Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Plan Only A Mother(somethin) Could Love

Today, our President, whose approval rating in at least one poll stands at a mere 37 percent, announced that his administration will give no timetable for troop withdrawal, flapping in our faces a 35-page coloring book, "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." Nice. The response was swift and sharp; even Richard Lugar, Republican Senator from Indiana and fellow Denison graduate, doesn't buy this cheap crap anymore. Why should any of us? Really, good LORD. Just look at that smug, satisfied schoolyard bully face. What a creep.

Yesterday, Jim took a stroll along the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, DC. Looking at this photo of his hand sweeping over the pages bearing the names of the dead tells me we've learned nothing, and makes me wonder how soon we should start planning the next Wall.

Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Condi, Rove, and all their mewling, puking minions are nothing but overgrown spoiled brats. What they each need is not a good spanking, but to kneel down in the desert next to some poor boy from Carolina with his intestines flayed out of his gut, hold his hand until he dies, and then call his momma with a camera phone. And then, they can take that boy's place in line.

Not to beat a dead war horse, but there's a version of this Dylan classic, "Master's of War," on Tim O'Brien's Red on Blonde cd (1996 Howdy Skies Records). To me, appropriate penance for these bozos while awaiting trial would be locking them each, alone, in a completely dark room, blaring this song over and over. I couldn't find the Tim version, but you should be able to hear at least the first verse sung by Dylan in 1963 by clicking on the title.

"Masters of War"
Bob Dylan

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to knowI can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Sunday, November 27, 2005

So Long of A Journey

Despite my disdain for the Church and its various assorted rules, regulations, and behaviors, there are two periods during the year in which I find some comfort. Those are Advent, and Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter Sunday).

Anything I ever found truly valuable about the Church -- and as I grow older I realize I can still have these things without the dictatorial trappings of the Vatican -- is contained in these two celebrations. I have always found ways to make these times instructive, if for no other reason that I take the time to focus especially on some inner work through these weeks, taking some advantage of the meditations offered.

Despite my outward manifestation of confusion and sometimes, just plain silliness -- last night in a game of Trouble I couldn't even recall the direction the pieces were supposed to go! -- I have a deep commitment to growing my inner guide, to better understanding my place in the world and the lives of the people around me. I'm not as hungry for the ultimate truth as some of my dear friends may be, although I am excited and engaged by the debates. Mostly, I just want to give love, live in right action, and make a difference one way or another before my time is up.

Advent has always been a time of settling in. While many families are focusing on running around or pulling out their creches so Baby Jesus can magically pop into position on Dec. 25, my ancient roots call me to dig a little deeper, get in rhythm with the season, to burrow and prepare my home for winter. The ancient Celts did not live a life separate from prayer; like the buddhist monk, they interwove their mindfulness into every daily task, recognizing the passing of one life season into the next, living and accepting life, fearful of little that comes after the final season.

This is a time I try to remind myself to pay attention to what really matters, to ask myself whether in the past year I've done all I could to be the best person I could be, and what I need to change to achieve that in the coming year. It's a little like climbing up a mountain; sometimes when I reach a good stopping place, I turn around and take in where I've been, and what I need to do to get to the top. The journey is long and challenging but I'm on it and I figure I might as well give it my best. As mother would have said, it beats the alternative.

Climbing Up A Mountain
From Rock in My Shoe
(Tim O'Brien (Howdy Skies Music/Forerunner Music, Inc., ASCAP))Climbin Up A Mountain ©1995 Tim O'Brien

I been climbin up a mountain since the day that I was born
It's been so long of a journey and I'm feelin kinda tired and worn
Tired and worn, tired and worn
So long of a journey and I feel kinda tired and worn

There's a picture in my memory like it's etched in a wall of stone
If I close my eyes I can see her, even though those days are gone
Those days are gone, those days are gone
I still close my eyes even though those days are gone

Now I always had what I needed, always had me a place to go
If I listened to what my heart said, I always knew what I needed to know What you need to know, what you need to know
Just listen to your heart and you'll hear what you need to know

I'm walkin all alone now, I'm up high above the pines
I can turn and look all around me, and see what I left behind
What I left behind, what I left behind
They're all around me, all the things that I left behind

Now my steps keep gettin shorter, as I get closer to the top
I'm slowin way, way down now, cause I don't want to have to stop
I have to stop, someday I have to stop
I get closer and closer but I don't want to have to stop

I been climbin up a mountain since the day that I was born
It's been so long of a journey and I'm feelin kinda tired and worn
Tired and worn, tired and worn
So long of a journey and I feel kinda tired and worn

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I Don't Suck.

Today I sat in the waiting room of a doctor's office, waiting for something I expected to be enormously unpleasant, and talking with one of my bestest ever friends. I noticed the woman across the room.

She looked uncannily like someone I've heard a little about and don't think I'd want to meet.

She looked like someone a thousand times more photogenic, sexy, and alluring than I am.

But for all of that, she sure didn't look very happy.

I don't know who it was, and I don't remember if she was there when I came out, met my friend, and split. I reckon I'd forgotten about her by the time I'd endured my little ordeal.

Sometimes I put myself through all the wrong paces for the wrong reasons. When I stood in my kitchen tonight, doing one of my favorite things -- baking pie -- while another of my friends hung out with my kids, it occurred to me that it has to stop. No more slipping into whiny-ass mode. No more feeling sorry I don't have a big sexy pout to turn men inside out. No more hiding my potential, my power, my passion, my accent, my ability to go from Bach to the Beatles to Bill Monroe, my ability to keep up in conversations for which I shouldn't be "smart enough," or my relatively fearless outlook.

I don't suck. In fact, I damn near rock. I just have trouble remembering that. I'm grateful I have good friends, and two awesome kids, to remind me.

I wish I had met Ola Belle Reed. She just seemed so fearless, and lived her life so honestly. Apparently, when I was a small fry, she would hold fiddlin' contests at Bethany College, where I later spent many, many blissful days as a teenage theatre addict and foreign language student. Two of my early loves went to school there, and one of the professors there led me to my beloved alma mater, Denison University. She sounds like she was an incredible woman. This song has been recorded by many from Del McCoury to Tim O'Brien (a fellow Wheelingite who competed in those fiddle contests) to Joan and Pete Wernick.

When I grow up, I want to be Ola Belle. Maybe ten years from now I'll look back and sing this song and thank her properly for the inspiration to stop apologizing for my honesty, my courage, my life.

I've Endured

Born in the mountains fifty years ago

I've trod the hills and valleys through the rain and snow
I've seen the lightning flashing
Heard the thunder roll
I've Endured I've Endured
how long can one endure

Barefoot in the summer on into the fall
Too many mouths to feed they could not clothe us all
Sent to church on Sunday to learn the golden rule
I've Endured I've Endured how long can one endure

I've worked for the rich I've lived with the poor
I've see many a heartache and I'll see many more
Lived, loved, and sorrowed, been to success's door
I've Endured I've Endured how long can one endure

Monday, November 21, 2005

Lay Down My Weary Tune

(Note: Due either to my technical ineptitude or some subtlety I missed in the instructions, the photos I planned to post with this wouldn't show up. Instead, visit Handsome Jim P's flickr page, where you can view not only photos referred to, but some of the finest photographic images you're likely to see around. And visit his blog, too -- the guy can write.)

I whine way too much. Newly 40 and about to celebrate Thanksgiving in my new home, I have a lot to be grateful for. I have two incredible children, a home for the three of us, a job with people I admire and love and from whom I learn a great deal, and for the most part, good health. I have three big brothers and one little sister who have been with me on my journey since the beginning. And I have the most wonderful, complex circle of friends, from people who’ve stuck with me since high school, to a few brand new people helping to light my way.

This past weekend, I enjoyed the company of many loved ones, who came out to celebrate my first 40 years. It was overwhelming to have so many people from so many walks of my life, in one tiny spot on earth. I wish the others could have been there, too, but for many years to come I will carry the good feeling of watching bits and pieces of my life intermingle for the first time. It was an opportunity to stop and take a rest under the family tree, to lay down a weary tune and just listen to the music of the spheres, and be happy.

I want to thank especially my brothers Mike, David, and Brian; my sister, Anne; my children; my nieces and nephews; my friends Herbert and Rebecca Smith, my friends Lynne, Shannon, and Diana; and Jim, who took these photos and who has taught me to see many things in new light.

Lay Down Your Weary Tune
Bob Dylan

This song is beautifully performed with a slightly bluegrass-trad flair on Tim O'Brien's Red on Blonde album. It's a favorite of many Dylan fans because you can actually understand the beautiful and powerful language. It's one of my all-time favorite recordings.

Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.

Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.

The ocean wild like an organ played,
The seaweed's wove its strands.
The crashin' waves like cymbals clashed
Against the rocks and sands.
Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.

I stood unwound beneath the skies
And clouds unbound by laws.
The cryin' rain like a trumpet sang
And asked for no applause.
Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.
The last of leaves fell from the trees
And clung to a new love's breast.
The branches bare like a banjo played
To the winds that listened best.

I gazed down in the river's mirror
And watched its winding strum.
The water smooth ran like a hymn
And like a harp did hum.
Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Hate the War, Love the Warriors

Last week, on November 11 (Veteran's Day), I turned 40.

That is a privilege that at least one man in this AP photo will never enjoy.
(AP Photo: Fallujah, 2004. Marines pray over the body of a fallen comrade who died from his wounds at a first-aid point. )

The toll of men and women killed in the War in Iraq and Afghanistan is greater than the numbers. It's also a toll that is felt by the children, widows, widowers, brothers, sisters, parents, friends, commanders, and comrades of those left behind.

In August of this year, Ohio alone lost more than 20 Marines in two days. A number of those young men were not even 21 -- not even old enough to walk into a Cleveland bar and order a beer.

So on my birthday, this year and every year until the war is over, I celebrate for them, and for all the young men and women who for whatever reason agree to President Bush's order to put them in harm's way. I hate the war, but there's no good reason to hate the warriors. They are living a kind of life that most of us can't possibly understand. Those that survive will carry with them forever an experience that will never allow them to see anything the simple way we do.

The song below is a bit of a departure from the usual. It was written by Bob Dylan. The version I'm most fond of was recorded by Julie Miller on her Broken Things album (absolutely stellar if you like it poignant and a little gritty). It's a beautiful ballad. Hearing it used to evoke memories of strolling through the once-bloody fields of Gettysburg. Now I see it is a song that belongs to every soldier.

I hate this war. It sickens me every time I see a new young face of a boy KIA, who died some horrible, shrapnel-laden death without his mother at his side. I never once thought my freedom was in any danger because of some lost and crazy dictator; the Shrub Administration is a far bigger threat to the priveleges of freedom I now enjoy. But my heart has no choice but to recognize those young men and women, and their families, who at any moment might have to give up that last chance to laugh, enjoy a first legal beer, watch a son or daughter be born, say goodbye to a mother and father, or the young love they left behind.

There are many organizations that support the families of fallen soldiers. I encourage readers to consider supporting one to help ease the burden of the families who have lost someone in this war.

"Two Soldiers"
He was just a blue-eyed Boston boy
His voice was low with pain
"I'll do your bidding comrade mine
If I ride back again
But if you ride back and I am left
You'll do as much for me
Mother you know, must hear the news
So write to her tenderly."

"She's waiting at home like a patient saint
Her fond face pale with woe
Her heart will be broken when I am gone
I'll see her soon, I know"
Just then the order came to charge
For an instant hand touched hand
They said "Aye" and away they rode
That brave and devoted band.

Straight was the track to the top of the hill
The rebels they shot and shelled
Plowed furrows of death through the toilling ranks
And guarded them as they fell
There soon came a horrible dying yell
From heights that they could not gain
And those whom doom and death had spared
Rode slowly back again.

But among the dead that were left on the hill
Was the boy with the curly hair
The tall dark man who rode by his side
Lay dead beside him there
There's no one to write to the blue-eyed girl
The words that her lover had said
Momma, you know, awaits the news
And she'll only know he's dead.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Greener Over Yonder

How do we ever know what is right for us, and who, and when?

This theme has been forcing its way to the front of many discussions I've had with friends and family of late. It seems many of us are challenged by choices we've made, and choices we've yet to make. Some excite us. Some disappoint us. Some terrify us. All belong to us.

I would characterize it as a struggle to understand the seasons of our lives and how we live out those seasons. I realize that sounds somewhat corny, but, in a sense, as our lives roll along in a direction we think we want them to go, occasionally, things happen along and our paths suddenly seem much less clear. Or the shadow of some event or individual or desire we haven't quite dealt with leaps out of the brush, and we are forced to confront something frightening standing in the path before we can move ahead.

This can be a long process. Time unfortunately does not wait for us to clear the path. But time brings lessons, and self-awareness, and tools for the right action at the right time. It forces us to expand our vision all the while we feel our horizons narrowing.

What, then, of the things we lose over time? We have to mourn but we can't just hand ourselves over to the grieving. There is still a great deal of life to be lived, in a way only we can live it.

There Is A Time

By R. Dillard & M. Jayne/Lansdowne Music-Winston Music, ASCAP
Arrangement: Uncle Earl

There is a time for love and laughter
The days will pass like summer storms
The winter wind will follow after
But there is love and love is warm

There is a time for us to wander
When time is young and so are we
The woods are greener over yonder
The path is new the world is free

There is a time when leaves are fallin'
The woods are gray the paths are old
The snow will come when geese are callin'
You need a fire against the cold

So do your roaming in the springtime
And find your love in the summer sun
The frost will come and bring the harvest
And you can sleep when day is done

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Full Moon Fever

There are few things I enjoy so well as gazing at a beautiful full moon. A harvest moon is my favorite, hanging low and full and orange in the sky.

Today's full moon got me to thinkin' about how many bluegrass and traditional old-timey songs must have the word "moon" in the title, or the lyric. I challenge myself to find them all. Aren't you thrilled?

So to start things off, here is one of the world's best known Moon ballads, by none other than the man who started it all, Bill Monroe. When Elvis was seeking permission from Mr. Monroe to record "Blue Moon of Kentucky", Monroe said, "Son, if you can make some money on it, go right ahead." There ya go. Bluegrass musicians are entrepreneurs.

Enjoy. Stop by and sing with me when you get a chance.

Artist: Bill Monroe Tabs/ChordsSong: Blue Moon Of Kentucky Tab
Blue Moon Of Kentucky, by Mr. Bill Monroe
(Elvis and the rockabilly's do this in 4/4, most blugrass players prefer

1st verse
Blue Moon, blue moon
blue moon keep shining bright
Blue moon keep on shining bright
You gonna bring me back my baby tonight
Blue Moon keep shining bright

2nd Verse
I said blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining
shine on the one that's gone and left me blue
I said blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining
Shine on the one that's gone and left me blue

Well it was on one moonlight night
Stars shining bright
Whisper on high
Love said goodbye

Blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining
Shine on the one that's gone and left me blue

Repeat Second verse

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Love, A Killin' Thing

Every now and then I have one of "these" nights in, when I kind of indulge in a movie, a glass of wine, and, you know, overthinking.

I watched a beautiful American tragedy, "Mystic River."

Depressing? No, not really. Beautifully human. So human. Tragic. But, not depressing. Just as the climax got underway, and I figured out where it was going, I had to stop it, just for a few minutes, so that I could go into my kitchen, lean on the counter, and cry so hard I couldn't breathe.

Then I calmly watched the rest of the movie. If you haven't seen it, and you have a certain constitution, you should.

This story was not a new one. It has been played over and over in folklore and legend. It was part twisted Romeo and Juliet, part Lear, part Hamlet. The best stories are made of this: there is no greater killin' thing as the likes of love.

As I first began to wind my way through the many songs and ballads handed down through the mountains and into the hands of Kentucky bluegrass pioneers, I learned that there's this big batch of songs, known as the Killin' Songs. Now, mind you, I wasn't too thrilled that most of the killin' was done by men, and most of the killed were, of course, women. Since then I have found, and learned, a few songs where the woman has her day, and I'll be sure to honor those here.

Right now, I'm just going to share this classic, Pretty Polly. I have heard a number of different versions but my favorite is sung by Tim O'Brien, on a recording released by Dirk Powell in 1996. I want to thank these men for lighting the way, and to Dirk especially for producing and supporting so many trad musicians. (Before I die, Lord, grant me one wish: I want to work with Tim and Dirk, on something. Anything.)
(Above: Tim and Dirk pictured at the Kennebunk
Coffee House, 2003, probably singing
Deux Voyages, if I had to make a guess.)

Pretty Polly
Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, come go along with me.

Polly, Pretty Polly, come go along with me.
Before we get married some pleasures to see.

She got behind him and away they did go,
She got behind him and away they did go,
Over the hills and mountains to the valley below.

He rode her over hills and valleys so deep.
He rode her over hills and valleys so deep.
Pretty Polly mistrusted and then began to weep.

Oh Willie, Oh Willie, I’m afraid to of your ways.
Willie, Oh Willie, I’m afraid of your ways.
The way you’ve been acting, you’ll lead me astray.

They went up a little farther, and what did they spy,
They went up a little farther and what did they spy,
A newly-dug grave, and a spade lying by.

Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right.
Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right.
I dug on your grave the best part of last night.

She knelt down before him pleading for her life.
She knelt down before him pleading for her life.
Please let me be a single girl if I can’t be your wife.

He stabbed her in the heart and her heart’s blood did flow.
He stabbed her in the heart and her heart’s blood did flow.
And into the grave Pretty Polly did go.

He threw something over her and turned to go home,
He threw something over her and turned to go home,
Leaving nothing behind him, but the girl left to mourn.

He went down to the jailhouse and what did he say.
He went down to the jailhouse and what did he say.
I killed Pretty Polly and tried to get away.

Oh gentlemen and ladies, I bid you farewell.
Oh gentlemen and ladies, I bid you farewell.
For killing Pretty Polly my soul will go to hell.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ballad Break

Anyone who has poked around on this blog knows that I can get excited about pretty much any kind of music, but those who really know me, know that my first love is the mountain ballad of Appalachia. I came to this music not because I was a child of the Appalachian foothills, which I am, nor because my mother sang them to me when I was a child (she did sing to me but not these songs). There was a time in my life not too long ago when I realized I was truly lost. I had rekindled my love of music, but otherwise, I had lost my way, lost track of who I was, and every day lost more of my spirit, my mind, my vigor, my passion. I had lost ways to save my marriage, and I had lost my mother. Either I would give up and go on asleep as I had been, or try to get my life on the right path.

Then, on my birthday, one of my best friends gave me a copy of the sleeper movie, "Songcatcher". The epiphany unleashed in the protagonist, a British musicologist named Dr. Lily Penleric, when she met with the real power of the mountain ballad, grabbed me with such force that I barely finished watching the movie before I was off and delving into every corner of the history and practice of this music, which in fact did not originate in the mountains, but across the pond, in the land of my ancestors, Great Britain. (An American scholar named Francis Child catalogued about 400 of them during the late 19th century, and they are often referred to as the Child ballads.)

One of the most poignant of these ballads is Pretty Saro. It’s a beautiful song about a true love turned away because of circumstances. Like all of the ballads, there are hundreds of versions of this song, and it’s been recorded many times. I’ve heard renditions by Iris Dement and by my friend John Doyle. The version below is closest to the rendition Dement performed in the film.
I’ll be sharing many more of these jewels in posts to come, hopefully with the proper audio. There are many champions of this music and I’ll do my best to bring them to you. Meanwhile, see what Pretty Saro’s lover has to say.

When I first come to this country in eighteen and forty nine
I saw many fair lovers, but I never saw mine
I viewéd all around me, I found I was quite alone
And me a poor stranger and a long way from home.

My true love she won't have me and this I understand
She wants a freeholder and I've got no land
But I could maintain her on silver and gold
And as many of the fine things as my love's house could hold

Fare you well to old father. Fare you well to mother too.
I'm going for to ramble this wide world all through
And when I get weary, I'll sit down and cry
And I'll think of Pretty Saro, my darling, my dear.

Well I wish I was a poet, could write some fine hand
I would write my love a letter that she might understand.
I'd send it by the waters where the islands overflow
And I'd think of my darling wherever she'd go.

Way down in some lonesome valley. Way down in some lonesome grove
Where the small birds does whistle, their notes to increase
My love she is slender, both proper and neat
And I wouldn't have no better pastimes than to be with my sweet.

Well I wish I was a turtle dove, had wings and could fly
Just now to my love's lodging tonight I'd draw nigh
And in her lily-white arms I'd lie there all night
And I'd watch the little windows for the dawning of day.

Well I strolled through the mountains, I strolled through the vale
I strolled to forget her, but it was all in vain.
On the banks of Ocoee, on the mount of said brow
Where I once loved her dearly and I don't hate her now.

Now if that doesn't make you yearn for a drink, what will?

Gone Ahead

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.
Peter Drucker, 1909 - 2005

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Grand Ol' .... Mothership?

...Or is it, Mother Church?

This photo was taken by my 11 year old son during our recent weekend in Nashville at the IBMA World of Bluegrass. He was standing on stage at the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry and the destination for many a country music and bluegrass pilgrim.

Yeah, it's a little dark, and it was one of those throw-away cameras. (He's eleven. Working without a flash was his mission the entire weekend.) But I like the way he caught the windows and a sense of how big the place really is.

The Ryman was built as a church by Capt. Thomas Ryman, a showboat captain, and opened its doors in 1892. In the 1920s and 1930s it became a theatre space, attracting the likes of Miss Fanny Brice, W.C. Fields, Helen Hayes, and Bela Lugosi. Cleveland's dear old Bob Hope took a tour, as did the lovely and incomparable Katherine Hepburn.

The Ryman became home to The Grand Ole Opry in 1943, and remained so until the 1970s when the Opry season moved out to Opryland. (Booooooo!) While it holds a special place in history for performances by greats like Patsy Cline or Bill Monroe (and once, just once, by The King), the Ryman today is very much a vibrant performance space used year round by traditional bluegrass and contemporary popular artists alike. By the way, the acoustics rock.


That was a special weekend for us. My kids are six years apart, which is a little like having two only children. When his sister arrived, our world of spending all that one on one time together doing whatever we wanted, pretty much evaporated. Of course we adore her. Still, being able to stroll down to the Ryman and stand backstage, or hang out in Minnie Pearl's dressing room, or look at the sound board (the edges of which are visible in the center set of windows) was a fun thing for just we two.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Best Things In Life

A bountiful harvest.

Over the last few days, it has been so restorative and nourishing to just hang out with my two beloved children. Nothing in the world will ever matter as much to me as these two people, and nothing is more important to me than teaching them to trust themselves, to act with intention, to be kind, to do their best, and to truly believe in the infinite possibilities their lives present to them.

Both my children are highly creative. They love to draw, build, pretend, and weave new stories. One of the most satisfying and precious things to me is their developing love of and interest in music, in playing it and enjoying it. Our house is usually filled with it. Whether they are dancing to something contemporary, singing along with a favorite bluegrass song, or picking out a familiar tune on the sax, piano, or guitar, they are enjoying the experience of sharing music together as a family while growing their confidence and self-esteem with every song learned and note played.

Memories of my own childhood in the hills of southeastern Ohio are filled with music. My three brothers, the youngest of whom is ten years older than I am, had a band from the time I was two years old. My first “hit” record, made on a tape player my brothers won in a band contest, is not “Farmer in the Dell” as my dad had hoped, but Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour”. Those days of sitting together with my family playing or listening to music had enormous influence on me and I am grateful for every minute.

One of my favorite songs is a beautiful ballad by Iris Dement, called “Mama’s Opry.” It’s a sweet, lovely tribute to the beautiful action of making music a household practice, even if it’s just singing along to a favorite record. Those moments have stayed with me through to today, and it’s my every hope that my children will remember these precious days when they sing to their own children and maybe, their grandchildren. So whether your stage is the Ryman Auditorium or your own front porch, don’t be afraid to share music with the ones you love.

Mama's Opry
by Iris Dement
featured on Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. III (2002) and Iris Dement, Infamous Angel (1993)

She grew up plain and simple in a farming town.
Her daddy played the fiddle and used to do the calling
when they had hoedowns.
She says the neighbors would come and
they'd move all my grandma's furniture 'round.
And there'd be twenty or more there on
the old wooden floor dancin' to a country sound.

The Carters and Jimmy Rodgers played her favourite songs.
And on Saturday nights there was a radio show
and she would sing along.
And I'll never forget her face
when she revealed to me,
That she'd dreamed about singing
at The Grand Ol' Opry.

Her eyes, oh, how they sparkled
when she sang those songs.
While she was hanging the clothes on the line,
I was a kid just a hummin' along.
Well, I'd be playing in the grass, to her,
what might've seemed, obliviously,
But there ain't no doubt about it:
she sure made her mark on me.

An' she played old gospel records on the phonograph.
She turned them up loud and we'd sing along,
but those days have passed.
Just now that I am older it occurs to me,
That I was singing in the grandest opry.

And we sang Sweet Rose of Sharon, Abide With Me,
'Til I ride The Gospel Ship to Heaven's Jubilee.
And In That Great Triumphant Morning
my soul will be free,
And My Burdens Will Be Lifted when my Saviour's face I see.
So I Don't Want to Get Adjusted to This World below,
But I know He'll Pilot Me 'til it comes time to go.
Oh, nothing on this earth is half as dear to me,
As the sound of my Mama's Opry

And we sang Sweet Rose of Sharon, Abide With Me,
'Til I ride The Gospel Ship to Heaven's Jubilee.
And In That Great Triumphant Morning
my soul will be free,
And My Burdens Will Be Lifted when my Saviour's face I see.
So I Don't Want to Get Adjusted to This World below,
But I know He'll Pilot Me 'til it comes time to go.
Oh, nothing on this earth is half as dear to me,
As the sound of my Mama's Opry

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Take Me For Longing, Or...

While I'm normally pretty darn upbeat here--because, after all, it's bluegrass!--these last few days -- ok, the last couple of years -- have held a few unpleasant moments. So here's a vent, and I dedicate it to all those strong, intelligent, hardworking, passionate women out there who are sitting around, alone, scratching their heads, wondering, wondering, wondering.

Now, I'm not easy to love. I've screwed up a few times, most notably by marrying some fool who really couldn't give a rat's ass about anything but making sure I was the butt of every joke he made. Once clear of that train wreck, I managed to stumble into an ill-fated love story with a man who only too late -- after he'd already killed my love for him with a number of weapons -- recognized what a real deal I am. Now, I like my independence, that's true. In fact, were I ever to really get my panties in a bunch over somebody, giving up my way of life, even for something infinitely better, might actually be difficult.

But at this point, dear readers, you and I may never know! One thing is certain, though, I'll never settle again. And I hope you won't either. As I assured a fellow fine woman blogger going through a similar pass earlier this week, we deserve to be ADORED. PERIOD. Damn it!

I wish I were more competent at offering you audio delicacies, but, I suck at it. So I'll just tell you about this next one which should have a teeny clip attached above.

Of the very very too too few bands fronted by women in bluegrass, Alison Krauss and Union Station is one kind of band. This is a collection of extraordinary seasoned musicians -- including Ohio's very own Jerry Douglas (isnt' he the only dobro player in the world?), the phenomenal Ron Block on banjo, and the unforgettable voice of Dan Tyminski (George Clooney's singing voice in O! Brother) She brings to it her trademark buttery voice -- the type I'm not personally particularly fond of because it's almost "too pretty" for bluegrass. However, on the band's stunning live release, she does belt out a few. Among them this evocative gem written by Mark Simos. It's my best offer, at the moment.


Don't choose me because I am faithful.
Don't choose me because I am kind.
If your heart settles on me, I'm for the taking.
Take me for longing or leave me behind.

I would be, for you, a fire in a rainbow,
I would be, for you, an opening door.
Time and hard lessons are one kind of wisdom.
Try to forget them or love me no more.


I'm not asking your heart to believe me.
I'm not asking for promise or pledge.
Whatever the answer, it's yes that's the question.
I am the fool dancin' over the edge.


Don't choose me because I am faithful.
Don't choose me because I am kind.
If your heart settles on me, I'm for the taking.
Take me for longing or leave me behind.

Only Four Months, 16 Days!

Yesterday my son put on his Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver cd, their latest, You Gotta Dig A Little Deeper. Unbeknownst to me, and most certainly to his Dad with whom he stayed all last week, the kid had pretty much memorized every song.

But who can blame him? This is a band with a set of the most hardworking vocal chords I think I've yet heard in bluegrass. Although we'd miss Dolye's mean mando runs and the bands overall smooth delivery, every song on the album could be delivered a capella and leave the listener more than satisfied.

Don't believe me? Then join us in spectacular downtown Wadsworth, OH at O.J. Auditorium on April 22, 2006 and hear Doyle live!

We were dancing on the dinnertable when we came across this news while scouring for tour dates in Northeast Ohio.

(Son of Mando watches as guitarist and vocalist Jamie Dailey signs his cd)

If you click on the headline for this post, you should be able to download Four Walls, one of our favorite cuts from the album. My son is eager for us to sing it in harmony. So, he gets it -- that this music belongs to everybody, at least anybody who wants to try. And I'm so glad it's a part of our experience as a family. Nothing could mean more to me than to share the experience of making music with my children.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Count Me OUT!

Every now and then, I get one of those smacks upside the head that remind me, not everyone cares. Not everyone is nice. Or grateful. Or, even very highly evolved.

This week I encountered some fellow human beings that, as fellow blogger Dr. Don ( might say, remind him of George Carlin's schtick about watching "a once-promising species slowly circling the drain."

When you have too many of those encounters in a row, it's time to ask yourself, "Do I need this?"

I like to think that living with an open heart, being kind to people who have kicked me in the head, and letting go of all the bullshit people have dumped on me is really the way to go. After all, someday I'll be dead and gone, and do I really want to waste whatever time I have left worrying about the drain-circlers? Yet, in the meantime, how do I keep myself from laying in traffic when people show me their true colors?

I put on Del and the Boys, turn it up, and pretend I'm Ronnie McCoury on the mandolin.

Someday I'll have sound links, I swear. Really. For now, trust me on this.

(The Del McCoury Band, featuring Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Del on rhythm guitar. IBMA 2005 FanFest Photo from the Del McCoury Band Website, This photo was taken after I had a good laugh with Ronnie over some Jack Daniels truffles and the fact that neither of us has a husband.)
From "Del and the Boys" (2001)

(Nice opening mando solo here by Ronnie, who at 38 already has one mando in the Ryman Hall of Fame...)

Takin' me for granted was your first mistake
And that was the beginning of my last heartache
Then you added insult to my injury
When you started treatin' me just as you please

CHORUS:Count me out of future plans you might be makin'
No more foolish chances am I takin'
You played love's game too rough
As for me I've had enough
Cause the goin' got too rough so count me out

(fabulous fiddle solo here by the one and only Jason Carter)

Things I thought important never bothered you
And you kept on 'till you killed all my love for you
Doin' as you please became a part of you
You can't blame me now for walkin' out on you

Count me out of future plans you might be makin'
No more foolish chances am I takin'
You played love's game too rough
As for me I've had enough
Cause the goin' got too rough so count me out

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Three Years Gone...Time to Learn

This time three years ago, upon returning home from the library with a stack two feet high of bluegrass cds, I took a call from my second-oldest brother. The words rang hollow in my ears. He couldn't have just said my mother was dead, could he?

I didn't even know she'd gone to the hospital, or that anyone was worried. I never got to say goodbye, tell her how smart she was one last time, or ask her if she liked bluegrass, which, I had just that day discovered, rocked my world.

I miss her. On days like today, when I need her to help me make sense of my world and the people in it, I miss her more. My kids miss her. We miss her attitude, her convictions, her stubbornness, her stories, her total devotion, and the way she never let us do anything in her kitchen.

She left me with four of the greatests gifts in my life -- I have three amazing brothers and a sister who has been the saving grace of my life. She left behind ten grandchildren. We miss her more because she's missing everything.

The work of Tim O'Brien along with his spirit, talent, wisdom, and perspective became a considerable influence on my approach to life as well as the dedication I have found to spreading the joy of music. You'll be hearing a lot about him once this blog gets going. For now, I want to share this lyric. Here are the liner notes Tim wrote to explain the song:

"Two of my siblings died before their time. My mother tells the story of my older sister, Mollie, waiting on the front porch for our older sister, Brigid, to come home from school, weeks after the funeral. My older brother's death when I was fourteen was definitely something I had a hard time understanding....Pat Alger and I tried to write about the sudden and strange finality of death and how we deal with it."

June Anne, we miss you. We've moved on, and taken the best parts of you, the best moments and the wisest sayings, as we've traveled. But we sure wish you were here to share the journey with us.

Deeply missed by Mike D., Deb, David, Michele, Brian, Shelley, Jennie, Anne, and Mike, Doris Jeanne, Linda, and Gary, and all their children.

Time To Learn
From Oh Boy! O'Boy!(Tim O'Brien, Pat Alger (Howdy Skies Music, ASCAP/Bait and Beer Music, Forerunner Music, Inc., ASCAP))

The hand is cold that once held mine
I can't believe you've really left this world behind
I can wait and I can hope I'll get over this in time

It takes time to learn when someone's gone for good
They're not comin' back like you wish they would
In the empty hours when you miss them so
Then it's time to learn to let them go

Your last hours we never knew
We never had a chance to say goodbye to you
Words unsaid and things undone
We'd just begun and now we'll never see them through

It takes time to learn when someone's gone for good

They're not comin' back like you wish they would
In the empty hours when you miss them so
It takes time to learn to let them go

It takes time to learn that you're gone for good
You're not comin' back like I wish you would
In the empty hours when I miss you so
It's time to learn to let you go

The hand is cold that once held mine .....