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Wednesday, February 29, 2012


     hillbilly sculpture by tj worthington

A very wet cloud sits on the mountain today. Earlier, when I stepped outside without putting on a jacket or sweater to walk to the mailbox, I stepped into the outdoor air anticipating getting top of head and shoulders dampened by slight sprinkles. Didn't get wet at all. The air is so damp it's just short of manifesting liquid form. I heard soft rumblings of thunder around noon. Second thunder in February. The first one was the 22nd. The country wisdom says the date of a thunder in February is the date in May of the last frost. Maybe the second one means a frost will come on the 29th, but not a damaging frost. I mark on the calendar in May to check it out. It used to be said the wooly worm predicts the winter by its color sections. One that is orange in front and back, with the black in the middle, translates into a hard winter in the middle and mild before and after.

If there were ever a time woolly worms were exactly alike, I've not been there to see it. I've paid attention to them since 1976 when I arrived in the mountains and Tom Pruitt told me his understanding of the woolly worm legend. He didn't believe there was anything to it, for the same reasons I've come to. Next question: what does it mean when no two woolly worms you see are alike? Over about the last 10 or more years I've seen more all-black woolly worms than ever before. The black ones I've seen come with the milder winters. Like snowflakes, it appears no two woolly worms are alike. I'm willing to suppose that in the olden days the woolly worms might have all been alike. Maybe the weather was more consistent in those times. If the nature of the winter does show up in the woolly worm, the only relationship I've seen is more black ones, more predominantly black as our winters are less cold every year. The old sayings about the weather don't apply anymore.

Fogs in August used to predict the snows of the winter. Think of the month of August as a 6-month winter. Each week in August would correspond to two months in the winter. If fog occurs on the 6th of August, snow could be expected around the 1st of December. If the 22nd, snow might happen on or around the beginning of March. I paid attention to fogs in August the first several years, and found them an accurate forecasting method. Gradually, we quit having fogs in August and we get little to no snow in the winter. Every winter is uniquely itself. It's difficult to hold the winters to a pattern. Looking at a span of 35 years, a general pattern does emerge, in waves, (close your eyes if you're a republican) global warming. Scientists say, scientists say. Real scientists, not the ones on corporate payroll, say global warming is obvious fact, not something to have an opinion about. It's absurd to be mentioning it. We've known it was global warming for the last 40+ years, but it's politically incorrect to admit to it. The problem I have with political correctness is you can't have a feeling or thought of your own without checking to see if it's ok. Kinda like in North Korea and China.

Just now got an image of recollection. A woman I knew in the late 1980s, not well, but well acquainted. We were friendly. A few months ago she came into the coffee shop while I was there. We sat down together to talk. The talk amounted to her talking without drawing a breath, sentences starting you needta, you gotta, you oughta, you better, you should. Sounded like a gospel song to me---you better, you better, you better, or else. I was looking at her, someone I'd not seen in a quarter century, trying to imagine how she could divine all that I, of all people, needta-gotta-oughta-better-should do or have. The nature of the list she was spelling out for me, I didn't have the heart to tell her, had nothing to do with me. Running out of needta's and gotta's, she started a sentence, You're supposed to....

I broke into her monologue and said, "I don't do s'posed-to." She jumped from her seat like a firecracker went off in it, hugging her laptop, and speed-walked out the door in a bee-line. She wasn't suffering from colony collapse disorder, either. She went straight through the door with conviction that it was not a plate glass window. I don't like to laugh at people I like, and I do like her quite a lot. But when what you have to say starts with you needta, you needta be talking to somebody else. That's not conversation, it's giving orders. Sorry, baby, I'm not a waiter. I dismissed it as unconscious white middle-class American chatter, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Another theater of the absurd in everyday life moment.

Sometimes, not very often, somebody makes me wonder if they're out of their league in a human form. Maybe they're not ready to make it without a tail. Maybe they missed a chimpanzee lifetime in a hurry to get to human. For what? Meth addiction? Just as well go back to swinging in the trees some more and try the leap to human form again after you've learned something. Maybe meth addiction is a way of learning something. Surely major cities have young evangelists that testify to Jesus helping them get off the track to self destruction. Alcoholism and drug addictions have served a large number people spiritually in the long run. A way is a way. It seems like churches would want to put rehab places in every city, conducted with the authenticity and working reality of AA. Every junkie is at his or her own bottom. The only way from there is up. Free rehab centers operated with integrity of purpose would go a long way toward bringing urban crime way down. Like everybody blazes their own trail up the mountain. This is where the Master comes in handy. He knows the way of each one's own particular path. Without the Master's help, it's like being in a sailboat at sea in a fog, or in a maze that goes this way and that without clues. We've had a serious hard drug problem in USA for almost half a century, and still, rehab as a possibility is so rare it's next to nothing toward addressing the problem.


Monday, February 27, 2012


     scott freeman by tj worthington

Waited much of the day yesterday for the rain to stop at Daytona, and then they called it off. It's been transferred to tonight at 7. Later, back at home, I was at emails, the radio was on WBRF playing bluegrass. The talk song THE TOUCH OF THE MASTER'S HAND played. I'd only heard it a couple times. It's one of those multidimensional old country tear jerkers. It's the story of an old dusty fiddle up for auction. Auctioneer couldn't get more than a couple dollars bid. An old feller walks up from the seated crowd, picks up the fiddle, tunes it, and sets to playing an old-time waltz. The fiddle itself, without the story, is a tear jerker for the beauty in it. The bidding started again after the fiddler played it, and the value went up to three thousand. Asked what's the difference, it's the touch of the Master's hand. From there it goes on to the spiritual dimension. When you're dusty and out of tune, the touch of the Master's hand can dust you off, tighten your strings, bring you to balance, in tune. The touch of the Master's hand can bring out the beauty within and make you a beautiful song. I was glad to hear it again.

It brought to mind a print Jr Maxwell had on the wall in a frame. It was a rendering of a fiddle and the verse to THE TOUCH OF THE MASTER'S HAND. He told me several times over the years he intended to give it to fiddler Jim Shumate of Wilkes County. Once I asked him if he'd like to go for a drive and take it to him. No, not now. It stayed in his mind, but he never would make the gesture to hand it over. I offered once to take it to Shumate, who was getting old unto frailty, too. No, not now. Eventually, Jr died. I've thought about talking to Ross about letting me take that picture to Shumate. But that comes under taking care of other people's interests. Interference doesn't work so well with the flow. I don't like to interfere in other people's business. I'm telling myself if Jr didn't get it to him while he was living, intending it, but never doing it, maybe it wasn't to be. Then again, maybe it was to be, and it's now my time to make the next step, because I'm the only one who knows he meant it to go to Jim Shumate. It's one of those decisions it's hard for me to make. In past experience, it's been the right thing sometimes to interfere and complete something unfinished, and sometimes it's not been the right thing to do. I tend to be of the mind to "let it happen." If Jr didn't see to getting it to Shumate before he died, when he had plenty of warning his span of time yet to go was shrinking to almost none, maybe he really did not want to get it to Shumate. I don't know. So I do nothing.

I never allowed myself to believe I knew Jr's will enough to make decisions for him. While he was living, up to the last day, I let him make his own decisions, never forced him to follow my decisions. I understood his thinking well enough that I could toss him a key word to pull him back onto his track when he was talking to somebody and forgot what he was saying. It embarrassed him to forget in front of people he knew. I could toss him one word that brought him right back without a gap of silence. We made a good team in that way. I never attempted to talk for him, never explained for him, always allowed him his own power to say what he intended, not what I assumed he intended. I learned quite a lot about the nature of the mind watching his mind fade away. Without mind, "he" was still there. His subconscious mind was in full operation. Without the front of his mind, he was functioning on the same or similar mind as the pre-verbal animals. Over years I've learned to communicate in silence with my dogs and cats, and I found ways to communicate with Jr when his mind was not working. In his helpless condition, he was like a baby, innocent, dependent. He knew he was dependent. In the time his mind was gone, he recognized me as the one he couldn't make it without. His eyes lit up and twinkled when he saw me. Not because he knew who I was. I was the one he couldn't make it without. I fed him, kept him and the bed clean, helped him in and out of the wheelchair. I didn't mind that my ego had been forgotten. It wasn't about my ego. Once he entered the tunnel of light, he'd forget even his own name.

His mind gone, he looked at people who came to visit him like trying to focus his eyes to see if it was somebody he'd ever seen before. They'd talk to him. He'd talk with them. They'd leave and he'd ask me who that was. I'd explain briefly in terms he could understand. He'd say, "Is that who that was? I wish I'd known." Then it's gone. The day before his spirit left the body, I called his cousin Richard Joines, asking him to come see Jr today if he'd like to see him one more time. Richard just about flew over the top of the hill. He walked into the bedroom. This day Jr was on the left side of the bed. The door was by the right side. Richard walked in the door and around the foot of the bed. Jr watched him all the way wondering who that was walking around in his bedroom. That kind of bewilderment in his eyes. Richard stood over him, they were face to face, and I saw two columns of light go from Jr's eyes to Richard's, like Jr's eyes were headlights. Jr put his arms up, hands open inviting a hug, saying, "Richard." Jr conscious was not a hugger. I left the room saying to myself, this is all theirs, not mine. I was having to tell him who people were by then, but not Richard. First cousins, neighbors, bluegrass musicians, friends all their lives.

I have to add how privileged I felt among Jr and his relatives and friends. They are the kinds of people you only find in the country. A few who sold out and moved to a city in Florida, like Ocala, or in NC, such as Statesville. Jr was so devoid of judging others that a wide variety of people became his friends. He didn't care what you did, had done, how much money you had access to, who you knew. He valued people by their ability to work. He respected hard work and skillful work. Talk didn't impress him. He also respected a bluegrass musician almost as a brother. Unfortunately, by the nature of the situation, musicians of old-time and bluegrass are abandoned by their musician friends when they stop making music, for whatever the reason; arthritis, a hand cut off at the sawmill, any reason. Active musicians are only where the music is playing. When a banjo goes out of the jam group or band, a new one replaces it. They don't visit each other much in retirement. It's lonesome for the old musicians. Jr's fiddler friend, Johnny Williams, visited periodically, up to the very last days. Harold Hayes, bass player of Jr's band The Green Mountain Boys, continued as a regular visitor. I saw how many people I'd come to know through Jr when I wanted to do something to tell them I appreciate them, too. I found some very rare recordings of Jr in three times in his life. Had Bobby Patterson make a hundred copies for me to give to each one of them. In a week I had given every one out individually, directly from my hand to whoever it went to, and came away calling it the best week of my life.

Knowing Jr Maxwell, just to know him to talk with from time to time over the years, has been one of the great privileges of my life. All the way along, from childhood, I have looked for someone I could see was wise. Before Jr, I had known two women, one still living, I would call wise. Jr is the only man I've known I'd call wise. I've known many I'd call incredibly intelligent, brilliant minds, big accomplishments, good people. When I found a man of wisdom, he was a hillbilly tractor mechanic, farmer, sawmiller, drank good mountain liquor every day, had made plenty of it in the past, a man who made his living however it could be done, buying and selling cattle, tractors, trucks. As I heard his life, it turned out he'd had 5, at least, major blows from out of the blue, none of them caused by him. They were like lightning bolts. One, in fact, was a lightning bolt that hit his homeplace when a small lightning storm passed through while he and his wife Lois were making music at a dance. All of them were devastating blows. I saw his soul taking the path of suffering this lifetime, the fast track on the spiritual path. I discouraged having a preacher come to the house before Jr left the body. Jr, for certain would not want one. I knew with the same certainty that Jr's soul would do like a helium-filled balloon. Some of the people needed to know if he was saved. His baptism record was found. You don't get baptised without getting saved first. All rejoiced to know Jr's soul was all right. He never went to church. He was as humble a man as I've ever known, humble as a dove. It wasn't righteous piety. It was true humility. Patience, he said, was everything.


Saturday, February 25, 2012


     tangshan earthquake 1976

I think I have just seen a mainland Chinese disaster movie, the kind that Hollywood makes unreal unto fairytale with cars and buses exploding and tumbling through the air on fire. This disaster movie, made 2 years ago, is astonishing in that it looks so real you can just about feel queasy from seeing what you're seeing. The story started looking at a family, a boy and girl, twins, husband and wife, big city, Tangshan, a hundred or so miles east of Beijing, not far from the coast of a huge bay, Bo Hai, north of the Yellow Sea that's between China and the Korean peninsula. I like to watch especially Chinese and Scandinavian films with my Oxford Atlas of the World at hand. It's almost up to date and loaded with images of continents and islands without political lines, also with them. It has all the -Stans since the passing of the Soviet Union. I like the topographical maps that show Norway is all mountains and Denmark nearly a flat plane. I see landscape in the film and look it up to see where it is. I like the satellite images of cities, to see how they're arranged by street patterns, rivers and bays. I've found a faint familiarity with Copenhagen in film. Not like being on the ground there, but a visual familiarity, like a Fellini film has a corner of the eye visual familiarity with Rome. Rome on the ground is a mass of people and traffic from hell. 

Today's film, AFTERSHOCK, is an historical account of the 1976 earthquake at Tangshan. Not a single building was constructed to withstand an earthquake. It was mostly old and aging buildings, some new, didn't matter. It all came tumbling down in less than 15 minutes. The entire city crumbled to the ground. Outside was no safer than inside with blocks and bricks in the air from crumbling buildings. The recreation of it for film made it as close to being there as Lu Chuan's film, The City of Life and Death, the account of the Rape of Nanjing in 1937. The magnitude of the devastation to a city's population was about the same from the Japanese invasion of Nanjing as the earthquake in Tangshan in 1976. I don't recall Nanking's population figures, but I remember the Japanese killed a third of the city's population, and Chinese cities are tremendously populous. A quarter million died in Tangshan. Usually it's 3 times the number that died that are wounded in one way or another. All survivors were devastated, utterly. These two historical films are sobering to see some of what Chinese people have had to endure in the past few hundred years. Zhang Yimou's TO LIVE is another historical drama from the time of the Revolution on through the Cultural Revolution, what it took to stay alive in China in the 20th Century, and the rigors of living.

Parallel the seeming documentary of the time, we have the story of this family torn apart in just a few minutes. The woman sees her husband walk into a building that collapsed on him, and the upper floors of the building had her two children, who went with the avalanche of the collapsing apartment building. She watched from standing in the street in front of the building. They were collapsing all around her. It wasn't a phony disaster scene like a Hollywood film praised for it's "visual effects," meaning phony ocean waves made by computer, phony buildings toppling, all of it looking so hyper-computer-active there's no sense of reality to it. In these Chinese films, especially this one, Aftershock, it's so real it's unsettling like the chill that runs over the body before a shudder, though without the shudder, just the chill coursing through the blood, it feels like. One woman, meaning it with all her heart, shook her fist at the sky and shouted, God You Bastard!!! (in Chinese). Among the Jews, the Holocaust made many of them say the same thing. I believe I would too. I might have even a little more to add to it. How else can one express one's displeasure? God knows there are times that's a legitimate response. It has no more relevance than hitting the ocean with a whip. However, the gesture is important to the individual feeling the need to vent extreme feelings. 

It's an odd thing that the last three films I've seen, three in three days, have been stories that wrench the heart. It's almost like a contest to see which one can tear me up the worst. At the time of the quake, rescuers found both the kids alive, though barely, and they could only get one, not the other. They forced the mother to decide which to save. She said the son. They dragged the boy out and left the girl. The girl, barely conscious, heard her mother say to save the son. When the girl, pictured above, maybe age 5, woke up, she was lying on the ground among the dead stretched out in rows everywhere. She stood up, saw her father dead next to her. Mother and brother gone. She wandered, following a stream of dazed people wandering. A soldier there for the rescue operation found her, picked her up and took her home. He and his wife were both in the military. They adopted her and raised her as their own. She had a good life, went to medical school in Hangzhou, a city around 600 miles to the south, below Shanghai. We followed her story, the son's story and the mother's story. Mother and son continued in Tangshan. Eventually, about 30 years later, the girl, then in her 30s, living in Canada with an Anglo husband, went back to Tangshan to help with relief over an earthquake that had hit there again. Working in the relief effort, she heard a man telling a woman the story of his experience in the earlier earthquake, she revealed herself and the twins found each other. 

Brother took her to meet mother. Mother broke down into uncontrollable grief believing her dead for 32 years. Girl fell into grief. They both dissolved to the floor on their knees. The initial display of extreme emotion gradually softened on the outside, though never let up on the inside. The story followed this one family to see how they got by over the next 30 years, their lives before, during and after. The title Aftershock refers to the shock that stayed with the survivors all the rest of their lives, a deep wound that never heals. Like the girl, when she's grown and with her father by adoption many years after, she said to him she hears in her head, "Save my son." Abandoned by her mother on the verge of dying, she by chance survived. None of the three ever got their lives back. They amounted to survivors the rest of their lives. They only survived, nothing more. I was grateful for this film like I was grateful for the film about Nanjing. We hear on the news, 250,000 die in China earthquake. We think, there's a lot of people in China. They'll never miss 250,000. If we think that. Just another disaster on the evening news. At least it's not here. If it bleeds it leads. Something to keep us tuned in. These two films show that the "inscrutable" Chinese, who are also faceless to the American populace, feel just like we feel. They care deeply. They have hearts. They have souls. They want to love. They want to be loved. They want to live.



taylor rorrer and doug rorrer

the hungry hash house ramblers

scott freeman

edwin lacy

taylor rorrer

taylor rorrer

doug rorrer

Again, the Hungry Hash House Ramblers lit up the night in Woodlawn, Virginia, at Willard Gayheart's Front Porch Gallery. Doug and Taylor Rorrer drove from Eden, NC, north of Greensboro toward the Virginia line. Charlie Poole country. Doug is Poole's great nephew and Poole's fiddler Posey Rorrer's great nephew, too. Taylor has Posey Rorrer's fiddle. They play respect for Charlie Poole. They have also put together the annual Charlie Poole Festival at Eden. Doug has a recording studio in his house and a label, Flyin' Cloud, for acoustic traditional music of the NW North Carolina region, largely, though not entirely. It's a good label with quite a catalog of some good music from the region between the mountains and Eden, and beyond.

Doug told me during intermission that he only does on-line business any more with his cd sales. Two of the cds in the catalog are by the Hungry Hash House Ramblers. If you love good music, both are must-haves. The first one was with Doug's wife, Taylor's mother, Kathy, playing bass and singing Summertime in such a way she made the song her own, the way Joe Cocker took She Came In Thru The Bathroom Window away from the Beatles and made it his own, and Jimi Hendrix took All Along The Watchtower from Bob Dylan every bit as definitively. It doesn't happen often. Taylor's love is Courtney Burroughs, who was here with HHHR last time they came. She had to work tonight. Dern. I wanted to hear her fiddle, and hear her sing The Streets Of London, again. She made that song her own as much as Hendrix and Cocker did with their covers. Courtney brings the song to life. She sings it from her heart. You can find her singing the song with HHHR on YouTube. It's listed by song title and by band name. Taylor and Courtney are the John and Yoko of facebook this month. It's truly charming to see expressions of their love pop up on facebook from time to time. 

The first time I heard the band on stage was in Jefferson at a monthly show put on at an auditorium there. Scott and Willard's band, Alternate Roots, opened for the guest band. That night it was the Hungry Hash House Ramblers. Scott is on mandolin and Edwin the banjo. It was a great show that night. An hour of Alternate Roots, then an hour of HHHR. That's worth driving to Winston-Salem for to see at Ziggy's. The part I don't get, and at the same time I do, is the audiences for this music are so small. This music is very much a living art form. The better the art, the smaller the audience. Kathy was with them that night. These four people, Doug, Taylor, Scott and Edwin are, every one, what I think of as master musicians. The musicianship tonight made the tunes soar. The music had a smooth, driving flow about it, a little like riding a horse, but not physically, imagining it. They played several Charlie Poole songs, and the special one, Hungry Hash House Blues. The beafsteak it was rare and the butter had red hair, the baby had it's feet both in the soup. Doug adores the old Charlie Poole songs and he sings them well in his own manner, nothing like imitating Poole, which can't be done.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Privileged is a word that has stayed in my mind the last several days. My own feeling of privilege. Automatically, there's the privilege of being white in America, and there's the privilege of being American, white American. There is an element of what we call freedom that really is enviable to the rest of the world, with exceptions. Much as I go on about the holes in American democracy, it is only right that I fess up to appreciating the other side of the coin too, what's right about American democracy. For one thing, I'm allowed to openly write whatever I feel is important to say or even what is not important to say. The only presidents whose hands I would not shake would be Johnson's, Reagan's and W's. That only because I don't want them touching me. I don't want our energy fields to intersect. I see them enemies of the American people, serious enemies, in fact seditious. Americans are divided about half and half, for democracy and against democracy. I'd guess about 100% want democracy for themselves; only half of them want democracy for everybody else too. The electioneering money goes to swaying the undecided one percent toward's one's own direction.

A great film seen today was MAO'S LAST DANCER, the story of a Chinese ballet dancer who defected to USA for those basic freedoms we take for granted. By now, after seeing probably a hundred mainland Chinese films, reading a dozen or more mainland Chinese novels, reading some Chinese history, imagining what it must be like to live in China, Gao Xingjiang's ONE MAN'S BIBLE carried for me the feeling of living under the dark brooding cloud of political oppression with tentacles that entangled everybody without compassion. We don't know these kinds of problems except through stories out of China, and before that the Soviet Union. Our capitalist way is also without compassion, but we do have access to the law, which is largely in our favor, unless an international corporation wants it another way. Our enemies are within. They're not coming at us from the outside, but from inside, like a blood disease, like marrow cancer. The Bush administration was like brain cancer.

The film's depiction of the difference between USA culture and China culture was portrayed especially in the dancer, Li, when he was new here, like arrival. People hugging him, women flirting with him, all of which was forbidden in China. Any public display of affection forbidden. In China, it's the boundaries the people live inside. Here it is forbidden not to make public displays of affection, like hugging, "So good to see you," "I need a hug." We Americans have taken up hugging over the last half century. Hugging is new to us, and by now it's everywhere. Hugging is what we do. It can't be denied, hugging is a very friendly gesture. Li's first day, people were hugging him everywhere he went, and it was new to him, very awkwardly new. He came to the Houston ballet for 3 months and when it was time to return, he could not go back to living under the dark, brooding cloud.

It seemed like a karmic message I'm to learn something from. Yesterday, the story of the chimp taken from its life as a chimpanzee, raised in human conditions, then at about the same time in a child's development, Nim was taken from his people and his spirit crushed under intensive training like training a dog to obey commands afraid not to. He was caged in a single cage in a big room with several cages of chimps all living under the dark cloud of solitary confinement in his own cage in a world of chimps languishing from despair. Li, the dancer, kidnapped by the Chinese embassy, had to spend some time in solitary being held and returned to China on first plane. He fell into despair over just a couple days facing return to the relentless repression he knew before and took for reality. It was no longer reality.

If he'd not had legal assistance, his story would have paralleled Nim's, taken away to live in a cage of political repression the rest of his life, complicated by his attempted defection. The film goes on to make a heart-throbbing feel-good movie to the ultra max, legitimately, too. The film had no cheap shots. It's one of those films like AS IT IS IN HEAVEN where the final scenes wrap everything up in a happy way for all concerned. Quite the opposite of Nim's story. Mao's Last Dancer has an ecstatically happy ending that is understated. Very powerful emotionally. The story's beauty is in its innocent heart.

Thursday, February 23, 2012



All my life I've been able to handle sad movies and stories. Never been one to require happy endings to every story; a sad story doesn't bring me down. Sad is as much a part of our wholeness as happy. It's much more common and familiar. Maybe the rarity of happiness motivates a need for happy endings. Whatever. Today I saw a movie so sad I could hardly stand it. It took me way down into gloom and despair. It was the story of taking a baby chimp from its caged mother after two weeks, major trauma for both of them, the baby given to a human family for a 'sceintific" experiment. The family raised the baby chimp like a human child, and worked with teaching it language by sign language. It was a happy, beautiful story, the chimp growing up with a couple of kids, a dog and a cat and the woman the chimp took for its mother. All was wonderful until the chimp began to mature and become much stronger than a strong human. When it became a problem to keep Nim with the family is when the hell began.

I'm fairly in touch with pre-human consciousness by way of dogs and cats, primarily. I started out with pets according to the cultural belief system about them. It's just a cat. It's just a dog. It's just a horse. Along my way with dogs and cats, I slowly learned throughout my lifetime that the cultural (Christian) belief about pre-human life forms is ignorance itself. It's the same with Muslim and Jewish beliefs about the pre-human life forms, except they don't seem so fascinated with killing everything living as the Christians are. Recalling an old preacher I used to know, whose solution to the Arab world problems was "nuke em." Once, for the fun of it, knowing I couldn't change his thinking and not wanting to, I mentioned that if he nukes everybody that displeases him, he'll end up the only one left. His immediate answer, "That'd be all right." I knew him well enough to know he meant it. I came to a place eventually where I realized that kind of mind is not one I need to pay serious, or any attention to. By the time he died of old age, very few people would have to do with him. He was a good man, just intolerant with an ego he equated with God. His God was intolerant of all around him. His brother told me once that all women are whores but one, his mother. Both believed the earth flat as a table top. If a ball can't float in space, neither can a square flat surface. 

The film today was PROJECT NIM, raising the baby chimp as an experiment to find likenesses between humans and chimps, and differences. The woman who raised him, Stephanie, said when he was taken away from her to pursue language studies, "He was less with language than he was with his unique self." Saying he was less with language, she was meaning his personality, his spirit, his play was less after he was learning a vocabulary of sign language. His "unique self" was who she came to know in raising the new baby. He was taken away from the family to pursue language studies like a kid at school. His spirit of life was trained out of him, no more jumping, rolling, playing, running, swinging in trees. Eventually, after some time with teachers and trainers, Nim started biting. He bit a trainer's face. He was then put in a cage in a room with several other chimps in cages, all of them screaming their distress, crying, the spirit of life draining from them. Conditions went worse and worse for Nim, until he was taken by a rescue operation, taken to a big ranch for horses and kept in solitary confinement in a cage. Finally, someone thought to at least bring him a friend to live with after a year and more in solitary. By this time, the life spirit in Nim was about out. He'd fallen so deep into despair without hope, he couldn't come out of it.

Tears ran down my face for this charming, charming little chimp twisted emotionally and mentally into knots by humans thinking it's just an ape. Finally, Nim was brought a male friend and a female friend. The three of them lived a long number of years together on the horse ranch with next to no human communication. Toward the end of the film, in the time when Nim was in solitary at the horse ranch, the initial family that raised him wanted to visit him. He was mature, and he was big. Stephanie, after several years, stepped into the room-sized cage with him. Nim went into a storm of rage, took her by the leg dragging and slinging her around on the concrete floor. He never hurt her, though he could have easily killed her. They realized that he was acting out his rage toward her for giving him a happy life then giving him away to the misery he's known ever sense, deep, anguishing misery. Once he had explained to her through fully physical sign language that he was really mad at her, he forgave her. A guy who was with Nim enough to become his friend, who was also taken away from Nim, said Nim and other chimpanzees were always forgiving. Like dogs in that way

Still, hours later, I continue to feel the grief in my heart for that poor soul. Humans are so good at killing, they'd have done best to kill him and be done with it. He wasn't fit to let loose in the wild. Raised as a human, then the life of a laboratory ape. It would be exactly like a human child put in among the chimpanzees and regarded as an object without a soul or personality or even a sentient life, not only for a year or two, but all the rest of your life. This is one of how many million such sad stories. In my very early years I developed a distrust of science. Much of it came from the fundamentlist preacher who preached against science and Communism. I grew up wary of science without even knowing what it was. In the 4th or 5th grade a girl I knew at school and church killed a wasp, tore its wings and legs off, and head, taped them to a 3x5 inch note card, and labeled them; leg, wing, head. She said it was science. Teacher at school told the class to do this to start learning about science. It seemed totally stupid to me to kill a thing to study it. I was far more interested in the living wasp, not at all in the dead wasp. It never occurred to me that I knew a leg from a wing better when they were torn off and taped to a piece of paper and labelled. It didn't compute. I tried it later, on my own, to see if there was something to it I was missing. No.

In my early years seeing tv about Sputnik, dogs in space, monkeys in space, monkeys used for research. I saw video on tv of labs with a monkey whose top half of his skull was cut away, brain exposed and wires sticking in different places that make his arm jerk when activated here, a leg jerk activated there. I could not tolerate such as that. I didn't have very clear thinking in that time, but couldn't stand thinking and seeing pictures of what they did in laboratories. I hated biology class, dissecting frogs, etc. Therefore, I failed it over and over, having to take it 3 times to pass. It was three years of torment having to do biology lab. I hated it more than anything. My problem was irrational mental wranglings believing preacher that science is evil, and the (then) recent example of Nazis. I equated science with Nazis in my subconscious and had no intent to become a Nazi by learning science. That thinking was with me all the way through college. It wasn't until some years later that I came to understand what science was and its value. I'd never been taught any of that in school. Possibly, first day of class a teacher will talk about the importance of science. But I don't ever remember any. I only remember looking at essay test questions with no idea what the questions meant. Even when I'd figured out what the question meant, or maybe close, I still couldn't answer it. First semester of biology, the final exam was 5 essay questions. I didn't even attempt a first sentence on any of them. Anything I might write would be evidence I don't know the answer. Blank paper told it best.

I've known my cats and dogs well enough to see they are not only sentient beings, but also capable of thought to a certain level, and their capacity for love is far greater than ours. It's love that we lost when we got the forebrain. Because we have mind, we need God to take human form to help us, to guide us, to tell us the secrets of living and dying, to raise our consciousness. Love and foregiveness don't come automatically to us like they do in the pre-human forms. I think of my dog and cat friends of the past and sometimes weep for them, because I didn't understand what I see now, that they loved me so much more than I loved them, they surely must have felt frustrated all the time. I know dogs that are madly in love with their humans, who give them food and shelter and figure that's a good life for a dog. They want to know us. They want us to notice they can think and understand too, and for sure that they can feel. They have hearts, they have love so huge it dwarfs what we have for love. We have heads full of language, words, worries, fears; our hearts are so clouded in such a fog we don't notice that the dog that has lived with us for its lifetime loves us so much it would lose its spirit just like Nim did if abandoned. This chimpanzee has had me weeping within all afternoon into the evening for all my cat and dog friends along my lifetime, how long it took me to realize their love. Now I'm ashamed it took so long. I still have time to show Caterpillar that my love for her is perhaps near equal her love for me. I have to tell myself, at least I got it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


     georg grosz

We had two inches of wet snow and then it was gone. Still a little bit on the north sides of mountains. Yesterday I was talking with a friend I've known over 30 years. We were talking about how odd it is to be so warm through January and February. A republican overhearing had to interject some Limbaugh ignorance to keep us in line, "Scientists say the earth is getting cooler." I bore down on myself and did not let myself laugh. Scientists say. The Bible sez. Interestinly, the only scientists who would say such a thing would have to be Good Republicans employed by a corporation that tells the obedient what to say. A recent survey I've seen said 10% of scientists are republican. Repubicans aren't going into the sciences. How can they? Facts undermine dogma. When members are held to fantasy, knowledge becomes the enemy. Republican dogma, like Baptist dogma, has no room for critical examination. They don't stand up to it. Therefore, rule number one is never doubt the Party. Sounds kinda Bolschevik, but hardly anybody knows what that means anymore. Is it history repeating itself because of willful ignorance?

My immediate thought following "scientists say," was, what scientists? That's getting a little articulate for a republican, so I chose to save my energy. I turn on the news and they're talking about Santorum, Romney, Gingrich like these people are worth my attention. I click the remote's OFF button. A gaggle of egomaniacs clucking I Am The Greatest over and over. I'm right. He's wrong. It turns my stomach to see the same billionaires that funded Kenneth Starr to demonize the presidency at a time when we actually had an intelligent man in the office. They get no respect from me. And they couldn't care less. They're now doing PAC money to force out Obama by their own wills. Shove democracy, is what they're saying. We don't do that shit round here. These are the people the Supremes work for, not us by any stretch of the imagination. Here I go, getting excited over something that is illusion within illusion within illusion, again, tangling my mind up in webs made of nothing but my own imagination.

Nonetheless, I don't like being interrupted, ever, and I especially don't like a republican butting into my conversation to correct us with dogma according to the party's official philosoph, Limbaugh the Hutt. This was somebody like you might see in a Tab Hunter movie, or an Annette Funicello beach movie. A bad one to listen to other people's convesations and butt in to make corrections. I have learned to pay attention to my first impressions, and at the same time don't take them for fact. When I first saw this one, I saw air head. Time has told me that was an accurate assessment. Polly wanna cracker? Yet, another individual I took for an air head turned out to be quite brilliant. I was totally wrong in that case with my first impression. So I don't take my first impressions seriously, but do pay attention. Like a dog, after it recognizes somebody by sight, it then has to confirm by another sense, scent. Looks like one, smells like one, sounds like one, feels like one, must be one. At this time in my life I've taken to standing up to people who get in my face with stupid. I'm ready now to come right back and call their bluff. They're nothing but bluff. We've had over 30 years of allowing aggressive bluff from demagogues. Karl Rove, Gingrich, Cheney, Rummy, Rice, W, who belong behind bars, go free.

The most obvious serial liar in the presidency in my lifetime, with Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Bush1 snapping at his heels for first position, W has become a very highly paid evangelist. Theater of the Absurd in everyday life again. And again. And again. Talking with Tom Guy in the coffee shop yesterday, I mentioned a moment from Apocalypse Now, a movie we've both seen multiple times. He started talking about the Robert Duval role of the helicopter squadron, Kilgore, the wildman. He said that character disturbs him, because when he was in Nam, he saw them everywhere. The absurdity in the film is a mirror image of the absurdity in the field. I had the great good fortune not to be involved in Vietnam. I did my time before the war. I was not happy cannon fodder, rather was depressed the whole time, at the very lowest point of my life. I didn't need a war to go with it, esp an artificial war. Just the flash of a memory of that time, and how depressed I was, pre Prozac nation, I can see nursing the memory will take me down with it if I take hold and go with it. How depressed I was. It feels good, on the other hand, to see it as a measure of how far I've come away from that mind. The bottom is the place where the ball bounces.


horses in the snow

               RIDERLESS HORSES

     An owl on the dark waters

     And so many torches smoking

     By mossy stone

     And horses that are seen riderless on moonlit

     A candle that flutters as a black hand

     Reaches out

     All of these mean

     A man with coins on his eyes

     The vast waters

     The cry of seagulls

                          ---Robert Bly

     from The Light Around The Body, 1967


Monday, February 20, 2012


the cover--jeanette williams, scott freeman, johnny williams
photo by gail agett cooler

Finally got a copy of this new release, this month, Scott had for sale at the Front Porch this week. The week before, they were all in Nashville for the spbgma bluegrass awards where Jeanette scored best female traditional singer. She shows her singing talent on this album like on all her others with The Jeanette Williams Band. This project, FREEMAN AND WILLIAMS, makes me want the radio show back so I could play this beautiful music to my listeners, who, by this time, would know all these musicians and be happy to hear this new music by three of SW Virginia's finest. I get this longing every time I find a new cd from the region, like when Larry Richardson's lp with Buddy Pendleton playing fiddle was re-released on cd and I heard it the first time. I wanted to play it to my listeners. Kevin Fore's Round Peak cd with Kirk Sutphin makes me long to play it to my listeners when I hear it. This one, Freeman and Williams, is another one of them that makes me long for Sparta to have its radio station back so I could put their music in the Alleghany County air on Saturday mornings. I'd play the album all the way through, every song. I'd play some other things by Jeanette, by Johnny and by Scott for context.

The song list is arranged so the experience of hearing the music flows from one song to the next naturally. These three people like a good-worded song, making a collection of their pick of songs a full album of songs that hold your attention by what they have to say, word by word, and the equally good musicianship and vocals. All are good singers. The album opens with a Tom T and Dixie Hall song, Always Looking Back. You can't see where you're goin if you're always looking back. That train that you're waiting for is way on down the track. The past is gone forever, that's a natural fact. You can't see where you're going if you're always looking back. Scott sings The Grandpa That I Know, a song that has depth of feeling Scott likes in a song. I like every song on this project. Every playing of the album, when a song starts, I'm delighted to hear it again. Jeanette singing, here I go down that wrong road again, even though I know where it will end, here I go down that wrong road again. Jeanette Williams' singing voice is beautiful.

Johnny Williams, Jeanette's husband, has been with Big Country Bluegrass the last few years. He's made music with Jeff Michael (fiddler), calling themselves Grass Tank. Johnny has been in the music world of the Central Blue Ridge all the way along. A couple years ago he made a solo album, Last Day of Galax, titled after a song he wrote. On a collection of regional musicians called Close Kin, Johnny sings Chilly Winds the best I've ever heard the song. He brought it to life for me. On this project, Freeman and Williams, Johnny sings his arrangements of June Apple and John Henry that give both old songs a new refreshing life. Like Scott, Johnny and Jeanette like to take old songs and give them a refreshing new touch. Johnny and Jeanette have played a couple of the Fiddle and Plow shows, making music with Scott and Willard at the Front Porch in Woodlawn, Virginia. They play before an audience of a dozen, Jeanette telling the audience she'd rather play for a few people who listen than to a big auditorium. They drive from Danville to play at the Front Porch.

Their new project is with Mountain Roads Recordings, Bristol, Virginia.  Karl Cooler put together a label for music of the Central Blue Ridge in Bristol. On his list is Big Country Bluegrass, Whitetop Mountain Band, the VWBoys, Jim Lloyd, Elkville String Band, Pathway, Johnny Williams and some others. I'm glad to see a new label on the scene for the music we have around here. Cooler's label has made a home for some of the better music of our region. With this album, I feel like I'm seeing Scott Freeman's artistry coming into its maturity. He's always been extra good, but now he has the flow of somebody who has played very well for a long time until he and the music he makes are one. I've watched Scott's musical life for the last 9 years. We met in 03 when I opened the music store in Sparta and Scott was needing a corner to teach in once a week. He was with Alternate Roots then. They'd just released their third project. He gave me a pass to Alternate Roots shows. I saw 14 of their shows, drove to Hiltons, Virginia, to the Carter Fold to see AR's last show. When they disbanded I felt the same grief as for a friend dying.

Hearing Jeanette and Johnny play at the Front Porch with Scott and Willard twice, this new project is music I'm already familiar with. It would be wrong to leave out saying I feel privileged every Friday night at the Front Porch. For a couple years I've been there most of the time, excepting ice storms and the Hillbilly Show, and sometimes too tired or out of money. I'd guess I have about 85% attendance. The music played there has become the music that plays in my mind during the day. I don't hear pop music any more except at other people's houses. I don't know who's doing what out there in pop culture world. Don't want to know. I'm happy with a concert every week by two musicians I respect the highest as human beings as well as musicians, and their visiting musician friends like Doug Rorrer, David Johnson, Wayne Henderson, Katy Taylor, Butch Robins, Buddy Pendleton, Bobby Patterson, Edwin Lacy, Steve Lewis, VWBoys, Johnny and Jeanette Williams. Scott's music has become the music that satisfies me in this time of my life. The privilege I feel is having a friend who is a musician the equal of Sonny Rollins or Taj Mahal. It blows my mind to know someone who is a musician as exceptional as Scott. He's a true artist. My respect for Scott is not only for his musicianship, which is stellar, but for his character, for who he, himself, is.

I've uploaded onto YouTube several songs by Jeanette and Johnny with Scott playing at the Front Porch for the Fiddle and Plow audience. Write their names in the search box and they'll pop up. Or you can write my channel's name in the box, hobblealong1 and they'll all come up. You can scroll down until you see Jeanette and Johnny. Or write their names in the search box. It's about 20 of us that go semi-regularly, and we love it like it's the best kept secret in the world and we're the ones blessed with the opportunity to hear the music of the Central Blue Ridge as good as it gets in a context as comfortable as home. Every week. We're a diverse bunch of white people in there. We're gradually getting to know each other, and after a couple years everybody is comfortable talking. One thread that runs through all of us is the feeling of privilege to hear music such as Scott and Willard make and their friends they sometimes accompany every week. At every show, during intermission and at the end, everybody I speak with is lit up exclaiming joy over the music. Everyone returns home fully satisfied every week. Sometimes people passing through, looking for "something to do," turn up for a show. They're blown away every time. Scott, Johnny and Jeanette are today's hillbilly music. Hillbilly music has always been amazing music. Today's is amazing music too.  

freeman and williams at the fiddle and plow, 8/6/2010
photo by tj worthington


Sunday, February 19, 2012


          kyle busch's car before the race

This is the car Kyle Busch drove to win the Shootout, first race of the season, a no points race, 75 laps, only first place counts. It just counts for a glory win. The picture was taken before the race when the car looked good. It got banged up in the course of the race, but not enough to slow it down. It was a race like I'd never seen before. From the first wave of the green flag, you could see the aggression in every one of the drivers. Positions constantly changed. No one held the lead for more than a lap or two. One time Montoya, after I thought he was out of the race from the first pileup that sent him to pit row, pulled out in front of the pack, then drifted all the way to the back, right down the middle, cars passing him on both sides. Several of the cars would get up front and drift back. Nobody could hold a lead. Jeff Gordon tried it and he, too, drifted toward the rear. Gordon seemed to make a game of drifting to the back and passing everybody again. I was wondering if he was using the race for passing practice.

Whatever Gordon had in his mind about winning, with 2 laps to go, he was in 3rd behind Kyle Busch. Gordon intended to get around Busch, and Busch wasn't letting it happen. Gordon reached out with his front bumper and touched Busch's back bumper, a nudge to tell him to get out of the way, at 195. The track is the same as ice at such a speed. Busch lost traction, swung wildly off the track inside, Gordon steered slightly upward to get around Busch who was heading toward all the way out of control in a hurry, Gordon lost traction and drifted around sideways in front of the two cars on the outside of him. All have their brakes on, one of them gets smacked from behind, sending Gordon's car up on its side sliding on pavement, a shower of sparks like re-entry of the space shuttle, the car sliding on the upper and lower rails of the driver's side window, wedged between the outside car and the wall, all that fireworks inches from Gordon's eyes that were well goggled.

The cluster of the four cars slid along the groove where the track meets the wall, big fire from under the cars looking like it was roasting the drivers in their fire-proof clothes. I guarantee they were feeling the heat and not liking it. I've never seen so much fire in a race. I've never seen the showers of sparks when a driver hit the brakes. It used to be billows of fog-on-the-interstate smoke. Last night it was big showers of sparks turning into big flames right away that lasted so long and looked like they burned so hot there would no way the drivers could want to go through this again, in this lifetime or any other. I wondered what changed. I wondered if it might have been because it was night and the sparks are there by day too, but can't be seen in daylight. Maybe same could be said for the fires, but I can't buy it. I've seen maybe a dozen races in the last couple years, several at night, and have never seen fires to the extent of this race. I've never seen it like this at Daytona. All through the race I wondered why smoke didn't billow up like usual when they hit the brakes, but instead, big showers of sparks that turned into fire. I'd never seen that.

One of the cars slipped free of the cluster, setting Gordon's car free to go wherever its momentum took it. Gordon was as alert as he's probably ever been and helpless, nothing to do but hang on for the ride. Soon after the car slid free it decided to roll over sideways, then again, almost made it, landed on the driver's side and leaned backwards onto its top, hood looking like aluminum foil, the whole car looking like crumpled aluminum foil in red and yellow. He couldn't get out on his own. Took rescuers awhile to get the car turned upright so he could crawl out. He was safe in the very well constructed cage of the cockpit, strapped into his chair that protects him from 3 sides, leaving him room to move his arms enough to work the steering wheel and gear shift. He was secure. Good helmet, the kind that he could probably survive sliding a thousand yards on his head down the track. I'd venture there was a second or two of questioning his own sanity for getting his kicks racing. Or more than likely he's questioned that so many times by now, he's got the answer and keeps on keepin on. Whatever the case, I didn't like to see him out of the race. He is such a good driver, he stands out from the rest, even when he doesn't win. I was anxious to see how he would make it around Busch.

Seeing Gordon set Busch off his traction, I couldn't recall that I'd ever seen him purposely put somebody out of the race like Curtis Turner used to do in the 50s when they drove convertibles with seatbelts. Gordon never struck me a chickenshit driver, so I had to give him benefit of the doubt. At the same time, he knew the track well by then and a whole lot more than I know from what I saw through a tv camera and zero experience at what he's doing very well. The initial thought I spoke to Gordon was, 'man, that wasn't right,' and watched him lose his traction, get caught in a fiery knot he couldn't get out of, then spring free and go for a tumble like in a clothes dryer on HI. On his top, smoke, dripping fuel and oil, just come out of a fire storm, he more than likely felt at least half a second of uncontrollable fear in the raw. But like a man, he could swallow his own vomit and go on like it was fun.

It kind of had the appearance of instant karma. In the time when the Beatles were diving deep, I wondered and couldn't make out what Lennon meant by Instant Karma. I wasn't able to see it then. To be instant, it would have to be simultaneous. Evidently, that didn't compute with my college student understanding at the time, and karma a word I only knew by the dictionary definition. There it was. Simultaneous. This for that. Thinking like an English major, Gordon's total wreck was a good image of Instant Karma. The return was so extreme, like the Karmic Judge (Steven Seagal in a bullet proof vest) hit him with his fist, knocked him to the ground and said, 'Cut that shit out, boy!' It looked suspiciously a karmic return. As a measure of his intent, it was Xtreme. At the same time, going 195, cars wobbly from air currents in a tight pack, it's something like running snowmobiles on ice. A nanosecond's lapse of attention can have immediate consequesnces, too. I can't attribute blame to any of it. It's what happens when cars are packed in tight on a white knuckle flight. It was a major shit happens moment. 

Kyle Busch showed his skill bringing his car back to traction without hitting any other cars, getting back into the race and using some more of that fine-tuned driving skill to slingshot himself .013 second ahead of Tony Stewart by two feet or less. Crossing the line, the front edge of Busch's tire was about even with the front edge of Tony Stewart's bumper. I don't even want to think of what was in Stewart's mind at that moment. It could be about like what might be in Tarzan's mind when the grapevine breaks over a river with crocodiles, in a dream. In that very move, Kyle Busch showed me some driving I can only respect. Twice in the race he lost traction, swerved this way and that, avoided hitting any others, pulled it back to traction and pushed the pedal to the metal. I've seen Tony Stewart take a dramatic win. When Busch pulled by him at the line, like horses by a nose, I just about had to stand up and cheer. If I'd had a hat on, I'd have had to take it off to him. Xcellent win. In this race, a wide open run from the time the pace car left the track, looking like the win would go to the last car with wheels that could roll, in the last second Kyle Busch showed himself to be the man in charge.


Saturday, February 18, 2012


steve lewis and josh scott

scott freeman, steve lewis, josh scott

scott freeman

steve lewis

josh scott

willard gayheart

The angel of music visited the audience of 19 at Willard's Front Porch Gallery again Friday night with the Steve Lewis Trio. Steve plays bluegrass banjo and bluegrass lead guitar like the master he is, masterfully. Not just masterfully in that he plays pretty and real complicated, no. Steve plays music. You don't hear his intricate picking in the music. You see it in what his fingers are doing, but in the hearing of it there's no emphasis on self and what self can do with a banjo. Steve's mastery with music itself tells my inner being, from the time the first notes are struck, the music is On. His mastery with the banjo and guitar strings gives the songs a breath of life. In a work of visual art, the ones that stand out are the ones that have a breath of life about them. Steve breathes life into his art form, bluegrass music. The very same words can be used to tell about Scott with mandolin and fiddle. It's because they are both masters of music and their instruments. When Scott gets with Steve, we hear a Scott we don't hear a very great deal of, because he doesn't show off in front of musicians he's making music with. With Willard, it's more folk music, Doc Watson style guitar playing and singing old songs. With the Skidmarks it's their own jazz renditions of old-time tunes and tunes Scott and Willard composed. Sometimes, a Skidmarks concert can be a sound assault.

When Scott and Steve get together, Scott thrills everyone in the audience that comes to the show every week. We appreciate Scott's pickin and his singing, his music, and have for a couple years of almost every week. He always plays stellar mandolin and fiddle. When Steve is visiting, Scott opens to a new level he can only reach with Steve. And Steve can only get there with Scott. They have a musical sense with each other something like Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, or Ron Wood and Keith Richards, or Cannonball Adderley and Nat Adderley, or Charlie Rouse and Thelonious Monk. In the time of the band ALTERNATE ROOTS, Steve came into the band between the band's second and third albums. The band had no banjo before. It was Scott's mandolin and fiddle, Randy Pasley's resonator guitar, Willard and Katy's rhythm guitars, Tony Testerman's bass. When Steve was with them, their sound was the sound of Alternate Roots. Steve's banjo arrived in the band and rose their sound to a new level. He didn't change the nature of the band, but gave it a new sound to dance with Randy's Dobro and Scott's mandolin. An Alternate Roots concert was as satisfying a concert as any of the most satisfying ones I've been to. Satisfying like Burning Spear at Ziggy's in Winston-Salem. Or hearing Carlos Montoya in an audience of a dozen.

I'd forgotten the refreshing sound of Scott and Steve making music together. Not forgotten, just hadn't thought about it in awhile. Scott and Steve like to reach out in their bluegrass pickin. They can tear up David Grisman's EMD (Eat My Dust), mandolin and guitar. They tore up some contest tunes, Alabama Jubilee one of them. One of my favorites tonight was Angeline The Baker, which Steve told about was written by Stephen Foster. That's a tune you hear at fiddlers conventions about as frequently as John Brown's Dream. I've known it as a fiddle tune, autoharp tune, mandolin tune, guitar tune. It's one of the great old-time songs. They played it right, too. Josh's bass gave their music a fullness of sound. I mean that literally. It filled in the nanosecond gaps between their notes with the bass sound that advances, even like it is behind them pushing them. Jane's Addiction's drummer had the same sense in his drumming of pushing the rhythm. That's the closest I can get to defining what I'm reaching for. Mandolin and banjo playing together, both of them playing aggressively, the bass thumping a true bass sound that did not stand out as artful bass playing, because he wasn't showing off. He was providing the rhythm, Scott told me some years ago that Josh's control on the bass is so with the flow that the instrumentalists don't have to think about the rhythm. Josh has it under control and they can ride the waves of his rhythm like on surfboards. Hang five, dude.

The audience was happy with the music we heard. It's always a happy audience there. When Steve and Scott get together there, once or twice in a year, they light up the night. Steve and Scott without the bass give a different kind of show from with the bass. Josh's bass does something that supports their sounds like a floor supports dancers. The three of them together have their sound that works. It is distinctively them. Whatever tune they play, it's exactly how I want to hear it played. They kept the air alight with their music. These three musicians have a musical charisma together like the four musicians of Skeeter and the Skidmarks. They have a sound that is their own, and both bands are composed of excellent musicianship. They keep the tradition advancing through this time of fast change. The picture above of Willard is him listening to these musicians he regards, as a musician, with awe. He is in awe of both their abilities. He thinks they're way out there beyond him in musicianship. He only plays rhythm guitar, can't play lead, or doesn't like to play lead. He isn't vain enough to allow himself to consider that his rhythm guitar playing is known by musicians all around this area. Other musicians embrace an opportunity to make music with Willard. The musicians he listens to with full respect listen to him, in turn, in full respect.

Both Scott and Steve teach the next generation. Scott has a corner of Willard's Front Porch Gallery where he works with his students every day. Steve has a steady schedule of students in Ashe County and teaches Appalachian history at the high school. That would be a good class. Steve can connect with teenagers freely with a mutual respect going. He and Scott would come under the Japanese word sensei, teacher in the highest sense of teacher. A master passing knowledge of one sort or another on to the next generation. This is how the music has lived down through the centuries, each generation passing the music to the next, however it's taught in a place and time. In the old-time days when you wanted to learn an instrument, you got some money together to buy one. Then you figured it out. Whenever somebody asked bluegrass banjo picker Jr Maxwell to teach him to pick, he told him if he can't figure it out on his own, he don't want to learn it. Jr meant it. The guy took it for Jr's way of saying no, which it was, but it was also his reason for saying no. He figured it out. All the other banjo pickers he knew figured it out, fiddlers and guitar pickers too. Figuring it out was the tradition. The tradition is changing. We don't learn by figuring out any more. We learn my memorizing details for tests. Very different ways of thinking. I won't say one is better than another. Just different. Maybe one naturally follows the other. Scott and Steve and a host of other musicians in the tradition are passing on the music as it is done in this generation.


Thursday, February 16, 2012



Driving back from town this morning, I'd turned down Waterfall Road from Air Bellows Gap Road, approaching the first slight curve to the left, a coyote ran across the road in front of me. It was far enough ahead there was no danger of hitting it. It felt like something magical happened. It seemed to have a glow of clarity about it, which was my own inner response to seeing a coyote by surprise. I examined it visually as it darted across the road, from woods on the right to woods on the left. Big ears, long bushy, straight tail like a fox. A burnt brown color accented in black at the tip of the tail, around the neck, the ears. It ran into the woods a ways. I slowed down to watch it run through the trees. It stopped and stood broadside watching me go by from deep enough in the trees it felt it had an advantage if I set out in pursuit. It all happened in about 3 seconds. My visual sense was on full alert, looking with as much focus as I could, to see as much of the beautiful dog as the moment allowed. I chose not to stop, because I didn't want to alarm the coyote.

It is along that stretch of the road I've had some of my best feral animal moments. A hawk has flown above where a hood ornament would be, keeping its pace the same as mine, flying two or three feet above the hood, turning its head to left and right looking behind at me with one eye, using the other eye to fly with. I kept a pace comfortable for the hawk and it flew with me a hundred feet or more. A crow had done the same thing in the same place. This is over a period of a quarter century. I value those moments the highest. Whenever I have such an encounter, which is relatively frequent, it stamps itself in my memory. Like the time I was standing on a big flat rock in the creek down in the woods. I heard coming from a certain direction in the trees, yip-yip-yip-yip..., a pileated woodpecker. I saw this flying red hammer-headed woodpecker flying straight at me in its particular woodpecker flight, black wings flapping something like a duck's, a blur to either side of the advancing red. It was flying straight toward me, yip-yipping all the way, and it flew straight over the top of my head about 3 feet. Behind it was a second one, flying in the same line, yip-yipping, and flew over the top of my head the same as the first one. It was one of the great moments of my life.

In the time of my first dog here, Sadie, we were out for a stroll in about 4 inches of snow, walking down the back part of Waterfall Road, the old wagon road up the mountain. The road went along the ridge such that the ground went downward rather steeply on both sides, trees all around on both sides. To the right when the leaves are off the trees the waterfalls can be heard and seen a little bit, going toward Whitehead from here on the mountain. The muffled silence in a world of snow is a silence as profound as the blackness inside a cave. A crow flew upward over the ridge from my left to right, flying just a couple feet over the top of my head. I heard the sound of wings. To mind came the hymn, Angel Band, I hear the sound of wings. It was a sacred moment. Come angel band, come and around me stand. Powerful song. There's nothing in this world like singing this song in an old-time Regular Baptist meeting, the slow, old-timey way, no piano.

There was the time of driving down the mountain, leaving the pavement at Air Bellows, down the road to a place where it leveled off for a ways, on my left, sitting on a fence post, the classic barn owl with the round head and the spike pattern in its head feathers. We made eye contact as I drove by. I was surprised it didn't fly away. The night of the day Jr's soul left the body, when I drove home and parked, opened the car door, a very short distance away, in a tree just the other side of the road, a hoot owl sent me a beautiful hoot. I hooted back to it and said, Hello, Jr. To let him know I got it. In the time I wrote the column in the Alleghany News sometimes I'd go someplace outside and sit in one place to write. This particular time I was in the woods across the road, the sun was setting, it was starting to get dark, I had a train of thought going and couldn't stop. I was writing fast as I could go to get it done before returning to the house. There was time. There is still plenty of time in the gloaming between sunset and darkness. I heard a screech owl over my left shoulder. Very near. I felt what mice must feel when they hear that trill so nearby.

Another time writing in the woods, I'd found a good flat rock by the side of Waterfalls Creek. One side of it sloped gently into the water. I sat cross-legged on the part that was level and dry. I'd started whatever it was, when a water snake swam to the rock I was sitting on and put its chin on the rock just a few inches from my crossed legs. It looked up at me. I looked at the snake. I know them to be harmless, flight instead of fight. They have teeth, but not fangs. They also look like diamondback rattlesnakes, which scared hell out of me the first several I saw. The snake stayed there looking at me a long time. I changed the subject I was writing about and wrote of the encounter with the snake as it was unfolding. The snake came around to where the rock sloped into the water and crawled out of the water beside me to my right. It crawled over to me and curled up, not coiled, beside me. I told the snake, don't get on me. If you get on me, I'll jump, that will scare you, you'll jump, we'll have an unsuccessful association. Stay off me and you're welcome to do what you like. This is your home. I'm just passing through.

Cement-headed me didn't get it that the snake was trying to tell me something. It would look at me with eyes that said, I am a serpent. You're supposed to be afraid and get up and leave. After a period of apprehensive time, the snake went back to the water and swam in the pool part of the creek in front of where I sat. It gave me an Esther Williams watersnake swim routine, and it was up there among the very most beautiful things I've seen. The snake was watching me watch it swimming around and around. It took off over a shallow section over rocks to the next still pool, head held high, riding the water like a surfer. It turned around and swam back up against the current to the pool in front of me. It looked at me with frustration. It swam over to a place where it swam up beside another snake twice its size in the shade of a rock standing on its side. I assumed then the snake I'd been watching was a she. The big snake was eye-balling me like it was wanting to cast a spell on me. I remembered snakes charming birds with their eyes. This bull watersnake was drilling his focus on my eyes. It became unsettling. I finally realized I was sitting on their afternoon sunning rock. It was that time of day. She needed her sunning rock. The two of them lay there side by side, glaring at me. I decided it was time to hurry up my writing and go. It was feeling creepy. I thanked the snakes for allowing me to enjoy their sunning rock, and apologized for taking so long to catch on to what she was trying to tell me.

Feeding the small birds is my stay-at-home encounters with the the feral world. I don't want to tame them or make them unafraid of humans. I keep a distance they're comfortable with. This morning I went out to feed them about an hour earlier than usual, went to the mailbox first. All the way to the mailbox and back I saw and heard the birds, the snowbirds, titmice, chickadees flying through the trees toward the feeders, calling to me. One of the red squirrels ran the length of a white pine branch. The birds living in the cluster of trees around and near the house gathered in the upper branches of the trees around the bird feeders watching the giant that feeds them walking back from the mailbox. I put seeds in the birdfeeders and around on the ground. They watched. A brave chickadee flew down to the feeder to be first.