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Sunday, September 16, 2012


     air bellows gap road

I was just now reading what I'd written yesterday on fundamentalism. It carried me through those early phases of the life in my mind, the sentences triggering memories. It concluded with hearing the birds all day and the katydids and tree frogs after dark. Finishing that sentence, I felt overwhelmed by privilege. I've lived my life in poverty, my greatest ambition being to stay out of prison. That's something to pay attention to in America. The legal system gets a sadistic kick out of putting people in prison with long sentences. I don't think it's right, but I can't change it, so I walk the line. The legal system also knows what American prison is like. It's like throwing people to the gladiators. That's the dark side. So I do my best to keep on the sunny side of life, even though it's not always daylight. The sunny side doesn't mean I can't be saddened that American boys like me just out of high school, dumb as a rock, can't find a job, got no experience, and military is the American male right of passage. Go to Afghanistan, WoW, gonna kick some ass. Boom. Your legs are blown off. VA hospital. Home with mom and dad taking care of you the rest of their lives, them keeping themselves in poverty paying for an expensive insurance policy to keep you when they're gone. Then, of course, you have to take the insurance corporation to court because they refuse to pay unless you sue for it. That kind of intimidation is part of the plan.

Back to the privilege of hearing birds and insects. I feel privileged because none of the above has happened to me. I feel privileged that I live outside the maelstrom that civilization has become. In the words of an Alternate Roots song that Willard sang Friday night, A Million Miles From The City. Even though the interstate runs nearby and and it's a straight line to the city, a crooked line to another city, cities in all directions, it's the same as a million miles to the city, because I don't even like to cross the county line anymore. I love where I am so much and don't have a great deal of time left, I'm jealous of time here on this spot on Waterfall Road. And Caterpillar is the last of my lifetime of pets. I want to be here with her all the time. Every day is precious. I'm privileged to have learned through the course of my adult life to communicate with the "dumb" animals, dumb only in that they can't speak verbally. It is a privilege to be able to know an individual cat or dog as the "person" within, not just something you feed and clean up after. I like their uncluttered minds. I feel privileged for my experience in the community of the mountain people, privileged to be received as a naturalized citizen.

Another problem I had with Kansas was its scant and boring history. Cowtowns, Jesse James and killing Indians. A Kansas historian would go apeshit reading that summation and call me retarded. He'd be right. They didn't teach Kansas history in any school I went to. I don't think there are many states that teach the state's history in the public school. It's one of those subjects that is automatically dismissed like art history. So we memorize names of generals and dates of wars to pass the history test. I liked about South Carolina and North Carolina that they had histories. They were Southern states, the Confederacy where my heart pulled me ever since third grade when I read a child's biography of Robert E Lee. It woke up something in me that must have been sleeping inside. The South had a mystique for me that grew with time until it was time to bale out of Kansas. Where to? The South. It was like coming home living in South Carolina. In high school I liked Duane Eddy's song, Mason Dixon Lion. The South I fell in love with was not the South as it is, but an idea, a fantasy, a place where I felt one with its history that I knew nothing about except losing the Civil War.

I feel privileged to have lived in and to be living in the world of mountain music. WPAQ AM radio that Ralph Epperson started in 1948, the radio station in the next county, Surry, that only plays mountain music is as important to my way of understanding mountain music as the Bristol Sessions. I understand WPAQ is online now. My mechanic keeps the radio playing in his shop all day with WPAQ playing. His AM reception was not very good; he had to keep the radio in the window for listenable reception. He plays the station online now with excellent reception. It is only on the air during the daylight hours. Sometimes it is playing gospel, sometimes preaching, sometimes people talking, and mountain music from mostly the Central Blue Ridge. They still play the Carter Family, Emory Arthur, the Blue Sky Boys, Roy Acuff and current mountain music like the Slate Mountain Ramblers, Whitetop Mountain Band, Alternate Roots, Crooked Road Ramblers, Rock Mountain Ramblers, Ralph Stanley and all the rest of them. When a band self-produces a cd, they send one to the station. WPAQ's library of mountain music is extensive. Ralph Epperson used to tape live shows on Saturday mornings at the theater in MtAiry and gave all his tapes to the NC folklife center. What a treasure those tapes are for the future of Appalachian folklife studies.

I don't listen to the station much because I get no reception at the house and occasional reception in the eastern half of the county by car. And always forget it's online. When I want to hear mountain music, I put on a cd. Whatever I put on of mountain music takes over my focus. Earlier I put on some music by Kevin Fore (banjo) and Kirk Sutphin (fiddle). From the first notes I was fixed, couldn't do anything but listen. In the time of the AM stations in the mountains, each one played to its own county, the county lines about as far as reception goes, except for odd things like I've heard Sparta's AM station could be picked up in N Wilkesboro. I'm privileged that I was able to dj a weekly radio show on WCOK AM, Sparta, Saturday mornings, The Backwoods Beat Music Hour for seven years. Theme song was a solo bluegrass banjo playing Billy In The Lowground with a background fiddle drone. I feel tremendous privilege that I had the opportunity to play mountain music to mountain people in my home county, the county next to WPAQ. I love that. I don't know how many listeners I had, maybe a few hundred, maybe less, maybe more. I never talked up the radio show, because it was for people who love mountain music, not for people who say it all sounds like the same song over and over. I figured the people who wanted to hear it would find it. It didn't matter how many. I'd have been as happy with 3 as with 300. It was for people who love the music, not for numbers.

One of the greatest privileges of all, the one where I started noticing the feeling of privilege, and feel privilege every week that I simply know about the Friday night music at Willard Gayheart's gallery and frame shop, the Front Porch. For a couple years seldom more than 20 people in the audience, usually between 12 and 15. We were the ones who went every week we could make it. By now we all know each other. Now that it is a Crooked Road Venue attendance has doubled and tripled ever since. It's between 40 and 60 now. Minnie the cat can't give up her seat if she wants it back. Before, she could jump to the floor and walk around during the music looking at the people, sizing up the crowd, this her home, walking among the legs, then find a new place to curl up. It's not like that any more. When she gets up, somebody sits down. The first privilege is just knowing about it. Then many rings of privilege out from that; knowing the people I've come to know there, having Scott, Willard, Edwin, Dori, Jill, Steve for my friends, people I have heart feeling with, people I respect way high up, every one of them. Basically, it's looking like my entire life in the mountains has been one of feeling privilege, the privilege of living in a really beautiful culture almost nobody outside it knows about. Living among the mountain people as my own is the privilege I value perhaps most.


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