Times, was he had the mountain sound in his pickin. When Kyle Creed died, banjo of Camp Creek Boys, and Fred Cockerham died, fiddle of Camp Creek Boys, Benton took Cockerham's place and put Paul Brown in Kyle Creed's place. That gave me a measure of Benton Flippen's regard for Paul's picking. If he can fill in for Kyle Creed with Creed's band, these guys respect Paul's picking. Paul has some projects of his own, Red Clay Country, and he plays banjo on fiddler Matt Brown's projects. I wanted to read what Paul Brown had to say of Benton Flippen, knowing Benton and his music as well as Paul does. I started seeing other names in bold print. An old-time fiddler from the eastern part of North Carolina, Smith McInnis. Fiddler Vernon Riddle of Spartanburg, South Carolina. Fiddler Kenny Baker of Gallatin, Tennessee, Bill Monroe's fiddler for 16 years straight and frequently before then. Tom Norman, banjo with Whit Sizemore's band, The Shady Mountain Ramblers, Galax, Virginia. 

These were on the two pages as the magazine lay open. On the previous page was fiddler Charles Summer of Buffalo, South Carolina. Spencer Moore, a guitar picker and singer from SW Virginia, around Chilhowie, Virginia. George "Speedy" Krise, a dobro picker from eastern Virginia, born and grew up in West Virginia. Several really serious musicians. I decided to read all of them, Paul Brown's remembrance first. Paul knew the musician in him best. I wanted to see what Paul had to say. In one of his insights into the man Benton Flippen, he said, "He believed in the obligation to be one's self while living the divine gifts of life." He added, "I don't know where he got that, but he believed in it." It sounds to me like something he got from Primitive Baptist church all his life, the Old Orchard Primitive Baptist Church. It's certainly an illustration of the mountain belief system, that it is an obligation to be yourself. Tenet number one in mountain culture.

Paul wrote of Benton's fiddling, "He made notes the way no one else did. His syncopations were like nothing I'd ever heard. His drive would have sent a frightened mule right through a thicket of hackberries." He gave a brief sketch of Benton's life that showed his character as shy and warm, Paul told about his years working in a sock factory, winning fiddlers conventions in the summers on weekends. Paul gave his kitchen the night of a jam at his house, Paul's house, where Benton spoke the sentences I found at the end of the album liner notes with the album, Old Time/New Times. I'd copied it into the computer, gave it a bigger font, cut it out and put it on the bulletin board at the store among other quotations. He said, "No point to sound just like the other man. Don't even try, 'cause you can't. You've got to sound like yourself, have your own style. That's the way it's supposed to be. Like the old feller said, It's all creamed taters, just fixed a little different." Paul wrote a beautiful memory of his friend.



Monday, September 26, 2011


baja rock

A couple of questions I've carried in my head most of the days of my life don't obsess me, but they stay with me. First, if God is love and wants us to be kind and considerate, why does everything living on earth need to kill to live? We can only live eating the living. A bird needs living bugs or living grain. Dog food out of a can is a cow / horse / whatever that's been killed. Lunch meat is a cow that was killed at a stockyard. We humans eat everything, even possum. Everything has to be killed to be eaten, though in Korea a small live octopus is a delicacy to eat alive, though I suppose stomach acids kill it, and no more oxygen. Then there are the people who only eat vegetables because some of them don't want to be a part of the killing cycle. Because God sez. We have God on the one hand telling us not to kill, while setting up a creation where everything has to kill to live. The only way I can make sense of it is to put aside my own thinking and start over.

The other question is why does reproduction go to the young? Young kids, late teens - early twenties, don't know much about children. They're at a time in their lives when their own egos are the primary interest. I remember as a child kids whose parents were older seemed to me happier kids. Or so it seemed from the outside. The answer to the question is, of course, biological is the purpose. Healthy stock. From conversations with Sparta lawyer Donna Shumate, she calls the get married, have babies way of living Biological. She never wanted to live entirely by biology. She wanted to use her mind. She's made for herself a good balance. She lives by her mind as well as biologically. She had 2 kids by intent. She's an intelligent woman with two kids she raises consciously. This doesn't mean nobody else does. Plenty of people do. She's just an example.

Outside what we call civilization, people lived in tribal structures where the whole tribe raised the kids. The tribal system is an awfully good one, seems to me. In the modern world we like our individual status, and a lot of people don't like being too close to others. In a tribal system you have no secrets. Everybody knows what everybody else is doing at all times. The importance of family has transferred from the tribal way to the more individual way of civilization. Small communities seem a fair balance between the two ways of life. I suppose one answer to my question is that variety keeps things going, like the almost infinite varieties of apples in the mountains of Kazakhstan. An apple's pod of seeds has a different kind of apple for each seed. Grafting is the only way to get the same kind of apple from tree to tree. Then you get a monoculture going, weak, susceptible to disease and parasite bugs.

I can't help but think that death is nothing in God's eye. Nothing at all. Like Caterpillar sees me one day wearing brown shirt and green pants, another day wearing tan shirt and blue pants. She watches me sit on the side of the bed and change colors. I sometimes wonder what she thinks of the giant's ability to take off and put on colors. I doubt she's jealous, because she has beautiful cat fur that doesn't need changing. She used to hunt mice day and night, go out in the meadow or into the woods and sit for hours waiting for something to move. She's not sinning because she's killing. She's getting a midday snack, candy bar with the flavor of blood instead of chocolate. I continue to grieve the loss of TarBaby, my friend for 12 years, though I know from God's way of seeing, TarBaby is fine, don't worry, be happy.

Pets have to die. Friends have to die. I believe in every scripture we're told that our relationship with God is with the one friend who does not die. I've heard a lot of people talk about never wanting to die, wishing we could live forever. My solution to that question, is live for 200 years and then decide if you want millions of more years. After 100 you're in a wheelchair if you can get out of bed. 110? 120? 130? They say, "You're so lucky to live so long." LOL Old age is a curse in just about all cases. An old-old saying says the good die young / the blessed die young. There came a time for me about when I entered the 60s that it started getting tiresome keeping this body upright. And for people with complicated lives, kids and grandkids, inlaws, other people expecting of you, other people telling you what to do (for their interest, not yours), and work expectations, so much that it's hard to find oneself in all that mixup. These are the things we take seriously and think of dying as the very most ultimate worst that can ever happen. They say to a guy who lost both legs in a motorcycle wreck, "You're so lucky to be alive." I'm thinking, Heaven is worse than living on earth with no legs?

I don't know anything about the other side, but what the people have told us who know the secrets of life and death, our consciousness continues. I have no idea. But when God says, Don't worry, be happy, I have to give that thought. It can go both ways; be happy, don't worry. Absence of worry is happiness. When you're happy, you don't worry. Worries are the barbed wire fence between unhappy and happy. The closest to an answer I've come to with why creation is set up that we have to kill to live, is simply to keep it going. If death is nothing but maybe a nap between changings of clothes, a gazelle scared into sleep by a lion wakes up a baby giraffe. Why so much death? The only answer I can find is, Get used to it. Death and life are two sides of the same coin that's flipping in the air. The scriptures are God's way of getting the secrets of life and death to us, to help us understand our lives better, but we turn them into rule books, Robert's Rules of Order, God's Rules of You Better Not. Then they become a ball and chain, and the tradition built up around centuries of collective belief in God as Judge has to be broken down so the truth of Don't Worry Be Happy can live again.


Sunday, September 25, 2011


howard joines, fiddler of pine swamp, chicken reel

Here is the photograph of what I wrote about yesterday, Howard Joines. Last night it was too dark to go outside and hang it on the side of the house. I have a good light inside, but it makes glare, lotsa glare. Took this picture in the gloaming, after sunset, before dark, no glare. It worked out all right, a bit dull in the colors, but you get the drift. It reproduces the image. All that's left to do is put the strings on the fiddle, which comes after everything is dry. I lay a yardstick on it and draw the line with a colored pencil. It works really well. Also, I suggest them. I'm drawn to do both on this one. My preference is to suggest. I'm not using assists for the painting, though for an instruments strings I'm ok with a yardstick and pencil. But for painting straight lines, I don't use a stick to rest my hand on to still the jitters of having a nervous system. I let my inaccuracies have their say too. If I can't paint a straight line, an almost straight line will have to do.

I'm happy with the fiddle. It was as exacting as the face. I wanted the face to be one his relatives would recognize on sight. I want the fiddle to be the same way. Not exactly like his fiddle, but have the look of being a particular fiddle, not painted with measured exactness, a little bit off in this curve, a little off in that curve, nothing exact, esp perspective, but it's close enough that from the distance of 3 feet or more it looks like it's approaching photographic realism, but up close, all that just goes away. Loose lines, fuzzy edges. Looking at it from a distance I see a study in triangles. His shirt is loaded with triangle lines, the fiddle and the bow make a triangle, the roost the hen is on suggests a triangle, the window is a triangle. A triangle of negative space between his arm bent at the elbow holding the bow, and the side of his shirt. Inaccuracies seem to me to dance before the eye. I like the dance they do with the viewer's eye. It seems to my eye, a little bit offness all around ads a little life, like a subtle movement. I don't think I'm saying this as a justification, but may be. Either way is ok.  

I didn't realize when I started painting mountain fiddlers how satisfying it would be, and how necessary it would become. By now it feels like I'm making icons of the people who carry the spirit of mountain culture. The religion doesn't work any more, and the spirit of the culture is weak. The music is the living spirit of mountain culture. It's very much alive. Howard was one of the carriers of the fire. One of the great ones. We don't have much of his music recorded. What I have in my collection I treasure. I would do well to put all my treasures such as field recordings, videos, cds, tapes, in a box for the library. Since the radio show is no more, I have a good collection of regional music that belongs in the library. Already I've taken a bunch to them. It's time for another batch. What it does to me is take all my best music out of the house. It's ok. I don't listen to it all the time. When I listen to old-time music at home, it's largely old-timey banjo pickers like Gaither Carlton, Morgan Sexton, Jont Blevins, the kind of music that has a good flow to it. I forget how much I enjoy the cd of Howard Joines and Jr Maxwell, both of them superlative musicians. I tend to put my treasures away and not listen to them, when that's where the music is I really want to be listening to.

It surprised me when Lucas Pasley turned up with some recordings of Howard and Jr together. I'm thinking the guitar might have been Clif Evans, whose tape I believe Lucas got it from. Jr told me he and Howard didn't play an awful lot together. They're known all around for playing together. Howard played mostly old-time and Jr liked bluegrass only. Old-time was "draggy" to him. For them to be playing together, Howard would be playing bluegrass. They took old-time tunes and bluegrassed them. Howard was as good a bluegrass fiddler as he was old-time. I think what Jr meant by they didn't make music much together was they were not in a band together. They were in different bands. They might show up at a jam together, or during fiddlers conventions, many kinds of possibilities. I think they played together fairly often, just not on a regular basis. Like when it happened it happened. Jr had tremendous respect for Howard's fiddling, for Howard himself, his mother's brother, Uncle Howard. 

I expect when Jr was young playing old-time, before bluegrass came along, he played a good bit of music with Uncle Howard who lived at the other end of Pine Swamp Road. Ed Atwood, clawhammer picker, lived across the Little River Creek from Jr, and was banjo with Howard's band. Jr's older half-brother, Welter Maxwell, was an old-time fiddler. Jr's cousin Richard, son of Howard, played guitar. His cousin Carol, Howard's daughter, played guitar. The whole bunch of the Pine Swamp Joineses were good musicians and good singers. Among the living ones is Dennis Joines, bluegrass singer and guitar picker. Last I heard his band is New River Bluegrass. He also has a responsible job that keeps him on the road between home and Winston-Salem a lot. I always think of Dennis when I think of Pine Swamp musicians. He can sing a bluegrass song. He has a singing voice, like Jeff Michael, that is right for bluegrass and does it right. Jeff would rather be poor and make music, while Dennis would rather have a nice house, good woman, some kids, a home. To afford the home he wants, he needs to make some money. Howard was Dennis's uncle too. Dennis's dad, Walton, also a good singer and musician, was Howard's brother and Jr's mother's brother. 

I scrolled up to look at the picture and immediately saw a Pine Swamp Joines in his face. I saw Walton and Howard's son Richard, Dennis, and Jr's mother from photographs I've seen, the structure of the face. That's what I see when I see somebody is the structure of their face. I see it in the Joineses of Pine Swamp distinctly. Another thing I see that runs through them is they're all good people. They were Regular Baptists and went to New Salem on Pine Swamp Road. Howard is buried there. I remember seeing Walton's name carved on the back of one of the benches in the church. Walton left this world several years ago, and he did that when he was a kid, probably a teenage boy tied up in hormonal knots. Richard and Jr are the ones of these Joineses I've known the best, to sit and talk with awhile. I didn't mean the church reference as a qualification for someone to be "good people." Jr was not a church goer and he did everything "good" people aren't supposed to do. He was among the best when it comes to good people. I suppose by good I mean perhaps the least abrasive, generous, people you like to see again. That's it. People you like to see again. 


Saturday, September 24, 2011



Back to work on the Howard Joines fiddler painting. Repainted the fiddle, all of it, with colors closer to my satisfaction. Also put in the chicken, a ghostly chicken of the imagination, white on a white roost. She's leaning down toward his ear like she's singing into his ear. I'm happy with it. The hen is white and transparent like a spectre, like a memory, or a thought. I have her singing her note into his ear, because when he plays Cluck Old Hen, Cacklin Hen and Chicken Reel, old-time fiddle tunes with notes in them that are chicken notes, he plays the note of a hen cackling. Howard kept chickens, and you can hear it when he plays those tunes. They have notes that sound exactly like a chicken when old-time fiddlers play them, fiddlers who grew up with chickens. In the old days, about everybody raised chickens. Howard's chicken notes were perfect. Tommy Jarrell played a good chicken note. All the old-time fiddlers found those notes. That's changing now. The new fiddlers don't live with chickens. You can hear it when they play these tunes, it's a note approximating a chicken's note, but there's no chicken in it.

It was a good project to set this one back in motion. Had it going good and then froze when it came time for the fiddle strings and the bow. I finished two others while it waited. Didn't get the f holes perfect, but I don't care. I don't want perfect. I don't even care if it makes it look "folk art." That's what it is, so it doesn't matter if somebody says that. I'd be as happy with that title as any. The fiddle had already been brought up to the final coat of paint, which was applied today. I was ready to go, knew what had to be done, bore down and done it. Something I've not articulated before is the risk involved in painting, the constant need to apply each touch of paint just right, or close.

Years ago, friend Don Smith who liked to climb rock cliffs straight up, loved the risk. He told me I needed to get out and do something that involved some risk. I couldn't ever explain it, so I didn't try, but I set out on an adventure every time I approach a blank canvas. And when it comes toward the end when I have to paint 1/4" slightly curved line on a white shirt, no mistakes, the line having to cross the fiddle too, the line 2 feet long, I get paralyzed mentally and can't start, though I know I can do it, know I will do it, know that when it happens, it will take no more than 5 to 10 minutes. That part just about paralyzes me from knowing I have one chance and one chance only. It can only be done when I'm ready. One day I feel it, and it gets done in just a few minutes. When I start, instead of holding my breath, I control my breathing, keep it going so I don't pass out from lack of oxygen.

And there was getting the chicken right. Again, one time only. It's not perfect, which means it's just like I want it to be. I've put on a cd of Howard Joines playing fiddle with Jr Maxwell playing banjo, and I'm guessing Richard Joines playing guitar. They're playing Bear Tracks, Jr's banjo in the lead. Sounds good. Now I won't be able to write for listening. They are so good their music draws all my attention. Jr is picking something else now, beautifully. If I'd ask him the title, he'd say, "You don't know the name of that?" and he wouldn't tell me. I'd have to ask ask again. It would be in fun, making fun of me for not knowing. Not that he knew the names of all the songs. Howard's fiddle is working with the banjo that is going where the fiddle takes it. I took a risk when I put this cd on of letting the music take me over and it has. It pulls my ears and occupies my conscious mind that shuts down and receives this something that is so much better than anything that runs through my mind.

They're playing Just Because, a song Bill Monroe also recorded. I knew it before from Elvis doing it early when he was on Sun label just before he became a household name overnight. Jr plays well with a fiddler. He supports the fiddler, keeps the rhythm for him, doesn't get in front of him. Dance All Night With A Bottle In Your Hand. Howard plays this one especially lyrically. What a great fiddler. Jr's banjo works right along with the fiddle. Howard was Jr's uncle. Jr's mother came from an especially musical set of Joineses in Pine Swamp township. Oh it feels good hearing this good music. They're bluegrassing old-time fiddle tunes about like Art Wooten did. Art made two albums in his later years, one old-time and one bluegrass. Same bluegrass bands both times. This is how Art played the old-time tunes on his album, bluegrassed them, keeping the dancers in motion.

This rendering of Howard Joines is looking at being finished tomorrow. Just a little bit more to do. Could have done it today, but I wanted to give it another day. Looking at it, the chicken is right. She is present, but not overtaking. She's whispy as a spectre. This is the chicken he's hearing in his inner ear when he's playing the chicken note in Cluck Old Hen and Chicken Reel. I had to listen to him playing his fiddle to remind myself I'm painting an icon of a master fiddler. The chicken is part of the whole. She belongs. Her presence adds a kind of living quality to the whole. She draws attention from Howard's face, when the eye reaches the hen, it's drawn back to Howard's face. It sets up a rhythm like that with the viewer's eye. Unconsciously. The hen became an essential element to the whole as soon as she appeared. A couple of brush strokes, 2 red dots and a tiny yellow dot, the combs and beak, leaning from the roost toward the fiddler's ear, singing her note to his inner ear.

Friday, September 23, 2011


robert ryman

These days I'm in no hurry to finish a painting, but when one is done, I'm happy with it like never before. I think it's because I spend more time looking at them than applying paint. They are "retinal," after all, made for totally visual reception. Today I applied the fiddle bow to the portrait of Howard Joines, Pine Swamp old-time / bluegrass fiddler. Started it months ago, maybe a year ago, got to the place of putting in the bow and finishing touches on fiddle, was intimidated by the bow, a line about 2 feet long, about a quarter inch wide with a certain curve. It's the kind of thing I have to dread it for awhile, then one day, like today. I had about an hour before having to go out the door. I mixed the color I wanted, a reddish dark brown, and did it. I think of it like zen archery. One chance and one chance only. I set about it with an unquestioning mind, just did it. And it worked.

It worked like that on the one before this one, Cleve Andrews fiddler, left the fiddle bow for the last. Did it the same way. One day I set out to do it, got it done in few minutes, best bow I've ever done and very best bow hair. Maybe I'm catching on to how it's done. Every instrument has its challenges. A banjo has a lot of circles you have to get right according to the angle. A guitar has odd curves that are different at every angle of seeing them. A fiddle is the most painstaking with the various curves in and out, the f holes, then the bow. Will wait a few days for the paint of the bow to dry some before putting the white of the bow hair up next to it. No hurry. I'd like to get it done by the end of the month, a week or so. Finishing the fiddle is all it needs, a touch here, a touch there. I've dreaded this fiddle bow for about a year. I know all I have to do is bear down on it and do it. I'm not a factory, so it doesn't matter how long it takes.

Went by Kermit's barber shop to take him the black and white print I'd used to go by for the painting of Jr and Cleve making music. I'd put it in a redi-made frame for his barber shop walls. He has 2 big walls covered with photographs, mostly b and w, newspaper articles and photographs, a Del Reeves poster, Bill Monroe poster for shows here in Sparta, musicians of the county, like Paul Miles, Wayne Williams, musicians from our recent past. He had one I'd given him a few years ago of the Little River Boys, Jr and Cleve with their 2 guitar players, Estal Bedsaul and Paul Joines. I don't want Cleve Andrews to go forgotten. He had not recorded anything that has been found, but for 2 fiddle tunes with Jr on banjo at Galax in 1966, by someone visiting from Germany. They just turned up less than a couple years ago. I've painted 2 pictures now with Cleve in them, and I've put together a cd of Jr Maxwell's music and put those 2 songs on it, so they're archived.

When this one is finished of Howard Joines I'll finish the one of the Rise & Shine Band, which I haven't touched in a couple months. Getting used to its possibilities. I've given myself a challenge compositionally, as with the one of Jr and Cleve. Something I have to think about awhile, wonder what colors would give the feel I want it to have. I want it to have pizzaz. I want it to dance. It's a horizontal row of changing colors. I'm studying how to get the most out of it as far as movement goes. I'm seeing something of a Russian Constructivist abstraction of straight lines and squares in a dance movement from left to right, or right to left. I want the eye to register movement, not a great deal, just enough to make music. I'm thinking I'd like to find a picture of Charlie Higgins, a fiddler from Independence who is kin to the Twin Oaks Higginses in this county, and may have been born in this county. He was one of the truly great old-time fiddlers with Wade Ward on banjo, the Buck Mountain Band.

In this round of painting mountain musicians, I've taken the principles mountain musicians go by, things I've learned over years of listening to the music, knowing a few musicians, quite a lot from conversation with Jr Maxwell, and have applied them to my painting. I've made a list of 7 that I can think of without blowing a gasket. #1. It has to come from the heart. From the heart means from the center of feeling. That's where you have to feel it. Sara Carter's singing was plain, but the feeling was immense, because the feeling was inside her voice. #2. Find your own style. In the old days they didn't have banjo teachers making a living teaching students. You wanted to learn a banjo, you got ahold of one, bought a cheap one from somebody and figured it out. How you figure it out becomes your style. I figured out painting without instruction. I like painting faces, hands and instruments. I can only call it a gift, like Ralph Stanley calls his singing voice. A gift is the only way I can see it. #3. Be who you are. This is the first tenet of mountain culture. #4. Don't talk down about other musicians. This applies for me to other artists. No saying, "I wouldn't call what he does art. There's nothing to it." That's not what a Zoroastrian would call "right speech."

#5. Money is not an issue. Gas money will do. Money is incidental. Sometimes I may sell one. Sometimes I'll trade with one. Sometimes give one to a public institution. Have given one to the library and probably will another before very long. In my heart I cannot paint for money. When I think about selling, my inspiration goes all to shit, then I don't paint for several years. That'because when I start up again it is a wholly new vision. This time it was mountain musicians and this time money is not an issue. #6. Make it better every time. Musicians I know are reaching for a new touch with notes played over and over to get them better each time than the time before. It's so much a part of making music, musicians hardly notice. Like I was very happy with the Ralph Stanley, then even happier with the Willard with guitar, and happy with Jr and Cleve. My heart goes into them when money is not part of it. #7. Humility. This, too, is another basic tenet of mountain culture. Jr Maxwell didn't like Carter Stanley at all, wouldn't even hear him, because in he understood Carter to be arrogant. I'd heard that from other musicians of the time, too. It happens. Ralph Stanley is not arrogant. Generally, you'll never find an arrogant mountain musician, certainly not in the old way. That, too, is changing.

I can't say this is an order of importance. It is the order of how they came to me when I sat down with pen and paper to get them articulated. I stopped at 7 because no more came to me. There are others, but I don't mean to lock myself down to a rule of law of my own making. Not at all. I'm looking at principles to pay attention to that will improve my approach to painting, which is where the act of painting comes from. Hearing at this moment Kronos Quartet playing Philip Glass, String Quartet #5, grooving to it. I love 20th century composers like I love 20th century artists. It doesn't show to a lot of people that when I go to museums I want to see the more contemporary sorts of things, abstractions, minimalism, conceptualism. A friend can't see through my realism to what I see behind it. It's what is behind it that is important to me. I want my portraits of musicians to say something like on the order of poetry instead of cartoon. In a way, I feel each of my paintings is a visual poem. For several years I devoted my art mind to poerty, never got very good, but learned to appreciate it from the inside. A modernist poem, Ezra Pound to present, doesn't have a message so much as an understanding and a feeling. I want my paintings free of "mainstream" thinking, of sales thinking. I want them to represent the mountain musicians I get painted, a gesture to keep at least their memory alive since most of them don't record. I paint now with a purpose outside myself. I paint for the musicians themselves and for a record of mountain culture in a given place and time.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011


richard pettibone, jasper johns flag 1955, 1967

On the news this morning was talk about the two "hikers" released from Iranian prison after a year or so. They were let go as a "humanitarian gesture," for a million dollars. The girl with them was released not long after arrest, again a humanitarian gesture, for half a million. They call it "bail," but everybody knows none of them will return for a trial. Saw a picture of the two guys; they looked like survivors of Wrong Turn 2, red around the eyes, a stark terror in the eyes that will take many years to recede to something they can live with comfortably. You might say they had their eyes opened for them. I doubt either of these guys will return to Iran for any reason. I can't help but think it immensely retarded of them to go hiking in the Iraqi mountains on the border with Iran in this time of war all the way around Iran. Iraq on one side, Afghanistan on the other, both wars are (pre-emptive) American aggression, Iran in the American cross-hairs for the last 30+ years. I'm reminded of the people on a New Age tour to see gorillas in their natural habitat, the Rwandan rain forest, outdoor petting zoo, in the height of the Rwandan killing mayhem. We're white bwanas, we'll be safe. They're only killing each other. Several were killed. I think of someone whose house was washed away by a flood rebuilding on the same site. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. He had his reasons.

And what an odd blunder in Egypt. A protest, which nobody in an African country was fool enough to believe would overthrow any government. It did. Then what. They got rid of Mubarak. They were not prepared to take over power. They were just protesting. So the military now has "interim" power in Egypt. Then the people in Lybia start thinking a protest will overthrow Khadafy. It didn't work. Since they committed themselves, they have to fight now to keep from being killed when Khadafy comes back. Doesn't look like that will happen, but he has a ruthless mind and he's not out yet. On the news I'm hearing it called "Arab Spring," which strikes me as an American "defense" department sound bite, like "Iraqi Liberation," devoid of meaning. Sounds pretty. Like naming a plane Enola Gay. Yesterday I heard somebody call it the "Arab Uprising," which accords better with my perception of it. It's too soon to be calling it a "Spring." Spring implies Summer and Fall to follow. Arab Spring sounds too much like W Bush's "Mission Accomplished." What mission? Accomplished? The only mission I saw accomplished was the American people hoodwinked by successful propaganda.

On the phone with my friend Carole, she told something from her granddaughter living in Seattle. Granddaughter knew some people in Seattle who had talked about how vulnerable the city is to a particular kind of "terrorism," evidently in the company of the wrong one. A plain clothes FBI agent came along and started talking to them about committing this "terrorist act." They were astonished. They didn't want to do that. A good time to say, "Get behind me Satan," with accurate meaning. All are in prison. USA not a police state? One of the motivations for me to leave Charleston was seeing how vulnerable the city was. I'm reminded of the 50s, during and after the Joe McCarthy American activities of name smearing and causing a large number of suicides. In those days, talking on the phone with friends, we'd frequently say something and then hope "They" weren't listening or missed what we were talking about. It was in the time of J Edgar Hoover wiretapping PinkOs. After the fall of the Wall, which Reagan strangely took credit for, we had less emphasis on communism to keep the population's fear quotient up. We went through the Clinton years without any fear being pumped into us by propaganda, though we had plenty of fear of Kenneth Starr. Then W, Cheney, Rummy and Rice hit the stage with 911 and we started thinking about wiretapping of phones again, even cell phones now. We know this time around that the Supremes will uphold every restriction of We The People's rights.

I think of what Meher Baba recommended: Stay out of politics. Such sound counsel! And I add to that Jr's sayin his daddy, Wiley Sr, passed to him: Stay away from important people. I see important people the same as the word politics, just more inclusive all the way to the impulse to politics. Important people in about all cases I can see are self-important. Ask their wives and kids. Important amounts to posturing, something important people do all the time, like sharks swim all the time to keep from sinking. Other fish can be still in the water without sinking. Posturing is a constant mental activity entirely self-centered. It's what important people do. Want to be important? Start posturing and it won't be long until some people start thinking I'm important; must be, he's posturing. "Get you a guitar and put it in tune--you'll be a-rockin and a-rollin soon." Strangely, in the 1950s American educational system, it was preached to the kids that being a leader is important, not being a follower. Whatever the hell that means. Leaders are important people. Throughout my growing up, the message to the young was be important. In college, it was be great. What a burden. And what bullshit.

The moment Jr told me his daddy's sayin, Stay away from important people, I heard the wisdom in it. Not just intelligence, but wisdom. A truly wise saying. I was already imbued with that thinking, but didn't have it as concisely as in a simple sentence, stay away from important people. About any way you use the word important. Then you don't ever get talked down to, or when you do, you don't receive it. If one of Karl Rove's Tea Party members of congress were to tell me I'm a jerk, I'd roll around on the floor like two fighting cats, laughing til my belly hurt and mark the calendar in red for that day. I'd probably sound like the cats, too. Thank You, Sir; Thank You, Ma'am or Miz. It would be feedback as valuable as somebody saying to me of one of my paintings with a fiddle in it, "I can hear that fiddle." I take "important people" to mean about everyone who thinks of his station in life "a position," the sure sign of a posturer, one who postures. Like everything else I live by, I allow for exceptions, lapses, errors, whatever. I don't take anything that I know of for absolute. There is another meaning of important, that is excepted from the meaning above. Whatever is important to your heart. Posturing is important to the mind, not even noticed by the heart. Important to the heart would be grandma's pinto beans and cornbread.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011


david hockney, day pool with 3 blues

If someone were to say that some kinds of art,
like a painting by Rothko, are representations
of inner states rather than outer appearance,
I would answer, so is everything else. Someone
once said to me while we were talking about
Cubism, Isn't Cubism about the inner eye?
I said, But that's all we have, that's all there is.
There isn't actually any other kind.

                                         ---David Hockney




I've been wondering a bit lately about the word nature as it applies to our own individual natures and to what we call the natural world. I'm seeing that in this time when we have next to nothing to do with what wecall nature except out the window of the car when we're in the country. In the city, you have  some trees, some lawns, shrubbery, insects and sky. After half a year in Europe, when I came home I wanted to kiss the ground. At NY airport we walked through a tube to the airport, then through a tube to the next plane to Charleston. In Charleston the ground was paved where I got off the plane. Took a cab to town and when I got there, no ground. Brick sidewalk, only small flower beds. By then, the urge had passed. The only "nature" I'd experienced since leaving London was the air the plane was flying on.

Most of my purpose coming to the mountains was to be surrounded by nature all the time, live among trees and meadows, even some wild animals, wild meaning not domesticated. In other words, nature is wild. I can look at what we call our individual nature and our human nature. Dogs have dog nature that makes them act like dogs, and among the dogs there is individual nature, like among humans. I was about to say our individual nature is something like our personality, but the word personality has so much associated with it that is not natural. Remembering high school when conformity is at its highest, everyone was judged by personality. "He has such a good personality." Meaning he smiles a lot and talks upbeat all the time, nice. Fake in every way. Good personality means good conformist. That's not what I mean by nature. Like it's somebody's nature to have a short fuse. Or it's somebody's nature to want to be busy all the time, whatever the reasoning.

Personality we can shape at will, acting. Nature is what we can't change without a great deal of effort and then it doesn't work. A horoscope spells our an individual about the best of anything I can think of besides knowing somebody very well, like in marriage. Some people are compelled to talk a lot, some are not. Again, for whatever reasonings or justifications. I've especially been able to see someone's nature in people I know best. People we slightly know, we take things said and done as representative of the person's nature, whether they are or not. I know I've been read off center, especially when I use irony. Americans just don't get irony. Again, television that deals in the obvious. I figure when everybody is doing it, television is behind it. Like I look at all the young girls fashioning themselves after Britney Spears. I tell myself to stop making ironic comments, but sometimes they slip through. It took me years to learn to say Unsweet tea when ordering at a restaurant. Wanting to be clear, I'd say, "tea without sugar." The response every time was, "Unsweet?" Unswseet.

We adjust our personalities to circumstances, to what works best socially. Our nature doesn't change. It can be suppressed and it can be expressed. I see young people getting out in the world of jobs and responsibility, having to figure everything out for themselves the best they can. I know a few who are natured such that they can't keep a job very long without getting mad and quitting. That strikes me as nature more than personality. Personality is to act like I'm not like that. Political correctness bypasses nature. You're natured this way, but it's politically correct to do it that way, so again, nature is over-ruled. Our individual natures are over-ruled by wanting "to be like everybody else." Whatever that means, unless like television. I don't mean to complain about conformity, because it's how we live in a world with a lot of other people. We find avenues where we can over-ride nature and associate on the ground of understanding on another. We don't live in communities anymore. We live largely among people we only know superficially, or strangers, and we do need a common language. Television is the culture we all share.

Among the mountain people in the old days, people were known by their natures instead of their personalities. I'm suspecting it had something to do with living so closely with nature, the untamed world. They lived by the weather, working the land, sawmilling trees, making things of wood, like wagons, and leather, like shoes and saddles. Working in solitude on the farm and in community at harvest time. People of different natures respected each other's natures the same as they knew not to try to make water flow uphill. Someone's nature is who the person is. There is the man who will borrow something and return it in better condition than when he borrowed it. There is also the man who will return a lawnmower out of gas and out of oil. This is nature. The spiritual path works with one's nature, not one's personality. Say I have a short fuse and have hurt quite a lot of people with it in the past. On the path, one being self-aware will see that a short fuse is not practical. One will dive within and examine this short fuse and determine to be less hurtful with it. Be conscious with it. Not necessary to crush it down and pretend it's dead;you get the Edgar Allen Poe Fall Of The House   Of Usher going. Better to be conscious of one's own nature than to suppress it.

Our human nature is certainly a part of what we call nature, the natural world, the untamed, the wild. Living among a lot of people all the time we have to get along. Living in the light of God's love, we wouldn't need laws, but since we don't, we have so many laws regarding our human behavior we're locked down in a system where we break unenforced laws every day. The critters of the forest don't need laws. They had a good balance going until civilization came along and turned away from the natural world, the world of the untamed. The natural world is only resources, like calling a tree timber. I'm wondering if the closer we are to nature in the physical world determines how close we are to our own nature. Perhaps this has something to do with why I felt the need to get out of the city. I was seeing my own nature overridden and came to have no confidence in my own nature, whatever that was? I believe that the years of living on the edge of the woods, walking in the woods, living close to the weather, living in the seasons, living with the cycles, I've come closer to finding my own nature that was hidden under years of attention to personality. My nature is the same as in the city years, yet my personality is different. Maybe this is high-sounding palaver, but it feels more like a puzzle piece  that found its place.


Monday, September 19, 2011


robert rauschenberg, untitled, 1954

Today I started reading in Kent Nerburn's The Wolf At Twilight again and couldn't stop, went all the way through to last page. The last half of it didn't allow me to stop anyplace, except to get up and pour a refill of green tea. It is the beautiful writing, the 90 year old Lakota man Dan, who had been damaged for life by Indian school in his childhood, like all the other kids there, was searching to find what happened to his sister after they were separated as children. He wanted to know before he died. He called on Nerburn, who had written the earlier book of Dan and his world, his friend Grover, his granddaughter, Wenona, his dog, his bare essentials way of living. It's several years later, Dan wants Nerburn to find what he can of what happened to his sister, Yellow Bird, or Sarah after Indian school. Dan wanted to know if she was living, and if so wanted to find her. The first half, Nerburn sets the scene that we're in a culture totally different from our own, different way of thinking, different way of seeing. The last half is the search. Dan gave him a postage stamp size photo from when she was little. That picture was all Nerburn had to go by, and her name.

Nerburn was the one to call. He'd promised Dan he'd do what he could to find her. The Indians around Dan didn't believe he could do it. In the meantime, Dan talks to Nerburn while the cassette recorder is recording. He told the history of the Indians being eradicated from sea to sea by the boat people. He told a bit of experience in the Indian school, the kids dying, the kids killed. The martial treatment was off the track for Indian kids. Indians didn't hit their kids. They respected their kids. They saw the kids and the old people the ones closest to the Creator. He told the story of separation from his sister. Old Dan was using a walker in this volume. Ten years before, he declined someone lending him a hand to help him out of a chair, or in awkward places. By this time, when he's 90, he allows an assist with grace. Another volume in the history of the Native people, the story of a man in the last years of his life telling the history from the side of the people living on reservations in degraded conditions. A century later, they continue to have FBI for law enforcement on the res. People kept down in poverty in concentration camps, denied basic human dignity.

When I read the last page, I didn't want it to be over. Nerburn is a subtle writer. You think he's just giving a reading of what the weather is like at a given moment. Yet it's told in a perfectly clear sentence that when you pay attention the sentence is a little haiku of poetry. Several times I read over a sentence that pushed my Awe button for its beauty as as sentence in the English language. Through the spidery branches I could see the daylight fading. These two volumes are something on the order of documentary films. I'd love to see a film made of the story, drama or documentary, either way would do, without Robert Redford, Brad Pitt or Matt Damon, please. These are more along the lines of Black Elk Speaks, a record of what a Lakota man has to say at the end of his long life. It's not mysticism. It's history.

Then I caught a whim that I wanted to see Oliver Stone's W. with director's commentary. Had an idea it would be interesting to hear Stone talk about his film, scene by scene. It was. Very interesting. It's like the one thing I would like to ask a director of a film I appreciate to do for me, take me through it scene by scene, tell me what you were doing. Who's going to do that for a schmo in the mountains? Stone may have visited people at Roaring Gap some time along the years, was in driving distance to come over to my place, put the movie in and explain for me all the way through it what he was up to. Thank you, Mr Stone. Most gracious of you. I'll be your fan forever. Can I have your autograph before you go? Since I don't see that happening before the end of my lifetime, imagine how much I anticipated seeing it with Stone's commentary. I enjoy hearing an artist talk about his work in ways that illustrate his/her thinking. Stone has always made interesting films, whether or not I like the subject. It's Oliver Stone's vision that makes me want to see more, that made me take W home.


Sunday, September 18, 2011



I've spent my life meeting other people's expectations and don't do it any more. Two events this weekend I was expected to attend in the audience. One, I was called by someone I know associated with it and told to go. To get off the phone, I said, Ok. A part of me wanted to go to the event, but not enough to get me out the door and key in ignition. That was Friday night, and today I was expected to be at a big Main St extravaganza, and skipped it. It might have been a tolerable way to spend the afternoon, but I was enjoying it at home indoors so much better. In both cases, I was expected by somebody to be there. All day yesterday dreading leaving home in the evening when I was comfortable, dreading giving up $10 for something I didn't want to do, these words came into my mind, When somebody expects of me who does not know my life, they run the risk of disappointment. Ok, so they're pist off because they don't see me there. Control freaks suffer a lot of disappointments.

People who tell me what to do once will tell me what to do twice, three times, infinitely. Experience has taught me to stop the progression at the first step. They stop expecting of me right away when it doesn't work the first time. Pisses them off, but they can write me off as an asshole and that's that. If I follow expectation second, third and more times, then, when I want to put a stop to it, the other party hates my guts and will wait patiently go to my funeral to see me dead. If I don't bring it to an end fairly soon, I'll blow a gasket eventually and quit altogether. Big blowout, serious hatred flying back and forth until it swirls into a whirlwind. Then we don't speak for lotsa years.

I went to see a psycho-therapist for six years over this question, jumping to please other people's expectatons like I was trained to do in childhood, because other people know what's better for me than I do. Believing I didn't know what was right for myself got me into a lot of minor messes, and a few times big messes. Nothing really serious, just a lot of time spent doing things I didn't want to do because somebody else expected it. Political correctness is about other people's expectations. The answer to where I got this inner dysfunction was deeply ingrained and hidden way back there in the earliest years, mommy. Phew, a sigh of relief. Of course. Before seeing it, I knew it unconsciously. I needed to see how it grew to where I continued to believe after a lot of years, even believed habitually, that I was supposed to jump to other people's expectations. And woe if I disappoint somebody I just barely know. It wasn't that she actively did that to me, rather it's how the child interpreted and applied the interpretation to everyday life for the rest of my life. It reinforced itself as years went by into a habit way of thinking.

Never permitted an opportunity to make a decision for myself, I grew up unable to make a rational decision. When a decision was necessary, all I knew was other people knew better than I did what's right for me. I went down a lot of dark alleys for a long time, though gained some interesting experiences that were educational -- don't do that again. There was a period of years after high school, I'll say 5 initially, the most intensely ignorant years, when I did nothing but work against myself, following other people's expectations. Many years passed before I even started to notice that when I did what other people told me to do, my own satisfaction was nowhere to be found. Following orders. Doing my duty. Being good. By my early 30s I had no clue who I was, what I was really about other than doing what other people told me to do. About the only way I can define my inner life at the time was lost. It was the same as in a forest at night without a flashlight. I tried meditation to see if I could find who I really am. It didn't work, or didn't seem to. It might have opened something up that took a little while to grow. But I didn't get the answer.

I'm not alone. When we leave the nest in this society to make it on our own power, not everyone is taught by parents, school and church to think for themselves, make their own decisions. Read Leo Buscaglia, he knows more than you do. Read Deepak Chopra, he knows how you're supposed to be. I kept up with Chopra until he started talking about living forever in the same body. Who would want to do that? If it could be done, and of course, it can't. Deepak went off into some New Age dreamland with Shakti Gawain, Ram Dass and some others he can have. Good fit for the middle-class New Age Cruise lecture circuit. At that point, I said Bye-bye. Like I bought all Bob Dylan albums when they were new. I brought home Saved and played the first side, I said, Bye-bye Bob. Never listened to the second side. Bob Dylan evangelist was a turn I couldn't take. He repented, however, and it wasn't long before he was writing Bob Dylan songs again. The only real direction I had inside myself in the first fifteen years of freedom to make my own decisions, was I knew what I didn't like. That was it. I wasn't even one to say I know what I like. I knew what I didn't like. That's not much light in the darkness.

It's part of growing up, perhaps even maturity, to have one's own mind, not a disguise of somebody else's. Or maybe it's not even possible to decide entirely for oneself, like a cat, and live in a herd at the same time like a cow. In a herd, I have always been the one that stays off to itself. In every domestic herd you'll find one that stays to itself. It stays near the herd, travels with the herd, will eat with the herd, but isn't entirely a herd beast. It is, because it's with the herd, and it's the nature of a herd to have one cow that stays to itself. It's a herd beast like the others. I don't know what an individual cow's reasoning would be, but mine seems to be about expectations. It's custom among us to expect of the people around us, relatives, friends, neighbors, "he hadn't oughta be doin her that-a way." Gossip. At work the entire time. I don't have a job anymore, am not involved in any organizations with guidelines of behavior to stay within. Expectations coming at me are few anymore. By this time in the life, I hand pick the ones I want to go with. Always it's people I don't know very well who do the expecting whenever it happens anymore. After a few dashed expectations they start knowing me a little bit and stop it. I'd lay odds that some of it has to do with Taurus the bull in the night sky. Snort, kick up some dirt, say: don't you climb over that fence.


Saturday, September 17, 2011


photograph by andrea galvani

Reading in Kent Nerburn's The Wolf at Twilight, part 2 of his earlier book Neither Wolf Nor Dog. In the section I read today, Dan, the old Indian man, Lakota, told the history of the white invasion in just a few pages starting with Columbus. It parallels our history from Columbus to now, but from the other side of the us and them divide. Different words, but it's all there. Our story is from the point of view of the ones that killed the Indians, theirs from the point of view of the ones killed, whose land was taken away. "Boat people" he calls us, the ones that came over on boats, cut down trees, put up fences and placed surviving Indians on the poorest land the white people didn't want. They were told to be farmers, after nearly all others had been killed. The old boy, Dan, speaks to Nerburn naming him personally responsible for all that the old man was telling him. Dan sent him a message to come to the reservation several years after the first book about him, Neither Wolf Nor Dog. He wanted to tell Nerburn some more before he dies.

All through this second volume, Dan tore into Nerburn for attention to the clock, always in a hurry, looking at the clock, wondering what time it is, living by the clock in his head. Dan and another old Indian named Grover, a friend of Dan's, who was with them on the trip by car they're on in the pages I'm reading, acted as a translator for Nerburn of Dan's particular ways. They were driving to the boarded up building that was once the Indian school where Dan spent a great portion of his childhood, the very most traumatic extended period of his life, Indian school. The Indian way of reasoning was very different from Nerburn's, a white suburban middle class PhD professor, writer. Like the time they were out on a highway on the reservation in the morning, stopped someplace where Dan wanted to get out of the car. Grover wanted to drive up to the next town to get some cigarettes. All the time Grover was gone, Nerburn was fixated on why he wasn't back, when he'd had plenty of time. Nerburn couldn't get it off his mind, Dan would talk to him about letting it be. Grover is wherever he is and he's doing whatever he's doing where he is.

Later, Grover returned and they went on their way. Nerburn eventually asked Grover what took him so long. Grover said he thought Nerburn and Dan needed some time to talk. The funny part is that Nerburn had his mind focused on Grover's return with his car, and missed what Dan had to say. One of the many aspects of these two books I like is neither Dan nor Grover are shamans or chiefs. They're just men who happened to live long enough to get old. From time to time Dan passes some Indian wisdom to Nerburn that is told from how the Indian sees things. Here is something he said about children, The boy is in all of us. That's why we got to be good to the children. The boy always lives inside the man. Isn't it so, to the chagrin of their wives who say in exasperation, When are you going to grow up? Much of the time through the narrative, both Indian men are picking at Nerburn and lecturing him on his white ways, lack of patience. Nerburn knows it's in good humor, though there are moments he has to stand up for himself and tell them they don't understand his world either. Which, of course, means nothing to them, because they don't want to, they understand it more than they want to already.

To give an idea of the difference of how they thought, they had gone to a highway bar for lunch. Dan ordered 28 french fries, and sat at the table telling Nerburn the genocide of the Indians from their side. Nerburn was impatient with him. Dan had ordered 28 french fries the man at the bar had to fry to order. He salted them. At the table, Dan was telling Nerburn the history of the destruction of the Indian way of life and the Indians themselves, Dan would break each french fry in half, rub them together to rub the salt off, "the doctor said it wasn't good for me." He gave one half the french fry to his dog, Bronson, and ate the other. Nerburn asked, "You could have just asked the guy to hold the salt." Dan said, "Whoever heard of french fries without salt?" The difference was far greater than that, but this exchange shows one does it one way, the other another way. You have this old Indian man who is not what you'd call a "wise" man, but just a man. What Nerburn was intending while telling his story of a man without a title, it appears to me, was to show the attitude and the thinking of the reservation Indian, descendants of the ones that rode horses. 

Dan asked Nerburn to write his story. This is the second volume of Dan's story. In the second volume Dan tells about his time in Indian school as a child. Parents let kids go to Indian school for a place where they could have some food in a time when the white invaders were starving out the survivors of genocide by war. The humor running through the story is the problem Kent Nerburn has, not much experience understanding the culture of the Indian people, like people new to the mountains do not know anything about mountain culture. As always happens when you're new in a culture and don't know your way around, the people laugh at you in a light-hearted way for language interpretation, words with different meanings in the 2 cultures. Just a white man's arrogance stands out among people in a culture of poverty. It's not intentional arrogance, just an attitude that comes through tone of voice, words and actions. Dan and Grover respect Nerburn to the point of trust among white people. Though he knows Indian history as an historian, he still doesn't know Indian ways. He has a clock in his head, they do not. He wants to know about details, they don't care about details.

I'm reminded of my first months and years in the mountains. It was a lot to learn, an entire culture without written history, and sometimes I'd be frustrated, just like Nerburn, but different circumstances. There would be times I'd drive to Winston-Salem to go to a movie and drive around in traffic, just to have an experience from my own home, Flatland, in my own culture. A mini-vacation. I'd go to my spiritual retreat that is 500 acres of virgin forest between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, between Hwy 17 and the sea, cabins around in the woods and communal kitchens. There, I'd be among my Flatland friends and talk Flatland style where everything is comprehensible. That was as much what I'd go there for as spiritual regeneration, which I also needed, Flatland or mountain. I like Kent Nerburn's way of making his own puzzlement in the Indian culture a part of the story. It helps emphasize the cultural difference, a way of saying it's another world in the Indian way of thinking. Nerburn deals continually with translating different ways of thinking. Sharing his frustration gives me a far deeper understanding of the differences, and gives a better understanding of the Indian ways. Their ways are not lesser versions of our own, the same as mountain culture is not a lesser version of Flatland culture.