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Monday, August 17, 2015

MEETING UNCLE ROSCOE'S NEPHEWS

roscoe holcomb
by john cohen
 
The donkeys fell into braying just now. I looked up. A white car went down the road. Soon after Jenny moved in with Jack, Justin came by a few times close together with hay in his white pickup. They would bray every time his truck went up or down the road. They went to braying at every white car that went down the road, which they still do after a couple years. They always bray when they see my car. I honk to them to bray back, also to help them associate the sound of the horn with the car, with me. It turned out to be good training yesterday for an assist to distract them from following a distraction. They're like devoted television watchers, they drift from distraction to distraction, following one distraction to the next. This so characterizes American conversation now, I avoid conversation anymore. I'm talking with somebody, a distraction comes up and their attention is gone. Sometimes a cell phone, sometimes somebody they see, an interruption, anything. I used to wait for the distraction to subside to get back to the conversation. I've learned there is never anything to go back to. Now when I'm talking with somebody and the cell phone rings or somebody interrupts, I say good-bye and I'm gone. "This won't take long." Gotta go. Nothing can make me feel more stupid than standing around waiting for somebody talking on a cell phone. I walk away. And nobody notices. I, too, was a distraction.
 
by john cohen
 
The American people have devolved so far into unreason throughout my lifetime that by now I find donkeys refreshing, intelligent company. In the time of my store, on Mother's Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend, sometimes a PhD married to a local girl visiting her redneck family, getting out of the house, checks out the music store, disappointed it was all hillbilly shit. I could see them get out of the car in the PhD uniform sport coat, PhD trimmed graying beard and PhD anonymous newish car. I'd think, O shit, here comes another one. The pattern was the same every time. He walks in, glances around the walls, sees nothing of interest, engages the proprietor in conversation, nothing to do in this hick town. Every time, the conversation became an oral exam testing my level of intelligence. Seeing the game begin, I'd use them for those in a sentence, he'd judge me a redneck moron and was gone. I loved it. They were so predictable. And so boring. I had hopes for better than this of PhDs. They think they're the intelligent ones. And I do know exceptions. It was like shaking the bucket of grain to distract the donkey's attention, works every time.
 
roscoe holcomb
by john cohen
 
Recalling good conversations with people in the time of the store, the best ones were with the least educated people. I'm seeing a time in the front of my mind of the day two guys got out of an old dirty car and walked toward the store like they were coming in. Mechanics clothes, grease on faces, arms and hands. Rough looking guys. My first thought was to go out the back door and leave it to them. They came in, drifted about quietly, looking at the bluegrass and old-time. One noticed a picture on the wall of Kentucky banjo picker, Roscoe Holcomb, and exclaimed, "Where'd you get that picture of Uncle Roscoe?" In his excitement, he said to the other guy, who turned out to be his brother, "He's got a picture of Uncle Roscoe!" Both were amazed. I told them it came among promo posters from a distributor. I'd cut the picture out of the poster and put it in a frame. They were equally amazed I had two cds by Uncle Roscoe. The other one found a book of photographs by John Cohen that also had pictures of Uncle Roscoe in it. They were guitar players, one bass, in a gospel band in Wilkesboro. Two of the gentlest people one could meet looked like they were coming in to rob me.
 
hazard, kentucky
by john cohen
 
The one who found the book asked if I'd seen the film by John Cohen, That High Lonesome Sound. I said I had. He said, Remember the little girl carrying the cat? Yeah. That was aunt Louise, if my poor memory is correct. The man coming home from work in the coal mine was their grandpa. The boy at the table in the house was their daddy. They were from Perry County, Kentucky, Hazard the county seat, known to be the roughest place in America. I can attest from having been there. A liquor store with a sign out front advertising what's on sale and how much, on every corner, on every corner for miles in all directions. Banjo picker, Lee Sexton, was their uncle, too, lived in the next house down the road from Uncle Roscoe. He told me a scene with chickens was in front of Uncle Lee's house. Them was his chickens. We talked for quite a long time, until they had to leave to get back to work. I took the picture of Roscoe Holcomb down from the wall and handed it to them. They couldn't believe I was giving it to them. I felt like it was more necessary for them to have it than for it to go on hanging on a wall where Uncle Roscoe was merely decoration.  
 
uncle roscoe
by john cohen
 
 
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