Friday, March 31, 2006

For the Love of Banjo Clark

Oh, I sure hope Nashphil hasn’t removed the download of this great tune.

One of the few songs I can actually play well on the mando is Old Joe Clark. (There’s a story about why we call it Old Jack Clark at my house, but, that’s another post entirely.) Anyway, I heard Darrell Scott perform this a few weeks ago and WHAT a GREAT song. If you know nothing about the banjo, suffice it to say it came across the pond as the banjar, a popular gourd instrument among African tradition bearers. The tune is actually a very old tune, but the words are not, and it attempts to tell the tale of our beloved banjo.

This version includes fiddler Casey Dreissen and bassist Dennis Crouch, in front of whom I embarrassed myself by dissing him, basically, when I met him last month because I didn’t connect the name DENNIS with CROUCH as in, you MORON, that’s DENNIS CROUCH. Ah, but again, another post for another time.

All I can say is, this time next Saturday night, I’m hoping against hope that the tribulations of Homework World and the insults suffered at the hands of many an unimportant, self-deluded, asshat will fall away long enough for me to enjoy a supreme show by Tim, Dennis, and Casey. Maybe if I show up with a case of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, I’ll be forgiven my previous transgressions.

For you locals: Kent Stage, Saturday, April 8, 8 pm. If nothing else, come meet some of my family and friends, and watch me make a big fool of myself (even more than I have on this blog, I mean).

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Girl Friday #8: This Just In—War STILL On!

God help the man who tries to send my kids to war. The look on my face will be the last he sees.

The war is still on, and it will go on, and on, and on, because it’s not a war. It’s a hopeless death spiral that hinges on the interminable battles over God and Greed.

This war is senseless, baseless, and downright immoral. To boot, our hard-earned Federal tax dollars are footing the tab, which only keeps growing. Meanwhile the blood of innocent Iraqis, our soldiers, crazy Jihadists, and other civilian bystanders flows freely; at the end of the day, it's all red. Red like the wine on the lips of the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and all their lackeys.

The other day, I took a call from a recently-returned serviceman. He had been deployed in Iraq, and after being discharged was recruited to Cleveland from Texas with his newly-pregnant wife. He’s been here four months. The company who hired him is now being acquired. He doesn’t have a resume, because it was--surprise! Blown up, in Iraq. At least he wasn't. He came home and has a chance to start over, somehow. Lots of people won’t. Why was that, again? We don’t really know.

On this Girl Friday, I want to keep on my heart the women of war who have lost brothers, sisters, children, partners, fathers, and friends to this stupid, STUPID conflict in Iraq. This lovely song, "The Scarlet Tide," evokes that singular solemnity you get from mixing pride and sorrow. It’s sort of a hymn-turned-parlor ballad. It’s from the soundtrack to the movie, Cold Mountain, a very good story about the futility of war. The buttery-voiced Alison Krauss performs.
The Scarlet Tide
Well I recall his parting words
Must I accept his fate
Or take myself far from this place
I thought I heard a black bell toll
A little bird did sing
Man has no choice
When he wants every thing

We'll rise above the scarlet tide
That trickles down through the mountain
And separates the widow from the bride

Man goes beyond his own decision
Gets caught up in the mechanism
Of swindlers who act like kings
And brokers who break everything
The dark of night was swiftly fading
Close to the dawn of day
Why would I want him just to lose him again

We'll rise above the scarlet tide
That trickles down through the mountain
And separates the widow from the bride

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Blackest Crow

This song is just so beautiful. There aren't many love songs, sad or happy, that can evoke the yearning in this tune. I tried unsuccessfully to include the file here but would be glad to share if you contact me.

As time draws near my dearest dear when you and I must part
How little you know of the grief and woe in my poor and my poor aching heart
Tis' but I suffer for your sake believe me dear it's true
I wish that you were staying here or I was going with you

I wish my breast were made of glass wherein you might behold
Upon my heart your name lies wrote in letters made of gold
In letters made of gold my love, believe me when I say
You are the one that I will adore until my dying day

The blackest crow that ever flew would surely turn to white
If ever I prove false to you bright day will turn to night
Bright day will turn to night my love, the elements will mourn
If ever I prove false to you the seas will rage and burn

(I tried my best to copy the file in for you; it's the version from Songs from the Mountain, music for the release of the book, Cold Mountain. FYI, iTunes has the wrong album description in this me for "help")

Monday, March 27, 2006

For the Love of Algae

I spent this past weekend enjoying the very best thing about Nashville: my sister and her family.

It was PondFest 2006. My sister and her husband inherited a garden pond with the house they first rented, then bought, a few years back. The process of cleaning the pond, once another annual chore, is a ritual activity now engaged in by additional family and friends. Because my sister is a consummate organic gardener, almost everything we harvest, from fishpoopy water to pondbottom muck, is put to good use enriching her compost. The reward is that we get to enjoy the bounty of her garden later in the year. One thing is for sure: shit grows in Tennessee.

The work was hard but fun. In addition to our friend Lynne, fellow blogger Shannon joined us, as did my nephew and his friend Michelle, their puppy Ella, my sister's labs, Bossy and Belle, her friends Susie and Jim and their puppy, and my niece, Hannah. We had 12 hours of iPod streaming across the deck -- including some 30 versions of "Heard it Through the Grapevine" thanks to the incorrigible Shannon. My sister kept us more than a little well-fed with a gorgeous and fairly constant array of healthy eats -- and Hannah, with a little help from Mom, made us a beautiful fruit salad complete with the Wiggles song of the same name. We were positively gluttonous! Many hands made light work, a good thing since it was colder in Tennessee than it was back home in Cleveland!

Shannon is responsible for all these pics. For more, check out his Flickr site.

Being with all these people I love so much, doing something together, and just spending time talking and laughing was salve to a weary soul. I am truly fortunate. My sister is one of the most generous, hard-working, loving people I know and her hard-won family is a beautiful sight to behond. I am so grateful she came along because now we have Hannah and Mike, too! It is amazing to spend time with one of my two nephews (out of 10 grandchildren there are only two boys) now all grown up, working hard, partnered with a wonderful young woman, funny, musical, and smart. And of course my friends Lynne and Shannon, who have always been there when I needed them, whether it was for ice chips between pushes, mohitos on the beach, or patiently coaching me through the mathematics of craps.

Lynne and Shannon in early stages

Sistah does her best air guitar

Lynne watches closely as Algae Mama wields a shovelful of organic matter
Philosopher Mike contemplates,
"Why Should the Fire Die?"

Shannon and Ella
and Belle-a
Muckin around with nephew Adam and Lynne

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Girl Friday #7: It's Miller Time

Last week I gave credit to my friend Fearless for introducing me to the wonderful Karan Casey (and Neuro, I hope you're enjoying the downloads!). This week, Fearless strikes again. When my mom died, he told me, "Run, don't walk, get Broken Things and play "I Still Cry." I was hooked as a Julie Miller devotee from the first note.

Julie and Buddy Miller are the kinds of folks everybody wants to work with. They are incredible musicians, and many, more widely-known artists call on them when they need their sound, their energy, that certain something they offer up in a session. I have yet to bump into them when I'm in town, but one of these days I'm going to savor a live show.

This music is a departure from a lot of what I listen to, and yet it is inarguably rooted in the old mountain tradition. It's Old Time, with a Telecaster.

I do love the album, Broken Things. It's got raw gritty tunes, sweet regretful ballads, and a few traditional songs according to the Buddy System. I reach for it quite often, as it helps me go to my happy, ass-kickin' place when necessary.

It really is almost impossible to pick one thing off this album, but I'm going to recommend to you the lead track, "Ride the Wind to Me." I often think of my son when I listen to this song. He is wildly creative, and so when the rest of the average world shackles him with its cookie-cutter expectations and constraints, it's really hard to remind him to protect that kernel that is uniquely G. I hope he knows that no matter how far I am, he can always Ride the Wind To Me, tell me his troubles, and I'll always listen, and do my best to understand.

Ride the Wind to Me
by Julie Miller
from Broken Things, Hightone Records, 1999

i've seen your dreams get broken
i've heard your words unspoken
and sometimes hope is layin low
hidden in the ashes left after the fire

in my heart i see you run free
like a river down to the sea
all the chains that held you down
will be in pieces on the ground
you'll drink the rain and ride the wind to me

i've seen a faithless lover
take you down to deep water
and i have watched a fragile wing
tangled up in longings get broken in the struggle

in my heart i see you run free
like a river down to the sea
all the chains that held you down
will be in pieces on the ground
you'll drink the rain and ride the wind to me

someday your tears will turn to diamonds
with a kiss you'll wake to see
that you're strong at the broken places
i know someday you'll go free

in my heart i see you run free
like a river down to the sea
all the chains that held you down
will be in pieces on the ground
you'll drink the rain and ride the wind to me

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Music for a Busy Night

Since the weekend, normal life has been subsumed by a barrage of work that has redirected the usual habits of our little family. My son, a sixth grader, has to create quite a lot of “product,” shall we say, in the next two and a half weeks. A sampling includes five illustrated poems (he’s written three so far and they’re not bad!), a report about an inventor, and a patented, budgeted invention. Needless to say, helping him to understand the amount of time that might be involved, and to learn to manage all the activities that go into completing his work, while myself remaining in a “hands off” position and finding a way to make my daughter feel included and also parented, is quite an experience.

It’s going to be a long two and a half weeks.

I joked with my kids that the folks who come up with these projects for a group of children who are entirely dependent on someone else to provide the necessary access to resources to finish them, clearly believe parents like me sit around contemplating our navels all day. The children were given two--not four, not six, two -- weeks to accomplish all the objectives and meet the stated expectations laid out in all the assignments. Imagine how amazing the experience could have been had the children been given a slightly more extended deadline that would have maintained the expectations AND allowed for some real wonder and creativity? Does that sound familiar? This is a great example of how our standard, patented educational system prepares kids to grow up to become little automatons destined for mediocrity in the increasingly gluttonous corporate sector.

Now, I realize I don’t work hard enough. I spend a good part of every day mired in various inefficiencies, many of which I created myself but a great number of which I have also managed to eliminate. I don’t use all the brain I’ve got, and I make some pretty dumb excuses for not doing the things I like or want. Nonetheless, a good deal of my time, your time, everyone’s time is wasted due to external influences, decisions by other people who as a result hold a lot of sway over our day, regardless of whether they are remotely qualified to do so.

That is SUCH a drag, but, that is the world in which we and our children live.

It makes me sad to think that we live in a country that has proven itself so incapable of supporting creativity, independent thinking, entrepreneurialism. Those teachers at my son’s school think they are teaching it, but what they are really doing is repeating the pattern. Rather than taking the long view and taking advantage of the dozens of resources available in Northeast Ohio to teach kids all about small enterprise, they are cramming 10 pounds of homework shit in a five pound bag. What will those kids remember about being their own bosses? The paperwork.

That’s the wrong message. Who wants that? Who wants to take responsibility entirely for their own work, wealth creation, health care, life? The people who don’t want to march to the beat of someone else’s drum, that’s who. And that’s what the musicians and songwriters I’ve met are doing.

Most of us can’t even imagine that level of personal responsibility. I have watched and learned from the people I work for, who have sustained over 25 years a small family enterprise in an industry that has done nothing if not taken a beating. But I know that one of the things I love and admire about them and about musicians is that they are all basically putting bread on the table doing what they love. Making that easier for the people who make the music I love is what I think I will eventually do best.

In the meantime, it’s another trip to the library, and multi-task parenting with one kid in the tub while the other one uses my laptop to type up his very clever poems. Hopefully all of us will come out of the experience in one piece, and my kid with a sense of pride, an idea of self, a cool invention, a line or two that puts Ogden Nash to shame, and more than a couple of good memories. One thing’s for sure, we have plenty of good music to enjoy while we work.

One day soon you’ll be able to stream tunes like this from this web site…or something. My sights are set on Spring Break, when the kids will enjoy a slightly slower pace, to make some changes to this blog. In the meantime I’ll just check in now and then. For now, check out this tune which suits a busy evening just perfectly.

[thirty minute pause]

Ok. Sorry. The deal is, I sat at my computer for nearly 30 minutes waiting for MSN to respond and move things along. I don't know what's wrong, and I can barely keep my eyes open so I'm not going to figure it out. I would, however, love for you to check out the Alison Krauss + Union Station version of "Cluck Old Hen." Hell, I could learn to play it faster than I can provide you with a clip.

Have a good night....

Monday, March 20, 2006

My Only Sunshine

Earlier this evening, during the usual chaos that surrounds the homework hour (or as it is becoming, hours), my son announced that as part of his class's study of poetry, he was to bring in the lyric and a recording of a favorite song.

Of course, you can imagine the anxiety this induced. Pick ONE song out of the zillions? They clearly didn't know what they were asking this kid.

But, out of all the songs, all the ballads and even rock and pop, all the Disney movies and even favorite musicals, he picked a song that held special meaning for him.

I first sang "You Are My Sunshine" to Gabe when he was a baby. He's 11 now, and singing it together always makes us feel better. Maybe that's why he picked it out of all the songs in this house and whatever songs he might have at his dad's. And because both his dad and I love music, although not the same kind of music, lemme tell ya, that's a LOT of songs.

The last week or so has really left me struggling to figure out how I can work harder, leaner, and get more meaning out of my life. The last few days in particular have really been somewhat drudgerous (is that a word) with the degree of homework, housework, and general maintenance. Making the kind of serious change that will have lasting impact is going to take courage I don't yet have. But when I step back and look at my sunshines, I am reminded I don't have a choice but to find it.

I think it's safe to say that most of us probably didn't know all the words, so pull out your guitar and start strumming. Same old same old using G, C, and D. The sweet little melody is, like a lot of bluegrass music, such a pleasant little tune that it belies the mournful, sad story expressed in the lyric. My kinderbuddha, who somehow is so keen on human nature and the soulful side of things, enjoys the song for what it is. He understands heartbreak, having had plenty of it already at his age, but it doesn't seem that he's lost his sense of humor yet. So there might be a little hope for the gene pool even if my days of contributing to it are over.

(Oh, and because I can do nothing about it right now, I just want to say that I tried to post a sweet little photo of the three of us but can't because MSN is a piece of shit, and I'm out of time. Something for you all to look forward to when I hit the lotto and can afford DSL.)

You Are My Sunshine
Norman Blake

The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
But when I woke dear I was mistaken
And I hung my head and I cried

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know dear how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away

I'll always love you and make you happy
If you will only say the same
But if you leave me and love another
You'll regret it all someday


You told me once dear you really loved me
And no one else could come between
But now you've left me to love another
You have shattered all my dreams


In all my dreams dear you seem to leave me
When I awake my poor heart pains
So won't you come back and make me happy
I'll forgive dear I'll take all the blame


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Girl Friday #6: Slainte!

I have always been a fan of Celtic music, as long as I can remember, even the few occasions I was exposed to it as a little girl. My dad loved bagpipes. Beyond that, whenever I would hear an aire or jig, my heart just would light up. I lived for the "Thistle and Shamrock," a radio show hosted by Fiona Ritchie, still heard on some NPR stations. Funny, but where I ended up, in bluegrass, is really just a long lost relative of ancient and traditional Celtic music influenced over time by newer idioms developed in post-Revolutionary America's plantation fields and deltas.

A few years back my friend Fearless introduced me to the music of Karan Casey. In Ireland, and among Irish and roots fans here, she is legend. Her voice is one of the most beautiful and belying I've ever heard, whether she's singing in English or her native tongue. She has appeared on occasion in Northeast Ohio as a solo artist and guest of a band she founded many years ago, Solas. And she works with the finest contemporary folk and traditional musicians today. Daughter of Fearless took this fine photo of Karan last year at an Irish fest in Chicago. (A. was only 10 at the time -- not bad!)

This title track from Karan's 2003 release, Distant Shore, hit me as especially appropriate in our global community. As I was listening to the album on the way to work, I realized, wow, this is how I feel most of the time...kind of shoreless, without a home. Some of this, I think, has to do with no longer having parents; no matter how old we get, our parents always anchor us to a "place" even though we no longer live there. But sometimes our beliefs and attitudes and convictions can likewise leave us feeling divided from a big chunk of humanity, and I think most of us can relate to that too, with things being what they are on the global stage.

Whether you or Irish or not (I'm not), on this day I wish the people of Northern Ireland peace and freedom. And, I wish you success, freedom, courage, and a sense of connection to whatever your heritage may be. Meanwhile, I'm sitting here with cabbage on the stove and a Smithwick's at my side, hoping you find some comfort today in a small, peaceful way.

Special thanks to Fearless -- Slainte, E!

Distant Shore
(Billy Bragg)
Everyone knows that there’s no place like home
I’m just seeking refuge in a world full of storms
Washed up on a distant shore, can’t go home anymore

The natives are hostile whatever I say
The thing they fear most is I might want to stay
By their side on a different shore, can’t go home anymore

I escape my tormentors by crossing the sea
What I cannot escape is the memory
Washed up on a distant shore, can’t go home anymore

Everyone knows that there’s no place like home
I’m just seeking refuge in a world full of storms
Washed up on a distant shore, can’t go home anymore
Washed up on a distant shore, can’t go home anymore
Washed up on a distant shore, can’t go home anymore

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

No Good Deal Gone Down

One thing I have come to believe about bluegrass and traditional music is that, for the most part, it is strikingly apolitical. There are stories that are related in the many songs and ballads, but even the best murderin' tunes are not particularly rife with any viewpoint other than that which represents the larger human condition. The music, while deeply personal, can transport us to a place where all the arguments that confine us and comprise our modern-day constructs fall away, leaving us only with our essential human capacity to learn, love, and live.

Nonetheless, I have strong opinions about a lot of things, and quite often get myself in a tangle. The problem is, the combined influences in my life have left me uniquely predisposed to self-sabotage. As I debate an issue, the more the other person matters to me or has influence over me or my children, the more quickly I lose my footing and my argument, and my confidence, devolve into a mass of emotional nonsense. I am left with an argument I could not win, even if I wanted to. The other person's opinion of me suddenly becomes more of a concern than my position. If there is a single threat to my success, this is it, and it is formidable. (Yes, that's a horrible picture of me, getting a well-deserved noogie from my sister.)

Recent experiences have left me no choice but to face just how poorly I approach the most intimate subjects with people in my life who are by birth or acquaintance my most intimate companions. Part of the problem is indeed how fully I express myself, about the things that matter most deeply to me, without any regard to whether it's remotely appropriate. Starting this blog posed both an opportunity and a great danger where that expression is concerned. I'd say I'm probably about at a 50-50 success rate.

I also realize that I have never been, and am almost incapable of being, my own best advocate. (I did post that horrendous picture, after all.) Given the opportunity to put myself first, I fail almost every time.

I finally understand that my tendency toward flight away from all the nasty and toxic forces in my life probably revolves around the romantic notion that if I got away, I would be able to give myself and my children a clean start that illustrated how life is supposed to be. There we might dwell, deep in the holler, away from all the nonsense that I have attracted, created, enabled, sustained, and given over to under the guise of some misguided notion of letting go and being mindful and living in service to others. That's the idiom that at my core, I believe. But it's evidently not very functional in the real world.

So I'm going to shift my little paradigm a tiny bit. Watch for signs of what a good friend from college referred to as my constant tendency to "shoot myself in the foot" and instead turn the gun on whatever has me hog-tied. Quit acting like I'm as dumb as a bag of hammers -- unless of course it presents a real opportunity to set up an important lesson for the dumb bastard standing on my last nerve. Return the confidence, love, and honesty of people who have given those gifts so willingly - - even under the worst conditions created by yours truly -- and be a whole lot more careful about offering those gifts to people who have repeatedly dishonored them.

I think this is a lesson we all strive to learn, to live with an open heart and not "let our deal go down." I'm just a lifetime late and a few thousand dollars short in learning it myself. Eh, better late than never.

This is a classic Flatt and Scruggs tune, but one of my favorite renditions is from Lyle Lovett with the Chieftains. (The album, Down the Old Plank Road, is a powerhouse collection of talent; I haven't gotten the second one yet, Further Down the Old Plank Road.) In honor of the approachin' wearin' o' the green, I direct you to that version but there are many versions, from Delta blues to the Flatt, Scruggs, Sex and Drugs variety. Have a good night and don't let your deal go down, now.

Don't Let Your Deal Go Down
Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt

Well, I've been all around this whole wide world
Been down to sunny Alabam
My mama always told me,
Son, never let your deal go down

Don't let your deal go down, good Lord,
Don't let your deal go down
Don't let your deal go down
Till your last gold dollar is gone

Well, the last time I seen that gal of mine
She was standing in the door
She said honey I'll be a long time gone
You'll never see your gal no more

Don't let your deal go down, good Lord,
Don't let your deal go down
Don't let your deal go down
Till your last gold dollar is gone

Well, I'm going sown the railroad track
Gonna take my rocking chair
If there doggone blues don't leave my mind
I'm gonna run away from here

Don't let your deal go down, good Lord,
Don't let your deal go down
Don't let your deal go down
Till your last gold dollar is gone

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Holy Smokes! I Been Tagged

Hey! I done been tagged by a fellow blogger! This is my first time, so y'all go easy on me, now. Thanks to Cassandra, whose Web site is, by the way, one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and provocative out there.

1. Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18 and find line 4
"...facturing coarse cloths, serges, and caddis. In his whole...." - Les Miserables, Victor Hugo (late 19th century edition)
2. Stretch your left arm out as far as you can, what do you find?
A painting of apples by my father's uncle, Art Reese. (Yep. Uncle Art was a painter. Go figure.)
3. What is the last thing you watched on TV?
The weather, this morning.
4. Without looking, guess what time it is.
7:15 pm
5. Now look at the clock, what is the actual time?
8:31 pm--Ditto Cassandra: Damn!!
6. With the exception of the computer, what can you hear?
Traffic somewhere on what I guess is I-480; a slight ringing in my ears.
7. When did you last step outside? What were you doing?
About an hour ago. Getting the mail. Nothing good.
8. Before you started this survey, what did you look at?
The story on the dam break in Hawaii. Sucks.
9. What are you wearing?
My jammie pants and a Twinsburg Tigers sweatshirt. There are not many days I am compelled to come home, shower, and put on jammies. Today was one. Before eating.
10. Did you dream last night?
I dream vividly, every night, unless I am very ill.
11. When did you last laugh?
This morning, when I found out Cassandra tagged me.
12. What is on the walls of the room you are in?
The picture I talked about earlier; a beautiful photo of my kids at our last family trip to the beach; a Federal-style mirror that my entire family always assumed weighed a ton but which is in fact plastic.
13. Seen anything weird lately?
All the time. Weird is a very subjective term, however.
14. What do you think of this quiz?
What is the real question here?
15. What is the last film you saw?
Not counting my dreams? I think it was ... hm, I don't know!
16. If you turned into a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy?
To the degree possible, my freedom, and that of a few other people.
17. Tell me something about you that I don't know.
I love Federal style architecture and interiors.
18. If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt and politics, what would you do?
Ooh, what's left?
19. Do you like to Dance?
Yeah but as a public service I don't often.
20. George Bush.
Again, what is the question?
21. Imagine your first child is a girl, what do you call her?
My first child was a boy. My daughter was supposed to be Virginia AnnElinore, but I scaled way back.
22. Imagine your first child is a boy, what would you call him?
My first child was a boy, and we named him Gabriel.
23. Would you ever consider living abroad?
I have considered it often but for some reason I'm still in Ohio.

24. What would you want God to say to you when you reach the pearly gates?
Hm. I can't imagine anything further from what could possibly happen when you die. On the other hand, if there is a God, the fact that he or she personally answers the door says a lot.

25. 4 people who must also do this theme in their journal.
Shannon, Dark Neuro, Blondie, and, I'm gonna throw this out to my friend Janice and sister Anne but they're not in Blogland (yet). There's always cut and paste.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Meet Me In…the Moonlight

Saturday night, I stepped out of my garage to my car and was literally struck dumb (hold your comments, please) by the sky. The clouds had cleared and before me was night’s star-filled mantle, and quite a moon to light my way.

And I thought, “Oh. Full moon time again. That explains a lot.”

I’ve been thinking, perhaps a little too much lately, of some of the meetings in my past, some chance, some not. I recall vividly one trip I took in late summer, just before my mother died. I was going to spend the day with a friend I had gotten to know via email. It was one of those rare and unquestionably “meant to be” friendships. Sadly, it didn’t last, but the memory I have of the moon that night as I drove home will forever linger.

I felt connected to it, somehow. I felt love, a powerful, powerful love, and deep peace. (I daresay I have not felt so since.) And I had had this rich fleeting encounter with someone I realized understood me better in those short hours during which we hung out together, than many people I have known for a lifetime ever will. It was a highly unusual day, and for me to drive all that way to meet someone I barely knew was very much out of character for me at the time.

But, I will never forget that moon.

This is a song the Stanley Brothers (Ralph and Carter) recorded some many years ago. The Stanleys (Carter, seated with guitar on the cd cover at left, died about 30 years ago; Dr. Ralph is still making the rounds with his son, Ralph II and occasionally his grandson) are nearly synonymous with that “high lonesome sound” that typifies early and traditional bluegrass. For those who know the film “Oh Brother,” it’s Ralph’s voice we hear singing Conversation with Death (aka “O Death”) during that awful KKK scene.

Wherever you may be, dear reader, I hope the moon is watching over you the way it did me that night.

Meet Me By The Moonlight

Meet me by the moonlight love, meet me
Meet me by the moonlight alone alone
I have a sad story to tell you
All down by the moonlight alone

I've always loved you my darling
You said I've never been true
I'd do anything just to please you
I'd die any day just for you

Meet me by the moonlight love meet me
Meet me by the moonlight alone alone
I have a sad story to tell you
All down by the moonlight alone

I have a ship on the ocean

All lined with silver and gold
And before my little darling shall suffer
I'll have the ship anchored and sold

Meet me by the moonlight love meet me
Meet me by the moonlight alone alone
I have a sad story to tell you
All down by the moonlight alone

If I had wings like an angel
Over these prison walls I would fly
I'd fly to the arms of my darling
nd there I'd be willing to die

Sunday, March 12, 2006

That Maiden Voyage Audio Post...

...that's supposed to be Art Stamper playing an old fiddle tune, Trouble on My Mind. Actually from the device I was using to my phone, the result kinda smacks of that old-time, Victrola cylinder songcatcher goodness. Or, not.

I'm working on it, people, ok? And not in a great mood. And, formidably technologically challenged. So give me my goofin' around for a bit. K?

Beats Layin' in Traffic

this is an audio post - click to play

When There's No One Around

More and more, I'm beginning to believe I live in a vacuum. I believe I've come to a new juncture, between actually walking the walk and being an ardent fan.

I preach the gospel of live music, ladies and gentlemen. Most of you know that by now. In my mind there is little that music can't help you figure out. Moreover, the intimate delivery of music in smaller venues by talented singer-songwriters is a completely different experience than most "concertgoers" are used to. You have to be prepared for the vulnerability that sets in; I wept on more than one occasion because it was impossible not to.

Maybe folks find this kind of touching inappropriate? Can't imagine.

A lot of my friends never make it out with me to see a live show. They missed one helluva show last night at the Kent Stage, and I realized maybe I should have tried harder to get folks to go along. I set out to hear Darrell Scott and in the meantime learned that a local favorite named Chittlin was going to open the show. Chittlin' astounds me every time she takes the stage. This young lady is all of 16, and writes with such depth and wisdom that it's just hard to remember that. She comes from an extremely talented and hardworking musical family who spent years in Nashville trying to make it. But all bets are on Chittlin' and her brother, David Mayfield (who at a young 20 something is a fiery mandolin talent, which he proved when he took the stage last night with Darrell Scott). She just released a new album. Check out the Mayfield family Web ring at

After chatting with Chittlin' and her mom (both will be treated in future Girl Fridays), I settled back into my seat for round two, Diana Jones. Her first song had me hooked for life. She has a humor and a delivery that reminds me of Gillian Welch, and a style that grabbed me as completely. Diana Jones possesses an incredible voice, and she knows how to apply it to the Appalachian idiom when singing her songs of family, death, and redemption (for lack of a better word). She also will be vetted here for a future Girl Friday.

The goal of the evening was Darrell Scott, and if you ever get a chance to see him, don't pass it up. He's penned hundreds of songs, and been widely recorded by top stars in the country music industry, which he openly disdains but in this business, you do what you gotta do to put some bread on the table. I have heard him on several occasions, and even I was unprepared for his performance last night.

So many songs, so many perfect songs, in a voice clear and penetrating, unfolding for us the roadmap, making us feel so much less alone. (If anyone out there hiding in Blogland can get their hands on the lyrics to "Love's Not Through With Me Yet" which I've heard him perform for three years running but which has not yet been recorded, please contact me!)

The composite effect of the evening is one I just can't describe. And I should have tried a lot harder to get folks down there, people in my life for whom that experience might have meant not just a nice evening out but made a real difference.

As much as I believe that it's all about that, about the experience and what it can mean to someone, conversion is really the purvue of religious zealots. So I go on my own way, quietly afraid I'll drive my friends nuts or turn them off the stuff completely if I hassle them to join me on occasion. My commitment to this stuff really sets me apart from the people in my life, and so while I have never shied away from something simply because I had to go it alone, in the overall picture I am a little isolated. I'm not like anyone else I know well, and have no one in my present who shares my voracious appetite for this kind of music in a way that makes it possible to share the experience. I guess I have to be prepared for that going forward, because this isn't a hobby. It's a calling, and I have to answer it. It's a little odd, and sometimes lonely, but the new connections that go along with it make the whole thing worthwhile.

In the meantime I don't want the Ivory Tower experience. A lot of the literature I'm plowing through falls to the side of erudite. I don't want to be some shriveled up old woman writing about bluegrass in the digital age -- oh wait, I already am! LOL. (Just kidding.) I want what I do to bring it even more alive, more real and accessible for the people I love and people everywhere. I fear the exact opposite will happen.

I'm going to leave you with this sweet and happy song by Darrell. He wrote it a little over ten years ago when he and his wife found out they were expecting the unexpected. I longed for this, and wanted to be in the kind of marriage that would have been able to handle such a situation with this kind of humor, grace, and love. I wasn't, and so now I'm living vicariously through friends who are. I dedicate this one to my friends Janice and Bruno, who with their three little ones make it all work beautifully and on their terms. Bravo.

I promise that, soon, I'll get a little radio going, or incorporate downloads into the blog. Meanwhile, suffer through this a little longer, because I promise you'll be glad you did.

Family Tree
Darrell Scott (Famous Music/ Chuck Wagon Gourmet Music, ASCAP)

Dancin in the living room, cuttin' up a rug Dancin' with a baby looks more like a hug Livin' in a house made of saw mill wood Roll Over Beethoven never sounded so good

Hey, hey baby, baby let's go Where we get the money, honey, I don't know One more baby's all right by me We'll just add another limb to the family tree

Raisin' up babies is our new sport You're one day late and I'm a dollar short Now maybe it was planned or maybe it was a goof But a cat just has to dance on a hot tin roof

Hey, hey baby, baby let's go Where we get the money, honey, I don't know One more baby's all right by me We'll just add another limb to the family tree

Well the lawn mower's broke and the tax is due And if I find another tick I'm gonna come unglued We got hand me-down clothes, hand me-down shoes We got the big-belly-mama-here-we-go-again blues

Hey, hey baby, baby let's go Where we get the money, honey, I don't know One more baby's all right by me We'll just add another limb to the family tree

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Girl Friday #5: Pregnant Pause

Well, what a week this has been. Seems everyone I know has been a little riled up, tired, maybe even under the weather. And, I'm guessin' that if you live in South Dakota, you're probably pregnant, too!

Governor Rounds, evidently with the support of a good many South Dakotans, rustled up one heckuva bill. What an asshat. The notion that he, or any man, frankly, thinks he knows more about what to do with my reproductive organs than I do absolutely takes the cake. Although I have met a man or two who has evolved a bit beyond this, Governor Rounds proves that the man difference between men and dogs is that the human male has opposable thumbs.

I've never seen the dull masses that comprise The Culture Of Life lining up outside America's delivery rooms to catch all those babies they saved. That to me is the ultimate cop-out. They bust their sorry Jesus-lovin' asses to make sure you don't get rid of that baby, but once it gets here, you're on your own.

I was always fortunate. I chose the children I have. I also had a couple of miscarriages between my son and my daughter, and I'm sorry I won't know what those children might have looked like, how they might have sounded, who they might have become. I had hoped there still might be time for one more, but as I look at my life and my age, what I still hope to accomplish, and the fact that I have no partner, I'm slowly putting that dream to rest and enjoying the last moments of my "baby's" littlesthood.

How dare Governor Rounds, or any man alive on earth, presume to make those decisions for me or anyone else? How dare they? And where are the men and women who oppose this? How did this happen?

This song is for all the women who didn't have a choice, or who didn't feel they did. Where I grew up, this story was not all that uncommon. It was written by Grammy-winner John Prine, who is a much-loved oddball of Americana. His songs are delicacies of a different sort.

If you can spare a donation, or if you are a regular consumer of reproductive health services, support your local Planned Parenthood and consider using them to meet your health care needs.

Unwed Fathers

In an Appalachian, Greyhound station
She sits there waiting, in a family way
"Goodbye brother, Tell Mom I love her
Tell all the others, I'll write someday"

From an teenage lover, to an unwed mother
Kept undercover, like some bad dream
While unwed fathers, they can't be bothered
They run like water, through a mountain stream

In a cold and gray town, a nurse says,
"Lay down, This ain't no playground, and this ain't home"
Someone's children, out having children
In a gray stone building, all alone

On somewhere else bound, Smokey Mountain Greyhound
She bows her head down, hummin' lullabies'
Your daddy never, meant to hurt you ever
He just don't live here, but you've got his eyes

Repeat Chorus:

Well, they run like water,
Through a mountain stream

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

There Ain't No Easy Way

About this time Saturday night, if I'm not in the hospital with whatever my poor boss had last week, my desperately music-addicted self will be seated at the Kent Stage taking in one of America's most talented, most recorded, and most overlooked songwriters, Darrell Scott.

Dixie Chicks? He probably wrote it. Garth Brooks? Probably a Darrell Scott song that saved his ass. More than 50 of Scott's songs have been recorded and performed by top recording artists, most of whom I can't stand. But, I love Darrell. He is a stellar recording artist in his own right, with a powerful, riveting voice. He has a kind of quiet, been-through-hell strength. His songs are straight-shooting wonders, some lovely and plaintive, others just flat-out butt-kicking doses of reality.

His dad, Wayne, release his own first album last year to fairly wide critical acclaim. They played the last set of the evening together at last year's IBMA Fan Fest in Nashville, but as IBMA sometimes stands for "I been mostly awake," my little boy and I just couldn't tough it out. I'm sorry I missed that.

I enjoy this bluesy song, with a story that I'm coming to appreciate more and more. It's from Real Time, an album essentially recorded in Darrell's garage with that other guy I like so well. Before there was iTunes, I bought a stack of these and gave them away because the now-defunct Howdy Skies label -- a brave attempt by Tim and his wife to free themselves and others from the talons of The Big Labels -- had only pressed so many. But if you go to Darrell's site you can hit the ol' iTunes button and be singing along before you know it.

There Ain't No Easy Way
written by Darrell Scott & Tim O'Brien, Howdie Skies Records, 1999

Won't you listen to my story, I gotta a tale to tell it's
About a man who gets caught somewhere between heaven and hell
Yea the man's in anguish I guess you could say
There ain't no easy way

Well when I was young boy I learned to play the guitar
It was me and old Jim Beam down at the local bar
Yea I lost my childhood but I earned me a trade
Now there ain't no easy way

I found me a woman I gave her heart and soul
I nearly lost my mind thru it all yeah she took control
She gave me a baby child then she took it away
There ain't no easy way

I prayed to the father to the moon and the sun
I prayed to anyone or anything that could get the job done
I hear different voices but the words are the same
There ain't no easy way

I went to this doctor to see what my trouble might be
And I was looking at the bottom of his shoe while he was looking at me
We sat there in silence but what I wanted to say, I wanted to say
Was there ain’t no easy way

When it's all over and by my grave you stand
Try to think of something good to say
About this no good man
Please do me a favor won't you write on my grave
There ain't no easy way

Monday, March 06, 2006

10-Second Post: I Love You, Friends

At the end of a fairly stressful day -- though no more stressful than the day of any average single mom -- it felt good to fall into a conversation with a good friend. When I hung up, I felt refreshed, cared for, and less frantic and overwhelmed by the day's furious pace, and the evening's tight agenda of homework and work-related tasks, and already planning for next year's academic and afterschool priorities. Parenting is tough work, whether you fly solo or have a great co-pilot. Fortunately, when I'm circling the landing field, I have good friends to bring me safely back to the hangar.

This has been one of my songs for about three years. Having spent some time in the last week both with old friends and a few new ones, I realize it's so important to nurture the connections that brought us together in the first place. Sometimes those meetings were intentional, sometimes not. Friendship is a very fragile thing. I have lost friends I thought would never fade out of the picture. I've tried to extend friendship but learned the other person has to want it. Right now I just want to send this song out to some really good friends, some new and some not at all new, for wrapping me up in love and hope and a little humor when I need it. And a special thanks to the wonderful new friendships that are forming out of this blog; it's cool knowing that somewhere under the big sky, we're all in this crazy life together, and maybe someday we'll sit and have a beer and laugh about it!

Old Friend (by the indefatiguable Laurie Lewis)

Old friend, you just grow dearer, the lines grow deeper,the paths grow clearer

I recall your every look, each of them an open book
And though long miles may separate us my love for you endures
With warm regard and in fond affection, I am truly yours

Old friend, we've seen so much together, stormy days and windy weather
And like a cloak against the cold I wrap myself in friendship's folds

And though long miles may separate us, my love for you endures
With warm regard and in fond affection, I am truly yours

Old friends like warp and woof entwine, each crossing defining the design
And though in places frayed and worn, the fabric remains untorn

And though long miles may separate us, my love for you endures
With warm regard and in fond affection, I am truly yours

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Worlds Apart

The year was 1939.

Bill Monroe was stepping on to the stage of the Grand Ol Opry for the first time.

And in the European theatre, Adolph Hitler was stepping on to the stage, with a much different, and decidedly more insidious, program.

Sometimes, the world in which we live today, with decision makers making decisions that some five-year-olds wouldn't even be dumb enough to make, seems far worse than it ever was. But it's just bad in different ways. Maybe more high-stakes, what with all that "nucular" stuff. But people then hated war when it was even less popular to hate it. People made $35 a week. People probably didn't walk two miles uphill in the snow both ways to school, but some people walked a ways, and probably had to make a pair of shoes last all year. People made real sacrifices and their kids never knew it.

When I think times are tough, I try to remember that things were always hard for somebody, and I try to just enjoy the good things that abound in my life. I make WAY more than $35 a week, my kids get a ride to school every day, and I've probably only worn out a few pairs of shoes in my adult life. It's true that this war is awful, the direction our leaders are dragging us all in is almost impossible to believe, and I have to be fairly vigilant about the things my children "learn" at school, at their other home, and from the media. Modern day livin' does have a few extra trade-offs, but thankfully, bluegrass isn't one of them.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Girl Friday #4: Geez, Louise (Will Be Missed)

One of the reasons I initiated Girl Friday was that I was aware that some of the most important women in bluegrass are people we might never meet. Behind the biggest bands and the most important festivals is an intricate network of wives, business partners, mothers, sisters, and daughters, well known and relied upon by practitioners, but somewhat invisible to the rest of us.

Louise Scruggs was such a woman. If it weren’t for Louise and her tireless commitment to bringing her skill and talent to bear in support of a banjo player she first saw while attending the Opry as a young lady, the world might never have come to love singin' The Ballad of Jed Clampett. Louise Scruggs, who died last month, was Mrs. Earl Scruggs.

Rather than try and sum up here what she meant to bluegrass, I invite you to click on the link below and read Murphy Henry’s account. Murphy, who created one of the most relied upon and best loved self-teaching methods in bluegrass, is another amazing woman I’ve had the good fortune to meet during my short time involved with bluegrass. She took time out from working on her upcoming book on women in bluegrass to share memories of Louise on The Bluegrass Blog.

Louise and Earl had the kind of partnership in life, music, and business that I can only dream about. But it can't have been easy, especially with Earl being on the road so much. I imagine that a life with a touring recording artist may be a bit like being married to a firefighter -- you see them in shifts and never really know if they'll come home alive.

I’m glad folks appear to be enjoying Girl Friday. If you have a favorite female bluegrass or traditional music figure – be she a performer, producer, presenter, educator, or tireless fan -- let me know and we’ll profile her here!

Photos for this Girl Friday post from the February 9 edition of the Nashville Scene.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Mama Mia, That's Good Stuff!

I’ve decided to expand my personal bluegrass journey a little beyond the usual borders, and I'm hoping you'll come along.

As often as my own dreams take me to the muddy backwaters and high lonesome hills, where I long to live and breathe the music, the truth is, bluegrass is as international a musical language as any other. And like other forms of folk music, it has fans, and practitioners, around the world.

A few years back, while sitting around waiting for a shower at Grey Fox, we were joined by a group of teens from Eastern Europe. It took me a few minutes to realize that these young men were representing a country that probably had pretty slim pickins when it comes to choices about music and possibly a lot of other things, and yet, here they were, traveling half way around the world to immerse themselves in good old American bluegrass.

Now, almost certain to be a novelty in their homeland, this group of young musicians may have been urged to view bluegrass as their ticket to something better, the way the Olympics might be to a young skater or the Van Cliburn competition to a young pianist. But they picked bluegrass, likely for the same reasons other European musicians find it so exciting -- its virtuosity, speed, and harmonies.

It wasn’t until I sat there in the late afternoon sun, my little baggie of hygenics in hand, listening in as they talked excitedly in their own language peppered with names of bands coming up that evening, that I realized the reach of bluegrass music. I had been naïve to think of it otherwise as America's best kept secret.

We’re going to start our European tour in Italy, home to a number of fine bluegrass bands over the years (some readers may be familiar with the group Red Wine). Here’s a band simply called Bluegrass Stuff, with their rendition of "Bluegrass Breakdown." Time for another glass of vino and to hit the strings. Ciao e buon notte!