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Thursday, December 19, 2013

WRITING FIDDLER HOWARD JOINES

pictures from the game-cam


A couple of mornings ago I rose around 4am. Unable to return to sleep, I decided to get at the day's writing. In just a few minutes I was engaged. That almost is never possible. Along about 8am I'd finished the writing and it was time to add some pictures. The sunlight came through the window and lit some rows of cds on shelves against the wall opposite the desk. The titles had spotlights on them. From about 8 feet away I could read them easily. My eyes stopped at GARBAGE, Bleed Like Me. I'd been aiming to listen to Garbage for several days. That was the album I wanted to hear. A very satisfying band to my ears. I put it on and cranked it up, had a rock n roll party first thing in the morning, selecting pictures to go with what I'd just written. It took about as much time as the collection of songs playing out, considering I stopped to listen for long stretches from time to time. It was good to hear them again. Extra good musicians and Shirley Manson's vocals. By the time it was done, I was wide awake and wide open. Music over and the day's entry posted, I went outside to feed the donkeys and calves their morning hay, came back in and called my friend Carole for our morning visit. I must have sounded wired on coke, talking as fast as I could go, wound up. I laughed at myself when I heard me talking like I'd ingested a handful of diet pills. After talking about an hour with Carole, I'd simmered down a good bit, gradually returned to home base.
 

A few weeks ago, Sarah Bryan, editor at Old Time Herald, had sent me a box of several copies of the new issue. I'd asked that I be paid for the article in it with copies instead of money. I wanted to give copies to people whose relatives were in the article, friends, pass them around to people concerned, like Kermit at the barber shop who let me use a photograph hanging on the wall in the barbershop to include with the article. I opened the end of the box and left the magazines in the box, a good place to keep them while I took out one, two or three at a time. Today the stack was down to three yet to be delivered. I took them out of the box to throw the box away. Under the bottom magazine I found a notecard in envelope from Sarah, the editor. If I'd opened the box another way the note would have been on top. Before I say more, I need to interject that my assessment of Sarah Bryan as an editor is way up high. The two pieces of mine she has worked with, she smoothed the rough parts, rearranged some of the information such that it makes better sense in the reading. She is a subtle editor. She pays close attention with a well-trained, quick mind. I had given my friend Lucas Carpenter a copy of the magazine. He read the whole magazine, looked at all the ads and said, "Really good magazine! Good editor!" He went on to praise the lay-out, Steve Terrill's work. Steve is a master at his part of it like Sarah is a master at hers. Lucas has recently had his third book of poetry published. He has worked with several different editors from writing stories and articles as well as his poetry. He appreciates a good editor. I was glad he was able to see it in the product without me saying "Sarah is a great editor." That kind of intro kills what follows. But she is.
 
 
 
In her card she wrote that she "really, really liked" the article and believes OTH readers will too. I, who suffer from the mental illness ODD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and suffer as well from LSE, Low Self Esteem. An editor I respect as an editor and as a human being saying such as that about something I wrote, makes somebody with LSE double-take and say, "Really?" By this time in the life, I've learned to accept it when somebody says something like that, receive it with gratitude, be encouraged by it, instead of saying to self, she was just being nice--that's her job. It was one of the great joys of my life to write this account of Howard Joines, local fiddler, from other people's memories. I believed writing by "first hand" sources, information from witnesses memories, was the most reliable. Lord have mercy. A few times I had to leave out some information because of contradictory memories. Like some said Howard always played bluegrass, never played old-time. There was no bluegrass before he was 40. A bluegrass banjo player told me he didn't make music with Howard because Howard played old-time. The banjo player I knew in Howard's band played old-time. Another banjo player was in his bluegrass band. Howard had two bands, one old-time and one bluegrass. I had people telling me he only played one or the other. A woman I know said, "I aint never heard Howard Joines play nothin but bluegrass." She was born about the same year Bill Monroe first played on Grand Ole Opry. I attempted to add, but there wasn't any bluegrass before 1939. "I don't care--he aint never played nothin but bluegrass."
 

 
I'd wanted to write about Howard Joines three years ago. Talked with his son Richard on the phone for quite a while and he told me Howard's life and I made notes as he talked. I kept those notes in my desk drawer and looked at them from time to time. I had some memories from other people about Howard. I couldn't find how I wanted to approach writing about him. I wanted to write about him as a fiddler, but had pages and pages of biographical information. The biographical information made a kind of hurdle for me, one to climb over. I felt like the biographical information was important and wanted to tell it too, but then it became the purpose and I couldn't even get started. I continued to look at the notes from time to time, memorizing them, incorporating into my mind every little bit of information I could find about Howard Joines. Lucas Pasley had given me a couple of cds of Howard playing fiddle from some tapes Clifton Evans made. After three years of memorizing the notes of Howard's life, and having a couple hours of his music in the house, I felt like it was time to start. I searched and searched for a way to approach him besides biography. Couldn't find it. I decided to start and see if the writing might take its own course, see what happens. I was visiting with Richard Andrews, who grew up a neighbor to Howard Joines, and asked him to tell me something about Howard. I didn't have anything in mind I was asking for, just wanted to hear what he would say. It would be something memorable. He said, "When both his feet get to going, you're going to hear some music." That one sentence pulled the trigger.
 
 
 
I started the writing as soon as I woke up next morning, wrote all day until after 2am. Slept awhile, up again writing until 2am. Did that three days in a row and the same amount of time the fourth day rewriting, filling in blanks, and grammar editing. Then I took a rest. Didn't even want to look at it for awhile. Needed some distance only time could provide. Soon after introducing him, I started looking at Howard Joines in family context, part of it, but not the way I was looking for. I kept on writing and came to realize I've known several musicians from his generation, people he made music with over a lifetime. There it was. I was looking for the context of his life and it was the music world of this region of the mountains from Roaring River below the mountain to the south, to Galax to the north, Wilkes to the southwest and Mt Airy to the east. That was his music world. And more immediately the musicians of the county. I had been told about that period of time by other musicians I'd know from his time. I started writing about the musicians around him and found his context as a musician among musicians and went with that. It happened. And I saw that during his time as a fiddler everything was changing around him, from the Carter Family on the radio to the Beatles on tv. Everything was changing then. Electricity and plumbing were new to the mountains. Paved highways were new, and really fast cars. The music changed in that time. Howard was one of the musicians that went with the New, which was bluegrass. I surrounded him with the other musicians of his time he knew and made music with, and found the Howard I was looking for. I love it when a writing project takes its own direction and somehow guides the writing, or guides the flow in my head that is transferred to the monitor by fingers that follow thought. Thank you, Sarah, Thank you, Thank you.
The quick way to the OTH website:
 
 
 
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