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Wednesday, February 27, 2013


vada one year old

I don't know if it's Saturn retrograde or if it's something I'm going through in this time anyway. It's hard for me to feel motivated for anything that requires action, any kind of action. For the present, I'm satisfied looking out the windows at the birds pecking around the birdfeeders. I get up and go do things like watch the Daytona race at a friend's house. This afternoon I had fun with Vada. She found a plastic hamper, squarish; she sat in it and I turned it slowly, not enough to make her dizzy or wear me out. She'd sit and watch the objects in the living room and kitchen move around her. Then she'd stand up and watch everything in the rooms move around her. She wanted her "blankie" and sat with it in her lap while I turned her round and round. She seemed to never tire of it. She made eye-contact with me nearly all the way around, then hurried to make eye-contact again. It seemed important to her that I see her going round and round. It was something she'd never done before. Since she's discovered a playmate in me, we have a new relationship. Before, I was one of the grownups that came to the house to see mommy and daddy. Now, it's play time when she sees me. We make toys of whatever we find.

I find the time spent with Vada the most valuable. Playing with a child out of time, out of space, in that place children go into when they play. It's a free, open place with no boundaries except the physical, like Vada getting her foot stuck getting into the plastic hamper one of the many times. She figured out how to get her foot unstuck and she did it. I've learned not to help her unless she asks for help. She wants to figure everything out for herself. I'm happy to let her. Seems to me, wanting to figure things out for yourself is the best teacher of all. Junior Maxwell told people who asked him to teach them to play a banjo, "If you can't figure it out for yourself, you don't want to play the banjo." In our play, I look for things that have the potential to fascinate Vada. Turning her around in that plastic hamper was a new experience, seeing the room move around her, was endlessly fascinating for her. She's at an age now where she can engage her attention at will. It's an enjoyment for me connecting with so fresh a spirit, a soul in a new body that hasn't yet been burdened down with neuroses and cares, that old baggage we carry all our lives except in the baby stage and dementia.

I like that still place baby and I drift into unnoticed where we make a toy of anything we find. For me, the experience is even prayerful. Happy prayers of gratitude and asking that Vada have a fulfilling life. It seems like each one of our play times becomes more intimate. Intimate like with mommy or daddy, that kind of familiarity, not just the familiarity of somebody who comes to the house occasionally. It's like we really know each other now. I like knowing a baby. In the coffee shop this morning, Lisa deMilo came in. She is a Cuban dance club singer who has retired here from Miami. She was telling about her grandchildren she raised from day one, the first baby's mother needed to stay in the hospital another two weeks, and Lisa was given the baby to take care of until mother came home. Then she took care of the two kids while their parents worked. She loved her grandbabies as though they were her own. She was telling how much she misses them. I was thinking of how much I would miss Vada if I would never see her but once a year. The intimacy I'm feeling with Vada is that intimacy Lisa was saying she missed not seeing her grandbabies but a few times a year. She called it bonding. Maybe I'm bonding with Vada. I don't object.

In this time of pedophilic priests being uncovered, it sounds suspect to be talking about "playing with a baby," but I don't know any other language for it. There is not an atom of my self that would allow doing such harm to a baby I love, or any child. I've come to see over the years that adults playing with children sexually is a serious crime against humanity. I couldn't harm a child's soul in any such way, and certainly not one I love like I love Vada. I want to protect her. I want her safe from any harmful influence. I've come to believe that adults doing sex play with children is the worst thing that can happen to a child. Surely there is much worse, as there are so many more people than we imagaine going around as adults who have been played with as children. They never forget it. It screws them up for life. If somebody were to do something untoward to Vada, it would be a race between me and her daddy to see who could find him first to kill him. Vada will be known all through school as a girl with a rough daddy no boy dares go up against. If I live long enough, the word will go around: That crazy old bastard that lives up at Air Bellers, he'll kill ya if he hears of ya messin with Vada.

I find it curious that in this time when I feel little motivation toward anything much, I have discovered opening myself to playing on the floor with a baby. That's a great advance in my inner quest, for one thing the freedom to play, and all the more the freedom to play with an infant. She understands me when I talk to her and I understand her. We have no problem communicating. Sometimes she'll telling me something and I won't get it. I'll ask mama and she'll tell me what that signal means. One time before when I was there she was pointing at a chair and saying "Seat." She said it several times. I felt like she wanted me to sit her in the chair, but didn't know. I looked to mama and she affirmed it. I picked up Vada and sat her in the chair, a rocking chair, and that was what she wanted. She wanted to ride the rocking chair. She rode the chair like she'd paid admission for it. Later, mama told me she wanted me to put her in the chair because mama doesn't let her rock in the chair. Vada comes to me to enable her to play with toys her mommy won't allow. Looks kinda like the grandparent role. I love it.



Tuesday, February 26, 2013


   dan flavin

          We join spokes together in a wheel,
          but it is the center hole
          that makes the wagon move.

          We shape clay into a pot,
          but it is the emptiness inside
          that holds whatever we want.

          We hammer wood for a house,
          but it is the inner space
          that makes it livable.

          We work with being,
          but non-being is what we use.

                 -- tr by Stephen Mitchell


Monday, February 25, 2013


scene from red tails

Today's movie was a WW2 fighter pilot movie, RED TAILS, a black fighter plane squadron stationed in Italy, flying into Germany for combat. At the beginning a big logo came up saying it was a Lucas Film. I'd been wondering if the film would be any good. This logo heartened me, thinking of George Lucas of the Star Wars films. Right away, however, I began having doubts. Computer visual effects of WW2 fighter planes darting around shooting at each other, exploding, etc. I don't like computer visual effects, the worst in my memory being THE PERFECT STORM and 2012. Nonetheless, when I get used to the computerized scenes in the sky, the visuals become less  objectionable. Also, being a Hollywood film, it had an abundance of explosions and destruction. The worst was a plane flying straight toward an oncoming locomotive, the plane shooting whatever caliber bullets it was shooting at an iron horse. In my imagining, the bullets would bounce off the steel engine, but they exploded the train engine like it was a barrel of dynamite. By then I was used to the silliness of all the explosions. The times they shot up an airfield, every time one of their bullets hit a parked plane, the plane exploded, again like it was a box of dynamite. Whenever one of their bullets hit something it exploded. When bullets hit our boys flying, they put a small hole in the canopy and had little more effect than a .45 might.

Explosion movies completely turn me off. Hollywood finds ways to get explosions into even romantic comedies and the worst of all was the movie K2, about climbers on the mountain K2. Of course, American-style the climbers carried massive explosives and had to make an explosion near the top of K2. Ho-hum. Hollywood producers. I expect they see explosions as a million dollars per explosion in their pockets. They're right. They know the boxoffice. Hollywood is about mindless, easily manipulable boxoffice. This is why I mostly watch foreign films. Those countries have their boxoffice entities, like the kung-fu films in China; on netflix I can never find any really fine Chinese films that I know are there for all the cheezy kung-fu films, their equivalent of our explosions and guns going off. American independents and independents from the countries all over the world are the ones that make films I want to see. The worst in today's Red Tails was the climax explosion when one of our guys (almost wrote "boys") went into a death-defying duel with a new German jet fighter. He flew straight toward it and it flew straight toward him, both shooting like crazy. He gets hit a few times, the other plane explodes and he flies through the explosion celebrating his victory. My thought: where are all the plane parts? Seemed like flying into the explosion of a plane would be like flying into a shotgun blast of plane parts. No, the whole plane vanished in a computerized fireball.

The acting throughout was largely inexperienced actors and what I took for an inexperienced director unable to get any feeling out of the actors. Everybody spoke their lines that were fairly well written lines, but spoken like the actors were reading them. By about half way into the film I am used to the way they spoke their lines like the way I get used to Shakespeare language as the film goes on. It seemed to me like a WW2 movie made not like WW2, but like WW2 movies. It was a rehash of the WW2 fighter pilot movies, no concessions made to realism. The language was pathetic. They talked like white guys. The script writers were evidently white. The characters had attitudes of white guys. They struck me as white guys covered in walnut stain the way they used white guys with ManTan and braided wigs in 50s Indian movies, the way Sheena of the Jungle rode a white horse painted with black stripes to look like a zebra, not. Those are the ways the film was most like 50s movie imitations. The funniest part of the script's awkward moments was when the white pilots were talking about the black pilots, calling them in the early 40s negro and colored. Colored was used then in polite company. Definitely not when it was just men. Nobody white ever said negro. Southern boys would have said nigra and everybody else would have said niggers. There was no political correctness in that time. Television wasn't even new. In that time nigger wasn't thought about at all as anything other than calling a horse a horse. Same as calling an Englishman a Brit. No big deal.

The comedy for me in the film was seeing how the script writers danced around sensitive racial language. The film was definitely not made for black people. It's totally made for white people. When black people are together, they laugh, make jokes, pick at one another. These guys acted like white guys that never bent over laughing at anything. The white guys were portrayed speaking in good grammar, no slang, not even WW2 slang, and stiff as 2x4s, officious together. I don't recall an emotional human interaction between any of the characters. It was all scripted, especially the love affair between black pilot Deke and an Italian woman, Sofia. It was so utterly scripted and directed like a high school play that I laughed through it. Sofia's mother looked Italian, but she was American. I believe it was a made for TV film. It was so cliched and predictable it could not have done anything by boxoffice. If black director, Antoine Fuqua of Replacement Killers, took hold of this story, it would have been quite different and even sometimes believe able. He can work the unbelievable with suspension of disbelief that allows whatever happens. Red Tails did not know how to use suspension of disbelief. In Replacement Killers, Chow Yun Fat is in a white tile hallway with somebody wearing black shooting at him down the hallway with an uzi. Chow rolls around dodging the bullets. I laugh, but it doesn't matter. It works. By the time Deke flew into the exploded plane no suspension of disbelief had been established yet, except for Hollywood excess.

Nonetheless, I can't say it failed to entertain me. I did enjoy the computerized aerial dogfights, seeing the red-hot bullets zip through the air, planes do tricks in the sky. Interesting aerial activity like in those WW2 film footage tv shows of the early 1950s; The Big Picture of the Army and Victory At Sea of the Navy and Marines, then later, You Are There with Walter Cronkite. I watched so many of those programs that seeing squadrons of bombers with flack clouds popping around them and the enemy fighter planes shooting at them took me back to those films I adored in childhood. Perhaps they had something to do with my attitude that war is stupid. Seeing grids of German cities from the air and bombs blowing up the whole cities pained me. I did not look at it from the perspective of the plane it was filmed from, but saw it from the ground, shuddering in cellars, tremendous explosions overhead tearing up your entire life, because your ignorant politicians saw financial gain for themselves and their sponsors having a war. They took the deep plunge and lost. This film, Red Tails, was so devoid of depth of character that it felt to me shallow as a sitcom or morning talk show. I never took an interest in any of the characters. It was a "visual effects" testosterone rush. That was it. I really would like to the see the same story directed by an experienced black director, who would make human beings of the black men and the white men. A white man's rendering of a black man's story took the life out of it like Steven Spielberg demolished The Color Purple with a white man's perspective. I went into Red Tails not expecting much and came out of it disappointed. A lifeless visual effect extravaganza. The visual effects were the sole purpose of the film.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Saturday at one was the deadline for the photo exhibit at the library. I'd taken two prints to Willard Gayheart in Woodlawn last Friday for matting toward the show. I was to pick them up Friday night at the Fiddle and Plow show at Willard's gallery. Friday I headed out for Woodlawn. It had snowed an inch and a half in the night, crunchy icy snow, the kind that would be easy to drive on the first few tire tracks over it. But after several tire tracks it turns to slick ice. I went down the road to Pine Swamp and determined I would not attempt to return that way in the dark and uphill. I saw several skid marks in the place I suspected I might not pass beyond. I'd backed down from that place in the dark once. It's not something I want to repeat. Backing downhill on a winding mountain dirt road covered with a sheet of ice in the dark, so glad the reverse light bulbs were working. Without them I'd have to open the door and watch the back tire in relation to the bank on the left side. I didn't want to do that. At the end of the unpaved part of the road, I came onto clear asphalt from there on. Before the ice I'd intended to drive down the Parkway to get Dana Ross, but could not use the Parkway for the ice. I went around using Waterfall Road, Air Bellows Gap Road, Brown Road, Pine Swamp Road, Wolf Branch Road, Mahogany Rock Road, Dewitt Road, Hwy 21, Pulltail Road, Vestal Road and then Mountain Hearth Road.

By the time I reached Dana's place I was ready to get home as fast as I could git. An icy mist so thick it made a fog was freezing on tree limbs. White pines were covered with ice, limbs hanging down with bottom limbs touching the ground. During my half hour drive I saw the tree limbs turning white and sagging toward the ground. I started thinking about trees breaking and falling across the road. No chainsaw in the trunk, I wanted to go home. When Dana came to the door I showed him what I was seeing. Woodlawn was north all the way. What I saw over the last half hour, given three more hours it will be black ice all the way home. I don't want to drive on black ice. It can't be done. I said straight out I wasn't going. It was Carl Jones and Erynn Marshall, a show I looked forward to. I was getting concerned about making it home with the frozen mist coming down so fast. We decided to sit by the fire with a cup of coffee and visit since I was there and the coffee might help me up the mountain. Outside a half hour later the tree limbs had cleared of the frost. They were up again with just a little bit of white on their tips. The temperature had risen above freezing. The icy snow on the ground had turned to slush, the ice was gone. It heartened me to go ahead and drive to Woodlawn. Then I remembered that I am no weather prophet and dare not pretend to be. Crazy as the weather was, I decided not to chance it. Forty miles to Woodlawn and no telling what was between here and there.

The mist cleared away, the snow and ice were completely gone. All the way home it was like nothing had happened. I went up the mountain on the road from Whitehead, a good choice. I get to the top and there was the ice and snow again. The snow and ice were localized to Air Bellows and Cherry Lane. Cherry Lane gets a current of air that runs through Roaring Gap and goes around Bullhead mountain. Those two gaps, Air Bellows Gap and Roaring Gap must have been letting the same weather through. Who knows? I am not a weather prophet. I just receive it as it happens.The big IT, the weather. Sometimes the weather seems like it has a personality, like it's conscious. If that weather Friday night was really conscious and speaking to me, I was getting the message loud and clear, get yer ass home. Walking to the house was in the snow that was there since morning. I didn't even wonder what was up. Didn't care. I got the message. I was home. Safe. No dents on the car, no air bag blowing up in my face, no insurance issues, no estimates, no repairs, no problem.

Still, I needed to get the two photographs I'd left last week for Willard to mat. Up Saturday morning to the coffee shop to have a coffee and work the Jumble puzzle in the paper, and visit with whoever was there, this morning Tom Guy. Willard opened his shop at 10, so I left Sparta at 9:30 to get to Woodlawn by 10:15. Took 21 and 58 through Independence and Galax. A good drive at a good time of day when few cars were on the road. I like the scenery in Southwest Virginia. Stopped and bought gas for 24c a gallon less than in NC. That much state tax difference. I like to support my state, but when my state charges me that much more tax when I buy something I need as much as gas, I'll give my money in Virginia. Since I go to Virginia regularly, that's where I buy gas. Saved $3 today. It's my way of saying to my state: you screw me, I screw you. My state is ruthless when it comes to taking my money. The state of NC regards me a numbered object that owes it money. Need I think of NC in any other way?

Willard did a beautiful job of matting the two photographs. One was Thornton Spencer of Whitetop Mountain Band playing his fiddle and the other was Lyle Croco of Buffalo Death Rattle, a Louisiana old-time band, playing his fiddle silhouette against blue sky. I'm not putting pictures in looking to win a contest, but to participate in the show. I like to hang something on the wall with other people from around here. I see it a community show, the people of this county who have an aesthetic eye for still photographs. We have quite a number of people in the county now who make some beautiful photographs. I like to see a show of them and I like to have something among theirs. Had a good uninterrupted conversation with Willard until we ran down. That's the best way to end a conversation, when it runs down. He had finished and framed his colored pencil drawing of me painting the picture of him. I'm happy to have something by Willard in the house. I also have his color drawing of Tommy Jarrell playing fiddle and Paul Brown on banjo. I'm going to hang them on the same wall, one above the other.

Back to Sparta by 58 and 21, to the library delivering the matted prints one hour before closing time. I filled out the forms, paid the fee, talked a bit with Debbie and staff, went to the coffee shop and visited with Tom Guy again. He'd been away and came back. Tim the Techman came in and we had a good conversation corner over coffee. Winding down after several hours of driving, talking and paying attention listening, I stumbled out of the coffee shop and Drew Tuggle called me from across the street in the art store. Carol was volunteering there on Saturday mornings. We talked for a good while until I couldn't stand up anymore without assistance. I had a new blanket in the back seat of the car I'd just bought at Magic something or other where Walmart used to be in Galax. I wanted to wrap up in the new blanket and sleep. At home I make a bee line for the bed, wrap up in the blanket and lay there with my head buzzing like a yellow jacket nest in the wall. I was thinking it hopeless to attempt to sleep. Maybe I could calm down watching a quiet movie. I stayed where I was, unwilling to move. Then woke up two hours later, refreshed.


Friday, February 22, 2013


helen mirren as prospera in the tempest

This was one of those days of discovery, discovering a new artist in film director Julie Taymor, and discovering her film of Shakespeare's The TEMPEST with Helen Mirren playing Prospera, a feminine version of Prospero who was played immortally by John Gielgud in Peter Greenaway's PROSPERO'S BOOKS. For me, Greenaway's is the definitive rendering of Shakespeare's play. I didn't know what to expect going into Taymor's Tempest. The name Julie Taymor meant nothing to me, except I had seen her film FRIDA of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. I looked up a little bit of bio info on her and found she'd made a film of Stravinsky's opera, OEDIPUS REX, which I used to listen to on LP years ago, and Shakespeare's TITUS Andronicus with Anthony Hopkins. I liked what I saw so much in the Tempest I ran these last two to the top of my netflix Q. Julie Taymor caught my attention as an American artist I wanted to see more of.

I had no idea what to expect of the Tempest. I only knew that Helen Mirren was in it, reason enough for me to see the film. That she is in a film is all I need to know to want to see it. She first caught my attention in THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER. The title makes sense after seeing the film. It too is a Peter Greenaway film, the first one that drew my attention to him and to Helen Mirren. It is one of the most powerful films I've seen. It has a power as strong as Pasolini's OEDIPUS REX. It's not one to see often, but every viewing of it is rewarding to what I like a film to be, a work of art especially. The three previews that preceded the Tempest were all Disney movies. My heart sank. What if this is a Disney made-for-tv version of the Tempest like the Disney version of Pinocchio. I had a Disney television production in my mind going into it. And I was anticipating from the repeating visuals with the Menu that it might be a minimalist hi-tech Prospera with a feminist slant. When the first characters started speaking straight Shakespeare language, I had to turn on the subtitles, in shock that it was straight Shakespeare. I started seeing actors Alfred Molina, Russell Brand, Chris Cooper and Djmon Hounsou, the black man in GLADIATOR and BLOOD DIAMOND. Hounsou made as memorable a character as Caliban as he does with the characters in his other films. He has a great deal of the natural charisma an actor needs.

I saw that the characters were actors I've seen in several films over the years. Alfred Molina was unforgetable in THE PEREZ FAMILY made in Miami by Indian director Mira Nair, and Chris Cooper was unforgettable in AMERICAN BEAUTY and long string of other movies. These familiar actors showing up puzzled me. This was not a Disney slap-stick sitcom version of Shakespeare. A little ways into it I started seeing this is a serious film, which I'd taken it for when I put it on my Q, but all the intro going into it scared me into preparing myself for serious disappointment. By the time I recognized this is a real work of art, I was well enough into it to see for certain art was it's direction, a serious interpretation of The Tempest. The only thing "feminist" about it was Prospero as a woman. Nothing was made of it. It was not like any kind of big deal. She was the same as Prospera as would be a Prospero. She was Miranda's mother instead of father. It was Helen Mirren playing Shakespeare himself. She was aware of it and up to it. I've an idea she loved playing the role.

All scenes were outdoor in desert landscape. It had a sense of Pasolini about it in that way. I recalled his OEDIPUS REX filmed in North African desert landscape, and MEDEA. I'll be curious to see how Taymor portrays the Oedipus Rex story post-Pasolini. The Tempest happened on a desert island. It was Pasolini in color sometimes, though it was also the Tempest with Julie Taymor's hand in it, not Pasolini's. Of all the versions of the Tempest I've seen, this one is the most clear for distinguishing what the characters are about. Caliban in Prospero's Books was an Xtreme modern dancer who in one sense was the spirit of art itself, elements of the earth, like paint and sculptor's clay are made directly from earth. Art is materials of this earth arranged by form, color, design to give a sense of a living spirit in the work of art. The example I see in my mind's eye is Brancusi's Bird In Space. It is so the essence of bird shape it becomes bird spirit. Djmon Hounsou as Caliban represented Caliban in a way that felt right, his outrages of anger he had no control over, a man absolutely devoid of introspection. Caliban is like the missing link between animal and human. He has the human body, but his human sensibilities are limited though his animal nature is in full force. By animal nature, I mean pre-forebrain. More or less how we think of caveman consciousness.

By half way into the film I had seen much earlier that it was a serious interpretation of Shakespeare's Tempest to be regarded as such. By the time it was over, I was fully satisfied by Shakespeare's writing in story and in language. I felt Helen Mirren's portrayal of Prospera a tour de force for a great actress. Using desert landscape for stage set in every scene gives a sense of a stage production with an empty stage, no sets, just floor and walls. Peter Brook's Midsummer's Night Dream was performed on an empty stage. It's done so much since Waiting For Godot that by now it's just another option of how to stage a production. Sometimes no context can place emphasis somewhere else, like the landscape of the mind, the place where the production is playing out. I felt like using barren landscape in this film, as in a Pasolini film, makes it a story that is already inside the mind, an archetype that expresses differently in different contexts. The Tempest is an archetype the same as Oedipus Rex and Waiting For Godot.

As a portrayal of The Tempest, I felt closer to this one than to Prospero's Books. Peter Greenaway's version is itself with it's feet in The Tempest. Julie Taymor's Tempest is fully, and I mean fully like a full belly, satisfyingly Shakespeare's Tempest. In both film versions I beleive my favorite part is toward the end when Prospero/Prospera releases the spirit helpers kept as slaves by magician creator of characters that live their brief lives on stage. The spirit of air, fire and water, Ariel, and the spirit of the earth, Caliban, the playwright releases them as freed slaves to return to their life of freedom from restraint. Greenaway's film had so much going on at all times the story often faded into the spectacle and was lost for awhile. In Taymor's vision of the Tempest, the drift of the story is front and center, and the film in desert landscape makes a minimalist telling of the tale. Both Taymor's and Shakespeare's stories are pared down to the essential like a Brancusi sculpture, the minimal essence of the story, Shakespeare signing off as the magician on his own desert island of the mind where he commands spirits and creates characters, influences events. Prospero/Prospera's return from exile on a desert island, the mind, to the city with position and context, is retirement to the world of living one's everyday life again in the context of other people. Letting go of his characters that lived in his mind and the spirits that gave life to his characters is a sweet sorrow for the playwright/magician.


Thursday, February 21, 2013


the house tom pruitt lived in all his life

By way of some email correspondence with Sarah Bryan, editor of Old Time Herald, I began to see that we see an awful lot alike. She's a folklorist interested in traditional music and culture from the varieties of early American cultures unto today when it's homogenized by television and radio. Though I'd venture that if the corporate influence of pop culture were to wane, the traditional music would come forward again. It's not that traditional music is gone just because it's rarely on tv except for the RFD channel. I discovered by insight from correspondence with Sarah that I have been a folklorist the entire time I've lived in the mountains. I've not been going by folklore standards with tape recorders and making notes, reading books. I've got my knowledge of the old-time ways from people I have known, people I've listened to for hours telling me their lives. This recent article I wrote for Old Time Herald on bluegrass coming to the mountains, specifically Alleghany County and fiddler Howard Joines, is all from what is called first-hand information, from the people involved. First-hand is evidently the best source, though I wasn't so sure while trying to put things together from different people's memories of their experience. In the writing, I discovered a few times that I'd got conflicting information from different sources that actually cancelled each other. I left those kinds of ambiguities out of it.

It's like a time recently two different men I know were at odds with each other, both telling me the same story, each saying the other was lying. I was to make a decision as a result of what they'd told me. They cancelled each other out and I was left with nothing to go by for decision making. I just told myself, it's their problem, not mine. In the writing, I did not want to put in any inaccuracies. I'm sure there are some, because, like I said, it's first-hand information, subject to imperfect memory, and a culture that didn't think in left-brain ways of details and facts. In a picture I found of Junior Maxwell with his first bluegrass band, The Little River Boys, I could guess the date of the photo better by the clothes, ties, haircuts and the squeegee lines on a Fifties b&w polaroid print, than Junior could guess from memory. He remembered where it was taken, Johnson City, Tennessee, backstage at a bluegrass show, but he had no recollection of when. In the past. For Junior the past was nothing. Only the present mattered to him and the future; the future is where the present is going. He gave no importance to anything in the past. In that way he was not a good source for information about dates. He could remember plenty about making music with other musicians, how they played in their particular styles. It was from Junior I learned the principles mountain musicians live by.

I didn't know anybody in my first months in the mountains. I'd go to town to the laundromat, gas station, bank and grocery store, a stranger in a culture where people don't see anybody they don't know. In the laundromat people stared at me like I was a television. If I spoke to one, they continued to stare at me. It's perfectly natural to them; televisions speak, but you don't speak back. I wanted to know other people like me who came to the mountains from an urban environment, but there weren't many in the late 1970s, and the ones that were here from other places didn't want to know anybody from a city. They were like Americans in Europe; they only want to see natives, not Americans. So in London I meet an American and I'm regarded in the way, spoiling the view. My neighbor Tom Pruitt I visited regularly. He told me the story of his life over fourteen years. I first knew him when he was 72 and he died when he was 86. The odd part about Tom dying is that it seemed like Tom was immortal, would always be the same age and would never die. Then he did. His brother Millard, the Regular Baptist preacher, I knew also for 14 years. I heard him preach often and listened to the story of his life. They were beautiful stories. Both of them went to school in my house.

Going to a Regular Baptist church for fourteen years as an active member taught me a great deal about mountain old-time religion and a very great deal about mountain culture. I wanted to learn as much as I could about mountain culture, because it was the home I had chosen for myself. There was a time in the late 1980s I had the money to move away from here and go someplace where I could make a better living, get paid better and consequently have more living expenses someplace else. Here, we don't make much, but it doesn't (didn't used to) cost so much to live here, either. Like when you cut your own firewood, that saves a lot on the winter's heating bill. All it costs in money is chainsaw gas and gas for the truck hauling the wood from where I cut it someplace nearby to the house. Negligible expense. Good heat all winter. It is physically demanding hauling firewood in from the woodpile maybe three times a day, sometimes four, in every weather; snow, wind, ice, bitter cold. That's part of it. I wanted to live elemental, with the elements, with the cold of winter, the heat of summer, the rain, the snow, the wind, the storms, the sunshine, the sky. I never wanted my house air-tight. I wanted to live in a way that respected the ways the old-time people lived. I don't want to be too warm in winter. I want to feel the winter. I wanted to acclimatize myself to the weather as it is in the mountains, to exist with the weather instead of against it. I wanted to share that with the people of the old ways. I was from a different world and aimed to learn mountain culture, how to get around in it, be comfortable in it, be at home in it.

I've studied the ways of these mountains so long that it's become part of who I am. The culture of these mountains is my ongoing interest. I didn't want to read Appalachian studies books, though I know they'd be interesting, I wanted to get my knowledge from people who live in the culture so intimately they don't know it's a culture. Over 36 years in the mountains I have known several people to listen to at length learning the story of their lives and their philosophies of living in this world. I never made notes, never used a recording device, never wrote anything down of the hundreds of stories I have forgotten. I wanted to incorporate into myself what I learned from the people I knew. I wanted what I learned from them to seep into who I am and educate who I am to the beauty of mountain culture. I felt like making notes and writing about the people around me dampened what I learned from the different ones I knew, devalued it. It was only real when what was spoken to me was mine only. I didn't need to be writing about a culture I knew nothing about. It didn't feel right recording anybody talking or a preacher preaching. Plenty of people did put cassette recorders at the pulpit to record the sermons. For me, that took the spirit out of the encounter. I asked Junior Maxwell once if I could get him to answer questions on tape about fiddler Art Wooten. Nope. Don't even think about it.

I've lived my life in these mountains as a folklorist all the way along. I've been at it so long that folklorist has become my way of thinking. I never lose interest in anything to do with mountain culture. Still, I have not read books. My friend Cynthia is teaching an Appalachian Studies course and has several books that look really good, but they don't appeal to me. I want mine from the people themselves. I want to know the mountain people as my friends, as people I have heart connections with in real, honest ways. In vivo, not in vitro. Subjective, not objective. I came to the mountains on my spiritual path and have walked my path the entire time in these mountains among mountain people. I have learned the value of being who you are under all circumstances. I understand the value of not ratting on anyone for any reason. I understand the value of helping neighbors who need help. I understand the music well enough to write about it with some comprehension, able to pass my understanding to others new to the music. I've learned quite a lot from the people I've known over the last half of my life. It is in these mountains, the latter half of my life, that I have found love in my heart. All my associations with these mountains, the culture, the people, the music, are in a loving vein. It is in these mountains where God opened my heart and brought me to life. I'm grateful to all the mountain people I know for allowing me into their lives.

The bridge between us is respect. My respect for mountain people is automatic. I know the people and the culture well enough by now that I can't help but respect everyone I know and everybody new I meet. My respect allows me entrance to a world of people I find endlessly fascinating. I take the dark side with the light side and see them as one interwoven whole. I don't find somebody who has been in prison fifteen years any less valid a human being than somebody who goes to church regularly. We're all different kinds of people. In the mountains, people know that and receive everyone as who they are, not in relation to a standard of conformity that everybody is "supposed to" adhere to in order to be acceptable, except in some circles. In the mountains, that you exist is acceptable. If you are straight-on who you are, that is all the more acceptable. I was thinking earlier today how wonderful it is that the sweetness of the South is something nobody outside the South ever gets. In like manner, the sweetness of mountain culture is only known from the inside, cannot be seen from the outside. I'm grateful to God from the core of my heart for landing my parachute in Alleghany County. I know the sweetness of mountain culture well enough by now that I can't live without it. I have incorporated it into my soul, the place where I'm most happy I found mountain culture. I can't say my time here has been smooth and straight-ahead as Bonneville Salt Flats. I would never have wanted it to be. I love the hills. I love the winding curves in all the roads. Driving in the mountains has a good flow about it when you find the flow. It doesn't take long in years.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013


There it is. American so-called Christians don't want to help the poor and will not do it, no matter what. There are exceptions, like the Sparta Methodist church. My early years were spent having the Old Testament rules and regulations repeated unto belief system that what Jesus did had a spiritual meaning that doesn't apply to living in this world; you're to love the brothers and sisters in your church. Love your neighbor means to me the people around us, next door neighbor, people in the same restaurant, essentially everybody we come in contact with in the course of a day. Not killing my neighbor does not equal loving my neighbor as I love myself. That's a little much for a fundamentalist whose idea of religion is I'm-right-you're-wrong. Introspection? Assessing self is never a priority in fundamentalism; only assessing what somebody else is doing wrong. "That's not how it is in my church." How come your church isn't doing anything to benefit poor people? Some people are poor because of crystal meth, varieties of drugs, inebriation generally; they're sinners, that's why they're poor. The wages of sin: Christians won't help you. If you're in prison, it's because of sin; Christians don't approve of sin. That's the big deal I grew up under: don't-approve-of. I say shit someplace and somebody says, "I don't approve of that kind of language." I say, "Then don't use that kind of language."
I came out from that kind of thinking when I left the home of my parents. I did not know in my late teens that there was an alternative to Fundamentalist thought. I went to a Unitarian church for awhile to appease mother that I'm in church. I figured Unitarian was as far away from Fundamentalism as it can be in the same religion. I really didn't take to it. It too concerned preachers and disapproval. I was still such a dependent that I asked the preacher to talk to my parents to appease their fear that I'd gone to worshiping Satan. I was still subject to mother's control issues that never let up. In my early years on my own, I was learning to make my own decisions, anathema in fundamentalism. The fundamentalism I was subject to drove me to atheism, mainly to get it out of my mind as a force of inhibition. You-better-not. It had me twisted up in such tight knots that I had to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so desperate to get rid of the filthy bathwater the baby had to go too. Deep within, I knew there was something to Jesus, but all the rest of it was so interwoven with the gospel that I couldn't have one without the other. So I chose none of it. An entire childhood of prayers not answered turned me against "God." I pleaded and begged God in sobbing tears every night in bed to free me from the shackles of my parents, and it never happened. It only got worse. I stopped crying at age 14, told myself one night in bed with face in the pillow that I will never wet my pillow with another tear over them. I'd cried and screamed into the pillow so they couldn't hear me every night before I went to sleep. I'd get the shit beat out of me if they heard what I was screaming. That was the final end point of the parent-child bond. Answer to prayer. Our relationship had been of them keeping me crying. When I refused to cry, our bond was broken.
In myself I saw it as liberation. I had to do as they said, but only in the same way I had to do what cops said. Rule of Law. Nothing personal. It felt like liberation to me to distance them to the objective. Answer to prayer? Yet on the psychotherapist's couch it looks neurotic. Very neurotic. This diving within for liberation is the beginning of schizophrenia. While it's happening, it's quite comfortable. It's next best thing to walking out the door and never seeing them again. I was afraid to walk out the door because I knew I wouldn't get very far, cops would bring me back, and then there would be hell to pay in super-abundance. I wondered for a lot of years why I was living in such hate, and it was indeed hate, over people who went to church every minute the church door was unlocked, and took me along. Out and about they were so sweet like good little Christians who obey the preacher like they're supposed to. Behind closed doors: look out, yer on yer own. From the way it looked to a teenager, God was the problem. The Old Testament God of YOU BETTER NOT mixed with God's son who died because I was a sinner, all of it was too confusing. I threw it all away. Good riddance. By the time I was in my mid twenties, I laughed at religionists. 
I also found by my mid twenties I was unable to love. Love was not even available to me. I believed an unknown someone in the future was waiting around a corner for me to fall in love with. Never anyone I knew. It had to be somebody I didn't know. If "the one" ever showed up, I'd never have noticed. Love was shut down in me. Hate was easy. Angry inside. It was a boiling rage. When I see a man with a really red face, I know what he's feeling inside. And I know where it came from. By the time I fell in with Baba at age 33, I was still unable to love. It was some years with Baba applying WD-40 to my heart before I was able to get it. The key was the day I was reading some of Baba's words and he said that understanding was a form of love. I thought: I can do that. I did have understanding. I understood that black people are people too. I felt empathy for their situation. I knew how oppression felt. Yes, I could understand. That one word was the turn of the key that opened my heart. I'd been pursuing the development of my ego. It came to a place where ego gets out of control and becomes self-destructive. Then one's life goes to shit. It might look good on the outside, but it doesn't feel so good on the inside. Then the outside becomes a mask of what's missing inside. Round and round it goes spinning webs of illusion so thick there's no way out.  
The chance opened up to move to the Blue Ridge Mountains, live on a remote gravel road at 3,000+ feet on a mountain with waterfalls a short walk into the woods on an old cow trail. I'd longed subconsciously for mountains all my life. In Kansas there weren't even any hills. All highways went in a grid of straight lines. Kansas fundamentalism was the dirty bathwater I threw the baby out with, the state where they have a problem with teaching evolution in the educational system, unto legislation popular with a majority of the population. From Kansas, Southern Baptist looked liberal. The preacher from our church made a bid every year to be received by the Southern Baptist Association in Atlanta, and was rejected every time as too unrepentantly hard shell. Really. He was a Swede from Minnesota, whose parents came over from Sweden. Ingmar Bergman and I had the same religious upbringing, Swedish Protestantism. It made us both into existentialists. Perhaps for Camus, Sartre and deBeauvior, French Catholicism had that hard core a hold on their childhoods. I've not read their biographies, so I don't know. My friends who are ex-Catholics had the same issues in childhood as my friends who are ex-Baptists and ex-Jews. It's not the whole, but particular families in the whole that spit their kids out unable to love after defeating their spirit with church.
I believed moving to the mountains that manual labor on a working farm every day would gradually work off my anger that was still loud and clear. The anger didn't go *poof* when Baba took hold of me. Year after year I kept the anger. It boiled in me when I was out stretching barbed wire, putting fence posts in the ground, cutting firewood, digging with shovels, hitting nails with hammers, mowing hay and putting it up. It seemed like the harder I worked the angrier I got. Inside, I was growling and questioning what was going on. I'm supposed to be learning something about love and I go about angry all the time. After seven years working the farm, it was time to move on. I took up house painting. It was easy, I liked it, I could work alone. Curiously, the day I left the farm all my anger went away. It was like my lifetime of anger was packed into a helium balloon and released. It all went away in one package. It really did go *poof.* I don't understand the process, but it taught me that the way of the spirit, the way of love, the path I have chosen, albeit against my own wishes at the beginning, the Way takes time, requires experience, understanding, reflection, evolution; it's truly a process of inner evolving. It's the Tao. It might be about becoming a better person or it might not. That's not what it's about in my way of seeing. Becoming a better person is a side-effect to establishing a love relationship with God. It's not the purpose. Once caught up in God's love, Divine love itself, becomes the purpose. A love relationship with God really does make for a beautiful life. It keeps me in touch with simple, honest (or dishonest) people doing what it takes to get by.
Friday evening in Galax Lowes, I spoke with a guy who was dirty and poor and a little bit slow. He was carrying a rolled up rug and we were waiting for the sales clerk at the register to return from wherever she went off to for whatever it was. I asked if that was a rug rolled up he was carrying. He said he was getting it for his grandmother whose rug was dark and she wanted a lighter rug. I asked how old his grandmother was and he said after thinking about it up in her 80s. We talked like people who knew each other. I saw in his countenance he was a lover of God. He was somebody on the social ladder who was bottom out of sight. His boy was with him who looked about 11 or 12. I could see in their connection that the boy watched out for his daddy who wasn't too good at getting around in the world. I saw in him the boy that led the blind wise man Tireseus. Clerk comes back, we go off in our different directions. I felt like I'd had a God moment, made contact with an angel unawares kind of moment. I don't have any money to give the poor, so I work with BROC in the county taking care of the poor immediately in our world, our neighbors. Putting on the Hillbilly Show once a year is our fundraiser. We don't get government money and we don't play religion. Everybody involved, about a dozen, are church going believers, individuals who paid attention to Jesus advocating for the poor. This is how I do my part for the poor. I can't join some refugee outfit and distribute rice to people in refugee camps in northern Africa and bury the dead. I can extend myself in a heartful way to someone "poor in spirit" and listen when somebody is having a hard time, needing to talk to somebody. I don't have to be doing it all the time. Only when the moment presents itself, the only times it's real. Forcing it just makes a mess of things.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


red-tail hawk

It is bitter cold the last couple of days and nights. The temperature did not touch 30 today. The floor is cold. I've let the venetian blinds down to lessen the cold coming through the window glass. Heat runs all the time. It's too cold to concentrate on anything. Reading is all right with feet up on footstool, a foot and a half above the floor. Caterpillar's food in the bowl on the floor is cold as the floor. Sometimes I wonder how she likes eating her food that cold. Then I realize she's done it all her life. She knows no other way. If I'd put it in the microwave to warm it up, she'd let it wait until it was cold to eat it. The floor is cold. I keep a heater by her two beds, one bed on either side of it. On days when it is this cold, I tend to want to stay in bed and sleep. But there comes a time I can't sleep any more and the bed gets boring and I have to get up and stir. I tried reading, but Caterpillar then sits on the floor beside the chair and meows at me until I give up reading and pick her up. She doesn't do that often, so I don't have a problem with it. Cat behavior. Get used to it or don't live with a cat. Hairballs and puke go with cats too. I always wear house shoes when I walk in the house at night. Stepping on a wet hairball barefooted is disgusting as seeing a picture of Ted Nugent.

My head is floating a variety of images. The image that comes to the front is one from dreams during a nap a couple days ago. Three times in three separate dreams during the same nap, I saw the red-tail hawk that maintains the territory of the mountain around my house. In the dream I saw the red-tail flying low over the meadow that runs to the east and the south of the house, maybe 10 to 20 feet above the ground, sailing with wings out, not flapping, sailing like the wind was pushing from behind, pushing the hawk through the air like a bullet. The hawk flew so fast it had a bit of a blur to it. Seeing it three times, exactly the same and in the same part of the meadow, I took it to mean pay attention. I picked up my book of the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams, and looked up hawk. Hawk is said to be the messenger from the world of the grandfathers and grandmothers that lived before us. It is a call to pay attention to messages from the spirit and pay attention to omens. Hawk has a keen eye and a bold heart. Hawk flies close to the light of Grandfather Sun. In my symbolism, the Sun is my spiritual master, Meher Baba. It has to do with paying attention to messages from my Master, possibly some awareness is on its way to me at high speed. The hawk was not circling above, but sailing effortless and low, in a straight line, parallel to the ground, like an arrow. It wasn't like the hawk was hunting, rather enjoying the thrill of flying really fast.

Recently in weeks and months I've been feeling kind of bold of heart. Nothing much scares me and I have an ongoing attitude that anybody pushing me around will be pushed back. Though I know the spiritual path does not encourage revenge, I feel no problem being the active return on you-get-what-you-give. In this time of my life I want to be the active part of the return. I want to see the return and have an active involvement in it. I feel like if somebody threatens me they better be ready to back it up. I've never been like this before. It was threatened out of me in childhood and I never developed it as an adult. Though now, standing tall for myself feels like the natural next thing. It feels like it fits. I say to myself that it's not doing what Jesus said of turn the other cheek; it's not the Way for somebody on the spiritual path to act. Then I remind myself the spiritual path is not about being good. It is about being bad too. It is about the whole life experience, both sides of the coin. After spending so many years on my spiritual path looking to do "good" by it, I forget the human part of myself needs to breathe and stretch its muscles. Too often, I will not give my human self expression because I assess it not good for the spiritual path. My spiritual path is not about denying my humanity. It is about embracing my humanity, my forgetfulness, anger when provoked, my psychology, allowing myself to dislike somebody I can't stand.

That's it, allowing myself. I can allow myself to cuss a streak when something pisses me off. I feel it, so why not let it express freely. It's important to ease off of Xtreme vulgarity and hurtfulness when somebody else is around, not involve them in my own moment of allowing my humanity when it is not hurtful of anyone around me. If it is hurtful to me, I'm willing to take the return. I'm wondering if I'm in a time of my inner growth of allowing my humanity after several years of teaching my humanity principles of the spirit. I don't mean it to suppress my humanity. One evening several months ago talking with Justin, he asked what I thought God wanted of us. I took a moment on that one. Justin pays attention to what I say and I didn't want to lead him down a blind alley by some cliche I heard along the way. I wanted to give him the best answer I could find. First thing in my mind: God does not want. God allows. Then I saw it. I said, "God wants us to live our lives." How we live our lives is our concern. Free will. The word to live is the key. God is life itself, so living our lives, we act out God. I feel like it means to be actively engaged in one's own life. If I wanted to climb in the ring with Anderson Silva and get my ass kicked from here to yonder, I suspect God would say: do what you gotta do; don't worry, be happy.

The medicine cards interpretation puts emphasis on hawk circling high above looking at one's life from another perspective, seeing it from above. But my hawk was close to the ground sailing in a straight line, fast. No cries, no vocalizings. Just the red-tail of my mountain showing me something a hawk can do that I'd never seen before. I'm wondering if the hawk is suggesting more active engagement in my life, play, pedal to the metal, enjoy the thrill of flying really fast, close to the ground, watching it pass by in a blur having fun the way swallows have fun flying loops in the air. Maybe hawk is telling me to take my life by the reins and get-er-done. Play more. Spread my wings and sail on the love of the people I care about who also care about me. Allow love to be the air I fly on top-speed. Something is going on inside I don't see, but feel it all the time. It's an overwhelming feeling of love for the mountains and everyone around me. It's like a heart running over with joy. Much of the time when I'm with friends, I spend a lot of time wiping my eyes. They get wet and stay wet with tears of joy. When it's happening and I look within I see inside my skin the bright light of joy, like carrying wine in a leather pouch. It's like no matter what I'm thinking or feeling, that furnace of joy inside my skin is going. It's like my life energy. Perhaps the hawk's joy in flying fast was a messenger from my interior self showing me what I'm feeling deep inside where I can't see it so well.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


I love this photograph of Dori
Dori Freeman performed with Scott Freeman, her dad, and Willard Gayheart, her grandpa, at the Fiddle and Plow Show at the Front Porch Gallery in Woodlawn. It was music to the full satisfaction of the entire audience, twenty or more, mostly people who are there every week. It's interesting how much of a group identity we have amongst ourselves by now. We were slow getting acquainted with each other, though after a few years we did become acquainted and by now we talk freely with each other. This evening before the show, I went around and spoke to several, and during intermission I spent the whole time talking with some of the people I've become acquainted with there. It seems like we're all so well acquainted by now we know each other almost as friends, because we're the ones who love Willard and Scott's music and the music of the people they bring in to play there. We who have been going regularly since the beginning, about 3 years ago, have seen Dori develop her performance on stage singing for an audience. I don't know how she sees it from her own perspective, but I have seen her rise up from a self-conscious girl who wasn't sure she really wanted to sing in front of people. She began to sing with a little better self-assurance with each performance. She would go to the front, sing a couple of songs and leave.
Every time she gave a performance, she was a little bit better than the time before. Better in that she was more comfortable singing before several people. There came a time when she passed from a self-conscious singer to one who sings outward, projects her singing to the listeners with assurance she is connecting and she's not being judged. By tonight I was delighted to see/hear Dori opening up even further as a result of increasing stage appearances. She sang at last year's Wayne Henderson Festival as a featured guest. She gave a terrific performance. It was a big crowd. I was thinking it must be intimidating for her, such a big crowd, and she handled it beautifully. I noticed in the big audience of people who had never heard her or heard of her a hush run through the crowd and all eyes and ears were on Dori from just about one minute after she started. Scott with mandolin, Edwin Lacy banjo, Steve Lewis guitar, Mike Gayheart bass, and Dori with guitar gave the appearance of a bluegrass band when they came onto the stage and positioned themselves with their mics. Dori started singing her kinda Peggy Lee style, a moment of broken expectation ran through the audience, like they weren't expecting this. As quickly as the audience heard what she was doing, she had them. The entire audience focused attention on her the same as at Woodlawn with an audience of fifteen or twenty.
I've seen every time I have witnessed one of her performances that the people in the audience give her their literally undivided attention. She has a charisma that holds your attention just by her appearance on the stage. It's not just her looks, not just her hair, not just her guitar; her entire presence seems to hold an audience's attention. Every audience I've been in that heard Dori perform has loved her. After the Henderson fest, I felt it would be to her benefit to have an idea that she has a charisma she's not able to see from inside herself. I could see she had no idea of it. It seemed to me like she needed to know in her beginning, something to boost her self-confidence, and it's not something everybody has. It's a gift is the only way it can be named. I felt like it would serve her to know it, so I ok'd myself to tell her. It's one of those things artists of any sort cannot see in themselves; it takes somebody outside themselves to point to it, feedback. I didn't want to give her the bighead, and knew Dori well enough that I did not believe it would give her the bighead. She's given several stage performances at different venues, even the Carter Fold, and I don't see her with a swollen cranium. I meant for her to have the observation of her charisma to be a kind of tool she can use consciously. A year later, my sense is that she has a self-confidence in performance now, possibly somewhat assisted by her own recognition of her natural stage charisma, along with increasing stage experience finding that audiences really like what she is doing. Every show is that many more people in her growing fan base.
Dori is also a good short story writer, a very good short story writer. She is now writing songs as her musical talent is taking hold and pulling her in that direction. She gives a vocal performance with the same feeling of her writing. Her writing is clear and visual without any unnecessary words. I've read three of her stories, each one in awe. I was in awe that a young woman, then 19, was writing with such a mature style. She writes like somebody with a good many years writing experience. She came out of high school writing like she'd been doing it for a very long time. Her writing, too, has a kind of charisma in that I read it with fascination. She writes a song as good as songwriting gets. Her singing is trim and spare like her writing. I was noting at this performance how she brings Sara Carter to mind in her outwardly expressionless singing, like Ralph Stanley too, traditional mountain style. The point is, it's the delivery of the song from the heart through the voice. It doesn't need facial and other physical gyrations to make it's point. Everything is in the words. Like Sara Carter and Ralph Stanley, Dori Freeman doesn't take the cheap way of making a spectacle. Her vocalizing the words is all the song needs. She tells the story in song.
I don't like to project future expectations on her. I like appreciating her as I hear her. She brings to mind my year and a half old baby friend, Vada, who I see once a week. Every time I see her she's a little bit different, a little more confident of herself in a baby's body in a world where everything is new. I've seen Dori grow very much like I've watched baby Vada grow. In both cases it is largely a coming into awareness of a new life. Dori is growing into her life as a musical vocalist a little bit more self-confident every time I experience one of her performances. I won't live long enough to watch Vada grow up into a woman, and I won't live long enough to see Dori the Emmy Lou Harris of her generation. In Vada I see the woman in the baby, I see the woman she will be, and in Dori I see the singer who commands big audiences in her beginnings. Therein I find satisfaction. I have full confidence that thirty years from now Vada will be a remarkable woman. Like her mother in that way. And Dori thirty years from now will be a very widely respected singer, songwriter, guitar player and possibly short story writer too. Maybe even novels by then. The one thing I know is that both women in their maturity will be remarkable human beings in their own ways. That makes me happy. Gives me satisfaction.   

Friday, February 15, 2013


A couple days ago leaving the grocery store I fell in with someone I knew from the days of the music store, we talked walking out the door, into the parking lot and stopped when we reached my car, stood there and talked quite a long time in increasingly cold wind. Increasingly, because the longer I stood in it, the colder the wind became. He was somebody who is wound up inside and rants when he cuts loose. I don't mean to say I found him objectionable. My first encounter with him years ago was a very much in-yer-face commandment of what I need to do to make a million dollars. Rather than say I don't want a million dollars, I let him talk. It amounted to another city-mind you needa, you gotta, you oughta, you should. He had a good mind and spelled it out for me convincingly. Like I said, the only problem I had with what he was saying was that I did not want a million dollars. I know somebody who came into multiple millions overnight. He lived high, big house, a Mercedes convertible of a different color for every day of the week. His life went to shit. He lost his wife, lost his money, lost his ego. It wasn't but a few years later he landed in prison for habitual drunkenness. One woman I know said, "I believe I could make a million dollars last." My thought: I'd be just like the guy that lost it all and ended up in prison a drunk.

The man in the parking lot who had previously mapped out my path to a million dollars was telling me in the increasingly cold wind that he's not really a Republican (the "not really" perked my ears up wondering what that could be leading to), he's "more of a Teapartyer." I didn't see that coming, but it was the natural next thing. On my instant double-take I saw: of course he's a Teapartyer. His talking amounted to continuous rant, meaning he takes seriously Faux News, Limbaugh and the rest of the white voices stirring up divisive hatred. He was a good guy, though I found his critical mind a bit slack, led by the self-centered corporate notion of all for me, nothing for anybody else, the post-Reagan slant on American individualism. I tend to look at him as the issue itself, not the solution he purported himself to be. Individualism is not the same as egoism. Individualism allows humility and an interest in the well-being of others besides self. I can't help but see it's a better life for the individual to live among people who are getting paid well enough for their work they can live on what they make, than to live underground with prison walls and towers housing men with guns guarding the entrance while everybody else is living in poverty and fighting each other, manipulated by the people living underground.

We were talking as people friendly with each other. I, a liberal, was listening to a teapartyer saying what he had to say. I was thinking, if I told him I am more liberal than he is conservative, that would have been the end of it. This is something I learned from parents. Go along with what they tell me to believe, let them believe I'm with them if they want to, and just let them talk. I knew with parents as with this guy, if I were to bring up my own point of view, which amounts to allowing others their own points of view, I'd be dismissed as stupid and that would be the end of it. I know better than to argue with that mind. I grew up in the Baptist religion where all is absolute black or white with no middle ground for the spectrum that is the fullness of life. They're right. I'm wrong. Simple as that. I don't argue with that mind. The rational does not convince anyone of anything. And why do I want to convince somebody to think like I think? In my way of seeing, that is not allowing the other to be self too. I am not the only self in this world. Every one of us is a center of the universe, and I'm ok with that. It's the nature of existence. I can't tell somebody besides myself what they oughta, needta, should do if they knew what was right. That's saying I know more about your life than you do. And I don't. I'm up front about it. I never start a sentence, "You know what you oughta do?" It's a statement, not a question. It's an intro to I-know-more-than-you-do. My only answer when told that question is, Yes. Then I get accused of being a smart-mouth. So what.

Oddly, the encounter with this man whose name I don't know, though friendly, I knew the whole time could turn to hate the very moment I identified myself a liberal, meaning I don't believe what you believe. I'm totally ok with that. I live in a world of people who don't believe what I believe and I don't believe what they believe. No two of us believe alike, even in the same church. This teapublican mind that has been influenced a bit too much by baptist mind of the absolute, that I am right and you are wrong, allows only stasis. There is no stasis in this changing world. Attempts to enforce stasis of one sort or another are like they say in business--if you stay where you are, you go backwards. We need to be in process of change, ourselves, or we go backwards. Locking down in the apparent culture of the Fifties, I Love Lucy forever, gets nowhere. Though it's easy to say things have become only worse since the Fifties, I maintain there hasn't been anything as bad as I Love Lucy since the Fifties. The cultural delusion that Father Knows Best, having to do with white fathers only, is simply not how it is. It's a belief system, but it's not reality. In today's time, white men are showing themselves to be the biggest bunch of racially demographic fools, not only in this country, but in the world, and blaming everybody else for being the fools. This is evidently the time of the breakdown of white man ruling the world. Coming from inside the world ruled by white men, I'm glad to see it breaking down. Let's give Asians a chance. Let's see if Asians can be more despotic with power than white men have shown themselves to be. We already know that nobody learns from history, but maybe a few scholars.

I was hearing this teapartyer in the parking lot with thoughts like this running through my mind. I was amusing myself seeing him in my mind's eye flipping out that he'd spent so much time talking to an idiot. The odd part for me in encounters such as this, and I have so many they're more the rule than not, is that I am enjoying the individual I'm in conversation with. I care not at all that we disagree politically. I consider politically the least important aspect of our lives when it comes to the individuals we are. I know people I love an awful lot who want police state. It says something about their states of mind in everyday life wanting to control others. People I know are aware that it's pointless to attempt to control me, and they know I don't ever attempt to control them. For me, it's a trade-off. I don't control you; you don't control me. Then we have no issues between us, unless the other is somebody who can't stand to know somebody without being in control. They get real frustrated with me and tend to leave me alone. And that's a good thing. For both of us. Some will hold the frustration in a pressure-cooker situation and then one day they blow. When that happens, we never speak again. I hate it when that happens, but have found that the longer it takes for the explosion to occur, the bigger it is. I've learned to see this propensity in others early on, and have taught myself to absent self from a situation evolving in that direction before it becomes a problem. When it's dealt to me that I obey or else, I pick or else.


Monday, February 11, 2013


Last Wednesday at 12, I went by the Head Start office in Sparta for our BROC lunch there. BROC gives Head Start a certain amount of money and buys books for the library, and they give us a lunch once a year and show us what the kids are doing. Our lunch there was scheduled for this coming Wednesday, not last Wednesday. I walked in, no one in sight. I thought that odd. Went to the men's room, came back out into the hallway and there was a woman I recognized associated with the place, but don't know her name. She was looking at me with alarm, not recognizing me. Suddenly, I realized I fit a racial profile, white man. It is white men breaking into schools and shooting up kids and teachers. Seeing her alarm, I identified myself immediately. I had made a mistake. It's next Wednesday. Seeing that I was not there to kill her and the kids, she relaxed, we laughed.


Saturday, February 9, 2013


scott freeman, edwin lacy, sandy mason, willard gayheart

Friday night Skeeter and the Skidmarks lit up the sky over Woodlawn, Virginia, playing the music that is particularly their own. Scott Freeman, Edwin Lacy, Sandy Mason, Willard Gayheart played another show at the Fiddle and Plow show at Willard's gallery, The Front Porch. I've heard them play live maybe seven times now. I never tire of them. Though I hear Scott and Willard make music almost every week, I love the music more per hearing rather than less. The band started off with Hang Me, Hang me, oh hang me, I'll be dead and gone. It's not the hangin that I mind, but waitin in the jail so long. Lord I've been all around this world. During their first several songs, I realized that their music has become one with my soul. Listening to them play, I danced inside, sang along, sometimes closed my eyes and listened to every note. I keep cassettes of their music in the car and every time I put one in I feel refreshed the moment it starts. Skeeter's sound is specific to these four individuals. Any change of personnel would change the nature of their sound so much it would not be Skeeter any more.

Stephen Foster I have learned from listening to old-time music was a great composer of old-time fiddle tunes. I recall in school about Stephen Foster like he was some boring old dead man who wrote songs I couldn't stand. Then I learned from Scott Freeman that Stephen Foster wrote the great fiddle tune, Angelina Baker. They played it maybe the second song of the first set, and, like usual, I sat and listened in awe that it was Stephen Foster who wrote it. It brought Shortnin Bread to mind. A little kid in school, we had to learn, "Mammy's little baby loved sho'tnin, sho'tnin, Mammy's little baby loved sho'tnin bread." I thought it was the dumbest song I'd ever heard OF, down there with O Sole Mio. It had something of an Aunt Jemima visual about it and the Al Jolsen association with mammy. I come to the mountains in the last half of my life and learn Shortnin Bread is a great fiddle tune. If I'd heard the fiddle tune in 3rd grade, I'd have loved it. All we got were the meaningless words and the basic tune. My surprise first time I heard it a fiddle tune made me laugh. That corny old song! It's another great fiddle tune like John Brown's Dream and Train 45. And then there was "She'll be comin round the mountain when she comes. She'll be driving six white horses when she comes." The Wreck Of Old 97. Back in 3rd grade I thought it another dumb old song that made old-fashioned truly objectionable.

I learn from hearing Willard pick and sing so often that Bob Wills was quite a lot more interesting a musician, singer and songwriter than I had given him credit for. Another one I thought a dumb old-fashioned song I never wanted to hear a second time, Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon, turns out to be a Bob Wills song, and Willard makes it his own. He apologizes for it when he plays it because of a general attitude in the audience that it's a silly children's song. Willard singing it brings out the very real feeling in the song, "All of the guys will be jealous when they see my playmate so sweet." Of course, it's about riding a babe around in a boy's first car, cruising as it's called now, showing his date off to the other guys. To my ear, it is no less cool a song than Hotrod Lincoln, one audiences love. Willard has taught me such appreciation for Little Red Wagon that I go to youTube to hear Bob Wills play it. I like his rendering of it as much as I like Willard's, to the point I have developed an appreciation for the song itself. The last time I requested Willard sing it one night at Woodlawn, a couple of men in the audience made smart-mouth jabs at me for liking a stupid children's song. I appreciate the song so genuinely for itself they didn't intimidate me one little bit. It only told me they don't hear it. I don't care. Next time Willard is giving a show I'll request it again. Anybody that doesn't get it is welcome not to.

The Skeeter energy is front and center in every show they put on. Every time they play together as Skeeter, they play an entirely different show from any of the others. They are true to the songs the same, but the energy they approach the show with is different per show. Sometimes they approach the whole show as a kind of sound assault like from a big stage to a big audience. Sometimes it is like a relaxed jamming session. Last night's they played the notes articulately, each one, and there was a relaxed flow among them. They were not particularly animated. They just stood there and let the music flow. Scott's fingers were dancing on the mandolin strings like a spider on a hot-plate. Watching his fingers and hearing the music flow from the mandolin was the same for me as watching somebody perform magic tricks that are mind-boggling. It's the same with Edwin on his banjo. I see his hands working the strings and hear the music his hands are making and it's the sacred and profane. The sacred being the spirit that the music becomes, made by mortal hands. There are moments when the music has a certain almost aura about it. I listen and notice Sandy is using a bow on the bass. On Willard's song, The Salet Song, she uses the bow beautifully. The bow takes the song to a new level.

Edwin has taken Glen Campbell's hit song of years ago, Gentle On My Mind, and made it his own. I could not tolerate the Glen Campbell song in its time. He made me barf, and everything he sang made me barf. I'd never thought of the song with any but Glen Campbell's voice, so it had dreary associations with me. Edwin has learned that John Hartford wrote the song for himself as a clawhammer tune. Glen heard him picking it while Hartford was in his band and wanted to record it. Glen Campbell making a hit of it sort of took the song away from Hartford. Edwin has found it and he has worked it out on clawhammer. He plays it a clawhammer tune. He sings the words in his own way that has erased the Glen Campbell version of the song in my mind. Now I hear it as Edwin's song and my GlenCampbell associations are long gone. He took another song I couldn't tolerate, Theme From Dr Zhivago. I loathed that song and especially loathed the movie. The book was another story. Edwin has recreated the tune as a clawhammer tune. He plays it so beautifully I forget it is a song I don't like. I like it when he plays it. In fact, by now I hear it as Edwin's tune without any associations, just Edwin's rendering of it.


Friday, February 8, 2013


slate junco aka snowbird

Today's big adventure was a gathering at the library between 12 and 1, lunch at the library while hearing a presentation on the birds that come to our birdfeeders. Cecelia Mathis gave the talk with slides of photographs she'd made of birds at her feeders. It was not an academic talk, but a casual talk identifying the varieties of birds that come to our feeders in this county. It was not overloaded with info we did not want to know. The part I found most valuable for my own interest was identifying the female versions of the various birds. I was especially shocked to see that a red-wing blackbird female looks like a sparrow. They are something of a marsh bird that loves cattails for nesting in. The nearest I've seen red-wing blackbirds is down the mountain at Pine Swamp. She mentioned about juncos, aka snowbirds, they prefer the higher elevations, talked like she didn't see many where she was. I mentioned I have fifty of them, which kind of astounded everybody. I'm at about the highest elevation in the county. Maybe that explains why I don't see them other places much. The primary question I went there with was answered. I was curious to know if the almost black slate-gray snowbird is the male and the lighter gray one is the female. That's how it works out.

It seemed like everyone in the audience was as interested as I was in what Cecelia was saying. I came to realize that we who enjoy feeding the birds and watching them are similarly minded in our fascination with birds. I had a family of chickens for pets when I was a kid, and again in my first ten years in the mountains. With all the dogs and coyotes now, it's not practical to have chickens and allow them outside a pen. The chickens I kept here started with a rooster and a hen. She sat on some eggs and suddenly I had a family of banties. The kind I had as a kid were Cochin banties, black with feathers on their feet. The ones here in the mountains were every kind of bantie. They were beautiful birds. They ranged in the meadows around the house eating bugs. The rooster kept an eye out for hawks, sounding the alarm and taking his harem to shelter when he saw a hawk circling. After a coon slipped into the chicken house one night and killed several, they would not sleep in the chicken house again. They flew to a white pine branch to roost at night.

One of the hens, Miss Hen, was the bottom of the pecking order, almost no feathers on top of her head from being pecked by the other hens. She stayed aside from the pack most of the time. I bought three peacock eggs from Elmer Mitchell in Whitehead and put them under Miss Hen while she was in her setting spell. When her babies hatched, she loved her babies. It wasn't long before they were the same size she was. She stayed separate from the other hens, surrounded by her three beautiful chicks that were getting bigger and bigger. She seemed to grow prouder of them as they grew. In the winter nights she roosted between two of them. Only her beak was visible between them. The hens never pecked her again. The peacocks grew into mighty birds and Miss Hen was still their mama. They loved her as much as she loved them. It sounded like a Tarzan movie around here. It was exciting to see one flying down the road about 4 feet above the road, just sailing from the top of the hill to the bottom. They were beautiful fliers. After a few years all three peacocks came down with a disease peacocks get from chickens and they expired. Then dogs started catching the chickens and I gradually let them go as the dogs took them out while I was at work. I gave up having chickens.

Then I had the cats, Peck, then TarBaby, Tapo and Caterpillar. No birds around here then. By now only Caterpillar remains and she stays inside all the time now. I brought home Junior Maxwell's bird feeder he never used after he died. I bought another one just like it and put both of them out front, maybe thirty feet apart. I've always liked having birds around. My grandmother kept me in canaries and parakeets when I was a kid. I had two green parrots when I moved to the mountains. I built a big cage of chicken wire for them. They preferred the small cage. The big cage seemed to disorient them. Gradually, they died, one at a time, of strokes. Now I feed the birds of the neighborhood. They come in from a small section of woods behind the house and the woods across the road. Two red squirrels live in my shed I store scrap wood in. Two gray squirrels come from across the road late in the day and pick up seeds left by the birds. I call the feeding station my Peaceable Kingdom. A variety of birds exist here peaceably among other birds and the squirrels. I spread the sunflower seeds over the ground and in two open feeders. There is plenty for everybody. No arguments, no fights. Once in awhile I'll see a couple of snowbirds flying up at each other, jumping into the air every time the light on the ground, and then one flies away and the other one goes chasing it.

A female downy woodpecker goes every day to a place on the birch tree beside one of the feeders, and it pecks at a spot on the side of the tree maybe eight or so inches in diameter where surely it must be finding some bugs. A female snowbird often stands on the side of the tree beside the woodpecker, just 2 inches away, and watches the woodpecker. The woodpecker flies off and the snowbird takes up pecking in that section of bark. I feel like the two birds have become friends. I've often seen friends among hens. Cows have friends in the herd too. I've never seen birds become friends cross-species. I assume they are friendly, because the snowbird is easily within the woodpecker's strike zone, but it never pecks at the snowbird. Birds tend not to be comfortable within pecking distance of one another. It amuses me when I look out there and see the snowbird standing beside the woodpecker. It's not every time, but enough that I see the two birds know each other. I prefer feeding the birds that live around here and watching them outside the window to having a bird in a cage. They seem happy in the cage, that is a bird that has only known a cage. I could never put a wild bird in a cage. That would be something like solitary confinement for humans. The caged birds, though, regard the cage as protection. It's their space nothing else can enter. It feels so much better all the way around to enjoy the birds out in the open living their lives as birds live.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013


robert motherwell, red

It was in my first years in the mountains, late 1970s, that Malissie Pruitt told me something that stuck with me. In those years I was enamoured of country wisdom, still am, though the old wisdom is going away with the old people. About all that's left of country wisdom by now is in nursing homes on the foggy mountain top of memory loss. I remember Malissie was standing at the sink working in the kitchen and I was standing beside the refrigerator, we were talking. I don't remember what we were talking about, but she said, "Be good to a child and you'll have a friend for life." That's the kind of knowledge I think of as wisdom. I tend to be sympathetic with kids, appreciate them as individuals, am able to listen to kids and roll a ball back and forth without end. I like a child's point of view that is not yet corrupted with traditional ways of seeing and thinking, expectations, and then the sexual confusion at whatever age puberty happens now that puts an end to childhood like a door slammed in your face. It's easy for me to be good to a kid, and I did see over time that kids I knew continue to know me after they grow up and we're always glad to see each other.

Then, maybe five or so years later a kid was born I didn't yet know. When he was about two, I became acquainted with his daddy putting up hay and working together. Became friendly with the family and visited them more and more as time went by. I became a friend with everyone in the house. The boy was having a rough time that I recognized as a version of the hard time I went through in my vulnerable years. An insane daddy. In my time, a couple who were friends of my parents, Jack and DeLouris, became my "witnesses," meaning they witnessed what I was going through at home. I found in a book I think by Swiss psychologist Alice Miller that a witness is very important to the child in cases of what we call now abuse. Then it was called getting the shit beat out of you every day, for any reason, even "general principles." I learned that hitting kids only makes them angry and breaks down systematically the bond of love a child automatically feels for a parent. The child is put in a place where survival within oneself requires backing away into deeper and deeper resentment until it turns to hate.

In the register of deeds vault I was doing my work and a lawyer I knew was in there. Somebody he knew saw him and came into the space talking to him about a turn of events in his life. He lost his boy. The boy left and won't have anything to do with him. He was down in the heart about it. I felt nothing even remotely close to sympathy for him. I thought: treat somebody like shit and this is what you get. You had plenty of time to think about it. I left my parent situation and went as far as land allows, to the coast. Love for both parents was beat out of me by the time I was ten. From then on, the hitting and wisecracks only further alienated me. And of course, guess what. It's MY fault. It's always the kid's fault. The kid won't mind. I hated to let go of love for daddy and mommy, but to hold myself together, I needed to separate myself from them. My silent mantra upon being berated and knocked about was, You can control my body all you want, but you will never have access to my mind. And I shut myself off to them. Around them I wore a mask of obedience, and behind the mask I was myself. Didn't know who or what myself was, but I was I, and neither one of them would ever see who I am. Because no matter what I was or was not, it was in need of ongoing correction. Not guidance, but punishment. When I left them I never wanted to see them again the rest of my life, and I knew that. It wasn't an emotional reaction. I have seen them, but it's always been duty, like going to church.

I saw this little boy going through what I went through from that age. Watching him grow up was for me a review of my own relationship with my daddy. An anti-relationship is what it amounted to. I saw my little friend's daddy creating an anti-relationship with him, too. I chose to continue being a friend to his daddy, not out of respect, but because his wife told me that "when you're here, he's an angel." And I never saw anything angelic in the way he treated the kids. I thought then I can't do anything to stop the abuse, but I can be a witness for the kids, one who understands that they are right in not liking being beaten daily. And it's not their fault. By my presence they were treated less viciously. That was the best I could give them and still be able to know them. I'd think to them without saying it, just hang on, do the best you can, and bear with it til you reach the magic age of liberation, eighteen. Then you're free. Nobody can help you now. Social Services would only make it worse. Assassination works, but it's not an option. I watched my young friends bear with it. It brought back much of what I'd been through. What I learned was that I was not the problem. I was the target of an undiagnosed insane man who thought he was a rooster. I was better able to understand my own situation seeing it objectively outside myself. I was able to extend understanding to my young friends, and they got it. By "they" I mean his little sister too. We couldn't talk about it, but I believe telepathy flows over lines of love. 

How many times I heard, "I want some respect outta you!" All I could think was, Show me something to respect. It goes without saying, I was not allowed to say anything. That would be talking back. The biggest problem was that I dared not ever say what I thought about any of it. I could only speak a long string of expletives supporting the occasional word toward eventually completing a phrase. I remember with a laugh the time he said, "I outta hit you for what you're thinking." I laughed inside, thinking, If you really knew what I was thinking, you'd kill me. That I live tells me you don't have any idea what's in my mind. I was free. Like a good schizophrenic, I dove within, the only place where I was free. My body and my decision making were shut down. But my mind was my own. I recently saw a guy in a Norwegian movie, ELLING, who had been similarly driven within, alas so far in that he couldn't come back. It's a beautiful movie if you can tolerate subtitles. I only watch subtitled movies, so it's no problem for me.

My young friend whose childhood I witnessed for his mental health sake turned eighteen. Daddy rooster went apeshit at the loss of control, brought an ultimatum to me that I can't be friends with both of them. OK. It wasn't even a decision for me whose friend I was. That was the end of friendship with the daddy I had lost all respect for by then. I told young'un he had some years of inner wildman cut loose going off in all directions ahead of him. All I asked was he survive it. And he did. By now, he's turning thirty next birthday, and has turned out to be one of the very best friends of my life. I won't try to grade my friends in best, next-best, or anything like that. It is a love in the heart that is the same in every case, like loving your kids. In my adult life, my friends have the most value of anything else in my life. Friends come first. No two ways about it. Less than a year ago, somebody I know was throwing off on my young friend and I had to interrupt him and mention that he was the same as my own, so when it comes to taking sides, that's already set. What all this is coming down to is I was good to a kid and now that kid has grown into a friend I could trust absolutely, in the true sense of the old-fashioned, pre-facebook meaning of friend. He has a fabulous wife who loves him and kids that love him. He loves all of them. And I am happy to see he is able to have a life post-eighteen of effusive love in his own home.