Sunday, January 10, 2010

Banging on the Walls of Time

This is the kind of day I’ve known was coming. The rush of the holidays, the frenetic re-organizing to put everyone back on a schedule for work and school gives way at the first opportunity to the gentle unpacking of things hidden in the mind’s boxes.

This has been coming. Coming on for a while, perhaps. Little signs, like my surprising if slight disdain for the distinction of “Comedy” for “It’s Complicated,” the holiday movie that should make every happily single woman wonder.

Then there were other things, like a couple of friends who spotted a Top Ten Bluegrass Albums List for 2009 – this slipped by me like a greased pig. I was touched that they both mentioned it; Doc even took a minute to type it up and send it my way. (I don’t think he really needed the Bluegrass tutorial that followed but maybe he can pass it on to a banjo fan or something.)

Little things, like putting away the Christmas decorations to a bluegrass album and having to stop every few minutes, tune the mando, and sing along.

Little things, like pulling out a few old poems to send to a friend who is holding down the fort, making a last stand for a poet laureate of my hometown.

Little things, like how long its been since love came calling, or since I sent her out to play.

I opened my eyes this morning after a great show at The Kent Stage last night and the sun was bright. I slept much longer than usual since I stayed up past my bedtime watching videos of first-run Sondheim shows. In my mind I was already going back in time. Today I went back further and it knocked me on my ass for a while, but it was needed.

It’s been coming on.

I believe I spent the last year entirely engulfed in some sort of numbing state, under the spell of survival. I also got into a very comfortable place that put a lid on the amount of exploration I allowed myself in almost every area of my life. I blame this on a false preoccupation with many things, none of which is ever as important as nurturing the authentic self.

After today, I realize that the exploring I need to do is not necessarily the kind best shared. Some of it is about the path forward and what to bring along. I thought I was done unearthing all that in 2002 and 2003; it turns out I wasn’t finished.

All things in the perfect time, is what the Dalai Lama would say. It’s all perfect; things happen when they need to and because we’re ready. Even the bad stuff is “perfect”. Whatever we do, where ever we are at the moment, is what it is and therefore perfect in that way.

So I guess in that regard, today was a perfect day. It was the perfect day to acknowledge that I have a fireplace that goes unused and unshared too often. It was the perfect day to acknowledge that after spending the last several years pimping bluegrass, I have friends who now want to indulge and that I need to get my ass in gear to do that. It was the perfect day to acknowledge that I need to find a way to sing, long and loud and blue. It was the perfect day to retype up old poems and send them to a friend, acknowledging the process that went into those, the person I was then. Resurrecting the author.

So I guess I spent the better part of the day knocking on the Walls of Time. I am not one to look back; once it’s done, it’s done, and most of the time for good reason. But this was different; I peeked inside boxes I had not looked into in a long time, and it was purposeful. Rather than shuffling the boxes around to suit my routine, I opened them up, and pulled out the contents. That stuff has been in there since long before bluegrass stole and then broke my heart. Now it’s all together, out on my table, and I am piecing it together so that this year I can put forth the most complete person I can.

I’ve been in and out of my CD collection this weekend since I still haven’t settled on an appropriate dock system for my iPod. One of my favorites is the Pete Rowan/Tony Rice recording of a couple years ago, “Quartet.” Some small part of me is in love with Pete Rowan, his shadow and his beautiful unique voice, and his long love affair with the music. He formed his first bluegrass band in high school when he was thirteen. In the mid-1960s he played and sang with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. He’s the real deal with a side of Just Be Yourself, a traditional sideman with a side of groundbreaking for progressive bluegrass players.

This is probably my all time favorite Monroe era song, “Walls of Time.” As Rowan tells in this clip, he wrote it with Big Mon. Its mournful and almost seductive trail has that high lonesome sound imbued with a longing and desire that belies the roots of bluegrass, not as Sunday Jamboree playlist fodder but as the music of a people who lived and loved hard and long and were not easily torn apart. This is a wonderful rendition by Rowan supported by the unmatched Tony Rice.

If I recalled anything today, it’s that I come from those people. My family came off the boat from Cornwall and then crawled up from the tidewater of Virginia through the hills and mountains of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. This was their music, and now it is mine. Maybe they’ll hear me through these walls of time, and help me as I try to reach back through time to make myself whole and useful and unapologetically loving in this world before I go.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Winter's Come and Gone (if only)

Clearly I am getting back into this blogging thing in fits and starts. I suppose it's better than none at all, and it feels fun when I do finally set myself down and write a word or two.

Not seven or eight feet away is a heap of Christmas lights on my floor, and the cruel winter wind is howling outside my window. But I got distracted. Some of you who are parents may be familiar with the children's books based on a little mouse..."If You Give A Mouse a Cookie," "If You Make a Pig a Pancake" and so forth. Well, I'm a bit like that little mouse. I had Donna Hughes in the CD player, and started singing. Then I started trolling the web for Donna Hughes. When I found a short vid of Donna Hughes at an IBMA showcase, then I wanted to see all the videos for IBMA showcases. When I saw the IBMA showcases, I saw a video for Dailey and Vincent. When I played the Dailey and Vincent IBMA performance from the last IBMA I attended, I got curious about a list my friend Dr. Don and my neighbor both mentioned about the Top Ten Bluegrass Albums of 2009. When I remembered that, I wanted more Dailey and Vincent, who made the list with their second Rounder release, "Brothers from Different Mothers." And then I wanted a song from the CD to share with all of you.

Today was the first snow day of the year -- and it was a big disappointment. My daughter was desperate for her first night of skiing, but with school canceled, no ski club. And while the wind is howling and we did get fairly pounded with snow last night, there's little swirling around now. Just the cold and the drear as the Christmas lights lay in a heap on the floor.

But this little old much recorded tune will warm you right up. Dailey and Vincent are tops in harmony singing; I've often said here and elsewhere that Jamie Dailey has one of the most beautiful voices anywhere let alone in Bluegrass. Paired with Darrin Vincent (Rhonda's brother), they really have hit the mark. This probably explains how they swept the IBMA awards in 2008.

Enjoy this short, sweet little tune, "Winter's Come and Gone," something most of us can only dream of. And if you have the chance to catch this duo, you won't be disappointed. And if you hear Dailey and Vincent, you'll probably want a little more bluegrass. And if you want more bluegrass, feel free to circle right back here and check out some of the older postings on this blog.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon, Blue Decade

I don’t think I’ve talked to a single person or know anyone who is sorry at all to see 2009 ushered out. For most of us, it seems 2010 can’t come quickly enough. Between the economic crisis, major life changes, or just the exhaustion of tiptoeing along the precipice of employment, home ownership, or simple liquidity, this was probably not the year most of us expected. In fact I haven’t yet seen the year I’ve been expecting. But if the last few weeks is any indication, 2010 might finally be it.

This is not to say that there weren’t some good things in 2009. There were. It brought lovely things for some good friends—one friend in particular outdid us all by getting married, pregnant, and relocated cross-country all within seven or eight short months! Like many of his cousins before him, my son became a Marching Band Kid, alto sax, doing his grandma proud. After a wobbly trial run last year, my daughter blossomed in her second year of gymnastics, with a serious I’ve not seen in her before. At the crossroads of three different jobs I led my first full solo search, and by all reports it was wildly successful for the client, which couldn’t make me happier.

The year 2009 also saw for the most part an end to some of my generosity and tolerance. I am hardened in new ways, my open heart and compassion tested and broken. It’s not my way but I had to get real. Life was tenuous and uncertain enough and the news around the world got worse and worse. Like many folks, I was tossed several unnecessary loads of crap, as were a few other close friends, and I regret now that I put up with it. So when it happened again as my dear sister-in-law was beginning chemotherapy and as my own sister was beginning immunotherapy for a list of newly discovered allergies a mile long on top of hitherto undetected severe chronic asthma, the trick was laid bare like my own bare and open heart, like a sin I’d been accomplice to. Inside, the snap was almost audible, like a thrown switch in a dark theatre that brings the lights up. That’s the end of that soliloquy.

Life in any decade has its moments, its pitfalls and victories, gains and losses, status quo stretches and life changing ordeals. Each year we grow, we adapt, we learn, we see, we are given countless opportunities to succeed or fail and to see each of those through our own eyes. So even when it sucks, life is rich, even glorious.

Tonight is a blue moon, a second full moon in the same month. How fitting for the New Year’s Eve of one of the most tumultuous decades in history, and the most tumultuous yet for me. I lost a baby, a mother, a mother-in-law, a marriage, but gained or regained so very much – wisdom, freedom, consciousness, clarity, soulfulness, self-esteem, self-sufficiency, the glorious gift of an opportunity to share my authentic life with my children, and my own true self. For all of these and for the friends and family who saw me through and help me realize them, I am deeply, deeply grateful.

I am so pleased to share with you this video of Vince Gill, whom I was lucky enough to catch in his return to bluegrass mode last year at IBMA (which I won’t be missing again). He’s a fine mando picker, and I’ve always loved his voice. This night I think about this song and the music and how completely transformed and restored I am because of it. Tonight after a lost year I rededicate a part of myself to its success, its people, and its rightful place in our cultural heritage.

My true wish for you and your loved ones is a healthy, meaningful, and prosperous new year and new decade.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Like It Or Not, Christmas Time's A Comin!

Well, it's officially the holidays. The tree is up, one kid has already done his school concert and another is this coming week, just about all the gifts are acquired and some even wrapped, and this evening I wandered into that fourth dimension where I do my baking. All last weekend we ushered in the season with good friends and food and some laughs together. Despite everything -- the war, the economy, a most trepidatious year of my own, and the inexplicable constant and extremely annoying presence of Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney, neither of whom are Vice President -- I find myself in a merry mood. Not a whole lot has changed, but maybe because it's been such a hellacious year I feel it's more important than ever to make the best use of these precious holiday times.

Everyone who knows me knows I love to bake. It's a sickness in my family, actually, but I'm trying to be a bit more restrained because it is a lot of work and I don't want to be in the kitchen the entire brief time the kids are home before Christmas. So I determined to kickoff the baking tonight while listening to WKSU. At some point I decided I needed a little more mando in the kitchen monitor and was poking around, and stumbled across this good old bluegrass Christmas tune sung here by just about my favorite Person of Bluegrass, Tim O'Brien. That's a fine lineup there with Bryan Sutton, Ol Danny Barnes on the banjer and Mr. Dennis Crouch on the base. While I line up my recipes for tomorrow's marathon, grab yourself an eggnog or a dance partner and turn up your speakers!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Let's Find Out

Well, MandoMama asked Santa for a GPS this year, but he couldn't find one with Buddy Woodward's voice.

That's ok. At 44, I'm finally enjoying life with a little less navigation. Lord knows the last year has been full of twists and turns for all of us, but for me anyway, at the moment the road seems to be evening out just a little, either that or I'm just a more confident driver. Maybe it's a combination.

There's something to wandering, to getting a little lost, that is a little terrifying and yet, we want to know, to find out, whether we can make it. The meltdown of the economy was a tragic but near-wholly preventable catastrophy that led to the ruin of many everyday Americans. It also called into sharp relief how even the perceptibly stable can be pulled under by what might be a minor health crisis in a normal economy. Data show that more bankruptcies are being sought because of medical bills than any other reason. YOu can have a good job but still not be able to pay your medical bills thanks to the insatiable greed of the pretend health care system of HMOs.

So you just have to keep going. Everyday people who do good work and keep their heads above water and pay all our bills on time, we're just always some crisis away from disaster. I stopped looking back a long time ago, although I don't take kindly at all to people who try to make it any harder than it has to be, that's for sure. And there's always someone who'd like to see you have it just a little bit harder, who'd like to see you fail.

And what if you do? What does that mean to you? What are your expectations? Mine are to take the lessons of the last year and completely transform my relationship to work. Unless a match is made in a heaven I don't know about, I will probably never work for another pasty monolithic corporation. Don't let them fool you. It's all about the headcount. And my ability to contribute was completely, entirely dismissed. We've made more progress in the last two months than we did the last twelve with the supposed help of a giant company. It's crap.

There's been a lot of attention paid to the fact that after taking it in the arse for their fat and happy corporate masters, some folks are biting the entrepreneurial bullet, and loving it. Sometimes, you just have to try to make your own way and be the bread on the table. That takes a lot of risk, but you know, musicians, the folks who make our lives bearable and who put themselves out there day after day, sweating and toiling in the studio and on the stage to make us smile for a couple of hours, well, that's how they live.

The last year took a toll on me not just financially but because I was so focused on preventing an overdraft and juggling what at one point was three different but related part-time jobs under one roof, my involvement in music had to take a back seat to keeping the trains running and making sure my kids were whole. In fact I'd say it sat several rows back as events, concerts, and even my quiet time with the mando slipped away. That's starting to turn again. I'm finding that I missed talking about this music, dragging all of you along for some musical journey and sharing the joy that music brings me and so manyh others. I am still committed to contributing to a roots music community with more vitality here at home, building awareness and interest and most importantly participation. It would be fun to play and actually, to sing again. The veil of worry and doubt over my eyes last year would never have allowed me to think that way.

But nothing is cut and dried. You can make all the plans you want but in the end you control nothing. Not a thing, except how you react to what happens to you and what you do with what you're handed. It's all about the journey and what you make of it not just for yourself, but for others.
The Dixie Bee-Liners gave us a spectacular new effort this year. Susanville is the Bee-Liners' brand new, bold and brave adventure, a regular road trip through the complex emotions of the constant cycle of being lost and found again. That's another way to describe the road we're all on, the road of life. You might think you know what's around the bend until you blow a tire or you get sick or someone you love leaves you along the way. You might stop in some little town for a quick bite to eat and end up staying 20 years. You might unpack your new place only to realize it's not where you belong at all. You never know. You just have to find out. It's a lot more fun with good music so take the Bee-Liners along on your next adventure.

from Susanville, released on Pinecastle Records, Nov. 2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009

You can take the girl out of the Rivertown...

I spent Friday night enjoying a spectacular show by this two-time Grammy nominated band The Greencards. I hadn't been out to hear enough live music in the last few months to put in my pinky finger, so the show was a really great treat.

This is one of my fave tunes from the night. Over the summer I reconnected with a lot of folks and family downhome who finally hooked up with Facebook (really, I'm not much for all those games but it's nice to check in with the nieces, nephews etc). As far away as I feel it amazes me that there are people I grew up with who still live in my little river town. This tune is for them, and for all our conflicted love of the place we just can't ever quite get away from completely, probably because we don't really want to.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Hey Tiger, Take it From the Greencards--There Must Be 50 Ways to...Well...

I'm so disappointed. No need to say more, right?

Gonna put down my nine-iron and head to The Kent Stage this Friday night to hear this kick-grass sensation, The Greencards.

8 p.m., Tickets $20.